Peace Through Gospel Victory, or Happy Reformation Day!

I spent thirty hours watching seven baseball games over ten days and was glad to have to see such highly skilled rule-abiding athletes competing in a good way (except for one coach who lost it over a referee call). My team didn’t win but I am happy for the Washington Nationals, who deserved to be the 2019 MLB World Series champs. Being the slow game that baseball is, I had time to think about competitiveness. I guess it’s an aspect of our sin nature since there is absolutely nothing competitive about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to submit entirely—to him and each other—in love. We don’t have to compete because we know that Christ has already been victorious over sin and will one day be exalted without opposition. Healthy or not, all competition will cease when Christ returns. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12) Christ’s exaltation is ensured. God, who sovereignly reigns now in heaven, promises future peace. In baseball or any other professional sports game, the rules govern the behavior of the players. Many people today are governed in their conduct by legal, ethical, civil, or moral laws, much like a game. But God doesn’t play games; Christ’s kingdom is not governed by rules but by his holy perfection. Jesus Christ was exalted after his great work of reconciliation between believers and God. His gospel victory will be complete in the world to come, not by yielding to another, but by his mighty sword, conquering enemies in the great war pictured in Revelation.

Today is Reformation Day—a day to celebrate the victory of God in the rectification of the protestant church through Martin Luther. “But what is the significance of Reformation Day, and how should we consider the events it commemorates?…Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety-five theses to the church door on October 31, 1517, provoked a debate that culminated finally in what we now call the Protestant Reformation…Initially protesting the pope’s attempt to sell salvation, Luther’s study of Scripture soon led him to oppose the church of Rome on issues including the primacy of the Bible over church tradition and the means by which we are found righteous in the sight of God…Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and good works result from our faith, they are not added to it as the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes…Martin Luther’s rediscovery of this truth led to a whole host of other church and societal reforms and much of what we take for granted in the West would have likely been impossible had he never graced the scene. Luther’s translation of the Bible into German put the Word of God in the hands of the people, and today Scripture is available in the vernacular language of many countries, enabling lay people to study it with profit. He reformed the Latin mass by putting the liturgy in the common tongue so that non-scholars could hear and understand the preached word of God and worship the Lord with clarity. Luther lifted the unbiblical ban on marriage for the clergy and by his own teaching and example radically transformed the institution itself. He recaptured the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers, showing all people that their work had purpose and dignity because in it they can serve their Creator. Today, Luther’s legacy lives on in the creeds and confessions of Protestant bodies worldwide.” (1)

Christian peace has never resulted from acquiescence to the world’s pressures and never will. We are not peaceful because we do not fight against the opposition, but because we wrestle it with God’s blessing and strength, by his methods. Martin Luther’s favorite psalm was 46, upon which he based his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” “It is said of Luther that there were times during the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation when he was terribly discouraged and depressed. But at such times he would turn to his friend and coworker Philipp Melanchthon and say, ‘Come, Philipp, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm…We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.’” (2)

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The New Testament gospels and epistles teach us that the war over Jesus’s identity was resolved—he is the King of Kings, the resurrected, ascended God, Savior of the world. He fought his enemies who wanted him silenced by his loud cries on the cross—especially “It is finished.” He fought his disciples, who loved him but didn’t understand and tried to convince him to avoid the cross. He fought Satan, who sent him to the cross because of our sins, by his death and resurrection. And he fought well-intentioned doubters when he ascended into heaven but leaving us with his Spirit to continue the battle here on earth. Christ’s exaltation was ensured by victorious works of peace in this world. Our peace is secured by his victory and should motivate us to fight with spiritual weapons for the expansion of his kingdom.

What does it mean to “be still” and know that he is God in this context? “These words… are rather a continuation of the church’s address to the fearful among them, as before to behold the works of the Lord…not that they should be like sticks and stones, stupid, indolent, and unconcerned at the commotions that were in the earth, and be unaffected with the judgments of God, and be wholly silent and inactive; but that they should not be fearful, nor fretful and impatient, or restless and tumultuous; but be quiet and easy, resigned to the will of God, and live in an assured expectation of the appearance of divine Providence in their layout. And ‘know’; own and acknowledge that he is God, a sovereign Being that does whatsoever he pleases; that he is unchangeable in his nature, purposes, promises, and covenant; that he is omnipotent, able to help them and deliver them at the last extremity; that he is omniscient, knows their persons, cases, and troubles, and how and where to hide them till the storm is over…” (3)

Thousands of years ago, the nation of Israel fled to the Red Sea, where they were caught between this vast body of water and the Egyptian army. The people cried out in fright, thinking they were about to die. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’” (Exodus 14:13-14) God’s invites us to participate in his battles and victories through prayer, service, ministry, and patience. Christ is not only our mighty fortress but also our strength and Champion. Does he have you before an enormous, seemingly impossible task to show you his power in the gospel battle? Are you willing to be used by him in the fight to expand Christ’s kingdom, to add more of the elect to the family of God? Are we yielding to him or fighting against him? That coach who looked like he was going to punch out the referee—well, he calmed down as soon as his team made several home runs immediately following the melee. Victory does that—it calms us down and gives us relief. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

(1) “What Is Reformation Day All About?”, Robert Rothwell, 2018, Ligonier Ministries, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/teacher/robert-rothwell/

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 46, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 46:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-46.html

October 31, 2019

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