8. Philip said to Him: Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.
9. Jesus said to him: Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say: Show us the Father?
This is a very beautiful discourse or conversation and sermon of the Lord Christ. He had said much to the disciples about His Father: that He would go to Him and would also take them to Him in order that they, too, might see Him, yes, that they already knew Him and had seen Him. Then the apostle Philip, being somewhat sharper and more sagacious than the others, blurts out the profound question which has always troubled the greatest and wisest men, which they pondered and explored painstakingly but no one had been able to answer, which, in fact, is impossible for human nature and reason to answer, namely: “What is God? How can one know God? How can one find Him?” Thus philip, too, shows and betrays that he has never understood and does not now understand this, although he had often heard Christ preach and speak about the Father. This is because he still wants to understand this with his reason and fathom it with his mind. Although Christ wants to direct Philip solely to His Word and to Himself, saying that he already knows and has seen the Father, this does not yet take hold of him. He freely speaks his mind: “Ah, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied!” He says, as it were: “To be sure, You are telling us that we know the Father. But, in truth, not once in my life have I ever laid eyes on Him, although I have no greater wish than to have the great happiness to see Him just once.”
Thus the apostle’s words reflect that he is still a wavering, inconstant believer, as are all the others, although they, of course, do not express their opinions so bluntly. He also believes in God and has heard much about Him; but now, when he hears Christ say: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; henceforth you know Him,” he finds these words strange and unintelligible. His imagination carries him so far afield that he lets Christ sit there and speak as St. Thomas did earlier (v. 5). He simply cannot fix his thoughts on Christ, who is conversing with him; but, ignoring Him, he gives wing to his thoughts and soars into the clouds, thinking: “O that we might get a glimpse of the Father seated up there among the angels!”
So thoroughly does this great apostle, who had heard Christ and had dwelt with Him so long, still miss the true mark! To our great comfort, however, this demonstrates how our shameful nature and reason finds it so difficult to dismiss its own notions, to desist from speculating about God, and to cling to Christ alone. Even the apostles themselves, who had Christ with them in person and heard Him discourse on this subject, could not shake off this rubbish. We, too, should take comfort from this when we feel our weakness. If we but begin to believe, Christ can and will close an eye to it. We may stray from the way at times or stumble; but we must beware of forsaking Him and running away, as the traitor Judas did. We must return to the right way, as Philip does here. He remains with Christ; he does not oppose Him, although his thoughts also look expectantly elsewhere, and although he, together with the others, is still weak in the faith and in the true knowledge of the Lord Christ. But since they remain loyal to Christ, delight in hearing His Word, and learn eagerly as His pupils, Christ regards them as His true disciples and judges that they already know the Father because they know Him. And this is true, though they themselves neither know nor understand it; for since they apprehend Christ, they truly apprehend the Father also. Thus Christ Himself says: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” They, of course, still follow their carnal thoughts, which divorce and separate the Father from Christ. Therefore He must always draw them back to Himself.
Thus—provided that we have begun to believe in Him—He can also condone our ignorance and folly and bear with our constant propensity for finding something in ourselves by which to come to the Father without Christ, and for viewing God merely as our own imagination portrays Him, namely, that He looks with favor on our own worthiness and zeal, or on our good intentions, and shows mercy for this reason. This abominable temptation is too deeply ingrained in our nature and dominates it entirely. I myself often feel that I would gladly sacrifice all that I have, yes, life and limb, to find at least one work, performed by me, on which I might stand and which I might offer to God in the assurance that He would have to acknowledge it and grant me His grace and eternal life for it. I cannot advance to the point—as I should and must—of surrendering myself to Christ unconditionally—without any reliance in, and any overweening estimation of, my works or my own worthiness, and confessing: “Let my life and my works be what they may! Even though they are acceptable and pleasing to God, still I will seek neither comfort nor salvation in any other than in the Lord Christ. The Father sent Him from heaven and through His own heavenly voice bore witness that Christ is the only One with whom He is well pleased (Matt. 17:5) and whom we must hear if we want to know God and find Him propitious.” No schismatic spirit, no arrogant hypocrite ever advances to that point, but only the poor, sad, disconsolate, and humble hearts and consciences. Even these succeed only with great effort, with great anxiety and anguish. Let the others strut before God on their own and with their good works. They will become a laughingstock; they will crush their heads and break their necks.
Above all, it is imperative that we first push everything else aside and that our thoughts of God and our mode of dealing with Him begin where He begins and directs us when, in the first place, He speaks from heaven and declares (Matt. 17:5): “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” As though He were saying: “If you want to be informed, smart, and wise, and if you want to seek and find Me aright, then here is your Master and Teacher. He is ordained and given to you by Me. He will tell and show you how to come to Me. And let Me assure you that if you hear Him, you have heard Me also. Therefore lend your ears to Him alone, and give Him your heart. And let no one impose on you, or trick you with, any other message or project.”
And when I hear Christ now, I hear only His words: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me. No one’s own notions, works, or holiness are valid here; I alone am. Therefore do not look beyond Me; but cling to Me, and place your trust solely in Me. And where I go through cross and death, there you will also abide, so that no one can separate you from Me and the Father.” He who knows and believes this is on the right way and cannot err or go astray. For he discovers Him who is the Way and everything—Him of whom the Father bears witness that it is He through whom one comes to Him. Therefore he abandons everything that is not Christ, all monasticism and work-righteousness, also all astute and subtle ideas about God. He dare not acquire any other knowledge, seek any other comfort, know of any other way, because he has all this in Christ. If he stays on this course, then he has already attained the goal toward which he should strive, namely, the knowledge and perception of God in faith. And then the only thing necessary is for him to continue in this faith until through it he finally comes into the manifest brightness where he will see God eternally, immediately and without any symbols.
That is what Christ means when He says in reply to Philip: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” He says, as it were: “Good and well, I have let you put your blundering question to show you that you still do not understand as you should, even though you have been with Me so long and have heard Me so often. Please learn to know Me aright. Then you will know and understand all, and then you will know the Father also. I will not have you turn your eyes away from Me, look in another direction, and seek God elsewhere than in Me, whom you now see with your eyes and whom you hear talking to you. No, you must see and know God just as you see and know Me. In brief, you must not imagine or suppose that God can be apprehended and known in any other way or by any other means than through Me.”
But you must not conceive of this seeing and knowing God as being literal and physical, as a cow stares at a gate; you must not think that he who sees Christ also sees with his eyes the form of the Father. No, this must be done with the vision of the spirit and of faith, and yet in undeniable conformity with these words: Whoever sees Christ with the eyes of faith also sees the Father with those eyes; for he meets the very Person in whom the Father also dwells bodily, as St. Paul states (Col. 2:9), and in whom He reveals His whole heart and will. Thus we also see and know both Christ and the Father, not with our eyes or with our physical sight and knowledge but with this same faith. Seeing Christ with our physical sight alone avails us nothing; spiritual sight must be added. And this is the sight of the heart or the knowledge of faith. Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and almost the whole Jewish nation saw and knew Him; yet they knew neither Him nor the Father. Though they see and know the Person of Christ, still they do not see the Father in Christ and Christ in the Father, and both as one heart, mind, and will, yes, as one united and indivisible Divine Being.
Thus Christ wants to draw Philip and the other apostles back to Him. Their thoughts flit and flutter to and fro, roaming so far from faith that they do not know where and how to look for or find God, though they have Christ standing before their very noses. Christ says: “What are you looking at? Why do you let your thoughts flit and glide about like unstable quicksilver? How can you still ask Me to show you the Father? I thought that you were well acquainted with Him. Do you not hear? ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’ That is to say: if you want to know on what terms you are with the Father, how He is disposed toward you, or what He thinks of you, in brief, how you can come to Him—for knowing this really means to know the Father—do not consult your own heart or your own thoughts; neither consult Moses or any other teacher. Look only to Me, and listen to My words. I say that you must listen and look to Me. If you take to heart what you see in Me and hear from Me, what I say to you, and how I manifest Myself to you, then you will surely find the Father; then you have seen and known Him aright, as one should see and know Him.”
The first thing you see in this Person of Christ is that He does not look at anyone with a sour face, treat anyone in an unfriendly manner, or frighten and drive anyone away from Him; He invites and draws all men to Him in the kindliest manner, both with His words and with His bearing. He shows Himself as a servant who wants to help everybody. Furthermore, He lets Himself be crucified for you and freely sheds His blood. All this you see with your eyes; and with your ears you hear nothing but friendly, sweet, and comforting words, such as: “Let not your hearts be troubled”; “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden” (Matt. 11:28); “Whoever believes in Me shall not be lost, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), etc., etc. The Gospel of St. John is full of such verses. From this you can infer with certainty that He is not hostile to you but wants to show you all grace and goodness. Cling to this; hold firmly to it; do not permit your eyes and your thoughts to stray beyond this; and let nothing else that occurs to you lead you off the right path.
And as you now hear and see Christ revealing Himself to you, you can rest assured that the Father is disposed toward you in like manner. For a little later (v. 10) Christ states: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority,” but they are the Father’s words. And at another place we read (John 6:40): “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.” He who grasps this in faith cannot think that God is angry with him or will reject and condemn him. For here there is neither a word nor a sign of disfavor, but only friendly, gracious words, a loving and kind look, in short, sheer fervor and ardor of ineffable, fatherly, and sincere love.
Now perhaps you will say: “That is all good and well, but I am a miserable sinner who deserves God’s wrath; and in the Law I hear God’s fearful threats and the terrible sentence He pronounces on sinners. How can I conclude that He will be gracious to me?” I reply: “Yes, Christ is well aware of this. He sees your wretchedness far better than you yourself do. But do you not hear that this is the very reason why He comes to you and tells you this, lest you judge according to your own notions and feeling, which also have their basis in the Law? Instead, you should hear and take to heart what He tells you, and know Him well, despite the voice of your conscience and the terror of the Law. For you do not know the Father if you regard Him as an angry Judge and flee from Him. He is not at all inclined to enjoy anger and condemnation; nor does it please Him if we flee from Him. He did not institute the Law—though it is intended to work knowledge of sin and to terrify the impenitent—to perpetuate the fear of those who recognize their sins and are frightened. No, His real purpose and will is that you be rescued from all this misery, from sin, death, and damnation. For this purpose He sent you His Son Christ. He permits Him to be crucified and to shed His blood, in order to proclaim and to reveal to you that though you are a sinner and unworthy, you are not to be condemned on this account. He will erase all anger and threats from His memory for Christ’s sake and, instead, grant a full measure of mercy. He does not demand any more from you than that you recognize and believe this.”
Now that would be the true knowledge—if only we could attain it!—to control, bridle, restrain, and curb our thoughts so as not to know, think, or hear anything but how Christ is disposed toward us. Then all unrest, all ominous thoughts regarding eternal predestination, and all the saddening, evil darts of the devil would soon vanish. Then you would certainly have to conclude: “I know of no other God in heaven or on earth than of this One, who talks to me and treats me as I see Christ doing.” And if any monk, devil, or schismatic spirit comes to frighten you with the words: “God is a stern, angry Judge!” and then directs you elsewhere, suggesting, for instance, that you call upon Mary to intercede for you and say: “Mary, dear mother of all grace and compassion”—as they themselves unashamedly prayed and sang daily—or if they order you to go on so and so many pilgrimages, to enter a cloister, or to flee into the wilderness, etc., until you have rendered satisfaction for your sin and merited mercy—then on the basis of this you can judge and say that such doctrine and such notions are the devil’s lies and deadly venom. Or you can say that they are the false thoughts of your own imagination, which, contrary to Christ’s Word and God’s command, teach you to look at yourself and to refuse to hear and heed how God manifests Himself toward you in Christ; and thus they cause genuine idolatry and real blasphemy.
Therefore if you let Christ go, follow the lying devil’s deception or your own dream and jugglery, and blindly stray from the way and the bridge, it serves you right if you break your neck and fall into the abyss of hell; for you see and hear how faithfully He exhorts you and how gently He invites you to give ear to the words of the Man Christ. But you rebuff Him and His words and works as though He were a fool or a child who does not know what he is saying, and you prefer to follow the devil’s suggestions or your own notions.
As I have already said, however, this is and remains a great and difficult knowledge to acquire, to practice, and to translate into life. For the devil agitates and incites too much against this; he harasses us all he can for the purpose of diverting us and tearing us away from Christ and of inducing us to ignore Him. It is inherent in our nature that we want to deal with God on our own, And if I turn my eyes from Christ to myself, thoughts such as these will surely suggest themselves: “Oh, I am a poor sinner! Therefore God is my enemy and will condemn me.” This inevitably frightens me and makes me dejected. Then the devil leads me farther along and teaches me how to atone for my sin. He deceives me in two ways. In the first place, he persuades me to believe that I must take recourse to myself; secondly, he prompts me to devise my own Way of reconciling God. Then both the Word and Christ are lost. Instead, I should learn to dismiss both myself and my own notions of God, apart from the way offered by God, and take hold solely of this Word of Christ, which proclaims to me in the name of God: “Why do you give way to your own ideas? Why gape heavenward? Do you not hear what I say to you? ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’ As I speak and deal with you, so the Father is speaking and dealing with you.”
Therefore let us take a firm hold of this text against all other poor ways and paths which our own religious fervor constructs and with which we propose to deal with God. Let us get used to turning away from our own notions when temptations beset us, and let us call to mind and exhort ourselves with the words with which Christ chides Philip: “Why do you ask Me to show you the Father if you see and hear Me? Are you not a big fool to try to explore, in the devil’s name, your relationship to God? Do you not know that He Himself must reveal this to you from heaven and that you must learn this from Him? And now His only message is (Matt. 17:5): ‘This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.’ And the Son distinctly proclaims: ‘I am the Way.’ He who sees, knows, accepts, and finds Me accepts and finds, sees and knows, the Father. This would put you on the right road, and you would no longer have to fear that you might go astray or fare badly.”
Now Christ wants to state this in greater detail, in order that we may see how vital it is for anyone who would unerringly find God to be able to declare: “This is what God says; this is what God does; this is His will and His work toward me.” He must glue and fix his gaze on Christ, rely fully on His words, and know that he who thinks, seeks, or undertakes anything else can never say that he knows or sees God. Thus the monks, the work-righteous, and anyone else who imagines or invents ideas regarding God or His counsel and will which ignore Christ’s Word—they all stray about in blindness and in a lying delusion. They seek and strive incessantly how to apprehend God and how to do something pleasing to Him, but they never make it. They flit and flutter about interminably., skipping from one thing to another; but they are unable ever to fill their hearts with confidence and assurance. They experience what Christ said (Matt. 24:23): “Many will come in My name and say, ‘Lo, here is Christ,’ or, ‘There He is.’ ” For whenever the names of God and Christ are mentioned, everybody flocks together, immediately supposing that this is a godly thing; but, as a matter of fact, they are carried to the devil with it. For it must happen that the world is duped and deceived with the name of God. Hence the saying: “All misfortune begins in the name of God.” For the devil cannot peddle his lies unless he adorns them with that beloved name. He finds it necessary to embellish them with that beautiful semblance, and he smears these holy names over them: God’s Word, the worship of God, a godly life. Therefore we must heed the warning, lest we be deceived; and we must pay close attention to the words which Christ speaks here and elsewhere, and we must judge only according to them.
Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 24: Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (24:56). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.