Everlasting Gospel (Revelation 14)
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water." (Revelation 14:6-7)
As we celebrate Reformation Day today, why do we have this text before us from Revelation? Why would this angelic message be important to us, especially since it comes from a book that is quite difficult to understand? The answer is actually quite simple. Within a generation of his death, Luther was considered to be the fulfillment of this sign from Revelation. His boldness in the proclamation of God's Word, especially after his rediscovery of the Gospel, brought about what we now know as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther and the Reformation that he began rise from the Middle Ages' reaction to the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages span the time between the fall of Rome in 476 to the coronation of Otto I, the first Holy Roman Emperor, in 962. During this time, everything in Europe was quite chaotic and war-driven. The only constant was the Church, especially after the rise of the modern understanding of the papacy in the sixth century following St. Gregory the Great's time as the Bishop of Rome. Without a stable government, the Church became the primary power in people's lives. The more of a foothold the religious leaders of the Church got into the lives of people, the greater they made their own power and words. The lay people became more and more illiterate as the lack of government took away almost all education. The priests and bishops were the only ones who could read and therefore understand what the Bible says. This is the beginning of the mindset in the Roman Catholic Church even now that lay people can't understand what God wants so they're just to listen to what the priest or the bishop says. The fear, love and trust that are to be God's only was moved to the institutional Church. The Church and what the priest or bishop says becomes the highest standard in life. Then the lay folk become idolaters, worshipping an image instead of the Creator.
The Middle Ages reacted to this lack of government by bringing together Church and State. In the Holy Roman Empire, the coronation of the Emperor could only happen with the blessing of the Pope and vice versa. The two were so tightly linked that one could not exist without the other. Pope Boniface VIII, in his bull Unam Sanctum of 1302, declared himself not only the head of the Church but also the head of the secular government as the secular must always submit to the spiritual. The Pope's ultimate superiority in all facets of life continued to make the idolatry more permanent among the peoples throughout the world. There was little chaos now with government because it was so closely tied to the Church. Through this series of events leading through the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the everlasting Gospel was lost. It appeared nowhere as the Church abused its own power for its own purposes. So Luther appears on the scene in 1517 and his 95 Theses concerning the abuses of papal indulgences.
But what does all this have to do with the vision of the angel flying around in Revelation? The angel's everlasting Gospel seeks reformation and reverence. This everlasting Gospel reforms and causes reverence. Luther's studies as a professor at the University of Wittenberg lead him to see things weren't as God had declared them. Throughout his life, he sought simply to reform the abuses that had crept into the Church through the preceding millennium. He didn't want to start his own church. He didn't want to be the Pope. Driven by the everlasting Gospel, he sought to remove the idol from before the lay people so they may truly fear God and worship Him only. Driven by Jesus' love for all sinners, Luther sought to bring that message to everyone. Luther brought Jesus to the people. Jesus brings reformation and reverence in His life, death and resurrection. Jesus died to bring forgiveness of sins. Jesus rose from the dead to open the gates of Heaven that all who believe in Him may enter into His rest. Jesus lives so that we may live. Jesus reforms our lives as He drowns our sinful nature in the waters of Baptism. He reforms our thoughts as we come and kneel before His table to receive the body and blood He sacrificed. He reforms our words by giving us His words to speak.
The everlasting Gospel isn't only for the pastor to speak as the Lord's messenger. It's the message that all God's people have been given to speak to the world we live in. It is the continuation of the message given by the Old Testament prophets. It's the continuation of John the Baptizer's message. It's the continuation of Jesus' message that He has forgiven the sins of everyone who has ever lived on the earth. This message not only reforms our entire being, it causes us to bow down in reverence before the Lord.
We bow down as unworthy servants. We reverence God for the gifts He gives to us. The greatest gift is the Gospel. It is the "power of salvation to all who believe" (Romans 1:16). It brings us Jesus. Jesus comes to us and delivers us from our sins. Jesus declares Himself the One to be worshipped as He ascended into Heaven and promises to come back to judge the living and the dead. Before Jesus "every knee will bow ... and every tongue confess" Him as Lord "to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11). Jesus demands reverence by His very presence. So does His Gospel, which is why we stand when we hear it read in worship.
The Gospel proclaims the grace of a God who searches for those who are lost. The Gospel itself was lost by human arrogance and pride. Luther rediscovered it because God led Him to proclaim it, just like the angel in Revelation. The Gospel continues its proclamation: "Fear God and give Him glory." Strive for this in your life today and throughout your everlasting tomorrows. Amen.