IF I HAD A HAMMER
The following is the first Reformation sermon I ever preached (1982) and was used subsequently at each of my congregations - just once. Particularly memorable seemed to be the use of a block of wood, duct-taped to a thickly folded towel and barstool set next to me in the pulpit, upon which I could pound with a hammer at * times indicated with an asterisk *... (One poor lady honestly once thought that I was destroying the pulpit itself!)
29 "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
(One of the traditional Scripture readings for a Reformation Sunday is Romans 3:19-28
to which small references are made in the following message.)
INTRO: On October 31st, 4----- years ago (in 1517), Martin Luther nailed his invitation to a debate on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg, Germany. Like "the shot heard 'round the world" at the start of the Revolutionary War, those hammer blows resounded the world-over, signaling the beginning of Luther's rise to universal acclaim as a great reformer.
Shots and hammer blows often seem to go hand-in-hand with efforts at reform! - "Taxation without representation" was the issue needing reform when hammers forged the guns to be used in the Revolutionary War. The Hammer-&-Sickle emblem of the U.S.S.R. represented its so-called reform. Martin Luther King, crusading to reform the rights permitted to minority races, was cut down by a shot from a sniper in 1968, - and, in that same decade of student and racial unrest, America's radio stations blared out a song calling for reform:
If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning; I'd hammer in the evening, all over this land...
I'd hammer out danger, I'd hammer out a warning; It's the hammer of justice, ... freedom,
...LOVE between my brothers and my sisters all over this land!
Here is a hammer that we'll primarily let represent the power and force of God's Word (shown to listeners), reflecting the chosen text-verse of Jeremiah 23:29— "Is not My Word ... says the LORD ... like a hammer that breaks rock in pieces?"
(*BANG, *BANG) There it was, posted for all to see, the invitation to compare what the Bible has to say with the practices of the Church in Luther's day. There were 95 claims that it made, and they just scratched the surface of all the abuses put forth in the Name of Christ, because the earthly Church had drifted away from God's Word and replaced His will with the traditions of men. Reform truly was needed, back to the original Christian Church, insofar as it WAS built on God's Word - in Moses' writing of the Law, the proclamations of the Prophets, and the teachings of Jesus and His direct Apostles who followed after Him.
How did that get lost? How did paying money for forgiveness of sins and so many other unbiblical things creep into the Church? What had set the stage for the Church to even ban the availability of the Bible to lay-people at all?
Perhaps a major reason is that Satan simply caused such things to sneak in unawares over a long period of time. The Bible still existed in Latin, but it wasn't published in the spoken languages of many nations. But again, this much IS certain, that Christ's directive to continue in His Word had slipped away by subordinating that Word to the reasoning and grandiose schemes of human-beings. (Schemes like raising money to build Rome's greatest cathedral through the sale of "indulgences," as they were called!)
All kinds of Church reforms were needed, but especially to get the Bible back into the hands of the people - so they could examine what God's Word says for themselves and not just be led around by the nose with whatever a corrupt clergy wanted them to think and believe. - As God's instrument to reach out to a dying humanity, Luther had come to recognize not only the need, but also his own God-given ability to provide for that need by translating the Bible (first the New Testament, at least) into the language of his countrymen; a service which was all the more enhanced by the aid of the newly invented printing press, - a marvelous gift of God's mercy!
Although Jesus accurately predicted the hypnosis and falling-away of hosts of people by false-teaching and corruption, He also had promised that His Word would last for eternity though all else should pass away. - Through Luther His promise rang out loud and true! (*BANG,*BANG) - When prophets in Jeremiah's day were prone to make-up what they said, he responded with the text-verse:— "Is not MY Word ... says the LORD ... like a hammer that breaks rock in pieces?"
THE LAW AS A HAMMER
(*BANG, *BANG) The Word of God's LAW hammers and snipes away at our sinful human natures, showing up the fact that we all HAVE sinned and fall short of the Glory of God... - "Thou shalt not kill, but (as Luther put it) help and befriend your neighbor in every bodily need." We DON'T always do that, DO we? (*BANG) "Thou shalt not steal, but help your neighbor to improve and protect his property and business." We DO fall SHORT! (*BANG) "Nor shalt thou covet ANYthing which is thy neighbor's." (*BANG) Jesus said you must "Be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (*BANG) "Who ever keeps the whole Law, but fails in one point, has become guilty of ALL of it" the Word says. (*BANG) "The wages of sin is death." (*BANG) "...(You can) be sure, your sin will find you out." (*BANG) "Without the shedding of BLOOD there is NO forgiveness of sins." (*BANG) --- God's Word of Law smashes us to pieces!
(*BANG, *BANG) Shouts come from the crowd. His first hand is being nailed down. (*BANG, *BANG) Now starts His second hand, and a louder roar from the crowd. -- Now they're nailing His feet (*BANG, *BANG, *BANG) and the crowd is CHEERING! -- It was MY cheer, it was YOURS. GET Him, KILL Him, CRUCIFY Him!!! (*BANG, *BANG, *BANG) WE cheered it all on, for Scripture tells us that "while WE were yet sinners Christ died for us."
THE GOSPEL AS A HAMMER
God has been in the business of reformations since the beginning. His Word says that, "Now, if anyone is IN Christ, (that person) is a New Creation!" - Each time we're privileged to witness a Baptism, it's God's creative Word in action saying, "LET THERE BE LIFE..." (We're blessed to behold it with our babies, that God takes their little lives and RE-FORMS them, from Adam's children to His own, adopting them as His own dear children as He Himself 'calls them by name.') Once upon a time God did that for EACH of us who has been baptized or brought to conversion. --- Born again! Re-created! RE-FORMED! EXPLOSION into new life!! (*BANG)
The Gospel is the "DYNAMITE" of God for salvation it says in Romans' first chapter, where the verse also appears that prompted Luther's own personal reformation:— "..(In the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed ... and he who through FAITH is righteous SHALL LIVE." (That revelation to Luther, a man who suffered incredible torment of conscience, changed him and made him a prolific writer of hymns of praise and materials to teach people.)
"JUSTIFICATION" is the word that describes his insight. - Being DECLARED righteous by God and receiving His pronouncement through faith without ANY works WE have to do is the great over-arching principle of the whole Church Reformation. Now restored was the rich proclamation of God's GOOD News for His people:— that God has given us His acceptance not on the basis of our own short-falling merits, but on the basis of Christ's PERFECT merit!
"God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin," and in judging JESUS with the demand for blood-ransom, God also therefore declared Christ's righteousness to be ours. (What a revelation for Luther AND for us!)
The word "propitiation" used in Romans 3 literally means "Mercy Seat." That was the lid of the ancient Ark of the Covenant which, when covered with sacrifice-blood, God promised it would cover His people's sins from His sight and He would forgive them. CHRIST literally BECAME that lid, Romans 3 is saying, and in so-doing OUR sins are screened from God's sight. He only sees us covered in the Blood and Righteousness of Christ Himself, ... and that IS DYNAMITE!!!
Some other Bible verses say:— "Christ is our Wisdom and Righteousness" (and not we ourselves), and "In Him we become the righteousness of God." - It was also prophesied beforehand that "He shall be called 'The Lord is our Righteousness.' "
CONCL: The Hammer of God's Word of Law brings down His full wrath at sin, but Jesus took the blows. The Hammer of God's Gospel now breaks sin's chains and sets us FREE! That's the great Good News of the Bible that re-forms us every day, as we follow Luther's encouragement to daily "remember our Baptisms" by confessing our sins to God and walking away assured by His precious promise that "If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL UNrighteousness." --- It's all a free gift, and therefore unable to be earned or deserved. Pure Grace! And it's able to be received only through the faith that God has worked in us by bringing to us (through Luther) His "Hammer" of Law AND Gospel:— His WORD!
Grace alone! (*BANG) Faith alone! (*BANG) Scripture alone! (*BANG) - Those were the three great principles of the Reformation underlying and illuminating "Justification."
Thank God we don't have to wander around like the campus-radicals of the 60's exclaiming, "If only I HAD a hammer of reform, justice, freedom and love." — God's servant, Martin Luther, was used to place exactly such a "Hammer" in our hands. Let's never neglect so precious a gift, but always be found continuing in using that Hammer of Reform:— God's sin-smashing, freedom and life-giving WORD!!!