Festival of the Reformation + Matthew 11:12-15 + October 30, 2016
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15Hymn #262 A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Hymn #260 O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold
Hymn #292 Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide
Introit - Pg. 84
2 Chronicles 29:12-19
Collect for the Festival of the Reformation
O Lord God, Heavenly Father, pour out, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit upon Thy faithful people, keep them steadfast in Thy grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Thy Word, and bestow upon Christ’s Church Militant Thy saving peace; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
Sermon on the Epistle Lesson
Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) The text for this morning’s sermon is the epistle text read moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. It might strike you as a bit odd or misplaced to have such a text to celebrate the blessings of the Reformation. The reason this text was selected for this Festival is because the angel, or messenger, “flying in the midst of heaven, having the eternal gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth.” Many of Luther’s contemporaries, and many who came after the reformer of the church, saw this prophecy that throughout the New Testament era, there would be faithful preachers of the eternal gospel. They saw Luther as a fulfillment of that prophesy, for Luther was a faithful preacher of the everlasting gospel against all the attacks of the devil, the world, and the false church of Rome. In our time this seems a bit over the top. It is unfashionable in our day to take pride in one’s denomination, to stand up for one’s confession of the Christian faith. Today ecumenism is in everyone’s blood so that Christians are taught to downplay distinctive confessions of faith. Today Christianity has been contaminated with the idea that all churches teach “basically the same thing,” so that if one takes pride in Luther or being Lutheran then he is seen an old fogey holding onto his Northern European heritage. Our Lutheran forefathers chose this text so that we might not be enchanted by such a spell. Those men selected this text so that every year at Reformation we might remember that Luther was God’s instrument for reforming His church, cleansing her from the filth of false doctrine, and turning her eyes to the simplicity of the eternal gospel.
2) That is what this messenger preaches in the text, the everlasting gospel. It is called everlasting because it does not change. It is the same from age to age because the gospel is the message of Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It is called eternal because it no messenger, neither Pope nor council, individual or institution, has authority, to alter it in any way, as Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, “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.” The gospel Luther preached was not a flavor of the week. Nor was it his private interpretation. When one confesses that he is Lutheran he is not saying that he believes the gospel of Luther. He is confessing that he believes the everlasting gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, which Luther brought to light in a time of great darkness. Luther grew up in a world in which the gospel had been corrupted so that the church taught salvation was to be found in “doing what was in you.” Sinners were not taught to trust in Christ’s merits for their salvation. They were taught to trust in their own merits and worthiness. Sinners were pointed to man-made works in order to please God and displace His wrath. If you wanted to live the holiest, most God-pleasing life possible, you joined the monastery or convent so that you could forsake your neighbor and your earthly responsibilities and pray all day. If you wanted to please God you attended Mass and partook of the Lord’s Supper as if obeying strict demands. The more a sinner chased after certainty of salvation, the more works he given to do: Masses, pilgrimages, relics, indulgences, penances, rosaries and on and on. This is not the eternal gospel. This is not the gospel taught by Christ, proclaimed by Apostles, and passed on to the Bishops and Pastors. Luther was God’s instrument for tearing down the false and holding up the true for all to see, for it is a everlasting gospel “to preach to those who dwell on the earth.”
3) Looking at the content of this angel’s message, it may not seem very much like the gospel at first. “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” But we see in the angel’s words the precious teaching of Law and Gospel, of repentance and faith. First He commands all to “Fear God.” The Scriptures teach us to fear God because He threatens sinners with temporal and eternal punishment for their disobedience. When a person truly fears God, he does his best not to sin and when he does fall into sin, he quickly repents of it and wishes to be rid of it. The Lord “Commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) and not a worldly repentance which is sorrow and despair, but repentance that confesses one’s sins with the knowledge that God has promised to forgive the sins of all who trust in Christ’s atoning death on the cross. We are to fear God as the one who threatens to punish all who break His commandments. The preaching of the Law must always come before the preaching of the eternal gospel, for without repentance for sins, the gospel rings hollow. If sinners are unwilling to confess their sins, the everlasting gospel makes no sense to them and they will quickly pass it over. So we fear God and repent of sin when our hearts are convicted through God’s Law.
4) The angel goes on, “Give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment has come.” The Law must condemn sinners so that we repent of our sins and hunger and thirst for the Gospel. The one who believes the Gospel, that Christ has died to atone for his sins, stands justified before God, for faith alone justifies and not works of the Law. All who believe the gospel, all who are justified by faith in Christ, are able to truly give glory to God because they no longer stand in fear of God’s just judgment. Those who want to stand before God on the basis of their own merits and worthiness will be found lacking, for in God’s sight “no one living is righteous” (Psalm 143:2). Anyone who wants to meet God at the Tribunal of the Law and claim that he has met all the Laws demands will be condemned, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Faith alone justifies sinners. The gospel invites sinners to flee from the judgment seat of the Law and run towards the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to His righteousness, His merits, and His worthiness. This is why the Christian has no fear of God’s judgment. The Christian is “in Christ” by faith alone. The Christian, by faith, possess the righteousness of Christ as His own. The Christian, the one who believes in Him “is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). God wants this everlasting gospel preached to all men, so that all might repent of their sins and flee to Christ to be judged there. Receiving the forgiveness of all of our sins, we “Give glory to Him” because He gives us our salvation by sheer grace alone.
5) The angel then commands that we “worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” We worship the Triune God not simply because He has created us, but we worship the One who has created us and redeemed us. The One of whom St. John wrote “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3) is the same one who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to bring us grace and truth. The creation is tied to the redemption because the One by whom all things were created is the One who becomes flesh to die upon the cross for our sins. For this great salvation, being created and redeemed by the God the Word, we worship Him. How? The chief worship we offer Him is faith, for this is what He desires from us. He wants us to take Him at His Word. He wants us to live not by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. He wants us to believe His Words in the pages of Holy Scripture, reading them, marking them, learning them and inwardly digesting them, since He reveals Himself to us by Scripture alone and through no other means. By faith we “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). By faith we worship Him so that in “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
6) The men who lived after Luther saw Him as a fulfillment of the messenger in in this text. This claim wasn’t born out of a sectarian spirit. Nor was it mere hero-worship. It was not out of misguided sense of pride. It was because God truly raised up Luther for the task of proclaiming the everlasting gospel. In the churches that bear His teaching, not only his name, Luther still teaches the church to “Fear God” by teaching God’s Law in the Ten Commandments. Those are the works God desires from us, not the mad-made works of Rome which cannot please God because they have not been commanded by God. Luther still teaches all who have ears to hear to “Give glory to Him” by teaching the everlasting gospel, the same Gospel as Jesus taught and Peter and Paul preached. Sinners can only truly glorify God when they believe that their sins are forgiven by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. Any other teaching cannot glorify God. Luther is still very much a heavenly messenger who teaches sinners to flee to Christ for mercy, and there be judged not by their works and merits, but by faith in Christ’s works for us. Four hundred and ninety-nine years later, Luther still teaches us to “worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” by teaching us that faith is the chief worship taught in the New Testament, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
7) The Reformation is not an exercise in hero-worship, for Luther was a man who put his pants on one leg at a time. Nor is it sectarian to celebrate the Reformation, for it is not the private doctrine of Luther we hold, neither is Luther’s “one kind of Christianity among many.” We hold the everlasting gospel, the unchanging message of the grace of God that caused Him to send His only-begotten Son into the Word to bear our sin and be our savior, so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have the fruit of faith in the everlasting gospel: everlasting life. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.