Reformation Day Sermon
October 30, 2011
“The Everlasting Gospel”
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth; to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people; saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” Revelation 14, 6-7
The Reformation was no accident. God watches over his Church. It may appear at times as if he neither knows nor cares what’s going on in and to his Church, but she is the apple of his eye and she always will be. The Church is the bride of Christ and Jesus loves his bride.
We call it the Reformation of the Church. During the darkest days of the so called dark ages the Church never ceased to be the Church, the Communion of Saints. From the first Christian Pentecost until the present the holy Christian Church has been established on this earth and no power has been able to destroy her. Why is that? Why is it that the Church, once founded, cannot be overthrown? Why can we confidently assert that there has never been and there will never be a time when the Church of Jesus Christ will cease to exist? The answer is given in the vision of St. John the Evangelist recorded in our text for today:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth; to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.
The everlasting gospel will keep the Church the Church. As long as the gospel is proclaimed the Church will be the Church. And the gospel will always be proclaimed.
It is the everlasting gospel. This might sound strange because the gospel is by its very nature a specific message about a specific person at a specific place and time. The gospel is not a message about Buddha or Muhammad or Gandhi or some other influential religious leader. It is about Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
There is no one size fits all generic gospel. The gospel is very specific. Years ago, theologians who wanted to make the gospel more “relevant” to people suggested that we broaden the meaning of the word “gospel” to mean good news for a bad situation. But the gospel is much more specific than that.
The gospel is specific in that it is the gospel of Christ and Christ alone. The good news on which the Church relies and from which she is born is Christ: who he is, what he has done, what he is doing for us. Only Jesus has destroyed sin and death and opened for us the door to everlasting life. The gospel is about Jesus or it is not good news at all.
The gospel is also very specific concerning what benefits it promises. It is not any good news for any bad situation. The gospel doesn’t promise a good job, worldly success, or good health. The gospel is not a how to method of making friends and influencing people. The reason people prefer such pseudo-gospels is because they don’t face the reality of their own sin. They are enamored by their own thoughts. They refuse to bow before the revealed word and will of God. They define idolatry away as they bow down to gods of their own imagination. They think selfishness is virtuous and praiseworthy. They lust, and commit adultery. They covet and steal. They hate and murder. But they deny they do anything wrong because their lust, covetousness, and hatred remain bottled up inside of themselves. Filled with wicked desires and thoughts they point the finger at others and want a gospel of empowerment instead of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins.
They need the genuine gospel – the everlasting gospel – that only the penitent can receive. That gospel is the good news of God’s full and free forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ’s most holy obedience and suffering. It tells us that our gracious God laid our sins on Jesus who took them away. It tells us that God is reconciled to us for Christ’s sake. It announces peace on earth and goodwill toward men. The gospel promises us that heaven is our home. The gospel tells us that we are free from the guilt of sin, free from the judgment of God’s law, free from fear of death and hell, free to be God’s children.
All of this is ours through faith in the gospel. Without the proclamation of the gospel we would not have what the gospel gives. Indeed, without the proclamation of the gospel there would be no holy Christian Church on this earth but we would all remain blind in sin, wandering through life not knowing where we were going, and ending up in hell. If the Church is the ark of salvation – and it is – it is on account of the everlasting gospel that is proclaimed to her, in her, and through her to the whole world: every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.
The early Lutherans saw the prophesy of the angel flying in midair preaching the everlasting gospel fulfilled in the Reformation of the Church that God worked through his servant, Martin Luther. The word “angel” means messenger. Sometimes it is applied to preachers, as for example in the second and third chapters of Revelation where the pastors of the seven churches of Asia Minor are called angels.
The angel is flying in midair. He is not on the earth. The everlasting gospel that he proclaims does not originate here on earth with men. It is revealed by God. He flies in midair – directly overhead – safe from the destructive power of the devil that comes from below. He preaches to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. God protects him.
When Luther faithfully proclaimed the pure gospel that sinners were justified and saved by God, through faith alone in Christ their Savior and not on account of their deeds or merits, but solely on account of the obedience and suffering of Jesus, he was labeled a dangerous heretic. He want told to recant his teaching. He refused. He was put under the ban by the Emperor. Anyone could kill him with impunity. He had no rights anyone needed to respect. The pope excommunicated him, but it was invalid because the pope is not, as he claims, the head of the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ was and is and will always be the only head of the Church in heaven and on earth and Martin Luther was a messenger sent by Jesus to proclaim the everlasting gospel by which the Church is born, lives, and survives all the attacks against her.
It is the everlasting gospel. God planned our salvation before time began. Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. From the eternal past God loved us and even before our fall into sin he chose in love to send Jesus to be our Savior.
It is the everlasting gospel. It doesn’t change. Our needs don’t change and neither does God’s word. We will remain sinners as long as we live in this world and so we will need the gospel of the forgiveness of sins until the day we die.
It is the everlasting gospel. It guarantees eternal life. The reason the Church can offer eternal life to a dying world is because she has this everlasting gospel. She has no other authority than that given to her by Jesus her Lord. She has no message to proclaim, no treasure to bestow, no comfort to offer than that of her Lord Jesus.
“Fear God and give glory to Him.” So preaches the angel. Note carefully where his glory is revealed or you’ll look for it in the wrong places. The glory of God is in the manger. That’s what the angels sang to the God-fearing shepherds. The glory of God is revealed at a wedding where he changed water into wine. The glory of God is revealed in countless miracles, witnessed by thousands of people. But where was it that the glory of God was most clearly revealed? Was it not as Jesus was going to the cross? Did not Jesus begin his High Priestly Prayer by saying, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You”?
Then Jesus went to face judgment. God judged mankind guilty and God became a man to bear the guilt. So as judgment came upon Jesus Christ, God was glorified. The suffering and death of Jesus for us was the greatest, most sublime and wonderful, most merciful and kind act ever done. Fear God. Glorify God. Worship God. There, where God’s grace in Christ Jesus overcomes all of our sin, is where pure worship of our Creator is grounded.
We use the word orthodox. We say that means right teaching and it does, but literally it means right glory or right worship. As God’s messenger says, “Worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” The right worship comes from the right faith and the right faith is the faith that trusts in the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, not in human acts of devotion or in human works of merit.
The everlasting gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God that we need if we are to know God and worship him. The gospel gives us this righteousness as a gift from God that is ours through faith and through faith alone. The gospel is a message that glorifies God and God alone.
The world wants to be glorified. The world invents its own religions. They are all essentially the same religion. The world’s religions glorify human achievement and bow down before sinful human pride. The world teaches salvation by works. It promotes a multitude of religions that appear at first to be quite different from each other. But, when carefully examined, every religion of the world is the same. They all teach that man is his own savior.
The stark truth is that the religion of men is one big fat lie. Whether the teaching of the pope later codified by the Council of Trent, or the teaching of the health/wealth preachers hawking their wares on the airwaves, or the pontificating of the self-appointed experts at the local tavern, all religion that comes from this earth comes from the father of lies and is designed to glorify fallen and sinful mankind.
The pope’s theologians talked about grace but taught sinners to rely on their own merit for salvation. Luther showed from the Bible that if our salvation depends to any degree at all on our own merit and works then we cannot be confident of making it to heaven. We cannot know that we are in a state of grace. We must always doubt and never know where we stand with God.
Do our good works help get us to heaven? If they do we will rely on them to do so. And that faith won’t save us. This is why we must always firmly hold on to the truth revealed in the everlasting gospel taught by St. Paul and proclaimed by Martin Luther that the righteousness of God is from faith to faith. It is not a righteousness that we do. It is a righteousness that Jesus did. It is not our obedience. It is Christ’s obedience. And while the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation proclaimed to the whole world that they had reached “a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification” when they signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification twelve years ago tomorrow, they did not tell the truth.
Oh, I suppose they mean well. They want to avoid conflict. They don’t want to quarrel. They are embarrassed before the world by the outward divisions of Christendom and they want to heal those divisions. But they do wrong when they paper over serious differences. They deceive people. There is a difference between teaching that we are spiritually weak without Christ and teaching that we are spiritually helpless without Christ. There is a difference between teaching that by grace we can merit eternal life and teaching that by grace we receive eternal life without any merit of our own but solely because of Christ’s merits. There is a difference between teaching that faith saves if it is formed by love and teaching that faith alone saves because it receives the Savior.
The everlasting gospel brooks no compromise. We can’t afford it. Our sins are too great and threatening. The devil is too active and powerful. The world is too corrupt and godless. We need nothing less than that pure eternal gospel that Martin Luther discovered in the Holy Scriptures and faithfully proclaimed to his generation. We pray that God will always provide us with angels – faithful messengers – who will proclaim the saving truth. This will keep the Church safe from harm. Amen