Pastor Eric Schroeder - Reformation - Sunday, October 31, 2021

Text: Mark 13:5-11

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You may have heard it said, “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” I suppose one way to rephrase the sentiment is to say that we all need one or more foundational principles that we live by—they guide our goals, our plans, our decisions and how we look at the world. “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” A simpler way to say it would be this: if you don’t know what’s true, you’ll never recognize all the lies that will be told to you. “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”

Of course, we know that life is full of differing viewpoints; life in our world is full of conflict, and if we really wanted to, we could spend our entire lives arguing about opinions, taking a stand every time we wanted to defend our own point of view. Reformation Day is bigger than that, however, because to celebrate the Reformation is to celebrate THE truth—the truth that God allowed to break through the darkness of the day—the truth of God’s Holy Word, especially the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners. And isn’t it our prayer that today we would be renewed in this truth, and reminded that if there is one place to stand, it would be firmly on this same gospel, the one that still brings salvation to us and to many others?

In Mark chapter 13, we hear Jesus sharing with his followers the signs of the end times, a list of conditions and events that would remind us to prepare for his glorious return. Maybe you’ve heard them before, and if you were asked from memory what those signs were, you might well start with these: 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. You might think of how Jesus later talks about the sun turning dark and the moon and stars doing strange things as well.

But Jesus started with a different one. 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. As Jesus cautioned us to get ready, his first warning is against lies—false preachers and false teachers…false preaching and teaching. In other words, the visible Christian church will be corrupted, and instead of leading people closer to God, many within the church will drive souls away from their Savior. If all you ever hear is lies, how can you ever know the truth? If you don’t know what the truth is, I suppose there are two or three possibilities for how you arrive at what you believe.

  1. Base what you believe on what you feel, what you think to be true.
  2. Follow the crowd and listen to what everyone around you is saying.
  3. Trust the experts, the people who get to do the deciding and the talking; in other words, just take the preacher’s word for it.

If you know the truth at all, you know that of those three options, none of them are good. Any one of them might possibly have a bit of truth sprinkled in, but you can never know for sure, because they all depend on human beings rather than God. And man-made religion will always end up in the same place: based on works, based on pride, motivated by guilt, and uncertain in the end, far away from God. Watch out, Jesus says. Many are being deceived.

But Jesus didn’t want his followers to be merely passive observers. They knew the truth, and Jesus commissioned them to proclaim it. At the same time, he doesn’t sugarcoat it. It won’t be easy to combat the lies, and there will be strong opposition coming from every direction both within and outside the church. Here’s what he says. 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

Why risk so much? Why go against the grain? Why hold steadfast to a church that sometimes feels like a ship on the verge of sinking, where people are jumping overboard left and right and then calling out, “come on in, the water’s fine!” Why keep pouring resources in when we don’t always get to see the results coming out?

This would be a good weekend to ask Martin Luther. Now, I know it was four years ago that we made a big deal out of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, noting that it was on October 31st, 1517, that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. But if our appreciation is all about that day, we miss out on much of the work that God allowed Luther and so many others to do in the years that followed. In fact, this year marks the 500th anniversary of an event that was a much bigger turning point than the 95 Theses. You see, for four years the conversation had been going on between Luther and the church leadership, and his writings were spreading rapidly and having a great influence on the German people.

Of course, as Luther pointed out the errors within the Church of his day, to the people at the top, Luther became public enemy number one, the most dangerous heretic in the Holy Roman Empire. So, the pope issued an official document branding Luther as a false teacher to be dealt with, and Emperor Charles V summoned him to a meeting called the Diet of Worms (pronounced “Vorms”) in the spring of 1521. There only two questions would be asked of Luther in regard to his writings: first of all, did you write them, and secondly, are you willing to recant—to take back your arguments against the church?

No doubt, Martin Luther had plenty of time think, and I wonder how often he paused to consider Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 13—they now applied very pointedly to his situation. These leaders were powerful people, and he wasn’t the first to arouse their anger. Luther also knew what happened to those who had made the very same points in the past, using the very same Scriptural basis—they were burned at the stake. At any rate, he made his way to Worms, and on the way into town those who observed his entrance made comparisons to Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, such were the crowds of people cheering him on... Luther couldn’t help but wonder if he was heading toward his own Good Friday at the close of the diet.

When the meeting began and it was Luther’s turn to speak, he was called before a table of his books and asked those two simple questions: are they yours, and will you recant? And Luther boldly…asked if he could sleep on it. It was late in the day, and he needed one more night to think and pray about how he would answer. The next day, same questions. And here is how Martin Luther answered:

Since then your serene majesties and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.

In other words, Luther had the conviction that truth is found in Scripture alone, not in feelings or the will of the majority or even the so-called experts. He was willing to stand firmly on the gospel of Jesus Christ alone, because only in the righteousness of Christ crucified and arisen do we find certainty of sins forgiven. He knew, as Jesus said that “the gospel must be preached” because we are saved through faith alone, by God’s grace alone, and we cannot ever do enough good works to please God… But Jesus Christ already accomplished our salvation fully and gives heaven freely to all who trust in him.

Two thousand years ago, the words of Jesus were true. Five hundred years ago…still true, still worth taking a stand on. How about now? We’ve got to stand for something…. Jesus’ return is 500 years closer now than it was in Luther’s day. Lies still abound, within and outside the visible Christianity of our day. Souls are still at stake. The good news is that in a world corrupted by sin, even as sin remains a daily struggle for us, Jesus is still the Savior. The Holy Spirit still gives us words to hear and words to speak, no matter who might be standing in front of us.

Reformation reminds us to keep searching the Scriptures, keep hearing law and gospel, keep repenting and rejoicing, keep inviting and proclaiming until every sign of Jesus is fulfilled. Here we stand, because God used faithful followers to stand together and pass on the great heritage of God’s Word to us. May our Lord keep us steadfast in his Word, as we stand firmly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ now and forever. Amen.