Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation November 4, 2018
Text: Gal.5:1-6; Dan.6:10-12,16-23; Matthew 10:16-23 18:2092
Theme: Stand Firm In Christ.
I. Stand Firm by grace alone. Galatians 5:1-6
At the time of Martin Luther, the people who lived in the 1500s were mostly poor. They were paupers and peasants, struggling to eke out a living. Yet they scraped together enough money to buy indulgences from the church. Indulgences were bits of paper on which the church gave promise of forgiveness and escape from the sufferings of purgatory.
Purgatory is the place where the church in Luther’s day taught that you went when you died. You didn’t go to heaven; you didn’t even go to hell – unless you were extremely wicked; you went to purgatory where you paid for your unforgiven sins.
You see for many years the church preached that Christ died for sin, but not all of it. You still had to be purged of that sin for which He didn’t die. So, when you died you went to purgatory to pay for the rest until purged. It could take thousands of years.
But if you bought indulgences that the pope signed, you could subtract hundreds of years off your suffering and that of your loved ones. With that kind of assurance coming from the head of the church, who wouldn’t want to spend money on indulgences, even if it meant one struggled to put food on the table? It was either that or spend thousands of years in the cleansing fires. How terrifying!
And with other such teachings the church of Luther’s day frightened people to see God as an angry Judge, not a God of grace.
1500 years before that the Galatians had been heading down the same path. Paul had clearly taught them that the Lord Jesus was their Savior from all guilt and every punishment for sin. In grace God had gone the whole route in bringing sinners completely back to Him because no sinner is capable of earning his way to God. In merciful love He gave His only begotten Son to redeem us. Saved by grace alone – God’s love going into action for us who could not do it on our own. That was Paul’s preaching.
But as Paul continued to preach this good news of the Gospel, others infiltrated the church with a different message. They insisted that people must earn their way to heaven. They made salvation dependent upon works and fanned the same flames of fear within people’s hearts as the sale of indulgences did in Luther’s day. For if your salvation before God is dependent on what you do or what you buy, you can never be sure that you have bought or done enough. And you never can buy or do enough to match God’s standard of perfection: “Be holy the way I am holy.”
But God could bring it about even if we couldn’t. And He did it for us by sending Christ, His perfect Son. Jesus did all as your substitute. He paid the price for sin with His death and resurrection. He opened the door to heaven for you. That’s grace – God’s free and full gift. As Paul says, “Christ has set us free.” It’s a free gift of undeserved love that releases you from the fears that sin, death, and hell hold over you….Saved by grace
It’s true, dear friends, that a holy God is angry at our sins – every one of them. A price must be paid. But not in purgatory. In gracious love God paid it when we couldn’t. In the Savior your sins are forgiven, all of them, forgiven by grace alone. Don’t let anyone scare you from that truth. Rather acknowledge your need. Then Stand Firm in Christ and in His grace. It alone saves you.
II. Stand Firm by faith alone. Daniel 6:10-13, 16-23 Oh, the pain that rejection and betrayal cause. Daniel had not done anything wrong. He had been the best administrator that he could be of the king’s matters. Yet, his fellow workers betrayed and plotted against him just because God was with him and made him a better leader than they were. With evil jealousy in their hearts, they convinced the king to pass a decree which would lead to the death of anyone who did not follow it. Daniel couldn’t count on his fellow associates. Such injustice and pain!
In a sinful world that will happen. Jesus did nothing wrong; they crucified Him. Luther did nothing wrong. He taught the truth of salvation in Christ, and he was condemned for it. You can’t count on men because no man is infallible – only God is. We can and must rely only on Him. That’s what faith is, relying on God alone. Daniel stood firm in such faith and God saved him.
Right next to the truth in Scripture that we are saved by grace alone stands the wonderful fact that God saves us by faith alone. They go hand in hand. In God’s presence Daniel was saved not because he prayed three times a day, or because he ate only clean foods, or because he was willing to die rather than pray to the king. Daniel was a sinner like everyone else. God saved him by grace and Daniel received the gift and its blessing by faith.
As Daniel faced the lions, he continued to count on God. Whether Daniel lived or died in the lions’ den, he was God’s child, loved and redeemed by grace. In that grace God gave him more than eternal salvation; He also chose to rescue Daniel from the lions because God still had work for him to do. Daniel believed, stood firm in faith, and trusted that God would do what was best.
Saved by grace through faith alone – standing firm in those truths. Daniel did; Paul did; Luther did, too. They trusted in God for everything. May we, standing firm in faith, count only on Him for life and for eternity.
III. Stand Firm in His Word alone. Matthew 10:16-23
I heard it again last week when the Boston Red Sox won the World Serie. It seems like every championship team says the same thing: “Our fans are the greatest.” Well, what makes for great fans?
Some think that because fans cheer the loudest at a certain time that they’re the greatest. But wouldn’t it be more truthful to say that the greatest fans are not necessarily those who cheer the loudest when things are going good, but those who cheer the longest?
You see, there will always be people who cheer for a team that’s winning. The world loves winners and quickly jumps on their bandwagon. But what happens when the tough times come, when winning turns more regularly into losing? Then, you see fans who sit at the games with bags on their heads, not wanting to be identified with their team. Great fans are those who stick with their team through thick and thin. They will cheer just as loudly when their team is losing as when they are winning. They are constant.
Jesus made a similar point when He taught us about matters of faith. The Bible says, “To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn.8:31). True disciples keep holding to Jesus’ words through thick and thin. There is a quality of constancy there.
After the Reformation had begun and things began to get rough on people because the church threatened them, some deserted the truths of the Gospel lest they be killed. When Martin Luther observed this retreat to wrong teachings, He said, “It is easy to believe when life is going well. Yet, there are few who remain true to the gospel in the face of cross and persecution.”
How true! Many find it hard to hold to the Gospel when trouble comes. Questions and doubts pester and plague faith in hardship. The harder the times, the harder the questions become. The temptation is to let go of Jesus’ teaching when troubles arise.
Jesus also knew that to be true. So, He warned those who believed in Him, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes…. Be on guard against men…And when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit speaking through you…. He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
“Like sheep among wolves” – it’s not a comforting thought. What sheep could stand against wolves and survive?
Yet, the sheep are not as helpless as they might seem for Jesus gives them godly wisdom so that they can be “shrewd as snakes.” And as they go He will also give them the words they are to say. But the greatest motivator is the promise: “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
So, what is God’s message for us this Reformation season? He calls for constancy as it was for the heroes of faith in the past: “Whether times are good or bad, hard or easy, prosperous or poor, stand firm in my Word. Hold on tight. Do not be afraid!” The benefit? “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”