Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Gospel: Matthew 10:16-23 (NIV)
- Hymn: CW 820 “O God Our Help in Ages Past”
- Hymn: CW 870 “O Church Arise”
- Choir: “Be Still”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 864 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
- Hymn: CW 877 “Reformation Song”
- Hymn: CW 640 “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage”
Reformation Sunday (October 29, 2023)
Matthew 10:16-23 Pastor Ryan Wolfe
Stand Firm to the End, and Give God the Glory
Each year as we begin to turn our focus to the end of the church year and the end times we take a day as Lutherans to remember the Reformation. October 31st is the official date for Reformation Day but we celebrate it on the last Sunday of October no matter what day it falls on. It was on October 31st that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That document sparked a whole new conversation in the church about what was true and what wasn’t. But is it a big deal to us that Martin Luther stood up to false doctrine 500 years ago half a world away? Well, yes and no.
Today what we celebrate is not so much the Reformation of the 1500s, but the truths that God restored to the church through it. Rather than revering Luther, we give the glory to God for using Luther to restore the truth. Our theme this morning is remaining steadfast in the truth while we wait in this time between Jesus’ first coming and his last. And in Martin Luther God gives us an excellent example to follow. Luther was pressured by his friends, his government, and by the church itself to bend and forsake the true Word of God. But God empowered Luther to stand firm. Those Lutheran ”watchwords” that we cherish – those “sola” statements that come from the Latin word for “alone.” We have them today in part because God led Luther to stand firm. We know. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone. And because inflation today means every number is higher, we have two extra “solas” added to these original ones. God did this for us in Christ alone, and for all of it we give glory to God alone. Whether we’re remembering three solas or five, we stand firm in these truths to the end. No matter how hard the road might be and no matter what obstacles we find in our path.
The verses of our text from Matthew chapter 10 are a part of Jesus’ “marching orders” to his disciples. He was sending them out in teams of two around Israel to preach about the kingdom of God. He gave them miraculous powers to cast out demons and heal the sick, but he warns them that the job would not be easy. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.”
The disciples need an encouragement to stand firm because they were going out into a world that would see them as prey instead of prophets. People would oppose them, attack them, and mock them. Just one wolf can make a mess of a flock of sheep. Jesus sends them out as outnumbered sheep into a world full of wolves. So Jesus tells them to hold to two important qualities. First, they should be shrewd like snakes. The serpent is called the most crafty of animals in Genesis 3, and snakes are still associated with treachery and deceit in books and movies today. What kind of craftiness? The Greek word for “crafty” here is also translated cunning or wise elsewhere. Snakes are wise enough to remain hidden when enemies are around. They are wise enough to avoid the battles they can, but cunning enough to strike first when a fight is inevitable.
In the context of being sent out to preach about Jesus, the disciples were to go into all the towns of Jerusalem but to be smart about it. If their lives were to be put into unavoidable danger the mission work might look different. We do the same today. We don’t have missionaries in certain countries where people desperately need the gospel of Jesus. But it’s not safe in some places, so we reach out through technology or other means. Our churches fund and support Christian elementary schools and high schools and colleges, not because they can’t learn in a public school but because at a tender and impressionable age the worldview of their teachers matters. All of this is being “shrewd as snakes” as we carry the Word to our families and neighbors in the wisest way.
Jesus also tells them to be innocent as doves. That quality needs little explanation. As the disciples faced opposition and persecution, they were to remain innocent. To continue saying the right things. And doing the right things. And responding in the right way. In other words, let the world rage on but stand firm in faith and righteousness.
Martin Luther was far from a perfect man, but he was shrewd and he tried to be innocent as he could. When the Pope issued a decree that anyone could kill Luther without committing a sin or a crime, Luther took a break from public appearances. His friends hid him away in the Wartburg castle for a year. But he didn’t stop working for the Gospel. While he was there he translated the New Testament into German. There were other German translations before Luther’s, but they weren’t good, and they often weren’t sourced in the original languages but were translations of translations. In the face of a literal death sentence, God led Luther to perhaps his greatest contribution to the Church. The Bible back in the hands of believers to read for themselves. Luther stood firm and gave God the glory.
How does shrewdness and innocence play out in your life? We live in a country where we don’t usually face any real persecution for what we believe. Maybe you can’t think of a single time when you faced what Jesus said we will face. Maybe that’s true by God’s blessing. Praise him! Or have you not faced persecution because your faith has been hidden? Could a stranger look at your life and identify you as a Christian? We don’t look like the rest of the world. We can’t blend in. Our faith is obvious by the choices we make, the priorities we set, the lives we live. And the darker the world gets the more we will stand out. A Christian who doesn’t speak or witness to their faith – a believer who isn’t different, who doesn’t make worship and Bible study a priority – isn’t living as God wants. They, we, need to go back to the cross, confess our sins, and ask God to make us bold to stand firm.
And we can, because Jesus says he will give us the boldness to stand firm and to speak. He told the disciples that when they faced the difficult road, he would even give them the words they need. “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
If you know your Bible history, you know how that played out 2000 years ago. John & Peter stood before city leaders and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Paul spoke before Caesar himself in Rome. If you know your Reformation history, you know how that played out 500 years ago. At a point in his life when Luther only knew God’s threat of punishment, he found God’s love on display in the Bible. The Holy Spirit led him to rediscover that sinners aren’t saved by our attempts at good deeds. No, we’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone! Luther rejoiced at the good news of forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Of righteousness earned by Jesus and credited to us as a gift. The shackles of sin were thrown off of Luther’s heart. And filled with that Gospel, Luther spoke and wrote, standing firm on those truths that cannot and must not be lost ever again. Because in his time it had been lost.
Luther was eventually brought before the Emperor’s representative and told to deny what he had written or die. There at the Diet of Worms Jesus did exactly what he had promised. In the face of persecution Luther stood firm on the Word. And the Holy Spirit gave Luther the right words to say: Unless you can prove from the Bible and clear reason that I have made wrong statements, I cannot and will not take back anything. My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand! I can do no other. God help me. With those words, Luther based his faith, our church, on a solid foundation. No matter what, we stand firm to the end. To God be the glory!
This Reformation weekend, may God give us the same resolve. While we wait for the arrival of our Savior into a world that doesn’t seem like it is going to last much longer, pray that God gives you the same faith in Christ alone and the same heart of faithfulness as Luther. We know the road will be difficult, and Jesus tells us at the end of these instructions that families will be torn apart because of him. Many of us can think of examples of parents and children, husbands and wives, who suffer because someone rejects Christ and his will. The wives who come to church in spite of unbelieving husbands who mock them. The parents and grandparents who upset their children by faithfully warning them of the danger of a sinful lifestyle. Yes, even our own families will hate us at times because of Jesus.
But listen to Jesus’ promise in verse 22. “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We’re in the time in between right now, but make no mistake – the end is coming. But when it does we won’t face God’s judgment alone; we’ll stand behind our Savior of grace. And he will usher us into the glories of heaven. Brothers and sisters, let this gospel resound in your heart and mind, and be transformed by its sweet promises and call to action. Stand firm in the truth. Reject our sinful desire to hide our faith and live for ourselves. Stand firm, no matter how hard it gets or how long it takes. Even if the enemy is your own sinful heart. Stand firm, and give God the glory. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us. Amen.