REFORMATION DAY “An Eternal Gospel; An Opened Little Book”
October 30, 2022 Revelation 14:6; 10:2
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
In our adult Bible class, we’ve been reading thru the Book of Revelation. This book tells of the important events in salvation history seven times in-a-row. It focuses mainly on this NT time between Jesus first advent and when He returns at Judgment Day. The book is full of different symbols as God pictures His work for His Church and against enemies; & God retells the story 7 times. Sometimes the picture language God uses is strange, but it always shows how God’s power crushes His enemies, and God protects those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. The ‘revelation’ of good news is this: In the end, Jesus, and all those who belong to Him, win.
Today, in our first reading, we heard from Rev.14. Vs.6 says: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” Back in chpt.10, the same event of the arrival of this ‘eternal gospel’ is told, but it pictures the angel, this ‘messenger’, in a little different way. It says, “he had in his hand a little scroll ~ open.” In both places the meaning is the same. The God of heaven sends a messenger with an crucial message, to be written and proclaimed to all.
Now, at various times in history, God made sure that His Word of promise to send us His Savior was preserved by the patriarchs & prophets, by the Apostles & evangelists. But since then, in the last 2,000 yrs, most historians & scholars agree that there is one event that affected the whole Church, and the whole world, more than any other event: the great Reformation of the 16th century. Many of us are so busy living & working that we don’t think about things that happened 500 years ago. But without that event, and without that one man God used back then, you & I would not know that eternal gospel of grace & forgiveness in our Lord Jesus Christ the way we do.
In both chpt.10 and 14, the Greek word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger,’ and can mean either a heavenly being, or an earthly preacher. Both Gabriel and John the Baptist were messengers, speaking a word from God. For the Reformation event, the messenger that God raised up, proclaiming an eternal gospel, and using an open scroll/book, for the blessing of both the church and the world, was ~ …Martin Luther.
No one since the Apostle Paul, has had as much good influence on both the church & the world as Martin Luther.
As we look at church history, for about 1,000 yrs before Luther, ignorance & error crept into the church. In fact, the leadership of the church became ‘anti-christ’.(just as Rev. says) Then God raised up a messenger, & shined His light of the Gospel of Jesus, and people -once again- heard of salvation by God’s grace in Christ, and the full forgiveness thru His blood. The instrument God used to regenerate His NT Church was none other than His own Book.
Thru many centuries, God’s church had become DE-formed =warped & distorted. When the time was right, God RE-formed it around His Holy Book ~ Sola Scriptura. The Church needs that Book to be open, because Rom.10:17 is true: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard thru the word of Christ.” That’s why these verses from Rev.10 & 14 refer to the time of the Reformation. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to save souls.
Before the days of the Reformation, the Bible was not an open book. But then, in the Reformation under Luther, 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 some 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 plan for us. So, that’s our 2-part outline this morning: closed book, open book.
Before the Reformation =esp. for about 300 years= God’s Book was closed by sinful 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. A complete Bible would’ve cost (like) thousands of dollars. What a difference compared to today when each of our homes may have 2,3,4 Bibles.
In the monasteries & universities, most of those called ‘doctors of religion’ had never even seen a whole copy of Holy Scripture; what would you think if the doctor you went to had not read thru a whole anatomy book? Luther himself was already half-way thru his university courses before he knew that the Bible had 66 books. He was taught that the essential parts were the Psalms & the 4 Gospels used in weekly worship. Now, if the Bible was ‘a closed book’ 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 the sacred language, & very few knew much Latin. From about the year 1200, there were strict laws forbidding having translations in a ‘common’ language, & even banning ordinary people from owning a Bible. The church hierarchy considered those things dangerous & sacrilegious. 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 living.
So, this is part of our sad history; man’s ignorance & wickedness had closed & sealed God’s book. Those who disobeyed, 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, or else angry-Judge-Jesus was going to punish them. *How many of them never heard of the grace of God in a merciful Savior, so that they might simply repent of sin and believe in Christ?
Of course, God would not let that go on forever. For the sake of Christ’s glory & kingdom, & for the souls of people, God made a move. And for such a time as that, 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 with an open scroll. The angel is a symbol of Martin Luther.
And that’s PART TWO. 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 because we call ourselves ‘Lutheran’, but blessed in-so-far-as we /guard, /confess, /follow & obey God’s open Book.
It was no coincidence, long ago, on that day when a shepherd-boy named David, went to the Israelite army camp & heard of Goliath, and then went out to defeat him. Likewise, it was not by chance on 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.’
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, 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 & risen 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 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 of God for salvation to every who believes.” God’s open book & gospel gave an energy 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 re-open 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 preserved Martin’s life as he went against the most powerful man in the world: the pope. 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.
The people read it, & by the HSp, they saw their sin & errors; they saw the problems of the corrupted church, they embraced the renewed faith of the reformers, & the gospel of grace in Christ.
After 17 years, Luther finished the OT translation. Because he had been blessed with scholarship, 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 printing press was invented very shortly before the Reformation with the Guttenberg movable-type press. It was the 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 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 M.Luther 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 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 responded: “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. A faith-hero is one who: / accepts the Bible as God’s Word, /trusts its promises, /obeys it’s teachings, /upholds Christ as Lord, /and rejoices in hope.
THAT’S what we celebrate as Lutherans with the Reformation. (actually, every Christian church should) We give thanks to God for this precious gift of His open Book. We give thanks to God that He has been at work in world history to accomplish good things for us.
God 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 good fruit in a life of true faith, and to display what it means to be God’s people in this fallen world. The open Book makes us God’s lights in a dark world, esp to our family & friends.
This Lutheranism we have been brought into means that from Rev.10 & 14, that open book & eternal gospel is proclaimed among US; WE are the ones who will now read, learn & obey 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 true Lutheranism means: it’s a firm, faithful, & joyful adherence to the perfect word of God = which saves us.
We live in different time in history, & it’s not all good. Many Christians choose to believe only certain parts of the Bible and ignore the rest; 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, and a light for our path-to-heaven.
To be confirmed in this Lutheran faith, you & I made a vow before God, and we were asked this question: Do you hold all of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, and confess the doctrine of the Lutheran Church -drawn from it- to be faithful & true? Do you promise to continue steadfast in this confession & church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? And we 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 Book open and His eternal gospel proclaimed.
Here we stand; God help us! Amen.