Mark 13:5-11 Here I Stand
“Unless you can prove from the Bible that I have made wrong statements, I cannot and will not take back anything. My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” That was the answer which Martin Luther gave to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Martin Luther had been summoned to stand before Charles in Worms, Germany in April, 1521. Three years early on October 31, Luther had nailed a document to the church door in Wittenberg. Luther had hoped to have a debate, a scholarly discussion, about these 95 theses, 95 statements – statements dealing with how a person is saved and the buying and selling of forgiveness. That little act is generally regarded as marking the beginning of the Reformation which we are celebrating this morning.
In the months and years that followed, Luther’s 95 theses and several other writings were printed and distributed throughout Germany. And they caused quite a stir – because Luther was teaching something different than what the church was. Luther taught a person was saved by God’s grace in Christ alone – not by works. That in the Bible that forgiveness was revealed and freely given. That forgiveness couldn’t be bought and sold by the church and that a person didn’t need to pope and his decrees to be saved.
The pope had issued a decree condemning Martin Luther and his writings, but now Luther was being given a chance to recant and to take back all that he had written. If he would do that, all would be well. If he refused, well then he could most certainly expect death, after all there had been others who had tried to reform the teachings of the church, men like John Hus in Bohemia and Savanarola in Italy. They had been burned at the stake. After prayerful consideration of his answer for a day, Luther gave his now well know answer – “Here I Stand.”
Luther stood on the Word of God. He was willing to risk his life rather than compromise the truth of Scripture. Through the study of the Bible, he had been brought to know the truth of how a person saved. He knew the good news of a righteousness found in Christ Jesus – a righteousness that is ours by faith. It was the good news of the salvation that God in Christ Jesus accomplished and that he gives as a free gift by faith. It is good news that comes to us through God’s written word, the Bible. And the peace and joy which that truth gives would not allow Luther to compromise it. He stood firm on God’s Word.
The Lord saw to it that Luther was not killed. Elector Frederick of Saxony had Luther kidnapped and hidden away at the Wartburg Castle for a time. And so the Lord used Martin Luther and other men and women like Luther so that we gathered here today know the truth that our sins have been freely and completely forgiven in Christ Jesus. Salvation is ours – by Christ alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone. It is that wonderful, comforting truth of the gospel which we celebrate this morning as we celebrate the festival of Reformation.
Jesus’ word before us this morning encourages us to do the same – to stand firm on his Word. We too will join with Luther – “My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”
Jesus warns us that there will be false teachers who will come. Jesus warns, “Watch out that no one deceives you” – that no one leads you astray. They will come in his name, claiming that what they are teaching is the true word of God. Some of them will even go so far as to claim either directly or indirectly that they are the Christ.
We see these false teachings, and false religions in our world – those groups who claim to teach the Bible, but make Jesus something less that true God, equal with the Father and focus ourselves on our works for salvation. We see the false claims, “I am he,” in various cults and their leaders. But Jesus’ warning also includes philosophies which would replace Jesus – the humanism, or evolution, or even materialism of our society. Those teaching which are so very much a part of our culture means that we have to be on our guard. Many times the false teachings we face are subtle. Many false teachers come in Jesus name, claiming that what they are teaching is the truth of Jesus’ gospel. They quote the Bible. And as Jesus warns, they will indeed “deceive many.” The terrible result is that many souls are lost eternally. In Matthew 7, Jesus warns, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
So how can we keep from being deceived and led astray? How will we be able to stand firm? It’s through the Word. By our faithful use and our continual study of the Bible, we will be able to recognize and stand first against false teaching. Jesus tell us we will be able to recognize false teachers by their fruit – by what we teach when we compare it to what the Bible says. Only then can we know whether what they say is really Jesus’ word. So follow the example of the Bereans – we are told the Berean Christians, “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” It is only by knowing what the Word of God says ourselves that we can keep from being deceived.
What is so dangerous about any false teaching, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem to us, is that is leads away from Jesus. The danger and the tragedy of false teaching is that souls are lost eternally. Only through God’s word, only by faith are we prepared for eternity.
Jesus words of our text were spoken in response to comments made by the disciples. Just a couple days before his crucifixion, Jesus and the 12 were leaving the temple grounds. One of the disciples remarked what a magnificent structure it was. Some of the stones used were up to 40 feet long and weighed over a hundred tons. It had taken 46 years to build and still wasn’t completely finished. Jesus’ response was astounding. He told them the temple would be completely destroyed – not one stone left on top of another.
But the destruction of the temple was just one of the signs to be fulfilled pointing to Jesus’ return in glory at the end of the world. As Jesus speaks about all the evils that will occur in the world, he encourages us not to be alarmed and upset when we see or hear about such things. He warns us we need to be ready for his second coming and not to be deceived by all of the things that we will see happening in the world – wars, natural disasters, all kinds of evil, even persecution of Christians. We aren’t to let those things separate us from him. Jesus helps us to put these signs into proper perspective and to understand why we shouldn’t be alarmed by such things. Jesus says, “These are the beginning of birth pains.” Birth pains imply pain and suffering, intense at times, but they also imply a new life about to begin.
These sufferings and signs are simply the final pains through which the church goes as it approaches the time for the new life in the new heaven and earth. So no wonder Jesus tells us not to be disturbed. For us, these things signal not only an end, but a beginning – a beginning of a new life in heaven. So when we see the world at its worst, we don’t need to be alarmed and upset, but instead we can be comforted because we know that Jesus’ return to take us to heaven is near. As Christians, we are not left to despair when things seem at their worst, but we always have reason to hope. We have a certain hope because we know that heaven is the ultimate outcome for us. We have hope because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection.
But these things “must happen” Jesus says. It also reminds us that the Lord is in control no matter what takes place. And as we see these signs repeatedly fulfilled, we can be all the more sure that Jesus will also keep his promise to return in glory to take us to heaven.
As we see these signs in our world, we recognize the importance and the urgency of proclaiming the gospel. Lost sinners need to hear of Jesus. But as Jesus also warns that means standing firm on his word and faithfully speaking his Word is not always going to be easy. No matter how divided the world may be, it is united in its hatred of Jesus, and his word and his disciples. The devil and the world is not content simply to let the gospel be – it attacks and opposes Jesus’ word. We see that more and more in our society. It’s not enough that error and unbelief and sin be allowed and have equal standing with the truth of God’s word, but it wants to destroy the truth and allow error to rule. More and more those who would stand on the Bible and proclaim “Thus says the Lord,” are ridiculed and attacked.
Sometimes, Jesus warns, it may result in severe persecution. Christians may even be called before government leaders to give testimony with their lives in danger because of their witness for Christ. But Jesus encourages us to be bold, to proclaim his gospel – even if we suffer for it.
What a wonderful example of such a bold, faithful witness we have in Martin Luther. Do we have that boldness in testifying about our Savior? We may never stand before kings or presidents, we may never have our life threatened because of our witness about Jesus – and yet don’t we have to admit that we are not always very bold in speaking about Jesus. Perhaps we fear how others will react. We don’t like to be rejected, and even worse we don’t like to have people make fun of us. We have to confess our sins of failing to be bold witnesses for Jesus.
Jesus warned his disciples that they would face persecution because of their witness about him. It the book of Acts, we see that happen again and again. But Jesus comforts his disciples. He tells them not to worry about what they are to say. When brought to trial, their witness on those occasions would help to spread the gospel. And the words they would speak would be given to the directly by the Holy Spirit. It would be God speaking through them to spread his word. What a comforting promise for the disciples. And although this was a promise given for specific occasions and we shouldn’t expect that the Holy Spirit will come directly to us in the same way – nevertheless, these words give us comfort and courage. Through our testimony, as we speak the word of the Bible, the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of those who hear.
And as we stand on the truth of the Bible, Jesus gives us a great comfort just a couple verses after our reading – “he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We have a solid foundation in God’s Word and our Savior Jesus. That is what the Reformation was about – bringing to light once again the truth of the gospel, to proclaim the good news that eternal life is not achieved by anything that we do, but by Jesus who lived a perfect life as the substitute for all people and made sacrifice on the cross to pay for all sin. Through Jesus, we have eternal life. It is a free gift from God. That is the precious message of the gospel – the message of the Bible.
It isn’t always easy to stand firm on God’s Word. We are constantly bombarded by attacks to compromise. We live in a world and a country where compromise goes on continually and is often considered a good thing. Those who take a stand and refuse to compromise are looked down on as old-fashioned and stubborn. We even see churches joining together despite disagreement in doctrine, by compromising on those issues where there is disagreement or simply choosing to set aside and ignore that part of God’s Word. At times, we may feel as though we are being left out. At times, we may be treated as arrogant and stubborn for not joining. At such times, the temptation to give in and compromise can be great.
God in his grace has preserved his gospel message and given it to us. With Luther, Here we stand – we stand on the firm foundation of God’s word. The gospel tells us that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus; and not by anything we do. The gospel assures us that heaven is indeed ours. May we never compromise the truth of God’s word or give in to any false teaching.