Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

The following sermon is largely plagerized from the sermons and presentations at Higher Things: Sola, 2009 conference in Grand Rapids. All Latin irregularities are my own mistake.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 12)
July 26, 2009
Text: Mark 6:45-56

Why does Jesus come to His disciples walking on the stormy sea? It is that they might see, and that we might see through the light of the Scriptures, that Jesus is God enfleshed, that it is no mere human teacher who says the things Jesus says or does the things Jesus does, but that human teacher who is at the same time, in one and the same person, almighty God. And it is that the disciples might see, and that we might see through the light of the Scriptures, that this one who is God and man in one person, Jesus Christ, alone is our salvation. For only a man who is also God, He alone, can walk on water. And only a man who is also God, He alone, can immediately still the wind and the waves. He alone can save His disciples from the peril of death. He alone can save the disciples from the jaws of hell. He alone does such great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever (Ps. 136:4). Christ alone is the God-man. Therefore salvation is in Christ alone.

Alone. Sola. The youth who went to Higher Things this week already know where this is going. Sola, the Latin word for alone, was the theme of our conference. We learned about the great solas of the Christian faith, the solas that are our Reformation heritage, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura: Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone. We are saved by Christ alone, forgiven of all our sins, pronounced righteous with His righteousness, and given eternal life in Christ alone. And all of this is given to us by grace alone, received by faith alone, revealed to us in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, alone. The review this week of the solas was a great benefit and blessing to this pastor, as I know it was also to Amanda and Catrin and Dietrich and Chris. And so it is good and right that we also review them as a congregation, for these solas encapsulate the very heart of the Christian faith: Christ and justification.

Solus Christus, Christ alone. The disciples in our text know that no mere man can walk on water. So when they see the figure of a man walking toward them on the waves of the sea, they jump to the only logical conclusion: It’s a ghost! They all cried out. They were terrified (Mark 6:49-50). Would you act any differently if you were on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, in the midst of a great storm, no land in sight, and some guy comes walking past as if there’s nothing wrong with this picture? Of course, we know from the Scriptures that there’s no such thing as a ghost, that when you die, your body goes in the ground and your soul goes to heaven or hell depending on whether or not you are in Christ. But we don’t always think theologically orthodox thoughts when we’re terrified. The disciples are terrified. We can understand. It is in the midst of terror and fear, however, that Jesus speaks His calming Word: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 50; ESV). And just as only a man who is also God can walk on water, just as only a man who is also God can calm the violent sea, so also only a man who is also God can calm a troubled and terrorized heart. It’s no ghost, it’s Jesus. And where He is present, in the flesh, with His mercy, for you, there is no room for terror. This is, after all, the one who heals diseases, makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. This is, after all, the one who drives out demons by His Word. This is, after all, the one who even raises the dead. And this is, after all, the one who loves you to death, literally, to the death of the cross, where He dies in your place for the forgiveness of all your sins. You are saved by this Christ alone. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” says Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Solus Christus, Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus walks on water that the disciples, and you and I by the light of Holy Scripture, might come to know that He is, in fact, who He claims to be, God’s Son, very God of very God, in the flesh come to be our only rescue and salvation. Jesus Christ is not just a way of salvation. He is the way. Alone. Mohammed and his god do not give you salvation. They leave you in the law to work it out for yourself. And of course, you can’t. You know you can’t. You are a sinner. Mohammed and his god will leave you in death and hell. Confucius may be wise in the eyes of men, but he is not wise unto salvation, for he knows not Jesus Christ or the Gospel of peace. The gods of Buddhism and Hinduism promise that you will finally reach nirvana, a state of nothingness, or become a drop in the ocean of reality and so lose your identity, and this is paradise, so they claim. But in reality, they can only offer you eternal death, an eternity outside of the fellowship of the one true God, who alone gives life. Even the god of the Jews is a false god, for the God of the Old Testament, the only true God revealed in the Scriptures, is the God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. The Jews rejected that God, and so they cannot offer salvation either, but only condemnation. Theirs, too, is a religion of works, which means it is a religion of death. Jesus Christ alone can save you. Solus Christus.

And that is the most important sola, for from the solus Christus come the other three: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura. Sola gratia, grace alone, means that you are saved without any merit or worthiness in you. It means that works play no part in your salvation. It means that you are saved only by the undeserved favor of God on account of Christ. Grace is the gift of God, given freely on account of Christ, to those who do not deserve it. St. Paul writes, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). God didn’t send His Son Jesus Christ to redeem us because there was any merit in us worth redeeming. Jesus didn’t accomplish our salvation because He saw something in us worth saving. God doesn’t love us because we’re so loveable. We’re not. God’s love creates it’s object. We’re only loveable to God because He says so. And likewise, grace is a quality in God, not in us. God is gracious. In His grace, He takes what is worthless, us poor, miserable sinners, and prizes us as His most treasured possession, paying the ultimate price to rescue us from death and hell, the price of His Son’s blood. Our works play no part in this. We are saved sola gratia, by grace alone.

And we receive this salvation sola fide, by faith alone. Now this is where many Lutherans get all screwed up. Because it’s so easy to agree with the “grace alone” part and the “without works” part, but then start to think of faith as that one work I get to do for my salvation. And if we think that way, we’ve totally misunderstood faith. Faith is not a work by which we merit salvation any more than praying is, or working at Project Hope is, or not committing adultery is. No, faith is a gift! Sola fide comes after sola gratia, because faith is a free gift of God in Christ Jesus, given apart from works, without any merit or worthiness in us. And understand what is meant by that word, “faith.” “When we say that we are saved by faith alone – sola fide – we mean that we are saved not by something called ‘believing’ going on in OUR hearts, but the faith of Jesus. Jesus never wavered, but always perfectly trusted His Father. That is His perfect faith which counts for your faith. Our faith is Jesus Himself, who perfectly kept the Law and died and rose. Our faith is our Baptism, in which Christ lays hold of us. Our faith is the words of Absolution and the Body and Blood of the Supper. To say that we have faith is nothing other than to say that we have Jesus. To be sure, there is that part of faith in which our minds and hearts believe and trust in Christ, but that’s only because there is a Christ to trust and believe in.”[1] When you have Jesus, you have faith. When you have faith, you have Jesus. And when you have Jesus, you have all of His benefits, the very forgiveness of sins and salvation. Thus faith is the receiving hands, given by God Himself, by grace, to receive the gifts of grace.

And how do you get this faith in the first place? The Holy Spirit brings you to faith and keeps you in the faith, by the means of grace, by His Word, and by His visible Word in Baptism and the Supper. And that leads us to the final sola to be considered: sola scriptura, Scripture alone. By Scripture alone, we don’t mean you just take your Bible off to some lonely place and read it and that’s the beginning, middle, and end of your faith, as if you don’t need the Church or sermons or sacraments or the liturgy or the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren. That would be called nuda scriptura, the naked Scriptures, which is an unbiblical concept. Scripture alone means simply this: you don’t add to or subtract from Scripture. “When the church confesses Scripture alone – sola scriptura – she means that we don’t try to learn about God from anything other than God’s own word. The same Word preached by His apostles – added to the water of Baptism and that brings us Jesus (sic) body and blood – is the Word that comes to us in the pages of the Scriptures.”[2] We don’t add humanly devised works to the Scriptures, and we certainly don’t make them necessary to salvation. Nor do we take away from the commandments of God in Holy Scripture just because we don’t like them, they rub us the wrong way, or aren’t politically correct. We don’t listen to mysterious voices or dreams or our feelings as if such are the Word of God. The Scriptures alone reveal to us God’s clear Word. And that Word is about the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Which brings us back to solus Christus.

Christ alone is our Savior. Christ alone died for our sins on the cross. Christ alone is risen for our justification. He is no mere man. He is God in the flesh, the God-man. In Christ God Himself has condescended to take on our human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to be one with us, to be our brother, to suffer all that we suffer, to be tempted as we are tempted, to take our sin and uncleanness and death upon Himself, to suffer hell for us, to be forsaken of God in our place, to die our death on the cross, and so to redeem us from sin and death and hell and the devil. Solus Christus, Christ alone has done this for us, that we might be saved sola gratia, by grace alone, sola fide, by faith alone. And the testimony of this is given graciously by God Himself in the Holy Scriptures, sola scriptura, Scripture alone. Therefore to Him alone be all the glory, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Sola Fide – By Faith Alone,” devotion in Sola: Daily Services (Higher Things, 2009) p. 124.
[2] “Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone,” ibid.


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