Word of the Heart

The WORD

1“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 1:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

When a man has a thought, a word, or a conversation within himself, he speaks to himself incessantly and is full of words that suggest counsel as to what to do or not to do. He continually converses and deliberates on this within himself. And particularly when something is close to his heart and makes him angry or happy, his heart is so full of anger and so full of happiness that his emotions involuntarily spill over into his mouth. For a word is not merely the utterance of the mouth; rather it is the thought of the heart. Without this thought the external word is not spoken; or if it is spoken, it has substance only when the word of the mouth is in accord with the word of the heart. Only then is the external word meaningful; otherwise it is worthless. Thus God, too, from all eternity has a Word, a speech, a thought, or a conversation with Himself in His divine heart, unknown to angels and men. This is called His Word. From eternity He was within God’s paternal heart, and through Him God resolved to create heaven and earth. But no man was aware of such a resolve until the Word became flesh and proclaimed this to us. This we shall see later in the words (John 1:18): “The Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed it to us.”

But just as God, the Lord and Creator of all creatures, is immeasurably superior to poor, miserable man, who is earth and dust, so there is no analogy between the word of mortal man and the Word of the eternal and almighty God. There is a wide gulf between the thoughts, discussions, and words of the human heart and those of God. For God is not created or made as we human beings are; He is from all eternity. No one has given Him His speech, His Word, or His conversation. What He is, He is of Himself from eternity. But whatever we are, we received from Him and not from ourselves. He alone has everything from Himself.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

The Way to God

The WORD

16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

But if you want to find God, then inscribe these words in your heart. Don’t sleep, but be vigilant, Learn and ponder these words diligently: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Let him who can write, write these words. Furthermore, read them, discuss them, meditate and reflect on them in the morning and in the evening, whether awake or asleep! For the devil will sorely assail your faith in an effort to make you doubt that Christ is the Son of God and that your faith is pleasing to God. He will torture you with thoughts of predestination, with the wrath and the judgment of God. Then you must say: “I don’t want to hear or know anything else about God than that He loves me. I don’t want to know anything about a wrathful God, about His judgment and anger, about hell, about death, and about damnation. But if I do see God’s wrath, I know that this drives me to the Son, where I find refuge; and if I come to the Son, I also have a merciful Father.” For St. John tells us in his epistle that the Father loved me before I ever loved Him or knew Him, that He remitted my sin and gave me salvation (1 John 4:10).

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 368). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

How Do We Pray?

The WORD

7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:7–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

But the Christian’s prayer is easy, and it does not cause hard work. For it proceeds in faith on the basis of the promise of God, and it presents its need from the heart. Faith quickly gets through telling what it wants; indeed, it does so with a sigh that the heart utters and that words can neither attain nor express. As Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “the Spirit prays.” And because He knows that God is listening to Him, He has no need of such everlasting twaddle. That is how the saints prayed in the Scriptures, like Elijah, Elisha, David, and others—with brief but strong and powerful words. This is evident in the Psalter, where there is hardly a single psalm that has a prayer more than five or six verses long. Therefore the ancient fathers have said correctly that many long prayers are not the way. They recommend short, fervent prayers, where one sighs toward heaven with a word or two, as is often quite possible in the midst of reading, writing, or doing some other task.

But the others, who make it nothing but a work of drudgery, can never pray with gladness or with devotion. They are glad when they are finally through with their babbling. And so it must be. Where there is no faith and no feeling of need in a petition, there the heart cannot be involved either. But where the heart is not involved and the body has to do all the work, there it becomes difficult drudgery. This is evident even in physical work. How difficult and dreary it is for the person who is doing something unwillingly! But on the other hand, if the heart is cheerful and willing, then it does not even notice the work. So it is here, too: the man who is serious in his intentions and takes pleasure in prayer neither knows nor feels any toil and trouble; he simply looks at his need, and he has finished singing or praying the words before he has a chance to turn around. In other words, prayers ought to be brief, frequent, and intense. For God does not ask how much and how long you have prayed, but how good the prayer is and whether it proceeds from the heart.

Therefore Christ says now: “Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask for it.” It is as if He would say: “What are you up to? Do you suppose that you will talk Him down with your long babbling and make Him give you what you need? There is no need for you to persuade Him with your words or to give Him detailed instructions; for He knows beforehand what you need, even better than you do yourself.” If you came before a prince or a judge who knew your case better than you could describe it to him and tried to give him a long-winded account of it, he would have a perfect right to laugh at you or, more likely, to become displeased with you. Indeed, as St. Paul says (Rom. 8:26), “We do not know how we are to pray.” Therefore when He hears us, whatever He gives us is something in excess of our understanding or our hopes. Sometimes He lets us go on asking for something which He does not give right away, or perhaps does not give at all, knowing very well what is necessary and useful for us and what is not. We ourselves do not see this, but finally we have to admit that it would not have been good for us if He had done His giving on the basis of our petition. Therefore we must not go into a long harangue to give Him instructions or prescriptions about what He should do for us and how He should do it. He intends to give in such a way that His name might be hallowed, His kingdom extended, and His will advanced.

But you may say: “Since He knows and sees all our needs better than we do ourselves, why does He let us bring our petitions and present our need, instead of giving it to us without our petitioning? After all, He freely gives the whole world so much good every day, like the sun, the rain, crops and money, body and life, for which no one asks Him or thanks Him. He knows that no one can get along for a single day without light, food, and drink. Then why does He tell us to ask for these things?”

The reason He commands it is, of course, not in order to have us make our prayers an instruction to Him as to what He ought to give us, but in order to have us acknowledge and confess that He is already bestowing many blessings upon us and that He can and will give us still more. By our praying, therefore, we are instructing ourselves more than we are Him. It makes me turn around so that I do not proceed as do the ungodly, neither acknowledging this nor thanking Him for it. When my heart is turned to Him and awakened this way, then I praise Him, thank Him, take refuge with Him in my need, and expect help from Him. As a consequence of all this, I learn more and more to acknowledge what kind of God He is. Because I seek and knock at His door (Matt. 7:7), He takes pleasure in giving me ever more generous gifts. You see, that is how a genuine petitioner proceeds. He is not like those other useless babblers, who prattle a great deal but who never recognize all this. He knows that what he has is a gift of God, and from his heart he says: “Lord, I know that of myself I can neither produce nor preserve a piece of my daily bread; nor can I defend myself against any kind of need or misfortune. Therefore I shall look to Thee for it and request it from Thee, since Thou dost command me this way and dost promise to give it to me, Thou who dost anticipate my every thought and sympathize with my every need.”

You see, a prayer that acknowledges this truly pleases God. It is the truest, highest, and most precious worship which we can render to Him; for it gives Him the glory that is due Him. The others do not do this. Like pigs, they grab all the gifts of God and devour them. They take over one country or city or house after another. They never consider whether they should be paying attention to God. Meanwhile they lay claim to holiness, with their many loud tones and noises in church. But a Christian heart is one that learns from the Word of God that everything we have is from God and nothing is from ourselves. Such a heart accepts all this in faith and practices it, learning to look to Him for everything and to expect it from Him. In this way praying teaches us to recognize who we are and who God is, and to learn what we need and where we are to look for it and find it. The result of this is an excellent, perfect, and sensible man, one who can maintain the right relationship to all things.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 21, pp. 143–145). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Heaven is Open, Dear Friends!

The WORD

51“And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 1:51). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

When did Nathanael see the heaven opened, and when did he see the angels? There are only two instances in the New Testament telling us that the heaven opened. The first was: when Christ stepped out of the Jordan after His Baptism by John, we read that the heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard (Matt. 3:16–17). The second was: as we read in Matt. 17:1 ff., the heaven opened when Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ and three of His disciples on Mt. Tabor. A white cloud overshadowed them, which made their faces and their garments as lustrous as the sun. Only the three apostles saw the heaven opened there; Nathanael was not present, nor was anyone else. Therefore our text must have a special meaning. Christ Himself interprets it. As we see, He refers it to Himself. The evangelist does not mention a ladder but merely says that the angels of God ascended and descended upon the Son of man. Therefore this story must be interpreted spiritually. The vision which the patriarch had on the site where Jerusalem was subsequently built points to Christ. For when Christ became man and entered upon His preaching ministry, then heaven was opened. Beginning with that time, it is open and remains open. It has never again been closed since Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan; and it will never again be closed, hidden though this sight is from the physical eye. When heaven is open and God the Father addresses us, we note this only with our spiritual sight. Before the advent of Christ heaven was closed, and the devil had full sway; but in and through Christ the heaven stands ajar again. Now Christians see heaven opened, always hear God the Heavenly Father conversing with them, and behold the dear angels continuously ascending and descending upon us. The Heavenly Father still addresses these words to us: “This is My beloved Son!” He will continue to do so until the Day of Judgment, nor will heaven ever be closed again. When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, governs us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us—but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 201–202). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Christ takes away all the wrath, anger, enmity, and disfavor of God

The WORD

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). John 6:38–40. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

Christ also says here: “My will is not Mine alone or something apart from the Father’s will; for whatever I will, He also wills. And whenever you hear Me, do not flit back and forth, as though God wanted to teach you something different from what I am doing. It is His will that I say: When you come to Christ, the Father will not reject you.” Therewith Christ takes away all the wrath, anger, enmity, and disfavor of God, certifying that neither He nor the Father will cast us out and reject us. Then we can stand our ground when a bad conscience assails us, and not say: “I have lived a holy life.” For this would not be enough, nor could you survive on it. But there is comfort in saying: “I believe in Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered and died. I rely on His own statement that He will not cast out him who comes to Him. In reliance on these words I come to Thee, dear Lord Christ, for that is the expression of Thy will and Thy heart, as also of Thy mouth. These words are certain and sufficient. I am sure that Thou art not deceiving me. These words will not fail me. Thou wilt not cast out those who come to Thee. Even though I am a scoundrel and lack the holiness and piety to stand before Thee, Thou art nonetheless faithful and wantest me to be raised from the dead on the Last Day. Even though I cannot hold my own, Thou, dear Lord, wilt stand firm. Thou wilt not reject me.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 23, pp. 64–65). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Recognizing the Giver

The WORD
10“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you: Give Me a drink! you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

 

“I would be happier to reverse the order and give you a drink. In fact, this is the reason for My presence here. I am asking for a drink to quench My physical thirst that I might have occasion to give you a drink. If you only realized what a gift is now to be found on earth, you would ask Me for it, and I would give you a drink that would taste better than this water. It is of the utmost importance to recognize this gift and to know Him who gives it. But neither the gift nor the Giver is known.” This is also our lament—and it will eternally remain so—that the schismatic spirits do not recognize the gift even when exhorted to do so; and the great multitude also despises this ineffably precious treasure and fails to recognize the Giver of this gift. In fact, we too, who claim to be saints, pay it no heed and do not fully appreciate the value of this treasure offered to us through the Gospel. My dear friend, how few there are among us who esteem this as a genuine treasure, as an eternal gem, as everlasting life! There must be some, however, who will hazard life and limb for it. In Matt. 13 we read of a man who found a pearl in a field. He sold all his possessions in order to buy pearl and field (Matt. 13:45–46). Thus we find many who are willing to endure tortures because of it; they, too, will receive the drink. But the other crowd says flippantly: “What do I care about it?” You will find a hundred thousand people who regard silver mined from the earth as a real treasure. They will not shrink from laboring night and day to acquire such a perishable treasure.

Would to God that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word and that the man addressing us is a scholar and a king. As a matter of fact, it is not an angel or a hundred thousand angels but the Divine Majesty Himself that is preaching there. To be sure, I do not hear this with my ears or see it with my eyes; all I hear is the voice of the preacher, or of my brother or father, and I behold only a man before me. But I view the picture correctly if I add that the voice and words of father or pastor are not his own words and doctrine but those of our Lord and God. It is not a prince, a king, or an archangel whom I hear; it is He who declares that He is able to dispense the water of eternal life. If we could believe this, we would be content indeed. However, a fault which is manifest throughout the world and also in us is that we fail to recognize the gift and its Giver. I, too, am not at all perfect in this respect; my faith is not as profound and strong as I should like to have it. Flesh and blood are an impediment. They merely behold the person of the pastor and brother and hear only the voice of the father. They cannot be induced to say: “When I hear the Word, I hear a peal of thunder, and I see the whole world filled with lightning.” No, we cannot be brought to do that, and this is most deplorable. Flesh and blood are at fault. They refuse to regard the oral Word and the ministry as a treasure costlier and better than heaven and earth. People generally think: “If I had an opportunity to hear God speak in person, I would run my feet bloody.” This is why people in times past flocked to the Oak, to Aachen, and to the Grym Valley. Because the people believed that Mary would help them in these places, they all hurried there. If someone at that time had announced: “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; if I had gone there and seen and heard a poor pastor baptizing and preaching, and if I had been assured: “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word”—I would have said: “Well, I have been duped! I see only a pastor.” We should like to have God speak to us in His majesty. But I advise you not to run hither and yon for this. I suppose we could learn how people would run if God addressed them in His majesty. This is what happened on Mt. Sinai, where only the angels spoke and yet the mountain was wrapped in smoke and quaked. But you now have the Word of God in church, in books, in your home; and this is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you.

Christ says: “You do not know the gift.” We recognize neither the Word nor the Person of Christ, but we take offense at His humble and weak humanity. When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail Himself of an angel but of parents, of the pastor, or of my neighbor. This puzzles and blinds me so that I fail to recognize God, who is conversing with me through the person of the pastor or father. This prompts the Lord Christ to say in the text: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ then I would not be obliged to run after you and beg for a drink. You would run after Me and ask Me for the living water. But since you do not know the gift and do not recognize Him who is speaking with you, you despise Me.” Even if Christ did no more than greet us, it would be a treasure above all treasures; it would be honor and treasure enough. He has another treasure in store for us, however, which He reveals when He brings us forgiveness of sin and redemption from death, devil, and hell, when He transforms us into heavenly people and illumines our hearts. We can never express the value of this treasure adequately. We shall always fall short of recognizing it fully and of esteeming it as we really and truly should.

We should mark well that this is spoken to us too. If we recognized this gift, we would receive water in which the Holy Spirit is given to us. By God’s grace we have at least begun to recognize God’s gift and the Teacher. If we had not, I would not be able to teach you. Then you would fare as you did in the papacy, where you were told: “Run hither and yon!” However, thus far we have received only the first fruits and not the tithe. It is just beginning to dawn on us that God’s speaking to us is an inexpressibly precious gift and that we are honored to be God’s pupils and disciples. This is what is meant by knowing the nature of the gift and the person of the Doctor and Teacher. We and our hearers are just beginning to recognize that it is not a man we are listening to, but that it is God who is telling us things that contain an everlasting treasure. Therefore we are told again and again that we cannot speak about this subject enough; we must be like a stammering child. We cannot fathom what an incomprehensibly great treasure we possess in the divine Word. Nor do we really understand who this Person addressing us is or how excellent and exalted this Person is. If we did, it would impel us to boast of being followers, not of a king or of an emperor but of God. People in the world are proud if they have a gracious lord, or if they are privileged to see a prince; it means much to them to stand in his presence and hear him speak. Now it is true that it is a treasure to have a gracious lord or to be a prince’s counselor. But look at the glory of the man who can say: “I am God’s pupil; I hear Him speak—not an angel, not a pastor or a prince, but God Himself. I am His counselor.” For God says: “My message is an excellent gift, and by comparison the world’s riches and glory are nothing but filth.”

My dear friend, regard it as a real treasure that God speaks into your physical ear. The only thing that detracts from this gift is our deficient knowledge of it. To be sure, I do hear the sermon; however, I am wont to ask: “Who is speaking?” The pastor? By no means! You do not hear the pastor. Of course, the voice is his, but the words he employs are really spoken by my God. Therefore I must hold the Word of God in high esteem that I may become an apt pupil of the Word. If we looked upon it as the Word of God, we would be glad to go to church, to listen to the sermon, and to pay attention to the precious Word. There we would hear Christ say: “Give Me a drink!” But since we do not honor the Word of God or show any interest in our own salvation, we do not hear the Word. In fact, we do not enjoy listening to any preacher unless he is gifted with a good and clear voice. If you look more at the pastor than at God; if you do not see God’s person but merely gape to see whether the pastor is learned and skilled, whether he has good diction and articulates distinctly—then you have already become half a Jacob. For a poor speaker may speak the Word of God just as well as he who is endowed with eloquence. A father speaks the Word of God as well as God does, and your neighbor speaks it as well as the angel Gabriel. There is no difference between the Word when uttered by a schoolboy and when uttered by the angel Gabriel; they vary only in rhetorical ability. It matters not that dishes are made of different material—some of silver, others of tin—or whether they are enameled earthen dishes. The same food may be prepared in silver as in dishes of tin. Venison, properly seasoned and prepared, tastes just as good in a wooden dish as in one of silver. We must also make this application to Baptism and absolution. This ought to be a comfort to us. People, however, do not recognize the person of God but only stare at the person of man. This is like a tired and hungry man who would refuse to eat unless the food is served on a silver platter. Such is the attitude that motivates the choice of many preachers today. Many, on the other hand, are forced to quit their office, are driven out and expelled. That is done by those who do not know this gift, who assume that it is a mere man speaking to them, although, as a matter of fact, it is even more than an angel, namely, your dear God, who creates body and soul. This does not imply that we should despise and reject the gifts which God has distributed according to His own measure, more to the one and fewer to the other; for gifts are manifold. However, there is but one God who works through this multiplicity of gifts (1 Cor. 12:6). One dare not despise the treasure because of the person. Our God wishes to impress this on us all, not only on this young woman. Christ wishes to say: “I am not so much concerned that you give Me a drink as that I supply you with living water.” It is a disgrace that Christ must go begging on earth, even among His own followers. It is a shame that He must cry: “For the sake of God, give Me bread!” He wants to rouse us to give gladly to those who serve in the ministry. But although Christ pleads and cries: “For the sake of God, give Me bread!” His plea is not fulfilled; for people assume that it is a poor pastor speaking. Verily, Christ does not stand in need of heaven and earth; He could eat and also satisfy His own with food. But He wants to say: “I am begging that you may obtain food and drink. I use your help to feed Me and My own. In this way you might recognize Him who dispenses the true, eternal drink of water and learn what sort of Word He possesses. After you know that it is I and that the Word is Mine, you will say: ‘After all, everything belongs to Thee; we will gladly return all to Thee. Dear Lord, give us who are truly hungry the real bread and drink.’ This is the reason why I beg and say: ‘For the sake of God, give Me bread!’—that you may recognize Him who is speaking to the young woman.” (If He were to ask her for a drink, then she, in turn, would ask Him; and He would give her the water of everlasting life, and she would never die.) This is also what Christ wishes to do to us. But first we must learn to know the gift and the Teacher. Then we should be ready not only to give all but also to say: “Oh, dear Lord, give me some of the eternal water too! Without it I must die of eternal thirst and hunger!” Christ says: “I am asking you to give Me bread for the sake of God because I want to give you the everlasting bread.”

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 525–530). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Luther highlights St. Bernard imaginings of Lucifer’s fall

Editor’s note: Fascinating…Luther discusses the thoughts of St. Benard here on Christ taking on flesh (he uses the term “bag of worms”). While we cannot say this is more than a vivid imagining inspired by this amazing happening, it is cool to ponder (and helps put perspective to the amazing event of incarnation of our Lord). NOTE: It’s a little long, but worth the read.

St Bernard on Lucifer’s fall

This fact elicited the awe of St. Bernard and gave rise to many fine thoughts, found especially in his devotions. He gave it as his opinion that this had caused the archfiend Lucifer’s fall and eviction from heaven. Perhaps Lucifer, so St. Bernard supposed, had fore-knowledge of God’s eternal resolution to become a man in time, and not an angel. This provoked his insolence against God. He was aware, of course, that he was a creature more beautiful and excellent in appearance than man. This also aroused his envy of mankind; he begrudged man the high honor of God’s assumption of human nature. This vexed him and his companions. They became envious when they learned that God would despise them and assume human nature. Therefore Lucifer and his hosts fell and were driven out of heaven.

For if an emperor were to place a beggar at the head of his table and were to assign the seats at the lower end to great and mighty lords, kings, princes, to learned scholars and wise counselors, they would certainly be amazed and humiliated by this act. We human beings on earth cannot do better than the elder son, of whom we read in Luke 15:25–30. His brother, the prodigal son, the reveler and rake, was now reduced to begging and had returned. In welcome his father had butchered a fatted calf for this spoiled son, who had devoured his living with harlots and knaves, whereas the father had never given even a kid to him who always obeyed his commands. When the elder brother heard all this, he became angry and jealous.

St. Bernard thought that Lucifer and his company were similarly affected when they learned that God was to become a man and not an angel. And if we really ponder the matter, we cannot but conclude that it would have been far more reasonable and honorable for God to adopt the nature of His noblest creatures, the angels, than that of sinful human nature, which had imbibed the poison of the old serpent, the devil, in Paradise. God’s assumption of human nature and the union of God and man in the person of Christ is comparable to placing a filthy sow at table and chasing away holy and pious people.

Furthermore, St. Bernard said that the good angels rejoiced at the time and said: “If this arrangement is pleasing to God, our Lord and Creator, then it is also pleasing to us.” And they remained in heaven and recognized Christ as their Lord and God. This is verified in Matt. 28:6, where the angel says to Mary Magdalene and to other women: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
Although these ideas expressed by St. Bernard do not constitute an article of faith, they do sound plausible.

The dear fathers, I say, were amazed that the divine majesty assumed every aspect of this bag of worms, our human nature, except sin and guiltiness of death. He ate, drank, slept, waked, etc.; but He was not born in sin as we were. To be sure, this is so indescribable and inexplicable that anyone who really believes it must needs wonder. Yes, heaven, earth, and every creature must be awe-stricken at the thought that God should regard man dearer and nobler than an angel, although man is really a wretched creature by comparison. God’s preference for the human nature over the angelic might well arouse envy. But all this should make us meditate on the great glory that is ours. For the angels in heaven rejoice over the incarnation. This is why they constantly surround the Lord and serve Him. This is why they were about His grave when He arose from the dead.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 104–105). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Gird up your minds,
be sober

The WORD
13“Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 

This is an exhortation to faith. It means: Since things in which even the angels rejoice and which they are delighted to see have been proclaimed and given to you through the Gospel, cling to them and place full confidence in them, so that it is a genuine faith and not a colored or fictitious delusion and dream.

Gird up your minds.

Here Peter is speaking about a spiritual girding of the mind, just as one girds a sword physically to one’s loins. Christ also touched on girding when He said: “Let your loins be girded” (Luke 12:35). In several places in Scripture the loins denote physical unchastity. But here St. Peter is speaking of spiritual loins. In a physical sense Scripture calls the loins the source of the natural descent from the father. Thus we read in Gen. 49:10 that Christ is to come from the loins of Judah. Thus the physical girding of the loins is nothing else than chastity, as Is. 11:5 states: “Righteousness shall be the girdle of His waist, and faithfulness the girdle of His loins.” That is, one suppresses and overcomes evil lust only through faith.

But the spiritual girding—of which the apostle is speaking here—takes place as follows: Just as a virgin is physically pure and blameless, so the soul is spiritually blameless because of faith, through which it becomes the bride of Christ. But if it falls from faith into false doctrine, it must go to ruin. For this reason Scripture consistently calls idolatry and unbelief adultery and whoring, that is, if the soul clings to the teachings of men and thus surrenders faith and Christ. St. Peter forbids this here when he tells us to gird the loins of the mind. It is as if he were saying: You have now heard the Gospel and have come to faith. Therefore see to it that you remain in faith and not be moved by false doctrine, that you do not waver and run hither and thither with works.

Here St. Peter adopts a peculiar expression—different from that of St. Paul—when he speaks of “the loins of your mind.” He uses the word “mind” for what we mean when we speak of being minded, as if I said: “I regard this as right,” or, as St. Paul expresses himself (Rom. 3:28), “We hold that”; that is, “So we are minded.” With this he actually means faith and wants to say: “You have come to the proper understanding, namely, that one is justified by faith alone. Now cling to this understanding. Gird it well. Hold fast to it, and do not let anyone wrest it from you. Then all is well with you. For many false teachers will appear and will set up human doctrines, to take away your understanding and loosen the girdle of faith. Therefore be warned, and give careful thought to this.” The hypocrites, who rely on their works and lead a fine moral life, think that God must take them to heaven because of their works. They become puffed up and arrogant. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11–12, they insist on their understanding and opinion. Mary speaks about them in the Magnificat, where she uses the same little word Peter employs here. She says: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Luke 1:51), that is, in their understanding.

Be sober.

Sobriety serves the body externally and is the chief work of faith. For even though man has become righteous, he is not yet completely rid of evil lusts. To be sure, faith has begun to subdue the flesh; but the flesh continues to bestir itself and rages nevertheless in all sorts of lusts that would like to assert themselves again and do what they want. Therefore the spirit must busy itself daily to tame the flesh and to bring it into subjection, must wrestle with it incessantly, and must take care that it does not repel faith. Therefore those who say that they have faith, think that this is enough, and, in addition, live as they please, are deceiving themselves. Where faith is genuine, it must attack the body and hold it in check, lest the body do what it pleases.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, pp. 25–27). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Without Christ life light, and mercy are unattainable

The WORD
16“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace…”

 

The holy evangelist (John) informed us earlier that without Christ life, light, and mercy are unattainable. Only the believer in Christ’s name enjoys the power and the prerogative to become a child of God. This places all men, including all saints, whatever their name, into one category and labels all as sinners and liars devoid of grace as long as they rely on themselves and have not Christ. For all the descendants of Adam were born in sin and in disfavor with God, with nothing good in them, but imbued with falseness, hypocrisy, lies, and deceit. It avails nothing that they feign piety and saintliness, that they point to their good works, that they want to be regarded as humble and spiritual; all this is useless unless they become children of God through faith in Christ.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, p. 131). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

John 14:25-26 We are Holy

The WORD

25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). ([reftagger title=””]John 14:25-26[/reftagger]). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

This is truly a very comforting verse, one that should be noted well. Earlier we heard the same thing: “He will be in you and will dwell with you forever.” Thus Christendom has the promise of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in its midst. But not only this. He will also teach the Christians and call all Christ’s words to their remembrance until the Last Day. Thus we confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Christian Church.” With these words we affirm that the Holy Spirit dwells with Christendom and sanctifies it, namely, through Word and sacrament, through which He works faith in it and the knowledge of Christ. Those are the tools and the means through which He continuously sanctifies and purifies Christendom. This also makes Christians holy before God, not by virtue of what we ourselves are or do but because the Holy Spirit is given to us. This we shall hear later.

Christians need this comfort, lest they doubt that the Christian Church will remain in the world in the midst of all the unbelievers, Turks, heathen, Jews, heretics, and sects, as well as the devil and his angels. For here is the promise, which neither lies nor deceives: The Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Now we can be sure of this and joyfully glory in it; we can wager everything and live and die on our possessing the Holy Spirit if we have and believe Christ’s Word. Then we can conclude with certainty: “Let the devil, death, and sin be against me! I am holy nevertheless. I believe in Christ and have learned to know Him; I understand and use the Word and the sacraments aright—all this I owe to the Holy Spirit, not to my own brains.

A Christian, however, can glory truthfully and with good reason, and he can say: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, who makes me and all believers holy. Therefore I am a member of a holy order, not that of St. Francis but that of Christ, who makes me holy through His Word and sacraments.” “May God preserve me,” say those monkish saints, “from such presumption! I am a poor sinner.” All right, then go to Rome, to Jerusalem, and through all the orders and cloisters, and see whether you become holy! The truth, however, is this: If you yourself were holy, then you would not need the Holy Spirit at all; but since we are sinful and unclean in ourselves, the Holy Spirit must perform His work in us. He gives us the Word of Christ the Lord, Baptism, and His power, not only that you may be in a holy order, but also that you yourself may be holy. But He does so in such a way that you say: “I am not holy through myself but through Christ’s blood, with which I have been sprinkled, yes, washed in Baptism, and also through His Gospel, which is spoken over me daily.” Thus there is nothing laudable about that stupid, false, and harmful humility which makes you want to say that your sins prevent you from being holy. That would be a denial of Christ’s blood and Baptism; that would deny that you have the Holy Spirit and are a member of the Christian Church, in which we are to assemble for the Gospel, for Baptism, and for the Sacrament.

We must, however, distinguish between two types of holiness; or let us say that the word “holiness” must be understood in two different ways. In the first place, there is the holiness from and through ourselves. The monastic orders and self-chosen spirituality fall into this category. This amounts to no more than the word or name “holiness.” Basically, however, it is falsehood and fiction, and nothing but sin and stench in the eyes of God. For in us and from us grows nothing but unholiness and uncleanness. Whether I become a barefoot friar or a monk and work-righteous person of a different order, I remain a condemned sinner just as I was born from Adam. Therefore I will not call myself holy, neither of myself and for my own sake nor because of any other man; nor will I boast of holiness. I am holy because I can declare with unswerving faith and with an undaunted conscience: “Even though I am a poor sinner, still Christ is holy with His Baptism, Word, Sacrament, and Holy Spirit.” This is the only genuine holiness given to us by God.

You ask: “But how do I attain this? And what does the Holy Spirit have to do with me?” Answer: “He baptized me; He proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to me; and He awakened my heart to believe. Baptism is not of my making; nor is the Gospel; nor is faith. He gave these to me. For the fingers that baptized me are not those of a man; they are the fingers of the Holy Spirit. And the preacher’s mouth and the words that I heard are not his; they are the words and message of the Holy Spirit. By these outward means He works faith within me and thus He makes me holy.”

Here he employed the word “saints” freely with reference to all Christians. And in the early Christian Church it was long customary for its members to call one another saints. This custom should still prevail. For it is not arrogant on the part of Christians to call one another holy because of Christ; it is glory and praise to God. For by doing so we are not praising our own stinking work-righteousness; we are praising His Baptism, Word, grace, and Spirit, which we do not have out of ourselves but which have been given to us by Him.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 168–171). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.