Reformation Day (Observed)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Did St. Paul know what our world would look like today, or was he just a careful observer of the human condition? Listen to part of his letter to Timothy in Ephesus.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth… But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all…” [2 Timothy 3:1-7, 9]
Can we relate to this observation? Wouldn’t life be easier if we knew all the trials and troubles that lay in our future? I submit to you that we do know the future. We see our nation and our world fall to the self-love and heartless, brutal, denying of God.
Yet even as we do know the future, even as we can see the course being followed; if we chose not to follow the path of truth and freedom, we would fail and our downfall would be of our own doing.
The Revelation of the Apostle John is an example of what is in our future. We have actually been given the answers to what happens after this life – in advance. Who are the people arrayed in white robes and where do they come from? Who is the Lamb standing on Mount Zion? What is this everlasting gospel preached to those who dwell on the earth to every nation, tribe, tongue and people?
To those who have heard the Word of God spoken to them the answers are given. To those who have not heard, the answers are a mystery. Where do you stand? More importantly, where will you be standing on that final day, the Day of Judgment?
Here is the truth – every person who dwells on the earth from every nation, tribe and tongue will be there in the presence of Jesus Christ, our judge. [Revelation 14:6] Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. [Philippians 2:10] All will be told to fear God and give glory to Him and worship He who made heaven and earth. [Revelation 14:7]
The everlasting gospel that you have heard will be the answer to your salvation… or your eternal damnation. You know the answer to the questions, ‘Will I be counted as righteous before God? Will I be saved?’ The judgement by our Lord will be our final justice and the good news of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is our final answer.
For those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the judgment will be welcomed with rejoicing, because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and made clean. Their sins are no more and they are considered justified in their faith. They will be judged by the work of Jesus Christ.
For those who deny Jesus Christ as Lord, the judgment will be a terrifying and mournful state, because they, “…will drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.” [Revelation 14:10] Their faith in their own works and merit will be their only defense. They will be judged under the Law
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 19, we are told the whole world is held accountable to God. God is the judge of our sins and we are under His judgment, as stated in Rev. 14:7a “And [the angel] said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come”.
God sits in the seat of judgment over us. Everything we have ever done or what we will do in the future is under scrutiny. Although we may have forgotten, or wish we could forget, all of our past iniquities, our sin blackens our souls to show our true corruption. And based on our thoughts and deeds of evil or good, we are judged. God holds our lives in his hands and compares them against His own holy righteousness; He weighs our lives in the true balance of justice which determines what is holy and what is evil. He and only He can declare us righteous. He and only He can justify us as worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
God can do this because He made those who dwell on earth, every nation and tribe and language and people, and everything else: Rev 14:7 “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water”. God is our judge because he alone is purely holy and good.
We are sinful and unclean. We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. St. Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” [Romans 3:20] Yes, we are truly sinners and we cannot withstand the judgment of our God.
We have the mistaken idea that what we do determines whether or not we have a favorable judgment from God. Some people believe if we try really hard, God will let us slide by without accountability. This is not true. The fact is, we cannot keep His law perfectly and therefore we fail to hold up our end of the covenant. Because we have sinned, we are now bound and shackled by that sin. We who sin are slaves to sin.
The question now arises, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ Jesus answers, ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’ [Mark 16:16] This is the word and promise of our Savior. He gives us the means to shed the shackles of our sins. “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 8:31-32]
The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking in our Gospel reading of John 8 were also astonished by what was told to them. “How can we be slaves? We are sons of Abraham. We are righteous. We are God’s chosen people. We keep the law. How can we not be free?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:34-36]
Jesus was telling them not to be fooled by false arrogance. Jesus was telling them that their ‘good works’ of keeping the law were a lie invented by men without any merit or weight. God does not accept works as righteousness because they are a false sacrifice committed under sin. And the truth is, He will not accept ours either. For we are slaves to sin, and by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” [Romans 3:27-28]
The house of God is His heavenly kingdom. No one can live in the house of the Lord unless they are a member of that household. We are God’s creation but we have fallen from righteousness and are enslaved by our sin. A slave has no place in the kingdom of God. Therefore, we must become heirs to his kingdom through Jesus Christ, the only true Son of God. He is the truth, the life and the way. [John 14:6] In his truth we are set free and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [John 8:36]
This is done through His Grace, Mercy, and Redemption. We are justified by his grace as a gift. This is what grace is. We cannot earn it. We cannot buy it. It is by grace alone we are saved.
This was the position Dr. Martin Luther took against the Roman Catholic Church. On October 31st, 1517 – Martin Luther, a thirty-four-year-old Augustinian friar, preacher, university lecturer, and professor of Old Testament, took an eight-minute walk from his monastery home on one end of the little town of Wittenberg to the Castle Church on the other end of town and posted his 95 Theses, which contained his objections to certain church practices. Many of these practices were created by men and not by the authority of the Word of God. Under the name of God, the people of God were being held in slavery to their sins. The belief of the church was that our works determined our righteousness. Just as the Jews in Jesus’ time, the people proclaimed God as their Father but denied Christ as their justifier.
By the Grace of God, we have been shown mercy. The act of that mercy was the incarnation of Jesus Christ – God made flesh. We have Jesus Christ standing before God the father saying, This one’s debt of sin has been paid by my death on the cross. Through my resurrection, I have redeemed them. They now stand before you righteous and holy; washed of their sins by my sacrificial blood.
This is the mercy given to us by the grace of God through the redemption of His Son, our Lord and Savior. This is why we are no longer under the law of works. The Law has been set apart from our judgment to be replaced by “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” [Romans 3:22]
For us this is good news. We are saved. We are not doomed to be locked in the chains of our sin and cast into the pit of Hell. We are not to live the rest of our eternal lives never again to see the true light of our Creator. Jesus Christ, the Truth, the way and the life, has set us free.
As liberated children of God we enjoy the Christian freedom to tell others this good news. This good news is the eternal gospel we are commanded by our savior to proclaim to all who dwell on the earth. If we abide in these words of Christ Jesus, we will truly be his disciples. His word is the truth and as Christians, we speak the truth so that others may be freed from the enslavement of sin.
We need not be afraid what the devil and the people of this world do to us because the Gospel of truth cannot be touched or corrupted. The glory of God cannot be debased by the evil of men; nor can the judgment of God be altered by the works of any creature. It may seem improbable that anyone would wish to remain a slave, yet we see how easily people long for the things of this world.
Therefore we must proclaim to them the truth. Proclaim to them the faith in Christ. Proclaim to them the true Word, which is Christ, so that they may be free indeed. We do this so that their former sins will be passed over by God’s divine forbearance and so that they will be justified by their faith in Jesus.
Through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Law is replaced with faith. The judgment of our works is replaced with the mercy of God through his Grace. Our justification, or our being declared righteous, is ours through the redemption of Christ’s body and blood.
You know the answer to the question of your salvation. Jesus is the truth and the truth has set you free.
 Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison: A Sermon for the Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation,
October 31, 2017