October 31, 2021

Only By Grace

Passage: Romans 3:19-28

In his book, “The Mystery of Christ”, Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, illustrated faith as grace and not earned by works.  He wrote, “Suppose I were to tell you that I had already buried on you property $1000 000.  It somewhere on your property buried under a flat rock in a steel case.  All you have to do is search for it.  You have to turn every stone you see and start digging until you find it.  And when you do, there is no way you can claim that you earned or worked for the money.  It was placed there, it was a gift that wasn't on your property by your own doing.”  That my friends is the message of the Gospel – the free grace we received in Jesus Christ.  There was nothing we could do to earn our place in heaven.  Paul made that clear in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 2: 8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  1 A monk, named Maarten Luther, came to that realization when God's wrath and condemnation changed for him to pardon by God's grace.  And that brought him to the point to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, 1517.  During the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church was selling indulgences.  An indulgence was a piece of paper that you could buy from the church stating that your sins were forgiven.  You could buy forgiveness of sins for a week, a month or a year depending on how much money you wanted to spend.  You see, people then and now, are not so different.  They want to have some kind of assurance that they can have peace with God.  People want to be in heaven after their last heart beat on earth.  They want to be with God – but how?  The piece of paper was an easy answer…but it wasn’t God’s way.  His way reached the heart of Luther who appeared before the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521.  Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V was presiding where Luther had to defend his theses.  He said, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand for I can do no other.  May God help me.  Amen.”  It’s 504 years since the Reformation began and with Luther, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, John Hus, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox and others took up the truth of God’s word.  2 At the St. Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland is a statue of John Knox pointing to the bible – “The only truth is in God’s salvation by grace in Jesus Christ.”  That my friends is the legacy we as Presbyterians and children of Reformed tradition cherish.  Long before Luther and his fellow-Reformers there was Paul who was embraced by God’s grace and from that moment he spoke and wrote about it till the end of his life.

From the passage in Romans 3 we read there are two thoughts we want to meditate on:  The first is 3 God’s Grace is a Gift.  In verse 24 the apostle says, "…and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Freely means there was nothing we could offer to have received God’s Grace.  It was free – no sum of money could have decided it.  It was far more expensive than anything we can comprehend in our human minds.  Each year a list is issued of the richest people of the world.  This year on July 5th Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of Amazon.  But not before it earned him a $177 billion.  What if he comes to one of us and says, “Here is my $177 billion net worth; it's all yours.  Wouldn't the one receiving it say? - “I received the greatest gift anyone can ever offer me.”  But then we would remind ourselves of God's gift in Jesus.  It's far more worth than $ 177 billion.  It was the precious blood of Jesus that secured our Father’s Grace.  Yes, He emptied His heavenly realms with His most precious possession.  Why did God give us that gift?  To reform our lives.  Reformation Sunday reminds us that we are always part of God’s reformation process.  He wants us to tell others that He wants to reform them through His Gift, Jesus the Saviour of the world.  You see, through the centuries of this world, there were those like Francis of Assissi who came to the realization that their earthly riches couldn't gain them anything, only the Gift of Jesus could bring them the permanent residence of God's heavenly realms.  Francis parted with everything he owned and he focused only on the Gift of Jesus.  My friends, on Reformation Sunday we are reminded of God giving us His Son to transform our lives forever.  And if you accepted the Gift of Jesus, then you have the only secured reality in life – no one or nothing can take you away from God.  In John 10: 28 we read the promise of Jesus that He secured that – “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Paul reminds us that 4 God’s Grace is ExtensiveHow much grace does God have to cover our sins?  Is there any danger that it will run out?  That some people in a generation to come will hear, “I’m sorry, but my grace ran out.  The resources are drained.”  No, my friends, in verse 22 we read, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  Tokyo is listed as the most populated place on earth with almost 38 million people in an area of 2188 square kilometers.  But you know there is a kingdom that is far more populated – a kingdom that goes from heaven all the way to earth.  It is a kingdom that will be so universal at the end of time with a multitude  no one can count as John described in Revelation 7: 9, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  God's grace is far more extensive than what we can fathom.  God’s family just gets bigger and bigger.  It reaches over continents and nationalities and cultures.  There is no line that anyone can draw to say, “This is how far it will go.”  I don’t know about you, but on Reformation Sunday I want to repeat the phrase, “Sola Gratia”  - Only Grace.  By Grace our God has reached us in this part of the world.  He didn’t pass us – we were included.  His Grace goes from North to South and from East to West.  And now He wants us to be His agents of Grace.  We are to share to every tribe, language, nation and people about His forgiveness in Jesus.  Can you visualize how people from every place on earth will be gathered before His throne in heaven?  Can we not all break out in our praises before God on Reformation Sunday?  “We thank you Father that we are the children of the Reformation.  Today we rejoice in the words:                                                                 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”

Amen.

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Rev. Willem H. van de Wall