As God is relaying the ritual steps for offering up the various sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, the Lord says each time, “And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven” (4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7). Pastors stand in this long line of the Levitical priesthood; for today, pastors administer Christ the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to make atonement for all their sins. Be careful not to confuse this with the erroneous Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in which they teach that Christ is continually “re-sacrificed” in the Mass. Rather, the cross was a single sacrifice, or atonement, “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). He merely instituted the Lord’s Supper, right before His death, as His means of grace to personally distribute the benefits of His sacrifice on the cross.
Thus, to borrow the term from one of my seminary professors again, Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann, your pastor is your “Absolution Man.” He is the guy whom your congregation has called to make atonement for your sins, that is, to preach to you Christ’s Word of the Gospel and give you His Sacraments for the forgiveness of your sins. You can pray and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness in the privacy of your own home, certainly, but both our conscience and the devil often become our worst enemies and we wonder, “I don’t feel forgiven. So, am I truly forgiven?” You are! Because with godly sorrow you confessed your sin and by faith trusted that Christ has forgiven your sin. But alas, at times our conscience betrays us at the behest of that vile serpent.
Therefore, the Lord has instituted the Sacraments as His means of grace where all doubt is quenched. In the Sacrament of the Altar, you need not rely on “feeling” forgiven because you have consumed and ingested it. It is true of Baptism as well, for you were washed in its holy words with the efficacious power of the Word therein. And you need not wonder in Absolution either, for the words that your pastor speaks by the stead and command of Christ are not his words but the words of Christ. The same Lord who spoke the universe into existence speaks forgiveness of your sins in these Holy Sacraments.
Furthermore, if your conscience works against you and you doubt forgiveness and/or your salvation, go to your pastor—your Absolution Man—who will give you the words of Christ in the Gospel that promises your salvation, who will feed you Christ’s righteousness in the Lord’s Supper (cf. Matthew 5:6), and who will remind you of the Holy Spirit’s cleansing and guarantee you received in your Baptism (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Whereas the devil works arduously to rule your conscience, he knows he cannot combat the Word and its Sacraments, for the Word of Christ is the sword that defeats him. When these things confront him, he flees (James 4:7). The Word and Sacraments are the holy armour with which the Lord fits you “to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Theology Terms Used
- Efficacy: the ability to produce the desired result without fail.
- Sacrament: from the Latin word sacro that means “hallow, holy” and from the Greek word μυστήριον (mustērion) that means “mystery.” What makes something a sacrament depends on the definition. As Lutherans, we define a sacrament as the following: (1) is commanded by Christ, (2) has a visible element, and (3) delivers God’s grace (forgiveness of sins). This is why we have three Sacraments: Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism. All of these have Christ’s command (John 20:21-23; Matthew 26:26-28; Matthew 28:18-20 respectively), they have a visible element (Christ’s words through the pastor, the bread and wine, and water respectively), and they all deliver God’s grace for the forgiveness of sins (John 20:21-23; Matthew 26:26-28; Acts 2:38-39).
- Transubstantiation: the Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper that teaches (a) Jesus is re-sacrificed in the Mass, and (b) the bread and wine ceases to be bread and wine and becomes only Jesus’ body and blood, though it still appears as bread and wine. (As Lutherans, we do not confess that Jesus is re-sacrificed in the Mass and we do not believe that the bread and wine ceases to be what it is. We merely confess that it is both Jesus’ body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and wine. It is still bread and wine while also being Jesus’ true body and blood. Many people will call this “consubstantiation,” but we reject this term because, like transubstantiation, it attempts to explain how Jesus’ true presence occurs in the elements. We don’t try to explain how it happens; we merely confess that it happens without understanding how, i.e., faith in Jesus’ words.)
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