Pastor Thomas L. Rank
October 31, 2004
Festival of the Lutheran Reformation
Text: 2 Chronicles 29:12-19
Then these Levites arose: Mahath the son of Amasai and Joel the
son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites; of the sons of Merari,
Kish the son of Abdi and Azariah the son of Jehallelel; of the Gershonites,
Joah the son of Zimmah and Eden the son of Joah; 13 of the sons of
Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeiel; of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and
Mattaniah; 14 of the sons of Heman, Jehiel and Shimei; and of the
sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel. 15 And they gathered their
brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment
of the king, at the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the
LORD. 16 Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of
the LORD to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they
found in the temple of the LORD to the court of the house of the
LORD. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron.
17 Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month,
and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of
the LORD. Then they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days,
and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished. 18 Then
they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed all
the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offerings with all its
articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles. 19 “Moreover
all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his
transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are,
before the altar of the LORD.”
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY
YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
Hezekiah is one of the reformation kings of the Old Testament. He inherited
a kingdom that had been twisted out of shape by his
father, King Ahaz. Ahaz had closed his ears to the word of the Lord.
He had turned away from the true God. He had destroyed much of the
sacred utensils in the Temple, the house of God. He went so far as
to lock up the Temple, the very place that God had established for
the preaching and teaching of His Word. In place of the worship of
the true God, Ahaz made other altars to false gods through Jerusalem,
and in every city of Judah he made high places at which to offer
prayers to other gods. The kingdom of Judah which was supposed to
be a light to the nations, had become like the darkness of the idolatry
all around them. Ahaz, one of the very descendants of King David
from whom would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he abandoned the
true faith, and replaced it with spiritual poison. This is the kingdom
inherited by King Hezekiah when he was 25 years old.
Hezekiah was not like his father. In fact, Hezekiah believed in the
true God, and desired to follow Him and His word. That is why we
find in our text the command to the priests and Levites to clean
up the Temple, restore what was broken, and open the doors so that
the worship of the true God could once more continue.
Hezekiah also sent out a message throughout his kingdom. The message
was one of repentance. He told his people: "do not be stubborn
like your fathers, but return to God. The Lord is gracious and merciful,
only repent, turn away from your idols, and come back to the true
Hezekiah knew the dangers that earlier generations had allowed into
the land. He knew the spiritual disaster that had afflicted his land.
He desired that not only himself, but the people committed to his
care would learn from the mistakes of the past. That they would see
that truly the Lord was with them, that they could lean on the Lord
and He would not forsake them.
Hezekiah saw the spiritual disease of his land, and he rightly diagnosed
it as an utter failure to hear and follow the First Commandment of
God: "You shall have no other gods." And the only way
out was one of repentance and faith. That is what Hezekiah’s
reformation brought to Judah.
The Reformation begun by Martin Luther 500 years ago was also a response
to a time of confusion and error regarding the true teaching of God’s
Word. As Luther studied Holy Scripture and looked out on the spiritual
landscape of his native Saxony, he could only shake his head in wonder
at the great loss that had occurred. He did not see in his church
the faith about which he read in the Bible. He did not see the pure
teaching of the mercy and love of God which shone so brightly in
the pages of God’s Word. Instead, he saw a people enslaved
to the law, priests who could not teach or forgive as they should,
sacraments turned into money-making schemes, and spiritual leadership
more concerned with power than with proclamation of the Word, more
dedicated to the accumulation of wealth than to the cure of souls.
Luther himself learned about the need for repentance and faith in
his own life before God. His sins weighed heavily upon him. As he
struggled against the weight of his transgressions he tried to find
relief in the rites and ceremonies of his church. But he discovered
that they could not heal his wounds, they only made them worse. Finally
he was brought to understand the righteousness of God in Christ,
and the fact that our sins cannot be removed no matter how hard we
try or how honest our intentions are. God had provided salvation.
He had brought forgiveness in the work of Jesus Christ at the cross.
Luther found relief in the word of the Gospel, the truth that in
the perfect life of Jesus Luther’s own sins were covered. Luther’s
eyes were opened to the great truth that we are justified freely,
by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
This was the key. This was the chief article of faith that Luther
would not give up, even though he would feel the power of pope and
emperor lined up against him, even though his own life would be forfeit.
Luther knew that without the pure Gospel his own life was nothing.
Only with that great gift of God in Christ could life have any true
and lasting meaning. For only in the life given by Jesus was there
Martin Luther saw the need for reformation because he knew that souls
were troubled and burdened by sin. He knew that only the forgiveness
of sins, not any work or effort of any man, woman, or child, could
bring the necessary help. Others rallied around his work, and the
Lutheran Reformation began. It would not be a time of peace and quiet,
but a time of spiritual warfare, a time when those who desired to
confess and believe and teach the pure Gospel would be martyred,
kicked out of their towns, driven out of their lands. But it was
a time when the grace and mercy of God prevailed for sinners who
had not heard that word for years and years; and the pure Word of
God once more shone brightly in the Christian Church.
As we follow the course of the Lutheran church through the five centuries
since Luther’s day, it is a history of much that is good, much
that is a wonder to behold, and to praise God for. But there is also
much that leads us to acknowledge the truth of an old saying: ecclesia
semper reformanda, "the church is always reforming."
What this means is that there is much that has accumulated in the
Lutheran church which gets in the way of the pure preaching and teaching
of God’s Word. There are those who call us back to Rome under
the guise of agreement in the chief article of the faith: justification.
Five years ago most Lutherans in the world agreed with the Roman
church on a statement about Justification. However, honest appraisal
of that statement leads us to see that the Lutherans of today simply
caved in to the same old mixture of faith and works that Martin Luther
had renounced on October 31st, 1517. Despite the victory bells rung
in churches in 1999, it was in reality a time of mourning for the
Gospel. But few noticed the tears of the faithful, so loud and boastful
was the claim of victory and reunion.
Today, throughout Lutheran churches in America, throughout the different
synods even, there is a rush to do away with much that the Lutheran
church has valued for many years. Hymns that have been sung with
joy and boldness are now relegated to books that are unopened. In
their place are songs of those who deny the grace of baptism and
who despise the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
Yet who sees this?
Today, the very worship cleansed by Luther so long ago is being thrown
out, not because it is considered doctrinally wrong, but because
it doesn’t seem to work anymore. Lutheran churches are insisting
that growth in numbers is the only sign that God is truly at work
among us, and if we cannot see the increase, then we are not being
faithful and it is time to change. Yet, so few see this, even in
so-called "conservative" Lutheran synods.
We are reaching a point similar to one that was noticed over a century
ago in American Lutheranism. In 1866 Dr. Charles Porterfield Krauth
We have left us but a mere mirage of whimseys and notions.
They give us a rule of faith which never generates faith, a Creed
no man can know what we believe; they give us a state of mind in
which we do not know what to believe, or whether we are to believe
The church is always reforming. That means that we are
always going to need to study doctrine, not to consider doctrine a
that only causes trouble. Rather, we should see that doctrine, the
purely taught Word of God, is the lifeblood of the Christian church,
and without doctrine we are nothing.
Hezekiah saw what happened when the right teaching of
was lost for a generation. Luther saw what happened with the right
teaching of God’s Word was covered with the false teaching of
human opinion. The church needs prophets and preachers today who will
see with the same clarity. It needs people in the pews who will not
sit by and allow the treasures of the Gospel to be covered over with "whimseys
and notions" that are only frivolous attempts to catch the attention
of the world, instead of the cutting to the heart with God’s
law and the healing power of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses
us from all sin.
A time of reformation is a time for repentance, and in humility we
must admit our own failures to confess with the boldness our day demands.
Yet, we know that finally God’s church is His church, and He
will keep it. Our God forgives us our sins, our compromises, our timidity.
We pray that our Lord would keep us strong in His word, that we would
learn to trust Him more and more, and leave all things in His hands,
as we strive to grow in making the good confession of the faith in
the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God grant this in the
name of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.