"Luther the Man: Called by God to Boast in Him "#85-07
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 15, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Special : Reflections on the Reformation - Part 1)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Our text, 1 Corinthians chapter one. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things of the world to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast before Him. It's because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption. Therefore, as it is written: Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." Christ has risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
I'm in Wittenberg, Germany, this week, and one thing that you'll hear a lot around this town is that this guy named Martin Luther-he was the man! He was and he is still a cultural hero. More importantly, he was a religious figure that brought real blessing to the people of that time, especially those of the church, and even to us today. He's called the central reformer of the Reformation, for a reason. Indeed, he was, in fact, he still is. Time Magazine said that Luther was one of the most influential human beings of the last 500 years. Five-hundred years ago, he did something that no one else was willing to do. He was willing to be totally honest about who he was, about who we all are-sinners in need of grace-and totally honest about who Jesus is, and who we are in Him alone.
That message of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, was powerful for him that he preached it and taught it, no matter what the consequences were for him personally. In that sense, yes, he was the man. In another sense, he was no different than any of us. In fact, Luther knew that his life was an undeserved gift from God. Right before he died he said that he was only a beggar, totally dependent upon the grace of God and Jesus for all that he was. No illusions of grandeur, but total confidence in God's grace for him in Jesus. His last words were words of power, words of humility, words of confidence, words of peace-famous last words.
I'm always intrigued by the reality that there will be a time when we have only one more word to say. There is a time in everyone's life when people are listening and your privileged to speak, and many want to know, what is the one thing that you wish to say? A person's last words are important. We often times hang on the dying words of those who are closest to us. We pass on the final words of great leaders to the next generation. It's as if we're waiting for them to sum up everything, in a few final powerful statements.
Listen to some famous last words. Ready? Nathan Hale: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Romeo: "Here's to my love oh true apothecary they drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die." Richard III: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." Julius Caesar: "You too Brutus?" Luther's last words were profound, humble, and powerful, all at the same time. On his final evening, Luther ate dinner with family and friends. He spent time in prayer as usual, and then he went to bed. Waking up in pain shortly after midnight, Luther apparently recognized that the end was near. He noted that in the end, "We're all beggars before God." Just before his death, he was asked if he was dying in the Name of Christ. Luther answered with a simple, yet very powerful, "Yes." Then he died: a beggar in the merciful hands of Jesus with an eternal life now to be lived.
Luther lived the words of our text today. He lived Paul's words. Paul said, "Nobody can boast before God on their own terms. It's because of God that you're in Jesus Christ who's become for us wisdom from God. That is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Luther lived as one who boasted in the Lord. Even our words matter when we share the very words of Jesus. That's amazing, right? So, let me tell you what a privilege it has been for me these last seven years to share with you the words of Jesus Christ.
Many of you know that these next three sermons will be my last as the official Lutheran Hour Speaker. I'll be taking a position in Washington, D.C., to serve our churches and schools and universities as the executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty. So, with these last few messages, I want to choose my words even more clearly so that I can say even more clearly the things that I hope you would always hear as you listened in the past to this program and that you will continue to hear as you listen into this program every Sunday in the future. Like Luther, I want you to know the power of God for salvation in the Person and work of Jesus Christ alone for you, for me, for all.
In a world of chaos, sin, rebellion, and constant change, comes a message of life and salvation from a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus Christ is on a mission to bring His life and salvation to you today, my friend. He's willing to do that through people like Paul, like Luther, like me. Totally dependent, forgiven sinners, just like yourself. Like Paul said, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
In Germany right now and in many countries around the world, they are celebrating Martin Luther and the Reformation. They're indeed shouting, "Luther! You're the man!" But you read Paul, even read Luther, and they'll both say, "Well, no." In fact, I wonder what Luther would think of all the things that are being said about him today. I was privileged this last week to speak at the Castle Church-the large church at the entrance to the city of Wittenberg. In that church Martin Luther, this very day lies dead in the grave right below the pulpit. I don't think he'd want you to be saying, "Luther, you're the man!" He'd probably think you were crazy to say that. He'd want you to look away from him and to look to Jesus as the man, as the God-man, as your Lord, and as your Savior.
One of the rectors of the Castle Church told me a wonderful story that I think Luther would have rejoiced in, too. He said that because of the 500th anniversary celebration, the town paid to have the church rewired with brand new state of the art LED lighting. The place is beautiful, and now it's bright and cheery, but if you're paying attention you'll see something even more wonderful. Above the altar are the sculptures of Paul, Jesus, and Peter. Now, because of the new lights, Jesus is the one that really stands out. He is illumined; even Peter and Paul are in the shadows. I think that's what Luther would want you to see.
I was even told that when the dark storms rolled into the city of Wittenberg, when the sky not only turns gray, but turns black that illumined Jesus seems to shine even brighter then. Wow! That's not just correct in the church; that's truth for your life; that's truth for mine. Luther would say, "Look away from my bones. Look to the One who will raise these bones and your bones from the dead in the final judgment. Look to Jesus. Boast about Him in all things. He will not let you down."
Sadly, many miss Luther's Reformation clarity of Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus. We seem to put faith in our sports stars or faith in our celebrities and God forbid, even faith in our politicians, before Christ. Do those people really care for you as a person, as an individual? No, not like you think they do. Surely, not like you need it. Your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, they might, but even they're incapable of being your savior, your guide in all things. You, the man? No, I'm just a poor sinner, just like you, but I have an incredible Savior who does wonderful things with people just like you and me.
You see, Luther knew he was nothing compared to Christ. Christ was the man: the God-man, the Savior, the Redeemer. He is the Lord. He is the Savior. He is the Messiah. He is God the Son sent by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem and restore you and me to God Himself. That's what Luther knew; that's what he proclaimed; and that's what we share with you today as well. Reformation is a day focused on God's righteousness: His righteousness which demands judgment for sin, His righteousness which exposed all human good works as shams, and His righteousness which finally becomes a gift, the only hope for us, a world sealed tight in its sin.
Let me keep it clear today. Luther was no big deal. You and I are no big deal, but Jesus is the big deal. He is the Savior to people like us and that shows that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from you. It's from Him alone, by grace through faith in Jesus. None of us are worthy in the eyes of God without Jesus, including Luther.
That message, when you say it right off the bat, it tends to offend at first hearing, but listen a little bit longer. It just means that we're all in the same boat together. We all have the same deep need for a relationship with God, the need for a Savior, and our rebellion has gotten in the way. That also means that those in Christian churches of the Reformation were being upfront and honest. We know that we're sinners just like you, and we know that the true God in heaven came to rescue, to redeem, and to reconcile with people just like you and me.
Luther used the word "sola" a lot. It just means alone or only. It's by grace alone then, through faith alone, in the Person and work of Jesus alone, that we're able to have a renewed relationship with the God who created and redeemed us to be His own. That's why the churches of the Reformation, especially the Lutheran churches, are not only called to celebrate what a simple monk could do with a Bible in his hands, we, too, are to use our feeble hands, our weak knees, and our stuttering tongues to proclaim a glorious Jesus as the friend and Savior of all. Keep it simple and plain. Keep it simple and plain. As Reformation people of God, the enduring message of the Reformation is that we get to be boasters of Jesus Christ and the great salvation of His cross and His resurrection for us and for all.
I'm positive that Luther would cringe at the notion that he was somehow the first pop star. I saw that in a newspaper article here in Wittenberg the other day. He would even cringe at the notion that Jesus was merely a superstar, a hero, or a superhero. Jesus was infinitely more than that. He was Savior. He's Messiah. He's Prince of peace. Luther would have boasted about Jesus just like Paul. He would have boasted about who Jesus is, what He did, and what He still is doing for us today. With that spirit of reformation, I want you with me right now to be awed, over-awed anew, by this Jesus that Luther proclaimed.
Jesus Christ, He was not just a teacher. He wasn't just a rabbi. He's the living Son of God who became man. Jesus never asked for forgiveness, but He abundantly gave it to those who needed it. Even saying on the cross to those who mocked Him, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing." He never sought justification for His behavior to others. He called them to faith in Him in all things. He never asked for prayer for Himself, but He prayed. He prayed for others. He prayed for you, and He taught us how to pray. "Our Father, who art in heaven." Wow!
I say it all the time in the churches around the country where I preach, the church, you and me, we can do nothing for ourselves or for others until we too are over-awed by our incredible Savior. When Luther said that he was merely a beggar in God's hands, he wanted you to see the strength of God's hands-the power of those hands, the certain love in that grip. He wasn't denigrating himself. He knew what he was without Jesus, but oh did he know the joy of what it meant to be a believer in that Jesus as Lord and Savior.
That's a last word that makes all the difference in the world because it's coming ultimately, not from Luther, but from Luther's Lord Jesus-the One who lived and died and rose again just for you. For believers today, for Christ's church today, it animates everything we do. So, hear Luther's last words today for you. If he was an influential person, as people say he was, there must have been something to the words he professed. Those words were the words of Scripture, the words of the Bible, the message of God's grace that He knew would change people's hearts and lives.
Luther rediscovered the power of receiving the grace of Jesus as a gift and then boasting about that Jesus to anyone who will listen. That message turned his life upside down. Actually, it turned his life totally around, and he realized that this Jesus was his righteousness, his holiness, literally his salvation. That Jesus is yours today, too. We are Jesus' holy people living life for others in His Name. So when all is said and done, when you've been honest with yourselves, and you realize your actual standing in the world and the church and above all, before God, it's definitely a humbling thing. God knows who you are, but He knows who Jesus is in your stead and who you can be in Jesus forever. Luther would remind us that by faith in Christ we are children of God who boast in and share in that Lord Jesus with others.
Today, may God overwhelm you with His grace in your life by faith. May you know the humility of the truth of your utter need, but may you know even more the power of the undeserved grace and forgiveness of Christ for you, alive in your life in service, your life of boasting in Him with love. That's a Reformation message. That's the Reformation mission. Next week from Wittenberg, we'll talk more about the moment of God's grace, which is still in store for you, too. God bless you always, in His Name. Amen.
Special Reformation/Martin Luther Discussion - Part 1 on Oct. 15, 2017
Guests: Ken Klaus & Dale Meyer
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. And now, more thoughts concerning the man, Martin Luther, the instrument God used to bring the Gospel back into focus. Pastor Seltz is here in the studio with me, along with Dr. Dale Meyer, and joining us from his home in Texas, Pastor Ken Klaus. I want to thank you all for being with us today.
Gregory Seltz: It's really great to be here.
Ken Klaus: Thank you.
Dale Meyer: Yes, absolutely.
Mark Eischer: Now, for listeners who'd like to delve more deeply into the story of the Reformation, the history of Martin Luther, we've prepared a three-part video series. It's titled, A Man Named Martin. Part one is a biography of Luther. Let's talk about that a little bit today. It's really the story of a quest for freedom, and Pastor Seltz, what type of freedom was Martin Luther pursuing?
Gregory Seltz: Well, it's important for people to understand, too, it was not so much about political freedom, or social freedom, or economic freedom; although, some of those kinds of things were influenced. Luther was talking about your relationship to God, and he found a freedom that came in Jesus Christ alone by grace through faith in Him. That's the thing that he unleashes on the world.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, why was this quest for freedom so important at that time in history with regard to the church?
Dale Meyer: The Gospel comes to us from outside of ourselves. It's not born in us. It has to be revealed to us. Luther discovered that in the writings of Holy Scripture. If you don't have that revelation coming in, you just do what comes naturally, and that will ultimately be a works-righteousness way of getting along in life and getting along with God eventually. Because the Gospel-that external revelation to us-had been lost or at least obscured by the church in the Middle Ages, what Luther did, burst freedom on to the scene.
Mark Eischer: Life, in general, was kind of harsh and conditions were difficult. How did that affect the average person's view of who God was?
Gregory Seltz: Well, I mean even think about it today, Mark. People have their own aspirations; they have their own goals. We don't even meet those. So, then if you think about a society that was talking about how to get right with God, that was talking about being moral in trying to live up to the perfection of God, and then Jesus is not this God who comes and says, "Since you can't do it, I'll do it for you." He's the One who keeps the balance sheet, and He's always there. He can always see. So, when you think about that, they already live in a very strict and severe society, and Jesus is the new lawgiver, the new Moses, who's checking on you.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus, did Luther find himself in a position of influence where he thought he could make a difference in all of this?
Ken Klaus: His initial years are very humble. He's born in Eisleben, near Berlin. His parents are middle-class laborers. His father starts out recognizing his son has got this really great intellect, works hard to ensure his son is going to be successful, become a lawyer-and in the days of before Social Security-then take care of him in his old age. At any rate, 1505, Luther starts studying law, but he gets almost fried by a nearby lightning strike and promises that he's going to become a monk, which really upsets his folks-a strong disappointment of his parents. He enters the Augustinian Order at Erfurt. Probably should have finished out his days as a brilliant dedicated monk, but it didn't happen that
Mark Eischer: Luther is a classic overachiever, and I suppose he made it even harder for himself.
Dale Meyer: He was very hard on himself. He pushed himself. He would even beat himself. It's interesting that that was the way you did it in those days. Unlike today, if you wanted to be closer to God, you became a monk. And society-that was outside of the cloister-had the impression that if you can't be a monk you do monk-type things. So, this was a natural route for Luther to follow to get closer to God. There are people who are more sensitive religiously than other people. That's still true today. Well, Luther was very sensitive when it came to religion and because of life in that day, he really wanted to get right with God. But all that he put himself through, the tortures, the rigors, did not bring him a peaceful conscience.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Seltz, the root of all that striving-why was he so devoted to this religious pursuit?
Gregory Seltz: Well, in his day, there was the way of being saved was to suffer like Christ. I mean to enter into His sufferings and so, as Dr. Meyer was just talking about, he was going to try to live that life perfectly, that monkish life that was focused on the righteousness of Christ, following in His footsteps. So, you suffer like Christ and you endure like Christ. The trouble is Luther, every time he thought he was actually, maybe, getting a glimpse of that he realized he was doing it for the wrong reasons, or he was angry at God for making him do this kind of stuff. Next thing you knew, he didn't think he did anything right for Jesus Christ, but there was that way of being saved to suffer like Christ: the Christ who suffered for you.
Mark Eischer: Now in 1517 Luther posted a list of 95 debating points on the door of the castle there in Wittenberg. What did he hope to accomplish by doing that, Dr. Meyer?
Dale Meyer: It didn't turn out the way he thought it would. He was a professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg. These were a thesis, coming from the Greek word, "tithomai," a proposition, something to discuss academically. So, he made his post, and they went viral. Today it would be like putting something up on the internet, and it goes viral. That's what happened 16th century-wise, but it went viral because he struck a chord that people wanted to hear.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus, did Luther consider himself a rebel at that time?
Ken Klaus: No, not at all, not at first, at any rate. He was as Dr. Meyer just said, a questioner of practices, which he thought were questionable. His debating points became electrifying sound bites with people reading them and saying, "Hey, that makes sense! Why didn't I think of that?" Only later did he feel that ... that he had been forced to become a reformer.
Mark Eischer: Once again, thank you to Pastor Seltz, Pastor Ken Klaus, and Dr. Dale Meyer for being with us today.
Gregory Seltz: Great to be here.
Dale Meyer: My pleasure.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray" by Martin Luther, arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)