The Feast of Christ the King

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity 2017

Reformation Sunday

The Epistle – Colossians 1:12-20

The Gospel – St. John 18:33-37

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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On October 31st, 1517, 500 years ago this month, Catholic priest and monk, Martin Luther assembled 95 points of dispute with the Church regarding salvation and the sale of indulgences in particular.

 

He put them to paper and fastened them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany.

 

These 95 Theses were promptly read by some…who could read Latin, taken down by others, copied and mass-produced and distributed throughout Germany.

 

This ignited what has come to be called the Reformation or the Protestant Reformation.

 

Luther’s posting of these theses was to invite discussion and debate over the method of salvation that the Church was currently teaching and how he saw that it was not in line with what he found in the Bible.

 

However, Luther is far from being the founder of this movement.

Dissatisfaction with the Church had been growing for centuries and Luther and his 95 Theses were more part of a long line of men who had grown frustrated at the state of the Church, her theology and her clergy.

 

Yet the fact remains that of all of the men who had written, protested, pleaded, and even died for the cause of getting the Church to clean up it's state of affairs, Luther gets the credit (or the blame….depending on who you are talking to) for the Reformation of the Church process rolling.

 

Not only did the Reformation spread across Europe, but it hopped the channel and landed in England as well.

 

Henry VIII was at times amenable to the reforms the church needed and at other times he was staunchly against them.

 

After Henry’s son Edward took the throne the Reformation took deeper roots in England.

 

The Anglican Church today continues to hold to, for the most part, Reformation doctrine…having shed the errors of Medieval Church.

 

But at the heart of the Reformation, if you were to go back in time and be able to ask any of the men and even women who were working so hard to help reform the Church, they would not at all say, Martin Luther, or any other man was at the heart of this movement or the reason.

They would not say that it was a man-centered effort at all…but rather a Christ centered, God centered, Bible centered effort.

 

The Church had strayed from early Church practice. It had built up an incredibly large and cumbersome works based system of salvation.

 

Rather than a more simplified Christ centered salvation based on the faith of the individual trusting in Christ to save him, the Church had altered the conditions for salvation.

 

Now, salvation was much less accessible.

 

 

God was more distant and seemingly unwilling to save any except those who had been counted worthy by their own merit rather than trusting in the merit of Christ.

 

Christ’s work was less about something done for sinners and more about being an example and a helper rather than the one who, alone, had won salvation for sinners.

 

The Reformers would all have insisted that Christ had to be once again central to the salvation of man.

 

 

 

 

The Feast of Christ the King, (not a Reformation Feast) is on our Church Calendar today and the lessons for today coincide with the theme of the Reformation and in fact point us to the person and work of Christ as our only hope for salvation.

 

Consider again our Epistle today.

 

Colossians 1:12-20…but we can look even further in this passage to get an even better picture of the issue at hand.

 

Paul is picked up in mid sentence today, but the context is pretty easy to figure out.

 

 

Paul is giving thanks to his readers because he says, “God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

 

This already is good news for us.  And this already strikes a Reformational tone in that God qualifies us to share in the inheritance. We do not qualify for this on our own.

 

Because we are born alienated from God, it is Good News that it is God who then makes us qualified to be in His good favor.

 

He brings us into the relationship.

There is not buying of indulgences.

There is no searching for our own merit anywhere. 

There is no wondering if God hears us or cares for us or is for us.

 

He has made us meet partakers and qualified to be partakers of salvation with those who already dwell in perpetual light.

 

Paul adds light here to contrast it with darkness….the condition in which we used to walk.

 

Further, Paul says that God has not only delivered us from the domain of darkness, but has transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ…in whom we have redemption….the forgiveness of sins.

 

So again…Reformation teaching abounds.

 

Christ has done this.  Paul says God, but we know that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself so we are safe to interchange these titles and not change the overall understanding.

 

Christ, because of His death and burial and resurrection and ascension has won for us all that we need to attain everlasting life.

 

Faith, of course is the way in which we partake of these benefits…but it is faith in Christ and His work, not faith in ourselves or our own work.

 

This doctrine had been for the most part, eclipsed until the 16th century.

 

For over 1000 years the clarity of Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s work, Christ’s grace had been overshadowed by other means…..man-centered means.

 

Or man’s efforts with God’s help.

 

The heading for the next section in the ESV Bible is “The Preeminence of Christ.”

 

Christ is preeminent in all things.

He is preeminent in salvation and redemption.

He is preeminent in destroying death and raising us from the grave.

 

Paul goes on to glorify Christ with the next section….

 

“He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [18] And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. [19] For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, [20] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

 

All of the attributes of Christ are listed there.

All of who He is and what He has accomplished for us is listed there.

 

Paul continues now to tell us the state we were in before Christ came and saved us.

 

We were “..once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he (Christ) has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”

 

Christ, in His work for us, has brought that much needed and in fact necessary reconciliation between God and man.

 

In His body on the cross, by His blood shedding, He has paid the penalty for our sins.

 

He remained sinless. Yet His death was the acceptable sacrifice made unto the Father in order to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.

 

In this reconciliation, …as we are in Christ by our faith, He now presents us to the Father, blameless, holy and above reproach.

 

We were at one time unholy, blameworthy, and full of reproach. 

Very harsh but true words describing our condition outside of Christ.

 

But now these things describing our nature and standing before God are changed.

 

We may not always feel as though our status has changed, but Paul tells us that it has changed and it is true and worthy for all men to accept.

 

And yet Paul is never without qualifiers.  He does go on to say…. “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (ESV)

Here we have the exhortation to perseverance. We must persevere in this faith.

 

Paul admonishes us here that the grace that has been so freely and lavishly poured upon us and the benefits that have been granted to us, we must persevere in faith and hope and love from here on out.

 

If not, all of the gifts we have freely been given will be in vain.

 

So the message here is that yes, we have been granted these gifts and benefits, but we are still making progress in this life.

 

 

 

We have not yet reached the goal that is the final state where we can no longer falter or violate this or fall away.

 

But our faith must be grounded in the facts mentioned above if we are to persevere.

 

If we believe this about Christ and our new acceptance and status, then we have to think on these things constantly and let the truth of our situation be the thing that drives us to go on.

 

Assurance in faith of the gift of Christ is what will cause us to persevere.  We have to keep our eye on the goal…while at the same time seeing that we have not yet reached it.

Someone said, “Faith is not like mere opinion, which is shaken by various movements, but it rather has a firm steadfastness, which can withstand all the machinations of hell.”

 

The Medieval Church had drifted far away from this message of Paul. It had fostered doubt on the part of the people.

 

They were always be in doubt of their present state and their future state.  This is not what Paul is saying here.

 

This is not what we find in the Scriptures at all…as can be seen from this Epistle pericope…this passage here today.

 

 

At the time of the Reformation and in the years following, 5 points were gathered and stated which separated the Medieval Church from the recovered Reformed Catholic Faith that was reemerging.

 

They have come to be known as the 5 Solas of the Gospel.

 

There are 5 things that must be acknowledged in order for us to have a right understanding of the Faith.

 

These are,

1. Sola Gratia – Grace Alone.

2. Solus Christus - Christ Alone.

3. Sola Fide – Faith Alone.

4. Sola Deo Gloria – By the grace of God alone.

5. Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone.

The 5 ‘solas’ were an attempt to summarize biblical teaching on salvation.

 

What was being recovered was the fact that man is saved not by his own efforts and works, but by these solas  ….these ‘alones’. 

 

The salvation of man comes totally by the grace of God alone.  It is a gift of God, not by works, so no one may boast.

 

The salvation of man comes only through Christ alone. We are saved by no other person or thing. There is no other name under heaven given to man, in whom and through whom, we may receive salvation, but only the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (BCP p. 314).

 

No one finds salvation outside of Christ. It is Him and Him alone.  If anything is added, then the work of Christ is compromised and diluted.

 

The salvation of man is by faith alone. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him has eternal life.

 

Belief is the key. Trust, faith.  This is not wishing. Faith is not wishing or hoping for something uncertain. Faith is a certain and sure trust in something certain…in this case, Christ.

 

The salvation of man is always to the Glory of God alone. Glorifying God is the goal of our life. 

We were created by God to give Him glory and honor and praise.

 

Glory is to be given to no other person or thing.  Whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God.

 

The salvation of man is first and foremost….ultimately and finally found in the Scriptures alone. 

 

Church councils and church traditions have their place in the Christian Faith, but they must all be checked by the word of God.

 

God has set before us His word, found in our Bibles and it is to the Bible that the Church must turn and submit ultimately.

 

Any conflict with its contents should be rejected because God’s word cannot err…but man can.

 

The Scriptures and the Scriptures alone are… “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2  Tim 3:16-17, ESV)

 

So today, we gather together a number of elements of teaching, history and Scripture to remember an important aspect of Christian faith.

 

Christ the King is the King because He alone is both the author and finisher of our faith.

We celebrate those who were strong enough and brave enough to withstand the counter pressures the Church placed on them when they tried to unravel what had become so tangled and entrenched.

 

But we celebrate them mainly because they were instruments used by God to bring back to the center of man’s hope, the message of salvation that is found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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