O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Halloween in Germany
Halloween in Germany
Based on John 8:31-36
Preached on October 26, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, it wasn't a sight to be seen. It didn't come with trumpets or bright lights. In fact, nearly five hundred years ago, on the 31st of October, immense crowds were pouring into an ancient city of Germany called Wittenberg, and anyone could see that it wasn't the weather-beaten, dingy little buildings that drew the masses. It wasn't the beauty of the city or the attraction of its market. But in its heart stood a miserable old church, battered and rundown, and the name of this church was the Church of All Saints. Just a name, its true, but one that was incredibly important to those surging into the city, because that day, October 31st, was the Eve of All Saints Day. It was All Hallows Eve. Halloween. And when the sun rose the next morning - an indulgence was up for grabs. The Pope had granted indulgence to all who should visit the church on the first of November. All you had to do to earn forgiveness from the Pope was go to All Saints Church on All Saints Day. Cha-ching - levelup. And so the crowds and their burdened consciences filled the city waiting for first light.
But on that memorable morning what was found fastened on the door of that church was something far better. A scroll unrolled. The writing on it was firm; the nails which held it were well driven in; the sentiments it conveyed were moderate, yet very decided. The material, parchment, was the same which long ago had held words of redemption above the head of the Redeemer. The contents cried that old theme of glory - Christ on the cross, the only King. The Gospel of Jesus which had been buried beneath the Pope's throne, reappeared on that church door. The keynote of the Reformation was struck - full and clear - Salvation through Christ alone.
It is from the nailing up of these 95 Theses that the Reformation takes its dates. That act became the starting-point of the work which still goes on, and shall go on forever, that glorious work in which the truth was raised to its original purity, and civil and religious liberty was restored to men. An old writer describes the Church of All Saints at Wittenberg, as a manger, where in his lowly glory the Son of God was born again. Blessed forever be that day!
Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." These words go to the heart of the corruption that Martin Luther condemned during the days of the Reformation in Germany. The Pope in Rome insisted that he was one to determine truth. He insisted that the Church of Rome was the final judge of truth, particularly when it came to interpreting what God said. But this meant that both Jesus and the Pope claimed to have the word of truth. Which should it be: the word of the Pope, or the word of our Lord?
Martin Luther made his position clear at the Diet of Worms. When the Emperor pressured him to retract his writings, he said, "Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner: Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason and not by Popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
While the declarations of popes and councils have changed, the Word of Jesus has always been the same. It is trustworthy. It is true. It is established in both the blood of Jesus and the blood of the Apostles. People died and in their deaths the Word of God spread throughout the world. Luther based his teachings on this Word of Christ... that Word of Good News which declares the forgiveness of sins to you bought by the blood of Jesus.
Later, in a sermon, Luther proclaimed that the Word of God was the true power of the reformation. He said, "I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything."
And this is our confidence! This is our mighty Fortress. Our sure defence. That were they to take our house, goods, honour, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom's ours forever!
The Word of God is the foundation of all Lutheran teachings. The Word of God is where we stand. The Word of God is all we have. Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life. As Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Abide in my Word. Marinate in my Word. Soak up my Word - make it so that my Holy Word touches every part of your life. For I want you to be free.
And this is what it all boils down to, isn't it? Freedom. Peace. The freedom those crowds looked for when they travelled to Wittenberg. The freedom you long for, this day no different. God give me a clear conscience - freedom from myself - freedom from my sins. We want freedom from the work of explaining ourselves - every hour of hour day - convincing ourselves we're doing the right thing - slaving to rid ourselves of burdens that are far too heavy for us. This is what is at stake in the Reformation! This is what Luther rediscovered! This is what God wants to declare to you. Freedom in Christ. Freedom from sin, death and the devil. Freedom purchased by blood - God's blood. Freedom forevermore - with the One who died to free you.
The devil has always hated the freedom that God's Word proclaims. He attacked it in Eden. "Did God actually say ..." He attacked it in Martin Luther's day by keeping it out of the hands of the people, keeping it expensive because it was hand written - keeping it hidden in a language that the common person did not know. God's people starved for the Word of God, yet the teachers of the Church did not give it in its purity. And this suited the devil just fine.
But then came the invention of the printing press. Books were mass produced. The price of books came down. And one of Martin Luther's hopes was to put the Bible into the hands of the people. He translated the Bible into German so the average peasant could read it for himself.
The incredible thing is that before Luther's Bible came along, there were plenty of peasants who couldn't even read their own name. But when these peasants learned about Luther's Bible, they learned how to read and within a year or two, they were debating theology with University doctors ... and winning.
The devil hated this. German humanist Johann Cochlaeus complained that:
"Luther's New Testament was so much multiplied and spread by printers that even tailors and shoemakers, yea, even women and ignorant persons who had accepted this new Lutheran gospel, and could read a little German, studied it with the greatest avidity as the fountain of all truth. Some committed it to memory, and carried it about in their bosom. In a few months such people deemed themselves so learned that they were not ashamed to dispute about faith and the gospel not only with Roman laymen, but even with priests and monks and doctors of divinity."
With the invention of the printing press the devil has had to resort to other tactics. He has worked to push God's Word so far out of the public circle, that you are expected to keep your faith to yourself. Like your new life in Christ is a private thing. It is not. He has replaced one Pope with countless popes - everyone claiming to have the final say on truth in their life. Claiming their own interpretation, and demanding that it be seen as equally valid. It is not. God's Word is not private, and it is to be interpreted only by its own words. The pendulum has swung all the way over to the other side.
Today, Bibles are available everywhere - for free. The salvation of Jesus is not hidden, or expensive, or far from the hands of the people. But sadly most people do not bother to pick up their Bible and read it. Most people own several Bibles, and they gather dust.
Think about this. Many men of God shed blood and gave their lives so that God's Word could exist on paper. Other men were burned at the stake for translating this Word of God into the language of the people. In many countries, it was against the law to own a Bible translated into the common tongue. The Bible you hold in your hand is the product of thousands of years of blood, sweat, and sacrifice. Millions of sixteenth century peasants would have shed blood and given their lives just to lay their eyes on it. Jesus Himself states that this book contains the truth that will set you free. Christians in the Middle East who have had to watch ISIS soldiers behead their children long for the Word of God. What a blessing it is that we live in a country where we are free to study it on our own and with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. How tragic it is that many don't take advantage of this freedom while they have it. Many stay away from Bible study, and times of devotion.
Even those who read the Bible regularly often read it as a guideline for living instead of the proclamation of salvation. They search the Scriptures to see what they should do instead of searching it to see what God has done for them. They see it as a way to improve life instead of a way to be saved from sin and death. Tragically, many people read the Bible and find only the Law that binds the conscience, but remain blind to the Gospel which frees.
Jesus said, [John 5:39] "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me." The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, [1 Corinthians 2:2] "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." The Reformation that we celebrate today is about the restoration of God's Word - and God's Word is about the Crucified Christ. This is the center of Lutheran teaching. Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. If all the teachings of the Bible were arranged as spokes in a wheel, the teaching, "Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins" would be the hub. Every other teaching depends on the teaching of forgiveness.
Martin Luther lived the first half of his life in absolute terror of Jesus the great and awful judge ... the judge who would see his every sin and condemn him forever. Luther would later write, "I hated that word ‘righteousness of God,' ... with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner." It was only after he studied the Scripture for himself that the Holy Spirit showed him that the righteousness of God is a gift. He wrote, "I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God ... namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith. Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates." By translating the Bible into German, he allowed his fellow Germans to see that God is a God of grace ... a God who sacrificed His Son in order to free you from your slavery to sin. It was the truth of the Word of Christ that freed Luther from the terror of his sin. It is the truth of the Word of God that declares that same freedom to you this very morning. You are forgiven. You are free. You are Christ's.
No, this sermon wasn't a sight to be seen. It didn't come with trumpets or bright lights. But it proclaims to you that humble message that Christ wants to get through to you. You are safe in Him, by His grace, through faith He gives you, because of His blood shed for you. This is His truth, and it has set you free. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr