God's Hand Leading Martin Luther

Wayne Olson
Pastor, Hyde Park NY
May 02, 2017

500th Anniversary Announcement/Bulletin Info: a brief outline of the life and work of Martin Luther, broken up into small sections to be used on upcoming Sundays. This may be used each Sunday beginning May 21

Notes: Below is a brief outline of the life and work of Martin Luther, broken up into small sections to be used on upcoming Sundays. This may be used each Sunday beginning May 21. It may be read (perhaps by some dressed like Luther) or it may be printed in the bulletin or distributed through a weekly e-communication. The encouragement is to get Luther’s story out to God’s people, and this is a simple way for any church to do it. This was prepared by Pastor Wayne Olson, St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Hyde Park, NY. Sources that Pastor Olson used are listed on the last page.

May 21: It Begins at Birth.

As part of our 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we begin this Sunday with the beginning of the journey that God used to reform the church. The journey begins with a man named Hans Luder and his wife Margarethe who lived in Eisleben, Saxony. Hans was a copper miner who was moderately successful. Evidence of his success was the fact that he had two foundries. On November 10, 1483, Margarethe gave birth to a son which happened to be the day before the feast day for St. Martin of Tours. Therefore, they had their newborn son baptized on the feast day naming him Martin after the Saint.

May 28: Destined to be a Lawyer.

Hans Luder wanted his newborn son to be a lawyer so in 1484 he moved his family from Eisleben to Mansfeld where he thought he could improve the family finances. He was very successful with his copper mines and smelters so by 1491 the Luder’s became one of the most respected families in Mansfeld. Martin’s mother Margarethe was a harsh disciplinarian as she raised Martin. As he grew, Martin was sent to a Latin school in Mansfeld and then to a more prominent school in Magdeburg where he lived with relatives.

June 4: On to a Master’s Degree.

The financial success of Martin Luther’s family is attested to by the fact that his father could send him to the University of Erfurt which was one of the best German universities of that time. Before you could go into a specific field of study you had to study what they called the 7 liberal arts. Martin received his ‘Baccaleureat’ in 1502, which is the first level of this degree, and his Masters of Arts in Philosophy in 1505. Martin was not at all fond of the University of Erfurt likening it to a ‘beerhouse’ but with his degree he enrolled at Erfurt to honor his father’s desire that he become a lawyer.

June 11: Lightning Strikes

Martin Luther loved God and wanted assurances about life. However, his studies in Philosophy were not satisfactory. Luther’s studies offered assurance about the use of reason but gave him nothing that he wanted about the love of God. On July 7, 1505 Martin Luther was returning to the university on horseback when lightning struck near him. Martin cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” Afterwards, Martin told his father that he was terrified of death and divine judgement. He then left law school and sold his books. His father would not get his wish that he become a lawyer leading to his anger over what he thought was a waste of Martin’s education.

June 18: Life in the Monastery.

Only 10 days after his encounter with Lightening, on July 17, 1505, Martin joined the monastery that was part of the Augustinian Order. Life was hard enough in the monastery, but for Luther it was particularly difficult. The emphasis at the monastery was on works righteousness and they kept him busy earning righteousness which for Luther included self-flagellation. Luther did loved reading the Bible but with all that was happening he was struggling with the word ‘righteousness.’ During this time, Luther said, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

June 25: Further Studies at Erfurt.

I have to think that God was with Luther because of where he was led after he joined the monetary. He was led back to Erfurt and on April 3, 1507 Martin Luther was ordained a priest. That enabled him to begin a study of Theology at Erfurt. Luther was encouraged to study Humanism, a subject which would “help characterize the age as one of individualism and self-creativity.” One benefit of this new field of study was that in order to bring a person to a full understanding of the ancient classical writings, you had to read the actual texts in their original language. The normal study method was to read summaries and commentaries that had been translated. Luther’s love of reading the Bible led him to the study of Greek and Hebrew rather than the Latin translation supported by the Church.

July 2: A Teacher of Theology

In 1508, Luther’s superior at the monastery, Johann von Stapitz, became the dean of the newly forming University of Wittenberg. After becoming dean, Stapitz sent for Luther to teach at Wittenberg. As he was teaching Luther also studied and on October 19, 1512, Luther was given the Doctor of Theology degree. Then two days later, on the 21st, he was received into the senate of the theological faculty where he succeeded Staupitz as the chair of Theology. In fact, Luther would be so prominent at the University of Wittenberg that he drew many followers to the university and held this position for the remainder of his life. God was setting him up for what was to follow.

July 9: Impressions of Rome.

Luther remained a monk in the Augustinian Order and in 1511 Luther and another Monk were sent to Rome to represent the Augustinian Order. This trip was quite an eye opener for him as he experienced more of the world around him. As the two traveled they had to visit other monasteries for food and lodging. Luther was appalled by the luxurious living, loose morals, and the lack of spirituality he saw in these monasteries along the way. To his shock, he found Rome to be no better. By the time he left Rome he left he began to think, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” On a positive note, while in Rome Luther spent time improving his understanding of Greek and Hebrew.

July 16: The Tower Experience

About the time Luther returned from Rome he began to write studies on the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians. His studies in humanism led him to study these books in their original language. Sometime between 1510 and 1515. Recalling his days at the monastery, we know that Luther had a problem with the word ‘righteousness.’ One day he was in a tower at Wittenberg when he reached a new understanding of Romans 1:17, ‘For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." Luther finally understood that God’s grace, faith, and therefore the Righteousness of God is a work of God alone and we are free from the law. In 1517 Luther celebrated this freedom by changing his surname from Luder to Luther which is the word for “free” derived from the Greek.

July 23: Where is Everyone for Confession?

Sometime after 1513 Luther began to notice that many people in Wittenberg were no longer coming to him for confession. He learned that the people were purchasing indulgences outside of Wittenberg and therefore did not think that they needed confession. The problem became especially acute in 1516 when the Dominican friar, Johann Tezel, was selling indulgences around Wittenberg to fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tezel would sell the indulgences stating, “When the money clangs in the box, the souls spring up to heaven.” This brought many protests against indulgences from Martin Luther.

July 30: The Reformation Begins

On Oct 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. It is also said that he mailed a letter to the Bishop of Mainz that included a copy of the 95 theses. Luther was not expecting much reaction to this letter but he was mistaken. By January 1518, the theses had been translated from Latin to German. They then went viral! They were spreading throughout Germany within two weeks and then spread throughout Europe within two months. God was about to give Luther the publicity he did not expect. After all, he only wanted a discussion to let the church understand their error and correct them.

Aug. 6: Breach with the Papacy

Martin Luther’s position on indulgences resulted in his being charged with heresy. That led Pope Leo X to call him to Rome for a hearing. Elector Frederick the Wise, the prince who founded the University of Wittenberg knew that he needed to protect Martin Luther. After all, Luther’s prominence was leading to the growing popularity of the prestigious university. Therefore, the Elector persuaded the pope to have Luther examined in Augsburg rather than Rome. In Augsburg, Luther was examined by Cardinal Cajetan who was in support of the right of the Pope to issue indulgences. As a result, the 3-day meeting degenerated into a shouting match. It was so contentious that Luther had to slip out of Augsburg during the night.

Aug. 13: Excommunication

On June 15, 1520 Luther was warned by a Papal Bull (edict) that he could be excommunicated in 60 days. To avoid the excommunication, he had to recant from 41 issues that had been pulled from his writings, one of which was from the 95 theses. Luther’s response came on December 10 in Wittenberg when he took that Papal Bull along with the book on church law and burned them. It did not take long for the Pope’s response. A bull excommunicating Luther was issued on January 3, 1521.

Aug. 20: Diet of Worms

Following Luther’s excommunication, enforcement of the ban on the “Ninety-five Theses” was turned over to secular authorities. Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms by Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Once again, to protect his interests in Wittenberg, Elector prince Frederic the Wise obtained safe passage for Luther. He was still needed for his popularity as the Chair of Theology at Wittenberg College. Luther appeared before the Diet on April 17-18, 1521. All of his writings were presented to him and he was ordered to recant them all. Luther took a day to respond but then said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason … I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” The authorities took 5 days to deliberate and then the emperor declared Luther to be an outlaw.

Aug. 27: Kidnapped

Martin Luther had a safe travel letter that had been obtained by Frederick the Wise, so in spite of being declared to be an outlaw he headed home from the Diet of Worms on April 25, 1521. Having been declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, was he safe? It would appear not because Martin Luther was kidnapped as he traveled. I’m certain that the news of his kidnapping was welcomed by the officials of the Empire and the Church. However, the end of Luther and his heresies was not about to happen. It turns out that the kidnapping was authorized by Luther’s protector, Frederick the Wise. Martin Luther was secretly taken to be hidden at the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach.

Sept. 3: Wartburg Castle, My Patmos

Luther was in hiding at the Wartburg Castle, but he took advantage of the hours of quiet time he had while there. Martin Luther referred to the Wartburg Castle as his Patmos because he was reminded that the Apostle John was trapped on the Isle of Patmos when he wrote the book of Revelation. Luther now had an opportunity for study and writing. He became a prolific writer translating the New Testament from Greek to German, expounded on the principle of justification by God’s grace, and clarified the teachings on righteousness. He even shamed Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz into halting the sale of indulgences within the territory that he had episcopal control. The foundations of the Reformation were broadened by his writings.

Sept. 10: Satan has entered Luther’s Sheepfold

Luther secretly left his solitude at Wartburg Castle returning to Wittenberg March 6,1522. On leaving he told Elector Frederick the Wise that Satan had entered his sheepfold and committed ravages which he could not repair except by his personal presences and living word. On March 9, 1522 which was in the season of Lent, Luther began preaching 8 sermons covering core Christian values such as love, patience, charity, and freedom, reminding the people to trust God’s Word. He preached publicly in spite of the fact that his return to Wittenberg was dangerous. He had a partial victory because the Emperor’s declaration that he was an outlaw was declared unenforceable locally, but it remained in effect. Luther’s next actions consisted of reversing and modifying many of the new church practices that had developed in his absence.

Sept. 17: The Peasants War

During the time Luther was in hiding a Peasants War had broken out and it was raging from 1521 to 1525. It was led by reformers, not all of whom agreed with Luther. So, while Luther was victorious in Wittenberg at restoring the core teachings of the reformation, that was not true outside of Wittenberg. The war was violent and included the burning of convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces, and libraries. While Luther was sympathetic to some of their demands, he opposed the rebels on three grounds. 1) they were ignoring Christ’s counsel to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, 2) the violence, and 3) the blasphemy for still calling themselves Christian. Many of those rebelling laid down their weapons because they did not have Luther’s backing. The remainder were defeated on May 15, 1525.

Sept. 24: Surprise, A Wedding

On June 13, 1525 Luther surprised everyone by marring Katharina von Bora a former nun who was one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in 1523. While it was truth that Luther had opposed the Roman Catholic vows of celibacy on Biblical grounds and some priests had then married, he had indicated that we would not marry. Part of his reasoning was his fear of being killed as a heretic. At the time of his wedding, many reformers opposed it because they saw it as the downfall of the reformation. However, it was a happy and successful marriage and they had six children, one of which, Elizabeth, died within a few months.

Oct. 1: Students Flock to Luther’s Home

As a wedding gift Elector John the Steadfast, who had succeeded Elector Fredrick the Wise, gave Martin and Katharina a former monastery, “The Black Cloister.” Students flocked to his home to listen to Luther who loved the all-night chats. One can only guess how much they also loved the fact that he now had a brewery and a bowling alley. We do know Luther would enjoy a mug of his beloved Wittenberg beer.

Oct. 8: Large and Small Catechism

In 1529 Luther published the Large and Small catechism that we still use today. The six major parts cover The Ten commandments, the Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar. The catechism became so popular that the people would demand that they be taught from it whenever there were times that it was not being used. What we may not realize today is that the Small Catechism was intended to be taught by the head of the household and was not limited to be taught by a pastor leading to confirmation. The Large Catechism is intended for church leaders.

Oct 15: The Augsburg Confession

Emperor Charles V of the Holy Empire wished to restore religious and political unity in Germany which he needed because of war with Turkey. His goal was to unify religion under the Roman Catholic authority and he had the support of Pope Clement VII. The emperor called the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 to accomplish his goal. He wanted to bring the princes that supported the reformation in line. John, the elector of Saxony who had succeeded Fredrick the Wise and Martin Luther’s companion, Philipp Melanchthon, went to the Diet without Luther. After all, the Emperor had not withdrawn the declaration that Luther was an outlaw from the Diet of Worms. The goal of the Augsburg Confession was to show that the theology being taught at Wittenberg remained true to Catholic tradition because it stated biblical truth and condemned false teachings. It was written in German for the civil rulers and in Latin for the religious officials of the Roman Church. The confession in its original text is fundamental to the Lutheran Church. The outcome of the Diet was a ‘confutation’ of the Augsburg confession. The emperor accepted the confutation as true.

Oct. 22: Apology of the Augsburg Confession

During the Diet of Augsburg, Melanchthon had prepared a draft of a Apology (defense) of the Augsburg Confession. He was not permitted to present this document at the Diet. Several updates were made and in September 1531 the official version was completed. The Apology to the Augsburg confession addresses the objections that were made in the confutation published after the Diet of Augsburg. One feature of note is that law and gospel are clearly documented in Article IV of the Apology. This formalized a topic that we see clearly used in Luther’s writings.

Oct. 29: The Reformation Observed

Today we are observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which took place on October 31, 1517, with the nailing of the 95 Theses to protest indulgences that were nailed to the door of the Church in Wittenberg. We have been going through the life of Martin Luther showing how God had prepared him for the Reformation. This preparation included the study of humanism which led Luther to read Scripture in the original Hebrew and Greek. He was led to Wittenberg where he became the Dean of Theology where he carefully studied the Scriptures learning that we are saved by Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. While the Reformation began 500 years ago, as we see in our weekly updates, it was quite a dangerous and long term effort before Lutheran theology was firmly established.

Nov. 5: Law and Gospel

One of the key foundations of Lutheranism is the clear distinction between Law and Gospel which was documented in Article IV of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession. On January 1, 1532 Martin Luther preached a sermon titled, “The Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel.” In this sermon, he emphasizes that Christian preachers and listeners alike should maintain a clear distinction between Law and Gospel. Failure to make a proper distinction leads to a failure to understand either. Also, a proper distinction will eliminate apparent contradictions in Scripture therefore making it easier to understand.

Nov. 12: I am weak, I cannot go on

Luther’s health was weak and had been deteriorating from 1531 until 1546. The last words of Luther’s final lecture at Wittenberg University were. “I am weak, I cannot go on.” On January 17, 1546 Luther visited his birthplace Eisleben. He preached his last sermon on February 14 in Eisleben and died on the 18th. His body was returned to Wittenberg and on February 22 and it was laid to rest in the Castle Church. God had led him through his life giving us the reformation. For that we can thank God.

Nov. 19: The Final Confession, The Book of Concord

(1 Cor. 1:10) “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

In 1580 the ‘Book of Concord” was published. The word concord means harmony and unity so this title was selected because it contains the harmonious documents that formed the confessional Lutheran Church. However, the most important feature is that the Book of Concord is also in harmony with what is found in Scripture Alone. This book contains many of the documents written by Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon and others. It reflects the harmony that exists within the Evangelical Lutheran Church even today. All LCMS pastors are in harmony with the Book of Concord and have testified to that fact at their ordination.








Concordia Journal/April 1992 "The Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel"

Wayne Olson

Pastor Wayne Olson serves St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Hyde Park, NY

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