“Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently to know what Paul wanted.” Martin Luther
“Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.” [Ps 119:27]
It was not a good time for the church. Rome, the center of the Catholic faith, rather than being a dome of purity and piety had become a den of iniquity and insobriety. Having visited Rome on pilgrimage, Luther made this damning comment on what he saw there. “No one can imagine what sins and infamous actions are committed in Rome, they must be seen and heard to be believed. Thus, they are in the habit of saying, ‘If there is a hell, Rome is built over it’: it is an abyss whence issues every kind of sin.” He added, “The nearer we approach Rome, the greater number of bad Christians we meet with.”
You will recall from our earlier studies, Luther was turned into one of God’s giants by “pounding” on just one scripture, Romans 1:17. Luther hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God.” It seemed to him to be an insurmountable barrier in his pursuit of peace with God. All of the acts prescribed by the Church and all of the rituals that were supposed to issue in grace failed to cleanse the wickedness in his heart. He remained separated from God, guilty and bound to fear. He wrote of his great anguish, “I could not endure those words ‘the righteousness of God.’ I had not love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against Him. I hated Him…”
Then one day, his eyes were opened to the glorious truth that stood behind that passage:
I understood the words, when I learned how justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith…then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open door into the very paradise of God.
The desperate condition of the church could be traced back to one fatal error. It had turned away from dependence upon the Holy Scriptures as its ultimate authority. Traditions of men were elevated above clear biblical teachings. The leaders of the Church claimed the right to elevate and enforce their own interpretations of Scripture and make them binding upon all Christendom. The theologians of the Church depended not upon Biblical theology, but upon scholastic speculations. The clergy did not know the Bible, it was not preached and the people were ignorant of the Christ of Scriptures.
When the Bible is denigrated, sin is elevated. The Church became guilty of promulgating the most unbelievable abuses. One of the worst was the selling of indulgences to raise funds for Rome. John Tetzel was authorized to sell these certificates of salvation. To read his sales pitch is like listening to a modern day TV evangelist raise funds. Here are some of the manipulative words he used to prod the people to purchase his product:
“Come and I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned.” “There is no sin so great that an indulgence cannot remit.” “I would not change the privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven for I have saved more souls by my indulgences than the apostle by his sermons.’ “Priest! noble! merchant! wife! youth! maiden! Do you not hear your parents and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom of the abyss: ‘We are suffering horrible torments! A trifling would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!’” “There is no other means of obtaining eternal life than the satisfaction of works. But this satisfaction is impossible for man. He can therefore only purchase them from the Roman pontiff.”
Luther would have none of those lies. Although there were many leaders who found such actions and words deplorable, only Luther had the conviction and the courage to stand up against that blasphemous behavior. The reason he was so passionate in his opposition was that he had heard God speak in the Scriptures. The issue for him was clear and crucial. The glory of Christ and the salvation of souls were at stake. Others had spoken out before and it had cost them their lives. So, he knew what was at stake.
What does this have to do with us today? Here is my take. Our world is not much different than Luther’s. Our society has little regard for the Scriptures or objective truth. But, more alarming than that, the church is moving away from an exclusive dependence upon the Bible for her faith and practice. The gospel message is not clear when taught. The hard teachings are being ignored and sermons on biblical holiness are scarce. There is great ignorance concerning the data of Scripture and consequently, our vision of Jesus is blurred and unworthy of the worship his majesty deserves. Many claim to follow Christ, but it is not the Christ of the Bible.
What is happening in our society and mimicked in many churches, is bound to affect our personal lives as well. Unless we deliberately take up the Scriptures and pray hard and think hard over what God has deposited there, we will fall into the same desperate situation Luther confronted. Tradition will trample truth. Works and rituals will push aside grace and faith. Holiness will be overwhelmed by selfishness. The glory of Christ will be shrouded by the glory of man.
Luther’s eyes were opened, faith was birthed, sins were forgiven, Christianity was renewed and Christ was glorified, all because he beat on just one Scripture. I firmly believe that if we do not adapt the same attitude and practice, our secular world will secularize us. The sheer weight of the entertainment industry will squeeze out our life of devotion to Jesus. We need to judge ourselves. How many hours do we spend on Facebook, or watching movies or playing video games compared to the time we spend in God’s Word. And, when we open up the Word, do we engage it with the same passion and delight that we do when playing with our Wii?
Where is the one place we can go to see the glory and majesty of Jesus on display? Where is the one place we can dig and discover treasure so beautiful and valuable, that we gladly turn off the computer, shut down the TV and lay aside the Ipod? Where is the one place we can go to find truth so bright and powerful that it disperses our darkness and dispels our distresses? That one place is God’s Holy Word.
Digging diamonds is not easy. First, we need help, so we pray: “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law?” Second, we need time. So, we take it. Third, we need a place, so we find it. Fourth, we need the Word, so we bring it. Fifth, we need truth, so we pursue it. Sixth, we need to remember it, so we write it. Seventh, we desire to grow, so we do it. Beating on the Bible until beauty is beheld will bring bountiful blessing to the beholder.
Seeing the “glory of God in the face of Christ,” is life’s greatest treasure. When we pick up the Bible and beat on it untill we see the majesty of Jesus, we will all become “little Luthers.” And, perhaps by God’s grace, we will one day speak with the same uncompromising boldness of Luther, and say, “And though the world should be filled with devils,- though my body, which is still the work of Thy hands, should be slain, be stretched upon the pavement, to be cut in pieces…reduced to ashes…my soul is Thine!…Yes! I have the assurance of Thy Word. My soul belongs to Thee! It shall abide forever with Thee…Amen!”
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