Armed with the Truth
This evening, through word and song, we bring to remembrance a few glimpses of the life and work of Martin Luther as a means of remembering the far greater life and work of our Savior. Tonight, we celebrate the heritage of salvation which our Heavenly Father has given to us through His Son; an heritage He ensured would be passed to our generation by restoring the truth of the Gospel through the Reformation. We thank and praise our God for His gifts to us and to the Church as a whole.
“Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the Royal Master, leads against the Foe; forward into battle see His banners go!” Each one of us is a "Christian soldier." We are fighting the fight of faith. Daily, we march to war against the influences of sin in our lives and around us. We have Christ our Savior and Conqueror leading "the charge" in our battle, and in truth doing the fighting for us with His Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Christ leads. His cross and everything the cross symbolizes goes before us in our march. The cross and everything it represents is the banner under which we live, but the cross is not a magical object that can be held out in front of a person to ward-off evil spirits and monsters of the imagination. It is the Truth of God’s Word and faith which trusts that Word which provides defense.
It is possible to march forward in the name of Christ and what would appear to be under the banner of the Cross and be WRONG. Superstition, relic worship, saint worship, earning of forgiveness by works, the buying of forgiveness with money, the elevation of man’s wisdom to equality with God’s—all were present in the church prior to the Reformation and were all practiced in the name of the Christian Church, under the banner of the cross.
It is possible to march forward in the name of Christ but really be marching under Satan’s orders. The Council of Trent which began just before Luther died and continued for 8 years, declared in the name of the church and under the supposed banner of Christ: "If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this trust alone by which we are justified, let him be damned to hell" (Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon XII).
Marching forward into battle with Christ is more than marching under the name of "church" and the symbol of "cross." Marching forward into battle with Christ is being armed with the truth. We march forward with Christ under the banner of the cross. As heirs of the heritage passed down to us through the Reformation we also march under "Luther’s Coat of Arms." In a way, you could picture us clothed in the armor of God as described by Paul in Ephesians, with the cross emblazoned on one shoulder and Luther’s coat of arms emblazoned on the other. Again, this coat of arms means nothing if God’s Truth is not behind it.
This evening, we remember the truth of God’s Word which lies behind each part of Luther’s Coat of Arms. As we do this we will be celebrating the Truth with which we are armed in the fight of faith. Since it is God who arms us in this way, we will therefore, be giving glory and praise to our great God.
I. The Black Cross ~ Sin, shame, suffering
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
The coat of arms begins with a simple black cross. Black—the color of the night under which darkness the sinner believes he is safe in his sin and crimes are committed with the hope of escape. Black—the color of sorrow and mourning…the color of DEATH.
A soldier might keep a picture of his family to remember for whom he is fighting. The soldier might keep a mental picture of the horrible deeds the enemy has done in order to keep the reason for the fight before his eyes. Our coat of arms begins with just such a picture!
Look at the black cross and remember the Word of God, “The wages of sin is DEATH.” For the Christian, the cross immediately brings to mind the shameful suffering and death of our Savior. In that shame, we see the reflection of our sin. Why does anybody get beaten? SIN. Why does anyone get spit upon? SIN. Why is anyone mocked and ridiculed with words and laughter? SIN. Why does everyone die and why do some die in horrendous ways? SIN. Why was Jesus beaten, spit upon, mocked, and killed on the cross? MY SIN.
God declares: “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). So go through the hours of today and hear what the judgment would be: My soul that sinned with an angry word—shall DIE. My soul that sinned with a selfish thought—shall DIE. My soul that sinned with being less than helpful to my neighbor—shall DIE…and on it goes. My soul—sinful, dead and helpless—is blackness, emptiness, at its worst.
The heaviness of sin’s emptiness, and the blackness of its guilt & condemnation are what weighed so heavily upon the soul of Luther, as it would upon us all without the comforting news of the cross.
So as we gaze upon the black cross in the coat of arms which we bear, we remember our sin and the depth of woe which Christ suffered for us and from which He rescued us.
In his hymn, From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee, Luther paraphrased Psalm 130 which says in part: “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD: LORD, hear my voice…If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You…” (Psalm 130:1ff). In the psalm and in the hymn, we hear the anguished cry of a soul that realizes the shame of its sin, but also rejoices in the confident hope it has in the Savior.
From Depths of Woe…was sung at the funeral of Elector Frederick the Wise, a friend of Luther and a very important figure in the work of the Reformation. It was also sung along the way of Luther’s own funeral procession between Eisleben (where he died) and Wittenberg (where he was buried); and when Luther became anxious about the events at the Diet of Augsburg, he gathered those around him and said, "Come! Let us, despite the Devil, sing ‘From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee’ and thereby praise and glorify God."
As we meditate upon our sin, shame, and the death we deserve, we praise and glorify God for the glorious hope we share as result of Christ’s work on the cross. We join to sing…
Hymn: # 329 (st.1-3) ~ From Depths of Woe
II. The Red Heart ~ Saving blood of Christ
“The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
It is significant that the second piece of our coat of arms is red and in the shape of a heart. Our heart is where sin begins. God’s heart is where salvation begins.
We look upon the heart as the place where our emotions live. Where there are human emotions, there will be sin because our sins start with sinful thoughts and emotions and proceed outwardly from there
We also look upon the heart as a universal symbol of love. From Valentine’s Day to "love notes" passed between desks at school—a heart represents LOVE. The blackness of our hearts is cleansed by the blood of Christ which was shed because of the undeserving love of God which He holds in His heart for all sinners. Despite all the shame and suffering that is associated with sin, the holy blood of Christ shed for us overcomes it all. “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin”(1 John 1:7). “Behold! What manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the Sons of God!”(1 John 3:1).
The red heart represents the amazing grace of God which so loved the world, and the blood so willingly shed by His Son in order to redeem us from sin. For this reason, the red heart also represents the "heart" of the Reformation. As we heard in this morning’s worship service, we are declared completely righteous in God’s eyes and freely so, without any works of our own. That truth is what was missing and had been largely lost prior to the Reformation. The absence of that truth is what led Luther’s sensitive conscience to despair. Imagine hearing that Jesus died on the cross because of you, but never understanding why or for what benefit. Imagine if all you saw was the shame of sin and never the invitation of a gracious God…if all you heard was the cold condemnation of the Law and never the warm words of the Gospel.
Where black cross and red heart meet in the coat of arms we see Law and Gospel combine to declare to us the fullness of God’s Word. There we see sin and grace meet. There we see the foundation of our salvation!
Luther’s first congregational hymn was “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice!” In this hymn, Luther clearly proclaimed the heart of the Gospel—"I am a sinner and full of despondency, but I shall weep no more! Rejoice with me! We have salvation!!"
Because the hymn so wonderfully presents the Gospel message, it brought the Gospel’s blessings to many. A contemporary of Luther commenting on this hymn wrote: "I do not doubt that through this one hymn of Luther many hundreds of Christians have been brought to the true faith who before could not endure the name of Luther; but the noble, precious words of the hymn have won their hearts, so that they are constrained to embrace the truth, so that in my opinion the hymns have helped the spread of the Gospel not a little."
The blackness of Sin and sorrow? YES! But there is also the cleansing blood of Christ, so DEAR CHRISTIANS ONE AND ALL REJOICE!
We sing the first 5 stanzas of hymn #387…
Hymn #387 (st. 1-5) ~ Dear Christians One and All Rejoice!
III. The White Rose ~ Peace and Joy through Faith
“The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
At a time when Luther was lecturing on the book of Romans, he studied Romans 1:17 in which Paul quotes the prophet, Habakkuk and says, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it stands written: the just shall live by faith.” Until this time, Luther had always understood the righteousness of God something that was demanded from him; and that only in his own righteousness could he be found just. During his preparation for his lectures, the Holy Spirit led Luther to understand that Paul was not talking about a righteousness of God which comes from a sinner’s good life, but rather a righteousness which God gives to the sinner! Once the Spirit brought Luther to this correct understanding, Luther said: "I felt…that the gate of heaven itself had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained new meaning. And from that point on, the phrase, ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred (as it had before), but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of great love." Finally, after years of torment and searching, Luther was at PEACE.
One might suppose that as soldiers of the cross we would always be at unrest. It is true that there is little rest for the Church of Christ—what with the devil, the world, and our own flesh constantly seeking to attack. However, in the midst of battle there is PEACE, there is JOY, there is CONFIDENCE.
PEACE, JOY, GOODWILL, are words we will soon hear often as the Christmas season approaches. It will be ironic, as it has in the years past, that some of those who proclaim PEACE and JOY the most seem to have it the least. The reason for this is that the PEACE which we have through Christ cannot be explained or comprehended in any way other than faith.
This is why the world finds it so strange when Christian soldiers seem to be at such peace even when they are under attack. Oh, how the enemies of the Christians must have seethed with anger during the days of persecution when the more Christians they killed the stronger the Church became! When Luther was so struggling with his guilty conscience and the lack of hope in himself, many around him couldn’t understand why he couldn’t find comfort in the outward trappings of the church like they did; and when Luther found true peace and joy, many couldn’t understand that either.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Redeemed children of God, by the grace of God, know exactly what Jesus is talking about! It is PEACE! It is…not being troubled by the world because I know God is in control. It is…daring to dream the impossible because with God nothing is impossible; and at the same time being content if those dreams aren’t fulfilled because God is infinitely wiser. It is…confidently turning all things over to God and not being afraid about doing so because you trust Him totally. It is…knowing that your sins are forgiven and therefore your standing with God is sure, and as long as that is true everything else is insignificant.
The PEACE God gives through faith is not lethargy, it is not carelessness, it is not foolishness, nor being naïve (as the world might suppose), it is the joy of complete trust in God who is all-powerful, all-wise, and ever-present with His children. Just try to fully explain this peace to someone who is not a child of God and in short order you will know exactly what Paul meant when he wrote: The peace of God which surpasses all understanding… And if you get shaky in your battle plan as a Christian Soldier, re-arm yourself with the truth and remember what else Paul wrote: The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Paul Speratus was a pastor in Vienna, Austria during the Reformation. Later, he came to Wittenberg where he worked with Luther to prepare the first "Lutheran" hymnal. Paul Speratus shared in the peace and joy of knowing that salvation comes through Christ alone without any merit or worthiness in us, and totally apart from what we do. Separatus wrote a hymn which reflects that peace and joy. His hymn was included in the first Lutheran hymnal and we sing it now:
Hymn: 377 (1,6-7,9-10) ~ Salvation Unto Us Has Come!
IV. The Blue Background ~ Promise of Heavenly Joy to Come
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
A battle is much easier to fight when the soldiers know that their firepower is no match for the enemy and that victory is almost certainly a guarantee. Then all that is left to do is to fight the battle and persevere to the final victorywithout taking your strength for granted. The battle will even easier when not only does victory seem to be guaranteed, but it has already been won! Such is the case for us!
Jesus has lived, died, and lives again for us. The victory’s won! The Devil is defeated—it’s a "done deal." The inheritance of eternal life in the perfection of heaven where there is no more sin nor its effects, where we will live in the presence of God forever—that inheritance is waiting for us.
The blue background in our coat of arms reminds us of God’s certain promise of the heavenly inheritance so that we keep our eyes and hearts looking heavenward. If we keep looking heavenward our eyes won’t lead our hearts to fall in love with this earth and find our treasure here. Instead, our heavenward looking will direct our eyes to Christ and there we will find the strength and courage to persevere in the battle. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
It took courage for Luther to stand up and tell the emperor and other powerful leaders, "I will not recant!" Luther could not have been looking at himself or the earth because then he would never have said what he did, because by doing so Luther made himself a marked man. There were any number of times when Luther could have taken back what he said and bowed out of the firestorm that was building—he didn’t. Luther ran with endurance, not by looking to himself, but by looking to Christ.
In Christ we see a Champion for our souls who endured and persevered in His work of redeeming sinners despite the powerful temptations to quit. He endured and persevered for the sake of the souls He so dearly loves.
The battle of Christian soldiers can grow wearisome and troublesome. We will persevere when we keep our heavenly goal in mind. We will endure when we remain focused on the Savior who makes our heavenly goal possible. We will be encouraged when we recall that the victory is already won in Christ by His endurance. We will stand strong when we make use of the Word of God as our sword to fell any spiritual enemy who stands in our way.
Luther found courage and confidence in the sureness of God’s Word. He endured through the strength of God’s promise that "come what may" on the earth, God’s kingdom does and will remain to its glorious conclusion in heaven. When the frustrations became great and he was facing despair, Luther would often turn to Philip Menlancthon and say, "Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm" and they would sing "A Mighty Fortress…"
A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is at times referred to as "the battle hymn of the Reformation." No Christian hymn has been translated into more languages. There are at least 70-80 English versions alone! Many great and influential people have given tribute to the power and impact of this most famous hymn, and all Luther was really doing was pouring out the faith of his heart that was created and maintained by the Word of his God. One translator of the hymn remarked, "It is evident that to this man all popes, cardinals, emperors, devils, all hosts and nations, were but weak—weak as the forest with all its strong trees might be to the smallest spark of electric fire."
When running with endurance seemed like an impossible dream to Luther, He sang Psalm 46. When earth seemed like hopeless disaster, Luther looked heavenward. Are you frustrated…weak? Are you beset by sin and temptation? Does the devil come knocking on your door? Look heavenward…Remember Your Refuge….Remember your Goal. Come! Let us sing Psalm 46!
Hymn: #262 ~ A Mighty Fortress is Our God
V. The Gold Ring ~ Eternal Wealth and Happiness
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
In Wittenberg, Germany, it is now approaching 3:30 in the morning. Wittenbergers will soon greet the dawn of November 1st. 482 years ago, Wittenberg slept about to awaken to what would become the dawn of the Reformation. How many had already read Luther’s 95 theses posted on the Castle Church door the day before is hard to tell; but God knew and He would see to it that everyone would have opportunity to read and understand what Luther had written.
In Wittenberg, in the shadow of the pulpit in the Castle Church, there is a grave—Luther’s grave. 482 years ago Luther posted the 95 theses, 29 years later he was buried there and has long since turned to dust. “Out of dust you were taken...and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Luther was a man, a sinner, like you and I. There is no lasting value in Luther. He’s dead and dust, but the Word He proclaimed lives on!
The value of the Reformation lies in God’s purpose and His Word. Again this Reformation Day the words of Luther’s short and powerful 62nd thesis rings out: "The true treasure of the church is the most holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God."
So many things had taken the place of God’s Word in the pre-Reformation days. Good works replaced Christ’s work. The decrees of the Church had taken the place of Scripture. Superstition and fear had taken the place of peace. Self-service had taken the place of serving lost souls with the Gospel proclamation. Power, riches, honor, fame, relics, etc. had become the treasure of the church. Yet, the leaders said all was fine. Luther said all is not fine, the true treasure of the church is the Gospel!
Luther supported this thesis with the words of Jesus’ parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Treasures become more valuable when they are rare. The Gospel in Word and Sacrament is the only way to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is one-of-a kind, a true treasure worth the loss of everything else! The Gospel is the true treasure of the Church because it is the only way to life!
The treasure of salvation through Christ was what guided Luther and the other Reformers and re-establishing that treasure in the hearts of the people is what God accomplished through them. A translation of the Bible was made so that the treasure could be shared with the common people. Hymns were written and sung to bring the treasure to the people in another way and enable them to praise God with music and their voices. Luther wrote his catechisms so that the wealth and heritage of the Gospel would be passed to the next generation.
Through the Reformation GOD re-awakened the people’s appreciation for the riches of His Word. The Reformation is GOD’s gift to us. Through the Reformation’s heritage, we have inherited the wealth it brings. The gold in our coat of arms is a lasting reminder of this rich inheritance.
The first time Luther had the opportunity to consecrate the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and conduct the Sacrament, he shook with fear and trembling at the awesomeness of that privilege and responsibility. The apostle Paul characterizes us as weak and fragile "earthen vessels" who have been given the treasure of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). We have been given an unbelievably great treasure in the Gospel truth. You and I are the ones who guard, treasure, and carry the heritage of God’s Word in this generation.
With trembling hands we receive this heritage—trembling hands because we realize the significance of being made stewards of such a wonderful treasure; trembling hands because we appreciate the awesomeness of what the treasure gives to us; trembling hands because we have been given the VERY WORD OF GOD; hands trembling with excitement to be able to have this treasure for ourselves and to share it with others; trembling and shaky hands that are weak, but made strong through our God.
We join now with the hymn writer in acknowledging our unworthiness and weakness in being entrusted with such a heritage as the Gospel truth . We also offer the prayer that we always prove worthy stewards of God’s great gift. We join to sing….
Hymn: In Trembling Hands, Lord God, We Hold”
In trembling hands, Lord God, we hold
Our heritage Your gift of grace,
Your gospel, bringing wealth untold:
All blessings here, in heaven a place.
In trembling hands—for how could we
Retain Your gift by our own pow’r
The pearl of priceless worth would be soon lost—
Attend us ev’ry hour!
In trembling hands — with joyous awe,
Like Luther, we behold your Son:
For us He kept Your holy law,
In dying full salvation won.
In trembling hands—and yet we cling
With grip of steel, which You must give,
To Christ, our all, our ev’rything,
To Christ, the life in whom we live.
In trembling hands—the treasure won
We only hold through Scripture, Lord.
Then keep us all, till life is done,
As people trembling at Your Word.
In trembling hands—if it be so,
How can our hearts remain unstirred
While millions still in tatters go
Nor yet of wealth in Christ have heard?
In trembling hands, Lord God, we hold
Our heritage; now give us hands
That gladly share Your heav’nly gold
With needy souls in many lands!
© 1993 Werner Franzmann. Used by Permission
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt