Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Forgiveness You Can "Take to the Bank"

This picture is based on a story Jesus told in Luke 16:1-8. In the story, a rich man had entrusted all of his goods to a servant. The servant was allowed to buy, sell, and negotiate contracts in his master’s name. But when the master heard that the servant was wasting his money, the servant feared that he would lose his job. “What will I do?” the servant asked himself. “I cannot dig. I am ashamed to beg. I know what to do!”

The servant went to all the people who owed his master money. He gave them the bills that showed how much each person owed, and told them to write a lower amount. Because the servant had the right to do business in his master’s name, the new agreements were legally valid. Part of each customer’s debt was erased.

Surprise! The rich man praised his servant because he was so clever! Both men knew that the master could not go back on the agreement his servant had made. Of all the goods entrusted to the servant, his master’s word was the most precious. The master could not go back on his word. The debts that the servant forgave in his master’s name, were really forgiven!

God’s forgiveness is the most precious thing a sinner can have. Our sins are like a debt that we owe to God, but we can never repay it. Without forgiveness, we would be imprisoned in hell forever.

Even when you know that Jesus died for your sins, it sometimes doesn’t feel like your sins are forgiven. The Bible tells you that God forgives sins, but you do you know your sins are forgiven? What if you sin again after God forgives you? The more often you need forgiveness, the harder it is to believe that God’s forgiveness is for you.

This is why Absolution is so wonderful. That’s when your pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” That is completely clear. It answers all your questions. Which sins are forgiven? All of them! On what condition? No conditions – they’re just forgiven.

But what if you think, “That’s just what my pastor says. What is his forgiveness good for? How can he give me God’s forgiveness?” That’s when it helps to remember the story of the clever servant. The pastor is a servant whose master is God. Like the clever servant in Jesus’ parable, your pastor has been entrusted with God’s Word. So when he forgives your debt of sin, you really have God’s forgiveness!

That’s what Absolution is all about. When the pastor says, “I forgive you,” he is committing God’s Word to you. And God is faithful: He does not go back on His Word. Even when His Word is spoken by a mere servant, God stands behind it. It isn’t a promise of future forgiveness, or of something that happens far away. Right there, right now, God is present through His Word to forgive you!

The Word of God is what makes absolution happen. The Word of God gives you the certainty that when the pastor forgives you in God’s name, God Himself forgives you. This is what Jesus promised to His disciples, the first pastors, in John 20:21-23. So even though your pastor is an imperfect sinner like you, as long as he is a servant of God’s Word, you can take his forgiveness “to the bank”!

IMAGE: Reymerswaele, Marinus van (1490/95-c.1567), The Parable of the Unfaithful Steward. Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

No comments: