10-22-17 SOLUS CHRISTUS: CHRIST ALONE

SOLUS CHRISTUS: CHRIST ALONE

Acts 4: 8-12

 

Dr James Allan Francis, in his book The Real Jesus and Other Sermons, published by Judson Press in 1926, wrote these words about our Lord:

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Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…

 

Those classic words begin our time today. So far in this series we have affirmed that there is no equal to the Bible as our guidebook for life: Scripture Alone. Ullrich Zwingli was the Reformer who was the biggest proponent of that stand. Next, we looked over the shoulder of Martin Luther in his discovery as a priest. He turned in Paul’s Letter to the Romans and read: in Romans 3:28 that “people are justified by faith apart from works of law.” The Sola? Sola Fides: Faith Alone. Last week we heard Paul himself expound on another bedrock of the Reformed faith: In Ephesians 2:8 he wrote: “For by grace you are saved through faith; this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” The Sola of course? Sola Gratia- by Grace Alone. Today we come to the pinnacle of Christian understanding. if we were to use one of Jesus’ analogies, we would say it’s the one that separates the sheep from the goats; or actually the Christians from the non-Christians. Solus Christus- though Christ Alone. There are plenty of titles for Jesus: “Lamb of God,” “Good Shepherd,” “The Door,” or “The Way” just to name a few. Jews of his day called him “Rabbi.” But the pinnacle for followers of Christ is answering this question from Jesus. In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks his disciples this question: “Who do you say that I am?” Here is the gold-standard answer that Peter gave, and it is the answer for each of us who call ourselves Christians: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” People who follow Jesus as Lord (not just as a good example, or a prophet, or an enlightened man, but truly as Lord) call him the “Christ,” (which means the Anointed One, or Messiah.)  Years ago I had a man challenge me on that subject, claiming we should only call Jesus “Christ” and not “The Christ.” He said calling Jesus “the Christ” is a “new age falsehood.” Tell that to Peter who said it! Tell that to Jesus who affirmed it and gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom! Christ is not a last name; it is a powerful affirmation: like “ the Messiah.” “The Christ” means there is no other. And there is not. There is no other name by which we are surely saved. The Reformers wrenched a different idea away from the church leaders of their day; the church in the 15th and 16th centuries said Christians were not entirely saved by Jesus’ death on the cross and his rising to new life. Salvation, they said, had to be completed by the church, through the sacraments, administered by a priest. The Reformers, with their noses buried in Scripture, declared what Peter declared in Acts 4: 11-12: [Jesus Christ of Nazareth] is the stone that the builders rejected, which has become the head and the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among us by which we must be saved.”    That is the foundation of the Christian faith. Notice all the builder’s terms. Jesus is “the head and the cornerstone.” A proper cornerstone sets the direction that a building will face. Set it at the wrong angle and a wall could veer too close to a nearby building or street. The cornerstone, placed first, gives direction to the church building. We can set the direction for our lives when we set the cornerstone of Christ in our life first. There is no other compass that need be in the Christian tool belt than one, like our steeple, that points heavenward, to true north.

 

Permit me a rather extensive description of how Martin Luther came to know the ultimate power of Christ on the cross. You’ll recall, first of all, that Jesus himself claimed that title—the Christ—in Mark 14: 61. The High Priest, questioning Jesus, asked him: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said these revolutionary words: “I am; and you will seen the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Jesus is the Christ. And for many, that is the greatest comfort and blessed assurance. The great late Dr. Roland Bainton, theologian, minister, and Professor of Church History at Yale Divinity School, wrote this brilliant description in his book Here I Stand- A Life of Martin Luther:

Luther had come into a new view of Christ and a new view of God. He had come to love the suffering Redeemer and the God unveiled on Calvary. But were they, after all, powerful enough to deliver him from the hosts of hell? The cross had resolved the conflict between the wrath and the mercy of God, and Paul had reconciled for him the inconsistency of the justice and the forgiveness of God, but what of the conflict between God and the Devil? Is God lord of all [Luther wondered], or is he himself impeded by demonic hordes?

[A Mentor Book, 1950, p 50.]

 

Luther felt tormented by the Devil The Reformers, particularly Luther, were working to carve out the full power of our Savior Jesus over the Devil. And they did it by digging into Scripture and in some cases, putting it to verse. Listen to one verse of many of Luther’s that is similar in meter to that of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which we will sing next week:

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold fast to me,

From now on thou wilt make it.

I gave my very life for thee

And for thee I will stake it.

For I am thine and thou art mine,

And where I am our lives entwine

The Old Fiend cannot shake it.”

{Bainton, p. 51]

The old fiend cannot shake it. Luther wrote about how he had grounded himself in Christ.

 

John Killinger author and former Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lunchburg, Virginia, gave the summer Princeton Institute of Theology lectures in 1982, the year after I graduated. He was addressing students preparing for the Christian ministry. He told them this:

Christ and you. Christ and me. Christ and us, if you will forgive the emphatic bad grammar. Our problem is that we run dry, don’t we? The energy goes, the pump gives out; the bread is exhausted, because we get so busy supplying everybody else’s needs…. Lets not pretend, with each other or ourselves. Ministry is a lonely place without Christ. Ministry is exhausting without Christ. Ministry is impossible without Christ. Feeding on him is the only way to make it….  [Christ in the Seasons of Ministry, Word Books, 1983, p. 51]

 

Today, if you are saved by Christ, there is not an asterisk by that claim that says—in small print—“and also through the church, and through the sacraments, and through my good works.” No. We are saved through Christ alone, or we’re on sinking sand. What a blessed assurance God offered Paul when he inspired the New Testament; and what an assurance we find written in the book of Acts, chapter 4: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among us by which we must be saved.”

 

I started with the words of Dr. James Allan Francis known as “One Solitary Life.” Let me close with the words of Stuart Townsend and Keith Getty from our anthem today. It is a wonderful statement of faith. In part it reads:

In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light my strength, my song: this Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm…. And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me; for I am his, and he is mind bought with the precious blood of Christ….Here in the pow’r of Christ I stand.

 

Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          October 22, 2017