The movie begins in the year 1505 with Martin Luther, fearing death in a thunderstorm, promises God he will pledge his life to him by becoming a monk. He does so to the consternation of his family, who had hopes of him becoming a lawyer...

LUTHER (2003)

Rated PG-13

Luther (2003)

Directed by Eric Till        Production Company   R.S Entertainment

Starring Joseph Fiennes, Alfred Molina, Jonathan Firth, Claire Cox, Peter Ustinov

The story of German theologian Martin Luther, whose views on God and Scripture eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.

Opening Thoughts

I can’t remember where or when exactly I first saw this movie, but it definitely wasn’t in the theater. I’m pretty sure I rented it from the local video store. I do remember being very impressed with the quality of the movie, because it came out in a time when Christian mainstream movies were in their awkward preteen years, and to me this movie really stood out with a great story, script, and acting. I remember when the video store I worked at was closing, I scored about a dozen copies of this movie for free, and I gave them away as Christmas presents. It’s that good!

Of course like most biographical movies, it plays around with some of the facts and the timeline. But it keeps the really important stuff, like Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church, and his “Here I Stand” speech. It’s a pretty powerful movie with a lot to say.

I also want to insert a little bit of a caveat here: While I am a film buff, I am not a historian (that’s my brother, haha). So while I have done a little bit of research into Martin Luther’s life and work for the purposes of this blog post, most of what this post will contain is, as usual, my response to what God showed me in the movie. So if I miss important details about Luther’s life, or misinterpret something, or just plain make mistakes, I pray you will show me grace and overlook it. Luther was a brilliant theologian, and I appreciate all he did, but I am a scholar of film, not Luther. And if you have any corrections or other info you’d like to share, I would be THRILLED if you left them in the comments below! 😉

Spoilers For Luther here!

The movie begins in the year 1505 with Martin Luther, fearing death in a thunderstorm, promises God he will pledge his life to him by becoming a monk. He does so to the consternation of his family, who had hopes of him becoming a lawyer. Luther loves the Lord, but he is restless in his profession. The sale of indulgences and the collecting of holy relics (such as the “skull of John the Baptist”), which were common practices at the time in the Catholic church, disturb Luther. He finally becomes so troubled he writes his grievances down and nails them to the door of the local church. His words spread like wildfire and Pope Leo X demands that Luther recant his writings. He refuses, and is excommunicated from the church and condemned as an outlaw. This does not stop Luther as he continues to share his message that salvation is not earned by good deeds but rather given by God as a free gift of grace. Towards the end of the film, Luther translates a Bible for the first time in the German language, and marries a former nun, Katarina von Bora. Inspired by Luther’s work, the princes of the Holy Roman Empire appear at the Diet of Augsburg, and when Emperor Charles V tries to get them to agree to the outlawing of both the Bible in the German language and Luther’s teachings, they refuse, and he is forced to accept the Augsburg Confession, paving the way for the Protestant Reformation.

So What Did God Show Me?

-I love how human Luther is. He’s so imperfect, it’s awesome. The way he spills the Communion wine during his first Mass, in front of his father and his whole community, I was cringing I felt so bad for him. Yes, even priests get performance anxiety. I also could really relate when Luther is arguing with the devil, screaming and swearing at him. Yeah, we’ve all had conversations like that, haven’t we? That’s real spiritual warfare happening right there, and Luther knew enough to recognize the enemy who was attacking him.

-It broke my heart to hear Luther berate himself, “I’m too full of sin to be a priest!” Luther did not yet understand the full extent of Jesus’ sacrifice and the limitlessness of His forgiveness. Here was a man who deeply loved God, who longed to know more of Him, but because of the church teachings of the time, felt that he was too wicked to continue in the profession he loved. And, at the time, only those in the priesthood were deemed able to understand God, Scripture, etc. So in essence he felt he was too evil to know God, yet his soul cried out for it just the same.

Thank God, Luther had a mentor in Father Johann von Staupitz, who confronted Luther’s grief and pain by asking him a simple question: “Will your self-hatred save you from sin and judgment?” In other words, “Is all of this ranting making you feel better? Dude, climb down off yourself. You’re no worse than me or anyone else on the planet. Hating on yourself is not going to improve your situation.” Father Johann, God bless him, advises Luther to look past his fear of God’s judgment to the mercy and provision of Christ. “I am yours, save me.” Precious! ❤️

-One thing I found so curious about the religious “relics” featured in the film is the lack of genuine respect the church seems to have for its relics. I can’t even IMAGINE what it would be like to have a splinter of wood from Jesus’ actual crucifixion cross, or one of the nails which pierced his flesh. To have something that was a part of my Savior’s life would be mind-blowing. But the church officials seem to worry more about how much money they can make off of the relics than to have any actual awe for the supposedly “holy” objects. For instance, take the scene when Luther has paid to see what is supposedly John the Baptist’s skull and he is so overcome with awe and emotion he bows his head right there and begins praying, and after like two seconds the priest is kicking him out. Crazy.

-It blows my mind that they used to have brothels just for priests. I mean, obviously not only was this encouraging the priests to go against the very vows they made to God by committing outright adultery, but the poor women who worked there…how must they have felt? I wonder if they were told something truly twisted, like, every priest you sleep with cancels more of your sin. Perhaps they truly believed they were working their way into heaven, by letting faithless and cruel men abuse them. That makes me both outraged and heartbroken.

-”Have you ever read the New Testament?” When I first saw this movie, that line brought me up short. Luther, a priest, hadn’t read the New Testament?? What? How is that possible?? I didn’t realize at the time that not only had many priests not only not read the New Testament, many didn’t even understand the Latin language they were speaking in, they were only parroting words and ideas from what they themselves had learned. Like it was said in the movie, much of the church hierarchy believed that “The scriptures are too complex for even a common priest to understand, much less the common man.” Now, I realize that this probably wasn’t true for every single priest everywhere, but I’m willing to bet it was pretty widespread.

In addition to that, this made me realize how much we take our modern day Bible for granted. I mean, HOLY COW. We have dozens of different translations to choose from, in all different sizes, shapes, and colors that can be picked up in any bookstore or hotel bedside table. Or, if that’s too much work, just pull up your verse and chapter on an app on your phone. And not only do we have unprecedented availability to Bibles, but almost unlimited access to studying the Bible…just google “Bible study” and you’ll get literally hundreds of thousands of resources.

We are so blessed to be able to know verses to use in prayer, to comfort, to chastise, to ask for healing, for courage, for strength, for HELP. I just…I can’t even. I can’t, my brain is melting down right now trying to fathom what it would be like to live your life not only not having access to a Bible, but not even knowing the wealth of truth that lies within its covers. To not hear Christ’s words that were spoken during his time on earth on a Sunday morning. I mean… yeah, I can’t. Thank GOD we live now and are so, SO blessed to have these resources, thanks to people like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into English. God bless them.

-”Those who see God as angry do not see him rightly.” Um, all the yeses to this. Hey listen, if you are reading this right now, and for any reason you think God is angry with you, let me speak into that. He’s not. God is not angry with you. He’s NOT. God doesn’t shame us, He isn’t disgusted or disappointed with us. He doesn’t hate you, He’s not out to get you. He doesn’t get tired of you. He’s never “done” with you, or “over” you. All of that is only lies from the devil, who will try and make you believe them every day of your life.

Rather, God’s desire is for you, for your heart. He loves you more deeply and fully and richly and completely than you could ever understand or even comprehend. He wants you. He WANTS you. He wants YOU. Just as the hot mess you are, right now. If you still aren’t sure, or want to talk more, please reach out via my contact page, I would cherish talking to you about this more. Seriously.

-The way the church, at one point, used scare tactics to prey on people’s fear of hell to sell indulgences. Sigh… unfortunately I have to confess I have also preached a “fire insurance” gospel, where my only goal was to make sure the person I was talking to was saved so they wouldn’t go to hell when they died, like they were a box I could check off.

I’m sorry. I didn’t understand.

Hear me out, there is definitely truth IN that, but it’s not ONLY that. Yes, Jesus came and died on a cross to save us. But when we turn to Jesus and put our faith in Him to save us, there is so much more to receive than just a “get out of hell free” card. When we profess belief in Jesus and what He did for us, we are able to come and humble ourselves before him. We can come freely before Him and, since we profess belief that He is able, offer Him all of our guilt, our grief, our regret, and our pain, and allow Him to take it from us. In return He offers us a clean slate, and healing, and restoration. We are truly made new! And even more, He invites us into relationship with Him, to know Him as a father, brother, friend. To seek Him when we need help, when we’re afraid or don’t know what to do. To trust that He will care for us, guide us, and walk with us in this life, not only the next. To rejoice and celebrate with Him over what gives us honest joy in life. To know that He has given each of us marvelous gifts that He wants to show us how to use, and so that we can run with Him in this adventure we call life.  

He does want to save us, yes, but more so Jesus wants to change our lives. To have that “life more abundant” (John 10:10) that He offers. Again, I encourage you to reach out if you want to talk more about this!

-So, indulgences. By selling these pieces of paper that poor peasants were probably spending their entire life savings on, Tetzel was in essence claiming that we as human beings have the power to save others with our money. That is insane. And yet people did it. Luther made the excellent point,

“If the Pope can free people from Purgatory, why would he not do so out of love, rather than for money?” Um, YEAH? I’m curious about what was going through the people’s minds, the ones who purchased indulgences. Perhaps a lot of people didn’t know about or understand God’s love at that point in Christianity, only His Old Testament wrath. And if they did know of His love, did they think it just wasn’t for them? Like Luther, did they think they were too full of sin to receive it? Was it too hard for them to trust in God’s love, too hard to believe in it? Maybe it made them feel better to spend the money because it was something solid that they could do, instead of trusting a God they couldn’t see or touch. Either way, it’s very sad.

Also, how often do we do the same thing today?? Try to fix ourselves or others in purely material ways when so often what we suffer from is something only God can heal? Even today a vast majority of the human race, if asked, would say of course they are going to heaven, because they’re “good” people who do “good” things. Unfortunately this is only another way we try to “purchase” salvation, with good works.

-When Martin is on trial, the prosecutor brings forth several of his books to convict him. It makes me wonder about my own life. I’m a writer of both this blog and upcoming books. Would there be enough evidence, written or otherwise, to convict me? God, I hope so. I hope if it ever came to that point, that I wouldn’t back down, but rather, like Luther I’d be too overwhelmed with love for my God to ever deny what He has put on my heart.

-Oh my gosh, how adorable is Prince Frederick when Luther gifts him a German Bible?? He acts like a little kid getting what he really, REALLY wants for Christmas ❤️ I mean look at him, his fingers are trembling as he takes it! It’s absolutely delightful.

-”What I experienced when I read His word for the first time.” Whoooaaaaa…ok, so I grew up reading a Bible (albeit a kids one) and so I have no memory of reading the Bible for the first time. I have many, many precious memories over the course of my life of God showing me things through Scripture, truths I hadn’t noticed before that blew my mind, truths that drove away all the lies the enemy tried to convince me of, truths that have stood through the ages and yet somehow still speak right to what I’m going through right now.

But what, oooooohhh WHAT must it have felt like to read the Bible, for the very first time? To hear God’s words of love and His promises for the first time? To hear all the old stories on ancient Biblical heroes for the first time? To hear Jesus’ words and works on earth for the first time? My mind is blowing trying to comprehend what that must’ve felt like.

-The German emperor Charles V tried to outlaw the preaching of Luther’s beliefs and German Bibles…aaaaaannnd it didn’t really work out for him very well. I guess it just goes to show you that you can stand in front of God and shake your finger in His face going uh-uh-uh all you want (and let me just say, if you can do all that, you’re braver than me, pretty darn arrogant, and also kind of an idiot) but in the end God is going to have His way, one way or another.

-”Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my belief, I will kneel and let him strike off my head.” Oh, Lord, give me the same conviction and strength of faith as those German princes!!

Closing Thoughts

Wow, what a movie. I know there’s a lot about Luther that was left out. While he was a pretty amazing person, introducing new ideas into Christianity such as a Bible in a common language and allowing clerics to marry, he also had his faults. For one, I guess later in life he became a raging anti-Semite, which unfortunately the Nazis took hold of and ran with during WWII. So yeah, while he ushered in radical new breakthroughs in the church, he was also broken and flawed, just like the rest of us.

But what I most took away from this movie is that I hope that all of us would seek God and His truths with the passion that Luther did, and also that we would allow ourselves to be used to the same extent, and even more, that he did. See what God can do with one willing man! Are you willing to see what He would do with you?

Easter is almost here! I’d love to hear your thoughts about the blog or the movie Luther, and how you and your family celebrate Holy Week. Feel free to drop your comments below:)



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