There is something about the way we keep time that puts an extra emphasis or focus on years ending in zero. Whether we are taking about birthdays or anniversaries we notice the big ones, the big six oh. The century mark is an even bigger deal with two ohs and of course many of us remember all the hype around Y2K with its three Os. So here we are as a protestant church experiencing our big five O O. Five hundred years, half a millennia. The fact that it’s actually still a thing means something, something of significance happened back there that still has an influence and matters today. Let’s see if this historical event has a Biblical context.
“Why Did God …?” Have you ever started a sentence with, “Why did God …?” Have you ever been in a situation where your first thought is, “Why, God?” “Why did you do that or let that happen or allow that or make that?” If you are human you have had that question more than once. Or its counterpart, “Why didn’t God do this or that?” It is a sign of our humanity to ask the question, animals never ask that. That has been the question from the beginning of history. Why did God let Satan in the garden, why did God make man able to sin, why did God create everything good and then let everything go bad? Why does God do what God does? Why? If we want to truly understand the why questions of life, if we want to know the answers to life’s deepest mysteries, if we want to get at the root of all that has gone on in history and in our world today, we have only one option and that is to turn to God. God has revealed the answer to us. The answer to “why did God” is found in our text at the end of chapter 11 of Romans. This is a crescendo-like response to all the great doctrines Paul has written down in the first eleven chapters. Doctrines that sum up the first four solas. For eleven chapters Paul has expound on no matter how sinful we have been we are justified by grace alone, without any merit of our own, but on the basis of Christ alone, without any other sacrifice or righteousness of our own, though faith alone, without any human works to boast in. The only fitting response to this display of God’s sovereign mercy and grace in the face of our sin and just judgment is heart-felt adoration.
What is grace? One of the things that happens when a pastor lives next door to the church is people figure it out and start to come to ask for assistance. Last week a homeless man came to our door asking for some food, which we gave him. Was that grace? It was gracious, but it wasn’t like God’s grace. To understand God’s grace, I would have to change the story. I would have to add that this man had come to our home last month, broken in and robbed us, and now he was standing at the door asking for food. To not call the police, but to give him food at that point would be closer to God’s grace. Not only was he getting something he didn’t deserve or work for, but now he is not getting what he did deserve, to be punished for his crime. But even that wouldn’t be like God’s grace, because the law the man would have broken wasn’t my law but the governments law. If we would have turned him in the case would be something like the State of Washington vs. Mr. Homeless man. But with God our sin is personal, it is a direct assault and affront to His holiness and righteousness and justice. We have broken His law. There is yet one more way in which our story is not like God’s grace. The homeless man came to our door asking for help. Scripture says there is none who seeks God, we are all sinners resisting God or trying to avoid God by running from God or denying God. Scripture says it is God who first seeks us, who first loves us while we were yet sinners. [Illustration idea credit to Jerry Bridges]. This is grace. And this is why so many Christians love Ephesians 2.
What must I do to be saved? The question before us this morning is the greatest of all questions. It’s the Philippian Jailer question. “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas gave the simple answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Many people today take offense at that answer. Sophisticated people, intellectual people, proud people, politically correct people, take offense at this simple message to trust and obey Jesus. They want something more complicated, something more mysterious, or more philosophically profound, or more difficult, or something that requires some great effort, perhaps something more severe requiring “asceticism and severity to the body” (Colossians 2:23). Self-made men prefer self-made religion, religion after their own making, where their gods ends up being made in their own image. What must I do to be saved? How can an sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? How is that person justified, on what grounds? That’s the central question.
We turn to another pillar of the Reformation this morning, Christ alone. In some ways, this was the central emphasis of the Reformation. Scripture alone points to Christ alone. Faith alone is faith in Christ alone. Grace alone is the grace of God extended to us in Christ alone. Once Christ was made central again in the church it changed a lot of things. Priests were redefined as pastors, all the fancy vestments were replaced with simple robes, the altar where Christ was re-sacrificed each week in the mass was replaced with a table for communion, and the pulpit was moved to the center as the ministry of the Word replaced sacramentalism. So much changed at the Reformation that we aren’t aware of and take for granted. So, the central question this morning and always is, “Who do men say that I am?” That’s the question. Who do people say Jesus is? And what do we do with this Jesus? What comes to your mind when you hear the name Jesus? Probably not the Latin phrase, solus Christus. Christ alone means three things:
Do you remember last week when I asked if you appreciated owning your own Bible and that it is in your own language? Can you imagine not having a Bible and never hearing it in your own language? Can you imagine what the day would be like when you got your very own Bible in your language? It happened to some people last month, and a friend of mine was there to witness it. Listen to what that day was like. “On August 23, in a village in central Tanzania (which is in east Africa), around 600 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the New Testament in the Burunge language! What a day– music, singing, dancing, preaching, and reading from the Word of God in the Burunge language! There was a moment during the celebrations when the importance of the occasion hit home with me. Several Burunge dressed in traditional clothing were leading a cultural dance and invited some of us to come out and dance with them. With arms around people I had never met before, jumping up and down as we moved around in a circle, tears came to my eyes as I experienced a piece of their joy in receiving the Word of God in their mother tongue. Praise the Lord for the power of his Word and that the Burunge now have the New Testament in their language!” (Johnny Walker). Can you imagine not having the truth of the Word of God in your own language? Can you imagine what a famine of the Word of God would be like?
In the Protestant world, this year is a Jubilee year, the 500th anniversary of when a young monk, Martin Luther, did the modern equivalent of making an online blog post inviting public discussion. He nailed 95 theses or points for discussion to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It was the nail that turned the world upside down. Completely unknown to him or even intended by him, he lit a fire that still burns 500 years later. This event is being commemorated all over Europe and North America this Fall. Lord willing, we will spend the next seven Lord’s Days leading up to Reformation Sunday, October 29, considering five pillars of the Protestant Reformation and how they relate to us today. But before we do that it is reasonable to ask the question why, is it really necessary or important?