Forgiveness Distributed Here
If we had a billboard it would say, "Forgiveness Distributed Here?" It would not say "motivation," "education," or "good vibrations" distributed here. These could indeed be here, but they aren't our reason for being. Trinity exists to distribute the forgiveness of sins.
This is out and out blaspheme to some. In the text, Jewish teachers of the law thought Jesus was blaspheming for distributing forgiveness. The power that amazed ordinary people was blasphemous to them. Some Reformed Christians get just as upset when I say, "I forgive you all your sins." They have a "Declaration of Grace" in their services, but they believe it's wrong to have an absolution; it's wrong to distribute forgiveness. Some Lutherans are infected with this theology. Grace, Elgin put on their marquee, "Forgiveness Distributed Here." The only one who called to complain was a Lutheran from Austin. In her church's contemporary services she heard the pastor speak about forgiveness for Jesus' sake, but he didn't say, "I forgive you." Why not? Because that is offensive to as many 21st century Christians as it was to many 1st century Jews.
But isn't forgiveness reserved for God? Didn't you chant in the Introit that the Lord "forgives all my sins?" Didn't you hear in the Old Testament reading that the Lord "blots out your transgressions" and "remembers your sins no more?" In fact, isn't the Lord emphatic that forgiveness is totally His doing? "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions." And in case you missed that, the Lord adds that he does so, "for My own sake." He is the one who forgets the sins we can't fail to remember. He is the one who doesn't treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. So who can forgive sins but God alone? Who dare claim they can?
It's true; the Introit and the Old Testament do speak of forgiveness as being wholly the work of God. But these passages don't tell you what causes God to blot out our transgressions, to not remember our sins, to not treat us as our sins deserve, to not repay us according to our iniquities, and to remove our transgressions from us as far as east is from west. God doesn't deal with sins by fiat. He doesn't just say, "I chose not to think of them anymore." If this were true, then God's wrath against sins would be a joke. When He says that our sins stink to high heaven, He's just kidding. Drowning an entire world filled with men, women, and children, was just a put on. He wasn't really angry at sins. At the cross, there really was no need to beat, whip, nail, and torture, His only beloved Son in your place. God could've just said, "Ah forget about your unbelief, your misbelief, and your other great shame and vice."
Unless you take the reality of God's wrath against your sins seriously, you will never take your need for a Savior seriously. And you know what? You can live that way. You can go through life thinking God winks at your sins the way you put up with a naughty dog. You'll be happy, relatively care free until your sins show themselves for what they really are. It's like in the horror movies when the innocent child or beautiful woman turns into a hideous flesh devouring creature. In crisis, in sickness, in spiritual affliction and certainly at death suddenly the sins you've come to regard as pets show their true nature. Rather than being a pet nibbling playfully on your hand you have a ferocious junkyard dog dragging you by the throat to hell.
Now try telling yourself that God isn't really mad at you for your sins. Now try telling yourself that the panic you feel is just a bad dream. Now try getting back to that calm feeling you knew for most of your life which assured you that God understood about your sins; He didn't think them a big deal. Now try to reason your sins away; now try to love God enough to make up for them; now try telling yourself that hell, damnation, and the Devil are just stories. And you know what? You may be able to quiet the screams coming from your mouth and the terror in your eyes, but you won't be able to quiet the terror in your screaming heart as you see hell opening and the Devil waiting to receive you as the damned sinner you are.
Unless you know what causes God to blot out, not remember, not repay, but to separate your sins from you, you have no defense against your sins, death, or the Devil. Knowing your Savior, you will know the cause of your forgiveness, and knowing your Savior you will know how it is that we can indeed distribute forgiveness here.
What caused God to blot out your sins was Jesus absorbing them so completely in His body that He became sin. What causes God to forgive sins and not remember them according to Jeremiah 31 is the New Testament which Jesus says is in His Blood. Jesus shedding His blood was a wrath removing sacrifice. His blood flowed out of Him and covered your sins. God doesn't remember what He can't see. What causes God not to treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to them is Jesus being treated and repaid for them. God abandoned Jesus on the cross as we deserve to be. He closed His ears to Jesus' prayers as He should close His ears to ours. He sent Jesus to the hell that our sins deserve. And what caused God to separate us from our sins is that Jesus put them on His shoulders and carried them away from us. He went one way with our sins; we go another without them.
What caused God go forgive sins was Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus, as a Man, won the authority that He always had as true God to forgive sins on earth. Jesus won this right by buying and paying for the sins of the world as a Man. Once you've bought and paid for something you can do with it whatever you want, can't you? Jesus, the Man who is God, owns your sins. He can forgive them; He can send them away from you though the world, the Devil, and even your own conscience sometimes doesn't think He can.
By His perfect life under the Law as a Man, by His terrible, holy suffering for sins on the cross, the God/Man Jesus paid for your sins and won the right to forgive them whenever, wherever He pleased. And before He ascended into heaven, Jesus made sure that this forgiveness would continue to be distributed here on earth. He left a franchise, so to speak. It's like with McDonald's. They have stores all over the world where you can get the same hamburgers. Jesus ascended into heaven but He left His Body, the Church, here on earth to distribute the same forgiveness He did.
Notice how we get to the Church and then to forgiveness in the Apostles Creed. We go through the article about the Person and work of Jesus. He is true God and true Man. He suffered, died, rose, ascended and will return to judge. Not one word of forgiveness yet. Then we say, "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints; The forgiveness of sins." First the God/Man Jesus does the work of redeeming us. Then the Holy Ghost brings us to faith in this and leads us to the Church in which Christian Church forgiveness is daily and richly distributed.
Jesus won the right as a Man to forgive sins on earth. He can give this right to anyone He wills. So in the upper room on Easter night, He breathes upon the apostles and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven," and He commanded them to preach repentance and forgiveness to all nations. But even this was not enough. In addition to a Word that forgives sins on earth, Jesus left a Water that washes sins away. He even left us His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine as a guarantee that He gave His Body and shed His Blood on the cross to forgive sins.
If you don't go to McDonalds, can you still get their hamburgers? O you can think about them, daydream about them, draw pictures of them, you can pretend you're eating one, but you can't really have a hamburger from McDonald's unless you get one or someone brings you one from where they are distributed. Likewise, you can think about forgiveness, daydream about forgiveness, draw pictures of being forgiven, and pretend you have forgiveness, but you don't really have it unless you get it from where it is distributed.
I can hear your objections already. Doesn't Jesus teach us to pray daily for forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer, and doesn't He declare in I John, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us?" The issue isn't whether God answers prayers for forgiveness or forgives confessed sins, but where on earth does He do these things?
Do you know what most people believe? God forgives sins through prayer or through their confessing. Do you know where this places them? With those who think that something they do causes God to forgive sins. So they are condemned to always wondering have they prayed or confessed well enough. They don't come to Church for forgiveness but for motivation to confess sins better, for education on how to pray better, or for good vibrations toward God to make them want to pray or confess more. And therefore, they come to Church whenever they feel like it because you don't always feel you need motivation, education, or good vibrations to pray or confess your sins.
However, if you know the only thing that causes God to forgive sins is Christ and that only through Him do you have forgiveness, you go where He tells you forgiveness is distributed. You go to Church; you use Word and Sacraments for forgiveness. And not just for forgiveness but for life and salvation because as we say in the catechism "where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation." And because no one can honestly say they ever have enough forgiveness, life or salvation, we keep going to Church, we keep using Word and Sacrament.
If forgiveness of sins is not distributed here, then what's here that's not in your house, your job, your social clubs? Well is it or isn't it? Is the one who declares He has authority on earth to forgive sins here? Are the Words of forgiveness I speak His or mine? Is that Water there just plain water or is it a life-giving water rich in grace? Is that going to remain Bread and Wine or will it become the Body and Blood of Jesus? There's your answer. Where Jesus is there forgiveness is distributed as sure as where McDonald's is hamburgers are. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VII (20060219); Mark 2: 1-12