“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Today we celebrate the birthday of the Lutheran Church, or we can say that we celebrate the day when Augsburg Confession was read publicly before the emperor Charles V. This evening we’ll take a brief look back to those events that took place almost five centuries ago and will try to see why and how they are still important for us.
The Church is always struggling. Always. As long as the Gospel is proclaimed Satan will attack the Church in all possible ways. One of the best ways to do it is to change our understanding what the Church is, and what she is here for. This is what had happen before the events of the Reformation took place.
The Church had become so much like the world around it, so much involved in earthly matters that she had forgotten what she was here for. Many faithful servants of the Word tried to raise their voices attempting to restore the Church.
In the middle of 14th century English reformer John Wickliff tried to remind the Church what was her mission. In the beginning of 15th century Jan Huss, Czech Reformer did the same and … in 1415 he was burned at the stake. But before he was burned something significant happened.
As the official executioner was about to light the fire he said, “Now we will cook the goose.” (Huss in Bohemian means goose.) “Yes”, replied Huss, “but there will come an eagle in a hundred years that you will not reach.”
As Jan Huss had prophesied exactly a century later Martin Luther, very bright and gifted man received his doctoral degree in Biblical studies and begun his ministry as university professor in newly founded Wittenberg University.
Luther was unusual man. He tried to do what we usually don’t. He tried as hard as possible both to understand God’s will for our lives, and also to live this way. You know what happens when we look carefully at what God expects from us, and try to live this way?
Two things may happen. Either we become hypocrites who try to deceive ourselves that we kind of keep God’s law, or parts of it, or at least we are better that majority of people, or – we fall into despair from realizing that our very hearts are so much against God that there is no way we could do what we are created to do.
When Luther tried to fulfill the Law, it lead him to realize that he simply can’t do it. He wasn’t good enough. He was a sinner. Condemned, deserving God’s wrath, without any chance in the last day.
But, as Luther was appointed to serve as a professor of theology, he immersed himself into the Scriptures. Throughout his life He was reading the Bible from cover to cover twice a year. He wanted to understand what God is saying to us, how to make peace with Him.
And Luther received what he was looking for. Immersing himself in the Word he realized something that we all need to realize. God of the Bible is totally different than our self-made pictures of God.
Our consciences remind us that we are guilty. That leads us to think about God only as about the ultimate judge. Our conscience can tell what God’s attitude towards our actions is, true, but it can’t tell what God attitude towards us is. For this you need more. You need God Himself revealing His heart to you.
This is exactly what true God did. He came as one of us. As a man Jesus Christ, to show not only with words, but also with deeds that He loves us, each of you so much that He is ready to give up His life so that only you can life.
It is not about us making peace with Him. He takes the sin of the world upon Himself. He takes it away from us, He dies our death. He gives us His life, and because He takes upon Himself all the consequences of our sin, He forgives us.
He sent His Son to deliver this message of forgiveness and peace. ‘You are forgiven. You don’t need to justify yourself. I accept you as my beloved child. There is nothing that you need to do it. It is done. It is finished.’ Receive this new life as a gift from loving father to His dear child. You are this child. You.
When Luther rediscovered who God is, it changed everything. Luther begun to teach and preach these good news. God the Creator of Universe forgives you, accepts you, and wants to bless you as your loving Father, not because you deserve it, but by sheer grace. The only thing required is – accept His offer in faith. Accept His forgiveness, accept the Kingdom of God. Trust God and all of this is yours.
Luther understood that God is God of conversation. God who speaks. God who does everything by His word. When He speaks things happen. He spoke the Universe into existence. His word still holds it together.
When we speak the words what He sends us to speak, words of forgiveness and peace, these words do what they are sent to do. Through our speaking God creates new reality. New people, His beloved children for His eternal kingdom.
Luther couldn’t help but to stand up against many things that had went wrong in the Church, that obscured the Gospel, that robed people of peace and joy, of freedom and good conscience that comes from knowing true God as your loving Father.
The truth of the Gospel shook the Roman empire. Therefore in 1521 Luther was summoned to imperial parliament assembly in Worms to stand before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Charles V. Please, understand the gravity of it. If Luther was found guilty of teaching false doctrines he would lose his life. That simple.
In fact, no one cared what Luther had discovered. They just wanted to silence him before this ‘new’ teaching had caused serious divisions. Luther wasn’t asked to present the Gospel, just to revoke everything he had written. To deny that true God is our loving Father. To deny the clear message of God’s grace that he had rediscovered.
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. … Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
These words sound easy when we hear them here. In walls of church. In community of brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, sure, Lord, we’ll do it. It was different for Martin Luther. Acknowledge Christ and you will die. Deny and you will live. Luther stood before the emperor and confessed…
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason […] my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything… God help me. Amen.” As the result Luther was declared an outlaw (he may be killed by anyone without threat of punishment). This was his status till the end of his life.
However, the Word of God doesn’t return empty, it accomplishes its purpose. The bold confession of Luther and the pure message of the Gospel begun the restoration of the Church. One territory after another rejoice in the good news of God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake. It changed hearts, it changed lives, it changed Western society.
But, as Christ said, He has come to bring not only peace, but also a sword. The Gospel message caused division. So many didn’t want to admit that we all live by God’s grace alone, that we are forgiven and accepted only for the sake of Christ and that we receive God’s gifts only through faith, undeservedly.
Division grew and emperor Charles V set a date for another imperial assembly in Augsburg. On 25th of June 1530. Those rulers and cities in whose territories the Gospel of God’s grace had been proclaimed and where church reforms were performed had to stand before the emperor and explain themselves.
If they had done something against the true faith of the one, holy, apostolic Church, then according to imperial laws there could be very unpleasant consequences.
Luther’s colleague Philip Melanchton on behalf of these rulers wrote what we know as Augsburg Confession. They didn’t want to establish a new church. They didn’t want to introduce new teachings. No. All they wanted was to believe, confess and preach the Gospel as it was preached by Jesus, apostles and numerous faithful of all times.
When you look at the Augsburg Confession, it includes confessions of faith that clearly express what the Bible teaches about the most important questions: about God, about sin, about Jesus, about how God restores our relationships, about how He delivers His forgiveness, how the Gospel transforms us, what is the Church and how the Holy Spirit is given to and so on.
This confession was signed by 7 princes and 2 representatives of imperial cities and read before the emperor and his court in German and Latin. There they stood. Before the emperor Charles V and under his authority. Ready to confess what they believed. Ready to suffer for their confession if needed.
They confessed their faith exactly as Jesus commanded us to do. Without fear, with boldness. Knowing that their confession is heard not only on earth, but in heaven. They didn’t have church structures, or constitutions, nor allegiances.
They had this one confession of faith. The Augsburg Confession. Our confession. They didn’t intend it, they didn’t know it, but out of their passion for the Gospel and boldness of their confession a new church was born.
Church which united not by means of structures or legal documents or politics, but by common faith in God’s grace. Church that knew that we are called from this world to confess the truth which God the Father has revealed to us through His Son. Confessing Church. Lutheran Church. Our church.
What do all these events have to do with us? What do they mean for us?
Please, realize it, if Luther, Melanchton, these princes and many other faithful had not boldly confessed and proclaimed the Gospel, we would not be here. Our faith, our eternal life in God’s Kingdom, it would not be here if they had denied Christ and hadn’t confessed. We are here thanks to our confessing forefathers. Our salvation is their gift to us.
Besides, we don’t live in much different times that our Lutheran forefathers did. For many in our culture the Church has become just a part of tradition. Nice part of something people really don’t understand or care for. My parent did it, I do it. Sometimes. Why? Because this is a good thing to do. It means that for many in our culture the Church has become a religion. Something we do to please God, to feel like good people.
Besides, similarly as then, also today the Gospel of God’s grace is often silenced. Don’t impose your religion on me! Keep your religion private! And often we are intimidated by these slogans and fear people more than our Lord. Then we keep silent and do not confess what we are called to confess.
Our task is not that difficult. We are not called to confess risking with our lives, as Christians today are in many countries. We are called to confess to people in our lives, to those whom we know. To whom we can confess both by our words and by our loving actions.
Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
It is that simple. Our confession here is at the same time our confession before God the Father. As apostle Paul put it: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Rom 10:10 ESV) We are not confessing some kind of teaching, or ideas, or principles.
No, we are confessing a person. The only true God and the one whom He sent to us, His Son Jesus Christ. And remember! We are not confessing for our own benefit. No, our confession is the matter of life and death for those who are still far from knowledge of God. It is our service to them, our way to love our neighbors.
We are solders of Christ in the Church militant, our fight is ultimate, – about eternal life or eternal death for people around us, and our confessions are our weapons. If we proclaim them the truth about our sin that leads us into death, and about gracious, loving and forgiving God the Father who desires to give us eternal life and joy in His kingdom, with our confession we allow the word of God to accomplish its mission.
The result of our confession is not up to us. We are only messengers. What is required from us, – to be faithful, to confess. You are Lutherans. You are confessing church. You have received the Gospel message thanks to the bold confession of our forefathers.
I pray that as they confessed in the power of Father’s Spirit, also we could continue with the help of the same Spirit to confess the only true God and the One whom He has sent, Jesus Christ, so that through our confession, many more could be brought into Father’s Kingdom.