Quasimodo Geniti—Easter 2 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
What has God done with your sin?
He has forgiven it in receiving and accepting the all-availing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
How, though, does God desire for you to receive that forgiveness?
In the gospel according to St. John, in how many verses does the evangelist use the word “forgive”?
What would you guess?
Out of more than eight-hundred verses and fifteen-thousand words, how often does the verb “forgive” occur?
Greater than five?
Greater than fifty?
Greater than one-hundred?
How about this—the verb “forgive” occurs in only one verse.
John chapter twenty verse twenty-three is the only time in John’s account of the gospel that the verb “forgive” is used: Jesus says to the Twelve (minus Judas, of course, and Thomas), “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23).
The word “forgive” is used only here.
But John talks about forgiveness everywhere.
In 1:12 the evangelist writes that “to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
And for you to become a child of God, God must take away your sin.
In 1:29, Jesus does exactly that. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
These are talking about what God does with your sin—He takes it away, making you God’s own child.
In 3:16 Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Those who have eternal life surely have forgiveness, but John doesn’t use the word.
In 3:19 and following, Jesus talks about light and darkness: the wicked hate the light. And whoever does what is true comes to the light.
Those who keep God’s Law and walk in the light have first been forgiven, but John doesn’t use the word.
In 8:24 Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Faith that does not confess Jesus as Lord and Christ leads to eternal death or “dying in your sins.”
Believing in Jesus, on the other hand, means your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.
But, again, John doesn’t use the word “forgive.”
Also in chapter eight, Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin…[but] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:34, 36).
The life of the unbeliever is that of a slave bound to sin.
The life of the Christian is freedom, forgiveness of sin.
But…John doesn’t use the word there either.
And in chapter nine Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41).
He says this to some of the Pharisees who don’t think themselves blind and don’t realize that “for judgment [Jesus] came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (9:39).
Believing God’s Word, confessing our own blindness and need, God opens our eyes to faith.
But John still doesn’t use the word “forgive.”
He talks about forgiveness everywhere.
In many and various ways, John tells us about the forgiveness of sins and what God does.
But John only uses the word “forgive” in chapter twenty when Jesus, on the evening that day, the first day of the week, came and stood among them.
We’re very good at answering the question, “What has God done with your sin?” We know that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19).
But how does God want us to receive that forgiveness?
“Faith” is the wrong answer, because it doesn’t answer the question of how you get faith.
“Grace,” likewise, doesn’t explain how forgiveness is delivered, just that you don’t deserve it.
The answer to how God wants us to receive forgiveness is in today’s Gospel lesson.
The first time Jesus appears to His disciples after the resurrection, when He sends them as the Father had sent Him, “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 withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’” (John 20:22-23).
When John finally uses the word “forgive,” it’s when Jesus ordains the first pastors of the Church and sends them to forgive and remit sins.
This is how God wants you to regularly receive forgiveness.
He wants you in church on Sunday morning, where the Word will be proclaimed.
You can count on hearing it here.
God wants you to hear the Absolution spoken by your pastor, who isn’t just saying what you want to hear but what you need to hear.
It’s not that you can’t hear the Absolution elsewhere, but you can count on hearing it here. And, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice, right?
I hate the sound of my voice, so I guess that’s good and bad.
It’s certainly true that any Christian can and should “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
But God has chosen to send shepherds amongst flocks, pastors to congregations, that you would hear Jesus through them Sunday after Sunday.
Paul writes in Romans chapter ten: “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? …So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-15, 17).
This isn’t a foreign concept to us.
For the most part, you have the same doctor year after year, or at least the same doctor for certain parts. And whether you want to hear what he has to say or not, he tells you what you need to know.
You go to him, because he’s your doctor.
In the Augsburg Confession, our Lutheran fathers made this their confession regarding what God does, Article IV: “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received in to favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight” (AC IV).
But they don’t stop there.
The next, logical question to ask is how do we receive this faith?
Article V: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word” (AC V).
So, now, we have to ask: how should you use your pastor?
Not for target practice, of course. We treat no one that way.
But neither do we go to our pastor for advice on literally everything.
I feel pretty confident that I can give a few good movie recommendations for just about anybody’s taste in movies, but ten minutes on Google and you could have a tailored list of a hundred movies just for you.
At times, I appear somewhat knowledgeable with technology, but that’s only because I use the same few things every day.
That you can use your pastor for those things doesn’t mean you have to, and if no one asks for help with their VCR or if I don’t give any movie recommendations, no one’s doing anything wrong and there’s plenty of people you can talk to about any of that.
But who has God put into your life to hear your confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will?
Who has God put into your life to—publicly—preach and teach the Word to you and your family?
I don’t say these things to put myself on a pedestal.
I say these things so that you can receive comfort when you need it most.
Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…” The “you” there isn’t you, it’s the pastors of the Church. Jesus teaches every Christian to forgive as they have been forgiven.
But for the public ministry, Jesus only sends pastors.
“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you…if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (Jn. 20:21, 23).
God has charged every pastor with the task of forgiving sins when possible and withholding forgiveness when necessary.
When you’re sorrowful over your many sins, when you doubt, when you’ve prayed but you have no answer, confess your sins and receive forgiveness as from God Himself.
Go to church, where you know you’ll hear Jesus’ Words.
Go to the Lord’s Supper, that you may eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Talk to your pastor.
This is how God wants you to—publicly—receive the forgiveness of sins.
We know what God has done with our sins.
For our comfort, we, now, also know for sure how he does it every Sunday.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!