MidWeek Wednesday in Lent (4-2023)

Holy Possessions  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:05
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From the Catechism
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22–23).
What do you believe according to these words?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 1991) p 220.
As a pastor, I truly consider it a privilege—and one of the highlights of my ministry—to teach young men and women the basics of the Christian faith and to see them mature throughout their years of study. Yet it frightens me to think that, for far too many of these teenagers, confirmation is a “graduation” from Christian growth and learning. It is even more frightening to think that there are many, many persons who try to live as adult Christians with only the learning and faith of adolescents.
Jn 20:19–23 is the primary scriptural reference for this teaching (see also Mt 16:19 and 18:18). The NIV for v 23 reads: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The Concordia Self-Study Bible adds a footnote to v 23, providing a literal translation and explanation: “Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven.” And the New King James Version reads: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is probably the best reading of this verse.
The point is, God does not forgive people’s sins because we do, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do. Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers believe in Jesus Christ or not” (p 1647).
Simply put, the Lord Christ has given to the church the power and the authority to declare divine forgiveness—always in the name of Jesus—and to withhold that divine forgiveness from a person who is unrepentant.
Can anyone here look into a person’s heart and decide who is truly sorry for his or her sins and who isn’t? Of course not. Nor can the church withhold forgiveness from someone who is repentant, no matter how grotesque or heinous the sin. But, for example, if someone publicly is engaged in “adultery,” which seems to be gaining popularity these days, and refuses to bow with bended knee and contrite heart for his crime against God and His commandments, then the church cannot, and shall not, offer such person the forgiveness of that sin through Christ.

The Need for Personal Confession

Much closer to home, the imperative of this article of faith centers around confession. John writes in his first epistle: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). No one here would claim immunity from sin; no one here would boast a “holier-than-thou” mentality. On the other hand, we are always vulnerable to the temptation of comparing our “sins” with others and coming out looking pretty good! If we look at what makes the headlines for the evening news, our sins are pretty minor and insignificant. We’re not child molesters or spouse-beaters and we don’t shoot people on the streets. “We’re not perfect, but . . . !”
The big sin of us “little” sinners is to be deceived into believing that our sins are inconsequential, that God looks the other way when we lie or gossip or defame another person’s character. Or, it doesn’t really matter that we are living with someone as husband and wife, when, in fact, we are not. That is the big lie that the devil attempts us to buy into.
Sin is sin is sin, and at the end of a day, any day, each day, our most fervent, heartfelt prayer must begin, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” No matter how “good” we are, none of us can measure up to God’s standard of holiness. We all fall short of what God created and intended for us to be. All of us. To confess our sins is to come clean before the almighty Lord, to be accountable for what we have thought, said, or done that is contrary to the Word and will of God—no excuses, no blame-shifting, no halfhearted apologies.

Christ’s Open Door of Forgiveness

John continues: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and [cleanse] us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). The “key” to God’s forgiveness is always in the unlocked position; the door is always open. Jesus Christ bled, hurt, and suffered the indignities of spit in his face, taunting jeers, and words of blasphemy against his Father to pay the price of our sin. The events of Calvary exposed the most heinous, horrific sins of humanity against our Lord and he remained silent, in sacrificial love for us. And the sad truth is when we deliberately sin, knowing full-well what God had to say about the subject, we are, in essence, spitting in His face once more. Hebrews 10:26 puts it like this:
Hebrews 10:26 NKJV
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
Yet, when we go to the almighty God in humble, heartfelt confession of our sins, we are not alone. We stand before the throne of God in the name and for the sake of Jesus. It’s that simple and that singular. The forgiveness of our sins is complete, and it is absolute. God’s forgiveness is not conditional, nor is it contingent on our confession—please understand that—the forgiveness of our sins is not at our initiative; it is based solely on God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
So why is it imperative that we make sincere confession of our sins? It is part of our repentance, our deep sorrow over grieving God, our need to come clean to the Lord. Besides that, it is God’s command to us through his Word. It is also God’s invitation.
The Office of the Keys and Confession takes seriously the severity of our sin and declares “The Open Door of Forgiveness.”

Not That Forgiveness Rests on Repentance

Remember that the keys or the forgiveness of sins do not depend on our penitence or worthiness . . . On the other hand, remember that our penitence, work, heart and whatever we are, should rely on the keys and should depend on them with entire confidence, as on God’s Word . . . Do not doubt in the least that what the keys tell and give you is as certain as though God Himself were speaking, as He truly is speaking . . . It is true, you should be sorry for your sins; but to hold that this insures the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and confirms the work of the keys is to forsake the faith and to deny Christ. He does not intend to forgive you your sin for your sake but for His own sake, out of pure grace, through the keys.
Absolved to Look to Word Rather Than His Feeling
The absolved should make every effort to keep himself from doubting that his sins are remitted by God, and he should be quiet at heart. . . . But he who seeks peace in a different way—for instance, through an inner experience—certainly seems to tempt God and seek peace in substantial things, (in re) not in faith.
Luther Would Retain Private Confession Because of the Absolution Following It
For the sake of this part (absolution) most of all do I use confession, and I will not and cannot do without it, for it has often given me great comfort and still does so daily when I am sad and downcast.
There are some people with consciences so tender and despairing that even if they have not been publicly condemned, they cannot find comfort until they have been individually absolved by the pastor.
Christ bequeathed them as a public sign and a holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit again sanctifies the fallen sinners redeemed by Christ’s death, and whereby the Christians confess that they are a holy people in this world under Christ.
(What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959) pp 7–10.
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