Quasimodogeniti Sunday Sermon
April 3, 2016
“The Ministry of Jesus Christ”
So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Jesus Christ has the authority to forgive you all your sins. He bought this authority with his own blood. When he said to the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:2, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you,” some of the scribes accused him of blasphemy. Why only God can forgive sins! True enough, but Jesus is God in the flesh. The proof is that he raised himself from the dead.
The doors were locked. There he was. How did he get into the room? The Bible doesn’t say. But it was Jesus standing there. He showed them his hands and his side. He was the same Jesus who had been crucified. By that death, he had earned a precious gift. He bore the sin and the guilt and the death of all people. This means that he has the authority to forgive us all our sins and so to free us from our guilt and guarantee us life in the face of death. Only Jesus has the right to forgive us. Only Jesus has the words of forgiveness. There is no other gospel than the gospel that Jesus preaches to us.
He came by water. He was baptized. He did not come by water only. He came by water and by blood. He died. When he was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and God the Father identified him as his beloved Son. He came by water. After he was crucified, it was through the mouth of a Roman soldier that he was again identified as the Son of God. He came by blood.
He who came by water and blood comes to the men he taught for three years. He speaks words of peace to them. He isn’t praying for peace. He is imparting peace to them by the words he speaks. He says it and it is so. He fought the war on the cross and he won the peace. He waged war against all the evil of all mankind. He wrestled with the devil and all his evil hosts. He faced the judgment of God’s perfect justice against all sinners. He was forsaken by God. He swallowed up all the sin of all the sinners who have ever lived. He won pure, eternal peace. When he was born, the angels preached: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Thirty-three years later, he won that peace by winning the war on the cross. God’s anger has been stilled. Christ has atoned for sin. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When he speaks words of peace, those words give what they say.
Then he says to those same men. “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” These men would speak for Christ just as Christ had spoken for the Father. Jesus then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. He earned it. Jesus has given this authority to his church on earth. He made it clear. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When the pastor preaches the gospel that Jesus gave to his church to preach, he does so by Christ’s authority. And when he does so, it is Christ himself who forgives sins. Christ has all power in heaven and on earth. Christ forgives sins here on earth. Christ decides how he will do it.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus teach anyone to pray the so called “sinner’s prayer” by which a sinner invites Jesus into his heart to be his personal Savior. You don’t become a Christian by praying a prayer. You become a Christian by means of the gospel. Jesus established in and for his church the office of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. We call them the means of grace because through them God gives us the forgiveness of our sins. We receive this forgiveness through faith alone.
Jesus has the authority to forgive sins where sinners live. Jesus invites sinners to come to his church because he has given this precious gift to his church. It belongs to the church. This is why no man can assume the office of the ministry unless he has a call from the church. St. Paul makes it plain in Romans 10:15 that nobody can rightly preach unless he is called. He asks, “How shall they preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent.
Since Jesus belongs to the church, so do the ministers. St. Paul writes in First Corinthians:
The ministry of Christ belongs to the church, the whole church, and nobody but the church. No government instituted among men has the power to forgive sins. The most powerful nations in the world do not have the power to forgive a single sinner a single sin. God gave this authority to his little flock of believers here on earth.
There are two errors to avoid when speaking of the office of the ministry. The first is that the ministry belongs only to the ministers. It does not. Jesus has given it to his church. Everyone who has the Holy Spirit has the authority to forgive sins. In cases of need, where there is no called and ordained minister, any Christian may absolve another by the authority of Jesus Christ. Christ gave the ministry to the whole church.
The other error is that we don’t need ministers because everyone is a minister. That’s not true, either. Jesus chose specific men to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and to forgive and retain sins. He set down specific qualifications for this office through the apostle Paul. Read through 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus to see what these qualifications are. A pastor must be able to teach. He must teach God’s Word in its truth and purity.
He must preach the law. The law tells sinners that they are sinners and that God is angry on account of their sins and will surely punish them. The pastor must preach that. Those who hear it should believe that Jesus Christ himself is talking. Didn’t Jesus say, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven”? (Matthew 5:20) The minister must speak for Jesus and call a spade a spade when it comes to matters of right and wrong. It it’s not what the minister wants to preach. It’s what Christ says to preach. If a member of the church openly persists in sin without repentance and refuses all efforts to show him his sin, the pastor must tell him he is not forgiven of his sins. This is what it means to retain sins. When the minister speaks those words to the impenitent sinner, it is by Christ’s authority. His sins are retained. If he doesn’t repent, he will certainly be condemned on the Day of Judgment.
The pastor must preach the gospel. That means more than just talking about it as if it is old news that everybody already knows. He must do as Jesus himself did on the road to Emmaus as he opened up the Scriptures to the disciples to show them the wonderful mysteries of the faith recorded in the Bible. The pastor must preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. There is no grace, no forgiveness, and no true life apart from Jesus. Grace flows from the wounds of Jesus. The preacher is to preach the blood and righteousness of Jesus. He must see to it that every single sinner sitting in the pew hears his need for Jesus and hears how Jesus has met that need. The pastor must believe that the words he speaks come from Jesus and give to the people the forgiveness of sins that Jesus himself purchased on Calvary for us all.
The purpose of the ministry is to proclaim to sinners the forgiveness of sins. That is why the minister must preach only the pure gospel and administer the sacraments according to Christ’s institution. If you change them, you are no longer administering what Christ has given. One of the reasons a pastor wears a robe and is called by his title is to remind him and the rest of the church that it is only according to his office that he has the right to say one word from God. Rolf Preus has nothing to say to you. He has no wisdom, insight, or knowledge that you need to know. But Christ gives you life through the words he gives his ministers to speak. The pastor is to speak for Christ.
Some people have a hard time believing that a mere man can speak words that impart the forgiveness of sins. How can a sinner forgive sinners? Jesus says so. On the basis of Jesus’ clear words recorded here in St. John’s Gospel, we believe that the words of forgiveness the called minister of Christ speaks to us are spoken to us by Christ himself. When the pastor preaches the gospel to us, it is Jesus talking. The same Jesus who on that first Easter Sunday comforted his demoralized disciples who were huddling in fear behind locked doors comforts us today. He gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Comforter comforts us through words spoken by a man.
When you hear the words of the absolution, you may hear the voice of your pastor, but you are hearing the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry so that through the ministers who faithfully preach his word, Jesus himself is speaking. When Jesus says it, it is so. You come to church and hear a pastor, but it is really Jesus you are coming to hear.
No pastor can know what you’re feeling inside or how you struggle with sins, doubts, or the fear of sickness, death, or some other loss. But Jesus knows. And when you come to church, you are coming to Jesus. Where his gospel is preached and his sacraments are administered, there is Jesus with the full authority to forgive us all our sins and to save us eternally.
Rolf D. Preus