“One little word can fell him.”
Do you know what word Martin Luther had in mind? If so, you might be a better Lutheran than I am. I have to admit that even with all the times I’ve sung the hymn, I never bothered to find out the answer to that question.
Maybe I sort of assumed it was something like “Jesus” or “grace.” Maybe I assumed Luther didn’t necessarily have one specific word in mind but rather was making the point that the Word of God in general — even in the smallest of quantities — holds total power over Satan.
But then a recent sermon on verses from Revelation led me to investigate the question further. The verses in front of me were Revelation 14:6,7. They describe an angel, a messenger sent from God, who delivers the gospel to every nation on earth until Jesus’ return. From the earliest days of the Reformation, many have identified Luther as at least part of the fulfillment of this comforting promise. These verses served as the sermon text at Luther’s funeral and have been used on anniversaries of the Reformation for centuries.
The beauty of the picture of that angel is highlighted by the surrounding context. John had just seen a vivid vision of the Church’s greatest enemies: a ferocious red dragon and his two allies, the beasts. That dragon represents Satan, whose goal it is to lead “the whole world astray” (12:9).
As Satan carries out that work, lies flow out of his mouth like water. His liquid lies seep into every nook and cranny of our world. They seep into our homes, our churches, and our hearts. They come in many different shapes and sizes. But one common thread ties them all together. More than anything else, the devil wants us to believe one grand lie, the same lie that he used to get Adam and Eve to bite: God doesn’t love you.
But then amid all of those lies, this angel goes out to do his work. He implores people to worship God and give him glory rather than paying homage to the dragon by listening to his lies. Why? The angels tells us. “The hour of his judgment has come” (14:7). Against all of the devil’s lies that God doesn’t love you stands one accomplished fact. One finished event demonstrates beyond doubt that the devil’s greatest lie is just that, that God most certainly loves us: Jesus’ death on the cross.
“He’s judged. The deed is done.”
So when the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the sins you’ve committed… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the suffering you’re enduring… When the devil tries to convince you that God doesn’t love you because of the struggle he’s asking you to take up against the deeply-rooted desires of your heart... Rather than listening to those lies, remember Jesus’ cross as indisputable, irreversible evidence to the contrary.
Then answer the devil with that one little word that, as Jesus has clearly demonstrated, describes him so perfectly: “Liar.”
Luther himself identified this as the word he had in mind. When speaking about one of the books written against him, Luther said, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him’” (Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 41, pp. 185–186).