On May 26, 1521, Emperor Charles V signed the Edict of Worms. This order made Martin Luther an outlaw. No one was to have anything to do with him. Every citizen had the duty to seize Luther and turn him over to the authorities. He could be killed on sight. One month before this edict was issued, Luther had left Worms to return to Wittenberg, but he didn’t get there. Knowing that Luther’s life would be in great danger, Frederick the Wise made plans to keep him safe. These plans called for Luther to “disappear” until things became quiet again in in Germany.
On the way back to Wittenberg a group of armed horsemen suddenly burst from the forest and surrounded the carriage. They kidnapped Luther, gave him some knight’s clothing and brought him a horse. They then rode off, and took him to the Warburg Castle to hide him. To make sure that no one would know him, Luther let his hair and beard grow long. He learned knightly manners and took the name Knight George. From the window of his room high in the castle tower Luther could see far out over the hills. “In the land of the birds,” as he called it, he found peace and quiet.
Yet, Luther was not truly happy at the Wartburg. His worst troubles, however, were his doubts. Now that he had much time alone, he began to ask himself, “Are you the only one who is wise, Luther?” Have all the leaders of the church been wrong for hundreds of years? What if you are wrong? Then you will be leading many people to hell!” Luther knew that this was Satan tempting him to stop his work of leading people to know Christ. Only through much prayer was he able to fight off the devil’s attacks.
Work was Luther’s best answer to his worries. To help pastors preach the Gospel clearly, he developed introductions to the Gospel readings and model sermons for each Sunday. Advent through Lent. He copied studies of Psalms 37 and 68 and the Magnificat. He wrote books, pamphlets, and letters. These were taken to a printer and soon copies were appearing all over Germany. People read them with joy, for this meant that Dr. Luther was still alive. Luther then began the big job of translating the New Testament from Greek into German. Five thousand copies were sold in only two months.
Now many more people could learn to know Jesus by reading Scripture, as Luther himself had done.
Meanwhile Luther was receiving letters from some people in Wittenberg who knew where he was. These letters began to worry him. Some of the religious leaders who believed in Luther’s ideas were pushing ahead too fast with changes in the churches at Wittenberg. Statues and images were taken out and burned. False prophets came out and said the Bible wasn’t that important. Priests, monks, and nuns were told that they must marry, to name just some of the problems. Finally the town council of Wittenberg, against Frederick’s will, sent Luther a letter begging him to return. Luther immediately accepted and left the Wartburg. In March 1522 he reached Wittenberg and began to set things straight. He preached a series of powerful sermons to his people and encouraged them to be patient, to let God’s Word work on people’s hearts. In a very short time order was restored to Wittenberg. Luther was back to stay. Many problems remained to be solved, and new ones would arise. God had much work for his servant Luther yet to do.