When preached simply and purely, verse-by-verse and book-by-book, the Bible can change lives and transform history. Just ask Zwingli.

Ulrich Zwingli was born on January 1, 1484, in a Swiss shepherd’s cottage in the Alps. His parents instilled in him a love for God. The young man proved a brilliant student, and following a brief stint as a schoolteacher he entered the priesthood. For ten years he labored in the village of Glarus, and there he began corresponding with the famous Greek scholar Erasmus.

The Swiss church was bubbling with corruption during this time. In 1516, when Zwingli moved to Einsiedeln, he, too, was struggling hard with sin. In his new village, the young priest fell into an intimate relationship with the barber’s daughter. But it was also in Einsiedeln that he borrowed a copy of Erasmus’s newly published Greek New Testament. Zwingli copied it. Carrying it everywhere, he pored over it continually and scribbled notes in the margins and memorized it. The pure Scripture began doing its work, and Zwingli’s life and preaching took on new vigor. Soon he was invited to Zurich as chief preacher in the cathedral.

He arrived on December 27, 1518, and began his duties on his thirty-sixth birthday, January 1, 1519, with a shock. He announced that he would break a thousand years of tradition by abandoning the church liturgy and the weekly readings as a basis for his sermons. Instead, he would teach verse-by-verse through the New Testament, beginning immediately. He proceeded to preach that day from Matthew 1 on the genealogy of Christ.

Such preaching was radical in its day, but Zurich loved it. Zwingli’s concern for the city’s youth, his courage during the plague, and his cheerful temper dispelled initial doubts about his reformation ideas. Later, when opposition arose, Zurich’s City Council and 600 other interested citizens gathered to evaluate his actions. The assembly (the First Zurich Disputation, 1523) affirmed Zwingli and encouraged his work. Lives were changed; history was made. The Swiss Reformation had begun.

Jesus Christ came from the family of King David and also from the family of Abraham … The Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:1,22,23)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Jan. 1.

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