Luther: Awakening to the Scriptures
Fifth in a series of six 2/4
Isaiah 40:21-31 // 1 Corinthians 9:16-27 // Mark 1:29-39
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today traces the themes of 1 Corinthians 9… hear these words, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Our text thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are nearing the end of the six-week season of Epiphany, the season after Christmas, named for the Greek word, epiphanos, which means “that which is revealed in the light. That which the light shines upon.
In this particular season of Epiphany, we’re seeing the light of the gospel shine upon Luther awakening him to the five solas of his faith. We’ve been seeing the big events of his life, as he knows salvation through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, by grace alone, and now today, revealed in Scripture alone.
Awakening to the heart language.Let me read to you a familiar verse, from the Gospel of John. Houtos gar, agapesen ho theos ton kosmon, hoste ton huion ton monogena edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton mei apolytai all’ echai zoan aionion.… that didn’t make sense, right? Those were the words of John 3:16, words that you know very well. But you didn’t understand. That’s because those words were in Greek. In order to understand the meaning behind the words, you have to have them translated for you, spoken in words you can grasp: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.
When I was in college, I didn’t always want to become a pastor. There was a time where I thought and prayed seriously about being a missionary and Bible translator. I read books, I talked with recruiters, and I went to retreats, to do some soul-searching. Eventually, I concluded that the Lord was not leading me to Bible translation… yet… But there was one concept that struck a particular chord with me as I went through the orientation for Bible translation. Lutheran Bible Translator’s mission is to translate the Bible into the heart language of the people. The heart language of the people.
This means, the Bible should be translated into the language that the people laugh in, that they cry in, that they get angry in and that they think in. This is the language with which we need to tell them that Jesus loves them. In a way where there are no barriers, where there is no misunderstanding. The language of the heart. Their heart language.
We turn to Martin Luther. After leaving the Diet of Worms with his imperial protections revoked, Luther knew that it was only a matter of time before he was branded an outlaw, and the smart money of the time would have been on the Emperor sending assassins to ambush, attack, and kill him in short order.
But that’s not what happened. You see, Frederick the Wise, his ruler, arranged for some of Luther’s friends to kidnap him. They stood up his wagon. They took him and threw him on a horse, and after a terrifying night ride, they told him the whole story.
He spent the next year in the Castle Wartburg, under the name Junker George, Knight George. And there, in the Castle Wartburg, under this name, the whole world thinking him dead, his only books a Hebrew Bible and a copy of the Greek New Testament, he translated the New Testament into German.
1500 words a day for three months, doing something that hadn’t been done before, something that couldn’t have been done before. You see, they had only reclaimed the Greek New Testament in the years before Luther. Luther had to make up new words in German to complete his translation, and his translation literally changed the language, forming it into something it wasn’t before.
This was, without a doubt, the most lasting contribution that Luther made. Germans could read the word of God in their heart language. It’s so deeply held that it’s hard for us to imagine a world without the Scriptures in our language. It’s almost morally reprehensible to think of the Scriptures un-translated, or available in Latin, it’s that far into our DNA.
You see this in our Gospel reading – Jesus, the one who taught and acted with authority, is teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons and retreating and praying and advancing and doing everything else that goes along with his teaching. Which leads us to lesson number one, that our Gospel is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life. It isn’t just an intellectual word, even though knowledge is a part of it. It isn’t just an emotional word, even though emotion will almost certainly come because of it. It isn’t just a physical word, even though God makes a habit of incarnating his greatest miracles. It isn’t just a reasonable word, even though in the deepest sense, the conscience and the natural world witness to it. It is a Word from God that transforms every area of our life, even as it forms us as one community under our God.
Our Scriptures give us a common language. The words of our Scriptures form us – and note that I used the word “us”…. That’s plural. The Scriptures form us. They give us a common language to laugh and to cry, to love and to hurt, and they give it not by blood, not by our interests, not by our likes or dislikes, but instead they bind us together by the experience of our God and the language we receive to describe that experience.
Point number two is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life as it turns our hearts toward our God. Listen to Isaiah…. How do you imagine he would have spoken this? Do you think he would have thundered it? Would he have said it with a gentle smile? You hear all of his rhetorical questions – Have you not seen? Have you not heard? You hear his evocative language. Our God is the one who sits above the circle of the earth. He makes princes to be like nothing. How comforting that would have been to Luther!
To be a Christian, to turn toward our God, to be formed by the Scriptures, it leads us inevitably to this point, the one that Isaiah makes, the one that we see in the life of Luther, and that’s this: our lives will go more differently than we’ve ever planned. Reality is far bigger and wilder than we could ever imagine. Our God is greater than we will ever know. And – not but – and the God who sits above the circle of the earth is the one who came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
Point number three is that this Gospel, it transforms every area of our life to turn our hearts toward our neighbor. Luther’s phrase as he was translating was “German nightingales can sing as sweetly as Roman finches.” That is to say, the Gospel can sound just as sweet in this language as in that. Or, to go a step further, the Gospel that we speak is a Gospel that we act, is a Gospel that we think, is a Gospel that we share. Paul says it even better. To the Jew I translate the Gospel into Jewish terms. To the Greek I translate it into Greek terms. To the weak I am as the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might save some.
Our God incarnates his Word in his people. He gives us his Word to form us in every way, and it has a lasting effect on us for the length of our days.
A few months ago, I shared with our high school youth on the tragic death in our congregation… taken too early… the family gathered around the hospital bed… And we took the Lord’s Supper. I’ll tell you this, that the Lord’s Supper means something all on its own. It offers life and forgiveness and salvation, for all who believe, as often as we would take it. And for the one who has faithfully taken it for year after year, it means something more. Every time you imagine eating the feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, it prepares you to find comfort there in the days of mourning and loneliness. Every time you find peace and strength in a regular way where God has promised to give you peace and strength, it prepares you to find peace and strength there when all other ground is shifting sand. Every time, you cry out to your God for strength, he absolutely hears your prayer, and – not but – and every time you do, it forms you by the Scriptures to look a little more closely and see a little better and listen a little closer and hear a little deeper, how your God in Jesus Christ loves you so.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who can be distracted by so many things. Life could take so many different turns. Still through it all the calm and caring voice of his Father in heaven calls out to him in the Scriptures. The storms of life blow on, but as he grows older, he learns to listen for the comfort in the midst of the storm, and for the cry of his neighbor in need. And the more he listens, the more he hears.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther