Festival of the Lutheran Reformation

   
         




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Sola Scriptura
Scripture Alone
Sola Gratia
Grace Alone
Sola Fide
Faith Alone

 

In Nomine Iesu

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,

King 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 God."

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 certainty.

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 wrote:

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 by which 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 at all.

The church is always reforming. That means that we are always going to need to study doctrine, not to consider doctrine a dirty word 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 God’s Word 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.


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