God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25, 2017

 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.”

18 “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He didn’t realize it at the time, but those theses would spark the Lutheran Reformation and change German and Europe forever. Martin Luther famously stood on God’s Word alone, and many in Germany followed.

But by 1530, everything had changed. The Muslim forces were threatening to invade Europe and wipe out Christianity. Peasants were revolting. Some of the reformers were becoming extreme in their views. And the Catholic emperor of the entire Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, was ready to squash out Lutheranism once and for all. Luther’s religious reformation had become a political mess. Everything hung in the balance.

Martin Luther kept writing and preaching, but none of it would matter unless some of the princes would stand firm on God’s Word. And that was tricky. If the emperor ruled all of Germany, the princes were like the governors of states and regions. If these German princes confessed their Lutheran faith to their Catholic emperor, they could lose their high position – or even be killed. Everyone had a lot to lose.

It was at this dangerous time that the Lutherans put together a succinct confession of faith so that they could tell the world, once and for all, what God’s Word says. They called it the Augsburg Confession. And on June 25, 1530, the Lutheran German princes were brought in to Emperor Charles V. Like Luther at the Diet of Worms, these princes were to put their lives and livelihoods on the line and confess their faith. If they backed into Catholicism again, they would keep everything, but Lutheranism would almost die out.

It was a fulfillment of the promise Jesus gave his disciples in our Gospel reading. “You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” It had happened to the disciples and apostles. It happened to Christians throughout Roman history. It had happened to Martin Luther. And in 1530, it was happening to these German princes.

“I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame,” Psalm 119 states. Would these men do that? Would you? Imagine the day when you get brought before a city council and asked what you believe. Or imagine you are taken to Washington D C to give an account of what you believe before the leaders of this country. You could lose everything if you confess Christ, or you could keep everything if you say nothing.

You know what the temptation would be. Your sinful nature advises you to “keep your mouth shut” and “live to fight another day.” Maybe the devil would also have a word of advice: “You know, even Jesus kept his mouth shut when he was on trial!”

Of course, Jesus did open his mouth when he was on trial – but never in anger or retribution. That would be the other temptation for us. We would want to speak the truth, but speak it in a derogatory, angry way. But not Jesus. “As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

Jesus tells us we are to be like sheep, too. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Then he gives us a few memorable commands. “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard.” It is hard for us to think of shrewdness as a good thing. Usually we are shrewd in sinful, self-serving ways. But here Jesus is saying “Be smart – don’t act like fools.”

And be innocent. If you are standing before authorities, it had better not be because you did something wrong, but because of what you believe. “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed.”

Although Jesus’ enemies did everything they could to shame him, he was not ashamed to suffer and die for you. He stood before the rulers and the governor willingly. He spoke calmly, and truthfully. And even on the cross, Jesus shared the eternal truth that your sins and mine are forgiven. Those sins of anger, those sins of being ashamed of God and his word, those sins of remaining silent rather than sharing God’s Word are all washed away forever.

Having taken our sins away, Jesus now gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that gift takes away all worry and doubt. “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Those princes, standing before the emperor with their lives on the line, were literally given the words to say. Martin Luther and the reformers had put together the Augsburg Confession as a summary of what they believe about the Bible. It was now up to the princes to either stand on that confession of faith or give it up.

In one of the most memorable scenes in western history, the emperor met privately with the princes, commanding them to take part in the Catholic worship services, and in effect, come back to the Catholic faith. At that point, one of the princes approached the emperor, knelt down, and boldly stated, “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.”

Not one of the princes were killed. Their bold proclamation of faith spread throughout Germany. The people stood on God’s Word.

That Augsburg Confession of faith continues to be our summery of faith on God’s Word. Like the disciples, like those German princes, Jesus is also warning us, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” Don’t shrink away from those moments. Don’t go silent with your faith. Boldly share God’s Word. Boldly live the faith God has given you. And by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, may our Lord make us ever ready to confess with the psalmist: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame.” Amen.