Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have set us free from sin and death! Our sins can no longer plague us with eternal guilt, because You have forgiven them. You have washed them away with Your blood. Likewise, fear over the future no longer plagues us, either. For You have arisen from the grave in our place, and through faith have assured us of a place in glory. Lord, through Your patient grace You teach these blessed truths to every generation.—Thereby turning fearful humans into great heroes and champions of Godly truth. Today, continue that blessed work in and through each of us. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST THE GIVER OF ETERNAL PEACE AND EVERLASTING COMFORT!
TEXT: Romans 3: 28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
Fellow Redeemed Heirs of God’s Reformation:
487 years ago on October 31, 1517, I changed the course of world history. I didn’t know it at the time. But, when I nailed my 95 theses for public debate about unscriptural practices in the Roman church to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, I created a firestorm. Today I want to tell you about what I did and why. I do this, not to draw attention to myself, but to draw attention to my Savior, Jesus Christ. For you see, it really wasn’t me that changed history, it was Christ, Who graciously chose to work through this old bag of bones called: Martin Luther. To help you better appreciate Christ’s love for you, I want to talk a bit about how He changed and directed my life. I want to tell you of my struggles and of His grace. I want to tell you of my joy. Today, I’ve joined you to celebrate that wondrous truth that:
WE’RE SAVED BY FAITH IN CHRIST ALONE!–REJOICE!
The fact that God loves sinners is evident as I look back over my early life. That life began with my birth on Nov. 10th, 1483 in the town of Eisleben in Saxony, Germany. God provided me with two wonderful parents: Hans and Margarethe Luther. The day after my birth they took me to be baptized at the local church. It was St. Martin of Tours Day, so they named me: Martin. (It means warrior—and little did they know how apt that name would be!) My father was a very strict man. He was a miner who worked very hard to provide for me and my 7 brothers and sisters. He was a peasant who was trying to get ahead. I respected him and feared him more than I loved him. But, he was still my father, so I tried to keep the 4th commandment.
When I was very young I went to the local school run by the monks. Since my parents couldn’t give me much support—even for food—I joined with others in singing for it and begging. School wasn’t much fun. We had to memorize Latin and if I made even one mistake I was whipped. Once I was whipped 15 times for something we hadn’t even covered yet! My early life wasn’t much fun. No video games, no TV, so soft bed, and few toys. But, it started me along the path that I’ll call: My Struggles.
When I turned 14, my father shipped me off to another school in Magdeburg. He wanted me to have a better life than he did. He knew that education was the way to achieve it. This school was strict, too. We sang for our supper—literally. We lived in little unheated rooms, cells really. Our education included secular subjects and religious instruction. I learned that God was a harsh an unloving judge Who would severely punish any and all sin. I learned to fear God and dread His presence. I got very sick and was taken home. While recuperating, my father visited Count Mansfeld, who died shortly thereafter. The count said an amazing thing: “I will rely on Jesus Christ’s bitter sufferings, death, and merits, and I commend my soul to Him alone.” My father said the count was right in saying this. But all I thought was: “I’d rather talk to the virgin Mary instead of Christ, for Christ is too holy, good, and stern to ever bother with me.”
Well, I recovered my health and went back to school. I did well. So well that my father, now a prosperous miner, sent me off to Erfurt to the University. He wanted me to be a lawyer—I hear that’s still popular today. Guilt and worry about my eternal future plagued me, however. It lurked in the background and made me physically ill at times. What did God expect from me, a sinner? How could I ever please Him? One day in the library, I found a dusty book, a large book. When I opened it, I discovered it was a Latin Bible. I’d never seen a Bible before. I’d never read it. I started by reading about Samuel. And I began to think about my soul even more. One day I was heading home for a holiday when a huge thunderstorm struck. A lightening bolt hit the ground right next to me. I was terrified. It threw me aside and I thought I was going to die! I prayed: “Help me, St. Anne, and I will become a monk.” Well, I lived. So, I quit school to enter a monastery. My father was furious! He wouldn’t talk to me for a long while thereafter. That was in 1505 and I was 22 years old.
Monasteries were grim places. I had a little, unheated room with a lumpy bed, a table, and a chair. One candle served as my light. I was taught that to please God I had to beat sin out of myself. So, I tried. I prayed all night long on my knees for months on end. I begged for food. I did the most disgusting jobs without complaint—including cleaning out the latrines. I even used a whip to beat myself with. I thought this would make God accept me. But the harder I tried to please God, the more I realized I couldn’t be perfect. My confessor, Friar Staupitz, grew very concerned. One day he took me aside and said: “Look, to Christ. Do not torment yourself with your sins, but throw yourself into the Savior’s arms. Confide in Him who died for you.” I thought about that. It made me feel better for a little while. But then my blackness returned. “My guilt, my guilt” was all I could moan. Staupitz would say: “God is not angry with you. Just love Him, for He loved you first.”
I thought about that. And gradually it dawned on me that Staupitz, dear old Staupitz, was right! So, I began to read the Bible. I devoured it. I learned Hebrew to read the Old Testament—I even got my doctorate in Hebrew. I learned Greek—the New Testament language, too. I was growing in the Holy Spirit. So, I went off to Rome on a pilgrimage. I would see how the blessed pope and cardinals lived. They would give me answers to my questions and fears. But, they didn’t. I saw their adulterous lives, their greed, and their pride and love for the flesh—all those things I was told to shun. I came back disheartened. If those holy men couldn’t be perfect before God, how could I, Martin Luther?
That black period of my life led to my epiphany. In 1507 I was called to be a doctor of theology at a new university in Wittenburg. There I taught Old Testament studies. There I learned from the Bible more about what God said and less about what the pope said.—After all, they were poles apart. I learned I didn’t have to be guilt-ridden to please God. I didn’t have to do anything to be saved, or justified by God. Christ had done it all! He died on the cross for me! For me! Now I could serve Him out of pure love instead of guilt, fear, and shame. I love, truly love, today’s text: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
In 1517 a monk named John Tetzel came from Rome. He had slips of paper signed by the pope which said that if you bought one, you would be freed from all sins. The Elector of Saxony wouldn’t let Tetzel into Wittenburg, but people flocked across the river to buy them anyway. Then they would go out and sin greatly—adultery, lying, cheating, and stealing were their favorite sins—and if I or another priest confronted them about it they would wave their paper in front of our noses and tell us that they could do whatever they wanted because they were forgiven. (Pope Leo X built St. Peter’s in Rome with the money he raked in.)
Well, this situation was intolerable. It mocked Christ. It mocked the cross. It was a license to sin. It was sending people to hell. So, on October 31st, I nailed 95 theses for debate to the door of the Castle Church. I’ll give you an example of my theses. #36 said: “Every Christian who truly repents of his sin has complete remission of all pain and guilt, and it is his without any letter of pardon.” In other words, I preached today’s text!
This sparked a firestorm. The pope sent Dr. Eck from Rome to debate me. Later the pope sent me a letter of excommunication which I publicly burned. Finally, in 1521 the emperor, Charles V, called a special congress, a diet, at the city of Worms. He and his henchmen called on me to take back all I had written. They called on me to disobey God, to renounce my Savior. I could not. After all, St. Peter said: “We must obey God rather than man.” So, instead I gave a short speech and concluded with these words: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen!” They were furious and declared me an outlaw, who anyone could kill on sight. Now, I had safe passage back to Wittenburg. But the Elector knew they wouldn’t honor it, so he had me kidnapped and taken to an obscure castle called the Wartburg for my own protection. My epiphany of knowledge now led to my final chapter which was: My Joy!
I was hidden at the Wartburg for about a year and a half. I was dressed as a knight. But I didn’t play with human swords. No, I wielded the sword of the Spirit—God’s Word! I translated the Bible into German so everyone could read it. This was the first major translation done from Latin in over 1000 years. Johannes Guttenberg had recently invented the printing press, so my German bible was soon published and everyone could read it! Yes, the temptations of the devil didn’t quit. Twice he appeared physically to me to try to scare me. I threw an ink-well at him—but he ducked! An evil man named Thomas Munzer used our freedom in Christ to try to overthrow the government, too. I opposed him and all others for corrupting God’s grace in such a fashion. Finally, he was killed and the idiocy of his movement was crushed. I returned to Wittenburg and taught. I wrote the small and large catechisms that bear my name. In 1530 the Lutheran princes assembled at Augsburg to give a formal confession of our beliefs. I couldn’t go, or I’d be killed. So, I sent messengers on horseback to keep me informed each day. The learned Catholic bishop of Augsburg said this of our confession: “Everything that was read is the pure, unadulterated, undeniable truth.” Dr. Eck, who hated me, said this of our confession: “I would undertake to refute it with the fathers (that is church tradition, or the words of mere men) but not with the Scriptures.” One duke then added: “I understand, then, that the Lutherans sit entrenched in the Scriptures, and we are on the outside.” Ho, I can tell you, that one made my day!
For the next 16 years of my life, I was very busy with God’s Word. I wrote 55 volumes in English, but actually many more that haven’t been fully translated for you, yet. I preached every day at chapel. I set up church government throughout the Lutheran provinces of Germany. I sent my pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen to Scandinavia to promote the Reformation there. Yes, it was a busy time.
I also married a wonderful woman, an ex-nun, who I helped escape her convent. Her name was Katherine von Bora. We dearly loved each other. She was the best thing, next to Christ, that ever happened to me. We had 6 children. One little girl died early, and then my beloved daughter, Madelaine, died at age 13. It broke my heart when she died. But, at least, she and I knew that we’d see each other in heaven. For she believed in Christ and Christ gave us that wonderful gift of eternal joy through simple faith. I know that to be true because God says through St. Paul: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
I died on the 18th of February, 1564, in my hometown of Eisleben. After praying the Lord’s Prayer and repeating three times: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” I lay quiet. Dr. Jonas then whispered in my ear: “Reverend father, are you firmly determined to die upon Christ and the doctrine you have preached?” I answered loudly and distinctly: “Yes!” And then Christ took me to be with Him in glory!
Dear Christians, the reformation wasn’t about me. It was about Christ. It was about how we get to heaven. I didn’t set out to throw Rome aside. I merely wanted to reform the evil that had crept into it. But, Rome loved their human ideas more than it loved Christ. So, they broke with Christ and with me, and with you. My Savior changed the world through me. Salvation, eternal life, freedom from eternal guilt, freedom from the fear of hell—all that He gives to you as a free gift. Believe it and it’s yours! We’re not saved by what we do, we’re saved by faith in Christ’s doings—alone! Rejoice in that blessed truth. I am… Amen