Martin Luther stood up and refused to sit back down.
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
500 years ago, on October 30, 1517, an Augustinian monk and theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, put the finishing sentences of what he would call “meine Propositiones” (“my propositions”).
We know them today as The 95 Theses.
What prompted Martin Luther to write them and then publically post them?
He explained why in a letter to Duke Henry of Brunswick in 1541.
In “1517, a preaching friar by the name of John Tetzel, a loudmouthed fellow, happened to appear on the scene….” (What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, ©1959 Concordia Publishing House, p 1172).
He was selling “indulgences” – which were pieces of paper that people could buy that said they had been granted time off in purgatory. In essence, these indulgences were granting the forgiveness of sins.
Luther would go on to write in his letter what he had heard Tetzal was preaching.
“That he [Tetzel] had such a grant of authority from the pope that even though a man had violated and impregnated the holy virgin Mary, the mother of God, he could forgive it if the man deposited a fitting sum in the money chest.
“Likewise, that the red cross of indulgences, bearing the papal arms, was as mighty as the cross of Christ when it was set up in church.
“Likewise, that when a man deposited money in the chest for a soul in purgatory, the soul left purgatory for heaven as soon as the coin touched, and tinkled at, the bottom of the chest” (What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, ©1959 Concordia Publishing House, p 1173).
To Luther, these indulgences and, essentially, the pope himself, were taking the place of God! Only God can forgive sins. Only the blood of Christ could free a person from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Selling this forgiveness was completely against Scripture that clearly states that salvation is a free gift from God himself!
I imagine that as Luther finished writing his propositions and before he would publically display them on the castle church door in Wittenberg – thus inviting a public debate and discussion about the indulgences – he spent the day in prayer and further reading of Scripture.
Could he have known what was about to happen? Could he have foreseen the firestorm that would be ignited? Hard to say.
But that is exactly what happened. The world changed after October 31, 1517. The Dark Ages were now over. The Renaissance was now under way, and the modern era was about to begin.
This was all made possible by a theology professor who dared stand up to the false teaching that man can take the place of God.
Martin Luther stood up and refused to sit back down. Martin Luther’s voice and pen rang out that God is our God and we are saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
500 years later, we are still all about Jesus!
Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing salvation in your Holy Scriptures. Thank you for raising up, calling, and equipping people like Martin Luther to proclaim the Gospel to all the world. Give me your Holy Spirit that I may live every moment of my life sharing the Good News about Jesus, because my life is still all about Jesus; in his name. Amen.
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