The Goose is Cooked: Jan Hus & the Hussite Tradition
Ephesians 2:1-10

            How can we live a life that is pleasing to God? How can we attain forgiveness for the sins we have committed throughout our lives? What do we have to do to get into heaven?  These are some of the most important questions that we can ever ask ourselves. I am sure most of you have thought about these issues at some point in your life!

            The Bible offers crystal clear answers to each one of these questions, but unfortunately, throughout the centuries, the church has muddied the waters. The apostles preached the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, but some of the early church fathers departed from the Apostle’s teaching and developed doctrines that were detrimental to the Christian faith. After the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the church and state were wed in an unholy union of political power that diverted church even further from its original purpose. And throughout the Middle Ages, very few people read the Bible and the church drifted so far from biblical truth that it would have been completely unrecognizable to Jesus’ apostles.

Here is a short list of the unbiblical doctrines that were established during this time:

  • Baptism- The church began to baptize infants to wash away original sin and made this sacrament a requirement for salvation.
  • Veneration of Relics- The idea that there are certain benefits given to people who pay to see inanimate objects (bones, hair, clothing, etc.) that belonged to a Saint or martyr.
  • Penance- Where a person confesses his or her sins privately to a priest and then carries out some act to receive forgiveness.
  • Indulgences- The act of paying the church to reduce a person’s punishment for sin or to reduce time in purgatory.

None of these practices are found in the Bible, but they became standard procedure in the Roman Catholic church.

But as people like Peter Waldo and John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into French, English, and other vernacular languages, common folks started reading the Scriptures for themselves and realized that the Bible and the church were not proclaiming the same gospel. These people began speaking out against the abuses and demanding reform. And one of the most outspoken critics of the Roman Catholic Church was a brilliant Bohemian professor by the name of Jan Hus, who became a champion of the doctrine of justification by grace alone. As we shall see, Hus was willing to pay the ultimate price to rescue the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Jan Hus and the Hussites

Jan Hus was born in 1369 in the little town of Husinetz, in southern Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic.) His father died when he was a little boy. Although his mother was poor, she was determined to send him to school. Through God’s providence, a nobleman kindly paid for Hus’ education and he eventually graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Prague. When he was 26 years old, he became a priest and professor of divinity at the university.

At the time, Hus was still a Roman Catholic and dedicated to the teachings of the church. Some Czech students returned from Oxford University in England and gave some of John Wycliffe’s writings to Master Hus. Wycliffe’s claims compelled Hus to read the Bible for himself, and he soon discovered that Wycliffe was right about many of the church’s teachings being contrary to the Bible. As he read the Bible, the Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see the Savior, who is the only remedy to sin. By faith, he trusted in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

In 1402, Hus was asked to preach at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, which became the center of the Czech reform movement. He preached directly from the Bible and delivered the message in a clear and powerful style. The people understood every word of his sermons because he preached to them in the Czech language, not Latin. He often preached twice a day to an ever-widening audience of listeners who were leaving the Catholic Church for the Bethlehem Chapel.

The Roman Catholic bishops tried to stop Hus from preaching, but the Queen of Bohemia was his friend and attended his church. She and her husband protected Hus. (Despite what Garth Brooks says, it pays to have friends in “high” places!) So, the bishops wrote to the Pope, accusing Hus of being a heretic. The Pope banned Hus from preaching and ordered that all of his and Wycliffe’s books to be destroyed.

Hus became even more outspoken when Pope John XXIII launched a crusade and offered soldiers full absolution for their sins if they joined his fight. Hus was outraged by the pope’s using spiritual blessings in exchange for political gain. He publicly criticized the pope for his shameful sale of indulgences, the pope responded by ordering all public worship services to stop as long as Hus remained in the city. Hus left Prague in 1412 and he preached in towns and villages, in fields and forests, so that the gospel was spread even further, reaching the ears of people who did not normally attend church.

When the pope heard that Hus’ teachings were spreading rapidly, he attempted to stop him in another way. He wrote to the emperor of Germany and told him to call a council of bishops and educated men to meet in the city of Constance. The emperor ordered Hus to appear before this council. Hus’ friends urged him not to go until the emperor granted him an order of “safe conduct” which was a promise that his life would be protected regardless of the outcome of the council.

When Hus arrived in Constance, he was immediately cast into a filthy dungeon in a Dominican monastery by the Rhine River. During the day he was kept in chains in his cell, and at night he was fastened to the wall. For weeks, his enemies starved him as they tried to force him to recant his teachings. But Hus’ answer was, “God will not permit me to deny his truth.”        On July 6, 1415, Hus was finally called before the council and charged with heresy. The council leaders mocked him, placing on his head a paper crown, about two feet high, on which were painted three devils, as well as the word “Arch-heretic.” During the trial he said that he would be happy to recant if he could be shown that his views were contrary to Scripture. The council was not interested in a theological debate and they condemned him to death by fire.

Despite the “safe conduct” promise, Hus was led to his place of execution in a meadow outside the city. The guards then bound him with wet ropes to a large wooden stake and fasted a rusty chain around his neck. Then they heaped straw and wood and lit the pile on fire. As the flames wrapped around Hus’ body, instead of screams of agony, the people heard singing. In the midst of his pain, Jan Hus was singing praises to God as he entered into eternal glory.

The name “Hus” is the word for “goose” in the Czech language. A priest who watched the execution reported that before Hus died, he said, “You can cook this goose but within a century a swan shall arise who will prevail. A century later, Martin Luther saw himself as the fulfillment of Hus’ prophecy when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church and launched the Protestant Reformation.

After Hus’ death, his enemies gathered up his ashes and threw them into the Rhine River to show their hatred toward him. Many of Hus’ followers, who became known as the Hussites, went to war to war with them. The Hussite wars over the next fifteen years led to a period of Bohemian independence from the Roman Catholic Church. The Hussites established their own churches and eventually joined with the Protestant Reformers in the centuries to come. (Kleyn, 19-25 and Lutzer, 12-21)

 

Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)

Jan Hus fell to the flames in a desperate attempt to rescue the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whereas Waldo and Wycliffe focused on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Hus reclaimed the biblical doctrine of Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone). He brought people back to the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:1-10, where the Apostle explains that sinners can only be saved by God’s grace alone, not by any deeds of their own. Let’s take a closer look at this passage. We find the bad news in verses 1-3 and the good news in verses 4-10.

 

The Bad News: The Problem of Sin (1-3)

Paul begins this section with a sentence that is almost as long as the Nile River. It is a dramatic declaration that all people are spiritually dead because of their sins. He reminds the Ephesians that “trespasses and sins” are both the cause and evidence of spiritual death. Then he goes on to describe their former life without Christ. They followed in the course of the sinful world which is ruled by Satan (the prince of the power of the air), who tries to deceive people into disobeying God. In verse 3, Paul makes it clear that everyone falls into this category of sin, where people live for the purpose of satisfying their own selfish desires, whether they be of the body or the mind. It is because of universal sin that mankind is the object of God’s wrath.

            Now before I go on, some of you may be thinking, “Come on, man, is the world really that bad?” Let me just remind you of what we see around us every day: political exploitation, racial prejudice, economic inequality, social injustice, and religious intolerance. How about the barrage of bullying in our schools, rape rampant on our college campuses, pornography peddled all over the internet, drug deals in our alleyways, and violence in our streets like what we saw in Las Vegas earlier this week?

            OK, maybe you’re still thinking, “Well, I’m not that bad! I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t done anything bad enough to warrant the wrath of God! Let me just ask you: In the past year, how many lies have you? I don’t mean the big boldface kind—I mean the little white kind that exaggerates the truth? How many gossipy conversations have you engaged in? How many unkind words have slipped out of your mouth? How many times have you lost your temper? How many grudges are you still holding? How many illicit or immoral thoughts have you allowed to dance around in your mind? Remember now, I’m just asking about this past year, not previous years!

            Do you see what I mean? If I was actually able to add up all the sins I’ve committed throughout my life, I know that I deserve God’s wrath and an eternity in hell. And so do you! This is really bad news!

 

The Good News: The Grace of God (4-10)

If this passage ended in verse 3, we would have no hope. But look at the first two words of verse 4—“but God…” Because of God’s rich mercy and great love, even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ. It is by grace we have been saved. Grace is unmerited favor from God. He treats us graciously even though we don’t deserve it!

Do you see how this works? God must pour out his wrath on sin to maintain his attribute of justice, but in his grace, he sent his Son Jesus to die for us on the cross, bearing the punishment that we deserve. But he will raise us up to heaven with Christ because of Christ! Verse 8 is really the key verse in this whole passage. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our doing or works. It is God’s free gift that can only be received by faith in Jesus!

Friends, this is good news—really good news—the best news ever. Even though we are sinners who deserve the wrath of God, we can enjoy the eternal benefits of heaven because of God’s grace revealed through his Son Jesus Christ. None of us are good enough to get to heaven! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone!

Have you experienced God’s grace in your life? Have you made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ yet?

 

            This is the gospel of Jesus Christ! It was the gospel that got misplaced by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages! It is the gospel the Jan Hus and the other Protestant Reformers rediscovered in the Bible! It is the gospel for which Jan Hus faced the flames!

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