October 28th – Grace Alone

Sermon – Reformation
28 October 2015
By Rev. Max Phillips
@Perry Lutheran Home & Christ Lutheran Church—Bouton, Iowa

Text:  “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  [Matthew 11:12]

Occasionally, I find a text that intrigues me, but gives me pause.  Today is one of those times.  My good sense tells me this might be too hard and something easier both to understand and preach on would be better.  I’m not often recognized for my good sense, so here goes…

Our text from the gospel of Matthew has Jesus speaking about John the Baptist to a gathered crowd.  He seems to say that through high profile men like the Baptist that God’s plan is coming together and seems to indicate that it is only a matter of time until it is accomplished.   In one sense, there was no denying the truth of this.  After all, Jesus was there and his march would soon head toward Calvary’s cross of our redemption where His kingdom would be firmly established for all believers.  No matter the dangerous persecution or the weak faith he would face along the way or the deadly ending awaiting him, he would be undeterred in his course.

You and I certainly would agree that with each step that Jesus took the kingdom of God was advancing forcefully.  And at just the right time, God would use His Son Jesus as the leverage needed to lift the killing sin of the world off the dead souls of sinners so that they might live for an everlasting.  But, we may not be so sure that the kingdom is still advancing forcefully.

We have pastors and dedicated churchmen and women as leaders in the Christian faith and in our own LCMS, but it hardly seems like any John-the-Baptist types are out there helping forcefully advance the kingdom of God the next steps.  And in terms of a direction that the kingdom is advancing, we could make an argument that it has stopped advancing, perhaps it’s even retreating.  The god called “fairness” and “social justice” seems to be the one advancing instead.   In fact, it’s getting kind of scary out there for we Christians and for the church…

Brothers and sisters, welcome to the upside down world of our King Christ and His kingdom of salvation whose citizens are His believers.  The very fact that the kingdom of God seems to be taking body-blows and no new John-the-Baptist types have emerged is exactly the proof that you need to be assured that God’s plan is working.

Say what?

God spoke through St. Paul to assure us that the standards that the world uses to measure success are not the measuring sticks of God.  He writes of this new realm of upside down grace where sinners are forgiven and declared righteous by God not because they’ve earned it but solely because of Jesus and he assures each repentant sinner of that very grace through that magnificent saving bond of faith that he has used to attach himself to each of us.  Paul writes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things –and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”  [1 Corinthians 1:27-29]

Paul goes on to say, “we do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”  [1 Corinthians 2:6]
Therein lies the key to understanding this.  The mature are those in Christ Jesus who have felt His power in their own lives and who have been captured by it for good.

There can be no doubt that anyone alive in Christ and living in his grace are forceful people.  You cannot have the kingdom and hide it or ignore it.  So here’s part of the point.  Christ’s kingdom is advancing, the most so, when it looks like all hell is breaking loose!  When it appears the church is falling apart.  When it seems like the teachings of Jesus are on the way out.  When it feels like my faith is so weak, then be ready!  The kingdom is advancing…

Though many have tried to stamp out Christ and his church throughout history, no one has ever come close.  Any time it has been tried Christians emerge stronger, readier, and more forceful than ever.  This will be the case in this age as well.

The Devil certainly had the church down during the lead up to the Reformation and the church didn’t even know it.  In many ways it seemed like the church was flourishing.  Church pews were filled, coffers were overflowing, the clergy was respected and the Pope was obeyed.  Life was good, it appeared.  But not so much…

People were following after the kingdom of God because they were being motivated by fear.  A new teaching had emerged out of old scriptures.  Good works had been decreed by men to be the currency of heaven and if you wanted to save yourself from the fire, brimstone and eternal suffering of hell, than you must pay the tax up in good works.  The good works were clear enough.  Love your God, serve your neighbor, honor your ruler and obey God and church.  What wasn’t so clear was the amount of the good works tax required.

Was attending Mass weekly enough to please God?  Was a tenth of your income enough to meet the true test of a holy heart?  Were my confessions complete enough and did my penance totally suffice?  If so, wonderful!  You could go about your business today with a clean conscience.  But what if it was short by just a little?  What if the price for my sin was not quite paid in full?  The response was terror.  No one could live in a confident faith.  Everyone had a holy fear that they would fall short and God would cancel them out of heaven because of their failure to make up the extra that sin cost, above the sacrifice of Jesus, the only Son of God.

In the midst of all this fear, the kingdom of God was forcefully advancing.  Never was there a people more ready for a forceful man than Europe and Martin Luther.  And the one thing that would be the catalyst for the Holy Spirit’s work was a reawakening to the gospel good news of salvation through grace as a gift from a God with love enough to overwhelm any, every and all sin.

A couple of decades ago, there was a product on the market that helped ease stomach upset.  Its advertising approach was magnificent and it created a tag line that still resonates.  Every ad had someone asking, “How do you spell relief?”  The answer was always, “R-O-L-A-I-D-S.’  Had a clever Reformation advertising company been in business in 1517 in Germany, they could have coined the phrase.  When people heard the reassurances of those forceful men Luther, Melancthon, and others booming forth from the Bible that people were saved by Faith in God Alone and not by their own good works-they spelled relief “G-R-A-C-E.”  And yes, that grace was amazing!

Imagine being able to sleep at night in peace without the devil torturing you that you needed to go to church more, or do penance more, or give ever more.  It was the devil’s work that had turned these gracious gifts of God; worship, confession and giving into a grueling and burdensome labor.

God’s grace did what it always does.  It swept over those who needed it and their saving faith ignited new attitudes of worship, confession and giving as responsive gifts back to God.  They turned from toil to joy.  From soul upset to relief.  From slavery to sin, to freedom in the blood of Christ the redeemer.

That was then, this is now.  It still appears that the kingdom of Christ is losing ground with every contrary marriage, every 10 Commandment statue removed, every public prayer ended.  But we know better.  And there are new forceful people laying hold of it with courage, persistence and an unworldly devotion.  Those forceful people are you!

The devil hasn’t given up on stopping God by removing the gift part of Jesus suffering and death.  Way too many people believe that they will get to heaven by the good they have done in this life.  And those same people live with you at home, at work, in the neighborhood and in the next classroom.  They need  a forceful person who has laid hold of the kingdom of God and that my dear brothers and sisters is you!

Has anyone asked you if we hate homosexuals?  If divorce is forgivable?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  What do you think heaven is like?   Is Lutheran different than any other religion?  And a hundred other such questions.  These are promptings from the Holy Spirit to forcefully take hold of the kingdom of God and joyfully proclaim that which you know.  The Lord is for us!  So much so, that we must do nothing to gain heaven.  It has been given to us freely in the crucifixion of Jesus and we are free from death’s hold, no matter when, where or how it comes.

And what about good works?

We are free from them and yet wholly committed to them.  We don’t work for heaven, we simply have it as a gift.  But God uses grace to make us a gift to others and to the world.  The Amazing part of Grace is how we are renewed by it for you guessed it….good works.  Our good works of speaking the truth in love even when it’s a truth the world doesn’t want to hear is part of advancing the kingdom.  Paul wrote to Titus about grace describing it as the ‘kindness and love of God’.  And then he taught them “This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”  [Titus 3:8]

Notice the difference.  Devoted to good works, not owing to good works.  And I want you to pay particular attention to those last few words, “profitable for everyone.”  There is no one greater blessed by doing the good works that God has prepared us than the person He has given the privilege of doing them.  There is no one greater blessed by doing the good works that God has prepared for you, than for you!

So sinner!  How do you spell relief?  “G-R-A-C-E!  Christ Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone.

In the name of the Savior,
Amen!

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