In Martin Luther’s time, the Catholic Church was the largest church. Martin’s parents were part of this church, because pretty much everyone was. But this wasn’t a good thing, because the Catholic Church was not teaching the Bible correctly.
As a little boy, Martin was taught lots of rules and commandments to follow. He was taught that if he obeyed God’s rules well enough God would be happy with him. But if he didn’t obey God’s rules than God would be very angry with him and would set him on fire in hell. Martin knew he sinned much, and was terrified of how God would punish him.
But the real God wasn’t like the God that Martin’s Church taught him. The true God loved Martin dearly, and had big plans for him. God would show Martin the greatest truth of the Bible.
God does expect us to follow His rules. God is angry with sinners. But the greatest truth that the Bible teaches is that, for some reason, God actually loves sinners and has provided a way for them to escape the punishment for sin.
God sent His own Son to be punished instead of us. The sinless Jesus suffered in our place when He died on the Cross. Because He did this, our sins are forgiven.
All have sinned against God and deserve horrible punishment, but through faith in Jesus God gives us life, forgiveness and a place in heaven.
Today we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation because through the events of the Reformation the precious message of Jesus was once again preached, taught and believed by grateful sinners the world over.
THE HEAD OF GOD’S CHURCH
Reformation Day falls on October 31st, because it was on that day that Martin Luther nailed up the 95 theses. The 95 theses were really an invitation to debate 95 statements. He nailed these on the door of the church in Wittenberg simply because that door was used as a sort of bulletin board.
Most identify the posting of the 95 theses as the beginning of the Reformation. In fact, the sign for “Luther” or “Lutheran” is making an “L” with your right hand and tapping it on the flat vertical palm of your left hand.
However, the 95 theses were not nearly as important as the next three documents that Luther published. Luther wrote “Address to the German Nobility”, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” and “The Freedom of a Christian”. One History book says the following about these three works,
“They were the trumpet calls by which he aroused the Church from her slumber, broke the yoke of papal tyranny, and reopened the fountain of God’s Word to all the people and directed them to Christ as their only Master and Mediator” (Sketches from the History of the Church, E. Hageman).
Today we’re going to examine a few of the important teachings expressed in these documents. Teachings which Luther had found in the Bible, but which were at odds with the Catholic Church. Turn to Matthew 16, verse 13.
13When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
20Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
21From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
22Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”
23But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:13-23 NKJV).
In Luther’s day, the Catholic Church taught that Jesus made Peter the leader of the Christian church with this statement, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church”. The name “Peter” means “rock”.
The Catholic Church taught that this right to rule over the church like a king has been passed down throughout history in a line of Popes. This passing down of authority is not historically documented. It is not mentioned in the Bible. Nor does the Bible suggest that Peter had special supreme authority over his fellow Apostles and Christians. Peter was always prominent and outspoken among the apostles, but not pre-eminent.
Quite often Peter’s boldness was a curse and not a blessing. In the section of Matthew that we read just a moment ago, Peter is at one moment he is making a great confession of his faith in Jesus, and the next moment he’s telling Jesus not to go to the cross! Peter’s arrogance led him to believe that he knew better than Jesus, though Peter ended up claiming he didn’t even know Jesus when put on the spot after Jesus had been arrested.
Nor are these the only times when Peter failed. Much later in Peter’s ministry, he started to treat non-Jewish Christians poorly. He withdrew from their company as if they were not his fellow Christians until the Apostle Paul sharply rebuked Him for this hypocrisy.
The point is, Peter wasn’t infallible. He made mistakes like every other Christian. Sometimes he wasn’t such a solid “rock”. You see, the real “Rock” on which the church is built isn’t a man who makes mistakes and needs forgiveness for every day. The real “Rock” on which the church is built is the confession of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
Here’s the other thing. The Pope even went so far as to say that he was the stand in for the Son of God. The “Vicar” of Christ. Since Jesus ascended to heaven, the Pope took His place as the leader of God’s Church.
But do you remember what Jesus said to all His disciples before He ascended and took His visible presence from the earth? Turn to Matthew 28, verse 20.
“…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b NIV).
In his treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian” Luther got it right. He said that the Apostles called themselves servants of a present Christ, not the vicars of an absent one” (On the Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther).
The head of the Christian Church is, has always been, and will always be, Jesus Christ Himself.
TLH 370 verses 1-2
THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS
Turn to First Peter 2, verse 9. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to churches scattered throughout Asia Minor. To Christians young and old, male and female, master and slave, to Jewish Christians and to Gentile Christians he wrote the following.
“9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV).
The Catholic Church of Luther’s day taught that as the “stand-in” or “vicar” of Christ, the Pope had supreme authority over all people. It was also taught that the Pope could transfer this authority to leaders in the church. To Cardinals, Bishops and Priests. In fact, you couldn’t be a priest unless you got your authority from the Pope’s church.
This was very important because a priest needed to have authority and power in order to do special things like change the bread and wine physically into the body and blood of Christ. Or so the Catholic Church taught.
The Pope could also give people authority to sell forgiveness. And this the Pope did from time to time in order to fund building projects in Rome. St. Peter’s basilica was funded by the selling “indulgences”. Which were just pieces of paper that said some or all of your sins were forgiven because you bought it this indulgence from the Pope’s Church.
A man named John Tetzel sold indulgences during Luther’s day. Tetzel’s selling of indulgences near Wittenberg was the reason why Luther wanted to debate indulgences. Tetzel was so bold, that he was selling the people forgiveness for sins not yet done. This way, they could indulge in sinful pleasures without the fear of God’s punishment.
But what does the Bible say about God’s priests? Must they wear black robes and backward collars? Must they speak in Latin and receive special powers from the Pope?
Peter, the supposed first Pope himself, wrote our reading above! He says that ALL believers in Christ are God’s priests! They are chosen to receive the mercy of God and to declare it to others.
Even though the Pope transferred his power to other leaders in his Church, he claimed that ONLY he could tell people what the Bible means. Since he was the stand-in for Jesus, his interpretation was the only right one.
But God’s Word is for every Christian man and woman to examine and study and understand. Not to interpret according to HIS or HER own whim, but to understand and interpret according to what the rest of the Bible says.
So, you might ask, “Why are you wearing the robe than? Why are you a pastor?” And the answer is simple. We can’t all preach at the same time. We can’t all teach at the same time.
I’m your brother in Christ. Brother Caleb. No more, no less. I have no magical powers. The only authority I wield is that which comes from the Word of God.
Turn to Ephesians 4, verse 11.
“11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV).
This is why Paul could rebuke Peter. He was his brother in Christ, not his Papal underling.
We are the spiritual brothers and sisters of Peter and Paul. We stand with them as the Priesthood of God. God grant that we carry His Name with honor and serve as His priests with care, enthusiasm and diligence.
WS 767 verses 1-2
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV).
The Reformation was a religious movement. It wasn’t primarily about cleaning up corruption in the church. It was about restoring right teaching. And of all the teachings that it restored, Justification by faith was the most important. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone, is the heart and soul of Christianity.
In Luther’s treatise, “The Freedom of a Christian” he asks the question, if sin enslaves a soul, that what frees it?
Health of the body can’t free the soul. The wicked can be strong and healthy in body, but poor and dead in soul.
Wealth cannot free the soul. What difference does it make to God how much money you have in the bank?
What about giving your life over to God. Becoming a servant to the church? Luther found out for himself that doing that cannot free the soul either.
What about meditation and prayer? Many think that these things can bring freedom from sin and closeness to God. But it is not true. All our efforts to understand God’s Word and to speak to Him can’t do a single thing to free us from sin and sin’s punishment.
How about the world’s recipe for a happy heart? Doing good things for other people. Taking food to the food pantry. Donating to a local charity. Surely kindness is good, and can set the soul free? Again, the wicked can do these things also, can’t they? Kindness is good, but it cannot free us from our past sins or win us a place in heaven. Just as putting on nicer clothes won’t heal the a cancer inside.
What about learning? Education leads easier lives doesn’t it? Maybe education can lead to freedom of the soul?
No outward action can free the inward soul. No good thing done can erase the record of an evil past. All efforts to free our souls from sin and death and hell, accomplish nothing.
One thing, and one alone, is necessary for the soul to be set free from sin. Faith alone. Faith in Jesus Christ.
“…I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25 NIV).
“…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 NIV).
“…if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV).
“17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17 NIV).
Health, wealth, the public ministry, meditation, kindness, learning: they’re all good things. But none of these things free the soul from sin and punishment.
Hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches are great tools, but they don’t get your linens white. In the same way, human effort can never cleanse the soul and set it free. Faith alone frees the soul from sin, death and hell. Faith alone in Christ alone. By faith in Christ Jesus we are declared righteous before God.
This was the great change that the reformation brought about. It wasn’t about the little monk standing up to the big church. It wasn’t about letting the people actually sing in church. It wasn’t about getting a Bible in the people’s language so they could read it for themselves. MOST OF ALL it was about this ONE TEACHING, salvation comes by faith in Christ, by faith in Christ ALONE.
When it comes to the Christian life there is much more to learn, but when it comes to salvation, that’s IT.
TLH 371 verse 1-4