Sermon on November 1, 2009 (Reformation Day)
Here We Stand. We Cannot Do Otherwise.
Text: Mark 13:5-11
It must have seemed quite far-fetched and implausible to the disciples. They—only ordinary people such as fishermen—they would be handed over to local councils and flogged? They would would have to stand before governors and kings to testify? Because of Jesus? Surely they knew that Jesus had his enemies, such as the Pharisees who hated him, but how could that affect them so much that they would suffer for being his disciples? How could it ever be that such a tiny group of disciples in the small corner of the world called Judea would have to stand before rulers and kings? Impossible!
It seems equally far-fetched and implausible for you and me. How could we apply these words to ourselves today? This is the land of the free and the home of the brave! It’s pretty unlikely that President Obama will call you before the Supreme Court to make a testimony about your faith. Its quite doubtful that the United Nations would seek you out and then flog you and throw you into prison for being a Christian. Jesus’ words in Mark 13 seem impossible to you and to me.
But are they?
It is only because he is true God that Jesus could speak with such accuracy about what would happen. It was only a few weeks after Jesus spoke these words that he visibly left his disciples and ascended into heaven. And it was perhaps only a few weeks after his ascension that Peter and John were commanded by the Jewish leaders not to preach about Jesus. When they refused, they were called before the council and were flogged and imprisoned. It happened exactly as Jesus had prophesied.
We’ve been following the actions of Jesus’ disciples in the early stages as we have been reading the book of Acts on Sunday mornings. We have seen what happened. The disciples were not only flogged, but they were beaten and imprisoned, and sometimes killed. The Jews threw stones at Stephen until he was crushed and killed. But it wasn’t just the Jews either. The Romans also joined in. I’ve mentioned quite a few times lately that Christians were quickly persecuted more and more. James the disciple was beheaded by King Herod. James the half brother of Jesus may have been skinned alive. Peter was crucified by Emperor Nero in Rome. Then the last two weeks and this week we see Jesus’ words fulfilled exactly with the apostle Paul. He had to testify before a king, two governors, and eventually to Caesar in Rome. His life was fulfilled with beatings and imprisonment and eventually ended with execution.
Yet amazingly, we hear nothing of the disciples being scared or worried or ashamed. We hear nothing of the disciples not knowing what to say or what to do. The book of Acts is a marvelous testimony to what they did. Whenever Peter and Paul were on trial before Jesus, they actually took the opportunity to preach about Jesus. When Paul and Silas were in jail in Philippi, they sang hymns and prayed so loudly that everyone in the whole prison heard them. Jesus’ other words were fulfilled as well, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
Those disciples were filled with love for their Savior. They saw what he had done, how he had given his life for them and for all others. They saw him risen from the dead, triumphant over sin and death. They were then determined to share that news of Jesus with others. When the Jewish leaders commanded Peter and John not to preach about Jesus, they refused and replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” That is where they stood. They could do nothing other than stand on the truth of Jesus and his Word. They refused to budge. They refused to stop preaching. They refused to hide. They refused to give up their faith.
History repeated itself. There was a man who was just about five years older than I. Growing up he wholeheartedly believed what the church was teaching at the time, that a person had to earn and work his or her way to heaven. After joining the monastery this monk named Martin Luther was very serious about his sin. He hated his sin and feared God so much that he would starve and beat himself. About this time in his life he once said, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.”
But as Luther began to study Scripture more and more, God opened his heart and mind to understand that we are saved by God’s grace alone through our faith, and not by our own works. So on October 31, 492 years ago, Martin Luther very boldly nailed 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg. These 95 Theses boldly spoke about the wrongs in the church at the time. This was the beginning of one of the greatest changes in history.
Of course, like Peter and John with the Jews, the church rejected these teachings and commanded Martin Luther to stop. They were so serious about it that they called Luther to a meeting (they called it a “diet”) in the German city of Worms. On April 18, 1521 Jesus’ words in Mark 13 were once more fulfilled. Martin Luther stood before the most powerful leaders of the church and the world. Most notably, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man in the world, officiated at this meeting. They stacked up Martin Luther’s teachings and writings on a table and asked him two questions: “Martin Luther, are these your teachings? If they are, will you recant them?” They gave him the night to think about his answer.
Martin Luther knew that if he stood by his teachings and the truth of Scripture that he would be branded a heretic and an outlaw and might be killed. So he prayed. He read Scripture, including Psalm 46 which we sang earlier. The next day, staring down the most powerful people in the world and knowing the immanent threat of death, Martin Luther said, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kanne nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen.” “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” Martin Luther would not budge from the truth of Scripture. He refused to stop preaching salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
That became the turning point of what is called the Reformation. From that point on millions of people protested against the teachings of the Catholic church and then became known as “Protestants.” During the remaining 25 years of his life Luther translated the Bible into German so the people could read it, he wrote hundreds of theological works and over 200 hymns to be sung in church. Martin Luther stood fast on three tenants of Christianity—that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone. There he stood. He could do no other.
On days like today we stand in awe of great men like Peter and Paul and Martin Luther who dared to face danger and deat as they stood before leaders of the world and boldly testified to the truth of Scripture. We thank God for what they did. But it all seems so far-fetched and implausible, doesn’t it? How could this ever happen in our world today?
I think you know as well as I that it might not be as unlikely as some think. Things are certainly headed in that direction. They ban prayers in public school. How long before they interefere with what Christian schools teach, saying its wrong to only teach what the Bible says or to pray when students might not want to? How long before they command our school to teach evolution and not creation? This country triumphs homosexuality. Anyone who speaks against it is narrow-minded and stupid. In fact, did you know that three years ago one of our high schools, California Lutheran High School, dismissed two of its students because they were lesbians? They expelled them because they were unrepentant sinners unwilling to change from their ways. The families of the two girls sued the high school for millions of dollars for discrimination. I believe the case even made it to the Supreme Court of California. Thankfully, the high school won because it’s their freedom of religious belief. At least for now.
Is it impossible to think that the government would go on a witch hunt against those who teach creation, or believe homosexuality is wrong, or who preach abstinence and purity outside of marriage? Is it impossible to think that the government will some day try to mandate what we teach in our Christian schools or what we preach in our Christian churches? Is it impossible to think that you or I might stand on trial or even go before the Supreme Court because we stand fast on the truth of Scripture? Is it impossible to think that reverse-descrimination will take place and we will be victims of beatings and lynchings and mob violence? I don’t know if we even want to answer those questions. But we all know the direction in which our country is headed.
Friends, this is very real for us—today! Listen to Jesus’ words again, “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.” Jesus knew what would happen to Peter and John and Paul and Martin Luther and to many people living in the world today, and what might soon happen to you and to me.
So where are we going to find the strength and the courage to deal with all of this? Where are our children going to find the strength and the courage to deal with this as it gets worse? In the same place that Peter and Paul and Luther did—in our Savior Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, Jesus himself did the same things that he predict would happen to his followers. He was handed over to the local councils and rulers. He was flogged. He stood before the governor Pontius Pilate. Not once did he waver from his path and his mission though. He resolutely and lovingly followed the path that led to his death. He would not change his course for he knew what he came to do. He knew that he had to suffer and he had to die to take away the suffering and death that belongs to us. Jesus went forth in suffering and death to bare the agony of hell and the sins of the world. Jesus did not alter his path once as he died to save us, and then rose triumphant over Satan and this world.
He is our comfort and our strength. Without him, we would be like Martin Luther when he thought he had to earn his way to heaven—lost, afraid, terrified of the punishment our sins deserve. But all that guilt and grief is gone. All that fear and terror is erased. He has freely given us forgiveness and salvation. Life in heaven is his gift—no strings attached. Without him, all are lost. Now he will be our comfort and our strength.
Concl. We are now in times when it is by no means easy to be a Christian. We face a lot of opposition and persecution, and things are only getting worse. But we gladly stand with our Savior and we will gladly proclaim the truth. We will not change, for God’s Word does not change. That’s what it means to be a Lutheran. We will never swerve from the truth that we are saved by grace alone and through faith alone, and all our beliefs come from Scripture alone.
So come what may. People can laugh at us. They can mock us. They can sue us and take us to court. They can beat us. They can torture us. They can lock us up and throw away the key. They can bring us before the Supreme Court. They can take us to the Presient or the United Nations. They can line us up in front of the firing squad. Come what may. Jesus is our Savior. His Word is truth. Heaven is our gift. “Hier stehen wir. Wir kannen nicht anders. Gott helfe uns. Amen.” “Here we stand. We cannot do otherwise. God help us.”