The great spiritual leaders of the past had one thing in common: They lived in the Scriptures. It is where they heard God speaking to them. He revealed his will and assured them that he was there to help in difficult times.
One of those giants in the faith was Martin Luther. On this Reformation Sunday, we look at two portions of Scripture that God used in the reformer’s life and see how they changed his life. We witness here the power of God’s Word to change Luther’s life from a man burdened with guilt to a fearless witness of God’s grace.
Luther’s peers described him as a dynamic personality with a brilliant mind. However, he lived with a strong guilt complex, and that led him to become a monk. The year was 1505. In the Augustinian monastery he hoped to find a merciful God and escape the temptations of the world. Yet even there, even after going to confessions that lasted as long as three hours, he found no peace.
One day God spoke to Luther through these words recorded in Romans 1:16-17:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ÔThe righteous will live by faith.'”
The Holy Spirit spoke to Luther saying, “Martin, do you not understand? You cannot make yourself righteous. God gives you this righteousness. It comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who has died for your sins and imputes righteousness to you. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from all your sins. God sees you as spotless and clean through Christ.”
The spiritual burden was lifted and Luther stood in a personal relationship with God. He had now experienced that he was made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Son of God had set him free. This was and is the gospel that the Church is to proclaim. It is the message being proclaimed to us today. It is the good news that God brings to us when we read his Word.
How sad it is when the Church substitutes morals for this gospel in its preaching. If the gospel is continually proclaimed, works and morals will be fruits of the faith.
Well, Luther could not keep this good news to himself. People must not be kept in bondage as they seek to work their way into the presence of God. On October 31, 1517, he posted ninety-five theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation had begun, but the future would be difficult.
Through the years he pointed out the wrongs of the Church. This offended the leaders, including the pope himself. From the time that he posted the ninety-five theses until April 1521, Luther debated with some very distinguished theologians. Then Emperor Charles V summoned him to Worms to be interrogated by a theologian named John Eck. During that meeting, Eck confronted Luther with his writings and asked if he would be willing to recant them.
At that suggestion Luther asked for time before he answered the question. Eck was not willing to grant him more time, however, the Emperor was more gracious and gave him one day of clemency. Luther went to his cell where he spent the night alone with God. He pondered the Scriptures and prayed. God was personal, and spoke directly through the Word to Martin. (This is the main point in this sermon.)
What words from Holy Scripture God used to speak to Martin Luther, I do not know. However, I believe that God used Psalm 46 to comfort him in his hours of tension. Psalm 46 has become known as Luther’s Psalm and the foundation for his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Can’t you hear the Almighty saying to Luther, “I am your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Because of that, Martin, do not be afraid.”
And when his emotions got out of control, his Savior would say, “Be still and know that I am God.” Charles V was the Emperor; John Eck was a noted theologian and represented the hierarchy of the Church. Both men held much power in their hands. Yet God reminded Luther that He was in charge, and He was the Almighty.
In his cell, Luther knelt and prayed. Then he wrote out a prayer for strength, which we have today. As he left the cell to enter the court room, he heard that still, small voice saying to him, “Remember, my son, I am with you.”
At 4:00 p.m., Luther stood in the midst of a packed court room and heard Eck again ask the question, “Do you recant?” Then came Luther’s famous words, spoken humbly but with conviction: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason Ð I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other Ð my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
When the pope heard the results of the trial, he prayed, “A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard.” Luther was excommunicated from the church.
Luther knew where to turn in his hour of severe testing. Do we not all also have these times of trial? This problem is too great for me to settle. My mind is too small and my reasoning powers are inadequate.
Is this not our problem at times when we are thinking about our relationship with God? In this day, when our culture calls for us to recant, do you know where to turn? Who can help you? Sickness, finance, marriage, relationship with God Ð do you ever wonder where to turn with your doubts? Do you buy a book or go to some religious philosopher for the answers? Luther’s example would be to immerse yourself in the Word of God.
Maybe voicing your opinions these days by standing on the Word of God is not popular. People may not like hearing you say that Jesus is our Savior and we must turn to him Ð we do not need a lot of fancy moralizing in our church. No, we need to hear the Gospel, not just some good works. We need to hear what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Do that and they may give you a title also. Maybe not a wild boar, like the pope called Luther, but perhaps a religious fanatic. That kind of religion is all over, they may say.
If you are an evangelical Christian and speak out clearly based on the Word of God, you may not necessarily win a popularity contest. Our world is not for this. But keep on voicing it anyway.
So be still and know that he is God. He has not changed. As he came into Luther’s life in his predicament, so he will come into yours.