Sermon for "Reformation Day (Observed)," Sunday, October 27, 2013. This time I focused on the First Reading, Revelation 14:6-7.
In our first reading, St. John says: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” In 1522 the monk, and later pastor, Michael Stifel saw this angel as a prophecy fulfilled in Martin Luther. In 1546 Pastor Johannes Bugenhagen said the same thing in his sermon at Martin Luther’s funeral. And in 1887, C. F. W. Walther, first president of the Missouri Synod, had this to say: “Luther is the only theologian who is prophesied in the Holy Scriptures. He is without any doubt the angel of whom Revelation 14:6 spoke.” Well, we may have to wait until eternity to ask St. John and the Holy Spirit whether they had Luther in mind when they gave us this angel and his eternal Gospel.
But one thing is sure: God’s great gift to His Church IS the eternal Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, won for us by Christ alone. So, whoever the messenger--Martin Luther or any other preacher--this eternal Gospel gives us God’s own Word on how Christians worship Him: “And [the messenger] said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” We worship God rightly when we do three things: 1) when we fear Him; 2) when we glorify Him; and 3) when we worship Him where He wants--in Christ Jesus.
First, we worship God rightly when we fear Him. Remember what Luther teaches us on the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Does that mean we should be afraid of God? Well, yes and no. Yes, that fear of God can be a healthy “afraid of God,” because, after all, God is bigger and more powerful than you. Not only that, but you know you “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Just look in the mirror of His commandments. You have not trusted Him as you should; you have not loved your neighbor as you should. Pretty simple.
And yet the answer is also “No, you need not be afraid of God,” as though He’s constantly out to get you. The book of Revelation pictures and describes the power of the enemy in the dragon and the beasts. They induce the unfounded fear that God is out to get you. And it’s that fear that leads us sinful creatures to do our own thing. But that’s just plain stupid and unwise. No, you do not need to be afraid of God, because He is not out to get you. Your life is in His hands and He cares for you. After all, He has made you and all creatures; He gives you your body and soul and all your members; He provides for you and protects you.
We worship God rightly when we fear Him, because, as Scripture says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge … [and] wisdom” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). When parents “fear for” their children, they actually care for their well-being. So, to fear God really means to care about Him. And since He is God, we care about Him--what He says, what He thinks, how He esteems us--more than anything else. So, fearing God is really all about loving and trusting Him … and thus having no other gods before Him.
And this fear of God is not servile or oppressive. Not only is He your Creator, but He’s also your Redeemer. Not only is He bigger and more powerful than you, but He also forgives you. Psalm 130(:4) says, “With You [O Lord] there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” Your God has provided the Lamb that was slain; He has shown you His great love.
This great love is what gives people courage and strength to stand on the eternal Gospel. The Reformation shows us heroes of the faith as they relied on God’s Word and cross-won mercy. This same great love leads us also to make grand and weighty promises, as we do in our confirmation vows: “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?… Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? I do, by the grace of God.” Yes, we worship God rightly when we fear Him.
Second, we also worship God rightly when we glorify Him. You see, fake worship happens when we give glory to ourselves, or to other false gods. Fake worship happens when we put ourselves or other false gods up on a pedestal. What could those false gods be? Money and possessions. Great learning and skill. Lofty fame or the bottom of the bottle. Martin Luther said, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress” (LC I:2). Fake worship happens when we look to ourselves or other false gods for all good and refuge.
No, we worship God rightly when we glorify Him. We truly give God glory when we acknowledge and praise Him for what He has done, and for what He will do. He has created you. He has redeemed you in His Son Jesus Christ. He has made you holy through the Holy Spirit, and He promises to keep making you holy as you hear His Word and receive His Sacraments.
And what will God do? He will come to judge the earth. All people will be accountable to Him. Now, we can either deny this fact, or we can praise Him for His promised return and judgment. We can deny that He will come. We can try to shield ourselves the best we can from His scrutiny and prying eye. We can try to hold up all our good works as our own, home-made shield and fortress. But that won’t do. Our home-made defenses for the soul amount to nothing but duct tape and bailing wire. Actually, St. Paul said it better: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” We call that “works-righteousness.”
No, God will come, and He will judge. But we can praise Him--give Him glory--nonetheless. You see, the eternal Gospel tells you that God has already judged you in Jesus Christ. The eternal Gospel tells you that you have already been judged, the verdict is in, and it’s “Not guilty.” Yes, you have already been declared “not guilty,” judged as righteous, all because of Jesus Christ, His death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection. You “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation--as a means of forgiveness--by His blood, to be received by faith.” We worship God rightly when we glorify Him for what He has done, and will do, in Jesus Christ.
And the third way we worship God rightly is when we worship Him where He wants to be worshiped. Now, that may sound easy, but don’t forget the Israelites. They fell into that whole worship the golden calf thing. And that was right after God had revealed His eternal Gospel by delivering them from slavery in Egypt. Not only that, but the Israelites also worshiped at the high places, sacrificing to fertility gods called Baals and Asherah. They had a continuous battle against false worship and false gods.
Also, don’t forget the world around you today. People worship all sorts of man-made gods--power, pleasure, money, you name it. They even worship according to their own thoughts: “My God is bigger than that.” “I don’t think God is that way.” “God would want me to be happy.” And you and I are not immune to those thoughts of false worship.
You and I especially do not worship God rightly when we despise His Word--when we do not gladly hear it and learn it. How so? When we base our worship on our feelings, wishes, and hunches, rather than on God and what He says in His Word. How else? When we tolerate false worship and false teaching.
So how and where does God want to be worshiped? In Christ Jesus. You see, God has sent His only-begotten Son to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life by His death on the cross. Jesus is the very temple of God--the dwelling place of God--who was torn down on the cross and raised up on the third day. So, we worship God rightly when we gather to listen to His words and believe them. After all, they proclaim Christ Himself. And this right worship also includes trusting Jesus’ work in your Baptism and His work in the Supper. In these you receive life and salvation itself. That’s the eternal Gospel at work.
One of the fruits of the Reformation is the Apology of the Augsburg Confession in 1531. This document defends the Augsburg Confession, from 1530. The Apology says this about true worship: “Faith is the divine service that receives the benefits offered by God…. God wants to be worshiped through faith so that we receive from Him those things He promises and offers.” (Ap. IV, 49; Concordia, 89) You and I worship God rightly when we receive--when we receive in faith all the gifts that Jesus Christ achieved by His cross. So, right worship is depending on the gifts of God in Jesus. And those gifts bring forth our praise and our good works in all of life.
So, the angel flies overhead and brings that “eternal Gospel.” And that eternal Gospel has a goal: the repentance and salvation of all people through the message of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. How can we not worship Him? As Dr. Louis Brighton, a current day messenger with the eternal Gospel, says, “For the end purpose of God’s redemption is the restoration of his creatures so that they recognize and worship him as their God and Creator.” (Revelation, 382) That, dear friends, is what the Reformation was all about: the eternal Gospel and the right worship of God. Amen.