Sermon: “God’s Gift of Grace”             

LSB Series A; Proper 25

Reformation Sunday; October 25, 2020

Epistle Reading: Romans 3:19-28

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

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice in God’s gift of grace, that by grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone, we are saved from the condemnation of the law. We are saved from sin, death, and the devil himself. 

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice that a sixteenth century monk, motivated by the work of the Spirit, boldly pointed out the offenses of the Roman Catholic Church. Where the Church of Rome added works of the law to God’s gift of grace, Luther rested securely and proclaimed confidently, that Jesus was the sole source of salvation.

          We gather here on Reformation Sunday to rejoice that we are Lutherans who remain ever steadfast to the Word of God. As our Confirmands are publicly confessing their faith given to them in their baptism in the special services this weekend, so we also confess that by God’s grace, we will remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of everlasting life (Rev. 2:10). 

          St. Paul writes to the Church in Rome: 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 propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:21-25a).

          Just like our congregation’s confirmands, it was here at the font that you received the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Who was it that brought you to the font? Who was it that cared for you so deeply that they wanted nothing more than for you to be showered in God’s gift of grace, given in Jesus Christ?

          For myself, it was my parents. It was back on April 5, 1981, at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Flushing, Michigan. There I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

          For the apostle Paul, it was in a room in the city of Damascus. After having been blinded by the light of Christ, God’s servant Ananias came to him and gave him back his sight. But even greater than that, Ananias baptized him in the name of the Triune God giving him faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

          At that very moment, Paul’s life changed. Instantly, to the utter confusion of the Christians he had once persecuted, he began proclaiming the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.

          So, what’s so amazing about God’s gift of grace? As we look at Scripture, just ask the woman who was caught in adultery. There she was, drug out by the Pharisees and cast in front of Jesus. With no care or concern for her, they just wanted to try and trap Jesus. They said to Jesus: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 

          Now just picture this woman, eyes glaring at her like knives that would easily pierce flesh. No love. No care. No compassion. She was just a prop for their evil plot.

          But what did Jesus do? He knelt down and wrote in the sand as they continued to question him. He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He continued writing in the sand, until one by one, they each walked away.

          Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.” [John 8:1-11] That’s God’s gift of grace. (Pause)

          “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Our God came not to condemn, but to save. That’s God’s gift of grace.

          Why do we need God’s gift of grace? Because each of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us is righteous, not one. No one understands. No one seeks God. All have turned away. We have become worthless (Romans 3:11-12). We are literally dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).

          That is why God’s gift of grace is so vital. We need to be raised from death, and saved from the condemnation of the law. So, lovingly and graciously, God places His law before us so that we see ourselves as the sinners that we truly are…so that we see that we don’t measure up to God’s demands…that we fail every time… and that we are guilty in every way imaginable…and that we desperately need a Savior…and that Savior is Jesus. (Pause)

          What sins does the law expose in your heart today? What offenses are deeply embedded in your heart? What do you need to confess today?

          Is it the hatred you have toward someone because they aren’t in alignment with your political views? Is it the grudge that you hold because someone said something that rubbed you wrong and you just can’t let go of it? Is it dependence upon alcohol or another substance as these days of the pandemic grow long and discouraging? What is it that is waging war against you trying to drive you away from Christ?

          As both Paul and Luther would attest, the scalpel of the law cuts us deep in the heart, to the very deep recesses, and it exposes us for who we truly are. We are sinners. We don’t just fall short of the glory of God, we plummet into the very depths of hell, which is right where we belong.

          Have we come to terms with just how sinfully depraved we are? Or have we come up with countless ways to try and remedy and justify our sins? Have we compared ourselves to others, or tried to put up pretenses that we have some good within ourselves?

          This is the reality that Martin Luther condemned in his 95 theses. His statement for debate was a call to repentance. In fact the first of those 95 theses stated: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said: “Repent” (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

          This is what Paul would direct us to today as well. There is no work that we could do to ever make up for the awful things that we have thought, said, and done. So, stop trying to do stuff to make up for your failings. There isn’t enough that you can do. You will always fall short.

          It’s like my attempts to dunk a basketball anymore. It just ain’t gonna happen. The vertical leap is no longer there (not that it ever really was). I always fall short.

          But Jesus was up to the challenge. He didn’t fall short. He met the demands of the law in every way. He plunged into the depths of hell itself to save you and me. He pulls us up from sure and certain condemnation to give us life and salvation. This is His gift of grace given to you. 

And there is no expectation of giving anything back in return. Ever been given a gift, and wondered what the catch was? That is not the way it is with Jesus. Gift means gift. Nothing needed in return. 

          Our text says that “we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

          To be redeemed means that you have been bought back from death, and given the gift of life and salvation. It was not purchased by you, no gold or silver would do. The explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed tells us, that your redemption was purchased for you with Christ’s holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

          So that you would not be condemned by the weight of the law, Jesus put Himself forward as the propitiation for you.

The propitiation was the mercy seat of God. It was the lid that rested on the ark of the covenant that contained the Ten Commandments inside. It was the lid with the wings of cherubim spread over it. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the priest would enter the holy of holies, and he would sprinkle blood over the propitiation, over the lid of the ark to make atonement for the sin of the people.

This is what Jesus has done for you. He has covered all your sins with his blood. No matter what offense you come with here today, no matter how heinous or huge it may seem in your mind, it is completely covered and washed away. The condemning nature of the law has been consumed by Christ on the cross. Jesus now looks at you as he looked at that woman caught in adultery and says, “Neither do I condemn you.”

You are not condemned in your sin. Rather, as Paul later writes in the book of Romans: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No matter how far you think you’ve fallen short of the glory of God, you have been justified. Justified. What does that word mean? It means: Just as if I’d never sinned. That’s how God sees you thanks to Jesus. That’s all because of grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s God’s gift, and it’s all for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.