Posts Tagged ‘Reformation’

Justified By Faith!

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Reformation SundayB
October 28, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from the Epistle lesson, specifically the 28thverse. St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,“We hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (3:28)

What this text proclaims is at the very heart of why God sent His only Son, Jesus, to be born in our flesh, to be crucified on the cross, and to rise again in glory.  Can you imagine that this precious Gospel message was hidden out of error and nonsense from the people of God for nearly a thousand years!?!

A little over five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther, a 34-year old Augustinian monk and university professor, in the little German town of Wittenberg, took a short walk from his monastery home at the university over to the other side of town, to the castle church.  And there, on the church door, he posted a written piece he had titled “The Disputation on the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences.” 

This piece was originally written in Latin, and meant for debate among the students, faculty, and other clergymen in the area. The first line read, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg…”

This insignificant act set into motion the great Reformation of the Christian church. As Christians, especially Lutheran-Christians, we are the heirs of that Reformation and so today, on Reformation Sunday, we join with faithful Lutherans all around the world in celebrating that historic event and all the blessings of pure doctrine and sound practice that came from it.

So what do we do to remember and celebrate the Reformation? Quite simply by believing in and caring about the same things that Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed in and cared about.  At the top of the list, the most important item in that list, is Justification. Everything else that we talk about in the Lutheran church either flows from, follows after, surrounds and/or supports this central, primary doctrine of justification.

First, let me explain what justification is? Understand that this term “justification” is a legal term, referring to the courtroom of God’s justice and how we stand before Him.

Now when the day of reckoning comes, the verdict will be read.  And, as we stand before our Judge, God will decide if we are justified or condemned by His standards. That is to say, “righteous” or “not righteous.”

The classic passage in the Bible on this subject is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the third chapter–our Epistle for this day–summed up in verse 28, “For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”But to really appreciate the brilliance, and the clarity, and sheer power of this passage, we need to back up and look at Paul’s argument leading up to this point.

In chapters 1 and 2 of Romans and continuing into chapter 3, Paul, like a prosecuting attorney, lays out the argument that all of us are guilty in God’s sight according to the standards of His Law.

The fact of the matter is, every single one of us, every human being that has ever lived (with the exception of one) will stand guilty in God’s courtroom. God’s Law accuses us. God’s Law convicts us. And, God’s Law sentences us to death, and rightly so. and moral we have tried to live, we all fail… No matter how good we think we are, we all fall, not one of us can live by the standard of the Law.

Paul, sums up the legal case against us in verses 19 and 20 of our text: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the Law; [but] through the Law we become conscious of our sin.”That’s what the Law does.

Jesus tells us, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  But even as Christians, we tend to manage only a half-hearted obedience. Do we have a fervent desire to be in God’s house every Sunday? Do we gladly hear and learn God’s word and hold it sacred?  Do we take time to study the Bible and pray to God with hearts of utmost devotion? I’m guessing, not as well as we should.

And Jesus says, “… the second [commandment] is like [the first]: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’How well do we do that? Do you love your neighbor and seek his good as much as you love yourself? How many of us even know our neighbors? How well do you speak about your neighbor? I could go on & on, but you get the point.

Back in the courtroom, Law cries out, “Guilty as charged.” And if guilty, then the sentence is death.  Remember, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23), that’s the punishment that the Law requires. No slap on the wrist, no probation, and no time off for good behavior. There is no room for leniency in this Law or in this courtroom.  It’s either, “Keep the Law, perfectly, or break the Law, and you die – which means to be cut off from God forever.”

The point is – the Law cannot save you. It can only convict you and condemn you.

But the Law also does you the valuable service of showing you your sins. You see, you need to know that you cannot please God and earn your salvation by how well you keep the Law. You can never keep it perfectly! No one can!

This is essential for you to know, so you don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can be good enough, or righteous enough on your own. You need to be stripped down of that way of thinking, so that your ears will be open to hear what God’s Word has to say to you, namely, the Gospel, which is the only place where salvation can indeed be found.

That’s what Paul gets at next in our lesson, and this right here is the heart of the Gospel, Romans 3:21-28, the teaching of justification by faith in its most extreme examples. Paul writes:

“But now the righteousness of God has been [made known] apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it [that is] the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]: for allhave sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a [free] gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine [patience] he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And then Paul finishes it off: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the Law of Faith. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

This is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is justification that comes by grace alone, and grace alone that comes through faith alone. That’s what this passage is saying.

The Law is not the only word that will be heard in God’s courtroom. The judge will declare you “not guilty,” but it won’t be because of anything you did or how well you have lived according to the Law. But by the work of your advocate, your defense attorney, Jesus Christ– He who is without sin, the only man who has ever kept the Law of God as it should be kept–Jesus stepped forward and took your place when the death sentence was handed down. Justice has already been served, and Jesus is the one who served it.

You see, out of God’s great love for us sinners, He puts forward his own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The precious, priceless blood of the Holy Son of God was shed on our behalf, covering our sins with His righteousness.

And all this is a free gift. It is all because of grace, God’s undeserved favor, freely bestowed on us because of God’s immeasurable love for you. It’s not a matter of your works; it’s a matter of Christ’s work for you. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of who He is; not because of who you are, but because of what He’s done! Call it redemption, salvation–or call it justification, it’s the righteousness of God, you are righteous to stand before God, to stand in His presence–the thing is this: You can’t earn it. You can only receive it. Receive it as a gift.

That’s what faith is: Simply receiving that gift that God is giving you, the forgiveness of sins won for you by Christ on the cross. That “not guilty” verdict pronounced by God–“justified by faith!” that sweet music is ringing in your ears, not because of anything you have done, but rather solely because of what Christ has done for you. Of that, you can be certain.

That’s the enlightenment Martin Luther received through the Gospel some 500 years ago.  And now, you know what the Reformation was all about, a fight to restore this critical and central teaching of the Gospel to its proper place of prominence, to give all the glory to Christ, and to give comfort and consolation to troubled souls–this was the special gift of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Instead of turning people back to their own efforts at trying to keep the Law, Luther pointed people to Christ and the cross, to this teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone, apart from works of the Law.

To underscore its importance, Luther would say of the doctrine of justification: “The first and chief article is this:  Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends… Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost… (Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I)

When we grasp just how beautiful, how central, and life-giving this divine doctrine of justification is… we realize it isthe very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–God’s gracious declaration of righteousness for Christ’s sake–when we come to these realizations then we will treasure this teaching. We will hold it dear, we will thank God for it, and we will let it permeate every aspect of the church’s life. And that is why we can say today, with joy and confidence, that the doctrine of justification is the heartof the Reformation. Amen.

 

And now, may the grace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus! Amen!

Two Kingdoms: Man vs. God

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Twenty Third Sunday After Trinity-HL, October 30th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 3:20]

churchstate-300x186Tomorrow is the official 499th anniversary date of the Reformation of Christ’s Church. It all began when Martin Luther, a simple parish priest and monk published a professional paper now know as the 95 Theses. This document was meant to begin debate and discussions about what Luther felt were grievous sins and errors of the church. What began Luther on this life-long journey with God were really two distinct passages of Scripture. Let me share them with you now: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9] And second is this Word: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” [Romans 1:16-17] From these two portions of scripture the very basis of the Reformation was born, and that basis can be summed up like this: “Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. All under the banner of Christ alone!”

But the reformation also brought us another very important doctrine of scripture that I am afraid seems to be neglected in our current time, and it is this…

We live in two kingdoms. The kingdom of man and the Kingdom of God.

Christians are citizens of two worlds. First, we have a heavenly citizenship, where Christ is our King. This Kingdom is more than a future hope it is a present reality as we gather in Christ’s church where we are given new birth, and nourished and sustained by His very Word and Sacraments. As Christians, we are at home in this Kingdom of God. But we are also citizens in a community, in a nation of communities where we are subject to its laws.

And there is no contradiction between these two citizenships. We don’t have the same relation in this world as we enjoy with God, to be sure. So, in regards to the two Kingdoms, we must always be sure that we are not serving two masters. But to serve God and the nation we live in does not mean that we serve two masters. Because behind the nation we live in is the authority of God.

The Bible teaches that the government with all its orderly processes of law—those things the Bible calls “human institutions”—is also a creation of and maintained by God. The Bible goes so far as to say that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exists have been instituted by God.” [Romans 13:1] And those words were written at a time when the authority of the Roman Empire was in pagan hands.

To understand this we must remember that God rules the world also through the powers He has placed in the hands of men and women. He has given us a natural intelligence, a sense of what is right and wrong, a love for home and family, the ability to organize society and to enact good laws. These powers function just as clearly among people who do not know Christ or believe on Him as they do with Christians. This is why communities are found and maintained wherever people exist. Now, because these institutions are made up of sinful imperfect people, problems are bound to arise. But however defective these governments might be, they are still an effective deterrent to violence and wild individualism. They become one of the means by which God shows His concern for our earthly welfare. This is why God’s Word commands us to be loyal and obedient to human authorities, not simply because of the fear of punishment but also for the sake of a “good conscience.”

The duty of all governments is to uphold justice and to show concern for those who otherwise would be wrongly treated. So the government and those who serve within it are “a servant of God for the righteous.” And everyone who has been granted power by God to rule over others must one day answer to God how he has used that power.

But the state can misuse its powers. It is not true to say that if something is “lawful” it must also be right in the eyes of God. There are rules concerning marriage and abortion for example, which cannot be observed without sinning against the commandments. This is why Jesus’ teaching this morning is so important for us to understand.

In our gospel lesson [Matthew 22:15-22] Jesus is confronted with a trap devised by the Jewish leaders.

It was a pit so to speak that was dug for Jesus to fall into and be trapped by His own Words. Foolish men; they were told Who Jesus was and where He came from, but they would not believe that the very One they were attempting to discredit was in fact God in human flesh. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The popular answer that was sure to garnish public support for what they saw as Jesus’ campaign to be the Messiah was, “Heck no, it’s not lawful! We are sons of Abraham and have never been enslaved by anyone! We are sons of King David and I, Jesus of Nazareth am a direct descendant of David, so let’s get rid of Caesar and I’ll be your Messiah-king!”

But Jesus was not that kind of king and He had not come to lead a rebellion. So seeing the trap they set, He allows them to fall in it instead. “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And this dear friends is where God both gives to you wisdom and demands that you use it. We are called to give to the government what is theirs and give to God what is His! So what are we to do when the law of the government is in direct contradiction with the Word of God. In such a time, we must obey God rather than man. Christians in the early church suffered martyrdom rather than give sacrifices to Caesar. And the Bible speaks clearly about a day in the future when we will have to reckon with a state that is under the dominion of the Antichrist. This is why our Gospel lesson and Jesus Words this morning must be taken very seriously.

Today in our own time, several pits have been dug for you dear Christians. Our government by the people has presented two great traps for us to fall into which will then lead us to withhold giving honor to God and His Word, and thus abandon our Christian faith. These two great traps are the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of unborn human life. These are watershed issues on which your Christian faith will either stand or fall. They are just as important as grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone, because they are also under Christ alone.

Marriage is not a relationship instituted by man but by God. When a man and woman wish to live together, God commands that it be done not in simply living together, but within the bonds, within the blessings of Holy Matrimony. These rules for marriage were not invented by the church but they were commanded by God. “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (his woman) and the two will become one flesh.” So intimate relations between two people are to be within the confines of marriage and they are to be between a man and a woman.

But society and even our government will counter with, “What is the harm of two people living together first before they are married? What is wrong with making sure they are compatible? And what is wrong with that couple being of the same sex if they are in love. Shouldn’t we celebrate their marriage just as we celebrate a heterosexual marriage?”

Beware dear friends, this is a trap just as real as the one set for Jesus. On it’s own, there is nothing wrong with love. And on our own who are we to judge what makes others happy? We are no one but fellow sinners, struggling to find happiness just as they are. But we cannot ignore what God has spoken.

Human life is sacred. It’s sacred because God’s Word says that we were created in His image. Throughout God’s Word, He speaks this truth and He reaffirms that in the womb He knows us; He knows and loves all human life. When we read these Words we are moved by the Spirit to agree with God! But when confronted with the trap of society, the edict of the government, we begin to see the issue of unborn life from a different perspective. “Does not a woman have a right to choose what she does with her body? What about the future of a young pregnant teen, and what about exigent circumstances? Surely you can’t be saying that God has no compassion for these women?”

Do you see the trap? You are being asked to speak for God about something that He has not spoken to you of. You are being asked to defend God or deny Him by abandoning what He has spoken.

So what are we to do? Well, in both of these circumstances of life we are to love our neighbor. We are to understand the pain and the fear that is behind both examples. We are not to judge them but to love them. We love them when we simply repeat what God has said and we encourage them to embrace God’s truth and do as we do everyday, repent. We repent when we simply surrender to God and admit that He is right and we are wrong. We repent when we turn to the cross of Jesus, and receive His forgiving love, which was poured out upon us within the waters of holy baptism. We demonstrate our love for those who are caught within these two life styles that conflict with God’s Word by being both friend and brother or sister. We do not abandon them but we accompany them on their journey of turning back to God; giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and giving to God what is God’s.

Our love for sinners is given under the same manner and authority as it is given to us, through…

The Office of the Keys. Each of you I trust remembers this teaching from your catechism. The Office of the Keys is…

A spiritual power, which must always be clearly distinguished from the temporal power of governments and societies. It’s a spiritual power because it pertains to the spirit and soul of men and women; it offers and gives spiritual blessings, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. It does not use force but the very Word of God.

It is a power that was given by Jesus Himself to His Church here on earth. A church that also exists within the confines of a temporal government. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” [John 21:22-23]

The Office of the Keys is also the power of the Word of God. By the Word we are to be sanctified, brought to faith, and gathered together as one in Christ Jesus. As the church, we have no right to use violence to institute change that is pleasing to God. That is the power of the state not the church. Our power is found in the Word of God and our trust and faith is in it alone.

The Office of the Keys is simply repeating to all who will hear what God has said in His Word. The church is to teach men to observe all that Christ has commanded, and only what He has commanded. This is the only power the church has, and beyond the Word, the church has no power.

Finally, the cardinal truth of the Word and the commission of the Church within the office of the Keys is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the cross of Jesus, God has forgiven all people their sins for Christ’s sake. This is the truth that the church must always proclaim to this world of sinners who are trapped as we once were. We speak God’s forgiveness to sinners who are then convicted to repent of their sins just as we are convicted and just as we too must repent.

The church is to perform her mission by preaching and teaching the true Word of God, both the law and the Gospel, and we are to bring that Word with the love of God. We are to administer the sacraments, which are also the Word of God, and we are to release and bind sins as God Himself works to offer grace and forgiveness to all men and women by these means of grace alone. And as the church works to administer these means of grace, we are ever watchful for our loved ones and neighbors who have turned to Jesus by faith alone. We stand ready to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to them by reminding them they are part of a greater community of fellow forgiven sinners who were also saved by Holy Scripture alone.

I pray that each of us will be empowered to continue giving to Caesar what is Caesars while standing strong under the banner of grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, and serving Christ alone unto eternal life… AMEN!

 

 

Come Into The Fortress (and Stay There)!

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Pentecost A, October 26, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

Matthew 22:34-46

In 1505, a young but brilliant German law student named Martin Luther found himself caught in an open field, on foot during a violent thunder  storm.  As lightening struck the ground all around him, Luther in fear for his life threw himself on the ground, and with his face in the mud, he  begged God to have mercy on him and spare his life.  He entered into “negotiations” with God by stating that while he knew he was a sinner, if  God would spare his life, he would then dedicate his life to Him and become a monk.

Luther did survive, and true to his word he became an Augustinian monk.  During his time in a monastery, Luther tried to work out his salvation  and become closer to God through study of the Psalms, prayer, fasting, meditation and hard work.  But no matter how hard he tried, he could  not seem to find peace for his troubled soul.  Nothing seemed to shake his feeling that he was a helpless sinner caught in the grasp of an angry  and vengeful God.

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood and licensed to preach and study Theology at the University of Wittenberg.  Luther’s superiors  soon discovered that God had gifted him with a brilliant mind, but yet he seemed to be held back by his now obvious feelings of guilt.  The  solution?  Luther must make the pilgrimage to Rome, where church tradition taught that the journey itself would earn merit with God and bring  the pilgrim closer to salvation.  Luther was also told that he could purchase certificates of forgiveness called indulgences, which were published by the Pope himself.  These indulgences guaranteed the purchaser of even more favor and love from God.  Well, Luther, ever the obedient monk did as he was told, but he found no peace in the pilgrimage or the possession of indulgences.

All of us, like Martin Luther hunger to be closer to God; we desire to do the things that please Him, but no matter how hard we try to do those good thing, sin, our sin is always there pulling us away from God.  This is the hard lesson Luther learned.  It was not until God, through His Word provided Luther with a faith to trust in Christ alone that Luther was finally freed from his guilt and his bondage to sin.  What does scripture say about faith?  Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, which is the Word of Jesus Christ. [Romans 10:17] Martin Luther discovered this one evening while studying God’s Word in the privacy of his own room.  Through his devotional reading of the Book of Romans, Luther received peace with God through God’s gift of faith.  Listen to the words that jumped out at Luther, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” [Rom. 3:21-24]

By those Words, Luther discovered that God is not angrily staying far away from us and we do not have to try hard to reach Him or please Him.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You and I though born sinful and distant from God are not lost at all, for God Himself through Jesus Christ, has come to us so that we who were once lost are now found and released from the bondage of sin.  Through Christ’s work alone upon the cross, and through the gift of new life given to you within the holy waters of your baptism, you are now right with God!  Now while this is certainly Good News, it is not new news, but rather it is the consistent and old gospel message of grace, which has been handed down from the very beginning; it had simply been overlaid and hidden by the traditions of men.

Luther discovered that God’s grace is like a fortress, a Mighty Fortress, the likes of which the devil Himself can not breech, nor overcome.  Lets look at our Gospel lesson (Matthew 22:34-46) and maybe we too can learn how to not just enter the Mighty Fortress we sang about, but stay in it for life!

Our gospel lesson starts out with the question of a seeker; one who wants to be close to God, but on his own terms. We know this is true, because he starts out on the wrong foot immediately.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Another way to ask this is, “Which commandment should I consistently fulfill in order to please God?” Or yet another way to ask this is, “What must I do to be saved from my sin?”  Like Martin Luther, this young lawyer, a Pharisee was trapped by his inability to keep all of the commandments of God perfectly, and so he desired to know which commandment out of all of the others would buy favor with God if he can keep that one.

“And (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest commandment.”  Uh oh… the young lawyer and all of the other Pharisees knew Jesus was right of course, but they also knew that each of them failed miserably in keeping this first great commandment.  You see, they knew something most of us know as well, but also like them we conveniently ignore.  The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is not a warm fussy feeling, but a commitment.  This kind of love that Jesus speaks of is the kind of love that God promises to those who love His law and meditate on it day and night.  God promises that no matter what happens, He will never leave nor forsake His child who likewise is committed to Him.  And there is the rub isn’t it?

Like the young lawyer, we too say that we love God, that we are committed to Him but then we do things, we say things… we think things that demonstrate something completely different.  Yes, the truth is we are far more often committed to ourselves than we are committed to God and His Word.  But Jesus is not quite done yet; He still has a little more to say about what we must do to be saved: “And a second (commandment) is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, Jesus is telling all of us, that if we want to impress God, if we want to be right with Him through our own work, we must love as He loves.

Here’s a little ditty that communicates the enormity of this task of loving like God: “To live above with saints I love, that will be pure heavenly glory, but to live below with saints I know… well that’s a different story!”

Friends, God’s love is a commitment to us to never stop loving us even when we are unlovable.  And in His commandments, He calls us; no He demands that we do the same.  That is the nature of God’s law, it demonstrates perfection in how God acts and then it demands that we do the same without giving any help to “do” that thing.  Now if this was all that God’s Word informed us, we would be no different than any other religion; in essence we would be in big trouble.  But that is not all that God’s Word says, is it?  No, God offers us another way… the way of the gospel; a way that becomes a Mighty Fortress that we must enter and stay in, and that way is Jesus Christ, both the son of David and the Son of God!  And this is the very truth that Jesus must now steer the hearts and minds of both the young lawyer and ourselves to this morning, and He does it with a question of His own.

““What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

How sad.  Not only couldn’t they answer His question, but they never bothered to ask Him any follow up questions.  They would not, because they could not; their pride in their own righteousness just would not let them precede any further.  Yes, that is sad, because standing right in front of them was not just a son of David, but the very Son of God.  This is why David called his own descendant Adonai, or Lord, God.  So sad.  They had just heard the little children and thousands of people on Palm Sunday proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, with the word “Hosanna”, but they could not join in, because they were in bondage to their sinful wills and refused to submit to the will of God.  They could not agree with God the Father that Jesus, the son of  Mary, a simple carpenter was in fact the very Son of God.  But Jesus tried to open their eyes.  He tried to take their eyes off of the law of God as their source of salvation, and instead turn their hearts to God’s one and only means of salvation… Jesus the Christ, the very Son of God.

In a few short days, Jesus would demonstrate God’s final solution for bringing sinful men and women back to Him in a relationship of love and faith.  Jesus would prove His Father’s love for sinful men and women, by allowing Himself to be hung upon the cross.  Jesus would prove that He is in fact both the son of man and the Son of God, by dying as all men die and then taking His life back from the tomb, thus defeating death itself.  But Jesus did not die and come back to life to prove a point; that would simply be a demonstration of God’s wrath.  No, Jesus died and took His life back again so that we would know that God still loves us and that He has provided a way back to Him; a way that is greater than our mortal enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

In Jesus death and resurrection, He not only shows a way back to God, but by faith He takes us on that way.  Jesus shows us that it is He alone who can fulfill the commandments of God perfectly, by perfectly demonstrating God’s own love for us.  I doubt that Jesus had warm fuzzy feelings for any of us as He was whipped within an inch of His life, and then as He hung dying upon the cross was insulted and challenged.  While the Son of God may not have felt feelings of warmth He did demonstrate commitment to fulfill His promise of salvation, and that dear friends is divine love!  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [1 John 4:10]  And “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]

The way of the Cross is the way to enter the Fortress and the way to stay within it. By that I mean to say along with the ancient church and the sainted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther that by grace you are saved through faith, and that this faith comes by scripture (God’s Holy Word, both the Law and the gospel) alone.  Christ’s death and resurrection is a fact that scripture proclaims, but it is a fact that you must both receive and believe.  But you cannot do this on your own; it must be received from God as a gift.  It is a gift that comes from the very heart of God the Father, and it is given through the sacrifice of His Son, but your heart must be taught to both desire and trust this gift of God, and that work is done through the power of the Holy Spirit through scripture alone.

It is Holy Scripture that teaches us the difference between God’s Law and His Gospel.  We are saved by the gospel, God’s work for us sinful men, but we are sustained and led by His Law, which teaches and moves us to love God and our neighbor just as Jesus loves.  The law and gospel work together though in different an opposite ways. (1) The Law teaches us the knowledge of sin, but the Gospel gives us forgiveness of sin; (2) the Law teaches what good works are, but the gospel produces true joy and both and desire and zeal to do those good works; (3) the Law checks our outward sinful behavior, and increases our inward secret sins, but the Gospel destroys both our outward sin and our inward sin.  So the difference between these two works of God can be explained this way, “The law tells us what we must do to be saved and the Gospel does that work for us and through us.”  Or another way to say this is that “The law kills the sinner, but not sin; the gospel kills sin, but not the sinner.”

This morning, you have been gathered together as a ragtag bunch of ragamuffins who have been saved by grace, through faith, which comes to you in God’s Word through the Law and Gospel.  You have been gathered into the Mighty Fortress of God.  And now you are called to both rest within this Mighty Fortress and to live, breath, and find your identity within it.  And our identity is shaped by a few central thoughts.  The first one is this, God does not need your love, He desires it; He wants you to be in a relationship of love with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And the second thought is like the first, in that God does not need your good works, your fulfillment of His law, but your neighbor does!  Your neighbor needs you to help them, and you help them when you keep the law of God; when you do your very best unto the Lord.  You see friends; God wants you to allow His love to overtake you so that you will willingly commit yourself to Him and your neighbor.

Who is your neighbor?  Your neighbor is your spouse, your children, your friends and family, even those people that you are afraid of, or those who have hurt you in the past.  But your neighbors are also here within this church, the very place that God gives His gifts to sinners; the very place that becomes the Mighty Fortress of forgiving love for them as well.  Your neighbor needs your love and so does your church.  We all need you to be committed to this place and its people, so that together, we will continue to be a place of refuge, forgiveness, peace, and love.  We need your love so that together we can continue reaching out to the lost and help them both enter and stay within the Mighty Fortress, which is our God and the body of Christ… His Church.

I pray that God will fill you with faith and His mighty love as together we do these very things through the power of God… in Jesus name… AMEN!

What Is Truth?

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Reformation Sunday, October 31st, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message
 

What is truth? In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But what is the truth?  Well, our message this morning is truth!  It is the Word of God in Law and Gospel; it’s that Word, which sets people free!  Our truth this morning is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ who is with us this very moment giving us His truth. God the Father is a God of truth.  Christ is truth.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and He guides us into all truth.  Because God is truth, we must worship Him in truth; walk before Him in truth; serve Him in truth; rejoice in truth; speak to one another in truth, and meditate on His truth.  Those who are found without the truth are punished for their lack of it.  Because the truth is the Gospel, it can come only through Jesus Christ…and that’s the truth!  The truth is purifying, justifying and sanctifying.  In your baptism God clothed you with the truth; truth is your robe of righteousness.  Truth is abundantly and daily revealed to you who are loved and called according to His purpose and it always abides with you always.  God desires that the truth be acknowledged, believed, loved, and obeyed, and by His Spirit of Truth you are able to do this very thing!  This is most certainly true! 

I. In order to help us know what the truth is, let’s briefly discuss what the truth isn’t.  In the early 16th century, a young German monk named Martin Luther desperately wanted to know the truth about God.  The church taught him since he was a child that God was an angry God, who relentlessly kept track of each and every person’s sins, patiently waiting for the moment of judgment so that He could punish their sins!  Luther was taught that if there was any hope for him at all it would come through the traditions and teachings of the Church.  Luther was also taught that through a prescribed series of religious exercises, he and the rest of humanity may be able to find favor in God’s eyes.  But Luther soon found himself in a dilemma; how was he to know if he performed enough religious exercises to please God?  So in response to his desire to “know the truth” the young monk was sent to Wittenberg to attend Seminary and to become a priest.  It was during his study of God’s Word, that He discovered the truth that set Him free, and that truth was found in the very Epistle lesson we heard read this morning: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. [Rom. 3:21-25,28]  

These words, these living Words were the very truth that Martin Luther knew to be the key that explained all of God’s Word.  For years, he lived under the tyranny of God’s Law alone, but he discovered that God’s Law was only half of God’s truth, because you see, it lacked God’s Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So now armed with the whole truth of God’s Word, this young monk became consumed by the word of God!  He could not stop reading and studying.  And as he read, he was changed.  He quickly began to see the folly of sinners who placed their trust in the church or their own good works.  

ILLUS: If Luther were here this morning, he would tell us this about the devils lies and God’s truth: The devil wants us to look at God and see Him as one who is angry with us and out to punish us when we sin.  He is encouraged when we ask ourselves, “Why is God punishing me?” because this type of thinking is what he uses to get us to abandon our faith.  But if we see God this way, then we don’t see Him correctly, but instead “we’re looking at him as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face.  God’s Word tells us that if we truly believe that Christ is our Savior, then we have a God of love; and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart.”
    “So when the Devil throws your sins in your face so that you will abandon your faith, and when he declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?  For I know one who suffered, died, and paid for my sins; His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and where He is there I shall be also.”

II. So what is truth?
  Jesus graciously answers this question for us with these words, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jn. 8:31-32]  Friends, the word of Jesus is the truth because it is the Word of God.  It is the Word alone that brings spirit and life; without the Word there is only spiritual death.  The only way to know God is through the Word, and if we want to live in truth we must live in the Word.  Jesus said, “If you remain in me, and my words I will remain in you.”  Whether we are babies in the faith or the most honored elder of the congregation, we are all equally held safe by the same power of God’s Word.  It is this truth, this Word that holds us within the true faith.  This relationship of faith can only come from the Word and it can only be retained through a continual reliance on that same Word, through which the blessed power of truth and faith are given to each of us.  So the truth dear friends, is found in living out God’s Word and sharing that truth with others.  No one who rejects God’s truth can ever find saving faith.  No one who refuses to be led by God’s Word can expect to hold on to it.  God’s Word must have its way with us or it will not live within us.   

III. But what is the purpose of truth?  Well Jesus answers this question pretty well when He says, “and the truth shall set you free.”   If it is only truth that sets us free, then we can surmise that without truth we are in bondage…we are slaves.  But slaves to what, or to whom?  This was the question of the unbelieving Jews who were mixed in with the newly converted Christians when they said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [vs. 33]  Can you hear the pride and sarcasm in their voices?  It’s like they’re saying, “If the truth you’re speaking about is only good for slaves, then don’t bother us with it…WE ARE Abraham’s children and we have no master except God Himself!  We have rules that we follow that God Himself gave to us.  And by following these rules we will appease God’s anger and find salvation!  And to this, Jesus, the Living Word of God, gives them more truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  He says to the Pharisees and he says to us, “So how are you doing with keeping God’s rules?  Have you ever broke one?  Have you ever sinned?  Of course you have, and you will continue to sin…You are a slave to sin…you are in captivity of it and there is nothing you can do to save yourself!”  

Friends, Jesus is asking us to understand and believe that everyone of us who does what is sin is enslaved by it and can never on our own break away from it.  We are, without question trapped in spiritual soul slavery, and that is the worst kind of slavery you can ever be captivated by.  He is asking us to accept the fact that we do sin in thought, word, or action every day, every hour, and even every moment.  If God were to put us on trial, our very own conscience would be the best witness against us.  So what are we to do?  Nothing…nothing but confess that there is nothing we can do, and then we rest in our own helplessness and receive the help of God.  What is that help?  Well it’s His truth, the true and Living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  He is your champion who speaks God’s grace to you:  ‘Friend, even though you are guilty of many sins, I forgive.  Even though you have ignored my presence in your life and refused to enter into a relationship of trust with me, I shall show your mercy and love.  By the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ you are forgiven.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 

ILLUS: At a certain seminary in Chicago there’s an outdoor gathering in the summer where modern thinkers can come and lecture. On this day each attendee is encouraged to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. One year the school invited a modern religious scholar who spoke for two and a-half hours trying to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no historical evidence proving the resurrection then it must not be the truth.  He said that the faith of orthodox Christians was based on groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it relied on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked a stunned crowd if there were any questions.

After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, white hair stood up in the back of the crowd.  “Excuse me sir,” he said, “I got one question.”  Now all eyes were turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it.  “Sir” he said while crunching his apple.  “My question is a simple one.  Now, I ain’t never read them books you read and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek like you can.  I don’t know nothin’ about them other fellas you keep quotin, but…” Now he  finished the apple. “All I wanna know is, this apple I just ate, was it sour or sweet?”

The scholar paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.”  The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at the scholar and said calmly, “And neither have you tasted my Jesus.”

The 1,000 plus in attendance could not contain themselves as they erupted with applause and cheers. The scholar thanked his audience and promptly left the platform. Have you tasted Jesus?  

CONCLUSION: Friends, I believe that each of us must answer that question.  It’s really an old question; it’s one that can only be answered yes or no.  How do we taste the Lord?  By faith!  How do we acquire this faith?  By being in the Word of God.  So tasting the Lord is being in His Word.  Tasting the Lord is believing in His Word.  Either you believe or you don’t.  But be warned, you can’t pick and choose which parts you believe and which parts you don’t.  It comes as a whole; both the Law and the gospel!  It’s like that old preacher’s apple, you gotta taste it and eat the whole thing in order to know the sweetness of its truth! 

Let me close with a portion of truth this morning, a portion of Psalm 34: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!  I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” [Psalm 34:1-8a]  May each of us taste and know by faith that the Lord is good!  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… AMEN!