Reformation Day – 10/30/2022
We might be observing Reformation Sunday today and the secular celebration of Halloween might be upon us tomorrow, and yes, we might still be in the throes of World Series mania, but I would venture to say that what is foremost in all of our minds is the upcoming election on November 8. However, if you are like me, then you find yourself drained from the mudslinging, vitriol, name-calling, and divisive rhetoric that seems to be so much a part of our American political process these days. Many of the polls show that the vast majority of the American electorate thinks our nation is headed in the wrong direction. The favorability rating of many of the candidates of both parties is so low that people are saying that the vote they will be casting will be more against one candidate than for the other.
On top of this, our nation seems to be standing on the very precipice of disaster. The looming and ever-growing national debt threatens the very solvency of our nation. Not since the days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union has the threat of nuclear holocaust seemed more ominous, thanks to all the caustic rhetoric of hawkish politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Similarly, not since the riotous 60s have race relations in our country been so divisive and volatile. Our porous southern border and failed immigration policies also jeopardize the very stability of our way of life, as crime rates skyrocket, social service agencies are overburdened, and those from other countries who wish us harm infiltrate the flood of illegal immigrants. It is indeed a time of great crisis!
But what exactly constitutes a true crisis? The dictionary defines crisis as "the turning point toward death or life... a time of danger or anxious waiting" (Thorndike/Barhartrt, p.206). The word itself stems from the Greek word for judgment. Whenever one is faced with making a judgment that could have grave consequences, it's a crisis.
But let me tell you, we are all actually in the throes of a crisis that makes any crisis Washington creates pale by comparison. This crisis has nothing to do with our investment portfolios, the problem of illegal aliens, or even the threat of nuclear war. This crisis has to do with our eternity! What is happening now affects whether you, I, and all other people on the planet will be living in heaven or hell!
So we hear in our first reading today from the 14th chapter of the Book of Revelation. We are shown an angel flying in, literally, "middle heaven," that is, the "heavens" or "sky." This angel, the first of three, proclaims in a loud voice: "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."
The Lord's judgment has come! That is truly an urgent message, is it not? It implies that all procrastination is over. One is either with God or against him. One is either judged as saved or judged as condemned.
But here is the real tragedy for our world today: China. Hardly anyone is talking about this judgment or crisis, and few are drawing anyone's attention to it. How to save your soul from the fires of hell is not a topic at the local coffee shop. It's ignored by the media. You won't even hear a word about this crisis on that bastion of "fair and balanced" reporting, Fox News!
Sadly, and even more incredibly, you won't even hear anything about this crisis in many Christian churches today. Instead, the message from their pulpits is all about making you feel good about yourself—or giving you advice about how you can be in control of your life—or telling you how you can make a difference in this world by getting involved in one social cause after another. Instead of a Jesus who judges sinners, they preach a Jesus who loves everyone in their sin!
The Lord, on the other hand, is not quiet about this crisis of eternal judgment. The whole Book of Revelation is devoted to nothing but making us all fully aware of this crisis as proclaimed by this angel. In a series of seven visions that the Lord gave to the apostle John to share with the world, the Lord uses some very R-rated, graphic imagery that even Hollywood would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Call it sensational if you want, but it intends to scare us all awake!
Just take, for example, the fourth of these seven visions, of which our text is only a small portion. In this vision, John sees the church as a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. The woman is writhing with labor pains and about to give birth. A bloody, red dragon with seven heads and ten horns stands before her, ready to devour her newborn child. Talk about a crisis!
But there is more. When the woman gives birth to her male child, the one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, God sweeps him up to heaven and out of the grips of the dragon, aka "Satan." Now, it's crisis overload! The angry dragon goes after the woman and her other children, waging fierce warfare against them. The dragon, Satan, pulls out all his big guns. He raises a fierce, ugly beast out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. The dragon gives this beast his full power and authority to impress the world and cause all to worship him, as well as to use this power to conquer the saints of God, that is, the believers. This beast poses such a danger to God's people that a warning goes out: "If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain." "Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints."
But, hold on, the crisis for the people of this world just got even more intense. The dragon, Satan, causes another beast to rise out of the earth. It has two horns like a lamb, and it speaks like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast.
This second beast performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth to deceive the people of the earth. It puts a mark of the beast on the head and the right hand of its victims so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. Is that enough of a crisis for you?
But then, as if to show that all is not lost, John is shown a vision of the church, the believers in the true God and the Lamb. They stand in a brilliant array on God's holy mountain with the Lamb of God, having the name of God and the Lamb written on their foreheads. They are 144,000 strong, a perfect number (12 x 12 x 1000), noting that none are left out. They are those who have been redeemed from the earth by the blood of the Lamb.
We do not have time today to go into interpreting all the details of this vision. But, in total, it depicts the enormous crisis of faith and eternity that we all face. You and I can not afford to be naive about the danger we face. The devil has joined in league with all the anti-Christian forces and seductive philosophies of this world to blow you and me out of the ark of eternal salvation. It's crisis time. We can not afford to be complacent any longer. We would be fools to ignore the peril looming right now over our lives.
But in essence, it is the "eternal gospel" that the angel proclaims that brings about the "judgment," or to say it in another way, that creates the crisis in the world. Without this proclamation of the truth concerning sin, God's judgment against sinners, and the atonement of that guilt and sin in the blood of the Lamb of God, people of this earth just go on clueless to the dangers they face.
They continue to believe the lies and deceptions that Satan and his beasts spew into the world. They are oblivious to the eternal judgment of God that awaits all who do not live in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
I remember a course I took at the seminary many decades ago entitled "Crisis Counseling." The purpose of the course was to equip us, as pastors, to assist people in dealing with their problems and challenges in life in God-pleasing ways. One of the things the professor said to us sounded so unusual that it has always stuck with me. He said that sometimes to help someone, you might have to create a crisis for them, especially if they find themselves paralyzed by the status quo. Only a crisis will jar them into taking the actions necessary to free themselves from their dire situation.
I have found his advice spot on. You see, we all have a horrible tendency to live in denial of how bad things are or to rationalize our sinful or hurtful behavior as insignificant—even a right we have. But if that attitude is allowed to continue, our sinful behavior will destroy our lives not only in this world but in eternity. So, in one way or another, a crisis needs to be created for us; a life or death decision-making opportunity to move us off the dead center so that we can be helped or cured.
In his love for us sinners, God created a crisis for us and our world. Instead of allowing us all to go our merry way into hell in our rebellion against Him, believing lies about ourselves and what awaits us when we die, He sent forth His perfect, holy Son, Who is the Truth, to become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He then took our sins and placed them on His Son, Jesus of Nazareth, brutally punishing and crucifying Him in our place, so that He could graciously declare all who believe in Jesus Christ to be holy and righteous in His eyes.
God's crisis, or judgment, of our world, therefore, began with Jesus' first coming as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. The cross of Jesus is at the very crosshairs of that judgment. Sinners stand judged right there. The ruler of this world stands condemned right there (Jn 16:11). Today, then, is the hour of God's judgment for each of us. Jesus taught: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
Therefore, it is critical, what you and I and our fellow earth dwellers do with Jesus right now. Do we embrace him in faith as our Savior, or do we ignore and reject him? It's a critical mass right now. There may be no tomorrow for us.
This crisis God has brought upon the world through Christ. It will be fully completed at Jesus' second coming as the Judge of Heaven and Earth. The days of grace to embrace Jesus in faith will then be over. All procrastination will come to a screeching halt. It will be too late then to "get on board with Jesus!" The ship to the promised land of heaven will set sail, and only those who are in Christ by faith will be aboard it. There will be no time other than now to "get right with God"—no second chances.
The proclamation of repentance and forgiveness in Christ Jesus crucified and resurrected is the eternal gospel the angel proclaims to those who are sitting on the earth and to everyone of every ethnic group, tribe, language, and people. Only this message will wake up those under the influence of the dragon and his beasts and bring them to their senses so that they might embrace in faith the truth and be saved from the coming wrath of God against all ungodliness.
Only the proclamation of this Gospel brings the crisis of God's judgment to bear on people's hearts and lives. Through the Gospel, they are squarely confronted with the cross of Jesus and what it has to say about their sin and their salvation. Only the proclamation of this Gospel will bring obstinate, prideful sinners to fear God as their eternal judge. The magnitude of God's grace for sinners as proclaimed in the Gospel is what is needed to truly produce fear in the hearts of sinners. Only the proclamation of this Gospel will cause the self-righteous, the arrogant, and the boastful to turn from such wickedness and give all glory to God, for their life, their possessions, and their eternal salvation. Only the proclamation of this gospel will produce true faith in Christ as their Savior in the doubting and stubborn, allowing them to truly worship their Creator (Rom. 10:17).
The angel flying in the middle of heaven proclaiming this Eternal Gospel is the visual symbol of the Church of Christ. After all, it is the church to whom Jesus has entrusted the proclamation of His Eternal Gospel to the people of this world. The term "angel" means "messenger. As Christ's body is left in the world, the Christian church, the believers in Jesus Christ, you, and I, have been entrusted with Christ's Gospel to bring about a crisis of eternal proportions in this world. Jesus said to His disciples, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned "(Mark 16, 15,16). As you and I proclaim this Eternal Gospel that has been given to us from above to all those below on earth, we not only bring about God's crisis in people's lives but we also hasten the final judgment. And Jesus said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14).
For good reason, this reading from Revelation has been the designated first lesson on Reformation Day for centuries. The Reformation of the 16th century was a time when the true Gospel was rescued from obscurity and proclaimed once again for the salvation of souls.
This is why many theologians have identified the angel in the vision as proclaiming the eternal gospel to bring the world under the judgment (crises) of God, as Martin Luther. Indeed, the firestorm over the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Luther ignited was a true crisis. All sorts of teachers, scholars, and theologians, and even the pope in Rome, were immediately cast into the crosshairs of God's righteous judgment by the true Gospel. Because, in the light of the true Gospel, they were revealed to be false prophets, guilty of deceiving untold thousands of souls into hell with their lies; deceiving people into believing that they could save their souls by doing good works, purchasing indulgences, or performing penance. They were obscuring the true glory of God, which is His grace toward sinners in Jesus Christ. So we also heard this morning from the Apostle Paul, "... all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith... one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." (Ro. 3:28).
Luther's rediscovery of the pure Gospel was truly an act of God's grace. The Holy Spirit was stepping into the world to create a crisis all to save the inhabitants of our world with the truth of Christ, the Holy Lamb of God.
God is still being gracious to our world by allowing us to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Sure, it will make some people angry with us! Sure, it will be opposed by all the enemies of the cross of Jesus. But this crisis that the true Gospel creates for the people of this world will be for the salvation of their souls. This is a crisis we can truly be thankful for and be most thankful to be a part of! Amen!