Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 23, 2017

Sermon for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.

Psalm 119:46  (EHV)

I.

Luther 95 Theses

Ninety-Five Theses, 1517

October 31, 1517. An Augustinian monk posts a document for discussion and debate on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where this monk also serves as a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. For several years, he has seen the abuses of a church that turned repentance from an attitude of the heart into a piece of paper you could purchase. Distressed by this and other abuses in the church, he hopes to have an honest discussion and debate about a matter that surely is a concern to many.

You know all about that event. The Augustinian monk and theology professor was Martin Luther, and his document is now commonly called the Ninety-Five Theses. He posted that document up for discussion and debate 500 years ago this fall, and that’s why our church and church body are sparing no time and expense celebrating the Lutheran Reformation’s anniversary this year. But what happened next? Did Luther’s honest desire to address the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church go anywhere?

Luther Diet of Worms

Diet of Worms, 1521

Instead of being lauded for his pastoral concern, Luther was targeted for stirring up trouble. In 1518, he was called to a meeting before Cardinal Cajetan, where he refused to recant what he had said and written unless he could be proven wrong by Scripture. In 1519, in a debate held in Leipzig, Germany, Luther pointed out how the Roman papacy was making claims and decrees without the support of Scripture. In 1520, Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Then in 1521, in Worms, Germany, Luther was confronted with his writings and teachings and asked whether or not he would recant. His answer: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” And because he would not bow to the pope’s demands, Luther was declared an outlaw whom anyone could legally kill—all for saying that he would only teach what Scripture teaches!

Presentation Augsburg Confession

Augsburg Confession, 1530

Over the next decade, attempts to resolve this matter never came to fruition. But finally, in 1530, Charles the Fifth, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, called a council in Augsburg, Germany, to deal with two issues: the ongoing threat of Muslim invasions, and the ongoing divisions of the Christian in his empire. The Lutherans’ confession of faith was presented to the emperor on June 25, 1530—487 years ago today. Though the document was prepared by Luther and his colleagues, it was signed and presented by the German princes and rulers who agreed with the teachings and the concerns of Luther and the other Lutheran theologians.

The debates and tensions would continue, but the first official Lutheran confession of faith had been presented to the emperor. Luther did not attend the council in Augsburg because he was still considered an outlaw, but when he received the final copy of the Augsburg Confession, he responded by quoting Psalm 119:46: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” That Bible verse would later become a motto attached to the Augsburg Confession, and for that reason Psalm 119:46 is the basis for today’s sermon. 

II.

As we transition from a quick overview of history to a meditation on God’s Word, we want to use that Augsburg Confession “theme” from Psalm 119:46 to direct our thoughts today. Psalm 119 is the longest psalm among the Psalms, and it contains the most verses of any single chapter of the Bible. The entire psalm is written in eight-verse segments, and each segment uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order as the first letter of the first word in each verse: the first eight verses all start with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph), the second eight verses with the second letter (bet), and so on. This is a complex work of Hebrew poetry! The psalm also uses eight different words that are repeated many times throughout the psalm, words that are synonyms for the Word of God. In our verse today, the specific synonym that is used is translated “statutes” in some translations and “testimonies” in others. “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” The original term emphasizes how God’s Word is a witness of God’s will. That’s why some translations prefer “statutes” and others use “testimony”—each of these two English terms picks up on an aspect of the original Hebrew word’s full meaning.

So what are these statutes that the writer of Psalm 119 wants to testify about to the world? One little word gives a clue: “I will speak of your testimonies.” When given the opportunity to speak and testify to something important before others, the psalm writer tells God, “I will speak of your testimonies.” If you were given an audience to listen to you express what is most important to you, is this the topic you would pick—the commands and promises and statutes of God? Do we really want to tell others what God has to say? In this day and age, you know that’s not going to turn out well! Truth be told, I’d rather turn it around and tell God what I want to do and the way I think things ought to be! If I’m going to tell others something, I’d rather tell them what I think God should have said instead of what his Word actually commands.

It takes a great deal of courage to testify to God’s Word and commands and promises. But did you catch who the psalm writer’s audience was going to be? “I will speak of your testimonies before kings.” The writer is not saying that he was given an audience before world rulers, nor is he making some sort of prediction of the Lutheran Reformation. He is saying that if he was given the opportunity, he would be ready to testify to God’s Word even before great kings and rulers!

Isn’t that the sort of thing that gets you into trouble? Luther and the Lutheran confessors stood up to pope and emperor, and how well did that go? Luther was declared an outlaw. After Luther’s death, the armies of the emperor attacked the Lutheran regions of Germany. It’s not much better today. A 1990’s graduate of Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School who now serves in the Wisconsin State Assembly publicly expressed the Bible’s teaching on creation and was subsequently slammed by the media and his opponents. How can this turn out well?

The psalm writer didn’t concern himself with the potential reaction. He said, “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” Last Sunday evening, we invited our mission festival guest preacher to come over to the parsonage for dinner along with some other pastor families. During our conversation, he talked about how shame is a much bigger concept in Asian countries than in the Western world. We Americans seem to have little shame. Easterners see shame as a major issue. It is a major faux pas to do anything that would bring shame upon yourself or your family. It’s better to lie and cheat and look right than even to make an honest error and bring the shame of that mistake on yourself. If someone brought major shame on their family, some have taken their lives to restore their family’s honor rather than live with that ongoing sense of shame.

Now keep that concept in the back of your mind when you read this verse: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and I will not be put to shame.” In an Eastern society like the psalm writer’s culture, if you tell a great king or ruler something that they don’t like, you will be shamed, even if you’re right, because you offended someone of great authority. If telling kings and rulers the truth that they don’t want to hear will bring shame, then it should be avoided at all costs!

But the psalm writer felt otherwise. That’s because any earthly shame wouldn’t last. In this entire psalm, the writer meditates on the glories and comfort and beauty and promise of Scripture, and so he knows the rest of the story. He knows—and we know—that if he had real shame to deal with, it is not the shame of annoying an earthly king, but the shame we reveal when we fail to confess Christ as our Savior, and the shame we display when we put our whims and wants above the Word and will of the King and Creator of all. The real shame we should experience is not the punishment of prison that comes from an earthly ruler but the punishment of hell that every last shameful violation of God’s law deserves.

But the psalm writer knows—and we know—that the shame we should have experienced was placed entirely upon the perfect and innocent Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus, who embodied all honor and glory, set that all aside for you and for me. Look at how little he clung to his glory as God and how much shame he endured on our behalf! Could there be anything more shameful than the cross? Could there be anything more shameful than grossly false accusations that led to a horribly wretched conviction? Could there be anything more shameful than to be bloodied and beaten and stripped and crucified for all the world to see?

And all of that shame that Jesus endured had been yours! This is what sin does to all who dare to ignore or disobey the God of creation! But the God of creation is also the God of salvation, who sent his Son, Jesus, into this world to set aside his glory and honor for you and for me! Jesus’ shame was our shame. His punishment was our punishment. His death was our death. That should have been us on the cross, but in his great love for us, Jesus’ death counts for us. His death paid our punishment and removed our shame. Through faith in him, you and I will stand before our risen Lord one day in honor, when he raises us back to life. Christ will honor us with the glory and peace of heaven that no earthly shame, persecution, or trouble can take away. He will honor us and all believers with the crown of life that can never fade or perish.

III.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those German princes to arrive in Augsburg and stand on their confession of faith. Their lands could be taken from them! Their lives could be taken from them! In the sixteenth century, you don’t tell the emperor and the pope that they are wrong! Wouldn’t it have been better to just go along with the majority and not make waves? Surely there was pressure to just turn a blind eye to the whole mess! Surely they knew from history that past attempts to reform a broken church hadn’t turned out well for those martyred men who raised their concerns.

Luther sealBut aren’t we now richly blessed because of their bold stand in Augsburg on June 25, 1530? Many Lutheran pastors (Pastor Helwig and I included) have taught courses instructing people in the Christian faith as taught in the Lutheran Church, and have heard people tell us, “I have never heard the Christian faith explained so clearly until now!” Isn’t that a five-century later result and blessing from the clear confession of faith given by our Lutheran forefathers? That was even the reaction from some on the Roman Catholic side when they heard the Augsburg Confession! Duke William of Bavaria said, “Never before has this matter and doctrine been presented to me in this manner.” Bishop Stadion of Augsburg responded to the Augsburg Confession with this quotation: “What has been read to us is the truth, the pure truth, and we cannot deny it” (Concordia Triglotta, p. 19).

Think about the difference this clear truth and teaching makes for you. We are blessed not only because we have correct knowledge of God and his Word, but because we enjoy the comfort that comes from faith in God’s Word. You may lay awake at night worried about health or finances or family or something else, but you don’t need to worry about where you stand before God! You may be concerned about what will happen tomorrow, but you don’t need to be worried about what will happen in eternity! The God who planned from eternity to send his Son to the cross for you has forgiven you and given you the faith that clings to his heavenly promises.

And so when our “Augsburg Confession” moment comes—when we find ourselves in a position to speak of God’s statutes and testimonies before others, even if that moment is not nearly as dramatic or historically significant as it was in 1530—what will we do? We need not hear the shame and judgment and ridicule that may come from a culture that has no need for God’s truth. The pressure in those moments is great, but the promise of God is greater!

What will we do? What did the psalm writer say? “I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be put to shame.” There’s your answer! Amen.

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