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2 Timothy 4:16-18
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed: 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 I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.” So Martin Luther said as he stood before the Holy Roman Emperor and faced being excommunicated and declared an outlaw and at risk of his life should he not recant the truth of God’s Word which he rediscovered. Where did it start? 500 years ago this little known monk and German pastor nailed 95 theses or statements to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These statements were translated and spread and printed on the newly invented printing press. One thing led to another so Luther stood here before the emperor and was ordered to recant, retract, take back everything he had written or face excommunication, being called a heretic, being declared an outlaw, his books banned and burned, and his life at stake anywhere, anytime, by anyone. How did he do it?
And it was all for what? He saw the problems and the abuses there were going on in the Catholic Church at the time. Worst of all, he saw the false teachings with which Satan had infiltrated the Christian church. And all those false teachings really boil down to this: that there’s something that YOU must do into order to earn salvation. And there are only two directions you can go when you believe that: either you will become a Pharisee thinking you’ve earned something from God or you will fall into despair because it’s entirely impossible to earn or deserve anything from God. Luther was the latter. His conscience bothered him, no matter how hard or how much he did, there was no way he could live up to God’s demands. But then by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God he came to understand that we are saved completely by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ Jesus alone revealed in the scripture alone. Then and there he found true peace. But what did that get him? Opposition. He was labeled a heretic, excommunicated, outlawed and a death sentence was placed on his head. He didn’t know where it would all go, he didn’t know what would happen, he didn’t know the end of the story. So what kept him going?
Take someone else. His name was Daniel. He lived and worked under several corrupt governments. The last of which had a group of self-centered glory-seekers who devised a plan to play on the king’s egocentricity and have a decree published that people could only pray to the king for 30 days. What does Daniel do? Obeys God. Trusts in God. Continues to pray to the Lord just like he always did. Which led to what? Being arrested, condemned to death and thrown into a den of hungry lions to be eaten alive. For all he knew he was about to be viciously torn apart and devoured! How did he do it? How did he get through? He didn’t know what was going to happen to him.
Take someone else. His name was Paul. He, too, lived at a precarious time and under a corrupt government. At one time he was a Pharisee who thought that God was pleased with all the good things he did like persecute these Christians. But then the Lord brought him to faith. The Lord showed him that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves it is the gift of God not by works so that no one can boast.” The Lord taught him that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Paul’s entire life became a mission to share this grace of God with others, but what did it get him? He was pursued, persecuted, beaten, flogged, stoned, constantly maligned and accused and abandoned. Here in our text from 2 Timothy he’s writing from a dark, dank, damp dungeon. He’s cold- he wants his cloak. He’s expecting death at any time for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. How did he do it? How did he get through? He didn’t know what was going to happen.
Take someone else. Not Martin Luther, not Daniel, not Paul, but you and me. Are there times in your life when you’re left wondering why God would allow something to come into your life? Are there times when you’re frustrated or confused because something happened in your life? Are there times in life when you face just one obstacle after another and your sinful nature leads you to doubt God’s care, God’s concern, God’s love for you? Perhaps none of us will face a condemning edict from the emperor or a den of hungry lions or a dark, dank dungeon, but what do we face? Day-to-day trials, times that leave us lying flat on our backs, an upcoming surgery or health scare, a financial loss, a relationship conflict. What does the future hold? What is going to happen? What is weighing on you? What difficulty in life are you facing? How do you get through?
You know what would be really nice? It would be really nice to know the ending before the beginning, right? Imagine if you were going to take a very difficult test, but you knew before the test began that you would ace it? Do you think you’d be anxious or worried? Or, what if you had a very serious health examination to find out whether or not you had a serious incurable illness, but you knew beforehand that the tests would come back showing you to be completely healthy? Do you think you’d be concerned to take that test? If you were going in for an important job interview, but you knew beforehand that you already had the job, would you be nervous and scared? No! Wouldn’t it be nice to know the ending before the beginning?
How do you think Luther did it? Or Daniel? Or the apostle Paul? Daniel may not have known how this whole ordeal was going to work out, but he trusted in God and “no wound was found on him because he trusted in his God.” He knew that his days, his times were all in the hands of our gracious God. No flippant king, no wicked official, no hungry lion could do anything to disrupt God’s plans to work out all things for the good of his believers. How did the apostle Paul do it? What did he know? “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” No wicked king, no plot, no executioner’s sword would separate Paul from the love of God in Christ Jesus. How did Luther do it? How did he keep going in the midst of threats, hate, violence? “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit. And do what they will – hate, steal, hurt or kill – though all may be gone, our victory is won; the kingdom’s ours forever.”
All of our days, our times, our lives rest in the hands of our loving, faithful, compassionate, gracious God. The God who can shut the mouths of hungry lions, the God who made sure that the “Message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it,” the God who made sure that no emperor, pope, or corrupt church could silence the message of the gospel, is the God who has all the power to rescue you from every evil attack and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom! Trust in Him!!
Luther spent his whole life pointing to one person. So did Daniel, so did Paul. It wasn’t Daniel or Paul or Luther, but someone else who prayed to God regularly, who had a group of malicious accusers seeking to entrap him because of his faithfulness to God’s Word, a group of unruly people brought Him to the ruler accusing him of breaking the law, the ruler finding him innocent eventually appeased the crowd and condemned him to death, a rock was placed over the enclosure and sealed with the kings own ring, but at dawn it isn’t the king hurrying to the tomb, but a few ladies. And what they find is shocking. Who is it? Jesus who was dead, is alive and lives! Jesus is the living one, the one who has conquered our greatest enemies: sin, death, and hell forever!
And since Jesus lives and since you know the end of that true story, that of Jesus, then you also know the end of your own story as well. So, what opposes you today? What is it that causes your faith to tremble? What is it that causes your trust to shake? Look to the Author of your story, who’s written not only the beginning of your story but also the ending, look to your Savior who has cleansed you in His holiness, taken your every sin away as far as the east is from the west, who has removed your guilt forever. You know the end of your story, heaven is your home and that is where you’re headed, keep your eyes on the end of your story, the one written with the blood of Jesus, and that will make all the difference! The Lord will rescue you and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. Now that’s a happy ending! Amen.