The Rest of the Story
In the name of the Father and of † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Accountable to God
In this morning’s epistle reading, we heard Saint Paul describe the work of the law. Not just any law, but God’s Law. He began with these words, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law.”
God’s Law has an intended audience. Paul wrote that the law speaks “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” The audience is “every mouth,” its “the whole world.” Everyone in the whole world is under the law and accountable to God.
The Christians in Rome needed to know that they were under the law, that they were to obey the law and that they were accountable to God for their every thought, word, and deed. Paul’s words are also for each of us, you and I are under the law, and we are to obey it.
The law, what is it that we are all under, what is it that we are all supposed to obey. The simple answer that most Christians would give is that the law is The Ten Commandments. Certainly this is true, but those ten simple statements only begin to open our eyes to the law.
Jesus often explained the fullness of the law when people wanted to limit the law to the strict words of the Ten Commandments. “You shall not murder,” those are the words of the Commandment, but Jesus said “you shall not be angry with your brother or insult your brother or abuse your brother, these too are a part of the law.”
We remember how Jesus answered the question about the law, he said, “Love the Lord and love your neighbor.” This is the law that we are under, this is God’s command to us. We are all accountable to God that every thought, word, and deed be one of love.
Every Mouth Stopped
Since we are counted as those under the law, the full and complete law, the law speaks to us “so that every mouth may be stopped.” Paul wrote, “Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” God’s Law teaches us about our sin. It shows us how we “fall short of the glory of God,” short of God’s demands.
Not one of you can open your mouth and truthfully say that you have obeyed the law perfectly. Not one of you can say to God, “I’m better than that sinner that I know at work or school or in my neighborhood.”
Your mouth is stopped from saying to God that you deserve heaven and all its riches because you have obeyed the law. You cannot open your mouth and ask for forgiveness on the basis that you’ve tried hard to live a good life. You cannot justify yourself with a list of good works, “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.”
These Word’s Convict
The law convicts us. We are enslaved to sin. This is the reality of being born of a man and a woman. For a long time in his life, Martin Luther lived in misery because everywhere he turned he heard the law. It accused and convicted Luther of being a sinner.
Luther felt helpless. He would spend hours confessing his sins but there was no relieve to his misery. Luther kept hearing the law demanding that he be righteous. His misery was not just about this life. Luther was terrified of God’s wrath on Judgment Day. What could he possibly tell God that day except that he, Luther, had failed?
The Rest of the Story
What an unpleasant story, Luther’s, yours, and mine. I have said it over and over again, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But the rest of the sentence and the rest of the story takes a miraculous turn.
For Luther it began when a fellow Augustinian priest named Johann von Staupitz was concerned about Luther’s feeling of hopelessness. Staupitz told Luther that he must search the Scriptures to learn about God’s mercy and grace.
Luther did that and at least one of the passages that he found was here in Romans chapter three. Luther read that chilling passage, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but he read it in the context of the other words that surrounded it.
Luther finally heard from God’s Word the rest of the story. Luther thought that he had to bring his righteousness to God, righteousness earned by obeying the law. Luther believed that he had to be as righteous as God’s Law demanded. Then he read Saint Paul’s words, “now the righteousness of God has been manifested (shown to us) apart from the law.”
That horrible sentence that begins with “all have sinned” continues by telling us that we are “justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Luther kept trying to earn what God wanted to give him as a gift.
Luther finally heard it, Jesus Christ the righteous One shed his blood for Luther. Jesus became the propitiation, the sacrifice, the payment for all Luther’s sins. For the sake of his son Jesus Christ, God was telling Luther that Luther’s sins were forgiven.
What joy this brought to Luther’s heart. Through the gift of faith, given to Luther at his baptism, all Luther’s sins were given to Jesus Christ and all the righteousness of the holy Son of God was given to Luther. Luther called it the blessed exchange.
That is the rest of the story that Luther learned from reading the Word of God. Through the guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit Luther learned the answer to the Law. The answer is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther was saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Martin Luther was grateful to Dr. Staupitz. He said, “If it had not been for Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell.” Martin Luther discovered Good News in God’s Word and wanted everyone to hear that Good News.
Martin Luther was not interested in becoming famous. He was not interested in starting a new church or having a church named after him. Martin Luther’s only purpose was to make sure that everyone heard the message of Good News that was in God’s Word.
Celebrating Reformation Day is celebrating what changed Martin Luther’s life. It is celebrating the rest of the story. In Luther’s sermons and writings after he heard the Good News, one phrase occurred often. That one phrase was, “For You.”
The rest of the story is that Jesus came for you. You in the front pews, you in the back pews, and you in the pews in between. Jesus is the one who removed the barrier of sin that separated you from God. There is no wall between you and the very body and blood of Christ here on the altar, at his table. Jesus came into the world to fulfill the Law, to live a life of perfect obedience for you.
The death of Jesus on the cross was a sacrifice, a payment in full to God for your sins.
The good news that Luther found for himself is the good news that God brings to you in his Word. Everything that Luther found out about God’s love for him is true for you.
Jesus came to earth to redeem you. He came to be your substitute.. Jesus sacrificed his life for you. The blessed exchange is the taking away of your sins and the given to you of Christ’s righteousness.
You have been set free. You are free from slavery to sin. You are free to open your mouth in praise and thanksgiving to God that the Good News is for you. You are free to “Thank the Lord and sing His praise; to tell everyone what He has done” for you.
You are free to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to visit the sick, and to comfort the dying. You are free to pray for those in need and for those who persecute you. You are free to forgive those who trespass against you.
You are free to do all those things because you don’t need to spend your time worrying about forgiveness or trying to earn it.
The Son has set you free, from your sins, and so you are free indeed.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria