Was Martin Luther an Angel?

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. [7] And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:6-7)

The people who chose this reading for Reformation Day must be convinced that Martin Luther is, “the angel flying overhead with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth.”

This certainly fits with what Martin Luther and his supporters accomplished during the Reformation. Luther did not introduce any new teachings, he simply urged the church to return to the eternal gospel. In Luther’s day the gospel had been buried under countless human regulations that were giving people the impression that, in order to be saved, they had to contribute something.

Luther maintained, as his followers still do today, 500 years after Luther, that the gospel means we are forgiven freely for the sake of Christ: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22b-23)

And we confess that this gospel is eternal; from the day Adam and Eve brought death into the world by their sin God promised to send a Savior who would overcome sin and death, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it says in the passage from Revelation, this eternal gospel is to be proclaimed. Yes, we write it down and send it over the internet but the best way to share the eternal gospel is by speaking and proclaiming it.

When the Covid shutdown was starting and churches were scrambling to get their services online our Synod came out with some guidelines about putting your services online. One of the most important suggestions was if you have to choose between good sound and good video, always go with good sound. People will still tune in if they can’t see you very well but if they can’t hear what you are saying they will get frustrated and turn off the service.

Martin Luther certainly wrote a lot of things. Thanks to the recent invention of the printing press many of Luther’s writings were copied and sent around the world for people to read. Many times people who read what he wrote would then come to Wittenberg, Germany, where Luther lived, so that they could hear Luther. They had read his words on paper but that was not enough. They wanted to hear him too.

Martin Luther was also a very hospitable man. Often he would invite these people who had come from far distances to his home for supper. His wife, Katie, never knew how many people Luther would bring home for supper.

So they would eat together and talk together and people started writing down what Luther said at the dinner table. These sayings have been collected into a book called Martin Luther’s Table Talk. It is one of his most popular writings.

The eternal gospel is meant to be proclaimed. It can happen in a formal setting such as this, in a sermon, or around the dining room table as it did with Luther.

In Revelation 1 John sees a glorious vision of the Lord:

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, [13] and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. [14] The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, [15] his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. [16] In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:12-16)

This is a vision of Jesus and he is seen with a sharp, two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. This is because the proclaimed, eternal Gospel is the weapon with which the Lord conquers all his enemies: sin, death and the devil. This image is repeated in chapter 2 and again in chapter 19 of Revelation.

The eteranl Gospel needs to be proclaimed so that it can silence the law:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. [20] For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

The eternal Gospel speaks but the law speaks as well: “the law speaks to those who are under the law so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”

The law speaks wrath and condemnation to everyone because we are all sinners. But the eternal Gospel, the sword coming from the mouth of Jesus silences the law and proclaims freedom from sin and complete forgiveness for all.

Then later in Romans 3 Paul adds, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the law.” In other words, if there was something we could do to save and justify ourselves we would have something to boast about. But all boasting is excluded because all our works are excluded. Only what Jesus did for us counts. So as Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:31, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

We don’t have anything that Jesus ever wrote. His entire ministry was a speaking ministry and look at all that he accomplished. Initially the disciples of Jesus didn’t write anything either. The first few years all they did was proclaim the eternal Gospel. Then later, so that no one would forget the Gospel once the eye-witnesses had died and so that the teachings of the false prophets could be stopped, the Apostles wrote down the Gospel as we have it today in the New Testament. Lutherans, too, wrote down a lot of things about the Gospel but they always continued to emphasize that the Gospel is first and foremost to be proclaimed.

The angel also points out that the eternal Gospel is for, “every nation and tribe and language and people.” God has enabled The Lutheran Church to spread the eternal Gospel around the world. Today there are Lutherans in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia.

God has also given you a mouth. The words he is putting into your morth today are the words of the eternal Gospel. The world wants you to keep your mouth shut, not to talk about Jesus the savior. But the word cannot be stopped. As Lutherans sing in Luther’s most well-known 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, good, honor, child or spouse,

Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom’s ours forever.” (LSB 657, v. 4)

If we do not open our mouths and proclaim the eternal Gospel, the law will continue to harass and accuse people with its demands and condemnations. We have the eternal Gospel, the only message that can silence all the accusations of the law.

Whether the passage from Revelation 14 refers to Martin Luther or not, he certainly was one who would not let us forget the eternal Gospel. Thanks be to God that now, 500 years later, we still proclaim the same eternal Gospel.

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