October 27, 2002
INTRODUCTION: We are all familiar with the quest of Martin Luther. His was a single question. How do I find a merciful God? Plagued by his sin and terrified by the Law, Luther sought after a gracious God. He found a gracious God when he finally learned that we gain access to God not in our own doing but in the righteousness, which comes to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Of course Luther found this message in the clear passages of the Word of God; the Bible.
What about man today? From the 1963 Helsinki gathering of the World Lutheran Federation we read: “man today no longer asks: how do I come to a gracious God? The person asks more radically and fundamentally.. where are you God?” This has caused Pastor Robert Rosin to write: “it only seems to be a more radical question if the sense of sin and guilt is lost and there is no fear and trembling at the prospect of standing before the Almighty. One ought to be careful about what one seeks. He may find it and then what? Luther and we as well know full well what we’ll find if we go hunting God on our own. The specter of success in finding Him on our terms should (as it did Luther) terrify us to death."
The wonder of our faith is realized when we consider that God in His love and mercy operates not because but in spite of who we are for Christ's sake! That endless grace and love that gives us the righteousness we need is something we’ll never really understand, but something that again, by God’s grace, through His Spirit, we will believe. In describing this grace of God Luther said it was “As if the gates of paradise were flung open" This morning let us consider the liberating power of God’s almighty Word.
I. There is some liberating that has gone sour.
A. God our Father from the very moment He created time and brought this universe into existence had a divine plan. That plan was to dwell with man; to be one with Him, to be in harmony with him. We find in the book of Genesis that it was a habit of the Lord to converse with man.
All that changed when in the cool of the day the Lord sought after Adam and his wife Eve only to find that they had fallen headlong into sin. "Have you eaten of the fruit from the tree which I had forbidden you not to eat?" the Lord had to ask.
Man's fall into sin is what set into motion a direction that went sour. True, that forbidden fruit gave the appearance to be something liberating. The Scriptures describe how the cunning and lies of the devil seduced Adam and Eve. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable to make one wise, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was (there) with her, and he ate it" (Genesis 3:6)
The sad reality is that man's fall has created a rift between the Lord and man as well as man against his neighbor. Separated by God and alienated from each other the Lord gave fallen man His Law. That Law was quite clear. That Law tells man what to do what not to do and how to live. What the Lord expected and demanded of our first parents Adam and Eve He still expects of us today. Despite what modern man desires to think; namely, that he is a law unto himself; diluting himself into thinking that there are no moral absolutes or that moral decisions are all relative the demands of God through His Law are quite clear. We are to live righteously before God. The question which each must have presented is simply this: "how well do we fare?"
B. On the surface most people would claim that they stand quite well before God and His Law. Consider the prayer of the Pharisee. As he stood before God he rattled off the supposed good qualities that he could offer to God. " I thank Thee that I am not created as other men…I fast twice a week, I tithe of all I possess, not like that poor tax collector over there…" On the surface it would appear that this man had his act together however his motives were all self directed. This is the problem that includes every man and every woman, every boy and every girl that we are all under the curse of sin. Try as we might we can not measure up to the scrutiny of the Law.
Transition: What then is man to do? He can not live up to the demands of the Law by himself. He can not make it null and void by choosing not to follow it. Nor can he choose to follow only those aspects of his own choosing. The Law, plainly stated, can never bring liberty. The Law only produces punishment, banishment and death. If we are ever to be free we need something outside of us that will bring a true and lasting peace.
II. Consider then Liberation that's been achieved.
A. Christ’s righteousness frees us from self-justification which only leads to failure. We need not look to ourselves anymore. Our own works couldn't cut it before God. As the hymn writer reminds us so well: "Not the labors of my hands could fulfill Thy Law's demands". That is why we turn our entire focus on Christ. He fulfilled the requirements of the Law Himself. He lived the perfect life we could not live.
B. Christ’s righteousness frees us for new life with God and with others. In His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection the requirements of the Law are fulfilled once and forever. The righteousness, which Jesus Christ won for us by His perfect obedience to the will of the Father has won for the world salvation and life which, is now passed on to us as a gift. We have not earned this gift nor have we deserved it. But thanks be to God for His mercy and grace. He now expressed to us His love and mercy by giving us a new life. Jesus said: "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly" (John). That is His free gift to us.
C. Christ’s righteousness frees us from fear of death and points to paradise open. The Law only produces fright and fear. We need not fear when death draws near. We need not be frightened about the consequences of sin. Death has lost its sting. Death is swallowed up in victory. Thus Paul can tell us in 1 Corinthians 15: "Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (Vv. 55-56)
CONCLUSION: What is this thing we call Reformation? It's simply the realization that God in His Word has given us a clear and certain message, which leads to life and salvation every single time. Man by his sinfulness will be inclined to misunderstand, distort, and pollute this simple message. But God will not allow that to happen. He simply draws us back to His Word; that Word where the truth will always make one free. Rely neither on yourselves nor in the precepts of men. Back to the Word - it is there, in the Word - where that the clarion call of liberty, and life are truly found.