Ep 40: The Precious Blood of Christ – A Reformation Day Special


Read the sermon text at Spurgeon Gems

I have been thinking for a while now about what an episode in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation would look like.  After all, there are so many things that can be discussed, and are being so discussed in churches, podcasts and blog posts around the world: the fives solas of the Reformation, the history of the church that led up to and resulted from the actions of the reformers, and the finer points of the theological debates that produced such massive change throughout Western civilization and the church worldwide.

I decided, however, to get down to what I see as the real “why” of the entire issue: What was so important that Martin Luther decided to pursue an open debate on the subjects that he did, 500 years ago?  What motivated so many people to buck against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and pursue the Scriptures without layering them with Vatican magisterial tradition and teachings?  It was the realization that peace with God lay not in the repetitious taking of the mass, not in plenary indulgences or penances performed, not in any deed a man can do, but in the perfectly atoning and transforming blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.–Hebrews 10:19-25

Hebrews 10 contrasts the constant working of the Israelite priests, with the finished work of Jesus.  The high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies once a year to perform the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, and even then before he entered he had to ensure that he had observed the sacrifices to cover his own sins, lest he fall down dead while in the holy place.  But when Jesus died the veil separating that holy place in the temple from everything else tore.  The types and shadows of the Old Testament that, as Hebrews says elsewhere, could not truly pay for a single sin, gave way to the weight of the real and final sacrifice of Christ Himself.

Because of that we can walk into that holy place ourselves–not simply wherever that place might have been on the planet, though the temple itself has long since fallen, but into the throne room of God.  We can speak with him in prayer.  We can trust in His providing hands to give perfect gifts to us in life.  And we can go to Him with our sins, fears, failures and weaknesses, because Jesus did exactly what He intended to do:

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.–Hebrews 9:24-28

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg castle church, he wasn’t challenging the authority of the pope, at least not yet.  He was acting on conviction of the words of Scripture, as he had been teaching through Galatians for the last year and had, as he had examined the Greek text, come to believe that certain traditions of the Roman Catholic Church did not seem to line up with them.  Indeed, the reality was that the Catholic Church had set aside its duty to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in and out of season and disciple its people, and instead had become a world power that held great authority over many kingdoms in Europe.

Luther wanted to see debate happen on these theses, these specific statements based on the conviction put on his heart through the Word of God.  He challenged the culture that was holding onto false, unbiblical ideas about the nature of our relationship with God, in this case over the issue of buying indulgences that can supposedly help free one from time spent suffering in purgatory before being able to go to heaven.  That was only the beginning, of course, but that was the spark that set off the firestorm of the Reformation across Europe.

And it is in that same spirit today that, as Christians, I believe the Reformation must continue.  The Reformation did not end when the last of the original reformers died, or when the pope stopped allowing the sale of indulgences.

The Reformation continues today, as we must still hold our cultures accountable to the testimony of the Scriptures.  There is a great deal of confusion and deception within elements of the church: the Roman Catholic Church still teaches as official doctrine that you can have right standing before God by taking part in their sacraments.  There are many counterfeits of the faith, such as Mormonism and the Watchtower Society’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, that attempt to use Christian lingo and Christian Scripture but use them to arrive at decidedly non-Christian ends.  And there are entire denominations that have been taken over by secular humanism and have no gospel to preach, ultimately to shrivel up and die.

Being a Reformed Christian is not simply about believing in the truth of the doctrines of grace or understanding the meaning and importance of the five solas of the Reformation, though certainly those are important and foundational.  Being a Reformed believer means you are living out and holding up the truths of Scripture against those inside and outside of the church that would draw us away and distract us from the mission to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the corners of the earth.

That spiritual battle continues, and we must persist exactly as the reformers did in calling for a return to the fundamental truths of Scripture as the ultimate rule of truth, and in pointing to the blood of Christ alone as the perfect and complete atonement for the sin of all who believe in His great Name.

I want to leave you with some recommended reading that I feel is very much on this theme.  Firstly, is an article at the Gospel Coalition called “Thank God for Flawed Heroes.”  It discusses some history about the reformers and the fact that God used very flawed and imperfect men to effect such a tremendous moment in the history of the church.  I also want to link to an article at Desiring God, called “Prisoner Number 2491: The Inspiring Story of the First Nazi Martyr.”  It is the story of Paul Schneider, a Christian pastor who stood firm in the heyday of Nazi rule over Germany and refused to bow to pressure to change his teaching of the Christian gospel.  As a result he was arrested, horribly beaten, and eventually died in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Schneider’s story reminds of many important truths, but for just a moment I want to mention this one: suffering will come, in one form or another, into the life of every Christian.  We know that is true because our Lord suffered, and if we are following after Him, we can very much count on the world and the enemy despising us and seeking to harm us.  Schneider, however, did not respond with vitriol.  He sought to live and love faithfully in line with the Word and with the example of Christ, and just like the reformers before him, he knew that eternity was so very close and so very much more important that this brief and troubled life.

So many today suffer in the same way.  My friends, my brethren, let us take this day of remembering the 500th anniversary of the Reformation not simply as an occasion to think of the job as being done back then, but to think how we can continue to pursue the same goal the reformers had in our own day.  Let us worship our King boldly and with all love.  Let us serve and love our neighbors faithfully, and seek to see the best for our cities.  And let us respond to hatred given by those who despise the word of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the same love and humility that Christ himself showed on the cross, trusting as the reformers did that God will accomplish His work perfectly as He has intended to since before the world was founded.

Read Dave’s article on sola fide at Theology Mix, and subscribe to the Theology Mix podcast feed for twice daily Morning and Evening devotional podcasts.

Check out the Norton Hall Band’s recording of There is a Fountain Filled with Blood on Youtube.

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Episode 37: The Novelties of Divine Mercy

I want to again thank all of you who have been patient through this last hiatus, and especially for those of you close to me who have been actively praying for and ministering to me during this time.  This was not a “I’m just really busy” hiatus.  I mentioned in the last episode that there was some turmoil ongoing, and unfortunately it ended in the worst possible way: my wife and I are no longer married.  I have no intention of divulging more information than that, but to answer the questions I know many of you concerned will have: yes, this is the end of a process that involved church elders and it is something that was not entered into lightly in any way.  I will not say more than that, out of respect for privacy.  Those of you who do know us, I appreciate your constant prayers and the loving support that you all have shared through this.

I’ve waited to continue this podcast and blog until after everything was officially finalized.  I plan to move forward continuing to trust God in my darkest times, continuing to pray for Jessica, and continuing to rely on the support of His people.  I am particularly grateful for the godly men and women who have gathered around me to minister to me through all this.

The fact is that this has been a deeply tragic event for me, and I have struggled with understanding it and with my own emotions, both in trying to figure out exactly how I should feel and think, as well as finding constructive ways to work through my deeper feelings.  I have been hurt down to my deepest parts, and I have lost my partner.  The pain I have had to endure, the sadness and anger, has been of a kind I can scarcely hope to describe meaningfully.

But as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, I do not grieve as a person who has no hope.  Through all of this, God has held me steady and been true to His promise to provide a way of escape from the temptation to sin.  I picked this sermon because the chapter it is from, Lamentations 3, was a strength to me in this dark time.  It is a reminder that even though God ordains the darkness, it ultimately serves to the purpose of greater joy when the light comes.

I won’t say that the light has reached me yet, at least in this matter.  I will say that God is good, and God is gracious, and I will trust Him with each new step in life.  To my listeners who have similar struggles, I would say to you: Do the same.  Trust in the goodness and mercy of God.

I have had a few people talk with me about this that clearly expected me to have become embittered towards Jessica in particular, and towards the institution or concept of marriage in general.  But I have no intention of letting a root of bitterness grow down into my heart towards either, for several reasons: Firstly, because that would be an incredibly selfish position to take, that would make my marriage all about what I want and what I get out of it, rather than glorify God or honor my wife even in the aftermath of all this; secondly, because I am aware of the ways in which my own sinfulness has contributed to this regardless of other circumstances and such an attitude would be completely unrepentant and un-Christian on my part; and thirdly, because I have not become a different person as a result of this.  I still desire to represent Jesus with the way I live and work and speak.  I still want to grow in love, and in the grace and knowledge of God–even more now, I would say.  I still want to put my sin to death.

On a purely personal level…this has been the most tragic time I’ve walked through in my life.  I am deeply grateful to those who have gathered around me during this time, to hold me up in my weakness, to remind me of my true strength in Jesus, and to pour out love onto one who was feeling deeply unloved.  But this has been the darkest moment of my life, and I have had to continually turn to prayer and to the strength of my brothers and sisters to help me deal with the enormous weight I have felt upon my shoulders.  I have been wrestling day by day with the myriad ways I have sinned and contributed, and having to drag it to the foot of the cross each time.  There has been no time for self-pity.

All of this may seem very vague in a sense to many, and honestly it should.  Those who need to know more details of my and Jessica’s personal lives know them.  To the rest of the world, I would simply ask for prayer.  I intend to press forward into Jesus regardless of anything else.

To those listening who are facing darkness, for whom hard times come hard and fast, and who are feeling the weight of despair on their shoulders: I want to urge you, do not hesitate.  Do not hide in the dark, because there you will only find more of what afflicts you.  Turn to Christ, and run to Him.  Make yourself and your struggles known to His people, to those who can love you and gather close to minister to you in those times.  The reason the Scriptures are so full of good texts to apply to suffering is because suffering is something that all humans have in common as long as we live in this world.  Trust the goodness of God even in your darkest times, and do not hide your struggles.  Drag them to the light!  Leave them at the foot of the cross, and do it every day!  Trust to the renewed grace of God every morning, and never believe that God is tired of you, or that His church has better things to do.  This is what it is for: to weep with those who are weeping, and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  We are called simply to trust Him in all things, and that is all I can do in this time of deep pain.

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