Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon - Reformation Day (Observed) - Revelation 14:6-7

Reformation Day (Observed)
October 27th, 2013
Revelation 14:6-7

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about the man who goes to heaven, and sees all the different doors, with each denomination of Christian worshipping in their own way.  But the door marked, “Lutheran” also bears a sign, “quiet please”.  And when the man asks why, St. Peter explains, “Shh.  They think they’re the only ones here!”

I can take a joke as well as anyone, but it’s just not true.  We recognize the universal church far transcends those of us who call ourselves “Lutheran”.  I fully expect to see Baptists and Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Methodists in Heaven.  All who call on the name of Jesus Christ, have true faith in him, will be saved.  We Lutherans are not the only Christians.  And we are certainly not the only ones who will go to heaven.  Lutherans have never taught this.

However, that’s not to say that the differences don’t matter.  It’s not to say that we should sweep disagreements aside, and act as if we are all united.  We live in a fallen world, where knowingly or unknowingly, God’s holy Word is twisted and worked over, even by those who profess to be Christians.  The Old Evil Foe has been doing it from the beginning, when he led men astray with his question, “did God really say...?”  And he continues to cast doubt wherever he can today.  It is a grievous situation that the church on earth is not united in the truth, as Jesus prayed in John 17.  Sin corrupts.  It even corrupts doctrine.

And yet despite all of this, the word of the Lord stands forever.  There is a universal and timeless truth to it.  Or as John puts it in our reading from Revelation, an “eternal gospel”.  

And this eternal gospel is a gospel to be proclaimed, “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”  Friends, we are all living proof of this, even today.  

The Gospel is timeless and eternal, but it is also concrete and time-bound.  It is universal - that is, it is for people of all places and tribes and nationalities.  But it is also particular, that is, it is for you.  You have come to faith by the proclamation of the eternal Gospel.  You are baptized into the eternal, triune name of God.  And you continue to live by that same eternal gospel which you hear again and again, and which continues to give life.

Just what is this eternal gospel?

It is the whole and sum of God’s word to you, the sinner.  It is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  

It is the incarnation, the perfect law-keeping, the suffering, the death and the resurrection of Christ, for you.  

It is the fact of his promise that your sins are forgiven, that you belong to him, for you were bought with a price.  

It is the seal and certainty of our baptism, it is the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood for our forgiveness.  

It is justification, by grace, through faith, in Christ alone.  

It is the confession of Christ before the church and the world, before governors and kings.  The confession of the old and the young, even from the mouths of babes.

It is the work of Christ, and Christ alone - for you, on you, in you and given to you.  

The eternal gospel is Jesus, and all that is wrapped up in him; Christ, crucified for sinners, alive for sinners, who will come again to judge the living and the dead and make all things new.

To say we are “Lutheran”, is to say that we confess the eternal Gospel.  To say we are Lutheran means that we believe what God’s word teaches, and has always taught.  That sinners are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  That when God makes a promise, he keeps it, even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  That the heart and soul of our faith is not about what we do or don’t do, or should or shouldn’t do, but about what our Lord Jesus Christ objectively has done, and continues to do for us.

I believe, and I confess that the Evangelical Lutheran Church - the church which confesses the writings of the Book of Concord - confesses the eternal gospel with truth and purity.  And I hope you can say the same.

There was nothing special about the reformers, really.  There was nothing exceptional about Martin Luther.  What makes this confession worthy of our attention, is its crystal clear presentation of the eternal gospel.  No cooperation with God, no act of human will or reason.  No experience or heartfelt yearning is necessary, or even relevant.  Jesus Christ comes to save sinners, to heal the broken, and raise the dead.  Which we all were in our sins, completely beyond hope.  Lost eternally.

But the eternal gospel gives hope to the hopeless, righteousness to sinners, and breathes life into the walking dead.

In a way, all those who confess this gospel confess the same.  And all those who believe and teach it, could in a sense be called, “Lutheran”.  I’ll often make a joke of my own, about how Lutheran Abraham was, who believed in God and was credited as righteous.  Or how Lutheran David was, who when confronted by Nathan about his adultery and murder confessed, “I have sinned”.  Or how Lutheran were the prophets and patriarchs, and all the believers of old - who Hebrews says looked forward by faith to the salvation God would accomplish in Christ alone.  They were believers in the eternal Gospel.  They were Lutherans.  They just didn’t know it.

And that is why, also, there will only be Lutherans in heaven.  For when the dust settles, and we see all things clearly, and all falsehood and misunderstanding melts away - we will see Christ and his word clearly.  His eternal gospel will stand.  And we will all of us, together, believe and know that salvation is by Christ alone, for us, forever.

Being Lutheran, you see, isn’t about Luther at all.  It’s about Christ.  It’s not about me or you, and what we can bring to the table.  We have only wretched sin.  Instead, it’s about Christ, and what he brought to the cross - himself, and gave his body and blood there, for you.  Receive that same body and blood today, for the forgiveness of your sins, according to the promise of his eternal gospel.

And have a blessed Reformation day.

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