Luther and Habakkuk 2:4

I’m preaching on Habakkuk 2:4 this Lord’s Day, a very challenging verse to exegete properly, and to relate to the NT properly. In many ways it is beyond my paygrade, but I can’t preach Habakkuk and not preach on justification through faith alone!

This verse not only made a huge impact on the apostle Paul, but it also changed the world in the sixteenth century – it was the verse that transformed the life of Martin Luther. Here’s the story (I might be able to include this in my sermon, but just in case I include it here). In 1510, some five years after he had entered into a monastery, Luther travelled to Rome as a young student. There he saw the debauchery and hypocrisy and immorality and worldliness of the church in Rome. And there he climbed the staircase of the church of St. John of the Lateran, a twenty-eight step staircase that was supposedly the staircase that had been in the judgment hall of Pontius Pilate, and was supposedly the staircase that Christ had climbed, the steps still stained with His blood. Since 850 A.D. the church had taught that if you climbed these stairs on your knees, and paused to pray and kiss the holy staircase, then you would be granted an indulgence forgiving your sins. But it was on those steps that the words of Habakkuk 2:4 came suddenly to his mind, “The righteous shall live by faith.” And Luther’s son Paul wrote that “Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and too this as the chief foundation of all his doctrine.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Luther himself wrote of this passage, “Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with Him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, He still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood these words – “The righteous will live by faith! The righteous will live by faith!” – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God”

May this verse be our theme song as it was Paul’s and Luther’s.



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