Friday, August 13, 2010

JOHN 14:5-6 (LUTHER)

5. Thomas said to Him: Lord, we do not know where You are going; how can we know the way?
6. Jesus said to him: I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.

The disciples had heard Christ say that He was going away to prepare dwellings for them. Not only this. They themselves also knew the way to the place where He would go and stay, and that they would follow Him there. He did not have to say much to them any more, and they were to be all the less anxious and fearful about the fact that it was necessary for Him to depart from them. Then St. Thomas begins to wonder. It seems strange to him that Jesus should say that they knew where He is going and also knew the way. He had never said anything to them about where He was going or about the way He would take when He left them. In a simple and carnal manner St. Thomas begins to think of the road one takes in a physical way from one town to another, of the road on which one walks. The disciples say: “We are ignorant of any way You may take or of any city gate by which You may intend to travel. How, then, can You expect us to know the way?” To these simple and carnal thoughts Christ replies: “When I say that you know the way, I mean that you know Him who is the Way, namely, Me; for you see and know that I am Christ, your Lord and Savior, and you are My disciples, who have heard My message for so long and have witnessed My miracles. Now since you know Me, you also know the Way and all you need to know.”
This is again something extraordinary; but it is the very theme which the evangelist St. John is wont to write about and emphasize, namely, that all our teaching and faith must revolve about Christ and be centered in this one Person. We must discard all other knowledge and wisdom and know absolutely no one else than “Christ crucified,” as St. Paul states, 1 Cor. 2:2. Thus he reproves his wiseacres and smart alecks who thought that they had to interpret this far more boldly than St. Paul does in his simple message about Christ. They considered themselves much smarter, more learned, and intelligent. “What shall I say?” says Paul. “I have been absent from you scarcely half a year; and you are already so learned that everybody else’s wisdom and shrewdness pales into insignificance beside yours, and I can be no more than a pupil among you. Yet I desire no more, nor do I want to boast of knowing anything but my Christ.”
Thus the devil always interferes when he enters heads that are somewhat intelligent and venture to dabble in Scripture to display their smartness. In their conceit they presume to comprehend it all with their mind, to be so profound that no one can fathom them, and to know everything better than they can be told. And yet they never learn that all depends on their knowing the Lord Christ aright.
Here and everywhere the evangelist John wants to warn all who would be Christians and would do what is right how to proceed in divine matters and to know what to seek and learn, namely, that in the eyes of God it is the highest wisdom and knowledge, above all knowledge and wisdom, even if this were angelic, to come to the right knowledge of Christ, to know what one has in Him and that one comes to God only through Him. This is the most important lesson to be learned from St. Thomas’ question and from the Lord’s reply.
But how profound and how difficult this doctrine and knowledge are also for the true pupils of Christ is demonstrated here by St. Thomas and, as we shall see a little later, by St. Philip, who represent all the rest. They blurt out their ignorance and betray that they still understand little or nothing of Christ’s words, though they have heard Him so long, and even now are listening to Him at table as He tells them of the Father’s house where He will go to prepare homes for them. They let Christ sit there behind the table and tell them all this for their comfort. Meanwhile their minds flit elsewhere. They devise a different way for themselves and fix a wide gulf between Christ and themselves. Therefore He sets them right. He does this, however, with fine, friendly words, as a kind Lord and Master who can well overlook and pardon the ignorance and weakness of His servants. His object is to tie and to bind them completely to Himself alone with their eyes, ears, and hearts, so that they will not see and think beyond Him. He says, as it were: “Thomas, where are your eyes and your thoughts? One must not speculate and flit about this way. Look here at Me. Surely you know Me. And if you know and see Me, then you also know and see the way, and you must not worry any longer. You must not stare at Me as a cow stares at a new door, or as the unbelieving Jews look at Me and see that I have eyes, a mouth, and a nose just as anyone of you has. You must wash your eyes, clean out your ears, and see, hear, think, and understand differently from the way one does with a carnal mind and understanding.”
For here there are two kinds of sight and of hearing. The one is performed with physical eyes and ears, entirely without the Spirit. This is the way all the Jews looked at Christ—only with their five senses. Thus they ascertained that He hailed from Nazareth and was Mary’s Son. I look at you this way and establish that you were born of a father and a mother, that you are a man or a woman, that you live and act so or so. This is a purely natural and physical sight. But Christ cannot be recognized in this way (nor, for that matter, can His Christians), even if we saw Him every hour before our eyes and heard Him. The second is a spiritual sight, which only Christians have and which takes place by means of faith in the heart. With this—if we are Christians—we must also view and recognize one another. For I do not recognize a Christian by his external appearance and mien, by how he acts and lives, but by the fact that he is baptized and has God’s Word. This makes him a child of God, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and an heir of eternal life. I do not see this inscribed on his nose or his forehead, nor do I discern it with my physical eye. I see it with the spiritual vision of the heart.
In that manner you must also look at Christ if you want to recognize Him and know who He is, not as your eyes and senses prescribe, but as His Word shows and portrays Him—as born of the Virgin, as the One who died and rose again for you and now sits enthroned as Lord over all things. Then you see not only His form, as your physical eyes do, but also the power and the might of His death and His resurrection. Then you do not call Him a son of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth, as the Jews did, but our only Savior and Lord over all. This position He acquired solely through His ascent into yonder life by way of His suffering and death, by His resurrection and transfiguration. To Him, therefore, everything in heaven and on earth must be subject; and He rules with power in all those who believe in Him, and protects them against all their adversaries.
Behold, this is how Christ wants to be seen here, not with the eyes, which see that by a way unknown to them He departs physically from them on foot to another place—and they do not know where He is going or where He will stay—and thus leaves them behind bereft of the comfort of His presence. No, they must see that He goes away from them and leaves them spiritually—this He calls “going to the Father”—by means of His suffering and dying. But they must know that He does not remain in death but through this very death enters into His kingdom and reign. Furthermore, they must realize that through Him they come to the Father, who protects, saves, and helps them in every need.
Therefore Christ says: “He who sees how I go to the Father has seen that I suffer death in accord with My Father’s will and then live and reign forever. In this way I precede you and blaze the trail for you, that you may follow Me. This I do, and no one else; and I must do it, lest you never come. Knowing this, you are informed of My goal and of the way which I am to take and on which you must follow Me. You know that I Myself am the Way, and that you have every need fulfilled in Me. I die for you, reconcile the Father, wipe out sin, devour death, and draw all men to Me, so that in Me you have all things.”
This is a way of looking at Christ that is far different from the way all the world does and the disciples did up to this time. But now their eyes are made clear by faith; this is a new insight. If I see a king’s son in captivity in a strange land, clad as a poor man in a gray cloak21 or in the garb of a pilgrim, and know nothing else about him, I am guided by my eyes and regard him as no more than a beggar. But if I hear that he is a king’s son, then the gray coat, the staff, and all the other marks of a beggar vanish. I bend my knees before him and call him a gracious lord, although no golden crown or no majesty are visible to my eyes. Thus St. Thomas and the other Christians look with carnal sight at Christ seated behind the table. They do not yet see what kind of man He is. But later they get another view and see that He is the Way, that by His death He goes to the Father, and that through their faith in Him they, too, will be brought there.
Therefore Christ says: “You know where I am going, namely, to the Father; that is, I will enter eternal life and take over the government or dominion which is free from sin, death, poverty, unhappiness, and sorrow. This you are familiar with, since you know Me; you have often heard from Me why and for what purpose I came, and what I am to do. You also know the way or the road which leads to My goal, namely, the road of crucifixion and then of resurrection from death.” Hence, this knowledge consists, in brief, of nothing else than wholehearted faith in the Christ who died and rose for us and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. If I have this faith, and if this faith relies on Him beyond doubt, then I know both the way He has taken and the place where He has gone and resides. Then I see Him aright; then if He stood before me, I would look at Him even with my physical eyes as I could not before faith was there. And if I remain steadfast in this faith, I take the same way and road, through cross and suffering, and reach the same place to which He has gone.
Therefore we dare go no farther or fix our thoughts on anything but Christ, as though there were any other road or way we should or might travel, as the false saints and reason persistently seek to do. For example, those who are known as Carthusians build themselves a special bridge to heaven by vowing and observing poverty and obedience, by abstaining from meat, from wearing linen garments, from resting at one place longer than a night, ere.22 In this delusion they suppose that they are on the right road to heaven. But this is a bridge and a stairway made of spider web; the higher they ascend on it, the deeper and the more shamefully they fall into the abyss of hell. For this is not the way; it is sheer delusion, because there is no Christ there to be believed and acknowledged. A barefoot friar with his rope and his wooden shoes belongs in the same category. He fasts much, babbles and gabbles, observes his monastic rules, does not lie down without his cowl, lets the lice devour him, and imagines that he will go straight to heaven—and not he alone; but he presumes that by virtue of his good works and the merits of his order he can draw others up with him.23
But this is not traveling the way to heaven. No, it is hastening straight to hell in sheer blindness and in the devil’s deception. This is senseless. Build, make, and seek what you will—when the hour comes for you to leave this life and enter a different one, then you must either take this way alone or be eternally lost. For Christ says: “I am the Way by which one comes to the Father; there is no other way. I and no one else am the Truth and the Life.” You must take this road in order to hold to this Man and to persevere in this faith and confession. You must travel it in suffering and death, saying: “I know no other help or counsel, no salvation or comfort, no way or path, except Christ my Lord alone, who suffered, died, rose, and ascended to heaven for me. I will stay on this road all the way, even though nothing but devil, death, and hell were under and before me. For this is surely the right road and bridge; it is firmer and safer than any stone or iron structure. And heaven and earth would have to collapse before this road would ever deceive me or lead me astray.”
Therefore the real art consists in this: that we travel this road only and do not follow the deceiver and the spirit of lies, who tries constantly to lead us from this way onto his devious paths. He attempts to tear these thoughts of faith from our hearts and to remove this Christ from our sight as the only Way and Means, so that we no longer have. Christ in mind, especially in the hour when this is necessary. He conjures up other thoughts, such as St. Thomas also entertained, as though Christ were far removed from us, high up in heaven, and of no further use to us. Then he prompts us to seek other ways and paths, and we exclaim: “Oh, if only I had lived differently! If only I had done this or that! Oh, that God would reprieve me! Then I would become pious and lead an austere life!” When you say this, you have already missed the way of the Lord Christ most woefully and are completely on the wrong track and have strayed into devious paths that lead into the pit of hell. For you will never succeed in giving this text the lie: “I am the Way, and no one else.” No matter what all the Carthusians, monks, and saints contemplate and do, here you hear Christ Himself declare: “Why are you searching for other ways and paths? I have no other way to show you than Myself. If you know Me, you know the way; for I and the way are identical. If you miss Me, you will never find the way, even if you were to walk yourself to death in your search.”
Therefore learn to understand this beautiful saying of Christ “I am the Way.” Do not think of a way or road which one treads with one’s feet; but realize that this is a way walked and traversed with the faith of the heart, which holds solely to Christ the Lord. For there are various modes of walking and wandering on earth, just as there are different Ways and roads. In the first place, you may walk physically or naturally from place to place, as cows and horses also do. In fact, everything alive moves and bestirs itself to preserve its natural life and procure its nourishment. God’s Word and Scripture teaches nothing about this. Then there are other ways or courses that also pertain to this life, that is, to our civic life in this world, such as we lead before the world outwardly, a decent, virtuous, and moral course and conduct whereby we uphold temporal government, maintain peace, honor, and order, and promote the acquisition of goods and honor, etc. About this philosophers develop all sorts of good principles out of their reason, and rulers prescribe many kinds of laws and statutes. All these ways and means are confined to this temporal life and end with it.
But over and above these there is another mode of proceeding, and here Holy Writ and Christ are referring exclusively to it. This is the way that leads us from this life into yonder future life. Here one must have an entirely different way and road. Let us say that a person is lying on his deathbed and the soul is about to depart from the body; or let us suppose that sentence of death is to be executed on a person, and he is to be hanged, beheaded, burned, or drowned. Then, too, a road stretches out before him that he must walk. He cannot tarry here but must travel a way that he cannot see, on which his feet cannot tread, on which he cannot travel by wagon. Yet one commonly says: “He is departing; he is gone.” But this is not to be taken in a physical or literal sense; for sight and hearing avail not, all the senses are numbed, hands and feet are bound, and our works and power are ineffectual. There is no way or path here which we might call our own, or which we have invented or provided; for, as we have already said, all our reasoning ceases to function and neither knows nor understands how the transition from this life to that one takes place, much less how and by what means it is to be attained.
Therefore we dare not listen to the dictates of reason or of the law or the notions of man, nor dare we follow them as though they would guide us on the way. For even if man devotes much thought to this and tries to pursue all sorts of ways to heaven, this is all a vain and futile effort. As I have said, a Carthusian builds a road on which he wants to come to heaven, saying: “I will forsake the world, which is evil and impure. I will crawl into a corner, fast daily, abstain from meat, and torture my body. God will surely view such an austere spiritual life with favor and save me.” This is also making a way and walking on it spiritually; it is a way that a Carthusian does not tread with his feet but with his heart, which imagines that if he lives and conducts himself in this manner, he is on the right way to heaven. Another monk or priest, also aspiring to live spiritually, builds himself a different way and says: “If I read so many Masses; if I pray, clothe myself in wool, and go barefoot, I am on the right way. And as soon as I close my eyes, I shall go straight to heaven.”
All these are, and are called, ways of human design and judgment; they are founded on our own acts and deeds, which, after all, pertain to this life only. Therefore these are not ways to heaven; they are sheer error and deception if heaven is their objective. For what will or can my cowl, tonsure, barefoot friar’s rope, and the like aid my soul in the moment when I am to leap through death into yonder eternal life? These are all physical matters and works that even non-Christians can perform. Even if such people do their utmost in all sincerity, it is still utterly evil, utterly corrupted, because it is all done without faith in Christ—as though they could entirely dispense with Christ, as though Christ were lying when He declares that He is the Way and the Truth!
Behold, all the world trudges along in its blindness, and despite all its contrivances and endeavors this way remains undiscovered; for everyone paves his own way and constructs his own particular bridge to heaven. The very fact that people seek such a variety of ways, devising one after the other, is ample evidence that they are ignorant of the right way. And after they have tried everything, they can never feel assured that they have found the right way. The more they exert themselves and the more frantically they seek ways, the more they remain in doubt, saying: “Who knows whether this is pleasing to God, or whether I have done enough?” They never arrive at the point of perfect confidence in their way.
If we want to feel assured of reaching heaven, we must have a sure way and road to travel; for there can be no more than one right way and road. And such a way is indicated only in God’s Word. Christ the Lord Himself is the only Way and the right Road on which our heart can and must rely and depend. Therefore Christ concludes: “He who would be safe and not meet eternal loss and ruin, let him give ear to Me alone; and let Me impress these words deeply: ‘I am the Way.’ Let him turn a deaf ear to all other ways and paths that claim to lead to yonder life; for all others are surely wrong ways and detours; they lead through thickets and underbrush, yes, over stumps and stones, bruising the feet, mangling the nose and the mouth, breaking the legs, and finally also the neck.” The devil misleads people physically with will-o’-the-wisps.24 They imagine that they are traveling on a highway or a road; but actually they fall into the water and drown, or they enter a wild forest from which they cannot find their way out. Similarly, but far more disastrously, he seduces and bewitches them spiritually with his will-o’-the-wisps as he puts delusive thoughts and ideas into their minds and suggests that if they do this or that, like thus or so, they are on the right road and will go straight to heaven. In reality, however, this way leads them straight to hell.
This is the inevitable outcome wherever Christ is not heard. He alone can and must show us the right way to heaven and lead us on it; for He is the only One who knows the way, and He Himself has preceded us on this way. He came from heaven for the express purpose of showing us the way and of taking us to heaven through Himself. Thus He declares in John 3:13: “No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven.” Experience, too, should teach us this. For no one has ever come down from heaven or ascended into heaven by means of his own works and life. Only one who himself experienced this is able to inform us how and by what means we may go to heaven. Hence no one can boast of knowing the way, much less that his works and deeds are the way on which we may ascend into heaven. Christ is the only One who descended and then ascended again. And this He did to lead us up with Him.
Yet the world is so blind and stupid that it always seeks and explores other ways. It is gullible and willing to follow where anyone directs and leads it. It will try, and rely on, any method or any work suggested to it. But one thing it cannot do, namely, remain on this one safe way with firm and steadfast faith. And though it hears and is told that Christ is the Way, it adulterates this message and seeks bypaths and other ways. It does not let Him have the exclusive honor; but it usurps part of this for itself, as though it could contribute something and find the way to heaven by itself.
Therefore, even though we adduce these and similar verses, and persuade people to concede that these statements are true, Mr. Smart Aleck25 comes along; indeed, the devil himself meddles in with his clever reasoning. His purpose is to keep them on the wrong road and to invalidate these beautiful sayings. He suggests this interpretation: Christ taught and commanded us well how to live and conduct ourselves; He gave us good examples to follow. If we observe and do this, we find the way that leads to heaven. Thus Christ is transformed into nothing but a Moses, who confines himself to our works and conduct, thereby directing our attention to ourselves. This is missing the right knowledge completely; this is shamefully obscuring, yes, perverting this salutary verse. For good precepts and examples are surely not the way, the truth, and the life that lead to the Father. The disciples were already well acquainted with these. The entire nation had learned them from Moses and others. About these the disciples had no right to inquire or complain—as they do here—as though they did not know the way. Then Christ would help them no more than Moses or John the Baptist or any other saint. Then the comfort and the joy derived from Him would cease, because He is ascending into heaven and leaving them behind alone. Then His whole suffering, His death, and His resurrection would be lost and useless for us; and the words “crucified, suffered and died for us” would be meaningless. Then why would He direct them to Himself alone, away from their anxiety about coming to the Father, following Christ, and wanting to know the way? For even before this they had known Christ as their Master and their Teacher.
Therefore beware of such misleading, shameful, and deceptive prattle, which represents Christ solely as a Teacher of works, as though He had taught and showed us nothing but proper conduct and behavior. In that capacity He could not be called the Way; then He would be no more than a cross or a votive picture on the wayside. This indeed directs the wayfarer correctly, but it itself does not bear him along. Even if Christ does teach and show us abundantly how to live and follow Him, as He lived and walked, this would still be far from our actually doing it. His example is truly precious, but it is far too sublime for us to follow. Furthermore, I have said that all our works and deeds pertain to this life. But the walking and the way of which our text speaks no longer relate to this life. This is a walk and a leap by which one must enter and cross over into the life beyond. It is very much like coming to a shore where road and blazed trail terminate, and where I see only water before me and could not cross or dare venture upon it without a firm and solid path or a bridge, or a guide to lead me. With an impassable way before me and without any assistance it would avail me nothing to know the direction. If I am to cross, I must have something on which to walk safely, in the assurance that it will bear me.
The same thing applies when one must pass through death from this life into yonder life. This demands more than good conduct and life, no matter how praiseworthy. For I and the works of all men are far too feeble to help me wipe out sin, reconcile God, conquer death, etc. Therefore I need a different foundation, one that is sure, or a firm and safe path and bridge on which to cross. And this is none other than this Jesus Christ, who must be the only Way on which we, as He says, enter into yonder life and come to the Father if we adhere to Him in steadfast faith. Therefore when the hour approaches that you must walk this way, you must brush thoughts of all other ways entirely from your mind and banish far from your eyes and heart all that people teach you about works and tell you about a good life and examples. Of course, as long as you sojourn here on earth, you must lead a fine, moral life, practice obedience, and perform works of love toward your neighbor. For these, too, are good and godly ways on which one must travel in this life with ever-increasing aptitude. But you must not make them the way that is to carry you from this life to the life beyond; that is, you must not take comfort from them or rely on them in the hour of death. For not one of these ways is Christ, who was crucified and died for you. Hence these ways, impotent as they are, dare not be accorded the honor to which Christ alone is entitled.
When the hour comes in which our deeds and works must cease, when our days are numbered and we can no longer tarry, here, when the question arises: “Now where will I find a secure bridge or path that will take me safely into yonder life?”—when that hour comes, I say, do not cast about for any way that bears the human label or the mark of our own good works or holy life. No, bury all this with an Our Father, and recite over it: “Forgive us our trespasses.” Hold solely to Him who says: “I am the Way.” Make sure that then these words are firmly imbedded in your consciousness, so deeply that you can feel Christ’s presence and He can say to you as He does to Thomas here: “Why are you seeking and looking for other ways? Look to Me, and reject all other thoughts regarding ways to heaven. You must expunge these completely from your heart and think of nothing but these words of Mine: ‘I am the Way.’ See to it that you tread on Me, that is, cling to Me with strong faith and with all confidence of the heart. I will be the Bridge to carry you across. In one moment you will come out of death and the fear of hell into yonder life. For it is I who paved the way and the course. I walked and traversed it Myself, so that I might take you and all My followers across. All that is necessary is that you unhesitatingly set your foot on Me, wager boldly on Me, go cheerfully and happily, and die in My name.”
Behold, thus we must learn to regard and to know our Lord Christ: not as One who helps us only with His teaching and example, and has now departed from us like the other saints, but as the One who is and remains constantly at our side and within us, particularly in the hour when this life comes to an end, and who is so close that He alone is in our hearts. This happens when I believe staunchly in Him as the Savior who has passed through death unto the Father for me, in order to take me there too. Then I am on the right Way, the Way we must take and travel from this to the life beyond. This journey begins in Baptism. And as long as there is faith, man continues on this course until he completes it through death. For faith does not err and stray; but wherever the Christ is to whom it adheres, there it also must be and remain. And the stronger the faith is, the more surely this Way is traveled. For this walking is nothing but a constant growth in faith and in an ever-stronger assurance of eternal life in Christ. If I persist in this faith and death attacks me and throws me down, if it chokes me in my prime26 or takes me by sword or fire and takes away all my five senses, then the journey is over, and I am already at my destination as I leap into yonder life.
This is the true and certain doctrine; and an excellent, pleasing, and comforting doctrine it is. Furthermore, it is easy to comprehend; no one need go far afield for it, nor does it involve great effort and hard work. All that is necessary is to accept it in faith and to cling to it with all your heart. Yet it does cost toil and labor to preserve this doctrine. For the devil and all the world oppose it with all their might. They will not tolerate this proclamation, and they refuse to give ear to it; they condemn it as the worst kind of heresy. Thus our dear Lord Christ is always subjected to contradiction. He must hear others reprove Him for saying: “I am the Way and the Truth.” The devil assails this as error, lie, and deception. And because we state that one goes to heaven solely through faith in Christ, our adversaries cry out that we forbid the performance of good works. But we do not oppose good works at all; we urge and admonish people to walk decently on this earth, to show respect, obedience, and patience, and to minister to one another.
But when we reach the end of this way and must depart, then we must declare how that way is constructed on which we can really set our feet, and we must know where to step. By way of illustration, if I have traveled across country and now face a body of water which I must traverse, and I find no crossing, no bridge, or no ship, I must either drown or remain on this side and retrace my steps. Similarly, even though I led a good life here on earth and pursued a good course, still, when the hour is at hand for me to depart this life, I must have a different way and path on which to cross over. Now this is none other than the Christ who suffered and died for me that through Him I might attain eternal life.
Why, Christ, God’s Son, Himself teaches this! And He who is the Truth Himself deserves to be believed. If the world, at the prompting of the devil, does not believe this and even regards this doctrine as a lie and as heresy, we must suffer this and see ourselves reviled and persecuted on this account. But when their last hour approaches, when death stares them in the face, and when they must leap from this life into the next, then they will discover what help they can get from their own ways. And as they suffer, they will have to confess that they have done violence to the truth. In brief, the alternative is: Either take this way, or be eternally engulfed by the abyss of hell.
Behold, this is the meaning of Christ and of these words. Christ wants to divert us from all vagrant, roundabout, and fluttering notions, and to draw us to Himself alone, to accustom us to walk this Way, so that we may be found on it when all other ways end. He wants to prepare and equip His disciples and all Christians to be ready at all times for the journey into yonder life. He says, as it were: “After My departure your life will be quite different. Death will confront you daily; hourly you will have to expect to be tortured, killed, and chased out of the world. You, too, will have to walk this way out of life, as I am about to do. Therefore take heed, first of all, that you know where to place your foot and where to find the way that can bear you up. That is, cling closely to Me.” Otherwise you will fidget and quail like those who know nothing of Him and are wont to quote:
I live. How long, I do not know; Must die, but know not when I’ll go; Pass on, but know not where ‘twill be. My cheerfulness surprises me.27
These words are appropriate for those who disdain this doctrine and this way and vainly search for other ways as long as they live. For such is necessarily the disposition of the human heart without Christ. It constantly flounders about and dangles in such eternal doubt, terror, and despondency at the thought of death that it does not know where to turn. It would love to escape from death and hell; yet it does not know how, as these people themselves confess in this rhyme.
But a Christian, who is familiar with the way and has already begun to walk it, must reverse these words and joyfully declare: “May God protect me from dying and departing this life in ignorance of my destination! For I am baptized in Christ, and I believe that He is my Savior and the Way on which I am to come to heaven. Hence, though I do not know the duration of my sojourn here or how soon I will divest myself of this bag of worms, I do know that I will live with Him eternally. Even though this mortal body closes its eyes and all its senses, and though it does not know what will become of it—this is immaterial. It should not know or perceive this, but permit itself to be carried to the cemetery, to be interred in the ground and reduced to dust until God raises it up again. And yet, God be praised, as a Christian I do know where I will go and abide; for I was assured of this in Baptism, in absolution, and likewise in the Sacrament.”
Therefore a Christian must cheerfully revise the above rhyme and say:
I live. How long ‘twill be, I know; I die; know how and when I’ll go (namely, every day and hour before the world); Pass on, and know, praise God, where to. Why should I now be grieving so?28
A Christian is to be sure of his destiny. And since he has Christ, he has everything and would have the right to jump for joy at all times. But all this is according to the spirit and faith in Christ, the Way on which he has begun to travel. For this is still covered and concealed to the flesh and the physical senses. As has already been said,29 nothing is more incomprehensible to man’s reason and senses than that this should be a way; for they see and feel nothing tangible to hold to but must wager without understanding it or reasoning it out, as if they were going into a great wilderness or a vast ocean, where they find no prop and support in themselves. This requires faith, which lays hold of the Word, can cling to it, and departs boldly trusting in this Man, though the old Adam is shipwrecked in the process. This, then, is the passage in which Christ calls Himself the only Way on which we, following Him, come to the Father. He wants our heart and our reliance to rest completely on Him when we are to depart this life; and He promises to transport us across safely and take us to the Father, if we but cling firmly to Him. And now He continues:
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 (24:31). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

JOHN 14:2-4 (LUTHER)

2. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.
4. And you know the way where I am going.

St. Augustine interpreted these words regarding the rooms up in heaven most ingeniously. He said that everyone has a room expressly prepared for him and assigned to him.14 And he also skillfully explains Christ’s statement that He will go to heaven and prepare these rooms as having no other meaning than that we are being prepared to dwell there. This is, to be sure, a fine and masterly interpretation and a good catachresis.15 But we will refrain from explaining the text as boldly as he did. We will interpret the words simply, as they themselves state. Here Christ consoles His dear disciples and Christians in a threefold manner.
First of all, they should know of the many abodes for them with the Father. These He contrasts with other houses or dwellings as if He were saying: “Here on earth you will not have many houses or a definite dwelling; for here the devil rules, here he resides, here he is lord, here he is at home. And since you contend against him and his realm, he will not permit you to dwell and lodge here very long. For in accord with the title given to him everywhere in Scripture, he is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). It is also apparent in the world that his reign embraces only these two activities: he misleads people with false doctrines and ideas, thereby defrauding them of their souls; and he fills everything with murder, war, and all sorts of misfortune and grief, as though he had nothing else to do than to kill men both physically and spiritually. This is his nature and office, and this and nothing else we must expect of him as long as we dwell here on his property. But be undaunted; nothing will harm you. If you cannot have house and home here, if the devil and his tyrants chase you out of the world, you shall nevertheless have ample room for your residence. If they will not put up with you as citizens and neighbors, or even as guests, if they alone keep the world, let them have it. Rest assured that you will still have room and plenty of it.”
This is the meaning here. It is expressed in the simplest possible manner and is altogether in accord with another statement made by Christ (Matt. 19:29):16 “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel’s, will receive a hundredfold in this age and inherit eternal life in the world to come.” This is also what these words mean: “If they evict you from one house, you will be compensated with many other dwellings. If they rob you of one thing, you will be abundantly reimbursed. No matter how wickedly they act and how much they take from you, you shall have it all a hundred times as good, and even much better. If you lack anything here, you will surely get it abundantly there. For God still has such a great store that He can give every one of you a hundred dwellings for one. Therefore retain your courage, and do not hesitate to surrender what the world can take away from you. The rooms of life are far more spacious than the abodes of death. Even if they throw you into a dungeon or prison here, or drive you away, do not let it bother you. These are houses that belong to the world; but you look forward to another home, a home which you are to receive and possess there.”
This text is recorded to comfort Christians, lest they let themselves be led astray when the world inflicts every plague on them and robs them not only of their earthly home but also of all that they have here, their goods, their honor, and their life, and brings misery, poverty, nakedness, disgrace, shame, and death upon them. They should compare this slight loss with all that they gain in its place. Now they may lose one home; there they will get many better ones instead, in the place which Christ calls “My Father’s house. Wherever He lives and dwells, there I and you will also abide.” Christ says later: “You will not occupy earthly or human habitations and houses, but heavenly and divine ones; that is, in place of a filthy, perishable, insecure, and unstable residence, which you and all the world must soon leave anyway, you shall have only beautiful, splendid, spacious, eternal, safe, and permanent homes, which cannot be taken from you and which you will keep in peace against one and all. When all is said and done, what have they accomplished even if they rob you of everything now and cast you away from them altogether? All that they do is to promote you from this misery and wretchedness to those happy, eternal homes where you will no longer live in the devil’s realm or be separated from Me but will remain eternally with the Father and with Me, in a place of which they will never get a whiff or a taste. On the contrary, because of the persecution with which they afflict you now, because of their present firm and undisputed occupancy of the world, because of their present life of pleasure and opulence, they will then find no abode or room either here or there. In all eternity they will be so beset by fear and flight that they will not find even a nook in which they may remain at rest for one moment. This they bring upon themselves by persecuting you and by contemplating your harm. Therefore let them scrape, scratch, and accumulate things for themselves here as though they wanted to remain here forever and occupy this world alone. Let them terrorize and menace you as they can. It can avail them nothing, nor will it harm you.”17 Truly, these must be the thoughts and actions of those who want to be Christians, particularly, however, of those who want to preach Christ. There will be a very different reckoning up there: he who gathers much here will discover how little he has then. On the other hand, he who has suffered much here for the sake of Christ will be richly compensated there.
The second consolation is contained in Christ’s words: “If it were not so, I still tell you that I go to prepare a place for you.” That is to say: “Even if the dwellings were not yet established, I have the power, if you believe, to make and prepare enough of them. And this is just why I leave you, to put them in order and to make them ready, although they are already there, just so that you will not fret and worry where you shall stay. In brief, you will surely have homes aplenty. Even if the supply were not yet ample, I will create a sufficient number. And if it is not enough that you get a hundred homes for one, I will fashion a hundred thousand or more for you, so that there will be no lack or dearth of all types of dwellings to satisfy your heart’s desire.”
Thus Christ speaks with the disciples in the simplest possible manner and almost naively. He adapts His speech to their own thoughts, as one must encourage and invite the simple. He wants to lift up their thoughts and inspire them with courage and comfort, and with a heart that says: “What does it matter if now they dispossess me of house and home, of this perishable abode, or if they thrust me into some dark dungeon? Christ my Lord promises me many more and far more beautiful, more splendid, more spacious, and more secure houses and fortresses than my enemies and all the world now have. He has already ascended into heaven to prepare these for me, and I will find them ready for me at any time.”
To be able to believe this would be a real art. For it is surely true that every Christian who wants to confess the Word, either by preaching it or else at court, fares very badly on earth. Hourly he is encompassed by insecurity and is in danger of being chased from his property, from wife and child, while others live in affluence, merrily and comfortably. But when we consider what is held in store for us and what prospects we face, then we should be joyous and rather pity the poor, wretched world. For what if the world now treads us underfoot and most grievously torments and plagues us? We cannot lose. Whatever we lose is merely the sack that hangs around our neck.18 It is losing no more than empty husks. Meanwhile we still keep the treasure for we shall regain richly whatever We leave here, and we shall receive many more eternal and divine goods besides. They, on the other hand, now have the shells and the hulls; but they have already forfeited the kernel and the real treasure. Furthermore, they will also have to leave the hulls behind. They will be stripped of everything and be left utterly miserable. Then the order will be reversed. Now they have everything in abundance, but then they will have nothing at all. Now we endure a little wretchedness, poverty, and distress; but they must suffer eternal misery, fear, and sorrow. It would be impossible for me to avenge myself on the world more terribly or to wish it a more horrible fate than it already has, plagued as it is with blindness, contempt for and persecution of the Gospel. Nor could I pronounce a more gruesome and dreadful curse on it. No, I would much rather intercede for the world if that could rescue it from this misery.
In the third place, Christ says: “Though I am now departing from you to prepare a place for you, you must not worry or mourn because you no longer have Me with you. The thought that I will not abandon you, but will return to you and take you with Me should comfort you. My going and My departure are not to harm you. You must realize that they will redound to your good; for I will prepare the dwelling places with the Father and then return and Myself take you back with Me to occupy these rooms. Then you will remain with Me where I am. Thus you are assured both of the homes in heaven and of My eternal company.”
These must be our three comforts19 against the devil, the world, and every evil that may confront us. We have a Lord and faithful Savior, who ascended on high and is now preparing our home for us, and who at the same time will be and remain with us. But this is still hidden from sight and far from apparent; for we see and perceive that the world and the tyrants are constantly venting their spite and their outrages on the Gospel and the Christians. But for this reason Christ bids us believe in Him. He says, as it were: “If only you could be patient for a little while and cling to My Word! They will not carry the day, even though they were all far more evil than they are. For it is already ordained; the verdict has been spoken too emphatically. For them the hour will come in which they will be so terrified that they will not know which way to turn. But it is essential that you open your eyes properly and look not at what happens to them but at what I say and tell you, namely, that I will not forsake you or remain away from you but will come to you and take you to Myself. Then you will remain with Me.” St. Paul interpreted this to mean that when we have been baptized, we already have Christ dwelling in and with us, and have already been transferred out of the wretched dominion of darkness into the spiritual, heavenly existence, where we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This we find in Col. 1:13 and Eph. 2:19.20
In the fourth place, this is Christ’s will: “It is not enough for you to know that I am going to prepare a place for you and will return and remain with you, that you may be where I am. No, over and above this it is your privilege to know now where I am going and also to know the way. Is this not comfort and gain enough? What more do you wish for and desire? Do you not have all you need, a hundredfold and in superfluity? And even if you did not have this, you would still have the Master who provides it for you. What is more, you have Him with you forever. In addition, you know where I am going and the way I am taking. Consequently, nothing at all is concealed from you.”
The “way” is the way of His holy suffering, about which Christ had already spoken to them often and at length, especially on this last evening. To be sure, they still could not comprehend this. His words were still obscure to them, and they questioned Him about them a bit later. This is what His words meant: “Why should I enlarge on this subject? I will not let you guess and speculate in your imagination. As a matter of fact, you already see and know it all. For if you have Me, you have God and everything; and when you see Me go, you already see the way. I will not show you any other way or suggest that you pursue another. Everything is here. But I want your heart to be content and unafraid when the world tries to frighten and distress you. I want you to find joy and peace in Me.”
This is indeed a powerful and strong consolation which the Man Christ wants to give to those whom He leaves behind, who do not see what becomes of Him, and who are exposed to the devil with his malice and his guile, his lying and murdering. It demands, however, that we close our eyes to what we perceive and feel, and cling to the Word of Christ with our heart. Then no matter how fate lowers, no matter how malicious the world and its wrathful tyrants, factions, and devils act, we can always say: “All that we feel and perceive is still physical. Let things come as they will; I am unperturbed. Here is another Man. He promises to restore a hundredfold all that I can lose here. Furthermore, I know that one day matters will be reversed. Those who now give free play to their wickedness and live in affluence will find their lot changed. Where they now enjoy one gulden in peace and quiet, they will later suffer eternal torment instead. If they have plagued one Christian here, they will be repaid with incessant torture by a hundred thousand devils. Why, then, should you fear? Why be dejected? Let them do their worst, and see what they will gain thereby! it is an advantage to know that their time is limited. Those who are evil now, who blaspheme, rage, and murder, will not do this more than twenty, thirty, or forty years. Why, then, fret over it or give way to fear? Their life is no more than dust or a water bubble which is blown away and vanishes in the twinkling of an eye. We, on the other hand, have a glorious and comforting promise, not of temporal but of eternal goods, which are assured for us if only we believe the promise.”
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 (24:25). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Believe in God, believe also in Me.

Here Christ gives the reason for His previous words, with which He has begun to encourage them to be of good cheer and unafraid. He says: “Do not be afraid and timid because I am about to depart from you physically and will leave you alone in the midst of the world and the devil’s power, which will oppress and vex you and inflict every evil upon you. No, face boldly and steadfastly whatever may confront you. As Christians you must not mourn and tremble; you are different from those who lack comfort and confidence in affliction, misfortune, and adversity. They do not believe, nor do they know God’s Word; but they place their trust in temporal things and attach their hearts only to what is present and visible. Whenever this vanishes, courage and trust vanish with it. Therefore when fortune changes into misfortune, they collapse and despair as though they were done for. Such people have no God and know and experience nothing of the comfort which can avail and conquer in the utmost need and distress, when everything temporal and transitory, to which they had hopefully looked, passes away.”
Christ declares: “You must not be like that; for you have God’s Word, through which you have learned to know Him and believe in Him. Therefore do not let any terror overwhelm and subdue you; but withstand boldly and manfully, and prove that you know a far different, surer, and higher comfort and support than all the world has, and greater strength and power on which you can rely than that of the world and the devil. Let others depend on their temporal power and fortune and boast of it; but you take comfort in this, that you have a God, that you know Him, and that you can rely on His presence and aid, as He has guaranteed to you in His Word. There He has promised that He will surely never fail you even though everything opposes you, but that He will stand at your side, protect and rescue you while you suffer all for His sake.
“Now if you believe in God and rely on Him, then believe also in Me. If your faith is true, so that you expect everything good from God, then expect this also from Me. Whatever help and consolation you seek and look for from God, expect it also from Me. I will surely not disappoint you, just as God Himself will not fail you. If I have aided you hitherto and supplied all your wants, if I have shown Myself with words and deeds as One in whom you find comfort and on whom you can boldly rely, if I have never left you in the lurch before—I will not do so in the future either. I will not desert you, even though I do not remain with you physically. For I still have the same power and might, both from God and together with God. Therefore I can and will keep My promise. But do not doubt and be dejected, as though you had lost both God and Me. No, stand firm in the faith, and do not let your confidence sink or flag, even though you see Me suffering and dying and leaving you behind alone. As you have witnessed and experienced physical assistance and protection from Me in the past, you must trust that these will be yours also in the future, even though they will no longer be visible to you. For if you are My disciples and true Christians, you must not always continue to see and feel external comfort; but you must progress in the Christian art of believing unwaveringly that I can and will help you, even though you neither see nor feel this but see and feel the opposite, namely, suffering and need. Even though everything else disappoints and fails you, you must cling to this comfort that you have God and Me.”
Here you see clearly that Christ says and testifies of Himself that He is equal to God Almighty, since He wants us to believe in Him as we believe in God. If He were not very God with the Father, then such belief would be false and idolatrous. For in no circumstances dare the human heart believe in or rely on anyone but the only God. All other trust and confidence is pure idolatry, as, for example, the trust that a rich man reposes in his wealth, when he becomes bold and proud in the knowledge of a treasure to support him. Another places his reliance in some good friend or a gracious prince and says to himself: “If all else fails, I still have this man as a friend.” Scripture also calls this “trust”;6 but it is trust in men and princes; it makes an idol of man by trusting in him, by becoming proud and smug, as though one had God and everything else and needed no more.
From such idolatry you see and learn that the two, reliance and God, belong together.7 That which affords the heart comfort and confidence is surely its god, even though it may be a false god. It is surely certain that nothing but an idol holds sway throughout the world—Christ calls him Mammon—until the day when the true, the only, “the great God” appears, as Paul calls Him in Titus 2:13. But at present everybody clings to the great idol. He who has him is proud and confident, interested in no one else. Thus all pride, reliance, and security must center in a god. If this is the true God, then the reliance is also true, and vice versa.
Now since we are Christians and not of the world, our confidence and trust must be reposed in God. This must be our position: “I am in this world, which, together with the devil, is hostile to me. My own conscience also stings and saddens me. Everything strives to frighten me and make me despair. What attitude must I assume under these conditions? This: When I see a rich belly relying on and believing in his idol, when I see him depending on his mammon if someone offends and molests him, convinced that he need not fear so long as he has this god—should I, then, not find much more comfort and confidence in my true and eternal God?”
Christ wants to admonish us to learn from the idolatrous world how to rely on the true God. Therefore just as we see how everyone relies on his mammon or on his prince against his neighbor, so let us place our reliance against the devil and his retinue on our Lord and God, saying: “I defy you to try your greatest terrors on me! After all, what terror and harm can you inflict? Don’t you know that I have a Lord mightier than you, a Lord who can give more of courage, comfort, and joy than you can inspire of fear and torment? If you are able to impoverish me, He has enough to enable Him to nourish me richly. If you can malign, disgrace, and kill me, He is able to restore my honor and to revive me.” Thus always be confident, and constantly remember: “Even if everything goes wrong, I still have God. Why should I fret about any adversity? He who will not laugh, let him frown. He who will not give, need not. Away with you and your pride, hatred, and envy! Go to the devil with your idol, and let me have my God!”
“Yes,” says the world together with its master, the devil, “I will seize you by the head, hurl you into a dungeon, inflict all sorts of torture, and kill you. Then let me see what good your God will be to you!” “Good and well, do what you must. What more can you do than torment and kill me? You cannot kill me oftener than God can revive me. No matter how much shame, harm, and grief you cause me, God can make thousandfold restitution and reimburse me with honor and goods.”
Behold, that is how a Christian should boldly rely, not on himself or on mammon, but on God. This is the meaning of the word of Christ spoken here: to believe in God and to face without fear whatever may oppose and confront us. For all the loss, Christ wants to say, that you can suffer on earth is, of course, insignificant compared with the gain and the advantages that are yours through faith. You have a Master and God who can compensate you a hundredfold for every gulden they take from you. If they deprive you of your honor, reputation, life, etc., He can restore everything richly, and for the brief life which you must surrender anyway He can give you another life, imperishable and eternal, which no one can touch or take from you. It makes sense to ignore this slight loss, in view of the great gain that is ours from God. For in Him we have eternal life, riches, power, and honor to offset the beggarly lot which earth affords us and which, in the end, must be left behind. Many hundreds of thousands have already departed this life without taking a shred with them and have gone down into the abyss of hell with their idol, on whom they had relied so firmly. We have nothing on earth on which we place our reliance. And they do not shrink from taking our life and inflicting all sorts of knavery if they can. How long does our life endure at best? It lasts as long as a dance to High Mass.8 Then things will change; and God, in whom we believed, will pronounce this judgment: “You were plagued and dishonored, but I will honor you eternally. And a thousand angels shall be your friends, yes, your servants, for every proud and evil peasant who hated you.”
Thus you see what it means to believe in God, namely, to cultivate a heart that grows strong and fearless in the face of all that devil and world may marshal against you—poverty, misfortune, disgrace, and even sin. A Christian must be able to disdain all that the world possesses, both its good and its evil, as well as everything with which the devil can lure and entice or intimidate and threaten. Singlehandedly he must set himself against all power and become a knight and a hero who defeats and vanquishes all.
Christ says: “If you have such confidence in God, then you must also have the same confidence and trust in Me.” Thus He makes Himself, as already stated,9 equal with God and demands the very same measure of honor that is God’s due. Not that He adds another god to the one God; no, He wants to point out here that He is about to establish His kingdom on earth, that He is leaving them to assume His real office and reign. It is as if He were saying: “Now I am looked upon as a poor, wretched, powerless man here on earth (that is how Pilate, Talking, and the chief priests viewed Him at that time). But when I ascend into heaven, I shall draw the hearts of all men to Me—this He tells us elsewhere (John 12:32)—so that they will accept Me as their comfort, their reliance, their trust, and their all. Then you will realize what you possess in Me. For I will manifest Myself as one in whom you do not place your confidence in vain and as one in whom you believe as truly as you believe in God.”
Why, then, does Christ elevate Himself to the level of God? Is He divesting the true God of His honor and usurping it for Himself? Not at all. His doctrine, proclaimed particularly and consistently in the Gospel of St. John, shows us where we must properly place our reliance, lest we fail to encounter the true God. For that is what all the Turks, Jews, schismatics, and heretics do. They retire into some corner and give themselves over to their own reflections on ways and means of serving and pleasing God. They exert themselves strenuously, do much for the sake of God, give up their mammon, and willingly suffer disgrace, shame, and misery. Some let themselves be tortured and killed, just as true Christians do. And this is not surprising. Just think of the foolish soldiers nowadays, who expose life and limb to spears and muskets for the sake of their pay. A merchant courts death on the highway daily, from footpads and murderers. In like manner, a pious citizen or nobleman exposes himself to jeopardy daily, for himself or for his prince and master.
All this is motivated by temporal gain. These people, however, do much more for the sake of God. It is natural for those who trust God to risk money and goods and even their life, and, if need be, to surrender these. In times past we did the same thing in our false reliance on the saints and our idolatrous worship of them. Did we not give St. Lawrence and other saints more than we gave God Himself? How much people sacrificed for St. Anne, although it is not certain whether such a person ever existed!10 How many monks we supported for the sake of St. Francis, whereas today people will not provide for one priest for the sake of God! These were our gods, in whom we trusted. And everybody assumed that God should agree with us and also think: “Look at these people! They call upon St. Anne and St. Francis! What saintly children they are!” All Jews, Turks, and other mad saints of their ilk suppose that God respects their worship. When they honor their Mohammed or someone else, they imagine that God has to regard them as great saints. A monk, too, assumes that God has to look with favor upon his observance of his monastic rules and view this as a special and excellent service. Where do such ideas come from? All these people derive their notions about God not from God but from the very devil and from their own heads. For where did God ever bear such witness to Himself? Where did He ever proclaim that He was thus disposed and that He wanted to be served as they assume?
But that is the way of human reason. When it hears the name of God and the demand to rely on Him, it is so mad that it proceeds forthwith to fashion its own ways of dealing with God, and its own rules. For example, when a monk hears that he must trust in God, he applies this to his monastic rules and thinks to himself: “In this way I will serve God. This monastic order will be pleasing to Him.”
Since the concept of trust in God and service to God must suffer violation and is expanded to such lengths—everyone stretching it to fit his own thoughts, the one interpreting it in this manner, the other in another way—therefore God designated a special place for Himself where He wants to be found, and identified Himself with a definite Person, so that it is impossible not to be aware of Him. And this Person is none other than Christ Himself, in whom “the whole fullness of Deity dwells bodily,” as St. Paul declares in Col. 2:9.11 Thus God is to be found nowhere but in this Person.
Therefore Christ wants to say here: “You have heard that you must trust in God; but I want to show you furthermore where you will truly find Him, lest your thoughts create an idol bearing the name of God. This means: If you want to believe in God, then believe in Me. If you want to apply your faith and your confidence properly, that it may not be amiss or false, then direct it toward Me; for in Me the entire Godhead dwells perfectly.” And as Christ declares later (John 14:6, 9): “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He who has seen Me has seen the Father. He who hears Me hears the Father. Therefore if you want to be sure to meet God, take hold of Him in Me and through Me. If you have Me, you surely have Him also, as the Father Himself testifies of Me.” Repeatedly in the Gospels Christ declares that He was sent by the Father. He says and does nothing of His own accord, but states that it is the Father’s order and command to all the world to believe Christ as God Himself. Thus no one dare adopt another person or another means to apprehend God than this one Christ. He assures us that if we rely on Him, we will not encounter an idol, as the others do who resort to other ways to deal with God. For God has portrayed Himself definitely and clearly enough in the Word. Therefore it is certain that he who bypasses the Person of Christ never finds the true God; for since God is fully in Christ, where He places Himself for us, no effort to deal with God without and apart from Christ on the strength of human thoughts and devotion will be successful.
Whoever would travel the right road and not go astray with his faith, let him begin where God says and where He wants to be found. Otherwise he will surely miss the goal, and all that he believes and does will prove vain. Like those who occupy themselves with great and arduous tasks in an effort to attain God’s grace, the only thing he accomplishes is miserable self-deception. I myself was a monk for twenty years. I tortured myself with prayers, fasting, vigils, and freezing; the frost alone might have killed me.12 It caused me pain such as I will never inflict on myself again, even if I could. What else did I seek by doing this but God, who was supposed to note my strict observance of the monastic order and my austere life? I constantly walked in a dream and lived in real idolatry. For I did not believe in Christ; I regarded Him only as a severe and terrible Judge, portrayed as seated on a rainbow.13 Therefore I cast about for other intercessors, Mary and various other saints, also my own works and the merits of my order. And I did all this for the sake of God, not for money or goods. Nevertheless, this was heresy and idolatry, since I did not know Christ and did not seek in and through Him what I wanted.
The same thing was done by the Jews, whom God had forbidden so often and so strictly to establish any worship on the mountains, in the valleys, meadows, or green forests. In brief, no place was to be so appealing and inviting to them that they might say: “Oh, this would be an excellent place to erect a church and to institute divine services!” “No, you are to seek and find Me where I have placed Myself, namely, at the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant.” But the Jews did the same thing we are doing. They ran helter-skelter, hither and yon—in fact, everywhere but to that place where God had directed and ordered them to seek Him. “What,” said they, “should we do in front of that gloomy ark or in the temple in Jerusalem? Things are so merry and so convenient here. Here we can have an excellent worship of God.” And they came in droves and gave money in abundance. This enabled one queen alone to support four hundred priests of her Baal (1 Kings 18:19), while the true priests had to suffer hunger and want.
God had proclaimed through the prophets and had foretold through Moses that prayer or worship at any other places would be unacceptable to Him. But they would not listen. Instead, they cried out: “This is where we worship the true God.” And they persisted in their self-invented worship and even killed the prophets over it. There was a small group, however, which believed God’s Word and paid no attention to the great multitude. This is what true Christians must do today. They must not be influenced by the actions of those who enjoy the name and the reputation of great and holy people, who are called God’s servants and the church. They must declare: “Here is my God. I refuse to believe in any other God than the Creator of heaven and earth. I will believe only in the God who is united with Him who is called Jesus Christ. In Him I must place my trust. Then I know that I have the true God. If I have Him, I can proudly defy the devil and the world. If they deprive me of mammon, goods, honor, life and limb, I still have a Christ who is Lord over life and death, over the world and everything. And even if the devil frightens me and makes me depressed and conscience-stricken, he will still not obtain the victory. For here is my Lord, in whom I believe. And if I trust in Him, I am trusting in God; for He Himself is true God. Hence whatever temporal and physical harm I suffer, I account as a husk or as a hollow nut, instead of which God will grant me an eternal treasure and everlasting life.”
Thus these words are also spoken as a consolation for the Christians, whom God allows to suffer this misery and to cope with their enemies—the devil, who plagues and torments them, and the world, which confronts them with pride, contempt, persecution, murder, etc. Christ says: “To remain cheerful in the midst of all this, and to ward off defeat, remember only that I am the real Savior and God, and rely on Me; then you will encounter the true God and experience My omnipotent power and might. Let the world and the pseudo saints depend and rely on whom they will. Let them believe and do as they want. It is all vain and futile. Against all this you need no other weapon or armor than your adherence to Me. In this way you cling to God. He cannot do otherwise than help you. Therefore if they hate, persecute, and murder you, We will love, adopt, and protect you; We will quicken you and dwell with you forever.”
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 (24:17). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


1. Let not your hearts be troubled.
Here you see, in the first place, how heartily and faithfully the Lord looks after His dear disciples, how concerned He is about them lest they remain disconsolate in this very night when, as He had often foretold, suffering and the cross were to separate Him from them, when He was to leave them behind amid great peril, fear, and terror. Up to this time they had always felt secure, assured, and unafraid because of Christ’s personal presence. They had been eyewitnesses when He proved Himself mightily before the people with sermons and signs. As a result, they all had to respect Him. Even the chief priests and the elders had cause to worry that the whole nation might rise in revolt against them if they laid hands on Him.
Therefore the apostles went their way free of care and fear, though they were poor and insignificant people, assuming rather that the others had reason to be afraid of them. They reasoned: “So long as this Man lives, we have no cause for worry; for He can easily protect and save us.” It was this belief that made St. Peter such a courageous and intrepid man that he volunteered and ventured to go into death with Christ, though all the other disciples denied Him (Mark 14:29). He even began to suit his action to his words; for when the Jews wanted to seize Christ, Peter at once went to His defense by wielding a sword. The large armed mob that had come to them did not intimidate him. In brief, so long as the disciples had Christ with them, they had no reason to worry about anything and would no doubt have remained safe from everybody.
But as Christ now apprises them of His impending departure, He shows them and foretells that from now on they will fare far differently, that their hearts will be assailed by fear and trembling. And thus it happened that when Christ was gone after being executed so disgracefully, pitifully, and wickedly, their courage forsook them. In fear they shut themselves up and hid; they did not venture into the open. For this was too great and too terrible a humiliation. This same Christ, who previously had frightened and terrified all the councilors and priests in Jerusalem, had now become so feeble and so deserted as to fall into the hands of His enemies, who treated Him most terribly and most shamefully put Him to death. This is no longer the Christ who raised the dead, chased the buyers and the sellers out of the temple, and performed miracles that startled everybody. Now He is as weak and despised as the most wretched and miserable man on earth. Everybody treads Him underfoot, and the lowliest spit on Him. This was a far cry from the former glorious figure. His beloved disciples, who were still weak in their faith and until now had not experienced such blows, had to fear and tremble. “Oh, what will become of us now? He was our Comfort and our Stay. Now He is gone, and we no longer have anyone to protect or help us. Our enemies are now strong and mighty, but we are weak and forsaken by all the world.”
As a good and faithful Lord, Christ anticipates such anxiety and fear. He comforts His disciples and urges them not to despair but to stand firm. He begins by telling them what they will and must encounter, so that when it happens they may recall that He had told them in advance and had admonished them not to worry. First of all, He says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” It is as if He were saying: “My dear disciples, I know very well what your lot will be after I depart from you and leave you alone. Sheer terror and fear will overwhelm you. The spectacle of My fate will fill you with trepidation. Your hearts will melt within you, and you will scarcely know where to turn. I am telling you this before it happens, to keep you from growing fainthearted. Be bold, and prepare for the struggle that lies ahead. When this time comes, then think of My admonition, lest you soon lose heart and despair.”
Thus Christ, as One well aware of the situation they were to face, wants to fortify and preserve them. Though they would experience terror and anxiety, they could nonetheless sustain themselves and all the more easily endure the trials. For much depends on the preparation of the heart. Though misfortune and terror come stalking along, these are more easily faced when one knows of a refuge or has someone who will speak or recall a consoling word. Christ gives them this sermon beforehand, both to inform them of future terrors and to comfort them, so that they may later recall His words and thus sustain themselves. To be sure, this comfort did not help at the moment, nor was it effective until the appearance of the Holy Spirit. No, when Christ was gone, all was lost; they had no heart or courage, and not one of them could stand his ground against a frail maid.2 In that hour all Christ’s words and works fell by the wayside, and this comfort was entirely forgotten.
Thus Christ admonished and consoled His beloved disciples here as men who sorely needed consolation. But these words were recorded, not for their sakes, but for ours that we might also learn to apply this comfort to both present and future need. Every Christian, when baptized and dedicated to Christ, may and must accept and expect encounters with terror and anxiety, which will make his heart afraid and dejected, whether these feelings arise from one or from many enemies and adversaries. For a Christian has an exceedingly large number of enemies if he wants to remain loyal to his Lord. The world and the devil daily lie in wait to deprive him of life and limb. Furthermore, his own flesh, reason, and conscience plague him constantly. As a result, his heart trembles with fear.
But these weighty reasons for fear and trepidation go unheeded as long as they are not present. Thus the Jews were not at all afraid and concerned when Christ wept over them and foretold that the city of Jerusalem would be so thoroughly destroyed that not one stone would remain on the other (Luke 19:44). Thus we, too, suppose that as long as we are not sorely pressed, as long as the devil does not plague us and sin does not gnaw at us, there is no danger. Secure and cheerful, we do not believe that we shall require consolation. But then we should know and consider that terror will surely follow, either from the world—in the form of animosity and persecution—or from the devil himself, who shoots his cruel poisoned darts and spears of dejection, despair, or blasphemy into your heart.
Therefore if you want to be a Christian like the apostles and all the saints, arm yourself, and be assured that the hour will come when your heart will be terrified and despondent. This has been said to all Christians, that they may learn to accustom themselves quickly and put their affairs in order. If they are secure now, they must realize that matters will soon change. This should be their attitude: “May it last as long as it pleases God! Today happy and cheerful; tomorrow sad. Today alive; tomorrow dead. Today good fortune and security; tomorrow every kind of distress. And do not keep snoring away as though no trouble were coming.” The world is so mad and stupid, so blind and impenitent, that it think: “If there is a little good fortune now and all is well, things will go on like this forever.” It is so engrossed in its good fortune that it cannot imagine that misfortune will ever strike. It lives as though the devil and every kind of grief no longer existed. But later, when anxiety and trouble suddenly befall the world, then it is immediately laid low, and heart and courage are gone; then it is found completely despondent and despairing, as though comfort and hope would never return. In brief, as long as peace reigns, the world supposes that times will never change and does not ponder how it would adapt itself to any such change. No, it assumes that conditions will always remain the same. Moreover, when the weather changes, when sickness follows after days of health, war and misfortune after peace, famine after times of plenty, then there is no end to its lamentations, to its fear and despair. But that is not the Christian way. The Christian should always think: “If peace and tranquillity reign today, it will be different tomorrow. The devil can soon shoot a dart into my heart, or some other affliction can befall me. Therefore I must see to it that when sorrows appear, I am prepared to weather the storm and draw comfort from God’s Word.”
Christ knows that if we want to remain His own and adhere to Baptism, the Sacrament, and the Gospel, the devil will inevitably be our enemy, incessantly pressing us with all his might and contending for our body and soul. And even if God wards him off and prevents him from killing you in one day, he will nevertheless craftily and cunningly persist in trying at least to rob you of your courage and security, to fill you with disquietude and sadness, and subsequently to bring you into other dangers and distress. And since we must inevitably run the devil’s gantlet and be tortured and tormented by him, Christ here wants to exhort and console us, that we may be reconciled to our lot and not be too alarmed or let the devil subdue us so easily and make us lose courage and despair.
Therefore this consolation must also address itself to us. We must impress it on our hearts, use it, and strengthen ourselves with it when we feel grief and anxiety. At such times we must hear Christ speaking these words to us: “What are you doing? You surely will not be scared to death and quail because of this! Be of good cheer, and take heart. Even if the devil, the world, or your own conscience plague and frighten you, and even if you do not feel My presence, do you not recall that I foretold this long ago and left this comfort with you to strengthen and to preserve you?” Thus, you see, we should learn to accustom ourselves to apply this consolation of our Lord Christ by daily practice amid all our temptations, lest these words be related and recorded for us in vain.
From these and similar words and admonitions of Christ we should also learn to know the Lord Christ aright, to develop a more cordial and comforting confidence in Him, and to pay more regard to His Word than to anything else which may confront our eyes, ears, and other senses. For if I am a Christian and hold to Him, I always know that He is talking to me. And here and elsewhere I learn that all His words are intended to comfort me; yes, that all He says, does, and thinks is nothing but friendly and consoling words and work. Therefore it is undoubtedly true that mourning and a faint and fearful heart do not come from Christ. For He is not one to intimidate hearts and make them sad and despondent. He came, labored, and ascended into heaven to banish sadness and fear from the heart and to bestow, instead, a cheerful heart, conscience, and mind. To this end He promises to send His disciples and the Christians the Holy Spirit, whom He calls the Comforter. Through Him Christ wants to fortify and keep His disciples after His physical departure from them.
Happy is he who can learn this and really take to heart Christ’s statement and testimony that it grieves Him sorely when He sees a Christian’s heart sad or frightened. Such a person is well off, and his battle is more than half won. For if I can advance to the point where I recognize the enemy who wants to intimidate and sadden me, and if I know the source of such thoughts and notions, I am already treading on solid ground and have gained a firm footing. This enables me to defend myself and to say: “This is not my Lord Christ; it is His enemy, the devil.” He indeed deceives pious hearts by disguising himself as an angel of light, as St. Paul declares (2 Cor. 11:14); he displays himself as, and pretends to be, Christ Himself. But this is the label which identifies him: he invariably leaves his stench behind him, that is, a faint, fearful, and disquieted conscience. This is manifest in all the false teachers and schismatic spirits, who share in the nature of their master, the devil. They are unable to comfort and gladden a single timid conscience. They only confuse the heart and fill it with sadness and melancholy. They go about like gloomy or senseless people and regard it as highly spiritual to garb themselves in a gray coat,3 to hang the head, to appear with a long face, and to sham sadness. That is nothing but the devil’s buffoonery and delusion. He delights in making hearts afraid, cowardly, and dejected. They want to demonstrate their spirituality with a sour face, one that makes really comforting thoughts and cheerful words impossible. To be sure, a Christian does experience much external suffering and many trials; but he can still have a cheerful, happy heart and mind toward God and look to Him for the greatest good. Therefore let us learn this lesson well: No matter what misfortune befalls us—pestilence, war, famine, poverty, persecution, melancholy thoughts which deject us and make the heart pound and flounder—we must know and conclude that this does not come from Christ. We must be on our guard against the devil, who can pose and masquerade in the form and in the name of Christ.
You say: “Well, does not Christ Himself often frighten and threaten us in the Gospel? For example, when He says (Matt. 4:17): ‘Repent!’ Or in Luke 13:5: ‘I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ ” Why, these are Christ’s own words, and a faint and saddened conscience must constantly worry lest they pertain to it. It must declare: “Say what you will, Christ Himself makes this statement. Who can ignore it?”
I reply: This is why I said that we must become skilled artists and learn to distinguish well between Christ’s rebukes and His threats, and know where to apply His words. For there are two classes of people on earth. Some are wicked and unruly; they pay God’s Word no heed and live as they see fit—smug, unabashed, and without fear. These must feel struck when He threatens: “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and who were killed, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5). The curse is aimed at the people to whom it is addressed and at no others, namely, at the obdurate, proud, and insolent characters who care nothing for Christ and His Word. These constitute a large multitude today, the great majority in all walks of life in the world. They go their way, let Christ preach to them as He pleases, and do what they want to do. Here one must unhesitatingly chide and threaten, and read texts such as the one containing Christ’s pronouncement on the Day of Judgment: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41).
The other small group addressed here by Christ strives to lead a pious, Christian life, has Baptism and Christ’s Word, conducts itself to the best of its ability in such a way that it does not despise the Gospel, and, unlike the group just mentioned, abstains from greed, robbery, theft, lies, deceit, and wantonness. These are the ones whom the devil besets as an enemy does, with all sorts of distress and misfortune, to frighten, sadden, and discourage them. Thus both groups are in trouble. Those who are fainthearted and timid to begin with the devil intimidates without any reason. This is what he did to the apostles after the Lords death, when he drove them to seek cover and made them afraid to appear in the open. But the others, the insolent and smug whom he should frighten and torment, he lets go their way; he flatters them and strengthens them in their wickedness. Thus the devil always plays a role directly opposed to that of Christ.
Therefore it is necessary to differentiate among people and to judge them as they are. Take, for example, a man who loves the Gospel and longs to believe and to live properly. He must learn to resist the devil, who frightens and saddens him, and to say: “You lie, you wicked devil, even though you appear in the guise of Christ my Lord and employ His words. I am baptized in His name, and I believe the Gospel. By the grace of God I am not one of the wicked and profligate who trample the Gospel underfoot and deliberately live contrary to it; but I act and I suffer in accord with it as well as I can. Would to God I could do more! Therefore such menacing and terrifying statements do not pertain to me. I must not and will not listen to them now. I win cling to the words Christ addresses to the poor, wretched little group which suffers persecution, misfortune, distress, and anxiety.”
Now if one could learn to differentiate, then each side would be fairly treated. Christ would comfort those whom the devil wants to frighten and dishearten, and, on the other hand, He would intimidate those whom the devil makes smug and presumptuous. After all, these two must always contend against each other. What the devil ruins and destroys, Christ must build up and restore; and what the devil establishes, Christ destroys, as we read in 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
Now since we are aware of this, we must prepare ourselves, lest we become smug and careless. When the devil wheedles and indulges us, that is, when he gives us peace and good days, we must be afraid. On the other hand, we must not be terror-stricken or grieved, but undaunted and cheerful when he scratches and pricks and plagues us with every kind of misfortune of which he is capable. When he attempts to frighten us in the name of Christ, we must always say: “I will not listen now to any terrifying and threatening words; for I know that this is not according to the will and intention of Christ my Lord, who bids me and all believers in Him be of good cheer. Therefore even though Christ Himself does speak threatening and frightening words here and there, I am not to apply these words to myself. For they pertain only to the smug, impenitent, hardened, and wicked scorners of His Word and His grace. Therefore since I am a Christian and a disciple of my Savior, do not try to harass me with these verses. For even though they are Christ’s words, you are not quoting them at the right time and at the proper place; nor are you applying them to the person to whom they refer. You are not using the words as Christ does; but they are being perverted by that lying spirit, the devil, who diverts both the threatening and the comforting words from the group to which they apply, just as he perverts all God’s Words and transforms truth into a lie.”
It is indeed a real Christian art to distinguish in the heat of battle between the suggestions of Christ and those of the devil. Only one who is experienced will realize the difficulty. For, as I have said, the devil can so clothe and adorn himself with Christ’s name and works, and can pose and act in such a way, that one could swear a thousand oaths that it is truly Christ Himself, although in reality it is the archenemy and the true Archantichrist.4 Therefore if you are a Christian, you must learn to conclude from this that anyone who wants to terrify and dishearten you is surely the devil’s messenger. For whenever Christ frightens someone away from unbelief and a sinful life into penitence and conversion, it is of short duration. Thus He frightened Paul before his conversion, and thus St. Paul, in the name of Christ, frightened the Corinthians and the Galatians.5 For it is not Christ’s purpose to keep you sad; no, in a short time He frees you from sadness and comforts you. The devil does not do this. He does not let a single proud and impenitent person despair; or when such a person finally does lapse into terror and fear, as happens in the end to all such, then he deserts him. Even then he does not put an end to his terrorizing but oppresses and distresses him so severely that he must despair eternally unless he is restored by Christ.
This, you see, is what Christ wants to inculcate here when He says: “Let not your hearts be troubled”; as if He said: “I am about to die and vanish from your sight; I leave you behind in the world, where you will not see or hear Me. All that you will see, hear, and feel will be distress and misfortune of many kinds, to frighten and perplex you on every hand. But do not let this make your hearts distraught and cowardly. Balance these words of Mine, bidding you be of good cheer and courage against all this. It will not be I who frightens and grieves you. No, when such sufferings afflict you, conclude immediately that this is the devil’s phantasy and delusion. The voice by which you are to recognize Me, as sheep recognize their true shepherd, is the voice that says: ‘Be unafraid and undaunted.’ These are My words and thoughts. If you hear anything else, you are not hearing My voice, even though it is presented to you in My name and form. Do not believe or follow it.”
That is what we must proclaim and impress before Christians, who, by reason of tender hearts and consciences, are easily frightened, since they know and feel their frailty and unworthiness. But we must let the other, vulgar multitude, which knows of no terrors and anxiety and is not moved by threats, go its way. For they will certainly get their due when their hour approaches and they are suddenly overcome, with no one to comfort them. The devil deals with his servants thus: Now he permits them to enjoy themselves, but later he rewards them with eternal sorrow, terror, and fear; yes, they will be forced to drain the cup of hell to the dregs. Christians, on the other hand, endure little and brief distress now. Therefore let anyone who would be a Christian inscribe and keep these words in his heart. Knowing what awaits the Christian, Christ anticipates it here and exhorts him not to abandon his faith and his confidence, no matter if terror and distress befall him on this account. Christ spoke these words beforehand and left them to us that you may know and remember what He demands of you, namely, that you be unafraid and look to Him for help, to come and rescue you. This now follows.
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 (24:9). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, August 9, 2010

JOHN 14 - Preface (LUTHER)


The fourteenth chapter and the two that follow it contain the beautiful sermon delivered by Christ after the celebration of the Last Supper, on the threshold of His suffering and His departure from His beloved disciples. With this sermon He wanted to comfort and strengthen them both against the present sadness occasioned by His departure and against the suffering they would endure because of the devil, the world, and their own conscience. Indeed, here we find the best and most comforting sermon preached by Christ while on this earth. And St. John should be praised above the other evangelists for recording and transmitting it to Christendom for their comfort, as a jewel and treasure not purchasable with the world’s goods. It would be deplorable had we been deprived of it and had it not been handed down to us.
This sermon contains the most precious and cheering consolation, the sweetest words of Christ, the faithful and beloved Savior, words of farewell to His disciples as He is about to leave them, words such as no man on earth is able to employ toward his dearest and best friends. They show how He provides for them out of the pure, ineffable, burning love of His heart, and how He is concerned about them far more sincerely than any man is about the greatest need and danger of his most intimate friend. In His concern for them He forgets His own anguish and anxiety, which must have filled His heart at this time, as He Himself confided to His disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). Moreover, His battle against death and the devil had now reached its highest point. Here Christ richly poured out His great and heartfelt comfort, which is the property of all Christendom and which men should long for in all troubles and afflictions.
Furthermore, here we find the true, chief high articles of Christian doctrine established and set forth in the most powerful manner. Nowhere else in Scripture are they to be found side by side in this way. For example, the doctrine of the three distinct Persons in the Holy Trinity, particularly of the divine and human natures in the eternally undivided Person of the Lord Christ; also the doctrine of justification by faith and of the real comfort for consciences. The evangelist discourses here on sublime themes such as these: how man may safely encounter and embrace God; how he may be justified before God and be assured of His mercy; how he may rely on this mercy with all his heart and defy all sorts of trials and temptations. And all these doctrines are supported here so clearly and convincingly that one can powerfully strike down all heretics and schismatic spirits, no matter what their names are.
Therefore it is surely fitting and proper that this sermon be diligently studied and considered in Christendom. To this end these three chapters have been assigned since time immemorial as Gospel lessons between Pentecost and Easter. Whoever wanted to could devote himself to a thorough study of them during this season.1 We, too, have undertaken this task, resolved to interpret these chapters for the common man, but especially to defend and preserve the true and pure doctrine of Christ and of the Christian faith against the vile mobs of the devil, whether present or future. And herewith we wish to commend this proclamation to pious Christians as their highest and most precious treasure and consolation, that they may learn it and preserve it with diligence.
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 (24:7). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.