John 20:21–23 (NKJV)
21 So Jesus said to [the disciples] again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
For several weeks we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Today we consider the absolution. In just a moment, following our confession of sin, I will announce the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Why do we do this?
You may recall that one of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Some men brought a paralytic to Jesus and let him down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching. Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While each of us can forgive those who sin against us, we dare not presume to forgive their sins against God - only God can do such a thing. So the dilemma of our human condition is this: we all have sinned against God, so how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth? In the old covenant, God provided this assurance of forgiveness through the sacrificial system and the priesthood. He appointed the Aaronic priests to speak on His behalf:
‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Lev 5:5-6)
The priest shall make atonement for him – the priest shall announce to him, “Believe God’s promise in His word! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven.”
The reason controversy surrounded Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic is this: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew their doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked.”
According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic established an important point: the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus was announcing the end of the temple and the sacrificial system, that the Judaic Age was over. The priests no longer speak for God; Jesus does. And in this Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in His Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.
After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He then spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…” Jesus commissioned the Twelve to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end. Now the forgiveness of sins is preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone.
So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. Acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
So reminded this morning of the gift of forgiveness that God offers through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us confess our sins in His Name, trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who come to Him in faith. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.