When Martin Luther (1483–1546) preached from the Gospel passages on John the Baptist, he always emphasized how John’s finger pointed to Christ, and how the church must follow in John’s footsteps and point people to the Lord without fail (refer to the picture below where Luther is doing the same).
Salvation can only be found in Jesus and in no one or nothing else; that is the message the church must constantly preach. But preaching this isn’t always as easy as it sounds:
“…The devil does not intend to allow this testimony about Christ. He devotes all his energy to opposing it and will not desist until he has struck it down and suppressed it. In this respect, we humans are weak and stubbornly perverse and are more likely to become attached to saints than to Christ. Within the papacy they have preached about the service rendered by these beloved saints, that one ought to rely on their merit.”
“And I, too, believed and preached thus. St. Ann was my idol, and St. Thomas my apostle. I patterned myself substantially after them. Others ran to St. James and strongly believed and firmly trusted that, if they conformed, they would received all they wished and hoped for. Prayers were said to St. Barbara and St. Christopher in order to avert an early and sudden death, and there was no uncertainty here. So completely is man by nature bent on renouncing this testimony of John the Baptist.”
“For this reason it is necessary constantly to persevere and adhere to John’s testimony concerning Christ. For it requires toil and effort to continue with word and testimony, for a person at death to be able to say, I must die, but I have a Savior concerning whom John the Baptist testifies; on him and on no other creature, either in heaven or on earth, do I rely. However, that a person can die as cheerfully by believing in St. Barbara, in an indulgence, or in a pilgrimage to Rome, as in the man to whom alone John the Baptist points, is out of the question. Also, that a person can build as strongly on monkery or monastery life as on holy baptism is a forlorn hope.”
“What I am telling you is that it is easier for us humans to believe and trust in everything else than in the name of Christ, who alone is all in all, and more difficult for us for us to rely on him in whom and through whom we possess all things.”
Here you see one of the major issues of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church clouded the gospel by adding assistants and helpers into the mix of salvation. Rome preached a gospel of “Jesus and:” Jesus and Mary, Jesus and purgatory, Jesus and the saints, Jesus and works of charity. Luther and the Reformers cleared the fog by ridding the church of helpers in salvation. They preached the gospel once again in all its clarity: Christ and Christ alone is sufficient for salvation. Since Rome has not changed, and since our own hearts constantly look elsewhere for salvation, the issue is still before us today. So it is still the duty of the church to clear away all helpers and assistants in salvation and preach Christ and him alone. He is all we have for salvation, but he is also all that we’ll ever need.
These quotes are taken from volume five of Baker Publishing’s 7-volume set of Luther’s Sermon’s, Vol. V, p. 79