Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rom.3.19-28; Festival of the Reformation; October 25, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

{Previously Reformation, October 26, 2008}

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. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Ro 3:19-28, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We don’t see it very much these days… It really seems to be a picture from the past… I mean this picture of a young man (like Martin Luther) struggling to be good enough so that God won’t send him to hell. In fact, we all may look at that picture and think that it’s rather old fashioned. We may ask ourselves why anyone would ever be afraid of such a thing. Certainly few of us have had any fear about that kind of thing. We are an enlightened mature society. Religion is about love. If it’s about god at all it’s a god whose great love for people would never allow him to send anyone to punishment forever. It is often expressed in phrases like this: “The god I know would never punish people that way.” Or “How can a loving god deal out eternal punishment?”

I mean, if hell isn’t a reality for people then the question of being good enough to avoid it is really a non-issue. Isn’t it? It all kind of makes the Reformation that began with the struggle of a young German monk over sin and hell, a moot point. After all Luther’s struggle was against God, wasn’t it. He looked at himself and saw an imperfect person who didn’t “love God with his whole heart and soul and mind.” He looked at God and saw a judge who demanded perfection, not just in the way things were done, but in the motive and the thought too! His thorough study of scripture led him to the unmistakable conclusion that he was hell bound. That was then, this is now. The whole fear-of-hell thing seems like a leftover from a previous time when people thought differently.

The way it is now, the way we actually prefer to look at the world, and life, and God is completely different. We’ve made up a god of our own that doesn’t match with what the Bible tells us. Our new god is a doting grandfather that gives us whatever we need and want, and he simply ignores our shortcomings and failures. It could even be said that he doesn’t really even care that people don’t believe in him or even out and out reject him. “They’re only human,” He coos, “and nobody is perfect.” This god looks lovingly at struggling humanity and with a twinkle in his eye says, “They try so hard… that’ll be good enough.” It’s the picture of god giving an “A+” for effort, regardless of the results and regardless of the motives that lie behind the actions. He gives people a purpose in their lives and rewards them as long as we live in that purpose.

It’s no wonder people don’t fear the consequences of their sin anymore. The god we’ve invented acts and sounds just like one of us. He sweeps sin under the carpet just like we like to do. That’s just the way we live, as if sin wasn’t a problem, sweeping it quietly under the carpet. Letting it stand where we find it.

Just think a moment about these issues since 1973 in just the United States alone we have killed well over 40 million helpless children through abortion. (Note these stats include all abortions for any reason, even those where the child has already died.) It’s a staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies that end in murder. And don’t forget that you and I actually pay for three out of every 10.

We’ve defined marriage to be anything we want it to be. Men and men; women and woman; Adult and child; why not a man; a girl and two dogs and a donkey. It’s not just that, we participate in the degrading of the institution. How about how this issue hits closer to home. We all have it in our families. You know that that 90% of young couples (both Christian and non-Christian) live together before marriage. They ignore the stats that show those who do have an 80% higher risk of divorce. We ignore that God calls this a sin that affects the whole body of Christ.

God, the true God, speaks clearly about these issues. Killing humans beings at any stage of development is murder. He says sex outside of marriage is wrong, that means it is wrong for couples to live together before they are married, no matter how good the reasons seem. Test yourself on these issues: How many people know you are Pro-Life? Do you consider unborn children when you stand in the ballot box? How many young couples have you told that living together before they are married is wrong? We spend a lot of time and effort saying that God’s will for our lives is whatever we want it to be. And that God’s standards for living are quite flexible, more like suggestions that can be set aside when they are inconvenient or don’t match up with our “feel good” philosophy of life.

Luther’s struggle was about the difference between God and human beings. God is holy. People are not. God is perfect. People are not. God knows everything. God is able to look into the very depth of the human heart. When Martin looked honestly into his own what he saw there frightened him. It frightened him because he didn’t find an inner core of good. He saw an inner core of evil and darkness and hatred of other people and even of God. And when he realized that God saw that same heart, he knew that he was lost. With the law comes the knowledge of sin. St. Paul said to him. It was just like Jesus said, For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) Martin Luther discovered that was accountable to God not just for his outward acts but also for what was in his heart. God said it also in the Old Testament. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sa 16:7, ESV)

That’s the real problem isn’t it? It’s what’s in here that we can’t get rid of. We can only ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. Or invent a god that doesn’t care about sin, a god of our own making that hides his eyes to what we know is there. Because the real God, the one we learn about in His Word does care about sin. That same Word tells us all the truth we already know: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. No amount of keeping the law is going to fix what’s in here. The more we try to do what is right the more we see how we don’t do it perfectly, “with our whole heart.”

But it is precisely because the true God cares about sin that we are here today. It is because God really does love human beings beyond our understanding that He doesn’t just sweep sin under the carpet. He sees what sin does to us, how it tears our relationships apart, how it makes a mess of everything we try to do. And he knows above all how we are powerless to do anything about it. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That’s what the law makes very plain to us. But God goes beyond that he also says that we are justified by his grace as a gift… Well, it would have to be a gift wouldn’t it? We can’t scrub it clean, we can’t work it out on our own, and we can’t end sin in our hearts by any other way. We need a righteousness that we don’t have. Righteousness is exactly what God has. It is what God is. In fact the best definition of righteousness is Jesus.

St. Paul used that unusual word propitiation. He wrote the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. What he is really talking about is a peace offering. When a wife is angry at her husband he scrambles to find a florist and shows up at the door with a big batch of flowers. That’s propitiation. And Jesus is just that, a perfectly righteous peace offering to God. Jesus offers himself to God as the object of God’s just anger over sin. He suffers the punishment that all human beings deserve because of the sin in their hearts. In Jesus heart, even though he fully human, there wasn’t any of the blackness that is in yours and mine. He didn’t make excuses for not following God’s law. Not only did he not sin, he confronted sin everywhere he went. He called sin, sin and pointed out its consequences. He didn’t struggle against God’s will for His life, even when it led him to a brutal execution. You see, everything He did was perfect, and not just in the things he did, but the motives and the thoughts, too! That’s because Jesus was not just good guy, he was human but he was also God, perfect and holy… You might say Jesus is the very heart of God’s.

Now when we compare Jesus heart to ours we know that what we need is His…

It’s the most amazing thing… it’s really beyond our understanding… it’s so utterly different than anything our experience can understand… But Jesus is exactly what God gives to us. Our sinful prideful mind and heart immediately jump to the conclusion that we must have earned it, somehow. “I must have done something good!” But the God’s law is right there to show us that there is nothing we can do. Its real purpose is to show us our sin, because we will not believe in Jesus, we can’t have true faith, until the law shuts us up, and puts anything we would do out of the picture. We get this wonderful totally free gift of Jesus righteousness, God’s perfection, by faith. What Paul means by that is seeing that Jesus righteousness is now yours. In Paul’s words: we receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

That’s where that young monk’s struggle ended… in faith. When Martin Luther saw that the righteousness that he needed was his as God’s free gift he did what faith does. Be believed… he received… he hoped… and he lived in faith every day of his life from that moment on.

My dear Christians friends, it is just so for you and me. The very same gift is ours. We can’t earn it, we can work our way to deserve it. It is a gift. It is the most amazing thing in the whole world. Our sin, both the things we do, and the things we think and feel, that blackness and evil in the deepest part of our heart is covered up by righteousness of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. We do what faith does… We believe… we receive… we hope… and we live in faith every day, from this very moment on. For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.