It is very good to be with all of you this
evening, even among many in our own congregation here tonight. It is appropriate that we would come together
to celebrate and remember the Reformation. It is right and good to do so. And as soon as we draw our gaze to Luther
and to Calvin and to the other Magisterial Reformers of the sixteenth century, as soon
as we begin talking about them and praising them, and they would be the first to say,
“You’re praising the wrong one.” Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers
would draw our attentions and our gazes to Christ alone. They would tell us to fix our attentions on
the gospel of Jesus Christ. They would say it is right to see what God
has done. It is appropriate to celebrate what the Spirit
has done. But they would be the first to say that they
themselves were not by any means the heroes of the Reformation but that God was the hero
of the Reformation, that the Word of God was the hero of the Reformation, that the Spirit
of God was the hero of the Reformation, that it was God, who by His sovereignty and by
His grace and by His power, who led these humble sinners to serve Him, giving them the
stewardship and the message of the gospel to expound it, and the whole council of God
for the people of God that God’s people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, from all
around the world might hear that gospel that had been hidden and bound and chained for
so long. And so it’s to the gospel of Jesus Christ
that we turn this evening to that passage which the Lord used by His Spirit to awaken
Luther and ignite Luther, to invade Luther’s heart by His Spirit. And so, we turn this evening together to Romans
chapter 1 and verse 16 and 17. Turn there with me, if you would. We read in Romans 1 in verse 1 that this is
the gospel of God. Paul says this is God’s gospel. It’s not fundamentally Paul’s gospel. It didn’t belong to him. It was the gospel that Paul preached, but
this was the gospel of God that Paul expounds throughout the epistle to the Romans and it,
in one sense, is that which is expounded by God Himself throughout all of sacred Scripture. And so in verse 16 we read these two verses
that ignited Luther and set the world on fire. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it
is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to
the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed
from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” In 1505 Luther, after completing his Master’s
degree, was caught in a lightning storm. It terrified Luther, and he impulsively swore
and vowed to the Lord and vowed to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners. And he vowed to St. Anne that he would become
a monk if the Lord would save him. And immediately, just two weeks later, went
back to Erfurt and knocked on the door of that Augustinian priory and became a monk. And not just any monk, he became one of the
most devout monks they had ever seen. As Luther was devout in his own studies previously,
he became devout as a monk. He was the one most in prayer, most in fastings,
the one most in his giving, and the one most in his learning of the ancients. Luther became a devout man, who was so seeking
to end the torments of his soul that he might gain some measure of assurance that he might
know God and that he might be able to rest in God and have true peace in God. But he didn’t find it. In all his duties and all his obediences,
he didn’t find that peace. He didn’t attain that peace and that hope
and that freedom that he so desperately wanted that tormented his soul night and day. And so his mentor, his father confessor, the
head of the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz, sent him to Rome on business. And in 1510, Luther went to Rome and what
Luther saw brought him to a point of total despair because what he saw were the abuses
of the church. He saw the abuses of the doctrine, and he
saw how Rome was laying upon the shoulders and the backs of its people great burdens,
the weight that no man could carry, that men had to work their way to God, that they had
to climb a ladder of works righteousness, that they had to do whatever they could not
only to earn their way to God but to earn their way out of the man-made tradition of
purgatory, that they had to buy indulgences not only for their own souls but for the souls
of those who had already passed on that they loved. And Luther was brought to the end of himself
and coming back from Rome and there in Erfurt, he was unsettled. And so Staupitz sent him to Wittenberg. And there in 1511, after Luther completed
his doctoral studies, he became a professor at Wittenberg. And it was in 1513, in the fall, when Luther
was lecturing on the Psalms, and it was there when he first came in contact with another
verse that was equally as significant for Luther as was Romans chapter 1 and verses
16 and 17. He came upon Psalm, verse 1 of chapter 31,
where we read this psalm of David. “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me
never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!” “In your righteousness,” Luther read “deliver
me!” Luther realized that the only way he could
be delivered, the only way he could be rescued in his sin, the only way that he could be
redeemed from this torment of his soul, the only way he could really find assurance was
to be rescued, and he had to be rescued by none other than the righteousness of God. And so in coming to Romans 1, in reading about
the gospel of God and hearing the gospel of God explained, as Luther not only read through
Romans but studied Romans and studied Romans in the original language, not just the Latin. And as he came face-to-face with verses 16
and 17, he read that it wasn’t just any righteousness, but it was righteousness and the righteousness
that God gives to His people that gives people the gift of faith, that enables His people
to live by faith. And that all of this comes through the gospel
of Jesus Christ. Now in verse 16, a verse that I’m sure most
of us are familiar with, the Apostle Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Have you ever wondered about that? Why would Paul say that? Why would he say, “I am not ashamed of the
gospel”? Well, because it’s easy to be ashamed of the
gospel. The world thinks the gospel is absolutely
foolish. And what is the gospel? Well, the gospel is very simple. It’s so simple that even little children can
understand it. Beware of those men, I don’t care if they’re
in pulpits or robes and all the regalia that the world can offer. If they complicate and confuse the gospel,
if they make the gospel incomprehensible, they’re not preaching the very simple gospel
of Jesus Christ. And the gospel is that victorious message
of all that our Triune God has done in and through the life and the ministry and the
perfect law-keeping and fulfilling all the righteous demands of the law of God, in the
atoning and sacrificial and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, His resurrection and
all His life and ministry even now. It’s what God has accomplished through Christ
and all by the power of the Spirit. This story is news and it’s good news. But you see, in preaching that good news we
also have to preach the bad news. And that’s what Paul does in Romans 1 and
2 and 3. Just after he talks about the gospel and how
we’re not to be ashamed of the gospel and what the gospel does, Paul starts to talk
about the wrath of God. Well, it’s not easy to talk about the wrath
of God. You know when we were growing up, what is
one of the things that our mothers teach us? And they teach us if you don’t have anything
nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Well, it’s not very nice, is it, to tell people
that they’re going to hell? It’s impolite to tell people that they’re
dead in sin and rebels against God and hate God and are running from God, and if God came
and showed up we’d kill God. It’s not very nice to tell people that they’re
sinners and deserving of the wrath and the condemnation of God that will send them to
hell forever. It’s hard to do that, and you know what, it’s
also embarrassing. But we need to be more concerned about our
neighbor’s soul in hell than we are at our own embarrassment in telling them about it. And so we become timid and afraid, and we’re
scared to talk about the gospel. Because in talking about the gospel, we have
to talk not only about the good news but the bad news of sin and wrath and condemnation. We have to tell people about their own wretched
sin. We have to tell them that we’re sinners just
as they are and that we need this good news that we need the righteousness of Christ. And so we’re afraid, and we grow timid because
we want to be liked. We want people to think that we’re nice and
that we’re polite. We need to be kind to people, and we need
to be the most loving people in all the world, so loving that we’re willing to tell people
the truth. And that we would speak the truth in love
from God’s Word about sin, about God’s wrath, about the condemnation that is upon our sin
so that we might tell them about the gospel. That we might tell them about the true hope
and the true peace and the true joy that they can have in Christ forever. Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,”
though the world thinks it’s foolish, though they ridiculed him and laughed at him on Mars
Hill. Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes,” to everyone who calls
in the name of the Lord, to whosoever believes. It’s to everyone, to the Jew first and also
to the Greek. But Paul said that the gospel is the power
of God, and we can’t miss that. Notice what Paul didn’t say. He didn’t say the gospel simply contains information
about the power of God, or that the gospel tells us where to find the power of God, or
how we might access the power of God through other means, but that the gospel is the power
of God. It is that story, that good news that God
has ordained, be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit might invade and conquer and
regenerate hearts and make those stone, rebellious wretched hearts His own. It’s through the proclamation of good news
of all that God has done, that our God reigns, that He gets all the glory, that He is sovereign,
that He is gracious and that He is not only the creation of our own souls, He is the author
of that which saves our souls. “I’m not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul says,
“for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes.” And then Paul quotes a portion of Habakkuk
2:4. He says, “For in the gospel, in the gospel
the righteousness of God is revealed.” How we get the righteousness of God, that’s
what Romans is all about. That’s what the Bible is all about. How that we, a bunch of wretched rebellious
sinners at enmity with God, how we can obtain the righteousness of God. And Paul, pulling from Habakkuk 2:4, says
“The righteous live by faith.” The just shall live by faith, from beginning
to end, from first to last, from faith to faith. We don’t start by faith and then end up trying
to earn heaven or earn the righteousness of God by works. It’s God who begins a good work in us, and
it is He who is faithful to fulfill it in us. And so, as God leads us to faith, as He leads
us to repentance, as Paul points out in Romans 2:4, even as Luther understood that it’s repentance
from beginning to end, as he stated in his first thesis of his ninety-five, “When our
Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, called us to repentance, He willed that the entire life
of a believer be one of repentance.” That we don’t just look back upon a time when
we were first justified, when we first got saved, and say, “I repented then.” No, that we would live an entire life of repentance,
that we would live an entire life at the foot of the cross, trusting Christ, throwing ourselves
upon the righteousness of Christ, resting in His righteousness and not our own. Luther understood this, and as he read this
and he had this first tower experience there in 1513 and 1514, as he came face-to-face
with the grace of God and how it is this righteousness from which we are delivered is God’s own righteousness
that He gives to us, a righteousness that is outside of ourselves, a righteousness that
comes from someone else, a foreign and alien righteousness that God takes all those righteous
deeds and righteous works of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and places them upon us,
imputes them to us, taking our sin and placing them upon Christ. That’s why the wrath of God was poured out
on Christ, not because of His sin, but because of our sin He died. And that’s why His death is a perfect substitutionary
sacrifice for our sin. Luther saw this, and it was at that moment
by his own testimony, by his own account that he believed he was born again by the Holy
Spirit. The Spirit came rushing in and regenerated
his dead, stony heart, and Luther said, “It’s as if the gates of heaven were flung open
wide to me.” He realized it couldn’t be his own righteousness. It had to be the righteousness of Christ. As we celebrate the Reformation rightly, as
we remember what God did through Luther, as we remember what God did through Calvin and
the other Reformers, it is absolutely fundamental that in living in light of the Reformation,
we live in light of the gospel. That we live in light of the good news of
Jesus Christ for our souls. And that means, dearly beloved, that we would
be a people who are proclaiming the gospel, living the gospel in our own hearts, as we
are repenting of our sins and trusting Jesus Christ, as we live in light of the gospel. That means we’re going to live a life of freedom,
a life of grace, a life of love. That we, as God’s people, would be known by
a people of love. And that doesn’t mean putting aside the truth;
it means contending for the truth. And in contending for the truth, we would
also be a people that would be always striving eagerly for the bond of peace in the church
of Jesus Christ, that we would be a people who are defined and known by the world as
loving people, speaking the truth in love and speaking the gospel of grace of the Lord
Jesus Christ until Christ returns. That we would be a people, when they see us
they don’t see us pointing at ourselves, they don’t see us as a people trying to gain glory
for ourselves. They see us as a people who are pointing to
our Triune God, saying, “To God alone be the glory.”