"An Eternal Gospel to Proclaim"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
"A Mighty Fortress is our God, a trusty Shield and Weapon; He helps us free from every need that hath us now o'ertaken. The old evil Foe now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal...but for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is..."
In the great Reformation hymn "A Mighty Fortress is our God," we see the strong faith and confidence that Martin Luther had and proclaimed about His Savior. But Luther didn't always have a strong faith...nor did he have confidence in God's love and salvation.
The God which Luther first had come to know and believe in was not a God who loved him and wanted to save him. If anything, he was a God who was just waiting to throw Luther into eternal damnation. The only reason Luther wanted to become a monk was because he wanted peace with God. But even after he entered the monastery, the harder he tried to make peace with God, the further he felt himself drifting from God. Finally, writing to a friend, Luther made this statement: “I daily find myself approaching closer and still closer to hell.” And he signed this letter, “an exiled son of Adam.”
Luther would often feel miserable about his condition as a sinner that God could not love or forgive. He suffered and battled melancholy. He punished himself. As a young monk Luther was obsessed with atoning for his sins and went to ridiculous lengths to punish himself. This ranged from extreme self denial and physical and mental tests to self flagellation. One such punishment consisted of lying in the snow, through the night at the height of winter until he would have to be carried back inside by others. The more Luther tried to atone for his sinfulness the more depressed he became. For Luther knew there was nothing he could do to merit forgiveness for himself "poor stinking bag of maggots that I am" as he called himself. For Luther, God was an angry judge punishing him...mocking him...and waiting to cast him into hell. Luther firmly believed that God could not love him. Ever!
But in the midst of depression and flagellation and punishment...Luther kept driving deeper into studies and into Scripture. Then one day as Luther was studying Romans and read "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17) "If we are to live righteously by faith, and the righteousness of every believer is salvation, then it is the righteousness of God which justifies and saves us." Luther's eyes were opened. Luther saw and felt the love of God for him!
Luther had finally discovered the Gospel... that Christ died for his sins; that Christ took his wrath upon himself, that Christ was raised by the Father...the same Heavenly Father that loved him. No longer was God an angry judge. Instead, God was A Mighty Fortress that protected and defended Luther...and all Christians. From that point on Luther's trust and confidence in Christ would grow and not waver. Luther would need God as a Fortress in his life.
Early in the Reformation Luther was summoned to a Diet at Worms, there to defend his faith and the truth of God’s Word. All of Luther’s friends and associates advised him not to go. They were convinced that if he went, he would be put to death. But Luther’s reply was, “Even if there are more devils on the rooftops than the clay shingles, I will still go to Worms and defend the truth of God’s Word.” For Luther, God was his refuge and his strength.
There was also the sadness Luther suffered as a father, as he sat in the upper room of their home in Wittenberg, holding in his arms his dying child, Magdalena, his little girl whom he loved so much. With tears flowing from his eyes, Luther said, “Oh, how it hurts to lose my little Maggie. But God wants her and she is his. Therefore I release her into the hands of a gracious and loving God.” God is our refuge and strength!
Near the end of Luther’s life, Luther went to Eisleben to mediate a dispute that had arisen between two princes. The trip was difficult. Luther was not well. But once again, he went—working to the very end. We are told of the severe chest pains he had, and he knew the end was approaching. We are told of his standing at the window and praying, “The pain is so severe, God, but I am ready to come home to you, Father.” And shortly before his death, when he was asked, “Brother Martin, are you willing to die in that faith which you have proclaimed?” Luther could say with much gusto, “Yes, yes.” A little later he fell asleep in the Lord—in the hands of a God who was again showing him that he truly is his refuge and strength.
Like Luther, I am sure your life has not been free from the troubles and trials which so frequently bring tears to our eyes and sorrow to our hearts. Perhaps you have at one time in your life thought that God could never love you or forgive you. Perhaps you have suffered illness, family troubles, financial woes. Perhaps, like Luther, you too, have had to stand at the deathbed of a son or daughter, a husband or a wife, feeling the burdens of life as only these can weigh down upon us.
But you, like Luther, may also discover the "eternal gospel" proclaimed by God's angel in Revelation... the truth that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you that you would be saved. Christ was born to live the life we couldn't: free from sin. Christ bore our sins upon himself as the sinless Son of God. Jesus received the wrath of God that we deserved. Christ was raised from the dead by the Father...just as each of us will be raised from the dead. Salvation was won. And God tells us "I will never leave you nor forsake you. Cast all your cares upon me. Come unto me and I will give you rest.” (Hebrews 13:5, 1 Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28)
Don’t ever forget that yours is a mighty, saving God. Yes, God is truly and always will be our refuge and strength. Whenever you think things are getting a little tough—whenever questions begin to arise in your mind as to whether God really is aware of you and your problems or if He loves you—remember that yours is a God about whom we can boldly say: God is our refuge and strength. Yes, a mighty fortress is our God. He was then. He is today. And he shall be forever. This is the eternal Gospel we too get to share. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.