Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of End Time—Reformation (November 5, 2017)

JOHN 8:31-36


In the name + of Jesus.

     How do you know you are saved?  Chances are, even if you have been raised in the Christian church, this question has haunted you at some point.  If you know that you are saved, you have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement.  If you have ever had doubts, there is no greater fear.
     So, how do you know you are saved?  This is the very question which plagued Martin Luther.  He was raised in the Church and was a good catholic boy.  He took God's word seriously.  He tried to order his life according to God's Commandments.  But he knew that he had not achieved the obedience God demands of all people.  He tried, but he knew God's judgment stood against him.  He had done what is evil, and he had failed to do what is good.  For this, he knew he had earned God's punishment both now and in eternity.  He felt acutely the words of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)  Luther was chained to his sin, and he could not escape it.
     So, Luther decided to enter a monastery.  Becoming a monk certainly seemed like a pious, holy thing to do.  The monks spent all day praying and worshiping.  They had to be closer to God than others.  But Luther did not find any peace there.  For all of his devotion, Martin Luther still could not be sure he was saved.  He was still a sinner.  Not even becoming a monk could change that.  So, Luther tried to demonstrate his sorrow for his sins.  He whipped himself until he bled.  He slept outside in the cold.  He fasted until he fainted from hunger.  He put dried peas in his shoes.  He tortured himself to try to earn God's mercy.  But there was still no comfort, no assurance, and no salvation.
     Eventually, Luther's teachers decided he should lecture on books of the Bible at the new university in Wittenberg.  Despite Luther's protests, he went.  He read the Bible and prepared for his lectures.  In his reading, Luther discovered something.  Yes, God is righteous and demand that we be righteous, holy, and obedient.  And God does condemn all who fail to do this.  But God also reveals a righteousness which does not come from our efforts.  This righteousness comes from Jesus Christ to all who believe in him.  The Scriptures proclaim that Jesus Christ came to save sinners from guilt, from death, from hell, and from the devil's torment.
     Jesus had declared, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  The truth of God's love and mercy is revealed in Scripture alone.  The Scriptures are where God promised a Savior to sinners as soon as sin entered into the world.  The Scriptures are where God promised that he would send a perfect sacrifice which would be our substitute under God's judgment.  God had promised through the prophets, “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  Salvation is assured by Scripture alone.  For in the Scriptures, we have God's promise that he will save sinners.
     God was faithful to his promise.  God came in the flesh to be the Savior of the world.  That is why Jesus claims, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus is true God, and he points us to his own words and promises.  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.  St. John the Baptist declared the truth about Jesus.  He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Jesus is the propitiation (or, atoning sacrifice) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  By taking your sins from you, Jesus has set you free.  You are free from God's wrath.  You are free from any damning judgment.  You are free from hell.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, you will be set free from the grave.  You will rise from the dead to live forever.  These are God's promises to you, all fulfilled by Jesus.  Jesus lived in perfect obedience for you to supply the righteousness you need.  Jesus suffered and died under God's judgment for your unrighteousness so that it is taken away from you.  Then Jesus rose from the dead to show that his payment for your sins is certain.  The Son of God, indeed, sets you free from sin, death, and the devil.  These are not just ideas about God's love for you.  These are God's works for you and God's promises to you.  “God so loved the world,” which means that God loved the world in this way: “He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.
     In the days of Martin Luther, not many people knew the Scriptures.  The Bible was not written for the common man to read.  It was written in Latin, and so only the learned could read it.  The common people were at the mercy of the Church or their local priest to proclaim what the Lord says.  No doubt, people wondered: “How do I know that this is what God says?  How do I know the priest is right?  How do I know the Church is right?”  Unfortunately, the priest and the Church were not always right.  People were taught that forgiveness and salvation were only delivered through the workings of the priest who ultimately got his authority from the Pope.  One of the ways people were told they could find freedom from their sins was through the purchase of a papal indulgence.  For a fee—“a contribution to Christ's Church” sounds better—a Christian could be granted a papal indulgence which told the Christian that he would be free from the punishment of sins in purgatory.  He had the Pope's word on it.  In fact, these indulgences could even set relatives free from punishment.  What heartless soul would let his parents and grandparents languish in puragory if he could gain their freedom?
     It was this practice in particular that prompted Martin Luther to draft his 95 Theses which sparked the entire Lutheran Reformation.  Luther came up with 95 statements to challenge what the Church was doing.  Rather than to through 95 ways to be sure of salvation, let's limit ourselves to one.  Consider the Gospel again today.  This is what the Lord says in the Scriptures: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus does not refer you to indulgences.  Jesus does not suggest that the Church will invent new and exciting ways to impart salvation.  Jesus points you to himself and his words.  Jesus is your Savior; for he has done all the work to save you.  And Jesus promises to those who abide in his word: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)  It is faith in Jesus' words and promises which set you free from sin, death, and the devil.  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone. 
     While you can still get indulgences from the Roman Catholic Church today, they don't seem to get much attention in America.  That does not mean American Christians are immune to seeking assurance in the wrong places.  Ask someone, “How do you know you are saved?” and some will answer, “I know it because I feel it in my heart.”  So, what happens if you don't feel saved anymore?  If you are ever in a hospital bed and have quiet hours to think, the devil will be there to remind you of your sins.  It will be the one time the devil will not lie to you.  He will simply remind you of what you have thought, said, and done.  You will know he is right.  And you will not feel saved.  You will feel the sting of Jesus' words: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever. “ (John 8:34-35)  So, now what?  Are you saved?  If you are counting on your own feelings to find assurance, you will be crippled by fear.
     Still others will claim, “The Lord speaks to me.  That is how I know I am saved.”  That sounds especially pious and holy.  But here is an important question: How do you know it is God who speaks to you?  Is it because you like it?  Because it flatters you?  Because it agrees with what you already think?  Understand this and mark it well: There is no way you can know God speaks to you unless it comes from the Scriptures.  Martin Luther thought it was pious and holy to become a monk.  He found no assurance of salvation there.  So also with you, if you are turning to your feelings, your sincerity, your actions, or anywhere else other than the Scriptures, you have no assurance of salvation.  In fact, if you do these things, you are turning away from the only place where God says anything to you.
     Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.  That is where God delivers his promises, bestows his mercy, grants forgiveness, and saves sinners.  Our Lord has also been pleased to attach that word to water and makes this promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  He attaches his word to bread and wine and declares, “This is my body, which is given for you.” (Luke 22:19)  “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood...which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)  He even attaches his promise to men who speak in his name: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:22-23)  This is where Lord forgives sins and saves sinners.  Jesus does not refer you to any other place.  It is not so because I say so, because some Church Council said so, or because the Pope said so.  It is so because God has said so, and he recorded it in the Scriptures so that you can know it is so.
     Therefore, salvation is assured in Scripture alone.  This is where God has given his word so that you can know what God has done, what God has promised, and what God gives you.  If you know this, you have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement. God has revealed and recorded all of these things so that you can have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement.  Jesus wants you to know and abide in his word.  If you do, you will be forever free from sin, death, and the devil.  His word is the only way you know you are saved.

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

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