Reformation Day (Observed)
October 28, 2007
Text: Revelation 14:6-7
Beloved, Christ is in the midst of His Church, right where He promised to be. That is the context of our reading from Revelation (14:6-7). St. John writes, “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v. 1; ESV). Mount Zion stands for the Church. The Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:12), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), stands in the midst of His 144,000, a symbolic number which stands for all those who believe in Christ and are baptized into His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Lamb is mortally wounded, yet alive. He died, and behold, He lives forevermore, and has the keys of Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification. He is here this morning in the midst of His Church, in the midst of the Baptized, speaking His Word, calling to repentance, speaking His absolution, and nourishing His people with His body and blood.
It is His angel who goes out with the eternal Gospel. The angel is charged with proclaiming Jesus’ Word to all “those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (14:6). The content of his message should be the content of all Christian preaching: repentance and faith. Repent and believe the good news. Repent of the sins that so easily entangle you. Turn away from them. Look to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He has redeemed you for Himself. He has forgiven all of your sins. He alone can save you. You cannot save yourself. Repent of your attempts to be righteous on your own. Jesus gives you His righteousness. Believe it and it is yours. Trust Jesus, for He gave Himself into death for you, and now lives forevermore as your risen Lord.
That is the message the angel was charged to proclaim. “And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water’” (v. 7). Fear God, because you have sinned, and the judgment of God is coming swiftly. He is sending His Son Jesus to judge the quick and the dead. The hour has come. Repent of your sin. Repent of your self-righteousness. You cannot plead your own case before the judgment seat of God. Have more fear of your God than that! Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if it is to please God (Matt. 5:20). In other words, it must be righteousness of the heart. And you don’t have that. As good as your outward works may or may not be, your heart is black and dead with sin. You know it. Don’t try to wiggle out of it. God will not excuse you if you try to cover up the truth. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). You have no righteousness of your own. So your righteousness must come from outside of you. It must come from Someone else. And this is the eternal Gospel. It comes from Jesus. Jesus gives you His righteousness. His heart is perfectly clean and righteous. He has fulfilled the Law for you. You are saved by His works, not your own. You don’t deserve it, but He gives it to you anyway. This is what is meant by the term “grace.” It is God’s unmerited favor and kindness. And it is only when this righteousness of Christ is given to you by grace, received by faith, that you can come to give God the glory due Him and worship the Maker of heaven and earth.
The angel calls sinners to repent, to believe the Gospel, the Good News of Christ, and to give God His proper worship. That is the message of Jesus. That is the message of the Apostles and Prophets in the Holy Scriptures. That is the message of the Church. And that is the message of the Reformation. The risen Lord Jesus declared that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations” (Luke 24:47). The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is God’s action in you, and it begins the moment His Holy Spirit brings you to sorrow over your sins. This results from the preaching of the Law. But that is not yet the whole Christian message. The preaching of the Law, “Fear God, because the hour of His judgment has come,” has the goal of preparing you for, and driving you to, the eternal Gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, along with life and salvation, Christ’s own righteousness, peace with God, a loving Father, the Holy Spirit, and the promise of resurrection. This Gospel produces faith and is received by faith. It is the root and cause of our worship of God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Notice the order here. The preaching of the Word produces repentance and faith in the Gospel, which then brings forth our worship and praise and other good works. Worship and good works are a result of salvation, but they are by no means the cause of it.
Martin Luther and the other Lutheran reformers sought to correct an abuse that had taken hold of the Medieval Church. That abuse was a total reversal of the order of salvation and good works. Somehow the idea crept into the Church that salvation and the right worship of God are necessary in order to be saved. Worship and works were put before salvation as a condition. Righteousness was to be found within man. But this is precisely the opposite of the Christian proclamation that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without works. It is natural for us in our fallen condition to think that we have to be saved by some righteousness of our own, by works. And that is why every religion with the exception of Christianity proclaims salvation by works of the law. But the Good News of the sin atoning work of Christ Jesus is that our works play no part in our salvation. We are saved by the work of Christ alone. That salvation comes to us by faith. Jesus has set us free from the tyranny of the Law. “(I)f the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). You are free from the requirement of fulfilling the Law for salvation. Jesus has fulfilled it for you. He gives you His righteousness. It is His free gift. Now, as a result, you will want to do good works that glorify God and serve the neighbor. Now you will want to worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.
Martin Luther preached this very Gospel to a Church and world that needed to repent of its system of self-righteousness and self-salvation, and be renewed in Christ Jesus. But it wasn’t just the Church and world of the 16th Century that needed to hear the eternal Gospel. It is also this Church and this world, here and now, today. It is the Church and world of all times. The Church of the Reformation, the heirs of Martin Luther, still has a message from God to proclaim. We still have the privilege of preaching the eternal Gospel. It is summed up so well by Paul in our epistle lesson: “But now 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… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:21-22, 28). This message is for you and it is for all people. You don’t have to work for salvation! Jesus has already earned it for you! Believe it and it is yours!
Christ Jesus stands in the midst of His Church this morning and always, doling out the free gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by His death on the cross. He is right where He promised He would be for you: in the eternal Gospel, delivered to you in Scripture and preaching, Baptism and absolution, and the Holy Supper of His body and blood. The Lord Jesus has sent out His angel, His messenger, to call on all the people of the earth to fear God, repent, and come to the place of worship, the Church, to receive eternal life. For it is here, where Christ is with His gifts, that broken sinners are made whole, the dead are raised to new life, the blind are made to see, and the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity. It is here that the saints worship in spirit and in truth. It is here that the Son of God says to you, “Go in peace, you are free.” And “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Martin Luther, Ninety-Five Theses, Luther’s Works, 55 vols., Harold J. Grimm and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957) 31:25.