Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Mount Pleasant, IA for the Circuit Reformation Service
October 31, 2017
According to Gallup polling, the percentage of Americans who believe that sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable rose from 53% to 69% from the year 2001 to 2017.1 According to the same agency American support for legal same-sex "marriage" rose from 27% to 64% from the year 1996 to 2017.2 And according to Pew Research in the last ten years the percentage of Americans, who identify as Christian has dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%.3 Human opinion changes and it can change quite rapidly. Yet God spoke through Balaam in Numbers 23, "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill?" And again, God spoke through the prophet Malachi, "For I the LORD do not change." (Malachi 3:6a)
People change their minds all the time. They get convinced by new information and more often than not by peer pressure and manipulation. God, however, does not change. It is an attribute of God that he always remains the same.
We celebrate tonight five hundred years since Martin Luther famously posted his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This, as you've probably learned, caused great turbulence within the Roman Catholic Church, resulted in Luther's excommunication and conviction as an outlaw, as well as the formation of a separate Lutheran Church. Yet, not only the Lutherans broke away from Rome. The Calvinists, Zwinglians, and Anabaptists took Luther's lead and expressed their own grievances against the Roman Church. England too started its own reformation. The Christian world was never the same after Luther questioned the practice of indulgences.
And today it is not only us Lutherans, who are celebrating "Reformation 500." The Reformation for many was a movement for human liberation from the stringency of the ancient Roman Church; it was a movement for religious freedom! Now everyone can decide for themselves what they want to believe and confess. For many the Reformation was a human movement. And so, the Reformation is still going on today, as human beings continue to change and become more enlightened. So, it probably shouldn't surprise any of us that the mainline protestant church bodies have accepted the teachings that there are human errors in the Bible, that evolution is true, and that abortion, homosexuality, and other sexual immorality are no longer sins before God.
And we Missouri Synod Lutherans are often thought of as odd balls. We still believe that the Bible is God's Word, that God created the world the way he said he did in his Word, that sin is still sin and God is still God. And we still subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions. "The Reformation was 500 years ago! Don't you know the Reformation was about change. Well, you guys need to change a bit after 500 years." This is the spirit of the Reformation, we're told.
And that would be the spirit of the Reformation if the Reformation were a human movement about human opinion. But Martin Luther didn't stand before the most powerful man in the world and declare, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.", for the sake of human opinion or the right of people to change the Church. Luther laid his neck on the line, because he was convinced by Holy Scripture.
St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Scripture is breathed out by Him, who does not change nor lie. Just as God does not change, neither does his word change and Jesus assures us that until heaven and earth pass away, neither will God's Word (Matthew 5:18).
The Lutheran Reformation was not about human opinion, but rather it confessed that the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone are the only rule and norm of its teaching. And since the Scriptures do not change, neither does the teaching of the Lutheran Reformation. The teachings of our Lutheran confessions, the Small and Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord were founded on the principle of Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone. Because Scripture does not change, neither do our Lutheran Confessions.
And so, despite the change in public opinion, even under the ridicule and derision of our friends and family, we still confess that God's Word is true. This means we hold to unpopular opinions like sex outside of marriage is a sin as well as homosexuality. We practice closed communion in our parishes out of faithfulness to God's Word and often bear the brunt of hurt feelings. We're called sexists for not having women pastors out of obedience to Scripture. And many other awkward moments we bear for holding to unpopular Scriptural teachings.
Yet, the fact that God's Word doesn't change doesn't simply mean that we hold to practices and teachings that are unpopular to the outside world. It means you must also crucify your own sinful flesh that wants to go against God's Word. Which of God's Ten Commandments would you rather just not be there anymore? Would you feel better about yourself if gossip were no longer a sin? Or do you make sure that you are in likeminded company when you assassinate your neighbor's reputation? What parts of God's Law are unpopular in your sinful heart? Do you use your friends' and family's even your pastor's approval for your sin, so that you can think God's law doesn't apply to you anymore? Times have changed. We don’t need to be so strict anymore. What a relief.
But God's Law doesn't change, even when it's your own pet sin kicking against the goad. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" was just as true in 1517 as it was when St. Paul wrote it in the first century and it is just as true now. You are a sinner. You deserve to go to hell. You need a Savior. And this doesn't change, simply because you want it to.
Yet, the fact that God doesn't change and his word doesn't change is actually the greatest comfort to us Christians. "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God" is still true. Yet so is, "And they are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:23-25) The angel from Revelation 14 is believed to be Martin Luther. That is why Revelation 14 is our first reading tonight. The angel doesn't proclaim an everchanging gospel. He proclaims to every nation and tribe and language and people an eternal Gospel! A Gospel that is as unchanging as the God who first promised it in the garden before Adam and Eve, when he spoke to the Serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed, he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Gen. 3:15)
And because God's Word does not change, God kept this promise, even as he led stubborn and often wayward Israel, as he sent prophets and angels, and finally his own Son, Jesus Christ, who would fulfill his Word by dying on the cross for all sins and rising from the dead, so that we too might live eternally with him.
By God's grace and through faith in Jesus Christ, you will not be judged by the Ten Commandments nor condemned for your sins, neither will you be condemned for failing to live up to the orthodoxy of ever-changing popular opinion. You will be declared righteous by God for the sake of the holy, innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, as will all people of all times and places who put their trust in this promise.
Martin Luther did not start a new Church. He did not discover a new teaching. He revealed the eternal, unchanging Gospel, which has been the hope of all Christians at all times. We are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone without our works, just as Martin Luther was, just as St. Paul was, just as the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even our first parents Adam and Eve were. This truth stands forever!
Now, if God does not change and neither does his word, you might be wondering how you a sinner can be justified by God. To be justified means to be declared innocent of all your sins. It means to be in a right relationship with God. How can that be if you are a sinner according to God's Law, and God's Law does not change?
It is because Jesus made propitiation for you by his blood. To make propitiation means that Jesus took God's anger away from you. This doesn't mean that God stopped caring about sin and now thinks you can do whatever you want. God does not change. So how does Jesus take God's anger away from you? By taking your sins away from you. Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, not only took on our human flesh, but he took all of our sins as well. Jesus did not sin, that is for sure. Our sins are alien to him. Yet, he takes them as his own and suffers the punishment for them. By Jesus' blood, that is, by his passion in both body and soul Jesus satisfied God's righteous wrath against all sin. There exists no sin that has not been drowned in the blood of Jesus. There exists no sinner for whom Jesus did not pay the entire debt of sin.
And this is why we are justified by grace. Jesus has earned your justification and salvation. You cannot earn it yourself. You can only receive it through faith as a free gift. Faith is believing not only that Jesus died and rose, but that God counts this as full payment for your sins, that he forgives you and gives you eternal life for Christ's sake.
The chief article of the Lutheran Reformation is this:
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified by their own strength, merit, or works. People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight. Romans 3 and 4. (Augsburg Confession IV)
This is not an opinion that might have been true for the reformers back in the 16th century, but may be different for us now. This truth stands forever. All who repent of their sins and believe that they are forgiven for Christ's sake are truly forgiven and have eternal life. This is why we teach this to our children. This is the eternal Gospel. And for it we will sing praises to our heavenly Father forever, even as he lives and reigns with the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, happy Reformation Day. Amen.