The Commemoration of the Augsburg Confession
Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 25, 2014
“Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
There have never been very many Lutherans in Augsburg, but the confession of the truth is not a matter of numbers. The majority does not rule in Christ’s Church. The assembly that faithfully confesses Christ is small and despised. She isn’t so pretty in the eyes of the world, but she is beautiful to her Lord Jesus.
Today we celebrate the 484th Anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530. It is a beautiful confession. It is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. But we do not celebrate the writing skill of Philip Melanchthon. We celebrate our justification before God by the blood and merits of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life that our Savior, Jesus, freely gives to us poor, miserable, sinners. We celebrate the truth of the gospel. And we confess it. The Augsburg Confession puts Christ alone as our righteousness before God at the heart of the Christian religion. When Christ’s vicarious obedience and suffering are central the faith has a sure foundation. Genuine Christian confession flows from it.
To confess Christ is to confess God. There is only one God. The one God, the only true God, is the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is the God in whose name we have been baptized. He is the God who loves us. He is the God in whom we trust. He is the God we confess.
To confess Christ is to confess our sin. Only sinners need a Savior and if Jesus is to be your Savior, you must first be a sinner who needs to be rescued from the perils of his sins.
To confess Christ is to confess the truth of who he is. He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary. The man who suffered and died for us on the cross is our God. Nothing less than the blood of God was required to wash away our sins and reconcile the Father to us.
To confess Christ is to confess that we cannot be justified before God by our own strength or by anything we do, but that we are justified freely by God’s grace when we believe that we receive God’s favor and forgiveness for Christ’s sake, who has made full satisfaction for our sins.
The Augsburg Confession confesses Christ. To confess Christ is to confess who he is, what he has done for us, and what he teaches us. We don’t believe what we choose to believe. We believe what Jesus teaches us. This is what we confess.
A famous American Lutheran of the 19th century by the name of Charles Porterfield Krauth wrote: “Faith alone makes us Christians but confession alone marks us as Christians.” God sees what makes us Christians: our faith. The world sees what marks us as Christians: our confession of the faith.
God alone sees our faith. It is precious in his sight. Of everything God makes and establishes in this world, nothing he makes is as precious as the faith that receives Christ and his benefits. But it is invisible to the human eye. Our faith is born in weakness and dire need. While it receives the treasures of heaven, it doesn’t do anything. Faith doesn’t do. Faith simply receives Jesus by trusting in him.
Faith doesn’t try to earn God’s love. Faith knows that Jesus gives and reveals it. Faith doesn’t try to earn God’s favor. Faith doesn’t work to get a reward. Faith trusts in the work that Jesus does. Jesus earns for us God’s favor. Jesus works for us as he loves with a singular purpose of doing absolutely everything that love requires. He does it. He suffers it. Jesus does and suffers. He does by showing compassion to people who suffer from sin and sin’s effects. He suffers by choosing to bear in his body and soul the full and final judgment of almighty God against all sinners. He becomes sin for us, though he himself knew no sin because he was incapable of it. Yet he chose to embrace every bit of our sin, and by taking it upon himself he set his love against our hatred, his purity against our lust, and his humble obedience against our pride. He set good up against evil, and by bearing all of the evil, he destroyed it in his own body, by overwhelming it with his good. This is what Jesus has done, and this is what our faith receives, and rejoices in, and this is why our faith is so very precious to God. It receives the Priceless Treasure who is Jesus Christ himself. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” God said. And so he loves the faith that we have, not only because it is his own perfect creation, but because it receives Jesus Christ whom God the Father loves with a perfect and eternal love.
No human being can see such faith in another. But we can confess it. That is what we must do. Christians confess. They say what they believe about God. It is as natural to a Christian as breathing.
Confessing the faith is the most solemn duty we face in our life. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Go along to get along.” He says “whoever confesses me I will confess” and “whoever denies me I will deny.” Since it is our personal faith that receives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in the gospel; since it is through the personal faith of the individual Christian that he is a part of the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church; our confession of the faith must also be personal.
But as each of us confesses the Christian faith personally and individually, we never confess alone. Our confession of the faith is always corporate. We confess what the body of Christ also confesses. We don’t each have our own unique brand of Christianity. We all together receive in faith the same word of God, the same promises of God, the same gracious gifts from God; and we all together confess the same Christian faith.
We live in a time of profound, even invincible, doctrinal apathy. It is amazing how little people care about the truth. Even people who are willing to talk about Jesus, about their personal relationship with Jesus, about their love for Jesus, know little and care less about who Jesus really is, what Jesus really did, and what Jesus really says. When you ask such Christians where they stand on matters of Christian doctrine, they look at you in wonder, for they cannot imagine what Christian doctrine has to do with being a Christian! To them Jesus is a warm feeling that makes them feel good all over. The truth of God’s law and the truth of God’s gospel escape them. They don’t know how to discern the difference between right and wrong and they sincerely don’t understand what difference it makes what we believe so long as we believe in Jesus (whatever that means). They think that confessing the faith is mouthing pious-sounding words of love for Jesus while at the same time dismissing as unimportant the true teaching about Jesus. They despise the truth while claiming loyalty to the One who called himself the Truth. They talk about Jesus, but won’t submit in faith to what Jesus himself teaches them.
When we confess our faith in Jesus, we confess that everything he teaches us is true, and nothing he teaches is negotiable. To despise the pure doctrine is to despise our teacher and our teacher is Jesus. He will not accept a pretend confession of faith that says the truth doesn’t matter. The faithful confession of Jesus is not talking about how much we love him, but about how much he loves us, and that, brothers and sisters, is talking doctrine. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the two natures in Christ; the doctrine of redemption, justification, the means of grace, baptism, the keys, and the Lord’s Supper; the doctrine of how the Holy Spirit works, and why we need him – all this heavenly teaching that we learn from the Catechism and confess in the Augsburg Confession is true. It is true because it is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, of the Holy Spirit, and of the Lord Jesus.
When we confess the true faith we will pay a price. That’s the way it is. People will think us to be simple minded, foolish, out of date, closed minded, dim witted, out of touch, unloving, judgmental, and the list goes on. If you confess the truth about Jesus, if you continue steadfast in that confession, you will most certainly pay a price for it.
But the price doesn’t matter because Jesus confesses those who confess him. And he does a far better job of it than we do. We confess him feebly, imperfectly, and sporadically. We must, with Peter and the other apostles, admit our failure to confess him purely and truly. He never fails to confess those who trust in him before his Father in heaven.
What does Jesus confess before his Father in heaven? He says, “Here are the children you have given me.” He says, “Here are those for whose sins I suffered, whose guilt I bore. Here are those who belong to me, and I acknowledge them. They bear the name of God. They are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Their names are written in the book of life.”
When Jesus confesses us as his own, he pleads for us. For the sake of his obedience and suffering he always prevails. He is our champion and he never stops interceding for us. He never turns away from us when we confess to him our sins. He receives us, absolves us, washes us clean in the waters of our baptism, gives us to eat of his body and drink of his blood, gives us his Holy Spirit, restores us, and confesses us before the throne of grace. This is why it is our joy to confess him. The truth that God brought to light in the Augsburg Confession is as vital and necessary today as it was then. So we confess it together.