November 5, 2017
The 500 Year Legacy of the Reformation:
100% Faithfulness to the Word!
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV1984)
Dear fellow heirs of the Lutheran Reformation,
What is a “legacy”? Whenever I think of a “legacy” I usually think of either something that someone hands down to someone else or something for which a person wants to be known after they are gone. For example, a president might do something or not do something because he is concerned about his “legacy.” Sometimes a person’s “legacy” is all but automatic— whether positively or negatively. For example, Warren Buffet’s “legacy” will undoubtedly revolve around his nickname, “The Oracle of Omaha.” Bill Gates’ “legacy” will probably revolve around both the way Microsoft has revolutionized personal computers as well as his philanthropic endeavors. On the other hand, someone like Stephen Paddick or Bernie Madoff will never have such a positive “legacy.”
Legacies, however, are not confined to people, are they. Businesses, social movements and even churches can leave behind a “legacy.” Ah, now you see where I am going with this, don’t you! Today you and I have the joy of gathering together here in the house of the living God to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! Out of all the Sundays in the church year this Sunday is uniquely “ours.” While other Protestant church bodies may indeed have Reformation celebrations the true heart and core of the Reformation, the “legacy” that has been handed down by Martin Luther can only truly be appreciated by a church which upholds the historic Lutheran teachings. Why? That is what we are going to explore today as we study these words from John chapter eight. While the Lord Himself has used the Lutheran Reformation to give to us many many blessings one of the greatest blessings is found in that wonderful Lutheran phrase— Sola Scriptura! With that in mind let’s study our text for today under the theme: The 500 Year Legacy of the Reformation: 100% Faithfulness to the Word of God!
There are, of course, other Christian churches which boldly proclaim what they call the “fundamental” teachings of the Bible, specifically the precious message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this we are to be grateful. Whenever and wherever people are being taught that Jesus is the true eternal Son of the Living God who came into this world to save us from our sins, there God the Holy Spirit is able to create and strengthen the gift of saving faith in a sinner’s heart. Unfortunately, many Christian churches today have either consciously or unconsciously wandered further and further away from the clear proclamation that the Bible is the holy, inspired, inerrant Word of God from beginning to end. As a result, there are Christian churches today which are actually supporting, condoning and in some cases even promoting teachings and lifestyles which are completely contrary to Scripture! In many cases you and I as Lutheran Christians find ourselves fighting the very same battles which Martin Luther fought 500 years ago! Or perhaps to be even more accurate we should say that as Lutheran Christians you and I find ourselves still fighting the very same battles which our Savior fought over 2000 years ago!
Our sermon text for this Reformation Sunday takes us back to a time in Jesus’ public ministry when some very sharp lines were being drawn in respect to the Rabbi from Nazareth. In John 4 we are told that many Samaritans had come to believe in Jesus as the Promised Messiah. In John 6 we see that while huge crowds of thousands of people gathered around Jesus because of the miracles He was performing (see 6:2) many of those people now “turned back and no longer followed him” because His teachings were too hard for them to understand (see 6:60).
The words which we have before us this morning then are words that were spoken to a very specific group of people. John tells us that these words were spoken “To the Jews who had believed in him.” Now that is an extremely important truth for us to remember. This truth reminds us that only those who have been given the gift of saving faith in their heart can truly understand the importance of Jesus’ statement, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” While different people may have different definitions as to what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ, the Lord Himself gives us the criteria for true discipleship right here in our text. A true disciple of Jesus is one who “holds” to Jesus’ teaching!
The Greek word translated here in our text as “hold” very literally means, “To sojourn, to tarry as a guest, to lodge, to survive, or to live.” This is the very same word which Scripture uses to describe how God the Father “lives” in God the Son (John 14:10) and how God the Holy Spirit “lives” in us (John 14:17). It is the very same word which Jesus used when He said to His followers, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you” (John 15:5,7).
Remaining in the Word, sojourning through the Bible on a regular basis, making the Scriptures a familiar lodging place on our journey through this world, being committed to 100% faithfulness to the teachings of our God— that is what Jesus is talking about here in John 8:31! And once again, my friends, one of the great hallmarks of the Lutheran Reformation is Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!) As Lutheran Christians when the Lord says, “This is MY Word! Do not add to it and do not subtract from it!” we say, “Amen!” As Lutheran Christians instead of trying to rationalize or distort the parts of the Bible which we don’t understand, instead of deleting or simply ignoring the parts of the Bible that our society no longer wants to accept we follow Paul’s example and encouragement when he says to us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). And as Martin Luther once said, “There is no jesting with God’s Word. If you cannot understand it, then take your hat off to it.”
Jesus then goes on in our text to say that if we “hold” to His teaching, “Then you will know the truth….” What is “the truth”? The clearest and the simplest answer to that question is also found in the Gospel of John. In John 17:17 Jesus Himself prays to His heavenly Father concerning you and me, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” There is only one source of truth, my friends. It is not the Pope or any other earthly ruler. It is not the church councils or any other ecclesiastical organization. The only source of “truth”— unchangeable life-giving “truth”— is right here in the holy Scriptures! That’s why Martin Luther was willing to stand up to both the Pope and the Emperor. Unless they could show him— from Scripture— that what he was teaching was wrong, Luther was willing to stand upon the rock-solid foundation of “the truth,” no matter what the consequences, whether it be excommunication by the church or execution by fire!
Since this is Reformation Sunday permit me to read to you a little longer quote from Martin Luther. This quote very clearly reveals to us that the legacy of the Lutheran Reformation does indeed include 100% faithfulness to the holy Word of our God. In 1525 Luther said in a sermon, “It is the duty of both preachers and of hearers first of all and above all things to see to it that they have clear and sure evidence that their doctrine is really the true Word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy, original fathers, the prophets and apostles, and confirmed and commanded to be taught by Christ Himself. For we should by no means ever let doctrine be manhandled according to the pleasure and fancy of the individual who adapts it to human reason and understanding. Nor should we let men toy with Scripture, juggle the Word of God, and make it submit to being explained, twisted, stretched, and revised to suit people or to achieve peace and union; for then there could be no secure or stable foundation on which consciences might rely.” Isn’t it amazing how something which Martin Luther wrote so many years ago describes our “modern day” situation to a tee!
It is that last point which Luther made, my friends, the point about our consciences needing a “secure and stable foundation,” which ties in perfectly with the second verse of our text, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” When we strive for 100% faithfulness to the Word of God that is when we have the security and the confidence of knowing that we have the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth— “the truth that sets us free”! Think about it. If we were willing to accept the Bible as being 99% true or if we were to say that we only had to remain 99% faithful to the Holy Scriptures then we would be giving Satan all the room he needs to chip away at the foundation of our faith until eventually he may even cause our faith to crumble! Isn’t that exactly what he did in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve, “Did God really say…?”
Ask yourself, what would you be willing to give up if the Bible were only 99% true? What would you be willing to give up if we only had to remain 99% faithful to what is written here in this book? Would you be willing to give up the Creation account of Genesis chapters one and two? After all, Creation doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with our eternal salvation, does it? Well, if you were willing to give up just those two chapters of the Bible then consider this: you would have to call Moses a liar, you would have to call great King David a liar, you would have to call the prophet Isaiah a liar and you would have to call the Lord Jesus Christ Himself a liar! Why? Because Moses (Genesis 1 & 2) and David (See Psalms 8, 19, 24), and Isaiah (See Isaiah 44:24; 45:9, 12, 18; 48:13; 51:3, 13, 16) and Jesus (See Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 13:19; John 17:5, 24) all make reference to the Creation account of Genesis chapters one and two as being historically true! And if Moses and David and Isaiah and Jesus lied to us about Creation— what else might they have lied to us about? If the Bible were only 99% true, if you only had to remain 99% faithful to the Holy Scriptures would you be willing to give up the virgin birth of the Christ-Child? Would you be willing to give up the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross of Calvary’s hill to pay for your sins? The physical resurrection of the dead? The tremendous comfort and security of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? The Real Presence of the Lord’s true body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion? The sure Christian hope, the confident expectation that when your life here on this earth comes to an end your soul will be immediately welcomed into the glory of your heavenly Father’s Home? Would you be willing to give up the clear Scriptural teaching that was brought back into the limelight through the Lutheran Reformation, namely, that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone and by Scripture alone? If the Bible were only 99% true, if we only had to remain 99% faithful to what God has revealed to us here what part of the Bible would become “expendable” for you?
When by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to say that this (the Bible) is the Truth then, my friends, then we are truly free! We are free to love and to serve our merciful Savior God with all of our heart and all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength! We are free to serve and to love our neighbor as ourselves! We are free from the power of sin, death and the devil! We are free to live and to love, to enjoy and to rejoice in our life— because “the truth” that “sets us free” is “the truth” that enables us to trust the Lord God of heaven and earth! And when in simple, humble, childlike faith we take the Lord at His Word, the God of heaven will surely smile down upon us. Again, as Martin Luther once said, “There is nothing more beautiful in the eyes of God than a soul that loves to hear His Word!”
One hundred percent faithfulness to God’s Word. In a nutshell that is the legacy which has been handed down to us as heirs of the Lutheran Reformation. May God graciously grant that we not only treasure this legacy, but may God also grant that we will now earnestly strive to do whatever is necessary to hand this very same legacy down to our children and to our grandchildren.
To God be the glory!