Luther’s Gethsemane

Luther’s Gethsemane

By Rev. Emmanuel N. Ilagan –

Apart from Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses in Wittenberg (1517) the other crucial event of the reformation of the western Christian church was the Diet of Worms (pronounced “Deet of Vorms) in 1521.

The Diet of Worms was a deliberative assembly of princes, bishops and ranking representatives of the important cities convened by the emperor in Worms, a city in southwestern Germany. The emperor wanted to strengthen his political alliances and part of that was allowing a hearing for Luther who was then supported by some German princes.

Luther thought that he would finally have the opportunity to defend his beliefs; this was what he had wanted all along when he posted the 95 theses.

When he was ushered into the big hall, he saw a table with a large pile of books.  Luther was told he was to answer only two questions:  did he write the books on the table, and would he recant those writings.  He was allowed one day to decide.

Luther must have agonized in prayer that night.  If he recanted his writings he would be untrue to the Scriptures and his conscience; if he stood by his beliefs he would be declared a heretic and an enemy of the state; and it could split the church that he loved.

R.C Sproul in The Holiness of God writes, “His prayer reveals the soul of a humble man prostrate before his God, desperately seeking the courage to stand alone before hostile men. For Luther it was a private Gethsemane”. Here are some excerpts from Luther’s prayer:

O God, Almighty God Everlasting! How dreadful is the world! Behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, and how small is my faith in Thee! . . . Oh! the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan! If I am to depend upon any strength of this world – all is over….  O God!  Help me against the wisdom of this world….

“My God! Thou hast chosen me for this work… Therefore, O God, accomplish thine own will! Forsake me not, for the sake of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, my defense, my buckler, and my stronghold…. My soul belongs to thee…. Amen! O God send help! . . . Amen!”

Like Jesus at Gethsemane Luther surrendered everything to God. “Not my will but yours be done.” (Lk. 22:42) Luther did not recant.  He declared “I cannot do otherwise.  Here I stand.  God help me. Amen.”

At some point in our journey we may face the anguish of our own “Gethsemane” – struggling with physical frailty and chronic pain; or ending a marriage that has become bitter; or forgiving someone who has betrayed us.  When that happens it is good to remember that Jesus himself went through such agony; He knows.

God honored Luther’s prayer and kept him safe. His friends secretly took him to Wartburg for his protection. Later he returned to Wittenberg and continued his ministry.  God hears our prayers and will see us through…. always.

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