121104 Revelation 14:6,7

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 Written by Pastor Pagels

Revelation 14:6,7 * November 4, 2012 * Reformation * Pastor Pagels

In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:

Today we are celebrating Reformation Sunday, but when did reformation begin? The date generally accepted by Lutherans (and the reason we are celebrating this festival this weekend) is October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

There are others who prefer a different date, June 25, 1530, the day when a group of German princes presented Emperor Charles V with the Augsburg Confession, a document that defined and defended the teachings of the Lutheran church.

If you don't like either of those choices, how about 1514? That was when Luther had his so-called "tower experience," when the Lord led him to realize that the righteousness that matters before God is not the righteousness that individuals bring to God by obeying the law. Instead, the righteousness God demands is the righteousness God himself gives through faith in Jesus Christ.

When did reformation begin?

It wasn't in 1514 or 1517 or 1530. Reformation began in the Garden of Eden, and it was the Lord himself who did the reforming. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lost the perfect image of God in which they had been created. But God reformed them with a promise, a promise to undo everything the serpent had done, the promise of a Savior who would destroy the devil's work.

And the Lord's reforming work didn't stop there. God uses the same message to bring about the same kind of reformation today. The good news of salvation through Jesus continues to change hearts and lives. For this reason, reformation is not a fixed date or a period in church history. Because the love of God never changes, because the Word of God is living and active, children of the Reformation can say with confidence that...

I. The gospel message reforms hearts
II. The gospel message transforms lives

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the Christians living in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) were under attack. The Roman Empire had taken a strong anti-Christian position, and in order to wipe out this "new" religion they went after its leaders. Some were persecuted. Others were executed. John's life was spared, but because of his allegiance to Jesus he was exiled on the island of Patmos.

Fear was something that first century Christians experienced on a daily basis. They feared for their lives, and they probably feared for the life of the church itself. "Will I survive? Will my Christian friends survive? Will the Christian church survive? Will the gospel survive?" These were the questions that weighed heavily on many a Christian heart, maybe even John's heart.
It looked like it would only be a matter of time before the Romans achieved their objective. It looked like the Christian church would never reach its one hundredth birthday. It looked like the gospel would be lost forever. But looks can be deceiving, and in this case, they were.

The mighty Romans couldn't stand against the almighty God, who declared: "The gospel will not be suppressed! The church will never be destroyed!" And if John ever had any doubts, the Lord removed them with a spectacular vision in Revelation 14. John reports: "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" (6).

The word, "angel," means "messenger," and the gospel bearing angel in John's vision reminds us that the Lord always has and always will send forth his messengers. What did that mean for John, who was lonely and alone in exile? It was God's way of assuring John that the gospel message would not die with him on that island.

What does that mean for us? It is God's way of assuring us that he will always preserve the truth. It is God's way of assuring us that he will always raise up messengers to proclaim the truth. It is God's way of reminding us that we are his messengers.

God has called us to proclaim the eternal gospel "to every nation, tribe, language and people." And by God's grace we are answering that call. Through our synod's gospel outreach efforts the Lord is reforming hearts all over the world, hearts of people who speak English and Spanish and Chichewa and Chinese.

John's vision is coming true today. This is not just a wonderful blessing. It's a miracle. It is a miracle that the gospel is being proclaimed around the world because it is a message that is not natural for sinful people to share. In fact, it is a message that self-centered sinners don't even want to hear.

Before we can accept the fact that Jesus is our Savior, we need to admit that we need a Savior. In order to acknowledge that we need a Savior, we have to first come to the conclusion that we can't save ourselves. And that's not easy.

"Isaiah 64:6 All our righteous acts are like filthy rags" is hard for my sinful pride to swallow. "Romans 3:12 There is no one who does good, not even one" doesn't do much for my self esteem. Instead of comparing myself with a perfect God, I would much rather compare myself with imperfect people. I want to feel good about myself. I want to rely on myself. I want to believe that I am in control of my own eternal destiny.

There is only one problem with that kind of approach. It doesn't work. Ask Martin Luther. He tried it. He tried to be a good person. He was constantly striving to be a better person. He dedicated his life to God. He even beat his body to appease God. But nothing worked. Nothing Luther did could remove the sin and guilt and fear in his heart. Nothing could make him righteous in the sight of God. Nothing except the gospel, which God revealed to Luther in all its beauty and simplicity in Romans 3: "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...For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law" (Romans 3:20-24, 28).

Those words make the gates of heaven open wide. Those words opened Luther's eyes to see the amazing grace of God. Those words helped Luther understand that righteousness before God is not something that a person must achieve, but a gift that God gives. Jesus paid our debt. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus has forgiven our sins. Jesus has done it all. That is a message, that is the only message that can reform sinful hearts, but it doesn't stop there. Once the gospel message reforms our hearts it also transforms our lives.

The angel in John's vision declared 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" (17).  Luther the Reformer took those words very seriously. He knew what it meant to fear God, but the holy terror he used to feel had been replaced by a holy awe. Luther cherished every opportunity to worship his Lord and Savior, and he made it his life's work to make it easier for others to do the same.  He translated the Bible into the language of the people. He composed hymns to help people learn and retain the key truths of Scripture. He wrote the catechism to help Christian parents train their children. Every sermon he preached, every hymn he composed, every commentary he wrote (and he wrote a lot of them) was an act of worship.

Today our worship has a Reformation flavor. Today we give thanks to God for our Lutheran heritage. But neither Luther nor the God he served would want us to think of worship only in terms of one hour a week. The gospel message transforms us entirely, and the Lord wants us to view our entire lives as our spiritual act of worship.
We worship God when we sing "A Mighty Fortress," but we can also glorify God by putting in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. I serve the Lord as a pastor, but you can serve Him too in your God-given role as a teacher or a student or a husband or a wife or a white-collar worker or a blue-collar worker. When we pray in private and when we are out in public, when we are engaged in deep conversation or quiet meditation, every moment of every day is an opportunity for God's people to give glory to God.

Every time we celebrate Reformation is a good time for us to review the watchwords of the Reformation. Perhaps you remember those two-word Latin phrases. There are three of them: sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura. By grace alone. By faith alone. By Scripture alone.

By grace alone – We are saved not because there is anything inherently good in us or because God is somehow obligated to us, but because we are the recipients of his undeserved love.

By faith alone – We are saved not by performing certain works or jumping through so many hoops to earn a place in heaven, but by trusting in the saving work that Jesus accomplished on our behalf.

By Scripture alone – God's Word as it is revealed in the Bible is the Christian's only guide for this life, and it is our only hope for the life to come.

There is one more Latin phrase I would like to introduce this morning. It isn't a motto of the Lutheran Reformation. It isn't even all that Lutheran, but I think it can be understood correctly in the context of this sermon. The phrase is: semper reformanda, which means "always reforming."

The Reformation is a religious movement that can be traced back to 16th century Germany, but it was God who introduced the idea of reformation when he announced a plan to save sinful mankind in the Garden of Eden. The Reformation is a church festival that Lutherans celebrate about this time every year, but reformation is a miraculous transformation that the Holy Spirit has produced in every Christian heart and becomes the mark of every Christian life.  As long as there are people on this planet who don't know Jesus as their Savior, there will always be a need for reformation. Because God's Word will never be silenced, the eternal gospel will always be reforming. Because the gospel has the power to change hearts and lives, reformation never ends. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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