“Here I Stand!”

(Mark 13:5-11 – Reformation – October 31, 2021)

Mark 13:5-11 – 5And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 6For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. 7But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. 9But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.

Dear Redeemed, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Savior:

The year was 1521. Martin Luther, a monk and professor from Wittenberg, Germany, found the words of Jesus coming true in his own life. He had arrived at the city of Worms, where he hoped to give a faithful witness to Christ and His pure Gospel, in the face of all the false teachings that had entered the visible church. As Luther was ushered in before the Diet at Worms, he found himself standing before a council of rulers and kings for Jesus’ sake, for a testimony to them. As he looked around, there was Emperor Charles V himself, ruler of the vast Holy Roman Empire. He was surrounded by representatives of the Pope from Rome. The rest of the hall was filled bishops and princes. In the midst of the great assembly, Luther saw a table piled with books he had written. He soon realized that the Diet did not intend to debate the issues from Scripture as he had hoped. He was simply asked whether these were his writings and if he would recant all of them. Already the Pope had labeled Luther’s writings as heresy and excommunicated him. Already the Reformer’s life was under threat. In this momentous occasion, standing before highest powers of church and state, Luther gave his answer:

“Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning – and my conscience is captive to the Word of God – then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.” (Kittelson, James, Luther the Reformer, p. 161)

What is it that gave Luther such boldness to take a stand when faith was on trial? And what is it that will give us such boldness to say “Here I stand” when our faith is on trial? Is it the strength of a bold personality that is able to stare down the fiercest of enemies? Is it the strength of vast knowledge that is able to debate even the wisest of scholars?

No, like Luther and believers through the ages, what makes us stand firm when our faith is on trial is the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures to which our conscience is bound. Especially our faith stands firm on the Gospel which declares that God has justified us in Christ, counting us forgiven and righteous for His sake. Therefore even if the most powerful people on earth, even if Satan and all his hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places be against us (Ephesians 6:13), yet God is for us; and if God is for us, who can be against us? Who can bring a charge against us, whom God has justified in Christ (Romans 8:31-34)? With our faith resting on His unshakeable truth, in the hour of trial we say: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

Isn’t this how it always has been? Wasn’t this the case even with Jesus’ first apostles? Here in our text, they had asked Jesus about signs that would accompany His second coming at the end of the age. In reply, Jesus cited fearful signs of a world in upheaval, including: “wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” There would be signs in nature itself, including “earthquakes in various places… famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows” (vs. 7-8). Like birth pains in a pregnant woman, such signs indicate that the end could come at any time, Jesus’ coming again to judge the world.

But among the signs of the end times, Jesus especially points to all that is false and opposed to the saving truth of God in Christ, as He warns: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many” (vs. 5-6). Satan knows the Son of God has come to destroy his works (1 John 3:8). By His finished work, Christ has won salvation for a fallen world of sinners; that is proven by His resurrection and ascension in glory. Therefore to the end of time, Satan’s tactics to deceive many includes sending false Christs, such as leaders of cults, some outright claiming to be a manifestation of Christ Himself come again. But in addition, Satan sends many false teachers who simply portray a false Christ and a false way of salvation apart from faith in the saving work of Christ alone.

This was the falsehood Luther exposed in the Reformation. Under the office of the Pope, who was called the Vicar of Christ, Christ Himself was portrayed, not as the Savior in whom sinners find complete forgiveness and rest from all sin and condemnation. Rather, Christ was portrayed as a Judge and Lawgiver you must try to appease. Satan’s wolves in sheep’s clothing preached a false gospel – that one is saved, not simply by faith in the finished work of Christ, but by faith plus one’s own works. They taught that justification is not simply God declaring the sinner forgiven and righteous for Jesus’ sake, but that justification is a process. If you, with the help of God’s grace, did your best to obey His Law, He would do His part to save you. Thus you worked with God to become righteous and worthy of salvation.

So like everyone else, Luther was taught to confess his sins to the priest and expect to be assigned works of penance he must do to get right with God. He became a monk in the strict order of the Augustinians, where he labored around the clock trying to purge his heart of sin by prayers and fasting, beating himself, trying to become righteous and worthy before God. Yet he could never be satisfied that he had done enough to please Christ, whom he only knew as the angry Judge. In despair of the Judgment, Luther could only anticipate at best thousands of years of fiery purgatory before ever entering heaven; or at worst the eternal flames of hell.

But at last as a professor at Wittenberg, Luther studied the Scriptures for himself. He discovered the true meaning of the righteousness of God as revealed in the Gospel, and what it means in Romans 1:17: “The righteous shall live by faith.” It is not an active righteousness, by which sinners must work to become righteous and earn God’s favor. It is a passive righteousness, which sinners receive as a gift from God, simply by faith in the finished work of His Son. From the Gospel, Luther understood that God forgave all his sins and released him from all punishments, by the once for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross for him; and that God was counting him righteous, simply through the perfect life and merits of Christ for him.

By this true Gospel, Luther was set free from the false Christ which had been portrayed. Now he knew Christ as his gracious and approachable Savior. And all he wanted to do was to share the true Christ with fellow sinners, that many more might be set free by the true gospel.

But now Luther experienced what Jesus taught in our text, as he stood before the highest court of his day on trial for the true faith. For when Satan and his false Christs and teachings are exposed, he employs trials and threats to try to silence the true Gospel. As Jesus warned His disciples: “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (vs. 9-10).

We see this coming true from the beginning of the Church, in the book of Acts. We see apostles like Peter and John arrested and imprisoned for preaching salvation for sinners in the name of the crucified and risen Christ. We see them brought before the council at Jerusalem, beaten, and ordered not to preach in the name of Christ. Later we hear of the apostle Paul arrested, beaten, and imprisoned, and finally brought to Rome where the Gospel he preached would stand on trial in the highest court of the empire, Caesar’s court.

How did the apostles stand firm before highest councils and courts, and the most powerful rulers and kings on earth? How alone did they stand firm in the face of Satan and all his wicked hosts in the heavenly realms? Jesus told them how: “But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (vs. 11). In the hour of trial, the Holy Spirit gave them what to say from Holy Scripture and all Jesus had taught them. In the face of falsehood, they boldly proclaimed the truth of God’s Word. With consciences bound to that Word, they stood firm in the face of fiercest enemies of the truth.

How many believers through the centuries have stood firmly the same way? For the sake of Christ, they gave a faithful testimony even to death. So the Gospel continued to go forth to the end of the earth, as Jesus had promised. Now by the power of that Gospel and the grace of God, you and I have been brought to faith, salvation, and eternal life in Christ’s Kingdom.

“Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.” In that same spirit, we join the apostles, Luther, and all faithful confessors of the faith through the ages. When our faith is on trial, we take our stand on the unchanging truth of God’s Word. We commit our lives to Him who gave Himself for our eternal salvation. How can we do any other?

Today we may not be arrested and brought before councils and courts in our land; we may not be facing threat of imprisonment, beating, and even death, as some are suffering for the sake of Christ and conscience toward His Word. Nonetheless, our faith is always on trial in a world occupied by Satan, in a world that takes offense at the message of the cross of Christ.

So we will not be surprised to find ourselves like Luther, surrounded by those who condemn our scriptural stand, demanding that we recant and compromise the Word of God. The Christian in school may be put on trial for not accepting teachings of evolution or affirming lifestyles Scripture calls sinful; and if he will not recant and go along with false teachings, he may face the rejection and ridicule of a teacher and classroom, and even a failing grade. The Christian at work may be put on trial for not participating in practices that would compromise Scripture and conscience; and if he will not recant and follow human authority, he may face the loss of job and income. We may be put on trial for seeking to lead one we care about to repentance and faith; and if we do not recant speaking the truth in love, we may face the loss of a friend or family member.

Yet we say: “Here I stand.” How can we do any other? Our conscience is bound to the unchanging Word of God. In the hour of trial, the Holy Spirit gives us what to say in His truth. And by our testimony, we join faithful witnesses through the ages in bringing the Gospel to the end of the earth; and we join our hearts in prayer, that by the grace of God many more lost souls may be brought to faith in their Savior and eternal life in His Kingdom.

In many ways in daily life, our faith is put on trial as Satan is against us. How do we respond to the fearful signs and tribulations of these end times, when the evil foe seems to have his way? How do we respond to all the troubles in our own lives as we endure sickness, loss, and sorrow, and the Tempter sneers: “Where is your God now?” How do we respond when the Accuser wants to put us on trial before divine Law and Justice, bringing against us the whole blacklist of our sins, asserting: “How can you ever be forgiven? How will you ever make it to heaven?”

Yet in every trial, in the face of fiercest enemies, even in the last hour of death, we turn to the Word of God and say: “Here I stand.” I stand on the gracious Gospel of Him who will never leave nor forsake me; and if God is for me, who can be against me? I stand on Christ, my Rock and Mighty Fortress in whom I cannot be shaken. I stand on His innocent blood shed for me, and His perfect life lived for me, by which I am declared forgiven and righteous at the throne of heaven. I stand on the victorious resurrection and ascension of my Savior, who guarantees me eternal life in His Kingdom. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.