Text: Revelation 14:6-7
Date: Reformation (Observed) + 10/30/16
The best comment I’ve seen about Martin Luther and the Reformation lately shows Luther hammering his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Apparently, some men have asked him what he was doing. Luther turns and looks at them and responds, “Oh, the door is fine, I’m just fixing your theology!” It was the eve of All Saint’s Day in the year 1517, 499 years ago. It was but the beginning of fixing or reforming the Church’s theology. It was not an easy or short process. In fact, it wasn’t until another 13 years passed that the Lutheran Augsburg Confession was delivered in 1530, and yet another 63 years that the entire Book of Concord was published in 1580.
Luther was 34 years old at that first appearing at the doors of the Wittenberg church, 47 years old when the Augsburg Confession was presented by his supporters and 63 years old at his death. In his last days after such major accomplishments of “fixing” Christian doctrine—translating the entire Bible into the language of the people and thereby standardizing the German language, providing his small and large catechisms and all his other sermons and works—still the reformer feared that the bright light of the pure Gospel of Christ would not shine long but would be covered in darkness again. And it has been, occasionally revived and then darkened again to this day. Nevertheless, here we are 499 years later preserving and proclaiming that same pure Gospel to our world today. The darkness of denial and unbelief still surrounds us, and more and more it seems these days. But this little light is God’s light. He will not let it be extinguished.
It is with some delight that we hear from the Revelation to St. John on this festival when he said, “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” Though angels are spirit beings created by God the word “angel” means messenger or preacher. This is what St. John means when he is told to write to the angels of the seven churches, the messengers, the pastors. In this sense these words apply perfectly to Martin Luther, the angel or messenger “with an eternal gospel to proclaim.”
The eternal Gospel is eternal beginning from the very creation of the world, the first Gospel promise in Genesis 3, fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to culminate in the eternal mansions of heaven. It is called the Gospel in the wide sense, that is both the calling of God’s Law and judgment against sin meant to cause people to fear God, to repent and turn to God, and the very, very Good News that God Himself has come to deliver us from sin and death, something no one can do on his own nor for anyone else. The Gospel is as St. Paul says, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:16-17). In fact, it was in these very words that Martin Luther discovered the relief and the joy of God when he discovered this righteousness of God is not only His condemning word of Law but especially and finally His saving word of Gospel, that is God’s righteous and just declaration of forgiveness of the sinner as a totally free gift on the evidence of the obedience of Jesus Christ who died to take away the sin of the world and who rose again to give us eternal life.
So to this day we are the angels, the messengers, the loud voice delivering the same Gospel to ears who have never heard and those who cling to it every day of their lives, “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” which has become literally true and more and more so in our day.
Every person needs to hear and to receive this good news and to continually hear and receive it because the devil, the old evil foe is constantly trying to steal it away. Saving faith grows weak and can die when it no longer hears and receives God’s word and gifts. You can stop hearing by turning away and despising God’s word. But you can also stop, even when you think your hearing, when the Law and Gospel are confused and God’s word is covered over by the invention and contradiction of requiring human works beyond what Christ has done. The whole notion of the Church somehow having the authority to sell the forgiveness of sins by means of so-called “indulgences” was what motivated Luther’s initial anger which was the subject of his 95 Theses. Of course the confused and broken official theology of the church was even more pervasive than that. So there were many ways in which the Gospel was being hidden in the church’s teaching and worship. It’s the same today as the cause of so-called denominational differences. To worship God as the Creator is the result of fearful repentance and giving glory to God through the salvation won by Jesus Christ.
The Reformation reversed the concept that worship is something we do to “Gottesdienst,” something God does, literally God’s or divine service. We gather around the means of grace, God’s word and sacraments, not in order to give or tell God anything but rather to receive, to receive His gifts, His gifts of faith and salvation.
So you see, to celebrate Martin Luther or the Reformation is nothing else than to celebrate Jesus, the Gospel of God. Receive God’s grace and gifts again today by faith in Jesus.