Posts Tagged ‘story of faithfulness’

I have been sharing with you off and on, some stories of real Christians who lived after Bible times who exemplify faithfulness to Jesus, to encourage us and to challenge us to be faithful in our own life situations. Today I am sharing with you about a married couple who faithfully served the Lord – it’s the story of Michael and Margaretha Sattler.

Their story takes place in Europe in the early 1500’s. During their lives the Protestant reformation began and many Christians were seeking to follow Jesus in ways that went beyond what they had been taught.

Let’s begin with –

Michael and Margaretha’s background

Not much is known of Michael’s early life. He was born in Staufen, Germany, just south of Freiburg.

Sattler map

At some point Michael entered St. Peter’s Benedictine monastery.

st peter's'

St. Peter’s

He attained the status of Prior in the monastery, which made him second-in-charge. He was thus considered a part of the upper class of his day; a “lord.” He had status and respect.

From what we know, he was a serious and devout monk who took part in a spiritual renewal at his monastery (the inter-Benedictine Bursfeld reformation). He might have even been in charge of this.

Even less is known about Margaretha. She is said to have been a Beguine, a semi-monastic group of women who worked with the poor. She was described by one person as “a refined and comely (pretty) little woman.” (p. 80)

Some key transitions

In mid-1525 Michael left the monastery. It had been captured by Protestant-ish  peasant revolutionaries, some of whom were Anabaptists, that is, people who rejected infant baptism. They were demanding economic justice from their lords for over-taxation and oppression and were doing so on the basis of a call to live by what the Scriptures teach. It’s possible that Sattler, as Prior, was the one these revolutionaries presented their claims to. He must have become a sympathizer to their cause, because after leaving the monastery, he shows up again in the Waldshut area, where many of these revolutionaries came from.

Sometime between May 1525 and May 1526 he and Margaretha were married. We don’t know how they met, but she may have already been a part of an Anabaptist group.He learned the trade of weaving to support them in their new life together.

In November of 1525 he attended the famous infant baptism disputation in Zurich (November 6-8). He most likely went simply to hear the arguments on this topic. He was eventually arrested by the Protestant Zurich authorities who opposed Anabaptists. They perhaps knew that he was sympathetic to them. He was released on November 18th after he swore to leave the region.

By June 1526 he was baptized as a believer, instead of simply being infant baptized.

Michael’s ministry

 Sattler ministry map

Not long after his baptism he began a ministry of evangelizing in the area north of Zurich.

Then in late 1526 he spent time in Strasbourg. He met with various Anabaptist groups and also with the local Protestant reformers there (Capito and Bucer). Protestants at this time despised Anabaptists because of their views, and because most were uneducated and unsophisticated. Michael, however was on their social level and they came to respect him. He called on them to release the Anabaptists they had imprisoned.

Next he went to Lahr, north of Freiburg, to evangelize (January-February 1527).

Then he went to Schleitheim for an important meeting, and then he went to Horb to be the pastor of the Anabaptist congregation there.



The Schleitheim meeting – February 24, 1527

Because of disagreements among the Swiss brethren Anabaptists and because so many of the early leaders were dead, (the average lifespan of a leader was two years because of fierce persecution) they met together secretly in the village of Schleitheim.



Sattler book

Book containing an early copy of the Schleitheim confession

Michael gave leadership to this important meeting. He wrote the Confession of faith that summarized what these Anabaptists had come to an agreement on relating to baptism, church discipline, the Lord’s Supper, separation from the world, calling pastors, loving enemies, and swearing oaths.

This document, the Schleitheim confession, has had enormous influence on Anabaptists and Mennonite even to this day, as well as other Baptist groups.

After the meeting Sattler was active in the town of Horb giving leadership to an Anabaptist congregation there.

Arrest, trial and death

In March 1527 Michael and Margaretha were arrested in Horb just a short time after the Schleitheim meeting, along with some others. They were moved to Binsdorf to the prison tower. Here Michael wrote a letter to his congregation that was  shaken and afraid of persecution – reminding them to be faithful and not give up.

The trial took place in Rottenburg on May 17-18. They were charged with holding various Anabaptist ideas: For instance that only believers who choose faith for themselves should be baptized; the Lord’s supper is a symbolic meal shared among believers; and not resisting evildoer or swearing oaths as Jesus taught in Matthew 5.

Michael spoke for all the prisoners. He appealed to the Scriptures. He invited teachers to come and said, “If they show us with Holy Scripture that we are in error and wrong, we will gladly retract and recant . . .. But if we cannot be proved in error, I hope to God that you will repent and let yourselves be taught.” (p. 73) The prosecutor responded – “the hangman will dispute with you.” (p. 73)

Rottenburg square

Town square of Rottenburg

When some in the crowed jeered him and asked why he didn’t remain a lord in the monastery, he said, “According to the flesh I would be a lord, but it is better as it is.” (p. 74)

The sentence was given – “Michael Sattler should be given into the hands of the hangman, who shall lead him to the square and then cut off his tongue; then chain him to a wagon, there tear his body twice with red hot tongs; and again when he is brought before the gate, five more times.” (p. 75) After this torture, he was burned alive at the stake on May 20th.

Others among the group recanted. But Margaretha remained steadfast and was drowned in the Neckar river two days later, refusing to recant or even to receive a pardon from a powerful woman.

Neckar river

The Neckar river

Sattler memorial

This a memorial stone in memory of their lives just outside Rottenburg. It says, “they died for their faith.”

They had only been married for, at most, two years, maybe just one. He was a leader and pastor for less than a year.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– from their lives.

1. They lived their lives by the simple words and example of Jesus.

In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said to the apostles “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” They sought to be true to this word of Jesus to observe all that he had commanded them.

  • they had a ministry of preaching the gospel and evangelizing, as Jesus commanded. Even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • they helped build and lead a church made up of believers, as Jesus commanded. And they did this even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • and they loved their enemies as Jesus commanded, even though they were trying to kill them, and eventually did.

They didn’t listen to fancy explanations about how Jesus didn’t really mean what he said; explanations that were given to make people’s lives easier in this world. They were focused on the world to come.

At their trial they asked to be shown from the Scriptures where they were wrong in all this.  The Scriptures guided their lives.

Do you live by the simple words and example of Jesus? Even when it makes you stand out or not fit in?

2. They took up their cross and followed Jesus.

In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

He gave up his status as a lord. They gave up their comfortable lives to serve Jesus; to be in constant danger, on the run and in hiding. They gave up their life together as a married couple. They could have gone off and hid and lived long lives. But they felt compelled to serve Jesus and teach his way.

What have you given up to follow Jesus? How have you denied yourself? How have you sacrificed and accepted suffering to follow him?

3. They faithfully bore witness before hostile authorities.

In Luke 21:12-13 Jesus said, “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”

Much effort was put into getting them to recant, and many who were with them did. But they remained faithful. They saw their imprisonment as an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus with their words and with their blood.

How are you bearing witness for Jesus? Are you doing this in your much easier circumstances of life? If they can do this while suffering death, can we be more bold when the most that will happen to us is that people will make fun of us?

(I am indebted to The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, by Arnold Snyder; Quotes come from The Legacy of Michael Sattler, by John H. Yoder)

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