Whoever Confesses Me
March 1, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Jesus said, “Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.” The word ‘confess’ comes from a Greek word that could be literally translated as ‘same-speak.’ To confess means to speak the same words as someone else. In the Scriptures, there is a difference between witnessing and confessing. Witnessing is telling someone about your personal experiences. Think of what a witness is allowed or not allowed to do in the courtroom. The witness can tell the court what he or she personally saw or experienced. If a witness says something out of bounds the attorney objects and says “hearsay” or “conjecture.” A witness is only allowed to speak about their own experience. That’s what witnessing is: speaking about personal experience. So Jesus tells his Apostles they will be his witnesses, witnesses of his resurrection as they travel around Jerusalem and Judea and to the ends of the earth telling people what they saw and heard and learned from Jesus. Peter says that he was an eyewitness to the glory of God when he personally saw Jesus shining on the Mount of Transfiguration. Witnessing is speaking about personal experience.
But confessing is a little different. Confessing is ‘same-speaking.’ Confessing is saying the same thing as someone else. To confess is to faithfully repeat the things you have been told, to pass along what you yourself have first received. “Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven” Jesus says. Simply put: we are called to confess Christ – to ‘same-speak’ about Jesus. Whoever confesses Christ, Christ will confess before the Father in heaven.
“Whoever confesses me.” That is the theme for our meditation this Lent. This year, 2017, marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. As this new banner hanging in the chancel reminds us, in 1517 Martin Luther nailed 95 talking points to the church door in Wittenberg. Those talking points sparked a theological controversy that culminated in Confession – same-speaking. The commemoration of the Reformation is the inspiration behind our theme of confession this year, but confession did not begin in the 16th Century. God’s people have always been called to confess – to faithfully speak the words he has given us to speak. We see examples of people confessing in the Scriptures as well as in different historical settings. We are called to confess Christ today. Throughout Lent we will meditate on several examples of confession from the history of the Church, both what happened in those instances and what we can learn as we confess the truth today.
But today, rather than considering what we can learn from the confession of others, we take a moment for confession ourselves. And not just confessing our sins, although repentantly speaking back to God what he has first said to us about out sin is no small thing. The very first of the 95 Theses states that when our Lord Jesus said repent, he meant that the whole life of a believer is lived in repentance. He meant that repentance is not so much an act that Christians undertake every once in a while, but that repentance is a way of life for the believer. And repentance is confession – that’s why we call it confession and absolution. The truth of our sin is that it blinds us to reality. We would never know or admit the true depths of our sin without the Word of our Lord revealing it to us. The Word of God comes in and reveals our sin to us, and we confess those words, we ‘same-speak’ them back to God. We ‘same-speak’ them to each other.
But our confession includes more than just admitting sinful thoughts and actions. Jesus did not say that he would confess before the throne of heaven whoever confesses his or her sinful actions. “Whoever confesses me,” Jesus said. Our confession of sin must include a confession of Jesus, which is exactly what we do today, for Ash Wednesday calls upon us to confess the humanity of our Lord – the incarnation. You might be thinking that the incarnation is more of a Christmas thing, and you’d be right. The incarnation is something we typically confess at Christmas. But the incarnation finds its fullest confession on Good Friday. For to confess Christ is to same-speak what the Scriptures say about him, and the Scriptures say that he was God and man. Thus, to confess Christ is to confess the incarnation.
But today – Ash Wednesday – forces us to confess that the incarnation was necessary because of sin. Jesus took human flesh because of my sin. To confess the incarnation is to confess that I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. To confess the incarnation is to confess that I have sinned and done what is evil in the sight of the Lord. To confess the incarnation is to confess that because of my sin, my flesh is destined for death – for death is the wages of sin. To confess the incarnation is to confess that the curse of sin in my flesh made it necessary for my Lord to take on flesh of his own, to stand in my place, to be my substitute, to take upon his flesh the curse that my flesh deserves – for cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. Jesus hung on the tree of the cross for me. He hung there for you. His flesh suffered because our flesh is dying in sin.
Yet how often we try to silence this confession! How often we slide past the incarnation to focus on things that are supposedly more important! “Sure, Jesus took on human flesh,” we say, “but so what? What did he say about Christian parenting or Christian finances or Christian time management? What did he say about protecting the nation of Israel or the manifest destiny of the United States? What did Jesus say about immigration reform or refugees or gun control or transgender bathrooms?” We want to get past the incarnation stuff and focus on something we consider more practical and applicable in daily life.
But nothing could be more practical than the incarnation. Do you want to know what Jesus said about transgender bathrooms and immigration reform? He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He said don’t make a treasure out of this world. Don’t make political or social or financial concerns the primary focus of your life. He knows the depth of our sin
and the blindness of our hearts. He knows that we are incapable of seeing past this life. How could we not be? This life is all we’ve ever known. A child who has never experienced anything outside the home thinks that everyone celebrates Christmas or Halloween the same way their family does. When that child grows up and experiences other traditions, they see things they could never had imagined based solely on their personal experience.
Jesus knows that our experience is as limited as that of a small child who spends every waking moment with mom or dad. He know this life is all we have ever experienced. He knows we are tied to it, that we cannot see past it. He knows we have not witnessed anything different, so he witnesses to what he has seen. He tells us what he knows, and he calls upon us to confess it – to say the same thing, even if we didn’t see it for ourselves. He tells us not to store up treasures in this life, for this life is temporary. Moth and rust destroy. Thieves steal. Treasures spoil. Bodies decay. You are dust, and to dust you will return. That’s what Jesus says, so that’s what we confess. That’s our confession this Ash Wednesday; that’s the confession spoken by the ashen cross on your forehead. It is a confession that you will die one day, and that even though we cannot imagine what it will be like, even though we have never experienced what is waiting for us on the other side, yet we confess – we ‘same-speak’ what Jesus has spoken to us. We confess the mystery and the gift of the Word made flesh who took on skin in order that it might be pierced for my transgression, who took on flesh and blood that he might spill that blood to wash away your sin and give you life. “Whoever confesses me” Jesus says, “I will confess before the Father in heaven.” So here we are to confess Jesus. To repent of our sin and acknowledge it as the reason the incarnation was necessary. Our sin made the humiliation and suffering and death of our Lord necessary. It was our sin. Our fault. Our own most grievous fault.
But do not ignore the end of the phrase. “Whoever confesses me,” Jesus says, “I will confess before my Father in heaven.” There is our great and final hope. We confess here tonight because the Holy Spirit has worked in us through the proclamation of God’s Word to create faith that expresses itself in word and deed. But our great and only hope is not in our confession. It is in the confession that Jesus makes to his Father on our behalf. We confess that Jesus took on flesh to pay for our sin. So also we confess that the price has been paid. Jesus is our substitute. And now he speaks to the Father in heaven as our advocate, confessing the truth that you are forgiven, baptized into his name most holy. He confesses that even though the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life. Jesus speaks words of forgiveness and life and hope not only to us, but before the throne of heaven.
Our journey this Lent will lead us to meditate on the nature of confession. In this world, we humbly confess our sin to our God and to each other – speaking back what our Lord has spoken to us. In this world, we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us by confessing the faith both inside the church and out. But before the throne of heaven our Lord Jesus confesses us, speaking words that give us life. He is our advocate with the Father, the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world. Jesus Christ, the righteous one. It is his confession that matters. It is his confession that gives us hope.
May God grant us repentant hearts and a firm faith to trust in the confession of Christ.