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August 2017 - Luther's Patmos

Luther’s Patmos

            Luther was missing, feared dead.  He had been traveling back to Wittenberg with a few friends following the diet/meeting at Worms (where he had made is famous “Here I stand” speech before the emperor).   At Worms, Luther had been condemned as a heretic, and therefore had been placed under a death sentence – anyone could hunt him down and kill him and no questions would be asked.    He had been given a guarantee of safe travel to Wittenberg, but there was no doubting the danger he faced on that long journey home.  And it seemed Luther’s friends’ and colleagues’ worst fears had been realized as word came that a group of armed horsemen had indeed assaulted the group, forcibly kidnapping Luther, and no one knew where he was or whether he was even alive.

            However, it was not too much later that Luther’s friends started receiving letters “From the Wilderness” and “From the Isle of Patmos.”  Luther was alive and in hiding.  Frederick the Wise, Luther’s prince and protector, had instructed his court officials to arrange the “kidnapping” without divulging the details even to himself so that he could honestly claim that he had no idea where Luther was. 

            Luther was in the Wartburg Castle – an old fortress that had been a center for German knighthood in better days.  It was there where Luther disappeared, and Knight George appeared.  Having allowed his hair and beard to grow out, wearing knight’s clothing and having spent time with and studying the mannerisms of knights, no one was able to recognize him.  In this disguise he even ventured out into neighboring taverns to catch up on news and have some social interaction.  For he was very lonely, separated from friends and colleagues, and left to battle with the devil in the quiet of his mind on whether or not he was indeed right in his understanding of God’s Word.   Like the Apostle John exiled to Patmos Island, at the Wartburg Luther felt he too had been exiled.

            He also struggled greatly with his health during his time in the Wartburg, namely severe digestive problems and insomnia that added to his difficulties.   His self-prescribed treatment was work.  He chose to dive into the scriptures and began to produce a massive amount of pamphlets and writings.   And as impressive as his prodigious output was, his most important work in that time was the translating of the New Testament into his native German.  For hundreds of years, the favored Bible translation was the Latin Vulgate – and not many were able to read the few copies available.  Luther wanted the precious Gospel that had been revealed to him in the blessed scriptures to be available and understood by as many people as possible.  He had managed to quickly grab his Hebrew and Greek bibles when he was “kidnapped”, so he began to work.  Around four months later the New Testament was finished and after a bit of polishing presented his hand written copy to the printer after his return to Wittenberg in March of 1522.   About 5,000 copies sold in the first two months – quite impressive considering a copy cost between $60-$90, a lot of money during a time when many families earned far less than that in a month.  Luther would go on to translate the Old Testament, producing with constant reworking (in collaboration with a committee of colleagues) a complete Bible by 1534.  In fact, he would continue to work on and tweak his translation until his death in 1546.

            Luther’s careful and thoughtful choice of words and expressions in his translation had a profound effect upon the development of the German language that is felt even to this day, but far, far more important was that the light of God’s Word was able to pierce the darkness of deception and ignorance the devil had worked so hard to create.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ was now being read, preached and heard in the people’s own language.  Imagine if this was the only Bible version you could read or have read to you:  sic enim dilexit Deus mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat sed habeat vitam aeternam.  

Or would you find this more helpful:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Those who had been taught throughout their lives to fear an angry God and work hard to hopefully appease His terrible justice, were able to see and hear of the tender, sacrificial, loving heart of God in Jesus and rejoice in the freedom that comes in knowing salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, revealed by scripture alone.   And by God’s work through Luther and other reformers, you too have been able throughout your life to hear this incredible Good News of God’s loving work of salvation for you in Jesus!

            The Apostle John was inspired by God the Holy Spirit to write The Revelation of Jesus Christ during his Patmos experience.  Luther was given the time and talents to reveal Jesus Christ to a spiritually starving people by faithfully translating The Revelation to John and the rest of the New Testament into the language of the people during the time of his “Patmos.”   It would seem that God is able to work very well through His children in times of trial or even exile.   

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