Let us pray: Dear Savior, on this glorious day we stand before You with joy in our hearts. For we now know that You have set us free! We’re free from the conscience-plague of sin. We’re free from the fear of death. We’re free to live and act as liberated people—with our heads held high and thankfulness gripping our hearts. For all this and more we give You our thanks and praise. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO HAS SET OUR SOULS FREE!
TEXT: Romans 3: 19-28
Fellow Redeemed Children of God’s Reformation:
Prison. The word has a certain finality about it. Being stuck in a prison where your every move is monitored and restricted is spirit-crushing. But at least you still have your mind. Inside your head you’re free to journey through memory to happy places and joyous times. It helps you to cope and keep your sanity.
However, sometimes your mind is actually your prison. This happens to people who suffer from depression. Their bodies are free to go here or there, but inwardly they feel trapped, alone, and paralyzed to inaction. Something or someone has tripped the wrong trigger inside their brains and as a result they suffer every millisecond in their personal prison from which they find no escape. You can begin to visualize how such depression can lead to suicide. For ultimately, they begin to view physical death as their only escape from inner pain.
In his early years as a monk, some modern scholars believe Dr. Martin Luther suffered from such depression. And from this analysis they blissfully write off the great, soul-freeing truth of the Reformation. As Lutheran Christians, however, you know otherwise. You know that Dr. Luther was a universal genius, on par with Einstein, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. You know that he saw through the superficiality of his day, especially when it came to universal, Godly truth. You know that he was painfully honest about his imperfections and unworthiness before God. You know that he tried the Roman Catholic way of living under guilt, trying to appease a perfect God through various pious actions proscribed by the Roman Church, and never receiving peace of mind through them because his sin-sickened heart continued to condemn him. Most folks of his time simply accepted whatever the organized church told them. Then, as now, superficiality reigned when it came to their relationship with the Almighty. Then, as now, most people were dishonest with themselves and thought that God must be just like them, accepting an occasional, perfunctory apology, and some sort of peace offering for their failings. But, Dr. Luther was much more honest than that. He knew that imperfect meant imperfect. He knew that nothing we could ever achieve on his own could make God like him, accept him, or truly forgive him. And so, he suffered terrors of conscience for many years.
Then, one day, Luther was reading the text laid before us. In it, St. Paul was talking about how each human being stands before his or her Creator. “Now we know that whatever the law (God’s do’s and don’ts) says, it say to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Yes, the chief function of God’s holy will expressed in the moral law isn’t to make us feel good about ourselves, or superior to others, or to believe that our thoughts and actions in life can cause God to accept us with open arms. No, the law’s chief function is as a mirror, to show us just how dirty we are in His sight.
Well, Dr. Luther certainly felt that way. It’s the reason his sleep had been disturbed for many years. He knew that before God he was not worthy and never could be worthy on his own. But, just then, he read on and the words struck him harder than a bolt of lightening! “But now, a righteousness from God, (not from humans, not emanating from our inner man stemming from our willpower) apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets (the entire Bible) testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
With these words the dark clouds of his inner prison parted. Rightness with God isn’t an impossible something God demands from us. No, it is something, a wonderful something He gives to us in and through Jesus Christ. This is grace. God loves us undeservedly in Jesus. He sent His Son Jesus into this world to win us freedom from the prison of sin and death, to cleanse our depressed consciences via His holy blood, and now through His gift of saving faith, God has put His rightness within us! Luther has dumbstruck. It immediately dispelled his gloomy outlook on life and transformed him. He was free, free from literally everything that imprisoned him because God’s Son had set him free through faith!
Dr. Luther read on with a passion! “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (you can almost hear him saying, ‘No kidding.’) and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (a sacrifice that paid for all human evil) through faith in his blood.—(Yes, as the blood of the atonement lamb in the OT prefigured God appeasing His own anger over rebellious humans, so now the blood of Christ has actually achieved eternal peace between God and mankind.) He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Eureka! In pure love God punished His Son in our place. In pure love God sent Jesus to the cross for us. In pure love God declared us forgiven, totally and completely, in Christ. In pure love, His love could now flood Luther’s heart and our hearts, dispelling all guilt. Luther was now free! Christ had made him free. And when God accomplishes such a life-changing act, it is set in stone—the very foundation stone of heaven, itself.—Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation.
Finally, lest the pride inside of all of us still wanted to take personal credit for any of this and thus corrupt this new-found freedom of soul, Paul added this little paragraph. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded! On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
When you have nothing, no house, no clothing, no money, no shoes—and a total stranger comes up and gives you everything, literally making you a billionaire, how can you ever take credit for it? When you’re stuck in a gloomy prison, 100% guilty, with no hope of ever getting out and a judge negates your sentence out of the blue and sets you free—how can you ever boast about your non-existent good behavior as being the cause? The point of this lesson is: REFORMATION MEANS FREEDOM FOR YOU! And today we thank the Lord Jesus for using Dr. Martin Luther to bring that singular truth home to all of us. Amen