A picture of our faith

There is a saying that states that “one picture is worth a thousand words”. HowScreenshot 2022-10-28 194115 true that is on so many occasions. I first heard about the Bali explosions on the radio. The news reporter attempted to give a verbal description of what had happened and the devastation that had occurred in that otherwise peaceful and fun-loving place. However, it wasn’t until I turned on the TV and saw the pictures of the destruction, the stretchers and ambulances, the overcrowded hospital that the full extent of the situation really hit home. Those pictures described what thousands of words weren’t able to do.

A couple of years when another driver attempted to remodel the look of my car by driving into while making a u-turn, I filled out a form for the insurance company. Included in this form was a space to explain what happened in words and another space to draw a diagram of what happened in the accident. The insurance company realised that often it is easier to draw a picture of what happened.

Companies and churches have logos and if they are good logos they tell you something in picture form about that organisation. The Lutheran Church of Australia has a logo. On it you will see a large gold cross, the Southern Cross and flames of fire – that tells you something about the LCA – the centrality of the cross of Christ, the Spirit at work through the church and the location of the LCA.

There is another symbol that is found in Lutheran Churches throughout the world. You will find this symbol on the front of church buildings and halls, you will find it included in the designs of the magnificent stain glass windows of Lutheran churches all over the place (including St Luke’s). You will find it in books and printed materials that are distinctly Lutheran in origin. I am talking about Luther’s Rose. Luther devised this logo as a summary of his faith. But not only of his faith but also that of all Christians. And so this logo is displayed in our churches as a picture of the Christian faith. You might say it is a sermon in picture form. Since today’s service is dedicated to commemorating the Reformation, it’s worth looking at it because it is a picture that will take a thousand words to describe this summary of our faith. Let’s start.

At the centre of Luther’s logo is a cross. The cross of Jesus is at the every centre of the Christian faith. Without the cross, there is no Christianity.

This cross is black in colour. Black is the colour of sin and evil – the darkness in our hearts and in the world that causes so much grief and pain. John’s Gospel says, “People love the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). Black reminds us of our sinfulness. “Everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence” (Rom 3:23), the apostle Paul reminds us. Black is the colour of death – sin leads to death.

When Luther was a young man he was nearly killed and the thought of dying terrified him. He was not ready to meet God the eternal Judge. And so he left all of his friends, his well paid job, his family, and wealth in his search of a way to get rid of his sin and be right with God. He entered a monastery and prayed, and fasted, and studied, constantly. But still his heart did not feel at peace with God. He always felt too sinful to ever be called into the presence of God if he were to suddenly die. He never felt confident that he would go to heaven. So he prayed, and studied, and fasted more.

But the more he studied, the more he prayed, the more questions he had and the more doubts he had about how worthy he was before God. His sin and God’s judgement terrified him.

It was fortunate for Luther that he was studying the Letter to the Romans and gained a fresh insight into 1:17: The righteous shall live by faith. He realised that a person cannot be made right with God by trying to impress God. Salvation is a gift of faith from God – faith that believes and trusts in what Jesus has done for him. Salvation is freely available to all.

This was the answer to Luther’s searching and praying. He was elated. You cannot be saved without Jesus Christ. You cannot by pass the cross. Our sin is so great that it permeates and infiltrates every part of us, including every thing we say, do and think. It is impossible for us to step aside from our sinfulness for just one moment, and save ourselves, or dedicate ourselves to God, or give ourselves to God. Without God’s intervention, we would have no hope.

And so at the centre of Luther’s Symbol is the cross. The cross is the symbol of God’s acceptance, his forgiveness, his grace. Yes, we are sinners, but by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets us free (Rom 3:23). Through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, we are accepted by God, we are welcomed by our loving heavenly Father.

In Luther’s logo the cross is placed on a red heart. Even though the cross is black, a symbol of sin and death and the shame that the Son of God had to die in such a terrible way because of our sin, the heart is red because it is a living heart. The gospel of forgiveness gives life. We have been saved, given life as children of his family, recreated, reborn, given a new heart to live as God wants us to live.

The heart is a symbol of love. Not only the love that God showed in sending his Son, but for the love that flows through us. We have been renewed to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The red heart indicates that since we are God’s children through Jesus death on the cross, this has an effect on the way we live our lives. As God’s people, we should turn away from everything that is evil and sinful and let God’s love be evident in everything we say and do. Paul says, “You are the people of God…. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another …just as the Lord has forgiven you.  And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).

A heart filled with God’s love is a busy, active heart. There is no room for complacency or laziness. Nobody receives the grace of God for private enjoyment. Nobody receives the gifts of God for private enjoyment. They are meant to be used to serve others.

The red heart is resting on a white rose. The white rose has been connected with the coming of the Messiah. The Christmas carol: Behold, a Rose is growing of loveliest form and grace, etc. The rose is the flower that indicates joy in the midst of the thorns of life.

And so the red heart and living the Christian life rests on the white rose. It is not easy being a Christian, a follower of Jesus in this day and age.
It is easy to be sidetracked,
it is easy to follow the crowd,
it is easy to forget that we have been called by God to be in his family and to do his work. We fail often, we confess that we have not done what God has called us to do. That is part of the thorny world in which we live.

But we experience the joy of the Good News of the Gospel, the joy of being renewed for service, and refreshed with sins forgiven and sent out again to do his work. For Luther, the rose was a symbol of this joy among the thorns of our world.

Because of the joy of knowing Jesus, our service to others is filled with joy. If we served our Lord grudgingly, it would not be service. If we went unwillingly, or with a grumbling spirit, our service would not be worth anything. True service, true worship, true discipleship reflects the joy that we have because of Christ.
What a joy to have a Saviour who loves us!
What a joy to know that our sins are forgiven!
What a joy to know that Jesus gives eternal life!
What a joy it is to be called as Jesus’ disciples in this world to pass on that love and hope of eternal life!

Everything about Jesus fills our hearts with joy. As Paul said: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

The white rose rests on a sky blue background. The sky-blue background of Luther’s logo reminds us of the promise of eternal life that we have through Jesus Christ. Because Jesus rose from the grave, we too shall share in the bliss of heavenly joy and we look forward to that day when we will be in heaven with our Lord and with all those faithful people who have gone before us. It may happen that our life takes a turn for the worst – persecution for our faith, tragedy, ill health, crippling old age, the loss of our ability to think clearly – but there is one thing that doesn’t change or decay. We look forward to entering heaven when this life is over.

The sky-blue background reminds us that our life on this earth is for only a short time. We are here and then we pass away – not into nothingness or oblivion – but into the joy of eternal life.

Around the whole logo is a gold ring. Like a ring that has no end, the joy of heaven has no end, it will go on into eternity. The ring is gold, one of the most precious metals, and so indicating that the promise of eternal life is the most precious of all. In fact, you might say, everything relating to our faith is precious like gold and we value it more highly than anything else in all the world.

So there you have Luther’s Rose; a pictorial summary of the Christian faith. It is a symbol of a faith that is just as true and relevant today as it was in Luther’s time.

The logo not only gives us an understanding of our faith but challenges us to ask:
How central is the Jesus in your life or is he somewhere around the edges?
How readily have you accepted that Jesus has cleansed you from all your sin or do hang on to your guilt?
How ready are you to give up your pet sins and obediently live as someone who belongs to God?
How willing are you serve Christ through humbly serving others?
How well are you sharing the joy of the gospel with others?
How strong is your relationship with your Saviour – or is it a somewhat casual affair?
How confident are you that when you die, you will go to heaven? Or is there some lingering doubt that you won’t be good enough?
In what ways are you letting the love of Christ effect every relationship?

Look at Luther’s logo again and see that Jesus, God’s love, a renewed heart and Christian service are central to everything that we do personally and as a church.

Confess it, believe it and live it!!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

If you hold to my teaching,you are really my disciples.

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.   Christ Jesus speaks words of truth and wisdom to us, just as he did to those who followed him,  and “As he was speaking to the people, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to [those] the Jews who had believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”Martin Luther


Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:   O God, our gracious loving Father, through the words of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us faith, filled us with your Spirit, and  claimed us as children of your heavenly kingdom.  Help us to live our faith in the freedom we have to maintain attitudes of grace. You have shown us your love in so many ways.  Help us to respond to the world around us in compassionate and healthy ways.  You have inspired us with hope in life eternal.  Help us to endure every challenge of this life with obedience to your will.  We come now with confidence before the world and with humility in your presence, loving Father, hear us for the sake of your Son, our risen Saviour, Amen.

With the constant isolations and restrictions, this year seems to have moved so slowly for me.  Even so, it won’t be long before we will be celebrating the Christmas season again.  It is such a blessing to join with our Christian brothers and sisters in the common holidays of Christmas and Easter.  No matter what Christian faith tradition that we follow.

But there is one holiday, that we commemorate uniquely as Christians of the Protestant Reformation, and especially Lutherans.  On or around the 31st of October each year, we dust off our Lutheranism and remember the Reformation.   A recognition that protest against the wrongs of the day is not futile, but is certainly costly and requires perseverance and courage. Although we recognise that protest has been a mark of the faith of God’s people from the beginning.  I recently came to the realisation that protest is a matter of perspective.  Which side of the protest you lean toward.  We certainly have seen uproar on both sides of several protests in the past year. As a Christian of the Reformation, I lean toward the attitude of standing out for the truth, rather than  protesting against any wrong.

It reminds me of something I once read about the two Martins of the Reformation:   At the beginning of the Reformation, Martin of Basle came to a knowledge of the truth, but, afraid to make a public confession, he wrote on a leaf of parchment: “O most merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only by the merit of thy blood. Holy Jesus, I acknowledge thy sufferings for me. I love thee! I love thee!” Then he removed a stone from the wall of his chamber and hid it there. It was not discovered for more than a hundred years.

About the same time Martin Luther found the truth as it is in Christ. He said: “My Lord has confessed me before men; I will not shrink from confessing Him before kings.” The world knows what followed, and today it reveres the memory of Martin Luther who stood out for what he knew to be the truth; but as for Martin of Basle, who even remembers him?

The Prophet Jeremiah stood out for the truth against the idolatry and reckless abandon of Judah, warning of the Babylonian captivity unless they repented.  And during the captivity, Jeremiah strongly affirmed hope against the despair that gripped the captives.  He spoke of encouragement from the Lord God himself.   ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. … I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’  That new covenant was fulfilled in our Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. 

In his day, Christ Jesus stood out for the truth against the unfaith that surrounded him.  John tells us in his Gospel, ‘The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’ 

And yet, Jesus gathered around him Apostles, Disciples and casual followers.  John said, ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’.  In the midst of the unfaith of the world he made, I suspect Jesus treasured everyone who believed in him. 

I read his words this morning where he strongly affirms, with such love, that we can all be his disciples in a simple way, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

Yes, it’s true that some of those casual followers failed to grasp the love that Jesus had for them.  They defended their freedom, forgetting the 400 years held captive in Egypt, and the 70 years held captive in Babylon.  But even more, they had been held captive by the sin of unfaith in the past, and were now free in Christ Jesus to ‘believe in the one whom God had sent.’ 

And so, we take encouragement that in our day, as we hold to the teaching of Christ Jesus, we are his disciples.  We can know the truth, and the truth will set us free to approach God our Father in a right relationship.

The Apostle Paul also stood out for the truth against the dividing wall of the commands and ordinances that separated the Jewish and Gentile Christians of his day.  His epistle of Romans speaks with such strong affirmation that ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’  We are all freed by Christ Jesus as he says himself, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 

But the reality of standing out for the truth, and standing out against error will always be with those who believe.  In the 16th Century, Martin Luther represented the reformers of his time, standing out against the spiritual abuses of church leaders and clergy of the day.  Abuses of the Scriptures that Luther considered would harm their relationship with God.

Luther stood out for the truth that would foster renewal among Christians.  He strongly affirmed his favourite Scripture verse: Romans 1:17:  “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  What a powerful reality we have from Paul in his letters, from Luther and from the writing of the other Protestant Reformers. 

A right relationship with God is expressed every day as we live the faith we have in God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  With the hope we have in life that extends far beyond what we experience now.  This is the heart of the Reformation message as well.  And of course Luther held to the simple truth that has been the hallmark of Reformation Churches:

Salvation is received by God’s grace alone through Faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone,  as we find in the Scriptures alone.

If we want to live by the principals of the Reformation, we can look to Paul for advice.  Paul wrote earlier in his Letter to the Church at Rome:  ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. .. For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Ro 1:16–17 NIV)

Our right relationship with God was sealed at the cross of Christ, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus.  The truth is that this is the only way to experience our right relationship with God.  There is no other way.  As Christ Jesus spoke to us, as Paul was inspired and explained to us, and as Luther discovered in Romans and affirmed to us.  It was that clear understanding of the Gospel that spurred the Reformation.

As we face the challenges of living in this broken world, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead us, to comfort us when we miss the mark, and to guide us in the decisions we are called to make as Christians. 

And now here in Port Macquarie, we also have the advice and encouragement of our District, and our Bishop Robert Bartholomeaus, to grow together in the wisdom of the Gospel, to go out into our community with attitudes, words, and actions that demonstrate the love of Christ Jesus, and to trust our Congregation leaders who enable us to fulfil our mission:  of Inspiring people to  ‘LIVE a purposeful LIFE, growing TOGETHER In JESUS CHRIST!’

In the words of Paul, ‘Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.’  Amen.

Rev David Thompson. 

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all. Our Lord, Jesus Christ tells us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;


 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  Today, we celebrate the truth of the Good News.  Good News that sets us free to be in a right relationship with God our Father.  Good News that ‘the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ‍ for all who believe.’ 

Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  we live our continuously new covenant of salvation received through faith in the sacrifice of your Son, our wonderful Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Guide our time together this morning as we remember the remarkable history of the reformation spurred on by your presence in the world through your Holy Spirit.  Help us to embrace your word, and receive once again the reforming power of your Gospel message as we worship You. God our gracious Father, hear our prayer in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In these trying times of virus pandemic, it’s commo to experience many of the feelings that would have been evident during the time of the Reformation in Europe.  They were experiencing a plague that kept arising over the past two hundred of years.  Suspicion and isolation were often a part of life in the urbanisation of Europe as they evolved from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.  Some even call the 14th and 15th Century the Reformation Age.

We discover in a biography, that Martin Luther spent his younger years isolated as a monk battling his personal demons. Luther felt utterly worthlessMartin Luther and incapable of carrying the burdens of priesthood. He was often, he wrote, pursued and tormented by Satan and his cohorts.

Before his spiritual reformation, Luther was discovered in his monk’s cell weeping because of his sins. His confessor, another young monk, simply didn’t know what to do, so he began repeating the Apostles’ Creed.  When he came to the last part of the creed, he spoke with reverence the words, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; ” when Luther interrupted him, “Wait!” “What did you say?”

 And the dialogue continued, “What do you mean, what did I say?”  “That last part. What was it again?” “Oh, that. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.'”

“The forgiveness of sins,” Luther said as if savouring each word. “The forgiveness of sins. Then there is hope for me somewhere. Then maybe there is a way to God.”

In his search for that ‘way’, while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther suddenly understood the meaning of God’s grace and how it is appropriated by faith. In that moment he came to understand that he was justified before God through faith and not by his works.

Luther discovered the way to God. Jesus Christ died to provide that way. The reality that mended Luther’s broken heart.  That gave him a passion for Scripture which would remain a hallmark of his life.  That there is one who sees our broken hearts and cares, who forgives and heals, who makes whole.  (ChristianGlobe Illustrations, King Duncan, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

But Luther was not alone.  The wondrous discovery of the truth of Christ was awakened in others as well.  Even another Martin.  At the beginning of the Reformation, Martin of Basle came to a knowledge of the truth.  But, afraid to make a public confession, he wrote on a leaf of parchment: “O most merciful Christ, I know that I can be saved only by the merit of thy blood. Holy Jesus, I acknowledge thy sufferings for me. I love thee, I love thee.”  Then he removed a stone from the wall of his chamber and hid it there. It was not discovered for more than a hundred years.

What made the difference between these two Martins?  When Martin Luther affirmed in his heart that truth as it is in Christ. He said: “My Lord has confessed me before men, I will not shrink from confessing Him before kings.” The world knows what followed, and today we remember that  Martin Luther made a difference.  But as for Martin of Basle, who difference did he make?  —Sunday School Times

‘Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  This truth makes us free.  Free to trust in Jesus. Free to express our right relationship with God every day by living in Christ.

Living without Christ is like driving a car with its front end way out of line. You can manage to stay on the road, if you grip the steering wheel with both hands and hang on tight. Any lapse of attention, however, and you’re out of control. It’s a constant struggle.  

I can imagine that we are sometimes like Luther, almost weeping over the wrong that seems to be happening in our lives.

Living in the truth that brings the freedom in Christ, is like getting a front-end alignment. The lack of control is corrected from the inside. Not to say there won’t be bumps and potholes ahead that will still try to jar us off the road. Temptations and challenges will always test our alertness to steer a straight course. We can hardly afford to fall asleep at the wheel. But the basic flaw in the moral mechanism has been repaired.  In a way we can never do ourselves.  By Christ Jesus our Saviour.  (adapted from Robert Schmidgall:  Illustrations from ChristianGlobe, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.)

The Apostle Paul gives us the best example of this.  He began his service to God with complete assurance in his own righteousness and piety.  He just knew he was right in putting his energies toward the destruction of the followers of Jesus.  Like that car that was out of alignment.  And then he encountered Christ Jesus in his full power.  And Paul realised just how frail and useless his misguided trust in himself had been.  When Paul turned his complete trust in and reliance upon  Jesus, his passion, energy, and will were transformed into the powerful servant and apostle that Christ Jesus knew he would be.

Paul wrote in his Letter to the Church at Rome:  ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. .. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  (Ro 1:16–17 NIV)

For Christians in the 21st Century, speaking of righteousness has become a challenging proposition.  When we speak of being righteous before God, it appears to be a two sided coin.  On the one side, it almost seems to be boasting about our piety and purity.  And on the other side, it almost seems to be placing an obstacle to God.    And so, most Christians are really timid about sharing our righteousness before God.

In reality, righteousness simply speaks of our right relationship with God.  That right relationship with God, was sealed at the cross, and offered to us as children of God by our faith in Christ Jesus.  That is the only way to experience righteousness.  There is no other way.

Just as Paul received from Christ Jesus and explained to us.  And as Luther discovered in Paul’s letter to the Romans and reinforced so often.  A right relationship with God and with each other is the clear understanding of God’s love and mercy displayed in the Gospel that spurred the Reformation. 

The Reformation wasn’t about religion, or society, political power or culture. The Reformation was simply about returning to the freedom given to us through the Gospel.  Freedom to trust in Jesus Christ and live with confidence.  As Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”    

When Martin Luther penned the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” I believe he was expressing his faith in the truth that makes us free. 

‘A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon, our faithful helper in all need, our stay, whate’re may happen.’    And later, ‘for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected.  Ask ye: who is this?  Christ Jesus it is.’

That hymn, first published in 1529, has been called “Battle Hymn of the Reformation” and with good reason. It is said that the Reformation touched off one of the most influential movements in world history.  And yet, in the 21st Century we are hard-pressed to discover any worshipping community, outside of Lutheran, to remember and celebrate.  Because it is also said that the Reformation set the spark of disunity and discord among Christians that has diminished the Church’s authority to effect positive change in the world today. 

Certainly, I would agree, that if Reformation Day only celebrated the pride we have in being Lutheran, then it shouldn’t be a matter of celebration.  But if Reformation Day is about truth, than the Reformation can be celebrated with both humility and confidence. The truth that Martin Luther rediscovered from Scriptures.  The truth that was hidden by centuries of faulty doctrine.  The truth that Jesus says ‘will make us free’.

And so, for me, the Reformation does matter, and Reformation Day still matters too. It matters, because confessing the truth of our salvation still matters.  And also confessing the truth about our sins still matters.  Confessing the truth about God’s grace at work to save us still matters.   The truth that the Scriptures tell us about every human being, as both a saint and a sinner at the same time still matters.  A saint, who has been brought into a right relationship with God.  And a sinner, who still falls far short of all that God wants from those who are his children.

A sinner who know sins, who feels regrets, who suffers from the broken heart of broken relationships with God and with each other. 

And a saint who knows God’s love, who feels God’s forgiveness, who releases guilt to God’s grace.  God who says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Through Christ we have received what we could never, on our own, earn or deserve – eternal salvation.  Because of Christ Jesus we have been given the gift of eternity, through faith, by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here at St Peter’s we have been through a rough year, from the last Reformation Sunday.  First by drought and fire, then by pandemic and isolation, and finally by a decision that was brought before us that has affected all of us.  As we now engage with the road ahead to discover what is next for St Peter’s, we are reminded that we are united in Christ and the love of God.  United by the confession of our faith and the Gospel of grace.  United by the body and blood of Christ Jesus, and the care we have for each other.  Let’s enter this new year as one body in Christ Jesus, and see what brings before the next Reformation Sunday.

We are free to receive and share, to believe and confess, to teach and promote the truth of God’s grace.  A message we are honour bound to carry forward, as disciples of Jesus Christ in our time and this place.

As we both remember and celebrate the reformation, and become its voice in our day, the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. David Thompson.

Reformation Sunday


Romans 3:19-28

‘Justification by faith’


And at the heart of the Reformation was the teaching of justification. And at the centre of this teaching of justification is our text, from Romans 3.

Justification is about how I can be made right

David: 0428 667 754

with God. It’s a legal, forensic picture; as I stand before the judgment seat of God, And the focus of the Reformation was to make clear that this can never happen by our own strength or anything we do, but we are freely justified – declared to be righteous – before God, because of Jesus Christ. Justification is by grace through faith.
But now, over 500 years on from the Reformation, some people may ask, is the Christian teaching of justification still relevant to modern people?
Some don’t think it is.Some people say that people today don’t resonate with this legal and forensic language of St Paul that affected Luther so profoundly, and so although it was important back then, it’s not for today. But that is dead wrong.

People today are looking to be justified just as much as they were in the first century and the 16th century. We human beings in fact spend a whole lot of time and energy in life in just this endeavour, trying to justify ourselves, our lives, our actions, to ourselves, to others, and at some deeper level, before God.

This came home to the writer of this sermon when he was saw a big bumper sticker across the back of someone’s car which read, ‘justify your existence’. That is essentially the exact opposite to the Christian teaching we hear today. But the very fact that people have “justify your existence” ,  not just as a sticker on their cars, but even tattooed on their bodies, tells me that this message of justification is one that people need to hear just as much today as ever before. So let’s see what we learn about justification by faith in Jesus Christ from our text today. Let’s see its need, its source and its effect.

So first is the need for justification. It’s summed up by Paul in these famous words,
‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.

The problem is that in the cosmic courtroom of God’s justice, every single human being stands guilty and condemned, and has no way of doing anything to justify themselves.

This is the problem. And our text begins with the culmination of an argument St Paul has been making along these lines for about 2 and a half chapters. Acting Like a prosecuting attorney, St Paul has laid out his case. Whether you are a Jew who knows God’s law and doesn’t keep it, or whether you’re a Gentile who has never heard of the Ten Commandments; or maybe you know the glory of God in creation, and are aware of the law written on your heart: no matter who you are, you have not worshiped God as you should, and you have not lived as he would have you live. That leaves us standing alone in front of God, guilty and condemned.

It all crescendos at the start of our text where Paul says that this all means ‘every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God’. ‘Every mouth may be silenced’.
Kids are good at making excuses, aren’t they? You confront them about something and they are very quick to blame their brother or sister. Or it was the kids next door. It wasn’t really their fault, it was the tigers hiding in the backyard that made the mess! There’s almost always an excuse. But then every now and then, you catch them out don’t you? You have all the evidence and all the excuses covered, You ask them in detail about whether it was them that broke the jar because they were climbing the shelves wanting to get to the biscuits, and they just look at you in stunned silence. They have nothing to say. They are speechless before this indisputable evidence and accusation. Their mouth have been silenced.

That’s the picture of you and me left on our own before Almighty God. There is nothing to say, no excuse we can make, no defence worth mounting. We are guilty and condemned and there is nothing in our own strength that we can do about it. That was the problem 2000 years ago, 500 years ago, and it’s still the problem today.

But thank God it’s not the end of the story. Because now we come to what justification actually is; where it comes from; its source. Rather than having to do it ourselves, to make things right with God by our own strength and lives, rather than having to justify our existence, God’s does it for us.
We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’.  

The source of our justification is Jesus Christ and what he does for us on the cross. On our own we stand guilty and condemned before God. The wonder is that God himself makes us right with him by a sheer act of grace and mercy which we receive by trusting in it. It comes through faith. But how does God do this? What sort of judge is this and what sort of court is this where the judge simply declared guilty people to be innocent? If that’s what God does for no apparent reason, there’s a big problem, because God would no longer be just.

But this is why it’s so important for us to never lose sight of the fact that we are justified before God on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood for us on the cross. When God declares us righteous in his sight, this is no kangaroo court where the judge change his verdict on a whim. This is not just God letting us off the hook because he’s in a good mood. This is no legal fiction. Jesus lived the life of perfect righteousness, and he died the death you and I deserved. It’s because of what he has done that God declares us righteous.

‘God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in him, we may become the righteousness of God’.

 This is how marvellously God is both the just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. Now notice here too how St Paul is piling up the different images to try and get at the true wonder of what Jesus does on the cross. He moves from the legal picture of justification, that we declared righteous because of the death of Jesus, to the slave market picture of redemption: that we are bought back from slavery because of death of Jesus: and then to the picture of the temple where Christ is a sacrifice of atonement. All of that pointed forward to Jesus’ once for all sacrifice, where his blood covers our sin and guilt, so that we can be righteous in God’s sight.

In 2008, there was a terrible terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, India where 200 people were killed. Afterward a reporter interviewed a survivor who had been at the hotel for dinner that night, who had been pulled under a table by a friend when they heard gunshots.  The terrorists had come striding through the restaurant systematically shooting, thinking they had killed everyone. Miraculously, this man had survived. When the interviewer asked the guest how he lived when everyone else around him had not, he replied in a very memorable way. He said, “All I can think is that when the terrorists looked at me I was covered in someone else’s blood, and they took me for dead.”

Covered in the blood of another.  That’s what the death of Jesus accomplishes and that is source of our justification before God.
It’s a gift to us,
Not something we earn,
We receive it in faith.
You do not need to justify your existence. In Jesus Christ God has done it for you. And that is still as relevant for us today as it ever has been. 


So we’ve looked at why we need this justification, what it is and where it comes from. Then finally we ask, what is its effect?
What does it change practically in our lives?

There are many different ways to answer this question. Our Gospel reason points us to the freedom this means for us. Since we are declared righteous in God’s sight, we do not have to spend our lives trying to justify ourselves to ourselves or others and most especially God, we are free.
Have you ever seen a broadcast of a big court case when someone who feared a guilty verdict and sentence is declared innocent and free? The utter relief and joy on their faces, people weeping and hugging each other, This freedom we have from condemnation because we justified by grace through faith in Christ, has a profound effect in our lives.

Another way St Paul describes this effect is having peace with God, and having access to his grace. But actually here in our text, interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, these are not so much in focus. The effect of our being justified here is seemingly much more mundane and everyday. The effect is that boasting is excluded. What’s fascinating here is that this teaching on justification which seems so focused on our relationship with God, the vertical dimension if you like, for St Paul has an immediate application to how we live with each other, an immediate horizontal dimension too. What seems to be in focus here is the whole Jew and Gentile dynamic in the early church. So Paul is driving home that it does not matter who you are, all have sinned. All are justified by grace through faith in Christ alone. To be justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to lead to humility, not boasting. And this is worth us thinking about again as we celebrate the Reformation. However we celebrate, in whatever ways we commemorate the Reformation, any boasting in ourselves or our tradition or our denomination is completely excluded.

Again this is still as relevant today as ever. Our pride and boasting still damages our relationships, damages our Christian community, and does not make for a winsome witness to the Gospel. So may this wonderful truth of God’s justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, drive out from us all boasting.
As Paul writes elsewhere,

‘Christ Jesus has become to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Despite the Reformation, we still all fall short of the glory of God.

Therefore we rejoice that God has sent his Son to die for us, so that in him we can be justified and righteous in his sight. This will remove our pride and boasting and lead us to humility and love for our brothers and sisters whoever they are.
And all of this is still as relevant today as it ever has been.

In the name of Jesus, Amen. 

Reformation Sunday, 28th October 2018

“Sermon for the 52nd anniversary of the LCA”
Reformation Sunday, 28th October 2018Martin Luther
Rev. John Henderson, Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
(Edited slightly by Pastor André Meyer, for clarity)
Text: 1 Peter 2:4-10.
Pray: Father, thank you for this time that we may hear your Word through our

Bishop. Open our hearts by your Holy Spirit, and grow us in faith together for Christ’s sake, Amen.dhuff

Dear friends, what extraordinary things Saint Peter says about Christians! ‘… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…’ But doesn’t that sound a little ‘over the top’?
Before we get any fancy ideas, however, let’s think about the audience to whom those words were first written. Peter the apostle wrote to small churches scattered around the western end of the Roman Empire around the time of the emperor Nero (who hated Christians). These were marginalised groups in social and religious isolation. Peter calls them ‘exiles.’ He wrote to tell them that no matter how isolated or alone they might feel, they still belonged to Christ, they were still part His Body, the church, and that they should be confident in living out their faith.
During those early days, it was important for Christians to stay together. Personal
contact and continuity of teaching were critical to the survival of the church. 1 Peter, then, emphasises unity in Christ and the gospel, and the shared life and discipline that exists in the church. God chooses the church. As Christians, we can live the faith confidently, because we are God’s own people.
Those were the early days. The whole church on earth was younger than the Lutheran Church of Australia is today. But there was no New Testament. They were still sorting out how Jewish and Gentile Christians could co-exist despite centuries of division. They had no confessional writings to help them unpack the truth of the faith. They had the Hebrew Scriptures, the lived experience of the risen Jesus, they had letters like 1 Peter, and the gift of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. Although at that time, the first generation, those who had met Jesus in the flesh,were dying – though rarely by natural means. Many, even most, died as martyrs for the faith.
And that’s how it is. The Christian church has been through many tough times. Yet
Christians have endured. Faith and the church have always been God’s work, not ours, right from the beginning.
On this 52nd anniversary of the Lutheran Church of Australia, this helps us put things into perspective. Like the early Christians, it’s not our size, our institutions, our organisational prowess, our wealth, or our position in society that are most important. Christian unity and faithfulness in confession and life – these matter most. We depend 100% on the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a gift, which we receive by faith, against the odds. It is never our work; it is not our church. It’s always God’s work, His church. It all hinges on that reality.
When Lutheran Christians first came to Australia in the 19th Century, they came for a number of reasons. In the 1830’s, a major ‘push’ factor was a church union forced on them by the Prussian king. For a short period, the Lutheran faith became illegal, so they looked for somewhere else to live and worship. Those early settlers were united in their stance against the king’s new law, but they were not so united on how to teach and practice the faith in their new land. Inevitably, then, there were divisions which caused a great deal of sadness. Those divisions afflicted the health of Australian Lutherans for the next 120 years, all through the next waves of migration and settlement.
Over the years, however, an amazing thing happened… the people of the church
continued to plead and pray for its unity. And, occasionally, unity would ‘break out.’
They could agree happily, for instance, on sending missionaries to Central Australia, and what an amazingly positive impact that had, and still has. Local congregations cooperated. But sadly, the leaders still argued, so divisions continued. Eventually, the plea for unity overcame the scandal of division. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church declared altar and pulpit fellowship in 1965, it sealed the pathway to full union. Symbolically, on Reformation Day 1966, the divided Synods ceased to be, and a united Lutheran Church, one synod, was born. That’s why we are celebrating today!
The concept of one church spanning two countries, Australia and New Zealand, is quite rare in global Lutheranism. In North and South America, in Africa, and in much of Asia, there are multiple Lutheran bodies. In 1966, sadly, a handful of our pastors and congregations did not join the new church, but, the vast majority chose a common life as one body in Christ. And today, we still believe that what unites us – God’s call to a shared faith and witness in Christ – is so much greater than what could divide us. And so, when we don’t agree on something, we turn again, as our ancestors did, to the Word of God and our Confessions. We seek to work it out together, because we are committed to one another in Christ.
For 52 years, we have repeatedly shown our commitment to each other. We have asked our theologians, our pastors, our Synods, and our lay-people to carefully work through issues, sometimes more than once. And as we do it, we have deliberately chosen to stay together and to pray together. We choose to give each other time, space, and grace. We treat each other with compassion and respect.
For decades now, as we well know, one of the issues we have confronted is the
ordination of men and women. It is still a sensitive matter. It is testing us as a united synod. Another test for us is ‘Renewal.’ How does the Holy Spirit work among God’s people? What does that look like? How do we understand baptism, faith, and spiritual gifts? As we explore these important questions, we will do what we have always done.
We will go back to Scripture, re-read the Confessions, pray, talk and worship together, and we will sort things out. That’s just what we do. It’s just who we are.
Unity of faith and witness is not just important for us, but it’s important for the world.
In this present age, materialism and spiritual apathy are widespread. Many people are also hostile to faith and the church. The church is not trusted as it once was, sometimes for very good reason. So today, Christians must work together to address these realities, because we are a message of hope for society in a time when many people, despite their affluence, live in despair and meaninglessness.
Whatever difficulties we confront today Saint Peter brings us back to basics. Let’s
remind ourselves of what those basics are:
 Firstly, belonging to the family of faith does not depend on where you live,
what you have (possessions), or who you are. God elects you. God says ‘yes’ to
you because of Jesus. God makes you holy. He sets you apart as His people. God
says ‘yes’ to you; ‘yes’ to us. (1 Peter 2:9a)
 Secondly, it means we can tell the world about the great things God has done
for us. That God’s plan for His church. The world needs Jesus, and He asks us to
introduce Jesus to others. We are to tell the world the message of how we have
been called out of darkness and into His marvellous light. God’s ‘yes’ to us,
means that we can now say ‘yes’ to others. (1 Peter 2:9b)
These are Peter’s basics. Once we were nobodies, but now we are God’s people. We are somebody’s! Once we were under the law, but now we are under the gospel. It’s true, God really has had mercy on us. (1 Peter 2:10)
The Bible is crystal clear that the work of salvation, of becoming and remaining God’s people, is God’s work. The Lutheran Confessions back that up. Justification and faith are pure grace. That’s why the Lutherans were so radical during the Reformation era 500 years ago. Many people in the church at that time had forgotten this basic truth. It’s still easy for us to forget it today. That’s why we are a confessional church. That’s why we hold to God’s Word – so that we will not forget. Every day we learn to live in the free grace, love, and mercy of God. Every day the grace of baptism turns us away from sin, and God teaches us once more what it means to trust Him.
We are here today because millennia of Christians have passed this faith on to us.
Through good times and bad, times of ease and times of hardship, times of growth and times of persecution, times of wealth and times of poverty, times of certainty and times of doubt, and even times of genocide or apostasy, the Church has endured, Christians have endured. Against all the odds, the faith continues to be proclaimed. The church of Jesus Christ endures, and you and I, are part of it. Our witness today includes all who have gone before us, and all who will follow us – because we pass on the message of Christ to them.
And like them, that great cloud of witnesses, we have the immense privilege and task of telling the world today about the mighty acts of our God. At 50 years old, the LCA is in its early days. We have so much growing, so much living, and so much witnessing still to do. We have barely begun. Jesus is alive. We are resurrected in Him. We have the Holy Spirit. We are rich in everything we need. God has called us, set us apart, and made us His people. We are free to live in the promise of God, and to experience the new life of Christ. So yes, we are ready, ready for the work God has prepared for us to do. Let’s go on and do it confidently, sharing in Christ’s mission to the world. Let’s tell everyone how He has brought us out of darkness, and into His marvellous light. And let’s do it together, and let’s do it joyfully, in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Read by Derryl Huff