Text: John 8:31-36
Date: Reformation Day (Observed) + 10/25/15
When a person accurately identifies something, explains or describes something so perfectly we may say, “He nailed it!” On this festival day we remember that blessed and gifted “angel” or messenger of the eternal gospel (Rev 14:6), Martin Luther (1483-1546); the one our American Martin Luther King, Jr. was named after. The first Luther was baptized on St. Martin of Tours Day, November 11 giving him his first name, Martin. But though we remember the priest and monk, the man and reformer of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in the early 16th century in Germany, we do not dwell on the person of Martin Luther but on the message he uncovered in a Church whose voice had been muffled and ears stopped by so many manmade rules, practices, fantasies and heresies.
It began with his wrestling over his own restless heart as, though he knew he was supposed to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Dt 6:5), he just could not because the only God he knew was a god of vengeance, judgment and angry punishment of sin. I’ve known people who think of God in that way! As hard as he tried, he just could not love a god that did not love him but only condemned him around every corner. It was only by means of God Himself, the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, specifically the one we heard from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans today, that Luther discovered his own error and the truth which Jesus said his disciples would know and which would set them free. Luther needed to be set free, free from guilt, free from the burden of sin. All people need to be set free because sin and death is a slavery from which we cannot free ourselves. Luther discovered that the righteousness of God is not limited only to His just condemnation of sin but manifests itself in God’s just and righteous declaration of the forgiveness of sin for the one who has faith in Jesus. This righteousness, this justice is the gift not of an angry, vengeful God but of the God who “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When Luther discovered the love of God, that God really loved him, only then could he truly love God in return. And so it is with us.
With such a joyous discovery he began by writing about the gospel, first addressing himself to his fellow theologians in ninety-five theses proposed for academic and theological disputation. On the eve of All Saints Day, October 31, we remember that Luther nailed this document to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. I assume the story is accurate, that is, he didn’t use thumb tacks, tape or glue but actual nails of some sort. One can hardly resist the metaphor, therefore, that these statements accurately reflect the proper understanding of God’s righteousness in Law and Gospel, that is, that with these words he “nailed it”!
Luther could love God only when he discovered and believed that God loved him first. So it is that we can say Luther discovered the truth of God and “nailed it” only when he discovered and believed that the love of God is to be found when God nailed it first to the cross. There in the wounds made by the nails in His hands and feet, by the spear thrust into His side, the same wounds that the risen Lord Jesus showed to His disciples and to Thomas, the same “rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified” (LSB 525:3) are the evidence of “love so amazing, so divine” that alone “demands my soul, my life, my all!” (LSB 425:4).
So what we celebrate today is not something new but something old, not a new “church,” but a renewed Church. And because there is always renewed boredom, renewed pride, renewed bureaucracies, heresies ancient and modern, we are in need of constant renewal; renewal by the old, old story, the story of sin condemned, repentance and forgiveness, salvation and hope.
Iron nails, like everything else, become rusty over time. I’m sure the actual nails from the cross of Christ were not among the holy relics at All Saints Church in Wittenberg that day. But the nails of the Gospel, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the nailing of the message of the cross from the pulpits and on the hearts of those who hear in faith remain ever new, ever life-giving, ever life-reviving as those same nails proclaim the forgiveness of a world of sin and death, the forgiveness of your sin, all of them, all of it.
Of the salvation by the cross and resurrection of Christ Herb Brokering wrote,
Gone the nailing gone the railing gone the pleading gone the cry
Gone the sighing gone the dying what was loss lifted high.
Thine the glory in the night
No more dying only light
Thine the river Thine the tree
Then the Lamb eternally
Then the holy holy holy Celebration jubilee
Thine the splendor Thine the brightness only Thee only Thee.