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“And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Matthew 9:2 (Read v. 1-8)

In private confession and absolution, and each Sunday in corporate worship, sinners confess their sins to the Lord God and look to Christ Jesus and His cross in faith for the forgiveness of sins; and the pastor announces unto them the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgives the sins of penitent sinners. “But who can forgive sins but God alone?” some may ask.

This is what the scribes asked within themselves when Jesus forgave the sins of a man, sick of the palsy. They thought Jesus was guilty of blasphemy because He, seeing the faith of this paralyzed man and his friends, said to the man, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Of course, anyone can say the words, but if they lack the authority to forgive sins, those words are but a deception, a lie, a sham. But Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins. He said, “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”

And, what happened? The paralyzed man “arose, and departed to his house.” Jesus’ proved His authority to forgive sins, and He proved that His words to this man were indeed true. This man’s sins were forgiven! He could depart in peace.

And what about the words of your pastor when he hears your confession and points you to Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of the world – when he tells you to “go in peace; your sins are forgiven you”?

He may not be able to heal the sick or raise the dead; but Jesus did, and it is Jesus who commands him to preach “repentance and remission of sins” in Christ’s name (Luke 24:47). It is Jesus who commands His disciples and His pastors to forgive the sins of penitent sinners and to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent (John 20:22-23). It is Jesus who said, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

And notice that pastors do not forgive – or baptize, or administer the Lord’s Supper, or preach – in their own name and by their own authority. Rather, it is “in the stead and by the command” of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the paralyzed man, proving His authority to forgive sins. Jesus even rose from the dead, proving the sufficiency of His sacrifice on the cross to satisfy God’s just wrath against all sins (cf. Romans 4:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1ff.; John 1:29). Certainly, He who paid for our sins with His blood and then rose again from the dead on the third day has the authority to forgive the sins of all who look to Him in faith.

So, when you confess your sins to God – whether in corporate worship or in private confession – and the pastor, based on your confession and your profession of faith in Christ Jesus, announces unto you the grace of God and proclaims to you that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, you can depart in peace, in good cheer, for indeed your sins are forgiven by the Lord Jesus Himself – He has the authority to forgive sins! (Cf. Luther’s Small Catechism on Confession.)

O gracious and merciful God, forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake and grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may believe and rejoice in the pardon and forgiveness won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ and promised and assured to us in Your absolution spoken by the pastor. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Since we will gather for worship on Sunday and partake of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins, it is indeed good and right that we examine ourselves in accord with 1 Cor. 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

We do so this week on the basis of God’s commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12

What does this mean?

“We should fear and love God that we may not despise our parents and masters, nor provoke them to anger, but give them honor, serve and obey them, and hold them in love and esteem.” – Luther’s Small Catechism

When we examine ourselves on the basis of this commandment, we must ask ourselves if we have neglected to honor and obey our parents and others God has placed over us – employers at work, government and rulers in civil matters and pastors when they speak and apply God’s Word to us.

Consider the words of Ephesians 6:1-9: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”

The Bible also commands children to care for and honor their parents in their old age (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8).

We consider our station in life and examine ourselves accordingly. Children should examine themselves to see if they have disobeyed their parents, dishonored them or provoked them to anger, and parents should examine themselves to see if they have brought up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and not been overly harsh with them. Employees should consider if they have obeyed their employers and served them as they would the Lord. And employers are to consider how they treat their employees, whether they are overly harsh, pay them fair wages and remember that their employees, too, have been redeemed by Christ Jesus.

The Scriptures are clear in regard to those who rule over us. We are to obey the authorities God has placed over us so long as we can do so without disobedience to God (cf. Romans 13:1ff.; Acts 5:29).

And pastors, too, are to be honored and obeyed when they speak God’s Word to us and use that Word to rebuke our sins and offer us God’s comfort and forgiveness in Christ Jesus. The Bible says: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation … Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7,17).

Again, when we examine ourselves in the light of this commandment of God, we see our utter failures. We have disobeyed parents and others in authority over us, and we have not honored them as God’s servants who watch over us for our good. And we have neglected and abused those under us, not teaching them the fear of the Lord, being overly harsh and not treating them in love and honor as souls redeemed by Christ our Lord. We have sinned and, as sinners, stand condemned by God’s holy law.

But, we remember that Christ Jesus kept this commandment perfectly in our stead, obeying and caring for His mother and honoring those over him in civil government and in religious service. He obeyed in all things except where obedience to God and His Word necessitated His disobedience to man. And He went to the cross to suffer and die and bear the just punishment for your sins and my sins against His commandments.

Do you acknowledge that you have sinned? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment? Do you believe God’s commandment is good and right but you are wrong, a sinner deserving of the torments of hell?

The Bible says: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).

But the Bible also tells us that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).

Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you from the curse of God’s law? That He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands and then took your sins upon Himself, along with the sins of the whole world, and suffered your just punishment when He died upon the cross? Do you believe that Christ paid for your sins when he died upon the cross and that he rose again in victory?

Do you also believe Jesus gives you to partake of His sacrifice for the sins of the world in the Sacrament – that He gives you His body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins?

As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it to respect, love and trust in God above all else?

If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” Deuteronomy 10:12-13

What does God require of you and me – what does He expect of us? God tells us: He requires us “to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?”

And note that to do this is for our own good! There is indeed blessing in obeying God’s commandments, summarized in the 10 Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai and, prior to that, written upon man’s heart.

What’s the problem? We can’t! We are, by nature since the fall of Adam and Eve, stiff-necked, stubborn and rebellious – we go our own way and do our own thing rather than respecting God, loving Him and serving Him with all our heart, soul and mind. None of us loves the LORD God with all our heart, soul and mind; nor do we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). Even though God has been good to us and chosen us to be His own, we don’t measure up, we come short, we sin, we are guilty before God and deserving of His wrath and punishment. Instead of being blessed by God’s law, our sin brings its curse and God’s just anger upon us (cf. Gal. 3:10).

What’s the answer? Since we’ve all come short and cannot measure up under God’s good law, the answer and solution were provided by God Himself. He sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to fulfill God’s commandments for us; and Jesus Christ went to the cross to suffer the just punishment for our sins and the sins of all as our sinless sacrifice and then rose again from the dead that we might place our faith in Him and be counted just and righteous and forgiven in God’s sight (cf. Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5; Rom. 3:19-26; 4:23-25).

This is why we read in Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” When we acknowledge and confess our sins unto Lord and look to Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness, God deals with us in His grace and mercy and forgives us all our sins for the sake of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross (1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Psalm 32:1-6).

As believers, then, in Christ, we do, as a fruit of our faith, seek to fear and honor God by loving Him with all our heart and soul and by obeying all His commandments, but we recognize that we cannot be justified and righteous before God by our own flawed obedience. Rather, we trust in Christ’s perfect obedience and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead for our righteous standing before God because only in Christ can we sinners be pardoned, forgiven and given the eternal blessings of heaven.

O gracious and merciful God, we know that Your commandments are good and right, but we are sinners and cannot measure up. We deserve Your wrath and punishment. Graciously bring us to know and trust in Christ Jesus, your Son and our Savior, for forgiveness and preserve us in that faith unto life everlasting. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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Are you in a relationship with Jesus or in fellowship with God?

We hear much talk these days about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and, while the concept is not necessarily bad, it’s not exactly Biblical. Fellowship, on the other hand, is a Biblical concept and something which believers have with God the Father through faith in the Son, Jesus Christ.

Why would I say this? Well, look for the word “relationship” in a good Bible concordance. It’s not in the King James Version, the New King James Version, Young’s Literal Translation, the American Standard Version or the English Standard Version. It is used once in reference to a sexual relationship in the New American Standard Version and several times in the New International Version but not in reference to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, look up the word “fellowship” and you will find abundant usage.

What’s the difference between these two words? And, why are so many talking of having a personal relationship with Jesus when the Scriptures really don’t specifically speak of such a relationship?

If you look at what is said about having a “relationship” or “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, the focus is on us and what we do; and that’s appealing to people because most think of their faith as something they choose or do. And, how do we establish this relationship? The usual answer is by spending time in Bible study and prayer, attending uplifting and emotionally-moving church services, listening to Christian music and immersing ourselves in everything “Christian.”

While these things are not bad, there’s a problem. I am and you are, by nature, a sinner and spiritually blind, dead and an enemy of God (cf. Ephesians 2:1ff.) and we cannot by any choice we make or anything we do make ourselves acceptable to God or establish a personal relationship with Him.

Fellowship, on the other hand, is a Biblical concept in which we sinners who are out of fellowship with God and under His wrath and condemnation for breaking His commandments are brought into fellowship with God the Father through faith in His Son and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the entire world.

St. Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he [Jesus Christ] reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Colossians 1:21-23).

John writes of this fellowship in his first epistle (1 John 1:3; 1:6 – 2:2): “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ … If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

God desires that we have fellowship (koinonia) with Him, but the only way we sinners can have fellowship with the just and holy God is by acknowledging and confessing our sins against His holy law and looking to Christ Jesus the righteous and His propitiating or atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world (cf. John 1:29; 3:14-15; 14:6). When we are brought to faith in Christ Jesus through the hearing of God’s Word and continue in that faith by the Spirit’s working through the Word and Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Romans 10:17; John 6:44,63; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Corinthians 11:23ff.; Acts 2:42), we are in God-wrought fellowship with God the Father and His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and also with all other true believers in Christ Jesus.

I can’t establish and maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ or with God because of my sinfulness. Even my best efforts to establish a relationship with Jesus come far short of making me acceptable to God, and I am only fooling myself if I think my efforts are, of themselves, pleasing to Him.

But God has made it possible for me, a sinner to have fellowship with Him. He did that by sending His Son into the world a true man to redeem me from sin and make me acceptable in His eyes through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Galatians 4:4-5; Colossians 1:19-23). And, working through the preaching of the Gospel, He has brought me to faith in Christ, washed away my sins in Holy Baptism and assured me of pardon and forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. God brought me into fellowship with Him through faith in my Savior and His blood shed for me upon the cross; and God keeps me in that fellowship by preserving me in the faith through the hearing of His Word and through the promises of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (cf. Philippians 1:6).

Can I establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by my decisions and choices, by my life and works? No! But God has graciously chosen and called me to trust in His Son. He has brought me to know and trust in Christ Jesus. And, He has brought me into fellowship with Him and His Holy Christian Church made up of all believers in Christ of all time!

With that said, all who trust in Christ Jesus are in a relationship with Him. He is their Head and Savior; they are members of His Church and His bride. Cf. Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 2:1-10; Revelation 21:1ff. But the problem with most of the relationship talk these days is connected with erring views about who establishes the relationship and how. We don’t establish the relationship by our piety and devotion, God brings us into fellowship and makes us His children by God-wrought faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; John 6:44,63).

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]

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