Sermon Text — Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-38
October 25, 2015 — Reformation Sunday
In the Name X of Jesus. AMEN!
Beloved in the Lord,
Not the First
Martin Luther was not the first seek reform in the Church. There were others. Savanarola, an Italian Monk in Florence, sought a return to more fervent preaching of the Word and proclaimed that a new Cyrus would come from the North to reform the Church. He was imprisoned and later hanged. John Hus sought a return of the common cup to the people and delineated the moral failings of the clergy, bishops and popes. He was burned at the stake. John Wycliff sought the truth of God’s Word in one’s own language and emphasized the individual’s interpretation of scripture as the best moral guide. Following his death Wycliff was declared a heretic, his body exhumed from the grave and burned. The ashes were then cast into the river. No, beloved Luther was not the first to seek reform. But each of his predecessors primarily sought a reform of the church’s morality. For each it was a reform of the preaching of God’s Law.
But not so for Luther. Luther’s concern was not so much regarding the moral progress of the laity or the blatant immorality of the clergy, bishops, and papacy, but rather Luther was concerned about the Gospel! When Luther first swung that hammer and nailed those theses it was only after years of wrestling with the Law’s accusations against him and all people. For the Law stood above Luther and condemned him as a sinner. And the Church stood beside Luther and echoed the Law’s admonitions. “Be better” she said. “Do more,” “Love perfectly,” “Do your best,” “Try harder.” With each exhortation, with each admonition, with each sermon, each reading, each and every trip to the confessional box Luther wrestled with God’s demand to be perfect and he found no place of refuge . . . . until he read Romans 1. “The righteous shall live by faith.” As he would later recount saying, “Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that been flung open. An entirely new side of the Scripture opened itself to me.” No beloved, Luther wasn’t the first to seek reform. He was the first to seek a return to the gospel. His hammer echoes through time and space. It has been passed down from generation to generation. Some taking up the cause with zeal. Yet others, with a wink and a nod to their heritage, pursue other reforms. Like those before Luther, and even many after him, these look for the reform and renewal of the old man. They are concerned about works.
Reforming Old Adam is a Return to the Law
But the old man is under the Law. “For we know that whatever the Law says it says to those who are under the Law that every mouth may be stopped up.” Reforming the Old Adam is a return to the Law. The Law is given to take away your strength and merits before God. Like a light shining in the depths of the heart, God’s Law pierces through bone and sinew, in order to seek out our idols, our false hopes, our mis-guided trust, and our love of self. Luther wrestled when he should have surrendered. Luther argued when he should have been silent. Luther writhed when he should have remained still. Luther hung on to his works as long as he could, until he was backed into a corner, until he had no strength, until there was no room for his own righteousness. Luther fought tooth and nail against the righteousness of God until the righteousness of God finally won day, not for Luther’s condemnation, but for His salvation.
Luther’s struggles are every man’s struggles. The Law stands over us with its accusations and our conscience can do nothing but agree. Nevertheless our Old Adam makes every effort to improve. We try harder. We do our best. We put on our happy faces. We come to church and act like nothing’s wrong. We hide our pain. We cover over our guilt. We explain away our actions and make every attempt to perform moral gymnastics in order to impress both God and those whom we love. Yet, in reality – and we often don’t want to admit it – we’re a mess. Our lives are in chaos. Our family is dysfunctional. Sin is everywhere – in us, in our children, in our lives, in our hearts. And we would pretend that we’re better, or that we’re immune, or that we can handle it, or that we’re above it . . . when the truth is, we’re not. Jesus says to those who believe in Him, “He who commits sin is a slave to sin.” So long as we ignore our condition we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Jesus calls us to something other than moral improvement. He calls us to freedom, freedom from the Law’s accusations, freedom from condemnation, freedom from sin, death, devil, and hell. He calls us to Himself. Jesus is a savior of sinners.
For those Born Under the Law
As the savior of sinners Jesus was born under the Law to redeem those under the Law that we might receive adoption as sons. Jesus has come to make you sons of the covenant not as descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, but as those who have been baptized into Abraham’s seed according to the Spirit. Jesus is the seed of Abraham, the righteousness of God in the flesh.
Born of the Virgin He is undefiled.
Tempted in every way, He remained without sin.
Petitioned by the infirm He restored them in body and soul.
When called upon He answered.
When touched He healed.
Despite growing weary in the flesh He prayed in the Spirit.
Pressed upon by the hungry He fed them until they were full.
He gave sight to the blind. He gave hearing to the deaf. He gave the mute to sing and the lame to dance.
He stilled wind and waves. He walked on water.
Yet all of this pales in comparison to the battle He waged against the Law’s demands. He was arrested. And He was accused. Like a lamb before its shearers He was silent. He was condemned. He was beaten. He was flogged. He is every man, woman and child suffering beneath the Law. He was mocked. He was spit upon. He was crucified. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! He was dead. He was buried. He is risen! The victory over sin, death, devil, and hell is not won with pious words and moral gymnastics! No, it is won with death and resurrection, with a body broken and blood spilt, with tombs rent asunder and stones rolled away, with preaching in Hell and His appearing in upper rooms, with breathing of peace and the showing of His hands and His side. This is God for you! This is the Law’s undoing, sin’s destruction, Satan’s defeat, and the plundering of graves. This is freedom bought and purchased with the eternal blood of the covenant.
We are Beggars
Through the preaching God’s Word you are called to Jesus not for moral instruction but for mercy’s sake as the scriptures teach, “I desire Mercy not sacrifice.” Jesus is come for sinners, to be merciful to sinners. The Law leaves no room for you, no room for me to escape. We are sinners. And as such we have nothing to offer God but thanksgiving and praise. Jesus has come for us. Therefore we are beggars. What we have we have received. What we were is in the past. What we’ve done has been washed away. What we are is forgiven. And it is only in and through this forgiveness that we can live today, tomorrow, and forever.
As beggars are wont to do, we have come here today seeking the Lord’s mercy, knowing that He delights to hear such pleas and is eager to answer with absolution. Therefore we come not as good people, but as broken people,
Not as saints but as sinners,
Not healthy but sick and in dire need of the Lord’s medicine.
We come not as those living the perfect life, but as those whose lives are messed up.
Not as those who are happy all the time, but as those who struggle with sin and bear the weight of a guilty conscience.
Yes, beloved, we gather in the Lord’s house to receive as a gift what Jesus has purchased with holy blood. We come as sons baptized into Christ and eager for our heavenly Father to shower His love and mercy upon us. We come because Jesus has promised to be gracious to us, to hear us, and to forgive us.
Abide in the Word
Thus beloved, the Lord sets a table for beggars. From this table the medicine of immortality is distributed and received. Here the gospel made flesh is hidden under bread and wine as the Master of the Banquet feeds His dearly loved children. Here, He gives us a sure and certain Word to feast on, to take with us and hold on to, . . .to believe. “Given for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” These words give what they say, not because I say so, not because the Pope says so, or the church says so, but because Jesus says so. Abide in the Words of Jesus for through these Word the Son sets you free. And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Thus the reformation has not ended. It continues even today wherever this Good Word, this Gospel Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity. It happens here and its happening is for your good, so that happening in you, it may happen in your children and your children’s children. This is God’s Word and promise.
And God’s Word is our great Heritage.
And shall be ours forever.
To Spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way.
Through death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!