"The Enduring Reformation Moment and Message of Grace"#85-08
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 22, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Special : Reflections on the Reformation - Part 2)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Our text, 2 Corinthians 4, beginning at verse 13, "It is written, 'I believed. Therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence." Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
Throughout the world people are celebrating this person named Martin Luther. Five hundred years ago, he proclaimed boldly a message of freedom in Christ alone that was available to all by grace, through faith, you guessed it, alone.
For Luther, and for all who preach and teach what he taught, Jesus was the only One, the God-man, the world's Savior. He, and only Jesus Christ, could make such an offer for real forgiveness and eternal life to people like Luther, people like us, sinful people all the same. We needed such a Savior, one powerful enough, truthful enough, and faithful enough to deliver all that we need for this body and life, now and forever. Every Reformation, we look back finally at the message of freedom and forgiveness, life in salvation in Jesus alone that Martin Luther unleashed on a world in need. Those were the good old days, right? The good old days.
I don't think so. In our video series on Martin Luther, there's a short video clip of me walking through the Augustinian Monastery with the rector at the time, and he's recounting what those good old days were really like. They were days of hardship, stress, trial-and even that first day of Luther's sojourn into the church-it was marked with irony. When he, Martin Luther, laid on the floor of the chapel at the monastery to take his vows, he was laying on the tomb of the archbishop buried there. That wasn't unusual. That's what they always did.
All churches had the bones of important leaders buried there so as to sanctify the ground. What's ironic is that this particular archbishop was the one who burned Jan Hus at the stake. He put to death the person who, a generation before Luther, in his time, in his way, was trying to proclaim God's grace alone in Jesus for all. That so-called threat in the work of Hus ended when he was martyred ironically by the church, by the archbishop that lay under Luther's feet.
Here's an even greater irony. Now, at this specific moment in time, here was Luther who had no idea about all this. Here's Luther, one who is later said to be the new Jan Hus; Luther's alive and well in the world with the archbishop dead in the grave. It's as if God was saying, "My Gospel won't be that easily dismissed." Good old days or days yet to come. I don't think that Luther lived in the past or thought much about what a particular day might bring. What he discovered anew was that living each day in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ-that was the power for the day-that was the power to deal with your past-that was the power to live boldly in the future.
When the moment came, he realized how wonderful it was to be in the hands of a God who loved you, who lived and died and rose again just for you. Like Paul, Luther rejoiced in the resurrection promises of Jesus. Like Paul, he was confident of this new life with God because he was baptized in the Name of the Triune God, the God who now washed him with the blessings of Christ's cross and resurrection. He, like Paul, was overwhelmed with the good news that Jesus would not only invite one like him to His Holy Supper, Jesus would give Luther and all who believe the certainty of His grace in their lives with His body and blood in with and under the bread and wine. What moments, what moments indeed! "With that spirit," Paul says, "We believe, we speak, we live."
I'm in Wittenberg, Germany, right now speaking this message in the very place where Luther lived, where he preached and taught. What a moment it is to be here. In fact, it's kind of overwhelming to be here as well. I went to an exhibit the other day. It's close to where the Luther house is. It's a museum of sorts, one that shows the influence that Luther had throughout history. It talks about names and places, philosophies, all kinds of things, and low and behold, it talks about an influential man and ministry that grew from the influence of Luther.
Care to guess who that is and what that ministry is? Yes, the man was Walter A. Maier and the ministry was the radio program, The Lutheran Hour, and I'm here preaching that Good News anew in the churches of Wittenberg, and here at the Old Latin School. I'm still on the radio program with you so that all who hear might come to faith and be strengthened in faith in the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What a moment, to be the eighth Speaker in the 500th year with a message that still rings true today. Good old days? No, every day in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's Reformation.
So I hope that you're in the moment with me today. I hope that your heart is open to hearing a word from the Bible that you won't hear out in the world. I hope that you cherish the moment of hearing this word of Jesus today. It's time, right? It's time. What emotion does that phrase engender when it's spoken directly, meaningfully, to you? Try to imagine that time on your wedding day when the pastor came back to you, your wedding attendants together and said, "It's time."
What about those other emotions, too? I remember a close friend of mine undergoing life-threatening surgery. Can you imagine the feelings when the nurse comes in and says, "It's time"? If you've ever had to face the long arm of the law, what about the time when the verdict hangs in the balance, or when the decision of the parole board is imminent, and the judge calls everyone back to the court house, what might you feel at that moment when they say, "It's time"? You see, our lives are full of ups and downs. There's always that moment in time when the right questions must be answered and the right things must be done.
The Bible talks about being ready for all those times, but it also speaks about the challenge to be God's people in the roller-coaster world in which we live so that all might know that one is always on time with the right message of hope and salvation for a world that is running out of time. The enduring message of the Reformation is this: it's time! The moment of grace has arrived. Ready? Here it comes!
The Bible talks about moments like this all the time. It was just in time that God raised up Moses to rescue his people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. It was just in time when he raised up David to lead Israel in the Promised Land or to bring Nehemiah to leadership for the people of God after they were exiled from their homeland. It was just in time, ultimately, when God the Father sent His Son Jesus as a child in a manger to lowly shepherds, lowly parents, to a nowhere land, to remind all people that God had not forgotten them.
God, indeed, had not forgotten the promises of redemption made to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob. In God's time, Jesus Christ appeared to accomplish all our salvation, just in time. So what kind of moment are you having today? If you're like me, things are changing pretty fast. Even now, I don't seem to have enough time to get done what I need to get done. The older I get, the more I seem unable to keep everything in its proper place. There are so many things that we can't get our arms around, and on top of that we live in a time of incredible change, don't we?
Things are happening so fast that it's impossible to get a grip on them before they slip away, replaced by something new, something better. Just when we finally seem to have a handle on things, it all changes. Is there a message for a time like this? Is there a reality that supersedes all others? St. Paul says, "Yes! Absolutely, yes!" It's the message of the Scripture. It's the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's what's proclaimed on this program every week. We preach Christ, crucified, the power of God for all who believe. That's a message for this time. That's a message for so-called "good old days." That's a message for the future because that's a message of life and salvation now and forever in the Person and work of Jesus, the Messiah, the Creator, the Redeemer of the world.
It's what I like to call an "eighth-day message for all the other days in your life." Eighth day ... what do I mean by that? Well, in the Bible it says that God created the world in seven days. Now, before you go criticizing that, I want you to know that the early Christians wondered why it took God so long. After all, He could have created it instantaneously by His Word. Okay, that discussion, that's for another time, but today I want to talk about that seventh day of creation, what it meant.
It was a day that signified the reality that God the Creator was in harmony with his world, that we as human beings were in harmony with God and with each other and also with the world around us. All was as it should be. Of course, humanity messed all that up, broke the relationship with God in rebellion and sin, and shattered that harmony. But the Bible proclaims that God did something about that. In the fullness of time, at just the right moment, God the Father sent His Son, not to condemn the world but to redeem it: Jesus, the Christ, the fulfillment of all the prophecies, for a Savior. He lived, He died, and rose again, and that day of His resurrection from the dead, when the crucified One was raised so that all might live, that was, here it comes, the eighth day, the eternal day, the day that overwhelms all others.
It is finished. The crucified One is raised from the dead. God has been reconciled to His world. That's why the church of Jesus worships not on Saturday anymore, but Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection, because now every day in Christ is a day in harmony with God by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every day gets to be a day that is contained in the eternal life that we all live in Christ forever. I'm here in Wittenberg, ironically, as the eighth Speaker of The Lutheran Hour to share with you the power of the moment of the eighth day, the day of God's grace in Jesus Christ for you. Don't let this moment pass you by. Now is the time for your salvation and mine.
We need a Savior, and that moment is now today and every day for you to receive Him and to share Him with those you love. Now is the time. Don't go thinking that modern people like us don't need Jesus today. I'm here to tell you that all the gadgets in the world won't solve the problems in our hearts. Luther loved the printing press. What an invention for his day, but the printing press didn't save. It, thankfully, could print the message of salvation, but the message saves, then as now. Amidst all these Reformation celebrations, too, many are missing the main point of Luther's teaching. They tend to water down his message.
It's no longer grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It's more of a generic spirituality, an ecological motivation in call. It's a generic message of love and brotherhood. And that might work folks if we weren't such sinners, but we are. One of the enduring foolishnesses of the modern world is this notion that human beings are basically good, only corrupted by broken structures, only driven to problems by lack of money or education. The 20th century, the century of enormous growth and wealth, technology and comfort, leisure and health, it was one of the most brutal centuries of human history. It was worse than all the other centuries combined. That is saying something, my friends. Oh, we need a Savior today just like in Luther's day.
Save us, Lord, from the modern notion that we are merely machines. Save us, Lord, from the notion that we are merely animals. Now is the time to believe again, that you were created, you were redeemed to be God's person now and forever by grace through faith because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus alone, just for you. "It is written," says Paul, "I believed, therefore I have spoken," and with that same spirit of faith, we believe and therefore speak. Nothing else, and surely nothing less.
The Reformation was quite a moment for Luther, but it was quite a moment for people who suddenly heard that Word of God and about that God who really cared for them, who understood their sinful incapacity and guilt, One who didn't pile on more dos and don'ts to them, but acted on their behalf so that they might have a fresh start, real forgiveness, and the gift of God's love to share. What a moment for all who believe. Each night here in Wittenberg, I've let the window open just a crack, and I've noticed something. The bells of the town church, Saint Mary's, one of the churches where Luther preached throughout his life, those bells ring every hour, every half hour all throughout the night.
Now, when I first heard them, it kind of shocked me. I thought that I might not be able to close my eyes and sleep because I'd hear those bells throughout the night. I thought it might be like our first nights in New York City when we heard the taxi cabs beeping their horns all throughout the night. But the sound of the bells, it wasn't like that. They were beautiful, not overly loud but not too soft either. They rang a tone that settled gently on the breeze so that you could hear, smile, and take comfort in their playing. It was almost as if God Himself were gently reminding all who could hear that His church is still preaching this Good News in this place with a message of life and salvation that is meant for all in Jesus.
What a moment that first Reformation Day was! What a moment the writing of this letter to the Corinthians was in the days of St. Paul, and what a moment when the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." That moment is here for you and for me right now through this Word of the Gospel that is preached, with the humility of knowing our need. With the confidence that comes by faith in Christ, I pray that the moment of your salvation is now, the moment of the strengthening of your faith is now, that the moment of living in the power of the Reformation message of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is now yours today and forever. Nothing else, and surely nothing less. To that end, God richly bless you this very moment. Amen.
Special Reformation/Martin Luther Discussion - Part 2
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we're continuing our discussion now concerning Martin Luther and the events of the Reformation. Pastor Gregory Seltz is here, along with former Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Dale Meyer, and joining us from his home in Texas, Pastor Ken Klaus. Once again, thank you all for being with us.
Pastor Seltz: Great to be here!
Dr. Meyer: My pleasure.
Mark Eischer: Last week we spent some time talking about Martin Luther, who he was as a man. His act of posting a list of 95 debate topics on the castle church door in Wittenberg marks the beginning of the Reformation. Today we want to take a step back from that moment and look at certain practices of the medieval church that compelled Luther to take that step. Luther had grown discontented with certain teachings of the church, but that wasn't always the case. Dr. Meyer, what was Luther's viewpoint prior to October of 1517?
Dr. Meyer: That's a great question. Luther was a devout, obedient son of the church-and a footnote is those are the guys you have to watch-because the scholars will trace Luther's theological development. But he believed in praying to the saints. He believed what the church taught about Mary and so on. What got his goat in 1517 was a practice of indulgences. That was the wedge that opened the way for all the theological development that happened in the rest of his life.
Mark Eischer: Pastor Klaus?
Pastor Klaus: Luther slowly awakened the idea that what the Savior had said and what His church was saying were two different things. Not only that, but what the church said was necessary for salvation kept on changing. Anyone became vocal in their disagreement with the church-they often ended up being tried by an ecclesiastical court, and then they disappeared.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, you mentioned how this practice of indulgences set Luther off. It raised questions about what the church was doing, whether the church was doing the right thing. Now, in the past, the church had councils that met and reconciled these controversial issues. Pastor Seltz, how did that work?
Pastor Seltz: Well, the church, the bishops and things like that, people forget, these are the public voices of the Gospel for the sake of the people. These are Christ's servants for the sake of the people, and there were times when they gathered together to deal with very difficult things, so we have the Council of Nicaea, and they produce the Nicene Creed. That has been a real blessing for the church since then, but they didn't always get things right, so it's not that they were an infallible witness of that as well. That's the stuff that Luther is going to come up against because councils sometimes even disagreed with themselves.
Mark Eischer: But in this case, why couldn't they deal with this issue in a similar format? Pastor Klaus?
Pastor Klaus: It could've happened if they had agreed on the ground rules. The problem was they just never could bring themselves to doing that. Luther said, "Hey. I'm ready to be tried if Scripture is my judge." And the church replied, "We're going to be your judge, and we may or may not use Scripture in our decision." It was an unsolvable problem.
Mark Eischer: In this video resource, the Roman Catholic Church of that time is described as a "salvation machine." Dr. Meyer, I'm wondering what that means.
Dr. Meyer: Well, over the centuries, they had gotten into a system that it would take a literal rebel like Luther to blow apart. The salvation machine was the system. You confess your sins; you are given penance to do. If you buy an indulgence, you can get forgiveness or a shorter time in purgatory. All of that generated dollars, many of which went down for the construction of St. Peters in Rome. It was a whole system, and you feel sorry for the people at that time because they didn't know anything else. They felt the burden, but they didn't know that there was a freedom of the Gospel.
Pastor Klaus: Well, there was the Bible, which said very simply we're forgiven because of Christ's work. Then there was the church, which said you are forgiven after you've earned it or paid for it or did penance for it or a combination of all three.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, I guess that points to the importance of a correct translation of the Scriptures.
Dr. Meyer: Yes. It's important to remember that most people in Luther's time couldn't read. So who gave them the message about faith, what to believe, how to be right with God? The church, but most priests didn't have it either. Worship services were in Latin, which no one understood except some of the priests. So getting the Bible out of its Latin translation into the vernacular of German was important, but then it became important that the priests, the evangelical pastors, proclaimed the Gospel because most people still wouldn't be reading the vernacular German. Luther said that the church is God's mund house, his "mouth" house, for proclamation, the living voice of the Gospel. Yes, you need an accurate translation to see that.
Pastor Seltz: Yeah, what did God say, yeah.
Pastor Klaus: It's almost like we sound a little bit like a broken record. It is the Bible which drives Luther, at first, almost reluctantly, to any kind of confrontation. Eventually, it grows into a confrontation that touches upon almost every aspect of the Christian life at the time.
Mark Eischer: It's an amazing story about how God works in history and how God's truth transforms lives and even entire societies. We continue to benefit from this heritage even today. Next week, we'll discuss the third part of this video resource, and we'll take a look at what happened once the Reformation got underway and spread throughout Europe. Once again, thanks to Pastor Seltz, Pastor Ken Klaus, and Dr. Dale Meyer for being with us today.
Pastor Seltz: Great to be here with all you guys.
Dr. Meyer: Thank you.
Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz
The Rev. Dr. Gregory P. Seltz serves as the Speaker of The Lutheran Hour® radio program, a position he has held since February 2011. As such, he serves as the featured Speaker on Lutheran Hour Ministries' flagship Christian outreach radio program with over 1 million listeners, airing on more than 1,600 stations across North America, as well as on the American Forces Network. He also serves as the organization's spiritual leader, evangelist, and ministry emissary with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC).
Before joining Lutheran Hour Ministries, Seltz served as director of the Cross-Cultural Ministry Center, professor of theology, and overseer of the master's program in theology and culture at Concordia University in Irvine, California. With over 75 pastors in the urban mission field during his tenure, his work prepared leaders from various cultures to launch ministries in a variety of cultural settings, including Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, Indonesian, Indian, and African-American.
Prior to his work at Concordia, Seltz was the executive director of Life's Journey Ministries, an urban, not-for-profit evangelism ministry in Manhattan, New York. He was also the founding pastor of the first new Lutheran mission start in more than 40 years in New York City (Church for All Nations-LCMS). He started a mission church in Dallas, and he also served as pastor of a large congregation in Tampa, Florida.
Seltz holds a bachelor's degree in New Testament-biblical languages from Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Michigan, plus a master of divinity degree in systematics-New Testament, and a master of sacred theology in systematics from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He was also awarded the doctor of divinity degree from Concordia University Irvine, and completed his doctorate at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He and his wife, Marie Yvette, have one daughter, Devin.
Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer
The Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer is the tenth president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. As scholar, educator, pastor, author, administrator, and previous Speaker for The Lutheran Hour (1989-2001), Meyer brings an informed and broad-based perspective to his work. His interest in the political arena is keen; at one time he was a finalist to be the Chaplain of the United States Senate.
In addition to his current work in academia, Meyer authors The Meyer Minute, a weekday internet commentary. He also serves as a member of the board of trustees of the American Bible Society. Previously, for Lutheran Hour Ministries, he hosted the television program On Main Street® and has penned booklets for LHM that include Coping with Cancer and Real Men.
Rev. Kenneth R. Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
The Rev. Kenneth R. Klaus is Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour radio program. As Speaker Emeritus, he writes and records a sermon a month for The Lutheran Hour, writes Lutheran Hour Ministries' Daily Devotions, records Bible studies and other video clips for the Men's NetWork (an online men's ministry resource), and has represented Lutheran Hour Ministries at speaking engagements across the country. Klaus tenure as Speaker ran from 2002 until his retirement from the position at the end of 2010.
Pastor Klaus has 28 years experience as a parish pastor. Before taking the Speaker's microphone, he was administrative pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Dallas. He served the International Lutheran Laymen's League (the same organization as Lutheran Hour Ministries) as its pastoral advisor from 1996 to 2000. He also held pastoral positions in Minnesota, central Illinois, and South Dakota parishes.
A prolific writer, Pastor Klaus has published many works, including volumes one and two of Stories from The Lutheran Hour; A Changeless Christ in a Changing World; and two prayer books (one for use by military personnel and one for family and friends at home).
Pastor Klaus holds a master of theology degree from Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois, and a bachelor of arts degree in pre-seminary studies from Concordia College, Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 2005 he received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" by Martin Luther, arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"O Lord, We Praise Thee" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)