Summary: In this Sermon series we explore some of the treasures of our Reformation Heritage and Identity. This Sermon is based upon the struggles facing the First Century Jewish Christians and those leaders of the Reformation. The Value of God Grace comes to the
Well, today we are looking at our last “sola” or “alone” statement of the Reformation. This one is “sola gratia” or “grace alone.” Of all the words that we use in the church, the word Grace is among the “big ones.” We understand, we acknowledge, we celebrate the fact that we are saved by God’s grace alone. No good works, no earning it on our own, no being good enough, nothing like that. Just grace. Grace won for us through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, God’s own son, on the cross as payment in full for our sins.
Grace is such an important idea, but it is one that as a preacher, get’s hard to talk about sometimes. What I mean by that is that we talk about the cross and the empty tomb, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ EVERY WEEK! The reason we do this is really simple. We are sinners who need to hear about Jesus death and every week, we are people living in a hopeless and sin encrusted world that need to hear about the hope of the resurrection every week. We all know that. But sometimes, at least I know I do, sometimes we take this message of grace, of mercy, of unconditional love from Christ for granted. We think maybe we need to talk about something different, or new, or exciting.
But what it boils down to is this. There is nothing more important to keep in front of our eyes and hearts than the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus. There is NOTHING more important for us to know than that Jesus loves us this I know. There is nothing more essential for us to cling to than the cross of Christ, and to know that in our darkest hour, the love of Jesus is there shining on us brightly, undeservedly, and without question.
There is so much we could talk about when it comes to that simple statement, “We have salvation through Christ’s grace alone.” We could go step by step through all of scripture, we could do an in-depth study of doctrine, of the Old Testament Sacrificial System, and it’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ, we could look at the Sacraments, do year-long study of the teachings of Jesus, there are ALL KINDS of approaches to this subject.
But as I was doing my preparation for this week. One thing kept jumping out at me from studying the Hebrews passage, and also from the history of the Reformation. And that is this: The VALUE of the Gospel Message. It kept coming to mind the price that people have been willing to pay throughout the centuries so that the Gospel would continue to be preached, that the Grace of God would continue to be proclaimed, that people would be able to find hope in Christ and him crucified.
This price is laid out so powerfully in the book of Hebrews. We don’t know for sure where the people were that received this letter, most likely Rome. But we do know quite a bit about what was going on. This letter is written to a group of Jewish people who had become converts to Christianity. So there was this period of time where they were working out how to integrate with the Gentile Christian population. The Jewish Christians held Jesus to be the Messiah, but they still undoubtedly dressed like Jews, and at Jewish food, and upheld the Jewish traditions. No real problems here.
But the rub came when Emperor Nero, looking for a scapegoat to divert attention away from himself, declared Christianity a religio ilicita, an illegal religion. All over the land Christians faced horrible times. They were having their property taken from them, they were jailed without cause or trial, they were beaten, and inevitably, many were being killed for refusing to renounce their faith. It’s hard to even imagine, isn’t it.
But the Jewish Christians faced a unique kind of challenge. You see, the people persecuting the church didn’t know all the details about the Christian faith. And while they went after the Gentile Christians with rapid intensity, they were leaving the Jewish Christians alone. I guess, assuming that they were still Jewish, and not an illegal religion. But the persecutors were beginning to figure it out. We read in chapter 10:32-34 about some of what they were experiencing: “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”