27 October 2013
Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rom 3:19-28)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus Christ pointed out that John the Baptist “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.”
As Dr. Martin Luther wisely pointed out, one of the “marks of the Church,” one of the characteristics of being a Christian, is the cross. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Part of our Lord’s cross involved being lied about. If you follow Jesus, if you are a disciple, you can expect your reputation to be assaulted and your faith misrepresented. Our Lord Himself was accused of being a greedy drunk. Every one of the apostles suffered death or exile for their confession of our Lord. The red all around us today is a reminder of the blood of Christians shed for confessing the faith over the course of two millennia. Even now, families are divided because of the Christian faith. At this very moment, prisoners sit in lonely cells for believing in Christ. There are more martyrs today than there were in ancient Rome. And even if we are not put to the sword, we can expect to be lied about.
It is especially disheartening when the lies come from other Christians.
Just a couple days ago, a Roman Catholic lady explained to me that Martin Luther was insane, that he preached that people should sin, and that we whose churches have the name Lutheran on them have been deluded into following a “new religion.” And yet, she will attend Mass today in English – thanks to the reformers. She will hear a sermon preached as part of the worship service – thanks to the reformers. She will likely be offered the Lord’s blood (which until recently was withheld from lay people) – thanks to the reformers. She will sing hymns – thanks to the reformers. She will hear the priest say aloud our Lord’s Words of Institution – thanks to the reformers. Her parish may well have a Bible class – thanks to the reformers. She is no longer told that it is a sin to eat a hamburger on Friday – thanks to the reformers.
Many of the same reforms that Roman Catholics instituted in the 1960s were being practiced by those (whom they mocked by calling them “Lutherans”) in the 1530s. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters did not come up with these reforms on their own.
And if this sister in Christ’s pastors are ever permitted to be married, she should also thank the reformers – who understood that forced clerical celibacy is not only unbiblical and cruel, it is the source of terrible immorality and hurt in the church, and the cause of criminal cover-ups and lurid scandals to this very day.
In Luther’s day, the entire western Church was broken. It was messed up. It was corrupt. It was filled with false doctrine and political intrigue. It was not focused on the kingdom of heaven but on money and power. Modern Roman Catholic scholars themselves admit it. Churchmen like the gentle 12th century monk Bernard of Clairvaux – whom our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, like us, consider to be St. Bernard – was calling for reform. A hundred years before Luther, the Bohemian priest John Huss, who taught many of the same reforms as Luther, was lied to by the Church, was promised safe conduct to talk about his call for reformation, but was instead burned at the stake. He was murdered in cold blood by lying and corrupt church officials, from the pope on down. “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,” says our Lord. Pope John Paul II apologized to the people of the Czech Republic for this atrocity committed in the name of Holy Mother Church. For in those days, she was an abusive mother.
We are yet to receive apologies for the many Lutherans who were burned at the stake. We are waiting for the condemnation of Blessed Martin Luther to be retracted even as the condemnation of Joan of Arc (who was burned at the stake as a heretic at the age of 19 in 1431) was reversed, when she was canonized, declared a saint, in 1920.
Dear friends, I’m not threatened with the stake, and none of you are imprisoned for being Lutheran Christians. And again, we owe much of this freedom that we enjoy to the reformers, who risked life and limb, not so that preachers could tell you to go out and sin, not so that you could be free to hold God’s law in contempt, but rather so that preachers could freely call you to repent of your sins because, and only because, you have a Savior from your sins. There is a Gospel, good news, that we proclaim in tandem with God’s law.
Listen to these words that would have made us all criminals in the sixteenth century just for confessing them: “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” That is not Martin Luther or the raving words of some “new religion.” This is St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
The Roman Catholic Church of the sixteenth century declared Luther a heretic for believing this. They decreed at the Council of Trent: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining of the grace of justification… let him be anathema.”
But again, dear friends, we stand with St. Paul, with the ancient catholic Church, with Dr. Luther, and with the many pastors and lay people who were burned at the stake by the violent who would take the kingdom by force: “We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” We stand with St. Augustine and a thousand years of truly catholic teaching in confessing what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and it is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” We stand with Christian confessors of every age who repeated the Gospel of forgiveness as St. Paul preached to the Romans: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” and “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed in the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”
Luther did not encourage people to sin. Neither do I. Neither do you. We simply state the shocking truth of Jesus, of Scripture, of the truly catholic faith of the Christian Church, that Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer. We place our faith only in him and not in our deeds. We do not trust in the merit of saints. We do not trust in saying a quota of prayers, nor buying indulgences, nor making pilgrimages, nor in being a monk or nun or pastor, nor in bureaucratic proclamations by church officials, nor even in whatever good works we may do.
You have salvation by grace, a free gift, earned and won for you on the cross. You receive this gift by faith, by laying hold of the promise in believing it, in trusting Christ to make good on His Word. You believe this because it is true, whether it is taught faithfully or whether it is condemned. And even if following our Lord and making a truly evangelical and catholic confession of the faith were to put us on a fiery stake or in a freezing dungeon, we follow Christ who has saved us, given us His Word, and who was Himself lied about and put to death by the violent who sought the kingdom by violence.
We do not use the stake and the inquisition, dear friends, for the Reformation restored the preaching of the Word. We draw people into the kingdom not with threats of violence but rather only by peaceful persuasion. We do not confuse and bully people into our churches with lies, but we draw them in by love, by making the good confession, and by telling the truth.
And the greatest truth is this: Jesus is God in the flesh; He died on the cross as a free and full payment for our sins; He rose from the grave and promises eternal life to each one of us who confess Him. This Gospel is not for sale; it cannot be earned. The blood of Christ atones for you and for the sins of the world.
“For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith…. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
May this holy, catholic, scriptural, evangelical, and true confession and teaching ring out from pulpits all around the world, and may it echo from the lips of the faithful, the redeemed, those justified by grace through faith, now and forevermore! Amen.
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