Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lenten Midweek III



Lenten Midweek III: “Against You and For Me”[1]

March 14, 2012
Text: Psalm 51; Catechism: What is Confession?

King David had sinned grievously. He is described in Holy Scripture as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Now, however, he has committed adultery and murder. He has taken Bathsheba, the wife of his faithful servant and soldier Uriah the Hitite, to himself and conceived a child with her. And he has commanded that Uriah be placed where the battle is fierce and that his fellow soldiers draw back from him so that he dies. What’s more, King David looks really good in all of this. It appears to the public as though good King David has taken in the poor widow of his slain soldier. What a gracious King we have, the people would say. Now the prophet Nathan has an unenviable task. The LORD sends him to confront David with his sin (2 Sam. 12). Pastors are to speak God’s Word in season and out of season, even when that means speaking the Law of God to an impenitent sinner, even when that means speaking that Law of God at the peril of the pastor’s own life. Nathan tells the parable of the lamb to David. And it works. Upon hearing the parable, David is enraged. The king pronounces his own judgment. Whoever has done this deserves to die! And then Nathan let’s the other shoe drop. He proclaims the most pointed Law in all of Holy Scripture: “You are the man!” (v. 7). David is cut to the heart. He knows immediately that Nathan speaks the truth. The Law of God slays King David, that man after God’s own heart. And the Law has its desired effect. David repents. He confesses his sin to his pastor, Nathan the Prophet. “I have sinned against the LORD” (v. 13). And upon that confession, Nathan immediately pronounces Absolution: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

What is Confession? Luther asks in the Small Catechism. Again, I invite you to recite the words with me, as printed on the inside front cover of your bulletin: “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”[2] David confesses his sin, and Nathan absolves him in God’s name. That’s it. David is free. God no longer counts David’s sin against him. That is how it works in Christian Confession and Absolution. You confess your sins to God. The pastor then absolves you. He forgives you all your sins in the Name of our living Triune God, Father, Son (+), and Holy Spirit. There are no conditions to be met. There are no satisfactions to be made. Believe God’s Word. Your sins are forgiven. They have been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, your Savior. Depart in peace. Go and sin no more.

Now it is true that David had to suffer the temporal consequences of his sin. The baby he had sinfully conceived with Bathsheba died. It was very sad. The same can be true for us. Sometimes we have to face temporal consequences for our sins. For example, sometimes the sin of adultery can ruin a marriage, even when the guilty party has confessed and been absolved. Or, even when a murderer confesses his sin to his pastor and receives absolution, he still has to face the civil penalty for his crime… prison, and in some cases, death. These temporal consequences don’t void God’s forgiveness in Absolution. As sure as Christ died for your sins, and is raised from the dead, you are forgiven before God. This doesn’t always free you from temporal consequences, but it does free you from eternal punishment in hell.

And that is the point of Confession, to free you from the wages of your sin, namely, eternal death in hell. To confess your sins to God is to acknowledge that you are a sinner, that you have sinned, and that you deserve eternal punishment in hell. But then you hear and believe the Absolution, that you are forgiven because of what Christ has done for you in His life, death, and resurrection. You don’t confess your sins to God for His sake. He already knows what you’ve done. You confess for your sake, so that you come to grips with the reality that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and that you need a Savior. You confess that you have sinned against God, because it is good for you so to confess. And this is good for you, not because God wants you to feel guilty or have bad self-esteem. This is good for you because when you have been put to death by the Law of God, He can raise you up again to new life with the Gospel. It is good for you to confess your sins so that God can forgive your sins through Christ, your Savior.

The fact is, God doesn’t desire great sacrifices from you, as if you could ever give Him anything He doesn’t already have. What He wants from you is a contrite heart, a heart that is sorry for your sins and commends them to God for forgiveness in Christ. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). King David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance over his sin with Bathsheba. We pray with him, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4), because ultimately all sin, even when perpetrated against another person, is a sin against God. It is a sin against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” It makes the self a god. But we confess that sin. We name it before God. So that He can deal with it. And He does. He nails it to the cross of His Son Jesus. He buries it in the tomb. All that is left is the new life that Jesus gives us by His resurrection from the dead, by the power of His Spirit, in His Word and holy Sacraments. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we pray, “and renew a right spirit within me” (v. 10). Forgive my sins and give me strength to live according to Your will. He hears, beloved, and He answers. He does not despise your broken and contrite heart. The same Word Nathan proclaimed to King David I also proclaim to you this evening: “The LORD also has put away your sin.” He has put it away in Christ.

So, depart in peace. Live in the joy of forgiveness and life and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has restored to you the joy of your salvation. He has delivered you from bloodguiltiness. He has opened your lips, that your mouth may declare His praise. He gives you here His gifts in His Absolution and Word and Supper. The LORD has put away your sin. You shall not die. Rather, you will live eternally, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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