Luther's Last Words

Last words are generally significant. Whether it is the parting words given as you leave a friend or your final word spoken as you leave this world, it's true: people often remember most what we say last. Final words against the black backdrop of death often bring clarity to the life that was lived, no doubt revealing what was believed most deeply. Some use their parting words to ask for forgiveness, while others simply confirm the convictions they embodied throughout their life.


I ran across Martin Luther’s last words a few months ago, and I found them very significant: “We are beggars, it is true.


We are beggars.


Martin Luther was a colossus, a true giant; and while to this day he remains a controversial figure, no one doubts the magnitude of his life. Luther’s convictions of "sola fide" (by faith alone) and "sola scriptura" (by Scripture alone) are primarily responsible for renting an irreparable division in the church, one he actually never intended to spark. Like any human being Luther was a flawed man, but his unbending conviction to the word of God was not only commendable, it was revolutionary--and we are still feeling the effects of that revolution today. For that reason among others, Luther is a bit of a hero of mine.


But his final words spoken on his death bed in 1546 were representative of what Luther believed at his core. He was marked by his farewell, and Timothy George says that these words (we are beggars) summarized his entire theology. To Luther “the posture of the human was one of utter receptivity…we own no merits that will purchase us standing before God.


Luther is right. None of us come to God with impressive resumes that compel Him want us. None of us have anything in our possession that could be used to assist us in our plight before a holy God. In the end all we really have is knees to fall on and empty hands to stretch out and beg. This of course is not a popular message of self help or one that instills measures of self confidence; but it is a true one, and a message we need to take to heart.


Because for some reason, it seems God has a special place in his heart for beggars. The Psalmist writes, “A broken and contrite heart You will not despise.” Jesus’s entire earthly ministry shows that he is about blessing the poor in spirit, satisfying those that hunger after righteousness, and healing those who reach out to touch the hem of his garment. He promises that those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find. And In Mark 2:17 Jesus goes as far as to say, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” This shows that a true understanding of our desperate state is a prerequisite for true Spiritual healing.


We need to catch this beggar mentality. We need to identify with the beggar in Luke 18 who loses all self respect shouting, “Jesus son of David, have mercy on me.” And once we do receive forgiveness, I do not think the begging should stop. We need too much.


So let’s learn to beg. Let's beg for His keeping power, His strength to overcome sin, power to live worthy of the calling we have received, and for those among us who have yet to experience His grace. Let's petition for healing in our day and age. We need to get greedy for the gifts of heaven which Christ seems all to willing to bestow, if only we but ask.

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