Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church in Clam Falls, Wisconsin on 10/30/2022
“Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Reformation day, the day we remember and even celebrate a certain pastor and professor’s recovery of the Gospel in the medieval church, just over 500 years ago:
The recovered Gospel… that is the good news of the free grace of God – not by works – offered in Jesus Christ…
At the funeral of Martin Luther, in the German city of Eisleben on February 22nd, 1563, four days after his death, his pastor Johannes Bugenhagen, said, “…[W]hat shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears?”
And he then preached for about forty minutes, and his sermon text was the text that we read in Revelation today in place of the Old Testament reading…
It begins by saying “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people…” The Greek word for angel here is ἄγγελος, and it means either a heavenly or earthly messenger.
Reasoning that Luther had been monumental in the church in his recovery of the heart of this eternal Gospel, Bugenhagen applied this text to Luther.
Luther was that angel, that messenger.
We’ll come back to that idea a little bit later on.
For now, we can definitely say this:
However one might feel about Bugenhagen’s assertion, Luther did indeed vigorously proclaim that eternal Gospel which brought joy and peace into the hearts of men!
And yet, how much can our world today understand this?
After all, today, people as a whole really, really, don’t fear God…
Alternatively, when we talk about our lives and their meaning – when we stop being distracted by our screens that is – we are a nation of self-help.
The Victorian Brit Samuel Smiles started this in the late 19th century as his ideas caught fire around the world…
…and years later Dale Carnegie taught us how to make friends and influence people.
Today even “pastors” like Joel Osteen have joined the self-help chorus.
Recently however, I heard a pastor and theology professor speak about the resurgence in popularity of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism!
Evidently, going by the name of “mindfulness”, “resiliency training,” or sometimes simply “grit”, this revival of Stoicism can be seen in a number of quarters: on the psychologist’s or counselor’s couch, in the corporate boardroom, and particularly, in the U.S. military… popularized especially by Admiral James Stockdale.
Even though this modern form lacks the comprehensive worldview of the ancient form – which believed in all the traditional forms of virtue Christians would uphold and that would serve the common good of one’s fellow man – this new Stoicism nevertheless still has some real practical value for those who are attempting to survive in the contemporary world…
With personal happiness and peace of mind through “imperturbability” as its goal, it not only talks about the enduring value of some virtues like justice, courage, wisdom and self-control – but also like its ancient form proclaims to its disciples that we can’t always change others or the events that surround us but that we can change how we react to such things…
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of the best-known Stoic thinkers, aptly summarizes the Stoic mindset: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
In other words, we can all to some extent “remain aloof” and control our emotional responses to the things that happen to us, whether this be “fate”, as in the ancient world, or the “laws of nature” we speak of today.
“Mind over matter,” so to speak…
To sum it up, as the author puts it, it “offers its adherents a resource for life’s challenges, steels the nerves for hardships, and provides perspective”…
Luther wisely said “[I]f if you want to begin with, and treat of, physical freedom, you will become so muddled and confused that you will lose both freedom[ of the body and the soul]” … and in some ways, it seems like Stoicism might agree with him here!
We cannot deny that in some regards a resurgence in Stoicism has a lot of good practical advice that, really and truly, is not wholly incompatible with the Christian life….
- You are not that significant, so prioritize your brief life!
- Be a realist in the world and seek increasingly to be prepared… practice good habits and techniques to help you in this quest.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and be tolerant of others and thankful!
- And remember, you will die….
But again, even as death is acknowledged here…
…it is not feared.
For the Maker – the Creator of all! – who tells us that the wages of sin is death…
…is not feared…
…but instead is seen as impersonal, one with nature, insignificant to our greater questions…
Again, against all modern man’s doubt, this is what the Bible tells us, and will continue to insist ( : ) ), is the problem: man does not fear the Creator!
As better as it might be than living by one’s every feeling and whim, self-mastery under one’s own self-power is still not what God has in mind for any man…
And for Stoicism today and for that of the ancient world… being right with, being pleasing to a personal God who is here and not silent is not what man has in mind either…
There are more problems. I said we really, really, don’t fear God today. Why do I say this?
The author of the article, chaplain John Bombaro, points out one more thing… Modern stoicism, again, is modern, contemporary…
…and so, it, being popular, in almost all cases has been highly influenced by and therefore fits well into the predominant value system that is dominating the Western world in general and America in particular…
And he notes contemporary Stoicism not only getting rid of any of the aspects of the ancient version that one might think could never bring personal peace, but also shows that it really fits in with the self-justifying environment we find in today’s modern life…
That environment, he says, is humanitarianism.
Among our “best and brightest”, if you simply feel an affinity for what is considered “humane” by our society and culture – like today abolishing ethical, biological and all national borders for instance – you are a “good person”…
You certainly need not worry about things like death after judgment, the afterlife, and where you stand with God!
As Bombaro rightly puts it, Stoicism fails to realize that “from its conception, the heart is a thorny bramble…
And especially the modern Western heart. I think this is really illustrated well in the following quote as he mercilessly critiques this contemporary form of Stoicism:
“due to the failure of the rationalistic Enlightenment, our postmodern milieu is decidedly post-rational. Behavior is largely the result of visceral reactions, sentimentalism, and emotionalism — the core behind today’s radical individualism. What is more, one’s feelings and behaviors are quite divorced from a sense of duty or traditional roles. Such norms have been demolished, right down to gender roles and parental duties. People may be imperturbed by others, but it’s the kind of narcissism that actually doesn’t care about others. Hence the meteoric rise of abortion, homelessness, crime, alienation, isolation, loneliness, suicide, conspicuous consumerism, and entitlement. All of this should sound familiar from the lips of the Pharisee who, in his laudable self-control, said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 18:11-12). But neither was he justified.”
In many ways, I think this critique can also point out the flaws of the better, more ancient form of Stoicism as well.
In other words, while that ancient form is better at borrowing insights from the law of God, published definitively in the 10 commandments, but also written on the human heart…
…it nevertheless fails to see that even a man who is righteous in the world’s eyes can have desires can be self-centered, turned in on themselves… twisted and disordered and unable to reach what is truly good…
Men and women of the cross, baptized into Jesus Christ, this goes for us as well…
Let us never forget that our Lord said that no one was good but God alone and that even His own disciples, though they rightly gave good gifts to their children, were in fact evil.
In the book of Romans that we heard this morning, it is made clear that the law of God reduced every human heart to silence.
Again, Stoicism, for all its good aspects, still falls into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself… in both the modern and ancient forms….
And the Muslim or religious Jew or Mormon? Some may indeed fear God and His law… but they still will not be justified by their works…
And even when our perishing pagan neighbors sense that something good and wonderful has transpired through him, their reflection before God ultimately reeks of self-glorification and a veiled ingratitude:
Ultimately, in line with the world’s pattern and in fact in serving the world’s spirit – the creation and not the world’s Creator, Jesus Christ – both the religious and “non-religious” predictably think, every time:
“I’m a good person”, “I did it”, “I must have done something good”, “What a good boy am I”…
No. They are not.
To feel this, to think this, to say this… is to mark one’s self for Satan and his servants.
Again, my fellow Christians, note that after they had been following Him for a good long while, Jesus called his own disciples wicked.
Luther was well aware of this evil and corruption that persisted within, and felt it in his bones… down to the core of his terrified conscience…
My friends, do you think you, apart from Christ’s cleansing blood, can escape that judgment?
In any philosophical or even religious system of men, elite or not, well-thought-out or not, “the need for rescue from ourselves and renewal from above, as well as reconciliation [is rendered] unnecessary, much less reconciliation through blood atonement…” (Bombaro)
But this is a lie.
Again, the whole world, and every man according to the nature he receives at birth, is unspeakably wicked, each one finally devoted to his own comfort, self-satisfaction, and glory…
Romans 3 says it doesn’t matter who we are talking about.
All have violated His commands.
All have sinned.
Missed the mark.
All of us deserve the wrath of the Only One who is just.
All philosophies or religions – whatever their good aspects – still fall into the pattern of the world that seeks to justify itself…
But Romans 3, again, says:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
Even the good deeds some might think they can point to are insufficient… spoiled.
Not done in God’s love and for God’s love to the benefit of our neighbor.
This is what God’s law shows us, as it shuts us up.
But to what end?
Here, Luther helps us again: “To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
And then, finally, we are ready to hear again our reading from Romans:
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
This, and this alone, gives us true peace with God!
The contemporary philosopher Sartre said “hell is other people” and Stoicism, in offering “imperturbability from others”, would give us some kind of peace but in a way that necessarily kills love for neighbor…
But Jesus Christ removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh, granting us not only peace with God, but reconciliation with all others in the family of God!…
As He puts it: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Now, sometimes when I was young, I thought “that would be a really good place to stop the sermon” when the pastor kept going, but folks – there’s more I’m eager, excited, to say on this Reformation Day!
So please be bear with me brothers and sisters!
If you would with me, let’s now think about our text again, with some help from Hebrews 9 which says…:
“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:27-28).
That second time is what our reading from Revelation is talking about.
It should be a time of comfort and joy for us!
The creation made new! Our fearsome enemies will not prevail but be defeated! In fact, in the book of Luke, when Jesus speaks of His coming again, He urges us to “lift up [our] heads”…
And so we, as ones who are truly His people, can fear God not with a servile kind of fear, but a rather a “filial fear”, giving us the picture of a child honoring, respecting, and revering his father…
All that said….
Let’s be honest and deal with the facts here…the context of our reading certainly gives us the impression that this will nevertheless be a frightening time for most everyone!
As we go on in chapter 14, we see this arresting picture describing the fate of those who reject Christ:
“[they] will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” (Rev. 14:10)
And perhaps here, we might tremble as well…
For, again, which one of us is without sin? Which one of us has a completely undisturbed conscience?
What do we do when Satan, eager to accuse us and make us doubt we are Christians, throws our undeniable and many sins in our face – and looks to drive us to doubt and then despair?
Always remember, even though this world is an exceptionally evil place – and even though we Christians continue to struggle with evil – this is precisely why Jesus came, comes now by comforting us with His Spirit, and will come again in glory to make all things new….
Even as Christ will come the second time to judge and “not to bear sin” know that this wrath that is nevertheless poured out upon the world in the last days is wrath that Jesus Christ Himself would take on Himself, take into Himself.
And He, in fact, did, if we have eyes of faith to see.
For it was the price of all sin, the wages of every sin that has ever been committed, that nailed Him to that cross…
So yes, Jesus Christ would, Jesus Christ did, taste this passion of God’s hot indignation, and drained that bitter cup down his throat to the dregs….
For He could do no other. For our God, whose mercies are new every morning, is never one who ultimately desires the death of the wicked!…
It doesn’t matter if you are Martin Luther, super-sensitive to your sin via God’s law
…or like those who Luther lamented were largely untouched by the law’s sting…
Satan wants you to believe God desires the death of the wicked, because this is what he believes himself.
If he can’t get you to dismiss the Christian faith entirely (his first choice), he wants you to believe that you or your neighbor are too wicked for God… he wants you to believe this message isn’t for you, your neighbor, or both…
That is so very wrong… as these warnings, heard right now, are always meant for our final good, particularly now as the days grow darker and the world increasingly deceives, propagandizes, tyrannizes… demands our loyalty to it and not the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world…
And so at this point – finally, right? ( : ) ) – I want to bring things back around to the meaning of this Angel or Messenger in our text. I am reading you a bit from a great sermon I found online about this text…:
“Th[e] good news about Jesus is the eternal gospel that is going to be proclaimed. All the Caesars of this world, all the Sanhedrins, the beast of the sea and the beast of the earth, all the civil and religious powers that try to extinguish the gospel – they cannot stop it. That is the message of this text in Revelation. And it certainly was fulfilled in the case of Luther and the Reformation. It is not restricted to Luther alone, of course. This text gives encouragement to the church in all ages. But it was fulfilled in a very notable way in the case of Luther.
Luther was in a battle. He sensed it deeply. He felt the assaults of the devil. He faced fierce opposition. Both civil and religious powers lined up against him. Luther was excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the emperor. And the reason was precisely because Luther was God’s “angel,” his messenger. He restored the gospel to its place of prominence, flying directly overhead, like the sun shining in midheaven, the bright light of its noonday brilliance dispersing the clouds that had shrouded the message in darkness.
For Luther, that eternal gospel was too precious a thing for him to compromise or back off. He would rather be criticized as obstinate than to yield in the pure proclamation of the gospel. What gave him the courage to confess the faith so boldly? The gospel itself. Luther knew how much the pure gospel meant to him, freeing his conscience from the burden that had long weighed him down. And so Luther placed his confidence in God as his mighty fortress, no matter the threats of pope or emperor. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”
Luther was so very right.
To honor the Creator the most is to believe Him, to trust Him and His promises. This is our highest worship.
Believe me when I say, on His behalf, to you:
The Lamb has been slain and by his blood ransomed people for God, people loved by God, from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” And He is the One who “loves us and who frees us from our sins by His blood”.
This is the Eternal Gospel, and it is for all of us. For you too!
“Fear not!”, Christ says,
“I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
So let us overcome all in Him!
 “…believe it or not, beginning already in Luther’s lifetime, people identified this angel of the Revelation with . . . the messenger of the Reformation, namely, Martin Luther. They saw Luther as this angel having an eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation. As early as 1522, just five years into the Reformation, a man named Michael Stiefel wrote a poem called, “On the Christ-Formed, Properly Grounded Teaching of Doctor Martin Luther.” In the opening stanza Stiefel says, “John wrote for us of an angel who would set forth God’s Word with complete clarity.” And there Stiefel plays on Luther’s name, because the German word he uses for “clarity” is lauter. Lauter, Luter.
That was in 1522. In 1546, at Luther’s funeral, the preacher, Johannes Bugenhagen, made a similar comparison. He said: “This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized.” So from then on, the linkage was established: The angel of Revelation 14 became associated with the person of Martin Luther. And that’s how this text came to be a reading for Reformation Day.” From: https://stmatthewbt.org/2019/10/26/an-eternal-gospel-to-proclaim-revelation-146-7/
But were they right? Were Stiefel and Bugenhagen justified in seeing Luther in this vision from Revelation? And how does this apply to us today? That’s what we’ll consider now, under the theme, “An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim.”
 One more critical of this says: “Hoenegg could see Luther as proclaiming judgment upon Papal darkness, but this interpretation seems too uncertain. What would a passage like this mean for the Christians in the midst of pagan darkness, if it could only refer to the Reformation and to Luther? Would that not also mean treating the book of Revelation as a play-by-play of the End Times? Better, I think, to recognize that the angel proclaims a judgment upon sin which comforts God’s people. Sin and the devil will not triumph. Though you suffer now, God will render judgment upon His enemies. Luther and the Reformation is a historical example of the faithfulness of the holy God, whose victory will be complete.” From here: http://wordfitlyspoken.org/2017/10/reformation-revelation-146-7/
 Luther, however, also was not immune to discouragement when it came to this accomplishment…
Many of the Reformation’s critics, for example, contended that the Christian lives of the Reformers and their followers were worse than – or at least no better than – those they criticized…
One of the biblical texts that Luther always emphasized was the following:
“For each tree is known by its own fruit. Indeed, figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor grapes from brambles. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.44-45).
The Gospel message creates new persons in Christ! New trees with new and good fruit!
Luther understood the power of sin’s pull on all of us, but of course he still believed that the Gospel would produce a significant change in each individual who believed.
Therefore, he truly felt the sting of this accusation that those following “his teaching” were no better than their opponents.
And he had to deal with the fact that he sometimes actually agreed with this critique…
And so he wrestled with why there was truth to the accusation. Why were those hearing the Gospel still so weak in good works and the new life?
The answer, surely, has to do with the fact that men – even those who were listening to Luther’s sermons week after week and who he believed were believers – are often obscenely blind to the magnitude and depth of their own corruption…
…and correspondingly, their ongoing need for the Gospel.
Luther knew he – even as a teacher, a doctor of the church! – struggled to articulate how bad things were as well. For example, he said that:
“So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is.”
“…who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin…”
Thinking about the kinds of people that he knew and loved in his day – and where they stood with God – Luther said this:
“[Some] fear God for the sake of God alone; they do the best they can and very conscientiously avoid evil.
Others fear God for the sake of God, and, at the same time, for the sake of the threatened punishment; their works are less good and perfect…”
And, as he put it elsewhere, there are also those who simply fear God only because of the threatened punishment. “These,” Luther tells us, “only seem to do good…”
For they are not even Christians yet… but are only at the very beginning….
And yet also, in his lecture on Psalm 51, Luther talks about how en route to his discovery of the Gospel, he, on the one hand, was greatly disturbed by death as the wages of sin…
but on the other hand very few others seemed to be concerned about this impending punishment…:
“I believed that everyone’s heart was as disturbed and as fearful of the perils of death as my own. But when I carefully investigated the situation, it became evident to me that among 10,000 persons there are hardly 10 who give thought to this important matter…”
In other words, Luther owned up to his own naivete here about the positive effects the Reformation would have.
Even though the Bible made it clear that man had knowledge of the reality of God, his law, his own culpability and even that he deserved death for this (Romans 1), it also said that he suppressed this knowledge…
Because we are able to suppress our natural knowledge of God and counter it with beliefs, idols, of our own making, man in general, unlike Martin Luther, does not live in fear of God, fear God…
And it has always been so…
 Bombaro writes “Put into the more recognizable terminology of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), modern Stoicism aids persons to understand their minds, specifically the relationship between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. CBT uses techniques like negative visualization to aid people to inoculate themselves from undesirable thoughts and feelings by intentionally imagining possible negative outcomes and imaging how you might respond in accordance with your role or duty. This gives the person a sense of power and control over themselves in any situation through preparedness. Further, it liberates the will, empowering the person to “be themselves” without caring much about what others think or societal expectations.”
 As prophesied in Ezekiel:
“…I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
 This sermon sets the scene well: “Our reading for this morning occurs in the middle of a section which begins in chapter 12. This section describes the “end times”, which begins in chapter 12 with the description of the woman and the dragon, which we looked at about a month ago when we celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This vision portrays Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection and the cosmic, heavenly events associated with it. Chapter 13 then tells of two beasts, who join the dragon to form an “unholy trinity” and to torment God’s people. In verse 7 of chapter 13, John says, Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation (Revelation 13:7). John’s vision tells us that God’s people over all the world will be tormented by the dragon and the beasts and no one on earth will be able to stop them. Or, to use the famous words of Martin Luther, The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal (LSB 656:1). In other words, Revelation 12 & 13 are painting a picture of “the old evil foe” jumping on top of Christ’s church and trying to prevail over it. From here: http://lcrwtvl.org/2020/10/102520-reformation-the-eternal-gospel-revelation-146-7/
 Not all wrong!: “Choosing Revelation 14:6-7 for Reformation is problematic for a number of reasons.
First, the selection is entirely too short. It separates the first angel of Revelation 14 from the other two, and in the process somewhat distorts the intent of the passage. These three angels are harbingers of God’s coming wrath upon the earth. The second angel, for example, follows after the first, crying: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The third also follows after and foretells the coming torment of those who worship the beast. Their torment will be unending and they will have no rest day or night. Therefore, while the first angel calls forth a cry to fear God and worship Him, the emphasis falls upon the judgment. Fear God and give Him glory, because He is about to demonstrate His righteousness and holiness in judging the earth. This judgment is indeed a source of joy for His people, as the Psalm declares “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12-13). But the message of the three angels is one which should cause the earth to tremble and not to rejoice. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12). http://wordfitlyspoken.org/2017/10/reformation-revelation-146-7/
 “…this gospel comes from heaven. It’s God’s gospel. It’s not man-made, so man cannot destroy it. It’s an eternal gospel. It will last forever. And God means to have it proclaimed. His messengers will preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, language, and people. What is this eternal gospel, the good news that is being proclaimed? To use the language of Revelation, it’s about “the Lamb who was slain,” the one who “by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It’s about “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” It’s about Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He, Jesus, our exalted Lord, comes to us and says: “Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
” From: https://stmatthewbt.org/2019/10/26/an-eternal-gospel-to-proclaim-revelation-146-7/