In his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” Martin Luther wrote the phrase “one little word can fell him.” He was talking about the devil. One little word can fell the devil. So, did he mean that ALL of God’s Word can fell the devil? Or did he have a specific word in mind? He probably meant that all of God’s Word has the power to knock Satan down, but today we’re going to examine some specific words that fell the devil.
“It is Written” – Matthew 4:10
What do you think it must have been like? April 18, 1521. The Holy Roman Emperor called a diet or a meeting in the city of Worms and part of it was to deal with this renegade monk situation in Germany. So, Martin Luther was summoned to recant or revoke everything that he had written about the abuses going on in the Catholic Church- like buying forgiveness with indulgences or the pope being God’s spokesman on earth. So, here’s Luther, standing in front of Emperor Charles, high officials of his court, the high officials of the Catholic Church. And he was asked, “Do you or do you not recant.” Not recanting meant not only would he be excommunicated from the church but also made an outlaw. Can you imagine how the devil must have tempted him? “How come you think you’re right and all these other people are wrong? What makes you think you’re so special.” Well, this was Luther’s response, “I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything…. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Amen.”
How could Luther be right and all those other people be wrong? He had something that none of them had: the Word of God. Later, Luther, whose reformation changed the world, said, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing…the word did it all.” And just how powerful is this Word of God? Jesus demonstrated that for us. Every time our arch enemy Satan lodged a temptation at Jesus, the devil was defeated. But notice what Jesus used here. Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the devil. Jesus as true God could have sent the devil away with his tail between his legs with just a look of His eyes. But He didn’t. As our full human brother He defeated Satan with the same thing He has given us to defeat Satan: “it is written.” Jesus didn’t just know the Word of God, He used it.
Luther once said, “Without a doubt you cannot offer a more effective incense or other fumigation to vex the devil than busying yourself with God’s commandments and words, speaking, singing, or thinking of them.” Are we full of frustrations, guilt, worry, anxiousness, are we thinking that we’re doing fine on our own and yet are on the brink of a cliff? The one thing we can’t afford to leave out of our daily life is the powerful Word of God. God’s Word assures us of our forgiveness, God’s Word strengthens us for life in this world, God’s Word fells Satan. How do we know? It is written.
“Justified” – Romans 4:25
You’re escorted into the courtroom to stand before the judge. You’re guilty. You know it; the prosecuting attorney knows it; your attorney knows it; the judge knows it. It’s now sentencing time. You have this horrible ache in your stomach; you know that you’re going to prison, and for a very long time. So as the judge begins to announce the sentence, you don’t even look up.
But then you hear the verdict, and your head instinctively lifts up in astonishment: “I declare the defendant to be innocent!” “WHAT?!?!” you think to yourself, mouth open. But it’s true – the judge has declared you innocent.
In that little story, you and I are the defendant, God’s law is the prosecuting attorney, and God is the judge. That’s exactly how Martin Luther once viewed God: a righteous and angry Judge who by His law demands perfection, but perfection is one thing that we sinful humans can never offer God. Luther was angry with God. He did all he could- beat his body, fast for days, whip himself, but nothing he could do could appease God. The law stood against him, accusing him. And Satan is right there to point his finger and say, “God is a righteous Judge, you deserve nothing but death and hell! But the reality, as Luther found, is beautiful. God is a righteous Judge, but He’s also a loving Father who says what about us defendants? He declares us… innocent! Not guilty! On what basis? NOT because of us or what we’ve done. But on the basis of Jesus who died and rose. Jesus resurrection is proof positive that we HAVE BEEN declared innocent. A better translation of this verse would read, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised to life because of our justification.” In other words, Jesus’ resurrection proves you’re justified, innocent, acquitted.
And that one little word – you’re justified, declared innocent– fells the devil, for no matter how hard he tries to deny it, fight against it, obscure it, the reality is that Jesus IS alive, He HAS risen from the dead, and so the Judge HAS declared you innocent. And knowing that? Gives you extraordinary peace no matter how much Satan may accuse you.
“Grace” and “Faith” – Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 1:17
Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura. Perhaps you’ve heard those Latin words before. Those words are “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Scripture alone.” That phrase characterizes the truths that Martin Luther rediscovered. Growing up in the Roman Catholic church Martin Luther was taught the official teaching of the church which was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation. But you had to work out your salvation on your own, by what you do. Only when you had done enough good works, you could go to heaven. And if you haven’t done enough by the time you die, you’ll have to suffer hundreds of years in a place called purgatory before you could go to heaven.
What a horrible false teaching! But Luther firmly believed it to be the truth. He took it seriously, yet, no matter what he did, he knew he hadn’t been good and that he couldn’t be good, he couldn’t be good enough for God’s standard of perfection. No matter how hard he worked, how hard he tried, how much he beat himself, he had no peace. The head of the monastery where he was decided to bury him in work hoping that he would forget about his guilty conscience and sinfulness, but he couldn’t.
But while he was teaching at the University he was going to teach the Bible and so he actually began to read the Bible. At first Luther grew up Roman Catholic, which was basically the only church in Europe. The official teaching of the church was that Jesus only gave you a “jump start” towards salvation, and that you had to work out your salvation on your own. Only if you did enough good works could you go to heaven, they said. It was a horrible false teaching!
But Luther thought it was the truth! As he grew up he took it seriously, that God was expecting him to earn his way into heaven by being good. And, because he had a tender conscience, he knew clearly that he hadn’t been good, and not only that, he knew that he couldn’t be good! At least, not good enough for God’s standard of perfection!
And so Luther talked about how at that time in his life he hated God! He saw God as this evil judge, who was demanding from him something which he couldn’t do! How could Luther possibly please this demanding God?
Well, he worked his tail off in law school, and got no peace of conscience. He became a monk, then a priest, and still his conscience accused and accused him. His superior in the monastery – a man named Staupitz – decided to “bury” him with work, to try to get him to forget about his guilty conscience, his sinfulnesss, and still no peace.
But then Luther was named as a professor of religion at the new university in Wittenberg. He was going to teach Bible. And, he decided to do something which in his day was unusual – he actually decided to READ the Bible as part of his preparation. At first it continued to puzzle him and scare him and even anger him, because he saw God as that angry judge, demanding that he be perfect, and only if he could accomplish that would he be allowed to come to heaven.
Until one day he read, “The just will live by faith.” The words “by faith” leapt off the page at him. It didn’t say, “The just will live by his works.” No! It read, “the just will live by faith!” For the first time in his life, Luther realized the truth, that salvation was something that GOD was doing for HIM, not something he had to do for God! For the first time in his life Luther understood the truth that we’re saved not because WE do something but because JESUS did something – died and rose! For the first time Luther understood that salvation was by grace – a gracious gift of God to His people, not something earned from God by his people. And Luther said when God revealed that to him, it was as if the gates of heaven had been thrown open for him! Now he could see God as a loving Father! Now he could see God as a God who loved him dearly, who had saved him! Not he could see God as one wasn’t demanding from him, but who in wonderful grace had given him the righteousness that he needed, through faith.
And so God has done for you and for me. In wonderful grace – undeserved love – He has given you faith. He has led you to trust that Jesus is your Savior, and by doing so has given you the credit for all that Jesus has done. You are saved, by grace, through faith. Two little words. The devil is felled!