On July 6, 1415 the Bohemian priest Jan Hus was unceremoniously stripped of his vestments and condemned to die for heresy against the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Hus had advocated for morality amongst clergy, that the Scriptures be translated and taught in the common tongue, and that peace of mind could not be earned or purchased with good deeds or money. He believed that the Church was not the pope or the clergy but instead it was the gathering of the elect—those with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
As the authorities led Jan Hus to the site of his execution, a stake where he would be bound and set ablaze, he was mocked and ridiculed. His last name meant goose in Bohemian… so it isn’t hard to imagine the clever insults that came his way as his executioners prepared to roast him alive.
As Jan prepared to die, tradition tells us that he prayed for those who persecuted him, and then he uttered these prophetic words, “You can kill the goose, but one day soon a swan will come that no one will be able to silence.”
Jesus said, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther made his way toward the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany with his famed 95 Theses in hand. In the eyes of humankind, the monk looked nothing like a swan, in fact the Pope would later call him a wild boar. But Luther was uncompromising, and as Jan Hus had prophesied, he would prove to be impossible to silence. As Luther nailed his protest to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg he set in motion a chain of events that would divide an empire and threaten his very life.
Luther’s belief that sinners are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins put him on a collision course with two of the most powerful men in the world, Pope Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
Was Luther afraid?
He certainly was, but he feared God more than man… and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Luther knew that God was his judge, and his confidence came not from himself but from his faith that Jesus Christ had paid for his sins in full.
As believers in Christ we sometimes find ourselves at odds with the world… and the authorities that govern the world. It’s not because we are contentious or looking for trouble, but because, by faith, we belong to something greater. By faith we belong to the Kingdom of God and our very purpose in this world is to be witnesses to the Word of God. We are here to speak truth in love—truth about sin and truth about forgiveness. We are here to stand boldly against the enemies of God, wise as serpents and gentle as doves: that they might be won to faith in Jesus Christ.
The world may tell us that our faith is intolerant and unfair, that the truth we cling to is hateful and ugly. But the world is not our judge. God is our judge, and he looks upon his elect—those with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins—as if we were white as swans, pure as Christ.
Whatever power comes against you, whatever trial threatens to kill your body but cannot kill your soul, stand firm, and know this: those who stand in Christ never stand alone.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.