Reformation Day (The 21st Sunday After Trinity) October 31, 2004
1 Corinthians 2:11-13
479, 262, 290, 261
Walk about Zion, and go round about her. Count her towers; mark well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following. For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.
Dear Friends in Christ Jesus, the Rock of our Reformation Heritage:
People who study history often indulge in What if? questions: What if Paul Revere would have chosen a good night’s sleep instead of taking his famous ride, warning the patriots to rally against the marching British army? What if the invasion of Normandy had failed? Raising the spectre of an alternate course for history helps us appreciate how history has affected our lives today.
We can look at the events of the Reformation in the same way. What if Luther had gone to Worms, glanced at the emperor and the gallery of powerful bishops and priests, and thought to himself “I—I—think I’ll make a deal.” It’s no exaggeration to say that western civilization would have been deeply affected at that very moment.
An appreciation of the Reformation not only involves history. It also involves implementing the truths of that era for our own day. The efforts of Luther, Prince Frederick, Martin Chemnitz, and others impacted not only a moment in history, but a tradition of belief that has touched every era since the 16th century. By their efforts, we have come to a better appreciation of the Holy Christian Church—the Zion of God honored in this portion of Psalm 48. WHAT DOES THE REFORMATION MEAN TODAY? The Reformation shows us the strength of Zion! I. When we examine God’s Zion, we marvel at the mystery of the Gospel. II. When we examine God’s Zion, we appreciate the liberty of her inhabitants. III. When we examine the Reformation, we are assured of Zion’s lasting protection.
Zion is the Holy Spirit’s shorthand for the true Church of God—those who believe in His gracious promises. You will find Zion in and about visible Christendom, but not all of visible Christendom is Zion. In the Middle Ages, Christendom had a great deal of earthly power under the rule of the Papacy, but the power of the Gospel was seldom found. In fact, the souls of men were walled in by cloisters, traditions, and work righteousness.
It was by God’s grace that through a study of the Holy Scriptures, Luther began to see the clear truth of God’s Word. Luther began to see what others had seen. John Huss in Bohemia, John Wycliffe in England, and many others had studied Scripture as did Luther. Through that study they all came to see the wonderful edifice of God’s Zion being born through the preaching of the unconditioned Gospel.
“Walk about Zion, and go all around her.” [v.12] Let us so do with eyes full of wonder for God’s great work in her. The sum and substance of Zion is the Lord’s great plan of salvation, promised and carried out through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. No longer was a man bound by the curse of the Law. No longer was the Savior portrayed as the terrible judge, but as a redeemer.
Luther said: “In this Christ…are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This will give you more than enough to learn, study, and ponder; and you will marvel at this sublime revelation of God. You will learn to delight in God and love Him. It is a work that can never be exhausted by study in this life. And, as St. Peter says, ‘even the angels cannot see enough of it but find endless joy and delight in contemplating it’ (cf. 1 Peter 1:12).”
If there seems to be little place for the Lutheran beliefs today it is because, in many cases, the seriousness of sin has been cleared out of man’s consciousness. Nevertheless, the guilt remains. Modern man is still man born in the corrupt image of Adam. In his heart and soul he is desperately in need of the sweet tidings of God’s work of salvation, which is bestowed through faith, apart from anything we can do.
As we walk around Zion, one thing we note are the palaces of those who dwell in her. It seems that no one is a slave, there is no underclass within her walls. This was so different from what Luther had seen in his day. The priesthood of the church was only superficially a calling of service and primarily an exercise of power over the consciences of the lay people. There was no remission of sins. There was no hope of forgiveness or salvation unless it was administered through the priesthood and obtained by works of obedience to the commands of the church. The Gospel was used to gain political power.
But hand in hand with salvation by grace through faith, is the doctrine of spiritual liberty. The Gospel of Christ not only frees man from looking to his own deeds as assigned by the church, the Word of God actually condemns all mingling of work righteousness and the Gospel.
A second great heritage of Lutheranism is the clear distinction between salvation and sanctification. Those who are saved by faith are also sanctified. But no one is saved because of his sanctification. The truly good works of the believer are the willing efforts to keep the commandments and to devote himself, body and soul, to the glory of his Savior.
This leads to a related heritage of the Reformation, the priesthood of all believers. The Apostle Peter spoke to all of Zion when he said: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Those magnificent palaces in Zion are ours for we are free citizens of heaven, royal priests who are privileged to “show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” The preaching of the Gospel is no power play—holding consciences captive to deeds. It is the call for sinners to repent. It is the proclamation that through the forgiveness we obtain we are all accepted equally before God. The very core of our being and existence is not found in who we are according to the eyes of the world, but in who God has found us to be through Christ Jesus. We were “not a people,” but “are now the people of God.”
In the difficult but thrilling days of the Reformation when dreadful earthly forces of the Papacy and the Emperor were arrayed against the Reformers, Luther found refuge in a higher authority than any that was turned against him. For the Holy Spirit Himself had caused these words to be written: “For this is our God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide, even to death.” [v.14]
The God who justifies the unrighteous, who calls him His own and makes him a royal priesthood, knows how to hold His people together. We are not a people who find our refuge and strength in what we choose to think about God. Nor do we find hope in what we think He thinks about us. Our refuge and strength is in His powerful Word! When threatened by any force or any foe that would take our peace away from us, we flee to God’s sure prophetic Word by inspiration given. Though we be assailed on every hand, Jehovah’s Word shall ever stand (cf. TLH 290).
This Word of God is our theology and our guide in life. It was careful study of Scripture and the rejection of all error that pulled together a Lutheranism that was in danger of flying apart in the years after the death of Luther. It is that Word, so strong even today, that draws us together to maintain a faithful and sound confession of the Gospel of Christ. Let us turn to that Word, explore this Zion of God, and thank God for the continuing benefits of the Reformation. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.