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God’s Glorious Gospel
Isaiah 1:18


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Reformation Sunday—October 31, 2010

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

During the 1950’s and 60’s, one of the most popular programs on television was the crime drama “Perry Mason.”  Each Saturday night millions of viewers tuned into this top-rated show.  The climax of each episode came in the tense courtroom scene, when Perry’s client was always found “not guilty.”

A courtroom scene is the setting for our sermon text, the last verse of today’s Old Testament Reading: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.’”

“Come now, let us reason together,” is the Hebrew way of saying, “Let’s take our case to court; let’s look at the evidence and see if you are guilty.”

The people of Israel in Isaiah’s day were guilty of rejecting God’s ways and neglecting their faith, as the Lord says in today’s reading, “Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”  They turned away from the true God and worshipped false gods, they lived immoral, ungodly lives, they broke God’s commandments and failed to follow his will for their lives. 

The Lord testifies against them in the first chapter of Isaiah, “You are like children I brought up, but now you have rebelled against me.  You are a sinful people, full of guilt, corrupt and evil.  You have forsaken me and turned your backs on me.  Take your evil deeds out of my sight.”

In our text, God brings the people of Israel into the court of divine justice: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.’”  “Let’s take our case to court; let’s look at the evidence and see if you are guilty.”

Like the ancient people of Israel, we too are guilty.  Guilty of rejecting God’s ways and neglecting our faith.  We too have turned away, we too have lived immoral, ungodly lives, we too have broken God’s commandments and failed to follow his will for our lives.  We too are like rebellious children who have turned our backs on our heavenly Father.  The Lord’s condemnation also applies to us: “Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Forensics never played much of a part in Perry Mason, but on the modern-day crime shows they have special chemicals and lights that can always show where blood has been and it is apparently almost impossible to remove all the traces of such a stain.  The Lord declares in the book of Jeremiah, “Even if you wash yourselves with bleach and use an abundance of soap, yet the stain of your sin is still before me.”  Our guilt is like a stain on our souls, a horrible stain so deep and penetrating that we could never cleanse ourselves. 

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.’”  “Let’s take our case to court; let’s look at the evidence and see if you are guilty.”

You have already been weighed in the scale of divine justice, God has already rendered his verdict in the heavenly court.  And what is God’s verdict on you?  That is the second part of our text: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

What is God’s verdict on you?  not guilty!  In today’s Epistle Reading, Paul beautifully explains why you are declared by God not guilty: “[We] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

That is “God’s Glorious Gospel.”  You are declared not guilty, because your sins are all forgiven on account of the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Just as freshly fallen snow covers the countryside and makes everything look pure and clean, God covers your sins with the perfection of Christ.  In God’s sight you are pure and clean.   Psalm 32 beautifully describes God’s attitude toward you on account of Christ: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.”  God does not count your sins against you, for in the scale of divine justice your sins are infinitely outweighed by the perfect holiness of your Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Actually, in God’s heavenly courtroom your sins are never even entered into evidence.  How could they be?  They are gone, forgiven, forgotten.  The Lord declares in Jeremiah, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  And Psalm 103 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Today is Reformation Sunday, the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses which began the Reformation.  Two of my sisters visited Germany last summer and everywhere there they are already preparing for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.  Unfortunately, Germany like most of Europe is now largely unchurched.  But, they will mark the Reformation with huge fanfare, as a great historical event, a turning point in the history of their nation, a major milestone in the world’s cultural development and social progress.  All those things are true, but the Reformation is really about “God’s Glorious Gospel”:  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

That is what we are celebrating this Reformation Sunday and every Sunday.  God forgives all your sins, because his Son gave his life to bring you pardon and peace with God, paying for all your sins with his death upon the cross.  As Jesus declares in today’s Gospel Reading, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”

Imagine an earthly courtroom where the judge up on the bench announces to the defendant: “You will not pay for your crimes.  I am completely pardoning you.  You will not pay the penalty, because I, the judge, I am paying the penalty for you.  I am sentencing myself to get down off the judge’s bench and suffer as your substitute, in your place.  Because I am paying the price for you, I declare you not guilty.”

Paul says in Romans, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”  When he comes again in glory to judge both the living and the dead and you stand before him at the final judgment, that is exactly what Christ will say to you: “Your punishment is already paid, your sentence is already fulfilled.  For I, the judge, laid down my life for you, I paid the price in your place.  Your sins are covered, your transgressions are forgiven, your sin is not counted against you.  I declare you not guilty.”

That is “God’s Glorious Gospel.”  “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”

We probably all have a favorite piece of clothing that has been ruined by some stubborn stain.  No matter how hard you try, that spot just won’t come out.  It seems even the best detergent can’t get rid of every stain.  But, the Lord promises, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.”  Nothing is held against you; no stain remains on your soul.  As the book of Revelation describes you and all believers, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

That is how God sees you: no spot, no stain, washed and made white in the blood of his Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  As Psalm 51 says, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. . .   Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

That is “God’s Glorious Gospel”: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.  ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool.’”

Amen.

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