We must never dream of terms or truce with evil. To suppose that we can let him alone, and all will be well, is a deadly error. We must fight or perish: evil will slay us if we do not slay it. Our only safety will lie in a determined, vigorous opposition to sin, whatever shape it assumes, whatever it may threaten, whatever it may promise. The Holy Ghost alone can maintain in us this enmity to sin.
Brothers and sisters, fear weighs upon all our minds. The news continues its cycle of drumming out the advancement of this unseen but deadly villain. There is good reason to feel the weight of this on us, because so much mystery surrounds it, both natural and man-made due to the lack of testing.
It is my goal with choosing this sermon to point our minds, hearts, and eyes to the focal point of our faith, to the cross of Jesus. The weight of glory waiting for Him drove Jesus to endure all the suffering and death that He did, and we place our eternal and temporal hope in that truth. Jesus promised his disciples that in following Him, they were not avoiding the sufferings of this life–they were in fact going to walk in their own sufferings, because of the hatred of this sinful world for its holy and just God. The scent of the gospel to those being saved is life, but to those who are not, it is a scent of death, a warning of the wrath to come.
Rest in the midst of anxiety – in His blood
We’ve talked about the fear and anxiety gripping the world as we continue to pass through the ongoing crisis surrounding the coronavirus. The number of cases, and the number of deaths, continue to climb. As an American I don’t always know how this kind of thing weighs on the minds of my brothers and sisters in other nations (though I would love to hear the testimonies of those who are engaging with this, and Jarod and I would like to talk about that on an upcoming Kings Highway Radio episode). But it seems that a lot of my American brethren are struggling with this especially because it’s clear that this threatens not just life, but way of life. I certainly don’t disagree with that. After all, having so many businesses forced to shutter and social interactions ranging from movie theaters to that most crucial to our lives as believers, church services, being disrupted could hardly be more troubling to our hearts. And beyond that, the looming threat of global recession, job loss, and whatever may come beyond it that we cannot see.
The Lord knows all this, and more than that, He rules over it in ways and to ends we cannot know at this time. We don’t long for pain and suffering, but neither should we allow ourselves to buck against it in anger and ingratitude. Jesus knows, and though His rod of discipline may fall, His love is not less for His children. Don’t forget the reminder of the writer of Hebrews that God disciplines those whom He loves, and this time as all other hardships and evils that have befallen us and those who came before us will obey the words of Paul in Romans 8:28: all things work together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.
That should encourage peace in our hearts. I don’t write this as one who sits above the fray with no fears weighing on his own heart, but as one preaching this to himself as well. The blood of Christ preached in this sermon is sufficient for all the evils of my life, and by that blood I go before the Father and ask daily for strength, for peace of heart and mind, and for encouragement when I see the black unknown of this world looming before me. I pray the same encouragement for all of you, and I especially pray for those of you who do not know God in Jesus Christ who He sent, that you would feel the weight of His call on your hearts, and turn, and rest in Him.
If you feel so led and can do so without disrupting your own support for your local church, please consider joining the Patreon we have created! My goal is to be able to set more time aside to continue creating content, and as I figure out exactly what I can do with this, I hope to be able to find new and creative ways to serve and minister to my listeners as well.
I have been thinking for a while now about what an episode in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation would look like. After all, there are so many things that can be discussed, and are being so discussed in churches, podcasts and blog posts around the world: the fives solas of the Reformation, the history of the church that led up to and resulted from the actions of the reformers, and the finer points of the theological debates that produced such massive change throughout Western civilization and the church worldwide.
I decided, however, to get down to what I see as the real “why” of the entire issue: What was so important that Martin Luther decided to pursue an open debate on the subjects that he did, 500 years ago? What motivated so many people to buck against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and pursue the Scriptures without layering them with Vatican magisterial tradition and teachings? It was the realization that peace with God lay not in the repetitious taking of the mass, not in plenary indulgences or penances performed, not in any deed a man can do, but in the perfectly atoning and transforming blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,and since we have a great priest over the house of God,let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.–Hebrews 10:19-25
Hebrews 10 contrasts the constant working of the Israelite priests, with the finished work of Jesus. The high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies once a year to perform the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and even then before he entered he had to ensure that he had observed the sacrifices to cover his own sins, lest he fall down dead while in the holy place. But when Jesus died the veil separating that holy place in the temple from everything else tore. The types and shadows of the Old Testament that, as Hebrews says elsewhere, could not truly pay for a single sin, gave way to the weight of the real and final sacrifice of Christ Himself.
Because of that we can walk into that holy place ourselves–not simply wherever that place might have been on the planet, though the temple itself has long since fallen, but into the throne room of God. We can speak with him in prayer. We can trust in His providing hands to give perfect gifts to us in life. And we can go to Him with our sins, fears, failures and weaknesses, because Jesus did exactly what He intended to do:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.–Hebrews 9:24-28
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg castle church, he wasn’t challenging the authority of the pope, at least not yet. He was acting on conviction of the words of Scripture, as he had been teaching through Galatians for the last year and had, as he had examined the Greek text, come to believe that certain traditions of the Roman Catholic Church did not seem to line up with them. Indeed, the reality was that the Catholic Church had set aside its duty to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in and out of season and disciple its people, and instead had become a world power that held great authority over many kingdoms in Europe.
Luther wanted to see debate happen on these theses, these specific statements based on the conviction put on his heart through the Word of God. He challenged the culture that was holding onto false, unbiblical ideas about the nature of our relationship with God, in this case over the issue of buying indulgences that can supposedly help free one from time spent suffering in purgatory before being able to go to heaven. That was only the beginning, of course, but that was the spark that set off the firestorm of the Reformation across Europe.
And it is in that same spirit today that, as Christians, I believe the Reformation must continue. The Reformation did not end when the last of the original reformers died, or when the pope stopped allowing the sale of indulgences.
The Reformation continues today, as we must still hold our cultures accountable to the testimony of the Scriptures. There is a great deal of confusion and deception within elements of the church: the Roman Catholic Church still teaches as official doctrine that you can have right standing before God by taking part in their sacraments. There are many counterfeits of the faith, such as Mormonism and the Watchtower Society’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, that attempt to use Christian lingo and Christian Scripture but use them to arrive at decidedly non-Christian ends. And there are entire denominations that have been taken over by secular humanism and have no gospel to preach, ultimately to shrivel up and die.
Being a Reformed Christian is not simply about believing in the truth of the doctrines of grace or understanding the meaning and importance of the five solas of the Reformation, though certainly those are important and foundational. Being a Reformed believer means you are living out and holding up the truths of Scripture against those inside and outside of the church that would draw us away and distract us from the mission to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the corners of the earth.
That spiritual battle continues, and we must persist exactly as the reformers did in calling for a return to the fundamental truths of Scripture as the ultimate rule of truth, and in pointing to the blood of Christ alone as the perfect and complete atonement for the sin of all who believe in His great Name.
I want to leave you with some recommended reading that I feel is very much on this theme. Firstly, is an article at the Gospel Coalition called “Thank God for Flawed Heroes.” It discusses some history about the reformers and the fact that God used very flawed and imperfect men to effect such a tremendous moment in the history of the church. I also want to link to an article at Desiring God, called “Prisoner Number 2491: The Inspiring Story of the First Nazi Martyr.” It is the story of Paul Schneider, a Christian pastor who stood firm in the heyday of Nazi rule over Germany and refused to bow to pressure to change his teaching of the Christian gospel. As a result he was arrested, horribly beaten, and eventually died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Schneider’s story reminds of many important truths, but for just a moment I want to mention this one: suffering will come, in one form or another, into the life of every Christian. We know that is true because our Lord suffered, and if we are following after Him, we can very much count on the world and the enemy despising us and seeking to harm us. Schneider, however, did not respond with vitriol. He sought to live and love faithfully in line with the Word and with the example of Christ, and just like the reformers before him, he knew that eternity was so very close and so very much more important that this brief and troubled life.
So many today suffer in the same way. My friends, my brethren, let us take this day of remembering the 500th anniversary of the Reformation not simply as an occasion to think of the job as being done back then, but to think how we can continue to pursue the same goal the reformers had in our own day. Let us worship our King boldly and with all love. Let us serve and love our neighbors faithfully, and seek to see the best for our cities. And let us respond to hatred given by those who despise the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the same love and humility that Christ himself showed on the cross, trusting as the reformers did that God will accomplish His work perfectly as He has intended to since before the world was founded.
This week’s song: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Jarod Grice
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all, at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of those realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written off me in the scroll of the book.'”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifices for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.—Hebrews 9:24-10:14
I don’t normally start out with such a long passage, but I thought it was necessary in light of my reasons for choosing this sermon and in light of what we are remembering when we call October 31 Reformation Day. For some, the idea of such a day is simply a historical occurrence, when a monk named Martin Luther brought what was essentially a call for the academic equivalent of a football game to the public’s attention. Luther wasn’t trying to set the world on fire, and he wasn’t even trying to criticize the Pope (at that time, at least). He was trying to bring challenges to public debate on very important issues. But what those 95 theses became as they spread across Germany was the spark that lit the fuse on a powderkeg piled up on Rome-controlled Europe by godly men like Jan Huss and William Tyndale, men who saw the truth of Scripture even in the face of a Roman Catholic Church that was (and still is) trying desperately to obfuscate it for their own power’s sake.
And that brings me to the reason that I wanted to read this particular sermon on the 499th celebration of the beginning of the Reformation: there were many issues that were debated over and that served to demonstrate the rot at the foundation of the Catholic Church. But the very root of it, and the issue which was foundational to the Protestant return to biblical theology, was the completeness of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross in paying for sin on behalf of His people. Rome taught, and continues to teach at least as its official dogma, that Christ essentially made a way for us all to have right standing before God, but that the way we truly achieve that standing is through participation, for our entire lives, in the sacraments of the church. Even then, that is not sufficient in Rome’s view, for all but the purest of saints do not go directly to heaven after death, but instead go to purgatory to endure satispassio, the suffering that is part of atoning for sin.
The sale of indulgences was one of the major issues that led to Luther’s actions. Indulgences were (and are, though today they are not given the same way they were in his day) a “get out of purgatory but not for free” card, or at least a way to cut the time of relatives there shorter. But Scripture makes no such claims about Christians and their sins. It is why I chose this sermon, and why I chose to use such a large passage of Scripture: Hebrews, by its testimony to the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His place seated at the right hand of the Father, completely repudiates the idea that there is any longer any sacrifice or suffering for sin on behalf of those for whom Christ worked. It is, in fact, an insult to Christ as Savior to say that you believe you need to add anything to what He did. The author of Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus paid the price, completely and utterly, and there is no work left to be done. Paul takes this argument on fully in his writings to both the church of Rome and the church of Galatia, and if you haven’t taken the time yet to read those books, you should. The truth of the gospel of Jesus, that we can rest completely in His work and that in Christ, there is no fear of any judgment but only peace with God, is life to us, and is the message I want to bring through this episode.
The Reformation began as a man standing upon the convictions of his conscience, that he would not be convinced of anything but what Scripture pointed to, and that he would trust fully in the strength of God in the face of governments and church leaders who threatened life, limb and livelihood. I wanted to read this sermon because it is important for us to remember this truth, and just as much it is important for us to prepare to do the same thing. The world echoes the same lies it did in Luther’s day and that it has since sin first cracked the world’s joy and fractured our relationship with God in the garden: you can have your own way, because the real source of wisdom and goodness is you. You can do what you want, because ultimately your heart is the arbiter of good.
But yet we continue to find, as we run after this mythical realm of perfect peace coexisting with everyone pursuing the natural desires of their hearts, that all we find there is sadness, heartbreak, and ultimately death. Our hearts cannot bring us happiness, all they will do is hand us a broken cup to try to satisfy our thirst. In the end, we as Christians cannot agree with what the world wants, because we know it ends in death and hell. We want to see those around us set free from these lies, and find the truth, because in that truth is life as it was truly intended for us by our Maker.
So no matter the human orthodoxy demanded of us, the believer ought to reject it, and stand on his conscience and the convictions of God’s own Word. God has worked perfectly in the sacrifice of Christ to pay for our sins, and all those who trust in Christ have, right now, perfect union with Jesus and right standing as holy before God, able to go to Him in prayer for everything. If you do not know Jesus, if you do not trust Him, then I urge you to do so right away. Go to the Bible and read, see the words of God to His people, and find healing there. If you do know Jesus and trust Him, then let me remind you: do not fear anything the world threatens in the face of our rejection of their sinful desires. God is faithful, and even death itself cannot separate us from Him, but in all things we can rejoice and live lives to His glory.