October 27, 2019 “The Opened Little Book”
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
As we celebrate God’s Reformation goodness to His Church today, I want to share a 2-part outline written by the Rev.Dr.L.A.Gotwald, a professor at Wittenberg Lutheran Seminary, Springfield, OH, from his book printed in …1895. He looks at one certain event in Revelation chapter 10.
Now, the Book of Revelation is a series of 7 accounts of the various important events that have occurred with God’s Church in salvation history; 7 views of the trouble, the growth, and the spread of the kingdom of God over the earth thru the centuries. This is the last book of God’s Bible, which the HSp wrote thru John while he was exiled for the faith on the Isle of Patmos. Some Christians don’t like this book because it has strange symbolism; don’t be afraid of it = the whole Book shows God’s power & victory over all our enemies. The ‘revelation’ is this good news: Jesus, and all those who belong to Him, win.
Today, we focus on just chapt.10, vs.2: “and he had in his hand a little book ~ open.” *What’s happening here? An angel is coming down from heaven, /clothed in a cloud, /having a rainbow above his head, /his face like the sun, /& legs like pillars of fire; and most notedly, having a scroll in his hand, a little open book. All Bible scholars agree that, for whatever period in history this is speaking of, the book is a symbol of an important message to be communicated to mankind by way of the written word. There are many symbols in Revelation, but the book or scroll is one of the more obvious ones; it’s a message of information & truth.
Dr.Gotwald records that in his day, almost all protestant commentators regarded it as a foreshadowing of the great Reformation of the 16th century. Since the Greek word ‘angel’ literally means ‘messenger,’ so in this symbolism, the messenger that God raised up, clothed with power, & made to be a blessing to both the church & to the world, was …Martin Luther.
Thru Martin Luther, God shined His light on the intellectual & moral darkness of the time by the glorious Gospel of Jesus, and the free grace of God on all by His blood. The instrument God used to regenerate His NT Church was A BOOK; none other than His own Book = the unsealed, open Bible. Thru many centuries God’s church had become DEformed, until He REformed it around His Holy Scroll ~ Sola Scriptura. God used Luther & those with him.
In his writing, Dr. Gotwald speaks at length of two solid historic reasons why this verse refers to the time of Luther & the Reformation, based on the truth of Rom.10:17 that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard thru the word of Christ.”
#1 reason: previous to the days of the Reformation, the Bible -God’s one instrument to save souls- was not an open book. And #2 reason: that in the Reformation under Luther, like in the days of the Apostles, the Bible -again- became an open book to the entire world. When the people of Israel were delivered out of slavery in Egypt, that was a world-changing event in salvation history; so -likewise- the Reformation was not a small, religious squabble in the catholic church 500 years ago. God used The Reformation to change the course of world history to advance His salvation history for us. So, that’s our 2-part outline: closed book; open book.
PART ONE: Before the Reformation =for about 300 years= God’s Book was closed, not by God, but by men. For many centuries, very few had access to the Bible, including the clergy. There were very few copies, because in those days, there could only be handwritten manuscripts. There was maybe one copy at a University library, and one at a larger monastery. At today’s rates, a complete Bible would’ve cost thousands of dollars. What a difference compared to today when each of our homes may have 2,3,4 Bibles.
Besides the cost, the Bible was a closed book because most people were not trained to read. History records that, in Spain at the time, only one priest in a thousand could write a letter to someone. The King of England wanted to translate the church prayers from Latin to English, but couldn’t find even one English priest to do it. Outside of the largest cities, what was going on in many church services was recitation by memory; many of the so-called ‘educated’ didn’t even know what they were reciting because all the liturgies were in Latin.
In the monasteries & universities, most of those called ‘doctors of divinity’ had never even seen a whole copy of Holy Scripture, and that was considered no big deal. Luther himself was already half-way thru his university courses before he even knew that the Bible had 66 books in it. He thought the whole of it was the Psalms & certain parts of the 4 Gospels that he learned to recite from childhood. Now, if the Bible was closed to the clergy, how much more was it closed to the people, who were depending on the clergy to teach & to guide them in the Christian faith.!
Besides those things, the Bible was not in any of the common languages, just in Latin; considered thee sacred language, & very few knew Latin. In fact, from the year 1229, there were strict laws forbidding making translations into a ‘common’ language, & even forbidding ordinary people from owning a Bible. The church hierarchy considered those things sacrilegious & dangerous. In many places, the priests were forbidden from directly reading Scripture to the people, because they were unworthy to hear the holy words of God. *How corrupt is that? The people had to just believe & obey whatever they were told, without being able to check IF what they were told was from God or just man’s ideas. So, if faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ, this was a spiritually dangerous time to be alive.
So, this is part of our sad history; man’s ignorance & wickedness had closed & sealed God’s book. Those who disobeyed the rules, who tried to open God’s Word to people, were burned at the stake. At that time, the corrupt church operated the corrupt government, and would-be translators =like Wm.Tyndale & others= were put to death. What little was known of God & His Gospel Truths was jumbled up & confused with man’s ideas.
Without the clear Word-of-Mercy, of cross-forgiveness, of true guidance & hope, whole generations were lost in error. We know what was taught & what people were told to believe, because the Reformers wrote about it all. People were forced to blindly obey the rules of men; they were taught to rely on their own good works, otherwise angry Judge Jesus was going to get them. *How many of them never heard of the grace of God in a merciful Savior = to simply repent & believe in Christ?
Of course, God would not put up with corrupt man forever. So, finally His time came to act; for the sake of Christ’s glory & kingdom & for the souls of people, God made a move. And for such a time as this, God prepared a special messenger. In the past, God raised up certain people like Noah, Moses, Esther, & Saul to spearhead His change. After years of darkness, God sent another messenger, and in his hand an unsealed scroll. The angel symbolizes Martin Luther.
And that’s PART TWO. God gave Luther to the world; and thru Luther & the reformers, God -once again- opened the Bible to all tribes, nations & languages. WE are the blessed descendants of the last 500 years of God making sure His Gospel is reaching the ends of the earth with the promise-in-Christ that prepares every soul for Judgment Day. We are not blessed just because we call ourselves ‘Lutheran’, but blessed in-so-far-as we guard, confess & practice that one open little Book.
It was no coincidence -long ago- that day, when a shepherd-boy named David, went to the Israelite army camp & heard of Goliath, and went out to defeat him. Likewise, it was not by chance or coincidence that day, while at the university library, young Martin came upon a whole Latin Bible. That day, a new part of history was begun, and as Luther opened the Bible, it would remain open, even to this day. For the first time Martin read -for example- the OT story of Hannah & her boy Samuel. It was all new to him, and he kept returning to the library to read this treasure; he eagerly ‘ate it up.’ He wrote: ‘Dear God, I would not wish any richer possession than a copy of this, Thy blessed book.’
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing thru the word of Christ. Luther was already aware that he was a great sinner & stood condemned; but that Book opened Luther’s eyes to Who was his greater Savior. From those days, Martin Luther’s mind was changed to trust & rest solely in God’s one Redeemer = Jesus Christ. He learned that only by faith in the crucified Jesus could a sinner be justified before God; the church was not teaching that. After hearing of such a gracious salvation, he couldn’t keep the news to himself. And by God’s own mighty hand, events became opportunities, enemies were thwarted, and now many millions have been reborn into Christ thru that open book.
In Romans 1:16 Paul writes: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power (-the dynamite-) of God for salvation to every who believes.” God’s open book gave an untiring diligence to Luther that had not been since the days of the Apostles. When we look at the history of the Reformation, we see what miraculous things God was doing. The Reformers were empowered to do God’s mission work, & to reverse the evil trend of their time; all they had to do was reopen the closed book, and the HSp went to work thru them.
Luther quickly began working to translate the NT into the language of the people. At least half-a-dozen others had been burned at the stake for the same thing. But God’s time was right, and God would not be stopped. For the sake of the world, God preserved Martin’s life as he went against the power of pope & council. The first printing of the German NT was in 1522 = 3,000 copies. Within 11 years, hundreds-of-thousands of copies were being put into the hands of the people. So the silence & seal on the Bible was broken. As the people read, by the HSp, they saw their own errors, and the errors of the corrupted church, and they embraced the renewed, pure faith of the reformers.
After 17 years, Luther finished the OT translation. Because he had been blessed with scholarship genius, along with patience & love for Christ’s Church, so the whole Word of God was now complete; and by now others had taken the NT & translated it into the major languages, & millions of copies were being printed. It was no accident that the art of the printing press was invented very shortly before the Reformation with the Guttenberg press.
It was the providential hand of God working thru men, making His book an open book,
so that all might have eternal life thru hearing the message of Christ.
Luther did more than translate. He also established schools so that children & youth would be taught to read a written language, esp God’s Word of Life. He restored the Bible to its proper place in public worship, just as Paul told Timothy to read the Scripture in public to the people. Like in Paul’s day, Luther returned the sermon time to a time of preaching Christ & him crucified for our forgiveness, our hope & peace. Luther wrote hymns to help teach the people Bible truths. *Did you know that MLuther is considered 1 of the top 5 most intelligent people of all time?
Pastor Luther published catechisms, which summarized God’s teaching in the form of simple questions & answers so parents could -again- teach their children; he wrote commentaries to explain the Bible; he taught at the universities, & preached 5-6 times each week. He said:
The Word of God is your one sole arbiter; that is your guide, your light, your rule; there you are divinely taught your duty both toward God and man; there you learn about your salvation; so read, study, search, believe, obey & trust that word, and doing so, you shall most certainly be saved.
When he was ‘on trial,’ & ordered to retract his books & teaching, he simply exclaimed: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Holy Scripture, I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” And later he said, “If I had a thousand heads, I would allow every one to be cut off rather than recant one single line of the Word of God.’ The Bible -once again- became the open book it was made to be, & it made Luther a hero-of-the-faith. But, a hero is just THIS: /to accept the teaching of the Bible, /trust all its promises, /obey it’s commands & teachings, /to uphold Christ and to rejoice in all His hope.
THAT’S what we celebrate as Lutherans with the Reformation. We give thanks to God for this precious gift of His little open book. We give thanks to God that He has been at work in world history to accomplish good things for us.
He has raised up faithful workers who gave their very lives to keep His word pure, and to keep the church obedient to God, and to keep the whole Bible open for the next generation.
For in this one Book, Jesus Christ is revealed as the world’s only Savior; whose death on the cross forgives our sins & opens heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the teaching of that risen Christ, we are able to bear His Good Fruit in a life of true faith, and to display what it means to be God’s people in this fallen world. The little open book makes us God’s lights in a dark world, esp to our family & friends. This is our holy Lutheran legacy.
This Lutheranism we have been brought into means that from Rev.10, that little open book remains open among US; WE are the ones who will now read, mark, learn & inwardly digest this Word; we will teach it to our children & grandchildren, and share it with our neighbors & friends. That’s what the Reformation gained for us, & that’s what Lutheranism means: it’s a strict, faithful, & joyful adherence to the perfect word of God = which saves us.
We live in another time in history, & its not all good. Many Christians are picking & choosing out of the Bible only those parts they like; many churches are closing the book again, and running away from the parts that are unpopular in our culture. But not US. Just as with the Apostles & with the Reformers, we will not close the book, and fall back into error & darkness; because we understand what God has done to keep His book open as a lamp to our feet & a light to our path-to-heaven.
When you were confirmed in this Lutheran faith, you & I made a vow before God:
Do you hold all of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, & confess the doctrine of the Lutheran Church -drawn from it- to be faithful & true? Do you promise to continue steadfast in this confession & church,
& to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? You said: ‘Yes, with the help of God.’
We are a whole congregation of believers who have made the same confession.
And together, aside from our times of weakness, we have publicly vowed to work together
to keep God little book open among us. God help us! Here we stand. Amen!