Reformation Sunday October 27, 2019
262, 289, 261, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
My wife’s family has a Christmas and New Year’s tradition that may be familiar to many of you. Every Christmas they do a jigsaw puzzles on a cardboard table in their living room. While jigsaw puzzles at Christmas may not be that uncommon, what surprised me was that as the puzzle was nearly completed, a wrestling match would break out as each family member wanted to be the one to put the final piece in place to complete the puzzle. This desire is so great, in fact, that some in the family have been known to hide a single piece of the puzzle so he or she can have the joy and satisfaction of putting in the last piece.
As enjoyable as it may be to be the one who completes a project like that, it is equally frustrating to near the end of a project, only to find a piece is missing. Maybe it was a jigsaw puzzle, a piece of furniture from IKEA, or a Lego project you worked so hard at only to find at the end that you are missing a piece. Missing pieces are frustrating.
As we turn to Paul’s letter to the Christians in the territory of Galatia (modern day Turkey), the matter of “missing pieces” comes into play. The letter to the churches in Galatia was written not too long after Paul had done his missionary work there. Though Paul had just preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, he is amazed or astonished at the reports he was hearing. Verse 6 of our text, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel…”
When Paul did his missionary work in Galatia, he had preached the good news about salvation. The same good news that he references in verse 4—that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Paul had taught the Galatians that their sins had been fully and freely paid for by the death of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He had preached that they were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He had told them that Jesus Christ had done everything necessary for them to be delivered from this evil world and live eternally with God in heaven.
But after Paul had left, other preachers had come in who “trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” How did they trouble the Galatians and pervert the gospel of Christ? They told the churches that believing on Jesus was essential for salvation—that His death and resurrection were necessary for them to be forgiven. BUT, they said, the Galatians needed to add something to His work for them to be saved. They were teaching the Gentile Galatians that in order to be saved they still need to be circumcised (Acts 15:1), that they still need to obey the Law of Moses, and that they still need to observe days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:10). Returning to the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle, those perverting the gospel in Galatia were basically telling them that Jesus put together most of the puzzle of their salvation, but you need to add the final pieces to make it complete.
No wonder Paul curses those who would pervert the gospel in such a way. These false teachers were teaching that works needed to be added to faith in order for the Galatians to be saved. In doing so, they were ROBBING Jesus of His glory and troubling souls. By adding works to God’s plan of salvation Jesus’ work of salvation suddenly became insufficient. They taught that Jesus had begun the work and now the Galatians needed to contribute to it or complete it with their works.
Like the missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the teaching of “faith plus works” for salvation can fill one with pride, like the Pharisee in the Temple that informed God of all the good works he had done. On the other hand, this teaching of “faith plus works” can lead one to frustration and despair as it did for Martin Luther, over 500 years ago.
Martin Luther struggled with his sinful weakness. He was very aware that he had fallen short of the glory of God and feared God’s wrath and punishment. Martin’s priests told him to pray more to Mary and do more good works. The church of Luther’s day was following in the footsteps of those perverting the gospel in Galatia. The church was telling Luther he needed to add more and more puzzle pieces to complete his forgiveness. Yet Luther continued to feel like it was never enough to appease God’s wrath over his sins.
It wasn’t until Luther was able to get into the Scriptures that he found peace for his troubled conscience. God’s Word revealed to Luther that there were no missing pieces to the puzzle of salvation. The gospel declared the good news that Jesus had done it all. Again, verse 4 of our text summarizes that gospel so well—“our Lord Jesus Christ…gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Christ had already made the sacrifice for Luther’s sins. That sacrifice was complete. When God raised Jesus from the dead on Easter, He was making a public declaration that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary was all-sufficient for the sins of the whole world. There are no missing pieces.
This, then is the focus of true Lutheranism. Jesus is the all-sufficient Savior who made the all-sufficient sacrifice to cleanse you from all your sins. His righteousness and holiness are credited to your account through faith in Him. His death is the death of your sins. His resurrection is your assurance that you too shall rise. You see, in Biblical Lutheranism, Jesus gets all the glory because Jesus did all the work in carrying out the Father’s plan for our salvation.
Some accused Martin Luther of teaching “new doctrines” and corrupting the people and the church. But what Luther and the Lutheran confessors taught really was nothing new—it is as old as the first promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Luther said “this is the doctrine and the faith which for fifteen hundred years since the birth of Christ, nay, longer, for five thousand years, from the beginning of the world, was preached by the fathers and the prophets and is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture.” (What Luther Says #2686) Lutheran teaching is nothing new because it is Bible teaching, where Jesus gets all the glory for our salvation.
Today, there are those who still try to pervert the gospel and rob Jesus of His glory by teaching that you have to add something to Jesus’ work to be saved. We too, are often tempted to think that we need to add something to Jesus work to be at peace with God. Or, like Luther, we despair because we feel like we haven’t done enough or we haven’t been good enough Christians to get to heaven.
Rather than focusing on ourselves, let us focus our attention on Jesus Christ. HE gave Himself for our sins. No greater sacrifice can be made than that which the Son of God made for you. There is no greater holiness and righteousness than that of Jesus. And through faith in Him, God credits you with His righteousness as though it was your very own. The puzzle of your salvation is complete, because Jesus has finished it for you. That is why Jesus must remain the true focus of Lutheranism. May God so help us to keep our eyes on Jesus. 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.