Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A few years ago my wife was talking to a teenager. He explained how he was in a play about Three Men in the fiery furnace at church. My wife said, oh, from the book of Daniel. The young man said, you mean that story is in the Bible. Biblical illiteracy is permeated our culture. People do not know what stories are in the Bible much less, how it has an impact in their lives. Parents have neglected Sunday school. Bibles maybe are in the home but are never opened.
It should not be surprising then that there is also illiteracy concerning church history. Ask around, who was Martin Luther, when did he live and what do they know about him? I consistently get answer such as an African American who was shot and we have a holiday named after him. So many do not know he was born in1483, died 1546, was a priest and theologian in the Roman Catholic Church. Added to that, then comes the confusion what does it mean to be a Lutheran today? As people don’t know the history of the Lutheran church and the difference it has made in all of Christendom it only follows that they might ask, “Aren’t all the Lutherans the same?
Some people have taken the route because of so many churches and does it really make a difference chose, “I am not going to join any church. I’ll just be an individual Christian.” If you want the perfect church you have to die to enter it. That is the church triumphant. Even though there is not a perfect church on earth, yet God has used the gathering of believers to accomplish what an individual cannot. Scripture teaches Christians need each other. World mission work, training and equipping Christian missionaries, pastors and teachers has been only accomplished by Christians working together.
We need to be careful that somehow we give the impression that being Christian is a relationship with an organization rather than the Lord. We have to be careful not to give the impression that salvation is only through the Lutheran church. God also has brought many blessings to the world through the Lutheran church. It is amazing what God has accomplished with frail humans doing his work. The reason for such success is not humans, but as the Apostle Paul would proclaim: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”
As we keep our text before us, may we consider Amazed and Not Ashamed of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul who wrote these words, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” really didn’t know the gospel in his life. He had no need for it. He was convinced that he was spiritually self-sufficient. He had even credentials and a resume that even the Lord God Almighty would be impressed with him. Listen to his own description of what a great person he thought he was. Philippians 3:4–6 (NIV84) — 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. Why did he need Jesus? He didn’t. But Jesus confronted him and tore his self-righteousness and confidence to shreds. He said, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus hit him so hard with the law that he finally realized that he was not his own savior. He needed a savior. 1 Timothy 1:15 (NIV84) — 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1 Corinthians 15:9–10 (NIV84) — 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
Some people come to church on Sunday morning just like Paul in the beginning of his life. They have their own resume. Some think it is because they were once confirmed, membership in a Lutheran church, or because they are not just that bad. My favorite resume that I have ever heard came from a girl in my office. I asked her why she was going to be in heaven. Her answer to me was, “because she was good to cats.” Jesus was not part of the picture. She did not know the Gospel
Now Martin Luther’s story is just the opposite of Paul. He wanted to be the best possible servant of the Lord. But he felt so unworthy of serving. He had no peace because he was tormented by his sins. He wrote: ”sin was my torment day and night…yet deep and deeper still I fell, life had become a living hell, so firmly sin possessed me.” He whipped and beat himself, spent hours in prayer, with the hope, perhaps God would have pity on him and perhaps forgive him. But he lived in doubt and fear the whole time. The through the study of God’s word Luther was confronted by the Gospel and its power. For the first time he found freedom. No longer was the Lord God a horrible task master, he found a God who loved him, forgave him and set him free. Through Scripture alone, by grace, undeserved love alone, grasped by faith alone Martin Luther knew he was going to be in heaven. No wonder he would write, “dear Christians one and all rejoice!”
Some people come to church just like Luther. They have struggled even to enter the door. They feel they have no right to be here. Their past is a heavy burden a two hundred pound backpack that they can’t get rid of. The shame, the fear, the loneliness and the hopelessness with which they enter God’s house has crushed them. That is the law at work. They need to hear the Gospel in all its glory beauty. They need to know of the love that has not cast them out, but has taken the burden from them. Only the Gospel has the power to free the heart, mind and soul.
Maybe I should ask you to reflect, has the law of God worked in your life? Have you felt it cut deep? Are you ashamed of your sin, your defiance and indifference to the law of God? Do the words of forgiveness bring you a special peace? Do you have the complete assurance that Jesus wants you to have, that he has paid for, forgiven and removed your sins as far as the east is from the west? Do you cherish the absolution…”I forgive you all your sins..” and “Give and pour out for you for the forgiveness of sin?” As the Psalmist says, “you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The Gospel is pure love from above.
Both Paul and Luther had a profound passion for the Lord, because they had experienced the Gospel. This was life reforming. Do we see that today? Isn’t it just the opposite? What has been happening In the churches? Too often we witness among Christians a level of disinterest, boredom, apathy, and spiritual stagnation instead of an obvious commitment to the relationship with God. Almost ashamed of Christ and Christianity! John Jeske father of the Time of Grace preacher wrote: “The problem is not a lack of passion for worship, fellowship, missions or denominational support, but a passion for God.” This is not something new, Jesus complained about the members of an early church that they had forgotten their first love and members in another church that were lukewarm.
Can we in the church be part of the problem for lack of passion for God? I believe the problem exists when the Law and Gospel are not properly used. The Gospel is powerful. But if it is not accompanied with the preaching of the law, it is only warm fuzzies. “God love you…nice words, because it does not have the call to repentance.” When the Lutheran church does not preach the law of God in all clarity, what happens is that people do not find that word applying to themselves. If the law does not apply to them where they are at in their lives, then the Gospel is not there to save, for they have nothing to be saved from. Are some clergy afraid to preach about hell, because it is too negative? People don’t want to think about that. Unless people realize they are going to hell, they won’t see a need for a Savior from hell. For those comfortable in theirs sins, preaching the word of God should make you uncomfortable, in fact down right miserable, until you cry, “Lord, have mercy!” Lutheranism is failing America when it fails to address issues as God does with abortion and other life issues and relationship issues as homosexuality or living together or cursing or despising God’s word. I am not to add to this word, but I am not to take from this word. The word of God is to cut deep into the heart and expose all sins that keep from having a deep, deep passion for the Lord God. Only then does the power of Gospel bring joy and peace.
Sometimes a horrible thing can happen. When people come to church all they hear is law. They hear sermon upon sermon of all the things that God expects of them, list upon list of steps they are to change their lives. But they come already beaten down. They know they have failed their Lord. They know that they are ashamed of their actions. Guilt paralyzes their lives. Where can they find peace? Where can they find assurance? It is not at church because there is no gospel. Some people love it because they feel at least they are trying to do some things for God to love them. Only to have lost the gospel in their lives! Some churches have come up with even more laws than God. I remember a person in class asked me, Is God angry with me if I wear nylons?
When the law is rightly preached and Gospel proclaimed for the assurance of total forgiveness then the joy of being Christian and living a Christian brings back the passion of the Lord. Paul knew the law and he knew gospel. Luther knew the law and gospel. They would take their stand that no one was compromise the amazing power of the Gospel.
We may not know all the Bible stories, you may not know church history, but when we know Jesus as our Lord Savior will never be ashamed of the Gospel. Amen.