Scripture Alone

Reformation Sunday
November 5, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Scripture Alone

 

Dear friends in Christ,

Jesus loves me this I know, for the __________ tells me so. Many of us learned that song years ago and still remember it today. The Bible tells us that Jesus loves me. It is so simple and yet is a most important truth. If only Martin Luther had been taught such a simple song as a child. The simple statement, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” would have helped Luther immensely. You see, Martin Luther and many others in medieval Europe had the wrong idea about Jesus. Instead of being a God of love, Jesus was a righteous judge ready to condemn and punish sinners. The Bible was unknown to many, even to priests. It was known to be the Word of God. The Bible was highly respected but it was not used by many Christians at all. Luther himself did not start to read the Bible seriously until he began teaching courses on the Bible at the University of Wittenburg, years after he became a priest.

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we focus today on the principal of Scripture Alone. It is only through the Bible that we know what God says. It is only through the Bible that we know who Jesus is. God points this out to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah. These words are just as applicable for us today.

Jeremiah 23:1–6 (NIV84)
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

In Old Testament Judah as well as in medieval Europe, the separation between church and state was not something that was practiced. God set it up that way in the Old Testament. The Lord used prophets, priests and kings to shepherd his people of Israel. Prophets were primarily the teachers of God’s Word. Priests were to keep people focused on the coming Savior who would fulfill all the sacrifices at the temple. Kings were to provide for the physical protection of the people and from the line of King David, the Christ would be born. All of these shepherds were to guide the people in the worship of the Lord, to point people to the one and only Savior God. How are they doing at the time of Jeremiah, the prophet?

Instead of visiting the people with care and compassion, they are scattering and destroying God’s flock. Notice that the people are sheep of the Lord’s pasture. He takes great interest when the shepherds he puts in charge of the sheep destroy and scatter the flock. Many prophets said whatever people wanted to hear. They predicted peace and prosperity while Jeremiah prophesied judgment and punishment. They told the people everything was fine. Jeremiah told the people to repent. The false prophets led the people to false security while Jeremiah told the truth, attempting to turn the people back to true security in the Lord.

Many priests scattered God’s flock by mixing the worship of Baal and other false gods into the worship of the Lord. Altars to false gods were built in the temple of the Lord. The Lord’s altar was moved to make room for a copy of an Assyrian altar to a false god. Instead holding to the truth of the Scriptures, they allowed the culture, the people and the kings to dictate what was true worship of God. They destroyed many of God’s flock.

The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. Some lived in repentance and sought the Lord and his will. They did all they could to rid the land of pagan lies and practices. But others not only allowed false religion but encouraged it and pushed out the truth of God revealed to Moses and the prophets.

The shepherds entrusted with the Scripture did not use it. The people at that time would not have had a copy of the scrolls of Moses in their homes. They relied on the prophets, priests and kings to instruct them. Children relied on parents to instruct them in the truth. If these shepherds misled the people, the people, God’s people, suffered. Now God was going to visit these shepherds with punishment for misusing their position and not using the Scriptures.

A little over 2,000 years later, the situation was the same in the church. Martin Luther grew up along with most others of his time with limited access to the Scriptures. The educated priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope had the Scriptures. You learned only what they told you and many of these shepherds of God’s people were not telling the truth. Instead, they made people slaves of the church. People had to go to a priest for forgiveness. They were required to do penance prescribed by the church. Believers were told to buy indulgences to help complete the penance they couldn’t do on earth. People were told to look at relics, pray to the saints, become monks and more to get right with God. Everything one did had to go through the church. There was no way to get forgiven, no way to heaven except through the church, especially the pope. Many of these shepherds did not point poor sinners to the Savior revealed in the Scriptures. Instead people were pointed to good works, theirs and those of the super good saints. These shepherds scattered and destroyed many in God’s flock.

Five hundred years and an ocean away from Martin Luther’s situation, we find ourselves in a different religious and political environment. We do not and should not look to our senators, governors, presidents or other government officials to guide us in the truth of God’s Word. We do not have to offer sacrifices through priest as in the Old Testament or do whatever the priest prescribes as penance in Luther’s time. We don’t have living prophets who tell us what God says like Jeremiah did. We do have pastors who serve as public shepherds today. Pastors are to be held accountable for what they teach so that all they teach in according to the Bible. And who, besides the Lord, will hold pastors accountable? Every believer has the responsibility to know what God says.

Don’t believe something just because someone else says it. Believe it because God says it. We have access to the Scripture, the Word of God itself. Luther closed a debate shortly after the 95 Theses were posted with this. “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.” My question for you is this: Are you arming yourself with the Scripture?

You are here today doing just that, arming yourself by hearing what God says to us in his Word. This summer and fall our elder and I have made visits to almost every member and we will do our best to make it to everyone. It has been encouraging to see what you are doing to arm yourself and your family with the Scriptures. If you are doing this on a daily basis, keep it up. If you are not, today is a great day to start. Arm yourself and your family so you can stand upon the sure Word of God when culture opposes Scripture.

How will you know what God says about creation and evolution unless you know the Scriptures? How will you know what God says about marriage and sexuality unless you know the Bible? Those are some big attacks against the Bible today. But culture changes and there will be something else in the future. The only way to know what God says is to know the Bible. You don’t have to know everything about every false religion out there. Know what the Scriptures say and you will recognize the problems with the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness version of Jesus. Know the Scriptures and you will be ready when someone speaks against infant baptism or for women’s ordination.

Jeremiah repeats it often in our verses today. “Declares the Lord...Declares the Lord.” To know what the Lord says, we go to Scripture alone. Especially when we recognize our weak wills that believe what others say instead of checking with God. When we see our sinful neglect of the Bible, when we are made aware of how much we don’t know of the Scripture, then we need the Scripture even more. We need to hear what God declares to those who are lost, scattered and hurting. The Lord declares:

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

The Lord will gather, protect and save the people of his flock. The Lord will send the Savior to do what the sinful shepherds could not do. The Savior, the Branch, knows all of God’s Word and does all of God’s Word. He is righteous in every way. He does what we could not so that we and all sinners who trust in him will be saved and life in safety forever. And what a name he has.

This righteous Branch is not just another sinful human shepherd. The one born in the line of David to a young virgin named Mary is the Lord himself. God the Father sends his one and only Son to gather, protect and save us. God wants it done right and done completely. Only Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, can accomplish our salvation perfectly and completely. He is the Lord.

He is also Our Righteousness. We have no righteousness, no goodness on our own. But thanks be to God that in Christ we have been given what the Reformers called an “alien” righteousness. It is a righteousness that comes from outside of us. Just as Christ’s death counted for us, so also Christ’s righteousness is for us. By his death he forgives all sin and by his righteous life he credits us with righteousness before God by faith. The only place you will learn this amazing good news is by Scripture alone.

Knowing the Scripture will arm yourself to stand up against the attacks of culture, false religions and false teachings within Christianity. Best of all, knowing the Scriptures arms you against the devil who wants to convince you that your sins are too bad and too many to ever reach heaven, that God could never love and forgive someone like you. But the Holy Spirit has worked faith in you to believe that Christ the Lord is your Righteousness. Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.

Martin Luther would have benefited from learning that song as a child. Though he did not sing that song, he did eventually learn from the Scripture alone and was given confidence in Christ alone. May we continue to look to Scripture alone to know what God says and trust our Savior so we also can say what Luther once said.

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also!”

Amen.


 

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