So we have now come to the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. What I want to do is briefly remind you of certain key elements in that Reformation, and then address the meaning of time and anniversaries. What are we doing when we commemorate things like this? Recall that 500 years is 8% of human history. These issues are not insignificant trifles.
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; And if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, Yet is their strength labour and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, And the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, And thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: And establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Ps. 90:10–17).
Summary of the Text:
On average, we are assigned 70 years (v. 10), and 80 by reason of strength sometimes (v. 10). But even in that strength there is labor, sorrow and vanity. It is soon cut off, and we fly away (v. 10). We have this struggle because of the anger of God. When God withholds His hand, we run riot in our lusts. But when God chastises, it often seems to land heavily on the ones who seek to acknowledge Him (v. 11; Heb. 12:6). “And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been . . .” (Gen. 47:9). It cannot be denied that God frequently loads up His favorites with troubles, but there is a deep purpose in it. Our response should be—and here is our point—to request that God use it all to teach us about time. Teach us to number our days so that we might behave with wisdom (v. 12). Affliction is intended to teach wisdom. But though God has good purposes in loading us up with troubles, we are still within bounds to ask Him to stay His hand (v. 13). In the midst of all our labor and sorrow, if God grants our request then we will rejoice and be glad all our days (v. 14). Our request ascends to the very pinnacle of faith—make us glad according to the days of our affliction (v. 15). We pray that God would show His work to His servants and to their children (v. 16). Remember that children and grandchildren are one of the central ways for us to number our days across generations. And then, with all of this in mind, may the beauty of the Lord rest upon us. May His beauty adorn our labor, sorrow, affliction and gladness, and consequently establish it (v. 17).
A Reminder of the Solas:
One wiseacre once asked why they are called solas—since there are five of them. But if you meditate on them in wisdom, you see instantly how they all harmonize in one gospel. It is no more a contradiction than Paul’s statement that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
We believe in sola Scriptura. This means that Scripture is our only infallible and ultimate authority. We believe in sola fide, which means that we are saved through the sole instrument of faith in Jesus Christ. We affirm sola gratia, which teaches us that it is the grace of God alone that moved Him to save us—nothing that we did contributed to this. We have one Savior—solus Christus—Jesus Christ alone is our deliverance. And all of these together redound to the glory of God alone—soli Deo gloria.
This is all right at the heart of what was recovered in the Reformation. It is all about gospel, all about Jesus, all about the Bible, and all about the salvation of sinful men. This is it; this is our central business. But once it has done its work, what is this central business supposed to affect? The answer is everything.
Numbering Our Days:
So you have numbered your days. But what fills up your days? Sweeping the floor. Working on legal briefs. Writing code. Writing novels. Changing diapers. Driving a bus. Washing windows. Teaching children. Managing an office. Filing papers. Answering the phone. Swinging a hammer. Studying at college. Emptying the trash. Counseling people. Painting pictures. Painting houses. Doing graphic design. Troubleshooting computers. Laying asphalt. Manufacturing breakfast cereal. Making movies. Deep frying French fries.
We are not commemorating the appearance of a particular doctrine, as though Luther were a comet that appeared in the sky and then disappeared. All the activities mentioned above are marked on our calendars. They occur in history, in time, in the course of our lives. So we are not remember the doctrine-comet that came and went. We are remembering 500 years of the work that grace accomplished, the culture and civilization that grace built, the shaping and direction of human history that was accomplished. We are recounting 500 years of cumulative grace.
Now to a certain kind of “spiritual-mindedness,” given some of the activities mentioned that He assigns to us, it would seem that God is not very high-minded. Now this is quite true. Our notions of true spirituality and His often vary. “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Remember that He is the one who thought up a Messiah in a manger, and a Savior nailed to a tree. No, He is not high-minded.
“For thus saith the high and lofty One That inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, With him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Is. 57:15).
God is the high and lofty one. He is the one who inhabits eternity. His name is ultimate holiness. He dwells in the high and holy place. And where else does He dwell? He dwells with the lowly. God’s calculus of worthwhileness is not the same as ours. And so it is that He deigns to dwell with losers like us—losers predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the very Son of God.
The Doctrine of Vocation
One of the principal fruits of the Reformation was the restoration of dignity to the work of the ordinary man and woman. A waitress is just as called to her vocation as a minister is to his. We are not divided into a two-tier system—where the clerics are holy, and a grubby laity pay the bills. A gospel that reaches down to every person has the effect of lifting up every person. And this is why—for just one more bit of Latin—we are enabled to live out every aspect of our lives coram Deo, before God. This is why R.C. Sproul rightly says that “right now counts forever.”
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2).
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).