“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
We’re familiar with this definition of the word confess. The Divine Service begins with Confession and Absolution. We confess our unworthiness before God routinely, training the self to despise sin, live humbly, and rely on God for mercy.
Only sin is forgiven. Only sinners will go to heaven. “Jesus, Sinners, Doth Receive.” We must confess our sins to God. It’s not possible to believe in God and not to confess sin. This definition of confession is essential. But so is the other churchly definition.
We must confess Jesus, the Christ, to the world.
Jesus says, “Whosoever confesses me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).
And St. Paul writes: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
So, we should confess the faith before the world.
We should speak true words about Jesus to living people—words that Jesus, Himself, has given to us through St. Luke: “[Jesus was] delivered over to the Gentiles and [was] mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they [killed] him, and on the third day, he [rose]” (Luke 18:32-33).
At the time, the disciples “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:34), but to us it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 13:11).
“There is salvation in no one else [no one other than Jesus, whom you crucified and God raised from the dead], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
So we must confess our sin, and we must confess Jesus before men. We must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe with our heart that God raised Him from the dead.
It’s not possible to believe and not to confess the faith.
Consider tonight’s Gospel lesson as both an illustration of the Christian life and a visual definition of both churchly uses of the word confess.
“As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight…” (Luke 18:35-42).
We should confess the faith in and before the world, just as the blind man confessed his faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38).
Though the world was against him, he did not relent.
He was hushed, silenced, embarrassed, and chastised.
He was unwanted.
Still, faith confesses the truth: Jesus is the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Redeemer of our bodies.
Faith cries out, “Have mercy on me!” because the only answer to sin and death, sickness and poor sight is Jesus.
We should confess the faith in and before the world, just as the blind man confessed his faith.
That means we should talk to our friends and family about Jesus. The differences matter.
It should matter, it should be a topic of conversation that you bring up in a loving way, that heterodox church bodies practice closed communion.
I’ve heard the argument that it’s a greater show of love and hospitality to practice open communion.
And I’ve heard that open communion is the way to grow the church.
But it is not hospitality to hope your guests aren’t allergic.
It’s not hospitality to hope your guests commune worthily.
And—facts being stubborn things—the only church bodies hemorrhaging members faster than us…are the church bodies who embrace open communion, despise a godly patriarchy, and worship the idol “progress.”
These things should matter to us because they matter to God. We must confess the faith—at church and at home, to friends and to family.
But we must also confess the faith this way: the only reason there are blind eyes, the only reason young children die of inoperable brain tumors, the only reason there’s grief and fear and hurt and sinful practices like open communion is because of sin.
The blind man in the Gospel lesson is blind because of sin. Not his own, perhaps, but sin, regardless and for sure.
Confessing that his eyes are blind—imploring Jesus to restore his sight, that is—he’s confessing that he’s fallen, less than the “very good” of God’s Creation.
Eyes were meant to see, ears to hear, and tongues to confess. And when they can’t, when they don’t, the devil gets his wish.
And so, from heaven to earth, Jesus comes to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute—not simply to make their earthly lives more palatable—but to show us that the “very good” of Creation will also be the “very good” of the Resurrection, the life to come.
What we lost in the Fall into sin, Jesus restores.
Faith hears this promise, lays hold of it, and trusts God above all things.
And lest we puff ourselves up with conceit, this faith is a gift.
Saving faith that confesses the Truth before God and the world is a gift. Jesus literally says, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 18:42).
If faith heals, we have a problem.
Faithful people die every day.
A faithful boy I know died this morning due to complications from an inoperable brain tumor.
He didn’t die because he lacked faith.
Faith doesn’t heal.
He died because he was a sinner, and “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
You can tell that today’s faith healers are liars because they practice their art privately at Wrath of God Pentecostal Palace and not publicly at St. Jude’s or the local cancer ward.
Faith didn’t heal the man. Jesus did.
Faith saves, Jesus says.
We believe, teach, and confess Sola Fidei. Faith Alone.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith [alone]. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So faith—that trusts in Christ alone—saves—though it might not heal your eyes, ears, heart, or mind.
But healing and salvation are connected in the forgiveness of sins and the Resurrection.
The once-blind man, whom Jesus just healed, could be stricken blind again, accidentally or not.
The miracle, giving sight to the blind, identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Holy One of God, the Son of David, showing us what the Resurrection looks like: very good.
Seeing eyes, hearing ears, and life eternal—that’s the final conclusion to faith alone and the forgiveness of sins.
We receive this as often as we hear and receive and believe the Word of God.
Some receive it first in Holy Baptism.
Some receive it in the Word proclaimed and taught.
We receive it tonight, also, in the Word poured out for us, given and shed for our forgiveness.
But notice that faith doesn’t stop there.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:42-43).
Faith follows Jesus—literally, then.
But we follow Jesus, now, by glorifying God, by hearing the Truth and speaking it.
We confess our sins. We confess the faith.
We confess the mercy of God by confessing sin and trusting that God has forgiven us in the sacrificial death of Jesus.
We confess the mercy of God in that faith alone saves and that God gives that faith freely as a gift.
We confess before God. We confess before the world.
As the once-blind man, with the crowd, followed Jesus, glorifying God and giving Him praise, so we confess our sin, cry out to Jesus and confess, in saving faith, that He is the Son of David, our God and Lord, follow Him.
We follow Him. We thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.
That’s what it means, in the church, to confess.
So let us, therefore, confess Jesus before men, that He would confess us before the angels.
Let us confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and Christ.
Let us believe with our heart that God raised Him from the dead.
Let us confess our sins so that we are, today, saved, and, on the Last Day and forever, healed.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Wednesday of Trinity 16 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt