Sermon for October 30, 2022, Reformation Day (Observed)

Revelation 14:6-7 (Reformation Day—Observed)

“An Eternal Gospel”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 30, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the First Reading recorded in Revelation 14.

6And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those residing on the earth and to every nation and tribe and language and people, 7saying in a loud voice, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

          The final book of the New Testament opens with these words, “The revelatory-unveiling of Jesus Christ.” That’s what “revelation” means as it has become the title of this last book of God’s Word to humanity. God gave to John this revelation in visual form. For most of the book, John “sees” what God is showing to him. The message is visually presented as if John was watching it on the big screen that the Lord set up for him on the island of Patmos.

          What it is that John sees in our appointed text for this Reformation Sunday? “Another angel flying in mid-heaven.” John has seen a number of angels so far in the book. This one is different from the others, another one, in addition to the ones that have been visually shown to him. And this angel John sees is “flying in mid-heaven.” “Mid-heaven” refers to that part of the sky which is directly overhead, where the sun appears to be at its highest above the earth, at its zenith, and so, at its brightest. Picture this with the apostle—God’s angel, His messenger, in mid-heaven, with the sun at its peak in the sky. The brilliance of the sun in its noontime splendor causes you to squint as you gaze. And you realize with John that the brilliance of the sun cannot be compared with the glory of God in its fullness. And then you realize that it is this glory that would be displayed at the coming judgment of the Lord Christ for the purpose of ushering in the new heavens and earth. The judgment of God is coming at the full revelatory-unveiling of His heavenly glory, symbolized by the sun shining in all its blinding brilliance at noonday.

          A little context is helpful at this point, for John has just seen in verses 1-5 of chapter 14 the victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and the Church Triumphant in heaven singing a new song before God’s throne. In the visual presentation to John, this scene signals the beginning of the end of this present world which will be depicted later in chapter 14 as a harvest. And so it is, just before the Lamb of God comes to deliver God’s people from the horrifying warfare waged by the devil and his minions, that John is shown “another angel flying in mid-heaven.”

          Now what does this angel have to do before the God’s glory is revealed in the Coming of Jesus Christ is glory “to judge both the living and the dead”? He has an “eternal Gospel to proclaim to those residing on the earth and to every nation and tribe and language and people.” This is God’s grace. Even as the final countdown to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is on, the Lord’s desire is that the eternal message of God—both judgment and grace, Law and Gospel, centered in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, be proclaimed until the very last second of time.

In the narrow sense, the term Gospel or Good News refers to the person and work of Jesus Christ in His life, death, and resurrection. Martin Luther, writing in 1521 to his fellow Augustinians at Wittenberg about the abuses of the Divine Service, said, “For if you ask: What is the gospel? you can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.”[1] In a broader sense, however, the Gospel is the whole counsel of God including the proclamation of the Law that shows us our sins and the Gospel that shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ. Again, Luther preaching in 1516 on Psalm 19 proclaimed, “The proper office of the gospel is to proclaim the proper work of God, i.e., grace, through which the Father of mercies freely gives to all men peace, righteousness and truth, mitigating all his wrath. Therefore, it is called a good, delightful, sweet, friendly gospel, and he who hears it finds it impossible not to rejoice. But this happens whenever the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to grieving consciences. . . . But the strange work of the gospel is to prepare a people perfect for the Lord, that is, to make manifest sins and pronounce guilty those who were righteous in their own eyes by declaring that all men are sinners and devoid of the grace by God. But such a message may appear to be the worst kind of a message, and therefore one might much rather call it . . . bad news, sad news.

. . . So the gospel sounds exceedingly harsh in its alien tones, and yet this must be done, in order that it may be able to sound with its own proper tones. This must be made [known] through examples, as I have done previously. Behold, the law says: “You shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery.” Here the proud, who are righteous with the righteousness of works, and have not done these works, already live in security, as though they had fulfilled the law, nor are they conscious of any sin in themselves, but of much righteousness. To those who are so presumptuous, the interpreter of the law, namely, the gospel, comes and says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In saying to all men, “repent!” it undoubtedly declares all to be sinners, and so its brings sad and unwelcome tidings, which is . . . bad news and an alien office. When, however, it says: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” this is good news, and a pleasant and joyous preaching; it is the proper office, namely, of the gospel.”[2]

It is this message of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, judgment and promise, that the Lord Christ wants proclaimed throughout the world up to the very moment when He appears again in glory brighter than the sun at high noon. It is God’s desire that all people fear Him and give Him glory. That’s the message of God’s Word, proclaimed by God’s people, to move people to fear God, give Him glory, and worship Him through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Fact: The Lord Christ is coming again at the end of days. Whether one believes this or not does not change the reality that it is going to happen. Since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the eternal Gospel is to be proclaimed until that day when Christ Himself comes in glory “to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed). To proclaim Law and Gospel is the mission of the Church on earth. It was Luther’s mission to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and the free forgiveness of sins won for the world by Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection and not by the works of satisfaction done by people. Luther brough the foreground the need to hear God’s Law that condemns sin and sinner. There is no escaping God’s wrath because of how “good” you might be, how “nice” you are to other people, or by any of your works. We sinners escape the wrath of God and the punishment of death and hell solely by the merits of Jesus Christ—His blood shed for us, His life given into death and hell for us. For Jesus’ sake alone, God the Father forgives our sins and gives us freely eternal life. This is what St. Paul writes by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 3, “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 [sacrifice of atonement] by his blood, to be received by faith.

. . . For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:20–28 ESV).

          When Martin Luther was living five hundred years ago, the Roman Church was not telling people this very important “eternal Gospel” message. It was telling false things, that people had to make themselves good enough for heaven. And the people then needed to know the truth. God enabled Luther to learn that truth by reading the Bible, God’s Word, His revelatory-unveiling of His mercy and grace in the person and work of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus. And so by the grace of God, Luther worked to get that message out: preaching it, writing about it, helping others to read the Bible so that they might see it for themselves. I guess you could say that Luther was like that angel flying in mid-heaven with that very important message for everyone on earth to hear.

          You and I, my brothers and sisters, are heirs of Luther in that we too have the precious Word of God in Law and Gospel to hear for ourselves and to share. As the Law is proclaimed, we see ourselves in our sins and sinfulness. We see ourselves guilty, separated from God, condemned to His right and just judgment against us which is everlasting death and hell. The Law brings us to our knees so that we, like the tax collector, do not even look up to heaven but cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 ESV). We do not offer that prayer in hopelessness, but in faith. We trust by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone that in Him, God our Father has had mercy on us and has given His Son to die and rise for us and so forgives us all our sins through Jesus’ blood and righteousness. That’s the message of the Gospel of the Lord—you are saved from sin, death, and hell by the precious life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus. And when He does come again in glory, you will see Him as He is, without fear of judgment, wrath, and punishment because you are covered by His blood. In fact, you wear His own garments of righteousness that cover all your sins. You are forgiven. You are justified by grace through faith. You are right with God to live without fear.

          This, then, is the eternal Gospel that you also have the joy and privilege to share. You get to be like God’s angel and tell people about His gift of forgiveness and eternal life. You get to share Jesus and His love and mercy with your words and by your actions. Jesus Christ is coming again. People need to hear the “eternal Gospel” of His Word in both Law and Gospel, judgment and grace. And they need to hear it from you. They need to witness the love of Christ for others in you. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39 ESV).

          Now, “to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13 ESV). Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 36: Word and Sacrament II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 36 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 183.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 20–21.

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