Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of End Times: Reformation (November 4, 2018)

MARK 13:5-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus issued a warning to the Church: “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:5-6)  Now, to be fair, there are not many who are so bold as to claim that they are Jesus Christ.  They can be easily dismissed as liars.  But many come speaking in Jesus' name—and they do not all preach faithfully.  And many are led astray—because they are not listening carefully to the word of God.  See that no one leads you astray.  Cling to Scripture alone so that you will not be deceived. 
     Deceptions are dangerous because they are mostly true and sound good.  Sometimes we even want to believe that they are true.  When a person dies after a long bout with cancer, it is commonly said: “He's in a better place now.”  That is said of everyone who dies, and we want to believe it is true.  Sadly it is not.  Not everyone goes to heaven.  The Scriptures are painstakingly clear on this: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)  
     Now, which one sounds nicer—everyone goes to a better place or whoever does not believe will be damned?  We would rather believe what sounds nice than what is true.  Do not be deceived: There is no salvation outside of Jesus.  There may be nice people outside of Jesus, but there is no salvation there.  This is why we yearn for people to come to church and to hear God's word.  That alone brings saving faith.  Cling to Scripture alone so that you will not be deceived.
     False teachers will come.  They will be friendly, engaging, and popular.  They may even believe what they are preaching.  However, no matter how popular a teaching is, no matter how long it has been around, and no matter how influential the teacher is, every teaching must always be measured by Scripture alone.  Salvation depends upon it.
     Today, we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation, which was ultimately a return to what the Scriptures teach.  It was not a new teaching; it was a rediscovery of the Bible.  But today is certainly not a day to pat ourselves on the back that we have it all figured out.  Jesus' warning still stands: “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:5-6)  False teachers and deception never go away.  Each generation is plagued by them.  Each generation must learn God's truth, defend it, and stand firm in it.  Each Christian needs to cling to Scripture alone so that we will not be deceived.
     What triggered the Lutheran Reformation more than anything was one poor, miserable sinner's deep desire to know that he was truly saved.  He listened to his Church, which spoke in the name of Jesus.  He was told that God's favor was gained by all who did the works which God required.  Now, this sounds right.  The Ten Commandments tell us what God wants us to do.  We know that we are supposed to be good.  No one is opposed to people being good.  If you pay attention to the news, you are praying more and more that people would be good.  But how good do you have to be to be saved?  How many good deeds are necessary?  How do you know if you are doing the right good deeds?  Are you praying enough?  Are your offerings enough?  Is your church attendance good enough?  Are you keeping your life free from enough vulgarity or moral failings?  If your goodness is essential for your salvation, will you ever know if you are saved?  Or can you ever be saved? 
     Cling to Scripture alone so that you will not be deceived and so that you will not despair.  How do we know we are saved?  Well, it is true that holiness is necessary for salvation.  For this is what the Scriptures teach: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3-4)  So, how do we find this righteousness?  Again, to the Scriptures: “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.” (Romans 3:21-22)  
     The very holiness you need Jesus Christ supplies to you.  While we strive to do good works because we want to honor and thank God, our works do not save us.  Jesus Christ does because he is our righteousness.  Jesus was not merely good; he was perfectly obedient to God's commands.  But he exchanged his righteous life for our guilt.   The Righteous One died for the unrighteous.  Again, to the Scriptures: “For our sake (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)  Jesus Christ has become your sin and has taken up your curse.  You, in turn, have received his righteousness.  How?  Again, to the Scriptures: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  No matter how much the devil may torment you about your sins, you have the word of God to shut him up.  That word and promise were sealed upon you through your baptism.  God does not lie to you, but continually assures you that your sins are forgiven.  Therefore, you are saved by faith in Christ alone.  Cling to Scripture alone so that you will not be deceived.
     Once Martin Luther took this to heart, he preached it, wrote about it, and sought to bring it to light.  He not only preached God's truth, Luther also wrote scathing words about the pastors and priests who were speaking in Jesus' name that Jesus is a God whose favor is gained by purchasing indulgences, by making pilgrimages to holy places, by praying to the dead, and so on.  There was no word of Jesus being a Savior who died for sinners and forgives them.  Luther was determined that everyone hear God's word of salvation through Jesus and to receive the comfort he had through it.  After several years of upholding God's truth and exposing deceivers, Luther was summoned to appear before the king and governors.  They demanded that Luther retract everything or face the consequences, which certainly meant death as a heretic.  Luther must have recognized that, if he did not retract everything and get back in line with the Church, the Church would be fractured forever.  So, if you want to lay the blame for so many denominations at the feet of Martin Luther, I guess this is where it happens.  But peace and unity at all costs has a great cost.  It meant forfeiting the Scriptures and Jesus' promises to preserve one church organization.
     Luther did not appeal for tolerance.  He did not demand freedom to believe what he wanted to believe.  Luther was captive to God's word.  He was willing to retract anything—as long as the Scriptures would be used to correct him.  He knew that Popes and Church Councils and pastors could err, and that they had.  He knew that he could err, for he was just as human as they were.  But the Scriptures do not lie.  They will never deceive us.  And so he took has stand there, willing to suffer whatever he had to.  As long as he was able to stand on the Scriptures alone, he knew that he was standing firm.
     Jesus commanded us: “See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:5-6)  Many come in Jesus' name.  Many claim to preach Jesus' word.  And many follow.  Only those who cling to Scripture alone, however, will not be deceived by clever arguments or persuasive preachers.  Be on your guard.  You will be tempted to concede parts of God's word for the sake of harmony with the world.  As we see the world filled with wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and so forth, many will plead with us that our greatest goal will simply be to get along with each other and to work to make things better.  We will be urged to put aside beliefs for the sake of peace and love.  It is attractive and deceptive.  Who despises peace?  Who doesn't want people to get along or to work together for better lives? 
     But peace at all costs has a great cost.  If we have to forfeit portions of God's word to achieve that, then we will choose faithfulness to God's word and the consequences of a petty world.  We will confess what the Holy Spirit has given us—the Holy Scriptures.  And, of course, if you are going to confess what they say, you have to know what they say.  So, if you do not want to be led astray, cling to the Scriptures alone.  Read them.  Learn them.  Come to Bible Class and ask questions about them.  Meditate upon them.  Commit yourself to them. 
     Cling to the Scriptures alone.  Scripture alone assures you of forgiveness.  Scripture alone guarantees salvation.  Scripture alone will never deceive you or disappoint you.  Rather, it delivers you comfort and confidence that God saves you.

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

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