Archive for the ‘The Office of the Keys and Confession’ Category

And Sinners Will Return to You. Wed. after Oculi.

jesus caiphas frangipaneWednesday after Oculi—Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History—Trial Before Caiaphas

March 7, 2018

And Sinners Will Return to You


Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.


There is a fire in the courtyard.  Simon is trying to keep warm and trying to keep his head down.  He is also trying to keep an eye on Jesus across the courtyard without anyone noticing.  Jesus has His hands tied.  Around Him are the scribes, the elders of Israel, members of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, and the chief priests.  Jesus is on trial.


And as Peter listens, he hears his Lord give His testimony.  You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power and coming with the clouds of heaven.  And the high priest tears his robes.  Jesus has just referenced the seventh chapter of Daniel’s prophecy and applied it to Himself.  He says that He is the Christ, anointed by God as king over all the peoples of the earth.  That He will return as God’s judge of the men assembled in this night court.


And the assembled dignitaries of Israel give their decision—Jesus must be put to death for blasphemy.


The chief priests and the elders of the people were wrong to condemn Jesus, of course.  He had not taught people to worship a false god or prophesied falsely in God’s name.  The man standing before them was the God of Israel.


But Jesus did not deny that they had the responsibility and the right to judge.  They were God’s representatives.  It was their duty to try and condemn blasphemers and false prophets.


What was true of the chief priests and Sanhedrin is also true of this church named after the apostle who fell so badly that night.  You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that apostle later wrote despite his great sin.  All who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are, like Peter, priests, and share with Jesus the authority to forgive and retain sins.  To judge, despite the fact that we, like Peter, have ourselves sinned and denied Jesus.  Jesus has entrusted us with the office of the keys, that special authority that Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.


St. Paul writes about this, “It is actually reported among you that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from you…  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  (1 Cor. 5:1-5)


Paul means that the Church in Corinth is supposed to remove the unrepentant sinner from fellowship; pronounce that his sins are not forgiven, just as after confession the Church pronounces the forgiveness of sins by the authority of Jesus.  This is not putting him to death physically.  It is pronouncing God’s judgment that He will speak on the last day.


Paul says to do this “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  By speaking it now, the unrepentant may turn and be delivered.


Most of us here relate with Peter.  We know that we are not pure.  We have denied Jesus ourselves, and so we are very hesitant to ever speak words of judgment to anyone else in the name of God.


We should be hesitant to ever judge or condemn anyone in our own name.  When we judge people on our own authority, we condemn ourselves.  But when we hold back Christ’s judgment from unrepentant sinners, we are not really showing them mercy.  We are going easy on ourselves, because we are afraid of being condemned by unbelievers as harsh and unloving.


Jesus preached, Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:19-20)  About that Jesus we are saying, “I do not know Him.”

He proclaims that our righteousness must be perfect to enter the kingdom of heaven.  For that He was condemned to die on the cross as a blasphemer—for confessing that He would return with the clouds in divine majesty to judge the living and the dead.  The priests tore their robes and called it blasphemy and handed Him over to Pontius Pilate.


We do not want to stand with Jesus and proclaim His judgment.  We do not want to be His Church that proclaims His judgment and His forgiveness because we are afraid.  “I do not know Him,” we say, with Peter.




Before us is Jesus, the Son of the Blessed.  He is the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.  (Rev. 3:7)


He preaches the judgment of God on us and through us, His Church, so that the world may be saved from eternal death.  The times have changed, people say.  The times have changed; the hour is late.  Judgment is very soon.  But the judgment of God has not changed.  The torment of hell will never change.


Jesus preaches the judgment of God so that the lost may be brought to repentance and saved from eternal death.


When the priest questioned Him, He confessed the truth—that He is the Christ, anointed by God to be king over human beings and to be priest for human beings.  He alone will rule over human beings, as their Redeemer and Savior, or as their judge.  He alone is able to reconcile God to us.  Our leniency toward sinners cannot take away their sins or our own.  Our leniency has no more validity before God than our self-righteous judgment, our unjust judgment, like the unjust judgment of the priests that Jesus was a blasphemer.


Only God’s mercy makes sin go away, and only His condemnation makes us truly guilty and condemned.


It was God who condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, and a denier.  It was His mercy that permitted His only Son to take up our sins as His own; it was His mercy that allowed Him to be condemned for them instead of us.


Only those who know that they are condemned by God are able to come to Jesus and receive God’s mercy.


Jesus was silent before the accusations they made against Him to the high priest because He was willing to bear every charge against us and the whole world and be condemned for them..  He was willing to shed His righteous blood so that we would be acquitted by God.


He was willing to be Christ for us, to be anointed as our king and priest.  He was willing to be our King and be led into hell to rescue us.


He was willing to be our priest, and to offer up Himself as the sacrifice that brought the wrath of God against us to an end.


This is why you are no longer the one who has denied Jesus countless times.  This is why you are no longer the hypocrite who has no right to speak His Word to anyone.  The judgment and the forgiveness that you speak and that I speak in His name are not spoken on our own authority, but in the authority of the Son of the Blessed One, the Christ, anointed by God, the rightful King who judges the living and the dead.  What He says, and what He authorizes and calls us to say, is not for the destruction of our family, neighbors, brothers.  It is for their salvation.  It comes from the mouth of Him who was silent as He was tried and condemned for the sins we try and fail to deal with ourselves.


The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Soli Deo Gloria









Absolution Hymn–Missing Stanzas


absolution according to jack chick

Don’t put words in God’s mouth that He doesn’t say!  That’s a bad move. God actually says the exact opposite of the “god” in this comic.  Men can and do forgive sins when God has authorized them to do so, even if it bothers the Pharisees: Cf. John 20: 22-23; Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18: 18, 20; Matthew 9:1-8

People at my congregation know this hymn, although in a different translation, but there are some stanzas that sadly aren’t in our hymnal.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of my chief prayers is that God would cause people to recognize the gift He preserved in the Lutheran Church of the practice of private confession and absolution.  This is a gift that exists in no other church as it does in the Lutheran Church (except where they have learned it from us), and is one of the key examples of how the church of the Reformation differs in spirit from those of other protestant churches as well as from the church of Rome.  You get a glimpse of these different spirits in action when you read the sentiment expressed in the Jack Chick tract above and then compare it with the stanzas of the hymn below.  This is clearly not a minor issue.  The tract shows how fundamentalists (and American evangelicals typically) think: to trust in absolution leads to damnation.  Contrast this with the scriptural faith of the reformation that breathes in the stanzas below:

1.Yea, as I live, Jehovah saith,

I would not have the sinner’s death,

But that he turn from error’s ways,

Repent, and live through endless days.


2.  To us therefore Christ gave command:

“Go forth and preach in every land;

Bestow on all My pard’ning grace

Who will repent and mend their ways.


3. “All those whose sins ye thus remit

I truly pardon and acquit,

And those whose sins ye do retain

Condemned and guilty shall remain.


4.  What ye shall bind, that bound shall be;

What ye shall loose, that shall be free;

Unto My Church the keys are giv’n

To ope and close the gates of heav’n.”


5.  They who believe when ye proclaim

The joyful tidings in My name

That I for them My blood have shed,

Are free from guilt and Judgment dread.


7.  However great our sin may be,

The Absolution sets us free,

Appointed by God’s own dear Son

To bring the pardon He has won.


9.  This is the pow’r of Holy Keys,

It binds and doth again release;

The Church retains them at her side,

Our mother and Christ’s holy Bride.


–Nicholas Herman, 1560.  Trans. M. Loy, 1880.

An Example of Announcement for Communion or Confession (2nd Discussion)

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

loehe5 profileHere’s the second of three discussions from Loehe’s example of announcement for confession.  I call it “announcement for communion” because that’s how it was referred to in the Missouri Synod.

It can be found in Der Lutheraner volume 3, p. 44.  And you can get an English translation of the book here.


Second Discussion

Margaretta: I would like to come to the confessional.

Parson: That’s good, why do you want to?

M.  So that I confess my sins.

Pn: So, even you have sins?

M:  We are all sinners and fall short of the glory we should have before God.

Pn:  Do you also know your sins?

M: Some we know and some we don’t.

Pn.: But one must still know those that are known, else, there wouldn’t be known sins, so do you know them?

M.:  I’ve never done anything wrong, and no one can say I have.

Read more…

An Example of Announcement for Communion

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

loeheA little before I was born a practice that had been common in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod passed into oblivion.  It was called “announcement for communion.”  People used to go talk to the pastor before they went to the Lord’s Supper.  I’ve never really been too sure what went on in these talks.  From asking older people in the church I’ve gathered that over time it became little more than a ritual of going to church and signing your name in a book as intending to commune.  Later people began to phone in their announcements.

But it always struck me as interesting that there was this practice in the Lutheran Church that bore some resemblance to confession prior to communion and that it only recently died out.  Yet you never hear anyone talk about it or suggest resurrecting it.  I’ve written another post touching on the subject (here), but that was two years ago and I can’t remember what I said.

I’ve been flipping around in a fantastic book I bought recently–a translation of C. F. W. Walther’s early volumes of Der Lutheraner, the newspaper he started before the Missouri Synod was even founded.  (Thanks to Pr. Joel Baseley for his work in translating it; you can find the book here.)  I stumbled upon a sample dialogue between a pastor and would-be communicants at announcement for communion, authored by no less than Wilhelm Loehe.  I reprint part of it here for your edification and perhaps to entice you to buy a copy of the book.

A note: the confession referred to in what follows seems to have been a corporate service of confession and absolution rather than private confession and absolution.  Although in the first century and a half or so after the reformation it was normal for Lutherans to go to private confession before communion, by the time this was published (December 1846) private confession and absolution was seldom used.


Announcement for Confession

A sketch as to its nature.  by W. Loehe


First Discussion

Balthisar: Good day, Parson.

Parson: Good day, Balthisar, what do you want?

B.  I want to announce for Confession this Saturday and the Lord’s Supper Sunday.

Pn.  So why do you want the Lord’s Supper now?

B.  Why?  I think it is now the time to have the Lord’s Supper again.

Pn.  Why now?  Is it because you do that every year at Advent?

B.  Yes, in my family we’ve always thought we should observe that, so if it’s Pentecost or Christmas day or in Advent we go to the Lord’s Supper.  So I do that, too.

Pn.  So you are going because of that custom?

B.  Sure, why not?  I don’t agree with the tradition many hold, who go but once a year.

Read more…

“Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013

March 21, 2013 7 comments


cranach let the little children 1Wednesday after Judica (Vespers)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-17/ Passion History/ Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate?

March 20, 2013

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it”

Jesu juva!



Jesus died for you.  You are saved.  That is a short and sweet rendition of the article of justification.  Lutherans have always said that the Christian Church stands or falls on the article of justification.  If you keep that front and center, it will save people; God will build His church on it.  When it is kept straight the conscience is comforted, and all the other articles of the Christian faith will be preserved.  But without it all of the teaching of the Church is corrupted.  Without it there will not be harmony in the Church.


That sounds good.  But in practice it doesn’t look true.  Jesus died for you, you are saved.  That’s enough for salvation?  That’s enough to keep the Churchpastor with black eye alive and together?  Have we found that to be true?  No, it looks to us like either the Lutheran reformers were wrong or it hasn’t been taught clearly here lately.  Because the churches that have other things to boast about besides the article of justification do well and we feel like, to quote the Psalms, “A sparrow alone on a housetop, like an owl in the ruins.”


Once a catechumen told me, respectfully and honestly, “That seems too easy.”  He had a lot of Roman Catholic family, so it was understandable.  But it’s not just the pope’s church.  If a Baptist asks you, “Are you saved,” tell them yes, and then if they say, “How do you know,” say, “Because Jesus died for me on the cross.”  What will many of them say?  “Yes, that’s true, but did you accept him into your heart, really and truly?  Do you have a relationship with Him?”


And it’s not just them either.  A lot of times it seems too easy to Lutherans, to Lutheran pastors.  Jesus died for me, so I’m saved.  But I’d like to see some evidence.  Holiness, victory over sin, any kind of victory.  What good is it if I preach Jesus died for us, and then everyone is just as angry and anxious as they were before?  Sometimes I ask that of myself, and sometimes you do too.


But there are some Lutherans, and not just little kids, either, who know in the time of trial, that the article of justification is their refuge.  Jesus died for me, so I’m saved.  It’s not easy to comfort yourself with that when the mountains are removed and tumble into the heart of the sea, when it looks like you are going to die or maybe your congregation is, and maybe it’s your fault, at least partly.  Can I get an Amen?


But there are some Lutherans who God has enabled to do it.  That’s the difficult art that Christians are taught by the Holy Spirit—to say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ word will never pass away, and His Word says that He saved me from my sins by His death on the cross.”


crucifixion thief on the crossBut there are even fewer who know how to comfort themselves with their Baptism, who can sing the hymn we just sang tonight and find comfort in it when Satan attacks or when death is near:

I am baptized in Jesus’ blood;

this is my pearl, my highest good,

which calms my soul in all distress

against the devil, hell, and death. 


Or as the old hymn in the Lutheran Service Book teaches us to sing:

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!

 I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. 

Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did release me

in a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?


If saying “Jesus died for me on the cross, so I’m saved” seems too easy to us, saying “I am baptized” seems even worse.  Especially if you were baptized as a baby.  A man who plays the piano at one of the nursing home services was raised at Messiah Luth. Church.  But now he’s a Baptist or a Nazarene.  He always really likes my preaching, except when I talk about Baptism.  One time he said, again, honestly and respectfully—“If all you have to do is be baptized as an infant to be saved, why don’t Lutherans just baptize babies as often as possible, even when their parents aren’t looking?”


But the baptism of infants is possibly the clearest picture we have of what it means when we say that salvation is by grace alone.  That is what Jesus is getting at when He says “let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (St. Luke 18:16-17).”

  Read more…

Prayer of a Person desiring to go to confession for the sake of the holy Absolution. Gebets-Schatz

February 12, 2013 8 comments

454pxWiblingenbeichtstuhl1298.  Prayer of a person who wants to go to private confession and desires the holy Absolution.

Lord Jesus Christ, my Redeemer!  You have bequeathed to Your beloved church here on earth and her faithful butlers (servants; ministers) the holy Office of the Keys with the promise attached to it, that what they  in the power of this office will loose or bind shall also be loosed or bound in heaven.  For such a grace-rich means and instrument of Your Spirit, I declare Your eternal laud, glory, and praise.  I beseech You from the bottom of my heart: since as a poor, bound sinner, I am  in need of this comforting loosing-key, and so that I will not be held in the fetters of the jailwarden of hell, let it come upon me through my Christian father-confessor, and for the sake of Your blood and death graciously release and acquit me from all my sins.  Lend me Your Holy Spirit alongside of the holy Absolution, that I may take hold of it in genuine repentance, unwavering confidence, good purpose [to amend my life], brotherly love, and thankfulness, and finally come to everlasting blessedness in heaven.  Amen.

–Sigismund Scherertz (1584-1639)—Superintendent at Lueneburg (Germany)



Seelen-Arznei und Spiegel der geistlichen Anfechtungen  (Soul-Medicine and Mirror of Spiritual Afflictions)

From Evangelische-Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz

Jesus Smiles At Me

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Jesus in jail. Иисус в темнице. Украина


A Lutheran Pastor’s Firsthand Account of Prison Life

by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

I am a Christian from an Orthodox country — the country of Romania. Having been in prison for fourteen years for my faith, it is now my missionary work to help persecuted Christians in Communist countries. I would like to tell you the stories of several Orthodox Christians with whom I was privileged to come into contact during my time in prison. Their examples and their deeds have been a constant source of encouragement to me throughout the years.

Always Rejoice The first man was a priest who was put in jail at the age of seventy. His name was Surioanu. When he was brought in with his big white beard and white pate, some officers at the gate of the jail mocked him. One asked, “Why did they bring this old priest here?” And another replied with a jeer, “Probably to take the confessions of everybody.” Those were his exact words. This priest had a son who had died in a Soviet jail. His daughter was sentenced to twenty years. Two of his sons-in-law were with him in jail — one with him in the same cell. His grandchildren had no food, they were forced to eat from the garbage. His whole family was destroyed. He had lost his church. But this man had such a shining face — there was always a beautiful smile on his lips. He never greeted anyone with “Good morning” or “Good evening,” but instead with the words, “Always rejoice.” One day we asked him, “Father, how can you say ‘always rejoice’ — you who passed through such a terrible tragedy?” He said, “Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written, ‘Rejoice with all those who rejoice.’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I don’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who are in church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice about all those who take. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice with those who do. I can’t see flowers [we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, stars — many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multicolored butterflies and with rainbows], but I can rejoice with those who see the rainbows and who see the multicolored butterflies.” In prison, the smell was not very good. But the priest said, “Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have picnics and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others have children. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.” That is why he had such a beautiful expression on his face.

Heaven’s Smile

Let me interrupt to tell you about another Orthodox Christian. He was not a priest, but a simple farmer. In our country, farmers are almost always illiterate, or nearly so. He had read his Bible well, but other than that he had never read a book. Now he was in the same cell with professors, academicians, and other men of high culture who had been put in jail by the Communists. And this poor farmer tried to bring to Christ a member of the Academy of Science. But in return, he received only mockery. “Sir, I can’t explain much to you, but I walk with Jesus, I talk with Him, I see Him.” “Go away. Don’t tell me fairy tales that you see Jesus. How do you see Jesus?” “Well, I cannot tell you how I see Him. I just see Him. There are many kinds of seeing. In dreams, for instance, you see many things. It’s enough for me to close my eyes. Now I see my son before me, now I see my daughter-in-law, now I see my granddaughter. Everybody can see. There is another sight. I see Jesus.” “You see Jesus?” “Yes, I see Jesus.” “What does He look like? How does He look to you? Does He look restful, angry, bored, annoyed, happy to see you? Does He smile sometimes?” He said, “You guessed it! He smiles at me.” “Gentlemen, come hear what this man says to us. He mocks us. He says Jesus smiles at him. Show me, how does He smile?” That was one of the grandest moments of my life. The farmer became very, very earnest. His face began to shine. In the Church today there are pastors and theologians who can’t believe the whole Bible. They believe half of it, a quarter of it. Somehow they can’t believe the miracles. I can believe the whole of it because I have seen miracles. I have seen transfigurations — not like that of Jesus, but something apart. I have seen faces shining. A smile appeared on the face of that farmer. I would like to be a painter to be able to paint that smile. There was a streak of sadness in it because of the lost soul of the scientist. But there was so much hope in that smile. And there was so much love and so much compassion, and a yearning that this soul should be saved. The whole beauty of heaven was in the smile on that face. The face was dirty and unwashed, but it held the beautiful smile of heaven. The professor bowed his head and said, “Sir, you are right. You have seen Jesus. He has smiled at you.”

Pure Orthodoxy

Now, to come back to this priest, Surioanu. He was always such a happy being. When we were taken out for walks, in a yard where there was never a flower, a piece of herb, or grass, he would put his hand on the shoulder of some Christian and ask, “Tell me your story.” Usually the men would talk about how bad the Communists were. “They’ve beaten me and they’ve tortured me and they’ve done terrible things.” He would listen attentively; then he would say, “You’ve said plenty about the Communists; now tell me about yourself. When did you confess last?” “Well, some forty years ago.” “Let us sit down and forget the Communists and forget the Nazis. For you are also a sinner. And tell me your sins.” Everybody confessed to him — I confessed to him, too, and I remember that as I confessed to him, and the more I told him sins, the more beautiful and loving became his face. I feared in the beginning that when he heard about such things he would loathe me. But the more I said bad things about myself, the more he sat near to me. And in the end he said, “Son, you really have committed plenty of sins, but I can tell you one thing. Despite all of these sins, God still loves you and forgives you. Remember that He has given His Son to die for you, and try one day a little bit, and another day a little bit, just to improve your character so it should be pleasant to God.”

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