1 Timothy 2:3-6
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
In the movie, “City Slickers,” a city dweller named “Mitch” deals with a mid-life crisis by going with two friends to a cattle ranch to learn how to be a cowboy. His life is a mess, and he’s feeling lost. While they’re there, a wise old cowboy tells him his philosophy of life. He says the key to life is this (he holds up one finger). “One thing,” he says. “What is it?” says Mitch. “What’s the one thing?” The cowboy says, “That’s what you have to figure out.”
Back in the 1600’s Martin Luther had his own personal crisis on his hands. He was a brilliant young man with a bright future as a lawyer. One would have thought he’d be happy and well-adjusted. But he had a tender conscience. And he had been raised to believe that Jesus was an angry judge. No matter how hard he tried, his conscience still bothered him. It was never enough. Eventually he quit law school to become a monk. Even that wasn’t enough to appease his guilty conscience.
For Luther, the key to life was one thing. Eventually Luther learned what that one thing was, not just for him, but for all of us, and it wasn’t something he had to figure out. He found it in Scripture. Solus Christus: Christ alone. There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. One mediator. One Savior. Solus Christus.
We might have thought it should have been obvious. He knew the Bible better than we do, how could he have missed it? But the churches of his day had such an elaborate system of confession and penance, that people were led to think Christ wasn’t enough. It wasn’t Solus Christus, it was Christus Et, “Christ AND.” Christ AND my penance. Christ AND my good works. But it has to be Christ Alone. Once you add an AND to Christ, it’s not Solus Christus anymore. If you try to lean on Christ AND anything else, you lose Christ completely.
We know this, of course. But it’s not enough to just know the facts. Even when we know it’s Solus Christus in our heads, in our sinful hearts we may still be shouting Christus Et: Christ AND my hard work, my good deeds. And it shows. Like Luther we may feel desperate and depressed about our work, like we can never be satisfied, like God can never be satisfied: no matter how much I do it’s never enough. Or on the other hand we might be feeling so comfortable with all our work that we can hardly think of any sins to confess. I’m a good person, I’m totally satisfied with myself, so God must be, too. Sinful despair, sinful arrogance: either way we’re showing we’re not satisfied with Solus Christus. We’ve plunged ourselves headlong into Christus Et. It may not seem like a big deal. As long as I get my work done, we may tell ourselves. It’s true, that may keep the people around us happy. But our Christus Et attitude stinks to high heaven. And all of us have been guilty of it. There’s only one mediator between God and mankind, and it’s not you. Solus Christus.
My fellow believers, praise the Lord with me again today for Solus Christus! As our text says, Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people. A ransom is a payment. The ransom for sinners was unimaginably high, and none of us could pay. Only one could. Solus Christus. It had to be one payment, one perfect sacrificial substitute, the One for the many. By suffering and dying in our place, Jesus lifted the debt that hangs on every sinner’s neck and he hung it on his own. And just so that there would be no doubt about whether his payment really counted, he rose again on the third day, proving to all the world that it did.
Fellow sinners, he paid for you. You still have the memory of your sins. That doesn’t disappear. You can still see how the ugly desire to add an AND to Christ has shown up in your thinking, and in the things you’ve said and done. But now as you look at all those sins, every single one of them is marked “paid,” and so are all the others, even the ones you can’t remember. Jesus has settled your debt of sin forever. His death is your ransom. Now you can serve without despair, without arrogance, but with humble confidence. You can say, I have a Savior, and it’s not me! All is well! Even in the midst of hard work and stress - what joy! What unfathomable joy when our work in this world is done and we meet our maker. Don’t look at me, not my record, Lord: Solus Christus!
The Lutheran Reformation is centuries old, but you and I still know what Luther was fighting against. The battle was first of all within. Like him, we drive ourselves alternately from despair to arrogance by our natural dependence on our own good works. But our sin is a debt we can never pay off. You and I also share in the joy of Luther’s discovery. Christ is our freedom from sin’s eternal debt. Listen to the glorious good news of today’s text, my fellow believers! God loves you and forgives you. Nothing else can stack up to that, not all the praise of your peers, not all the success stories of your life, not all the kudos for a job well done, not any of it. The key to life is one thing, and you don’t have to figure out what that one thing is. You already have it. Solus Christus.
Prayer at the Close of Day Devotion, October 4, 2023
Author: Pastor Jon Zabell
Copyright (c) 2023, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI 54301
Bible text, NIV (c) Biblia, 2011