Sermon, Reformation. Wed Oct 21/Sun Oct 25, 2020

Romans 3:19-28 

          19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being[a] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

              John 8:31-36

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


I took the opportunity to read a book in this COVID time. It comes to my mind this Reformation weekend. It was a historical biography of Martin Luther, the person from whom we Lutherans get our name.

I know the general story of how God did great work through Luther way back five hundred years ago. But this recent 21st century telling helped me see some new things.

New York social commentator, speaker and writer, Eric Mataxis, wrote the book. Eric is a Christian in the Baptist/Reformed part of the Christian church. He is not a theologian or academic. So, his great contribution is coming at the Luther and Reformation story from a lay person’s perspective.

We come from this Reformation that was begun by the Lord through Luther and others. So on Reformation weekend I offer a couple of important things for us.

One is that this Romans text we heard is at the heart of being a Christian.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

This was THE word from the Spirit that transformed our little German Augustinian monk, from the inside out.

Luther had been on a long journey to this word. He smelt a rat in the practices and beliefs of the church of his day – a rat that was poisoning people with overwhelming guilt and fear. It produced a never-ending slavery trying to earn your way into a distant and angry God’s favour by various means.

He himself was a ‘bulldog’ in this pursuit. He was in one of the toughest communities of monks. He lived it full on and got himself tangled up in blue day after day, week after week.

He says he was lost in a never ending slavish cycle of feeling the accusation of the 10 Commandments, confessing every little way in which he minute-by-minute broke those commandments, receiving forgiveness from his Abbot but then immediately breaking the law again…..plunging him into a dark room of anger and, resentment of God, and loathing of himself for which he could find no relief.

Sound familiar? has this been you? Has this been someone you know?

Luther was a thinker. One day he posted his concerns about the church on the university notice board in Wittenberg where he was a young University lecturer in the Bible. There we 95 thoughts. He wanted an in-house university student and faculty conversation.

Turns out that this one little act set an explosion off! Things caught like wildfire; like when a person posts a photo or comment or poem on Facebook for his or her circle of friends, only to find that a million people have seen it and shared it all over the world!

This huge shift in the world called the Reformation, and Luther’s life in it, is there to be learned by any interested person.

I don’t think Martin Luther would be too interested in going viral and being famous, even though he did and is. What he would care about is this Word from God to the world and to you now.

It says that we are all lost, condemned by the law as lawbreakers because we are slaves to it since our first parents placed themselves and us there. They wanted to be like God, they wanted to be God for themselves. We do too, in a million ways.

That we want to be gods of our galaxy puts us into a never ending slavery to self-interest, self-justification, self-glorying to survive in this broken creation.

Sometimes we feel this enough to acknowledge it, and even reach out the God. A lot of the time we don’t. Being our own life-shaper and self-determiner often at the cost to others comes naturally to us. That is our brokenness. That is what sin actually is, not just doing wrong things.

Sin is an addiction that keeps on taking until there is nothing left to take.

This slavery to self kills us and destroys relationships. “The wages of sin is death”, says the New Testament. (Romans 6:22)

As we earn and strive and justify ourselves, kid ourselves: just not understand ourselves, we hurt, and we hurt others and the spiritual damage goes viral. It is much worse than COVID 19. It is not temporary. There will never be any humanly manufactured vaccine.

But, here’s something I learned….

While in hiding from the authorities in the famous Wartburg Castle in southern Germany, one day when probably sitting at the base of the tower in the ‘small room’, the Spirit interrupted the bodily proceedings with this thunderbolt in the thunderbox! The Spirit made the Word a thunderbolt of transformational news as Luther pondered this very word from the Bible.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

“Martin, I can deal with your selfish dark heart and your slavery to self the same way you can deal with what needs to be expelled from your body in this small room!”

The bad smelly stuff can be expelled and the beautiful fragrant freedom of grace can be enjoyed – and not by anything you can do to earn it or achieve it, but only because Jesus Christ gives it.

In more biblical words:

24 all [people] can be …… justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….


23 …..the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is never-ending life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is our heart as a church of Jesus’ grace only ever simply received (not earned) by faith in him.

Friend, are you hearing this for yourself?

If you have been an enemy of God, he has found you and friended you at great cost to himself.

If you have been lost in self-serving, he has come not to be served but to serve you with his own words, life, death and rising.

If you have been loving people and things too much or too little or too selfishly, he loves you now with self-less laser focussed higher, deeper, longer, completing love.

If you have been living in a lonely exile longing for someone to notice. He does and the belonging starts now.

Another thing I learned is that this gospel of grace really costs. It really cost Luther – in hard work and in the pain of conflict.

He wrote millions of words, he preached thousands of sermons, he wrote pastoral letter to people in need, he loved his wife and children. He gave his all for this fragrant freedom.

He challenged not just the church authorities but his closest associates that wavered from this stunning gospel of grace. Some did not want to hear of grace and others did delight in receiving it but then returned to rules and control and power over people.

Strange – the best thing God could ever give a broken sinner – grace – is resisted or subverted! Oh, how broken we still are this side of the final resurrection!

We want to do something. We still want others to do something. We want God to do something on OUR terms – power, manipulation, competitiveness, fear, control, human vision, human rules….

Luther resisted any hint of us trying to jump in the driver’s seat of life again by any means.

Friends, I pray that you would receive this gospel thunderbolt in the thunderbox or any other box! I pray that you would feel the renewing breeze of the Spirit’s gospel word move through you this Reformation weekend. I pray that at your heart is Jesus’ gospel heart.

I pray we would be a community of the gospel; a community of grace in a million ways with many broken people, whether they think they are or not!

I pray that we will willingly pay the cost of confessing this gracious Father and the Son, Jesus, no matter the cost, because it actually is our very life and our very hope and enables to truly love.

I pray that you receive God’s thunderbolt good news for you in your room.

In the small room, the dark room, the lounge room, the work room and every other room, the golden gospel is the gold in the room, because;

 36 …. if the Son sets you free, are free indeed.