October 31, 2021 ... “Justified by faith” Romans 5:1

October 31, 2021 ... “Justified by faith” Romans 5:1

October 31, 2021

“Justified by faith”

Romans 5:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Born in 1475 in a small stone house in Caprese, Italy, Michelangelo has been described as not only the greatest artist of his age, but the greatest artist of all time. He sculpted two of his best-known works, the Pietà and David, before he was thirty. He painted the Sistine Chapel when he was thirty-five and the Last Judgment when he was sixty-five. Nicknamed “the divine one,” a contemporary writer said his work was far beyond that of any artist, living or dead, and that he was “supreme in not one art alone, but in three”--painting, sculpture and architecture.

But life was never easy for him. In fact, he often struggled to live up to his own, as well as others’, high expectations and demands. Even worse, for years, he was tormented by sin and his fear of death...

...Until, when he was in his 40s, he heard of a monk named Martin Luther. And when he came to understand the gospel, that we’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone, everything began to change. He even wrote in the words of a poem: “And now my soul at rest knows no more fear.”

Later, when he came to the end of his life, he began to work on what he intended to be his gravestone, what he would call, The Deposition.

And in that sculpture, cut from a single stone, you see, at the center, the limp and lifeless body of Jesus, just taken down from the cross. To the left is what scholars believe is Mary Magdalene, and to the right, cradling Jesus in her arms, is His mother, Mary. And standing over them all is the man named Nicodemus.

But strangely, when Michelangelo chose to carve the face of Nicodemus, he used his own face as the subject. So it’s not just Nicodemus--it’s a self-portrait, carved in stone. And along with that sculpture came the words of his poem: “Neither painting nor carving will be able any longer to calm my soul, only that divine love that opened His arms to embrace us on the cross.”

And it was all because of Martin Luther.

So how did it all begin? Let me tell you the story in his own words.

This is what he said: “It was 1517, and I had begun to interpret the Psalms once again, and I had a burning desire to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and what he meant by ‘the righteousness of God.’ I hated that word, ‘righteousness of God,’ and I said, ‘Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners are lost for all eternity, yet God heaps on us sorrow upon sorrow with His commandments and wrath?’ So I constantly badgered St. Paul and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

“Until finally, I began to realize that God’s righteousness is revealed, not through the Law, but through the gospel--grace. And when I understood the words, ‘The just shall live by faith,’ all at once I felt as if I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately, I saw all of Scripture in a completely different light. The gospel is the power of God by which He makes us powerful. It’s the wisdom of God by which He makes us wise. It’s the strength of God, the salvation of God and the glory of God. This, for me, was the very gate of paradise.”

And that’s why, 504 years ago today, that 33-year-old professor of theology made his way through the streets of Wittenberg, Germany, to the door of the Castle Church. And there he drew out a document bearing ninety-five theses, ninety-five statements of debate.

This is what he wrote: “Out of love and zeal for the truth, the following theses will be debated at Wittenberg, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology presiding.”

And ever since then, the world has never been the same.

On this Reformation Sunday, let me ask you a very important question: “Why are you here?”

Now I’m not asking, “Why are you here on the face of this earth?” but, “Why are you here at Faith Lutheran Church?”

I suppose you could give any number of reasons. For many of you, you grew up in the Lutheran church. Your parents were Lutheran and so were their parents before that. You were born and raised in the Lutheran church, and you never left.

Others of you married into the Lutheran Church. Though you grew up in another tradition like Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian, you married someone who was Lutheran. And rather than worship at two different churches, you joined your spouse at the Lutheran church.

Or maybe you’re here because your friends are here. They’re the ones you’ve come to know and have loved for so long. You’ve chosen to become part of this faith community. It’s your home. It’s where you feel that you belong.

Anyone can tell you, you have a choice. There are churches of all kinds in and around our community.

So why are you here at Faith Lutheran Church?

I hope you’re here because you believe, just as Luther taught, that the Bible is the Word of God--the heart, the strength, and the foundation of our life, our preaching and our worship. You believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant. It’s the Word of God. It doesn’t make mistakes. That’s why you’re here.

Or maybe you’re here because you believe that you’re saved not by works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And so you should believe, because Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And he wrote to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

Maybe you’re here because you believe, as Luther wrote, that God has made you and all creatures, and that He’s given you your body and soul, your eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still preserves them.

And like Luther, you believe in the One who has redeemed you, Jesus Christ--true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is your Lord. He’s redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so you could be His own.

And you know that you cannot by your own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the one, true faith.

Or maybe you’re here because you know that life is hard and that now, more than ever, you need a Savior who will not only stand by you, but who will comfort you and strengthen you even in your darkest times.

And you continue to be Lutheran because you know that Christ once wrapped His arms around you in your Baptism, because He feeds you and cares for you with His life-giving, soul-saving Body and Blood in, with and under simple bread and wine, and because He said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

That’s what it means to be Lutheran. That’s what it means to be a member of Faith Lutheran Church.

If you’ve ever had the chance to visit Mount Rushmore in the far corner of South Dakota, you’ve seen one of the largest and most unfinished works of man--four presidents carved into the side of a hill. But for all of its grandeur and beauty, it isn’t finished. Gutzon Borglum didn’t live long enough to see his dream come true. His son continued the work for some months after his death, but the project eventually ran out of money. And even though millions of tourists visit there every year, Mount Rushmore remains an unfinished work of art.

Or think of Michael Jackson. After years of trials and troubles, he was about to relaunch his career with a sold-out concert series called, “This is it.” For the “King of Pop,” it was sure to be his best performance yet.

Then came the day when no one could save him, and he was suddenly gone. No one plans to die when they’re fifty. And as a billion people watched his televised funeral service, he was a man with quite a lot of unfinished business.

And for many people, that too is one of their worst fears, that they’ll die before their time. But it happens all the time. We die too young, we die too soon, we die with our hopes and dreams unfinished and unfulfilled. Hardly anyone can come to the end of their lives and say with full confidence, “I finished everything I set out to do.”

But there is One who didn’t leave any unfinished work behind--our God and Savior Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, He’s the only one who came to the end of His life and said with absolute and total truthfulness and certainty: “I have finished everything I came to do.”

It was a Friday in Jerusalem, and a crowd had gathered just outside the city wall, at a place called Golgotha, “Skull Hill.” The Romans liked to hold their crucifixions there because it was so public, beside a well-traveled road. Killing criminals in that place and in that way, had a profound effect on the masses.

For three hours, from nine until noon, everything went as expected. The crowds mocked as the victims suffered and the women wept.

But at noon, something strange, something eerie began to happen--the sky went black, so black you couldn’t even see the hand in front of your face. And for the next three hours, darkness descended over Jerusalem.

Then it happened. Just as soon as the One in the middle cried, “I thirst,” a soldier mopped up some cheap wine on a sponge and lifted it up to His lips.

Then He spoke once more. It was a quick shout--just one word. If you weren’t paying attention, you might have missed it.

So what was the word? In Greek, it was “Tetelestai.” In English, “It is finished.” “It’s paid in full.”

And that’s the gospel that Luther believed and that we too believe, even after all these years.

As Paul once wrote to the Romans: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

He righted the wrongs we could not right. He cleansed the stains we could not cleanse. He paid the price we could never pay. And it was all because of His grace.

O Lord, our rock, our refuge and strength, our help in times of trouble, we thank You for the blessings of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Open our eyes to better understand Your Word and grant us a deeper appreciation that You have saved us, not by works, but by grace, for Jesus’ sake. Amen