Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
October 28, 2012, Pentecost XXII – Reformation Sunday
Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-53
From the Book of the prophet Jeremiah:
For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.’”
From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
For it is fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Today is Reformation Sunday. The Protestant Reformation was a major 16th century European movement aimed initially at reforming the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Its religious aspects were supplemented by ambitious political rulers who wanted to extend their power, such as King Henry VIII of England, and control at the expense of the church. The Reformation ended the unity of Christianity and, in the eyes of many historians, signaled the beginning of the modern era. A weakening of the old order was already under way in Northern Europe, as evidenced by the emergence of thriving new cities and a determined middle class.
In 1517, Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, posted 95 theses on a church door in the university town of Wittenberg. That act was common academic practice of the day and served as an invitation to debate. Luther’s proposition challenged some portions of Roman Catholic doctrine and a number of specific practices.
I don’t think that Martin Luther wanted to split the church. He and others had concerns about the direction of the church and he wanted to bring about debate and to redirect the church; to get it back on track; to get it back to basics.
The movement, however, quickly gained adherents in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of France. Support came from sincere religious reformers, while others manipulated the movement to gain control of valuable church property.
Unfortunately, reforming the Roman Catholic church failed, and the “protestants” as they later came to be called, separated from Roman Catholicism resulting in Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries, the Reformed churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England, and other diverse elements all of which have evolved into the Protestant denominations of today.
It’s a perfect battle strategy: divide and conquer. A perfect battle strategy for Satan: Divide the church into many denominations; have numerous ideologies and doctrines; A perfect way to water down the scriptures and Christian beliefs; and turn people away from God through Jesus Christ.
After World War II, and especially since the 1960’s, the world was in turmoil. The youth were rebelling against the Vietnam War, their parents and society in general. They wanted the freedom to do whatever they wanted; whether it was drugs, sex, etc. So, the Christian Church felt it needed to change “to keep up with the times” and attract the youth. This was the belief of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Churches felt they needed to water down church doctrine or not preach it at all. It was all about feelings and “feeling groovy.” [I’m dating myself] Contemporary music was brought into the churches, such as guitars and drums; to entertain the people. People were given the option to believe whatever they wanted and still be considered “Christian.” It was “ok” to believe that Jesus was just a man and not the incarnation of God. It was “ok” to believe that it was a “spiritual” resurrection of Jesus Christ and not a “bodily” resurrection, even though the scriptures say otherwise. This is how it’s done. The truth is distorted ever so slightly, but in the process it changes everything so completely.
Inclusive language was brought into churches by feminists to supposedly bring equality between the sexes. Feminist felt the only way to bring about equality between a man and a woman was the elimination of man. So, any reference to man was removed. Hymnals and liturgy had to be rewritten. We all know the hymn, “Rise up, oh men of God.” This was changed to “Rise up, oh people of God.” Grace Chapel in Lexington had a very successful Men’s Ministry, where sometimes 700 men came together from all over New England once a month to break bread and hear a message. This ministry was cancelled because it discriminated against women, yet all the women’s ministries were allowed to continue.
Did any of these changes work? No. In fact they were disastrous. Yet there are still people today who still cling to this belief.
It may have attracted the youth for a short period of time, but these changes only alienated the faithful. People have been leaving the churches, especially the mainline churches by the thousands. We only have to look around at our churches, especially in New England, to see the results. And it can get worse with each generation, because if the parents don’t have a solid Christian foundation, then it’s all the harder for their children to have one. If parents don’t see the value in Christian worship, then how will their children?
The theology of the Reformers departed from the Roman Catholic Church primarily on the basis of three great principles:
1) Sole authority of Scripture
2) Justification by faith alone, and
3) Priesthood of the believer
The Sole authority of Scripture doctrine maintains that Scripture, as contained in the Bible, is the only authority for the Christian in matters of faith, life and conduct. The teachings and traditions of the church are to be completely subordinate to the Scriptures. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, holds Scripture and Tradition to be the same inspired Deposit of Faith.
The prophet Jeremiah died an old man, probably in Egypt, and like the grave of Moses, his burial place is a mystery. The brave prophet has long turned to dust, but the words that he wrote are still with us, because God’s Word endures forever.
Jeremiah wrote a long and difficult book, however, you can’t help but glean from his life and ministry some clear and important lessons that apply to all of God’s people today.
In difficult days, we need to hear and heed the Word of God. Since hindsight always has twenty-twenty vision, it’s obvious to us that the leaders of Judah did a very stupid thing by resisting what Jeremiah told them to do. Judah had sinned its way into trouble and judgment, and they thought they could negotiate their way out, but it didn’t work. What they needed was faith in God’s Word and obedience to God’s will. Had they confessed their sins, turned to God, and submitted to Nebuchadnezzar, they would have saved their lives, their temple, and their city.
The Justification by Faith Alone doctrine maintains that we are justified before God and thus saved by faith alone, not by anything we do, not by anything the church does for us, and not by faith plus anything else. It was also recognized by the early Reformers that Faith Alone is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of Grace Alone. Hence the Reformers were calling the church back to the basic teaching of Scripture where the apostle Paul states that we are “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
As a master Teacher, our Lord used many different approaches in sharing God’s Word: symbols, miracles, types, parables, proverbs, and paradoxes. A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself and yet expresses a valid truth or principle. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” is a paradox (2 Cor. 12:10). There are times when the best way to state a truth is by means of a paradox; and our Gospel reading this morning is just that.
A large crowd of Passover pilgrims followed Jesus and His disciples to Jericho, about eighteen miles from Jerusalem. There were actually two cities named Jericho: the old city in ruins, and the new city a mile away where Herod the Great and his successors built a lavish winter palace.
There were two blind beggars sitting by the road as referenced in Matthew, one of whom was named Bartimaeus. Both Gospels of Mark and Luke focused attention on him since he was the more vocal of the two. The beggars heard that Jesus of Nazareth, the Healer, was passing by; they did their best to get His attention so that they might receive His merciful help and be healed.
At first, the crowd tried to silence them, but when Jesus stopped and called for the men, the crowd encouraged them! Bartimaeus threw off his garment so it would not trip him, and he hastened to the Master. No doubt some of the pilgrims or disciples helped him.
Jesus said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” That seems like a strange question to ask a blind man. But Jesus wanted to give the man an opportunity to express himself and give evidence of his own faith. What did he really believe Jesus could do for him?
When Bartimaeus called Jesus “Lord,” he used the title Rabboni, meaning “my Master.” The only other person in the Gospels who used it was Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, when she recognized Jesus (John 20:16). The beggar had twice called him “Son of David,” a national messianic title, but “Rabboni” was an expression of personal faith.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion and touched their eyes (Matt. 20:34), and immediately they were healed. Out of gratitude to Jesus, the men joined the pilgrim band and started toward Jerusalem, following Jesus. This is the last healing miracle recorded in Mark, and it certainly fits into Mark’s “Servant” theme. We see Jesus Christ, God’s Suffering Servant, on His way to the cross, and yet He stops to serve two blind beggars! What love, what mercy, and what grace!
The third great principle of the Reformation was the Priesthood of All Believers. The Scriptures teach that believers are a “holy priesthood” (1Peter 2:5). All believers are priests before God through our great high priest Jesus Christ. “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). As believers, we all have direct access to God through Christ, there is no necessity for an earthly mediator.
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox concept of the priesthood was seen as having no warrant in Scripture, viewed as a perversion and mis-application of the Old Testament Aaronic or Levitical priesthood which was clearly fulfilled in Christ and done away with by the New Testament.
If you were asked to name the most important people in the Old Testament, I doubt that Melchizedek’s name would be on your list. He appeared once, in Genesis 14:17-24; and he was referred to once more, in Psalm 110:4. You could hardly call this “top billing.” But the Holy Spirit reached back into the Old Testament and used those two passages to present a most important truth: the priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of Aaron because “the order of Melchizedek” is superior to “the order of Levi.”
The Jewish nation was accustomed to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. This tribe was chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle (Ex. 29; Num. 18). Aaron was the first high priest, appointed by God. In spite of their many failures, the priests had served God for centuries; but now their priesthood was ended!
The reason God changed the order of the priesthood from that of Aaron to that of Melchizedek, was because the priesthood and the Law were imperfect; being imperfect, they could not continue forever; and God had sworn by His oath that the new order would be established.
Not only was the priesthood imperfect, but it was also interrupted by death. There were many high priests because no one priest could live forever. In contrast, the church has one High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, who lives forever! An unchanging priest means an unchangeable priesthood, and this means security and confidence for God’s people. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
We are prone to sin daily, even hourly; and we need to be able to turn to Him for spiritual help. As our High Priest, Jesus Christ gives us the grace and mercy that we need not to sin. But if we sin, He is our Advocate at God’s throne (1 John 2:1-2). If we confess our sins to Him, He forgives us and restores us (1 John 1:9).
We are a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood.” This corresponds to the heavenly priesthood of our Lord, for He is both King and Priest. In the Old Testament, no king in Israel served as a priest. Our Lord’s heavenly throne is a throne of grace from which we may obtain by faith all that we need to live for Him and serve Him (Heb. 4:14-16).
In the Old Testament period, God’s people had a priesthood; but today, God’s people are a priesthood. Each individual believer has the privilege of coming into the presence of God (Heb. 10:19-25). We do not come to God through any person on earth, but only through the one Mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:1-8). Because He is alive in glory, interceding for us, we can minister as holy priests.
As a result of these principles, the Reformers rejected the authority of the Pope, the merit of good works, indulgences, the mediation of Mary and the Saints, all but the two sacraments instituted by Christ (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), the doctrine of transubstantiation (the doctrine that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed into the true presence of Christ, although their appearance remains the same), the mass as a sacrifice, purgatory, prayers for the dead, confessions to a priest, the use of Latin in the services, and all the paraphernalia that expressed these ideas.
In general, evangelical Protestants see the Reformation as simply a call back to biblical Christianity; back to basics. We need that now more than ever.
We need to feed on His Word. God’s Word has life, gives life, and nourishes life. We should have appetites for the Word just like hungry newborn babes. We should want the pure Word, unadulterated, because this alone can help us to grow. We need to develop a faith in God, knowing that Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself once and for all, that through faith in Him we are saved by grace. As God’s priests today, we must work together at the direction of our Great High Priest. Each ministry that we perform for His glory is a service to God.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us a thirst for your Holy Word, a deepening and strengthening of our faith, a yearning to do your will, and humbling of our souls to the realization of your salvation by grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever