I preached the following sermon at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, October 29, 2017.
Part 2 of Bedrock: Ancient Christianity for Today's Christian.
You haven't lived until you've heard a teenager ask you, "What's your problem?" Don't you just love that? So, let me ask you, "What's your problem?" We have all sorts of problems, but the most serious one is this: we are not righteous in God's sight. The Bible says,
Romans 1:18. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (ESV)
So ... we have a serious problem. We're not righteous and God is angry with us.
This was the issue that lay at the very center of the 16th century Reformation of the church. The church of that day was offering people the wrong solution to the problem. The church said, we are made right with God through a religious system of sacramental ceremonies and self-improvement and superstitions. It was a typical man-made religion. The goal was to earn enough grace to work one's way to God.
The reformers proposed a much more radical idea - God's religion: five principles or pillars of the ancient Christian faith. The reformers taught that we do not work our way to God because, rather, God has come to us. They discovered that we are made right with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The key word is "alone." That's where we get the Five Solas of the Reformation.
The reformers discovered that Christ filled three offices or functions in order to make us right with God; these are the office of prophet, priest, and king. These make him our all-sufficient Savior. Let's look briefly at each office or function (for more details, look at today's booklet):
1. JESUS CHRIST IS OUR KING.
Who has the right to rule over your Christian faith? Do I? Does any religious leader or denomination? Does the President? Today, in our context, we're quick to say no way, but in the medieval church, the answer would have been very different:
The Holy Roman Emperor (and through him the state or city) was the defender of the faith so he punished anyone who got out of line theologically.
The bishop of Rome was the head of the worldwide church and thus he had authority to define the Christian faith. He told you what to do to get right with God.
The reformation gave the church back to Jesus. He is the only head of his church. The Bible teaches this in many places. For example:
Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Colossians 1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Ephesians 1:19-22 That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (see Ephesians 5:23).
Revelation 5:12 “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Christ alone is the supreme authority in the church. Therefore, he has the ultimate authority to define and defend the church and the Christian faith. The only religion we want is the one Jesus invented. The church today is full of fads and fashions that have nothing to do with the faith given us by Jesus. Just ask yourself, "Is this man-made religion? Is Jesus King over this?"
2. JESUS CHRIST IS OUR PROPHET.
The introduction to John's Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is God's Living Word. He entered our world of flesh and blood in order to speak to us. Listen:
John 1:1, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus not only speaks for God, he is God speaking. He speaks grace and truth to us. And we should listen to him. Jesus is God's ultimate Word to us. Hebrews 1:1-3 explains:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
What does this have to do with the reformation and finding a way to get right with God? This: It answers the question: who has the final word about the way to salvation, and about the Christian faith? The final word must go to the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
How can we hear him speak? Remember last week's teaching? We open the Bible. Jesus is God's living Word. The Bible is God's written word - this is where Jesus speaks with final authority.
Yes, church councils, theology books, preachers and teachers have an important place in the church. After all, Christ has given teachers to the church (Ephesians 4:11). But these do not have the final word. Their teaches has authority only in so far as it squares with Christ's Word.
So, we always ask when we read a book or blog post or hear a teaching, "Does this agree with the Word?" If does not, we reject it. The apostle Paul got all heated about this (rightly so) when he wrote to the Galatians:
Galatians 1:9. "If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!"
3. JESUS CHRIST IS OUR PRIEST.
Romans 3 describes how Christ's priestly work makes us right with God:
Verse 21: God's righteousness is not gained by Law-keeping: "But now apart from the law (of God, Moses) the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify."
Verse 22: God's righteousness is his gift received through faith in Jesus Christ: "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."
Verses 23-24a: God's righteousness is provided by God's grace alone - not by any merit in us: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are "justified" freely by his grace ..."
God's righteousness in our lives is called "justification," a term that means, "God's declaration that we are righteous before him." It is a legal term. The picture is of a judge declaring the guilty one "not guilty," but altogether righteous. In fact, God can do this and still be just because the believer is clothed with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ: 2 Corinthians 5:21 "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Theologians call this "imputed" righteousness and "alien" righteousness because it does not come from us, but from outside of us - from Christ alone (see 1 Corinthians 1:30).
Verses 24b-25: God's righteousness was gained for us by Christ and the cross: "through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (he set us free from slavery to sin, domination of death, and debt to God). 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement (cleanses our guilt, takes away God's wrath), through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith."
I love paper toweling because when I'm cooking and making a mess, it absorbs the mess and leaves the counter-top clean. In the Christian faith, we get clean because Christ absorbs our mess and takes it away at the cross.
Verse 28 The summary conclusion: "For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
In other words, Jesus Christ is our only righteousness. His saving work is sufficient and complete - it's all we need. Salvation is Christ plus nothing. We need no other mediator, priest, sacrament, prayer or penitential good work.
Hebrews 10:12-14 "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."
The 19th century Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, is remembered as saying, "For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ." Look to Christ alone.
What a Savior! This Jesus transforms our view of God: from furious judge and executioner to loving, kind, self-giving, Savior.
The reformers recovered the ancient Christian faith, which is simply stated, "Christianity is Christ."
Do you like Ikea furniture? I like it because it's so clean and simple. I don't like French classical furniture - Louis XVI - frills and gold leaf and and ornamentation and VERY VERY UGLY. Man - made religion is like that - full of frills, unnecessary stuff, ornamentations - and it does not lead to God. But the Christian faith, built on Christ alone, is so simple, so clean, so beautiful and it leads us to God.
Remember this: Christ alone!