Yesterday, on the first day of 2017, I had the privilege to preach from Romans 10 on the subject of missions. Each year, typically during the final few weeks of the year, I preach a missionary biography. The biography is either a missionary who served Christ on a foreign field or is someone used to educate and equip the local church at home to be involved in missions.
Due to the way the schedule fell in 2016, I was unable to preach that sermon due to a complicated church calendar, so yesterday, we started off 2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers. R. C. Sproul writes, “The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.” 
In Romans 10:13-17, Paul is confronting Israel regarding their unbelief and pushing the need for zealous hearted missions. As the apostle to the Gentiles, you can hear the emphasis of a global salvation plan accenting the words of Paul as he points to “all” and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.” Certainly, as we consider the failure of the Jews in Paul’s day and the laziness of the evangelicals in our day, it would do us well to look at the Reformation and see the need to walk in the footsteps of Paul as we begin 2017.
During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church. They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest. However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.
John Hus was the first example, and John Wycliffe’s bones being exhumed, burned, and scattered in the River Swift many years after his death further illustrates their hatred for those who wanted to get the Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language. In 1517, Martin Luther unknowingly sparked a debate that was like a hot ember falling to the parched dry ground of Europe as he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg. After being converted in 1519 and preaching the true gospel, his Reformation zeal grew more intense and this led to a showdown at Worms where Luther made his famous “Here I Stand” speech.
God took a Roman Catholic named Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press, and used it as a vehicle to spread the truths of the gospel all across Europe. Soon, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others would be writing and preaching and their works would be spreading all around the world. Not only writing and preaching, but training and preparing missionaries to go and plant churches. In Romans 10:14-15, Paul asks a series of questions that places direct aim upon the need for missions. He writes:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 
As we look back at the historic Reformation, at the very core of the movement was a desire to unleash the Bible from the dark dungeon of the Roman Catholic Church. How would people believe if they couldn’t hear? How would people hear the good news unless someone was sent to preach? Emerging from the darkness were preachers, relentless preachers of God’s Word who would live out the words of Luther’s hymn:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America. Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.
If you heard the gospel read and proclaimed from an English speaking preacher with an English speaking Bible, you can draw a straight line from Gutenberg’s press through Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, to the work of William Tyndale and John Rogers in the printing of the first English Bible translated from the original languages, to the 1560 Geneva Bible, to your salvation.
We heard the good news that was preached and believed it by faith—all of this work of the Reformation and our individual salvation is the work of God. How will God use you and your local church to continue in the footsteps of the early church to carry out the task of the Great Commission given to us by Jesus Himself? In 2017, as we consider the historic Reformation that started 500 years ago, let us be mindful that the Reformation isn’t over and the Great Commission isn’t over—there is still much work to be done. Pope Francis began 2017 with a blasphemous tweet, and 500 years after Luther took his stand, we are reminded that the Reformation is far from over.
Let us entrust the new year to Mary, Mother of God, so that peace and mercy may grow throughout the world.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 1, 2017
- R. C. Sproul and Archie Parrish,The Spirit of Revival, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), Introduction.
- Romans 10:14-15 — ESV