October 31, 2021
The Eternal Gospel!
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow heirs of the Lutheran Reformation,
Do you keep up with the news? What was in the news this past week? Our local news was dominated by the weather. After months and months of bone-dry weather the atmospheric river that moved through last weekend brought record setting amounts of rain to our area. This record setting storm also introduced me to a new term— “bomb cyclone.” And now? Now the weather forecasts are pretty much back to normal. Now our local news highlights the cleanup after the storm.
On a national level the news has been dominated by President Biden’s Reconciliation Bill— what’s in it, what is not in it and how much will it cost. Because of disagreements within the Democratic party the president’s $3.5 trillion bill is being whittled down to something in the neighborhood of $1.75 trillion. Will the bill get enough votes to pass? That is currently the trillion dollar question!
What will be the big headlines a week from now? A month from now? We don’t know! Reporting and journalism is a very competitive business. People always want the very latest news, the next twist and turn, the newest facts and revelations. But even the hottest stories soon fade. They quickly become “yesterday’s news.” Interest wanes. People move on to a different topic, to a different message, to some “new” news. When was the last time you heard anything on the news concerning the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan or the crisis on our southern border or concerns about the debt limit? They all seem to be “yesterday’s news.”
Today, my friends, we gather together in God’s Name to celebrate some news, some good news, news that is completely different from what you will hear on the evening news programs. This news never grows old. It is never outdated. It never becomes “yesterday’s news.” This good news is the enduring, exclusive, life-giving, salvation bestowing message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate the 504th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Through Martin Luther and his fellow reformers God graciously brought the sweet simple message of the Gospel back into clear focus in God’s Church. As we celebrate what God accomplished through the Reformation let’s see how our text for today focuses our attention on the central message of the Reformation: The Eternal Gospel!
As you may know the book of Revelation is an “apocalypse.” It is a “vision” that is filled with many pictures— some of which are relatively easy to understand and some of which are more difficult to understand. The overall theme of Revelation is that while God’s Church here on this earth will endure many difficulties and hardships (See Acts 14:22) in the end the Church will be victorious— because our Savior is victorious! Not even the gates of hell itself will be able to overcome God’s Church! (See Matthew 16:18) That theme is emphasized in many different portions of this letter— including the portion that includes our text for today.
In order for us to fully appreciate the truth that is proclaimed here in our text we need to understand what led up to this text. Revelation chapter thirteen talks about the rise of two “beasts”— “beasts” that are bent on the destruction of the Church. One of these “beasts” represents the secular government and its attempts to silence the proclamation of the Gospel. The second “beast” represents what is known as the “apostate” church— that is, a portion of the church that either clouds and confuses the message of the Gospel by combining it with false teachings such as work-righteousness or denies the message of the Gospel altogether.
The reformers in the days of Martin Luther identified the first “beast” as the Muslim armies of the Turkish Empire which at the time was threating to overrun Europe which at that time was predominantly Christian. They identified the second “beast” as the Roman papacy which with the help of the emperor and civil magistrates were persecuting those who were proclaiming the pure simple message of the Gospel— reformers such as Martin Luther.
Revelation 14:1-5 pictures the saints in heaven enjoying perfect peace with Jesus. But, to assure the saints on earth that God will never forget them, to assure the saints on earth that God will never abandon the earth to the control of Satan and the two “beasts,” to assure the saints on earth that God will always pierce the darkness of this sin-filled world with His message of hope and love, grace and forgiveness, the Lord graciously gives His servant John this vision, “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth— to every nation, tribe, language and people.”
There are those who say that these words are a direct prophecy concerning Martin Luther and the work that God would accomplish through Luther and the Reformation. In fact, in Luther’s funeral sermon Johannes Bugenhagen (who served as Luther’s pastor) said that Martin Luther was “without doubt” the angel described here in Revelation chapter fourteen. While we wouldn’t want to go that far, Luther certainly was a prime example of someone through whom the message of the Gospel was carried out into the world. At a time when the Roman papacy had a firm grip on the world, at a time when the Roman papacy was forcefully teaching salvation by works, Martin Luther— and others— clearly proclaimed the “eternal Gospel,” the message that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone and by Scripture alone!
Why is this simple glorious message called the “eternal Gospel”? Because this has always been the only message that our Savior-God has proclaimed to all the people of this earth! Think about it, my friends. Even before the Creation of the world the God who lives in the eternal present had a Plan of Salvation for this world. The first glimpse of the “eternal Gospel,” the first ray of hope for fallen mankind was revealed in the Garden of Eden when God promised that the “Seed of the woman,” the Messiah would “crush” the head of Satan. Throughout the Old Testament era God testified to the “eternal Gospel” through powerful “types” such as the Passover Lamb, the priestly sacrifices in the Temple and the promises God revealed to His people through His servants, the prophets. Jesus Himself promised that His “eternal Gospel” message will be proclaimed until the very end of time. Scripture reveals to us that in the New Creation that God will bring about on Judgment Day the message of the Lamb and His saving work will be on our lips and in our songs “eternally”! God’s Gospel message is an “eternal” Gospel leading to “eternal” life and “eternal” peace.
The sweet simple message of the “eternal Gospel” is one of the tremendous blessings that you and I have inherited from the Lutheran Reformation. This exclusive unchanging message of hope and salvation through faith in what Jesus as done for us (Pointing to the cross) is the message that we now strive to share with “every nation, tribe, language and people.” Yes, we are to see ourselves in the words, “Then I saw another angel flying in midair and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those living on the earth.” We don’t need to come up with a “new” message to proclaim. We simply and faithfully proclaim the “eternal Gospel.” We don’t need to “adjust” or “change” the “eternal Gospel” to make it more “relevant” to people today. That would be a futile attempt to improve on perfection! We simply and clearly proclaim the “eternal Gospel”!
Why do we want to make sure that we continue to simply and clearly and faithfully proclaim the “eternal Gospel”? The answer to that question is made clear in the second verse of our text. John writes, “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’”
These words have the very same application for all of God’s people— no matter whether they lived in the days of John or in the days of Martin Luther or today. Against all the murderous threats that are directed against God’s people, against all of the persecutions that God’s people endure as they boldly proclaim the “eternal Gospel,” the “angel flying in midair” says in a “loud voice”— “Fear God!” We do not need to be afraid of mere mortal human beings— even though they may oppress us or jail us or even kill us. The “eternal Gospel” guarantees us that since we have been saved from God’s wrath through the suffering, death and resurrection of His Son, we are to “fear” God. That is, we are to have a deep seated “reverence” for Him and for Him alone!
Hand-in-hand with “fearing” God is the command to “Give Him glory!” and “Worship Him!” While the devil, the world and even our own sinful flesh are constantly pushing us to “give glory” to beliefs and actions that God finds disgusting, the “eternal Gospel” empowers us to “give glory” to the one and only true God, the God of our salvation! And while it’s not difficult to see examples from the past as well as examples from the present where people are willing to give their “worship” to angels, to tangible idols such as possessions and wealth, to intangible idols such as power and control, to manmade idols such as Allah and Buddha, the “eternal Gospel” empowers us to worship the one true God, the Almighty God who has created all things, the God who has cleansed us from our sin, the God who has freed us from His divine wrath and judgment, the God who has given us a place to stand among the saints and angels in heaven above, the God who has prepared a home for us in His eternal Kingdom!
As we gather together today to celebrate the 504th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation let’s rejoice, my friends! Let’s rejoice in the greatest “news” of all! Let’s rejoice that the angel is still flying in midair with the “eternal Gospel” to all the people of the earth! Let’ rejoice in knowing that no matter how many threats and how many enemies surround God’s Church here on this earth, God Himself will make sure that His “eternal Gospel,” the message of Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us, will continue to be proclaimed until the very end of time!
To God be the glory!