A Final Word…The Truth of the Reformation

Dec 21st, 2017 | Category: A Final Word
By Dr. Daniel Gard

The Festival of the Reformation is a time of celebration for Lutherans. On October 31, 1517, a young priest by the name of Martin Luther posted 95 theses on a door in Wittenberg, Germany. The world would never be the same. This issue of the Lutheran Education Journal explores the impact of 1517 on the Church in 2017 and on her educational ministry.

What was heard in Wittenberg was not just the sound of a hammer and a nail; what was heard was the sound of two cultures colliding. On one hand, there was the culture of the world together with a Church that had grown far too comfortable with that world. On the other, there was the culture of Christ, expressed in Holy Scripture as “the just shall live by faith.” Luther loved his Church and did not seek her division. That division came only when the truth he proclaimed disturbed the “business as usual” comforts of a Church which had merely come to reflect the world around her.

As the heirs of Luther, we must ask whether we can still hear the sound of that hammer. There are two cultures and two cultures only. There is the culture of death, expressed in the multiple cultures of the human race. And there is the culture of life—that is of Christ.

One day, nearly 2000 thousand years ago, the culture of death and the culture of life met face to face. A solitary figure stood before the Roman Governor of Judea. He stood alone, betrayed with a kiss by one friend, denied by another, deserted by all. He stood in the assumed poverty and weakness of the Incarnate God before the assumed pomp and majesty of the Roman Empire. The power of Rome, manifested in the Governor Pontius Pilate, asked the most penetrating question of human existence, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

What Pilate could not see was that before him was truth embodied in flesh and soon to be nailed to a Roman cross. Jesus had made the extraordinary claim that, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The blessed evangelist St. John saw that which Pilate did not see, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Truth stood before Pilate, yet Pilate could not see. Nor did he desire to see. The cost of truth was too high and the bonds of sin too strong. Fearing the crowds, he turned Jesus over to be crucified. Though it was Jesus who stood bound before Pilate, the worst bonds were not Jesus’ but Pilate’s. He could not see that the answer to the question, “What is truth?” was the One who stood before him.

It is into our death that truth entered by way of a Cross to a tomb. There in the darkness and gloom of our death—our tomb—the truth was laid as lifeless clay. Yet truth is mightier than all the power of sin and the tomb. Truth cannot be held down even by that which conquers all of creation. The story of Jesus does not end with death, but with life. That is the great Good News of Easter—he who died is alive and alive forever.

This is God’s great message of life—your sins are forgiven. The bonds of slavery, which kept the fallen human being from any hope of abiding forever, have been broken by the power of God’s truth. This is Jesus’ victory—and it is your victory. The Son has set you free. Free through your Baptism, that life-giving water of regeneration in which you, a dead slave to sin, were made a child of the Most High, rising with Jesus from the darkness of the tomb. Free through the Blessed Feast of the New Testament, where He who is the truth, He who is the Resurrection and the Life, enters into your dying existence with His promise, “You shall not die but live; my life is yours.”

Our world today asks the same questions as Pilate, “What is truth?” and Luther, “How can a sinner stand before a holy God?” The way the question is posed has continued to change, to be sure. But it is the same question. And it has the same answer. That answer is Jesus. To know Him is to know truth. But to know truth is to move from a culture of death to the Church’s culture of life.

To be the Church is to answer that question in a way unlike the deathly culture of humanity. The believer lives in the culture of the Holy Church. For it is there, in the Church alone, that life is found. It is a life that transcends and confounds the culture of the world. For here is the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here is the culture of the Church in which Jesus is present, setting us free by the truth that is Himself. Here is the Crucified Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. Here is the Christ, reaching into the culture of death and drawing his own into the life He alone brings. Here is the Risen One, bringing forgiveness and peace and hope to those who know only the condemnation and conflict and hopelessness of the world. Here is the truth that sets us free. Here are the people of God who look to Jesus, their Life, praying, “Lord, have mercy upon us…Christ, have mercy upon us…Lord, have mercy upon us.”