Bound or Loosed (Matthew 18)
1. Jesus tells His disciples, "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (v18). Here Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution with His disciples. The binding and loosing here refer to retaining and forgiving sins. As we read from the Catechism earlier, "Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution ... from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in Heaven" (SC IV,2-3; LSB p. 326). This brings many questions to mind. We already know what is bound and loosed--your sins. The next question is: "Who?"
2. "Who can bind and loose?" That's a question many people have. Some people may come into our service and hear me proclaim the words, "I forgive you all your sins," and wonder, "Who does HE think he is? He doesn't know me! How can he forgive MY sins? He must be insane." It's the same question the scribes and Pharisees have when Jesus tells the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." They question among themselves, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26; cf. Matthew 9:1-8). Who hears Jesus speak the words of our text? The disciples. It's not just the Twelve Apostles so that some can lord this power over others who don't have it. It's the entire number of believers in Jesus Christ. Every Christian is able to bind sins against them of those who won't repent. Every Christian also is able to loose the sins of anyone who says, "I repent." Jesus says it this plainly, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). You have the power to bind and to loose because you have been loosed by your Lord's victory over sin for you.
3. That leads to the next question: "When do you bind?" The easiest answer to that question is: "When there is no Confession." We see this in the church in Corinth. A young man is having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. They don't try to hide it. In fact, they flaunt it before the congregation and the pagan society in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5). Paul's answer to the problem is to get rid of both of them. Paul says to bind them in their sins because they will not repent. Another example: in Sunday School this morning, the children are studying Israel crossing the Red Sea. About two million people crossed the Red Sea. Only TWO made it to the Promised Land. What happened to the rest of them? They complained and grumbled and argued and doubted God. So they were bound in their unbelief. That binding kept them out of the Promised Land as the bond of your sin will keep you out of Heaven. Unrepentant sinners are bound by their lack of repentance or their hard-heartedness. We see that even God's chosen people aren't immune from being unrepentant. That makes it that much more difficult when someone has been loosed by Christ, but decides to bind themselves to their sin because of their sinful nature.
4. However, when there is Confession with a contrite heart, then you are loosed from your sins. As a result of Paul's letter, the couple having the illicit relationship were actually brought back into communion with the church after being excommunicated. They were loosed from their sins through Confession and Absolution (2 Corinthians 7:2-12). As we will sing in a few minutes, "Jesus sinners doth receive" (LSB #615). Temporal consequences may still have to be paid, but the sins are not charged against you any more. They have been loosed. It was once like you were shackled with a thick, heavy chain that limited your movement. But now, that shackle is gone. Your sin no longer limits you because of the Absolution--the Gospel message that tells you that Jesus died and paid for your sins. That loosing is a true freedom that brings about not only temporal happiness, but everlasting joy. That is why I am offering this gift to you throughout Advent. If there is a thick, heavy chain burdening your soul, it would be a great privilege for me to be able to loose you from that chain. Maybe it's something that no one else knows about that's eating away at you inside. Maybe it's something you've confessed to God through the corporate confession at the beginning of many of our worship services but you want the personal assurance that God truly has forgiven you of that sin. The posted schedule is in the bulletin, but you may also come to me at any time you need because the gift of Absolution is so much greater than the bond of the sin or the bond of the guilt. There are probably many veterans here today that may still--even decades later--have problems with things they did during combat. It wasn't a pretty picture, but I'm here to tell you that if you're still feeling guilty about something you did or something you didn't do back then, you've been loosed by Christ's death and resurrection. His victory has conquered all the guilt that you can muster and then some. And He looses you from that bond. And when you are loosed, you are loosed. God invented "double jeopardy." You will never be charged with that again. It's gone forever.
5. Now, we come to the final and most important question: "Where are you loosed?" Let's say you come to me for private Confession and Absolution. How long does that Absolution last? Does it last until you've moved away? Does it last until I'm no longer serving at Trinity? Does it last until you die? Does it last until I die? How long does it last? Forever. Jesus says, "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (v18). Sins forgiven on this earth are equally forgiven in Heaven. God looks at you as if you had never done it. He promises through His prophets, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). This isn't the forgiving-and-forgetting that we somteimes get in this world that only forgets the sin until it's convenient to bring up as leverage against the person again. This is the all-knowing God saying, "I will forgive ... and I will remember ... no more". When you hear the words, "I forgive you all your sins," you can be assured that those sins are forgiven by your Father in Heaven. There should be no doubt about that. He has forgiven them and He will not remember them any longer.
6. How can we be sure of this? Because our Lord says in our text this morning, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them" (v20). Jesus promises to be among us simply because we've come together in His name. We point to that presence in the Absolution as we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity in the Absolution to assure you that your sins are loosed not only here but also in Heaven. Amen.