Reformation Sunday October 29, 2023
264, 373, 380, 262
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
In Christ Jesus, of whose kingdom we are members by faith, dear fellow redeemed:
October 31—when most people here in the United States hear that date mentioned, their thoughts turn to the celebration of Halloween…ghosts, witches, and children going door-to-door saying, “Trick or treat!” For Lutherans, I hope that date suggests something more significant, namely, the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the beginning of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. We are commemorating that event and historical movement today in our worship service. But how should we view the Reformation of the 16th Century? Is it simply a past historical event of greater or lesser significance depending upon who you are? Is it a cause to be celebrated, the memory of which provides an opportunity to compare the relative merits or lack thereof of different church bodies? I remember as a boy growing up in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota having a newspaper delivery route and arguing about the Reformation with other paperboys who happened to be Roman Catholic. We had deep theological discussions that would go something like this. A Catholic paperboy would yell: “The only reason Martin Luther left the Catholic Church was so that he could get married!” My profound response would be to yell back: “Did not!”
Remembering, observing, and discussing the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century can serve a variety of purposes. Today, however, as we commemorate the Reformation, we want to review certain Biblical teachings and apply them in a personal way, for THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. Those truths are clearly stated by the apostle Paul in our text, and each one of us can confess them with direct reference to ourselves. First, I cannot save myself and, second, God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ!
The theme of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and of his entire ministry is found in its first chapter: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17) This good news that Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin, death, and Satan is the heart of God’s biblical message. The sad fact, however, is that every human being by nature cannot understand that message (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14), nor does anyone by nature recognize that he needs Jesus Christ and the righteousness He provides (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9).
Consequently, Paul spends the first three chapters of this Epistle establishing the fact that no human being can save himself. He speaks of the Jews, to whom God had given His written law through Moses and declares that they have not kept the law even though it had clearly been revealed to them (cf. Romans 2:17-24). He also speaks of the non-Jews, the Gentiles, and explains that although they by nature had an understanding that God exists and His laws were written into their hearts, they could not and did not obey them. Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles stand condemned before God’s law (cf. Romans 3:9). Clearly, as Paul cites from the Old Testament Scriptures: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12) Therefore, Paul opens our text with these words: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
What is Paul saying to each of us personally? He is saying, first, that God’s commandments apply to us. When God says: “You shall have no other gods; you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal,” He is talking to us! We live in a world that thinks of itself as being post-modern, which means, in part, that people do not recognize any absolute truth in areas of morality. They suggest that while you and I might believe that God’s commandments apply directly to us, we cannot insist that those same commandments apply to everyone. My dear friends, God’s moral law does apply to everyone! God tells us very plainly, “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) People may deny that fact, but it stands. Every human being is subject to the law of God and will bear the responsibility for violating it. Later Paul writes: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’” (Romans 14:10b-11) People can deny it if they wish, but one day we will all either bow our knees in joy before our loving Savior or in fear before our ultimate and final Judge!
Therefore, Paul reveals that the purpose of the law is to stop the boasting that proceeds from the mouth of every human being. Every human being stands condemned before God’s law, even those who in the eyes of themselves and others are seemingly most righteous. For you see, God not only sees our every action, but He hears our every word, and is aware of our every thought. No one is justified in God’s sight by anything he or she might do, for the law in the end only does one thing for each of us—it reveals our sin!
We human beings do not like to hear that! We like to think well of ourselves. We like to assume that if there is a heaven and if there is a God, that surely, He will consider our goodness and receive us gladly into His presence. But God’s law does not say, “Be the best that you can be or try your hardest and that will be good enough.” God’s law says, “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect!” (Matthew 5:48) In response to that demand, you and I, and everyone else in this whole wide world, must confess I cannot save myself, because I cannot be perfect, no matter how hard I try. God’s law reveals my sin and the just judgment that I deserve because of my sin. Were you or I, therefore, to stand before God on the Day of Judgment with only our own attempts at righteousness, we would be condemned!
Yes, THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. The second of those truths is that God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ! I cannot save myself, but Jesus can and has done so. That is the gospel message! Paul tells us, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” That knowledge of my own inability to save myself is the preparatory understanding that I need to receive and rejoice in the work that God has now completed on my behalf.
I need righteousness to stand before God. I do not have sufficient righteousness on my own, but the very righteousness that I need, God provides—the righteousness of His own Son. Jesus lived a perfect life for you and me. He did nothing contrary to God’s will, while leaving nothing undone that was in accordance with His will. Jesus said nothing contrary to God’s will, while saying everything necessary in accordance with that will. His thoughts were always and, in every way, perfect. This perfection is accredited to you and to me as we are led by the Spirit to put our faith and trust in Jesus. We have all sinned, Paul says, but we have all been justified as well—declared righteous before God. This is a gift of His grace—His undeserved love for us. This gift we receive alone by faith—that trust the Spirit of God instills within our hearts as we hear the gospel message!
How did God work out our redemption? Our text tells us: “God set forth (Jesus) as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood as a “propitiation”—an atoning sacrifice for us. Jesus was holy and innocent, but God laid our sins upon Him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), so that we might receive His righteousness. God did this because of His great love for us—a love we do not deserve, but which I pray we will receive with gladness. God did this so that we might recognize that He is the One who has justified us. To what end? So that as Luther wrote in his explanation to the 2nd Article, we might “be His very own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and joy.” Dear friends, God waited 4,000 years after Adam and Eve’s initial sin to bring about our redemption, and He has proclaimed through His believing children that good news for an additional 2,000 years. God is just and the One who justifies us!
“Where is (our) boasting then?” Paul asks. He responds, “It is excluded.” There is no place for patting ourselves on the back in view of our supposed goodness. “By what law? Of works?” Paul asks again. He responds, “No, but by the law of faith.” Faith is God’s gift—it is that empty hand into which He pours His love and forgiveness. It is by faith that we become God’s children and His heirs (cf. Galatians 3:26-29). It is by faith that we can be confident of our present relationship with God and our future life in His presence. “Therefore we conclude,” Paul says, “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” My dear friends—that which has been given to us by God and not secured on our own, can never be taken from us. Consequently, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation yield within our hearts and lives the additional gifts of joy, peace, hope, and confidence!
THE REFORMATION RESTORED TWO VERY IMPORTANT, VERY PERSONAL TRUTHS TO GOD’S CHURCH, that is, to every one of us believers. The first is a necessary preparation: I cannot save myself, while the second is the most fundamental and necessary truth revealed in Scripture: God by grace has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ! Believe it; cherish it; rejoice in it! 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.