Based on: Jeremiah 18:1-11
Just north of Zhengzhou, China there is a road cut into the side of a cliff. It is less than a mile long and only about twelve feet wide with a wall of rock on one side and a sudden drop of hundreds of feet on the other side. It is called “The road that does not tolerate any mistakes”. It sounds like the title fits, don’t you think? On a road like that you have to constantly watch where you are going. You must always be careful to stay on the road. The Reformation is like that. The Reformation is a constant vigilance concerning God’s Word to make sure we stay on the road. We dare not think of the Reformation as an event in the past. No, the Reformation continues.
It is too often the case that God’s chosen people in the Old Testament give us an example of what not to do. The people of Judah had gone off the road. They let their eyes wander from the road and they veered off the path that was pleasing to God and were headed for the chasm below.
It was purely by his grace that God sent the prophet Jeremiah to pull, push, and prod them back onto the road. But the people of Judah were stubborn and reforming them would not happen until the Babylonians took them into captivity. As we read from Jeremiah chapter 18, we heard about one of those pushes to try to get Judah back on the road.
God told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. While Jeremiah was there he saw the potter working with his clay. Jeremiah watched and saw that there was something wrong with the piece of pottery the potter was making. The potter did what he had the right to do – he made it into something else. The potter was in control and could do what he wanted with his clay.
Here was the message Jeremiah was to present to the people of Judah – just like the potter and his clay the creator has the right to do what he wants with his creation. Since that is true, what will God do with a group of people who are not doing what he wants them to do? He will uproot, tear down, and destroy them. On the other hand, if a group of people repent and follow God’s will, God will bless them and build them up.
If the people of Judah compared themselves to God’s will for them – the way he wanted them to live – they would see their disobedience and God’s impending punishment. They would know they needed to hear God’s Gospel promises. “Turn from your evil ways . . . reform your ways and actions,” God said.
When you run off the highway a change is required to get back on the right road. That is reformation. Reformation is not a change just for the sake of change, but a change that takes you back to the way things should be. We could define reformation as a change that brings us back to the Gospel, back to the good news that Jesus Christ rescued us from the most horrible of suffering.
That also means that reformation is for our own good. God told the people of Judah to change, to come back to him, so he could bless them with his promises. He tells us to listen to his Word for the same reason, so he can bless us with forgiveness.
Martin Luther understood the need for change. The church had gone off the road and was not teaching the truth about the Gospel. One of the ways the church strayed was with the sale of indulgences. Through indulgences the church was trying to sell the forgiveness that Christ had already paid for with his blood. On October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther posted 95 statements describing the problems with indulgences.
False teachings in the church were getting in the way of the Gospel. Full and free forgiveness from God was not clearly heard or taught. Reform was needed. That is why Luther changed the liturgy to communicate to the people that our Lord’s body and blood in Holy Communion bring us forgiveness for sins. That is why Luther started replacing the Latin in the worship service with German – so that God’s wonderful promises could be clearly communicated.
Luther also knew that change could go too far. The wrong change could take you off the road on the other side. There were people in Luther’s time who wanted to get rid of statues, stained glass, and even the liturgy, because it came from the Catholic church. Luther recognized the value of these things in communicating the Gospel and held on to them.
God used Luther to push, pull, and prod many back onto the road and away from the dangers on either side of the road, but we dare not think that Martin Luther did the difficult work and now the Reformation is over. No, the Reformation continues. The Reformation is ongoing – not in the sense that we are way off the path and need to be brought back on, but in the sense that we must always be vigilant and watchful that we do not go off the path. We must always look for the little reforms or changes we need to continue communicating clearly God’s message of salvation to a dying world.
That we need to continue maintaining the Reformation should make sense. If you paint a fence white you have made a change. If you want it to stay white you eventually have to paint it again . . . and then again and again. If you have machinery that is in good working order, it doesn’t stay that way on it’s own. You have to maintain it. You need to make constant small changes in order to keep it the same.
But not all changes are good and we must be careful. How do we know what changes to make? Just like the people of Jeremiah’s time and the people of Luther’s time, we study God’s Word. We want to understand the details of God’s plan of salvation. We want to stay on the road where we receive God’s blessings, not turning to the right or to the left, and we want to be able to clearly communicate to others that their sins are forgiven, eternal life is theirs.
To study God’s Word and see Christ’s work for us is the joy of every Christian. The continuing Reformation is the work of every Christian, because eternal life comes to each one of us through our own faith and not through the faith of anyone else. As a Christian we each want to be sure that we are staying on the road.
Without knowing God’s Word even small changes will take us farther and farther off the road. That is just one reason why we do not worship with churches that teach and preach differently, because even a small compromise can have huge consequences.
We want to stay on the road? The road is the spiritually safe place between the hard rock and the cliff. It is the place where we receive God’s blessings, because it is the Gospel. When we teach and preach everything Christ has commanded us then we have God’s blessings coming down on us in fullest measure.
When you are on the road you will hear the ugly truth about yourself – that you are a sinner deserving eternal death. It isn’t pleasant to hear, but it is for your eternal good. When you are on the road you will also hear how God saved you from eternal death. You will hear about Jesus dying for you. You will hear that he suffered the death of hell in your place. On this road you receive the forgiveness he won for you in his Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This road is eternal life.
The Reformation continues. It did not end with Luther. It really didn’t start with Luther. Reformation is nothing more than wanting to receive as much of God’s blessings as possible. To do that we search the Scriptures. We see God’s great love for us in Christ and his salvation for us on the cross and we hold on to that truth. By God’s grace we stay on the road into eternal life.