From an outline by Georg Stöckhardt. Here’s the outline.
October 31, 1517 is a day to remember for all eternity for the kingdom of God on earth. On that day the work of the Reformation began. The shape of Western Christendom was completely changed by this work. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, the church of the pure Word and Sacrament, came to light and was a city of God on the mountain, a Zion of the Lord, and by God’s grace has remained to this very day. Though there are no lack of those who regard the Reformation as something deplorable, as a misfortune. They point out the fracturing and splitting up which has occurred in the Western Church since the Reformation, whereas before this had been like one flock under one shepherd, namely the pope. We cannot let ourselves alone be misled by this. We cannot let this interfere with our joy. The Reformation did not cause this splitting up, that we no less heartily lament, but the disobedience of so many toward God’s pure Word caused the Reformation. Luther’s reformation of the Church is and remains a great miracle of God.
The Reformation of the Church brought about by Luther: A great miracle of God;
- It was God Who wonderfully prepared Luther as the instrument of the Reformation. “And I saw another angel flying”. It is the custom of Scripture to call the teacher and preacher of the Church angel, i.e. messengers. Thus we certainly rightly behold a great, outstanding teacher of the Church in the angel of our text. Here indeed in this angel we obviously have a prophecy of the Reformation: none other than Luther. Luther was the tool of the Reformation in God’s hand. And how wonderfully God has prepared him for this work! All his choices in life from youth onward were highly remarkable and suitable to educate the boy and youth with very extraordinary intellectual and spiritual gifts as the reformer. He must not only acquire the necessary scholarship, but also recognize the nothingness of all human works and its own holiness and the groundless corruption of the human heart; he had to be led to the Bible and brought to the knowledge of the Gospel, in which he found comfort and peace for his anxious soul. The fundamental doctrine of all Christianity, the doctrine of justification, had to be unlocked for him and known to him, he had to be first of all in himself a righteous, saved man by true faith in Christ. (As evidence for this, some features from Luther’s youth, monastic life, his journey to Rome, especially the blessed moment when he came to understand Habakkuk 2:4.) – Regarding his manner of life, Luther is represented appropriately by the angel in our text, a man full of the fear of God and faith, on whose impeccable character and moral purity all blasphemous arrows of the fiercest enemies had to bounce off.
- Furthermore, it was God Who bestowed to this instrument a wonderful triumphal course. “And I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven”. As an angel is a messenger of God, sent from God, so also Luther had a divine calling to his high work. He had sworn on his dear Bible as a doctor of Holy Scripture (to teach and to defend it), whose calling he consoled himself to the utmost in his temptations. Truly, he was God’s messenger, an angel, whose flight went through the midst of the heaven of the Church. That is why no one could stop or hinder him. How many a faithful witness of Christ had been silenced already by the bloodthirsty Antichrist (Huss)! On the other hand, Luther at the Diet of Worms was defenseless against his fiercest and most powerful enemies and could not hurt a hair on his head; the bold hero of the faith again emerged intact from the “jaws of the Behemoth”; and so often. No one could stop his teaching, it echoed through the whole of Christendom. With what rapidity his 95 Theses spread through Germany, through Europe, and beyond! Truly wonderful was this angel’s flight. The reformer’s run was a heroic and triumphant one. His work was from God, a great miracle.
- Finally, it was God Who through Luther renewed the Church from the ground up by means of the newly-given Gospel. “Who had an eternal Gospel.” The Gospel was completely obscured under the papacy by doctrines of men, lies and idolatry, the way of salvation locked, souls had to languish, the pope led them in droves to hell. (Gruesome description about the destruction of the church in the papacy by Myconius.) Finally, God took pity on His poor people and sent Luther with the eternal Gospel. Luther brought up no new doctrine, no “fifth” Gospel, as the papists blasphemed, he again brought the one, true old Gospel that is from eternity and extends to eternity, proclaimed eternal life, eternal joy, eternal salvation for all forlorn sinners.
And how did Luther preach this eternal Gospel? “With a loud voice” the text says, i.e., courageously, without fear of men, as without the favor of men, full of power and vigor, before kings, princes, and the entire world. (Examples are places such as SA II:1, “Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered” etc. and the like.)
Furthermore, Luther preached the gospel so that all shame is given to men and all glory is given alone to God. “Fear God!” This is the penetrating preaching of the Law with which this angel is sent “to those who dwell on earth”, in order to chastise all their sins and wickedness, and particularly to reveal and overthrow the men of sin, the Roman antichrist. “Give Him glory!” This is the sweet, saving Gospel, through which all glory is given to God. He wants to say: Take your refuge in God’s grace in Christ, you forlorn, poor sinner, and give Him all the glory, that He, the Creator of all things, is in Christ your dear Father, Who forgives all sins for the sake of Christ for those who believe in the Son and wants to give eternal life, all without your merit or worthiness. Give Him all the glory and believe it! – How pale is the threefold crown of the pope in the light of this Gospel, how faded is his halo in it, how the papal chair trembled before the mighty voice of this angel! His idolatrous abomination was revealed before the entire world. People again recognized Jesus Christ as the only Savior, as the only door to life, as the only head of His Church. A new springtime of spiritual life dawned. Many thousands cheered on the resounding preaching of the Gospel once again. The papal abomination was swept clean, the doctrine was thoroughly purified, the Church was renewed from the ground up. This was the great work to which Luther was called by God. This work has succeeded because it was God’s work, a great miracle, whose fruits we still enjoy today.