In the course of time, the Roman church fell into error. Gradually teachings crept in that worked against the pure Gospel. These false doctrines not only tormented consciences but also destroyed souls.
To be sure, there were numerous voices who spoke against the tyranny of Romeís errors. Many messengers preached the true freedom of Godís grace against the shackles of human commandments. But Rome has not listened.
It is not that the Roman church is the only church to teach false doctrine. But it is the largest, which has influenced the most people in history. It is not that people in the Roman church cannot have genuine faith in Jesus Christ. But they must do so against the stated teaching of Rome.
In the context of our Reading in Revelation, Saint John just saw a vision of the dragon, satan, call up two beasts, one from the sea and one from the land. The beast from the land is one that has an appearance like a lamb, yet speaks like a dragon. This is antichrist, the beast that speaks within the church. It is either Rome itself, or all the churches that teach falsely, including Rome.
In spite of this terrifying vision, Christ gives John a vision of Himself, the true Lamb, who preserves His people undefiled against the evil forces in the world.
Then our text comes. John saw an angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the heavenly Gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth. As is sometimes the case in Holy Scripture, the word ďangelĒ does not mean one of the heavenly beings that we usually refer to as angels. Instead, this is a human messenger. That is what the word ďangelĒ means Ė a messenger. God does not ordinarily give the task of preaching to heavenly spirits, but to men. On rare occasions, angels such as Gabriel were sent to proclaim a specific message to specific people. But never was an angel given the Gospel to proclaim to all the peoples of the earth. For the task of preaching, God ordinarily uses the vocation of human preachers. He is the one who ordained and established the holy ministry to make disciples of all nations and preach the Gospel to every creature.
So who, in the shadow of the antichristís tyranny of the church, spoke up with the eternal Gospel to preach? Lutheran fathers identified Martin Luther as the angel, which is why this is one of the appointed Readings for Reformation. Through Luther, God restored the pure, eternal Gospel to men.
This may sound arrogant. But the context makes it clear that the angelís task is not to take glory for himself. The eternal Gospel gives all glory to God, not men. Lutherís teaching did that, because it was faithful to the Scriptural doctrine of salvation by grace, through faith, not by works. Nothing of man contributes to salvation. All credit is removed from the human column and all credit is put in Godís column. Even the messenger who proclaims the pure Gospel gets no credit. He is simply a mouthpiece for God.
Now, you may disagree with some of this interpretation. Revelation is a sticky book full of difficult visions. But the main message for todayís sermon is this: God sent His messenger Martin Luther to restore the pure Gospel to the Church. Whether you agree that this is the meaning of Revelation fourteen or not, it is still true.
In the vision, John also saw the angel flying because of the rapid flight of the Gospel that swiftly spreads out into the world. God helped the Gospel to spread with the timely invention of the printing press. Messengers carried this restored Gospel throughout Europe, and later through all the world.
Here today, the message has spread to Montana in a distant continent that had been rediscovered by Columbus only a few decades before Lutherís preaching. Here we are able to hear the same preaching of the same Gospel.
This is the message: Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. And worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.
Fear God. Do not fear the forces of evil. Do not fear the powerful ones of the world who may threaten your earthly lives. Fear God. Give Him the reverence that is due to Him. Do not respect human traditions or human commandments, but respect the Word of God as His true voice. That should be obeyed most fervently.
Give Him glory. The single most important way that we give glory to God is to acknowledge that He is our Savior. Our works do not save us. Our worthiness cannot save us. No saint can give us their merits to help us reach heaven. Only Christ crucified and risen has accomplished our redemption. No man made rules, no penances or masses, no pilgrimages or vows, nothing in all creation can give us eternal salvation. But the Gospel, the sweet message of Christís work for us, gives us full forgiveness and everlasting life. When we confess this, we are giving God all the glory.
We should be sternly warned to listen and trust in this Gospel, since the hour of judgment is near. God will not patiently wait forever. He will end this world at an hour we do not know. We must be ready at all times by clinging tightly to this Gospel Word alone. Tomorrow is not the day to trust in this Gospel. Today is always the day, until our dear Lord calls us home.
Therefore we should worship Him, the Creator. We do not worship idols that cannot save nor even speak. We do not worship dead saints or call upon them, since only one Man proved Himself to be the Savior and Mediator of mankind. Him we worship and adore with the Father and Spirit.
These things are the essence of the Lutheran Gospel. It sweeps away the clouds of uncertainty that would not give rest to the troubled conscience. If we had anything we had to do, then we would never be able to know if we had done it purely enough or well enough. Our works can always be spoiled by sin. How could we ever be confident of our salvation when some of it rested on us?
But Christ alone gives the free gift of eternal life. He is more than enough, and we can never doubt His worthiness. We simply rest in the assurance of His merits and the infinite value of His life, death, and resurrection. These things are the treasure upon which our salvation is built.
The Lord preserve us in faith to trust always in this treasure. Amen.
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