The ROAD TO REFORMATION
In observation of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation,
we are presenting a brief survey of the life of Martin Luther. The series continues
with major events in the life of the Reformer that took place after 1517.
After the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther’s writings were banned, and many Roman loyalists threatened to kill him.
Luther feared no ill. The Holy Scriptures showed him the pure Gospel, that he was declared righteous by Christ’s blood alone. An assassin’s knife would merely send him to heaven.
But the Saxon prince, Elector Frederick the Wise, had other ideas. On March 4, 1521, Luther was abducted and imprisoned in Wartburg Castle. Frederick’s plot was smart but consternating.
The former monk had no problem with a cell, but this one was different. Before, he had starved himself in an attempt to atone for his sins, but now his door admitted servants bearing sumptuous platters of food. Once, he had made penance on a splintery floor, but now his room was filled with fine furniture. Monastic solitude had had a false sense of purpose, but at least it had one! Wartburg had none.
Frederick was a gracious abductor and planned day outings for Luther, but in order to leave his cell, he had to wear stuffy clothes and grow a beard like other nobility. Few people even knew Luther was in hiding. Most thought him to be dead.
The recess breaks, like rabbit hunting, were senseless to Luther. The reckless chasing showed the nobles to be full of themselves. One time, bothered and bored, Luther hid the rabbit under his topcoat, only to have the dogs maul the critter beneath his clothes.
When Luther was let outside, he most certainly stood out. “Who’s that fellow?” people would ask. “Are you sure he belongs here?”
When pressed for a name and title, Luther gave a fake one
in jest: Junker Jörg. In English, that’s like saying, “My name is . . . Gourd Pumpkinsquash!”
He found his days meaningless. The Lord promised great things in His Word, and Luther had taken a stand for that Word. But now he did not see God’s plan.
Back at Wittenberg, Andreas Karlstadt attempted to fill the void left by Luther’s absence. He initiated reforms with abandon. Statues of Jesus were smashed, the liturgy differed from one week to the next, and the sermons were just as reckless.
None of this was the clear preaching of the forgiveness of sins, and word about it was getting back to Luther. Frederick let the reformer have a short trip home. Seeing the mess in Wittenberg gave Luther a sense of purpose as he returned to his cell.
The people needed the Word of God! The Scriptures made the Gospel clear, but that truth, in a sense, was trapped in Luther’s head, just as he was trapped in the castle. He knew the Greek and Hebrew, and he was given clarity by the Spirit through the Word. And by faith, he had the desire to make it known to all.
Luther repented of his despair of uselessness and trusted in Christ instead.
With this new perspective, the Wartburg became a blessing rather than a burden. There were treasures here for the Master’s employ: a vast and complete library. An endless supply of paper and ink. Uninterrupted time. Luther wasted little.
Within seven months, he had produced a German translation of the Bible. For centuries, it remained the standard throughout Germany, and it is a work we still have much to learn from today.
This is God’s way. David had his senseless days. Paul wandered in Arabia. Jesus’ cross was and is foolishness to many.
But David wrote the Psalms, Paul the Epistles. The Savior rose from the grave.
Luther translated it all.
You may have your own days when you feel of no use. But when you think you serve no purpose, dear sinner, the Gospel sets you free, too! Do you have a Bible? Pen and paper? A friend in sorrow or need? The forgiveness of sins by Jesus’ death and resurrection gives you something to write and talk about!
Thank God for your Junker Jörg days! Thank Him for your “meaningless” moments, because in Christ you have everything you need—for yourself, and to share with others!
Timothy Daub is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hecla, South Dakota.