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"A Tiny Scrap of Humanity": Untold Stories in the Theatre of God

Sketches of the Reformation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:51
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Usually when we recount the events in history it’s only the major characters who get the spotlight. We forget that behind every great man is usually a great mother and a great wife. We rarely hear about the vital role the lesser-knowns had in the story. In this message on Reformation Sunday remainder we recount the story of a little known character. A woman who was once referred to as nothing more than "a little scrap of humanity." But a woman whom God used mightily to launch the Reformation.

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“A Tiny Scrap of Humanity”: Untold Stories in the Theatre of God

Anne of Bohemia

What wonderful truths we have summarized this morning in a such a short time. I hope you take the time to think a lot more on those wonderful solas and you might wonder sometimes, how could so many things be alone. In Christ Alone; Grace Alone; Faith Alone; you might say it seems like they’re not alone, they go together. Alright, well, someone once described it this way: If you want to go to the moon, you need to be an astronaut alone and fly in a spaceship rocket alone, right? And this person went on, I’m just off the stump here this morning. He basically was showing that to accomplish a task you need certain things to be in place and they alone will do the job, right? He needs to be in an astronaut suit alone, no other suit will work. And so that is what in many ways we’re summarizing when we summarized these doctrines. These really are the underpinnings of what we believe as Christians is that salvation is by grace alone, it is not by works. It is accomplished in us only by faith alone. Only in Christ can we find the salvation that we need and all of this is going to the glory of God alone. And where do we discover these truths? In the Scripture alone and so these are truths that we love to celebrate. Let me just pray as we begin this morning.

Heavenly Father we are thankful this morning that we are gathered, we are met together to consider your grace, your kindness to us. We thank you for the faith that you’ve given us and the faith that you use through which many things are accomplished for your glory and honour. We thank you for the Church as it grows and increases and as your Kingdom continues to advance in this world. Many times it’s hard to see that when we see the kingdoms of men trying to threaten what God has established, but as we considered last week from Psalm 2 we are just thankful that God is on the throne and He rules and reigns and He rules and reigns in our hearts this morning. So, Lord, we come to your Word now looking to You for instruction from it; looking to You for encouragement and Lord, for more faith as we face this coming week. We pray this now as we begin this morning in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Now usually when we recount events in history, say you take a history book, what you usually find is just a summary of certain key characters, maybe the main figures that get highlighted – the talking heads tend to get all the attention. It’s the major characters that get the spotlight and many times when we recount historical events, or any events really, we tend to forget that behind every great man is usually a really great Mom or really great wife. And, you know, we rarely hear about them, do we? We rarely hear about the vital role that those individuals, those lesser-knowns, the vital role that they played in the big story. But that doesn’t mean that the lesser role, the lesser-knows are any less valuable.

You likely have never heard of my grandparents. I dare any of you to, my great grandparents that is, I dare any of you to try to name them. Can anyone try this morning? My great grandparents on either side is fine. Well last name but I’m looking for first names. First names. No, no Kevin’s, no. Brother and sister in the Lord, right. Ya, you know they existed, they must have, they had to. It turns out that even though you don’t know my great grandparents’ names, it turns out that they were a very vital part of the fact that I’m existing today, and yet you don’t know them, you’ve never heard of them. You know I’ve never seen my pancreas yet, but I hear that without it I’d be dead, right?

See often there are little stories behind the well known stories; the important stories we tend to call them. There’s these little unknown stories, these stories that go untold. And it’s the same in the Bible, the same thing is true in the Bible. We know lots about some of the key figures: Adam and Noah and Moses and David and Solomon and Peter and Paul, right? All those important guys, but we often forget that behind their lives stand, in the background, individuals who are very critical, very critical, played very critical roles in what those key individuals were doing. People who actually play a significant role in the story, but whose stories remains untold.

Well, I’m preparing, along with a few other brothers here, to attend this coming week, a few days worth of preaching workshops in Winnipeg and we’re preparing to preach from the book of Exodus and while preparing I encountered one such story. A story of faithfulness that is often untold. And so I want to point you there for a moment before I take you somewhere else. Let’s go to the book of Exodus and chapter one. Exodus chapter 1. Now I think we’re mostly, at least most of us are familiar with the story of Moses and how God used this man to mightily rescue God’s people out of Egypt and to deliver Israel into the promised land. But what I want you to see briefly here this morning is some of the background story that tends to get much less attention than the big mighty Moses. Exodus chapter 1 begins by highlighting the fact that the people of Israel had grown to be a great and mighty nation while in Egypt. In fact to the point that Pharoah, the new Pharoah that came into power saw them as a threat to the nation of Egypt. And so Pharoah becomes afraid that the Israelites are going to rise up and revolt against the Egyptians. And so Pharoah begins to devise some plans to help suppress their prosperity and so he oppresses the Israelites by making their slavery more difficult. Hopefully this is going to result in more injuries and people dying and falling off of scaffolding and hopefully this is going to exhaust them, they’re going to be exhausted, they’re not going to want to have kids. They’re not going to want to propagate their nation and in fact Pharoah comes up with a plan to attempt to prevent the nation of Israel from becoming more powerful which this part of the story begins for us in verse 15. So let’s just pick up the story and here in this little snippet we’re going to read we’re going to read about 2 women whose stories are not very often told that of Shiphrah and Puah, and so I want you to listen, beginning in verse 15:

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharoah, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharoah commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Now here are two women who chose to serve God. Who chose faithfulness to God instead of obeying the commands of Pharoah who was against God. They refused to obey the king’s orders to kill, to abort really, the baby boys as they were being born. They refused to obey the king’s commands out of reverence for God. Verse 17 really is the brief but key point of the story. This is what it says, ‘but the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.’

See because these two women stood with God’s people against the king’s orders, as small as these two individuals would have felt in relation to the king; they’re but midwives. They don’t have any power over anything. They took a stand to allow these boys who were being born to be born, to grow up in Israel, and of course through this means, God allowed the nation of Israel to continue to flourish and become even more mighty in number and continue to be a threat to Pharoah. So because of the courage of two women, Shiphrah and Puah, we can tell the stories of men like Moses and Joshua and Caleb; men who were significant leaders as God delivers Israel out of Egypt. And so they were born, these mighty men you might say, the men that we know, these key figures in the story were born and became faithful servants of the Lord on account of the faithfulness of these unknowns, these unknown women, these rarely told stories.

Verse 20 of our text explains that as a consequence of Shiphrah and Puah, their faithfulness to the Lord and their refusal to submit to the law of the king, it says this, ‘God dealt well with the midwives and the people multiplied and grew very strong.’ There are many, many such stories that could be told of faithful but seemingly insignificant men and women through history. And oftentimes it’s easy for us to feel in that category, “I’m insignificant. What role do I have to play. I’m not out there. I’m not behind a pulpit like you; or I’m not, I don’t have the kinds of giftings that this person or that person has” and we can tend to feel insignificant in the story. And I think stories like these prove to us, once again, that God uses even the least, even the unexpectedly small to accomplish His great purposes.

I want to turn over to another text this morning briefly with you in Luke chapter 8, and I want you to see another interesting story like this. It’s one of these untold stories, just a brief comment that we get in the narrative and if we weren’t careful we would completely miss this. Have you ever wondered how it was the disciples managed to survive as they followed Jesus around His ministry, in His earthly ministry. How did they manage to keep food in their stomachs? Did they just have such wealth from their previous employment? Did Jesus just keep feeding them using coins from the mouth of fish? Did He keep clothing on their back that way? Well, I think that we get a very important clue when we read this fairly unknown passage in Luke chapter 8 and so just quickly read with me in verse 1, it says:

Soon afterward He, that is Jesus, went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, so we have Jesus and His twelve disciples; verse 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities. Mary, called Magdelene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, notice this, who provided for them out of their means.

You see that? Many others who provided for them out of their means. It seems that these are key individuals who were supporters of the ministry of Jesus and the disciples. We could possible lump all of these into that category. Mary called Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Suzanna. These all and many others provided for the disciples out of their own means. Where did the means, where did the resources come to support the ministry of Christ and the disciples while on earth? Where did the resources come to fill that money bag from which they purchased their necessities? Well, this text gives us a clue. But yet these are really unknown characters in the story, aren’t they?

You know there are many generous givers among us. Some of whom you, and not even I, cause I don’t really look into the financials, I’m just thankful to not know about that part of things. But there are many of you who give really generously to our church who maybe don’t serve in other significant roles or you may feel like I don’t have a lot of other responsibilities here. But God uses the gifts of His people to accomplish great things and so this is another wonderful text to show us that here are people working in the background to accomplish, to be used of God to accomplish great things, namely the support of the ministry of Jesus Christ while on earth with His disciples. So do you see that? These women served a significant but hardly known role in providing for the needs of Jesus and the twelve disciples. And we could multiply these stories, many other stories like this could be told, but because of our time this morning it won’t permit me to do that.

But I do want to take the remainder of this morning to tell you one more story of a little known character. It’s the story of a woman who was once referred to as nothing more than a scrap of humanity. And this being Reformation Sunday, it’s been my custom over the past two years to give a biographical sketch of the life of one of the reformers around this Reformation Day.

I’ve already told you in times past of John Wycliffe and of John Huss and this year as I thought, what story should I tell you? I seem to think chronologically that should be Martin Luther, but that’s, there’s a problem with that in my mind. I have to wait til 500 years, I can’t wait til 499 years, so another story needs to be told. Another story needs to be told, so I can’t tell you his story yet, I must wait, you must wait. And so, whose story should we tell this year?

I want to tell you a story of the little-known Anne of Bohemia. She’s a woman who served a far greater role in the Reformation than she gets credit for. And of course God gets all the credit, you can go to that first slide there for this, but I mean as much as an instrument gets credit, this woman is worthy of our notice. Few stories of the women who served in the background get told. I’m going to change that this year with Anne. So Anne of Bohemia, she was, Bohemia is modern day Czechoslovakia. She was a young woman who lived during the ministry of John Wycliffe though at the time of her birth of course and in their early days she didn’t know anything about John Wycliffe.

John Wycliffe, just so you recall is what you would refer to by many as the morning star of the reformation. God used him as it were to light the match of what eventually became the flame of the Reformation. He was that first glimmer of the grace of God as it moved into the Reformation period. He was the first person to translate the Scriptures into English and he stood strongly against Roman Catholicism in his day.

But back to the story of Anne; you might recognize Anne’s brother, King Wenceslas. I always mix his name up, but we sing about him, at least some people do, I don’t really, my wife loves the song apparently, but I’m not a fan of that song, it’s too long and tedious, but nonetheless, he has a Christmas carol written about him, a rather long one as I mentioned. But from a child, Anne heard the Scriptures taught and she began to ask many probing questions concerning the truths in its pages. Anne was described as a godly, intelligent young girl with an inquiring mind. And she was renowned for her love of reading and for her possession of the Scriptures in three different languages. And as time continued, she grew in her love for God and His Word.

Now keep in mind, that you have Bohemia circled there in the smaller circle and over there we have England where God is already doing something through the ministry of John Wycliffe. How will John Wycliffe and the story of Anne connect? Well, through her study of Scripture, Anne came to recognize that there were many errors prevailing in the Roman Catholic church in which she had grown up and she began to pray persistently for a return of the church to biblical faithfulness. To the doctrines of the Apostles and to the purity of the early church, this was her prayer from a young age. Well of course over in England the prayers of Anne were being answered already as over there John Wycliffe was being used by God to spark a Reformation.

At this time, a new king, Richard II, had taken the throne of England. He was only 10 years of age when he was made king. Well only a year after Richard became king, there was a great schism that took place in the Roman Catholic church. Two rival popes claimed supremacy of the Roman Catholic church; one in Rome, the other in the city of Avignon, France. Well over in Bohemia, I know it gets confusing, all this stuff, I tried to keep it as simple as possible; over in Bohemia, where Anne was from, her brother king Wenceslas was in support of Pope Urban VI. King Wenceslas wanted to see Pope Urban be made the official king. He was rooting for Pope Urban, go Pope Urban. At the same time, over in France, the French wanted their homegrown pope, Pope Clement VII of Avignon, they wanted him to be the pope, go Pope Clement. It was sort of like, I guess, the ancient version of sports back in the day; which pope will win. Except this was a very rare situation. Never before in Roman Catholicism had two popes claimed the same seat. In fact, what’s going to happen if you go further into church history, you’re going to find 3 popes all in rival for the same popeship.

Well, Pope Urban VI had a plan to get more people supporting his popeship. I’m sure that’s not the official word for it, but popeship sounds good to me. So Pope Urban VI said how can I get more support for my side? So, he’s like, how can I get England to support me? Here was his plan – Anne. Anne of Bohemia. She’s single and her brother, king Wenceslas, he likes me. I know, I’ll get Anne to marry the new king. So he arranged the marriage between Anne of Bohemia and king Richard II of England. His goal of course was to attempt to see England and Bohemia become great friends and of course back him instead of Pope Clement.

And so on a miserable January day in 1382, the boy king, King Richard II married Anne. They were only 15 and 16, respectively, that’s pretty young just so you guys know, don’t rush into marriage. It’s been reported that Anne was not liked. They didn’t like her. She wasn’t a very beautiful woman according to people of the day. They disdained her; she was from a different country, and she had no fortune, she wasn’t wealthy. In fact the Westminster Chronicler of the day actually referred to the new queen as a tiny scrap of humanity. That gives you a little picture into what the people thought of her. But in spite of the criticism of the people, Anne was now Queen of England.

Well the two nations of England and Bohemia now became linked through this means, right? Bohemia students would now travel to Oxford to be taught and the English students, some of them would go to Prague for their education. And while the people didn’t love their new Queen and despite being an arranged marriage, King Richard loved Anne very much. And King Richard and his wife became inseparable.

Now remember that while all of this was being orchestrated by Pope Urban VI, little did he know that Anne was actually no fan of the Pope at all. Her brother was but she wasn’t. In fact, secretly, secretly, it was just the opposite. She did not like the Pope. Anne was actually a follower, she had become by this point, a follower of the anti-pope professor and reformer, John Wycliffe. And she had actually collected books and writings of John Wycliffe and she was devouring everything she could get of the writings of John Wycliffe. In fact it’s reported that this had actually factored into her acceptance of this arranged marriage deal. The proposal of marriage to King Richard, of England. Anne privately loved the idea of moving to England, she would be closer now to her Reformation hero, John Wycliffe. Thankfully she loved her husband too.

But, you know, only a few years of marriage, into the marriage, the Archbishop of York in England, one of the most vitriol enemies of Wycliffe’s Reformation work was horrified when he heard that Queen Anne owned not only copies of the Gospels, which she avidly studied, but also the writings of John Wycliffe. Professor John Wycliffe, for his part, he was delighted to learn of Anne’s love for the Scriptures and he publically compared Queen Anne to the biblical Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet listening to what the Master had to say. Queen Anne took personal responsibility to protect Wycliffe from his many enemies. And she personally intervened on numerous occasions to protect him from persecution and to save his life. So think about this, an arranged marriage by a Pope who hates John Wycliffe; an arranged marriage to this Queen Anne who, unbeknown to the Pope, loves John Wycliffe. God is using that woman to save John Wycliffe from dying, from being put to death. And you just see the irony of the amazing stories that God tells in His big Story.

So as time went on, students began to travel from their home country, from Anne’s home country of Bohemia, to study under John Wycliffe. Anne was encouraging Bohemian students, come here, come and listen to John Wycliffe. And many of those same students brought back John Wycliffe’s teachings and writings into Prague, into Bohemia, and these writings spread throughout central Europe. You see how God was using her to profligate the gospel throughout the world. She was doing this all from the back, from behind the scenes. And so many of Anne’s friends and servants became dedicated Christian believers through her, through her ministry and life. And students sponsored by Queen Anne were soon taking the Reformation writings and teachings as far afield as Lithuania.

So the common people of England, they slowly grew to love the Queen. She was so kind, she was so generous to the poor, it became legendary, her generosity. She was known to intercede with the king, pleading for him to grant mercy to those who would anger him. There was one occasion during a peasant revolt that Anne prostrated herself at her husband’s feet and she begged forgiveness for the people of London, and her wish was granted.

Well, tragically, this bright and shining light was cut short on the 7th of June, 1394 as Anne died at the young age of 27 years old. Some of us aren’t even getting started even living a prolific life for Christ by this point, but Anne had already exhausted her light and her life was taken from her at a young age, she died from the plague. Her husband, King Richard II was devastated and the people of England deeply mourned her. But, the work that God had done through this woman was not over. Because of her faithfulness, and her defense of the Scripture and John Wycliffe and his teachings, those truths had now permeated the lives of a number of her countrymen from Bohemia.

And then look at the next slide, this is super cool. As a consequence, this man whose story I told you last year, John or Jan Huss encountered the writings of Wycliffe and he was brought to see the truth which eventually began, what was called the Hussite movement, and later, the Moravian Missionary movement. Missionaries went out from this literally to the ends of the earth. Martin Luther encountered the writings of John Huss and that’s how he first saw the truths of God’s Word and the gospel more clearly. Martin Luther considered himself a Hussite and of course this lit the fire of the Reformation.

Well most Christians have heard the names of John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, John Calvin, John Knox and other giants of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. But like Anne of Bohemia, there are many, many other men and women who worked to advance the cause of the Reformation and through whom God was working powerfully behind the scenes.

Time would fail me to tell of Marguerite de Navarre; of Marie Dentiere; of Argula von Grumbach; of Olympia Morata; or of Jean d’albret. Sorry, I’m sure I butchered all their names. But these were women, all of them, I’ve listed women because they get unmentioned usually, who at the cost of their own lives personally funded, sponsored these Reformation theologians that we know about. Worked as spies behind the scenes; gave refuge to the persecuted; stood up against mighty Kings in the name of Christ and who literally laid their lives down for the gospel.

Hebrews chapter 11 gives tribute to faithful individuals like these, saying this, some were tortured refusing to accept release. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

So like Anne of Bohemia, whose story I’ve told you this morning, many of these individuals appeared to be nothing more than tiny scraps of humanity whose names we can’t even name because they’re not familiar to us like the others. But these were tiny scraps of humanity that God chose to use mightily behind the scenes, for His glory, in the advance of His kingdom and the progress of the gospel into all the earth. We, this morning, are beneficiaries of their behind-the-scenes sacrifice; their willingness to be faithful no matter how small it would have seemed at the time that what they were doing was.

Luther praised this relatively unknown woman, Argula, however you pronounce that, this is what he said of her, “The most noble woman, Argula von Grumbach, is there making a valiant fight with great spirit, boldness of speech, and knowledge of Christ. She deserves that all pray for Christ’s victory in her. She alone, among these monsters, carries on with firm faith, though she admits, not without inner trembling. She is a singular instrument of Christ. I commend her to you that Christ through this infirm vessel, may confound the mighty and those who glory in their strength.” Love that quote.

The young princess, Jean d’albret, was once heard to say this, Although I am just a little princess, God has given me the government of this country so I may rule it according to His gospel and teach it His laws. I rely on God who is more powerful than the King of Spain. Endquote.

Well, I hope that taking one Sunday out of 52 to bring, to highlight some of these stories, that God has written into His grand Story, into the Theatre of Time is something that the Lord can use in our own lives to cause us to rise up, no matter how small or great we feel, no matter how old or young we feel, to rise up and be men and women and boys and girls of faith and obedience to Christ. To be obedient no matter what the government throws our way and tells us we can or cannot do. We are captive to the Word of God. We are captive to His Word. Too often we become obsessed with our level of significance in the world, right? But listen, if God could use these tiny scraps for His glory, then He can use you and me too.

And so just as we come to conclusion this morning, I want to direct your attention to the book that we’ve been working through expositionally over the last number of months. Turn with me briefly as we conclude to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and we’ll revisit briefly one text that we spent some time on some months ago. So 1Corinthians 1, I want to leave you with this, just to simply encourage you to be faithful in whatever sphere the Lord has put you in, so I leave you with these words, beginning in verse 26:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being may boast in the presence of God. And because of him, that is God, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boast, boast in the Lord.”

Now, thankful for some of you who are visiting for the first time, you may say, what is this a typical sermon? No. I like to highlight these figures sometimes to bring into, as it were, reality for us, some things that sometimes as we’ve been working through 1 Corinthians or even Psalm 2, that sometimes these things can be remote to us but when we bring in the life of an individual, and this time one that we would say is very obscure, it helps, I think, us recognize ourselves in the story of the Scripture too. We can read a verse, verses like we just read now, and say, ya, I might be included in that. That I’m not mighty; I’m not powerful; I’m not the wisest guy in the street; I’m not the strongest on the street; but where do I fit into this text 1 Corinthians 1. Well Anne of Bohemia can help you see yourself in the story. God takes tiny scraps of humanity and uses them for His glory and He can use you too.

And so let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we are so thankful this morning, for the grace that is found in Christ Jesus. We are thankful for the Scriptures. We thank you for using John Wycliffe to faithfully translate the Scriptures into English so that the common man could see and understand it. And that a woman would pick up these words and treasure them and study the Scriptures and even at a young age from 10 and 12 and 13 began to foster a love for the Word. Lord I pray that even among us, among our boys and girls, there would be boys and girls who are beginning to have a sincere interest in the Word and not just say, well that’s for big people. But that they would recognize life is short and that they need to use every opportunity for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re thankful that, in spite of many who would oppose your Name, like these popes whorival the position that your Word has not given them. That even you would use these mockers of your Word to be vessels by which You accomplish your purpose in bringing Anne to England in this case. In allowing her to be a behind the scenes spokesperson for the gospel and to see it advance throughout Europe and now, Lord, we are beneficiaries to this day. Thank you for your grace. We pray that you would bless and encourage our hearts as we conclude this morning. We pray in Jesus Name. Amen.

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