Today is the day of the Church year that we celebrate the Reformation. To some people, this day may just be a glorified pep rally, thinking to themselves, “U- Rah, Rah, Lutherans!” To others it might be nothing more than a day where we once again tediously reflect on the history of the Lutheran Church and its founder. Neither of those two will be our objective this morning. Instead, we will focus on the message that God restored through his servant Martin Luther, namely justification, the teaching from Scripture that God has declared sinners not guilty because Jesus has paid for all their sins.
As we listen to what God has to say in this portion of Scripture, we take note that...
Theme: We are justified freely by God’s grace, as Scripture testifies to all people, and as God’s patience proves.
I. God wants people to realize first of all that we need this justification. That is why God’s law allows no boasting of human satisfaction. The Apostle Paul wrote that this law silences our mouths because we have all sinned and we fall short of God’s glory. When confronted by God’s law that demands sinlessness and perfect obedience, we cannot say a word of what we have done, because we have failed God completely.
The law also shows that we are accountable to God for all the things we do wrong. Our consciences suggest this. God in his Word makes it clear, “The soul who sins is the one that will die.” No one is excused from God’s law. It shows each and every one of us that we are sinners. Paul wrote that “ through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Martin Luther felt the weight of this law intensely. He knew that his sins would condemn him when he died. He knew that his sinfulness only earned him eternal death. He tried to earn God’s love by doing all sorts of good works which the Catholic Church said would free him from his sins’ guilt. But inside, he knew that God’s law still condemned him for his sins. He knew there was no price which he could pay that would remove his sins. He despaired.
How often isn’t that our experience? We sin by not loving God as we should. We don’t give God a proper place in our lives. We are blessed to know the answer to the question, “How can I be saved?”, but how often do we really appreciate it? God has spiritual food at our fingertips and we act like it’s no good. Think to yourselves for a minute about the many times when you just put studying God’s Word off for stupid excuses. Have you ever vegged in front of the television all evening and not opened the Bible? Have you skipped church and Bible study because Sunday is your only day to sleep in? Have you ever used church as nap time instead of listening to what God has to say through the preaching of his Word? Do you cherish God’s Word and study it at every opportunity? If Martin Luther were alive today I think he would be pretty sad at how this generation of Lutherans treats God’s Word as if it were no longer that precious. In the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, the average church attendance is 40 to 50 percent of the members, while average Bible class attendance is 10 - 20 percent. Out of our church, we average 40 people in the adult and teen Bible classes. That isn’t even 10 percent of our communicant members! When we realize how we are treating God, do we despair of what we have done? Do we ever feel like we don’t deserve God’s love but only his fiery wrath?
Martin Luther the monk had access to God’s Word. Thankfully, Luther turned to God’s Word to find the answer to his dilemma. Just as the Holy Spirit made Luther aware that he needed a Savior, so the Spirit made us aware that we need a Savior.
When Luther turned to Scripture to find out how he could be saved, he found that the gospel message told him that he had a Savior, someone who already paid for his sins. He found out that we could only be saved by what God has done for us. As he was teaching about God’s Word at Wittenberg, he came across a passage that talked about “the righteousness of God.” As studied what the Scriptures taught about this righteousness of God, he found it was not a righteousness demanded of us by God, but a righteousness given by God to us freely. Romans 1:17 states, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Some have pictured justification in this way. You are in a courtroom and God is the judge. You are accused of horrible debts. In fact, you are guilty. The judge hears the case and you are found guilty. But just then, your attorney, Christ Jesus steps in and says, “Your honor, I have paid all my clients’ debts.” Then the judge acquits you, because of what Christ did for you. You are no longer guilty in God’s eyes. Christ bought you out of condemnation. Christ redeemed you from your sins!
When Martin Luther learned of this precious message, he bet his life on it. He faced the fury of an angry pope and the whole Catholic regime. He even stood on trial before the Emperor. Yet in all this, Luther did not stand on his pride or arrogance, but always turned to what Scripture said. He could not teach or preach otherwise, because he knew he was a redeemed child of God.
It is only here (holding up the Bible) that we find God speaking to us about his free forgiveness in Christ. It is only in Scripture that we find the Gospel message which can calm our troubled hearts and encourage us to live according to God’s will.
Transition: Convinced that God has redeemed us completely in Christ by what Scripture says, we hold onto the fact that God justifies us freely by his grace, because God’s Word repeatedly states this. The Apostle Paul in this letter, also turns us to God’s patience as a proof of that justification.
II. He wrote, “God presented him( that is Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished ”. What did he mean by that? First of all, does God need to prove anything in the first place? No, least of all that he is a just God. But he uses his patience to prove it for our sake. God’s patience, his previous dismissal of sin, shows that it is by grace that God justifies us freely. Just as he forgave the sins of believers who looked by faith to a the promised Savior who had not yet come, so today he still forgives our sins by faith in our Savior. Scripture says Noah and his family were saved because in a world that had turned away from God, he still believed God’s promise to send a Savior. Scripture says righteousness was credited to Abraham by faith, not because he had done anything for it, but because he trusted God’s promises. God forgave the sins of Old Testament believers in view of what their Savior would do for them.
What about today? His current patience with mankind also shows that he still justifies freely by his grace. Scripture says God is patient with us not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to have eternal life. He is still patient today so that those who are ignorant might have a chance to believe. Those who harden their hearts will be given no excuse on the day of judgment.
What about us, those who believe in him? Have you ever fealt that the daily struggle against our flesh is too burdensome? Have you ever been depressed by how often you, a child of God, fail him? I think we all have had those days. Did you ever wonder why God doesn’t just take us to heaven when we are converted? I mean, it seems logical doesn’t it? Then we wouldn’t sin anymore.
God has a reason for being patient with us. He uses each day to give us an opportunity to turn to his Word and his promises. He uses them to strengthen our trust in him. He wants us to use them as an opportunity to share his Word and promises with others. Moses lived a hundred and twenty years. The first fourty years of his life, he thought he was someone great, the adopted son of Pharoah’s daughter. When he fled to Midian, he realized that he was really a nobody. For forty years, he was no one special. The last forty years of his life, however, he learned how God could use a nobody to accomplish great things. I don’t think Moses really understood his troubled life until the last years of his life.
That same God is using these remaining days in our earthly lives to show us that he loves us. He promises that he works all things for our good. Through his Word and through the Sacraments, he keeps proving that he is a just and merciful God. He repeats again and again that he justifies us freely by his grace.
When we look at the world around us, often it is disturbing. The world seems to be in chaos. We hear of children killing children, grown ups abusing and killing infants. Society pushes for toleration of homosexuality, pre-marital sex and co-habitation, and abortion. Beyond that, false teachers in the visible church tend to turn more and more away from God’s Word and teach their own ideas. Why does God allow it? Maybe, you have prayed that God would end this world. I am sure Luther sometimes pleaded for God to end it all. He looked at how the gospel and those who preached it were constantly attacked. Yet, it is because God justifies freely by his grace that he continues to allow this world to go on. His patience only proves that we are only declared righteous by Christ’s sacrifice for us. Even in the midst of all the chaos around us, his patience proves that God is just and that he justifies only through faith in Jesus Christ. He has proven this because the message of salvation has been passed on from generation to generation, and will continue to endure until the last day when he gathers all believers to himself.
God wants you and me not only to know that message of justification, he wants us to take it into our hearts and to cherish it. We have been given such a great blessing in that we know how much God loves us. When we pour over God’s Word and appreciate what he has done for us by bringing us this message, our response will be two-fold: 1) we will turn to it again and again for comfort and strength and 2) we will turn to others and share it with them. Martin Luther was a great man, but we celebrate today not the man, but the message that the great reformer returned to God’s people. Salvation is ours not by anything that we could do, but because God justifies us freely by his grace. Amen.