Preacher: Pastor Tim Redfield
Date: November 9/12, 2017
Text: Matthew 13:44-46
With the special focus this year on the Reformation, what do you think is the lesson we should learn from Luther? Should we do everything exactly the way that Luther did it at the time of the Reformation? Should I start preaching for 45 minutes or an hour every Sunday? Luther was known for having long sermons. Last Sunday when I went to a special Reformation worship service, the preacher talked for 40 minutes and the whole service was about an hour and 45 minutes. And the service didn’t even have communion! Should we be like Luther and write lots of angry letters to people who upset us? In today’s world Luther would be criticized for the harsh words that he spoke against others. At times people even accuse Luther of hating Jews because of some of the things he wrote about them. If Luther were alive today, he probably would be similar to internet political bloggers in his manner of writing. That wasn’t unusual back then for religious writings but today it is not our normal method. When we focus on Martin Luther, we recognize that we don’t follow his example in everything. Today we’ll focus on the positives from Luther’s life that still apply to us now. We see that Luther is Still Relevant Today.
Part 1: The Theology of the Cross
It would be incorrect to assume that Luther’s life was easy after he discovered the truth of the gospel. Over the last two weeks I talked about how special it was that Luther found the gospel. It had been hidden for so many years. It was a great joy for Luther and he was strengthened to stand on the Word of God. That Word continued to strengthen him as he proclaimed the truth. And yet, his life of faith was quite difficult. Before he found the gospel, he felt the hopelessness of trying to save himself through his deeds. He fell into despair because he realized his complete unworthiness before God. Once he found the gospel, he faced all kinds of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. He was strengthened to make bold confessions of faith. However, it was very stressful to go before the Church and the Emperor and to be threatened with excommunication. It was very stressful that the threat of death was hanging over his head.
Luther emphasized a teaching of Scripture called the Theology of the Cross. The Theology of the Cross reminds us that the life of a Christian is not easy. Just like Jesus suffered and then died on the cross for our forgiveness, believers will endure suffering and bear figurative crosses as we follow our Savior. Jesus guarantees us that we will go through many difficulties as we follow him. God doesn’t always tell us how he is using these problems for our good but he promises that they are for our good. One benefit is that we realize that we need to trust in God for our salvation. We can’t look to our works, our strength, our ability, our intelligence, our human reason or anything else. We have to rely on our God for forgiveness and eternal life.
When we have the truth of the gospel, our God strengthens us so that we can bear our crosses. The gospel is precious to us. It gives us certainty of salvation. Luther was driven by a desire for spiritual certainty. Once he had that certainty through Jesus, he clung to that valuable treasure. That is how our text describes the gospel. It says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again. In his joy, he goes away and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls. When he found one very valuable pearl, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Because of his 100% rock-solid certainty of salvation, Luther endured through many crosses. One instance came in 1530 when the Augsburg Confession was being written and then presented to the Emperor. Because Luther was still declared an outlaw by the Emperor, he could not attend the Diet of Augsburg. He had to stay away and communicate through letters. He traveled to the Coburg castle so that he could be closer to Augsburg. He was spending a lot of time alone. He couldn’t be with his fellow believers and he was away from his family. He also received news that his father had passed away. During that time he felt like the demons were coming after him to try to get him to fall away from God. His troubled conscience tormented him. He had to wait for news of what was happening. He eventually had reason to rejoice when he heard that the German princes had boldly confessed their faith before the emperor.
Luther experienced more crosses throughout his earthly life. He was a very busy man. He struggled with feelings of being overwhelmed. He had a lot of stress and anxiety. He struggled with depression. You can certainly see that when you think of that time waiting for the Augsburg Confession to be presented. He had many health problems. There was a time that he had kidney stones and he was sure he was going to die because of how excruciating the pain was.
Luther also had to deal with something that no parent ever wants to go through. Disease was much more common back then and death was a frequent reality. Luther’s wife Katy had one miscarriage. One of their children died as an infant. Another child became seriously ill at the age of 13. She died in Luther’s arms.
The Theology of the Cross reminds us that Luther was very similar to us. Luther isn’t some superhuman character who discovered the gospel and then never had any more problems in this life. Luther struggled with a lot of the same issues that we have. Like Luther, we have to struggle with pain, loss, grief, sadness, temptation, sin, guilt, and much more. When we experience these crosses, the devil comes after us just like he came after Luther. The devil is trying to get us to despair and to think that God has turned his back on us. Through these lies, the devil wants us to turn our back on God. He wants us to fall into unbelief.
One of the biggest legacies of the Reformation is the treasure that we have in the gospel. Our text reminds us to hold that treasure close when the devil tempts us. We look to our Savior. We see him suffering far greater suffering than we endure. Jesus suffered and died because he treasured us and our salvation. A few months ago I designed Martin Luther themed running shirts for Cross Country. The picture was Luther running with the 95 Theses and the motto was “Run like Luther”. I also put Hebrews 12:1-3 on the shirt. That scripture tells us to look to Jesus and to persevere in our life of faith. We think about how he endured the cross on our behalf and this makes it so that we do not grow weary or lose heart as we bear our crosses in this life. That was the attitude of Luther and that is a main emphasis for us today.
Part 2: The Legacy of Luther
There are many ways that we can follow Luther’s example and treasure the gospel. Think about the slogans of the reformation – Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura. For those of you not familiar with the Latin, that translates to “By grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone.” Those are still wonderful ways of talking about our relationship with God. It is only through his grace that we are saved. We are unworthy of salvation. He had to save us through Jesus. This only becomes ours through faith. Believing is not something that we are able to do. It is worked in us by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the Means of Grace – that is the gospel message in the Word and Sacraments. We go to the scriptures to see our salvation.
Like I said last week, Luther stood on the Word. He wanted the Word to be read by many people. He translated the Bible into German. Still today there is need for good Bible Translations. Not every translation is a good translation of the Greek and Hebrew. We can give thanks that a group of our WELS pastors decided to make a translation that communicates the message of God in understandable English. As of October 31st, the first edition of the Evangelical Heritage Version of the Bible has been sent to the publisher. We have seen the New Testament and Psalms. In the near future we will have the entire version available.
Luther had a strong emphasis on teaching children. We still maintain that in our churches today. Look at all the ways that we educate our children. We have Sunday School, Pioneers, Youth Group, Vacation Bible Schools, our Lutheran Elementary Schools, and many more ways. Luther was actually very modern in his approach to education. He promoted many of the things we still have today. He emphasized music and language studies. He emphasized learning a trade. He promoted education for girls. This was very unusual at that time. He promoted libraries. And he even promoted recreation and athletics. Many of his ideas are what we see in schools today.
Luther recognized the importance of keeping the focus on God. He wanted that in the educational system but he also said that it started in the home. He talked about fathers being the pastor of their home. He wanted parents to train their children with the Word. Just recently I was at a lecture talking about Luther’s emphasis on education. When the presenter talked about Luther’s approach toward home devotions, I thought about how I can use some of that with my daughter. Luther loved to educate through singing. My daughter loves music. I thought that I should try singing more hymns during home devotions. I tried it and my daughter loved it.
A main reason that Luther wrote his Catechism was so that parents could teach their children important truths. We can use that book to teach at home. If you as a parent don’t feel capable of teaching the Catechism, I recommend attending a Bible Information Class. We cover the topics of the Catechism in a format that works for adults. This might help you to feel more comfortable teaching the Catechism.
Another legacy of Luther is singing God’s praises. Luther loved using hymns to teach Biblical truths. Luther wrote many hymns and they are all packed with scriptural content. We see Luther’s legacy in our worship. Today I picked two newer hymns from our worship supplement. These hymns wonderfully teach God’s grace. In a few moments we will be using Luther’s sung version of the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll close our service with a strong Lutheran hymn that focuses on the Word of God.
There are many legacies of the Reformation that still impact our lives today. A few examples would be the emphasis on the gospel and the entire Word of God, the Theology of the Cross, educating children, home devotions, and strong hymns that teach us about God. A new legacy I learned last Sunday is that Luther’s motto for his life was taken from Psalm 118. Verse 17 says, “I will not die. No, I will live, and I will proclaim the works of the LORD.” The more I think about that verse, the more I love it. No matter what we face in this life, we will not die eternally. Yes, physical death will overcome most, if not all of us. But we have sure and certain hope of eternity. We will live eternally because of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. Because of that gospel truth, we want to share Jesus with many more. Just like Luther, may we all proclaim the works of the Lord.