Reformation (ET 1) (10/31/21) ILCW B Revelation 14:6-7 “Who’s the Angel with the Eternal Gospel?” To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died at the age of 62. Four days later, his body arrived at the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Coincidentally it’s the same church where nearly thirty years earlier he nailed 95 theses regarding the abuse of indulgences (Oct. 31, 1517). Philip Melanchthon and John Bugenhagen led the funeral service. In his sermon, Bugenhagen referred to this lesson in Revelation 14. He and many theologians after him have concluded that the angel mentioned here in Revelation was Martin Luther. This angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth.” What do you think? Does Martin Luther fit the description of this angel? (I. God sent Luther as His angel-messenger) To answer that question, a little background first. Chapter 14 of John’s Revelation comes after the image of the dragon and his beasts starting their attack against those who belong to Christ. The following chapters depict the image of the seven plagues and seven bowls of God’s wrath poured on the godless inhabitants of the earth. In this chapter, though, God offers comfort and strength to His children—those who trust in the Lamb. In his vision, John sees the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mt. Zion. All the saints in heaven are joined around the throne singing a “new” song—not of sorrow or despair but of redemption and praise to the Lamb who paid the ransom for all sin. It concludes with the harvest at the end of the world, the gathering of all believers for salvation but the gathering all unbelievers for destruction by fire. In the middle of chapter 14, we go back in time before Judgment Day, to a time we’re living in now. John sees three angels who come with messages for believers and unbelievers. One angel tells of the downfall of Babylon, the judgment against those who persecute God’s people. Another angel announces the result of that judgment: the cup of God’s wrath poured out as eternal punishment on all who worship the beast—who believe they can somehow save themselves without Christ.
It’s the first angel especially that catches our attention. John sees him flying in midair away from the reach of the dragon and his allies; the dragon, of course, is Satan, and his allies are all those who oppose the gospel. These enemies can’t stop this angel or keep him from calling out in a loud voice, so all the inhabitants of the earth, of every nation, tribe, language, and people,” can hear and listen to what he has to say. This angel is able to proclaim the eternal gospel to these people. The angel says, “ Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of judgment has come...” If this doesn’t sound like “the gospel,” it’s because the angel first calls people to repentance with the law. The angel proclaims the law, not to scare people to despair but to instill a sense of awe and respect for God and His Word; to get people to listen and take to heart what God says about sin and grace; about life and death; about immanent judgment and deliverance. This angel also says, “Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” He says, recognize the Creator who made you. He alone is worthy to be worshiped. He alone is powerful and wise enough to create all things and all people. When His creation turned against Him, He devised a plan to turn us back to Him. He saw the depth of our sin and helplessness, so out of the depth of His mercy He chose to send His one and only Son to save us with His holy, precious blood. “God is your Creator and Redeemer,” the angel says, “Worship Him!”
In his funeral sermon, John Bugenhagen said, “This angel who says, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ was Dr. Martin Luther. And what is written here, ‘Fear God and give him the honor,’ are the two parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s doctrine, the Law and the Gospel, through which all of Scripture is unlocked and Christ, our righteousness and eternal life, is recognized.” To some, Reformation Sunday sounds like another excuse for Lutherans to pat ourselves on the back or to glorify an individual. Today, rather, we recognize an individual by the name of Martin Luther—a frail human being and sinner, yes; but one whom God raised up with faith and courage to be His angel-messenger proclaiming the eternal gospel. For that, we glorify and give thanks to God today.
(II. God sends you as His messenger) Reformation Sunday is an opportunity to reflect on the
history of the Christian church. More precisely, we reflect on the way God has defended and
preserved His truth, even through a mortal messenger like Martin Luther. As obvious as it sounds, the eternal gospel didn’t die with Luther; it’s not buried at the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, either. By the grace of God alone, the gospel remains alive and active. Despite enemies that have wished it were dead and buried and have tried everything in their power to make it so, the gospel lives on. No dragon, no beast, no antichrist can undo or destroy the gospel promises that endure forever. Even when a mortal messenger dies. What John sees—this “angel flying in midair [with] the eternal gospel to proclaim”—points to the gospel reaching “to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” One of Luther’s greatest achievements was producing a Bible translation the German people could understand. His work provided a basis for other translations, so even more people could read and share God’s Word in their own languages. The gospel is eternal; it lives on. What about the angel messenger? Does he live on? John sees this angel “flying in midair” and saying to people of all times and places, “
Fear God and give him glory.” John doesn’t see this angel messenger sit down or call it quits; the message he proclaims is eternal, and so is his work. What John sees in his vision is what Jesus told him in person. He commissioned the disciples to do this ongoing angel-work, when He told them, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). Jesus says the same to you: “You will be my witness. You will be my angel-messenger to proclaim the eternal gospel. I will be with you.” When Luther stood before governors, emperors, and popes, he did it for the gospel. When Paul, Peter, and John stood before Caesars and other rulers knowing their lives were at stake, they did it for the gospel. When Christians have stood up to mockery, threats, or injustice, they did it for the gospel—knowing something greater than their own lives was at stake. With Paul they could say, “
I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things,” (Ph. 3). Could we say the same? Would you risk your reputation, your friends and family, your money, your possessions for this message? We might say God’s Word is really important and valuable, but important and valuable enough to stand up for it, when others deny parts of it or all of it? Is it worth speaking the truth in love, when you know others won’t tolerate the truth? When the definition of love people use is to tolerate everything else but the truth, “Don’t impose your beliefs on me!”
No one wants to be labeled ‘unloving’ or to be accused of setting up barriers to make ourselves feel superior to others. At times we’ve chosen to say nothing, to check our faith at the door, so we don’t get criticized or rejected. We’ve given our fear, respect, and honor to other people and things instead of our Creator and Redeemer God. When the moment of judgment comes, what will you say? Why shouldn’t He trample you along with His other enemies in the winepress of His wrath? Remember the eternal gospel: “The blood of Jesus...purifies us from all sin,” (1 Jn 1:7). Remember God’s promise to all who believe, “You are not condemned.” You are redeemed, restored, and forgiven! Remember His promise that His Word will not return empty but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sends it—for which He sends you. Today we stand with Luther and all other angel-messengers who have been blessed to proclaim the eternal gospel. It’s the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for all. It’s a message of repentance and forgiveness for all. It’s the message of heaven and salvation for us and for all who believe. Fellow angels, “Fear God and give him glory!” Amen.