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From Luther to the Lightning Bolt

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 25, 2021 12:01 am

From Luther to the Lightning Bolt

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 25, 2021 12:01 am

As a young man, Martin Luther was on his way to a successful career in law. God had other plans. Today, R.C. Sproul tells why Luther suddenly entered the monastery, setting out on a journey that would one day spark the Protestant Reformation.

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In the year 1505, a young Martin Luther headed back to his studies after a visit home. Help me, Saint Anna! I will become a monk!

I will! I will become a monk! A single bolt of lightning set into motion events that would change the world.

Renewing Your Mind is next. What you just heard is a clip of Ligonier's podcast, Luther in Real Time. That's a dramatic retelling of the events in Luther's life.

And today and all this week, Dr. R.C. Sproul is going to provide details of Luther's dramatic conversion and help us understand the religious and cultural issues that gave rise to the Protestant Reformation. We'll learn that Luther didn't really set out to reform the church.

He simply submitted to the reforming truth of the Bible. In the modern city of Geneva, Switzerland, there is a section above the city that is called the Old City of Geneva. And in the center of that section is a very large walking park next to the university. And the main feature of that park is a giant wall of marble, which is called the Reformation Wall. And the Reformation Wall, and right in the immediate vicinity of it, features several statues and other imprints in the wall itself of the magisterial reformers of the 16th century Reformation. There's the appearance of Luther, of Melanchthon, of Calvin, of Basil, of Knox, of Beutzer, and Zwingli, and a few others.

And at the top of the Reformation Wall, chiseled into the stone, are the words that comprise the motto of the 16th century Reformation. Those words are these, post tenebras looks. Let me write them down for you, lest we forget them. Post tenebras looks. And the translation of this motto is simple, after darkness, light. Now, the question we want to consider initially is what was the tenebras that suggested this motto?

What darkness was in view? Well, from the Reformation standpoint, the darkness referred to what had happened gradually but relentlessly to the Roman Catholic Church during the Dark Ages, through the Middle Ages, and into the Reformation. There had been a steady change of the church's understanding of biblical Christianity and, most importantly, of the question of salvation. And what developed in Rome at this time was what we call in theology, sacerdotalism.

Now, you may not be familiar with the term sacerdotalism, but basically what it gets at is the idea that salvation is accomplished chiefly through the ministrations of the church, through the priesthood, and particularly through the administration of the sacraments. And this whole system of salvation that developed within the Roman Catholic Church was what came to a crisis with the 16th century Reformation. Now, before we get into the historical incidents that provoked it and the persons that were used of God to bring it to pass, I want to make a distinction that I think is important, that the Reformers themselves considered their work to be Reformation, not revolution. They did not see their activities as an organized revolt against the church or against historic Christianity. But in many ways, like the 8th and 7th century B.C. prophets of Israel, they saw their task as calling the church back to the original forms and to the original theology of the apostolic church.

That is, they were not trying to create something new, but they were not trying to do a new form but to reform, to call the church back to its roots and to its origins. Now, this morning in the paper, I read this section that I read every day that tells us what happened on this particular date in past history. And I was interested this morning when I read the paper when it said on this date in the year 1504, Michelangelo's sculpture of David was unveiled to the public. And I thought that's interesting that that happened one year before one of the most important crises took place in the life of Martin Luther, which took place in 1505, which we'll look at in a few moments. But I asked myself this, what was Martin Luther doing on this day in 1504? Well, on this day in 1504, Martin Luther was 21 years old. He had completed his Master of Arts degree in his studies and had been enrolled at the university in law school. When he completed his Master of Arts degree, his father, Hans, presented him the Corpus Juris of that day with great pride and celebration. So at age 21, Luther had already distinguished himself with his intelligence and with his knowledge, having been reared in the classical educational system where the students of that day were required to be able to speak fluent Latin.

Because Latin was the language of the university, it was the language of those involved in jurisprudence, it was the language of theologians and of physicians and other professional people. And so Luther's training in his education to become a lawyer served him quite well throughout his lifetime. Luther was born in the year 1483. You already know that if you've done the math from 1504 and reasoned backwards 21 years. Now if you want to get a sense of where Luther's birth fit in Western history, just imagine this. He was born in 1483, that means that he was nine years old when the whole new world was discovered by Christopher Columbus. How do we know that?

Because we know that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So there were all kinds of tumultuous changes that were taking place in the Western world at this time. The discovery of the new world was not the least. His father and mother had been peasants in Germany by the Teringian forest, and Hans Luther, his father, left the fields of the farm and became a miner.

And he was successful in the mining industry of the region to such an extent that through his managerial skills and entrepreneurial skills, managed to become an owner of six foundries and elevated the economic station of his family significantly. But his great dream was that in educating his son Martin, he would have a son who would be a prominent lawyer, who would become wealthy and would be able to care for his parents in their old age. And everything was progressing nicely in this direction as Luther in the early years of his education was already gaining a reputation as a student in jurisprudence of remarkable brilliance in the field of law. Now remember that as we continue to analyze the role that Luther played in the Protestant Reformation had very much to do with his understanding of law, because he took the skills and the education that he had in jurisprudence and applied it to his study of biblical law. Well, the crisis that would change his life, that would change the world forever, took place in July of 1505 when Luther was walking home from the university, and in the middle of the day there arose a sudden thunderstorm of great ferocity.

And as he was walking, suddenly a lightning bolt struck the ground just a few feet from where he was standing, in fact so close to him that it knocked him on the ground, and he saw this as a message from God. He was terrified, and he cried out in his fear, Help me, Saint Anne, I will become a monk. Now the reason he made his appeal to Saint Anne was because Saint Anne, who was the mother of Mary, was the patron saint for miners, and she had had a prominent place in the daily prayers within the Lutheran household.

And so in this moment of crisis, he called to heaven for the protection of Saint Anne. And true to this vow, he moved posthaste to the Augustinian monastery in the city of Erfurt, nearby the university. And he chose to enter that particular monastery because it was known as being the most rigorous and demanding of the various monastic orders, reflecting the depths of its founder, Saint Augustine. Now in his desire to become a monk, he presented himself at the front door of the monastery, was welcomed by the prior of the monastery, came inside, and was asked the question that every novice was asked, What do you seek?

And Luther's answer was, God's grace and your mercy. And so he was admitted into the order as a novice, and the day of his ordination there as a monk was filled with irony, I think, as any moment in the history of the church. As the custom was for the ordination of men into the priesthood or to the monastic orders, the ornamant had to present himself at the front of the chancel steers, and he had to prostrate himself on the floor with his arms extended, his body forming the shape of a cross. And he would be garbed in most uncomfortable clothes. But in this status of humiliation, the process of ordination would proceed.

Well, what is the twist of irony about it? Well, to explain that, I have to tell you that several years ago I led a tour of Luther's Germany, and we visited all the important cities of his life, the city of his birth, Eisleben, which in the products of God also became the city of his death. We went to Wittenberg, where he taught at the university and where he posted the 95 Theses on the castle church door there. We went to Worms, where the imperial diet was held in 1521. We went to Leipzig, where an important disputation took place that we'll look at later. And, of course, we visited Erfurt. And I went into the church of the monastery there and looked at the site where Luther had been ordained.

And here's the irony. The year that we took that tour, there was a celebration of Luther, and portraits and posters of Luther were all over what was eastern Germany, church building, billboards everywhere, with a portrait of Martin Luther against the background of the silhouette of a swan. And I wasn't even aware at that time of the significance of that. And so I made inquiries and discovered that the reason why the image of the swan adorned these posters with the portrait of Martin Luther dated back to events that took place in what was then Czechoslovakia in the city of Prague, where a noted professor in that area had published works declaring, for example, that the Scriptures alone contained the inspired Word of God and could not be equaled by the edicts and the teachings of the church. And for that and other doctrines that he was teaching, he ran into problems with the established church and was put on trial as a heretic. The man's name was John Hus. Now the word Hus or Hus in Czechoslovakian means goose. And as it turned out, when Hus was interrogated and would not recant of his writings, the presiding bishop sentenced him to be burned at the stake. And Hus refused to recant, and as he was about to be executed, he said to the presiding bishop, you may burn this goose or cook this goose, if you will, but there will come after me a swan whom you will not be able to silence.

And that story became widely known throughout Europe. And so when Luther appeared on the scene, he was welcomed as the prophetic fulfillment of John Hus's idea of the swan who would come, hence the posters against the background of the swan. Well, where's the irony?

Here's the irony. When Luther presented himself for ordination, the chancel steps at the monastery in Erfurt, and he lie on the ground with his arms outstretched, he was right in front of the altar, and buried in front of the altar under the stones of the chapel was the bishop who condemned John Hus to death. Now, I like to rewrite history a little bit, embellish it. That's the preacher's prerogative anyway. And I like to think that when John Hus said to the bishop, you may burn or cook this goose, but there will come a swan whom you will not be able to silence. I like to think that the bishop said to Hus, over my dead body.

But as I say, that's what I wish would have been the record of history, but I am embellishing the history somewhat. Well, it would seem in the early years of Luther that he tended to have a crisis of some sort that would take place about every five years. First of all, the crisis in 1505 with the lightning bolt, I like to call that the lightning bolt that changed the world. But he also had another crisis in 1510 when he made a visit to Rome, and still a third crisis in 1515 when he had his famous tower experience where he understood the gospel for the first time in his life. But first we have to understand what happened to him when he entered the monastery.

Things were not good at home. Father Hans was furious with his son for disappointing him by not pursuing his vocation and career in law. Luther himself, when he entered the monastery, vowed to become the best monk that he could possibly be. He later on would reflect and say, if anyone was ever going to make it to heaven through monkery, it was I. And so in the years of his novitiate and later on as a fully ordained monk, he went through the rigorous schedule that was the monastic life, the prayer at several intervals during the day, and that had an impact on his life because he was a disciplined man of prayer as long as he lived. But not only that, there was the process of daily confessional. Every monk had a father confessor that he had to meet with every day as a matter of religious discipline. And Luther gave nothing but vexation to his father confessor and the other authorities in the monastery because the rest of the brothers would come in, Father, I have sinned.

You know, in the last 24 hours I coveted Brother Jonathan's chicken at dinner last night where I stayed up five minutes past lights out. How much trouble can you get in in a monastery like that? But so they would confess their sins in five minutes, get their absolution, and then go back to their tasks in the monastery. Brother Luther would come in and he would confess his sins of the last 24 hours for 20 minutes, a half an hour, an hour, sometimes two hours or three hours until the confessor became exasperated with him and said, Brother Martin, don't come to me with these minor infractions.

If you're going to sin, give me something worth forgiving. But Luther's mind worked this way. He was such a student of the law. He poured over the law meticulously. He realized, for example, that the great commandment was to love the Lord his God with all of his might and all of his soul and all of his strength and his neighbor as much as he loved himself.

And he knew he didn't do it for a single hour. And so as he applied the fullness of the depths of God's law to his own life, all he could see was guilt. And so he was driven by a passion to experience forgiveness that was real and that was lasting.

But this passion was never fulfilled in the monastery. We will hear more of this story as we continue Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Luther and the Reformation. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Monday. Thank you for being with us.

I'm Lee Webb. Luther's passion to find forgiveness is a compelling thing to observe, isn't it? It reminds us that, like Luther, we need to be aware of our own sin and aware of the incredible free gift of grace that's offered through Jesus Christ. All week we are concentrating on the events that led up to Luther's confrontation with the church. We mark the anniversary each year on October 31st, All Saints' Eve.

It's an important day to remember because it commemorates the recovery of the gospel. We're featuring five of the ten messages in Dr. Sproul's series this week, but we're making the full two-DVD set available to you. We're also making the new paperback version of Dr. Sproul's book, Luther and the Reformation, available today for your donation of any amount. This book is still on pre-order, so you'll be among the first to receive it. There are a couple of ways you can contact us. One is by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can reserve these resources online at And while you wait for the DVDs to arrive in the mail, you can take advantage of a great feature on our website.

The digital copies of the videos will be added to your learning library, both online and on the free app. Our phone number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address is Tomorrow, Dr. Sproul will share more of Martin Luther's dramatic story. Luther understood in the deepest part of his soul the chasm that exists between the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of the sinner. And Luther saw no possible way to bridge the gap. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-31 17:57:43 / 2023-07-31 18:05:25 / 8

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