Text: Eph. 2:1-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
The 5th part in our Six Chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism is Confession and Absolution or the Office of the Keys as it is known. This follows the Ten Commandments – God’s Law – how God desires us to live, the Apostles Creed – the Good News of who God is and what he has done for us and continues to do in us, and the Lord’s Prayer which leads us in to prayer and communication with God and how he sustains us.
These are the key teaching that Luther wanted all Christian’s to know but then he followed them up with more Gospel and God’s work as we learned last week in Baptism and how God makes us his child and marks us redeemed by Christ the crucified.
The 5th part, Confession and Absolution are also God’s work.
Inspirational writer William A. Ward has written:
We should be thankful for our tears: They prepare us for a clearer vision of God.
William A. Ward.
Repentance can certainly bring us all to tears at times because it is a daily struggle.
Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 theses:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther, the first of the 95 Theses
Apart from God’s work in us to bring us to the knowledge of the truth in his son Jesus Christ our Lord, true repentance is not possible. The thief may be sorry he got caught stealing or may even be forced through circumstances to confess that he is the one that stole the wrist watch, but true repentance is not worked in us simply over anxiety over sin.
The Law convicts us - and if left there like Judas we might see our brokenness and despair as overwhelming. It could lead - as it has for many - to see the only solution and escape left for them is to run away from God.
The level of terror for each of us is different. So God through the word convicts us in such a way that we look not to a hopeless end but confess our sins to God recognizing that hope must come not from within us but from outside us.
Once God convicts us he is quick to give comfort to the penitent so that despair is comforted and hope restored. By the Holy Spirit we look outside ourselves to Jesus Christ who saves and is able to restore us bringing comfort and peace.
For many though receiving forgiveness is hard. They see their sin; the Law convicts them, but forgiveness they can’t receive. Sometimes it is doubt or pride that gets in the way or it may be the feeling that God can’t forgive me because I can’t forgive myself. You and I can understand this type of guilt.
It is not about how good of a confession we give that counts but that God, seeing us through the veil of Christ, hears us confess our sins and forgives us on account of Jesus who took our sins upon himself.
Luther writes in his Exhortation to confession:
15] So notice then, that Confession, as I have often said, consists of two parts. The first is my own work and action, when I lament my sins and desire comfort and refreshment for my soul. The other part is a work that God does when He declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble, thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.
While God’s Law brings us to repentance it is the work of the Gospel that God uses to comfort and forgive us. No less powerful than the work of God in Baptism - we hear the comfort of forgiveness that the gospel works from the mouth of God’s called and ordained servants and receive the same forgiveness as from the Lord himself.
It is also in the preached word from the pulpit when God’s Law and Gospel comes forth to our ears convicting and forgiving in each one of us as the Holy Spirit sees fit. Where ever the word of God is spoken the Holy Spirit can work for our good and the good of the whole church corporately or privately.
Luther also believed that confession and absolution should be voluntary and not an obligation. It is God’s work and there is no lack of sins in each of us and our world for the Holy Spirit to work. Private Confession and absolution is still available and used in our church for those who feel the need to confess specific sins that burden them as well as the form of Corporate Confession and Individual Absolution we’ve used these last number of years during Ash Wednesday services to bring the Lord’s forgiveness individually to all who confess their sins and come forward.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
God gave the binding and loosing keys to his church and the church uses the keys in a public way to bring repentance and offer forgiveness to those burdened. We can also ask for forgiveness directly to those we’ve offended and receive forgiveness between brothers and sisters and share that comfort of forgiveness one with another.
Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists [of the time], said, "What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me."
John Stott in The Contemporary Christian.
In many situations in my own life as a disciple of Christ I’ve had the opportunity to offer the comfort of the gospel to those burdened by their sin. It might have been a coworker who shared his trial with me and by god’s word the comfort of forgiveness was received.
What a great blessing we all have in those time to share the good news where God has placed us for those in need. The gospel is always the gospel and the good news of Jesus work proclaimed brings comfort to those broken by sin.
It is also great comfort to know that when we corporately confess God hears and forgives through his called servants. The broken and repentant heart is comforted.
It is important that we share the Good News of forgiveness in Christ with those we encounter. It is also true that we need to forgive for our own benefit. As we continue with Jesus on the way this Lenten season as he goes to the cross let us all cast our burdens upon him. He came to stand in your place, to be your substitute and to take you sin upon himself. Know that what he accomplished at the cross he did for you. Forgiveness is not yours because of what you have done, but it is yours because of what Christ has done for you. Receive it and believe it!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!