Matthew 10:17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.
Soldiers are always on guard. They have to be. Well-armed and cunning enemies are everywhere.
Soldiers in God’s army are to be on their guard also. We know that the enemies of God’s church are all around us. We must be ready to face them with the armor that Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 6. Our weapons are not like those of the men and women in military service. Our weapons are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God (Ephesians 6: 13-17).
The Lutheran Reformation provides us with many examples of people who knew well the dangers they faced. Many of the reformers were fortunate to live in territories where the ruler had embraced the Reformation. But the reformers never knew when the tide would turn. Luther had been declared an outlaw of the empire. Outside his home territory he could be killed on sight. He worked tirelessly, never knowing when imprisonment or execution would end his labors.
Others were not so lucky. In some places, believers were hunted down and killed. They were viewed as enemies of the state, as insurgents who were dividing the religious and political unity of the empire.
Some Augustinian monks from the city of Antwerp in Belgium, outside the protection of Reformation territories, had visited Wittenberg and come to believe the gospel. Upon returning home, the Catholic authorities began to persecute them. News reached Wittenberg. Luther said, “The cause which we defend is no longer a simple game; it looks for blood, it seeks for life.”
Blood it found. Although some of the monks recanted their new-found faith, others refused to do so. Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were taken to Brussels, where they stood trial. They confessed, “We will not deny the Word of God; we will rather die for the truth of our faith.” The Roman inquisitors demanded, “Confess that you have been seduced by Luther.” The young monks responded sarcastically, “As the apostles were seduced by Jesus Christ.” Finally, the inquisitors said, “We declare you to be heretics, deserving to be burned alive.” On July 1, 1523, in a four-hour display of horror, they were burned to death at the stake.
The Reformation was no game. Nor, as Jesus points out in our reading, will it ever be a game when the gospel is preached.