As sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation, today we celebrate the fact that the truth of the Gospel has set us free. The truth is the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Savior. He has pierced the darkness of law-based work righteous religion. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the scriptures alone that we see that salvation is found in Christ Alone!
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Editor’s Note: We had multiple issues with both our primary and backup audio recording, so, regrettably, there is no audio recording to offer for this service. And, since this was also a guest speaker, we do not have a transcript either. Steps are being taken to prevent this from happening in the future. Again, our apologies.
We hope you will enjoy the following passage that relates to God’s gift of grace.
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:1-9
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
499 years ago Martin Luther pounded 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg Germany putting into motion the Reformation. In memory of the Reformation we are doing a special sermon series during October focusing on four central truths of God’s Word that were rediscovered during the Reformation: We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, found in Scripture alone and all by Christ alone. Today we welcome our circuit Pastor, Bryan Prell from Petra Lutheran Church in Sauk Rapids, MN. We will focus on the truth that our salvation was completed “solus Christus” by Christ alone.
Editor’s note: We generally do not receive a written transcript of sermons given by guest pastors. Please enjoy this sermon in it’s audio format, and the scripture below.
1″Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:1-7
21st Sunday after Pentecost
499 years ago Martin Luther pounded 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg Germany putting into motion the Reformation. In memory of the Reformation we are doing a special sermon series during October focusing on four central truths of God’s Word that were rediscovered during the Reformation: We are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, found in Scripture alone and all by Christ alone. Today we welcome Pastor Bill Werth from our sister congregation, Christ Lutheran in Baxter, MN. Today we focus on the truth “sola scriptura” which means “scripture alone.” Founded squarely upon Christ’s Gospel/Holy Scripture the Church will remain secure. Pastors and churches that stray from this sure foundation will find themselves on held captive to the shifting spiritual sands of fallible human opinion.
Editor’s note: We generally do not receive a written transcript of sermons given by guest pastors. Please enjoy this sermon in it’s audio format, and consider the material below, taken from the corresponding Bible study.
Justification: Am I Good Enough for God?
Nothing in this article (on the justification through faith in Christ) can be given up or compromised. – Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article 1
If the sins of the entire world are on that one man, Jesus Christ, then they are not on the world. But if they are not on Him, then they are still on the world. Again, if Christ Himself is made guilty of all the sins that we have all committed, then we are absolved from all sins, not through ourselves or through our own works or merits but through Him. – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 26, p. 280
…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. – 2 Corinthians 5:19
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. – 1 Peter 3:18
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins for the whole world. – 1 John 2:2
In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, and the Holy Spirit produces faith, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. – Martin Luther, Augsburg Confession, Part I article 2
We treat the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously. If I now seek the forgiveness of sins, I will find in the sacrament or gospel the Word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. – Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 40, p. 213-214
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the oneof whom they have not heard> And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? – Romans 10:14
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is hear through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:17
In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” Martin Luther wrote the phrase “one little word can fell him.” He was talking about the devil. One little word can fell the devil. So, did he mean that ALL of God’s Word can fell the devil? Or did he have a specific word in mind? He probably meant that all of God’s Word has the power to knock Satan down, but today we’re going to examine some specific words that fell the devil.
“It is Written” – Matthew 4:10
What do you think it must have been like? April 18, 1521. The Holy Roman Emperor called a diet or a meeting in the city of Worms and part of it was to deal with this renegade monk situation in Germany. So, Martin Luther was summoned to recant or revoke everything that he had written about the abuses going on in the Catholic Church- like buying forgiveness with indulgences or the pope being God’s spokesman on earth. So, here’s Luther, standing in front of Emperor Charles, high officials of his court, the high officials of the Catholic Church. And he was asked, “Do you or do you not recant.” Not recanting meant not only would he be excommunicated from the church but also made an outlaw. Can you imagine how the devil must have tempted him? “How come you think you’re right and all these other people are wrong? What makes you think you’re so special.” Well, this was Luther’s response, “I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything…. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen.”
How could Luther be right and all those other people be wrong? He had something that none of them had: the Word of God. Later, Luther, whose reformation changed the world, said, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing…the word did it all.” And just how powerful is this Word of God? Jesus demonstrated that for us. Every time our arch enemy Satan lodged a temptation at Jesus, the devil was defeated. But notice what Jesus used here. Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the devil. Jesus as true God could have sent the devil away with his tail between his legs with just a look of His eyes. But He didn’t. As our full human brother He defeated Satan with the same thing He has given us to defeat Satan: “it is written.” Jesus didn’t just know the Word of God, He used it.
Luther once said, “Without a doubt you cannot offer a more effective incense or other fumigation to vex the devil than busying yourself with God’s commandments and words, speaking, singing, or thinking of them.” Are we full of frustrations, guilt, worry, anxiousness, are we thinking that we’re doing fine on our own and yet are on the brink of a cliff? The one thing we can’t afford to leave out of our daily life is the powerful Word of God. God’s Word assures us of our forgiveness, God’s Word strengthens us for life in this world, God’s Word fells Satan. How do we know? It is written.
“Justified” – Romans 4:25
You’re escorted into the courtroom to stand before the judge. You’re guilty. You know it; the prosecuting attorney knows it; your attorney knows it; the judge knows it. It’s now sentencing time. You have this horrible ache in your stomach; you know that you’re going to prison, and for a very long time. So as the judge begins to announce the sentence, you don’t even look up.
But then you hear the verdict, and your head instinctively lifts up in astonishment: “I declare the defendant to be innocent!” “WHAT?!?!” you think to yourself, mouth open. But it’s true – the judge has declared you innocent.
In that little story, you and I are the defendant, God’s law is the prosecuting attorney, and God is the judge. That’s exactly how Martin Luther once viewed God: a righteous and angry Judge who by His law demands perfection, but perfection is one thing that we sinful humans can never offer God. Luther was angry with God. He did all he could- beat his body, fast for days, whip himself, but nothing he could do could appease God. The law stood against him, accusing him. And Satan is right there to point his finger and say, “God is a righteous Judge, you deserve nothing but death and hell! But the reality, as Luther found, is beautiful. God is a righteous Judge, but He’s also a loving Father who says what about us defendants? He declares us… innocent! Not guilty! On what basis? NOT because of us or what we’ve done. But on the basis of Jesus who died and rose. Jesus resurrection is proof positive that we HAVE BEEN declared innocent. A better translation of this verse would read, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised to life because of our justification.” In other words, Jesus’ resurrection proves you’re justified, innocent, acquitted.
And that one little word – you’re justified, declared innocent– fells the devil, for no matter how hard he tries to deny it, fight against it, obscure it, the reality is that Jesus IS alive, He HAS risen from the dead, and so the Judge HAS declared you innocent. And knowing that? Gives you extraordinary peace no matter how much Satan may accuse you.
“Grace” and “Faith” – Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 1:17
Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura. Perhaps you’ve heard those Latin words before. Those words are “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Scripture alone.” That phrase characterizes the truths that Martin Luther rediscovered. Growing up in the Roman Catholic church Martin Luther was taught the official teaching of the church which was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation. But you had to work out your salvation on your own, by what you do. Only when you had done enough good works, you could go to heaven. And if you haven’t done enough by the time you die, you’ll have to suffer hundreds of years in a place called purgatory before you could go to heaven.
What a horrible false teaching! But Luther firmly believed it to be the truth. He took it seriously, yet, no matter what he did, he knew he hadn’t been good and that he couldn’t be good, he couldn’t be good enough for God’s standard of perfection. No matter how hard he worked, how hard he tried, how much he beat himself, he had no peace. The head of the monastery where he was decided to bury him in work hoping that he would forget about his guilty conscience and sinfulness, but he couldn’t.
But while he was teaching at the University he was going to teach the Bible and so he actually began to read the Bible. At first Luther grew up Roman Catholic, which was basically the only church in Europe. The official teaching of the church was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation, and that you had to work out your salvation on your own. Only if you did enough good works could you go to heaven, they said. It was a horrible false teaching!
But Luther thought it was the truth! As he grew up he took it seriously, that God was expecting him to earn his way into heaven by being good. And, because he had a tender conscience, he knew clearly that he hadn’t been good, and not only that, he knew that he couldn’t be good! At least, not good enough for God’s standard of perfection!
And so Luther talked about how at that time in his life he hated God! He saw God as this evil judge, who was demanding from him something which he couldn’t do! How could Luther possibly please this demanding God?
Well, he worked his tail off in law school, and got no peace of conscience. He became a monk, then a priest, and still his conscience accused and accused him. His superior in the monastery – a man named Staupitz – decided to “bury” him with work, to try to get him to forget about his guilty conscience, his sinfulnesss, and still no peace.
But then Luther was named as a professor of religion at the new university in Wittenberg. He was going to teach Bible. And, he decided to do something which in his day was unusual – he actually decided to READ the Bible as part of his preparation. At first it continued to puzzle him and scare him and even anger him, because he saw God as that angry judge, demanding that he be perfect, and only if he could accomplish that would he be allowed to come to heaven.
Until one day he read, “The just will live by faith.” The words “by faith” leapt off the page at him. It didn’t say, “The just will live by his works.” No! It read, “the just will live by faith!” For the first time in his life, Luther realized the truth, that salvation was something that GOD was doing for HIM, not something he had to do for God! For the first time in his life Luther understood the truth that we’re saved not because WE do something but because JESUS did something – died and rose! For the first time Luther understood that salvation was by grace – a gracious gift of God to His people, not something earned from God by his people. And Luther said when God revealed that to him, it was as if the gates of heaven had been thrown open for him! Now he could see God as a loving Father! Now he could see God as a God who loved him dearly, who had saved him! Not he could see God as one wasn’t demanding from him, but who in wonderful grace had given him the righteousness that he needed, through faith.
And so God has done for you and for me. In wonderful grace – undeserved love – He has given you faith. He has led you to trust that Jesus is your Savior, and by doing so has given you the credit for all that Jesus has done. You are saved, by grace, through faith. Two little words. The devil is felled!
Holy Week, Maundy Thursday
The Institution – Matthew 26:26-28
If you go to a birthday party, it’s almost a given that at some point there will be a special song. Probably when the cake is being brought out with candles lit on it. Everyone knows the song and every joins in singing it. Now, imagine going to a birthday party and when the cake is being brought out everyone begins singing a totally different song. How would you react? I’m guessing you would be surprised, shocked, and you would probably remember that strange birthday party.
Well, Jesus and His disciples were celebrating the Passover. The Passover was something celebrated by Jews every year since the exodus from Egypt some 1500 years previous. So, for 1500 years the Jews had been following a set way of celebrating the Passover feast. But on this day Jesus did things really different. The disciples would likely have had rapt attention to what Jesus was doing.
Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” And it’s important to note that the Greek language typically doesn’t use the word “is.” Often it’s simply understood; somewhat like if I were to say what’s it like outside? You could say, “Dark.” Or, you could say, “It is dark.” Adding the word “is” adds emphasis to what is said. Then Jesus took a cup of wine and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant.”
So, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus really truly gives us His own body and blood under the bread and the wine. We really truly eat bread and drink wine and, yet, in a miraculous way, in a marvelous way we really, truly receive Jesus’ true body and blood in way that surpasses our human mind and reasoning.
And think about what this means. Each one of us knows how to play tapes over and over inside our heads. Especially after we say or do something embarrassing, silly, dumb, foolish. “How could I be so foolish!” “How dumb can I be.” “I’m pathetic.” “I must be worthless.” We know how to play those tapes over and over in our heads. I’m guessing the disciples knew too.
But then here’s the Lord’s Supper. Jesus comes to you and He says to you, “My son, my daughter, take and eat, this is my body, take and drink, this is my blood of the covenant.” And Jesus gives you… Himself. How much is Jesus’ body and Jesus’ blood worth? Can you put a price tag on it? No. It’s priceless. And…Jesus gives it to you in His Supper saying to you, “You’re worth it to me. You’re priceless to me. I give you me.” And can anyone’s opinion of you matter more than His? Amen.
Apparently several power stations in N.D. generate the electricity that Beltrami Electric Coop uses. There’s a lot of power generated at that power station. However, that power would do me no good unless a system of power lines connected my house to the power plant.
What Jesus did on the cross is somewhat like that power plant. Jesus won enough blessing on the cross for the eternal salvation of all people. However, it would do me no good if I wasn’t connected to it. And how are we connected to Jesus? We are connected to Jesus through the Gospel which comes to us in the Word and in the Sacraments. One of those sacraments is the Lord’s Supper.
Notice again what Jesus said, “This is my body given for you…this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus’ body given up for us on the cross and His blood poured out for us on the cross, Jesus gives us to eat and drink in the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins.
The devil loves to come and tempt us with doubts about God’s love for us, doubts about our forgiveness, doubts about our salvation. And so what does Jesus do? In the Lord’s Supper Jesus comes to you personally and visibly, audibly, tangibly, and tastefully He gives you Himself for what? For the forgiveness of sins, connecting you personally to all the blessings He won with His death on the cross.
And not just once, but He comes to you again and again and again with forgiveness. Every time you receive the Lord’s Supper you receive the very forgiveness of sins Jesus won for you on the cross. And not only that, with forgiveness comes strength, strength God Himself gives you to live for Him, to make choices in life not to sin, to make choices that honor and please your Savior. And finally, with forgiveness comes assurance. Every time you receive the Lord’s Supper God gives you the assurance that heaven is your home, for His own body and His own blood shed for you won it for you. What blessings!
Quiet. Be still. Get up take your mat and go home. Fill the jars with water and take some to the master of the banquet. Lazarus, come out. Jesus said some crazy things, didn’t He? It’s certainly not logical to tell a storm to be quiet and still. It’s not a medically approved treatment to tell a paralyzed person to walk. It’s not scientific to fill jars with water and expect them to turn into wine. It’s normally not nice to tell someone’s dead relative to come out of his tomb. But Jesus did. And if it was anyone else who was saying those things we would have reason to believe they were crazy.
But not Jesus. Why? Because when said something, things happened. When Jesus spoke storms stilled, the lame walked, water washed into wine, and the dead came back to life. Jesus’ words have power.
And so it is when Jesus said, “This is my body; this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It might not be logical, it might not be scientific, but it’s true because Jesus says so. Jesus’ words give it the power.
Just like Jesus wanted storms to still and lame to walk, so now by His words Jesus has attached His power to His Supper so that every time you receive it your soul wearied with sin is refreshed with forgiveness, your spirit crushed by bad choices is renewed to live in a God-pleasing way, and your heart so often bruised by all the hurts of life is given healing by God’s love and commitment to you. That’s the power of Jesus’ words, that’s the power of Jesus’ Supper.
You’ve been admitted to the hospital, you have a 104 degree fever, you feel terrible, your heart feels like it’s racing right out your chest, you’re in a cold sweat, a doctor – whom you’ve never met- walks in the room tosses you a bottle of pills and walks out of the room saying, “Take those.” And he’s gone. Are you going to take those pills? I’m guessing not! A different doctor walks in, looks you over, takes your pulse, your temperature, examines your charts, asks you a bunch of questions, then he says, “Yep, you’re sick, you’ve got whatever.” And you’re going ask, “Is there a cure?”
That’s kind of like what doctor God does. Before we take the Lord’s Supper God wants us to ask ourselves, “Am I sinner? Do I need forgiveness? How have I measured up to God’s 10 commandments? How have I fulfilled my duties as a spouse, parent, student, employer, employee?” And if I’m honest with myself I have to conclude: I’m terribly sick with sin. I need forgiveness.
And what happens? God awakens in us a hunger for His Supper. He awakens in us a desire to receive the very forgiveness we need in the Supper. Then Jesus comes to us with His own body and blood together with the bread and the wine to give us the cure we need: the forgiveness of our sins. May we with ready hearts receive His Supper. Amen.
Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:10 – The Ten Commandments
How do you feel about mirrors? Let’s imagine that you went to a very nice wedding reception complete with white table cloths, fancy dinnerware, everyone’s dressed up in nice clothes. And you have a wonderful time, talking with people, laughing with them, telling stories. You really enjoy the evening. Then you get home and while you’re in the bathroom you look in the mirror and…what is that!?! You have a blotch of red sauce on your face and…what is that!?! A large chunk of food is stuck in your teeth! Ahh!! How are you feeling?
All of sudden you begin to reflect on the night. Were all those people really being friendly? Were they laughing at me? Had I really made a good impression? Is everyone going think of me as some goofball or slob? Great! The mirror was a good thing…but…it had a way of ruining something you thought had gone real well.
God’s commandments are like a spiritual mirror for each of us. We like think of ourselves as real good people. When our conscience starts to bug us about something we’ve done, we just try to do good stuff to make up for the bad stuff. Maybe be extra helpful, maybe do something good for someone, maybe compare ourselves to people who seem a lot worse than us and say, “At least I’m not that bad.”
But then we get in front of the mirror of God’s Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods, you shall not misuse God’s name, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not covet. God’s commands force us to look at ourselves and see who we really are. God’s commands make us see our sin so clearly, force us to see the reality of our sins, to see that we have failed to do everything God has demanded of us and therefore we are under a curse, that we deserve God’s punishment, we aren’t as good as we thought, in fact, because of our sin we look horrible and deserve nothing but hell. Mirrors are helpful, but they can be quite a letdown.
Romans 1:16-17 – The Apostles Creed
Luther began the small catechism with the Ten Commandments for a reason. You see, God’s law, His bad news, has to do its work first. If we don’t see our sin, don’t see our need for salvation, then we’re not going to be much interested in Jesus and His work for us.
Luther never criticized the Catholic church for giving him a sense of sin and guilt that made him cry out in despair, “How will I ever find a gracious God?’ In that respect the Roman Church did not do Luther a disservice. Later Luther once said, “The more you minimize sin, the more will grace declines in value.” But here is where the Church at Luther’s time when wrong. Having terrified his conscience with the threats of the Law and portraying God as an angry Judge, they urged him to turn to himself and his own good works to find peace for his soul. This teaching drove him to become a monk, to form callouses on his knees from praying, to whip himself, sleep on hard wood floors, etc. He tried to comfort himself by his observance of the law but it didn’t work – he couldn’t be perfect as God demands.
So in his catechism, Luther followed the 10 commandments with the Creed. Why? Because the Creed is full of the wonderful things that GOD has done for us humans: He created us, He preserves us, He sent His Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and buried, He descended into hell, and on the 3rd day was raised to life. It’s all the wonderful work of salvation! The wonderful things GOD has done to save us! So after the Law has crushed us, the gospel is what assures us that we are forgiven and that what Jesus has done for us has been credited to us!
So just like the Law is a mirror and when I look at it I’m filled with despair because I see myself according to my sinful self. The gospel is a different kind of mirror. When I look in the gospel-mirror, I see Jesus. I see his life, his death, his resurrection that’s been credited to my account!
God brought Luther to that understanding through the words of this text. It says that the righteous will live by faith. Notice what it doesn’t say; it doesn’t say that the righteous will live by what they do, or by their good works, or by their obedience to the law, no! It says the righteous will live by faith. In other words, salvation isn’t something that you do! It’s a gift that God GIVES to you.
Luther said that when God gave him that understanding it was like the gates of heaven had been flung open to him. God was not an angry judge who demanded from him a perfection that he couldn’t give, but a merciful and loving father who did for him what he couldn’t do. Now he had peace and confidence and not shame and guilt.
And God’s given that to you too! When it comes to your salvation the laws demands have all been met, by Jesus! The requirements have all been fulfilled, by Jesus! And that’s what you confess in the words of the Creed.
Ephesians 5:25b-27 – Baptism
I need reminders. I easily forget things. If you tell me something on Sunday morning, I’ll probably say, “Please remind me or send me an email or write a note.” Without reminders we can easily forget things. There’s a reminder that we have in front of church every Sunday: the baptismal font. Of what does that remind us? Of our baptism, of course. And what’s so significant about baptism? Luther explained to us that with a little water and a little word at your baptism God works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation. In other words, at your baptism your sins were cleansed and washed away, God adopted you into His family, you were born again as God’s redeemed child, your name was recorded in the book of life, and you were clothed with Jesus’ perfect life, radiant, without stain or blemish but holy and blameless. All in your baptism!
Why is this reminder so important for us? Luther once said, “There are times when I feel my sins most severely. And the devil then tries to get me to question whether or not God really loves me. At that point I say, “Devil, I am a baptized child of God and you can’t take that from me.” Baptism is an objective part of your personal history, a seal from your God to you that your sins are forgiven and no one can take your baptism from you.
So be reminded when you see this font, be reminded when hear water running, when you see water, be reminded of the water and the Word by which God brought you into his family through baptism. Amen.
1 John 1:9-10 and John 20:23 – Ministry of the Keys and Confession
A week and a half ago we went down to the Cities to help my mother-in-law move in to her new home. We carried quite a few boxes into her house. Some boxes were large full of dishes…they were heavy. What’s it like to carry something heavy? It’s tiring, it’s straining, it causes your muscles to ache, your skin to sweat, it’s exhausting. Well, carrying around unrepentant sin is also exhausting spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. King David talked about how God’s hand was heavy upon Him, how his bones wasted away, when he refused to repent of his sin with Bathsheba. Carrying around a grudge is likewise exhausting. Are we guilty of sin? Yes. Are we guilty of carrying around grudges? Yes. What do we need? We need God to lift the burden from our shoulders.
And God has done just that. With Jesus’ death and resurrection God took the first step and forgave all our sins against him. He didn’t hold a grudge, He forgave us. Why? So we could live in repentance. We could live confessing our sins and receiving and announcing forgiveness. Confession and forgiveness is the heart beat of the Christian’s life. Sorrow over sin and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. In His grace God says that when we announce forgiveness to repentant sinners it is as good and as valid as if God Himself were saying it. What an awesome burden God lifts from our shoulders!
Matthew 26:26-29 – The Lord’s Supper
Luther concluded his small catechism with the Lord’s Supper. In his comments in the Large Catechism on the Lord’s Supper he admits that there is a lack of human logic to this. People protest, “How could Jesus give his body and blood to people? How could that really happen?” Luther admitted and we also admit, there’ a lack of human logic to all of this.
But Luther also makes the point that God is way smarter than every human and that God is… God! If God wants something to happen, it will happen, whether or not it makes sense to our human brains. So, when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood.” We can be confident that as we eat bread and drink wine we really do receive Jesus’ body and blood and it offers, gives, and seals to us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Here’s one illustration that Luther used when discussing the Lord’s Supper. He compared Jesus’ words in the Lord’s Supper to an official document which guarantees an inheritance. If you have that official document, it doesn’t matter how scaly, scabby, stinking and most filthy you are, you get the inheritance.
Scaly, scabby, stinking and filthy. That’s who you and I are when we examine ourselves against God’s commands. But then in the creed we hear about Jesus our Savior. In baptism God washes us clean from our sins. The keys are used to keep assuring us of our salvation. And then God comes to us in the Supper. God gives us the miraculous, himself, His own body and blood together with bread and wine. And with it God guarantees to us the ultimate inheritance, he garuantees and eternity with him in heaven! And whether it makes sense to us our not, it doesn’t matter because God is smarter that we are, stronger than we are, and when God says it, it works! Amen.
Romans 1:16-17 – In love, God opens our hearts to his Word
Martin Luther didn’t have an easy early life. In his early life Martin Luther was often troubled and in despair. It wasn’t the result of a low self-esteem, or the result of suppression from political or social or economic injustice, it wasn’t the result of a dysfunctional and broken home life. What troubled him? His conscience. It didn’t matter how hard he tried, he never felt he was good enough for God and felt God must be angry with him for his sin. The more he tried to keep the 10 commandments the more he realized he failed. And the church didn’t help either. The church at his time taught that it was up to each person to earn God’s favor by good behavior. Luther’s terror-stricken conscience moved him to leave studying law and become a monk, then a priest in order to find some spiritual peace. But it didn’t work. So, he did more. He’d wake himself up in the middle of the night to do more worship, more confession, more prayer. He’d sleep on hard surfaces, sometimes whip himself, and once fellow monks even found him passed out- working so hard to earn God’s favor. To him, God was a vengeful, angry, stern Judge, who demanded something of him he just couldn’t give.
His superiors recognized that the only way to keep Luther from substantially harming himself was to keep him busy. They gave him more and more work to do, including teaching. And Luther began to do something rather strange at the time: study the Bible. Slowly, over time God worked through His Word and then he read this passage, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17). Aha! Through His Word the Holy Spirit changed Luther’s false understanding. The righteousness of God was not something God demanded of him, it was the perfect righteousness God gifted to him through faith! In other words, salvation was not something he had to do, but it was something given to him by God! God worked through His Word and convinced Luther of the truth.
Today we live in a world full of doubts and questions and confusion. We live in a world full of skepticism about God and about God’s Word. And that attitude can be easy for us to get sucked into. It happens when God’s Word is pushed further down our priority list, it happens when we dismiss God’s Word because we don’t understand something instead of digging into it. Ought God to take His Word from us? Sure. But He hasn’t!
In fact, in great patience He keeps bringing His Word to us. And God’s Word is God’s power and God’s might to bring us the comfort of His gift of salvation when our conscience bugs us, it’s God’s power and might to give us the answers when we have questions, its God’s power and God’s might to give us ultimate truth in a world of confusion. Yes, in love, God opens our hearts again and again and again to His powerful Word!
Isaiah 55:8-11 – In love, God makes sure His Word is spread
After God had opened Luther’s eyes to the truths of salvation, God continued to bring Luther further into the church and the more that he read and studied God’s Word the more he came to see the abuses of the church.
In 1517 something happened that was earth-shaking. In order to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome the Catholic Church determined to sell something called “indulgences.” Indulgences were little pieces of paper that you could purchase and they promised either for you or a loved one less time in a place called purgatory – another false teaching. Luther didn’t quite recognize these as sinful yet, but he recognized that they were being terribly abused and he wanted to debate the issue. So, on October 31, 1517, the day before the church festival of All Saints Day, Luther posted 95 theses or sentences detailing the abuses of these indulgences.
All Luther wanted was a debate. He had written the 95 theses in Latin, but soon they were translated and distributed all over the place and caused quite a stir. Why? Because God doesn’t want His Word suppressed, He wants it spread. The outcome? It sent shockwaves throughout the empire. Was there a renewed interest in what God says in His Word? People discussing things based on Scripture? A desire to go back to God’s Word for answers? Sure!
You see, God wants His Word spread and God will spread His word, that’s what God said through the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways and my thought than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:8-11)
Just like God has attached His power to water and He wills that it causes things to grow and flourish, so God has attached His power to His Word and it is His will that it spreads and causes faith to bud, grow, and flourish. God wants His powerful Word spread and His Word will be spread either through you and me or in spite of you and me, but it’s much better when He does it through people like you and me!
How so? By supporting the work of the church, by praying for it, by talking about God’s Word with family members or relatives or friends or co-workers. But I might not know what to say? What if they object? What if I get tongue-tied? What if it doesn’t come out right? God promises His Word won’t return empty. God’s Word is powerful, it was the power of God’s Word that worked faith in your heart, you know what you believe, you know what the main message of Scripture is, you know about sin and you know God’s answer: Jesus’ forgiveness.
And just like God used Martin Luther to spread His Word, so He will use you in your own way, in your own life! Why? Because God wants more and more to hear and receive the knowledge of their Savior.
Jeremiah 20:8-12 – In love, God leads us to take a stand
Can you picture it? It was April 17th, 1521 a high profile meeting at a city called Worms to deal with this renegade monk. There was Martin Luther, one lone monk, and then there was the high and mighty church officials, princes, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V himself. Luther had hoped that at this meeting he would finally be given a chance to defend his teachings based on Scripture. However, all he was permitted was to answer 2 question: Are these your writings? And, Will you recant? If he wouldn’t take back what he wrote, then he’d become an outlaw and there would be open season on his life. So, Luther agreed that they were his books but took a day to answer the 2nd question. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Luther at that point? You’re preaching something different from everyone else and many other Catholic theologians, you’re life literally hung in the balance, scared? Nervous? Afraid?
Well, when he came back this is what he said, “If I am not convicted by testimony from the Holy Scriptures or by common, clear, and evident reasons…then I cannot and will not recant anything, for it is neither safe nor advisable to act against conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me! Amen!” He stood firm.
Rewind a little over 2,000 years to the time of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was God’s prophet sent to proclaim God’s Word to a stubborn and rebellious nation. Jeremiah’s life was put on the line for speaking God’s Word, he was abused and mistreated. Yet, what did he say? (Read Text). “Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. 9But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. 10I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side! Report him! Let’s report him!” All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.” 11But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. (Jeremiah 20:8-12)
We must proclaim God’s Word – all of it, both the bad news and the good news. Jeremiah didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help speaking God’s Word. So, too, God’s Word led Martin Luther to take a stand. Perhaps at times we’re afraid to stand up for God’s Word. God’s Word won’t likely win us any popularity contests or Nobel peace prizes, you won’t likely get a congressional medal of honor for telling someone God’s law and gospel. It’s not always easy standing firm to friends who want you to join them in sinning, or standing firm as a parent having to discipline your children or tell them no, or just standing firm against the devil’s repeated and continual temptations.
But God’s Word is like a fire within us. We can’t help speaking about the things we have seen and heard: God’s law and God’s gospel. Why? God’s Word leads us to stand firm, no matter what!
Romans 12:4-8 – In love, God uses our talents
Thankfully, after the meeting at Worms God protected Luther. On his way back one of Luther’s friends had him kidnapped and brought to a castle called the “Wartburg” and hid Luther for a time. And God used Luther’s talents, he wrote tons of things: pamphlets, letters, books, hymns, catechisms, but perhaps his most important work was one that he started while at the Wartburg – he translated the Bible into the German language- a language the common person could read and understand. What do you think? Could you do that? Could I? I don’t think I could be able to do that, I don’t have those talents.
But I have other talents and so do you. Yes, they’re different from Luther’s, but they’re just as valuable! You see, God has knit His Church together like a body. That’s what God tells us through the Apostle Paul: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Your body and mine has many different parts to it- fingers, hands, feet, nerves, organs, toes – each is important, each has a function, each is needed and necessary. You wouldn’t just want to lose your fingers, or your nose, or your spine, or your feet. You want every part! And every part does something valuable for the whole body.
By calling you to faith God has made you part of the body of Christ. That means that each of you has something valuable and important to bring to the Church. You might be an “ear,” or a “eye,” or and “hand,” or a “blood cell.” It doesn’t matter. Each one of us is needed and valuable and important for the life of the Church.
And yes, the devil will often try to convince us the opposite. He’ll try to convince us that we’re not needed, not valuable, not important. And often we’ll fail to use our gifts and talents for the work of the Lord.
But the reality is: you are needed, you are necessary! In grace God has made you to have the very talents and abilities that is needed for God’s church today! YOU are just as valuable to God’s Church today as Luther was in the 16th Century. Because God loves you, just as much as He loved Luther and God will use you and your talents to do what is most important in our day: Bring God’s Word to God’s world. Amen.
Psalm 118:15-19 – In love, God takes us to heaven.
Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible? One especially near and dear to you? Perhaps a confirmation verse or one you’ve memorized? There was one verse that Luther is reportedly said to have really cherished, it’s in our text: “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! 16The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” 17I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. 18The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. 19Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.” “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done!”
Yes, every human being will have to die physically; but the believer in Jesus will actually really never die, for when a believer leaves this life, he or she goes to the real life, heavenly life, life eternal. Yes, we will not die; we will live and live forever. We can certainly understand why Luther cherished this verse.
When Luther was on his death bed, one of those who was with him asked him, “Reverend Father, do you wish to die steadfastly in Jesus Christ and in the faith as you preached it?” And Luther responded, “Ja.” (German for “yes”) And then 2:45 one morning he died. Or, more accurately, he stepped from this life into the next; he didn’t die; he lived in a much, much better way.
And because Jesus died and rose you too will live forever. And finally that’s why we celebrate the Reformation and that’s why we’re willing to stand firm on God’s Word. We thank God for what God did through Martin Luther, for returning the church back to God and His Word, because eternity is at stake. Any error or any departure from Scripture put’s eternal life on the line. That’s why we need to stand firm in the truth, on all of Scripture!
Because in the truth there is eternity. You stand on the truth. So on your deathbed, if someone should ask you, “Do you wish to die steadfastly in Jesus Christ?” You will answer, “Yes!” And you will go on living forever and ever. Amen.