Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Faith alone. Grace alone. Scripture alone
These three were the themes of the Reformation, the great cleansing of the temple of God in the 16th century. Our assurance of salvation depends on the understanding of faith and grace, and the basis for that understanding is the third, Scripture alone. For us, the Holy Scriptures are the 66 books of the Bible, the 39 in the Old Testament, written before the birth of Jesus Christ and the 27 of the New Testament, written after the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross. After each biblical reading we say, This is the Word of God.
In our text for today we have a part of a discourse between Jesus and Jews who began following Jesus, perhaps attracted by his signs and miracles. As the authorities' persecution against Jesus and his disciples increased, many backed down. But the persecution was not the cause of the apostasy of these disciples, but they could not believe everything that Jesus taught about His person and His mission. That's why they didn't stay in the Word, even though they said they were His disciples.
"If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples."
To abide in the Word of Christ means to believe the Word that He has left for our instruction in the gospels and epistles, as well as in the books of the Old Testament, because both the prophets and the apostles spoke of Christ. There we find Jesus revealed, and through understanding Jesus as the Christ we have knowledge of saving truth. However, at the time of Jesus, in the time of Martin Luther and today, many people do not want to believe that they cannot do anything to save themselves.
"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Without Christ, all men are slaves of sin in two senses: They are under eternal damnation and cannot change their lives because they could only know God as an angry Judge, not as a loving Father. But in Christ there is deliverance from sin. Only those men are truly free who trust the Word of Jesus. That is the wonderful freedom of the Christian that Martin Luther wrote about in such powerful words.
In 1517, when Luther, an Augustinian friar, published his 95 theses on the fate of souls, it was not by chance that he decided to nail them to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on the eve of All Saints' Day.
On the first day of November, All Saints' Day, church bells rang to remind people to pray for their loved ones who were suffering in purgatory. Since indulgences were purchased for the purpose of removing the souls of deceased relatives from that place (according to the teaching of the church of Rome), it was the perfect time for Luther to publish his 95 theses. Luther wrote thus in the theses: “Any truly repentant Christian is entitled to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters. Every true Christian, living or dead, shares in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted to him by God, even without indulgence letters ... The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. "
Indulgences were tied to the misconceptions of penance, purgatory, and the Papacy. The Roman church still teaches that in baptism we receive redemption from original sin and eternal death. We agree and therefore recognize baptism in a Roman Catholic church. But, after baptism, when the Christian falls into sin because of the sinful nature, he must do penance, because repentance is not a change of mind and heart effected by the Holy Spirit, but an act of recompense done by the sinner. If the sinner cannot do enough penance in this life, he may suffer in purgatory before entering the eternal life promised in baptism. Suffering in purgatory is not forever, perhaps thousands of years. The Pope has the authority to cut the sentence in purgatory by a letter of indulgence. This is still the teaching of the Roman church, no matter that no part of it is found in the Holy Scriptures. It is the fine print that denies the good news of the new life in Jesus Christ. This system that contradicts God's Word arose because many did not believe that we cannot do anything to receive God's grace.
Furthermore, in the Roman church, the saints are the ones who have avoided purgatory on their own merits. We can know someone is a saint when requests to this person are answered by miracles verified by the church of Rome. The treasure of the church, according to this belief, is the abundance of the merits of the saints that the Pope can apply to the account of others. This idea is not from Scripture either.
By his study of the Scriptures and by his concern as a cure for those who did not have true confidence in their salvation, Luther challenged these concepts.
“They answered him: We are Abraham's seed, and we were never anyone's slaves. How do you say: You will be free? "
The Jews thought that the Lord spoke of their identity among the peoples of this world. They forgot, for the moment, that they were subject to the Romans; they also forgot that their parents had been in the power of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Syrians, Persians, Syrians, and Greeks. Since Abraham had received the promise of a descendant who would rule all nations, the Jews proudly called themselves sons of kings. The pride of the human heart has alienated many people from the church to which they professed loyalty, because they resented the clear words of the Bible regarding the depravity of the human heart.
Also today many people understand Martin Luther as the champion of freedom of conscience before human authorities. On the contrary, Luther did not tell them, my conscience is free, but my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Luther did not teach that Scripture is open to private interpretation, but rather the church has no authority to teach as doctrine what is against the plain word of Scripture. It is true, the concept of freedom of worship and human rights in general arose from the biblical perspective of the human being, but this perspective is the salvation of souls is not in the jurisdiction of civil government, not because the various opinions are equal . Also, the church does not have the authority to demand faith by the sword, only to sow faith through preaching and the sacraments.
Jesus answered them: "Truly, truly, I say to you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the child does remain forever. So, if the Son sets you free , you will be truly free. "
Jesus proceeds here to explain his statement about slavery that it is not an external state. Every sinner is a slave to sin. Only the Son of God can bring emancipation from sin and its slavery. He has earned freedom from sin for all men by paying the price, redemption for their sin in his holy blood.
We are now children of the King of kings by baptism. This should not be the cause of pride for us. All of us are sinners who do not deserve God's mercy. We are saved only by the grace of God. As Saint Paul says in our epistle (Romans 3: 21-28), “the righteousness of God which is through the faith of Jesus Christ, for all and above all who believe; because there is no difference; because all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We are all saints only by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have the assurance of this truth in "the everlasting gospel, to preach it to the inhabitants of the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Revelation 14: 6-7).
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Reformation in conjunction with All Saints' Day. We do not pray for the souls in purgatory, but we remember and give thanks for the saints, the faithful, who have passed into eternal life with Christ as examples for us. And we welcome those who will freely enter into full communion with our congregation through their studies of the Word.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with each one of you. Amen.
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