Which nail to focus on?

Reformation highlights two different sets of nails: those on the door of the Castle Church and those in the hands of a crucified criminal. 

Jay Selle 

The pounding of a nail five hundred years ago echoed the sound of change and reform. While completely unaware of the outcome of this simple gesture, Martin Luther’s fastening of the Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church would forever change the world.  

We, as Lutherans, champion the monk as a revolutionary who brought Christianity back to the truth. Luther brought Christianity back to the gospel. Through his pounding of a nail, Luther brought Christianity’s focus back on the pounding of the nails. But while Martin Luther holds great significance to us this October, let us not forget the message Luther worked so hard to proclaim clearly. 

The nails at Calvary 

Well before Luther used his hammer, a Roman hammer was used to pierce flesh. The flesh was not of a common criminal but of an innocent man sent to death by the betrayal of a friend and the rejection of his people. The man had done nothing to deserve this torturous death, but the hand that pounded the nails in that man did.  

Do you know who pounded the nails into Jesus? It was you. It was me. Every sin we committed was a swing of the mallet, solidifying the Savior’s place on that cross.  

Luther understood his part in this and tortured himself in attempts to appease God. Luther suffered, with his guilty conscience of sin bearing down on his soul. However, while studying Scripture and looking for answers to his problem of sin, Luther came across Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ”  

Understanding this verse was the link to solving Luther’s suffering. Our right standing with God is not created by our actions, but by Christ’s work. The hands that helped crucify Christ can do nothing to aid in salvation. Only the redeeming work of Christ can satisfy God’s holy demands. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). 

The nails at the Castle Church 

The pounding of nails was a gift that changed the world. This gift was all by God’s grace to atone for the sins of the world. The gift is free and it is complete; nothing else needs to be done. At the time Martin Luther wrote the Ninety-five Theses, the church was teaching salvation by works and money through indulgences. Through the Holy Spirit, Martin Luther was able to rediscover the truth of Jesus’ saving work. Martin Luther rightfully refocused the church on the cornerstone of Christ. 

Five hundred years ago, Christian’s failed to keep their eyes fixed solely on Christ. Martin Luther changed that. In October, we celebrate the return to grace set in motion by a lowly monk’s pounding of a nail.  

Let’s not lose focus of another point though. Martin Luther did not want the attention on himself, but instead on the inerrant Word that points to Christ crucified. Instead of championing Luther, let us champion Christ. Let us set our minds and hearts on the nails pounded into Christ’s hands and feet as he willingly suffered the pangs of hell for us. Let us focus on the marks of the nails that reveal our risen Lord and the completion of our salvation. 


Jay Selle is a member at First, Racine, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Jay Selle
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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