1 Timothy 3:16-17; Isaiah 66:1-2
There was a time when the Church forgot the Christianity of Jesus and the Apostles in the name of religion. Eventually this led to rampant immorality, abuses of power, and the fleecing of entire communities of people who wanted to be good Christians, by those in positions of authority in the Roman Catholic Church. The authority of the Pope and the Church in those days replaced the authority of the Bible. For the first 500 years of the Church’s existence, portions of the Bible had been translated into more than 500 languages, but by 600 AD Latin was the only language allowed for the Bible to be read in. Over time, the only people who were able to read and understand Latin were the highly educated. It was actually taught by the Popes and the clergy of the Church that to translate and read the Bible in any language other than Latin and the original languages was considered heretical, and to be found guilty of aiding in any translation of the Bible other than Latin was punishable by death.
The first person that attempted to produce a translation of the Bible into English, which was the language of the street, was John Wycliffe. Wycliffe believed that the poor, who made up the majority of England, should be able to read the Bible for themselves instead of depending on the priests during the church services to learn the Bible. Wycliffe tried to persuade the Church that a copy of the Bible should find its place on the shelves of every home. The Pope (Pope Gregory VII) accused Wycliffe of “vomiting out the filthy dungeon of his heart most wicked and damnable heresies.” Wycliffe died in 1384 before his translation of the Bible was complete; the Pope who succeeded Gregory VII charged Wycliffe posthumously as a “disciple of antichrist. In 1427, Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed under the orders of the Pope to be burned, and the ashes were dumped in a river.
Twelve years before Wycliffe’s ashes were dumped in a river, a Czech priest and scholar by the name of Jan Hus, who looked up to Wycliffe as a hero of the Christian faith, also believed that a Bible should be on the shelf in every home and that the clergy of the Church must live lives in line with the holy Scriptures. Hus once said of the clergy who lived lives of luxury above the majority of people who lived in poverty: “These priests deserve hanging in hell for they are fornicators, parasites, money misers, and fat swine.” On another occasion he said, “They [priests] are gluttons whose stomachs are overfilled until their double chins hang down.” Hus said this out of anger over the church’s selling of what was known as indulgences, which were documents a person could purchase to receive heavenly favor to escape hell and purgatory. The Church condemned Jan Hus to death on July 6, 1415; he was tied to a stake and then burned alive. While the flames consumed his body, Hus could be heard singing: “Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me.”
Without the Bible in a language people could understand, many of the clergy continued to get away with fleecing the people they were supposed to serve, preaching that was anemic at best due to the clergy’s lack of knowledge of the Bible, and rampant immorality within the Church, the spiritual climate in the West worsened. One of the ways the Church kept the money coming in was scaring people into believing that only the Church could save them. Sixty-eight years after Hus was burned at the stake, a German boy was born by the name of Martin Luther to Hans and Margarthe Luther (formerly Luder) on November 10, 1483. It was his parent’s dream that Martin become a Lawyer, but on his way back from the university where he was studying in 1505, he was almost struck by lightening and because the god of his religious upbringing seemed to be an angry and a vengeful god, out of fear, Martin cried out: “Help me St. Anna, I will become a Monk!” and so he did.
During his early years as a monk, Luther dedicated his time to fasting, long hours of prayer, and frequent and long visits to confession. Luther described his early years as a monk “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.” As a way to steer Luther away from his focus on his sins, he was encouraged by an older Monk and mentor to Luther to study theology at the University of Wittenberg. During his time of study, Luther began to read and study the Bible on his own. Recognized for his ability to teach, Luther was eventually asked to lecture on the Psalms, Galatians, and Romans; while studying and preparing for his lectures he came across Romans 1:16-17 in the Bible: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
After five years of lecturing on the scriptures at the University of Wittenberg, Luther recognized from preparing his lectures from the Bible that what was being taught by the Pope, priests, and fellow monks and what he was reading in the Bible seemed to be mostly at odds. But it wasn’t until Johann Tetzel was sent to Germany to sell indulgences to pay for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that Luther felt he had to say something. Tetzel would says things like: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory (also attested as ‘into heaven’) springs.” Tetzel could say things like this because people didn’t know what the Bible said and were unaware that the idea one could pay their way out of hell or purgatory and into heaven was in direct contradiction to the Bible’s teaching that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone.
Luther had enough of Johann Tetzel and the church’s dogma that contradicted the Bible, so he wrote ninety-five complaints against the selling and purchasing of indulgences and nailed it to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Shortly after Martin Luther nailed his complaints to the Wittenberg door, they were taken down, reprinted and distributed all over Germany (thanks to the invention of the printing press), which launched the Protestant Reformation. The five things that Martin Luther, and many others who were reading and studying the Bible, were beginning to discover would become the five pillars of the Protestant reformation (Protestantism):
- Scripture Alone
- Grace Alone
- Faith Alone
- Christ Alone
- To the Glory of God Alone
Martin Luther had written many books, participated in numerous debates, and preached many sermons during his short sixty-three year lifespan, but what he is most known for doing is translating the Bible into the German spoken on the streets of Germany. This is what the religious establishment of the day greatly feared, as it exposed the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of that day. Why did Martin Luther dedicate his life to the teaching and translation of the Bible so that people could understand what it said? Because he believed the words of the Apostle Paul to be true: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Because Luther believed this, he understood three things about the Bible.
The Bible is the Word of God
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible claims at least 3,000 times to be “The Word of the Lord.” And, in all of its 66 books and the hundreds of years and many different contributors who were guided by the Holy Spirit, it is without error. The reason for this is because the Bible is supernatural because it is the Word of God.
The apostle Peter placed the writings of the apostle Paul on par with the rest of the Bible, and in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we are told that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” The Bible claims to be, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of souls and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is because it claims to be the very word of God that the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isa. 66:1-2)
The one to whom God will look with favor is the one who is (1) humble, (2) contrite, and (3) trembles at His word. The word for tremble is the Hebrew word, chared, and is used about seven times in the Old Testament. The first time it is used is in Judges 7 when God told Gideon to dismiss any soldier who was “fearful and trembling” (v. 3)” Two other times that the word is used is in Ezra 9:4 and 10:3. Ezra is one of the men God used to reform a group of exiled Jews who had returned to the a leveled Jerusalem.
While things were going seemingly well with Jews who had indicated a real desire to honor God with their lives, Ezra left the people for a period of time. When he had come back he found that many of the men married women whom they were forbidden to marry because of their deep roots in the worship of other gods. Ezra recorded in 9:4 that when he returned, “all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.” Those who trembled at the words of the God of Israel were those who believed the words of Scripture to be the very words of God.
The Bible is Powerful
To believe the Bible as the Word of God will mean that it will shape the decisions you make, your actions, your way of life, the person you marry, the job you take, and where you gather for worship. The apostle Paul claims that Scripture is the Words of the Almighty breathed out for His people. What that means is that what we hear in all 66 books of the Bible is the same voice that went forth to form Galaxies, solar systems, planets, life, and human beings created in the image of the speaker.
The power of our sun is 8×1016 of what our largest power plants can produce; our largest power plant can produce 5,000 Megawatts of power. Every time you open your Bible and read the words contained in it, you hear the same voice that was powerful enough to create billions of suns like ours or greater; God has given us a book with His words in it to move and shape us as His people. In this light, consider Psalm 19:7-11,
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Not only when you open your Bible do you hear the voice of God, but God has ordained the preaching of His Word to be one of the principle means to equip and strengthen His people for service in His name to the nations. When the proclamation of God’s Word is done responsibly by those who honestly labored over His Word through careful study and prayer then I believe what John Calvin once said is true every time we gather on a Sunday morning: “God has so chosen to anoint the lips and tongues of His speakers that when they speak the voice of Jesus comes out” (Calvin, Institutes, Book Four).
When we say that we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, we are saying that we believe that it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (vv. 16-17). We are also told from the Bible that it words are, “…living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This leads me to the third and final point, which is really the application of the first two points.
The Bible is Life Changing
Think about the implications of the first two points for a moment. If the Bible is the Word of God, and if the Bible is powerful because it bears the authority of God, then reading and studying it will change your life! Think about the kind of change it brought to the life of Martin Luther and the Western world when people started reading it. Even when faced with death at the hands of those in power within the Church, when asked to renounce his writings and teachings that salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone, Luther answered:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Martin Luther is not the only person whose life was forever changed as a result of reading the Bible. It was as a result of reading a Bible given to him while on a slave trading ship, that John Newton read it and eventually became a Christian who not only lived out the remaining years of his life as a pastor and hymn writer of great hymns like Amazing Grace, but he fought for the abolition of the slave trade industry. Adoniram Judson was an atheist whose life was changed by the Word of God and eventually found himself on the shores of Mynamar only to spend a lifetime translating the Bible into Burmese. In the next four weeks you will hear of others whose lives were dramatically affected through the reading and study of the Scriptures. Many of you in the room have experienced the life-changing power of the word of God in your own lives. The way you used to look at the world and the way you currently look at the world has changed because of reading the Bible. As you continue to read the Bible, you will continue to experience change in your life because every time the word of God is heard, the power of God to create something new is experienced.
The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ps 19:7–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.