Captive Human Wisdom
Johann Gerhard, Theologian
17 August 2016
Martin Luther spent ten months a virtual captive at Wartburg Castle under a kind of "witness protection plan." The Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, had Luther taken into custody and spirited off to the isolated castle out of public view and harm's way after the Diet of Worms in late April 1521, after which he had become an Imperial outlaw. Luther finally burst the bonds of his exile in early March 1522 when he returned to Wittenberg flinging lightning bolts against the disorders that had erupted there in his absence. His uneasy exile was occupied with two major evangelical tasks; one was the magisterial translation of the New Testament into the common language of the German people, the other was the creation of model sermons to help preachers proclaim the gospel in terms that could be digested by the common people. These so called sermons of the Wartburg Postil, simple and attractive to the reader, were published in parts over the next few years. Luther dedicated the first of these sermons to Albert Duke of Mansfeld, who was the overlord of his hometown, Eisleben, or what he called his home country.

Luther admitted his unimportance and insignificance over against his detractors. All the worldly powers: ecclesiastical, imperial, and academic had all weighed in against the fractious monk from Wittenberg. The pope had excommunicated him in mid-1520, the emperor declared him an outlaw, who could be killed with impunity (a declaration that was never rescinded), and all the universities and monastic communities beginning with the faculty of the University of Paris had declared him to be a heretic. So why would anyone listen to a man so universally execrated, under papal bull and imperial ban? Luther still begs a hearing. He cheerfully admits his humility and insignificance, counting himself nothing in comparison to the worldly powers ranged against him.

What is left when the preacher finds himself entirely without power? The gospel alone remains to him; and in that he possesses only and all of the best of God's gracious gifts. He speaks not from strength, so God must speak for Himself in the gospel of His Son. Bereft of earthly power and authority God must be all in all for the preacher. This is why God allows the church to have her earthly props knocked out from under her, so that God might be all in all. Luther's opponents printed a blizzard of paper against him. He replied with a couple humble books: the Bible and some sermons; neither of which could boast the imprimatur of the worldly authorities.

The gospel is not in need of worldly affirmation. A gospel seeking worldly affirmation is not the gospel at all, but a human perversion of it. The Savior is "despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows" (Is 53:3); what makes us think that the preachers sent by this Savior will be treated any differently? His Word was anathema to the world powers when He preached it, when we preach it will it be treated any better? Luther may have been captive in the Wartburg, but the Word of God was not captive; it was making wise the foolish and foolish the wise, and taking captive human wisdom.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"The gospel is plain and says, no matter what seems right and good to men, that 'The last will be first, and the first last.' (Mt 20:16). And my detractors are not to be given opportunity nor reason to assume that I primarily strive after my own glory and that of my family. The gospel earnestly teaches one should not seek his own first, but, as stated, one should humble and despise himself (Rm 12:3).

"In order that this preface conform in every respect to the gospel, therefore, the writer, too, is a despised and damned person. By the grace of God I am under sentence of excommunication by the pope (1520) and in greatest disfavor; in addition his followers curse and hate me greatly. So I hope it should be all right for me to treat this despised, little, poor book of the gospel concerning the least and most despised child of God, and to forget about the high, big, and long books of the tiara-crowned king in Rome, even if it should be a bit above me, inasmuch as all universities, convents, and monasteries are tied to the tiara and disregard the youngest and littlest book, the gospel. Yet necessity demands and compels that someone consider the book of the uncrowned and despised son of God, whatever the outcome! It cannot be entirely bad.

"Your Grace has seen the bull of excommunication issued in Rome and the opinion rendered by the faculty at Paris. Without a doubt, the two documents were published with a special divine intention, so that the world should know how potently truth can disgrace and blind her enemies through the very deeds and words of these enemies. I do not wish to make utter fools of them and to cause them to cover themselves with shame, but I am satisfied if, for the sake of truth, the proverb, which utters a truth that is quite close to the gospel, is vindicated: "The wise ones are the fools." It is the gospel's intention to bring to the light of day and to prove that the wise are fools and the fools wise, and that those who are defamed as heretics are Christians and that those who boastingly call themselves Christians are heretics."

Martin Luther, Preface to the Wartburg Postil
Matthew 20:1-16

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last." (ESV)
Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death on the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For the family of Doris Betke, whom our Lord Jesus took from this vale of tears to see Him face to face, that they would grieve as those who have hope in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come

For doctors and other health professionals as they serve others with the skills given to them by God, that they would always help and never harm those under their care

For Michael Daniels, who was installed as the Associate Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Tomball, Texas, that the Lord would bless him with a long and faithful ministry to the flock redeemed by the precious blood of Christ

For the members of Congress, that they would serve the people by respecting the rule of law given by God
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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