We are in Wittenberg, Germany for the 500 Year Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We’ve just come from ministering in other parts of Europe: England, France, Spain, and lastly in Scandinavia, where we experienced some powerful visitations of the Holy Spirit in Sweden and Norway!
We’ll have a full update on all that a bit later on, but this being a unique occasion, and feeling a bit surreal that we are here in Wittenberg at the moment, I’ve been reflecting on the first time we came here and how the Lord intervened to make it happen. It speaks to me of how the Lord brought us here then and now, and of the importance of the message that is at the center the Reformation.
So here is how the Lord worked to bring us here to Wittenberg the very first time:
We were in Germany years back, staying at a friend of Mercedes in a little German town with a German family.
The family we were staying with asked one day if there was any thing or any place in particular we would like to see in the area.
Without knowing where it was in relation to where we were staying, I just blurted out that we would like to go and visit Wittenberg since it was the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.
Their faces dropped and they said very strongly, “Well, that is very far from here, and we are really busy so that would just not be possible.” They went on: “You must understand that that is in the former GDR (Communist East Germany), which is a very long way from here.”
Previous to this, I had been personally studying about Martin Luther and the Reformation and was really touched by Martin Luther’s story and powerful conversion to forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.
Earlier in the trip I had sensed that the Lord might be saying that we would visit Wittenberg. However, when they said it was impossible I was a bit perplexed but thought there still could be a way.
Meanwhile, the Lord had opened a door in a local Lutheran Church for me to speak to the youth group. I shared about Martin Luther’s conversion, which come to find out most Lutherans usually know very little about:
I shared how Luther as a Catholic monk had struggled with religious rituals and dead works like penance—which is actually an attempt to pay for one’s own sin prescribed by the Catholic Church (which of course goes against what the New Testament teaches). Luther became frustrated because he knew inside himself that his human efforts always fell short. He would also fast long hours on end, ruining his health. He would also constantly go to confession; but no matter how many long, long, hours he spent confessing every last sin he could remember that he had ever done, he would always think of more later and have to confess those now too—Luther was merely following the prescribed teaching of the Catholic Church then and now—in Catholicism every last sin must be remembered and confessed in order to be forgiven. In Catholicism if you died with unconfessed sin, even those you can’t remember, you would be eternally condemned.
The chief priest in his monastery was getting exhausted from the extremely long hours Luther was spending confessing his sins. In fact, he got so upset that he burst out at him on one occasion: “Why don’t you go out and commit some real sins and come back when you actually have something to confess.”
Luther, however, was merely being sincere and following the prescribed way of Catholicism. Most other priests usually would just get disillusioned and end up just going through the motions in a cavalier way, as Luther saw in many places, especially in Rome when he travelled there on one occasion.
The chief priest of Luther’s monastery named Staupitz had grown so tired of him he finally thought of a way to get him out of his hair, and sent him away from the monastery to study the Scriptures. This was not then nor now the practice of the Catholic priests, however Staupitz just wanted to occupy him with something else.
Luther was thrown into the Bible, basically against his own will, which of course was God working to have him find the truth.
Luther began to wrestle with the New Testament teaching in Paul’s epistles of justification and grace until he saw the connection: Jesus took on our sin at the cross and justifies us by grace when we look to Him as our savior by faith—not looking to ourselves or our own works—and through faith in Christ, God credits Christ’s very own righteousness to us. Luther had been trying to pay for sin himself but now saw that Jesus had paid the price for our sins on the cross at Calvary!
As he finally understood this, the Holy Spirit came upon him and illuminated this revelation. In his own words Luther says he was born again in that moment. He now understood that God loved him and sent His Son to die for him that he might freely have eternal life.
After this conversion to Christ and His amazing grace, Luther would take his stand on the Word of God in opposition to manmade teachings in Catholicism.
He couldn’t just look the other way as his church laid heavy unbiblical burdens on mens backs just like the Pharisees did in Jesus time.
On October 31st, 1517, he posted the Ninety-five Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. Luther simply wished to debate other Catholic leaders regarding errant unbiblical practices. Some students, however, grabbed the Theses and reprinted them over and over and began to distribute them in many places. A concerted Ja wohl! of agreement with Luther rang throughout the land, and before he knew it, Luther was at the center of a conflagration and the Protestant Reformation had began its birth.
The people in the youth group in Germany I shared with were stoked to hear the story, and after some prayer for them, we hung out and talked late into the night.
We finally returned from being out with the youth group and entered the darkened house together very late with our friends.
However, I almost jumped out of my shoes when the light was flipped on as we entered. Our friend’s mother was sitting there on a chair waiting for us in the dark. When we flipped the light on, there she was, looking at us anxiously and waiting to talk to us.
After all of us settled down from being startled, she began to speak to us: “I have some news for you. We have decided that tomorrow you go to Wittenberg!” We were shocked! And then she went on, “But you must get up very early tomorrow since it is a long long drive from here, so now you must go to sleep!”
I was blown away…when most Germans make up their mind about something…well, that’s it. We never got an explanation as to the sudden middle-of-the-night change of heart, but I just thanked God for moving on her heart, and left in the morning thinking, “Wow! That was the Lord that intervened here for me!”
We hit the Autobahn—the famed German motorway with no speed limit—in their car early that morning. We made sure our seat belts were fastened as our friend got up to around 160 km p/hour (100 mph) and beyond pretty quickly. It was a fast way to get around.
We got to our destination in good time with the help of the Autobahn.
Wittenberg was still in a state of being repaired after years of neglect under the GDR. I was surprised how it was still all intact after the bombing of WWll and the years of neglect under the Communists.
Fortunately, Luther was a hero to almost all Germans, including those in the GDR, and nothing was really looted or destroyed, unlike other places that had been devastated in the former GDR, especially after the fall of the communist regime.
The little town just looked like it needed a little sprucing up and some TLC (which it has received since, as we’ve seen on subsequent visits there over the years).
We were experiencing the Holy Spirit visiting us at every turn as we took in firsthand how the Lord had worked through such an unexpected figure like Luther. We were reminded of the fact that it was all about how the Holy Spirit had revealed the grace of Christ to a simple monk, a lowly miners son.
Touched by that grace deep in his heart, Martin Luther took his stand and would not be moved from it, come what may. Once he finally understood God’s love and grace, he would face the onslaught unleashed at him for defying the traditions and dead rituals of Catholicism and undermining the money changing tables of their religious system.
It was all punctuated to us by the fact that it was a miracle to have come there at all that day. I knew the Lord had intervened to bring us there, and it spoke to us of how important this story was.
The Lord was illuminating the importance of His Gospel of grace as something that must again be understood and communicated once more!
The way the Lord brought us here speaks to me, then and now, of the importance of the message that is at the center the Reformation: The grace that is found through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ alone cleanses us from all sin when we put our faith in Him and receive Him as Savior; He did the work on the cross we could never do ourselves to pay for sin. He also credits us with His very own righteousness, giving us a right standing with the Father, justifying us and giving us peace with God, hallelujah!
Useful links for further study of the Reformation and the revivals it spawned: