But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Trinity 4
Augsburg Confession-2024

Augsburg Confession (transferred) – Jeremiah 6:16-19

Please listen with me to a reading from the 6th chapter of the Prophet Jeremiah, beginning at the 16th verse.

Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people – the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words nor My law, but rejected it.”

Beginning around the year 1811, fur traders began to plot out a safe and reliable route for traveling from Missouri to the Pacific Northwest. By trial and error, they figured out which rivers were navigable, and which were not. They figured out which mountain passes were traversable, and which were not.

In 1843, when land-hungry settlers from the eastern United States were encouraged in earnest to migrate to the Oregon Territory, the “Oregon Trail” that the fur traders had mapped was therefore in place and known, as a reliable route for these settlers to take, so that they would arrive safely at their intended destination.

As the years went by, and as more and more people migrated to Oregon, this trail became well-worn. Anyone with any sense who wanted to go to Oregon, went by means of this oft-traveled route.

Great danger, and a very real possibility of utter disaster, awaited anyone who presumed to try to carve out a new pathway for himself from Missouri to Oregon. And only a fool would think that there would be any reason to do that, rather than following the tried and true Oregon Trail.

Through the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord gave this directive to his people:

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.”

Jesus, during his earthly ministry, also sometimes used the imagery of a path or roadway, in describing the way of faith and of Christian discipleship; and in describing himself as the object of a saving faith. He said, as recorded in St. Matthew:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

And as St. John reports, Jesus also said:

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

St. Paul draws on the imagery of walking or traveling down a specific pathway that has been laid out before us, when he describes the baptismal life of a believer in Christ, who is clothed and indwelt with Christ. Paul writes to the Romans that we were buried with Christ Jesus “by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Jesus is, as it were, the trailblazer of our salvation. In the spiritual realm, he is similar in some ways to the traders who laid out the Oregon Trail in the early 19th century.

In the context of explaining that we, by faith, are now within the heavenly and spiritual temple of God, the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that in Christ we have “a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever.”

From one perspective, Jesus does indeed show us the way, and tell us what the pathway back to God truly is. He calls upon us to repent of our sins.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he says. And he invites us to come to him for the peace of divine forgiveness. “Come to me,” he says, “and I will give you rest.”

From another perspective, though, Jesus – in his person and work – is the way. “Come to me,” he says.

And in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul says of the Lord, and of our relationship with him: “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

The pathway of salvation that Jesus has prepared for us, to which he points us, and that he himself embodies, is a well-worn pathway. The saving truth of God to which we have access in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures is the same saving truth to which God’s people have always had access.

The Epistle to the Hebrews therefore says:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.”

And this is a necessary warning. The apostle Paul also offers such a warning in this admonition to his protégé Timothy:

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth, and wander off into myths.”

Today, we as a Confessional Lutheran congregation are marking the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This took place, at the Diet of Augsburg, in 1530.

Between Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses in 1517, and the meeting of this imperial assembly, much had transpired in the religious life of Europe. The medieval practice of selling indulgences had reached a new low.

Johann Tetzel, under the pope’s authorization, had told his audiences that the purchase of an indulgence would release from purgatory the soul of a loved one – or even the purchaser’s own soul when he dies someday. Luther, as a professor of Holy Scripture and as a pastor – indeed, as a called and ordained “watchman” of the Lord – raised an objection to this.

He saw nothing of indulgences in the Bible, let alone of the procuring of indulgences through money. And while he was at it, he also saw nothing in the Bible of purgatory and nothing of the kind of papal authority that could invent doctrines such as this: which actually contradicted what the Bible does say about the true comfort that the gospel offers to those who struggle with the guilt of sin and with the fear of death.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul writes that Abraham

“did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what [God] had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now it was not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Paul also writes that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The reason why there is such a thing as a Lutheran Church is because many others saw what Luther saw, and evaluated the pope’s teachings regarding indulgences, regarding purgatory, and regarding himself, in the same way as Luther did. These teachings were the kind of “diverse and strange teachings” that the Epistle to the Hebrews warns against.

An examination of church history showed that the orthodox church fathers of antiquity did not hold to the unbiblical ideas then being promoted by Rome, either. The pope and his followers, with respect to the question of how troubled sinners receive God’s grace and find comfort in their fears and trials, have departed from the sound and true pathway that God had laid out for the church in his Word, and that many generations of believers in the past had joyfully and eagerly followed.

And so, the Lutherans called for reform in these areas, and for a clarified and clarifying reassertion of all the ancient truth of God’s revelation regarding who God is, who man is, and how God saves man from sin. When the Emperor asked the Lutherans to present their case for reform and to confess their faith, at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, they willingly complied.

Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses is considered the beginning of the Lutheran movement. The presentation of the Augsburg Confession is considered the beginning of the Lutheran Church.

This confession remains as the primary testimony to the old truth of God’s Word to which our forebears in the faith adhered, to which we adhere, and to which we hope and pray our progeny will likewise adhere.

The Augsburg Confession is almost 500 years old, so it is not new. It describes the old pathway of salvation on which we, by faith, still walk.

But even when the Augsburg Confession was new, it was actually old. It contained no doctrinal innovations.

It reaffirmed the church’s belief in the Triune God and in the incarnation of God’s Son, as the ancient Creeds had affirmed. It declared Jesus to be humanity’s Savior, through his sinless life, his atoning death, and his glorious resurrection.

It admitted humanity’s deep need for a Savior, due to the sinful corruption, the spiritual hostility toward God, and the spiritual separation from God, that all people have inherited. It recognized the supernaturally powerful sacraments that Jesus instituted for his church.

It affirmed the ancient legacy of faith and worship that had been passed down through the centuries and identified the Lutherans with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church that Jesus had instituted and that had always existed.

And in those specific areas where the papacy had diverged from the old pathways of sound doctrine and evangelical preaching, the Augsburg Confession brought necessary correction and recalibration, calling upon the whole church to return to the old pathway and to stay on the old pathway.

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.

Other groups that dissented from the errors of Rome had also begun to emerge by 1530. But those groups dissented not only from Rome’s errant teaching but also from much of Rome’s correct teaching – regarding things that the Lutherans had no problem with. These other groups – specifically the Zwinglians, and various strands of Anabaptists – were now introducing their own new errors.

And so the Augsburg Confession addressed those problems, too, and professed its agreement with the established church when the established church was in fact correct, over against these new sectarian movements. The sectarian groups had “turned away from listening to the truth” in ways that were in some respects worse and more spiritually dangerous than the ways in which the papacy had turned away.

The Roman Church was not wrong about everything. Indeed, the Roman Church was not wrong about most things.

Regarding the doctrines of God, of Christ, of the life of Christ, and of the sacraments instituted by Christ, the Scriptural teaching in its essence was still adhered to. And the Lutherans continued to adhere to that Scriptural teaching, albeit with some fine-tuning.

Historic liturgical traditions that reminded Christians of what the Bible teaches regarding these universally accepted truths, and that served to pass on these Biblical teachings through familiar texts and meaningful symbols, were likewise retained. The Augsburg Confession states that the Lutherans are doing this, and it explains why.

These matters of history regarding the Augsburg Confession – where it came from, and why it was composed – are interesting. Or at least they should be.

But the chief purpose that the Augsburg Confession serves among us, is as a very contemporary witness to the unchanging gospel of Christ crucified for sinners. This gospel saves us from sin and death, fills us with peace and comfort, and prepares us for eternity.

The Augsburg Confession brings conviction to our conscience, as it reminds us of our sins, and as it exposes those sins. The Augsburg Confession announces God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation to our conscience, as it repeats – word for word – the gracious message of hope and life that God reveals in Scripture.

You are saved from your sins by Jesus, as you trust in him, and not by the purchase of an indulgence, or by anything else that you might buy or do.

The Augsburg Confession serves us well in directing us to the divinely instituted means of grace, through which God works to create and strengthen our faith. God’s Word gives eternal life, because Jesus’ Spirit is in it. Baptism saves because Jesus’ promise is in it. The Lord’s Supper forgives, because Jesus himself, in his body and blood, is in it.

And the Augsburg Confession shows us what God’s will for us is – in how we now live our lives – by reminding us of the callings into which God has placed us; and by reminding us of the good works that God wants us to perform for our neighbors, in his name and to his glory.

In all of these ways, the Augsburg Confession, by God’s providence, is an instrument in God’s hands for keeping us on the old pathway that he has laid out for us. It is a testimony to our desire to remain on that pathway. And it is an invitation to all others to join us on that pathway.

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” Amen.