Sermon for Reformation Sunday – 10.29.23

+ Reformation Sunday (observed) – October 29th, 2023 +

Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

“A Reformation Quest”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Many of our favorite stories begin with a quest. A knight embarks to save the princess. The crew of the Enterprise sets out to boldly go where no man has gone before. Indiana Jones goes searching for the holy grail. 

At the center of the Lutheran Reformation, which we celebrate and remember and give thanks to God for today, there was a quest. It was not a quest for fortune or fame, however. For Martin Luther it was a quest for assurance, a quest that found its culmination not in gold or silver, but the good news that God justifies the ungodly in Christ. That God’s righteousness is a gift, not a reward. That if the Son of God sets you free by dying in your place you are free indeed. The Gospel that brings comfort and assurance to you as it did to Luther, that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

That’s where Luther ended up on his quest for assurance. But that’s not where he began. Luther began, where we began our lives apart from Christ – in darkness and despair and death. The problem for Luther was that he was told – wrongly – by the church of his day that in order to find assurance of God’s love and certainty of salvation, he had to embark upon a quest for holiness by trusting in his own works and efforts. 

Luther thought – like the Jews in today’s Gospel reading from John 8 – that freedom to stand before God, that assurance and certainty of salvation – was a reward, not a gift. The Jews that Jesus was talking to trusted in Abraham rather than the God who promised Abraham that through his offspring all nations on the earth would be blessed. For a long while, Luther trusted in his own flesh too.

And so do we. Like the Jews in John 8 we fool ourselves into thinking we are free when in fact we are slaves to sin. Not just our thoughts, words, and deeds. Those are the symptoms. The problem goes much deeper. Our sinful condition. Our sinful nature. The old Adam Luther called it. So often we embark, like Luther did, upon a failed quest for assurance in something or someone other than Christ: our wit or wisdom or work, our relationships or righteousness on our own terms, our pride or passions, our desires or by what we’ve done. How we think, feel, act. The old Adam is proud and boastful and arrogant. The new man in Christ sees things as they are. In my flesh born of flesh, there is nothing but Sin and Death. But in Christ there is everything – forgiveness, life, salvation, peace, joy, righteousness.

But then, as Luther discovered, the Holy Spirit comes along and slaps a gigantic piece of duct tape across our mouths. We’ve nothing to boast about. No excuse. No leg to stand on. That’s the work God’s Law does on us and in us. 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 

Luther worked like his life depended on it. He entered the monastery. He made a pilgrimage to Rome. He saw the relics. He climbed the steps of St. Peter’s on his knees. Prayed to the saints. Starved himself. Whipped himself. But none of it brought him any comfort. On his quest for assurance, Luther finally ran headfirst into the brick wall of Romans 3.

For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Luther discovered in Romans that the Christian life is not a ladder to be climbed. Rather, baptized into Christ, our life is more like the spin cycle of a wash machine…in Baptism God is daily drowning our sin and daily raising us to new life in Christ. The church – Luther discovered – wasn’t like a gym where we come to do some spiritual weight lifting and pump ourselves up, but more like group therapy for addicts. “Hi my name is Sam and I’m a sinner. Hi Sam.” 

Paul says the same thing in Romans. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Not some. Not most. Not others. All. You. Me. Jesus says the same thing in John 8. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. It was true of the Jews in John 8. It was true of Luther, and it’s true of us too. 

Luther discovered in Romans and in the Scriptures that if the quest for assurance of God’s promise and righteousness was up to him to accomplish, then it was a never-ending quest that was doomed to fail before it began. 

Luther’s quest took a turn when he read Romans 3:21. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

In his quest for assurance, Luther rediscovered that God himself had set out upon a quest of salvation to rescue lost and condemned sinners, like Luther and you and me. To save us from damnation by the death of Jesus. To justify the ungodly freely and graciously in Christ crucified. 

Our quest for assurance ends at the cross. That’s not all that ends at the cross – so did our sin

Christ crucified and risen is your anchor, your rock, your certainty and assurance. This is what the Jews in John misunderstood. That our assurance of life, forgiveness, salvation isn’t found in Abraham’s bloodline, but in the blood of Jesus shed for you. This is what the church in Luther’s day misunderstood. That sinners are justified – made right with God – not by the work of our hands, but by the work of Christ’s hands, pierced on the cross for you. 

There on the cross Jesus went on the greatest quest of all history. And there, Christ who is the rightful – the just judge – became the one who took our judgment on himself. There, Christ who is truly free became enslaved in our sin to set us free. As Paul says in Romans, you are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. 

There is your assurance, your comfort, your confidence. Not in our flesh and blood. But in the flesh and blood of Jesus, which covers you. Saves you. Justifies you. And today feeds and forgives you. All by grace through faith in Christ.

A blessed Reformation Sunday to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Beautiful Savior

is a traditional Lutheran Church, faithful to God's Word and His Sacraments. We equip God's people to serve, love, and encourage one another as we grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We reach out to the community as beacons of light, sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

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2306 Milton Way
Milton, WA 98354
(253) 922-6977
(253) 922-6977