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“We Are Beggars. This is True.”


February 18, 2020 will mark 474 years since the death of Dr. Martin Luther in 1546. His tireless efforts and bravery, born from a heart set free by the Gospel of full and free forgiveness in Christ, were God’s instruments to shine this same Gospel on countless hearts and lives, including our own. Among his many accomplishments are these:
• He sparked the fire of the Lutheran Reformation with the posting of his
Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.
• He fanned the flames of this back-to-the-Bible movement through his preaching, teaching, and writing.
• He made the Bible accessible to the common man and woman by translating it into everyday German.
• He made provision for instruction in Bible teaching, for both adults and children, with his large and small catechisms.
• He defended the true faith against the
attacks of the Roman church, at the risk
of his own life.
• He authored many hymns and made the worship service understandable to laypeople.
• He and his wife, Katherine, provided a wholesome example of Christian family life.
Luther did not die in one of the major cities of Germany, nor in Wittenberg, the town where he served as pastor and professor. Instead, he left this earthly life for the joys of heaven in the town of his birth, Eisleben. Even though he did not feel well, Luther had traveled to Eisleben in order to help settle a financial dispute between two brothers. He preached at the local church several times during this trip, even as late as three days before his death. On the evening of February 17, he retired with the prayer “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” (Psalm 31:5)
At 1:00 A.M., Luther was jolted awake with an apparent heart attack. Despite various efforts to help and soothe him, he only grew worse. Near the end, Justus Jonas, Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, took his hand and asked him “Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in His name?” Luther responded loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, “Ja!” (yes). The Lord received his spirit into heaven at 2:45 A.M.
What would be a fitting way to remember a man of such stature and accomplishments? There is, perhaps, no better epitaph than the words which Luther himself wrote last. On a table next to his deathbed were a few notes on a scrap of paper, the final words of which were “We are beggars. This is true.”
His whole life was a testimony to the undeserved grace of God. In fact, he recognized that the human tendency to seek God’s favor through our works was found also in his own heart, and he fought against it:
“The world wants to win heaven from our Lord God by right, although he is causing the message to be proclaimed aloud throughout the world that he wants to give it to us for nothing. . . . But such fools we are; we want to give when we ought to take. Here the beggar comes to the mighty king and ‘begs’ from him; but he will not take alms from him for nothing; he wants to give him four pennies or lice for them. The world is just as mad and foolish. It wants to give to him who has given all and from whom it should receive all.”
Yes, in spite of his life of service to the Gospel, Luther knew himself to be a true beggar before God, yet one who was made fabulously wealthy through Christ’s righteousness credited to him. Each of us can learn from his example to come in true repentance before our God, while pleading only Christ. With the comfort of this Gospel we can then pray in our own hour of death, as first Jesus Himself and later Martin Luther did, “Father, into Your hand I commit my spirit.”
Bruce Naumann is senior pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.