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Reformation: Conflict and Gospel!

    Oct 28, 2018

    Passage: Revelation 14:6-7

    Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

    Category: Sunday, Pentecost


    Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

    In the Name of Jesus. Amen. It is easy to get the impression that the events surrounding the Reformation in the early 1500’s represent great conflict. And that impression would be completely accurate and true. This is hard for us to swallow, especially since we know that we are constantly admonished in the Word of God to live in gentleness. The LORD says to you and me in our dealings with people that we are to be as gentle as doves, and other times when the Christian must be shrewd; and yet still entirely different seasons when the Christian must withstand strong opposition and unfortunately, get first-hand experience with conflict.

    Christians in America have become very sanitized and many Christians have decided to go the way of so-called “peace” at any cost. This has happened before. Jeremiah prophesied about it. In his diagnosing the corruption in Judah before they were taken over by the Babylonians, Jeremiah wrote about the false word from their religious leaders at that time, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). It is impossible to take this position without compromising the faith. Thus, our time here on earth in the Holy Church is described as our being “The Church Militant” as opposed to “The Church Triumphant.” We are still here on earth, so we must be the Church militant. We are in conflict. We are in a fight.

    St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2nd Tim 3:12). And this is also why St. Paul described faithfulness in terms of a “good fight,” 1st Timothy 6:12: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Faithfulness is a fight. This implies conflict. We are not here being pessimistic, but rather taking God at His Word and thanking Him for the heads up and what it is that we must prepare for and endure: conflict.

    Hymn 664 in our Lutheran Service Book: “Fight the good fight with all your might; Christ is your strength, and Christ your right, Lay hold on life, and it shall be Your joy and crown eternally.” 

    It’s fascinating that this hymn stanza puts the fight in a positive light. What does this conflict do for us by God’s grace? In the conflict, we are led to Christ who is our strength, and we lay hold of Him who is our life and as a result we know joy and -- eventually -- the crown eternally. That is, God uses the conflict – for the sake of His people – for good. The fight, the conflict refines, and it is used by God to lead us back to full dependence on God.

    This was Luther’s story and the story of many saints before Luther and many saints after Luther…it is also your story. Conflict. I have lost count of how many Christians have testified to the fact that it was through conflict that they grew closer to the LORD and became stronger in their faith. It is not that we go around looking for conflict. No, we do not do that, but we find on the other hand, that if we are going to remain faithful to the LORD, that our sin, the world, and the devil will ferociously attack seeking us to be drawn way from loving God and loving our neighbor. We are under attack. We are in conflict.

    This is what was happening during the 16th century Reformation. There was conflict that involved vital ecclesiastical and political forces and all of it came down to a conflict between the flesh against the Spirit; the world against the Word; and Christ against Satan. Again, Luther knew the conflict. He had been led back to the Word of God over and above man-made dogma. He would not be led by man’s institution, but by the Word of Christ. His conscience was captive to the Word of Christ and therefore God did more than sustain through the conflict.

    But the conflict did not end with Luther. It continued throughout the Reformation, so that the progression of the Book of Concord (The Lutheran Confessions) is one of conciliation to try to find what was held in common for possible peace; but when that was rejected, the tone changes in our Confessional writings so that it becomes polemical (this is a key difference between the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession where there is a clear rational defense that the Reformers were holding to the Word of Christ). Then, however, the conflict intensified so that the tone shifted again. Finally, the tone was clear-cut renunciation and warning. And again, the reason I go through this history is to say this is not abnormal, but characteristic of the Church Militant and for that matter for all of us Christians. Welcome to the world. We live in conflict.

    That’s a jolt and not very good news, which is why our first reading for this Reformation Sunday – Revelation 14:6-7 – is so important to us. It puts all of this in context and lifts us from the midst of conflict to celebration for the good news given to God’s people in conflict.

    But we can’t just jump into Revelation 14:6-7 without some background. Remember as I begin to give an overview of this section of Revelation that we are dealing with a special kind of writing in Revelation, a unique kind of literature (a totally one-of-a-kind genre): it’s called apocalyptic and it is full of figurative language and symbolism. In fact, we must remind ourselves that at chapter 4 of Revelation (and this dictates the rest of our reading of Revelation), St. John goes from observing what is happening on earth (the 7 churches in Asia Minor) to what is happening in accord with his being launched from earth to heaven. At Revelation 4:2 the Scripture says, “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven…”. That is, from here on out, St. John is describing a heavenly vision. We must be considerate of this and its several ramifications. 

    One of them is that Revelation begins to describe the Holy Church throughout the ages and not just one stage of history. But it is also revealing the conflict that we’ve been talking about, so leading up to our first reading for Reformation (Revelation 14:6-7), chapter 13 is important to be aware of. This is the chapter in Revelation that teaches about what is referred in chapter 13 as “The First Beast” (vss 1-10) and “The Second Beast” (vss 11-18).  These are evil forces that serve Satan that also confront the Church; they are evil forces that confront the baptized; they confront you. And yes, they breed conflict.

    The First Beast comes from the sea that represents chaos in the world, all the worldly forces that stand against Christ. Just think of all the examples that we see today. The culture that we are to consider precious as it is part of God’s good creation -- one that we live in to be salt and light; and to answer the call we have from God to love all the people in this culture -- yet is also a culture that is trying to jettison God (to kick him out of life).

    Think about what you see: on the big screen, in social media, what you hear and don’t hear in music, what you see and don’t see on T.V., where is the LORD? Where is His Word? Where is His way? The chaotic world wants to bury your faith in darkness…it desperately tries to push Christ away from you, and you away from Christ.

    And then is the Second Beast. This beast even infiltrates the Church. It demonstrates false and deceiving signs as if bringing order to the chaos and it even speaks religiously, but it is totally false. We see its affects when many corners of the Christian Church today compromise the Word of Christ. That is, the Church is always threatened by false gospels (as St. Paul warned about in Galatians). There are many examples of the Second Beast can seem very religious and very spiritual, but remember Christian Satan is very religious; Satan is very spiritual. Please join me in taking no solace, no comfort when you hear someone described as very religious or very spiritual. So is the devil! St. Paul writes at 2nd Corinthians 11:14: “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Indeed, the devil is very religious! This is the Second Beast.

    So, Revelation goes on at chapter 14 to show God’s glorious counter in this ultimate conflict. Revelation 14:1: “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s written on their foreheads.” What a great revelation! What an amazing vision. What a comforting reality! The Lamb reigns! The first and second beasts could not and cannot and will not overcome Christ! And most importantly for you and for me, Christ’s salvation will be given and preserved to the countless multitude that is symbolized in the 144,000…those like you Christian who have God’s Name on their foreheads…that Name on your forehead was cast on you when you were baptized and the water of Holy Baptism was poured out on your forehead and so was the Name of God: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!” God’s Name is on your forehead! You belong to the Lamb!

    With this backdrop, an angel comes. Here Christian be reminded that the word for angel means messenger. The Word of God is saying here in our first reading for Reformation that a messenger came. Came with what? Verse 6: “with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” Recall that I said that Revelation in this heavenly vision is describing the true Church and what we do find throughout the history of the true Church? We find many faithful messengers who bring the eternal gospel to share. And one of those faithful messengers was Luther who brought the eternal gospel to the events surrounding the Reformation. An early claim of the Lutheran fathers was that this first angel in Revelation 14:6 is Luther. We may say it was Augustine…we may say it was Luther…we may say it was any faithful messenger-angel who bore the eternal gospel. Notice that the word “gospel” itself is here mentioned in Revelation. It is the supreme answer to our conflict. The answer to our conflict is the gospel. It is glorious. It is conquering. It demolishes that which stands against you, the people of God; and it lifts you up to Jesus Christ!

    For those who receive this eternal gospel are given this further revelation from the messenger, verse 7: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” That is, to know this freeing gospel – freeing from all bondage and all threats of the beasts – is to know that you now stand before God and give Him glory. And this is the proper fear of God, that the child of God like you and me know salvation!

    To fear God is to worship Him. To fear God is to know that He is the only Savior; and it is to trust in nothing else. It is to know that judgment has passed and will pass over you; and it is to know that while the beasts claim to own the world and even the church, that these are lies, because the Living God our Savior Christ made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. He is the true God; and, therefore, the only Savior.

    But how did this Reformation messenger put this eternal gospel (and what makes it completely unique as it leaves the traditions of men and relies solely on the Word of Christ)? Another angel during the Reformation, Paul Speratus, wrote our hymn 555 in The Lutheran Service Book.

    Here is stanza 1: “Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor; Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.”

    And here is stanza 6: “Since Christ has full atonement made And brought to us salvation, Each Christian therefore may be glad And build on this foundation. Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead, Your death is now my life indeed, For You have paid my ransom.”

    Yes, our conflict has been, is being, and will be covered by the gospel. Come what may, no matter the conflict, Christ has conquered! Christ is victorious! And by grace through faith in Him alone – apart from anything you’ve done, or could possibility do – you are saved, you are justified, you are redeemed, you are reconciled, you are cleansed, you are HIS! And there is no conflict Christian that can ever take you out of the hands of Christ! This is the message from the angels! This is the eternal gospel! And it is yours! Blessed Reformation!