Reformation Sunday| Rev. 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-38| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| October 29, 2023
The Reformation of the Church happened during one of the most exciting times in world history, the age of exploration and discovery. In 1492, Columbus discovered the Caribbean Islands, stepping foot on land that no European had ever set foot on before. In 1497, Cabot sailed from England to Canada. In 1522, Magellan’s fleet completed the first trip around the world. Continents and peoples separated by oceans for thousands of years were now united by shipping routes, which led to global trade, colonization, settlements, missions, and conquests. And everything we know and have, is joined to these historical events. The nation we live in, the land we love, all of it we received because of the expeditions and discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And on October 31, 1517, amid this age of exploration and discovery, a monk named Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theological theses on a church door in Germany.
Well, which is more worthy of our celebration? The age of exploration and discovery, which has given us the world as we know it, our geography, government, and nation? Or the Reformation of the Church, which was kept largely isolated to northern Europe in the sixteenth century, and consisted of church men writing and arguing about the teachings of the Bible? It’s not even close. The Reformation was by far a greater and more significant event, because it dealt with a greater and more significant matter.
The age of exploration and discovery led to the transfer and building of incredible wealth, the tearing down and building up of great nations, and the taking and preserving of much human life. Yet, all of this pales in comparison to the importance of the preaching of the pure Word of God, which brings sinners into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt expresses it well in his hymn, Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me:
What is all this life possesses?
But a hand Full of sand
That the heart distresses.
Noble gifts that pall me never
Christ, our Lord, Will accord
To His saints forever.
The Reformation does not deal with the hand full of sand, which distresses the heart, but with the noble gifts, which never pall1 Christ’s saints. The Reformation deals with the Gospel of Christ, which St. Paul says is the very power of salvation to all who believe! What will all this life offers be able to offer you when you face death? What can your land or wealth or nation do for you, when you face God’s judgment? What can the advancements in science and medicine do for you, when death has taken his firm grasp on the one whom you love, when you stand on the edge of eternity? Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! the preacher cries (Eccl. 1). That’s all the age of exploration and discovery, the age of enlightenment, the age of industrial revolution, the age of science, and the age of technology can offer us. But the Gospel is never vanity. The Gospel is never helpless. The Gospel of Christ offers us eternal salvation, an escape from death and hell, an answer to our greatest fears and guilt. And so, the Reformation, which deals with preserving the Gospel is worth celebrating.
We call ourselves Lutherans, but that’s just the name we were given. We’d happily be known simply as Christians, but so many false teachers also claim that name, so we need to clarify what type of Christians we are. We’d be happy to be known as catholic, which simply means to confess what the whole church has always confessed, but for obvious reasons calling ourselves catholic would be confusing. We are certainly orthodox, which means, right teaching, but the Eastern Orthodox have claimed that name. We used to call ourselves evangelicals, which means those who hold to the Gospel, but a faction of American Christianity took that name from us. We could rightly be called Reformed, since Luther was the great Reformer, but the reformers who came after Luther got that title for some reason. We’re the true Baptists, because we hold to the promises of Baptism, but those who deny that Baptism does anything got the name Baptist. So, we’ll have to be content being called Lutheran, as unattractive as it may sound.
But what does it mean to be Lutheran, and should you celebrate it? Yes, you should celebrate it. You should thank God you are Lutheran. And I’ll give you two reasons to do so.
First, because being Lutheran means to trust solely on the promises of God and not to lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). If you will be a Christian, you must hold firmly to the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. Do not waste your time with a church, which denies that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God. If the Bible is not God’s Word, then we have no sure foundation on which to stand. But our Lord Jesus clearly tells us that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Jesus’ Apostle Paul tells us that the household of God is built on the foundation of Scripture (Ephesians 2:19-20). And both St. Peter and St. Paul tell us that the Holy Spirit caused all Scripture to be written (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16). Yet, it is not enough to hold the Bible as God’s Word, you must keep the Bible pure from the perverted ideas of man.
This was one of the major problems Luther and his colleagues had with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church had no problem saying that the Bible is God’s Word, but they also wanted to say that the writings of the pope and other councils were also sources of divine teaching. But this is to mix straw and chaff into the solid foundation of God’s Word, and so make it weak. The Lutherans echoed, “Scripture alone!” because Scripture alone is God’s Word. They took seriously Jesus’ warning against the Pharisees, who were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9)
Yet, many who claim to hold to Scripture alone still place their own opinions over Scripture. Baptists and others who deny that Baptism saves and say that we should not baptize babies cannot find a single passage in Scripture concerning Baptism, which suggests that Baptism does not save or that babies shouldn’t be baptized. Instead, they pit their reason against the teaching of Scripture. “Babies can’t have faith,” they say, “so babies shouldn’t be baptized.” But Scripture says, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies, you have established praise” (Matthew 21:16) And Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matthew 11:25) So, there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that babies cannot have faith. They also deny that Baptism saves, because Baptism is our work, and our works don’t save. Yet, no where in Scripture does it say that Baptism is our work. Rather, Scripture says that Baptism forgives sins and gives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 22:16), that it works new birth (John 3:5; Titus 3:5-8), and grants salvation to all who believe (Mark 16:16). These are all things that only God can do, so Baptism must be God’s work, not ours.
Others, who claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word, deny that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, despite Scripture recording four times that Jesus says, “This is my body; this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28; Mark 14:22, 24; Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25) They do not believe it is Christ’s body and blood, not because of what Scripture says about the Lord’s Supper, but because it is impossible to human reason. Yet, if Jesus is true God as well as true man, we cannot place any limits on Him.
So, Lutherans take seriously the words of Scripture, which say, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) and the words of God from Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) and what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 3, “To him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think…” Lutherans believe that God’s Word is clear, and we believe the promises in God’s Word, even if our human reason butts against it.
Whenever you let human reason or human authorities try to correct what Scripture clearly says, God’s promises and grace are robbed from you. Baptism is a great source of comfort to us. Those who let human reason dismiss the clear promises of Baptism in Scripture are robbed of that comfort. The Lord’s Supper is a great source of consolation and strengthening of faith for us. Those who let human reason deny the power of the Lord’s Supper lose that consolation and strengthening of faith. Nowhere does human reason rob comfort and grace from the Christian’s heart more cruelly, than in the teaching that we are justified and saved not by faith alone, but also through our works.
This leads us to the second and greatest reason to thank God you are Lutheran. Being Lutheran means you have certainty of your salvation. Our Lutheran confessions declare, “Our churches teach that men are not justified by their own strength, merit, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by His death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God [credits] for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3, 4).” [AC IV] We confess this, because St. Paul writes in Romans 3, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” To be justified means to be declared righteous by God. That means that you are innocent in God’s sight and will inherit eternal life! Human reason says that you can only be righteous before God by doing works of the Law. But Scripture clearly says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The Law brings knowledge of sin! The more you learn what you should do, the more you learn how much you have failed to do it! St. Paul declares, “For apart from the law, sin lies dead.” (Romans 7:8) “But when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (vs. 9)
The Law kills, but human reason insists that the Law gives life. And so, human reason and every manmade religion and Christian sect, pushes you to that which cannot give life to get life. And so, there is no certainty of salvation where salvation by works it taught! But Scripture does not teach salvation by works! Scripture teaches that Christ Jesus God’s own Son made satisfaction for all your sins by His blood on the cross. Scripture teaches that the satisfaction Christ made for your sins earns you righteousness, which is given to you as a gift! Paul writes again, “Now to him who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to him who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)
Faith is simply trusting in the promise of Christ. The law condemns, because the law depends on your works. Because you are a sinner, you can never be confident in your salvation based on the law. The Gospel does not depend on your works, but on Christ’s work. Christ cannot fail. And so, your faith in Christ cannot fail. We thank God that we are Lutherans, because we thank God that we know Christ as our only Savior. Scripture reveals no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. And in Jesus Christ, we have certainty of salvation. Amen.