Here We Stand
Oct. 29, 2017
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
These are the words of Jesus before he sent out his his disciples on their first mission. They had spent goodly amount of time sitting at his feet, so he would now give them an opportunity to do a little teaching of their own. He would send them out in a much bigger way just before his accession into heaven, but for now he would let time dip their toe into the water in which they would later swim.
He didn’t sugar coat it. They could expect trouble. Those bringing the message of the Gospel into the world would not find an easy road. Though the message of the Gospel is sweet: God loves, God saves, God redeems though his Son, it is often brackish on the tongue of those who live in this dark realm Early in ministry Jesus said “this is the verdict, light has come into he world, but people loved darkness rather than light” The disciples would learn this as the high priests and teachers of the law demanded Jesus death. They would learn it again as most of them were led away to die at the hands of the persecutors. Christians in Rome would earn it too as Nero oppressed them.
The sinful world has always convulsed at the Good news that life and salvation can be found in Jesus. I know it’s peculiar and strange that they’d reject something so good, But remember they have been propagandized by the old evil foe; He has always been capable of leading people to come to the conclusion that good is bad and bad is good. Luther was a victim of this work of the darkness. The church in his day had begun to teach that only perfect people can make into heaven; the rest have to spend 1000’s and maybe 10000 years in purgatory. Luther knew he wasn’t perfect, so he dedicated himself to the methods the church had prescribed… but it was all so impossible and uncertain, like the proverbial carrot on a stick. Luther would later admit that he came to point where he hated God. “ Why would he doom someone to this kind of existence?” he wondered. But then Luther, in his own study of scripture learned what the church had set aside: the Gospel. He learned the God forgives, that God saves through faith in Christ Jesus and not by works.. that righteousness is given to us not earned. He fell into the arms of Jesus, and never looked back. He loved God now. The word of God had pierced through he darkness of his soul and brought him into the blessed light of God’s grace.
Luther was a professor at the university in Wittenberg. He knew how to write and he started writing. What first got him noticed were some statements or theses which nailed on the church door in Wittenberg. You see, the church in it’s confused state had begun to sell indulgences in order to finance the building St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The Indulgences promised time off of purgatory. Purgatory, of course is not a real place. It is a teaching not found in scripture. It wasnt’ hell, it’s more like hell-lite. It was understood that everyone would have to go there to be purged of their sins. And the kicker was, you never knew how long you were going to be in purgatory. So even if you bought an indulgence, you still weren’t sure. Another carrot and stick thing. The coffers of the church in Rome swelled. So Luther, whose heart had been so uplifted by learning the Gospel felt moved to write and to nail his Theses 500 years ago on October 31.
He wanted to discuss some questions like “Can forgiveness be for sale?” and “If pope has the power to empty purgatory, why doesn’t he do it out of love rather than for money.” With the help of the movable type printing press, his questions were widely deseminated throughout Germany. The Pope got wind of it and seeing that a lucrative money raising scheme was endangered, he issued a an official statement that referred to Luther as a pig trampling in the Lord’s vineyard; calling him a heretic. Later he would excommunicate Luther.
Three months after his excommunication, he was invited to the Imperial Diet of Worms. No Luther was not forced to eat worms. Worms is a city germany, a diet is an assembly of the Holy Roman Empire. Luther would appear before Emperor Charles V. People were surprised that he even came… for the church had loudly been calling for his death since the day he nailed up his theses. When he arrived at the assembly hall, he found his books, 25 of them prominently displayed on the table in front of everyone. He was asked if he was willing to recant and renounce his books as heresy. The 95 theses were there, as well as the book which explained how the church was meant to be according to the bible, “The freedom of a Christian” as well as a number of other books pointing out the improprieties of the Papacy.
A day would pass and Luther would return, he gave a lively defense of his writings insisting that if he withdrew what he had written the tyranny of Rome would remain and be emboldened. By retracting he would solidify the abuse of Rome. He also reminded them to think about the possibility that his criticisms were right and in accordance with scripture and that if they act against them, they just might be fighting against the word of God.
But Emperor Charles V was looking for a soundbite. He wanted a yes or no answer. Would he retract the things he had written? It was then that Luther said “I can’t submit to the pope or to the council …for they have fallen into error and are inconsistent with themselves. Unless I can be convinced by holy Scripture I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me!”
Remember, this was the late medieval period. It was not uncommon for people to be executed, drawn and quartered, broken on the wheel, beheaded, or burned alive. Make no mistake. All of this was well within the possible futures that Luther might expect after saying what he said. But he stood and he delivered. He spoke truth to power. It was just like Jesus said to his disciples: “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you will say…for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your father speaking through you.” He was the man of the moment, called by God to speak the truth, empowered by the spirit to say it clearly…and the world is much the better for it.
We are actually standing on the shoulders of many in the past who stood for the Word of God whilst under threat. The Apostles stood for the word. Before them were the prophets who endured ridicule and hatred for the word. Always, Always, it has been about he word of God. And the Word of God is about Jesus. Who himself stood before the high priest, before pilate, before Herod, before the masses…all of whom demanded that he give it up. But he set his face like flint he had come to stand for us. The punishment that brought us piece was upon him and out of love he would see it through.
Are you seeing a common thread? So many people in the past standing for us. The apostles, the prophets, the Lord Jesus himself. I’m beginning to realize that what I do and say is not just for me but for those who come after me. And you must realize also that what you do and say is not just for you, but for those who come after you. Many times in our lives we are called to be the man or woman of the moment. Sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small our faith in Jesus is either expressed or denied. Jesus would have us express it.
But how can we do it? Such a responsibility! We’re not prepared for it. As much admiration as I have for Martin Luther, I do not put him on a pedestal. He was simply a man who struggled with the same kind of stuff that we do. He had doubts, he got depressed at times, he over-ate, would often have a little too much saltiness in his language. But when he was called to speak he simply did what came natural… natural in sense that Christ was so much a part of his life that he was compelled to stand for him and could do no other. The promise Jesus made is true “For it is not you who speak, but the spirit of the father speaking through you.” It was true for Luther, and now true for me and you whenever we are called upon to speak
We can do this. We can stand for Jesus. When someone at a party says “all religions are the same” rather than nervously agreeing them in order to avoid trouble, we can calmly beg to differ and point out that unlike all other religions the religion of Christ asserts that God does all the saving….that salvation is a gift. Or when a colleague insists that sin is an outmoded concept, which of course cancels out the meaning of Jesus death on the cross which was for sins, we can beg to differ…. and maybe talk about the recent revelations of Hollywood, which everyone seems to understand as quite bad and dare I say sinful….or the rash of female school teachers having affairs with their students. Is it possible, that such “archaic” rules such as though shalt not commit adultery are true? Is it possible the sexual sins are ruining people’s lives? Is it possible that sin is indeed is something that plagues us and that we do indeed need a Savior from it? We really must stand; not merely for ourselves, but for the world. The world needs us to stand.
The evil one will attack in many different ways, but ultimately but the message will be the same. You don’t need Jesus, you don’t need his gospel. You’re alright without it. Despite protestations of those who have been propagandized, we have come know differently. And so we Stand. “God help us!” AMEN