When most hear the date October 31, Halloween comes to mind.
However, this October 31st marks an anniversary quite the opposite of this creepy day.
It marks an anniversary that has reminded the world of joy for 500 years.
On October 31st, 1517, a 34-year-old monk nailed 95 theses to a church door, a thesis that turned the world on its head.
Let me back up a bit. The man who wrote this document was Martin Luther, a man who “believed that he had found the secret of happiness” (Freedom Movement, Michael Reeves). He believed so much in this “secret” that he boldly spoke out against the age-old system the Church had created.
Now, mind you, Luther had dedicated his very life to the Church. Why? – Do you ask? After a near escape from incineration during a lightning storm, Luther lived in perpetual fear of God’s judgment. This fear prompted him to become a monk.
But this act wasn’t out of faith. He devoted his life to monkhood because he was determined to do everything humanly possible to save his soul.
The problem is, there is no humanly possible way to save one’s soul.
However, Luther was never taught this by the Church.
He tried in vain to live a perfect life, spending a ridiculous amount of time at confession, observing every tradition almost ludicrously, and beating himself up when he failed even in the most itsy-bitsy way. He saw God as furious, condemning, and out to destroy him.
One day, however, this mindset was shattered. In reading the Bible, Luther came to understand salvation is made possible by faith alone. Faith placed solely in Jesus, God’s only Son, and in His sin-conquering death and resurrection.
This shook Luther to the core.
In his own words, this is what he came to see: “At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely. ‘In it, the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely faith.”
He wanted everybody to discover this saving faith.
But there was an issue, the Pope had forbidden anyone to have the Bible in any language but Latin, a language the common people had no comprehension of. The Pope further confused the people by issuing indulgences. Supposedly, to be saved from hell and purgatory (the latter is not Biblical), one could buy an indulgence from the Church, which is extremely contrary to the word of God. This edict only served to bring money to selfish men and salvation to no one. Sin had grown like an unrestrained weed in the garden of the Church.
Luther, realizing how vital true salvation was for the people, broke the rules. He wrote a letter to the Church and posted it on the Wittenburg Gate for all to see (at least all who could read). This made the church leaders seethe. Luther was shattering the lies they had so carefully crafted for hundreds of years.
For doing so they put him on trial; if he recanted of all he had written, then he could remain a part of the Church. If he did not, he would be excommunicated.
He responded with the words, “I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience, May God help me. Amen.”
He didn’t stop there. Even with the most powerful establishment in Europe out to kill him, Luther could not keep silent about the joy and truth he had found in God’s word. He successfully translated the New Testament into German, making it available for the everyday man.
His work inspired men, and women, across Europe to renounce the lies and run to the truths of the Bible. The truth of who Jesus is.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)
The disciples knew Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life because they heard the words He spoke, watched the way He lived, and believed in the sin-conquering power of his crucifixion and resurrection.
The reformers who abandoned everything once thought to be true, believed in Jesus because they recognized the truth of who He is found in Scripture. This was a direct result of reading God’s word, the Bible.
They braved tyrannous kings and popes, rejection, hatred, discrimination, threats to be burned at the stake, among other perils, to translate God’s word into the languages of the people; so all could have the message of salvation.
It was for the same reason the disciples were willing to die: they believed the message of salvation to be the truest, most joyous news ever brought to the world.
“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your holy one see corruption.” (Psalm 16:8-10)
They lived fearlessly and boldly because of the joy of Jesus!
“You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
The path of life is Jesus and He brings fullness of joy.
That is what these men and women were willing to burn for. To burn for! Because even if were reduced to ashes, they had faith they would rise like phoenixes in a most joyful eternity.
That is the message the Reformation brings to us 500 years later.
Because of their courage and the movement of the Holy Spirit, we have been able to read the Bible freely in our own language for 500 years! The truth and joy of God’s Word rests at our fingertips!
How amazing, how beautiful, how joyous!
(Have you read your Bible lately?)
Now this October 31, we can say with the most exuberant confidence we have something beautiful to celebrate.
(If you want to read more about the Reformation, then I suggest this amazing picture filled, 37-page booklet – Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves. And if you are still interested, there is a great movie titled “Luther.” Don’t worry, it’s not a documentary. Some other inspiring reformers were Jon Hus, William Tyndale, John Calvin, and John Wycliffe, etc. One more thing, if you’re intrigued by this joy idea, then I highly suggest reading Psalm 16 and the gospel of John.)
(Picture credits to Pinterest.)