Audio here: .
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In my memory of reading the story in high school, I always thought that Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Tell-Tale Heart, was about guilt over the crime the narrator had committed; that the narrator was driven mad by his guilt until the only thing he could do was confess. But there’s no indication in the story that the narrator feels any guilt at all. There’s nothing inside him, he thinks, that would make him confess. It’s something outside him: it’s the living heart of the man he’s killed for no reason whatsoever beating in his ears from under the floor-boards. It beats louder and louder until he has to scream his confession to the police.
That narrator has only the echo of his crimes before him. He has tried to conceal his sin, and there is nothing but deceit in his spirit. He’s driven to confess. Perhaps you’ve never murdered anyone or tried to hide it—if so, we need to talk afterwards. But I bet you’ve had a similar, if lesser, experience to the narrator of Poe’s story. Maybe it was when you were a child, and maybe you had taken a cookie out of the package when your parents had told you not to. And maybe they didn’t notice that it was gone. But you expect them to notice. You expect to be held accountable. And if they don’t say anything, the desire to be found out is almost oppressive.
Or maybe it was something more serious, something that might cause a rift in a relationship. Haven’t you felt it? That desire both to conceal and to confess? You don’t want the person to find out because of the consequences for your relationship; but it also weighs heavily on you that you can’t just say it and get it out there in the open, so you can breathe again.
David knows that feeling: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” You know how it is, in the heat, you don’t feel like moving around; it saps your strength. That is how it is not to confess sin. Even if the feeling of having to confess fades for a while, it will come back with a vengeance when you least expect it. And it will come back in one way or another, internally or externally, because God doesn’t want you to stay in your sin, unconfessed and unforgiven. That’s why God’s hand is heavy upon the sinner who keeps silence: not to punish, but to produce confession. Whether Poe’s narrator (or Poe himself) knew it or not, the sound of that beating heart was the hand of God, driving him to confession.
It was Nathan who, as we heard last week, acted as the hand of God, heavy upon David. God isn’t particular. Whatever word, or thought, or sight might push you toward repentance, He’ll use it. For unbelievers, it’s a Word outside them, driving them, hunting them, cornering them. For you, blessed ones, it’s the Spirit within you, opening your ears to the Word of God, bringing you again and again to the blessing of confession. Because confession isn’t only about the confessing—although anyone who’s confessed knows the bitter-sweet experience of unloading that burden.
But Christians don’t unload that burden into the air. They are acknowledging that Someone has already taken that burden for them. It’s been unloaded. We’re just really good at going back again and again to the grave of Jesus, digging up that burden, and putting it back on our own shoulders. So acknowledge your sin, and where it belongs! Do not cover it up as if your silence or time will take it away. There’s only one way to have sin taken away and forgiven, and it’s what Jesus has already done: taken all of it as His own, which means His death as the wages sin pays out.
I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is a fearful thing to the sinner to confess to that God. But you do not fall into His hands on your own, alone in your sin. You have been joined to the death of Christ, as He fell into the hands of His Father. And you know what happened to Him. God raised Him from the dead. So when you confess, you confess in Christ. And He forgives the iniquity of your sin. Blessed are you! Every transgression of yours is forgiven. Your sin is covered by the body of Jesus, hidden in His wounds. So the God to whom you confess is the God who no longer holds your sin to your account. He will not think about it, look at it, or consider it in terms of your guilt. How can He? His Son had it all counted to Him, and He already died, so it’s over and done with.
Now the Jesus who rose from the dead is the one in whom you hide, who preserves you, who surrounds you with shouts of deliverance. Those are the shouts of rejoicing of Israel, who walked through great waters, and they did not touch them. They walked through on dry ground. Are your sins many? Yes. But they cannot overwhelm or overtake you. The beating heart of Jesus Christ does not beat to condemn and expose you, but to pump the blood of His life into you. Do not fear His death and burial; take refuge there. Because His death means resurrection.
Death and resurrection are what confession and absolution are all about. They’re what baptism is all about. And you have been baptized, so they’re what you’re all about. Baptism means that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (SC, Baptism IV). “Adam” is the word that David uses for “man” in Psalm 32. He says, “Blessed is the adam.” Condemned is the old adam, with all his sins and evil desires, but blessed is the new adam, who is created in Jesus. The first adam was from the earth, a man of dust; the second adam is from heaven. As was the adam of dust, so also those who are of the dust, and as is the adam of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the adam of dust, we shall also bear the image of the adam of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). Blessed are you, the man, the adam, to whom the image of Jesus has been restored.
The experience of that recreation is like a snake’s skin shed a thousand times, a million times, day after day, until there’s nothing left of the old adam, and you are only the new adam in Christ. As you live in your baptism daily, you make the cross-shaped sign of your baptism, and you do what the baptized do: pray in the morning that God will keep you from sin, and pray in the evening that God would forgive your sins in Christ.
But He has also given you a pastor to speak out loud the absolution that Christ gives you. So you have an opportunity to hear that forgiving Word of your Lord, with the full assurance of His promise behind it. After each of our Lenten midweek services, I’ll be available for individual confession and absolution. But you can make an appointment for that any time you need to. And that’s not only when you feel the hand of God heavy upon you. It’s also for when you just need to be refreshed by the living word of Jesus. And know that because you’re confessing to Him in my hearing, that sin is completely covered and forgotten. No one will ever hear a single word of it from my mouth. It is, in fact, one of the vows pastors take, never to reveal anything spoken in confession. That’s what the seal of the confessional means: that God has sealed that sin in silence by the blood of Christ, and it will never be spoken by Him (or me) against you.
So take advantage of the gifts that God has given to His Church! Let the godly offer prayer to Him at the times and places where He has promised to be found! Steadfast love surrounds you on all sides: baptized, He gives you His absolution and His supper. Be glad in Yahweh, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/4/20