In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Gen. 28:17) It was the gate of heaven because not only had God been in that place through the dream (Gen. 28:12, 16) but that God who is the gate of heaven (John 10:7, 9)—the very ladder by which one might reach heaven (Gen. 28:17), Jesus Christ, the one to whom the angels attend (Gen. 28:12b; Matt. 4:11; 26:53; Luke 22:43; Ps. 91:11-12) and go forth from to serve we who are elect to salvation (Heb. 1:14)—Jesus spoke a promise to Jacob. (Gen. 28:15) One of greatest promises of the Old Testament: I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and bring you back to this land I have promised you. (Gen. 28:15, 13) This means Jesus, the Shield of the righteous (Ps. 18:2, 30; Eph. 6:13-17), will be with Jacob—not as the hound of heaven hounding his conscience, bringing him to justice for those things he had do—but rather in grace and mercy; in peace and protection. Peace which passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) that operates first and foremost through the forgiveness of his sins and yours. Shielding you from what you deserve. Taking your sins and God’s just wrath against it on Himself.
For Jesus is the presence of God. He is the very God who’s greatest action is not to judge sinners for their sin, but to declare sinners righteous on account of His Son. This is what the people of Capernaum were both terrified of and glorified God for (Matt. 9:8)—they were floored that God, who is the only One who can forgive sins (Matt. 9:2-3) was in that place! (Gen. 28:16) That such authority—on account of God uniting Himself to human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ—had been granted to men on earth! (Matt. 9:8) That men could forgive sins on behalf of God. (Matt. 9:2-3)
This is why when I hear private confessions, or we have Confession and Absolution while visiting shut-ins, I almost always ask, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” Because God has given such authority to men. (Matt. 9:8) That His forgiveness—the key which opens the gates of heaven and unlocks the shackles of sins which are bound to you spiritually so that the weight and guilt of sin slide off you—this authority, this power is now exercisable by men. Men who are given to be in the office of ministry. Given by Jesus Christ, the One who gives some men to be apostles, some to be prophets, and evangelists, and some to pastors and teachers. (Eph. 4:11) Christ our Lord gives men on earth, not mankind, not all men, just select men, selected by His grace, recognized through His Church, to be His voice. His voice of healing which unlocks the gate of heaven. Which unlocks you from the shackles of sin and gives you an open door to life everlasting. Through Christ Jesus who is the gate. Who is the ladder. Who is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) The only Son of Father, who loves you—His brother, His sister, a beloved child of His Father.
The crowds saw it. The crowds in faith feared God and grew in fear, love and trust of God so that they glorified Him. Which is to say, they grew in faith toward God, that He forgives sins! That He does not count your iniquities against you. (Rom. 4:8; Ps. 32:2; 130:3-4) For that Man, that Healer, that Beautiful Saviour stood in front of them. The very Gate of heaven itself. The Doorway to life everlasting. And from now on, through Him, God has given authority to forgive sins to men whom Christ chooses and sends into the world. (John 20:21)
Christ Jesus choose first the Twelve, commissioning them on the day of His resurrection to forgive sins. (John 20:22-23) They later selected seven more (Acts 6:2-6) who might “serve at tables” by being pastors who distribute the Lord’s Supper (Acts 6:1-3), who baptize, (Acts 8:38) and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name. (Acts 6:8-10; 7:1-53; 8:4-5; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31) So that the word of the Lord grew and grew. (Acts 6:7)
Just as the Church of Christ Jesus has grown and grown throughout the ages, not by power, not by might (Zech. 4:6), but by the word of forgiveness proclaimed by those men who are sent to forgive sins. (Acts 6:7)
Now, throughout time we’ve called many jobs by what they deliver, pickup, or do: garbage man, milkman, delivery man, etc. But we’ve called Christ’s sent ones: apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, shepherds, pastors and priests. Lots of different names. But we could just as easily call them “forgiveness men.” For that is what they do. That’s what they deliver. They forgive the sins of any who are repentant. That is my job: to preach repentance from dead works (Heb. 6:1) so that sinners hear and repent. And we hope to hear back the confession of sin from sinners. So that we might make sinners into saints; ones who though their sins are like scarlet have been made white as snow by the precious blood of Jesus. (Isa. 1:18; Rev. 7:13-14) For as pastors declare you forgiven it is just as sure here on earth as if Christ our Lord said it in heaven itself. (Rom. 8:1; Small Catechism—Confession: “What is Confession?”) For by hearing this word authorized by Jesus Christ, powered by the blood He shed on the cross on behalf of your sins, you are given the Holy Spirit to believe that by that word from the pastor your sins are forgiven before God in heaven. For when Christ’s called and ordained servants of His Word deal with you, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. (Small Catechism—Confession: “What do you believe according to these words?”)
And when you realize that, when you firmly believe that, you crave and desire that absolution, that forgiveness of sins that is through your pastor. But even if don’t always know or understand that fully, when you hear those words authorized by Christ Jesus, you are given peace. I have seen it over and over again on your faces. Not only here at church, but especially when I have celebrated the sacrament where only two or three are gathered in God’s name. There and then, when that word of forgiveness comes to only those few gathered there it is sure and certain. For there is no one else there. You can’t look behind you and say, “He must mean them, not me."
This is the beauty of private Confession and Absolution, of speaking out loud in the hearing of God’s called and ordained servants of His Word your sins. Especially those sins which you know and feel in your heart. (Small Catechism—Confession: “What sins should we confess?”) Those which hound you and do not let you have peace, for those sins are always before you (Ps. 51:3), so that whether those sins have hurt someone else or not, or only you, eventually you realize that you have sinned against God and God only. (Ps. 51:4) That He is the only one who can wipe the sin off your soul and declare you pure and holy. Though you may at times be able to make amends for what you’ve done to others, nonetheless, He is the only one who can forgive sins eternally. And He who carried your sins to the cross has given this authority—His authority—to forgive sins to men. (Mat. 9:6, 8) So that by words, heard not in the uncertain quietness of your mind or heart, but heard audibly, from outside of you, by your ears, sometimes accompanied with hand on your head so that there is no doubt those word are directed at you—you personally—and almost always accompanied by the sign of the cross where your sins were paid for eternally, there by the voice of a man you now know that you are forgiven.
God be praised. For you are saved. You are forgiven, righteous and pure. For God is in this place. (Gen. 28:16) To forgive you your sins. (Matt. 9:6, 8) And not to bring them to remembrance. (1 Kings 17:18; Isa. 43:25)
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.