LORD, TAKE MY HAND AND LEAD ME – CONFIDENT IN LIFE AND DEATH.
The Spirit Assures Of Forgiveness.
In the name + of Jesus.
The theme for your chapel this week is, “Lord, take my hand and lead me, confident in life and death.” That confidence is what will grant you peace no matter what is going on in your life, and no matter when death comes. And it cannot be confidence that you are a nice person—most people are. It is not confidence that you do nice things—most people do at least once in a while. It is the confidence that God is pleased with you and bestows his favor upon you—not because you think he should or assume he does, but because God himself says so. That is the only way you can have a confidence that sustains you in life and death. And it is the Spirit who assures you of such confidence with his forgiveness.
Now, you might think that such confidence is no big deal. I am guessing many of you do not struggle with that because you have grown up as baptized, church-going Christians. But I assure you, there is no greater blessing than this confidence which comes through forgiveness.
There was a member of our congregation some years ago named Mike Roy. Mike was a devout Christian and a fine gentleman. I don’t know if anyone had anything bad to say about him. But Mike got cancer and spent the final months of his life in hospice. He had lots of time to think. Unfortunately, that also meant that Satan, whose name means “Accuser,” took time to accuse Mike of his sins. As Mike knew that death was imminent, he also reviewed his life. Satan did not have to make anything up to accuse Mike. He simply reminded Mike of who he was—a sinner who had not kept God’s commandments. So, as Mike’s life was coming to its end and as his personal judgment before God was approaching, Mike was terrified. He did not have confidence because he knew that he was guilty. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he deserved God’s wrath, and neither his conscience nor the devil would let him forget it.
Satan is good at destroying whatever confidence we have. But even when Satan preaches that we are sinners, he still lies. For, he denies the promises that Jesus Christ has given to us. As the writer to the Hebrews declares, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14) Jesus offered up himself in holiness and innocence to be the atoning sacrifice for all your sins. Of course, this was not your idea; this was God’s plan to deliver you from your sin and guilt. The blood of Jesus Christ was applied to you in Holy Baptism to cleanse you of all your sin and to cover you in Jesus’ righteousness. The blood of Jesus Christ is still given to you in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of all your sins. And the word of the Lord Jesus is repeated to you in the Holy Absolution so that you do not have to hide your shame or bear the burden of any guilt. This is how the Lord makes you righteous in his sight. This is where he bestows the confidence which sustains you in life and death. You don’t have to guess or hope that God’s favor rests upon you; the Spirit assures you of your forgiveness. The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us … “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15,17-18)
If your confidence is shaken, it is likely because you are basing your confidence in the wrong things. Mike Roy was terrified because he recognized that he was not perfect, as God demands us to be. Even though Mike was a fine Christian gentleman, that would not save him. Mike did not feel saved, and so he was panicked. Likewise, you must be sure that you do not put your confidence in the wrong things, either. Remember what our theme for today is: The Spirit assures us of forgiveness. And where is the Spirit at work? Through the word and sacraments. These proclaim that Jesus Christ has dealt with all your sin. His sacrifice is sufficient. It always cleanses, always forgives. Jesus’ righteousness supplies all you need. It always covers, always forgives.
When I had opportunities to visit with Mike, I urged him, “Forget about your good works. Don’t pay any attention to them. And if you are concerned about your sins, then acknowledge them. Yes, we have sinned. That is no surprise. But don’t focus on yourself. Abandon everything, and cling to Jesus. He has dealt with your sins, no matter what they were. He supplies forgiveness. He covers you in his innocence. He even has dealt with death for you so that you will rise from your grave to receive eternal life, and you will live with the God who so loves you that he has done all these things for you.”
So, if you want to have confidence in life that God’s favor rests upon you, if you want to be confident in facing death that God will not condemn you, then flee to Jesus. Flee to where he provides his gifts to you—in the word and in the sacraments. Everything Jesus won for you by his death and resurrection are supplied to you there. The Spirit is at work there. And that is where the Spirit will assure you of God’s decree: You are forgiven. You are saved. You are beloved forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.