Today's Readings: Revelation 14: 6-7/ Romans 3: 19-28/ John 8:31-36
Hear again the words of the Lord: From the Gospel lesson for today: Jesus speaks to Jews who believe in Him (today we refer to those believers as Messianic Jews.) “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8: 31b-32) Paul, in our epistle lesson, writing to the church at Rome, speaks of “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (that means even the Gentiles, you and me.) and the Apostle John wrote these words which came to him in a vision from Jesus, “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” (Rev. 14:6)
I am drawn - on this particular Sunday especially- to that last passage and the phrase Jesus uses to describe His Word; calling that which the angel carries, “an eternal gospel.” What comforting assurance Christ’s words bring to all believers everywhere – His Word is eternal. He is eternal, unchanging, timeless, and tireless in His plan to share the joy and promise that comes with faith in Him, and that frees the sinner from a life enslaved in the darkness of sin, to the bright light of the kingdom of heaven.
Since the fall from grace of God’s perfect human creations, Adam and Eve, all of us have become enslaved sinners, doomed to death, blind to our own slavery. But God sent the Gospel Himself in human form to spread the light of life and set us free from our death sentence. Not by any works of our hands, but by the shedding of His own lifeblood on the Cross. Jesus "nailed the truth" for the Jews and for all believers when He gave us a great Gospel message at the end of the lesson for today in John’s gospel, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
There was a time, though, when that “eternal gospel” was hidden from God’s people not by any measures God instituted, but by human interference in and manipulation of God’s will for His people. That period saw centuries-long growth of what was, on the Day of Pentecost, the start of the Church on earth.
The growth of the Church was not without opposition or competition. Many so-called religious movements gained traction in the early centuries following Jesus’ death. Heretical teachings that cast doubt on the triune nature of God and on other Biblically-anchored doctrines and worship practices, challenged and threatened the growth of the Church.
For the first 300 years of the church, believers were persecuted by the Roman Empire and many Christians died for the faith. Everything changed early in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine ended the persecution and allowed Christians to worship God publicly. The number of church members grew as the emperor showed his favor to the church and as an institution the church gained much influence and its leaders enjoyed riches and fame.
This situation continued for centuries. The church grew, but along the way forgot its mission and pure doctrine. Out of this period grew the Catholic Church. By Medieval times, the Catholic church was firmly planted as the preeminent body of faithful believers on earth. In Europe, the Catholic church had become, for all practical purposes, its own nation-state. As it grew in size, power and political influence, it grew away from the Biblical truths it professed to believe in and from the Gospel message, branding itself as the sole authority about God.
It was during this time that a Catholic priest named Martin Luther entered into history. The Church was not teaching the truth of Scripture. The church of Rome taught at that time and still does today, the promise of eternal life because of the blood of Christ on the cross. But then there is the fine print. It was in the fine print, in the abuse of God’s Word and the burden on the souls of God’s children, the poor, the peasants, the laity, over whether they could ever truly be forgiven of their sinfulness, that Luther was most aggrieved.
Luther could appreciate the anguish and uncertainty of his parishioners. He was an obedient servant of the church; 12 years an Augustinian monk, ordained a priest, elevated to the position of professor at Wittenberg University, all before he was thirty years old. Yet despite his religious training and dedication to the church, Luther was unable to escape a withering conscience that dreaded with fear God's wrath and condemnation.
Luther’s struggle for faith and lack of confidence in the forgiveness of his own sinfulness, brought him to nail a series of complaints – 95 in all – to the double doors of the church at which He preached in Wittenberg, Germany – The Castle Church. He was deeply troubled that the church sought to place an ever greater burden on an already poor membership by issuing “indulgences” – pieces of paper that claimed to assure the sinner of forgiveness…for a price.
While the issue of indulgences was disconcerting, Luther was troubled by other abuses of the church as well. He opposed "works righteousness" as the means to God's grace; that only through works could one find grace and earn salvation. He opposed the church's use of ancient relics and praying to the saints. Much of his opposition was borne out of his own failed reliance on such church practices that left him unsatisfied, haunted by the question, "Have I done enough?
Luther once described the condition of his conscience in a hymn he wrote, "Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me. Sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me. But daily deeper still I fell; my life became a living hell, so firmly sin possessed me."(TLH 387 v2)
Luther's search for the truth drove him again and again to the Word of God. In the years following the posting of his Theses, Luther dug deeper into God's Word, calming his conscience with the gracious promises of God, especially as he read Paul's letter to the church at Rome. Where once he found only fear at the thought of the righteousness of God, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.(Ro. 1:18)
Now Luther came to know the joy of God's grace which gives righteousness as a gift through faith in Christ Jesus. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ,”The righteous shall live by faith.’(Ro. 1: 16-17)
That righteousness, Paul reminds us in today’s Epistle lesson is: “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who belief. Fore there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”(Ro. 3: 21-25b)
Armed with that TRUTH Luther was freed by God's grace and by the power of God's Word to write with great confidence this verse from the same hymn: "But God had seen my wretched state, before the world's foundation, and mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation. He turned to me a Father's heart; He did not choose the easy part, but gave His dearest treasure."(TLH 387 v4)
Shortly before he died, Luther wrote the following, "The Gospel reveals the righteousness of God in a passive sense, that righteousness through which the merciful God justifies us by faith....instantly." Luther went on to say, "All of Scripture looked different to me....Thus the "work of God" is that which God works in us; the "strength of God" is that though which He makes us strong; the "wisdom of God" is that through which He makes us wise; and the "power of God," the "Blessing of God," the "honor of God," are expressions used in the same way. As intensely as I had formerly hated the expression "The righteousness of God," I now loved and praised it as the sweetest of concepts.(Luther’s Works Volume 34, Career of the Reformer IV (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 1960), p. 336-337.)
Luther nailed it with those words and with his God-directed effort to bring the Gospel truth of Jesus out of the human-imposed darkness cast by the shadows of church abuses and practices, false teachings and the onerous and unnecessary burden on the souls of sinners.
The Reformation stands as a restoration of the pure and unadulterated TRUTH that sets all believers free - the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ. The One who was nailed to the tree - is the One who set us free.
Luther was not the first reformer. The Reformation we observe today and next week on October 31st, was not the first effort of reformation or restoration of God’s Word and God’s people. Throughout human history God has called upon those whom He chooses to keep the light of the Gospel burning even as the sons of darkness try to extinguish its flame. Yet more evidence that God is always around, involved in His creation, working within His timeline and framework to protect His faithful followers and the eternal Gospel.
So, as we observe Reformation Day today, we too might learn from Luther's struggle to not lean on our own goodness, on our own works, or on our own striving to be accepted by God. Rather, to lean on Christ Jesus, who by His death nailed the load of sin that has weighed upon our consciences, to the cross that we might always "Abide in Him and know the truth; the truth that sets us free! (John 8:31-32) To God be all the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.
– Rev. David Brockhouse
Reformation Day (Oct 31) Observed 10-27-2019/ “Nailed It” – John 8: 31-36/ Mount Olive Lutheran Church (LCMS)
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Mt. Olive Lutheran Church - LCMS 3200 W Loop 1604 S San Antonio, TX 78245
Mt. Olive is a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod