Sunday, October 26, 2014
Homily for The Festival of the Reformation (observed)
Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 4:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. It does that quite effectively, don’tcha think? Well, truth be told, often you do not see it that way. In fact, your response to the uncompromising Law of the LORD is to, well, compromise it. You attempt to lower the bar of the Law, so to speak, to make it more do-able. You actually convince yourself that you can do the Law on your own, if only you understand in the right way. You see, the way it reads, the way the LORD gave the Law to you, simply terrifies you. You think to yourself, “Surely the command ‘Do not murder’ means only that I am not to physically kill someone in anger or rage. Surely it doesn’t mean things like terminating an inconvenient pregnancy, or assisting an elderly or suffering person out of their misery, or being angry, mean, spiteful, and unforgiving towards another person.” Same goes with the command “Do not commit adultery.” You think to yourself, “Surely this command does not prohibit looking without touching, viewing pictures and videos in magazines, on the internet, or on television. After all, who have I harmed if I haven’t touched?” In these ways you attempt to lower the bar of the LORD’s Law and make it more do-able. But, the Law of the LORD cannot be lowered; it cannot be bent, or revoked. The Law does not apply only at one time or another, but it is unchanging and it is uncompromising. The Law does not pass away.
The Law must be fulfilled. And, you cannot fulfill it. Therefore, if you will attempt to live by the Law, then the Law will crush you. No, you cannot fulfill the Law, therefore, I say to you, let it crush you. Let that weight fall upon you and break you into pieces. For, then, the Lord Jesus can raise you up. Jesus will raise you up from your failing to keep the Law. Jesus will raise you up from sin and death. Jesus will raise you up when you trust in Him, because He has fulfilled the Law of the LORD perfectly for you, and He has suffered and died for you, and He is raised from death victorious for you. The bar of the Law has never been lowered. It can never be lowered. But, better than that, the Law of the LORD has been fulfilled for you. Now your Lord Jesus invites you to share in the freedom and life that flows from the fulfilled Law of the LORD – His freedom and life which He graciously pours out for you, received by you in faith and trust without cost, without works, and without merit.
That is the Gospel, and that is what we are celebrating today on this Festival of the Reformation. We are not celebrating an historical event, a socio-political uprising with religious overtones, or the bravery of a medieval priest-monk-professor. And, we are certainly not celebrating the fracturing of Christ’s body, the Church. But, we are celebrating the restoration of the free proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which had become obscured, distorted, and compromised by men attempting to lower the bar of Law and justify themselves by their obedience, works, merit, and cooperation with God. This is the violence of which our Lord speaks, violence committed by men against the kingdom of heaven.
Men try to take the kingdom by force, that is, by works and by merit. But the kingdom does not come that way. The kingdom comes by grace alone. It cannot be taken by force, by works or by merit. But, now it has been manifested, revealed, uncovered, which means, it was there all along, but men couldn’t see it because their eyes were blinded by sin, their ears were stopped, and their hearts were hard. Some received the Law of the LORD in joy, deceiving themselves that they were righteous and kept it faithfully. Some received the Law of the LORD like a funeral dirge, yet they did not mourn and weep for their lost condition, but they hardened their hearts in pride against a God who set the bar so exceedingly high. They refused to fear the LORD and receive His Law as He gave it, for the purpose He gave it. It was to crush them and turn them to the LORD’s grace and mercy in repentance.
That was precisely the message that John the Baptist came preaching and teaching: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Our Lord Jesus preached the same message, and so did the Apostles after him. That same message is preached to you still today: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” This is the Gospel, even the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” “Fear God and give Him glory,” the angel cried, “because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” What hour was that? It was the hour of Jesus’ death upon the cross, the hour in which the Law of the LORD was fulfilled for you, the hour in which Jesus spoke “It is finished,” and it really, truly, completely, and forever was.
This is the Gospel, the eternal Gospel. This is what had become obscured, distorted, and compromised in Luther’s day. The Gospel was so obscured, distorted, and compromised that Luther himself was enslaved to the Law and could find no escape, no comfort, and no peace. For that is what happens to those who believe that they must fulfill the Law of the LORD in order to make peace with God, they are either pumped up with pride, convincing themselves that they are doing just fine, or they find themselves drowning in a pit of despair believing that, no matter how hard they try to keep the Law they still fall short and can never find peace with God. Again, the Law was not given that you might do it and justify yourself by it, but the Law of the LORD was given to shut your mouth, to silence you. God has given the Law that the whole world may be held accountable to Him. The Law serves only to reveal your sins to you; no man is justified by works of the Law. Therefore, be still, shut up, stop striving, and know that the LORD is God. God has manifested His righteousness, the righteousness that makes you righteous, apart from the Law – “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In Luther’s day it was believed that faith in Christ was not enough. Guess what, people still believe that today! The Roman Church sold indulgences, and still sells them today – pieces of paper that you can buy with money that forgive sins now and after death in purgatory (another unbiblical doctrine). Yet, no better are contemporary so-called Evangelical churches that preach to you the Gospel out of one side of their mouth and then shackle you under the Law again from the other. Their grace-talk is followed immediately by works-talk. They say contradictory things like, “Jesus saves you by grace alone, all you have to do is this, that, and the other thing. And once you’re saved, Jesus expects you to change, to be better, to make your salvation sure or maybe you weren’t really truly Christian in the first place after all.” Hogwash! “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor; good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.”
While Luther and the Reformers affected many reforms within the Church, it all started with works and indulgences, attempts to do the Law of the LORD or to lower the bar of the Law to make it more do-able. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Each of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses dealt with the single topic indulgences, the idea that man’s work, merit, or money could pay for sins for oneself or for others. In nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door, Luther did what was customary in his late-medieval college town in order to engage in a theological discourse and debate over this central aspect of our Christian faith and doctrine. However, due to the work of reformers like Wycliffe and Hus, who had preceded Luther, and the advent of the Guttenberg printing press, Luther’s theses were translated into the common tongue and were copied and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Now, one could say that it was merely chance, or one could believe that the LORD had raised up Luther at the right time and the right place to manifest, reveal, and uncover the Gospel once again that those walking in the darkness of sin and death, held captive by legalistic teaching and preaching and false doctrine, could hear the pure, unadulterated, eternal Gospel proclaimed once again and find comfort and peace in the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith (alone).” We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone whom God has put forward as a propitiation by His blood, passing over our former sins.
“The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther claims that it was this passage, Romans 1:17, that cast the scales from his eyes and released the shackles from his soul, freeing him to live, not in a continual and losing battle to acquire righteousness by works, but in the righteousness bestowed upon Him by God through faith in the propitiation that God Himself has put forward, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Luther was so struck and convicted by this Gospel proclamation that he added the Latin word sola, meaning alone: “The righteous shall live by faith (alone).” From this we derive the classic Lutheran solas: sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Christus – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. And, there is yet a fourth, and appropriate, sola: sola scriptura – scripture alone is the sole source, norm, and rule of our faith, confession, and doctrine.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. What bliss, peace, and comfort there is in silence! Close your mouth, and have your ears opened. Listen to the Word of your LORD and God, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Receive Him and trust in Him alone in all the ways He comes to you: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, salvation, and eternal life. You cannot take the kingdom by force, therefore, stop trying. But, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Grace alone. Grace upon grace. The righteous shall live by faith.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.