The Eternal King Advances Your Cause!

Christ the King Sunday
Daniel 7:13-14

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to him be glory forever and ever amen! In the name of Jesus, who will come as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge the living and the dead, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: How do you feel about things going on in the world today? Last week there was a tragic terrorist bombing in Paris, more threats keep coming, Isis seems to be gaining in power, people are concerned about the possibility of refugees coming to America with evil intentions, political debates are heating up as enter another presidential election season, who is going to be the next leader of our country? How do you feel about the things going on in the world? Or, how do you feel about the things going on in your own life? Maybe your marriage isn’t what it should be, maybe you’re having difficulties at work, maybe you’re dealing with a health issue or someone you love is dealing with a health issue, maybe your finances aren’t quite what you want them to be. How do you feel about things going on in your life? Or, how do you feel about things going on in your church? This past week we had a 3.5 hour long voters meeting as we considered the decisions for the future of our church, some described the mood of our congregation as excited, others as tense. How do you feel about things going on in our church?

It seems like we have questions, questions, and more questions. Well, if we think that we have questions, let’s take a look at Daniel’s time for a bit. We’ll find out that our time in the history of the world isn’t unique. But more importantly, we’re going to see that God has a simple, yet wonderful answer to all those questions which are on our minds.

The prophet Daniel lived at a time when the nation of Judah had been overrun by the nation of Babylon.  God used the Babylonians to cause the people of Judah a lot of suffering. Why? Because for the most part, the people of Judah were in rebellion against God – not listening to Him, worshipping false gods, etc. Daniel was exiled to Babylon thousands of miles away probably when he was a teenager. He spent most of his life in Babylon. Now he’s probably about 60 or 65 years old. And our text is really the conclusion to a vision that Daniel had. It was a wild vision. Here’s how it started out: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle.” Ok, a lion with wings. Daniel would have recognized this. Archaeologists have discovered winged lions placed in places to symbolically guard the palace gates. Daniel would have recognized that this represented Babylonian empire.

But what happened next? “I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.” That’s crazy! Next, Daniel sees a bear come out of the churning sea, and it has in its mouth three ribs, and it was told, “Get up and eat your fill of flesh!” Woe! That’s not good! Next came a leopard with four wings, but in addition to it having four wings it also had four heads, and was given authority to rule, so Babylon is clearly out of the picture now. And then came this terrifying beast which Daniel couldn’t even name – it was just terrifying and frightening. It had iron teeth and it trampled on or devoured its victims. Ten horns came out of its head and then one came up and uprooted three horns and spoke great boasts. Wow!

After the dream Daniel asked about its meaning.  It was explained to him that the various beasts he had seen were different empires. So, put yourself in Daniels shoes. The first empire was the Babylonian empire. What was that one like? That wasn’t a very nice empire for Daniel. The Babylonians had conquered the Israelites, held them under domination, exacted excruciating tribute from them. They deported thousands of the Israelites, including Daniel, then when the Jews tried to rebel, the Babylonians came destroyed Jerusalem and perhaps worst of all for the Jews was that they leveled the temple. That wasn’t a very nice empire, they weren’t that nice to believers in the true God.

And now this empire is going to “have its wings torn off” and replaced by another empire? One that is told to “eat your fill of flesh”?? Wow! What’s that going to be like for believers? And then a kingdom with four wings and four heads like a leopard to have extra swiftness and extra eating power?? Then one that couldn’t even be compared to an animal, a beast with iron teeth that’s just frightening and terrifying that devours victims and tramples under foot whatever is left?? How do you think Daniel felt about things in the world? Do you think Daniel could have been more worried about the state of the world and the state of the church and the state of his life than you and I?

It was right after seeing that final beast with the boastful horn that we then read that God showed Daniel this: “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.”  Wow!  It’s God the Father taking the seat of judgment, with the believers and the angels attending Him!  The beast with the boastful horn is tossed into the lake of fire, and that’s when our text takes place: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Who is this “son of man”? That’s Jesus! And this appearance of Jesus is very different than Jesus’ first appearance on this earth. Jesus’ first appearance on this earth was one of humility, wrapped in cloths, placed in a manger, whipped, beaten, nailed to a cross. THIS appearance, however, is amazingly powerful and glorious! He has authority and power and dominion! His kingdom can never and will never be destroyed! He is and will reign forever and ever!

And…all of a sudden, we’re just not so concerned about the world around us, are we? You know, if Jesus is in charge, it’s going to be okay! Look at His power! Look at His glory! We have an added blessing that Daniel didn’t have. We can look back at history. The Babylonian empire – so cruel to believers- it fell. The Persian empire rose fast, a bear of an empire, it fell. The Greeks with their leopard like phalanx, split into four parts and then fell to the Romans. And through it all, what happened to God’s Church? God’s Church continued! In the midst of all that crazy stuff, the Savior of the world came. It was during the Roman empire – the horrifying, terrifying beast that crushed and devoured – that God’s ultimate saving work was done- Jesus came, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose from the dead.

And yes, that one horn still speaks and still boasts- that’s the Anti-Christ opposed to Jesus which sprung up from the Roman empire. And that one horn will continue to bring problems to God’s people, but it can’t win. Because God’s Church continues! Yes, there are times in history when God’s Church struggles and when the Word is attacked and neglected. But no matter what the opposition to God’s Church, to God’s people might be, the opposition can never win!

Why? Because Christ is THE King and He does and will continue to reign forever and ever! So, we’re reminded on this Christ the King Sunday, no matter what’s going on in the world, in our congregation, in our own lives, we rejoice. Why? First, we rejoice that our King is a King of grace. Willingly He stood before Pontius Pilate, willingly he went to the cross to die, willingly He gave up His life, willingly He rose from the dead. He did that because He loves you that dearly, He wanted to pay for your sins, because He wants you in heaven with Him forever!

Second, we rejoice because our God and King alone knows all the details of the future. You don’t, I don’t, Satan doesn’t, the rulers of this world don’t. But God does. He knows the future so even when things might seem to be spinning out of control, He’s in complete control of history guiding it for the good of His people and to one glorious end.

And thirdly, we also rejoice because our Savior is our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Ultimately, HE is in charge, ultimately HE is ruling all things for the good of advancing HIS kingdom. We live in a world full of dark and wicked powers, aggressive nations, wars and rumors of wars will continue to the end. We will also continue to experience attacks on our faith from anti-Christian forces. The devil will continue to play on our sinful natures, continue to try to instigate disunity and disharmony among God’s people, leading people away from God’s Word. But we look forward to that final day when our final deliverance will come. When Christ returns Satan and all his forces, all the evil people and forces of this world will be judged and finally done away with once and for all. All the dead will be raised, unbelievers will be sent to hell, but all God’s saints, his believers, will inherit eternal life, no more pain, no more sickness, no more problems, no more fighting, no more fear, no more tragedy, no more hardship. To that end our King Jesus is guiding all things.

With Him as King, there’s no room for our bickering, fighting, complaining, but just bowing to our eternal King of kings and trusting Him because no matter what is happening around us, our King, Jesus will continue to advance HIS cause, and HIS cause is YOUR cause, for YOUR eternal benefit! Come quickly Lord Jesus! Amen.

What’s your anchor?

Saints Triumphant Sunday
Mark 13:24-27

To Him who is and who was and who is to come, our Lord Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ, The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Ever heard that phrase before? Do you know where it comes from? It comes from an old fairy tale that goes something like this: there was a little chicken who had an acorn fall on her head and she assumed the sky was falling, so she ran to tell a hen, then both of them panicked and told the duck, then all three of them panicked and told the fox who asked if they knew where they were going. They didn’t so the fox led them right to his home and the three never made it out. Moral of the story? Don’t panic, overreact, believe everything you’re told. “The sky is falling.”
But if we take to heart the words of our text, the reality is, the sky will be falling. How do you feel about that? Is it something to panic about? Is it something to worry about? Should we be filled with fear and spread mass hysteria like Chicken Little?
There are several ways that people can react to Judgment Day. You could choose not to believe it, ignore it, and pretend like it will never happen. Live your life with reckless abandon, eat, drink, and be merry. But then you’ll be rudely awakened to the reality when the sky does fall and everything you know of and everything in which your life consists is torn away from you. Or you could believe that Judgment Day is coming and live in fear for that day – scared of losing everything in your life, scared of what God might say to you, scared of what that day will be like. Or, there’s another way to live in view of the Last Day and that’s the way God encourages us to live in this text.
If a ship is going to survive a storm, it needs an anchor. Well, in a way, every life needs an anchor as well. Every life needs something to put hope in. To trust in to withstand life’s storms. There are many options available, but there’s only one anchor that will hold a person fast on the final storm, the last storm, on the Last Day. For many of the Jews their anchor was the physical, visible temple building in Jerusalem. The purpose of the temple in the OT was to be a symbol of how God lives among His people. The purpose of the temple was fulfilled when God took on human flesh, when Jesus walked and lived among His people. But many who rejected Jesus turned the temple into a sort of idol. The thought was, “As long as we have the temple, we’re good. We have nothing to fear, because we have the temple.” So on Tuesday of Holy Week, Jesus and his disciples were leaving the temple and the disciples commented, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” And they were! But then Jesus delivers a shocker, “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” In other words, one day this temple – in which so many people foolishly place their trust – will be destroyed. (About 40 years later in 70 AD, what Jesus predicted came true, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, totally destroying the temple.) And then Jesus went on to describe not just when the temple would be destroyed, but what the temple’s destruction would be a foreshadow of- the world’s Last Day, Judgment Day. And the signs of the Last Day’s coming are many: wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, earthquakes and famines, persecution for believers, families torn apart by hate and violence, false teachers will come to deceive many, but the gospel will be preached to all nations and those who stand firm to the end will be saved.
And then Jesus describes the Last Day: “But in those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” So, the sky will fall. Can you imagine this? The sun not shining? It’s like God is going to flip the light switch and the sun is going to turn off. And of course then the moon is going to quit reflecting light from the sun. The billions of stars that fill our universe will fall. The heavenly bodies, maybe referring to planets or just a sum of all the things in the sky will be shaken. In other words, the world and everything we’ve come to know of it will change.
But one thing that won’t change is Jesus. Jesus, the Son of Man will come. “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Just like Jesus ascended into heaven with clouds, He will come again with the clouds, He will come with great power and glory, the light of that day will only come from Him. And everyone will see him. And then He’s going to do something, “And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” The Lord Jesus with His hosts upon hosts and armies upon armies of angels will appear and every single believer in Jesus will be found, all the elect, all those whom God chose as His even before He created the world, will be found. Whether your body was buried at sea, your ashes spread into the wind, or your body lying in a coffin, Jesus will find your body and take you home body and soul forever. What an awesome day to look forward to when the sky is falling.
What’s your anchor in life? For many Jews it was the temple, but they lost that in 70 AD. What is it for many people today? Maybe their anchor is in wealth or possessions- as long as I have them, I’m going to be ok in life. Maybe someone’s anchor is in health and fitness- as long as I’m healthy, I’m ok. Or maybe someone’s anchor is in their job – as long as I have my job, I’m ok. Or maybe someone’s anchor is their popularity or success- as long as I have that, I’m ok. Or maybe the anchor is in family and friends – as long as I still have my loved ones, I’ll be ok. Or maybe for some their anchor is found in America, as long as America is around, I’ll be ok.
But what does Jesus tell us? It’s all falling apart! The sky is falling. There will come a time when something as dependable as the sun is just going to quit shining any more, when the moon isn’t going to be seen anymore, when the stars that seem so fixed in their locations are going to fall from the sky. And if those things are going to go away, anything in life can go away. Wealth, possessions, health, job, America, and, yes, as many of us know all too well – family, friends, loved ones.
At the root of all fear is loss. What causes fear? I’m afraid that I’m going to LOSE something or someone. I couldn’t possibly go on living if I didn’t have _________. I don’t know what I would do if I lost ___________. We attach ourselves so much to different things or people. At the root of fear is loss. I could be afraid of losing my job, afraid of losing my savings, afraid of losing my health, afraid of losing a loved one, afraid of losing a spouse, afraid of losing the world as I know it. But there is only one sure anchor in life and that’s Jesus. Being ready for the end means being ready to lose everything except Jesus.
You see, Jesus lost everything so that we could have everything. God doesn’t fake anything. We, humans, can fake all kinds of things – God doesn’t. When Jesus was the on the cross God didn’t just fake punish Him, He really punished Him. In fact, we could say that Jesus literally lost everything, he lost all the blessings of God on the cross. God forsook Him. God turned His back on Him in anger. Why? Because on the cross Jesus became the worst sinner of all. On the cross Jesus took upon Himself every wretched, filthy, rotten, disgusting thought, word, and action that you’ve ever had or did. He lost all God’s blessings. He suffered hell itself – the absence of the blessings of God. He lost it all.
And we need to answer why. Why did Jesus lose it all? He lost it all, so that you could have it all. Since God doled out His punishment against your sin on Jesus, there’s nothing left to punish you for! You didn’t ask for it or request it, but in Christ God lost every reason to punish you.
And I’m not talking about temporary things. We too easily set our sights way too low. Our lives don’t consist in things, our lives don’t consist in money or wealth, our lives don’t even consist in our relationships with family or friends! In fact, our lives don’t consist here at all! Our true life is in heaven, that’s where our true citizenship is!
The sky might fall, the stars will disintegrate, the sun will lose its power to shine, the moon go dark, but what’s it to you? You have the one sure anchor in all of eternity – Christ Jesus, your Savior. And one day He will return with all power and glory and bring with him all your loved ones who found in Him the one true, lasting hope in all of life!
This week, as you think about loved ones who’ve died in the Lord, as you think about the things of your life and the affairs of the world, be comforted, Jesus is coming and He WILL bring you and all believers to your real home in heaven!

Live in Light of the Last Day!

Last Judgment Sunday
John 5:19-30

Grace and mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who will come to judge the living and the dead, dear friends in Christ,

Tolle lege, tolle lege. He heard a child singing that while in a garden in Milan. It was child’s song in Latin for “Take it and read, take it and read.” Up to that point he had led a life of sin, drinking, and sex and thought Christianity wasn’t something for a scholar like him. But at this defining moment of his life, he happened to pick up a Bible, opened it to Romans 13:13-14 and read, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” He never forgot that moment, it changed his life and his life took on a new meaning. It was a real defining moment for him. That’s a true story about St. Augustine who later became a great Christian theologian in the 300s AD.  Have you ever had a defining moment? From time to time people experience an insight in their lives that becomes a defining moment. The experience has the ability to change their filter on life and the way they view things. All of a sudden something that might have been confusing in life becomes incredibly clear. Some call it a defining moment.  Have you had any “defining moments”?

Today, in our text, Jesus gives to us a truth that if we take it to heart will define our day to day life. And here it is: Live in light of the Last Day. How do we do that? By listening to God’s Son and looking forward to His verdict.

In our text, Jesus has just healed someone who had been an invalid for 38 years. It happened that the day on which Jesus did this was a Sabbath day. But instead of taking the miracle to heart, the leaders of the Jews opposed Jesus, “How dare he heal on the Sabbath day! No one is allowed to do work on the Sabbath day!” And Jesus told them, “God is always working, every day, and so I am also working every day.” They caught the hint that Jesus was making Himself equal to God. In fact, Jesus goes on in the first part of this text explaining just how equal He is with the Father- what the Son does, the Father does, what the Father does, the Son does, the Father raises the dead, the Son raises the dead, the Father entrusts all judgment to the Son. Why? So “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” Who is Jesus? Jesus is God’s Son, He isn’t the Father, yet He’s 100 percent equal with God the Father. All who want to honor God must honor Jesus.

The Jews in our text thought they were very religious, devout, and sincere. In fact, if you had lived back then, you would have thought these Jews were extremely pious and devout in their religion and devout to God, but they had one huge problem: they rejected the Son, they rejected Jesus and so, they rejected the true God.

For the most part in our world today it’s ok to believe in God as long as you don’t specify too closely who that God is. The athlete can thank God in the postgame interview and that seems to go over ok. The president can ask God to bless America and that seems to be ok. You can tell your co-worker that you’ll be praying for her in the ordeal that she’s going through and that seems to be ok. But, just try crediting Jesus Christ as the only way to life eternal, insist on praying in Jesus’ name, or telling your coworker that Jesus is the only answer to sin and guilt and see what happens.

The Last Day is coming. Will a generic religious devotion save someone on the Last Day? No way! True faith in God must include true faith in His Son. Jesus taught the Jewish religious leaders and us today that He is the only Son of God from eternity and it’s vital that He be honored as such. He is one in essence with the Father, they share the same work, have the same purposes, are one in action, worthy of the same honor. If someone is to be saved on the Last day he must know and believe in Jesus. Many, if not most, in our world do not. They are unprepared for Judgment Day.

What about us? Judgment Day could come at any moment, like a thief in the night. And God describes Judgment Day: Sun will be darkened, moon not give its light, stars fall from the sky, blood, billows of smoke, a loud trumpet call, the voice of the archangel. It’s a scary day to think about if you’re not ready! Are you ready? How important are the words of Jesus in your life? Are they important only if you have time?  Are Jesus’ words simply one compartment of my life that I can take out one day a week and then put on a shelf and live differently the rest?

God wants each of us to live in light of the Last Day. How so? By listening to God’s Son. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Notice three things here: First, hear Jesus’ Word. Jesus comes from the Father, was sent by the Father, shares with us the Father’s plan of salvation, if we are to be ready for the Last Day we must hear Jesus’ word. Second, believe that word. That doesn’t mean just let the words pass through one ear and out the other, it doesn’t mean having a Bible sitting on the shelf in my house, it means trusting that Word as truth and relying on it for our day to day life, that Word must be the foundation upon which our entire life is built. And third, the content of that trust is the one who sent Jesus. We don’t just have faith in faith, our faith must firmly rest in Jesus and the God’s plan of salvation through Him.

Living in light of the Last Day means listening to Jesus, making His word foundational to our lives, trusting it and shaping our entire lives by that word. And notice what Jesus says happens then, “he HAS eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” Did you know you’ve already passed through judgment? You and I were born spiritually dead, sinful, rotten corpses fit only for decaying. That was our natural condition. But the powerful Word of God came and worked faith in your heart and brought you to life, spiritual life.

Jesus has two things: the right to give life and the right to judge. And His judgment and life are given now and in the future. Judgment and life are now in the spiritual sense and are in the future in the physical sense. Believe in Jesus and you are already not condemned. That means you’ve already stood in judgment and have been declared not guilty. How so? Because Jesus suffered and died on the cross for you, your sin has been paid! Jesus rose from the dead, you’ve been declared innocent! You were spiritually dead and are now spiritually alive! You’ve risen from the dead and live in Christ! And you will continue to forever. In fact, you live even though you die! Physically dying means going from living here to living with Jesus in heaven! But Jesus also says, “A time is coming when all those who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good (only believers can do good in God’s sight) will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” What is now spiritual and hidden reality will be made visible when Jesus returns. We are already declared innocent and will be publicly and visibly declared innocent on the Last Day when Jesus will raise our bodies and give us new glorified bodies fit to live forever in heaven.

You see, living in light of the Last Day defines our lives. First, it influences our actions. I want to know where I’ll be standing on that Last Day, so I want to make every effort to listen to God’s Son, hear His Word, take it to heart, and conform my life to what God wants for me. There’s a story about the old west where a horse was spooked and bolted off with a wagon behind it and a little boy in the wagon. Seeing the danger a young man immediately rode after that wagon and rescued the boy. The boy grew up and lived a life of crime and one day murdered someone and was caught. He had a moment’s relief when he saw that the judge was the same man who had rescued him many years ago. And so he pleaded for mercy reminding the judge of that time he rescued him. But the judge silenced him and said, “Young man, many years ago I was your savior, today I am your judge, in the name of justice I sentence you to death.” How will you and I live in light of the Last Day? May we live our lives listening to and living according to the Word of our Savior!

And secondly, living in light of the Last Day gives us incredible peace and confidence as we think about the future. Since we have a Savior who already won us salvation we know what the verdict is and will be: not guilty. There’s another story about a time long ago where a group of pioneers were traveling in a wagon train when they noticed billows of smoke in the distance, soon the whole horizon was full of fire as a wild fire came closer and closer. It was a certain death. Then the leader had them set the grass on fire in a large spot and after it cooled they all gathered in the middle of the burned area. As the fire came closer a young child yelled out, “Are you sure we’re not going to be burned?” And the leader said, “My child, the flames won’t reach us here for we are standing where the fire has already been.”  And that’s exactly what happened, the flames rolled around them and they were safe.  Judgment Day approaches, and God’s wrath is like a raging fire consuming all sinners. But know this: Jesus has taken your sins on Himself. And He endured the full fire of God’s wrath when He died on the cross. Your sin was completely burned up in that fire. In Christ we stand in the charred remains. Even if the fires of Judgment rage around us, we stand safe and secure and at peace in Christ Jesus. We have eternal life. We are not condemned.

St. Augustine had a defining moment in his life. May living in light of the Last Day define your life as you listen to God’s Son you’ll be reminded how He paid your sin in full and so you don’t have to cringe in fear but live your life with joy to glorify Him and look forward to the verdict of not guilty. You are ready for Judgment Day, Jesus has made you perfectly ready. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen.

One Little Word Can Fell Him!

Reformation Sunday

In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” Martin Luther wrote the phrase “one little word can fell him.” He was talking about the devil. One little word can fell the devil. So, did he mean that ALL of God’s Word can fell the devil? Or did he have a specific word in mind? He probably meant that all of God’s Word has the power to knock Satan down, but today we’re going to examine some specific words that fell the devil.
“It is Written” – Matthew 4:10
What do you think it must have been like? April 18, 1521. The Holy Roman Emperor called a diet or a meeting in the city of Worms and part of it was to deal with this renegade monk situation in Germany. So, Martin Luther was summoned to recant or revoke everything that he had written about the abuses going on in the Catholic Church- like buying forgiveness with indulgences or the pope being God’s spokesman on earth. So, here’s Luther, standing in front of Emperor Charles, high officials of his court, the high officials of the Catholic Church. And he was asked, “Do you or do you not recant.” Not recanting meant not only would he be excommunicated from the church but also made an outlaw. Can you imagine how the devil must have tempted him? “How come you think you’re right and all these other people are wrong? What makes you think you’re so special.” Well, this was Luther’s response, “I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything…. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen.”
How could Luther be right and all those other people be wrong? He had something that none of them had: the Word of God. Later, Luther, whose reformation changed the world, said, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing…the word did it all.” And just how powerful is this Word of God? Jesus demonstrated that for us. Every time our arch enemy Satan lodged a temptation at Jesus, the devil was defeated. But notice what Jesus used here. Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the devil. Jesus as true God could have sent the devil away with his tail between his legs with just a look of His eyes. But He didn’t. As our full human brother He defeated Satan with the same thing He has given us to defeat Satan: “it is written.” Jesus didn’t just know the Word of God, He used it.
Luther once said, “Without a doubt you cannot offer a more effective incense or other fumigation to vex the devil than busying yourself with God’s commandments and words, speaking, singing, or thinking of them.” Are we full of frustrations, guilt, worry, anxiousness, are we thinking that we’re doing fine on our own and yet are on the brink of a cliff? The one thing we can’t afford to leave out of our daily life is the powerful Word of God. God’s Word assures us of our forgiveness, God’s Word strengthens us for life in this world, God’s Word fells Satan. How do we know? It is written.
“Justified” – Romans 4:25
You’re escorted into the courtroom to stand before the judge. You’re guilty. You know it; the prosecuting attorney knows it; your attorney knows it; the judge knows it. It’s now sentencing time. You have this horrible ache in your stomach; you know that you’re going to prison, and for a very long time. So as the judge begins to announce the sentence, you don’t even look up.
But then you hear the verdict, and your head instinctively lifts up in astonishment: “I declare the defendant to be innocent!” “WHAT?!?!” you think to yourself, mouth open. But it’s true – the judge has declared you innocent.
In that little story, you and I are the defendant, God’s law is the prosecuting attorney, and God is the judge. That’s exactly how Martin Luther once viewed God: a righteous and angry Judge who by His law demands perfection, but perfection is one thing that we sinful humans can never offer God. Luther was angry with God. He did all he could- beat his body, fast for days, whip himself, but nothing he could do could appease God. The law stood against him, accusing him. And Satan is right there to point his finger and say, “God is a righteous Judge, you deserve nothing but death and hell! But the reality, as Luther found, is beautiful. God is a righteous Judge, but He’s also a loving Father who says what about us defendants? He declares us… innocent! Not guilty! On what basis? NOT because of us or what we’ve done. But on the basis of Jesus who died and rose. Jesus resurrection is proof positive that we HAVE BEEN declared innocent. A better translation of this verse would read, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised to life because of our justification.” In other words, Jesus’ resurrection proves you’re justified, innocent, acquitted.
And that one little word – you’re justified, declared innocent– fells the devil, for no matter how hard he tries to deny it, fight against it, obscure it, the reality is that Jesus IS alive, He HAS risen from the dead, and so the Judge HAS declared you innocent. And knowing that? Gives you extraordinary peace no matter how much Satan may accuse you.
“Grace” and “Faith” – Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 1:17
Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura. Perhaps you’ve heard those Latin words before. Those words are “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Scripture alone.” That phrase characterizes the truths that Martin Luther rediscovered. Growing up in the Roman Catholic church Martin Luther was taught the official teaching of the church which was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation. But you had to work out your salvation on your own, by what you do. Only when you had done enough good works, you could go to heaven. And if you haven’t done enough by the time you die, you’ll have to suffer hundreds of years in a place called purgatory before you could go to heaven.
What a horrible false teaching! But Luther firmly believed it to be the truth. He took it seriously, yet, no matter what he did, he knew he hadn’t been good and that he couldn’t be good, he couldn’t be good enough for God’s standard of perfection. No matter how hard he worked, how hard he tried, how much he beat himself, he had no peace. The head of the monastery where he was decided to bury him in work hoping that he would forget about his guilty conscience and sinfulness, but he couldn’t.
But while he was teaching at the University he was going to teach the Bible and so he actually began to read the Bible. At first Luther grew up Roman Catholic, which was basically the only church in Europe. The official teaching of the church was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation, and that you had to work out your salvation on your own. Only if you did enough good works could you go to heaven, they said. It was a horrible false teaching!
But Luther thought it was the truth! As he grew up he took it seriously, that God was expecting him to earn his way into heaven by being good. And, because he had a tender conscience, he knew clearly that he hadn’t been good, and not only that, he knew that he couldn’t be good! At least, not good enough for God’s standard of perfection!
And so Luther talked about how at that time in his life he hated God! He saw God as this evil judge, who was demanding from him something which he couldn’t do! How could Luther possibly please this demanding God?
Well, he worked his tail off in law school, and got no peace of conscience. He became a monk, then a priest, and still his conscience accused and accused him. His superior in the monastery – a man named Staupitz – decided to “bury” him with work, to try to get him to forget about his guilty conscience, his sinfulnesss, and still no peace.
But then Luther was named as a professor of religion at the new university in Wittenberg. He was going to teach Bible. And, he decided to do something which in his day was unusual – he actually decided to READ the Bible as part of his preparation. At first it continued to puzzle him and scare him and even anger him, because he saw God as that angry judge, demanding that he be perfect, and only if he could accomplish that would he be allowed to come to heaven.
Until one day he read, “The just will live by faith.” The words “by faith” leapt off the page at him. It didn’t say, “The just will live by his works.” No! It read, “the just will live by faith!” For the first time in his life, Luther realized the truth, that salvation was something that GOD was doing for HIM, not something he had to do for God! For the first time in his life Luther understood the truth that we’re saved not because WE do something but because JESUS did something – died and rose! For the first time Luther understood that salvation was by grace – a gracious gift of God to His people, not something earned from God by his people. And Luther said when God revealed that to him, it was as if the gates of heaven had been thrown open for him! Now he could see God as a loving Father! Now he could see God as a God who loved him dearly, who had saved him! Not he could see God as one wasn’t demanding from him, but who in wonderful grace had given him the righteousness that he needed, through faith.
And so God has done for you and for me. In wonderful grace – undeserved love – He has given you faith. He has led you to trust that Jesus is your Savior, and by doing so has given you the credit for all that Jesus has done. You are saved, by grace, through faith. Two little words. The devil is felled!