(…continued) Martin Luther worked through his disappointment with the church by simply continuing to focus on God’s Word. He looked past all the abuses of the church, going deeper to find what was central the Christian faith. He did not accept the church’s claim to have authority over God’s Word, and wanted to see for himself what God’s Word said. He looked beyond all the ways the church had misinterpreted and misunderstood God’s Word, and then found much more than an angry God that was never satisfied. The wrath of God was still there; that cannot be missed or explained away, as Luther often said in the catechism that “we should fear and love God.”
But then Luther found out why we could still love God. And we can love God because of Jesus. God sent Jesus because, as Jesus said of himself in John 3:16-17, “For God so LOVED the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever BELIEVES in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did NOT send his Son into the world to CONDEMN the world, but to save the world through him.” And so, as it says in Romans 3:21-22: “Now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been made known, and this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Luther discovered faith was the key; faith, not endless, impossible obedience to a God who was always angry and never satisfied. The single most important verse that opened Luther’s eyes to the love of God was Romans 1:17 which said, “The righteous will live by faith.”
Luther did not give up, but moved beyond his disappointment to what was to its very center, and he simplified the message of God’s Word to what mattered most of all. There are four basic truths, said Luther. The first is FAITH alone, not subservient obedience to an impossible code of Law. The second is GRACE alone, and not buying this piece of paper or trinket to reduce your time in purgatory. Third is God’s WORD alone, and not the layers of false teaching and corruptions piled on by fifteen centuries of councils and popes and decrees, which Luther pointed out contradicted each other time and again. Now everyone, even the common person, should go back to God’s WORD alone. Therefore, along with everything else he accomplished, Luther translated the entire Bible into German, which had not only not ever been attempted, but which had been strictly forbidden. And fourth, at the center of it all was CHRIST alone, the kind and loving face of God, sent to live for us and to be an example for us, and finally to die give his life for us. It was by his shed blood we were saved, and not by contributions to the church in Rome.
Luther proclaimed that simple message, focusing on Christ alone, just as Paul did in I Corinthians 2:1-5 where he said: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. Rather, I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you with weakness and great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Luther remained faithful to the Holy Roman Catholic church, seeking to reform it, until he was thrown out and excommunicted. Even then, he continued to remain faithful to the church, which was, as he now said, wherever God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity. Even that church continued to disagree, fight, torment and disappoint him– but Luther’s faith was no longer in the church. He would go to church, he would lead the church, and he would love and serve the church—but his faith was not in the church, but in Jesus.
That is one powerful lesson for all of us from the Reformation and the life of Martin Luther. The church and those who serve in it is God’s way of working in the world, and we learn and grow in faith and love and obedience by working within it. But we must always remember that the church is here only to point us beyond itself, to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate, among other things, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther reminding us of that fact.
I Corinthians 2:1-5 — When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. Rather, I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you with weakness and great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
John 14:6 — (Jesus said), “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Acts 4:11-12 — Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
I John 5:13 — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
A PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH by MARTIN LUTHER:
Almighty and everlasting God, we pray first for the spiritual kingdom and the blessed Gospel ministry. Give us devout and faithful preachers who will bring forth the treasure of your divine Word in its truth and purity. Graciously guard us against heresies and divisions. Look not upon our great ingratitude, for which we have long ago deserved that you should withdraw your Word from us. Do not chastise us as severely as we deserve. Let other calamities befall us, rather than deprive us of your precious Word. Give to us thankful hearts that we may love your Word, prize it highly, hear it with reverence, and improve our lives accordingly. May we not only understand your Word, but also meet its requirements by our deeds, live in accordance with it, and daily increase in faith and good works. Amen. –Martin Luther