The Reformation of The Church
October 27, 2019
“Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last week my brother-in-law from Nebraska, came with my sister, and they were here representing Orphan Grain Train to us. Pastor Jim Carretto preached, and my sister, Becky, helped him with the presentation during the Bible Class.
He retired two years ago from full time pastoral ministry. And he retired sort-of-young, I thought. I think he was only about 62 when he started the good life. But he didn’t stay retired very long. Now he travels almost every Sunday to some church speaking about the ministry that Orphan Grain Train provides to the world. When I asked him how he likes retirement, Jim said, “I love it. I get to do what I want to do when I want to do it.” Sounds like the perfect life!! Sign me up!!
But one thing that he also gets to do in his new retirement life is to observe how churches and preachers are doing. When he isn’t preaching he’s listening. Now that he isn’t running his own church he watches how others are doing the same thing. He told me that in his listening to other preachers preach he says that we don’t preach enough gospel. He says that the preacher takes for granted that his congregation knows the gospel. And that is a mistake.
I tell my confirmation kids that I won’t confirm them unless they know the gospel. But bigger than that is this – God won’t let you go into heaven unless you know the gospel. Do you know it? I don’t mean the writings from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the evangelists who wrote the Gospels. No, can you verbally say the gospel? If you don’t know it, if you don’t believe it, your eternal future is in jeopardy.
On this snowy morning we recognize the Reformation of the Church. So this Sunday is all about Martin Luther, right? He started all of this on the day before All Saint’s Day in 1517, right? October 31, 1517, All Holy Eve, Luther began to change the world. So I guess the Reformation Day is all about him, right?
No. If that is the case this church, our church, would be founded on a weak foundation. This church would have very little to say if we were built on a man named Martin Luther. But we’re built on something that will last. We are built upon the gospel. We are built on Jesus. In fact, Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.
The gospel is the most brilliant news in the world. It is that certain proclamation that Jesus Christ was a magnet for the sins of the entire world when He died upon the cross on Good Friday. At that moment every sin that we were born with and that we have committed since, knowingly, or unknowingly, was paid for. John speaks the gospel clearly, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
Paul would speak his confidence in the work of Jesus in this way, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17)
“Gospel” means “good news”. Jesus dying for our sins is good news. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, this is what he said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
But the gospel is not just the news of a martyr, one who dies for a cause, it is the news of a Savior. Gospel is no gospel if Jesus isn’t living right now. If there was no resurrection on Easter Sunday we have no message, no hope – we’d just be a bunch of “do-gooders” living a religious fantasy. But the gospel is that Jesus died to remove the curse of our sin and that He rose and brought us everlasting life. Romans 10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Verse 9)
Do you know what the opposite of faith is? Unbelief, right? Well, I have another word for you today, and it comes right from the text. The opposite of faith is boasting. The last words of what we read, “Where, then is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:27-28) The problem with boasting is it looks at the wrong object. It looks at us, our goodness, our deeds, our best moments, rather than looking at Jesus. Boasting spends all of its time looking at ourselves; it looks in the wrong direction.
Do you know the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector? (Luke 18:9-14) The self-righteous Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector, I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” (Verse 11-12) That man had terrible vision. All he could see was himself. His boasting in self was opposite of confidence in what God could do for him.
But faith looks at the right thing. Faith has the right perspective. Initially faith is very quiet. Paul begins this section with the words, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19)
But, then, faith gets quite loud. You, as a believer, one who stands upon the gospel, get to boast, but not in yourself. You get to boast in Jesus. I believe that Paul is clear about the only hope we have in life and in death, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20-24)
The reformation of the church, historically then, and right now, in our day, and in our individual lives, is when we boast in what God has done for us, freely, in Jesus. In John 3 a huge shift was happening in the religious world and it concerned a few of the big players. John the Baptist had a huge following. He had a big congregation. But in time he started losing his following. Smaller crowds. Less influence. John was asked about this, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:26) John was losing his territory. His response? “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
This day is about Jesus. Jesus and His death for us. Jesus and His resurrection for us. This is the day that faith boasts in Him and His great salvation and mighty deliverance for us.
I get invited to some amazing events. Recently I was invited to Colorado Christian University in Lakewood to hear Lee Stroebel speak. Stroebel was an atheist who investigated the historical claims of Christ and became a believer. He is now an author with more than 15 million copies of his books purchased. But before he spoke, the president of CCU gave us some history of the University. He spoke about the previous president, Bill Armstrong, the former Senator from Colorado. When Armstrong would begin a speech or a talk, he had three words that he said every time. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” He spoke that way to tell his audience what was central in his life. He spoke that way to tell folks what he believed his university found most important. He spoke that way to tell faculty, students or guests that the name of Jesus was much more important than his.
If that is true for him, that is true for us. If that is true for him, that is true for me. Today, a day to recognize the Reformation of the Church, is a day to make a boast about Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. Amen!!