Martin Luther: Man for Today

Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Dear Friends in Christ,

I think most if not all of us here today would agree with me when I say that currently we are living in a time when there is an extreme shortage of good and godly role models for our children.  For example, we’re all well aware of the hub-bub surrounding certain professional football players and even entire teams who refuse to stand for the national anthem. And then of course you’ve got the Hollywood elite who exemplify and glorify the most decadent, immoral, godless lifestyles imaginable.  Add to that many of our politicians who are living examples of the old saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and it’s sad that we can’t do any better than that when it comes to positive and especially godly role models for our children.

So in the glaring absence of such role models, today as we mark and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation I wish to offer to you an individual who I believe could serve as an excellent role model, not just for young people, but for people of all ages. His name? Martin Luther. Now before any of you shrug me off or think me weird for choosing a guy who walked this earth more than 500 years ago, you need to hear me out because even though Luther lived more than five centuries ago we will see this morning that this faithful and courageous follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed a man for today, a man who is definitely worthy of our attention, our admiration, and our imitation.

To begin with, Martin Luther was a man of prayer. Now if I were to ask all of you here today what you feel this world needs more of right now, I’m sure I would receive a wide variety of answers. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, said the once popular song. We need more peace in our world, more jobs, more food for the hungry, better incomes, better healthcare, better leaders. Certainly those are all good answers to my question. But I would venture to guess that if we asked Martin Luther what this world needs more of, he would probably say prayer. For you see, Luther was a man of prayer. Not just an occasional prayer every now and then. Not just “Now I lay me down to sleep” at bedtime or “Come, Lord Jesus” at mealtime. Rather Luther was a prime example of what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1st Thessalonians when he said that we are to “pray without ceasing.”  In fact, the story is told that one day Luther got up and realized that he had an extra busy schedule ahead of him that day. But instead of plowing right into it he said, “It appears that I will be so busy this day that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Yes, Luther believed in the power of prayer and he experienced that power many times during his life.

And because he was such a man of prayer he has offered us many wonderful insights into this blessed means of communicating with God. For example, he has shown us the importance of thinking and concentrating while we pray. In fact, he once compared prayer to a barber cutting hair. Listen to this vintage Luther quotation: “A good, active barber must keep his thoughts, mind, and eyes closely on the razor and the hair and must not forget where he is with his stroke and shave. But if he wants to gossip freely at the same time or let his thoughts or eyes go elsewhere, he may well cut off a man’s mouth and nose and throat besides. Thus every matter, if it is to be done well, calls for the attention of the whole person with all his senses and members. How much more does prayer, if it is to be a good prayer, require a heart that is undistracted, entirely and solely given to its devotion!”

Luther also taught us the importance of praying at specific times during the day. His morning and evening prayers are still classics that are used on a daily basis by many families and individuals. But as we mentioned before, he was not one to confine his praying only to specific times during the day. In one quotation I came across he encourages us to bombard God’s throne with our prayers every hour and to grant God no rest, no respite from our prayers, for this, he says, is the way God wants it.

At one time Luther compared prayer to the heartbeat of a human being. He said, “You cannot find a Christian without prayer, just as you cannot find a living man without a pulse.” So the natural question to ask in the light of that quote is, “How is your spiritual pulse beat these days?” Are you alive and vibrant with prayer on a daily basis? Do you wake up in the morning and begin your day by talking to the Lord and end your day in a similar way? Do you invite him to your table at mealtime and thank him for the food he so graciously gives you? Do you call upon him in times of trouble or concern and then remember to praise and glorify him when he comes to your aid? Or is your prayer life confined only to this one hour a week on Sunday morning, if even that? Has it grown stagnant over the years?  Is the only prayer you ever utter the Lord’s Prayer, without even thinking or knowing what you’re praying about? How does the amount of time you spend in prayer compare with the amount of time you spend on Facebook or your cell phone? Oh how I pray that all of us will more eagerly and earnestly follow the example of Martin Luther and truly strive with God’s help to become men, women, and children of prayer.

Then the next side of Luther that we want to look at and hopefully imitate in our own lives is that of Luther being a man of the Bible. Now in his day the Bible was pretty well a closed book for the average lay person. Originally written in the Greek and Hebrew languages, it had only been translated into Latin, which was the official language of the Roman Catholic Church, which meant that the good German folks with whom Luther rubbed shoulders could not read that Holy Book by themselves. Instead they had to rely on the interpretations and explanations of their clergymen, which unfortunately were oftentimes quite faulty and questionable.

Well, interestingly, for Luther the Bible was also a closed book in the sense that he really did not understand it properly. He had failed to grasp and capture the full meaning and message of the Gospel. All he could see when he read the Bible was the just and righteous wrath of God which falls upon us sinners because of the countless wrongs and offenses we commit against our Lord. He truly believed the only way a person could get to heaven was to somehow earn his way there. So to best assure himself of a place in heaven, Luther immersed himself in the world of monks who followed a very rigid lifestyle which at that time was believed to be one of the surest ways to get to heaven. Luther would spend long hours in prayer; he would fast for days on end; he would even torture himself; hoping that all of these things would win for him the mercy and favor of God.

But what about the cross, you might ask? Did Luther never look at the cross of Christ? Oh, he most certainly did, but on that cross he didn’t really see the Son of God dying to pay for his sins. Rather he saw the intense wrath and punishment that God was taking out on his own Son, and his confused mind reasoned, “If God would do that to his only Son, then just imagine what he will one day do to me.” So Luther lived a terrified life, constantly dreading what Judgment Day held in store for him.

But then the Holy Spirit got in on the act. It happened in the spring of 1513 when Luther was preparing a lecture on the Psalms that he was to give to his class the following day. To make a long story short, the Spirit of God eventually led Luther to the words of Paul in Romans 1 that serve as our text for today and that speak of the righteousness of God as something that we receive by faith, not something we earn by works. Well, when Luther realized that the righteousness of God was not something he had to come up with on his own, but rather the perfect righteousness which Jesus earned for us through his sinless life and which God now freely gives to all who believe in Christ, a tremendous burden was lifted from his shoulders and Luther felt like the shackles that had bound him for so long had fallen off and he had been transported into heaven itself.  It was really at this point that the Reformation was born in the heart of Luther and he became not only a man of the Bible but also a man of faith, a man who realized that his entire relationship with God rested not upon his own good works and merits, but rather upon the redeeming and soul saving work that Christ had done for him.

And what about you, my friends? Can you honestly say that you are men, women, and children of the Bible? For years the Lutheran Church has promoted itself as the church of the Bible, but are we its members really living up to that name? How much and how often do you open this Holy Book in a week’s time? Or is this something that you only get into on Sunday morning once again?

Do you realize that here we have the very words of God himself. Yes, I know they were written by men like Moses, David, Peter, and Paul, but these men would have never written what they did had they not been inspired and directed to write by God himself. So it is his Word and it has so much to say to a world that is rapidly decaying and headed for hell. It has so much to say to you as you struggle with your doubts and insecurities, your trials and tribulations. It is indeed a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  So let’s follow our role model Luther and become people of the Bible who treat the Holy Scriptures as the precious and priceless treasures that they really are.

So Luther was a man of prayer, a man of the Bible, and a man of faith.  Then one more side of Luther that we want to look at this morning and hopefully strive to imitate is the fact that Luther was a man of his convictions.  Once he understood the true meaning and message of the Gospel, he began to take note of the glaring errors that had crept into the church of his day and he set out to challenge those errors, to correct them, and to reform the church rather than create a new one.  But when word about what Luther was doing reached the authorities, including the Pope and the Roman Emperor, it did not set very well with them and they sought to silence him. Ultimately his convictions brought him before the Roman Emperor Charles V and representatives of the Pope who demanded that he recant, which means that he take back everything he had been saying and writing and doing. Luther asked if he could have some time to think about it so they allowed him to do so that night and to bring his answer the next day. After a sleepless night, Luther stood before the authorities the next day and said: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Holy Scripture… I cannot and will not recant. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise! God help me!”  Luther knew from that point on he would be a marked man and would become a target for anyone wishing to kill him.  But he stood his ground because he was a man of his convictions.

What about you and me, my friends? Can the same be said of us? Like the saying goes, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Are you remaining true to the vows that you made at your Confirmation when you promised that you would remain faithful to Christ even if it meant having to die for him? Or are we hiding our lights under bushel baskets for fear of what people might think of us if they find out that we are good, faithful, Bible-believing, church-going Christians?  Are we in any way compromising our Christian beliefs and convictions because of peer pressure or other outside influences? Are we afraid or reluctant to take a stand for what we know is right because it’s not popular to do so? I think we’ve all been there before, haven’t we? I would hope though that we might learn this morning from one who stood his ground and let his light shine no matter what. Indeed let us not just admire Martin Luther for his courageous faith, but let us imitate him, remembering the words that Christ himself spoke in Revelation 2:10 when he said, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”

So my friends, we have a choice to make this morning. Either we can pattern ourselves after the worldly-minded role models that we see portrayed on television day in and day out and on the Internet; or we can follow in the footsteps of one who walked with God and who now resides with God in his heavenly kingdom, a man named Martin Luther – a man of prayer, a man of the Bible, a man of faith, a man of his convictions…and yes, most definitely, a man for today! Amen.