What do you believe according to these words? I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself. (Small Catechism, Office of the Keys)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. If your boss tells you to do something, do you say, “Not until I hear from the owner of this company that I have to do it.” What if you went to get medication at a pharmacy and they said, “This piece of paper won’t work. We need the doctor to come here in person to tell us what you need.” In all kinds of situations, one person is given authority to speak on behalf of another. It’s only in the church that we hear the nonsense that “A man can’t forgive sins. Only God forgives sins.”
That’s like saying your manager can’t set the schedule, only the owner can. It’s just silly. Of course, forgiveness is only in and through Jesus who bore our sins on the tree and by His blood redeems us. But how does Jesus give us that forgiveness? He doesn’t leave us guessing. He gives us real people, in this case our pastors, to tell us with real voices what He has done and says about our sins: They are forgiven.
That’s why when the pastor speaks Holy Absolution he says “In the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ” or “As a called and ordained servant of Christ.” The pastor speaks forgiveness, but not on his own authority. He speaks in the place of Jesus.
Jesus sets things up this way so that we will not doubt. Left to ourselves, it’s easy to say, “I know my sins are forgiven” but then it’s even easier to doubt that it’s actually true. So the Lord gives us someone outside of ourselves to declare Jesus’ promise to us that our sins are indeed forgiven. Your pastor forgiving your sins is nothing other than Jesus forgiving them and making sure you know He’s forgotten them forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
“What you will bind, that bound shall be; What you will loose, that shall be free; To My dear Church the keys are giv’n To open, close the gates of heav’n.” (LSB 614:4)