Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Martin Luther 500 Years Ago Today-- Courage, Content, Consequences

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

500 years ago today Martin Luther single-handedly confronted his church---the most powerful institution of his time.

The Protestant Reformation marked a great turning point in the Christian Church and in the world.

His was an act of courage, a message with content, and there were consequences.

Today, October 31, we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

We remember on this day that Martin Luther began a process that resulted in the recovery of the biblical gospel.

That process required courage, content and certainly had consequences.


This past Sunday, many congregations recalled the efforts of Martin Luther and sang his famous hymn based on Psalm 46 entitled, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

When Luther needed encouragement, comfort, and strength to face the many afflictions and trials that came his way, he would frequently go to Psalm 46 for courage.

He himself explained why he would regularly sing Psalm 46 during times of trouble:

“We sing this psalm to the praise of God,
because He is with us
and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends
His church and His Word
against all fanatical spirits,
against the gates of hell,
against the implacable hatred of the devil,
and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.”

Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah


The 95 theses that Luther nailed on the door of the Wittenberg Church spoke to the issues of the day. They said what others were thinking and afraid to say.

This is a link to the 95 theses. I encourage you to take a moment and review what he said.

He called out his own church for their err---particularly the practice of "indulgences"--- paying the Church to do what they could not do---forgive sin.

The content of his revolt cannot be overstated. He was not an angry or disenfranchised protester.

The pivotal biblical text of the Reformation, according to Luther, was Romans 1:17.

He wrote, "At last, as I meditated day and night on the relation of the words 'the righteousness of God is revealed in it, as it is written, the righteous person lives by the gift of God; and this sentence, 'the righteousness of God is revealed', to refer to a passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, 'the righteous person lives by faith'."

He wrote, "This immediately made me feel as though I had been born again, and as though I had entered through open gates into paradise itself. From that moment, I saw the whole face of Scripture in a new light..."

From this, millions have come to understand that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. All other scriptural teaching must rest on this Truth.

Luther's time was steeped in philosophical moralism and mysticism of medieval religions. He had made strenuous efforts to find a gracious God, doing penance and good deeds tirelessly to the point of frustration and despair.

He later described this moment as a "sweet exchange" between Christ and the sinner.

Paul had written in the New Testament that "even demons believe in Jesus"---Luther had known there had to be more than mental acceptance.

He explained, "It means taking hold of Christ, hearing and claiming God's promise, and apprehending our acceptance by God in Jesus Christ."


As you likely know. Martin Luther's actions brought him to trial before his church leaders.

In the final statements we find this in the record:

Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. 
On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. 

Further consequences would find Luther spending time incognito at Wartburg Castle, where he famously threw his ink bottle at the devil and completed the translation of the Bible that would be printed on the Guttenberg press and ultimately distributed to the people of the world in their own language.

Be Informed. Be Bold. Be Vigilant. Be Prayerful.