Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Festival of the Reformation, 10/30/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Reformation Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Festival of the Reformation, click here.
Most historians agree – it was the dawn of a new age, a time filled with hope, growth, anticipation, and progress of every sort: the arts, medicine, and philosophy were flourishing. The world, by many accounts, was getting better.
But not for everyone – and not for God’s people.
Politics had infiltrated the religious establishment. Rulers answering to the authority in Rome oppressed the people. The traditions of men had overtaken God’s Word.
And so it was that even the faithful had begun to believe that they must somehow save themselves. The Church, in short, had become polluted.
Which is to say that, in a world full of sinners, it was a day like any other day.
A man woke up and went to work to do his job, but really nothing more than that.
He took a walk. He picked up a hammer, he raised his hand and pounded the nails. And then he went home.
He’d done this several times before. He’d do it again. It was a normal day.
By most appearances, nothing happened. It got dark. Parents made dinner. Kids went to bed. And the city got ready to enjoy a holiday.
By most appearances, nothing happened. And yet, we are here this morning, because something did. You are here today because something did happen.
It changed the world forever: politically, culturally, legally.
But most importantly, that day meant the end and the beginning.
No more trying to save ourselves. No more bringing our own righteousness before God, as if it were worth something. No more.
Because what was nailed there for everyone to see meant freedom – at last. It meant truth – at last. It meant peace with God – at last:
What the Roman soldier nailed to the wood: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, born of Mary, crucified for the sins of the whole world. That is why you are here today. That is why anyone anywhere is in church today.
You are here in this specific place because over the course of many years, that clear message: Christ crucified for sinners, had begun to blur. And so 500 years ago we were reminded why we’re here and why we’re not.
You’re not here to satisfy a requirement, you’re not here to earn something.
You’re here because Jesus is for you. You’re here because He gives Himself as Gift. You’re here because the salvation you could never win for yourself, has been won for you. You’re here because 505 years later, all of this is still about Jesus alone.
It’s not a new thing. It’s what John the Baptist proclaimed.
When Jesus’ cousin preached repentance, he meant that people be turned away from their sins, and toward their Savior – the Messiah, Jesus who is the Christ.
All in all, that message, combined with his behavior and sense of style, was not attractive to many.
Predictably, some would just not have it. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.”
Jesus came preaching repentance, too. That is, Jesus preached a turning away from sin, and a turning toward Him. It didn’t mean slavery. It meant freedom. It meant that Christ had come to be the friend of sinners.
In the end, that friendship and that freedom were so strange, and so unlikely, that it became the charge against Him.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
We shouldn’t be too hard on them. After all, this is not the way anyone would expect God to behave. It is so contrary to the way things work in this world. It is so much the opposite of what we call fair, or reasonable, or even logical.
That everything God requires of you, He gives to you; that Jesus is for you and not against you; that you can’t earn forgiveness or even buy it, simply because it is given away.
These divine truths have always had a way of setting the world on fire; of burning down our idols; and turning us to Christ alone.
That’s what drove Luther’s hammer. That’s why we still have a Reformation Day.
A title like that, “Reformation Day,” suggests that we ought to be in the Reformation business, too.
Because Reformation is not commemorated, as something that is over. The Reformation is celebrated, like a birthday. It’s a day when we’re brought back to the beginning, when we are reminded of and returned to, all that is good, right, and salutary. And we’ll have cake.
We won’t be reforming the Scriptures, or doctrine. Those things are divinely settled. It is we who are to be reformed. Or to put it another way, it is we, the Church, who are to be con-formed.
And that, because we have been re-formed, we’ve been re-made, we’ve been re-born.
In the waters of baptism, we were made new creations. By God’s grace, we’ve been washed into His Name. We’ve been cleansed from guilt and shame. We’ve been freed from slavery to sin and death.
So now, in the Church, as the Church, throughout our lives, as the old Adam in us is daily drowned and killed, we are to be continually reformed, continually con-formed to the image of Christ.
It’s been five-hundred and five years. That’s a big anniversary. So if we’re going to take this whole thing seriously, now seems an appropriate time.
If you’re wondering what that looks like – a life, a Church, reformed by Christ, and conformed to Christ, it’s really very simple:
It looks like living within the Ten Commandments – they’re really very good for you.
It looks like a freedom to serve your neighbor that is actually exercised, not abused. Not because it’ll get you something, but because it will get your neighbor something.
It looks like total, utter, complete, and radical faithfulness to God and His Word; because Jesus did not die to redeem only half of your life.
On this side of heaven, that means that we will always be reforming, and always repenting. It’s the very first of those famous 95 theses:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
That means Christ will be working this in us all our lives.
That’s important to remember. It’s His work. We can be forgetful, though. And so every now and again, God sends us someone like Luther to remind us, to swing a hammer, to start a fire, to point us to Jesus.
To His Word, to His forgiveness, to His life, death, and resurrection, proclaimed to you, poured over you, fed to you.
All for free. All gift. All for the sake of Christ.
That is a real Reformation. That is something to celebrate.