1 Peter 1:17-19
The Bible passage for the basis of our message this morning comes from 1 Peter 1:17-19 which says:
“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
The message of the Reformation and of Martin Luther is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. God saves us by His grace. We receive His grace when we put our faith in Christ as the One who died for our sins and then rose from the dead on our behalf. We cannot work for our salvation nor can we earn it through any human merit. We receive salvation as a gift from God. God gets all the credit and we receive from Him the gift of eternal life in Christ.
Seems to be pretty straightforward right? Grace and works cannot co-exist when it comes to forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. But what may seem pretty straightforward right now at this very moment is the very thing which Martin Luther was battling against in the early 1500’s and what sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Historians like dates, so even though God was working on the heart and mind of Martin Luther before 1517, people like to say that the Reformation started when Martin Luther nailed his “Disputation on the Power and the Efficacy of Indulgences” or better known as “The 95 Theses” to the doors of the Castle Church in the heart of Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Luther wanted to have a civilized academic debate about the sale of indulgences.
Now, what are these indulgences. In short, they were way for Rome, for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church to make money. You see, Pope Leo X needed money to not only help with the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, but also to support his lavish love of the arts and to fund his projected Crusades against the Turks. In need of money, Pope Leo reinstated the sale of indulgences.
Within the Catholic Church, an indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for their sins. At the time of Luther, it was being taught that those who purchased an indulgence were absolved, that they were forgiven from all temporal, all earthly punishments and were granted salvation, granted eternal life. Forgiven by the priest in worship and with the purchase of an indulgence, one was assured, was guaranteed of eternal life.
For Luther … this was wrong. It was wrong because it was contrary to what the Scriptures taught. Paul writes that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation, eternal life is a gift from God, a gift which is freely given through faith alone in Christ alone. This is what is at the heart and center of the Reformation. Buying a piece of paper with the seal of the church on it does not guarantee you eternal life.
The Reformation was not and is not about Luther wanting to break away from the Roman Catholic church and start up a church in his name. That’s actually the last thing Luther ever wanted. Luther noticed errors in what the church was teaching versus what the God was teaching through the Scriptures. He pointed out those errors so that the church could fix her teachings. Luther simply wanted the people of his time to know the truth about the gospel of Jesus Christ and to find relief that Christ is the one who paid the price for sin, once for all. It is through Christ alone by which one is saved.
But that seems too easy right? Maybe it’s because we continue to battle this same issue today. We don’t battle it in the sense of arguing against the sale of indulgences, but we battle it through the idea that I need to be good enough, I need to make sure that I do what I need to do to make sure that I earn my forgiveness, that I earn my salvation. We believe that we have to do something.
G. Campbell Morgan, a well-known pastor of the last century of Westminster Chapel, near Buckingham Palace in England, was once approached by a soldier who said he would give anything to believe that God would forgive sins. “But,” he said, “I cannot believe He will forgive me if I just turn to Him. It’s too cheap.” Dr. Morgan said to him, “You were working the mine today. How did you get out of the pit?” The soldier answered, “The way I usually do. I got into the cage and was pulled to the top.” “How much did you pay to come out of the pit?” “I didn’t pay anything.” “Weren’t you afraid to trust yourself to that cage? Was it not too cheap?” The man replies, “Oh, no! It was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft.” … The man saw the light that it was the infinite price paid by the Son of God for our salvation, which comes to us by faith and not by anything we can do.
A cry during Luther’s day from John Tetzel who was trying to get people to buy an indulgence for them or a loved one was, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Essentially … you need to do something, you need to pay something in order to be free and have eternal life.
Peter writes in our text today, “for you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1:18-19). Freed from the empty way of life, freed from the life of sin which has been passed down throughout history, which has been passed down from when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Luther says in one of his writings, “Through sin, the devil had captured us. We are neither God’s children nor heirs. But here it says that we should return again to the former honor of being God’s children and recipients of everlasting life.”
You are freed, not with a coin in the coffer, but as Peter said, as we confessed in the meaning of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
This is the heart of the Reformation. The heart of Luther’s Small Catechism is the Creed. The heart of the Creed is Christ. The heart of Christ pumps blood. It isn’t metaphor or some random idea … but a vivid reality. A reality witnessed and recorded as Christ suffered, bled, and died on a rugged cross.
And why? Why does Jesus shed His blood? Because He wants you! He wants you to be with Him and the cost of his blood was the price which Jesus was willing to pay (Heb. 9:22). You were lost and condemned. You deserved only what you earned. The wages of sin, sin that rejects God and hoards silver and gold as if life depends on it, deserves death. And yet, your sin and your price did not stop Jesus.
The One who is limitless limited Himself to a human body with flesh and blood so that He could spend that flesh and blood on you! He willingly redeemed you by His blood which now flows from His cross to you through water, bread, and wine. As it flows, it is delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation to you and for you.
This is the heart of the Reformation, this is the heart of the Christian faith. Just like with the man riding in the elevator out of the mine shaft, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone defies all rational explanation. From God’s heart, the blood of Jesus flows and He invites you to believe that it’s for you. Christ’s living blood flows, it is transfused through your veins as Christ gives you His eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.