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MLseal_largeReformation Sunday
Romans 4:18-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Impossible. Can’t be done. No way. That’s what you probably would have said. Things didn’t look good. It seemed as if Satan had won victory after victory and right within the Christian church itself. A sinful human being had been elevated to the place of God on earth and whatever he spoke from his throne was considered just as valid as God’s Word. People were being taught that God saved you partially, but you still have to do your part, you still have to save yourself by doing good works in order to get to heaven. And people were taught right within the church that if you didn’t finish making satisfaction for your sins by the time you died, you’d have to spend thousands of years in a place called purgatory suffering to make up for those sins. The church was also filled with greed. In order to make more money those in the church taught that you could pay some money to the church for something called an indulgence and that piece of paper gave you forgiveness or helped a dead loved one out of time in purgatory. Salesmen would sell these pieces of paper all over the place and one even claimed that he saved more souls by selling this than St. Peter did with the gospel! God’s Word was pushed further and further into the background and most common people had little ability to read God’s Word and little access to it. Error upon error filled the Christian church. Satan seemed to win victory after victory. It looked hopeless. Impossible. And one lone renegade monk from Germany was going to lead people back to the truth, back to God’s Word? No way! Impossible. That’s what you would have thought before the Reformation.
What about today? To what in your life are you saying, “Impossible”? Maybe you’re thinking about the upcoming elections in our country and thinking can anything good come out of this? Impossible. Maybe you’re thinking about a major financial set back that you’re facing and you’re thinking, “Can anything beneficial come from this? Impossible.” Maybe it’s a health problems you’re facing and it doesn’t look good. Can this really be for my good? Impossible.
Well, the patriarch Abraham also faced something impossible. You remember the account, right? Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland and settle in a land not his own. God told him that his descendants were going to be as numerous as the stars and that they would inherit this land and through his descendant all nations on earth would be blessed. That’s great! But there was a major problem: He had no children. And that’s fine if you’re young and perhaps still have the possibility of having a child, but Abraham is 100 years old and his wife is 90! They’re going to have a child?? Talk about impossible!
But God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. And what are we told? “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old- and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” You see, there are two bases for hope in life. You can hope in what you see and hear, the world as you sense it and that is as far as human hope can go. But the Christian’s hope is way more- the Christian hope goes from what we sense not to a leap in the dark, but from our senses here to the security of God’s Word and promises. It’s a hope founded in God’s Word, letting God be God, letting God’s Word stand, letting God’s promise be true. That’s what Abraham did.
Fast forward about 3,500 years. At the Diet of Worms Martin Luther was ordered to recant all his teachings in the presence of the decorated and powerful officials of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. All the pomp, all the glitter, all the powerful people on one side and then there was the lone monk Luther who faced being excommunicated and outlawed if he didn’t recant. On the surface, to the senses, everything looked hopeless and impossible. But what was on Luther’s side? God’s Word and promises. And one Word of God makes all the world too small. And that’s what Martin Luther had: God’s Word and promise.
That’s what faith does. Faith takes God at His Word. Abraham and Sarah faced the impossibility. There was no way they were going to have a child, but then God promised that they would. And so Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.” That’s what faith is. Faith isn’t based in the subject, it’s not based in the one doing the believing- like “I hope I have a strong enough faith” or “I hope that I believe enough.” Rather, faith is based in the object. Faith is as trustworthy as it’s object. For example, if you drove here this morning you put a lot of faith in something. You put a lot of faith in the brakes of your car. Your trust in your brakes didn’t make your brakes work any better- the brakes worked by themselves, you just happened to put your trust in them every time you pushed on your brake pedal. But your brakes could fail you.
God never will. And Abraham believed that. He was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He promised to do. He took God at His Word, believed God’s promise, trusted in God’s power to do what He promised, he closed his eyes to what he saw and took God at His Word even when it seemed impossible. “This is why it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Abraham’s faith freely received what God freely gave. Luther, too, trusted not in himself, but in the promise of God that His Word will never fail.
But how did Abraham get such a great faith? How did Luther? How can we? At Martin Luther’s time it was taught that, “Yes, there’s Jesus, that’s part of it, but in addition you have to do these good works to earn God’s favor.” Today we also have a lot of confusion about what faith is. Today people think salvation is God’s part, but faith is my part. Some think the reason I am finally going to be saved is because I chose to believe, I accepted Jesus into my heart, faith is my doing. But that’s a human impossibility.
Why so? Just like Abraham, just like Luther, you and I were born dead in our sins. We were born into this world spiritual dead people. I’m not sure when the last time was that you were in contact with something dead, but one thing is clear, it can’t do anything, can’t accept anything, can’t choose anything. That’s what we were by nature- spiritually dead, unable to change our condition. And there still remains a spiritually dead part of us. There’s a part of us that doubts God’s Word and promise. There’s a part of us that doesn’t want to believe what God says. There’s a part of us that doubts God’s promise to be in control no matter what and we depress ourselves with the affairs of the world and our country. There’s a part of us that shakes our head at God’s promise to work all things out for our good and fills us with fear, worry, anxiety as we face this trouble, that problem, this difficulty in life, or that struggle. There’s a part of us that sees our sinfulness, the horrid things that we’ve done in life that we can’t seem to get out of our head and thinks, “My sins are too great, too numerous, too horrible to be forgiven.”
Yes, it’s true that we don’t deserve it. It’s true that we deserve to go to hell. It’s true that no matter how hard we might try we could never earn anything from God. But God does the impossible. God promised it to Abraham that one of his descendants would be a blessing for all people, God kept that promise; Abraham and Sarah had a child, God kept that promise alive so that at just the right time, Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died on a cross paying for the sins of all and Jesus rose from the dead to prove that the sins of all have been forgiven. And it’s true, it’s true whether you believe it or not. It’s a fact.
But God didn’t stop there, since we’d still go to hell if we didn’t believe it, God does the impossible again. Just as miraculous as Jesus rising from the dead is the fact that He takes us spiritually dead corpses and makes us alive. Through His Word God worked faith in your heart to believe it. The fact that you believe is a miracle of God. “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.” And that’s wonderful news! Faith connects me to all the blessings God won for me on the cross. If my faith was up to me, if God saved me, but it was my job to believe it, my job to have faith, I would be full of doubt, did I do it right? Do I believe enough? Is my faith strong enough? But thank God it’s God’s work! If He works faith in my heart, I know that He won’t mess it up! I know He won’t do it wrong. It’s sure and certain.
And that’s what God tells us in the last verse, “He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raise to life for our justification.” How do I know I’m forgiven? How do I know that I’m saved? I don’t need to rely on my senses, but God’s Word and promise. I’m saved because Jesus died and Jesus rose. Those are real historical facts. And that’s what our faith is based on. God says, Jesus died, Jesus rose, and because of that you’re going to heaven. Our faith simply says, “Amen.” Thank the Lord for sending Martin Luther who rediscovered the truth that we are saved through faith alone, not by works, not by our achievements, but by God’s grace in Christ through faith alone.
And through faith we get to look at God and, like Abraham, be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He’s promised. And He can do the impossible. Abraham and Sarah had a child. Today almost 500 years later because God used a lone monk in Germany we get to hear, study, and enjoy the pure gospel message. It looked impossible but God promised that His Word will not return to Him empty. God promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His kingdom. God promised that kingdoms come and kingdoms fall but the word of the Lord remains forever.
I don’t know what impossible things you’re facing in life right now. But I do know God’s promises to you. He’s promised to be with you always, does He have the promise to do that? He’s promised to never leave you or forsake you. He’s promised that in your baptism you were washed clean of all sin, adopted into His family, made God’s own child. In the Lord’s Supper God gives you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. God’s promised to work all things out for your eternal good. God’s promised that in Jesus all your sins are forgiven apart from anything you have done or not done. God’s promised that when you die He will take you immediately to eternal life in heaven.
Be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He’s promised to do.
My son David is not quite 3 years old. I’m amazed at his implicit trust in me. Whenever he is up on something, like the top of the stairs or the top of his bunk bed, and he sees me, he will throw himself down expecting me to catch him. He’s fully persuaded that I have the strength to catch him. Well, there’s such a two year old in each of us. Our God hasn’t dropped us yet, and He never will. Through faith alone rest yourself securely in His arms. Amen.