Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | June 26, 2011

Sermon on Romans 3:21-24

The Lutheran church testifies

  • Order of Service: Divine Service II (p28, CWS)
  • Lessons: Isaiah 55:6-11, Romans 10:5-17, Matthew 10:32-39
  • Hymns: “God Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” 200

Downloadable version

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

Lutherans don’t do testimonies, do we?  That belongs to tent revivals with all their hootin’ and hollerin’, their tears and terrors, their fire and brimstone and all-too-many congregational “Amens” and “Hallelujahs!”  “Come on up and testify!”  It seems like too much of a show, too contrived, too emotional, too not German.  It would kill most of you if I asked you to come up here and testify.

Oh, the irony!  Because the Christian Church lives to testify.  Jesus pointed to the Old Testament and said, “It testifies about me (John 5:39)!”  The Holy Spirit grabbed John the Baptist by the shoulder and said, “Testify concerning that light” (John 1:7).  Jesus’ miracles testify concerning Him (John 5:36).  The Father testifies about Jesus (John 5:37, 8:18).  The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus (John 15:26).  “You will be my testifiers!” He told His apostles before ascending (Acts 1:8).  And they did.  The apostles testified anywhere and everywhere.  To great crowds and small gatherings.  Before the Sanhedrin and Roman authorities.  To rich and poor.  To Jew and Gentile.  In Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.  To the ends of the earth.  They testified until it killed them.

Testifying can terrify.  But it doesn’t have to.  Testifying isn’t writing a novel.  Testifying isn’t about creativity and inventiveness.  To testify is to make a statement based on personal knowledge or belief, to express a personal conviction, to make a solemn declaration under oath for the purpose of establishing a fact (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition).  Okay, so that might terrify you.  Testifying puts you on one side or the other.  And we kindasortalike to hedge our bets.  I’ll be for something, but not too loudly.

Imagine God testifying like that: “I have a plan to make righteous these unrighteous sinners” and never saying it.  Or just sort of whispering it.  Or only telling it to one or two people and then swearing them to secrecy.  What a terrible, horrible, no good, awful, despicable God that would be.  If you discovered, while standing on that line on the left, winding your way closer to the doorway marked “Hell” that there was, in fact, a plan of salvation, only no one had ever testified about it….  Well, then God would earn and deserve the rude and obscene gestures directed His way.

But that’s not how God testified.  Paul testified in Romans 3:  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify (Romans 3:21).  God testified, loudly and clearly.  Through the Law and the Prophets.  And the psalms.  And John the Baptist.  And Jesus.  And the apostles.  And the Church down through the ages.  He testified that what we could not and would not do – obey Him – Christ did.  He testified that this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-24).  He told you what you needed to know.  He expressed His conviction to save the unsaveable.  He solemnly declared, under oath, to establish a fact.

And the Lutheran church does the same thing.  Four hundred eighty-one years ago, a group of German princes read a document prepared by their pastors and theologians.  They read it in a city called Augsburg before a meeting of the most important politicians and religious leaders in Germany (and the world).  The Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of most of Europe, sat before them.  Personal representatives of the Pope, Clement VII, sat before them.  Glowering, these men expected the German princes John, George, Ernest, Philip, John Frederick, Francis, and Wolfgang to give in, to confess their impertinence and beg for Roman forgiveness.  Instead, these men, representing their pastors, teachers, churches, and people testified.  They said, among other things:  Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Augsburg Confession, Article IV).  They testified that faith alone saves a person, not any number of prayers, indulgences, fasts, offerings, or hours spent with a rosary.  No saint’s intercession makes a difference, only the intercession of Christ.  They testified to this not out of their own theological creativity, but because they had no other choice.  They read their Bibles and heard:  In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength (Isaiah 45:24).   Abram believed and God credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  …not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9).  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

These Germans had no other choice.  They could only testify to what the Scriptures said.  They went to great lengths to show that what they said at Augsburg was not new or different.  It was only what the church always and everywhere had taught, based on Scripture.  They could not keep silent, as the psalmist says, When I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased.  My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned, then I spoke with my tongue (Psalm 39:3).   Jesus’ brother Jude knew how that felt.  Although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).

We live in a time that loathes testimony.  Preachers say we need more deeds than creeds.  Governments try to eliminate all the differences between denominations through faith-based programs and diversity training.  The peer pressure of friends works to keep you silent.  And too often succeeds.  “Oh, you’re one of those Christians who think you’re so much higher and mightier than the rest of us!”  “Oh, you’re one of those Lutherans who take doctrine too seriously!”  “Oh, you’re those Wisconsin Synod nuts.  You hate everybody!  You think you’re the only ones going to heaven!”  But you have no other choice.  Popular opinion doesn’t rule you.  Your emotions, doubts, and fears don’t norm your activity.  Christ rules and norms you, Christ revealed in the Scriptures!  Testify to that!  We can do no other.

This is what Lutherans do.  We don’t invent doctrine.  We stand in line with what has been made known, what the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Apostles testify.  We teach what the Scriptures teach.  We do not deviate or dissent from that.  We dare not.  Our Lutheran fathers have blessed us with their testimony.  We call it the Book of Concord.  Inside you find the creeds the Church has confessed for over 1,500 years.  You find the documents born in the fires of the Reformation, confessions and testimonies that stand the test of time because they pass the test of Scripture.  They do not judge the Scriptures, they testify to the Scriptures.  They declare the faith.  They help us understand how those who have gone before understood things so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  And most importantly, they proclaim Christ.  At the center of the Lutheran faith, the Lutheran confessions, the Lutheran testimony stands Christ.  Stands the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace we have with God since we have been justified through faith (Romans 5:1) in Christ.  We sinned and were without hope.  God loved and gave us hope when He gave us Christ, the One who stands between us and an angry God, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as the ransom for your sins, which testifies to God that your sins are Christ’s sins and no longer yours.  But His.   God testified to this.  So that He could also testify:  If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).  Amen.

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Responses

  1. Pastor, once again you have it right! If you want to walk the walk you have to talk the talk. Amen.


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