In a sermon preached on Reformation Day in 1943 in Erlangen, Germany, Hermann Sasse addressed why Luther is so important:
“Why is Luther the greatest in what has been a long line of teachers in the church who have proclaimed the Word of God from generation to generation? It is because none of the others understood the Word of God so profoundly. The Word of God is greater than human words, which have limitations. The time will come when nobody remembers Homer, or Shakespeare or Goethe, but the Word of God will endure forever. Human words can certainly accomplish much – the command of a powerful ruler or of a general can decide the fate of nations, but sooner or later their power ceases to be. No mere human word is almighty. But God’s Word is always living and active because it is the Word of the eternal, almighty God, the Word through which all things were created. It is the Word of the Judge of all who live. It is the Word of forgiveness, the Word of redemption, the Word which no human word can contradict. It is the Word which, as John says, has become flesh in Jesus Christ. He is himself the eternal Word of God; ‘his name’, it is written in Revelation (19:13), ‘is called the Word of God’. To proclaim the Word of God is to proclaim Jesus Christ. ‘To him all of the prophets bear witness’, according to the apostle Peter (Acts 10:43). ‘We preach Christ crucified’ says Paul in regard to the preaching of the apostles (1 Cor 1:23). He, Jesus Christ, is the content of the church’s preaching – that he is the Redeemer and the Lord is the proclamation of the teachers of the church from its very beginning. That is the message which has been handed down from one generation to another. The proclaimers come and go, but the proclamation itself remains the same: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That and nothing else is the content of the Christian proclamation. Luther again and again reminded the church of this – a church which had forgotten it, and indeed which had almost buried the one Word of God under so many human words of religion and philosophy.
Luther is one of the great Christologists, the great witnesses to
Christ in the church. Like the great theologians of the early church –
an Irenaeus or an Athanasius – he stood in reverence before the great
mystery of God’s revelation: ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); ‘great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16).
All of his life Luther stood prayerfully and reverently before the
incomprehensible mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, ‘where God and
man meet and all fullness appears’. What the Greek fathers of the 4th
and 5th centuries acquired by deep study of Holy Scripture with reverent
and prayerful meditation, what the ancient church confessed in her
ecumenical councils and stated contrary to the reasoning of philosophy –
that Jesus Christ is true God, God from God, Light from Light, very God
of very God, of one being with the Father, and at the same time true
man – Luther thought through these powerful truths and took them even
further in his theology in connection with the doctrine of the Lord’s
Supper. However, he tried to speak of these things so clearly and simply
that even the simplest Christian – yes, even a child – could grasp
them. ‘He whom the world could not contain, lies on Mary’s lap. He who
upholds all things becomes a little child’. That is the teaching of
Nicea. Or we think of how Luther expressed the doctrine of Chalcedon,
the teaching of the two natures of Christ, in his catechism – ‘I believe
that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and
also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord…’ This explanation of
the second article of the creed has been called by some the most
beautiful sentence in the German language – it is the most beautiful
sentence in the German language, but not only because of its structure,
which reveals a master of language, but also because of its content.
Here we find the eternal Word of God, the eternal Gospel: Jesus Christ,
the same yesterday, today and forever.
My respect for Bishop Hermann Sasse is mainly based on his refusal, in the face of the death penalty, to join the “Nazi Church” while remaining active in the Confessional Church. Obviously, he has also written much that is worthwhile and edifying for the Christian to read.
When it comes to Luther’s greatest accomplishment during the Reformation, may I suggest that there was something even more important than returning the doctrine of the Person of Christ to its rightful position? That is that Luther restored teaching of the pure Gospel.
While the doctrine of the Person of Christ includes some aspects of the Gospel, the pure Gospel contains the doctrine of the Person of Christ in its fullness. While our Lord is indeed the embodiment and author of the Gospel, the knowledge of that fact does not bring full knowledge of the Gospel. About Himself he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live …” and then prove it by bringing Lazarus back from the dead, He also said, Luke 4:43, “… I must proclaim the good news (Gospel) of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
I think it is fair to say that the doctrine of the Person of Christ was not nearly so badly misrepresented at the time of Luther, as was the Gospel. The restoration of the Gospel, in my opinion, is Luther’s greatest achievement. Although I never heard that the most beautiful sentence in the German language is Luther’s explanation of the Second Article of the Creed, I have heard many times that his explanation of the Third Article is. That is where the Gospel is most clearly outlined with the words, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
Post a Comment