I was reading back in some of Luther’s sermon from John 17. It’s in the book on Luther’s sermons from John 17-20 published by CPH a couple years ago. Luther’s writings are some of the few theological books that I really enjoy reading, as you could probably guess from how many quotes of his I publish on this blog. But his sermons from John 17 are especially great. That chapter is known as Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, and Luther does an excellent job at bringing out the great comfort in it. Here’s what I ran across today based on John 17:6. I have revealed Your name to the people whom You gave Me from the world.
Since He has given us to Christ, as to one to whom we should cling and whose mouth alone we should look at, we must not reject His flesh and blood but crawl and cover ourselves in them. This is where the Father wants to put us, yes, where He wants to be found, so that with Him we may come to the Father and abide where He abides, as those who are taken from the world and who shall not abide with it under the power of the devil nor perish with it. Therefore, thank the heavenly Father, every one of you, that you have come to be counted worthy to hear Christ and delight in His Word. And trust gladly and confidently that God does not want you to perish, since He has given you His Son and through Him has poured out every grace upon you.
Martin Luther (AE 69:54-55) (emphasis mine)
Now, dear children, live in Christ. Then, when he appears we will have confidence, and when he comes we won’t turn from him in shame. ~ 1 John 2:28
What should you do when the thought of death frightens you and your conscience bothers you? Live in Christ. You must believe you can accomplish nothing by your own works, but the only way is through Christ’s righteousness. John 6:29 says that the work of God is believing in the one he has sent. So when Nathan corrected David, and David confessed his sin, Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin; you will not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). David simply lived in grace. He didn’t even think about trying to satisfy God with his works. When Nathan said, “The Lord has taken away your sin,” he was proclaiming the message of grace. And David believed it.
After Adam sinned, he could do nothing that would bring him into a state of grace. But God said that one of his descendants would “crush [the serpent’s] head” (Genesis 3:15). It was by this promise he was made alive. Because he lived in this word, he was saved and justified without any works. Our nature struggles fiercely against being saved without our works and tries to deceive us with a grand illusion of our own righteousness. So we may find ourselves attracted to a life that merely appears to be righteous. Or because we know we aren’t righteous, we may be frightened by death or sin. Therefore, we must learn that we should have nothing to do with any other way of becoming righteous, except through Christ alone.
Martin Luther (AE: 30:263)
As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, most of us will be hearing those same stories again. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem. There’s no room for them. Jesus is born and laid in a manger. I even memorized and recited most of the actual Scripture from Luke 2 when I was a kid.
This presents a temptation for us. The Christmas story seems like a kid’s story. It sounds like a fairy tale. So we’re tempted to want to “get beyond” such simple, boring stories and move on to something else.
But no! These stories are so precious, because Christ our Savior is given to us in them! This Martin Luther quote really sums this up well. Read it and take it to heart!
I beg and admonish faithfully all devout Christians that they not be offended or stumble over the simple stories related in the Bible, nor doubt them. However poor they may appear, they are certainly the words, history, and judgments of the high divine Majesty, Power, and Wisdom. For this is the book which makes all wise and clever people fools, and can only be understood by simple people, as Christ says . Therefore let go your own thoughts and feelings and esteem this book as the best and purest treasure, as a mine full of great wealth, which can never be exhausted or sufficiently excavated. thus you will find the divine wisdom which God presents in the Bible in a manner so simple that it damps the pride of clever people and brings it to nothing. In this book you find the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel directs the shepherds. Those swaddling clothes are shabby and poor, yet precious is the treasure wrapped in them, for it is Christ.
Martin Luther, LW 35:236
31 years ago today, I was baptized. Sure, it was a neat day for my parents, who baptized their son while family, friends, and congregation looked on. Sure, it was neat for people like my grandparents who got their picture taken holding me. But my baptism means to most to me, not because of the pictures or the the family-togetherness of the day. No, it means so much to me because of what God did to me there. He clothed me with Christ. He made me God’s own child.
The benefits of my baptism were important for me that day, and they’re just as important for me now. I will share a couple of short quotes from Luther’s Large Catechism on this topic.
Imagine there was a doctor somewhere who understood the art of saving people from death or, even though they died, could restore them quickly to life so that they would afterward live forever. Oh, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain. No one could find access to him because of the throng of the rich! But here in Baptism there is freely brought to everyone’s door such a treasure and medicine that it utterly destroys death and preserves all people alive.
We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, “Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.” …
In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.
(Large Catechism, IV, 43-44,83, quoted from Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, CPH, 2006.)
Do you remember your baptismal day in some special way? Or do you have tips for how we can make better daily use of our baptism? I’d love to hear it in the comments!
In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day about the practice of “crossing yourself.” This is the practice of using your right hand to “draw” a cross on your chest, usually the vertical line followed by the horizontal. The person I was talking to replied in what I think is the most common way for Lutherans to talk about this issue: “I always thought that was a Catholic thing.”
I used to have the same thought, too. It certainly seemed like a Roman Catholic thing; that seemed to be the group of people who did it. Actually, most of my memories as a child of someone crossing himself was Minnesota Twins baseball great Kirby Puckett, who used to cross himself before every at-bat. Other than that, it’s not a practice to which I gave much thought.
That’s why it was neat for me to read the words that I quoted at the top of this post. Those words are not found in some Roman Catholic prayerbook, but in Luther’s Small Catechism. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, did not discourage the use of crossing oneself, he encouraged it enough to put it right in his Catechism.
And the more I think about it, the more I see how neat this little practice is. The idea of putting Jesus’ cross on your heart as you are praying…what a way of focusing our thoughts on him who died for us! What a way of reminding myself that because of Christ’s cross and his sacrifice on it, I am a holy child of God. How neat that this practice hearkens back to the sign of the cross made in the Rite of Baptism, to “mark you as a redeemed child of Christ.” It’s a beautiful symbol, and one we shouldn’t be afraid of.
Do I think that those who practice this are somehow better Christians? Of course not. Does not making this sign or forgetting to do so mean you have just sinned? Not in the least. Nor do I think that this practice should be seen as some sort of magical incantation that makes your prayers extra powerful. No, it is just a beautiful way of reminding yourself of Christ’s cross and putting yourself in the mindset of focusing on his cross in your prayers.
Martin Luther didn’t throw out the baby of tradition with the bathwater of false teaching with regard to this practice. Maybe it’s worth rethinking our stance on it, too.
Today’s devotion from Martin Luther was another excellent one. I’ve mentioned this daily devotional before, and I just want to say again what a value the book has been for me.
This particular entry has to do with the temptations and attacks of Satan that we feel every day. Some days, of course, we feel it more than others, and this devotion applies to this days especially.
The Messenger of the LORD camps around those who fear him, and he rescues them. ~Psalm 34:7
This is one of the most remarkable passages in the Psalms. We can claim it as our own. But you might say, “I don’t see or feel God’s angels around me. Actually, I feel like I am under the power of the devil and am being led to hell.” My answer would be, “Don’t let yourself think that way! If you had been handed over to the devil, he wouldn’t let you live one hour without plunging you into a life of crime. As a matter of fact, he probably wouldn’t even give you time to do anything wrong, but would kill you right away. You are still alive because of the protection of the holy angels. The time will come when you have to leave this earth and, with God’s permission, you may be subjected to Satan’s anger. But God, in his mercy and undeserved kindness, will strengthen you through his Word.”
When you are handed over to Satan, it will only be for a very short time. This isn’t to condemn you but to test you, to bring about salvation and endless blessings. Christ said, “A single grain of wheat doesn’t produce anything unless it is planted in the ground and dies. If it dies, it will produce a lot of grain” (John 12:24). In the same way, Christ was handed over to murderers, but only for a short time and to bring about salvation. So when you feel Satan bothering and tempting you, pray and thank God that you won’t fail but that you are only going through a trial in order to be purified. Jeremiah comforts us by saying, “I keep this one thing in mind: the LORD’s mercy. We were not completely wiped out. His compassion is never limited” (Lamentations 3:21-22).
I use several different devotional books at different times (besides reading the actual Bible) for my daily devotion. One book that I keep coming back to is By Faith Alone, a daily devotional book taken from the writings of Martin Luther. Each reading is only one small page, but they’re packed with great stuff. Luther definitely knew how to make Scripture come alive and apply it to our lives of faith. I highly recommend the book.
Today’s reading was especially good. Enjoy!
Jesus responded, ‘Stop criticizing me! People cannot come to me unless the Father who sent me brings them to me. I will bring these people back to life on the last day.’ John 6:43-44
When Jesus said, “Stop criticizing me,” he wanted to curb human wisdom or reason. We should also clip the wings of human reason when it comes to Christian doctrine. God’s Word isn’t the kind of teaching you can grasp with reason. It doesn’t reach the human heart that way. The more educated and the more sharpened a person’s reasoning ability, the less he understands. Christian teaching doesn’t appeal to reason. That’s why our reason complains about it. I don’t want to take my salvation out of my own hands and throw away all my good works in order to achieve eternal life. I don’t want to place my hands and set my feet on someone outside of myself, someone who was so silly and foolish as to let himself be crucified. How am I supposed to believe that Jesus is my Savior? Reason cannot grasp this. We must take every thought captive so that it’s obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Jesus is saying, “Stop complaining that I claim to be the bread of heaven. You want to understand this on your own. You want to be smarter than I am when you ask, ‘Don’t we know his mother and father?’ But when I tell you how the Father has drawn you to me, it can’t be understood by your reason. When you hear about how the Father draws you, reason draws you in a different direction. Whoever wants to understand these words must close his eyes, shut the gates of reason, and let himself become like a blind person.” This is what God wants. Whoever refuses to be led by God, but wants instead to be lead by reason, will be irritated by the message of Jesus and will continually complain about it.
By Faith Alone, Martin Luther, reading for September 10th