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Luther Held to God’s Word

Preacher: Pastor Tim Redfield

Date: November 2/5, 2017

Text: Luke 12:8-12 

Think about some of the most significant moments in your life or even throughout history. Maybe you think about an event like September 11, 2001. That was the kind of event that sticks with you because of the tragedy and everything that followed. Maybe you think about something more joyful. Perhaps you think of your wedding or the birth of a child. When it comes to our faith we can think about events like baptism or confirmation. Of course we think about the big moments of our salvation. We spend lots of time each year focusing on the events of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Those are the days that emphasize the work of Christ to save us from our sins. The Reformation was a significant moment in the history of the world. As we look at its significance today we focus on the fact that Luther held to God’s Word.

Part 1: He stood up to the Catholic Church

Last week we focused on Luther’s early life. We went a little bit past the posting of the 95 Theses. In 1518, he found the gospel. He was strengthened by the message of full and free forgiveness found only in Jesus. While Luther was discovering the gospel, events were in motion that would lead to confrontations between Luther and the Catholic Church. It wasn’t long after the posting of the 95 Theses that those theses were translated from Latin to German and widely distributed all over Europe. Luther himself wrote explanations of the Theses. In his explanations, you can see that he is growing stronger in the gospel. Luther had a bold personality and this certainly helped the Reformation. If Luther had been a weak person or if he had not discovered the gospel, the Reformation might have failed. Luther was about to face all kinds of opposition.

Another monk, one from the Dominican order, prepared a four-point opinion about Luther’s theses. That monk said that 1) the pope is the head of the church, and the pope absolutely does not make mistakes when speaking about faith and morals, 2) the Roman Catholic Church can make regulations for faith and life, 3) The Roman Catholic Church is over the Bible and gives authority to the Bible and the pope is always truthful and without error, and 4) if someone does not follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the pope or thinks evil of those teachings, then that person is a false teacher.  By those four points, Martin Luther was being called a false teacher. Luther considered these four points to be ridiculous. He said that no one is over God’s Word. He rejected the idea that the pope or the church could be above the Word of God, especially when they said something that was against the Word of God.

In October of 1518, Luther was called to appear before Cardinal Thomas Cajetan. Luther still hoped that he was going to get a chance to debate the topic of indulgences. Luther wanted to show that it was important to go back to the Word of God. Luther showed great respect for Cardinal Cajetan by bowing before him according to normal customs of the time. The cardinal told Luther that he was wrong about indulgences. And the cardinal told Luther that the certainty of righteousness through Jesus was contrary to the Scriptures and the church. Luther stood his ground. He tried to debate those points but the cardinal would not allow it. Cardinal Cajetan got very upset, appealed to his authority as a cardinal and threatened to excommunicate Luther.

Throughout 1519 and 1520 Luther continued to face opposition. The Catholic Church tried to get Elector Frederick to surrender Luther. If Elector Frederick had done so, there is a chance that Luther would have been put to death. Elector Frederick protected Luther. Luther got a chance to debate at the city of Leipzig but the Catholic representatives didn’t listen to what he had to say. Luther continued to hold to Scripture and the Catholic representatives continued to support the authority of the pope, the sale of indulgences, and the idea of purgatory. Luther wasn’t making any progress in his hope to take the church back to God’s Word. He continued to publish many articles and books about the truths of the Bible but that continued to upset Rome. In January 1521, the pope declared Luther a false teacher and excommunicated him from the Church.

The Scripture for our sermon ties in very closely with what was going on in the life of Luther. Luther doesn’t say that Luke 12:8-9 had an impact on him but you can see how he would have thought about it. Those verses say, “I tell you, whoever confesses me before other people, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God. But whoever denies me in the presence of other people will be denied in the presence of the angels of God.” Luther took God seriously and he didn’t want to deny the truth of the Word just to spare himself. He wanted to confess the truth. Luther was about to live verses 11 and 12. “When they bring you before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourself, or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you should say.”

Luther was called to testify at the Diet of Worms in April of 1521. This time he had to go before the Emperor. Emperor Charles V wanted all the strife regarding Luther to go away so that he could keep the Empire united. The Church still did not want to give Luther a chance to speak. They only wanted him to answer whether or not he was going to continue with his teachings. They wanted him to recant what he said. This would mean that he would officially declare that he had been wrong. He asked if he could have a day to put together a proper response.

The next day, Luther delivered perhaps the most famous line of his life. After Luther spoke about what he had written, the moderator asked him to answer directly about whether or not he was going to recant. Luther replied, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning – and my conscience is captive to the Word of God – then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

Luther had stood upon God’s Word even when his life was in great danger. Do we have that same kind of strength when it comes to standing up for God’s Word? Unfortunately there are times that we give in to that temptation which leads us to keep quiet about the truths of God’s Word. What do we do when scientists and professors tell us that evolution is the truth of the universe? Do we speak up to defend biblical creation or do we just remain silent? What do we do when our friends encourage us to be accepting of homosexual and transgender lifestyles? Do we defend biblical marriage and gender or do we remain silent? What do we do when our sons, daughters, friends and relatives are living with their boyfriends and girlfriends outside of marriage? Do we speak about the 6th Commandment or do we remain silent?

What about when our church continues to hold to God’s Word but we don’t fully understand those truths? Do we grow in our knowledge and defend the truth or do we think that our pastor and church are being old fashioned? Think about some of those areas. Some examples would be: the practice of close communion, the roles of men and women, only men serving as pastors, and church fellowship only when there is doctrinal agreement. All of those teachings are biblical and yet they can all be hard for us to accept. Our sinful nature doesn’t want to stand up for the Word. And yet the Word is the only way for us to grow in our faith so that we can stand upon the truth.

Part 2: He shared the gospel in many ways

As Luther was strengthened with the Word, he continued to share the truth of God’s Word. After he took that stand at the Diet of Worms, Elector Fredrick arranged a fake kidnapping so that Luther could be kept safe. Luther was taken to the Wartburg Castle and remained there for 10 months. During that seclusion, Luther continued to study the Word diligently. He translated the New Testament from Greek to German and he wrote many more articles. Luther eventually left his isolation because he heard that people in Wittenberg were starting to destroy the work he had started. Rather than holding to the Word of God, people were making new rules and regulations. They were starting to abolish church customs and they were doing so in a way that dishonored God and harmed the faith of believers.

Luther spoke to the people about adiaphora. These are things that are neither commanded nor forbidden by God in his Word. An example would be how we structure our worship service. We are free to move things around in our order of worship as long as we still proclaim the truth of God’s Word. Luther helped people to see that he wasn’t trying to completely abolish the Catholic Church. There were many good things that could be kept. He translated the Latin worship service into German so that the people could understand and benefit from the service. Luther’s stance on adiaphora came from what the Apostle Paul spoke about in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Luther continued to speak about truths of the word. He pointed out that it was not according to scriptures that priests, monks, and nuns should remain celibate and unmarried. Because of what he said, many of the clergy began to get married. Luther’s wife Katy was a former nun. Luther emphasized the biblical reason for infant baptism and the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. These are two areas in which Luther disagreed with other people who were breaking away from the Catholic Church. There are many churches today that trace their history to the time of the Reformation but they disagree with Luther about the sacraments.

One of Luther’s big confrontations regarding the Lord’s Supper was with a man named Ulrich Zwingli. In 1529 Luther, Zwingli and a few others met in the city of Marburg to talk about Scripture. There was a lot of agreement but they did not agree on the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli thought that it was impossible for the body and blood of Christ to be present in the Lord’s Supper. It did not make sense to his human reason. Luther went to the clear words of Scripture. Jesus says it is his body and blood; therefore it must be the body and blood. Luther even wrote on the table “This is my body.” Luther would point out that if our reason has trouble with the Word of God, we have to set our reason aside and trust the Holy Spirit.

Still today we follow the example of Luther. We hold to the Word of God. It is only through the grace of God that we are able to do this. It is difficult because our world and our sinful nature do not want to hold to the truth. We give thanks that we have a Synod that stands on God’s Word. It is not always easy. People are critical of our practices. But we have scriptural reasons for what we do. Our human reason may not always agree but we still submit to the Word of God.

In our lives we continue to study the Word of God. We have devotions, Bible Studies, and worship services. We have conversations with our friends and relatives. Even when it is difficult we speak about sin. We have to speak about sin so that that gospel of forgiveness makes sense. Even if you feel like you haven’t been the best about holding to the word, you can always go back to the gospel for strength. Read it, hear it, live it. Jesus lived, died, and rose for you. Live in that gospel joy. Stand upon that truth.

Conclusion

When we speak about the significance of the Reformation in history, it is important to remember that the focus is really about God and not Martin Luther. If Luther had not led the Reformation, God would have used someone else to bring the truth of Scripture to the World. Luther himself would point out that the Word of God did all the work. The best focus to take away from the Reformation is the focus on the Word of God. The Word of God gives us the message of salvation and leads us home to heaven. May God help us to hold to his Word.

 

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