This is the final Sunday in the season of Pentecost. Today we reflect on what this season in the church year means. Gong all the way back to the beginning, we saw the Holy Spirit ignite the fire of faith and understanding in the hearts of the Apostles. Faith that is worked by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel allows us to see the truth of God’s Word, that same faith spurs us on to serve our God, and that faith sees sternal life as our final Goal.
John 8:31-32; 2 Timothy 3:15-17 – God’s Word Alone is All I Need
It was about the year 1502 or so. Martin Luther was a young man studying at the University of Erfurt in Germany. He was studying to become a lawyer because a lawyer was an occupation where you could do quite well and his dad urged him. Well in Luther’s time Bibles were not very common. They were expensive. Most of them were written in Latin, which only educated people understood. Well while at this university Luther happened to be in the library and he stumbled upon a bible. He randomly opened it up and started reading. He opened to the account of God speaking to the boy Samuel. Oh he wished God would talk to him like that! He was intrigued and kept reading more and more. But Luther had a problem. Instead of letting God be God he approached the Bible and God with the attitude that God was a vengeful God and demanded that people be righteous in His sight. He also believed because he was wrongly taught by the Catholic Church that he had to do good works in order to pay for the bad things that he had done. This drove Luther to despair. The harder he tried, the more he saw how he failed. The problem was, he didn’t hold to God’s Word alone.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching then you are truly my disciple, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Hold on to Jesus teaching, hold on to Jesus’ word… alone. Then there are two results: you will know the truth and you will be set free. A good friend directed the despairing Martin Luther to keep reading God’s Word, keep studying it. And God worked. God worked through His Word and led Luther to know the truth. The truth that salvation is God’s gift, NOT something we have to earn from God. He led Martin to read and study passages like, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “The righteous will live by faith.” “It is by grace you have been saved and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Then the truth set him free. Free from sins’ burden, free from guilt, free from the devil’s accusations, free from error’s deception.
We are very fortunate today. There is no lack of bibles in the English language. You can pick up a nice hardcover Bible for $10 and read it because our government or this congregation has spent resources for you to know how to read. But how important is that? We live in a society where bibles abound…but do we appreciate it? Do we read it and study it and learn it? Does our bible knowledge date back to Sunday school? Is the Bible an ancient and obscure book to us because we’ve let it gather too much dust on our shelves?
We are blessed beyond compare. We have God’s truth, we have ready access to God’s Word, we have Luther’s teaching. We are Lutherans, not because we worship Luther or make him into some sort of god, but we follow in his footsteps which are also the Apostle Paul’s footsteps which are also Jesus’ footsteps. We follow those footsteps by holding onto Jesus’ words and by treasuring the Bible as God’s own inspired word which is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We follow those footsteps by letting God be God and listening to Him. What’s different about us is that everything we believe comes to us from God’s Word alone. In the Catholic Church their truth or their teachings comes from not only the Bible, but also from sinful human beings like the Pope or church traditions or church councils. In many evangelical churches and even so-called Lutheran churches their “truth” comes from the Bible PLUS sinful human reason PLUS human science and human experience. But we let God be God, when He speaks we listen, when He says something we don’t understand, we accept it. We let God be God and we’re happy to. Because when God tells us He’s loved us so much to send His Son Jesus and because of Him our sins are forgiven and we have life in heaven, that’s the truth and we believe it. Amen.
Proverbs 18:22 – Marriage is a Gift from God
“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” Well, that’s plain enough, isn’t it? Marriage is a good thing. But marriage has been under attack by the devil ever since the first sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and passed the blame. It’s no different today and it was no different in Luther’s day.
So what position in life do you hold? Are you single? It is a gift from God- use it to glorify and honor Him. Are you married? It is a gift from God- use it to glorify and honor Him.
Notice that God doesn’t say that marriage is BETTER than being single. The fact is, there are blessings to being single. The single person can have a more single focus on doing the Lord’s work publicly. The single person can up and say, “What’s going on at church today?” And go. Or “how can I serve the Lord”? The married person also serve the Lord but in a broader way. The married person says, “How can I serve the Lord by serving my husband, wife, children?” So both are blessings and gifts from God.
In Luther’s day that’s not what the church taught. Instead the church taught that becoming a monk, nun or priest was actually better than being married. If you took the vow of celibacy you were considered better than someone who was married. It is estimated that in Luther’s day about 10% of the population lived in monasteries and nunneries. Can you imagine that? If that was the case in the U.S. that would mean about 31 million people would be living in monasteries or nunneries.
Notice Luther’s quote in the service folder. He felt that he couldn’t think about getting married without feeling like he was sinning. He had been led to believe that wanting to have a wife and children was a sin!
So we thank the Lord that He led Martin Luther back to God’s Word. We thank the Lord that Luther rediscovered the truth. God created marriage as a blessing for his people. In the beginning God created them male and female and blessed them saying, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” For the married person their clean and chaste marriage is a blessing from God, for the single person their clean and chaste life is a blessing from God.
Yes our sinfulness and our selfishness can often make a huge mess out of marriages. Yes marriage can be difficult and require work. That’s why Jesus has to take us back again and again to His cross and show us the price of our salvation paid with His own blood. You are washed, you are cleansed, you are forgiven. Now enjoy God’s gift and blessing
Romans 1:16-17 – Salvation is Free and Certain
Oh, a life free from fear and doubt would be nice, wouldn’t it? Luther hated his early life. Why? Because it was filled with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. He had been wrongly taught that salvation was something that HE had to accomplish, that HE had to do. The church taught that the way to salvation was by living a good life; be good and you’ll go to heaven.
But wait…how do I know I’ve done enough? How do I know I’ve been good enough? How do I know my life has been good enough? Because Luther believed those things he was taught, he was full of turmoil. He had no certainty of heaven. He lived in constant fear. One day while he was walking outside he was caught in a thunderstorm and lightning struck near him and in fear and desperation he pledged to become a monk. Luther’s fear and uncertainty led him to a monastery and then to be a priest. He worked and worked and worked. He would actually beat his own body. But no matter how hard he tried to be good for God, his conscience still bothered him and still nagged him and he was still filled with uncertainties.
Then Luther read the bible. At first he didn’t understand God. At first he saw God as a demanding Judge who was furious and angry with him, who demanded of him something he could not give. He tried so hard, but instead of certainty, all he had was doubt and fear. He was even so angry with God that he hated God and the righteousness God demanded.
Then Luther read this passage: “The righteous will live by faith.” It doesn’t say the righteous will by works or their good life or the good things they’ve done, but FAITH. Faith in what? Faith in the Gospel, in Jesus the Savior.
Luther said when he realized that it was like he was given new life and the gates of paradise, of heaven, were flung open and he walked in. For the first time in his life he realized that salvation wasn’t about what HE did, but it had everything to do with what GOD did. God isn’t an angry judge demanding something from him he couldn’t give, but a loving Father who had done everything for his salvation! Instead of fear and doubt, he had certainty, he was sure! Salvation wasn’t something he had to earn, it was a free gift from a gracious God!
But the old evil foe continues to try and plant seeds of doubt into our hearts. “I hope when I die I’ll go to heaven” “I think I might go to heaven when I die.” But those thoughts are damnable! Why? Because with those thoughts the devil is trying to lead you to think that salvation really isn’t free and that Jesus didn’t already do it all. You don’t just THINK you’ll go to heaven when you die, you KNOW it for a fact. It’s not that you and I MIGHT go to heaven when we die, it’s you and I WILL go to heaven when we die. That’s the truth. Heaven is free. It is a gift. Heaven is sure. Jesus won it for you and for me.
And so on this Reformation Day we give thanks! We give thanks that we have a God who refused to let His truths remain clouded in error. We thank God that He brought back to the forefront, to clarity, the truth that the Word is all we need and that marriage is a wonderful gift from God. But most of all we thank God for making it crystal clear, once again, that salvation is sure, that salvation is free. What a great, great truth that is! Amen.
Would it be fun to live with doubt and fear? I can’t imagine anyone who would prefer doubt and fear to certainty and surety. And, Luther’s early life would say that he hated it. The church was teaching that the way that you got to heaven was by living a good life. If you did enough good, then you could go to heaven.
Well, how can you know if you’ve done enough good? How can you know if you were good enough? How could you know if your life was “good enough”? Because Luther was taught those ideas, he lived in constant turmoil. He had no certainty of salvation. He had only fear. That’s what drove him to enter the monastery, and to eventually become a priest. It was in a search to quiet his conscience, in a search for peace with God, the peace that you and I really need. He worked and worked and worked. His conscience was so tender; he saw himself as sinning all the time. One time he even whipped himself, thinking that feeling physical pain would perhaps help to purge his soul of the sins which he felt so acutely.
But then he started to read the Bible. At first it didn’t make sense to him. He saw God as angry, as demanding something from him which he COULD NOT give. He was trying his hardest! But instead of certainty, he had doubt and fear.
But eventually Luther read the passage in your service folder. It concludes, “The righteous will live by faith.” Note, it doesn’t say that the righteous will live by their works. It doesn’t say that the righteous will live because they’ve done enough good things. It says that the righteous will live by faith. By faith in what? Faith in what Jesus has done for us!
Luther related that when he read that, it was as if the doors of heaven had been thrown open to him, and that he’d entered heaven itself! For the first time in His life he realized that it wasn’t about what HE did; it had everything to do with what GOD had done for him! Instead of seeing God as an angry judge, demanding from him what he couldn’t give, he now could see God as a Loving Father, Who had done everything for his salvation. Instead of doubt and fear, he had certainty! He was sure! Because salvation wasn’t something earned by man, but was a free gift from a gracious God.
And that free gift has been given to you, too! Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins! Mine too! He didn’t attach any strings to it! When He died He didn’t say, “It’s started.” Instead, He said, “It’s finished!” The entire bill for sins had been paid for, in full, completely! And that salvation is yours, because God’s given it to you! It’s by faith from “first to last.” That is, from beginning to end, salvation is God’s work! It’s free! And because it’s freely given by God, it’s for sure!
But the old devil still loves to try to implant doubt and fear into our hearts. He tries to get us to think, “I hope that when I die I’ll get to go to heaven.” That thought is damnable! Why so? Because with that thought the devil is leading you and me to think that salvation isn’t really free, that Jesus didn’t really do it all! And so that thought needs to go away! You don’t “hope” that you’re going to heaven. You KNOW that you’re going to heaven. It’s not that you and I “might” go to heaven. You and I WILL go to heaven! That’s the truth! Because heaven if free! Salvation is sure! It’s free, it’s sure, because it’s won by Jesus.
And so on this Reformation Day we give thanks! We give thanks that we have a God who refused to let His truths lie shrouded in error. We thank God that He brought back to the forefront, to clarity, the truth that the Word is all we need, that marriage is a wonderful gift from God, that all of us believers are priests before God. But most of all we thank God for making it crystal clear, once again, that salvation is sure, that salvation is free. What a great, great truth that is! Amen.