Good Friday morning ...
He changed the world, but that wasn't his intent. He thought he was starting a theological debate. Instead, he ignited a reformation of the church.
It is a mark of our changing times that many people have only a vague idea who Martin Luther is. We know he was a religious leader who managed somehow to get a whole denomination named after himself. Some of us are aware that he had something to do with the Protestant Reformation. Music lovers know that Luther penned the words to the famous hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."
But that's about it.
We need to know more about Martin Luther. When A & E compiled a list of the 100 most important people of the millennium, Luther came in at number 3, behind Johann Gutenberg and Isaac Newton, and just ahead of Charles Darwin and William Shakespeare.
What made this otherwise obscure German monk so important? It happened because of what he did on October 31, 1517, when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. As a professor of theology, Luther intended to spark debate about certain practices of the Catholic Church. Nailing his thoughts to the church door would be like posting an article on the Internet today. He expected some pushback from his colleagues and perhaps some lively discussion. But he had no idea what was about to happen.
When Luther nailed those theses on the church door, he ignited a spark that burst into a flame that spread across Europe and around the world. Luther's bold act launched the Protestant Reformation for which we are now celebrating the 503rd anniversary.
Since Luther was disputing practices common in the 16th century, some of his points are of historical interest only. But the most important thesis still concerns us today. It is number 62: "The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God."
That statement should be proclaimed from every Christian pulpit. It is certainly true that the treasure of the church does not consist in buildings or vestments or cathedrals or any other signs of earthly power or wealth.
Martin Luther was right. The true treasure of the church is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything else is secondary.
That is what the Reformation was all about. Luther argued that the Gospel must be the center of the church and anything that obscures the Gospel is wrong and needs to be changed or removed.
During Luther's years of teaching through the Bible, he made the great discovery that was to change him and then Europe and then the world. The discovery came when he taught on Romans 1:16-17: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes: fist for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For 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."
As Luther himself puts it: "Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sincere mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into Paradise ... This passage of Paul became for me a gate to heaven." [Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, pp. 49-50]
After years of searching, Luther realized there are two kinds of righteousness. First, there is the righteousness of man, which represents the sum of all his good works and all his religious observance. He realized he had been trying to climb the ladder to heaven by his own works and by his prayers and his pilgrimage to Rome. But in that moment, he understood that that ladder wouldn't make it. In fact, no ladder was needed.
Second, there is the righteousness of God found in the Lord Jesus Christ. It's what our Lord achieved when He died and rose form the dead. This righteousness is not ours. We receive it by faith as a free gift from God. That doctrine became the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation: Sola Fide, which means "by faith alone."
Righteousness is what we need but do not have. Because God knew we could never be righteous on our own, He provided a righteousness that comes down from heaven. It is not earned or deserved but is given by God as a free gift. This is the overwhelming truth of the Reformation, rediscovered by that German monk named Martin Luther.
Now you know the entire story.
Have a blessed Reformation Day ...