**Readings:** John 8:31-38; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7
It’s Reformation Sunday! That means we get to talk about how mean the pope is! [clarify that this is a joke].
I am not Joe. As you may have noticed. In fact, Joe and I are completely different. For example: I will never quote Metallica during a message. I’m going to quote Megadeth, because Megadeth is actually good.
“Like whistling past a graveyard, when walking by at night. It’s a fatal illusion to think that evil never dies.”
What an interesting line. A fatal illusion. Evil never dies.
Did you notice what the Jews said to Jesus? “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” It’s a pretty ironic thing. They make this statement to Jesus after Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the temple. They say this thing to Jesus after the Babylonian Captivity. They say it after living as slaves to the Egyptians for 400 years. They this to Jesus during the Roman Occupation!
Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking to them about physical slavery. He was talking to them about their slavery to sin, their bondage to it, to death.
You see, the Jews had taken this law that was given to them and they had manipulated it. They had twisted it, and hammered it, and beat on it. Through years of study and practice they had turned the law of God into a golden calf. They had seen it, their calf, and had said to themselves, “Yeah, this’ll work. This thing is what saves us.”
It’s a very important thing to see, I think. That these Jews worshipped the law, they worshipped their keeping of it. They thought they were good, holy men. They said, “What need have we for this Jesus? Isn’t he just a poor carpenter’s boy out of Nazareth? Why, we have the blood of bulls and goats! The Torah, and writings of our rabbis! And we are careful to do all that is in them.”
It’s easy enough for us to sit here in 2019 and point out that they’re wrong. What’s harder is to realize that the devil is a crafty adversary, and his evil persists to this day. It’s a fatal illusion to think that we don’t deal with it or fight against it.
This is probably the part where I’m supposed to talk about the pope, but I’m going to skip over the “holy father” today and instead talk about someone else: The Mormons.
We had two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints drop by our house last night for dinner. It was at our request. I saw an ad online that beckoned me, “come unto Christ”, and I thought, “Yeah, alright.”
So, I clicked it and typed in my address and a few days later these two young men are sitting in my living room telling me all about the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ. But you know what I noticed; the gospel they preached to me wasn’t wonderful at all.
They told me that God sent Jesus – they deny the trinity, by the way – to die for our sins. They believe that we pre-exist in heaven with God (we don’t), and that he sends us here to inhabit bodies to “learn and grow”. In heaven we’re perfect, but when we get down here, we fall from perfect to evil. Jesus, they say, sets us to a neutral setting, and from there we must work our way back up to perfect. And if we do enough good works, we might even become gods ourselves one day!
You see, the Mormons believe that the Gospel is for the unbeliever. They believe that the Grace of God is what gets you “in the door”, but from there it’s on you. The Gospel is for the unsaved, the Law is for the saved.
You may think that this is a uniquely Mormon belief. It’s not. In fact, this is the same creed confessed by the papists in Rome. Jesus can get your foot in the door, but you still need to do penance, and take mass, and if you don’t say enough Hail Mary’s you’ll have to burn off your unrighteousness in purgatory – unless someone buys you one of those indulgences.
This, in fact, is the teaching of mainline Christianity in America! How many people are in churches across this city right now hearing about the keys to a better life? How to Measure Up, how to Live their best life now, how to encounter the spirit, or unlock the kingdom?
All of these things are the same basic evil that doesn’t die. The same taunt and lie of the devil that the Gospel isn’t for you, and the Gospel doesn’t save you, that Christ can’t save you.
“God helps those who –“ What? [Help Themselves]
Now, I don’t know about you dear Christian, but I’m wretched. I look at the law in its perfect majesty and I see the standard I’m supposed to keep and all it does is magnify my own failure to keep it. I will wake up and purpose in myself to do the right thing today and I will, invariably, immediately blow it. I don’t even make it from bed to coffee pot before I’ve dropped the ball.
I think if we all take an honest look at ourselves, we see that’s the case.
But I have some Good News for you. Contrary to what the world tells you, contrary to what you hear out of the seat of Rome, contrary to what the Mormons, and the Baptists, and the Pentecostals tell you. Contrary to what the Muslims and the Hindus say. Contrary to what the devil says. The Gospel is For You.
The law is for you too. It isn’t that the Gospel saves you and then you must keep the law. It’s that the law shows us our transgression. But Christ is always there. He is our strong refuge. We can trust in him. We are justified in him, by his grace. “The righteousness of God,” Paul writes, “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. There is no distinction: All have sinned. All fall short. But we are justified by his grace as a gift.” And this gift, Paul says, is through the redemption of Christ Jesus.
His death on the cross bought you out of your slavery to sin. You’re no longer a slave in the house, but a son.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve already had the Gospel and now you need the law. Lean on the Gospel, for it is the very power of God for salvation. Remember your baptism, those waters you were carried through that drown your adversary. Remember Christ and his finished work on the cross.
Remember that he has saved you and redeemed you by his grace. It is in his name that I say, Amen.