Today, while visiting Wittenberg, Germany, for an International Lutheran Council (ILC) meeting I had the opportunity to visit the Old Latin School being renovated by The Wittenberg Project. Rev. David Mahsman, an LCMS missionary,
is the project director for the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), a RSO of the Missouri Synod, and is a joint venture between the LCMS,
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and Concordia Publishing House.
The Old Latin School is adjacent to Saint Mary’s City Church in Wittenberg. Saint Mary’s is the church where Martin Luther served as preacher in addition to his duties at Wittenberg University. The Old Latin School was built in 1565 over top of the bone yard for Saint Mary’s Church. Because of this the discovery of bones in the archeological excavation is not surprising.
The top photo shows the refuse being removed and dumped out of the third floor window. The lower picture is of an exposed beam from the original construction of the building. It is quite likely that as was the custom of the day that the beam would have been painted with a Bible verse or a section of the Small Catechism.
Right now it appears as if much of Wittenberg is under construction as people prepare for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Pictured above is the Prussian Tower in protective wrap that was added to the Castle Church where Martin Luther placed the 95 Theses in 1517.
Today, 11 November 2013, is fitting to visit Wittenberg as it is the baptismal birthday of Martin Luther, christened on 11 November 1483 and named after Martin of Tours. It was great to see the progress of the Wittenberg Project and the beginning of the restoration of the Old Latin School.
- Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert B Collver, Director of Church Relations, on 11 November 2013 using BlogPress from my iPhone.
And for this reason He assumed our nature, that in that nature, which was under the Law, satisfaction and fulfillment might be made. —Martin Chemnitz
The Fall is a time to celebrate. Many say that Fall is their favorite season. (It is mine.) The leaves change from shades of green to vibrant yellow, red, and orange; cool afternoons have replaced the midday heat of summer and kitchens fill with the delightful aroma of dinners prepared with love and care. That is Fall at its best.
But, the fall can mean something entirely different; something much less appealing. The fall is a universal tragedy, and it has consequences for all humanity. Mankind’s fall is marked by sin, death, and separation. This fall is an ugly plague upon humanity, and unlike the season, it does not pass with time. It is an eternal reality.
Stuck in the grips of the fall, humanity attempts to cope by various means to assuage the reality. Most notably, they ignore it. They live in the consequences of the fall ignorant of the truth; yet, something very real pierces their fantasies. It is the law.
The law makes its presence known through ruthless and persistent truth telling. A glaring mirror provides a strong dose of reality. Standing naked before the law every man, woman, and child is condemned. They are hopelessly guilty. Every indiscretion, every evil thought, every malicious intention sinks the sinner deeper into despair. Their fantasy crashes into hopelessness.
The law has driven them to the end of their delusions. Thanks be to God that there is more to reality and truth than sin, death, and hell. There is hope in the Savior.
God brings another truth to the fallen. He brings forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. As St. Paul writes to the Romans,
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This message of hope in the atoning work of Christ is for all sinners.
There is cause for celebrating. Not a celebration of fantasy but of reality, a reality that proclaims liberty to those in the grips of sin through Christ’s atonement alone. They have been baptized and washed in the waters of redemption. In this they have comfort for theirs is the Kingdom of God, an eternal reality. Now every day, every moment is a cause for celebration for there is justification apart from works of the law. Just as St. Paul wrote,
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center, on the Festival of the Reformation, October 31, 2013. Longer versions were also preached in St. Paul, Munster, IN, and St. Paul, Readlyn, IA, the weekend before. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President.]
We observe Reformation Day, not because Lutherans are better, but we observe it for the sake of the Gospel.
Our Church is always reforming, always coming back to the Word of God, always being reformed to focus on Christ.
And a church that is always reforming is also always repenting, daily. The first of the 95 Theses Luther put up for debate October 31, 1517, reads:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. (LW 31:83).
- This is simply to admit our need for Christ.
- To know that Christ dwells only in sinners.
If you don’t believe me, just wait. The Law that exposes sin will come in full force when you are facing death – because the wages of sin IS death.
Yes, the Law is a curb against sin. Yes, the Law is a guide for Christians, but when we are talking about our standing before God, the Law always accuses.
Now we know that whatever the Law says it speak to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:19-20)
We are all, each one of us, held accountable to God. I know we are tempted to say – Yes, but…
Yes, but I tried my best. Isn’t that good enough?
Yes, but why is this happening to me?
Yes, but I don’t deserve to die? Not yet.
Yes, but God is not being fair.
God’s law says STOP. Hold your mouth. Stop the excuses. Like a parent with a child trying to excuse his behavior – stop, stop trying to justify yourself.
This is a “bad news/good news” situation.
The bad news is that you cannot do it. It doesn’t work. You have no excuses, even if you are a pastor or work at the International Center. You cannot justify yourself.
But here’s the really great good news.
You don’t have to! It has already been done.
Been done by God in Jesus Christ.
He did it all.
There is no distinction, Scripture says, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And that ALL includes you and me. In fact, it BETTER include you and me, or the promise doesn’t apply to us either.
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).
God justifies! God speaks. God declares us righteous for the sake of Christ. And when GOD speaks, it is DONE. And God does this by grace as a gift – undeservedly.
In other words, God does not give US what we deserve, but He gives us instead what JESUS deserves. And God can give us what Jesus deserves, because on the cross God allowed JESUS to have what WE deserved for our sin. He took it all for us.
That’s what the word propitiation means. He took it all! Christ is the sacrifice in our place, the sacrifice that takes away our sin. He is the place of mercy, the one who soaks up all the wrath of God for sin – in our place.
And it’s all done – for us.
It is never our working, but always God’s doing, in Jesus.
We simply receive it through faith – it’s a gift.
Believe it and you have it!
In his Galatians commentary, Martin Luther explains:
“Here we work nothing, render nothing to God. We only receive and permit someone else to work in us, namely, God… We do not perform, but receive righteousness. We do not have, but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.” (LW 26:5f)
What does this mean? Practically speaking? Justified through faith means there is so much we do NOT have to worry about.
- We don’t have to worry about the guilt of our sin, because Christ took it all.
- We don’t have to worry about how you look before God, because in Jesus you are covered in HIS righteousness. GOOD!
- We don’t have to hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden or make excuses…
- You don’t have to defend yourself before God, because Jesus did that already, far better than we’d ever be able.
- You don’t have to dwell on past sins and failures, because they’ve all been put on Jesus, they’re all atoned for, all forgiven.
- And the blood of Jesus really DOES set the guilty conscience FREE.
- You don’t even have to worry about your future, or worry about your death, because Jesus rose – you will rise.
- You don’t have to compare yourself with other Christians, to see how you measure.
- You don’t have to…
Because you are justified.
You are set free.
Christ has got you covered.
As a result, here’s now what we GET to do:
You get to
- revel in God’s grace – the gift given.
- live free – in the freedom of sins forgiven.
- walk right into the throne room of God in your prayers to pour out your needs before God – He won’t say – hey! who are you? But welcome, my child. Here’s all the good I have for you.
- You get to love the people He has given you because you know Jesus loves you and Jesus loves them.
Even if you feel bad, feel ashamed, or feel guilty… none of your FEELINGS can CHANGE God’s promises.
For HE is righteous, and HE justifies us.
In ourselves, we have nothing, but in Christ and the cross, we have everything. That’s what this means:
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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:27-28).
And this Christian life of repentance Luther talks about in the 95 Theses is simply a life of looking away from my sin, of looking away from my death, from myself to see Christ only, FOR ME.
I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20).
You have to hear one more bit of Luther on this:
Now these words, “who loved me” are filled with faith. … He who was completely God gave everything He was, gave Himself FOR ME. For me, I say, a miserable and accursed sinner… Now I have Another, who has freed me from the terrors of the Law, from sin, from death, and who has transferred me into freedom, the righteousness of God, and eternal life. He gave Himself FOR ME.” (LW 26:177).
For each of you!
And that’s why we observe Reformation Day!
In the name of Jesus – Amen!
[Note: This sermon was preached in Chapel at the International Center Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, by Rev. Steven Schave, Associate Executive Director of the Office of International Mission – An excellent example of a sermon that spoke stinging law and comforting Gospel to me – Herbert Mueller, First VP.]
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
And God said it was good. And God said: it-was-good. Not sorta good, not kinda good, but when God saw His creation with its crown jewel of humanity… He said it was good, through and through. We had it all, paradise; well cared for, in want for nothing. Sickness, what is that? Pain, wow, sounds awful! I hope that never happens to me. Death, that would be a completely unnatural part of God’s creation. Loneliness, no way, God wouldn’t allow it, only perfect communion with Him and a soul mate to be united to for eternity. Perfect love, perfect joy, and perfect peace…just plain perfect, we didn’t know anything else.
But it wasn’t enough: surely God is holding out on us. Give us an orchard, and if there is one tree that God says stay clear of, it will seem the sweetest. And after all, let’s not kid ourselves, we weren’t so concerned with being like God in some holy sense, we want to be God and have our every desire. No, when the crafty serpent comes on to the scene, it doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing before the juices of forbidden fruit are dripping from our sin stained lips. And so covered only in our guilt and shame, with our tails between our legs, we find ourselves evicted from a paradise lost. All of creation now corrupted by our rebellion and disobedience and death will begin its reign. The tree of life in the garden – forever in the rear view mirror.
But that was so long ago. Now we say, “life stinks and then you die.” We don’t even bother with “did God really say?” anymore, because our tingling ears tuned out the voice of God long ago. It’s about creating our own paradise now. We build our towers to reach the heavens, we fashion together our golden calves to worship, we feverishly reduce, reuse, recycle and plant our gardens to try to recreate a paradise lost. We mask the pain, we turn our face from truly looking at death, we try to clothe ourselves in our own righteousness and justify our disobedience. But it is all a fleeting breath; because in the end we must still weep at the grave of a murdered son, the soil is still infested with thorns, the labor of bearing a child remains, and the flaming swords of God’s justice still bar the door to the tree of life in an Eden that is but a ghost town.
And so it is that poor miserable sinners fall to their knees on this very day and must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…we sinners have no business in a holy place in the presence of God, ashes to ashes and dust to dust of a fallen world. And yet God, God who is faithful and just, still loves His creation. Never doubt that in all of creation, of heavens and earth, you are the crown jewel, you are the apple of His eye. For the creator becomes a creature to redeem his creation and to make it good. And so when Christ puts himself into the Jordan and the Spirit is hovering over the water, God says it is good. When Christ fulfills the Law on your behalf and conquers your every temptation from the serpent, God says it is good. When Christ bears your sins in His own flesh, the seed of the offspring crushing the head of the serpent by being obedient to the Father, even unto death: God the Father says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
And so when you doubt your worth, when you doubt God’s love for you, when you are convinced that your passport will never be stamped for Eden…you will look to the perfect sacrifice made on your behalf, hanging from this wretched tree planted in the barren soil of Golgotha, and you will hear those words from the very voice of God who says, yes my child, it is good – it is your tree of life! Come and eat from the fruit of this tree and drink it’s wine: filled with forgiveness, life and salvation. Put the bread on your tongue and the chalice to your lips made holy, for it is good. Come and be cleansed in this river of life that flows from a riven side and be made a new creation, for God looks upon you remade in the image of His Son, clothed in His righteousness, and says, “IT-IS-GOOD!”
So make no mistake you sons of Adam and you daughters of Eve, the new Adam has come to conquer death; and to bring you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The tomb has burst forth, the trumpets declare that that victory is won, and God says, “IT-IS-GOOD!” The seed of the woman is but the first fruit of those raised from the dead. For from your rest in the tomb, you too, dear child of God, will be awakened. From out of your slumber, the angel will come to show you the waters of the river of life; bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And beside the river you will see the tree of life, with fruit that gives life and leaves that bring healing to the nations. No curse here, only the throne of God and the Lamb to be worshiped. And all those who have His name upon their foreheads will see His face, and live in His light, where He reigns forever. And so the day is coming soon, when we will dwell in this new paradise, this new creation, this Eden restored. And until then the bride will wait in great anticipation for her bridegroom who says He is coming soon. And we will call out day and night, Amen, Come Lord Jesus! Come Lord Jesus, for “IT-IS-GOOD!”
In Jesus name, Amen.