Reformation Day 2018
October 28, 2018
“The Gates of Hell; The World”
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Matthew 16:15-18.
“(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
My dear friends,
It was almost five hundred years ago when Martin Luther was called to confess at Worms. On April 17, 1521, a knock on Luther’s door told him that the imperial diet was waiting—the meeting of the emperor, all the emperor’s people, the kings, the princes, the nobles, they were all waiting to hear from him. When they brought him to the main meeting chamber, there was a table before him was a pile of 25 books that he had written. Johann Eck pointed to the pile. “Luther, are you ready to admit that you wrote these books, and that they contain heresy?” “Yes, they are mine Luther said. “But as to whether they contain heresy, that is a matter of faith and salvation of the soul and it cannot be affirmed or rejected without consulting the Word of God.” The Council was not satisfied. Luther asked for more time. He was granted a day.
He was brought back the next day at 4:00 p.m., left to sweat it out for another 2 hours until 6:00 p.m., and then called in front of the emperor and the whole crowd again. And they told him, “We want to hear one word from you, Luther: revoco.” Revoco. From the Latin. “I recant.” They only wanted one single word; the word “revoco.”
They asked Luther one more time, “Are you prepared to answer, Luther? Say the word revoco.” And at that moment in the history of the church, in the Western world particularly, nothing would ever be the same again. He didn’t recant. Instead, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (AE 32:112-13).
Luther refused to recant Christ’s teaching; he never would. Christ is the rock. If we lose the Rock, what do we have left? And he also asserted, and this is important for us today, that the Christian conscience is bound by the Word of God and not the world around us.
Luther clung to his faith, rejecting worldly interference with the Gospel, and the world today does not appreciate that stance. It is a bit of a double-standard. If we stand up for what we believe, we are “old-fashioned, hateful, bigots.” If someone else stands up for an opposing viewpoint, they are “brave, courageous, worthy of admiration.” Luther, on a big stage, for the first time, held forth the idea that the world has no right to intimidate the religious conscience. None.
The animosity and hostility between church and the world is still around so that the world enjoys seeing the church and its confession of Christ struggle and even fail. And we give them plenty to work with! Mega-churches are becoming mega flops. Historically strong rural congregations are slowly dying as people relocate to urban areas. The issues of Catholicism make people shake their heads. The “heart” of Lutheranism in America is in the Great Lakes/Upper Plains areas. Yet, baptized membership in Lutheran “strongholds” like Minnesota North (18%), Michigan (18%), and South Wisconsin (20%) are all down by more than 18%. Our own FLGA District had a 24% decrease over 18 years. The world will snarl, “See! We told you! Your church is dying!” My friends, the Missouri Synod and the future of the church on earth doesn’t depend on statistics or you or me or anybody else. It depends on Christ, the rock.
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven, washed by the blood of Christ. You are baptized and covered with His free, wonderful righteousness. No matter how troubled your conscience is at times; no matter how terrified you are of your sins or past deeds; no matter if you are sluggish in the faith. Only believe. You are forgiven. And your conscience is captive to the Word of God. Flesh and blood doesn’t reveal this. It’s your Father in heaven who as grabbed hold of you. And He’s not going to let you out of His hand.
The pressure from the world is mounting, my friends. The world and its emperors want to hear one word from us: “Revoca. We recent.” “Revoca. Your Christian idea of marriage and sexuality is obsolete.” “Revoca. Nothing must impede choice, especially a woman’s right to choose!” “Revoca. Quit trying to tell us how to live our lives because what does it matter? Dead is dead and there’s nothing after.” We are at a point now where what the Bible calls good, the world calls evil, and what the Bible calls evil, the world calls good. That’s a sad truth.
Here’s the very good truth. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). And even as the world screams at you “recant,” with Luther we say, “I cannot. I believe and am baptized. My conscience is held captive the Word. I cannot, I will not, recant. Here I stand. God help me.”
In these difficult and troubling times, the question of Christ in Matthew 16 is for us all: “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.” And this we will confess. And we will do it joyously. And the world will snarl at us. And they will hate us all the more. They will belittle us and say we are a bunch of kooks and idiots and old-fashioned fools. We take it like water off a duck, because we are but strangers here; heaven is our home! And we will shout it all the louder. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The world needs to know that name; to know that when this age ends, there are only 2 possible options for eternity and “the beach” isn’t one of them; “a drink in your hand and toes in the sand” is not the way to everlasting life. Jesus is. The world can scowl fierce as it will. And you know what? Neither the world, nor the gates of hell themselves, shall prevail over our lives or the church. Live in that confident grace.