Whether it is believed or not, truth remains truth.
“What a game last night! You should have been there!” you breathlessly tell your coworker the next morning. “The lead changed every inning. Did you hear about the bases-loaded home run and the unbelievable catch by the center fielder in the ninth?” But finally, what your friend really wants to know, what really matters in the end, is who won?
It was 1547, the year after Martin Luther’s death. Charles V had won a decisive military victory over the Lutheran forces of the Schmalkaldic League in the battle of Mühlberg. Then for the first and last time, he entered Wittenberg, Saxony, Luther’s home for some thirty-four years. As he stood in front of the pulpit in the Castle Church where Luther had been buried, some urged him to have the reformer’s body dug up, burned, and its ashes scattered to the winds. Charles is said to have replied, “I do not make war against dead men.” Who won? Fast forward to the present. Today, while the Roman Catholic Pope enjoys worldwide acclaim, a mere fifty to one hundred people gather weekly in the pews of Wittenberg’s City Church. So who won?
If victory is determined by numbers, wealth, and political influence, Luther and those who followed him, including us, are definitely on the losing side. However, prestige and power were never Luther’s goals. Already Early in life, he was already searching for something else. What he longed for and what he spent years feverishly striving for with good works, prayers, and self-imposed punishment was peace with God. He failed miserably. He came to the devastating realization that he could never win the righteousness he needed to stand before the holy, almighty God.
Yet finally, by God’s grace, he came to see himself as a winner, not by his own goodness, but by the righteousness of Christ credited to him by faith. “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17 NIV) was the lifeline that he clung to with all his might. His eternal life depended on it. The magnitude of God’s love in reconciling the entire world to Himself by punishing His Son on the cross filled Luther with irrepressible joy and the untiring desire to preach the Gospel and oppose all false teaching, even when it came from the Roman Catholic Church coupled with threats of excommunication and death.
Luther did not fight for a personal victory. He preached a victory already won, the defeat of Satan, sin, and death at the hands of the Lamb Who was slain, but Who now rules over all at the Father’s right hand.
Look around today. Who’s winning? We see congregations of believers under increasing stress from declining numbers and the pressures and demands of modern life. Budgets are tight. Society embraces immorality as loving and inclusive, and denounces those who stand on Scripture as discriminatory and hateful. People you know may tell you that the news of salvation in Jesus alone just doesn’t fulfill them spiritually. They express confidence in discovering their own spiritual path, one that “works for them.”
But let’s remember that whether it is believed or not, truth remains truth. The Word of our God stands forever. The gospel of forgiveness in Christ alone which gave Luther such peace, joy, and purpose, in life as well as in death, is also our peace. The Word, which seems so weak by worldly standards, will always be “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). It will continue to accomplish its work in hearts.
This Reformation season let’s again remember the events the Lord graciously used for His saving purposes. Let’s share with everyone the news: “Jesus won, and because He did, we do too!”
Michael Eichstadt is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, and president of the Church of the Lutheran Confession.