While going around town here recently, I saw an advertisement for a Revival. This is not an uncommon thing in Oklahoma, so it shouldn’t have been surprising – and it wasn’t. However, being as it was so close to Reformation day, it made me think. The Missouri Synod in its 160 years of existence has always shied away from Revivalism – some of C. F. W. Walther’s great writings dealt with why Revivalism wasn’t that good – why it shouldn’t be our focus. What is needed in the Church isn’t revival – the Church is in need of Reformation.
Revivals tend towards making people excited – let’s get people excited about being Christians! Being excited isn’t a bad thing – but is it the main thing? Let me give an example. Notre Dame football has been bad this year, historically bad – and ESPN has been showing some of the Friday Night pep rallies they’ve been having – and they’ve been exciting, people are getting fired up – and come Saturday, the football team still loses. That pep rally doesn’t fix the problem – the problem is the team is playing poorly. The football team needs to get their act in gear, that’s what will fix things – and no pep rally can do that.
A revival is basically a religious pep rally – let’s get fired up. Not a bad thing to be fired up – but does it make you a better Christian? It’s not a bad thing to be enthusiastic – but does your excitement give you growth as a Christian? Hear what Christ Jesus says. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There’s the key. What causes freedom, what sets us free? Is it our excitement? Is Jesus standing here like a cheerleader telling us to be aggressive, be be aggressive? No. Abide in Christ’s Word, and that Word, that Word of Truth will set you free. The Word causes freedom. And that is why we are always in need, not of revival, but of reform.
As Christians, we need to be reformed, reshaped by Christ and His Word – because the simple fact is sin breaks us down. Sin makes us careless, sin makes us sloppy. Sin makes us indifferent, and we don’t put into practice what we know we ought. Excitement doesn’t counter sin. Basketball season is coming up, and if Coach Cue sees that the team isn’t rebounding well, he’s not going to say, “Boy, I hope we have a good pep rally so the players will be excited and rebound well” – he’s going to put the team to work on rebounding, teaching them how, reinforcing what they have learned and stopped using – put them back into shape – reform them. Likewise, for the Christian, it doesn’t matter how excited you are if you are doing the wrong thing, if you don’t understand God’s Word. Listen. They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Do you hear the passion in their response? Do you hear the self pride – we are the offspring of Abraham! How can you say such things about us? They had passion, they had excitement. The only problem – they were wrong.
Now, they misunderstand Jesus – they think at first Jesus is thinking about physical slavery. Not Jesus’ point, but even if that was Jesus’ point – they would be wrong. Let me ask you a question – had the offspring of Abraham even been enslaved? Let’s see – there was Egypt – yep, slaves there. Moses, the Exodus, all that. Let’s see – the Babylonian captivity, where Jerusalem is burned down and they are dragged off to Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo, Daniel – all those guys. And even in Jesus day – they are ruled by the Romans – not quite slaves, but a conquered people. Yet they have fierce excitement and pride. But it’s misplaced, and they don’t understand, they don’t see what is truly happening.
But this is worse than not understanding history – this is worse than not recognizing the political realities of the day. Hear again the Words of Jesus. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” That’s the point, that’s the true bondage these people had. A bondage to sin. Sin comes up and fights their wills, thoughts of wickedness come unbidden into their mind – cruel words come out of their mouths – hands designed for love and service to the neighbor work his harm. That is the bondage that Christ speaks of – being trapped and caught in sin.
That danger lies in wait for you. How often does sin try to trap and enslave you? How many things that you know are wrong seem so, so right? How many pet sins do you have – things that you sort of just end up doing – and certainly don’t want anyone to know about them? This is the struggle for us human beings – the struggle against sin. This is the attack we face – Satan trying to break us and shatter us – lead us down the path to hell with the allures of sin.
And the problem is – we forget that sin is the main problem – and that it’s a problem we can’t solve on our own. The Jews of Jesus day had forgotten how dire a problem sin was. Oh, we’ll be fine, we’re children of Abraham. That’s what their hope was, that was their solution – and it was a false solution. They were in need of Reform – being shaped again into what believers in God are to be. In Luther’s day – the Church had strayed, had fallen into error. The focus was more upon what you did, your works that evened out the score against your sin – and Christ was now the angry judge who would see if you were up to snuff. The Church was in need of reform. And what of our own day? What does the Church at large bandy about as being important? Learn how to get your share of blessings from God – live your best life now! Is life about the body – is our time here on earth going to be our best? I thought that would be heaven! If you find life boring we’ll make it exciting for you! We’ll entertain you, put on a good show! Is Church really about entertaining you – well, if it’s about entertainment, no wonder people stay home and watch tv – after all, there’s no remote in the world that will let you swap between pastors when one doesn’t get you fired up like you want him to. The Church today is in need of reform.
Reform, being reshaped – whether you are talking about the Church at large, or a congregation, or an individual – only comes about by the Word of God. We sing that in the classic reformation hymns. “With might of ours can naught be done.” The sin I’m struggling against – isn’t going to be conquered by what I do. “But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.” Christ has to do it – if there is to be reform – reform in your life, in this congregation, in the Church it must be brought about by God – it must be brought about by a return to the Word of God, and a renewed focus not on excitement, not on what I do for Jesus, but a renewed focus on what Christ Jesus has done for me by going to the Cross and shedding His blood to win me freedom and forgiveness from sin. It has to be about Christ – that is what He tells us. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. As slaves to sin, we’d have no rights, no ability to call upon God, no hopes of heaven – none of that. No rights to the house of God. But the Son, it’s his house – and He is in charge, and so if He declares you to be free – then you are free. What the Son says works, what the Son says happens. What the Son says – His almighty and powerful Word does.
And so, my dear Christian friends – we are to be always in the Word. Our focus and attention is to be given to the life giving Word of Christ – to see more and more what He has done for us – because that’s what Satan doesn’t want you to see. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe pride in your heritage – We’re good Jews and children of Abraham – our family’s always been members of this church! Repent, and look to Christ. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe pride in your strength and works – okay, I’ve sinned a bit, but look at all the good I’ve done – All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. Your works aren’t up to His standards – Repent, and look to Christ. Satan will try to put your focus elsewhere. Maybe what you have decided – I feel revived, I’m going to give my heart to Jesus – see how excited I am for Him! What then becomes of our boasting? It is excluded – for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Satan wants us to look at ourselves, who we are, the strength of our feelings, what we do, even what we are doing for Jesus – just so long as we don’t look at Jesus. But God’s Word wrests our eyes off of ourselves – and by the Word that strengthens our faith and shapes us once again we look at and see Christ. And that is what we are always in need of, every day – to be kept and preserved in faith in Christ, looking no where else, trusting none other than Christ Jesus to be our Savior.
That is why we celebrate Reformation Day – why we observe this week every year. Not just because of what Luther did long ago – but because of what God is always doing with His Word, reshaping, reforming us – forgiving us and setting us free from the bonds of sin. Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word. Amen.