Triumph Song / Romans 3:19-28 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 30th 2022 / Reformation Day (Observed) / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 30th 2022: Reformation Day Observed / Romans 3:19-28 "Triumph Song"
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. “For all the saints who from their labours rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!” … “And when the fight is fierce, the war-fare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong: Alleluia, Alleluia!” 505 years! Are we there yet? The distant triumph song seems awfully distant! When will this Reformation be over? It’s taking forever! I wasn’t even around when it started! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! When will I have rest from my labours in this long war-fare? Where can I find rest for my soul in this life or will it only come when I enter into eternal life in Christ Jesus?
The Reformation is generally presented as a 16th Century struggle between institutions, first an internal Roman Catholic struggle and then latter a struggle between the Lutherans who had been kicked out of their beloved Catholic Church by Rome and the Roman Catholic Church who kicked them out. So what is the key thing that we are all still wrestling over anyway? Well that would be the very thing that this passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the 1st Century Christians in Roman is addressing. How are we made righteous before God? Are we justified by works (the things we say, think and do)? Are we justified by following the law perfectly (in what we say, think and do)? Or are we justified by Grace? Are we justified before God, because of His righteousness applied to us in Christ Jesus (or is it something else)? At its heart this is an internal struggle as much as it is a conflict between ways of teaching what Christianity is. Today we will focus, not so much on the struggle between institutions as much as we will consider ourselves in the World in relationship to Christ. This is a particularly difficult uncomfortable bit of war-fare when we come to grips with the fact that we are in it right up to our necks, right up to our eyeballs! Let us then consider our own reformation, the reformation of the heart, the mind and the soul.
The internal struggle in each of us, between that which is evil and that which is good is a harsh and pitiless struggle; the internal struggle in each of us between sin and repentance is a fierce fight, it’s a long war-fare stretched out over years and years. Trying to please God by our goodness, inevitably, falls on the edge of the sword of our evil thoughts, words, and deeds; when this happens we can become personally weary: particularity in the face of continual, cyclical, sinful and evil failure. The hard fact is that there is no opting out of the holiness of God’s law; in fact the holiness of God’s law become unbearable when it is truly applied to our lives; the more it is applied the easier it is to see how we fail it daily; for as Christians who have been given the Ten Commandments and have been told that we must follow them perfectly “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” This is further complicated when we see how some people commit crimes and get off scot-free because there are no witnesses; no forensic evidence that conclusively point to their crime, yet God is omniscient: He sees all things, knows all thinks, including everything you’ve done that’s evil which was in your power to resist and avoid, or failed to do that is good and was in your power to accomplish.
This is why the Doctrine of Justification, this teaching on Justification as taught in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, is of utmost importance! The Doctrine of Justification, as taught in Romans puts the spotlight on God’s interactions with us in light of the law and in light of His Son Jesus. Fairness (we like fairness don’t we? Do we?), fairness would dictate that, whether we win a fight or lose a fight with sin, with evil, with the devil, even with ourselves we are entirely responsible for fighting the fight of faith. Logic would dictate that if you lose in such a fight you should incur a penalty and if you win you should receive a reward. The trouble is when you play against the law of God, the perfection required means that eventually the house always wins. And as a result, under the law, responsibility for losing is all yours, (there you are earning it all on your own). Think of gambling, if you take your money and put it into the machine at the Casino and you walk away with nothing, $0.00, as you walk out the door, whose responsibility is that? Who put the money into the machine? You did. Yet there is something else at work here; under grace something different happens. As you struggle under the weight of evil in the world, unable to fend off even one more attack, one more temptation, as you come to see that fighting this battle is a losing battle and that there is no hope of attaining perfection on your own, help suddenly arrive ... “a Champion comes to fight; Whom God Himself elected.”
“You ask who this might Be? The Lord of Hosts is He, Christ Jesus, Mighty Lord, God’s only Son adored. He holds the field victorious.” This is what Saint Paul is talking about when he shifts gears and moves from our failure to live up to the law to Christ Jesus’ success in the face of that same holy and pure law of God. Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the [first five books of Scripture, Genesis to Deuteronomy] and the [various books of the] Prophets bear witness to it” What is it that they bear witness too? They bear witness to “—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
What does it mean that Jesus was “manifested apart from the law?” And what has this got to do with my internal struggle with good and evil? Well, on the one hand, each of us is borne guilty under the law because of original sin; Jesus, on the other hand, in His incarnation, and in His virgin birth from the Virgin Mary, was not born with original sin and further to this He then proceeded to live His incarnate life without sin, as Saint Peter writes this Jesus “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth,” and where Adam and Eve failed at perfect obedience to the first law of God, Jesus Succeeded completely trusting God: Where Abraham and the patriarchs failed at upholding their end of the covenant with God, Jesus Succeeded holding fast to the promise of which He was the fulfilment: Where the Children of Israel failed at keeping the Ten Commandments, Jesus Succeeded always choosing good over evil in all temptations to sin: Where you fall down in the battle failing to live a life of obedience, where you fall down failing to at live a life consistently full of repentance; Jesus applies His success to your failure. Jesus spreads His success over your failure in such a way that you, in the all seeing eye of God, are not seen as the failure that you know that you are, but rather because of forgiveness you are seen as a success in the fight of faith. God the Father sees the success of His son Jesus spread out over you. This is what our churches believe teach and confess about justification before God. You cannot justify yourself based on your actions, your thoughts, your words, in such a way that you would be seen as worthy of heaven even if those actions, thoughts and words are noble and good in the sight of the world or even by the law of God because this is not a balancing act even if it were there is no way you by your might that you could tip the scales in your favour for yourself; However Jesus tips the scales, Jesus is able to apply Himself to you so that you are justified by Him. This is given to you as a free gift. You know how a free gift works! You can’t pay someone back for a free gift – it’s free. A friend of mine received a free gift one time and he wanted to pay back the person who gave it! He said, “Well, let me buy you a beer!” The giver said, “No, no, no! It’s Fee. It’s a free gift.” My friend tried again, “let me take you out for dinner?” “No, no, no! It’s Fee. It’s a free gift!” He tried one more time, “surely there must be something I can give you in return, name it and it is yours; what can I do to repay you?” The giver finally said, “No, no, no! It’s Fee. It’s a free gift. Don’t you know how a free gift works?” A free gift costs you nothing, even when it costs the giver everything. Such is the case with Christ Jesus.
Often the trouble of reconciling all this in the mind of the Christian occurs when Justification and Sanctification get confused or mingled together. Sanctification is God making you holy, because He is holy; Justification is the applied righteousness of Jesus which covers over your sins. Perhaps it’s best to think of Justification and Sanctification as two rails running along side by side: Can you picture that rail way track. God places the railcar of your faith on these two rails. The Holy Spirit is the Engine Car, the locomotive that pulls you along. If your railcar is not on the rail way track it’s not going to go anywhere on its own. And even while sitting on the twin rail track of Justification and Sanctification without the Holy Spirit your rail car will not move on its own either. If you experience a derailment because of sin, then Jesus arrives to hoist you up and put you back on these rail way tracks again, He repairs whatever damage has been experienced because of the derailment. The desire not to derail again would be repentance. Derailed railcars don’t right themselves, they are inert, they don’t hop back up on the rails by themselves they can’t pull themselves up by their own “boot straps.” Busted up rail cars can’t fix their own axils or repair their own wheels, they don’t reshape their bent steel frames; Someone needs to step in and do the work of making the railcar ready to haul freight again and get the rail car ready to couple up with other railcars.
My friend Rev. Major Sye Van Maanen pastor at Riverbend Lutheran Church in Edmonton Alberta who presently is being deployed to Latvia with the Canadian Armed Forces, back while he was going through officer training at CFB Borden Ontario years and years ago, bunked with a priest from another Christian denomination who was also going through officer training too. Here these two military chaplains were sharing quarters and the talk between them kept going back and forth between living the Christian life under the law on the one hand and living the Christian life under grace on the other hand. Eventually the Priest, a little exasperated with Pr. Van Maanen, says “Are you trying to tell me that you’re not saved by works?” To which Pastor Van Maanen says, “No. I am saved by works! Just not mine! I’m saved by Jesus’ good works!” In saying this Pastor Van Mannen confessed that he along with “all [others] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by [Jesus’] blood, to be received by faith.” The very thing Saint Paul in his letter to the 1st Century Christians in Rome was saying, the very thing Rev. Doctor Martin Luther and his fellow Reformers were saying to the 16th Century Roman Christians and their Pope. Hear that part again and listen closely, “grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by [Jesus’] blood, to be received by faith.” In Christ Jesus His crucifixion on Good Friday became the place and time where true perfection and pure unadulterated goodness triumphed over evil and sin and chaos. By faith this is now yours.
How do you perceive this gift? Is this gift great or is it small? How do you see it? In regard to this costly yet free gift what then pleases God? What pleases God the Father, is when, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, you grasp hold of the free gift of His Son Jesus and hold fast to it in the midst of the fierce fight; What pleases God the Father, is when you cling to Jesus during the long war-fare; What pleases God the Father, is when the distant triumph song steals on your ear and you know it’s not truly far off; What pleases God the Father, is when hearts are brave again and arms are strong, because Jesus holds the field of Salvation victorious. This is what pleases God the Father. This is what the Reformation boils down to: Salvation through God given Faith, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” this is what Saint Paul says, this is what we believe teach and confess as Christians.
So then do we abandon hard work; do we give up the fight? No! Rather we work, we fight, all the harder for each other; we work, we fight, all the harder for the stranger in our midst. The heart reformed by the love of Christ Jesus does not come to God the Father boasting and demanding anything based upon its works for others, or how well it thinks it’s doing in the long war-fare of this life as a Christian. The heart reformed by the love of Christ Jesus takes the gift of salvation and humbly submits to the Holiness of God, repenting of its sin and desiring to escape the traps of evil, the pit-falls of sin, the booby-traps set by Satan and the World. The Christian heart is not to boast in anything but Christ Crucified, in nothing but Christ Jesus and His works, His thoughts, His words alone.
‘But my heart is not like that,’ you say, ‘I know my heart, I’ve known it all my life, my heart left to its own devices is feeble, from my heart comes evil desires, it wants nothing better than to puff itself up in front of others.’ And so we lament, ‘When will this Reformation of my soul be over? When will this Reformation of my heart be fulfilled? It’s taking forever! When will my flesh see perfection? When will my feeble struggling end? When will I shine in glory? When will I have the victor’s crown of gold? When will my labours be done, when will I have my rest?’
Dear ones as I said, as Saint Paul said, as Luther preached and taught, as so many through time have by the grace of God have confessed, taught and preached into the ears of countless Christians, this victory is won for you by Christ Jesus upon the cross! It is already yours by faith! Would you like more assurance? God works through means: in His gift of Holy Baptism this saving work of Christ was applied to you where the water blessed with those words instituted by Christ washed you clean with His very blood, shed for you at the cross! In that baptism you were sealed into Christ, and though you are still a sinner God the Father, because of His Son, has declared you to be righteous: He has forgiven you! Jesus’ righteousness has been given to you in your Baptism. Return to those waters daily. Remember them and the gift you received there. Would you like more assurance? In Holy Communion Jesus personally comes to you with His body and blood to strengthen you and sustain you in this gift of Faith, with the same body and blood that He willingly gave for your salvation at the cross. Receive this gift weekly. Remember always the gift you receive in it by the grace of God and don’t let the cares and pleasures and temptations and troubles of this fallen World drag you away from it. All of this, all of these things are the gift of God; the victory obtained for you and delivered to you in them is to the Glory of God alone!
Take courage, be brave: The Grace of God produces the reformation of your heart; you are not expected to produce it in yourself by your work. “If the Son sets you free, [which He has, then] you will be free indeed [and in Christ you are.]” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #677 verse 1 & 5
 Deuteronomy 4-6 & 30; Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 5:1
 Romans 3:19-20
 A Mighty Fortress is Our God, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #657, stanza 2.
 Romans 3:21-22
 Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-21
 1 Peter 2:22
 Genesis 3
 Romans 3:23-25
 Romans 3:28
 “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour and their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.” Justification, Article IV: Augsburg Confession (1530), Concordia The Lutheran Confessions, Reader’s Pocket Edition, Concordia Publishing House 2005, Page 36.
 Matthew 15:18
 Matthew 11:28-30
 Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5-7; Revelation 7:13-14
 “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen” “In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Daily Prayers, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Pg 30-31.
 Matthew 26:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:23-24, 27, 29
 Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7
 Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20
 John 8:36
Photo Credit: Main Photo Detail of Knight Holding Sword from pexels; detail of Luther Statue in Dresden Germany from pxhere; detail of White and Black Chess Knight from pexels; detail of Casino from unsplash; detail of Statue of Jesus Surrounded by Angels from pexels; detail of Statue of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child from unsplash; detail of Train Tracks from pexels; detail of Train Derailment from wikimidia; title card of Rev. Sye Van Maanen from piratechristian; detail of Gift from pexels; Dark Heart from unsplash; detail of Golden Statue Man on Horse from pexels; detail of Painting of Jesus Crucified with Angels from pexels.