THE BATTLE FOR PEACE
Dear Friends in Christ,
On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the CastleChurchin Wittenberg, Germany. When Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church (the door was used as the community bulletin board), that act was widely regarded as the initial catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The theses protested abuses of the Catholic clergy especially by the sale of indulgences. When purchased according to the Pope, indulgences granted remission of any punishment for sins. Needless to say, there is no price we can pay to earn forgiveness of sins. That was a price paid for and remains paid for by Christ and Christ alone.
When people came to confession, they presented their indulgences, claiming they no longer had to repent of their sins. Their indulgence was supposed to be their guarantee. Luther was outraged. The theses were written to be a public protest when they were posted. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughoutGermany; within two months throughoutEurope. All of this was aided by the printing press invented by Johann Guttenberg a few decades earlier.
During the years that followed Luther stood firmly against the two most powerful people in the world, the pope and the Roman Emperor who wanted him dead. In fact, Luther’s friends, who stood firmly on the Word of God with Luther, arranged to kidnap him and hid him inWartburgCastlefor his own protection. Sadly to say standing pat on the Scriptures endangered his life.
Psalm 46 was a favorite of Luther. It gave him comfort. The psalm spoke to his situation. The Bible gives a peace that surpasses all understanding - the peace he had in Christ. Yet this peace was challenged by those who stood against the Lord. It can be rightly said that the reformation is “The Battle for Peace. 1) Look to the Word to find peace; 2) Find peace in the Word you look to.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” In ancient days, as is the case today in many areas, shipping stops during the winter. Crews find a harbor and dock their ship when the weather gets rugged and rough. Having lived in Florida for thirteen years, rescue crews and all the sane residents got tired of hearing people say with a false bravado, “Bring it on!” as they chose to remain in a hurricane’s path. They dared foolishly to challenge wind and waves to give them their best shot. That’s a fool’s last act. Harbor or shelter is the meaning of refuge
Luther wrote this the most famous of the many hymns he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God” based on Psalm 46. While he was branded an outlaw who deserved to die by the authorities, he loved the promise of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble
Some scholars believe this psalm was written at the time when Sennacharib, the king ofAssyria, attempted to conquer the world. ThekingdomofIsraelhad divided between the North and the South. The northern kingdom experienced the wrath of Sennacharib. The capital city ofSamariafell and her people were either killed or dispersed never to live in their homes again. But Sennacharib wasn’t content to take just the northern kingdom as his trophy. He wanted the South. He wantedJerusalem, the city where the great temple was, the center of the Hebrew religion.
God caused the psalm to be written. Safety was guaranteed, but not in a harbor or storm shelter or an underground bunker or behind any city walls. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Refuge is found in the Lord.
What happened to Sennacharib? He turned his attention to theJudah, the southern kingdom. He bragged that no one, not even the Lord could stop him. He laid siege to the city ofJerusalem. He bragged how he had King Hezekiah trapped like a caged bird. He was so confident that of victory that he said he would provide the citizens ofJerusalem the horses and chariots if they would only come out to fight him.
What could Hezekiah do? He did what he could only do. He got down on his knees and laid the situation before the Lord. He then went to sleep. In the quiet of the night the angel of the Lord swept over the Assyrian army and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers lost their lives. Sennacharib found out first hand that the Lord is the fortress and strength of his people.
This is Reformation. The story of Luther is not that much different. By the grace of God, Luther found the truth of Scripture and then remained steadfast and grounded in the Scripture even though it meant trouble for him.
Three years after he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church, much of northernEuropefollowed Luther instead of the Pope. Pope Leo X issued a papal decree against Luther. Decrees by the Pope were called papal bulls…, no, not for that reason…but because the word ‘bulla’ in Latin means seal. If something had the papal seal, the Pope meant business. Leo X accused Luther of forty one errors found in the 95 theses and other writings. Luther was summoned to a city calledWormsto defend himself. The Roman Emperor, Charles V, working with the Pope, would preside.
The truth of Psalm 46 was so evident. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” The world around Luther was indeed surging and quaking, but when you are doing the Lord’s work there is the promise, “Therefore we will not fear.”
On April 16th and 17th of 1521, Luther stood before Charles and others. Luther’s writings had been placed on a table. He was then asked if they were his works and whether he would recant of what he had written. He was given an extra night to consider. The next day he replied with these famous words, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is held captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.” The pope and emperor declared Luther a heretic and placed a price tag on his head. They wanted him out of the picture.
Luther didn’t go easily. In fact, he didn’t go at all. He was doing the Lord’s work and defending God’s word. God was his fortress and strength. The Lord blessed his work and many were convinced that Luther was doing right because he was zealous for the Word of God.
While the Reformation began with a protest over the sale of indulgences, there was much more involved:
- On a theological level, Luther had challenged the absolute authority of the Pope over the church by maintaining that the sale of indulgences, as authorized and taught by the Pope, was plain wrong.
- Luther maintained, and rightly so, that salvation is ours by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Good works, like giving to the poor, are not the reason we are saved, but a result of being saved by Christ and Christ alone.
- He challenged the authority of the Pope and the Roman Church by maintaining that all doctrine and dogma is to come from the Bible, not from Papal decrees (you know the bull) or church councils.
The peace worth fighting for is found in the Word of God, but take time to listen to it. “Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Our church has a lot of new faces over the last years. Those of you who have been members for a long time remember a wonderful couple we had as members who are now in heaven – Mel and Myrna Kock. I had known them for all the years of my ministry. They were parents of charter members of our church in Lawrenceville, the first church I served. At the end of his life Mel was blind from diabetes; Myrna developed a cancer in her mouth. She never smoked. There was a possibility that one time when dental work was getting done a drill created a wound that somehow became cancerous. She refused to have her tongue removed because with Mel’s inability to see, she said they would never be able to communicate. What an unselfish act, but that’s the kind of woman she was. So was Mel. He had served the Lord in all kinds of capacities during his life.
Before Myrna passed away, she asked that a portion of Psalm 46 be the basis for her funeral sermon. “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still! Don’t argue with God. Listen to God. The phrase “be still” has a basic meaning in Hebrew of “leave off.” Leave off your own efforts to save yourself. That’s something God does, and at bargain price. It is totally free.
Luther found how true that was even though for many years he thought he had to contribute.
But that changed. The psalmist says, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” The city ofGod that is mentioned here is NOT the city ofJerusalem as some suppose. There is no river that flows through the city ofJerusalem. This is symbolic. This is God’s city, the church of which all believers in Christ are residents. Here on earth and in heaven. The river that gives life is the Word of God. It reveals Jesus Christ, who is the true living water and the Bread of life. You can’t live without water. You can’t live without Jesus Christ either.
In spite of the fact that the Devil wants to dam up the waters from reaching people – even he knows that without the water the church will die – Unfortunately he has been too successful in causing that to happen. The church of the Middle Ages was certainly an example. Too many preachers and priests and popes, far too many were his accomplices. Yet God didn’t allow that to happen.
Thanks to God, he promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. But that doesn’t mean the Devil will stop trying. Unfortunately he is all too often successful when people turn away from the Lord.
Be grateful, dear Christians and fellow Lutherans, you have free access to the Word of God and the peace that is found in it. Don’t take it for granted.