Today is Reformation Day and, as I’m sure you know by now, not just any ordinary Reformation anniversary. It’s 500 years from the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Reformation Day is rightly one of the high festivals in the Lutheran Church. It was such an important movement to restoring the unconditional gospel of Jesus Christ that for many years was shrouded in mysticism and ritualism. But, anyone with just a little knowledge about the Reformation knows that in 1517 things had hardly been fixed. In fact, the Reformation was just beginning. Why, then, celebrate this date as its anniversary? Wouldn’t a later date, when everything finally settled down, be more appropriate?
In 1517, Luther was still wrestling in his heart about the true nature of God and his relationship with God. Many of the 95 Theses Luther penned were contaminated with false teaching. At this time he still confessed allegiance to the Roman Church and the papacy. In fact, in 1518, in a document which defended his 95 Theses, Luther wrote this about Pope Leo X: “Finally, we now have a very good pope, Leo X, whose integrity and learning are a delight to all upright persons. But what can this man who is so worthy of our respect do amidst such confusing circumstances? He is worthy of having become pope in better times, or of having better times during his pontificates.” Just so you know, Leo X eventually declared Luther a heretic and outlaw and excommunicated him in 1521. Clearly, in 1517, God was still maturing Luther’s faith and knowledge.
So, why not wait to celebrate the 500th anniversary of something that happened later, when things weren’t so messy? Well, the answer is simple: it was always and still is messy. There was never a point where Luther finally relaxed because he had finally accomplished everything he wanted. Even days before his death he was still busy refining his German translation of the Bible. After Luther’s death, things got even worse. War broke out in Germany. Regional princes and leaders succumbed to pressures from Rome. Even after peace was restored, major doctrines of the Reformation came under attack almost immediately during the “counter-reformation”. Mass emigrations to the Americas took place in the 1600s and 1700s because of attempts at forced unity between Lutheran and Reformed churches. There has never been a period of outward peace for faithful Christians here on this earth and the Reformation never happened for that purpose, either.
1517 is about as appropriate a date to remember as any because it was the official beginning of the Reformation. For the first time, Luther aired his grievances in public. The courage and boldness that we remember in his fiery spirit was ignited this day. But, let us remember, Luther was always a work in progress, too. He was confident in Christ’s atonement, but the Lord never told him he had finally attained perfection on earth. We, too, are being worked upon by the Holy Spirit day by day; to increase our courage, boldness, and peace by faith. Don’t expect an end to difficulties while this earth remains because you won’t find it. If you’re interested in God’s truth, hardship will be your companion; but more importantly, peace with Christ will be yours too. The blessing of the Reformation, the reason we commemorate it and celebrate it, is because it points to the real solution to sin. The Reformation continues to be a shining beacon to lead desperate people to the cross of Jesus, for renewal and forgiveness; and ultimately to eternal life with God without pain or misery; an age when things will finally change for good. That was and remains its importance in the lives of sinful men and women.
Peace through Jesus be with you today, that’s what Luther would want you to think about!