Text: Revelation 14:6-7
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In 1 Samuel chapter 3 there is the story of how Samuel was called by God to be a prophet. As the story goes, Samuel was a young boy who served in the temple assisting Eli the priest. One night, when he had fallen asleep, Samuel heard a voice call his name “Samuel!” He woke up at the sound of the voice and ran off to find Eli his master and teacher. When he found Eli, Eli was still asleep. He said to him, “Here I am, you called me.” But Eli had not called him and sent the young boy Samuel back to bed. This happened again two more times. Samuel heard a voice, ran to Eli, and was sent back to bed. Finally, Eli realized that it was the Lord calling Samuel and told to say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” if he heard that voice again. Sure enough the voice called out again and Samuel recognised the voice of the Lord and said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
This story of Samuel and his call is a wonderful little story. But there is one detail of that story that has always stood out to me. At the very beginning, before Samuel hears this voice calling his name or anything like that, we are told that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.”
That is a remarkable idea, the word of the Lord was rare. In this case it is referring to the fact that God had not been frequently speaking through a prophet like Samuel or some of the prophets that come later. Things were quiet at that time. I wonder sometimes if we can apply this phrase, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” to our own time. Is the word of the Lord rare today?
That’s a tough question to answer, but imagine living in a time when the Word of God was rare, where Bibles weren’t readily available in the language that you speak and understand the best (or even at all!). Imagine a time when church services were intentionally spoken and recited in a language that ordinary everyday people had no comprehension of. Imagine a world where the Bible is a closed book that is intended to be read by professionals only. In a world like that God’s truth gets forgotten, the Good News of Jesus Christ who was crucified and rose from the dead gets lost, God’s love and forgiveness for lost sinners like us gets overlooked and people start to think that they need to do good works to earn that love and forgiveness. God’s promises remain true, but they get forgotten. In a world like that sinners are left without hope feeling as if God is far off and inaccessible and God seems to be an angry God who strictly punishes sin.
That is the world that Martin Luther lived in. The word of the Lord was rare in his days. Bibles were not commonly read because they were all in Latin and normal people did not speak Latin. The people at that time, Martin Luther included, lived in fear and terror trembling at the thought of a God who punishes sin and they did not know the Gospel (at least not clearly) that Jesus Christ saves sinners without any work or merit on their part. This gospel was still true, still there the Bible, but it had been forgotten and was not understood.
But that all changed as Martin Luther studied the Bible at the University in Wittenberg. There, as Luther prepared to teach students about Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther stumbled onto this verse: “In the [gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.” This passage stumped Luther. As far as he understood things, the righteousness of God was God’s judgement against sin (bad news!) and the gospel was supposed to be good news (that’s what “gospel” means!). These two things did not line up, how can God’s judgement against sin be revealed in the good news of the gospel? But then, by the work of the Holy Spirit, it hit him: the righteousness of God is not God’s judgement against sin, but His own righteousness that He gives to sinners freely as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. And just like that the doors were blown wide open.
Luther taught, preached, and wrote as much as he could about this glorious good news he had found in God’s Word. Though it made him a criminal and an outlaw threatened with the penalty of death he carried on. He translated the Bible into the German language so that all people, for kings down to peasants could hear or even read the Bible in their own language. And because they could hear the Bible in their own language the people were confronted with the good news of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There in God’s Word they found the gospel, the goodness of God, His good news for sinners that Jesus Christ has done everything that is necessary for our salvation. The Word of God was rare in those days, but through Luther, God brought His Word back into the hearts, minds, and ears of His people.
Our first reading today from the book of Revelation was actually the text for the sermon at Martin Luther’s funeral. The pastor who preached that sermon thought that the angel that John talks about in these verses from Revelation was kind of like Luther. Revelation 14 says: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Now, Luther wasn’t an angel and people don’t become angels and angels don’t become people. But the idea is that Luther proclaimed the “eternal gospel” that this angel proclaims. This is the gospel that Luther found a new as He delved into God’s word and heard for himself the promises of God.
This gospel, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and has accomplished this salvation through His death on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, is eternal. It endures forever. This gospel dates back to pretty near the beginning of time. Already in Genesis chapter 3 this promise is spoken to Adam and Eve after they have sinned. God promises to send a saviour who will crush the head of the lying, deceiving serpent and restore His people to Himself.
But throughout history the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures have tried to bury this eternal gospel. At the time of Noah only 8 people in the whole world believed this message that God would send a saviour and that is why God sent the flood. At the time of Elijah there was just a small remnant, 7,000 people, who believed this promise. Elijah despaired over how few people still believed. The same is true for the prophets who would come later, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. Then, when the Christ came into the world the world did not receive Him, but rejected and crucified the Lord of glory. Again, the devil, world, and our sinful nature tries to put down this good news from God. And it continues persecution, the killing of Christians, false teaching about Jesus and about how we get the forgiveness of sins, and even today laziness and a lack of care or attention for the Word of God. The devil, world, and our sinful nature try to extinguish this good news, but the gospel is eternal.
This good news will not be put down, it may seem to dwindle, but it will never die. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. God renewed His promise to Noah through the rainbow, Christ has been raised from the dead so that death has no power over him or us, and God has preserved His holy gospel through the hand of his servant Martin Luther clearing away the clutter and bringing forth the full gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of Jesus Christ for sinners like us will endure right through the Last Day when Christ comes again to raise our bodies to new life right on into eternity in the Kingdom of God. This eternal gospel endures today.
Is the Word of the Lord rare in our days? If it is we need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider whether or not we have taken that word seriously. We certainly have plenty of Bibles and plenty of ways in which God’s Word is readily available to us, but have we been as attentive to God’s Word as we should be? The answer to that question is probably not. Other cares and concerns creep up and snatch our attention away. Other things seem so important that they take precedence over God’s Word.
As we celebrate Reformation Sunday there is much for us to give thanks to God for as we rejoice in our heritage as Lutherans and the work of Martin Luther, but perhaps this is also a time to dedicate ourselves to the reading of God’s Word, to focus our lives around that Word, and to make that Word central to who we are as the people of God. Because it is in that Word that we hear the eternal Gospel that has been preserved and handed down to us through generation after generation. It is in that word we hear of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection on our behalf. Without God’s Word in our hearts, minds, and ears this saving message may fade into the background of our lives and we may forget it all too quickly. But through His Word God is working to bring this saving message to us every day and to call out to the world with His saving love. May this eternal, unchanging word always be near us and in us and may we respond to this word like Samuel did saying, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening.”
I want to close this morning with a verse from the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God: “God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it; for God Himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit. Were they to take our house, goods honor child our spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!”
In Jesus name, Amen.