“Hail to the king!”
Jesus looked up - focusing with the one eye that wasn’t bruised and bloodied shut.
Before him stood of group of men – faces filled with mockery and sheer vileness.
He heard a raucous laughter coming from behind him.
“What a fool! Can you believe this guy thinks he’s a king? Why did his own subjects hand him over then? Why do they want him dead? And why don’t they stop me from doing this?”
His question was followed by a heavy THUD as he brought his make-shift wooden scepter down upon the back of Jesus’ shoulder.
It caused the Messiah to fall into the ground.
After a moment, his arms pushed to hold him up as he wallowed in blood and dirt.
To be fair – the soldiers were right: He didn’t look like much of a king.
The crown he was wearing wasn’t of gold, but of old, dried up thorns – penetrating the circumference of his head.
The robe he was wearing wasn’t made of expensive purple dyes, but a muted blood red from a rag that had soaked up the last prisoner’s wounds.
The scepter – it wasn’t a scepter, but an old stick.
And it wasn’t in his hands – but (THUD)…
…the make shift-scepter came into contact with his body once more.
This was the King of the Jews?
The was the Monarch of Millenia?
This was the ruler of all eternity?
You better believe it was.
Today we’re finishing up our 500 series by looking at an important truth that was reinvigorated through the work of Martin Luther. At a time when political infighting led to various rulers and influences throughout Europe, a time when the Pope claimed ultimate authority in church matters, a time when the people prayed to Mary and Barnabas and Ignatius and all kinds of dead people for help controlling their lives -- Luther rediscovered one precious truth:
There is no king but Jesus.
Today we learn why Jesus is the real king and how subjecting yourself to him is a blessing in our temporal and eternal lives. Before we dig in, join me in 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. The King of Life
Take a look with me at 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a letter written by one of the apostles, a pastor named Paul – who actually saw Jesus in a much more glorious light than we talked about before. He saw Jesus after he died and came back to life. He saw him in his resurrected glory. Listen to how he describes Jesus’ kingship in verse 20:
…Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the ﬁrstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
A couple of notes:
First it says Christ has been raised from the dead. Two implications: (1) Jesus was dead. That’s something that those soldiers we heard about earlier ensured and (2) he had come back to life. Something that over 500 people witnessed and saw in real life – including, but not limited to the guy who wrote these words down.
And if Christ ahs been raised from the dead, then implication (3) Nothing can keep him down…because death tends to take down even the greatest kings in history.
Julius Caesar? Killed by conspirators. Stayed dead.
Alexander the Great? He caught typhoid fever. Died and Stayed dead.
Genghis Khan? He fell off a horse. Died and stayed dead.
Jesus? He died on a cross, but then three days later he came back to life.
But Jesus won’t be the only one to conquer death. The next part says that Jesus is the ﬁrstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
“Firstfruits” is a harvest term. It refers to the very first of the crop that appears at harvest time. So – from a Thanksgiving perspective – it’d be like the very first piece of pumpkin pie that appears at the table. Granted – even if that first pie piece goes to Uncle Herb – at least you know that there’s pumpkin pie. The sight of it is good news.
Jesus’ resurrection was the first fruit resurrection. He was the first to brought forth from the ground – alive. He won’t be the last. He promises that all who believe in him will be raised as well. In fact, Scripture continues: For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the ﬁrstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Adam, the first human, is like the king of death. He sinned and passed on sin to his children. We are sinners, too.
And since the wages of sin is death, he died and every human after Adam has died. We will die, too.
Unless…we follow a different King.
Unless we follow Jesus.
Because He is the king of Life – not death.
That’s why when he died – he came back to life.
He will bring all who believe in him out of death to life in heaven.
You get this picture of a king riding his white stallion out of a dark valley and into a beautiful field of light.
If you’re following Jesus, that will be you too. Your king will lead you out of death.
He will lead you out of cancer.
He will lead you out of old age.
He will lead you out of any death including thing in this world.
He will lead you out of death to life! Because Jesus is the king of life.
II. The King of Conquering
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
Remember – the pronoun hasn’t changed. It’s still talking about Jesus. And essentially the next point is pretty logical.
If human kings and authorities are more powerful than the humans they rule over…
And death is more powerful than any human king or authority…
And Jesus is more powerful than death, then…
Human authorities versus Jesus isn’t even a match up really…
It’s a blowout.
That’s why the Bible says a time will come when Jesus will destroy all dominion, authority and power.
No matter how evil.
No matter how powerful.
He’ll overpower terrorism.
He’ll overpower racism.
He’ll overpower nuclear weapons.
He’ll overpower chemical weapons.
He’ll overpower suicide bombers, bomb vests and mass shootings.
Jesus will conquer all of this evil –
because He is the king of conquering.
In fact, he won’t have finished his reign until he defeats all authority. The next verse says this: he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Who are His enemies?
The things that threaten to separate you from Him eternally.
But Jesus beat sin on the cross.
He already defeated death on Easter.
He overpowered and shackled the devil by his victory.
One day – on the last day – he will conquer death – once and fall all.
Which…hopefully isn’t you.
Because sin is nothing more than a rebellion against your King.
If have sinned this past week, you’ve rebelled against the undisputed King.
You’ve done what his enemies do.
If you keep it up, He will conquer you.
But if you lay down your weapons…
If you stop fighting your King…
If you humble yourself at the feet to the Undisputed Champion...
If you follow Jesus, He will fight for you.
That temptation that you can’t seem to beat? Jesus will conquer it.
That guilt that keeps you up at night? Jesus will destroy it.
That fear of death that you have will be punched square in the face and knocked out cold.
III. The King of Humility
How do you know that the Undisputed King will share victory with you?
Most kings are too powerful to care about the common man.
But not Jesus. Jesus humbled himself.
In fat that’s exactly how this section finishes via some very theological language. Read with me: For he “has put everything under his feet.” That’s talking about Jesus taking complete control at the end of the world. Then it continues: Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, (aka God the Father) because God the Father put everything under Christ. Meaning Jesus is the ultimate authority, but he doesn’t hold authority over God the Father.
He’s not like some evil prince who can’t wait to use his authority to throw his Father, the King out to pasture.
Jesus, who has all authority, submits his authority to the Authority of the Father.
He humbles himself.
In fact, look at what will happen next on Judgment Day:
When he has done this, then the Son himself (again…that’s Jesus) will be made subject to him who put everything under him (That is The Father), so that God may be all in all.
God the Father humbly gives up his authority to Jesus.
Jesus, the Son humbly subjects himself to the Father.
That’s the same kind of humility that Jesus showed in our opening scene.
Because if he had the ability to conquer death, to conquer sin, to conquer the devil, to drive out thousands of demons, stop storms, and walk on water – make the lame man walk, the blind man sea and drive out the deadly disease of leprosy –
You’d think a couple of Roman soldiers would be no big deal.
And they weren’t.
But Jesus humbled himself.
He completed God’s plan.
He did this to save you.
Even as the King of Life itself.
Even as the King of all Conquering.
Even as the Undisputed Champion with authority…
He humbled himself to your needs.
He humbled himself that you might be with Him.
He humbled himself that He might call you brother.
He humbled himself that He might call you sister.
He humbled himself that he might call you FORGIVEN.
To be fair – that’s how politicians tend to be elected. They make all kinds of promises to the common people.
They promise to lower taxes.
They promise to make life better.
They promise to protect them.
And they deliver on about 3% of these promises.
Jesus delivered on 100% of His promises.
He promised immense blessings for you.
He won immense blessings for you.
Even if it took his own death to accomplish it, Jesus would not be deterred.
He loved you – that much.
IV. WHAT NOW?
Follow the ONLY King
One simple truth this week - Subject yourself to your King!
Here’s a few simple truths:
Jesus is the King of life.
If you prefer eternal death, keep following your own sinful desires. That’s where you will end up.
If you prefer eternal life, stop following yourself – follow the King of Life.
Jesus is the Undisputed Conqueror.
If you prefer to be conquered, go ahead and keep challenging him. He will have no problem destroying you.
If you prefer to have your spiritual enemies defeated, follow Jesus – follow the Conqueror.
Jesus is the King of humility.
If you prefer to be humiliated, continue to seek glory for yourself on this earth.
If you prefer to be glorified, humble yourself – follow, trust, and subject yourself to Him.
This is easier said than done.
For instance, Martin Luther…he certainly had plenty of reason to think of himself as king.
He had a growing movement of thousands of Protestants behind him.
He had rejected the authority of the Pope.
People were looking to him for the next steps it the Reformation.
In fact, people began to identify themselves as Lutherans.
Luther could have let this go to his head.
He didn’t. Instead:
I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians. Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 3:4-5 would not suffer that the Christians should call themselves of Paul or of Peter, but Christian. How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name? It should not be dear friends. Let us extinguish all factious names and be called Christians…
That’s a good reminder.
Because we are Lutherans, we remember we are Christian first.
Because Christ alone is king.
Christ alone is our Savior.
To Jesus be the glory! Amen.
I was looking at an old version of my high school handbook the other day. It’s pretty interesting how things have changed.
CD players were not allowed during study hall.
If you needed to make a phone call, you’d head down to the office and dial home on the fancy new cordless phone. (The one about the size of a shoe).
The Computer Lab was to be used to type up papers. So, you needed to sign up ahead of time to take turns on the 5 available machines.
That’s a lot different from now:
CD players aren’t even mentioned – although you’ve gotta keep the music emanating from your iPhone down.
No need to go to the secretary’s office for a phone call, just text mom (or Snap or Facetime or Google Hangout or facebook message or…whatever).
The computer lab doesn’t have computers, because people bring their own!
Things change. Times change.
A lot of words and ideas change.
School handbooks need to be updated.
Is it the same with God’s Word?
Does this Bible need an update?
Today we’re continuing our 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Series. We’re examining a question that Martin Luther -- the monk at the heart of the Reformation, examined 500 years ago. If you remember, he was faced with a Catholic church that had changed God’s Word. Instead of salvation by grace alone, they taught that works were necessary to earn God’s love. Instead of describing works as good deeds done for your neighbor, they described them as special religious ceremonies prescribed by the priests. Instead of finding moral authority from the Bible, the Catholic church claimed moral authority came from the Pope.
Was the church right?
Did God’s Word need an update?
Before we answer that question and grasp what the answer means for our lives, join me in 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. An Enduring Authority
Our answer comes from 1 Peter 1:23. It says this, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. Notice the key adjectives: “living” as in “it hasn’t died yet.” “Enduring,” as in, “it’s still around.” “Imperishable,” as in, “It is unable to perish.”
How is that possible? Look at the simple phrase “word of God.” That’s what we call a subjective genitive. It’s a grammar term telling us that the word spoken were spoken from God himself. It labels him as the ultimate author of God’s Word.
That makes sense.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that I am the ultimate author of God’s Word. I’m the author of my own words.
It would be a bit presumptive to say that the prophet or the apostle are the authors of God’s Word. They are just men.
Ultimately, it’s called God’s Word because it comes from God himself.
This is a really important point. Because the authority of a piece of literature is determined by the authority of the author.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” and one of your high school buddies wrote it, class isn’t canceled.
If you find a note that says, “Class is cancelled” on official school letterhead with the signature of the school principal, it has authority. Stay home and turn on Netflix.
If a piece of literature comes from God, then it has ultimate authority because God has ultimate authority.
In fact, it has enduring authority, because God has enduring authority.
We notice this with U.S. Presidents all the time. After they are done with their tenure in office, they try not to comment too often on policy and implementation of the current administration. If they do and they say, “I would have done it differently,” that’s really all they can do. Because they no longer have authority. Their authority has expired.
But if God is God…
And God, in its terminology, indicates a divine eternal being…
Then he has eternal authority.
He has not been usurped.
He has not been overthrown.
He is still completely and absolutely in control.
And His words are still completely and absolutely in control.
He still tells the sun to shine.
He still tells the thunder when to thunder and where.
He still tells the wind to blow what direction and when.
He is in control as he has always been in control.
II. An Unenduring Submission
Yet – Is He?
A friend of mine gave me this. It’s a copy of the Catholic Study Bible. Most of it – is the Bible as we know it –NIV Version. But the study notes cause caution. Take a look at the note on the very first page:
The stories of the Bible are legends passed on for hundreds of years through oral tradition to teach important truths to each succeeding generation. ...One way to not read the Bible is as a “literalist”—someone who takes every word in Scripture as literal truth …families can discover and interpret the meaning of Scripture by asking not “is the Bible true?’ but “How is the Bible true?”
In other words --
Choose what you want.
Determine it for yourself.
I’m sure you’ll find at least something valuable.
And if you think the Bible is true and filled with authority? You’re reading the Bible wrong.
Which is interesting.
Because that means that there’s someone very important to the church that was doing it wrong.
Someone very important to the Bible.
Maybe you know him.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The problem with this perspective?
There’s no authority.
In fact, the authority resides with the individual.
Because when you define God and morality as you think they should be, you are no longer worshipping God.
You’re really worshipping your own preferences.
Your own preferences become God’s Word.
Are you God?
You been around from before eternity?
Do you control hurricanes with your words?
Can you make the blind see by telling them to be blind?
Will you be able to ensure your safe departure from this world into heaven?
Then, you aren’t God.
You can’t treat your own opinions, emotions, and human thoughts as the ultimate authority!
“All people are like grass…” Remarkable really. They are tiny, little singular blades held up by one little tiny root. Facing the world and still standing!
“And all their glory is like the flowers” Man, it looks pretty for a moment! Have you seen how smart and successful I am?
“But the grass withers.” It gets old. It loses strength. It loses its job. It becomes forgetful. It’s replaced with the newer and shinier. It gets placed in an assisted living home and people forget all about it.
“And the flowers fall.”
From their position at work.
From standing in the family.
From standing in an upright position.
To laying in a bed until – they go back to the ground from whence they came.
Grass is temporary.
Flowers are temporary.
Humans are temporary.
And their words are temporary.
But the Word of God endures forever!
III. Enduring Promises
This is great news.
Because God’s Word isn’t just filled with enduring commands.
It also is filled with enduring promises.
Just back up in 1 Peter a bit for one of those promises. It says this:
You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (vs. 18-19)
I love the connection to the imperishable here. Because we just talked about how God’s Word is imperishable because it comes from an imperishable God. Don’t be surprised then that the only thing that can saves us from the imperishable punishment prescribed for those who break God’s imperishable Word is nothing else than the imperishable blood of God himself.
He covers your sins.
He forgives you for trusting human thoughts more than his.
He forgives you for listening to your own emotions more than him.
He forgives you for loving society’s ideas more than His.
He forgives you and by faith in what Jesus did – God changes you.
He transforms you from a withering blade of grass to an enduring oak of righteousness.
He converts you from a falling flower into an ever-standing monument of His grace.
I don’t come up with this on my own.
Some fictional writers didn’t come up with this on their own.
It wasn’t even a bunch of smart well-meaning pastors…
It was God.
In fact, look at the next part of 1 Peter: He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (vs. 20-21)
God’s Word said that a Savior would come – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would die – and he did.
God’s Word said that the Savior would rise – and he did.
And God’s Word says that you will rise – and you will.
God’s Word says that you will be declared innocent by God – and you will.
God’s Word says that by faith in Jesus you will be in heaven – and you will.
IV. WHAT NOW?
1. Look at God’s Word Differently
Because if the Bible is God’s Word, it changes how we look at it.
For instance, have you ever read Dr. Seuss? He has some great books. But we don’t treat them the same way we treat God’s Word.
We don’t teach kids that the First Commandment is that all should try Green Eggs and Ham.
Next week’s sermon text will be not be on the Cat and the Hat.
You’ll never hear me reading, “The word of the Lord says: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”
Dr. Seuss doesn’t claim to write from God; the Bible does.
Jesus confirms it; he does miracles to prove it.
Look at God’s Word as exactly what it says it is: God’s Word.
That means you don’t read it like a kid’s book – “What a nice story.”
You don’t read it like homework – “Is this over yet?”
You don’t read it like the fine print on an internet contract – “Scroll to the bottom; click YES I have read the terms and conditions.”
You read it with passion.
You read it as the enduring Word of God himself.
You read it as the Word of the One in Ultimate authority.
You read it as the promises -- the very promises -- that sustain you and I each day and lead to eternal life.
Practically speaking it means you make time for it.
You turn off your email.
You remove your phone.
You go to a quiet place.
You write down questions.
You think about it some more.
You talk about it.
You treat it as really, really, really divinely, eternally important because it is really, really, really divinely, eternally important.
2. Grow in Imperishable Love
It is so interesting that this whole section on the imperishable nature of God’s Word is linked directly to verse 22. Verse 22 says this, “Now that you have purified yoiurselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Apparently there was some struggle going on with 1st century Christians to live by the truth.
They thought “Love one another” meant once a week during church.
They thought “Be kind to one another,” meant “as long as they are being kind to me.”
They thought, “Love your enemies,” was more of a suggestion than a command.
Peter says this, “Jesus’ love for your lasts and the words about Jesus’ love for your lasts so your love need to last too.”
That means we grow daily in imperishable love.
We love each other on Sunday – and Monday.
We love each other when people love us and when they won’t get off the couch to help with weekend housework.
We love each other even when – gasp – they are my political enemy!
God’s Word endures; not your emotions.
God’s Word has authority; not your sinful thoughts.
God’s Word has made you imperishable; live your life with imperishable love!
3. Cling to Its Truth
And in order to do so, we need to cling to the truth of God’s Word.
That’s what Luther did.
Even though the priests said differently.
Even though scholars said differently.
Even though the Pope himself said differently.
Luther clung to God’s Word.
And the result? God promises an enduring existence with him in heaven.
Which is a pretty appropriate reflection today. Because today is a day in the church year called Saints Triumphant Sunday. A day when we remember believers in Christ who like grass have withered and like flowers have fallen. But in the midst of all those physical failures, their faith endured in the One who endures.
Where are they now?
What do they experience?
Where will we be as believers in God’s enduring promise.
Listen to what the enduring God of revealed in Revelation:
There was the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
God’s saints dwelling in a holy city. In the city, there is not a temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
It was written by God.
It was written with Jesus’ blood.
It has your name written in it.
It will endure. Amen.
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.
Are you tired of feeling guilty from sin?
Do you stay up late tossing and turning because of something wrong you did?
Do you struggle with guilt and anxiety about what God will do to you?
Introducing a brand-new product made just for you: The Indulgence.
That’s right folks now you can have the assurance that your sins are forgiven on this certificate looking paper!
Display it in your living room.
Over your sofa.
On your desktop and work.
…and viola – proof that you have God’s forgiveness.
What’s that? A produce like this might cost millions? Usually it would. But now it can be yours for one easy payment of $49.95. That’s $49.95 for forgiveness assurance of up to 100 sins!
Are you heavy sinner? No worries. Get the deluxe edition for only $99.95 and double your sin count.
Need more for next month? With our new app -- you can set up recurring payments so that an indulgence will be sent to your home without having to think about it.
Want to gift one for a relative? These make great Christmas presents for the ornery teenager in your house.
And if you are order right now – we’ll throw in this mini certificate of forgiveness – good up to 10 free swear word sins – absolutely FREE!
So what are your waiting for?
Get your indulgence and get on the road to a guilt-free existence!
Because that sounded ridiculous.
Even made up.
Surely, that’s never really happened, right?
500 years ago, that’s exactly what was happening.
500 years ago, people were eating this up.
500 years ago, this ridiculous practice was the only thing that made sense.
Today we’re celebrating the Reformation – a time when God used a simple monk to reform these ideas and return the truth to the truth about forgiveness. Our goal in this sermon is: (1) learn why this buying God’s forgiveness isn’t as archaic and ridiculous as it sounds (2) see from Scripture why it’ll never work and (3) learn about the only way to know true forgiveness. 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. Heart of the Problem
Let’s do a bit of church history. Leo X was pope in Rome. He was the head of the only Christian organization that was in existence in the early 16th century – the Roman Catholic church. And…he was getting short on money. Under his reign, he had plans to build a Cathedral – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a beautiful piece of architectural to help people reflect on God (and how awesome Pope Leo X was).
The problem? He had run out of money. The Medici family, who had been funding the construction of the incredible building, stopped funding the incredible building. Leo was stuck. How would he finish his basilica? How would he finish his building?
The answer was the indulgence. Pieces of paper signed by the Pope guaranteeing the buyer forgiveness for a certain number of sins. The proceeds? They would go to fund the unfinished basilica project under the following guise:
It is by INDULGENCES that you are saved.
Sound shady? It is.
Surely no one would fall fort it, right?
Enter Johann Tetzel. He might not look like much, but he was essentially the ShamWow guy of 16th century Europe. He was an infomercial king! He was a skilled orator and skilled salesmen. He would travel into towns. He’d set up shop. He’d start doing his best informercial:
Buy you’re indulgence now and you won’t have to pay for your sin in hell later.
If you aren’t worried about your sin, what about your dead Aunt Flo? What if she’s stuck in hell and this piece of paper is what springs her to heaven?
LOOK! The Pope guaranteed it. It must be true!
And Tetzel sold.
And people bought.
And people were convinced that it was by INDULGENCES that they were saved.
But...to be fair, this really isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
Husbands, have you ever forgotten an important event with your wife? Maybe an anniversary or a birthday or an anniversary of the first time that you ate at an Italian restaurant? What do you do? You buy some flowers, do the dishes, give his wife a massage and hope that after a few days of doing that – everything is ok.
Naturally people assume that is how it works with God. “I’ve done wrong, but I’ll just do some good things to make up for the bad things and tip the eternal scales in my favor.” It’s not surprising then that the Catholic church in the 16th century taught a version of this in their churches: It is by WORKS that you are saved.
And suddenly everyone is playing a divine game of addition and subtraction. “Let’s see. I opened the door with prayer (that’s good), but then I was rude to my wife (bad). I helped an old lady across the street (good), but I told my friends that she smelled (bad). I listened to my wife (good), but really, I was just thinking about the football game the whole time (bad).
Well, if you do this long enough you’ll realize one very important thing:
There is no peace in the spiritual balancing game of good works.
Because that was good. I think.
And that was wrong. I think.
And that was good, but then I got angry in the middle of it and ended up with more sin when I started than I had to begin with!
So what people needed was an improvement.
They needed something that was bigger.
Something that was worth more.
Something that could really outweigh sin.
Enter the church with another idea and another adjective: It is by CHURCH WORKS that you are saved.
Kinda like the Power Rangers – a bigger, better power.
The bigger better power for 16th century people was the “church work”.
Say the Lord’s prayer 10 times a day for forgiveness.
Say the Lord’s prayer in the church 10 times a day for extra forgiveness.
Buy a picture of Jesus and say the Lord’s prayer in front of that in the church for extra, extra forgiveness.
Because of this theological theory, men became monks. Women became nuns. Men took vows of silence and women took vows of celibacy. People everywhere listened to whatever the priest told them to do: Cross themselves – say 10 Hail Mary’s – hold onto a rosary real tight – even…buy an indulgence….
And suddenly, we’re back where we started. The indulgence wasn’t crazy. It was just the grossest abuse of human idea of works righteousness.
The idea that works are what save you.
An idea --- might I add – that hasn’t left us in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that hasn’t left the church in the 21st century.
An idea – might I add – that might not have left us.
II. The Truth about Works Righteousness
You’ve got your bulletins in your folder. There should be a blank spot. Here’s a quick question that I want you to answer. You have 30 seconds to answer.
Will you be in heaven? And if so, why?
What was your answer?
I’m a good person.
I try really hard.
I’m better than that guy.
If that was your answer, what are you basing heaven on? Yourself. Your works. Cause – that’s the exact same thing the church was telling people to do.
And maybe your answer is more sophisticated. And you said: I’m not just a good person, I serve at a church. I’ve been an usher for years. That’s how I know I’m going to heaven.
But isn’t that just basing your faith on church works? Are they really any better?
And maybe you’ve gone all the way and thought: But I gave 10% of my income at this church for years. Look at the 3rd hymnal from the front. Inside is MY Family’s name! I paid for it. And I know I’ll be in heaven because of it.
AKA – I know it, because of my indulgence.
This whole works righteousness thing is not a 16th century thing.
Because it’s a human thing.
It’ll always be around.
And it’ll always be wrong.
Because here’s what the Bible has to say about our works:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2:1)
Notice what the Bible calls us: dead. Obviously, not physically, because here we are. But spiritually dead. Think about what it means that we are spiritually dead. It means we were motionless. It means we were rotting. It means we were decomposing.
And it means we couldn’t do…anything.
Because just this past week I saw a dead squirrel on the side of the road.
Do you know what it was doing? Nuttin. (Get it?)
Bad joke aside – dead things don’t do anything.
Dead things can’t do anything.
Spiritually dead human beings cannot do anything toward spiritual salvation.
Yesterday, I was at the Food Bank. We were sorting donations of sweet potatoes. And some of them were disgusting. They were filled with mold. They were rotting. They were squishy at the touch.
And I was thinking – even the best cooks couldn’t make anything good with that stuff. If you took those rotten sweet potatoes home and mixed them and baked them and put them into the oven and made sweet potato pie -- it would still taste awful.
That’s the reality of being dead in sin – even our best – is still rotten to the core. It’s selfish. It’s done for our own sake. It’s done so that I feel good and I get closer to heaven, not simply because I love that person.
Which means we don’t earn heaven.
The only thing we have earned with our works?
We were by nature objects of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3)
Because our works are tainted by sin.
Because we are tainted by sin.
Because we are dead in sin.
And God hates sin.
To put it simply – It is by works you CANNOT BE saved.
III. The Truth About What Saves
Which is devastating.
Especially if you’ve been basing your whole eternity on your own good works.
That’s what Martin Luther had done.
Martin Luther was a 16th century man. He had gone to school to be a lawyer. He had learned that wrong was wrong and that wrong deserved punishment.
And he knew he had done wrong…and deserved punishment.
And so, he tried to do good works! But even when he did the good works he did so with a heart that hated God for making him do the good works --- thus spoiling the good works – and leaving him in worse straights than before.
So, he became a monk! He did a church work. But that didn’t help. The vows of silence didn’t keep his thoughts from sin. The time alone didn’t keep his thoughts form hating others.
So, he heard of indulgences! And he saw a promise of heaven. And he saw that with a simple paper he could have guilt removed.
And he thought - this is crazy!
And he thought – this can’t be the way!
And he thought – I wonder what the Bible has to say about this.
Now remember – back then the Bible wasn’t available in thousands of languages via a cell phone app.
It was written in 3 languages – (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) and it was only at the monastery chained to a wall. So, for centuries people just accepted whatever priests told them because they didn’t know any better.
They accepted work righteousness, because they didn’t know any better.
But when Luther was in the monastery he no longer had to accept it.
He could read it for himself.
And what he found was vastly different from what was being taught:
Because of God’s great love or us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ – even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Did you see that?
It’s not works righteousness at all. But something entirely different.
It says: God made us alive with Christ! It makes sense. We were dead – dead can’t do anything. Dead definitely can’t bring itself back to life.
But you know who could? How about the guy who made Jairus dead daughter sit up?
How about the guy who made a young man in a coffin stand on his feet?
How about the guy who made Lazarus dead in the grave for 4 days come walking out like he was just checking the place out on House Hunters?
How about the guy who said: “Kill me and I’ll come back to life,” so they killed him and then – he came back to life?
God made us alive with Christ! He gave us spiritual life by paying God’s wrath. He died. He suffered the payment for our sin. He suffered the complete payment for our sin!
And if you’re thinking: “But my sins are pretty big,” look at what it says here: God is rich in mercy. He’s a tycoon. He’s a gazillionaire of mercy. He has so much that it covers completely the payment for your sin! It covers completely the payment for your little sins. It covers completely the payment for your big, nasty, ugly sins that you hope no one else finds out about.
It's like Scrooge McDuck. Remember him from Duck Tales? He had this gigantic 40-story tower that he filled with gold coins. He had so many gold coins that he would put on a swim suit and go swimming in his wealth.
That’s God and his mercy. He’s swimming in mercy. He doles out that mercy to you through Jesus Christ.
But, pastor, surely, he only gives that out to the people he likes.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do church things.
Surely, he only gives it out to the people who do enough good church things.
Look at the passages again: Because of his God’s great love for us.
It doesn’t say: “Because we did enough good works.”
It doesn’t say: “Because we served enough cookies at church…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I said enough Hail Mary’s OR memorized the Lord’s prayer…”
It doesn’t say: “Because I gave enough money…”
Because of God’s great love.
Because he loved you.
Because he wanted to save you.
Because he loved you, he died and paid the ultimate price to save you.
It changes our salvation equation.
God’s not telling you to pay for his love.
God’s telling you that he already paid it for you:
It is by GRACE you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God! (Eph. 2:8)
And Martin Luther? When he read this, it changed his life.
His guilt was removed.
His conscience was unburdened.
He was free.
So…On October 31st, 1517. He marched through the streets of Wittenberg. He pulled his cloak close to his nose.
He marched right up to the main doors of the castle church – the big castle church – the church that thousands attended – the doors that thousands passed.
He marched up.
He knew he’d get in some trouble.
But he also knew Jesus had gotten him out of worse trouble.
So, he pounded.
He pounded a list calling out the false teaching of indulgences and the false practices of the church.
His goal? Bring people back to the truth.
Bring people back to God’s grace.
Here we are 500 years later.
God’s grace is still the truth.
God’s grace is still what saves.
Jesus died for you.
Brothers and sisters, may we return to GRACE and NEVER leave. Because it is by grace we have been saved! Amen.