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Innocent (Reformation 505)

October 25, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

luthers roseREFORMATION/S-observed (10/30/2022): Ps. 46; Rev. 14:6-7; Rom. 3:19-28; Matthew 11:12-19 (alt.).

Innocent,   “And Wisdom was declared innocent of her own works!” (v. 19c) [translation, Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs] 

Every Lord’s Day we gather for celebration in the power of the Resurrection; yet this our observed Reformation festival is mixed with a certain pathos reflective of Jesus’ lament on the crowd’s rejection of his call to repentance

The “repentance” at issue today is not in turning from personal sin, characteristic of true Israelite piety; rather, it is the institutional Church being called to repentance, known as “reformation”.  

From the outset of John and Jesus’ ministries, the Church of the day was called not only to repent of error but also to attend and receive the new thing God was working in Christ.  Jesus began, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).

JB and Jesus were preachers of reformation, that righteousness and salvation now come in Christ, his word and work alone.  JB described God’s new thing in reforming the old, “Even now the ax is laid to the root …” (Lk. 3:9a). 

When the multitudes, committed to the old, came for baptism, JB chastised, “[B]rood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (v. 7b).  John’s repentance was witness that now was the prophesied time for men to turn from the old to God’s new work of salvation in coming Messiah.   

Before the preaching of John and teaching of Jesus, Jews located their “righteousness” before God in being the circumcised seed of Abraham; but John required a reformation of thought, “… do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’ … (v. 8b); rather “bear fruits that befit repentance” (v. 8a) by receiving his witness to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29, 36).   

What then of “the denominations” today; again, our celebration is mixed with pathos reflective of Jesus’ lament, “But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplace, who as they call out to others, ‘We played the flute, but you [JB] did not dance!  We lamented, but you [Jesus] did not beat your breasts in mourning!’” (Mt. 11:16, 17).  

These complaints against John’s intractableness, “[B]rood of vipers ... [and] Even now the ax is being laid to the root” of your systems and institutions; and against Jesus, for perceived “laxity” in associating with sinners. 

Note well, it is only Lutherans who celebrate the 16th century Reformation of “an eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:6).  An ancient maxim asserts, “the church is always being reformed” to her catholic beliefs held “everywhere, always, by all” (Vincent of Lerins); she is one holy catholic and apostolic.  Like the Holy Trinity she is unassailable in her orthodoxy of the Godhead, holding a right mentality about God and his Christ and the NT Church possessed of the Spirit.

In our generation the cause of celebration mixed with lamentation consists in Eucharistic joy and its associated Prayer for those who err. 

There is no such thing as generic Christianity that admits diversity of beliefs about God in Christ with his church.  The Church’s faith is specific and confessed in unalterable unity. 

Certainly, within limits the Church approves differences of ceremony, rite, and style; but never such that the angelic message of “an eternal gospel” is compromised by schism, heresy, and/or sectarian beliefs and practices.  But when “an eternal gospel”, justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8) is corrupted one might anticipate perhaps hellish consequences. 

Denominational distinctives instructive though they may be; this morning it is it not my vocation to sort them out.  Instead in reformation context we engage Jesus’ words, “And Wisdom [Jesus] was declared innocent of her own works!”  The OT Church of Jesus’ day taught a “repentance” of righteous works as inducement for God to send Messiah.  

Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom would arrive; speaking of himself he declared, “[Behold], the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:20, 21). Imagine the outrage of those who refused JB’s witness of Jesus. 

Baptism’s “raison d’etre” is Jesus’ guilt for the sin of the world, that is, its unbelief; yet sinful men are wont to reject this grace; they would declare the Bearer of our sin “innocent” of his works (cf. Ps. 22:1); instead offering the wisdom of men in place of God’s Son, whose atoning sacrifice is the substance of God’s new salvation.

Here is the irony of “broader Christendom”; if confessing Christ, still all the denominations, in one way or another, argue against God’s word of grace.  Each and every aberrant teaching necessarily causes men loss gospel security and confidence intended by grace.  Jesus explained to John their mission as, “fulfilling all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15); Jesus’ guilt and works for our sin. 

Against the variegated denominations, Pharisaic or other, Jesus warned, “From the days of JB until now the reign of heaven is being violently attacked, and violent men are trying to snatch it away” (Mt. 11:12). 

Reformation to God’s way of grace in Christ was and is not welcome by all.  Our message to “the denominations”, no doubt would be unwelcomed as was Jesus’ song of conflicted market-children; yet “here we stand”.  

Jesus the only sinless man; yet one in league with sinful men, was not innocent; in God’s eyes, became an abomination.  Those declaring Jesus’ innocence, disparage “an eternal gospel”, and snatch the atonement away.

Who are these “violent men”; those, despite smooth words, who reject Wisdom: Jesus’ incarnational, crucified, resurrected, and ascended Presence in and with his church (cf. St. Thomas’ faithlessness, Jn. 20:25). 

Jesus had turned the Pharisaic catechism upside-down; from a “repentance” of what man does, to a righteousness God gives by his Son’s obedience, thereby scandalizing every denominational mentality.   

“God’s reign” consists in Jesus’ merciful incarnate presence in the congregation, certainly not works of law (Rom. 3:28).  Any other salvation than Christ’s guilt for ours, is rebellion.  Jesus, in our place bore the entire load of sin before God.  This is the crux of our Reformation celebration and prayers for those who err.

Again, “an eternal gospel” is not generic; it is too gloriously proclaimed in it specificity; that the crucified and risen man Jesus Christ is present to reign in our midst by Word and Sacrament for faith, righteousness, and holiness before God.  

The pathos associated with our celebration is expressed in Jesus’ lament that, “Wisdom [is not] innocent of her own works”.  We refuse all wisdom proffering “another Jesus”, “different Spirit and gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-9) intended to on snatch from us “an eternal gospel”.  Still, Christ’s “Little Flock” (Verse) holds fast to grace.  Amen. 

 

pem.