Messiah Lutheran Church :: MARTIN LUTHER, GUEST SPEAKER


Wie Geht’s,

Your pastor is a pretty smart guy, way beyond his years.  This year is the 500th anniversary of the day I nailed the 95 theses to the door of the CastleChurch.  He asked me to preach to you tonight.  I thought no one was going to ask.  He did.  But there is going to be a problem. Your pastor said I have twenty minutes.  I’m only going to be  warming up.  People used to come to hear sermons that would last for two hours…and they stood through it all.  He said that if I preached for two hours, you might want to become Catholic.  Is that right?    


Since this is Maundy Thursday, your pastor wanted me to explain how the Holy Spirit formed my understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  As I thought about that, I need to go back farther than that.  My life was a growth process.  It was not instantaneous. I want to talk about two events and then the Lord’s Supper.  


I would like to begin with the “Turmerlebnis” – my “Tower Experience.”  It was key in my life with the Lord.  I can’t put a date on it.  I was at the Black Cloister, the monastery I called home.  One day it was gifted to my family.  Katie, my wife, and our children lived there.    


The book of Romans was a very important book for me.  I wanted to understand it.  There was an expression used in Romans and other places that caused me all kinds of turmoil – “the righteousness of God.”  I had learned to hate that term.  I understood it to be the formal, active righteousness of God, in which God proves Himself to be righteous and punishes the sinner who is not righteous.  That caused me to fear God.   


But Romans 1:16-17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Later in Paul’s letter he stated “there is a righteousness of God apart from Law.”  That made no sense to me.  The Law tells us what God’s will is.  The Law tells us the righteousness of God and how he demands punishment if we don’t live it. 


I struggled with that phrase for days and days.  But the Spirit of God had mercy and helped me understand.  A light came on.  The righteousness that God demands of me in the Law is also given to me in Jesus, apart from the Law.  His righteous life becomes mine through faith.  In other words the righteousness that God demands is the righteousness God supplies me in Jesus.  We are righteous in the righteousness of Jesus.   “As violently as I hated that expression, “the righteousness of God,” I embraced it.  In fact, that expression opened up the Gates of Paradise for me.”  My whole outlook on God was changed.  He loves me in Christ.      


The burden of getting to heaven was lifted from me.  It was done by Jesus.  Remember what is true for me is true for you too. The tower experience was truly a spiritual breakthrough.      


Another important event was the Leipzig Debate.  I really stirred up the hornet’s nest with those 95 theses. Many encouraged me. “Way to go Marty!”  Many, including the Pope, condemned me, “You are going to hell, Marty!  


George, Duke of Saxony, a minion of Pope Leo, wanted to expose all of us rebels at the University in Wittenberg where I was teaching.  The debate was to be held in Leipzig in June and July of 1519.  But oddly enough I wasn’t even invited.  Andreas Karlstadt was to represent our side.  Johann Eck was to present the Roman side.   I was disappointed.  Frankly, Karlstadt was a pretty good cure for insomnia. Eck was one of the best that Rome could offer. 


Eck didn’t really want to debate Karlstadt, he wanted a piece of me.  In July he sent for me. Karlstadt took it personally.  After the debate, he went off the deep end.


Eck and I debated on subjects that I had a real passion for: purgatory, the sale of indulgences, penance, and the papal authority. 


I knew the results would be rigged, but it made me see something very clearly.  Eck kept quoting tradition and church councils and popes.  My answers and theology was from Scripture.  I had fallen in love with the Scripture.  Purgatory?  No Scriptural proof of its existence! The sale of indulgences? Don’t get me going on that one.  Penance?  Rome always valued confession and absolution which were part of penance. But Rome also included making satisfaction for sin.  None of us can do that.  Only Jesus can and did…on the cross. Papal authority?  Hey, people criticize me for the language I used on the Pope.  You know what?  He deserves every bit of it.  Authority is not found in a Pope.  Authority is found in Scripture alone.


The Pope and all his minions didn’t take kindly to the points I made in the debate. I officially lost the debate. Guess who judged it.  Pope Leo X couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.  He excommunicated me in June of 1520.  Was I sad?  Actually we celebrated.  We burned the paper it came on.  It was called a Papal Bull.  A bulla was a leaden seal that was attached to authenticate it. Papal Bull… it sure was!    


They ordered me to recant of 41 of the 95 theses. Among other things, they stated “We likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and rejected. ... Indeed immediately after the publication of this letter these works, wherever they may be… shall be burned publicly and solemnly in the presence of the clerics and people.” 

I say this humbly.  The Debate put me in demand more than ever.  The next nineteen months were very productive.  I wrote 116 sermons.  I preached in the TownChurch in Wittenberg on Sundays and festival days.  Every afternoon I preached for the monks in the chapel at the Black Cloister. In the six months right after the debate I wrote sixteen treatises. I wrote a Commentary on Galatians of more than 400 pages. While I quarreled with Rome daily (that was a given), I also taught daily in the classroom and wrote an average of sixteen pages of material for the press each week.  I was quoted as saying, “I have a fast hand and a rapid memory. As I write, the thoughts just naturally come to me, so I do not have to force myself or ponder over my materials.”  I have one explanation.  God was with me.       


Why was the Leipzig experience such a spiritual boon for me?  When I entered the monastery in 1505 I was taught to interpret the Bible four ways – historically, allegorically (where the characters and events stand for an abstract idea), tropologically (interpreting the figurative meaning of Scripture) and anagogically (so that everything had some allusion to the afterlife). Sounds complicated and confusing.  It is.  It was confusing to me as a student.  When I began to teach it, I could see my students confused as if every passage had four different ways to be understood.  


But as I studied the Scripture over the years the Holy Spirit led me to understand that God is not a God of disorder or confusion. I learned that “his word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.  Instead of looking for different interpretations, God intends the Scripture to mean something specific.  When Johann Eck debated me he was supposed to be Rome’s best.  All he quoted was the word of men. I learned how far Rome strayed from the Bible. I learned how far Rome was from me.   Scripture alone, people!  Scripture alone!    


I also promised to speak about how my theology on the Lord’s Supper developed from Scripture.  There is a Roman view of the Lord’s Supper.  There is a view of the Lord’s Supper that began with the Swiss reformers Ulrich Zwingli and later John Calvin.  Most Protestants, except Lutherans, lean toward what Zwingli and Calvin taught.   


Let me begin with the Roman Teaching.  I wrote a sermon in 1519 on the Holy Eucharist.  Eucharist is how Rome refers to the Lord’s Supper. It means “thanksgiving.  Rome taught and still teaches that in the Eucharist the recipient receives only the body and blood of Jesus.  The bread and wine change into the body and blood so that the “species of bread and wine no longer exist.” Their teaching is called Transubstantiation.  


I don’t know if I ever really believed that.  I know that many Roman scholars committed to Rome did not follow the company line.  Duns Scotus and Occam were good Catholic teachers who taught “there was really no essential change in the bread and wine.”


I know Scripture teaches we receive Christ’s body and blood along with the bread and wine.  I know I should be able to quote for memory things that I wrote in the past, but I noticed that after my 300th birthday I don’t remember things like I used to.  But I wrote this:  “There are those who practice their subtleties to such an extent that they ask where the bread remains when it is changed into Christ’s flesh, and the wine when changed into His blood, and also in what manner the whole Christ, His flesh and His blood, can be comprehended in so small a portion of bread and wine.  What does it matter? It is enough to know that it is a divine sign in which Christ’s flesh and blood are truly present – how and where, we leave to Him.”


During my day Rome forbade the people from receiving the blood and the wine at the holy meal.  They said that if you have the body you will get the blood.  Where did that come from?  No one really knows!  Many point to the Council of Constance in 1414.  It was not the practice of the ancient church. 


In my 1519 sermon, I had suggested that the cup be returned to the laity.  Oh my!  Did the Pope and his minions get their cassocks in a bundle over that one!  Yet the Scripture says we receive body and blood but it also says,”For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’  


Let me tell you what bothered me most.  The Roman church called the Eucharist an opus operatum. That is Latin for "a work performed." Basically they turned the Lord’s Supper into a good work.  They teach that if you are present you get credit for a good work to get you into heaven.  Rest assured that the two sacraments, Baptism or Lord’s Supper, have nothing to do with what we do, it is all about God’s grace given to us, the forgiveness of sins.  I once said this and I stick by it, “No greater shame and disgrace can be heaped on the most venerable Sacrament than merely to consider it a good work; for a good work is something I can do to another, and it must be an act that I perform.  But the Sacrament is not my work but God’s work, with which I merely let myself be served and from which I receive a blessing.”


My writings got to be fast and furious from 1524 onward.  Rome was always going to be a problem, but this is when Ulrich Zwingli entered the picture.  He wanted to be one of us.  He didn’t believe in the Real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.   


In 1524 I wrote a sermon entitled “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ – Against the Fanatics.”  It addressed Zwingli and Karlstadt (remember him.  He swung to their side) and others.     


Rome taught Transubstantiation (the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Jesus), Zwingli said the wine and bread only represent the body and blood.    


I tried to persuade him for years.  Finally I was done.  The Biblical teaching was in writing.  I decided to give Ulrich one last shot.  We met at the Marburg Colloquy. He questioned how Christ could be bodily present in the Lord’s Supper and be in heaven at the same time.  DummKopfs, that’s what they were!   They believed in Christ God came in the flesh; they believed Jesus rose from the dead!  They believed that Jesus did miracles, but they couldn’t believe that Jesus could be in heaven and on earth at the same time present bodily in the Lord’s Supper!  Dummkopfs! 


There was more.  Zwingli droned on and on about John 6 where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  He kept arguing that was to be taken figuratively, so when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and said, “Take and eat, this is my body…Take and drink; this is my blood,” we should understand it figuratively too. 


He couldn’t get it through his thick Swiss skull that the Bread of Life discourse was said months ahead of the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  The circumstances were different.  The context was different.   


All he wanted to talk about John 6, when we should have been discussing I Corinthians 10. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”  In writing to those fanatics I said, “This passage was a reviving tonic to my heart in my trials concerning this Sacrament; and if we had no more passage than this one, we could nonetheless sufficiently confirm all consciences with it and forcefully enough refute all adversaries…Plainly and clearly St. Paul state: The very bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ. It is, it is, it is says he, the communion of the body of Christ.  Do you hear, my dear brother? The broken bread of the bread distributed in pieces is the communion of the body of Christ. It can consist of nothing else than this, that they who individually take a piece of the broken bread receive in it the body of Christ.”       


I once gave this illustration of the almighty and omnipresent Lord can be present everywhere in heaven and the Lord’s Supper.  I hope it helps you understand.  “The Sun is shining on a large sea or pond. Naturally, no more than one picture of the sun can be in the water, because there is only one sun.  How is it then that if hundreds of people stood around the sea, everyone would have a picture before him?... And if he walked around the sea, the picture would travel with him and would be wherever he goes; and if a thousand eyes looked into the sea, everyone would see the picture before him and not time-wise before another person.    


I am out of time, but remember why we come.  We hunger and thirst for forgiveness.  His Supper provides it.  I once wrote, “To say that one takes and receives the forgiveness of sins in this Sacrament is not speaking incorrectly; for where Christ is, the forgiveness of sins is.  Here are his body and blood according to his word.  He, then, who receives eats and drinks these elements and believes that the body of Christ were given for him and his blood was shed for the remission of sins – should he not have the remission of sins?  This is a benefit; indeed it is the greatest and best one. 


I have gone over my time.  Don’t go Catholic.  Been there. Done that. It is no fun!


I wrote some questions to help you prepare for this feast that you are about to receive.  May God bless your preparation for this holy meal by using them!


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