Martin Luther was a Superhero

In honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I thought I would walk through my thoughts for why I consider Martin Luther to be a superhero. I have often thought that it would be a fun project to write a series of articles on Biblical superheroes. People like Samson, David, Elijah and Paul come to mind. I even have ideas based on Hebrews chapter 11 which some people refer to as the “Heroes of Faith” chapter of the Bible. Someday I will put those ideas down on paper. For today I will point to a person who is not mentioned by name in the Bible. That is because he lived almost 1500 years after the Bible was written. Because of his strong faith and many accomplishments for the good of the Christian Church, Martin Luther was a spiritual superhero.

Spiritual superheroes don’t have the moments like comic book superheroes when they obtain superhuman powers. Spiritual superheroes are not struck by lightning, bitten by radioactive spiders, or severely injured with shrapnel embedded near their heart. However, we do find moments when God steps into their lives and points them in a different direction. God specifically called prophets to proclaim his word. Jesus called his disciples away from ordinary lives and to lives of service. God blinded Saul, created faith in his heart, and transformed him into the apostle Paul. With Martin Luther, we can see moments when God changed his life and called him to be a superhero.

First, God gave Luther a sharp conscience. Luther recognized just how sinful he was in his thoughts, words, and deeds. Luther recognized a need for forgiveness. Second, God blessed him with a spirit that wanted to search for the certainty of forgiveness. Luther recognized that he could never be certain of his forgiveness and eternal life if he had to trust in his own good works to save him. That was what he was being taught by the priests and church leaders of his day. This guilty conscience and lack of certainty pushed Luther toward becoming a monk. Luther finally made that commitment after he was caught outside in a thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree. He promised that he would become a monk if he survived.

After he became a monk, he still felt guilty and he was still uncertain of eternal life. A pastor named Johann Staupitz encouraged him to look to Jesus and to read the Bible. Staupitz even helped him to become a professor who taught the Bible. Luther grew closer to God as he taught the Bible. More and more he realized that people could not be saved through their own works. Then in 1517 and 1518, there were those big transformative moments that elevated him to superhero status. In 1517 he was very upset by the sale of indulgences. People were being told that they could purchase forgiveness and eternal life. People did this rather than truly being repentant over their sins. Luther was angered by this and created his 95 Theses as a way to debate the topic and show how indulgences were contrary to scripture. With his mighty hammer, he nailed those theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.

That was a big day on his superhero path. But he wasn’t quite there yet. By his own admission, he still didn’t understand the gospel. He says that as he studied scripture in 1518, God finally revealed the truth of the gospel to him. Romans 1:17 helped him to see the truth. He finally understood the truth about the righteousness of God. For the longest time he thought the righteousness of God was an unattainable standard of perfection. He was angry that God set this standard that no human being could achieve. But then he saw it. He saw that the righteousness of God was a gift to believers. He saw that Jesus lived the righteous life in our place. He saw that Jesus earned forgiveness and eternal life for us. When he realized that it was though he was struck by figurative lighting. He was overflowing with excitement. His heart had been changed. He now saw the joy and comfort of the gospel. He had strength to persevere in the faith.

After that day he became an incredible spiritual superhero. He proclaimed and shared God’s Word in all of its truth and purity. For a few reasons, I think Jeremiah 23:29 describes Luther the superhero. The passage says, “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” This makes me think of Luther because of the hammer connection. Luther used the hammer to nail up those theses. The better reason this applies to Luther is because of the focus on the power of God’s Word. Luther understood that God’s Word is the source of the message of salvation. He always went back to the Word. When he spoke about infant baptism and the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in communion, he went back to the Word. When he spoke about priests not having to be celibate but rather being able to get married, he went back to the Word. When he spoke about worship practices and making the worship service available in German, he used the Word as his guide. One of his biggest projects was translating the entire Bible into German so that the people could read it.

Perhaps the greatest moment in Lutheran history came in 1521. He was called before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms. The Emperor wanted him to recant (disavow) all his writings about the Word of God. Luther asked for a day to consider his response. He showed a boldness that came from his gospel strength. In spite of the danger he faced, he stood on the Word of God. He declared, “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.” Luther stood on the truth of the Word even when it was difficult. He battled against Satan and spread the truth of the gospel. Luther is a superhero because he led many people out of the darkness of works righteousness and toward the light of the gospel of Jesus. Ultimately we know that it wasn’t Luther but rather the Holy Spirit that brought people to faith. But the Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to proclaim the truth.

One more fun point as I conclude. Since I have been calling Luther a superhero, I figured it would be fitting to compare him to a comic book superhero. Naturally I have to pick Thor. They both have the northern European connection and if you count a monk’s robe as a cape, then they both wear capes. The other more significant reason for my connection has to do with Thor’s primary weapon being a hammer and the strength of Thor. Just like Thor wields that mighty hammer, Luther’s Reformation started when he used his hammer to nail those 95 Theses to the church door. Luther continued wielding the hammer of the gospel as he proclaimed the truth of the Word. Thor uses his power to fight. Luther used the power of the gospel to bring the truth to many people. Give thanks that God used Martin Luther the Superhero to bring forth the truth of forgiveness and eternal life.

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