REFORMATION OBSERVED – OCTOBER 29, 2017
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
To all at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear hearers of the Word made flesh:
Dr. Martin Luther was concerned with how the kingdom of God is received. Regarding salvation, Luther said “no” to some of the teaching and practice of the middle ages including - paying for indulgences to gain release from “purgatory” – doing acts of penance to make satisfaction for sins – trusting in relics and pilgrimages for saving benefit. He said yes to Scriptural treasures as confessed in the Small and Large Catechisms.
Dr. Luther had no desire to start a Reformation. He did not want to form a Lutheran Church. His desire for wider conversation grew from pastoral concern for those He was called to serve with God’s Word and Sacrament in Wittenberg. He believed that church leaders were not fully aware of issues harmful to the Gospel. The beating heart of Luther’s concern was this – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Dear Christians – this is the truth that distinguishes Christianity from man-made religions. Down through the ages, this truth has been the target of violence against the external church and also the cause of fierce struggle within the church – schisms, heresies, tribulation. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” John the Baptizer was still alive as Jesus spoke. Jesus and he were young men. How can Jesus’ statement reach through the ages?
The reach of Jesus’ words is so long because the new thing God was doing in John bridged the ages! It reached back to the coming again of Elijah prophesied by Malachi (3:1). If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. John stood with one foot in the Old Testament and one foot in the New Testament. He is the messenger sent before the Messiah’s face (before Yahweh’s face) to prepare His way before Him. This new thing reached back to Elijah’s violent battle with the prophets of Baal. This new thing reached back to the violent death of the man of faith Abel – at the hands of Cain. The one promised to do violence to the serpent’s head – to Satan – was surely not Cain. But joy of joys – the Promised One now stands on the earth in the flesh.
It is He who said, “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, we played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
In the wilderness, John did not indulge in feasting or social drinking. His disciplined life-style was austere. He preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ. To fault his message opponents attacked his person - his diet - his camel’s hair garment – his disdain for the world’s things. He must be demon-possessed.
Jesus did not live the same stark life that John lived. He ate with all sorts – including Pharisees and tax collectors. The gift of His first sign was over 100 gallons of wine at the wedding of Cana. Yet those who said “don’t listen to John because he’s a demon-possessed hermit also said – “don’t listen to Jesus because He’s not austere enough. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. He must be a glutton and a drunkard. Elsewhere they added - He must have a demon (Matthew 10:25). One might rightly ask how they could in like manner reject both John and Jesus for seemingly opposite reasons. Simply put it is because they were faulting both men for preaching the same message.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Both John and Jesus preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Recall that John baptized Jesus to fulfill all righteousness. Both proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God – whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.
God help us rejoice in that word propitiation. Our Romans study is enriching its meaning for us. I wish you all could come. The word at its Hebrew base flows from the Mercy Seat - where the Lord was invisibly enthroned – the very meeting place between God and man. The Mercy Seat covered the Ark of the Covenant. in which were housed the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law. On the Day of Atonement – with its Scapegoat and Sacrifice – the High Priest entered the Holy of holies sprinkling blood directly on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. In this profound and gracious way God changed His judgement into mercy! Now – in Jesus - God is fulfilling His law and Prophets and the Day of Atonement in the flesh. Jesus is the High Priest and the Sacrifice and the Scapegoat and the Mercy Seat. He is God’s judgment changed into mercy! He is our righteousness! (1 Cor. 1:30). Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God has taken control of your eternal destiny! He has decided for you in the flesh of Jesus Christ! He who is the only embodiment of the right relationship to God stepped forward as a propitiation by his blood - fulfilling all sacrifices ever made - to be received by faith. In Him the righteousness of God is yours!
Luther agonized over the righteousness of God – the righteousness of the Holy Trinity. He longed for a right relationship with Him but saw that he was totally unable to pray or pay or perform himself into righteousness before God. He was a priest whom God made painfully aware that by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Martin Luther was a man whose mouth God stopped.
Then God set Him free. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. God’s Word showed Luther the eternal Gospel – the one refuge for us sinners. God then made Luther a messenger (an angel) of the eternal Gospel. Luther also was branded a glutton and a drunkard - a wild boar - a servant of Satan. The powers of his generation wanted Luther dead for declaring that salvation was a free gift for the sake of Jesus received where Jesus promised to bestow it. Our generation also has little use for the foolishness of Christ crucified and risen - bringing His gifts in humble means He has promised. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
Today – unlike Luther’s agonizing – few are as tormented about getting right with God. Who knows if there is a god? Science and Scientism seem to fill the bill. Who knows what sin is anymore? “I’ll affirm your choices if you affirm mine.” “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates…” - play the flute and dance – perhaps a deadly dance with opioids – a deadening dance with pornography – a delightful dance with worldly success not guarding faith as the gift we need the most – perhaps a devoted dance with nature replacing nature’s God. There are sweet sounding dances offering love and wisdom superior to God’s wisdom and forgiving love in Christ. In step with that dance is a football idol in our own state who renounced the Christian faith saying it can shut you out from being open to the world, to energy, to love, to acceptance. Yet, this is how we know what love is that Christ laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16).
If those dances seem distant - closer at hand is the deceitful dance of self-seeking. More choices – more stuff – that will do it. Always close is the dance of self-justifying – I’m not like those big sinners - I’m fashioning myself to please God. No opioids here. I see the darkness of Hollywood. I’m not greedy for too much stuff – just enough! I’m not really tempted by any idols! The sad truth is, we also would like to take the kingdom of heaven by force – the force of good intentions or sincere feelings – the force of comparative or civil religion – convinced of our moral superiority before God.
But such self-justifying does not stand before God! “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. This accountability is not sprucing yourself up a bit. God determines what sin is and reveals - All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no – better than another - no holier than another - before God. You are either holy or unholy.
All humanity has gone sour – losing God’s holy image - infected now with sin and death. Only God’s law shows the depth of our heart’s depravity and the devil behind our deadly sin. If you keep the whole law and yet stumble at one point – you are guilty of all of it (James 2:10). Holy or unholy. That is how firmly the law shuts our mouths on our own merit before God. You see, those whom God accepts as righteous are not self-consciously righteous – even at the final judgment (Mt. 25:37-39). It’s all His gift!
That’s what the Sacrifices and the Day of Atonement were about! God giving His holiness to His people. That’s what propitiation is – God giving you His holiness in Christ Jesus. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! He is not a glutton! He is not a drunkard! He is a friend of sinners – of you! Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds! God’s wisdom is Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)! Divine wisdom is violence done to God the Son – the one innocent - covered with our idolizing sin! He is our beautiful propitiation – the once-for all sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God! He is the one who caused the Reformation!
The righteous man who lives by faith is Jesus. By His resurrection and ascension Jesus brings the blood from His sin offering into the Father’s presence (Heb. 9:12) – entering heaven itself for you. His blood now sprinkles your heart and cleanses your conscience. He is your mediator at the heavenly throne. The prince of this world can harm you none – he’s judged – the deed is done! The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law. Beloved of God - God shatters all schemes of goodness! By the infinite magnitude of His grace alone – God does business with you! Righteousness is what God does in Jesus – for you!
In Baptism He did not just remodel you. He put you to death with Christ and buried you with Christ and raised you to new life with Christ! You are His new creation - by water and the word - born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You are bathed in His righteousness, indeed clothed with Christ as beautiful and without blemish to Him today as you were at the font!
Beloved of God - the entire Old Testament Torah was kept by Christ. In Him, you are free from manufacturing a right relationship to God. Jesus makes you one with God and with each other. The one holy name you bless is His name! One holy food you partake of is the heavenly food of His body and His blood. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied (Mt. 5:6). Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward (Mt. 10:41). Here the righteous One comes to serve you with His forgiving love.
In the Name of Jesus, AMEN.
Prayer of the Church
P Friends in Christ, I urge you all to lift up your hearts to God and pray with me as Christ our Lord has taught us and freely promised to hear us.
God, our Father in heaven, look with mercy on us, Your needy children on earth, and grant us grace that Your holy name be hallowed by us and all the world through the pure and true teaching of Your Word and the fervent love shown forth in our lives. Graciously turn from us all false doctrine and evil living whereby Your precious name is blasphemed and profaned. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P May Your kingdom come to us and expand. Bring all transgressors and those who are blinded and bound in the devil’s kingdom to know Jesus Christ, Your Son, by faith that the number of Christians may be increased. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P Strengthen us by Your Spirit according to Your will, both in life and in death, in the midst of both good and evil things, that our own wills may be crucified daily and sacrificed to Your good and gracious will. Into Your merciful hands we commend [name(s)] and all who are in need, praying for them at all times: Thy will be done. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P Grant us our daily bread, preserve us from greed and selfish cares, and help us trust in You to provide for all our needs. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us so that our hearts may be at peace and may rejoice in a good con-science before You, and that no sin may ever frighten or alarm us. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P Lead us not into temptation, O Lord, but help us by Your Spirit to subdue our flesh, to turn from the world and its ways, and to overcome the devil with all his wiles. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P And lastly, O heavenly Father, deliver us from all evil of both body and soul, now and forever. Lord, in Your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P We trust, O Lord, in Your great mercy to hear and answer us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.