“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake” (1 John 2:12).
On a popular radio program, the host said that he gets this question in many emails in one form or another, “How can I know I am forgiven?” It seems that if John's words answer those emails back in absolute confidence, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.”
People desire forgiveness and yet bristle many times at the delivery system. What do I mean? I posted a blurb from “What about… Confession and Absolution” by Dr. A. L. Barry on our church Facebook page and shared it on my personal page.
Here is what I posted:
“Sometimes visitors in a Lutheran service of worship are surprised to hear in the general confession and absolution our pastors saying: “Upon this, your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Almost immediately, some of my friends started to answer something to the effect, “I was raised Roman Catholic, and I don’t believe that statement,” or, “I don’t believe a man has the power to forgive or declare that my sins are forgiven.”
I considered and understood their objections. So, I asked them, “How do you know your sins are forgiven?” One of them said, “Well it says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Awesome Scripture, right? Point made: God is the one who forgives.
I then inquired, “Who wrote 1 John 1:9?” They said, “Well… John, I suppose.” “You mean to say that John, who is a man, under the authority of God, declared the forgiveness of your sins?” The conversation went quiet from thereon. But it is that simple.
Dr. A.L. Barry continues:
Our Lutheran Confessions help us to understand why our pastors speak this way: “It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, Who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command” (AC XXV.3). Absolution is the Lord’s life-giving, sure and certain word that does for us what no surgery, medicine, therapy, counseling, or advice can do for us. The Lord’s word of absolution doesn’t cover up or hide our sin. Nor does it give us only a temporary relief that soon fades away. Our Lord’s word of absolution reconciles us to God the Holy Trinity.
Absolution. That is our church name, the church where I am a pastor, and we are always asked to define the word absolution. “Absolution is the voice of the gospel forgiving sins and comforting consciences.” Simply, “You are forgiven!” You are forgiven because of what Jesus did for you! (See 1 John 2:1-2)
The Augsburg Confession, Article XI declares, “Absolution is the very voice of the Gospel, that we should believe the Absolution and regard it as certain that the forgiveness of sins is freely granted to us for Christ's sake.”
I love to get packages. I mean, who doesn’t? But have you ever had one of your security cameras pick up a delivery person who threw a package on the porch with reckless abandon?
What if they break the goods I ordered? Yes, that is a genuine concern, but I’m just glad to get the package in the meantime.
With God, we love the package—the package of forgiveness which is being delivered—but sometimes we cringe at the way it is delivered or who is delivering it. Those sinner-saint pastors seem to be reckless in the way they just “show up on the porch” of people’s lives, throwing the words, “You are forgiven!” at other confessing sinners. But they are delivering the goods! God has a strange delivery system, the foolish preaching of the cross and foolish preachers for Christ’s sake delivering it.
There was a time I needed absolution in the worst way, but I did not know it. In 2015, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Six months later, it went to my right lung. I was hit with a dose of anxiety and depression that I had only heard about but never had experienced. I was taking medication and getting counseling, but also took a sabbatical from my church.
During that time, I was encouraged to seek out a church that weekly gave absolution by preachers I was listening to on podcasts. I found one in Macungie, Pennsylvania. I listened to the teachings enough to know that I needed to go in and asked the pastor if I could take communion. I walked into the pastor’s office and said, “Pastor, I’d like to receive communion today.” He looked at me and asked this question, “Do you believe this is the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that was shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins?” With trepidation, I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “Then you can take communion.”
I was familiar with the Lord’s table, but I was not familiar with what was about to happen. Near the beginning of the service, the pastor and the congregation began to confess their sinfulness vocally. I did not love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, that I had not loved my neighbor as myself.
But to this confession, the pastor said:
“Upon this, your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the word, announce the grace of God to all of you. In the stead, and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
I sat there and wept like a baby. Yes, I had read about forgiveness in the Bible and heard it spoken of in churches. But I had never had anyone as a representative of Jesus in his white robe say to me, “You are forgiven.”
In the midst of all of my pain and confusion I had wondered if God was angry at me. That I somehow had brought this cancer and emotional illness on myself. That somehow I had deserved what I was going through. I thank God for that pastor. He gave me the message I needed to hear. I didn’t care how he was dressed or if this liturgical service was unfamiliar. At that point, I would not have cared if he threw the package right in my lap. I am so thankful that he delivered the goods to me.
I have since learned that God’s watery delivery system in baptism, and his broken body and blood through bread and wine, delivers his true forgiveness. That through the broken package of Jesus on the cross, I can know and need to hear it every day, including Sunday, that I am forgiven.
Get ready here comes the package… I declare to you today that you are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ and his grace.