+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 8:32
Theme: Freedom In The Truth
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God is not an aloof historian. His interest in human affairs is more than academic. He oversees human society to the end that the gospel of His Son has opportunity to be proclaimed to all nations. It necessitates His presence and intervention. Sometimes dramatic transformations result. On the 31st of October, 1517 an energetic Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted theses for discussion on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Historians have marked this as the beginning of an event called the Reformation. It initiated a massive upheaval within Christendom, the consequences of which still continue today.
Luther was not intentionally rebellious, nor did he have a sectarian spirit. One key difference between Luther and those who preceded him was his understanding of the authority of Scripture. Unlike others, who more or less followed the church’s line of interpretation and found their niche within it, Luther’s conscience became formed by, and completely subservient to, the Holy Scriptures. Truth was no longer determined by church tradition, or human reason, but by God’s Word alone. Focus on the Bible led to one of the Reformation’s rallying cries being “Scripture Alone!” (Sola Scriptura) On the foundation of Scripture church and society worked through a fundamental renovation.
Next year will mark 500 years since that history changing event. We live in different times, a changed culture, and a different age. Of course, that’s not a new reality for the church to deal with. Culture is constantly transmuting. Individuals, however, remain unchanged in their basic makeup. Every child conceived comes into existence under the domination of sin. All are turned in on themselves, separated from God, living in spiritual darkness. This truth is an unalterable cornerstone in the Christian worldview. Any capitulation on the reality of sin leads inevitably to a skewed understanding of the need for, and means of, salvation.
Luther was a brilliant preacher of the gospel because he had a profound understanding of sin. In the footsteps of Saint Paul he called believers to a sobering recognition of human need. Satan is no paper tiger and hell is no imaginary place. God’s grace in Christ is therefore not only earth-shattering, but it makes or breaks one’s destiny in eternity. Jesus says, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”1 True freedom involves being released from the eternal consequences of sin.
It’s this peace of heart and mind that Luther desperately sought. But until his “rediscovery” of the gospel, like so many others, he looked for it in the wrong places. God could not be appeased, except by the blood of Jesus. The Scriptures began to come clear to Luther. “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all”2 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”3 “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…it is the gift of God-not by works…”4 Luther recognized that we are declared righteous by God’s work in Christ, through faith (Sola Fide). Salvation cannot be earned. It is by grace (Sola Gratia).
When Satan pressed his advantage severely, when Luther’s soul and conscience were under relentless attack, Luther said, “I am baptized.” He didn’t fall back on his own ingenuity, strength, or piety but on the redeeming act of Christ accomplished in his baptism. Luther knew that the death and resurrection of Jesus remained only a distant, historical fact until the Holy Spirit incorporated him into God’s covenantal promise through baptism. Without grace we don’t have a God of love but a God of judgment. So, grace was the context in which Luther understood his baptism. Baptism involves a divine rescue. In baptism God’s salvation is made accessible.
The availability of God’s grace is the perennial concern of the church. Today the cry to be relevant is being shouted at the church. Reactions have varied. Some bury their heads in the sand. Others survey the society to see what changes they’d like made and introduce them accordingly. Still others circle the wagons and try to isolate themselves from the prevailing culture. A quick canvassing of Christian bodies reveals an almost inconceivable diversity of practice and belief. Some Christians don’t believe God created the universe and so cannot confess the beginning of the creeds with integrity. Others don’t believe an omnipotent God will bring history to a close and judge the living and the dead, and so cannot confess the end of the creeds without damage to conscience. Still others doubt whether Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and so are estranged from the very heart and centre of the creeds. Issues like homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia further complicate the landscape. In all cases, biblical authority is compromised to one degree or another.
St. Jude addressed believers saying, “I found it very necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”5 The word of God is unalterable. The church must respond to the changing situation of society. But, thank God that His love for us in Christ does not change. The claim has been made that the culture today is similar to what it was in the First century when Christ was born in the world. People were living in the darkness of idolatry and unbelief. There are many similarities, to be sure. Yet, today, the church has the task of preaching the gospel not to world that hasn’t heard it (as was the case in the First century), but to one who has heard and has rejected it. Today’s world is aggressively deconstructing the Christian worldview.
Dear friends, when there is no confidence and no certainty, that sins have been remitted the sinner labours under the burden of guilt and doubt. Without absolute confidence that transgressions have been absolved the soul is never freed. That was the overarching concern of Luther. That is the concern of the Scriptures. That is the apostolic concern. That is the concern of Christ. It is the concern of the Holy Spirit. When sins are retained the door of heaven is locked. The surgical precision of the law is left to do its work. Only the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection can open the gates of heaven. The Scripture says, “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.”6
Jesus Christ came to shepherd the flock of God not exploit it. He came to free from the power of addiction. He came to release from the regret of failure. He came to liberate from the fear of death. He is light in our darkness. He is an island of truth in a sea of deceit. He is the unshakeable foundation in a world of instability. He is the Bridegroom full of compassion. He is the Husband armed with strength. He is peace in the midst of turmoil. His righteousness alone covers the sinner. His forgiveness is ours in the water of baptism, the words of absolution, and the body and blood of Holy Communion. And the life of cross bearing has proper meaning and purpose because grace raises everyone’s status in the eyes of God to the level of His Son.
Luther recovered the proper understanding of vocation. It was one of his most personal and bitter struggles. The devoted person who faithfully goes about his or her calling each day- regardless of how insignificant or mundane it may appear- is just as important of a servant of God as the pastor, the high government official, or the famous person. God loves the neighbour through the countless everyday acts of service and self-sacrifice.
We may be nearly 500 years removed from the Reformation. But God is no further removed from us. People naturally want to be spared from the adversities of life. But God doesn’t promise to remove us from life’s trials. He promises to be in our midst. He is with us in suffering. He carries us when we can no longer walk. He is our refuge and strength. Both time and eternity are in His hands. Thanks be to God! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
30 October, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 8:31-32, 36 2 1 Timothy 2:5-6 3 John 1:29
4 Ephesians 2:8-9 5 Jude 1:3 6 Romans 3:23-24