Everlasting Righteousness, Innocence and Blessedness

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism has a lot of memorable passages such as “What does this mean?” “We should fear and love God,” “This is most certainly true.” Young Lutherans as they go through their confirmation training have the privilege of memorizing portions of the Catechism.

But the real power of Luther’s Small Catechism is that it is so totally based on God’s almighty Word.

I Peter 1:18-19 is the basis of my favorite passages in the Small Catechism:

“You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, [19] but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

This is what Luther wrote on the basis of this passage from I Peter. It comes from the section of the Catechism that teaches us about Jesus in the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.”

These wards are a complete summary of the Christian faith.

First of all, it tells us who Jesus is: true God and true man. This is a mystery we cannot understand but it is clearly taught in the Bible.

The Nicene Creed also teaches the two natures of Christ well:

“And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.

“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”

So too the Athanasian Creed speaks of the two natures of Christ:

“Furthermore it is necessary to eternal salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“For the right faith is that we believe and confess that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.

“God of the substance of his Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world.

“Perfect God and perfect man of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

“Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching his humanity.

“Who, although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ.

“One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking the humanity into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance but by unity of person.

“For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.”

I would rank what Luther wrote in the Small Catechism about the two natures of Christ right up there with what is in our creeds.

One may ask why is this importatnt? The identity of Jesus was a big deal in the early church. Some were denying that Jesus was true God. And Jesus’ divinity is still denied by some who claim to be Christians. So the church spent a lot of time defending the belief that Jesus is true God and true man. Eventually through the influence of Holy Scripture the mystery of the two natures of Christ was enshrined in the doctrine of the Holy Christian Church.

It was necessary for Jesus to be both God and man in order to be our Savior. He had to be true God so that his death on the cross could pay for the sins of the whole world. And he had to be true man so that he could die.

Next the Catechism says that this Jesus is my Lord. Why? Because he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.

If Jesus had not intervened, I would be lost and condemned. That is the truth. I cannot save myself and would perish in my sins if Jesus had not redeemed me. That is why Jesus is my Lord.

Peter says in this passage that we were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our fathers. There is nothing more futile than slavery. Slaves work and work all day every day but never get anything for their efforts. All their work goes for the benefit of someone else. That’s the way slavery is. Life for a slave it is completely futile.

And that is the situation everyone is in without Christ. We may work and work day and night but it is all useless because nothing we can do can save us, can ransom us.

Now we get to the part of the Catechism that is directly related to this passage from I Peter. How has Jesus ransomed me? Not with gold and silver.

For the people to whom Peter is writing, ransoming with silver and gold immediately brought to mind slavery. Slavery was common in Biblical days. Silver and gold were the only ways to redeem a person from slavery.

Since slaves were never paid for their work, it was impossible for slaves to redeem themselves. Someone else had to do it. In the same way, we can’t redeem ourselves from slavery to sin. So someone else had to do it.

But silver and gold, precious as they are, cannot free us from slavery to sin. Only the blood of Jesus and his innocent suffering and death can do that.

And Jesus shed his blood for us willingly. That is why he is my Lord. “That I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom.” Why would I object to living under a king who gave his life for me? Surely this King who shed his blood to ransom me will never let anything harm me.

And so I will serve him “in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” I would not serve and live for someone who shed his blood for me, died for me, and is still dead. Yes, Jesus shed his precious blood for me but he also rose from the dead. And because he is alive I live for him.

2 Corinthians 5:15 puts it this way: “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Because Jesus rose from the dead for me he can be with me at all times and there is nothing he cannot do.

It’s no wonder that Luther’s Small Catechism has lasted so long as a book of instruction for the church. So much of it is based directly on God’s Word. Jesus, who is true God and true man, ransomed me from the futility of slavery to sin. My ransom cost his his own dear blood which he willingly shed for me on the cross. So now I gladly serve him in his kingdom.

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