It's not always fun to be a witness. It often means persecution to take a stand on the truth. But with the help of the Holy Spirit and the words he gives us to say we can stand! Like the disciples did, like Martin Luther did, we will stand on the Word of God! Read or listen to (download here) this sermon based on Mark 13:5-11 and be encouraged to stand on the truth of God's Word!
Here We Stand!
A sermon based on Mark 13:5-11
Sunday, November 1, 2015 – Reformation Sunday
There he stood. Before the most powerful leaders in the church and in the world. They were all decked out in the royal robes of the nobility and he wore the simple robe of a pastor. The Emperor himself was in the audience to hear how this man would respond. Luther wasn't asked to debate or defend what he had written, simply to take it all back. Or, if he refused, he would be labeled a heretic and given the honors of a heretic—to be made an outlaw with a bounty on his head—most likely to be burned alive.
We Lutherans love to think of Luther as a man of such courage that he promptly and spontaneously gave his bold reply. But in reality, his knees shook. He was taken aback by the terrifying situation and knew he was in over his head. So he asked for some time to think about it. Remarkably, the emperor granted it. The Diet would convene in the morning and he would give his reply then.
Luther spent the night in prayer and in writing and re-writing his short reply. He was encouraged by his friends to be bold and to take a stand for the word of God. And the next day Luther gave his bold reply: "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can [not] and will not [recant], for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Jesus told his disciples they would have to take the witness stand before governors and kings. He told them they would most certainly suffer for it. But he promised that the Holy Spirit would help them to withstand the persecution and take a bold stand for him. This morning, as we celebrate Reformation Day, we recall how Luther took the witness stand and in the face of persecution stood fast on the Word of God. This morning, as we hear the words of Jesus, we're encouraged to do the same. For we are called to be God's witnesses, and we will face persecution for it. But with the help of the Spirit, we too will say, "Here we stand on the Word of God."
Our text for this morning is taken from Mark 13:5-11…
5Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9"You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
I. We Take the Witness Stand
The judge called the witness forward. He made him swear a sacred oath to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. And the witness then proceeded to share exactly what he had seen the night of the crime.
That's what a witness is. It's someone who witnessed the event, who saw what took place. But that's not all they do. It's not enough to just see the event, they must also share what they saw. They must give witness to what they know. A witness is one who both sees and then tells. And we are called to be God's witnesses just like the disciples were, just like Martin Luther was.
Jesus told his disciples, "On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them." They who had followed Jesus for three years, who had seen the miracles, seen his glory, seen the resurrected Savior, would now be witnesses of the things they had seen. They would share what they knew. They would preach Law and Gospel before kings like Herod and before councils like the Sanhedrin. They saw. They told.
Fast forward 1500 years. A young theology professor had his "tower experience." While studying the Word of God, he saw the truth for the first time in his life: We are not saved by what we do to become righteous. We are righteous by faith alone, with the righteousness of Christ given to us by grace alone. This was the truth Luther discovered in the Scriptures alone. And he was to be God's witness of the things he had seen before kings, like Emperor, Charles V, and before councils, like the Diet of Worms and before the councils of the Roman church. And Luther would proclaim Law and Gospel to them. He saw. He told.
Fast forward 500 years. We have seen these truths: the truths of God's Word, the truths restored to the Church by the Reformation. We have seen the truth of our sin. We have seen God's great grace. And we are called upon by God himself to speak up! To take a stand for the truth! To witness for him, not just in the sense of seeing, but also in telling.
Will we stand in front of kings and councils? Will we be called on to preach to governors, senators and presidents? Will we be called into a court of law to defend what we believe and take a bold stand for the truth? Perhaps.
But even right now we have opportunities every day to stand before friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives, and share what we've seen and heard! And Jesus doesn't make this optional. We are all to go and make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We are all to go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. But that's not always easy to do because…
II. Can We Stand the Pressure?
We will suffer for it. Our courage will be tested. Jesus promised as much. He told us that we would have to take up a cross to follow him. He told us that we would face persecution as his witnesses. "You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues."
The disciples opposed the false christs of the Pharisees who proclaimed a message of work-righteousness: "Do this and you can earn God's love." And as a result, they were flogged, just as Jesus had said, they were imprisoned, all but one were killed—murdered for their faithful witness. But they didn't suffer needlessly. Jesus told them the purpose of their suffering: "the gospel must first be preached to all nations."
As they boldly took the punishments inflicted on them with courage and even with joy, others saw and were intrigued at what could possibly lead men to rejoice in their torture!? And they were told of Christ, of his death and resurrection that bring a peace with God that gladly endures persecution from men. And the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church as the grew so rapidly in those days.
Fast forward 1500 years. Martin Luther opposed false christs of the Roman Church claiming to be the Savior of the people, but still preaching a theology of work-righteousness. "Do what we tell you and you can avoid hell." And as a result for taking a bold stand against the pope, he was hunted, kidnapped by friends to preserve his life, locked away in a tower for safe keeping. And rumors spread that Luther was the result of tryst between his mother and the devil. He was hated by many who sought to end his life and watched as friends were killed because they took a bold stand. But through it all, the Gospel prevailed and was unveiled from the dark cloud of the Roman Catholic church kept over it.
Fast forward 500 years. Will we be flogged for speaking and preaching the truth? Maybe not. But I don't know that we can completely rule it out. You've seen the direction our world and our nation are heading. Christians are murdered and martyred still today all around the globe. Hostility toward Christianity is growing here in our own nation. Lawsuits are filed against Christians for refusing to condone sin and call it okay. And it may not be too long before we are imprisoned or even tortured for taking a bold stand for the truth.
But even now we face ridicule when we share what we believe. We face a broken relationship if we call out a friend or family member in their sin. We face persecution in our own way when we take a bold stand for the truth. Can we stand the pressure?
Sadly, we don't. We shy away from persecution. We want Jesus to make life comfortable and easy and promise that we will never experience pain, that everyone will like us, so, in order to avoid any suffering or persecution, too often we clam up. We say nothing of the sin we know is going on. We shy away from sharing our faith with a co-worker. We don't speak the truth of a certain doctrine because we might scare the visitor off.
And you know what we deserve for our cowardice, for our silence, for our sin. Jesus said, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38)
So thank God we have a Savior who paid for our sins of cowardice. Thank God he sent his own Son to rescue us. Thank God that Jesus took the witness stand before the Sanhedrin, before Herod, before Pilate. Thank God that he always spoke the truth and never shied away. Thank God that he gave us credit for his bold witness and for his perfect life. Thank God that he was flogged for us, that he was tortured to death, that he endured the hell of God's wrath on the cross that we deserve for every time we've been ashamed of God.
We are forgiven! We have peace with God, not because we have been so good, not because we've done the right things, but by God's grace alone, received through faith alone, revealed to us in God's Word alone. What comfort is ours even in the face of persecution. And thank God that he promises to give us the help we need to take a bold stand for the truth, as we live for him in thanks, come what may...
III. Here We Stand (on the Word)
Thankfully, Jesus didn't tell his disciples, "Well, that's it. I did my part. Now you're on your own. Good luck! Maybe see you in heaven!" No. He promised he would never leave them. He promised he would never forsake them. He promised he would give them the help that they needed to take a bold stand and be his witnesses even in the face of persecution. He would send them his Holy Spirit: 11Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
And so the disciples spoke courageously. They boldly proclaimed the truth of Jesus' resurrection and the truth of his message of sin and grace. Even when it brought floggings, and imprisonment, and death, they withstood the pressure and took their stand on the Word of God. In Acts 4:18-20 we're told, "Then [the Sanhedrin] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'" For they weren't alone. But the Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak.
Fast forward 1500 years. Luther knew well what the consequences of his courageous reply might have been. It wasn't too many years earlier that Johann Huss was burned alive for preaching the same message Luther now preached. And Luther was called the German Huss by his enemies with clear implications: We're coming for you. Luther was declared a heretic where any citizen had the right and duty to kill him on sight.
And yet, nevertheless, Luther gave his bold reply: "Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can [not] and will not [recant], for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." What gave him the strength to take such a bold stand? The Holy Spirit had worked in Luther's heart to give him insight and understanding in God's Word. He gave Luther the words to say and he gave Luther the courage to say them.
Fast forward 500 years. Could we find the courage to speak before a council knowing that we will get flogged for speaking the truth? Could we find the courage to speak before the president if we knew that taking a bold stand on God's Word could likely get us killed? We'll know for sure when and if that day comes. But for right now, we do have the courage to speak to our family and friends, to neighbors and co-workers. We have the courage to take a bold stand and proclaim the teachings of the Bible even if others don't like them. We find the courage in the Word of God and in the truth that the Reformation restored: that we are forgiven by God, saved by grace alone, through faith alone, revealed in the Scriptures alone. We find the courage in our Savior and in his work for us. We find the courage by the Holy Spirit who gives us the words to say and the nerve to say them. We find the courage to boldly say, "Here [we] stand." – on the Word of God – "[We] can do no other. God help [us]. Amen."