Friday, August 20, 2010


11. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me; or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

Christ says: “If My preaching does not make you willing to believe that God dwells and is in Me and that I dwell and am in Him, then believe this because of the works you see before your eyes. These works, as no one can deny, are not human; they are divine. They prove and attest powerfully enough that He speaks and works in Me and through Me.” These are the works and the miracles which He performed publicly before all the world—giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, healing to all manner of sick, casting out devils, and raising the dead—solely by the Word. These are not only divine works, but they are also witnesses of God the Father. Therefore he who sees and hears these sees God the Father in them; and he is not only persuaded that God is in Christ and that Christ is in God, but from them he can also be comforted with the assurance of God’s fatherly love and grace toward us.
For if God were disposed to be angry with us, to condemn, punish, and torment us, He would not forgive us our sins through Christ; He would not remove the penalty for sins from the paralytics, the lepers, and others, who were possessed of, and tormented by, the devil. Furthermore, if God took delight in death, He would not raise and quicken the dead. But that is what He did in Christ; He taught us to look upon and recognize Him as a gracious Father, who is eager to help and to save us. This He also demonstrates daily in all the works He does in all the world by constantly preserving all His creatures, bestowing so many benefactions on the whole world, and bountifully pouring out His goods, except when of necessity and for the sake of the godly He must punish and restrain the wicked. But He rules in such a way that even physically we always see more of His grace and blessing than of His wrath and punishment. For we find a hundred thousand healthy people for every ailing, blind, deaf, paralytic, or leprous person. And even if one member of the body has a defect, the entire person, still endowed with body and soul, shows forth nothing but God’s goodness.
Moreover, all the wretchedness and misery rampant in the world is the work of the devil, who delights in bringing ruin and death on man; for it was he Who plunged all human nature into sin and death. But, as we learn from 1 John 3:8, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” and to re-establish the divine works of life. This He proved so forcefully that even the Jews had to admit grudgingly that no man could perform such works. And even though they declared that no one but God could forgive sin, still His works stood before their eyes in testimony that He had this divine power and that He was the Man who could help man from death to life, against sin to righteousness, from strife to peace and every good.43 Thus we become assured not only of the doctrine that Christ is true God with the Father, but also that He is a merciful God and Savior; and we can recognize and apprehend the Father’s heart and will in all the works of the Lord Christ, for the true and blessed consolation of all wretched and aggrieved hearts and consciences. “Thus,” says Christ, “My works will aptly demonstrate to you that the Father is in Me and wants to be known through Me.”
But you say: “After all, the devil can work miracles and signs like Christ’s. How, then, can we found our belief on the miracles of Christ?” It is true that the devil can torment people and lay them low; or he can blind them temporarily or lame a member, as he often did through his witches and devilish whores, and then heal them again. Not that these people were really blind or lame, for to such he could not restore sight or a member; but he bewitches the people and dupes their five senses, so that they do not know better and are willing to swear an oath that it is real.
At times the devil also takes possession of a person and then lets himself be cast out by adjuration, blessing, etc. All this he does for the purpose of confirming his lies and deceptions and of impressing the people, so that because of these apparently great miracles they are seduced into idolatry. This he has accomplished to date with pilgrimages and the idolatrous adoration of saints, at one place with the Sacred Blood, at another with this or that Mary.44 He has filled the entire country with shameful delusions and has prompted people to throng to such places and everybody to make vows there and transfer their trust from God to his lies. For in the end it was nothing but devilish deception with which he made fools of the people and persuaded them to believe that they had really been helped.
Yes, the devil can contrive to make a person who has been wounded, shot, or injured in some other way appear to be dead; he can render a person insensate for a while, with the result that everybody believes that he is really dead. Later on, however, this person regains consciousness, and then people say that he has been brought back to life through the power of this or that saint. Thus I have heard of a lad who had been lying submerged in water for two days; but when his parents took him and pledged him to St. Anne, he was restored to life.45 Are these not also miracles and signs? No, for surely these people were not actually dead. The devil so befuddled people’s senses that they thought them dead until he let them regain consciousness.
Thus we read in the lives of the old fathers about St. Macarius. He was approached by a married couple with a beautiful daughter whom the devil had bewitched so that her parents and everybody else took her for a cow. They brought her to Macarius in the wilderness and lamented that their virgin daughter had been changed into a cow by witchcraft. They implored him to ask God to restore her to her original form. But he said: “What has happened to you? I see nothing but a beautiful, healthy virgin. Therefore this must be nothing but deception with which the devil is duping you and deluding your five senses.” Finally he prayed over her and also bade the parents pray. This was the end of the deception, and the parents and others again saw their daughter as before.46
I am saying this to keep you from believing in all sorts of miracles and signs. For in Deut. 13:1 ff. Moses predicted that false prophets would also perform these. And in 2 Thess. 2:9 St. Paul clearly foretold that Antichrist’s reign would include all kinds of miracles and signs wrought by the devil. Therefore we must judge and consider all wonders and miracles in the light of God’s Word, to ascertain whether they are in accordance and agreement with it. If anyone directs you to any help other than the doctrine and the works of the Lord Christ, you can conclude freely that this is the devil’s work and his false miracles, by means of which he deceives and misguides you, just as he has done so far under the name of Mary and the saints where Christ was never known or taught aright. As St. Paul declares (2 Thess. 2:11), God permits the false Christians to be tempted in this way; they have to believe lies because they refused to believe the truth.
And since God forewarned us regarding such signs, we should be circumspect, and we should look into and judge these signs. We shall see that they happen outside and without Christ, yes, contrary to His Word and the faith, which proves that they are nothing but false signs of the devil. For the devil cannot perform genuine miracles and wonders; but, just as he is a murderer and liar from the beginning, so his works do nothing but misguide and harm man. He poisons the air and kills people through pestilence and other plagues. When he afflicts man with an illusory evil or conjures up a specter before one’s eyes, he can stop later on. But when a man is actually dead, he is impotent; and even if he were able to lend a helping hand in such an instance, he is so wicked that he would not do it.
Christ alone performs true, divine signs and wonders. Take, for instance, the time when He raised Lazarus, who had lain in the grave for four days, or when He brings back to life and health those who have been killed, destroyed, or injured by the devil. Furthermore, He exposes the devil’s fraud, lies, and deception, with the result that the devil is recognized and must stop. The devil does not pursue the Christians long with his hocus-pocus. For he is an arrogant spirit who wants to possess hearts and consciences only to induce people to believe his lies and worship him as God. Where he fails in this, he does not stay long. In times past there were many poltergeists and hobgoblins everywhere; they frightened the people into doing whatever they demanded of them. This was because the devil was not recognized and these hobgoblins were considered poor souls. But now that he is known, he desists from this game. Today he seeks different ways of casting a spell on the people and deluding them; this he does through his corporeal poltergeists and factions.
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 (24:73). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


10. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does His works.

As I have said, it is the purpose of these words to impress on and drum into us this chief article. Where the relationship of man to God or the ascertainment of God’s will is involved, we are to learn to dismiss everything else from our sight and heart, whatever may be taught and preached, even in the Law of Moses, and still more everything that proceeds from human reason and imagination. We must learn this one thing: to have a clear conception of Christ and let nothing tempt us away from this or lead us astray, be it a good work or an evil one, a good life or an evil life, holiness or sin. This is the knowledge in which St. John, an outstanding evangelist with regard to this theme, and St. Paul instruct more than the others do. They join and bind Christ and the Father so firmly together that we learn to think of God as only in Christ. As soon as we hear the mention of God’s name, or of His will, His works, His grace, or His displeasure, we must not judge these as the voice of our heart or man’s wisdom may discourse on them, or as the Law may suggest to us; but we must nestle and cuddle on the lap of Christ, like dear children on their mother’s lap or in her arms, and close our eyes and ears to everything but Him and His words. Or we must see Him as the faithful Savior, who sheds His blood so richly on the cross, rises again, subdues the devil and hell, treads death underfoot, proclaims this to you both personally and through the apostles, and grants all this to you. Thus He affirms abundantly that He harbors no anger or disfavor toward you but does everything to help and comfort you, all that He should and can do, if you but believe and accept this.
“Yes,” you say, “I see and hear this. But who knows whether this is God’s attitude toward me?” Guard against that thought, for that is separating and divorcing Christ from God! That is what Philip is doing here. He ignores Christ, seeks God up in heaven, and thinks: “Surely I can hear Christ talking to me. But who knows how God up in heaven is minded toward me or what He has resolved to do with me?” What else is that than unbelief and a secret denial of God? Christ must chide him for it, to rid him of this shameful delusion, as He says: “Philip, what do you mean by separating Me and the Father? Why do you let your thoughts soar in the clouds and let Me waste words on you? Do you not hear Me say that he who sees Me sees the Father Himself? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in Me? Furthermore, do you not hear Me say: ‘The words that I speak are not My own, but the Father’s’?” These are friendly but earnest words of the Lord. He will not put up with our vain and uncertain gaping and fluttering about. No, He wants us bound completely to Himself and to His Word, lest we seek God elsewhere than in Him.
In times past a pious hermit, St. Antony, admonished his brethren as he spoke of the young and inexperienced saints who want to be smart enough to fathom God’s inscrutable counsel and everything with their thoughts: “If you see such a young saint clambering heavenward and planting one foot into heaven, pull him down posthaste, before he can set his other foot up there too and then plunge down head over heels.”33 This is well spoken against the fluttering spirits, who like to speculate about sublime matters, who would like to bore a hole through heaven and peek in to discover what God Himself is and what He does, meanwhile ignoring Christ as superfluous for that purpose.34
Therefore be on your guard against ideas that disregard the Word and separate and tear Christ from God. For He did not bid you soar heavenward on your own and gape to see what God is doing in heaven with the angels. No, this is His command (Matt. 17:5): “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. There I descend to you on earth, so that you can see, hear, and touch Me. There and nowhere else is the place for those to encounter and find Me who desire Me and who would like to be delivered from their sin and be saved.” We should quickly assent and say: “God Himself says this, and I will follow Him and give ear to no other word or message; nor do I want to know anything else about God. For, as St. Paul declares (Col. 2:9), in His Person ‘dwells the whole fullness of Deity bodily’; and there is no God apart from Him, where I could come to Him or find Him—although He is everywhere else, of course. Now wherever one hears this Man’s Word and sees His work, there one surely hears and sees God’s Word and work.”
Furthermore, when Christ commands His apostles to proclaim His Word and to carry on His work, we hear and see Him Himself, and thus also God the Father; for they publish and proclaim no other Word than that which they heard from His lips, and they point solely to Him. Thus the process goes on; the Word is handed down to us through the agency of true bishops, pastors, and preachers, who received it from the apostles.35 In this way all sermons delivered in Christendom must proceed from this one Christ; and the clergy must prove that the words and works of their ministry in Christendom—regardless of whether their own person is good or evil—are those of Christ. They must declare: “You are not to look to me or to follow me. No, heed only that which the Lord Christ says to you or shows you through me; for this is not my word; it is Christ’s Word. The Baptism and Sacrament I administer is not mine; it is His Baptism and Sacrament. The office I fill is not mine; it is the Lord’s office. But since it is Christ’s Word and Baptism, it is also the Father’s Word and Sacrament, because He says: ‘Whatever I say and do, I do not say or do on My own authority, but on the authority of the Father, who dwells in Me.’ ”
Thus it is all blended into one.36 All that issues from Christ’s lips emanates from the Father; for Christ declares: “What I say, not I, but the Father says.” Likewise St. Paul and other apostles and preachers affirm: “It is not I who baptizes and absolves you; it is Christ. It is not we who are speaking; it is Christ and God Himself. Hence when you hear this sermon, you are hearing God Himself. On the other hand, if you despise this sermon, you are despising, not us but God Himself.” For it is all from God, who condescends to enter the mouth of each Christian or preacher and says: “If you want to see Me or My work, look to Christ; if you want to hear Me, hear this Word.” Christ transmits this command to the apostles; these pass it on to their successors, bishops and preachers; these, in turn, deliver it to all the world, Thus the apostles and pastors are nothing but channels through which Christ leads and transmits His Gospel from the Father to us. Therefore wherever you hear the Gospel properly taught or see a person baptized, wherever you see someone administer or receive the Sacrament, or wherever you witness someone absolving another, there you may say without hesitation: “Today I beheld God’s Word and work. Yes, I saw and heard God Himself preaching and baptizing.” To be sure, the tongue, the voice, the hands, etc., are those of a human being; but the Word and the ministry are really those of the Divine Majesty Himself. Hence it must be viewed and believed as though God’s own voice were resounding from heaven and as though we were seeing Him administering Baptism or the Sacrament with His own hands. Thus here we do not separate, or differentiate between, God and His Word or ministry, given to us through Christ; nor do we seek God in another way or view Him in a different light.
When we get to heaven, we shall see God differently; then no clouds and no darkness will obscure our view. But here on earth we shall not perceive Him with our senses and our thoughts. No, here we see Him, as St. Paul states (1 Cor. 13:12), “in a mirror dimly,” enveloped in an image, namely, in the Word and the sacraments. These are His masks37 or His garments, as it were, in which He conceals Himself. But He is certainly present in these, Himself working miracles, preaching, administering the sacraments, consoling, strengthening, and helping. We see Him as we see the sun through a cloud. For now we cannot bear to see and look at His brilliant Majesty. Therefore He must cover and veil Himself, so to speak, behind a heavy cloud. Thus it has been ordained that he who wants to see and apprehend both the Father and the Son glorified and enthroned in majesty, must apprehend Him through the Word and through the works He performs in Christendom by means of the ministry and other offices.
By no means should we become so foolish as to sever and separate God, Christ, and His Word from one another and to debate about God as the heathen, the Turks, the sophists,38 or others do, with only His majesty in mind. Such men will indeed let God speak to the rest of us down here on earth and work in us through the clergy, through father, mother, etc.; meanwhile they themselves ascend into the clouds and are concerned about what God does and thinks up there. Not a good spirit, but the devil bids them ask about and reflect on that! But if you really want to know on what terms you are with God and whether your way of living finds favor in His eyes, then give ear to His Word recorded here, and you will soon learn: “He who sees and hears Me sees and hears the Father also.” Therefore ask yourself if you delight wholeheartedly in what Christ proclaims and does for you through His Christians, such as preachers, father, mother, and other pious people. If you sincerely listen and adhere to this, then you can rest assured. You need not entertain any further doubts; indeed, you must not. For whatever these people tell you, God truly tells you Himself.
But if you go your way like a reckless man, refuse to heed this, and still insist on exploring and fathoming your relationship to God in heaven with your own reason, you are lost. And it serves you right; for you reject God’s own offer to you, and instead seek something else. For it is the express purpose of His. presence here on earth to communicate His will to you, so that you may know assuredly how He is disposed toward you. He ordered and ordained all the offices and estates in Christendom for the purpose of filling the entire world with the works of God; and you ignore all this as though it were of no account. You think to yourself: “God dwells up in heaven among the angels and is occupied with other matters. How can a preacher or a father or a mother help me? If only I could hear and see God Himself!” That is severing and separating God from His work, Christ from His Word; and these two should be joined and kept together most firmly.
Hence let everyone be on his guard lest he search for God with his own reason and mind. Learn to adhere and cling simply to the Word. Be guided and directed by it. Then you cannot go astray. And in it you hear nothing but this message: “Believe in me. Believe that I forgive you your sins and am gracious to you for Christ’s sake. Be baptized on this. Be obedient to father and mother, and do what your calling and vocation enjoins. Then you have everything, and God in the bargain!” “Oh,” you ask, “is that seeing and hearing God? I assumed that He was up in heaven and that I needed a special revelation from Him.” No, far from it. If you want to encounter God, you must first see Him under the mask, in the Word. Then one day you can behold Him also in His majesty. For now God will not present you with anything special, apart from and contrary to His command contained in His Word.
It is a Shame and disgrace that we despise this because it is so common and familiar. Thus the arrogant spirit of Münzer and of the Anabaptist rabble of our day declared impudently that they would not acknowledge a Christ who did no more than have the Gospel preached and people baptized, but did not communicate with them in person.39 To cast aside the external Word and Baptism is surely the true mark and sign of all false and heterodox spirits. They do not content themselves with the simple order of God, which is issued to all of Christendom and by which He reigns over it. They disdain to hear from Him how they are to find Him; but they presume to teach, and prescribe to, Him how He should deal with them. But God will not submit to this; for He is not the man to be ordered about and to institute something particular for each individual or to issue a new Gospel, a new Baptism, message, or revelation for your sake. Once and for all He has ordained and proclaimed concerning this Christ: “Here is the Man whom you must hear if you want to come to Me and be saved. I herewith serve notice on you that I will give you no other sign. Therefore mark well that you must either accept Him or be lost.” This He has stated simply and clearly enough; this He has earnestly enjoined. And yet it avails nothing with the unbelieving world, so complete is the sway that the arrogant devil, who encroaches upon God’s majesty, holds over it.
Thus the Turks, to begin with, introduced something novel and refused to remain with the simple Gospel. “Oh,” exclaimed Mohammed, “Christ has ascended into heaven; I must have an angel through whom God communicates with me!” Then he proceeded to create a new Bible—that is, his Koran—and would not accept Baptism. The pope, together with his priests and monks, has been doing the same thing. They have surrendered Christ and the words about faith, ignored the Bible, and claimed that God sits enthroned up in heaven like a terrible Judge. Therefore we must have Mary and the other deceased saints as intercessors and must reconcile God through the sacrifice of the Mass. Furthermore, they have belittled Baptism and Christian vocations. Therefore it was necessary to enter special higher callings and orders, and to create a more exalted Baptism for the monks.40 In brief, they have introduced a special, self-devised sanctity, apart from and contrary to the common Word and order of God and the ordinary godly vocations. In this way alone they aspired to get to heaven or at least to assist others in attaining that goal. These things, they claim, gleam like precious gems. The others—plain Baptism, the Sacrament, father, mother, government, pious masters and mistresses in the home, servants and maids—they treat with scorn and regard as nothing. This viewpoint has so filled the world that the true light and the high honor of Christendom have been dimmed and trampled underfoot. Therefore we must again sweep out this filth of the devil and throw it away; we must cleanse this doctrine well and impress it on the hearts of men. One must teach and believe: “I must and will hear or see no work, no worship of God, no spirituality, no holy life other than that of this Man Christ, or that which He transmitted to the apostles, and the apostles, in turn, transmitted to the preachers. When I hear these, I hear Christ Himself; and when I hear Christ, I hear the Father.” Thus all must be woven together and interrelated. And if the relationship is right, all must follow in a straight line. It is like tracing and following a river or a brook to its source, the spring. I drink the water from the pipes. It comes from the brooklet; and this, in the end, flows from the spring.
This doctrine must be preached and expounded to Christendom in general, but it must also be impressed so that each individual Christian can practice and apply it in his own particular trials. When the devil hits the heart with his darts (Eph. 6:16), labeled eternal predestination or God’s wrath and judgment, then I must be steeled against these with the Word of Christ and say: “Away with you, you vile spirit of lies! Go devour your own stench, and do not distract me with such thoughts! For I have learned from Christ and from God Himself that if I want to know how God is disposed toward me and what His plans are for me, I must listen to none other than my Lord’s voice. There I see and hear nothing else than His gift of Baptism, His Sacrament; there I see that He absolves me from sin and acquits me. There is no threat at all that He wants to hurl me into hell. He does not want to drown me in Baptism; He wants to wash, cleanse, and quicken me. And in the Sacrament He does not place a sword at my throat as though He wanted to slay me, but He bids me eat and drink. Nor do I hear any anger or displeasure in His message; I hear sheer fatherly, cordial promise and consolation. Thus He also gave me father and mother, princes, and masters; all these are purely tokens of His mercy.” Be guided by this, and let others debate about, and pry vainly into, God’s plans in heaven; for you would never succeed, though you speculate yourself to death. But here you have the assurance which removes all doubt; for He descended from heaven for this very purpose, saying (Matt. 17:5): “This is My dear Son; listen to Him.” And the Son passed the message on to the apostles, the apostles handed it on to the preachers who succeeded them, and the preachers transmitted it to us and to our children. Thus it all proceeds as God has arranged it; and I constantly see and hear Him through the pipes if I follow the brooklet which flows from Christ and leads to the spring.
Behold, this is the beautiful conversation and sermon in answer to the apostle Philip’s question; it is a reply not only to him but also to the fluttering thoughts of all men, the thoughts with which they venture to apprehend God. Here Christ addresses you and all the world, and says: “What are you trying to do by seeking God elsewhere than in Me, or by heeding or listening to other words and works than those spoken and performed by Me? Do you not know that I am in the Father and that the Father is in Me? Later you hear Me speak through St. Paul, St. Paul through Titus or through other preachers, and so on through others who preach this Word—all centering in and identified with the Lord Christ. Where Paul is, there I am; where I am, there Paul is, and all the preachers. All are thoroughly and completely in Christ, but Christ is in and with the Father. At the same time Christ is in all, but the Father is in Christ. Why, then, do you let your foolish reason ask where the Father is? No disciple of Christ should ask that: Let the others—the non-Christians, heathen, Jews, Turks, heretics, monks, and sophists—search and seek in this way. But you must beware of departing from Me and following a different route! For if you do, you will not find God; then you will encounter the devil, who, as has been said, cannot dupe people unless he smears the name of Majesty on his lies.”
Therefore everyone who does not want to be deceived must learn and note with all diligence not to listen and agree when God is merely named or mentioned, even though men exalt and praise His name as greatly as possible and act ever so gloriously and majestically. Thus the devil often presented himself to me. I was so bewildered that I did not know what to do.41 Just adhere to the Word and say: “I will have none of that, even though it were the true Majesty Himself; for God has forbidden me to look for Him or think of Him anywhere but in Christ. Therefore it is surely a delusion and deception of the devil, under the name and semblance of the Majesty, which only frightens me and drives me from God. But God, in fact, invites me to Himself through Christ in the friendliest manner and presents me with the certain token of His grace and my salvation, namely, the Word and Baptism.”
As we know, the heathen likewise had to experience and acknowledge that God cannot be certainly found with any thoughts or any searching of reason. Thus the story is told of a king who asked his wisest philosopher: “What is God?” The sage took several days to consider; and when he was to give his reply, he again deferred it. This he did a third and a fourth time, until he finally had to confess outright: “What shall I say? The longer and the more profoundly I meditate on this, the less I Know.”42 Anyone else who ventures to learn something about God by means of his reason surely has the same experience. The longer he searches, the farther he is from his goal. He must miss the mark entirely unless, after finally finding the road that leads to Christ, he clings to the Word. Therefore let this verse be deeply engraved in your heart: “How can you say: ‘Show us the Father’? My dear man, do not flit about with your thoughts. Let God be God; let sin be sin; let holiness be holiness; let everything go and stay where it pleases. But listen to what I say to you here, and cling to it: ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’ ‘The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does His works.’ ”
Note how Christ here joins the two, His words and His works, and attributes both to the Father. He Himself interprets the words “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” namely, that this is nothing else than observing His words and works. For the Jews also saw Him with their eyes, just as a cow looks at something; but this did not improve them. Christian seeing and knowing, however, means to take note of His mouth and His hands, to pay heed to what He says and does. From this springs the knowledge which imparts the realization and the experience that God dwells and manifests Himself in Him, and that His words and works are God’s words and works. This is what Christ was eager to impress on, and drum into, them with this last sermon, which was delivered as He was about to depart from them; for herein, as has been amply stated, lies real power, and this is the true but also the most difficult knowledge of Christians. And now Christ concludes as He says:
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 (24:64). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

JOHN 14:8,9 (LUTHER)

8. Philip said to Him: Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.
9. Jesus said to him: Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say: Show us the Father?

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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


7. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.

Here the Lord Christ again uses a new parable and symbolic speech before His disciples, to prompt them to begin asking about His Father, who and where He is. For although He has spoken about this very plainly and has revealed that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, by saying: “No one comes to the Father but by Me,” the disciples still do not understand. They hear these words about the Way, the Truth, and the Life, about coming to the Father, etc., with their reason and their carnal mind alone, and cannot make sense of them. Therefore Christ good-naturedly lets them blunder along. He throws a block in their way, to jolt them and make them ask more questions. He begins by saying: “If you had known Me, etc.” What? Do they not know Christ? Do they not hear His voice, and do they not see Him before their very eyes? Did they not travel about with Him for a long time? This bears out my earlier statement32 that knowing Christ is not identical here with seeing Him face to face and, as St. Paul says, knowing Him after the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). No, it means to know how to regard Him, to know what we possess in Him and how to avail ourselves of Him.
He means, in brief, that all depends on this, and that it must be a Christian’s true knowledge to learn to know Christ aright, to distinguish Him from all thought, existence, doctrine, life, and all that man may undertake, to cling to Him alone in faith, and to say wholeheartedly: “I know and want to know nothing in divine matters save my Lord Christ: He alone must be everything that concerns my salvation and that must be settled between God and me. And though I experience many trials and much opposition on the part of the devil, the world, and my own conscience, and must suffer even death because of this, I will still take my stand here. I am determined to live and to die in this faith.” “This,” Christ says, “is knowing Me aright, and through Me also knowing the Father.”
“But if you look at Me as a cow looks at a new gate, if you merely see Me going along in the greatest weakness, letting Myself be so shamefully crucified, killed, and buried, then you cannot see or believe that I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that you must come to the Father through Me alone. No, then you will believe the opposite of Me, like the Jewish people, who consider Me to be error and deception, sheer lies and dreams, yes, nothing but death and the venom of hell. Therefore if you want to know Me aright, you must not follow your eyes and carnal understanding, like the Jews; but you must grasp the words which you hear from Me in your hearts, cling to them, and be guided by them alone. Then you will experience how I go through weakness, cross, death, and everything, and in this way come to the Father; and I will draw you on the same way with Me and through Me if you remain loyal to Me in death and every need, through faith in these words.”
This is what Christ means when He says: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father.” As though He were saying: “Why do you continue to think and worry about where I am going, about the way, or about what and where the Father is to whom I am going? Do you not hear? If you have Me, you have everything; and if you hear My words, though you still grasp and hold them imperfectly, you know Me. And inasmuch as you know Me, you know the Father also and have already seen Him.” Christ will now explain and expand this further. For, as I have said, these words are merely an introduction to a new sermon on how the Father is to be known in Him.
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 (24:54). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, August 16, 2010


6. No one comes to the Father but by Me.

Here Christ puts all three things together and with words that are plain and clear states in one sentence what He means and why He has called Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” namely, that one may come to the Father. In brief, He wants to say: “I alone am all. If anyone is to come to the Father, it must happen solely through Me—the beginning, the middle, and the end.” But what does coming to the Father mean? Nothing else than has often been stated: to pass from death into life, from sin and damnation into innocence and piety, from misery and distress of heart into eternal joy and bliss. “And let no one,” He says, “presume to attain this except through Me. I alone am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This language is clear and plain enough. It absolutely excludes and powerfully refutes every doctrine of meritorious works and self-righteousness, and it entirely repudiates and denies all other comfort and all confidence in other means by which one may presume to reach heaven. For here we find the terse words: “No one, no one comes to the Father but by Me.” There is no other ship or passage.
This confirms our statement that man attains this solely through the faith which clings to Christ, and that no works of ours or of other men or saints shall enjoy this honor and glory. But this does not mean that we should not perform good works. No, it means that in order to obtain mercy before God and eternal life we must first have only this Christ through faith; and then we must also do good works and demonstrate our love. But this distinction must be scrupulously observed: we dare not attribute to our works and to our life the power and the merit of bringing us to the Father; we must dedicate them to the purpose of glorifying God here on earth, of improving the lot of our neighbor, and of helping everyone.
But when it is a question of obtaining yonder life with God, I must harbor a different treasure in my heart, one that will permit me to conclude confidently: “If everything forsakes and deserts me in death, I still own this treasure, which endures forever, which will not fail me or decay. And this treasure is not my own work or merit, nor is it that of any other man; but it is in itself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only One through whom we come to the Father. To this I will cling; by it I will live and die. For this reason I turn a deaf ear to the doctrine of works taught by all the monks and schismatic spirits. This doctrine is mightily condemned here, and it is certain that any plan to obtain heaven without Christ is surely not the way to heaven, but only a pit in which murder is committed; not the truth, but sheer falsehood and a lie; not life, but the devil and death.”
And how could Christ and His Word be dishonored, blasphemed, and denied more than by attributing, in contradiction to this clear verse, such power and glory to our works as to rob Christ of His honor or detract from it? My dear friend, our works will never achieve such great things. How could you boast of your power and your deeds, though you were to torture yourself to death with works, if you were to walk through a vast and turbulent sea, with high waves and billows on both sides, with nothing but certain death before you, and without any aid or counsel to see you through? Thus the people of Israel had to despair entirely of all human wisdom, counsel, and aid. They would never have dared walk through the sea if they had not firmly believed in and implicitly relied on God’s Word. They would indeed have been obliged to tread the water with their feet a long time, to dance, and to leap before the waters would ever have separated and permitted them to pass through, if it had not been for the Word and their faith in it. Much less will our works and power effect the walk and the crossing in question, which is far more difficult and far more perilous than that physical journey through the Red Sea; for here the burden of sin, God’s wrath, eternal death, and the devil with all hell rush upon us and overwhelm us. All these we must vanquish if we want to walk safely to our goal. This dance calls for more than red slippers.31 Faith must prevail here and do it all.
Subsequently, however, when such a faith is yours, good works must follow. If they are to be good and God-pleasing, they must issue and flow from faith. They cannot be done and performed if faith does not precede them. To be sure, the Children of Israel walked through the Red Sea with their feet, but first they had to have faith in their hearts to bear their feet. Not until then did they venture into the water. Without it they would never have crossed over, though they had trod the water with their feet forever.
Thus it is out of place here to shout about good works in contrast to this doctrine of faith in Christ; nor should one cite the verses of Scripture which demand good works and conclude from them that good works save us. For it is true, and we agree, that good works must be performed; but we object to the conclusion that the confidence of the heart may rest on them and say: “This is a good work demanded by Scripture; therefore I will be saved by it.” This is an affront to Christ; for here we read the simple and clear words: “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” And the word “Me” does not refer to this or that, to any work, to any life, either yours or that of any other person on earth, not even to that of the saintliest. In brief, everything else is excluded by this word—everything you may mention, everything but Christ. Therefore no one can boast of being able to come to the Father through his own deeds or good works.
Therefore all depends on the proper understanding of good works. God demands good works; He wants to see them performed. But now I am referring to such works as are prescribed and commended in Holy Writ, not to those that men undertake and boast of without God’s Word and command, out of their own zeal and judgment and in opposition to truly good works. God does not want good works in that sense; nor should they be put on a par with Christ, thereby depriving Him of His honor, as though they could bring us to the Father, which, after all, He alone does. Otherwise this verse and the entire doctrine of the Gospel would necessarily be in error, and Christ would serve no purpose. But there is more to be said about this elsewhere, in the treatment of passages that deal with good works.
This is the doctrine of the Christian faith, how to learn to know the Lord Christ aright, and how to understand what we have through Him. He Himself will enlarge on this subject and explain that we have everything in Him, that nothing is accounted valid before God without Him or outside Him, and that God does not want to be dealt with without Christ or to have us know or understand His will and His work without Him.
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 (24:52). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


6. I am the Truth and the Life.

These words, too, we shall discuss very simply, and we shall dispense with any sharp-witted speculation. To say much the same thing in German and in a blunt manner, these terms are synonymous. It is only that different names are used for the practical application, namely, for the passage or crossing. For all these terms refer to the one Christ. Yet they are various names, to reflect the various ways one feels when clinging to Him and finally making one’s way across. As has already been said, to our perception and understanding this seems, first of all, anything but the way that leads to the Father in heaven; for we must walk through nothing but cross and death, seeing neither path nor bridge, neither counsel nor help for our souls. Yes, everybody shuns the crossing and is frightened by it, not knowing how to bring it off. It is like a person who faces a wide ditch or a body of deep water which he must cross, and yet he sees no path and no bridge. Thus the Children of Israel were terrified by the vast and turbulent waters of the Red Sea when they heard that they could not cross anywhere but must either go through or remain in the hands of the enemy. They may have been tempted to say: “Is this what you call escape from death and dungeon, hedged in on all sides as we are by high mountains and with nothing but waves and water before us? Yes, it would be different if we were birds or fish and could fly over or swim across the sea!” Still a way had to be found, for the sake of the Word of God. The sea had to part and let them walk through without getting wet.
Here, too, there is nothing visible or evident to indicate that this is the way that leads to eternal life, since man feels only terror and the fear of death. But over against this Christ stands with His words, as He says: “I am the Way.” He changes that which is no way but is actually perdition into a way and a bridge on which man can set foot and walk across undauntedly and unhesitatingly, just as the Children of Israel passed through the sea physically, dry-footed and unhindered, in answer to God’s Word. They had no other way. This is the first point.
Secondly, after we have set foot on the way, have ventured forth and begun to believe, then it is necessary that we become sure, keep our feet on the ground, and not be drawn back or be frightened away. For here again the devil tries to conjure up his phantoms, to cause heartache, and to cast all sorts of stumbling blocks into our way, in order to lead us beside and off the right way, to keep us from pursuing the right course. First he employs all his craft and cunning to beguile the people. This he does with the very words of Holy Writ and under the guise of the name of Christ. Thus all schismatic spirits and heretics come clad in sheep’s clothing; they use the same words, manner, and mien, as though they were the true teachers of this way. They exalt nothing but Christ’s honor and faith in Christ. In this way they deceive the people who want to follow Christ and would like to find the right way.
The situation is similar to that of a person who takes the right road when he leaves the city gate and then comes to a place where two or three roads branch off. Now some knave comes up to him and directs him to take the wrong way. Then the principle applies: “Proof and perseverance in the faith.”30 Investigate; make sure that you are on the right road, and then stay on it. That, in my opinion, is the simplest way to express the second part: veritas, the truth. Christ is not only the Way on which we must begin our journey, but He is also the right and the safe Way we must walk to the end. We dare not be deflected from this to the wrong ways which misdirect us to seek something, besides Christ to help us gain salvation. Take, for instance, those who first learn to know Christ through faith and then relapse into the doctrine of works, as has happened up to this time in the papacy. Furthermore, we must not be retarded or repelled in our progress by such obstacles as stumps and stones we encounter on the way, when the devil obtrudes so many false doctrines, factious, schisms, offensive and evil examples—also persecution, peril, and temptation—that we either begin to despair on the way or at least grow fatigued and weary.
When one begins to preach the Gospel, the multitude comes rushing, and everyone wants to hear the sweet and comforting message of the forgiveness of sin through Christ. But they do not continue to do so. For, as Christ says, most of the seed falls on stony and thorny soft (Matt. 13:5–7). The grain—that is, the proclamation of the Gospel—is properly sown, but it lacks the soil in which to take root and gain strength. Thus many people have a fine and good faith in the beginning; but when they find themselves well on the way and should now continue on their course, they let themselves be confused and diverted from the way, because they are not sure of their ground or are frightened and then relapse into their former ideas.
When the sea had parted and formed a way for the Jews, who now stood there and saw that the water was high above their heads to the right and to the left, they probably thought: “Alas, what have we done? Are we not the greatest fools, to venture into this wild flood? We surely see that the water is very close to us. What if it were to close over us and drown us all in a moment?” (This actually happened to Pharaoh and his entire host a little later.) This would have happened to them too if they had given way to such thoughts and permitted doubt and unbelief to gain the upper hand. Either they would have become distraught and have run back into the midst of the enemy, or they would have become so frightened as to fall all over themselves and perish in the water after all. This was the fate of many of them later on in the wilderness, when they murmured and despaired of crossing it, when they yearned to return to Egypt. But since at the time the Jews accepted the way through the sea in obedience to God’s command, continued on it, and did not doubt, the water had to stand still. Not a drop could fall, and the sea had to let them pass through dry-footed, although there was no cause for this, although this was, in the judgment of reason, a perilous, horrible, and impassable way.
Here Christ wants to say: “When you have apprehended Me in faith, you are on the right way, which is reliable and does not mislead you. But only see that you remain and continue on it; for you will encounter many an obstacle and obstruction, both to the right and to the left. Therefore you must be prepared to hold firmly to Me and not to be troubled, no matter what shocking and terrible things may confront you, either to frighten you away from Me or to lure and entice you aside with beautiful deception. You must know that all this is the devil’s lie and deceit, whereby he leads you to perdition. But you can rely on Me. I will guide you through this wide sea, from death into eternal life, from the world and the devil’s realm to the Father. Therefore I Myself want to be, and to be called, not only the Way but also the Truth and the Life.”
This, then, is my simple understanding of this verse, that all of it applies uniformly to the one Christ. With a view to the beginning He is called the Way; He is the Truth with regard to the means and the continuation; He is the Life by reason of the end, For He must be all—the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. He must be the first stone, the stone on which the other stones are placed and on which the entire vault or roof is constructed. He is the first, the middle, and the last rung of the ladder to heaven (Gen. 28:12). For through Him we must make the beginning, continue, and conclude our journey into yonder life. Thus it is all one and the same thing, and one and the same Christ, save that He assumes different aspects in our experience. At first it is difficult to find the way; then it is still harder to continue and remain on the way; but it is most trying when we have walked on the way for a long time and now must come to our lodging house.
For then we are exposed to the devil and death, who will murder, behead, burn us at the stake, or, if he can do no more, will kill us in our beds by pestilence or another plague and then bury us in the ground. Is it the right way to life or up to the Father when a Christian dies a most shameful death, is devoured by death, and all the world sees and knows no more than that he is decomposing and changing to dust under the soil? By what right can this be called coming to life and to the Father? I will not even mention the inner plagues and torments that the devil continually inflicts especially on the noblest Christians in the hour of death and at other times as well, with his darts and the terror of hell, which make them feel as though they were in the jaws of death or in the abyss of hell. Thus St. Paul also laments and affirms with an oath in 1 Cor. 15:31: “I protest, brethren, by my pride in you … I die every day”; that is: “I constantly find myself in the jaws of death as in a deep ocean.”
The story of the Children of Israel in the Red Sea helps us understand this verse all the better. It was not enough that, in compliance with God’s command, they ventured into the sea and now proceeded on their way, confident that they would reach the opposite shore. When they were over halfway across and saw the shore or the land before them, then king Pharaoh with all his host appeared behind them. Now their peril was just as great as it was before they had stepped into the sea. It was no help to them that they had found a way where there had been no way, and that they were now nearly across. No, God had to come to their aid miraculously and rescue them from the death that was breathing down their necks. The angel who led them with a wall of fire and clouds had to come between them and the enemy with thunder and lightning, to frighten the latter and turn them back. But before the enemy could look back, the ocean fell upon them and swallowed them up. In this way the Children of Israel were saved from imminent danger of death; and for them this Christ was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We must experience the same thing when we approach the shore of yonder life and are to disembark. We find death blocking our path. We cannot escape it. We must first take a most perilous leap. My reason would judge that it is indeed a wretched life, to be carried out through the city gate, to be buried under the earth, and to be reduced to dust. And yet Christ declares that this is the very way to gain life and to come to the Father. Therefore in that hour you must ignore physical death, the grave, pestilence, the sword, and the fire which you feel, also all the darts and spears the devil hurls into your heart. Instead, Christ says, “you must look upon Me. I have been for you the Way and the Truth, and I have led you hitherto, to keep you from straying. I have protected you in all kinds of danger, lies, and deception; and I will also be the Life in and through death, that you may have life as surely as you now feel death.” Otherwise faith would have nothing to do, and it would not be necessary for Christ to give this comfort. For if God spans the way to heaven with a bridge that I could see and feel from beginning to end, with its entrance and exit, why would I need faith or this sermon?
Therefore we can summarize the content of this verse most simply and say: “Hold to Christ in faith; thus you make the right beginning. Remain with Him; then you proceed aright. Persevere thus until the end; then you are saved.” With these words Christ wants to tear and turn our hearts from all trust in anything else and pin them to Himself alone, so that we know and consider nothing else when it comes to making the great leap into yonder life. While we still sojourn here on earth, we have other teachings and ways to follow, such as the Ten Commandments, which inform us how to keep our bodies under discipline and in obedience, how to deal and live honorably and honestly with our neighbor while we are together. These things are pleasing to God. But this is not how to walk on the way being discussed here. When one asks about these important matters—how to come from this life, through sin and death, to eternal righteousness and life, from the devil to God, from hell to heaven—then this text is pertinent. It teaches us that there is no other way, no other safe, right, and sure highway, no other firm bridge or path, no other haven or crossing than this Christ alone.
Therefore it is necessary, as I have said, to learn diligently here to distinguish exactly and properly the ways which other passages in Scripture also call walking the way of obedience, patience, and kindness, or filling one’s entrusted office or position with honesty, integrity, and a good conscience before God and the world. But of this way, which one.walks from death to life, from this worldly and sinful existence into yonder heavenly and spiritual living, one must speak in a much different manner. For here there is no other teacher or adviser than faith alone, which says: “I believe in Jesus Christ. I live, remain, and die in Him alone.”
But no one should understand such a sermon to mean that this gives him a time of grace, that he may postpone walking this way until he lies on his deathbed and consider this soon enough, that meanwhile he can carouse, do as he pleases, sow his wild oats, and later, when his hour approaches, heed this verse. Do not do this, dear brother; for then it may be too late. A Christian is a person who begins to tread the way from this life to heaven the moment he is baptized, in the faith that Christ is henceforth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he holds to this way until his end. He is always found on this way and is led in the truth to obtain life, as one who already sees the shore where he is to land. He is prepared at all times, whether death comes today, tomorrow, or in one, two, or ten years; for in Christ he has already been transported to the other side. We cannot be safe from death for a minute; in Baptism all Christians begin to die, and they continue to die until they reach the grave.
As long, therefore, as I am surrounded by danger and the uncertainty of death, so long must I believe in Christ, my Life; and this means my whole time on earth. Hence time, hours, and years have no bearing on this sermon. It does not refer to an annual resolution, so that you may say: “Christ will be my life when I am about to give up the ghost. Meanwhile I will live as I please.” No, you must know that you are already engaged in crossing over; you have already set foot into the sea with the Children of Israel, and you must now continue until you have come ashore, lest the enemy attack you en route.
This I want to say about this text to those of simple faith, that although Christ is named, preached, and pictured in various ways, He is always one and the same Christ. First, when the disciples question Him regarding His going to the Father, He replies: “If you know Me, you know the Way. And if then you should feel prompted to ask how you may be sure of this and not doubt or fall away, inasmuch as it may appear otherwise and I may not seem to be the Way, and you cannot foresee the final outcome, do not be troubled. I am also the Truth and the Life, if only you remain with Me. For these things cannot and must not be seen; they must be believed and thus experienced.” Although all three of these terms apply to Christ, they must be distinguished. They indicate that we must know Him thus and have all three things to reach heaven, namely, to begin aright, to continue in that way, and through such faith ever to make progress in experience until we conclude our course in that faith. Christ affirms this now as He says:
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 (24:45). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.