Someone shared with me a fairly awful sermon he heard recently. The fact that the sermon did not touch upon the scriptures before them was bad enough, but the speaker spent a great deal of time not preaching but giving a motivational speech about becoming the next Nelson Mandela through hard work and determination. That’s just my friend’s reflection on that sermon.

I’m preparing what will prayerfully be a scripture saturated expository sermon from Habakkuk for this Sunday. This is probably one of the key verses in the book:

Habakkuk 2:4 – ‘…but the righteous shall live by his faith

These words, quoted in Romans 1:17, changed the world. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk on a pilgrimage to Rome. Along the way he fell sick and while sick the verse ‘the righteous shall live by faith’ kept creeping into his mind. Upon arriving at Rome he headed to St John Lateran’s basilica to  head up the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs). These white marble steps are, according to Roman Catholic tradition, the staircase leading up to the ‘office’ of Pilate – steps which Jesus would have used during his passion and thus, according to Roman Catholic tradition, sanctified by his blood. At the time of Luther the Church offered an indulgence for any pilgrim who went up each step on their knees, kissing them while reciting the rosary prayer.

Luther began this ritual but half way up the steps the same verse kept creeping into his mind: ‘the righteous shall live by faith’. Instead of completing the ritual and his pilgrimage he got up and went home to Germany.

Here are his reflections on that time:

“Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and the miseries of life he tortured us by the Gospel [which he understood to be ‘works based’ – Ed] – but when by the Spirit of God I understood those words – “the righteous shall live by faith” – then I felt born again like a new man, I entered through open doors into the very paradise of God.”

Luther’s meditation on scripture and subsequent gospel-oriented actions changed the world as we know it.

Hard work and determination are good things, but as a preacher my job is to exhort God’s people to not just pull up their proverbial bootstraps (moralism), but to point them to the amazing grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ and help them meditate upon its grandeur until the Spirit prayerfully works it into their lives.

For those inclined, your prayers for me for this Sunday are greatly appreciated!


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