In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
In 1967 Martin Franzmann, one of the greatest modern Lutheran hymnwriters, wrote a hymn for the 450th anniversary of the Reformation. His hymn, “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” gets at the heart of what the Reformation is all about. The Reformation is about Jesus Christ. It is about the Gospel. It is about how easily the Church can lose that treasure, and the need for the Reformation to be ongoing. That is why we still celebrate the Reformation. We remember the event today, not to celebrate heritage or anything like that. To reduce the Reformation to a mere party over being Lutheran means we have become a sect. Rather, the Reformation reminds us of the grace of God by which we live. Though we deserve eternal death and damnation, for the sake of Jesus Christ we are spared that. Though we, like sheep, have gone astray, fallen short of the glory of God, we are justified freely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Franzmann’s Reformation hymn shows that eternal life with the God in whose image we are made was the plan from the beginning:
O God, O Lord of heaven and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote
That life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.
Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled
In splendor through Thy broken world.
Since light awoke and life began,
Thou hast desired Thy life for man. (LSB 834:1)
The life we know today was not God’s plan! He did not fashion His good creation to know sin and death. He fashioned it to be a life of harmony, where God walked among His people in the Garden in the cool of the day. There was no shame, no misery. Since light awoke and life began, that is the life God desired for us.
But it did not last long. Satan came, tempted Adam and Eve and now all of their children are born into sin and death. By their curse life has become an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth. Each day, because of sin, we grow closer to the death we were never supposed to know. But we can’t simply blame our first parents for our condition. All the world is guilty before God because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Franzmann continues:
Our fatal will to equal Thee,
Our rebel will wrought death and night.
We seized and used in prideful spite
Thy wondrous gift of liberty. (LSB 834:2a)
We make ourselves equal to God. We choose for ourselves what is right and wrong. Though we are under the Law, we use our free will, that wondrous gift of liberty, to continue in sin. Yes, some sins we stumble into accidentally. But more often than not, we know exactly what we are doing. We actively choose to let the words of gossip roll off our tongue; to let our fingers type and click their way to websites we know we shouldn’t visit; to put our fear, love, and trust in money or reputation or government instead of God. We seize and use in prideful spite our gift of life. What could and ought to be a life of sacrifice to God, a life of service to neighbor, we live in service to ourselves and our own desires. In our fatal to equal God, we find out that these things do not bring us the life and joy Satan promised they would. Instead they only drag us farther into darkness and closer to death.
But God did not want our life to be a deathward drift. So in the fullness of time He radically altered the course of our eternal destiny:
We housed us in this house of doom,
Where death had royal scope and room,
Until Thy Servant, Prince of Peace,
Breached all its walls for our release. (LSB 834:2b)
This breach was witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets, the Righteousness of God come to save His people from their slavery to sin, death, and the devil. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, very God of very God, came to take back what was rightly His. Though death had royal scope and room, the Stronger Man came to bind that strong man and take away his possessions—you and me—out of the house of doom to restore us to the Kingdom of God.
This shows to what lengths our God was willing to go to save us. He did not wave a magic wand from afar, but lived up to His Name, Emmanuel—God with us, and dwelt among His people.
Thou camest to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road that leads us back to God!
How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man! (LSB 834:3)
Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and took on flesh—our flesh!—to bear our sin and be our Savior. He loves us so much that He left the glories of heaven, the choirs of angels and throngs of those who rest from their labors, to breathe our poisoned air. He knew illness, poverty, hatred, rejection, death of friends and family, every vile thing that sin and the devil can throw at us. Jesus endured it all. He bore every temptation, every evil, all to show just how much God loves His people. And then His feet trod the road that leads us back to God. He took all of your sin and walked to Calvary. He was nailed to the cross and died in your place. He is your propitiation, that is, Jesus Christ is the sacrifice to appease God’s wrath and pay the price for your sin. Because Jesus’ drank your dark despair, the cup of God’s wrath because of sin, you will not! Because of Jesus sacrifice in your place God passes over the sins committed. You are not saved by anything you have done, because you could never do enough. But now God has justified you. He has declared you innocent, free of guilt and condemnation.
And how is that justification given to you? It is given to you by faith. The One who walked the road to lead you back to God has sent other feet to run to bring the great good news to man that Jesus has died in your place, forgiven you all your sin. By the very Words of God which the ministers of Christ speak, faith is created, for faith, which saves, comes by hearing. By that faith all that Jesus has done is given to you. It is made just as if you had never sinned. By faith you are made as holy and righteous as the very Son of God, because it is His Blood that covers you.
That is the message of the Reformation. It’s all about Jesus! The Christian faith is not about you doing something to make yourself good in God’s eyes. Christianity is all about gifts—forgiveness of all your sin given freely because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in your place. You can’t earn this—“for by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight!” Rather, in His love God wants to be the one who justifies you, who saves you, who makes you an heir of eternal life, of the greatest gift God has to give His people. He wants to walk with you in the courts of heaven, He wants to give you a life happier and more peaceful than Adam and Eve ever knew in Eden. And by Jesus Christ He gives it. He gives it through His Church, by her proclamation of the saving Gospel, the great good news to man. He gives it through Holy Baptism when water and the Word take you out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of Heaven and into God’s marvelous light. He gives it through Holy Absolution when you hear that all of your sin is forgiven for the sake of Jesus. He gives it through the Feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the same Body and Blood of Calvary, present on the Altar and eaten and drunk for your forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith. You are given all of these gifts because your God loves to give, and He loves you. He has hurled these gifts of life and forgiveness through a broken world to show you that there is a greater joy awaiting you, the life of God given to man.
And even though that life is yours today by faith, it has yet to be realized. Until the Last Day when your body is raised incorruptible and joins your waiting soul in heaven, we live in prayer:
O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy Church that she might be again
The bringer of good news to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise,
Each life a high doxology
To Father, Son, and unto Thee. (LSB 834:4)
May God keep His Church in the spirit of the Reformation, a focus on Christ alone and His saving work for His people. May God preserve us by His grace that many more might hear the pure doctrine that God forgives sinners by grace through faith in Jesus. And may God, by His Holy Spirit, make you one of those whose life is praise, a high doxology to Father, Son, and Spirit, for grace abounding, for mercy undeserved.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).