Martin Luther’s life is an excellent example of a life well-lived for the glory of God. But his death is also an excellent example of how to die well for the glory of God.
Luther preached what would be his last sermon at his home church, the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on January 17, 1546. On the same day, he wrote to a friend, “I am writing, my James, as an old man, decrepit, sluggish, tired, cold, and now also one-eyed.” He wrote of the “highly deserved rest (as it seems to me) he was hoping for.”
Unfortunately, there was one more battle for Luther to fight before he could rest. A dispute threatened the civil order in his hometown of Eisleben. Despite his exhaustion and pain, he decided to make the journey to try to help his hometown. Ice and storms made crossing the rivers via ferry a challenge. As he floated the rivers, Luther imaginatively named the chunks of ice after Anabaptist opponents and Roman Catholic bishops and popes. He may have been dying, but his sense of humour was still alive and well.
Martin Luther’s death is an excellent example of how to die well for the glory of God
He made it to Eisleben safely and preached there on Sunday, January 31. But the journey had made him even weaker. He wrote to his beloved wife Katie, who was understandably worried for him, telling her, “I have a caretaker who is better than you and all the angels; he lies in the cradle and rests on a virgin’s bosom, and yet, nevertheless, he sits at the right hand of God, the almighty Father.”
He wrote that letter on February 7. He died eleven days later. The town of his birth, Eisleben, became the town of his death. Just before he died, he preached a final “sermon” from his bed. He quoted two texts: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation (Psalm 68:19)”, and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)”.
In the final moments of his life, Luther confessed that salvation belongs to God and that his salvation comes through His Son Jesus Christ. Though Luther was surrounded by conflict, even in the final days of his life, he died in peace, with his hope firmly fixed in the God of his salvation.
I often wonder what I will be thinking—and feeling and remembering (should the Lord not take me suddenly)—when it’s my turn to die. Will I recall the promises of God? Will my hope be in the God of my salvation, Jesus Christ? Will I remember that God is a better caretaker than even my dear wife and all the angels? Will I die well, in faith and hope in God?
In Deuteronomy 32:50, God commands Moses to ascend Mount Nebo, “And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people.” One day, God will command you and me in the same way, and our bodies will obey. It will be our final act of obedience in this world. It will also, for many, be our last opportunity to bear witness to the God of our salvation.
Oh, may God give us the grace to die in faith! Until then, let’s live well now, trusting the promises of God so that we can die well then, trusting the promises of God.
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