Reformation Sunday – 10/31/2021
Happy Reformation Day! Yes, I said Reformation Day and not Halloween! October 31st has a much older and more distinguished pedigree than all the hoopla and silly hijinks of our contemporary Halloween. For centuries in the Christian world, this date has been observed as All Hallows Eve, a special day of worship and preparation for the Festival of All Saints Day, November 1.
It's truly unfortunate, however, that this day has been hijacked by another narrative, that is, another story of the events and significance of this day. The true story of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, receives little to no mention any longer in most of our society. It has been supplanted with the narrative of spooks and goblins, witches and spells, and tricks and treating. At the same time, most secular school textbooks present the Reformation of the 16th century as a political revolution rather than its real import as a theological battle over the truth of the Holy Scripture. But this meta-narrative serves only to enslave minds and souls to falsehood and death. The only narrative that truly frees saves, and brings life to imprisoned, vanquished, and dead souls is the truth embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.
Speaking of false and damaging narratives, the public square of our country is awash in false versions of reality. Former President Donald Trump's accusation of "fake news" against the mainstream media is more than that. Fake news, that is, proven false narratives about everything from the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic to our military's pullout of Afghanistan to the chaos on our southern border, are purposely being reported over and over again by the mainstream media, social media venues like Twitter and Facebook, and even national government press releases alike. And what is their rationale for this? Is it ignorance of the truth? Or is it a desire to control and enslave you and me to their ideology?
Replacing the truth with a narrative that I selfishly would rather have been true is as old as our human species. Adam's version of the fall into sin was that Eve was to blame. Eve pointed the finger of responsibility at the serpent. Cain hid the truth of his murder behind the false narrative that he was not his brother's keeper.
The harsh truth is that we see this same wicked desire to replace the absolute truth with our own "truth," that is, the narrative we would like everyone else to accept, front and center in our lives. Whether it be our face-saving version of the events of an accident we were involved in, our explanation of why we said what we said that offended someone else, or our rationale as to why we did what we did that ended up hurting someone else, we all become masters at using smoke and mirrors, even before God, to try to hide, cover-up, or deny the truth of our true intentions, words, or actions. Sadly, there are no treats in our Halloween house of horrors, only tricks!
If only we would be honest with everyone and speak the truth, give them a straight scoop on what went down, and honestly acknowledge our true feelings. It would certainly save others and ourselves a lot of grief. After all, living a lie is akin to being imprisoned. Eventually, the truth always comes out anyway! We wouldn't have to exhaust ourselves by avoiding difficult questions and causing such anguish to our spirits if we were honest from the start. And, yes, we would even discover that such truthfulness and integrity would garner genuine respect from our friends and foes alike. Truth truly liberates!
How could our society benefit from such an awakening to the truth? The lies, the deceit, and the political agendas on all sides are destroying our morals, our children, the family unit, our trust in and care for each other, our unity as a people, as well as our very lives in this world!
Forthrightly speaking the truth and freeing people from the prison imposed upon us by the soul-killing narrative of the ancient serpent is exactly what the Reformation of the 16th century was all about. It was a real battle for the truth that frees men's souls. God raised churchmen and even princes—men of integrity, faith, and courage—to wield the Sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of Christ, in a holy effort to purge the church of falsehood—a church on the verge of apostasy from her wicked and soul-damning doctrines invented by devils and wicked men.
It doesn't get any more serious and important for the eternal welfare of souls than the Reformation! Its godly legacy is honored among us not only by commemorating Reformation Sunday but also by our own desire to advance the true narrative: The Gospel of the Holy Scriptures—God's Truth in Jesus Christ.
After all, we are engaged in a battle for the truth of the Gospel today just as much as Martin Luther was in the 16th century. One front on which this battle for truth is being fought goes right to the heart of our very existence. Have we been created by God in His image and thus have great value, or are we simply the products of chance and genetic mutations that occurred over millions of years, making us of no greater value than some slugs in our gardens?
Then there is the outright assault on our very nature as male and female, as well as our relationship with one another. The false narratives being promoted by politicians, professors, media members, and ordinary citizens alike are that gender is not binary, male or female only, but can be whatever you want it to be; that homosexuality is just as valid as heterosexuality; that so-called same-sex marriage is a real, God-approved marriage; and even that your skin color and/or race determine your worth or value to society. The truth is that these perversions are threatening the very estate of marriage and the family as God instituted them, as well as the unity, safety, and cohesiveness of our whole society.
Such narratives are an all-out assault on the gospel, too. After all, God has always revealed His nature and being as being male, not female or any other so-called gender. The Son of God took on male human flesh, not female human flesh. He lived his human life and died on earth as a man, not a woman. Our understanding of God's relationship with us is bound up with a right understanding of the marriage union of one flesh. God is always portrayed as the husband and the church, or believers in Christ Jesus, as the wife.
Another front in the battle for the truth is the plethora of false religions, the rise of pluralism, and the insistence that all roads lead to heaven. All of these falsehoods seek to kill the truth that Jesus alone is the way to eternal life.
I don't believe there has ever been a time in history when there hasn't been a need for reformation when there hasn't been a fight to preserve the truth. This is because the enemies of truth have never laid down their weapons and surrendered. They have, since the beginning of time, sought to destroy the truth, especially the truth of Jesus Christ, and replace it with a false narrative that leads only to eternal death. They will continue their murderous attacks on what God has said and chain us all to hell until the very end. The Reformation battle continues.
The term "reformation," then, does not simply mean changing beliefs and ways of doing things. It does not mean hallowing Luther as a saint. The ongoing struggle to preserve and, in some cases, reclaim the Church's proclamation of what the enemies have attempted to obscure, destroy, and replace with another so-called truth is known as "reformation." Reformation in the church is a devout vigilance to preserve and proclaim the narrative of the truth, especially the truth of Christ Jesus, as God has given it to us through His holy prophets and apostles and as it is contained in the Holy Bible so that souls can truly be set free. Whenever the truth of God's word is either surrendered or destroyed, people's hearts and consciences are enslaved in such a way that they lose their very salvation. And this is just plain unacceptable!
Martin Luther and company found it necessary to take the fight for truth to the upper echelons of the church and the state, engaging the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, and even the Emperor himself.
In our Gospel text from John, Jesus likewise boldly confronts the spiritual and societal leaders of His day with the truth to free those kept in the bonds of falsehood. However, He first engages, as He should, some of His people with the truth, many of whom were beginning to become quite taken with Him. John says they were, literally, "entrusting themselves to Him." He said to them, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Well, this did not fit with their preferred narrative of reality. His hearers immediately countered with indignation, "Who says we are bound in chains?" As descendants of Abraham, we have never enslaved anyone. "How is it that you tell us we will become free?"
It became a matter of authority, didn't it? These Jews had been taught their entire lives by their rabbis and priests that they were heirs of eternal salvation simply because they were Abraham's descendants. Who, then, was Jesus to challenge their long-held beliefs?
Besides, the message of the teachers was much more appealing. Who wouldn't prefer to think of himself as free? If he took Jesus' word as the incontrovertible truth, then he would have to believe he had been living a lie and wasn't free at all; in fact, he was still enslaved. It is against our sin-damaged nature to admit we have been living a delusion.
But in His discussion with them, Jesus made it clear that His word has divine authority. He is more than a rabbi; he is "from God the Father." He is the Son of God. Accordingly, he had no reason to lie. His word is the truth. He said to them, "I know that you are the offspring of Abraham, yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you." "I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father (the devil)" (Jn 8:37–38).
The real truth is that simply being a blood relative of Abraham does not save anyone from the true spiritual imprisonment that claims us all. Jesus responded, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin."
The truth is that true bondage has nothing to do with being enslaved by a slave master or even a dictator like Roman Caesar, or with the deceptive ideologies of political correctness or critical race theory today. These are merely physical forms of bondage that will never be permanent and will not bring eternal death. Believing false narratives, whether they be about ourselves, about God, or about how one is saved, is true bondage. It enslaves us, like the Father of Lies himself, to eternal death.
The truth is that even persons like you and me, living in our so-called "free society," can be in horrible bonds that last well beyond death and into eternity. I know it is not the narrative our society wants to accept, but the truth is that everyone who sins, and that means every one of us, is by our very corrupted nature enslaved to sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Sin influences every decision we make and every action we take. It even spoils every good motive or desire we might have by combining it with an evil thought or desire.
No appeal to our ancestry, even one as noble as Abraham's descent, nor any appeal to our good works, noble character, or good intentions can free our soul from being controlled and dominated by our lusts, wicked passions, and devil's temptations. No amount of self-justification can free us from suffering under God's righteous wrath for our sins. We are slaves to sin and its punishment, with no earthly escape.
Even the apostle Paul laments this enslavement. He says in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, "I am of the flesh, sold under sin." I do not understand my actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate; it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. I have the desire to do what is right but not the ability to carry it out. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing... I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (I Cor. 7).
Who truly delivers sinners from the dreadful bonds of death and hell? Paul goes on to rejoice, "Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" There is, in fact, only one emancipator—one slave liberator. That person is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the son in the house who will live forever, Jesus told the Jews. He has the power to set slaves free, and if He, the Son of God, sets you free, you will be free, indeed.
The true narrative of the salvation of sinners is to be realized in Jesus alone because He is the only human being to have kept God's righteous decrees and will perfectly. Only He was designated as the substitute for all of us under God's Law.
Likewise, God appointed Him alone to be the atonement for your sin, my sin, and, in fact, the sin of the whole world. God placed on Him alone the sin of the whole world in His baptism in the Jordan. There he was set before all as the sacrificial lamb that would take away the sin of the world. Secondly, only Jesus is the Son of God, giving His shed blood alone the value and ability to atone for everyone.
So, there you go! If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free! The truth in Jesus Christ has set you truly free.In Him, you are truly, totally, and eternally free! You are not held captive by all the false narratives. No amount of government mandates, decrees, constraints, or worldly false narratives can truly bind and imprison you. Because of Jesus Christ, no one can argue that your sins have not been fully paid for when it is the very blood of the Son of God Himself that makes atonement for them! Not even the devil himself can accuse you any longer. No longer does the guilt over your sin need to weigh you down with despair or fill you with fear. As one who has been baptized into Christ and washed in His blood, sin has no dominion over you. You are free to own up to your sin, confess your guilt, turn from its wickedness, and cling in faith to God's promised forgiveness. Accordingly, you can die in peace, knowing that, as Jesus' resurrection from the dead proved, sin's consequence is that death cannot hold you. You will be free to live in God's house as His son or daughter. The truth has indeed set you free!
You are forever free to sing with Martin Luther and the Reformers of the 16th century: "Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us... We do not tremble; we stand firm; they cannot overpower us. Let this world's tyrant rage; in battle, we'll engage. "His might is doomed to fail; God's judgment (his truth) must prevail!" Amen!