End Times 1 -- Reformation
Preached: October 31, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our saving faith in Christ is Romans 3.
We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those under the law, in order that every mouth is shut and all the world stands accountable to God. Therefore, no one at all is justified before him by works of law. For through law comes awareness of sin.
But now righteousness from God without law has been revealed as the Law and the Prophets testify -- righteousness from God through faith in Jesus Christ for all and to all who believe. For there is no difference, since all have sinned and keep falling short of God's approval, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that's in Christ Jesus. He's the one that God presented as the atonement through faith, in his blood, to prove his righteousness because the sins committed previously were passed over in God's forbearance, to prove his righteousness in the present time, so that he is just and the Justifier of the one who lives by faith in Jesus.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. On what kind of principle? On that of works? No! But on the principle of faith. For we maintain that by faith a man is justified without works of law. (Romans 3:19-28)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk!” Such a cry from the terrified conscience of a young law student. Was he ready to face the righteous Judge of the universe from whom no sin is hidden? Death had been on his mind. Death had already taken a close college friend of his. Death had knocked on his door as well. During his school days he had accidentally cut a vein in his leg and nearly bled to death except that the friend he was with was able to run to the nearby town and bring back a doctor in time.
So now in the year 1505 as he walked toward the city of Erfurt and a thunderbolt strikes so close by, the terror of his sin and facing death unprepared overwhelms him. He cries out, “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk!” Yes, the young Martin Luther was well aware of his sin. And it terrified him
That, dear friends, is God's purpose in giving us his Law to make us aware of our sinfulness. Do we still use it for that purpose? “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20 NIV), the Apostle Paul writes. God gave his law “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to [him]” (Romans 3:19 NIV).
How often don't we hear about being accountable to yourself or maybe even having an accountability partner, but what about being accountable to God? How terrifying that thought! We don't like to think that through, do we? But the law marches out God's righteous requirements before our eyes. It holds us acountable for every thought, word, and action. How you have failed, and I as well! Hear the Law's condemnation against you and me. We could close our eyes and cover our ears. We could make our own noise trying to drown out the testimony of our conscience against our conscience. But you will be called to account. No one can escape death.
When was the last time you seriously contemplated God's commandments and their explanation in the Catechism? Don't brush over them thinking, “I haven't been that bad. No murders, adulteries, or robberies on my record.” But God's law penetrates deep into your heart. What about your anger, lust, bitterness, greed, rage, envy, hatred, discontent, worry? Your accountable to God for every one of those thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. And what about all the running after the things of this world we do rather than seeking first him and his kingdom and his righteousness? How many idols have we set up in our hearts? How many prayers have are left unsaid? How many opportunities to gladly hear and learn his Word have you despised? You will be called to account. No one can escape.
And as you stand before the judge, what will you plead? None of your works measure up to the law's requirements. They all fall short of God's approval. For as the Scriptures declare; “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12 NIV). No exceptions, not even you. There is no difference. God's law silences all our claims to being good enough, or having done enough, or having been better than some, or having tried our best. It all falls short. God's law leaves us no excuse, no defense, no righteousness -- only sin, condemnation, and death.
But take heart dear friend, for another kind of righteousness, a righteousness that has nothing to do with your keeping of the law, has been revealed. Neither you nor I nor anyone could have guessed at this righteousness or discovered it or invented it. It had to be revealed to us, for it was hidden to our sin-darkened minds.
Where is this righteousness revealed? In the Scriptures. Paul, in the text, calls the Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets. The Scriptures are God's word to us made known through his prophets and apostles, written down for our learning. Throughout the Old and the New Testament God makes known the only righteousness that stand blameless in God's court of justice, the only righteousness that can save you and me.
Then what is this righteousness? The inspired Apostle tells us, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21, 22 NIV). This righteousness is not based on our works or on the law, but on God's promise in Christ Jesus. That's why it comes through faith.
But young Luther did not know about this righteousness. So he called out to St. Anne, the supposed mother of the virgin Mary and patron saint of miners. He promised to become a monk. For his church taught him that to be right with God you could do extra works beyond the Ten Commandments. So monks took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to show that they were doing extra good works to make themselves right before God.
Luther worked hard as a monk, and he also became a priest. He even made a pilgrimage on foot to Rome. He honored the relics of the saints and said the prayers and did the works that he was told would make him righteous before God. But his conscience continued to torment him. For the Law did it's work. It made him conscious of his sin and how far his efforts fell short, no matter how hard he tried.
But his superior, Doctor Staupitz, decided that the solution for Luther's pangs of conscience was to study the Scriptures. And as Luther studied and taught God's Word, the Holy Spirit brought him to know this other righteousness that is revealed only in the Scriptures -- this righteousness from God through faith in Jesus apart from the law, not based on his efforts to do God's will. Those words “righteousness of God” that once terrified him with eternal punishment for his sins, now brought him peace and joy. For Holy Spirit opened his heart to see that God's righteousness that saves is not the righteous required by the law but rather the righteousness God promises as a free gift in Christ Jesus.
But could this righteousness really be for someone like Luther who had tried to earn God's favor for so many years? Could this righteousness be for someone like you or like me. For when the Law does its work, our hearts despair of God ever counting me right in sight. How could a guilty sinner like me be righteous?
Take heart, dear friend, for the righteousness that comes from God apart from law is indeed for you. Listen again to the inspired Apostle, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24 NIV).
Are you among those who have sinned? Do you fall short of God's glorious holiness, failing to meet the law's requirements and so gain his approval? “Yes, I am,” our convicted conscience calls out. But listen closely. The same all who have sinned is the all who are justified freely by God's grace. You, sinner, are justified. You are declared righteous, acquitted as not guilty, freely according to God's gracious good will, apart from law, apart from your efforts. Yes, this righteousness is for you. Believe it. For God has promised it. It is his free gift to you.
But how can that be? How can the holy, righteous, just God count me right in his sight? Isn't that a grave injustice since I am beyond any doubt a guilty? How long would a judge sit on the bench before he was impeached or voted out of office if he kept declaring all the criminals not guilty?
This question of God's justice isn't a question our modern world wants to address. Unlike Luther's day where people lived in terror of a just God, today people walk all over him doing as they please figuring he has to overlook their faults. And often the worst offenders are those most eager to point out that God is loving and forgiving so how dare you accuse me of sin. It's a cheap forgiveness, an unjust righteousness that they expect from him.
So how can God be the just, holy, righteous God he is and yet count a sinner like me righteous in his sight. How could he freely by grace justify me and forgive my sins? The answer is in those words, “through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 NIV). There is no injustice since the price for sin has been paid. That's what redemption is, the paying of the ransom price to set someone else free.
And it did not come cheaply. “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25 NIV). God's own Son, Jesus Christ, willingly offered himself as the payment, as the sacrifice to appease God's justice and turn his righteous anger away from our sin. He has made full satisfaction, for he lived the holy, perfect, righteous life required by God's law. And though there was no sin in him, he laid down his life for you, for me. Yes, the holy, precious blood of Jesus, a Lamb without blemish or defect, -- his divine blood ransomed you, redeemed you, paid the full price to bring you that righteousness from God. The righteousness that comes from God is free but not cheap.
So there at the cross of Christ you witness the fullness of God's justice. If anyone had thought God unjust for saving Old Testament believers like Abraham even though their sin had not yet been paid for, at the cross they saw God's justice punishing those sins and all the sins from Adam and Eve until the Last Day, including all of yours. By punishing his Son, Jesus Christ, as the willingly substitute in our place, he has demonstrated his justice at the present him. He is both just, for he has left no sin unpunished, and the Justifier, because he freely credits Jesus' righteousness to all who believe.
Do you see how all this hinges on Jesus? Martin Luther brings this home to us in his explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed: “[My Lord] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”
Everything hinges on Jesus. So it's not just any kind of faith that saves, but only faith in Jesus. Any other kind of faith kills. For example, consider the great faith of Mbah Maridjan of Java. He was the spiritual guardian of the volcano Mt. Merapi in Indonesia. When the volcano was about to erupt he refused to leave for he believed it was his duty to stay. He believed he could pray to the ancestral spirits. Despite such faith, he died in the eruption last week. He had a false faith, a faith that leads only to hell.
You're justified through faith in Jesus alone. God's verdict is for all, but so many reject the righteousness that comes from God. They reject the righteousness paid for by the blood of Christ. They will be held accountable for all their sins. Only condemnation, death, and hell await them. How dreadful!
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, dear friend. Each day put your faith in him alone. There is no room for boasting, no room for claiming any credit for yourself. Our works condemn us. But “we maintain that a man is justified by faith a part from observing the law” (Romans 3:28 NIV). You're justified only through faith in Christ alone. That's the Reformation theme for you to take home today. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.