Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reformation Sunday

Reformation Sunday
October 27, 2013
Text: Rom. 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

            Beloved in the Lord, our Lord Jesus said, “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 8:310-32; ESV).  You may not know it, but you were born a slave.  You were born with original sin, and so you were born in rebellion against God.  You were a slave to sin, a slave to the flesh, a slave to the devil.  Don’t believe me?  Then tell me, why is that every last human being in the whole history of our race has died?  Do you believe you will be the first to live forever?  Why not?  If you’re free, then you can just decide you’re not going to participate in death, thank you very much.  Ah, but you don’t have a choice, do you?  So you’re not free.  The Bible is clear.  Death is the wages of sin, to which you are enslaved.  (S)in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  So there you are.  Enslaved.  Sin.  Death.  The Flesh.  The devil.  These are your task masters.  To be free of these, something must be done about your sin.  You must be forgiven, and made right with God, righteous in God’s sight, what we mean when we use the term justification.  The question, of course, is how?    
            The year was 1517.  It was All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day.  A young Augustinian Friar made his way through the streets of Wittenberg in Saxony to nail some long sheets of parchment to the Church door, the bulletin board of his day.  The parchment was filled with Latin, an invitation to scholarly debate among the professors of the University of Wittenberg.  The debate would center around 95 statements, assertions, theses penned by Dr. Martin Luther.  It was to be, as he would call it, a “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.”  Indulgences.  These were meant to be an answer to the question, how do I get right with God? For a price, you could buy salvation for yourself or others, true spiritual freedom, and in the process you would help fund the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Top indulgence salesman John Tetzel used to say: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  Luther, the pastor and professor of theology, had a problem with this system of buying and selling souls.  And if he was looking for a debate, he certainly got one.  It turns out others had a problem with the system of indulgences, too.  The theses were quickly translated by students into the language of the common man.  They were published throughout Saxony and spread like wildfire.  Soon, word reached the Pope in Rome, as well as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.  They weren’t very happy with this “drunken German,” as Pope Leo X called him.  Very soon, Dr. Luther was a marked man.  And so he was forced by the crisis at hand to embark on a quest for the truth: Is he right?  Or is he just disturbing the peace of the Church?  Is this a battle worth fighting?  Or will this do more damage than good?  Will it spark a reformation of the Church, or a rebellion against God?  To find the answer, Luther plunged himself into deep study of God’s Holy Word, the Scriptures.  For Holy Scripture is the only source of sure and certain truth in the struggle against the serpent’s lies.  If you abide in my word” Jesus says, “you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
            There were a number of issues at stake in the Reformation, but chief among them was this: How is man justified before God?  How does man become righteous?  And how can his sins be forgiven?  How can a man escape God’s divine wrath, death, and damnation?  As a child, Luther was taught that Christ is a righteous Judge who is very angry over sin and delights in condemning people to hell.  The Christian can appease Christ’s anger by making sure to confess every sin, doing works called satisfactions to make up for sins (works such as prayers, rosaries, fasting, that sort of thing), going on pilgrimages to holy places, looking at holy relics, and attending Mass as often as possible.  Even then, Luther was taught, you’ll have to spend centuries in Purgatory to pay off your sins. Become a monk or a nun and you’ll have an easier time of it.  But notice who is ultimately responsible for your salvation in this system.  You are.  You must work for it.  You must earn it.  With help from Christ, of course, but if you want to be saved, you have to do the work.  When will you ever have done enough?  Luther was terrified by this question.  He became a monk.  He fasted.  He prayed.  He made a pilgrimage to Rome.  He went to confession and did the prescribed satisfactions.  He nearly died of starvation, self-inflicted to make up for his sins.  But he never found peace.  He never found the truth and freedom for which he yearned. 
            Until he read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Chapter 1:17 made a profound impression on him: “The righteous shall live by faith” (ESV).  Then, from our Epistle lesson, Chapter 3:28: “For we hold that one is justified [declared righteous] by faith apart from works of the law.”  As it turns out, man cannot earn the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God.  It is given as a gift, freely, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to your account, received by faith, which is to say, trust that the whole thing is true.  Christ brought it all about by His sin-atoning death on the cross: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” writes Paul, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” the God-given sacrifice for our sins (vv. 23-25).
            Beloved in the Lord, this is the very truth that sets you free!  It frees you from sin.  All of that is nailed to the cross of Christ and your debt to God is paid in full.  It frees you from death.  Jesus died your death on the cross.  And He is risen from the dead.  So as death can no longer hold Him, neither can it hold those who are in Him.  It frees you from the devil.  For Christ has defeated him.  He’s crushed the old serpent’s head.  And so, as Luther came to understand, this is a truth worth fighting for.  It is a truth worth dying for.  This isn’t just some theological speculation that may or may not be true.  This is the Word of the Lord.  This is God’s sure promise, recorded for us in Holy Scripture, sealed by the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  And this truth is for you.  We celebrate Reformation Day, not because Martin Luther is our hero or because we think that everything he ever said or wrote is Gospel truth (only the Bible is that!).  We celebrate Reformation Day because of the biblical Gospel Luther proclaimed: That all your sins are forgiven, not because of any work that you have done, not because of any satisfaction you could ever make, and certainly not because of any indulgence you may buy.  Your sins are forgiven on account of Christ, crucified for your sins.  And in His resurrection from the dead you are justified, declared righteous, right with God, who loves you, and has made you His own in Holy Baptism (as we witnessed again today when God made Andrew His own by the washing of water and the Word).  Believe this promise and you have it.  That’s faith.  Simply trust in what God has done for you in Christ.
            And as this truth brought peace to Martin Luther, it brings peace to you.  Christ came into the flesh, not as an angry Judge, but as a merciful Savior.  For you.  And so you know that when He does come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, you have no reason to fear.  He has covered your sins with His blood.  He has declared you righteous already, not because of what you have done, but because of what He has done for you.  St. Paul and Martin Luther and Christ Himself preach this consolation to you this morning: You are justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  You are justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  Jesus Christ is your righteousness before God.  And He is your eternal life.  You are no longer a slave.  You are free.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   




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