During the summer, many adult children are traveling back to their hometowns to visit parents and relatives. They revisit the places and people who gave them their start in life. Often, this experience re-kindles memories and dreams of the future which were lost under the layers of the years.
As we come up to the 500th year of the German Reformation, it is fitting to remember what we will be celebrating. For the past few weeks, we have been reading snippets from the Book of Concord in anticipation of this event. Some have never heard these words before, while the readings have re-kindled memories of Sunday school for others. The words serve as a reminder of what we believe, teach and confess at Calvary.
Yet, at its core, the German reformation centered around one man. Even more to the point, it centered on one man’s discovery. What we will celebrate on October 31st, 2017 is the re-discovery of the Gospel by a monk named Martin Luther.
But, what is the Gospel? Here is a quiz:
The Gospel is …
- The greatest commandment that Jesus gave — “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
- Hearing the facts about Jesus and making a decision or praying a sinner’s prayer
- Surrendering your life to Christ fully
- Doing good works – Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.
- God’s only Son became man, lived among us, bore all our sins as a perfect sacrifice, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day, He rose again. By His work on the Cross, you have been forgiven all your sin, and been made right with God through His blood alone.
In the first four examples, ‘the gospel’ is contingent on my efforts. You have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace. They are pre-requisites to salvation. Faith is a result of what you do (even in your heart).
In the last example, faith is a result of what Jesus has done. It is not a proposition to be decided on (as if I am God). It is not a work of Christian piety (living a ‘spiritual’ life). It is not determining to clean up one’s life. It is not obeying God’s commandments.
The Gospel is Jesus Christ. He is the Good News that God has come to rescue us. God the Father has provided Jesus as the scapegoat for all of our sins. And, He has rescued us from sin, death and the devil by becoming a curse for us. At the cross, He paid the full penalty for your sin and mine. In Him alone, we have the righteousness of God.
In preparing this article, I read the effect Luther’s re-discovery (through his commentary on Galatians) had on one reader. The individual (Mike) wrote:
@brilliant – … I first encountered Luther’s works at a secular university where all of his works were free in the library. I was so happy to randomly start reading Galatians one day. I got so excited I photocopied the whole thing and marked up each line with a worn out highlighter. – Mike Jul 31 ’12 at 7:49 [emphasis mine]
Although Luther has been with Jesus for almost five centuries, his rediscovery of the gospel is still making an impact (even in a secular university!). We are inheritors of this discovery. A discovery which comforts troubled consciences. A discovery which breathes life and faith into the hearer. A discovery based on one man’s decision.
Christ made the decision: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
His Gospel cuts through the layers of man’s efforts. In fact, it completely undercuts man’s efforts at rescuing himself.
Whether you are a rebel openly disobeying God’s Law or you are a pietistic saint who follows every jot and tittle, the gospel is wholly outside of you, hidden in Christ. All of the benefits of His death and resurrection have been applied to you in the waters of your baptism, and He continues to sustain you through word and sacrament.
Jesus essentially cries out “Return to me. Forget the other nonsense. Abandon open rebellion. Abandon pietistic law-keeping.” Jesus says the following in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life. There is no other way to the Father but by me.”
Later, John records Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” Christ is our life, our hope and our savior. This is the Gospel we return to, reflect on, and make known to the world. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. What an amazing discovery!