Let us begin this special occasion with a prayer: Heavenly Father, this weekend marks the 497 th anniversary of the great reformation, when you so graciously worked through Martin Luther to restore the Gospel of Christ, the Word of Grace, to the church at a time when people were taught to be uncertain of salvation. Yet in Christ, in His Word, we have everything we need to be saved.
So we honor the greatest reformer of all, which is Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who labored hard for us in a way that no one else could, making satisfaction for all our sins on the cross. Never let us forget the treasure we have in the pure Word of Christ, that we are saved by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, by His Word alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dear Baptized of God, the Reformation is a clear example of how God continues to watch over His church, and that He will never allow to perish what keeps the saving faith in us alive: His Word.
Today He has again gathered us around that Word of Grace, that says clearly, we are justified by faith in Christ. Not by what we do. Not by our efforts, no matter how sincere. Even as great as Luther’s efforts were, he was not justified by his works either, but by faith in Christ alone.
What our faith loves to hear, is that God’s Word will always remain. Empires come and go, powerful leaders reign and are replaced, even the greatest nations thrive and then fall. But God’s promise remains. His grace and forgiveness toward us remains. The Word of our God shall stand forever.
A Mighty Fortress is our God, Luther wrote in his great battle hymn. And did he ever go to battle, to war. It wasn’t just that he had a death sentence over his head for teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ. His greatest struggle began already in childhood, when he was taught to be uncertain.
Uncertainty toward salvation made money, it sold indulgences. Doubt was encouraged while faith in human leaders was held in high esteem, especially faith in the Pope’s power to pardon. How convenient that there was hope for sinners, if they were just willing to pay. “When the coin in the coffer rings a soul from Purgatory springs”, said John Tetzel, a monk sent directly from the Pope to sell forgiveness.
But by that time, Luther had already discovered forgiveness freely given by Grace, received freely through faith. And he wasn’t about to remain silent when he got word of Tetzel.
Soon after he posted the 95 theses, challenging indulgences and many other offences in the church. This was the first public act of the reformation (October 31, 1517).
But it was 2 years prior, when Luther first discovered the Gospel, in 1515. That meant he spent about 30 years being uncertain about where he would go when he died. Martin was raised to believe that God was an angry judge who could only be satisfied with good works. “I could not make myself believe anything but that I had offended God, whom I would have to make favorable again through my good works.”
It was a viscious cycle for him. Often on the way back from confession, before he could even sit down, Luther would be struck so heavily with guilt again, that he’d have to return to confession again, and then receive more penance, another abuse in the church, which stated one could “make up” for sin by following the priests commands, sometimes a routine of prayers, sometimes fasting, sometimes both. He said, “I was often frightened by the name of Christ…for I believed that I would have to do good works until Christ was rendered gracious to me through them.”
And what does the wisdom of the world have to say about all this? “No problem. No need to feel guilty, we’ll just lower the standards. We’ll teach evolution, and completely get rid of God. Get rid of moral accountability.” And as the world gets worse and worse, we see that in general, the church slowly becomes more like the world. Homosexuality often goes unchallenged, even in many churches. And we hear the devil saying, “Did God really say it is wrong? Did God really say there are eternal consequences for rejecting His Word?”
But God is absolutely holy and just, and He demands absolute perfect righteousness from us all. As we heard two weeks ago, we must love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. And for God to just overlook our sin, would be like an unjust judge who lets criminals go free. A price must be paid for our our sin against God. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.”
What Luther finally discovered by Grace, after 32 years of uncertainty, is that God sent His Son to pay that penalty. God sent His only begotten Son to be judged for our sin. And God can and He does justify the ungodly, by the perfect life of His Son, and by His sacrifice for us on the cross.
“A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” Faith in Christ means everything. When Luther finally discovered that we are saved freely by grace, through this faith in Christ – he was a force to be reckoned with. Through him, God began a movement that could not be stopped.
People were thirsting for the true Word, the true Gospel, because for so long there had been held under that false hope of good deeds, that never really seemed to bring true peace and rest. And they found in Luther’s writings the clear teaching of salvation by Grace alone, through faith alone. The clear teaching of freedom from sin in Christ. They found they didn’t need the Pope to be forgiven, they didn’t need anyone to interpret the Bible for them. And that indulgences, purgator, and penance could not save them. The Gospel alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, faith alone, is what they needed to be saved. Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavey laden, and I will give you rest.” For He is the way, the truth and the life.
There are times when it can feel like God is far away, and that He only cares about counting up my sins, and maybe even wants to punish me for my sins, like Luther once felt. But let us not put faith in feelings, or in our own efforts to please God. The Gospel shows that God cares most about freeing us from the power of sin, and from the curse of the law. The Gospel shows how His heart beats for us in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, who lived under the law to redeem us who were under the law. The Gospel shows that Christ already took the true punishment for sin upon Himself, and that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
We are justified freely by faith in Jesus Christ. Knowing, believing, trusting in, relying on Christ’s perfect life, makes life worth living. “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”God gave the Scriptures for every single person to read and understand, and to grow and be strengthened by them. This is the greatness of the Reformation. Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. Christ alone. We never have to be uncertain about salvation. We are justified freely by faith in Christ. By His Spirit guiding us in the green pastures of His Word, the still waters of His Sacrarments, He promises to continue to increase our understanding, and strengtehn our faith. “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.