Leo, Luther, and a Loving God

It’s February 14th, which, of course, means we are one month away from the 500th  Anniversary of Pope Leo X’s decree offering a special sale of indulgences! (What’d you expect—a devotional about Valentine’s Day?)

It happened on March 15, 1517. Pope Leo X was facing depleting finances. His predecessor, Pope Julius II, had left the treasury in good standing, with more than enough funds available. History reveals, however, contrary to Julius, Leo had expensive tastes. “God has given us the papacy,” he once said, adding, “let us enjoy it.” And enjoy it, he did!

Along with financing the restoration of St. Peter’s Basilica, Leo was a patron of the arts as well as the “finer things” in life. The papal palace was full of exquisite paintings and tapestries acquired by Leo. He was a collector of rare books and ancient manuscripts. He purchased precious gems, ornate jewelry and vestments. Leo X was also one who never turned down a hunting trip—but, of course, it had to be done in a grandly expensive way, bringing along an extensive entourage for the expedition. In February of 1517, Leo had also undertaken the expenses of waging war against the French. And, finally, to top it all off, he was helping his friend Albrecht von Brandenburg pay off a sizeable loan he had taken out to purchase the position of Archbishop of Mainz.

With such expenses, it should be of no surprise that, by the time he died, Leo X left the pontifical treasury with nothing but a big fat I.O.U. in the amount of 400,000 ducats (over $10,000,000 in today’s currency—an astronomical number for those days). It is also not surprising, then, that this pope would resort to questionable means to finance his expensive tastes and expenditures. Thus, a papal decree promoting the sale of indulgences was issued.

In our Lutheran context, such a papal decree, conning peasants out of their meager income, is hardly worth celebrating. And yet, it was this special sale of indulgences, issued March 15, 1517, that would set a certain middle-aged monk on a mission, and subsequently change the course of history.

This past Sunday, Pastor Henke preached on “Loving God.” With this sentiment, our natural inclination is to think of how WE love God; how WE show our dedication and devotion to Him. But if we leave it there, we are no better than those who believed they could simply purchase a slip of paper to cancel their sins. If we focus only on what we do for God, we deny Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf.

Certainly, we respond to the Gospel with acts of love—in this way we are loving God. But, the basis of our Christian faith and life rests entirely on what God does for us: how HE shows us His dedication and devotion. He is a “Loving God!” And, out of this great love, He made a way for us in Jesus!

We cannot choose life in eternity with Him; no, our sinful nature prevents such a thing. We cannot build a beautiful enough cathedral, filled with enough exquisite art and tapestries, gems and jewelry to merit salvation. There is no amount of money we can pay to be made righteous before His throne. We desperately need a loving God—and that’s precisely what we get!

Out of His abundant love, God in Christ has chosen life with us and life for us. Out of His redeeming love, God in Christ has paid the debt of all your sins and mine. Out of His unrelenting love, God in Christ carries on the most dramatic, beautiful love story about a Bridegroom’s passion and devotion for His Bride, the Church. Out of His eternal love, this Loving God in Christ will come again, raising all the saints (Valentine and others) to be with Him forever.

This is the Loving God Luther and other Reformers boldly proclaimed—the same Loving God revealed in Scripture. So, I leave you with a few passages of affection from Your Loving God:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” —John 3:16-17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” —John 15:9-10

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” —1 John 4:9-11

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” —Ephesians 2:4-5

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:37-39

Written By: Pastor Jonathan  Meyer