Utah Circuit Reformation Service
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Ogden, Utah
We are a year and a day from celebrating the 500th anniversary of one of the most important events in the history of the Church and in human history. On October 31, 1517, a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses upon the castle door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther posted his theses to protest the Roman Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences—essentially selling the forgiveness of sins to an unsuspecting member. One could also purchase the freedom of a deceased loved one’s soul from an unscriptural and imaginary place called purgatory. Luther also posted these theses with the hope of engaging in a scholarly debate among the top theologians of the day. Luther was especially condemning the sale of indulgences because the practice is completely contrary to the Bible. One cannot buy or earn one’s freedom from sin’s curse. Our freedom—our forgiveness—is a gift from God. The Church lost sight of this truth, especially as Pope Leo X wanted to raise money for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. How better to do that than to extract the funds from the unsuspecting and uneducated laity. The pope invented a doctrine for financial gain, at the expense of what Holy Scripture plainly and clearly says.
What followed with Luther’s desire to reform the Church—not to start a new sect within her—shook the world. Even in the annals of history the secular media recognized the significance of what happened. Several years ago A & E Network’s “Biography of the Millennium” named Martin Luther the third-most influential person of the second thousand years following Jesus’ birth, and Life magazine declared Luther’s posting his theses as the third-most important event of that time frame. Topping those lists was Johann Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, respectively; most notable was his mass printing of the Bible in 1455. Without Gutenberg’s invention, Luther’s Reformation might not have survived. Scores of his writings might not have seen the light of day without their mass production and distribution, and Luther’s desire to purge the church of the errors that crept into her may well have gone unnoticed and without support. Luther would have been, at best, a footnote in history; and we, at worst, would face certain condemnation for our slavery to sin. While the secular media rightly acknowledged the historical importance of this man and this event, we won’t leave it to them to determine the spiritual ramifications of what began with this moment 499 years ago tomorrow.
What was at stake, and what continues to be at stake, is the Gospel itself. It is the Gospel—the Good News that IS Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, and ascended—that is on the line, for the souls of all mankind hang in the balance. What is on the line is freedom for the Christian: freedom from the curse of sin, freedom from eternal condemnation. And ANYTHING that is preached or taught that obscures this freedom is nothing other than a pall that covers the casket of the human soul. It is Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who by His death and resurrection lifts that pall and opens our casket, that we would have eternal life in heaven with Him. You see, Jesus died on the cross—He bled and He died—to win your freedom from sin’s curse, to give you eternal life. And it is through this blood of God the Son that your heavenly Father looks at you and declares you not guilty of your sins.
Without this blood of Jesus, without His death, there is no life, no forgiveness, and no freedom. In our text, the Jews declared their lineage from Abraham was good enough for them. They, who were under Roman oppression, had the arrogance to declare they had never been slaves to anyone. But Jesus says, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (v. 34). In one of the Lutheran confessional rites “we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” (LBW, p. 98). God Himself says, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20a). This death is not merely the death of the body but also the death of the soul, which, apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, will spend eternity in hell, to live an everlasting condemnation, weeping and gnashing his teeth in utter torment at the hands of the old satanic foe who has sworn to work us woe. With craft and great might he arms himself to fight. On earth he has no equal (LSB 657:1). We inherited this dreadful condition of bondage from our parents, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. The Lutheran Confessions testify thus:
Because of this corruption and because of the fall of the first man, the human nature or person is accused or condemned by God’s Law. So we are by nature the children of wrath, death, and damnation, unless we are delivered from them by Christ’s merit. [FC SD I:6]
This is why God’s Son Jesus—true Man and also true God—came into the world: to free us from this curse of sin and to win for us the promise of eternal life in the heavenly mansions. You see, as slaves we have no freedom, but the Son has full use and reign of the mansion. He speaks on behalf of His Father. “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (vv. 35-36). The Son, Jesus, declared our independence, our freedom, from sin’s curse just before He died on the cross; He said, “It is finished.” The path to our freedom takes us to the cross of Calvary, where your bloodied, beaten, crucified, and dead Jesus won this freedom for you by dying in your place, paying the ultimate price for your sin, my sin, and the sin of the world. There is nothing you or I can do to merit God’s favor; all we have is the grace of God. As a matter of fact, it’s all we need. Jesus Christ died for you. Jesus Christ rose from the dead for you. Not only are you forgiven, you get to be in heaven. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. …God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6, 8). “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Christ, “who on this day overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life” (LSB:AB, 200). “Risen from the dead, He has freed us from eternal death and given us life everlasting” (LSB:AB, 202). “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (v. 36). There is no if about it; the Son HAS made you free, free not to live in sin but to live in Him, to walk in the newness of life, free of the wrath of God but full of His grace, eager to forgive us when we repent of our sins before Him.
Jesus Christ died on the cross for you—you are free! Jesus Christ rose from the dead for you—you are free! Are you baptized in and into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? If so, you are free! Did you confess your sins to God the Father, imploring Him in the Name of Your Lord Jesus Christ to grant you forgiveness? Did you hear the pastor as a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? God has forgiven you in Christ—you are free! When you hear God’s Word, His Law and especially His Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming down to you in His Word and Sacraments, you are free! When you taste Christ’s body and blood—in, with, and under the bread and wine—in His Holy Supper for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith, you taste His forgiveness on your lips; you are free! The freedom Christ on the cross won for you He gives you here in His house through His Means of Grace, His Word and Sacraments. You are free, thanks be to God! Amen!
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.