That Reformation Explosion

Text: Romans 3:19-28
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was like a large rock thrown into a pond causing waves to crash ashore.  No, it was actually much more violent. It was more like a large explosion that occurred in the midst of buildings, resulting in shrapnel being scattered, walls tumbling down, and windows shattering. 
What am I talking about? 
I am talking about the sixteenth-century Reformation.  Yes, I am talking about the great Reformation that happened in the 1500s when Martin Luther and the Reformers came into sharp conflict with the Roman Catholic Church of that time.
It all started October 31st of 1517 when the Ninety-five Theses hit the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  We can still hear the echo of the hammer today, as the nail was forced into the door hanging ninety-five concerns about church abuses.  Like a wild fire these Ninety-five Theses were distributed to all of Germany within two weeks and all of Europe within two months.  Long story short, the Ninety-five Theses ignited what can only be described as an earth-shaking event, an explosion if you will. Booklets were published and exchanged, theological debate occurred in the market place, death threats were eventually made; people were finally burned at the stake, and so forth. 
Now, looking back upon the Reformation, it is fairly easy to witness the effects of this great explosion.  We can see the ecclesiastical practices that resulted from the Reformation, we can see our Lutheran Denomination that is a result of the Reformation, and we can see all the confessional documents, books, and sermons that resulted from the Reformation.  In other words, we are able to witness the crater that resulted from the Reformation explosion.  We are able to see the burned-out embers from the Reformation-explosion and all the Reformation-shell-fragments scattered here and there.  We are able to see the waves in the water and continually feel these waves in the present; waves that were created about five-hundred years ago when the Reformation rock was thrown into the water.[1] 
With all of that said, we have yet to examine what actually caused this explosion and what caused these waves. 
So what caused the explosion?  What rock was thrown into the pond? 
The Gospel, that is to say, the teaching of justification by grace through faith is what exploded; it is what was hurled into the pond.  Otherwise stated, when Martin Luther “raised questions of the Gospel [towards those in church authority], he was given no such answer.  The government of the church felt itself bothered by some unheard of little Augustinian monk from the remote cow pasture of Wittenberg, and it told him to be quiet.  Luther pleaded for discussion of the Gospel.  He was met with the naked demand to recant and to submit to the pope.  [Keep in mind that] the Ninety-five Theses were no Declaration of Independence but a request for discussion and debate.  When Luther recognized that the pope pulled one way and the Gospel the other, the Reformation began…”[2]  Simply stated dear friends, “The Reformation may be described as cleaning out the human factors that had intruded into the church and her message.”[3]
Indeed, there was an explosion in the church some five-hundred years ago as God’s Word revealed the precious, powerful, potent, saving message of Justification by grace through faith.
With all of that said, what good does this historic explosion do for us here and now at Zion Lutheran Church?  Sure, we live in the aftermath of this great explosion and reap some of the benefits of much that was accomplished during the Reformation.  However though, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we must stop and confess that the church and our sinful nature have a way of cleaning up the rubble, patching the shattered walls, and fixing that which is broken in order to move away from the explosion and returning back to a man-centered message that intrudes the very Gospel.  We have a way of undoing the Reformation. 
Frankly, my friends, the very message of the Gospel - that exploded and detonated the church some five-hundred years ago - is an explosion that needs to happen in our midst; right here and right now.  It needs to happen again.  Yes, the explosion needs to happen every year and every week in the church – in this blessed church.  You see, “The church must be in a state of continuous reformation … a continuous return to the Word of God.  [The reason why?]  Our old sinful nature continuously tempts us to leave the Word of God behind.  If we do not continuously reform … if we do not continuously study God’s Word, then we will slowly, but surely drift away from the truth.  We will drift away until we are no longer free.”[4]
Therefore, blessed Saints, we do not merely study the great explosion of the Reformation once a year on Reformation Sunday, but as a church of the Lutheran Reformation we undergo this Reformation explosion and experience continual reformation each and every Sunday.  Why is this so; how is this possible?  It is this way because at the heart of the Reformation was the Word of God; the Word that invaded an Augustinian Monk and the Word of God that invaded the Roman Catholic Church, as well as all of Europe. Furthermore, this very Word of God is the ‘same’ Word of God that continually comes to me and to you in this Zion Lutheran Church. Otherwise stated, the rock is thrown into our lives and the explosion is recaptured each and every time that we read the Word of God, hear the Word of God, and receive the Lord’s Sacraments. 
For example, consider the text that we read from Paul’s Epistle to the church in Rome from this morning’s Epistle Lesson.  Consider the tremendous and powerful ramifications that this text has upon you and me.  You who have ears hear what the Word says.  Brace yourself for the explosion!

Romans 3:20 says, “No human being will be justified [that is (to say), made right] in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the Law.”  Otherwise stated, our relationship to God’s Holy, Perfect, and Divine Law is incapable of yielding righteousness and wholeness.  Because of your sin and mine too - this wretched sinful condition that you and I have inherited from birth - our relationship to the Holiness of God is less than spectacular—it is downright damning.
 “Deeds, words, thoughts, relationships—they are all wrong for all humankind.  No one, (only [Jesus]!) has wisdom.  No one, (only [Jesus]) has his will in a perfect orientation to God’s will.  No one, (only [Jesus]) is in the image of God and reflects from his face the glory of God.  …all humanity as a unit has gone sour, been subjected to futility, lost the glory because of having turned away from that trusting face to face relationship with the Lord.”[5] 
Dear friends, your relationship to the Law and God’s Holiness only leads to one result, the knowledge of sin and mouths shut; it leads to the knowledge that you and I are damned, guilty, and condemned sinners.  Even when we naively try to inflate our abilities in order to meet the demands of the Law, the Law is quick on our heels to reveal our self-deceiving pride and denial of reality.  Even when we arrogantly attempt to commandeer God’s Law in order to lessen its weight, so that we can supposedly make it a bit easier fulfill, God’s Law nevertheless cannot and will not be manipulated to our own fancy, for it is not our Law but God’s Law. 
The Law tears down everything that you and I believe will yield brownie points, kudos, or favor before God.  It removes us from our spiritual endeavors, our moral projects, and mystical escapades by detonating and blowing up everything, thus putting us flat on our backs. 
The Law is spoken, mouths shut; we die.   
There is another Word for you to hear, a word that emerges from the rubble.  This Word is apart from the Law; it is a Word that makes the righteousness of God known, it states, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified [that is to say, made right] by grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”[6]
Did you hear that?  While the explosion of the Law was certainly a TNT blast, this Gospel news is an Atomic Bomb! 
Listen again, you, who have sinned, are justified by grace as a gift!  Yes, outside of your relationship to the Law, outside of your abilities in the here and now, there is a Savior who is from heaven, the Son of God, who brings a gift from God and has the power to create anew. 
Because of Christ living, bleeding, dying, and rising in your place, you have been transferred from condemnation, damnation, and guilt under the Law to freedom and forgiveness under the Gospel.  You are forgiven of your sins!  In other words, the Gospel of Jesus Christ applied to you in the Word and Sacraments transfers you from life under sin and the Law into a life of light, forgiveness, freedom, hope, and glory.  It is all for you!
This has been the plan of God all along, “to give to fallen mankind a right relationship to himself by grace through faith in the reconciling work of the Saviour’s death on the cross.”[7]  Christ came for sinners; Christ died for sinners and considers it all worthwhile.  He is your Savior! 
Do you see how this detonates life as we know it?  Does this not change and reform everything? 
It certainly does. 
No more working or climbing to acquire righteousness; rather we receive righteousness by grace through faith as a sheer gift.  It is yours! 
No more seeking assurance on the basis of our works in relationship to the Law, but rather receiving assurance in Christ and His relationship to you.  You are baptized!
No more looking within ourselves for certainty, for certainty does not lie within you but lies outside of you in Christ’s Word and Sacraments. Given and shed for you!
No more fear of death for “death is safe for those who trust in Christ,”[8] because Christ tasted death for you.  Do not fear, you belong to Christ!
No more worrying about what other people think, no more worrying about what we think about ourselves, and no more worrying about what God thinks, “because God has said He isn’t going to think about our sin and rebellion anymore.  All he thinks now is Jesus bloodied, Jesus dead, Jesus risen.  And God's Jesus-thinking is now ALL your life.”[9]  
Do you see the rock tossed in the water?  Do you feel the blast from the detonation?  Jesus fulfilled the Law; sin was punished on Jesus; salvation was accomplished perfectly; you are baptized into Christ name; you are absolved by the Word of God; you are admitted to a heavenly feast.  It is finished—for you. 
This changes everything; nothing will ever be the same.
Cur plunk; splash.  Bam; shatter.  Christ Jesus has been crucified and resurrected for you.  You are justified by grace through faith as a sheer gift. 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 [1] The illustration of the Reformation being like an explosion and all of us witnessing the remains of the explosion is an illustration used by Karl Barth in his Commentary on Romans.
[2] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 304-304.
[3] Ibid.
[4] James T. Batchelor, “Reformation (Observed) (26 October 2014) (26 October 2014).
[5] Jonathan Grothe, The Justification of the Ungodly: An Interpretation of Romans Second, slightly revised, reformatted edition (St. Catharines, Ontario: 2012), 163.
[6] Romans 3:21-24.
[7] Jonathan Grothe, The Justification of the Ungodly: An Interpretation of Romans Second, slightly revised, reformatted edition, 179.
[8] Quote from Pr. Donavon Riley on Twitter.
[9] Donavon Riley,  There Is Now No Condemnation for Those Who Are Being Christ-Jesused (Webster, MN: Sermon at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 2014).

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