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The keys to heaven and hell
First St Johns Apr 27, 2014
He has risen, He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Father, You know our struggle. In all different forms, we are told that we have failed, fallen short. That our sins separate us from You. Satan and his demons are our constant accusers. “You aren’t worthy, you can’t be saved, look at all the things that you’ve done that are sins against God.” We often get to the point where we simply give up, our faith is destroyed, we know there’s nothing we can do and we feel rejected. That we can never measure up to Jesus’ expectations and we believe what the world tells us, what the great deceiver Satan tempts us with and we let ourselves sink into the muck and despair of the world. But we know that Your church has the keys to heaven, that there is forgiveness and salvation in your church. Help us Lord to keep that foremost in our minds and reject what the world tells us. Help us to remember to return to Your church weekly so that we know forgiveness and life in Christ and not the death, despair and sinfulness of the world. We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who trust in Jesus, in His church and in the keys of heaven said …AMEN.
He has risen. He has risen indeed.
I posted on Face Book, that I would make time available to hear confession, I heard back from this one guy, who in this very self-righteous/pompous attitude, “I don’t confess to any man, I confess to God.” Sort of like Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles “harrumph, harrumph, hey I didn’t get an harrumph from that man”. Seems there are a lot out there who let their personal theology get in the way of what the Bible tells us and seems to feel that everyone should join in with him harrumphing, hmm I don’t need anyone else.
Yea, well, not exactly Biblical. When we lay our sins before God, that is called repentance. God knows our sins, we aren’t telling Him anything He doesn’t know. When we lift up our sins to Him, it should be in the attitude of repentance. “I know, that You know that I’ve sinned and I’m lifting them up in repentance, I am asking You for forgiveness of these things Father. And you should do this, I would never ask you to ignore taking your sins before the throne in repentance. But despite what our self-righteous friend thinks, we are told: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV) When I conduct healing services, yes something else no one does, but… Part of that healing service quotes James, that a great deal of our sickness and disability is caused by our sin and quite often could be the result of unconfessed sin. We certainly know today that stresses in our life are often the direct cause of many physical and mental issues that we have.
This self-righteousness that we insist on, it’s all about me, I do what I want, leaves us even more isolated, more separated from the Body of Christ, from our brothers and sisters. Let’s see how that attitude can continue to mess up our entire life: “Much celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong seems to have chosen a new career, making himself a pathetic figure. Now admitting he used performance enhancing drugs, he met with Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in hopes that Tygart would lessen his life time ban from competition. Apparently Mr. Tygart didn’t budge. Faced with truth, people either submit or rebel. Armstrong allegedly told Tygard, “You don’t hold the keys to my redemption. There’s one person who holds the keys to my redemption and that’s me.”1 Have you ever seen the cartoon, where the little field mouse is making a final sign of defiance to an eagle swooping in to eat it? Yea, okay, that one final gesture of independence, but it only makes the person look clueless, in total denial of the facts.
In today’s reading, Jesus is telling His disciples: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (Jn 20:23) Jesus is even more specific in Matthew 16:19: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus’ disciples make up the Body of Christ. Jesus is giving them the keys to heaven, He is telling them very forthrightly, they have the authority to present the forgiveness of Jesus. They are the church and Jesus is telling His church, that if someone comes to them in repentance to confess the things that they have done, by commission or omission, that are sins against God, they, Jesus’ ministers His apostolos, they are to forgive them their sins by the authority of Jesus
Let’s go back in time, decades ago for most of us, to Luther’s Small Catechism, remember confirmation? Dr Luther asks: “What special authority has Christ given to His church on earth?” The first response is: “Matt 18:18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” and “John 20: 22-23 [Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Not only was He giving his apostles authority of the keys, but he was impressing that fact on them with the Holy Spirit. Every Sunday I stand up before you and we join together in what is called “corporate confession” and we admit that we have sinned against God since the last time we were in church. At the end of that I announce to you that as a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ you are forgiven. I’m not forgiving you, I am telling you that because of what you did in faithfulness, you are now forgiven, not because of what I do, but because of what Jesus did for all of us. In individual confession, it is even more to the point, for God to be merciful and to strengthen you faith. “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” If the person says “Yes”, I reply, “let it be done for you as you believe”. You know that through the faith that God has given you, and I have affirmed that, that you are forgiven. I have exercised the keys of heaven, by affirming your faith, knowing that you are forgiven, that you do have the promise of salvation in Jesus and that He will continue to strengthen you in your faith. I was talking about this at the Mission Store and one lady says: “So I need to go to church in order to be forgiven?” Yes, to not only be forgiven, but to know that you are forgiven, because your pastor affirms that you are forgiven, you have heard that forgiveness from the minister of Jesus and so it should be cemented into your heart.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship writes: “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.’ Isn’t that our calling as pastors?
Instill in your congregation the importance of confession. Avoid fostering the image that your fellowship is full of perfect people (you won’t fit in) [yea, Amen to that JD] Instead, show by example a church where members and leaders alike confess their sins and show humility, where the price of admission is simply an admission of guilt. Healing happens in a church like this. Grace happens in a church like this. Followers of Christ have been given authority to hear confession and proclaim grace. ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (John 20:23 NCV).” [This is also referred to as the keys to heaven and hell that Jesus gives to His church. JD]
This week really think about confession, the assurance you receive, why we maintain this opportunity to raise up the things that you are dealing with, with your pastor and how that will give you forgiveness, assurance and the renewal and strengthening of your faith. What do you want to lift up, what do you want to be healed of? Write it in your journal and bring it with you next Thursday 5:30pm, I’ll be here.
HE HAS RISEN, HE HAS RISEN INDEED!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.