Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Festival of the Reformation (observed)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In his vision, St. John saw an angel soaring through the heavens proclaiming an eternal Gospel. Think about that for a moment: an eternal Gospel; a Gospel that has no beginning and no end; indeed, a Gospel that exists before, after, and outside of time, creation, and men. It is this Gospel that God proclaimed to Adam and Eve and the serpent moments after their fall from grace, that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. It is this Gospel that God proclaimed to Abraham promising him that he would have a son and an heir through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. It was this Gospel that was re-confirmed to Isaac and Jacob and Moses, to David and Isaiah. It was this Gospel, proclaimed continually by the Prophets right up until St. John the Baptist, that prepared the way for the revealing of the fulfillment of that Gospel in the death and resurrection of the eternal Gospel made flesh, Jesus Christ – the lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world. An eternal Gospel that is to be proclaimed to all “those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
The eternal Gospel is the LORD’s work, proclaimed and offered to everyone without exception as a free and perfect gift, pure grace. But, men stubbornly, sinfully, rebelliously refuse and reject it. The Gospel seems foolish to our perverted wisdom, weak and pitiful to our false conception of strength and glory. It can’t be that easy. Surely it can’t be that universal and equitable, after all, some people are better than others, right? And so, we try to change the Gospel to say what we want it to say: You have to make a decision, to accept Jesus into your heart. You have to behave in a certain way, dress in a certain way, pray so many times a day, and never sin. We twist and bend and misconstrue the Gospel. We pile human traditions and commandments upon the Gospel. We obscure it. We cover it up. We bury it. Or we so transform it that it is not the Gospel at all any longer.
That is what had happened leading up to the Reformation. No, it did not happen all of a sudden, culminating in the 16thcentury, but it had been building over hundreds, even thousands of years. There had been many attempts at reform before Martin Luther. Some had been successful to a point, but most had ended in failure and martyrdom. And yet, since the Gospel is eternal, predating creation and humankind, it cannot and will not be buried forever, thanks and glory be to God alone. In His time and in His way, through the preaching and teaching of His Word, inspired and guided by His Holy Spirit, the LORD graciously and mercifully works His will and His way and accomplishes His purposes despite our best and worst efforts to obfuscate it.
The LORD gave His written Law, not that we might do it and live, but rather that our mouths would be stopped – that we would be forced to shut up – that the whole world would be held accountable to God. No one can be justified by obedience and works of the Law – that is not its purpose – but the purpose of he Law is to show our sin that we might despair of our justification and salvation and receive the eternal Gospel by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, whom God has put forward as the propitiation for our sins. Therefore, just as all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so also are all justified by His grace as a gift through Jesus’ blood. Thus, the LORD is both just and the justifier of all who have faith in Jesus. There can be no boasting of works or merit, inheritance or bloodline, for the Law of the eternal Gospel is God’s work and gift alone, given freely, that can be received by grace through faith, or rejected in unbelief. There is no other option.
But, the flesh hates this and always wants another way. Thus did our Lord compare this generation to fickle children who are never satisfied. Men rejected John the Baptist because he preached the Law, and they rejected Jesus who fulfilled the Law and proclaimed the Gospel. We want things our own way. We want to be our own gods and to justify ourselves.
Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” This ought to be a shocking statement! How can the kingdom of heaven suffer violence? And, how could anyone think that they might take heaven by force? Yet, is that not we attempt to do when refuse God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ and attempt to justify ourselves in some other way? No, God, I will not enter through the Way and Door you have provided, but I will enter on my own terms and in my own way. That is what the man found at the King’s wedding banquet not wearing the provided wedding garment sought to do. He was bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth. No, you cannot justify yourself, nor can you take or enter the kingdom of heaven in any way. But, you must receive it as a gift, by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. This, once again, is the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation, the same Gospel proclaimed by the prophets and John the Baptist and by the faithful preachers and undershepherds of the Reformation and by the same still today and tomorrow until the Lord returns.
Grace. Amazing grace. The sweetest sound to ring in the ears of those who rightly hear by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. This eternal Gospel, this amazing grace, was what the Reformation dusted off and set free from the chains of manmade traditions, misconstrual, commandments, and obfuscation. And the Reformation must continue ever that the eternal Gospel may continue to be proclaimed “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”
The eternal Gospel is this: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Lord, keep us steadfast in this, Your Word, for it is life and salvation for all who will believe. My dear Lutheran Christians, you are the heirs of this amazing grace. But, it is not a treasure to keep to yourself, but it is a beacon light of hope to all who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Therefore, you must strive always to hear this Gospel in its truth and purity and, receiving it daily in Word and Sacrament, live, breathe, and share it with all in your lives, words, and deeds to the glory of God. For, you are called to be angels, that is messengers of this amazing grace to all the world. However, you can only give to others of what you first have yourself. Therefore, come and be filled with the LORD’s grace: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, for life, and for everlasting salvation. You are blessed to be a blessing to the glory of God’s holy Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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