November 4, 2018
The Reformation Gives Our
Faith A Firm Foundation!
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (NIV1984)
Dear fellow heirs of the Lutheran Reformation,
Whenever I see a panoramic view of the City of San Francisco my eyes are almost always drawn to at least one of three noteworthy towers. The first tower is the Transamerica Tower. Like the Arch in St. Louis and the Space Needle in Seattle the iconic shape of the Transamerica Tower is noteworthy in that it is automatically associated with San Francisco. The second tower is the Salesforce Tower. Standing 1,070 feet high with 61 floors the Salesforce Tower is noteworthy for being the tallest building in San Francisco, and I believe I heard it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The third tower is the Millennium Tower. The Millennium Tower, which is the tallest residential building in San Francisco, is noteworthy for the fact that it is both sinking and leaning. It has sunk at least 16 inches and tilted at least two inches since its completion in 2008. While the cause of the Millennium Tower sinking and leaning has not been definitively determined, according to the Transbay Joint Power Authority, “The only plausible explanation for the poor performance of the Millennium Tower is a completely inappropriate foundation for such a heavy structure.”
The sinking and the leaning of the Millennium Tower is a vivid visual example of why it is important for a building to have a firm foundation. A firm foundation, however, is not only important for tangible things such as buildings. It is also important to have a firm foundation for intangible things such as— our faith! Today then, my friends, let’s use this portion of God’s holy Word to rejoice in the fact that: The Reformation Gives Our Faith a Firm Foundation!
When I first saw that this text was scheduled for the same Sunday that we are celebrating the Reformation, I was somewhat confused. I have preached Reformation sermons on Romans chapter three, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (3:28). I have preached Reformation sermons on John chapter eight, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (8:31, 32). I have preached Reformation sermons on Jeremiah chapter 31, “’The time is coming’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah’” (31:31). But this is the first time I have preached a Reformation sermon on these words of our text!
When we look at these verses in the context in which our Savior first spoke them it quickly becomes clear that Jesus is teaching His disciples about the “signs” that will reveal that the end of the world is drawing near. Jesus and His disciples had just left the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. As they were leaving the Temple we’re told that one of Jesus’ disciples was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Temple that he said to Jesus, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Do you remember how Jesus responded? He said, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” When Jesus and His disciples reached the Mount of Olives and sat down opposite the Temple some of His disciples asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” That is when Jesus spoke the words of our text.
Here is where my confusion came in. As I looked at these “signs”— “signs” which not only predict the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but “signs” which also predict Judgment Day— I wondered how these “signs” tie in with the Reformation? Then it dawned on me! The “signs” of the end of the world dove-tail quite well with the Reformation in that these “signs” expose some of the false foundations upon which people all too often build their faith. We’ll look at four of those false foundations.
The first false foundation is false doctrine. Our Savior warns us, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” Many people today have a very naïve attitude towards religion. There seems to be a growing emphasis on being “spiritual” at the expense of being “religious.” If someone is “religious” that usually means that they have a definite set of beliefs— they believe this; they don’t believe that. When someone is “spiritual” that usually means that as far as they are concerned it doesn’t really make any difference whom you “follow” or what you “believe in” as long as you “follow” someone (even it that’s yourself!) and as long as you “believe in” something (even if it’s something you came up with on your own!) Everything is “relative,” we’re told. Whatever works best for you is “perfectly acceptable.” Just try not to hurt anyone’s feelings and make sure you give equal respect to whatever someone else might believe.
The Reformation application here is quite obvious. Any and every false doctrine, any and every human tradition that conflicts with or contradicts Scripture needs to be torn down like the massive stones of the Temple. Scripture and Scripture alone is the only perfectly acceptable foundation for everything we believe, teach and confess.
The second false foundation centers on the bedrock of political power— civil government. Our Savior warns us, “When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Since we live in such bitter partisan times I do not want to go too far down this road. A discussion such as this is best left for Bible class or better yet, the dinner table. What I will say is that— in my opinion— too many people base their sense of security on civil government. While we are to obey our civil government because “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1) and while we need to remember that “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:2), as Christians we do not look to our civil government as the “savior” of all mankind’s problems— whether physical or spiritual. Christ and Christ alone is our Savior! He is the One who provides for all of our physical needs. He is the only Solution to all of our spiritual problems.
The Reformation application here is one with which we are very familiar: the separation of Church and State. God Himself has given to civil government one over-arching role. That role is to maintain peace and order in society. God Himself has also given one all-consuming role to His Church. That role is to preach the Gospel to all creation, to make disciples of all nations by faithfully administering God’s holy Sacraments and by faithfully teaching all of God’s Word in its truth and purity. The Reformation also reminds us that eventually all forms of civil governments will fall like the massive stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. Only Christ and His Kingdom will endure forever!
The third false foundation is the created world in which we live. Our Savior warns us, “There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.” I may be wrong (It wouldn’t be the first time!) but it almost seems as though people today consider “Mother Earth” as being just a smidgen short of divine. It’s almost as though they believe that this earth is “as good as it gets” and so we need to treat the earth as the most precious thing we will ever have. Not true— at least not completely. This world is indeed a precious gift that our Creator-God has given to us. As Christians we want to make sure that we do not ruin this gift by polluting the air or the water and by not misusing the natural resources God has woven into this world. At the same time, every earthquake, every wildfire, every hurricane, every drought, every flood, every “natural disaster” is a powerful testimony to the fact that one day this world as we know it will come to a fiery end. Then the good Lord will graciously give us “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
The Reformation application here is to remember that this world— as awesome and as wonderful as it is— this world is not “as good as it gets.” One day the entire universe will come tumbling down like the massive stones in the temple at Jerusalem. For that reason we cannot put our faith in this world or in anything that is a part of this world. Our faith needs to be focused on Christ alone and what He has done for us! (Pointing to the cross)
The final false foundation is one that may catch us offguard. It is— our family and our friends. Our Savior warns us, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
We love our families. We treasure our spouse. We rejoice in our children. We spoil our grandchildren. We have fun with our friends. But as many Christians have experienced down through the ages, sometimes even our family and our friends can be a source of persecution. For the people who originally heard Jesus speak these words, openly confessing one’s faith in Jesus— even among their closest circle of family and friends— could and did result in being thrown into prison or even being put to death. That reality still holds true for many Christians in many parts of the world today. As important and as God-pleasing as our relationships with our family and our friends might be, we cannot put our faith and our trust in them. Our relationship with our dear Lord and Savior is always to be the most important relationship we have in our life.
The Reformation application here is summed up quite nicely in Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. In stanza four Luther taught us to sing, “The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
Now, my friends, how do these four false foundations tie in with our sermon theme for today— The Reformation Gives Our Faith a Firm Foundation!” The answer is found in verse 11 of our text. After warning His disciples of the persecutions they will face because of their faith in Him, Jesus assures them, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
As Lutheran Christians we strive to follow the example Martin Luther set for us. When Luther was asked to recant everything he was teaching and everything he had written he said, “Unless I am convinced by the teachings of Holy Scripture or by sound reasoning— for I do not believe either the pope or councils alone, since they have often made mistakes and have even said the exact opposite about the same point— I am tied by the Scriptures I have quoted and by my conscience. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither safe nor right. Here I stand. God help me! Amen.” As Lutheran Christians we believe, teach and confess that the Bible is the holy, inspired and inerrant Word of God from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. As Lutheran Christians we take seriously God’s commands to us, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2; See also Deuteronomy 12:31; Revelation 22:18 ,19) and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
Our Lutheran heritage does indeed give our faith a firm foundation, my friends. Our Lutheran heritage keeps us from being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). Our Lutheran heritage helps insure that words such as these will never be used to describe the foundation of our faith, “The only plausible explanation for the poor performance of the Millennium Tower is a completely inappropriate foundation for such a heavy structure.”
Praise and thank the Lord your God, my friends. Praise Him for your Lutheran heritage! Thank Him that the Reformation gives your faith a firm foundation!
To God be the glory!