Luke 10:1ff is an important record of Christ authorizing pastors beyond the Apostles. In verse 16 of this divine record Christ informs us of an important aspect of the pastoral office: The one who hears you hears me. Five times our Lutheran Confessions connect Luke 10:16 to men in the pastoral office. For example in The Apology, Article VII (The Church) we read: “Ministers act in Christ’s place and do not represent their own persons, according to Luke, The one who hears you hears me (10:16).” Our Lord uses the sinful mouth of a common man to proclaim His Word as if He Himself were speaking.
Appropriately, when a pastor absolves, he does it in the first person, “I”. This is so because Jesus has promised, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23). In this Easter account of John 20 Jesus authorizes pastors in His stead to forgive sins. The pastor is not merely assuring someone about forgiveness, but the pastor is actually forgiving in Christ’s name. When a pastor says to sinners, “I forgive you,” this is the pronouncement of Jesus Himself, for the one who hears you hears me.
Jesus said to those 72 pastors who were sent to precede Him: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (v. 5). Jesus is not simply describing a Jewish greeting (“Shalom”), but He is describing a blessing of peace, a blessing of peace from the Lord Jesus Himself: The one who hears you hears me. The blessing of these first pastors and of pastors yet today is especially realized in the forgiveness of sins. By His death and resurrection Jesus brings peace—He brings forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation. The world cannot create or give such peace, and this peace of Christ is only delivered by His Word.
When the 72 spoke the blessing of peace, Jesus explains, “And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” (v. 6). Who is such a son of peace? We believe a good explanation, in view of the historical context of Luke 10, is that a son of peace was an Old Testament believer in Christ who was waiting for The Kingdom—waiting for the arrival of the Christ. Now with the announced blessing of peace by these first pastors, such a penitent person rejoiced that the kingdom of the Prince of Peace was at hand. Who then was not a son of peace? These were individuals who, like many Jewish leaders, had the Word of the coming Christ, but they were caught up in either false religiosity or in an unrepentant condition of hard-heartedness. The blessing of peace would not rest upon them, but like an undelivered letter it would “return to sender”.
So too today in a house of worship when a pastor speaks the word of Christ’s peace in the absolution, such a blessing remains on the sons of peace—penitents trusting in Christ. Upon the unrepentant and those with a false, Christ-less religiosity, the peace of Christ’s forgiveness does not rest upon them. In fact those living in public sin should be informed that the opposite of peace—condemnation—rests upon them. Jesus has fully made peace through the blood of His cross. May we ever hear this peace—which centers in forgiveness—and by God’s gracious Spirit be penitent, receptive sons of peace.