Father, Forgive Them

Text: John 11, Office of the Keys/Confession
Date: Midweek Lent V + 4/1/09

Our forty-day Lenten journey is almost over. During this time we have noted the ancient model of preparing candidates for baptism and incorporation into the Body of Jesus Christ, his Holy Church. In the basic teaching of the scriptures and the catechism we are given much to ponder, much to believe. We are born again, born anew, born from above to eternal life through the gift of faith. We believe that God works through his Word, revealing his will and creating faith in the hearts of those who hear. We believe that God works through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper giving us the forgiveness of sins, new life now and eternal salvation for the sake of Christ. Tonight we note also the “third” sacrament in the Lutheran Church, confession and Holy Absolution. Confession and Absolution has God’s command and promises the grace of the forgiveness of sins.

We can summarize and harmonize the account of the raising of Lazarus from the grave with Holy Absolution by noting our Lord’s word from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” For when he spoke those words he knew his prayer would be heard and answered, for he was dying for them. It was the most powerful and effective prayer that ever was prayed. For, though he was the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, though he made the lame to run and gave the blind their sight, though he exercised his power as the Lord of Life in raising Lazarus from the dead, here he was giving his own life as the one and only sacrifice that makes forgiveness at all possible in the first place.

Forgiveness has to do with sin. The wages of sin is death. Physical death, of course, is the separation of the soul from the body. But there is more to it than that. For God created every human being to live forever. Unless our separation from God is remedied we are destined to eternal death, that is, every human being that ever lived will be raised with their bodies on the Last Day, even as Christ raised Lazarus from the tomb. But those who rejected Christ during this time of grace will be rejected and sent away, their separation from God will be confirmed forever. And on that day there will only be two places: with God in heaven or separated from God in hell, that place of eternal punishment created for the devil and his angels.

In our world, we often hear it said of a soldier giving his life in the service of his country that “he paid the ultimate price.” But when it comes to our eternal destiny, our own death, as ultimate as it may seem, is not the ultimate price. For the price and wages of sin is more than we can pay, even by our own death.

The wages of sin demand a death strong enough to pay off the debt and then have life left to live. And as this is beyond the ability of any human being, it took God himself to take on our created flesh, our human nature, to live the perfect, sinless life, and then, nevertheless, to offer up that life as the only perfect, sinless sacrifice—taking the wages of sin of the whole world into himself, thus breaking the power of death. By Christ’s death, and solely for his sake, our sin is disarmed and rendered powerless. There is no more price to be paid. In Christ, sin is taken away as well as the power of death to separate us from God any more and forever more.

Tonight we proclaim that Christ died for the sins of the world. And only His death has the power to destroy death and to restore life to all. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection the words “I forgive you all your sins” when spoken in connection with the name of Christ are powerful. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, as Jesus simply called forth Lazarus from the grave by the power of His life, so will He call forth all who have died on the Last Day, and those who belong to Him by faith will be raised with the bodies and be ushered, body and soul, into the eternal courts of life with God.

Next week we celebrate this most basic, fundamental and important aspect of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of our Lord for us and for the life of the world. May our celebration be joyful and with deep faith.