Printable PDF: 11-12-17 Last Judgment Sermon
Pastor Jacobson ~ Nov. 12, 2017 ~ LAST JUDGMENT ~ John 1:1-3, 14, 16-17
A RETURN TO GRACE
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth….16Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
1. Luther’s Reformation
If we are going to grow in our understanding of Martin Luther the Reformer, we need to have some understanding of the times in which he lived. The Middle Ages and the late Middle Ages were eras of death. The bubonic plague or Black Death wiped out at least a third of Europe’s population in the 14th Century. Death was a threat for people of every age and every social status. Martin Luther was concerned about death, too, but Luther’s greater concern was linked to judgment. Luther agonized about where he stood in his relationship with God. Luther thought the monastery would help. Thomas Aquinas, a church father from a previous generation, called the monastery a second baptism. The monastery did not help Luther. No matter how much Luther fasted and prayed, no matter how much Luther labored and beat his body, he never felt like he had done enough. Like a laborer who looks at his retirement savings and hopes it will be enough, Luther looked at the life he had lived and rightly concluded it wasn’t enough. Luther felt guilty about those times when he didn’t do his best. And when Luther did do his best he still felt guilty because of little bit of pride he had in what he had done well, pride which robbed God of his praise and glory.
Luther writes of his time in the monastery from 1505-1508, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior, and made him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.” Luther also said, “I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”
One man more than any other returned Luther to grace. Johann Staupitz, the leader of the Augustinian monastery in Germany told Luther to look at the wounds of Christ and to be certain of his forgiveness. Staupitz insisted Luther study the Scriptures. And as Luther studied the Bible, especially the book of Psalms and Romans, Luther was returned to grace. In his writings Luther says, “Learn of Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him, and despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness and I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.’” The Holy Scriptures had returned Luther to grace. Luther knew where he stood with God. As Luther carried out the Reformation of the Church his goal was to let the world know where they stood in their relationship with God on the basis of grace, on the basis of grace alone.
2. John’s Gospel
To know Luther is to know the times in which Luther lived. The same is true for the Bible. To know the Bible is to know the times in which the Bible was written. Take the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for instance. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written about the same time. That’s why many of their chapters are similar, told from a different perspective. John’s Gospel came decades later. John’s Gospel largely covers untold accounts of Jesus. John’s Gospel also addresses a spiritual issue not present at the writing of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The issue at the time of John’s gospel was Jesus, namely who is Jesus? The word of some was that Jesus was only a man and not true God from true God. If Jesus were only a man, then Jesus could show people the way to God in heaven if they lived a pure and holy life like he did, but no more. If Jesus were only a man, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection would not benefit sinners. That was the issue at the time of John’s Gospel. And people, already in the same century in which Jesus lived, died, and rose again, were falling away from grace.
John’s Gospel returned people to grace. Through simple words and short phrases, John’s Gospel returns people to the plain truths about who Jesus truly is. “In the beginning,” John writes, “was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
The Word is Jesus. John hides Jesus’ identity very poorly with this description. The Apostle’s goal was not to hide who Jesus is, but to be very clear about who Jesus is and what Jesus’ ministry is about. Jesus is true God, eternal, existing before the creation of the world, participating in the creation of the world. And Jesus’ ministry is about the Word, the message of the Bible. The message that Jesus, the creator, when conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary also became Jesus, the created, fully human. As true God and true man, Jesus’ glory was not merely to be the one who would show people the way to God if people would kinda, sorta follow in his footsteps most of the time. That would never do. God demands perfection. Jesus’ glory was to be the way to life in heaven by giving his holy and pure life as a credit to sinners. Every word about the Word was written so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they would have life in his name.
3. Our Ministry
What about our ministry? What about the times in which we live? At our pastor and teacher conference two ago, we talked about the times in which we live. We talked about Generation Z. Generation Z could also be called Generation Zzzzzzs, the iGeneration, screenagers. Our youth doesn’t know about a life without an electronic device. These devices tell you just about everything you want to know, connect you to everyone you want to be connected with, and fill down-time so that you’re never bored. You never have to think on your own, let alone about life, your standing with God. Technology like everything else in this created world is a blessing, a tool that serves us, but when we fear losing our phones more than we fear losing our God, we are in need of another reformation, a return to grace.
Our newest generation also knows a new kind of fear. When I was in school we always had fire drills and tornado drills. We never had intruder drills. Our children do. One Sunday in the future I believe we will have an intruder drill. We may even lock the doors after church starts and in addition to having greeters and ushers the day may come when we have posted guards. These are the times in which we live. We need a plan. Thankfully, we have a plan. It’s God’s plan. God has a plan for eternity and a plan for now. God planned our eternity before the i-Pad was invented. God planned our grace even before he created the world. God is also on top of the times in which he lives. God knows about the dangers which threaten us. God knows about the blessings which conspire to pull us away from him. God has a plan for now.
And brothers and sisters in Christ, children of John’s Gospel and Luther’s Reformation, you are that plan. You are the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. Our goal in life is not to reach the next level in Candy Crush. Our goal isn’t to cross our fingers so that we never get caught up in the crossfire. Our goal is the same as the gospel writers and the Lutheran Reformation. Our goal is to remain in God’s grace all the days of our lives. Our goal is to return as many people as we can to grace. It is by grace you have been saved, by grace alone. This truth is still true, this true is still most certainly true. Amen.