Joseph Epstein, a contributing editor to a magazine called The Weekly Standard, recently decided to read through the entire Bible. The title of the article detailing his Bible-reading plan is “The Greatest Story Never Read.”
Epstein, a Jew, recalls hearing some children’s versions of Bible stories from his dad, reading the assigned Torah portion at his bar-mitzvah, and then gleaning other Biblical details from works of literature he’d read over the years. “But that is as far as it went.” I pray that as we approach another anniversary of the Reformation that the Bible is not the greatest story never read in our lives.
And there’s no need for it to be. The Scriptures no longer remain locked in Latin, the realm of only the educated. Nor are they in the hand only of the clergy, to be read in selected portions to you at Sunday services. Nor are books any more only to be purchased and owned by the wealthiest among us. Nor is even literacy a barrier, as you can purchase listening devices and listen to the Scriptures in hundreds of languages. Luther’s reformation didn’t invent vernacular translations, but it tipped the scales so that the Pope in Rome could no longer stop the Scriptures from being read, learned, and inwardly digested by anyone, anywhere, anytime. In other words, the Lutheran Reformation we celebrate serves as a partial fulfillment of Revelation’s words: Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people (14:6).
And notice that prophecy’s focus: the eternal gospel. Gospel, good news, Jesus, forgiveness, eternal life through Christ. Not only did the Reformation free the Scriptures, but the Reformation freed the Gospel. Once more the good news predominates: that Jesus’ blood and righteousness is our only glorious dress before our Father in heaven, not any deeds or works of ours, of which we could never do enough. The preaching of works hasn’t been eliminated, for sure. The Pope still preaches indulgences and works. Others preach the work of making a decision for Christ. Billions still live in the total darkness of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other pagan religions which have no gospel. Yet, those gates of hell cannot contain the preaching of Christ who is our righteousness. It’s as simple as the voice Augustine reported hearing, “Tolle lege! Tolle lege!” “Take up and read!” And Epstein, at the moment, heeds that voice.
He isn’t a believer yet, but he writes, “While reading [the Bible], I hope that God has not given up on me.” I pray that the eternal gospel changes Epstein’s heart so that he knows that in Christ God hasn’t given up on him and he can sing with us, But for us fights the valiant one/Whom God himself elected./You ask, “Who is this?”/Jesus Christ it is,/the almighty Lord./And there’s no other God;/He holds the field forever (CW 200:2).