Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our text for this feast of the Reformation is found in the last book of Scripture, the Apocalypse, or revelation, of Saint John.
The vision of the angel flying in the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel to preach has been understood to apply to Doctor Martin Luther and the Reformation, although those verses may not be considered a direct prophecy that specifically and uniquely points to the work of Luther. However, we can consider these verses as a divine message of comfort addressed to the church, after the warning in previous chapters against the three great enemies of the true church on earth.
In chapter 12 of Revelation there is a vision of a huge fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, and a diadem on each head. This great dragon wants to devour the son of a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and with a crown of twelve stars on her head. The dragon is clearly Satan, the devil. It is also clear that the son of the woman is Jesus Christ who will rule all nations and who was caught up and taken to God, according to this vision. The crown of twelve stars does not mean that the woman is the Virgin Mary specifically, but the people of God of the Old Testament, the twelve tribes of Israel. This people as a whole produced the Savior, but after the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the woman remains in the desert, that is, this world of pain and tears, until the second coming of the Lord. In the final verse of chapter twelve, this woman, who in the beginning consisted of the Jews, is declared the mother of all believers, so now she is a symbol for the New Testament church. After the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross, the dragon and his angels were expelled from heaven, that is, they lost their dominion over humanity because of their sins. “But, woe to the land and the sea! The devil, full of fury, has descended on you, because he knows that he has little time left. When the dragon was thrown to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to a son” (Revelation 12:12).
The church has supernatural protection against the devil. So, chapter 13 talks about the tools of the devil to continue his persecution of the church. First, "The beast from the sea", which means the civil power against the church. God Himself instituted civil government to maintain order in this fallen world, and as St. Paul says in Romans 13, duly instituted authorities have the authority to use armed forces in defense of the nation. As the land and the sea are parts of God's creation, so is civil government. However, the temptation for powerful men is not to recognize their power was given by God, to make decrees against God's moral law. Because the church has the authority and responsibility to proclaim the justice of God as well as the mercy of God, in this way the government becomes an instrument of Satan.
In addition, the world outside the church, that is, non-believers admires power, prestige and wealth, and does not ask if that power is used to serve God or the devil. But, when the world gives idolatrous honor to civil governments, the devil worships it too. When Saint John wrote his book, the church was beginning to suffer persecution from the Roman imperial government, so early readers understood the idolatrous cult of the government as the cult of Caesar.
Also, Saint John saw a beast that came up from the earth that had two horns like a lamb, but spoke of a dragon (Revelation 13:11). This beast, not the first, is the Antichrist. He has the appearance of the lamb, that is, of Christ, but his message is from the devil. In Greek, the preposition, "anti", does not just mean "against", it also means a substitute. The meaning of Antichrist should not be someone who opposes Christ, also a usurper of Christ's authority. And the fundamental message of the devil is salvation by good works. As the first beast symbolizes the abuse of civil power against the true church, the second beast signifies the religious leaders who robbed Christ of his glory, attributing some merit for our salvation to our own works. This beast is often side by side with the first beast.
In the 16th century, the reformers understood the beast from the earth as the Roman church. In his "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope", Luther wrote: "It is clear that the signs of the Antichrist coincide with those of the reign of the Pope and his followers." He identified these signs as first, assumes for himself the right to change the doctrine of Christ and the worship instituted by God, and wants his own doctrine and worship to be observed as divine. Second, he assumes for himself not only the power to bind and loose sins in this life, but also jurisdiction over souls after this life. Third, because the Pope does not allow himself to be judged by the church or by anyone. Finally, he defends with the greatest cruelty these horrible and this impiety and executes those who disagree. At the risk of their own lives, the Reformers preached the everlasting gospel of justification on the merits of Jesus Christ alone, by faith. With great power they testified that the faith of Christians could and should rest, not on the word of the Pope or of any man, nor on the resolutions of ecclesiastical assemblies and councils, but solely and exclusively on the Word of Christ as it is written. in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. With great power they testified that a man is justified and saved in no way and nowhere by his own work and merit, but wholly and solely by the work of Christ, which is imputed to the believer by faith. And with great power they testified that the works of Christians that please the Lord are not those they choose for themselves, but those performed by the justified children of God, by faith given through the Holy Spirit.
Through the 500 years, the Roman church has changed in superficial aspects, if not its basic errors. The solas of the Lutheran Reformation are three: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone. They are the fundamental points of difference between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Church to this day. The Roman church says that it believes in the authority of Scripture, but not only Scripture, but also the Pope and the councils. Not just in justification by faith, but faith plus works. Not only the undeserved grace of God, but also in the merits of the saints.
However, it is the truth that the Roman church is now not the source of the persecution of the faithful. This is due to changes in external circumstances rather than changes in doctrine. Religious freedom has been a political ideal in the nations of the world since the 18th century. It is an ideal that resulted from the Reformation.
The current threat comes from so-called Christian leaders who have bowed to what the unbelieving world thinks is progressive, even ideas that contradict the moral law. Civil authorities in many countries have declared that abortion is a woman's right, even if it is the murder of the unborn child. Also a relationship between people of the same sex is called marriage. And false teachers justify and assist civil authorities in persecuting Christians who affirm the truth of nature and the Scriptures.
Praise be to the Lord, who assures us in this vision of Saint John that false teachers will never silence the preaching of the everlasting gospel. Our Lord has promised us that his Word will never pass away. We can see a fulfillment of that promise in the Lutheran Reformation, which is the most prominent illustration in human history that God will not allow the preaching of his Word to be silenced.
Furthermore, the proclamation of the everlasting gospel is for “every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a loud voice: Fear God and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, and the sea and the fountains of water ”. To receive the body and blood of Christ is to give glory to God in a loud voice. Therefore, we thank God for the public confession and the first communion of our sister, Diana Torres. Each time we each bear our testimony, we proclaim the everlasting gospel as well.
As our psalm says, Psalm 46, the inspiration for “Mighty Fortress”, the hymn written by Martin Luther, God is with us as our refuge now and forever and his Word will never pass away. In this we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
Send Pastor David Ernst an email.