Justus Jonas and the Important Thing

Reading Time: 3 mins

We continue to run the race, knowing the victory has been won and given to us through Christ Jesus.

June 2021

It's June, and school is out. In an attempt to engage my teenage son in some sort of learning activity, I've given him some financial books to read as a way to encourage educational growth. One of the books he read was Tim Ferris's The 4-Hour Workweek. I asked him to describe what he thought was the most important thing he learned from the book. “Outsourcing is good because it frees you to do what you need to do most,” he said.

My son's comment reminded me of the outsourcing done 500 years ago.

June 1521

1521 was a big year for the Reformation and an even bigger year for Justus Jonas. Jonas was a humanist and admired the work of Desiderius Erasmus. In 1519, he was the Rector at the University of Erfurt and found himself at a crossroads. One path was with Erasmus and Erfurt, the other was Luther and Wittenberg.

In April 1521, Jonas proceeded with Luther to the Diet of Worms. At the request of Elector Fredrick the Wise, Jonas served as a legal advisor to Luther since Jonas was both an ordained priest and an expert in canon law. According to Luther, Jonas served valuable assistance to Luther during that fearsome time. And it was possibly Jonas when translating and transcribing the events of the day, who added the often used sermon closing from Luther, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

Because of Jonas' involvement in the Reformation, he lost his position at Erfurt. However, Justus Jonas was given an opportunity that filled him with much joy – an invitation to teach with the Reformers at Wittenberg. But this opportunity had a catch. As Provost of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Jonas would be responsible for teaching canon law. Canon law embodied the rules for the church set in place by the ruling popes. Luther thought that canon law was meaningless and had no purpose. Both Melanchthon and Luther wrote to secure Jonas in this position, hoping he would not teach canon law.

On June 19, 1521, Justus Jonas wrote to Elector Fredrick the Wise himself, asking if he could not teach canon law and if he could be free to teach the gospel, instead. Jonas was a skilled translator and knew that reading the Bible in the original languages was the best way to understand the heart of the gospel. Jonas was delighted when a workaround for his predicament was presented. Jonas would pay someone else to teach the course in his stead. The 20 guldens a year would be taken out of his own salary. But this cost was joyfully paid by Jonas that he could then teach the students at Wittenberg the true treasure: the gospel.

Treasure of the Gospel

Luther desired to have Jonas boldly share the powerful gospel message of Christ. We, too, can see the treasure of what the Gospel is. Paul writes to encourage the people of Corinth, saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). The gospel of Jesus' victory over death is for us. Jesus, the light in the darkness, gives us life, joy, and peace, even during struggle, sickness, and stress. The most important thing is the proclamation of the gospel. Everything else can be outsourced.

This important gospel is something that is a treasure, but it is not a treasure that we earn. It is a gift. Jesus has completed the work of salvation. He is the one who looked at something shameful and picked it up in joy. Because of his power and authority, his death and resurrection is for me and for you! This gospel gift is also for our neighbor. So we continue to run the race, knowing the victory has been won and given to us through Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us of the work Jesus has done for us:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Now we are free to dedicate ourselves to service to God and our neighbor. This freedom is a gift, and our vocations are how we can live out our lives in service to God and our neighbor. Remember the most important thing, the Gospel.

For the joy set before him, Jesus is our Gospel; his death and resurrection are our hope.

For the joy set before us, let's keep our eyes on the cross, love our neighbor as ourselves, and get to church to receive the gifts God has given us.