Martin Luther took the piece of paper and held it a bit closer to his face – allowing the kingly font of the Papal Bull to come into focus:
...we…condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of Martin Luther -- whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful…to read, assert, preach, praise, print, publish, or defend them...Indeed, immediately after the publication of this letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out carefully and… shall be burned publicly!
He took a deep breath.
He had only meant to bring people back to God’s Word.
He had only meant to bring people back to the truth.
He had only meant to point people back to the grace of God – not through works righteousness, the buy your way into heaven deception that was being taught.
But the Pope wasn’t having any of it.
The Pope was threatening the mass burning of all his writing.
The Pope was threatening the public burning…of him.
And to be fair – this had happened before. The 16th century European world had seen the Roman Catholic charge plenty of “heretics” with death via burning at the stake.
Joan of Arc.
All of this meant, it wasn’t a lie.
It wasn’t a fib.
It was clear.
The Roman Catholic church was very angry with Luther.
The Roman Catholic church would kill him just as he had clearly seen before.
But the Bible?
It was different.
It talked of a Jesus whom Luther never met.
It talked of a resurrection that Luther didn’t see.
It talked of God’s grace—for forgiveness of sins – an unseen, invisible concept that could not be proved via ocular testing in the slightest.
It also said this.
Whoever holds to my teachings is really my disciple. – Jesus
Luther took a deep breath.
What should he trust?
The visible and violent words of the Pope?
Or the words about the invisible from an unseen God?
Today we’re continuing our series called 500 that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We will be looking at the second key truth about the Reformation – that salvation comes by faith alone. Our goal in this sermon is to: (1) identify what humans tend to trust in (2) why trusting in the invisible isn’t insane (3) how to strengthen our trust in the unseen. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Faith in the Seen?
Hebrews 11:1 says this about faith, “Now faith is confidence…and assurance...” This is an extremely interesting take on faith. It talks about confidence and assurance. These are both very solid words. They imply an unwavering, complete, and absolute trust that what is said or stated is 100% true.
It’s kind of like holding dumbbells. Ever done that? If it’s really light (say one pound), then it’s really easy to hold onto. I can hold it up really easy. I smile while I do it. I maybe even get a bit cocky “this is no problem at all. I could do curls in my sleep!”
On the other hand, if you hand me a 75-pound dumbbell, I’m not so sure. My grip isn’t very good. I can hold it for a bit and then it gets a bit shaky. I waver. I drop it.
That’s not faith. That’s uncertainty. That’s a struggle.
True faith doesn’t struggle.
True faith simply believes.
Faith shows confidence and assurance.
This might lead you to ask: How then do we get such a confidence? How do we get such a certain faith?
I would propose this: Usually we use our five senses. We use vision to confirm reality. We allow the light to reflect off of the object, and if it comes back to our eyes, our brain confirms – that thing does exist. It is real. Believe. The human way of confident faith is this: have faith in things that our senses confirm.
For instance, I am 100% certain that there is a bag of chips in my hand.
I can see the triangular shape.
I can smell the artificial cheese.
I can feel the bumpy texture of corn goodness.
I can hear the crunch of deliciousness.
I can taste them – oh I can taste them - and they taste good.
My five senses confirm it. It’s real. I have faith that this is a bag of chips – and it’s not even remotely wavering.
That’s how human faith tends to work.
It trusts in what our senses confirm.
That becomes a big problem when it comes to spiritual things.
Because we can’t see God.
If you were planning on seeing him at church today, he’s not making a visible appearance. (It’s why I usually don’t advertise for him).
We can’t see God and we can’t see Jesus.
We don’t see the nail marks in his hands.
We don’t see his risen body.
We see only a cross and that cross is only a representation of something that supposedly happened a long time ago.
We don’t see God and that makes trusting in him…hard.
Because again – we tend to look for visible clues in our lives and oftentimes the visual close do not support the idea of God.
God, I thought you said you’d be with me always – but based on how awful this past week was, I’m not so sure you’re here.
God, you said that you’d love me – but I lost my job, I’m behind on rent, and I’m having relationship problems. It can’t be true.
God, you said that you have good things in mind for me – but I just got diagnosed by this awful disease. I feel terrible and the MRI looks bad. None of this looks good like you said!
This even makes its way into the realm of salvation! In fact, do you remember the works righteousness concept that we discussed last week? Works righteousness is the theological idea that humans save themselves by what they do. As we discussed last week, this is completely not true. The Bible describes us as sinful. The Bible describes us as spiritually dead. The Bible describes us as completely unable to do anything, let alone save ourselves from our own sins.
As impossible as this is…
As completely 100% impossible as it is for anyone to be perfect…
Works righteousness is the number one favorite things for people to have faith in.
The answer is simple.
It’s something that we can see!
Did you see what I just did? I just saw myself bending over and helping a little preschool kid clean up his juice spill. That’s really good of me God. I saw it.
Did you hear my kinds words? I just said that girl’s dress was really pretty...I sounded so nice.
Did you smell that? Those are the delicious baked good that I made for church FOR FREE! The good things I do, smell so good.
And here’s the reality – our good works are tangible.
So, we trust our good works.
We trust in them simply because it’s easy to trust in something that our senses confirm.
But head back to your senses.
Because if you’re honest, it’s easy to see – there’s more than just good in you.
Sure, you can see yourself stooping down to help that preschooler clean up the mess – but you can also see yourself make the visual sign of complete disgust in annoyance for having to help the little one.
Yes, you can hear the nice words that you said about the girl’s dress; but if you listen for about a minute longer, you can also hear your voice whispering to your friend that “actually, that’s a really gross looking dress and I think she looks ugly.”
And OK – you can smell the delicious baked cookies that you made for church – they can almost cover up the hint of alcohol left on your breath from the all-night Saturday bender you went through the day before.
HERE’S THE POINT: We tend to trust what our senses confirm.
And our senses confirm this – We are sinners and works righteousness does NOT work.
II. Faith in the Unseen
Is faith really a result of the senses then?
Think of the Cloud. Not that there actually is a cloud, but the cloud is that big invisible data center that can store all kinds of computer data. If you have converted your data storage to the cloud, then here’s the thing – you don’t actually see the storage happen. You don’t see it go up into the air. You don’t see the photo of Uncle Glen pass out of the window and past a blue bird into the sky.
All you see is that little icon change to SAVED.
And then you trust.
Even though you can’t see...you trust that it will be there.
Here’s the truth – Faith is not in the seen. Faith is in the unseen. Take a look at Hebrews 11:1 again, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This is Biblical faith. It’s faith in the unseen, the invisible, the imperceptible!
This starts with Jesus. Because Jesus is good at showing us that what we see visually is not always indicative of the truth invisibly.
The people saw 5 jugs of well water. But when they dipped in a cup at the request of Jesus, they tasted a delicious, red merlot.
The people saw a man who was lame that they saw begging near the temple doors for years – that could not be healed. And Jesus healed him.
The people – thousands of people – saw five loaves of bread and 2 fish; Jesus saw a feast that fed them all…till they were full…and there were 12 baskets of leftovers!
The people - hundreds of people - saw Jesus body, dead and bloodied on the cross. Placed lifelessly into the grave. And some even went back to the grave to confirm it. But when they got there he wasn’t dead. But alive.
At the heart of the invisibly impossible is what we talked about last week: Salvation by grace alone.
That God simply loves us.
That God simply died for us.
That God simply saved us.
That God simply said, “Whoever has faith in me will be saved.”
Yet -- Jesus made the visually impossible into reality.
He has no problem making the invisibly impossible into reality too.
Even though you didn’t see it; Jesus died for you.
Even though you don’t see it; God has forgiveness for you.
Even though you can’t touch it; God has heaven in mind for you.
It is by grace you are saved through faith.
This leads to something really, really interesting.
It leads to trusting the invisible in spite of the visible:
Martin Luther had this to say about faith. “A Christian is hidden from himself, so that he does not see his holiness, and virtue but only his lack of virtue and his lack of holiness, … In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; it is not in the world, before the eyes of men, like a commodity on the market.”
Do you see the point? Each day I can pretend to see my good, but the reality is that each of us knows ourselves all too well. We know our sins. We know our faults. At the end of the day we know this – we are NOT perfect; not even remotely.
But God, in his word – without any visuals – says to you:
In Christ you are forgiven.
In Christ, I see you as holy.
In Christ you are mine.
And it’s true. Because God doesn’t fail! His track record is too good. Amen.