Sunday, October 30, 2016

Martin Luther and a Prophecy Fulfilled

Martin Luther, pictured with a swan,
which was meant to portray that
Luther had fulfilled the prophecy
made by Jan Hus a century before.

'You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan which you can neither roast nor boil.'

Jan Hus, the Bohemian Reformer whose name means goose in his language, made this prophecy before his death, when he was about to be burned at the stake. He had attempted to bring reform to the Catholic Church and paid the ultimate price.

Martin Luther saw in himself the fulfillment of Hus’s prophecy, especially after being condemned as a heretic and barely escaping death. After surviving the threat of being burned at the stake himself, Luther often had paintings of himself made standing by a swan to point it out. 

The Education of Travel

One of the blessings of traveling to other places, especially those where historical events took place, is getting fresh insights into familiar topics.

These insights and other blessings when ministering overseas outweigh some of the burdens of being on the road such as: sleeping in uncomfortable beds—man that lower back can get sore. That, and having to use public toilets, I'll spare the gory details.

Anyways, it is such a blessing when you run into fresh prophetic insight on a topic you’ve been studying for a long time and the Holy Spirit pours over you with a refreshing wave.

Insights in Unexpected Places

We were able to swing through Germany at the end of our recent three month long Euro-mission trip (will have a full report of the trip shortly.) 

We were in the former GDR—Communist East Germany—in the little town of Eisleben, where Luther was born and died and where the place still has streets called Karl-Marx-Straße.

In one of the little museums about Luther in that town there was a display of pictures towards the end of the exhibition of Luther posing with a swan by his side. The portraits told how Luther saw and believed that he had fulfilled the prophecy of Jan Hus. The Holy Spirit came upon me out of nowhere while taking it in and there was a moment of unexpected refreshing there. I was trying to hold it together while getting blasted in the middle of a museum!

Escaping Death by the Skin of His Teeth

Luther’s old friend and superior from his former Augustinian monastery Johann Staupitz had told Luther, “I don’t know what is in store for you if not being burned at the stake.”

Luther had been called to answer regarding his teaching at the Diet of Worms (an unusual name for a hearing that was like an inquest which would be held in the city of Worms, Germany). However, he knew going to it could probably result in his end and being burned at the stake like so many others who attempted reform of the Catholic Church’s wayward practices.

Many had attempted reforms of Catholicism but were met with severe persecution and even death: a few examples of persecuted reformers were Peter Waldo in France, JohnWycliffe in England, Jan Hus in Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), WilliamTyndale of England.

The Diet of Worms

Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor—though neither Holy, nor Roman, but facts shouldn't get in the way of a pompous title. At the Diet, Luther was required to answer regarding his teachings, before the illustrious Charles the V hailing from Spain, the land of fanatical enforcers of Catholicism through the horrors of the Inquisition.

Charles the V and other cardinals demanded that Luther simply recant his teaching or face the consequences. Luther however, had been previously told that he would have an opportunity to explain his side and his journey to the truth he found in Scripture. Once he arrived however, he was told he must only recant or else, knowing probable death awaited him.

Luther, however, had come to Worms ready to pay the ultimate price for the truth he’d found in the Bible of God’s grace given through faith in Christ. Having wrestled through years of trying to find peace with God through dead Catholic rituals, he had finally come into the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, through the Word of God.

He had come to a breaking point through ongoing confession of sins and endless dead ritualistic prayers and worship of relics (bones of dead saints that were venerated in Catholicism) along with so much constant fasting he ruined his health permanently. But it all served only to make him feel further from God. But then Staupitz, his superior, made a decision which was done only to rid the monastery of this troubled and troubling soul: Luther was sent away to study the Bible, something that was not, and still is not, the staple of the priesthood.

There in the Scriptures, Luther wrestled with Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He says, “Though I was an impeccable monk I was still a sinner with no confidence my effort could assuage a Holy God. Night and day I wrestled with Paul's letter in Romans until I saw the connection.” Dealing with the phrase “the just shall live by faith,” Luther finally saw that on the cross, Jesus “justified” sinners who look to Him in faith. He came to the revelation that Christ paid for sin; we don't have to pay for it ourselves! All we need to do is believe upon Jesus! When Luther finally understood this, the Holy Spirit opened the doors of the Kingdom of God and he was born again! (Luther's conversion)

Having found the truth and being set free, he was of no mind to turn away from it now though it cost him everything, including his very life. Luther and others like him who stood facing death for the faith are truly heroes of the faith though they may have had obvious flaws and made mistakes at times. 

"Here I stand" Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms
(Pic Bryan Marleaux, Wittenberg, Germany) 

Luther said before the journey to appear before the Diet: “I’ll enter Worms though there be as many devils there [awaiting me] as tiles on the roof.” Once he was before them, Luther rose to the occasion and literally took his stand when he declared the now famous words: “What I’ve written is merely based on Scripture…to go against Scripture and conscience is neither right nor safe, I cannot and will not recant! Here I stand so help me God!”

Luther threw his arms up in the air in the gesture of a victorious knight to the hisses of the Spaniards and the cheers of the Germans, and then marched out of the hall.

Escaping Death

There was a delay in moving against Luther. Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony (Luther’s region), wanted to know if Luther had actually done anything wrong and if not why should he be condemned. With insufficient evidence to satisfy him, Frederick withdrew from the panel examining and deciding on his case, along with another individual who did the same, although a rump of the council went ahead and voted for Luther to be condemned as a heretic.

Frederick the Wise, who stepped up to protect Luther.
(Pic Bryan Marleaux, Eisleben, Germany)

However, during the night, the sign of the Bundschuh had been placed on the door of the Hall at the Diet. This stirred great unrest with the Diet as it was the sign of the peasant workers’ shoe—it signified the peasants’ revolt. The German peasants were ready to rise up in a revolt with riots if Luther was taken into custody. The German public was beginning to rally to Luther's side. As a result, the Diet was thrown into a panic and decided to delay their apprehending of Luther, even though he was now condemned as a notorious heretic. Instead, they would let him return to Wittenberg and apprehend him later when things were calmer.

On his return, however, while passing through the forest, a party of riders came upon him with much shouting and cursing and took Luther, kidnapping him and whisking him away. They rode circuitously all through the night, making sure there were no followers, finally reigning up at an ancient, seemingly abandoned, castle.

At the entrance to the Warburg Castle where Martin
Luther was hiding out for almost a year. During that time he
translated the New Testament into the German Language.
(pic Patrick Marleaux outside Eisenach, Germany)

Frederick the Wise had secretly arranged for Luther to be kidnapped and hidden in the ancient Wartburg Castle in the outskirts of Eisenach. Frederick had become convinced that Luther was guilty of nothing more than returning to the Bible and the teachings of the Early Church. Luther, after all, was in line with the earlier church teachings of Augustine, Tertullian, Aquinas, and many others on many points. His teaching lined up as well with the Church's very own Council of Ephesus in 431 (one of the seven key councils of the Early Church) that had condemned Pelagianism: The concept that man could earn salvation by his good works or rituals or that man could be sinless in and of himself (“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8.)

Frederick knew Luther would probably never make it home if he didn't intervene. Fanatical, Inquisition-driven, Catholic assassins, would surely be out to get him and and do away with him like they did other reformers!

Thus Frederick, as well as many others, realized that it was the Catholic Church that had departed from its roots in following after errant doctrines, ones it had itself once condemned! Luther was merely returning to the truth of Scripture and early church teaching like in the very first Church Council found in Acts 15:9-11 where Peter and Paul both affirm, “It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we are saved…”

Luther was holed up in the Wartburg for almost a year. In that time he translated the New Testament into the German language so that all could have access to the Scriptures.

The Catholic Church had forbidden the Bible to even be read or possessed by the common person and forbade it to be in any language other than Latin. If you're going to be condemned as a heretic, you might as well go all the way! Luther went all the way and made a translation of the New Testament from the original Greek that is still used to this very day.

His Bible translation into common German gave access to the Scriptures and changed society in spreading literacy.

Inside the Lutherstube at the Warburg,
the room where Martin Luther translated
the New Testament into German.
(pic Bryan Marleaux outside Eisenach, Germany)

Thank God Frederick showed himself to be truly “wise” by extending a hand to help and protect Luther, and in doing so, he helped to change history! Little did he know in the moment when he stepped up to help a fellow believer, who had stepped out for the truth, that he was actually being used by God to fulfill a prophecy, the very prophecy Jan Hus had made a century ago right befor his death.

Because of Frederick’s intervention, Luther the swan, was never cooked. News of Luther's bravery at the Diet spread and the general German public rallied around to support him while he was hidden in the Wartburg, and the time for being able to apprehend him had passed by the time he returned to Wittenberg almost a year later.

You never know what prophecy you might be fulfilling when you step up to help someone who is serving the Lord, or when you step out to serve God yourself!

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