Reading Ramblings – October 30, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Reformation Day (Observed) – October 30, 2016

Texts: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 119:89-96; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Context: For the first time in almost six months we revert back to the assigned lectionary readings for Cycle C, the only difference being I substituted Psalm 119:89-96 for the assigned Psalm 46, because I used Psalm 46 last week. It is said that Luther wrote Psalm 119:92 in his Bible, so it apparently held great meaning for him, and seems very appropriate on this observance of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. As I say just about every year, I celebrate this day not for the joy of division in the Church, but in gratitude that the Gospel has been freed from the bonds of tradition and misinterpretation. As such, the Church must ever be ready for a new reformation, as we sinful human beings are always at risk of forging new chains to imprison the Gospel and thus ourselves.

Revelation 14:6-7 – This reading is traditional because of the emphasis on the eternal nature of the Gospel. The Gospel is for all people, all places, all times. The Gospel calls all who hear it into a posture of worship to God the Father for his gift in God the Son. This is the natural response to the good news that our sins are forgiven and we do indeed have meaning, hope, and life. St. John has seen quite a bit by this point in the revelation – trumpets and seals, monsters of various shapes and sizes, as well as the entire family of God gathered around the throne. Yet the Gospel remains over all, paramount in importance even here, in the Kingdom of God. The Gospel never becomes irrelevant or unnecessary, even in eternity. It remains the centerpiece of God’s graciousness and mercy, an eternal thing to be amazed at and to glorify God through and for.

Psalm 119:89-96 – This is the longest of the psalms, an acrostic matching each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Lamedh corresponds roughly to our letter L. I think this section of the psalm pairs very well with the reading from Revelation, emphasizing again the eternal, unchanging nature of the Gospel. It is this unchanging aspect of God’s Word which can repel some people and grant such peace to others. God has spoken. It is not subject to change or revision to suit our preferences or perceived needs. Depending on our posture, this will either infuriate someone or grant profound relief. In a world of shifting technology, shifting morality, shifting opinions on everything from sex to drugs to genders and marriage, God’s Word stands firm. We can trust it. And therefore we can proclaim it boldly and with great joy. We are not offering people good news that will crumble to dust under their feet in a matter of years or in seasons of life. The enduring nature of the Gospel lasts throughout all ages of an individual’s life, every possible situation, providing hope and a future where the world may offer neither. They are sturdy enough to build our lives upon, and to last us to eternity.

Romans 3:19-28 – Thus far in Romans, Paul has driven his hearers into a corner, disarming their every attempt to justify themselves before God. Gentiles can’t justify themselves based on their ignorance. God’s chosen people can’t justify themselves based on their knowledge of God’s law. Nobody has any excuse for failing to live as God demands them to, and there is no one who can perfectly fulfill the demands of the law. At the moment of despair, Paul reveals the Gospel. Hope! A future! All of this is possible not because of our fulfilling the Law, but rather only through the graciousness of God in Jesus Christ. That righteousness is not situated in us, but in Christ. We have nothing to offer, but if we will receive the gift of God’s Son crucified and resurrected on our behalf, we receive everything.

All of this is in God’s perfect timing, for God’s glory. We have lots of questions about how God will handle those who died before Jesus, who never had a chance to hear the Gospel. But what we are told here is that God’s timing is perfect. We don’t need to worry about those things. God’s timing will declare him perfectly righteous – there will be no charges or scandals to bring before him. There is no room for us to point to ourselves, as though we have some part in this. There is no bit of boasting, no basis for feeling proud on our part. We are thoroughly condemned by the Law. It is only and purely the graciousness and righteousness of God that deserves all the credit and glory, while we are the only ones to benefit from these things. God doesn’t simply create a new law, or make the old law easier so that we can fulfill it. He removes the power of the Law to condemn us through his Son suffering the penalty we deserve to suffer under the Law. Jesus becomes the final, greatest sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John 8:31-36 – Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. He has gathered a crowd around him through his teaching in the Temple courtyards. Some of those in the crowd have come to faith in him, and Jesus senses this and speaks to them. Their faith will be secure so long as they abide in his words, a theme He will echo privately with his disciples at the Last Supper (chapter 15). It is his antagonists that respond, however, questioning how Jesus can offer freedom to God’s chosen people who have never been slaves.

Of course, politically, the Jews had been slaves to plenty of people, from the Egyptians to the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Persians and the Medes, the Greeks and finally now, at that very moment, the Romans. Most likely his antagonists are speaking spiritually – regardless of their political fortunes, their identity as God’s chosen people has always meant spiritual freedom. Jesus disagrees. Their sinfulness enslaves them, drives them over and over again to the sacrificial altar to offer their animals and seek atonement. Their slavery is more pervasive and destructive than any political overlords they have ever served.

Jesus promises them freedom as only the Son of the Father can. They would understand that in a Roman household, the father was in charge, but eventually the son would reach the age of maturity where his word could also set a slave free. Jesus offers them this possibility. True freedom. An eternal place in the family as family, not just as slaves. Jesus is the truth that He encourages his listeners to find in his words as they abide in them. They will discover that Jesus is the Son who sets them free not because of who they are but because of who He is.

The Gospel is always and only Jesus. We must look there to him. We must receive what He offers us and leave behind any pretense that He offers us anything because of some merit in ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as better than others, but this is true only in a very limited, relative sense. Before God, any and all sin is equal, and our gossiping or lack of compassion for others is no different than mass murder. It is only in Jesus that we find the source of our hope, the Good News that our sins are forgiven, that we are new creations, and that death no longer has any hold over us.

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