[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 me!

For each of you!

And that’s why we observe Reformation Day!

In the name of Jesus – Amen!