Posts tagged ‘Luther’

Merry Christmas!

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

On this Christmas Eve, I wanted to share with you a portion of a Christmas sermon from Martin Luther, dated 1521.  Interestingly, Luther never actually preached this sermon.  Rather, he wrote this sermon as part of a collection of homilies for other pastors to share with their congregations.  At this time, he also translated the New Testament into German.  Luther did this so people could read the Bible in their native tongue and pastors could faithfully preach the Bible to their congregants.

In this sermon, Luther beautifully brings out the centrality of Christmas – not just as a story that happened long ago, but as an eternity-shifting event which calls for faith.  Without faith, Christmas brings only condemnation, for the world’s Judge has arrived.  But by faith, Christmas is cause for rejoicing, for our Savior has come!

So, it is in faith that I wish you a merry Christmas!

The Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that He did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11].  From these words you see clearly that He was born for us.  He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.”  Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” … This is the great joy, of which the angel speaks, this is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man (if he has this faith) may boast of such treasure as that Mary is his real mother, Christ his brother, and God his father.  For these things are, all of them, true and they come to pass, provided we believe them; this is the chief part and chief good in all the gospels … Christ, above all things, must become ours and we His, before we undertake good works.  That happens in no other way than through such faith; it teaches the right understanding of the gospels and it seizes hold on them in the right place.  That makes for the right knowledge of Christ; from it the conscience becomes happy, free, and contented; from it grow love and praise of God, because it is He who has given us freely such superabundant goods in Christ … Therefore see to it that you derive from the Gospel not only enjoyment of the story as such, for that does not last long.  Nor should you derive from it only an example, for that does not hold up without faith.  But see to it that you make His birth your own, and that you make an exchange with Him, so that you rid yourself of your birth and receive, instead, His.  This happens, if you have this faith. By this token you sit assuredly in the Virgin Mary’s lap and are her dear child.  This faith you have to practice and to pray for as long as you live; you can never strengthen it enough.  That is our foundation and our inheritance. (AE 52:14-16)

December 24, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Common Questions: Lutherans and the Lord’s Supper

"Last Supper" by Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret

A couple of weeks ago, a man came into my office wanting to know what Concordia Lutheran Church was all about.  My answer?  “Concordia is all about the gospel – that Jesus died on a cross in our place to forgive our sins, and there is nothing we can do to earn this forgiveness.  Rather, it is received only by faith.”  He seemed satisfied with my answer.  But he had a follow up question:  “I’ve heard weird things about what Lutherans teach about the Lord’s Supper.  What does Concordia teach?”  I surmised that this question was the real reason he stopped by my office.  And I was happy to share with him what we teach about the Lord’s Supper.  After all, this is not an uncommon question.  Indeed, because it is so common, I thought I would address it in the “Common Questions” feature on my blog.

What do Lutherans teach concerning the Lord’s Supper?

Martin Luther himself summarizes the nature of the Lord’s Supper when he writes: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and drink, instituted by Christ Himself.”[1]  In other words, we believe that when Jesus breaks bread and takes a cup of wine and says to His disciples, “This is My body” and “This is My blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28), Jesus means precisely what He says – the bread and wine are His true body and blood.

The classical term for this teaching is the “sacramental union.”  Again, Luther clarifies this term well:

Out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a “sacramental union,” because Christ’s body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament…Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body”…Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.[2]

Thus, the sacramental union refers to the fact that Christ’s true body is present “in the bread, under the bread, with the bread”[3] and likewise with Christ’s blood and the wine.

What the sacramental union is not…

Because so many Christians teach so many things concerning the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it is important to briefly touch on some things which the sacramental union is not, lest there be any confusion.

The sacramental union is not transubstantiation

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper cease to be bread and wine and instead become the body and blood of Christ.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes transubstantiation:

By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ Himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: His Body and His Blood, with His soul and His divinity.[4]

Central to the doctrine of transubstantiation is an Aristotelian distinction between the “substance” of a thing and its “accident.”  The “substance” of a thing is its fundamental essence.  It is that which, if it ceases to be, the thing loses its identity.  The “accident” of a thing is an attribute which may or may not belong to a substance without affecting its core essence.

The doctrine of transubstantiation teaches that, when a priest recites the Words of Institution at the Lord’s Supper, the substance of the bread and wine transform into the substance Christ’s body and blood and the bread and the wine are no longer essentially present.  They are only outward, “accidental” forms.  In this sense, then, the forms of the bread and wine are “faking us out,” for they are not really, essentially there.  All that is there is Christ’s body and blood.

Luther responds to the doctrine of transubstantiation thusly:

The Evangelists plainly write that Christ took bread[5] and blessed it, and when the Book of Acts and the Apostle Paul in turn call it bread,[6] we have to think of real bread and real wine, just as we do of a real cup…Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words to understand “bread” to mean “the form or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form or accidents of wine”…The church kept the true faith for more than twelve hundred years, during which time the holy fathers never, at any time or place, mentioned this transubstantiation (a monstrous word and a monstrous idea), until the pseudo philosophy of Aristotle began to make its inroads into the church in these last three hundred years.[7]

The sacramental union is not symbolism

There are many church bodies which teach that when Christ said, “This is My body” and “This is My blood,” what He really meant was, “This symbolizes my body” and “This symbolizes My blood.”  For instance, “The Baptist Faith and Message” confesses, “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.”[8]  Notice that this confessional statement refers to the Lord’s Supper explicitly as “a symbolic act” and does not even make mention of Christ’s body and blood.

There are some who, holding to a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper, accuse Lutherans of being anachronistic when we insist that the word “is” when Christ says “This is My body and “This is my blood” indicates that Christ’s body and blood are truly present with the bread and wine.  One friend made this argument to me: “When I show you a picture of my family and say, ‘This is my family,’ I mean, ‘This is a picture of my family.’  When Jesus held up bread and wine, He meant to say the same thing: ‘This is a picture of My body and blood!’”  I’ll grant that it would strain the bounds of good exegesis to base the doctrine of the sacramental union entirely on the word “is.”  But Lutherans do no such thing.  Rather, we take into consideration three additional factors.  First, we take into account who is speaking these words.  Because Christ is speaking these words, it is of no difficulty for Him to make His body and blood miraculously present in, with, and under the bread and wine.  The difference between me saying, “This is a picture of my family” and Christ saying, “This is My body and blood” is the speaker!  One speaker can work miracles and speak truth into existence.  The other cannot.  Second, we take into account how Scripture itself interprets these words.  The apostle Paul indicates a lively confidence in the sacramental union when he asks, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16)?  Paul believes that when we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we are actually participating with the body and blood of Christ.  This hardly leaves room for a symbolic reading.  Negatively, Paul warns, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).  Paul warns that partaking of the Lord’s Supper without self-examination and repentance (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28) can lead to sin against Christ’s body and blood.  How can such thing happen?  Because in the Lord’s Supper, we actually receive Christ’s body and blood.  Third, we take into account how the church has interpreted these words throughout the centuries.  The Lutheran Confessions, in their defense of the sacramental union, cite the second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr:

This we receive not as common bread and common drink.  We receive them as Jesus Christ, our Savior, who through the Word of God became flesh.  For the sake of our salvation He also had flesh and blood.  So we believe that the food blessed by Him through the Word and prayer is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.[9]

Taking these three factors into consideration, then, Lutherans believe that we have solid Christological, exegetical, historical, and ecclesial grounds for interpreting Jesus’ words as we do.

The sacramental union is not just a spiritual presence

Calvinists will regularly teach that Christ’s body and blood are present in the Lord’s Supper, though only in a spiritual sense.  Consider, for instance, this passage from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:

The presence of Christ in the Supper we must hold to be such as neither affixes Him to the element of bread, nor encloses Him in bread, nor circumscribes Him in any way (this would obviously detract from His celestial glory); and it must, moreover, be such as neither divests Him of His just dimensions, nor dissevers Him by differences of place, nor assigns to Him a body of boundless dimensions, diffused through heaven and earth.  All these things are clearly repugnant to His true human nature.  Let us never allow ourselves to lose sight of the two restrictions.  First, let there be nothing derogatory to the heavenly glory of Christ.  This happens whenever He is brought under the corruptible elements of this world, or is affixed to any earthly creatures.  Secondly, let no property be assigned to His body inconsistent with His human nature.  This is done when it is either said to be infinite, or made to occupy a variety of places at the same time.[10]

Calvin’s argument for a spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper is this:  Christ had both a human nature and a divine nature.  His human nature is circumscribed by the normal spatial restriction that a person cannot be physically present in more than one place simultaneously.  Therefore, Christ’s body, as part of His human nature, cannot be present in the Lord’s Supper, for Christ’s body is in heaven, seated at the right hand of God.  Jesus can only be spiritually present according to His divine nature.  Luther responds to such an argument thusly:

We merge the two distinct natures [of Christ] into one single person, and say: God is man and man is God…[You] will not and cannot prove that the two propositions, “Christ is in heaven, and His body is in the Supper,” are contradictory. So the words, “This is My body,” remain to us just as they read, for one letter of them is better and surer to us than the books of all the fanatics, even if they should fill the world with the books they write.  Again, since they do not prove that the right hand of God is a particular place in heaven, the mode of existence of which I have spoken also stands firm, that Christ’s body is everywhere because it is at the right hand of God which is everywhere, although we do not know how that occurs. For we also do not know how it occurs that the right hand of God is everywhere. It is certainly not the mode by which we see with our eyes that an object is somewhere, as the fanatics regard the sacrament. But God no doubt has a mode by which it can be somewhere and that’s the way it is until the fanatics prove the contrary.[11]

For Luther, then, the sacramental union of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper is a Christological issue.  The question Luther would have us ask is:  “Do we believe that Christ’s body can be present in more than one place simultaneously, or do we insist on circumscribing His human nature by the space-time restrictions of our world?”  How you answer this question reveals what you believe about what Christ, as both God and man, can and cannot do.  If Christ from rise from the dead in both His human and divine nature, it is certainly not too difficult for Him to be present in the Lord’s Supper in both His human and divine nature.

Finally, Luther would remind us of the blessing of the Lord’s Supper:

The Sacrament is given as a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself…For the devil is such a furious enemy.  When he sees that we oppose him…he prowls and moves about on all sides.  He tries every trick and does not stop until he finally wears us out, so that we either renounce our faith or throw up our hands and put up our feet, becoming indifferent or impatient.  Now to this purpose the comfort of the Sacrament is given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heaven, so that it may gain here new power and refreshment.[12]

May you gain such power and refreshment from the Lord’s Supper, for in it, Jesus gives His body and blood – His very self – for you!


[1] SC VI

[2] AE 37:299–300

[3] FC SD VII:38

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1413

[5] Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19

[6] Acts 2:46, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:23, 26–28

[7] AE 36:31

[8] The Baptist Faith and Message, VII

[9] FC SD VII:39

[10] Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.19

[11] AE 37:212–214

[12] LC V:26-27

February 13, 2012 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Common Question: What’s the deal with the Lutheran doctrine of baptism?

"Baptism of Neophytes" by Masaccio (15th century)

“Why can’t women be ordained in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod?”  “How does evolution square with the biblical record of creation?”  “We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Christ ‘descended into hell.’  Where does it teach that in the Bible?”  I receive questions such as these – as well as many others – about why Lutherans believe and teach what they believe in teach.  So periodically, over the course of the next several weeks and months, I will be taking some time to answer some of the most common questions I regularly receive about Lutheran doctrine.

Today, we begin with a question that is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all:  “What’s the deal with the Lutheran doctrine of baptism?”  Before we dive into this doctrine, it is important to clarify two things.  First, I believe the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is the Christian doctrine of baptism.  That is, I believe that the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is what Scripture itself teaches.  Second, I am fully aware that many sincere and godly Christians differ over the doctrine of baptism.  As I discuss this doctrine, then, I do so in a spirit of humility, respecting and loving those with whom I disagree.  I do not, however, discuss this doctrine with a spirit of relativism, believing that different teachings on baptism are equally true or that what we believe and teach about baptism makes no difference.  Quite the contrary.  If the doctrine of baptism matters to the authors of Scripture, it should matter to us.  Therefore, we should consider carefully what they teach.

What is baptism?

Baptism is a divine ordinance, instituted by Christ Himself, whereby He makes disciples through water combined with God’s name.  Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  The participle “baptizing” can be translated as a participle of means.  Baptism, therefore, is a means by which disciples are made.

It is important to recognize that baptism is something God does for us and not something we do for God.  This is why Paul says of baptism, “We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).  Notice the passive voice of the verbs:  “buried,” “raised.”  These are divine passives, indicating that God is the One burying our old, sinful natures and raising us to new life in Christ.  We are passive in the matter.  This runs contrary to the teaching of some who describe baptism merely as an act of obedience while denying its divine power.  Consider this quote from a large denomination’s confessional statement: “Baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”[1]  Two things are especially notable about this statement.  First, while obedience is emphasized, the blessings of baptism are not mentioned.  Second, this statement references Romans 6:4, but relegates Paul’s language concerning burial and resurrection to that of symbolism, emphasizing the believer’s faith rather than God’s action.  Paul, however, nowhere indicates that he is speaking symbolically in this verse.  Rather, his language indicates that he has a lively confidence in an actual new life, offered by God through baptism.

Does baptism save?

Yes, baptism does save.  Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).  Peter could not be clearer:  Baptism saves you.  However, it is important to note not only that baptism saves you, but how baptism saves you.  It saves you “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Without the resurrected Christ, baptism is emptied of its power and promise.

There are some who object to the teaching that baptism saves, saying, “Faith in Christ alone saves you!”  They often quote Scripture passages such as Romans 10:9:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  They then argue:  “Paul says that faith in Christ saves you and nowhere mentions baptism in Romans 10:9.  Therefore, faith in Christ, and not baptism, saves you.”  This type of argument deeply disturbs me because it engages in what I call “Bible Verse Battleship.”  In this sad game, people line up their favorite Bible verses to support their favorite pet positions and then, when shown Scriptural testimony which calls into question their position, rather than seeking to reconcile the verses and take into account the whole counsel of God’s Word, they simply declare, “Because my pet Bible verse is true, you must be incorrect!  My Bible verse sunk your Bible verse!”  We should never use Bible verses to “sink” other Bible verses.  Rather, we should assume that all Scripture as speaks with one, harmonious, voice concerning the one, true Christian faith.  Thus, when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21), we ought to take his words as complimentary, and not contradictory, to what Paul says in Romans 10:9.

So then, how do we understand Romans 10:9 and 1 Peter 3:21 harmoniously?  Like this.  Baptism does not save simply because it’s baptism, but because it has the promise of Jesus’ presence attached to it (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).  This is why baptism is regularly referred to as a “means of grace.”  God works through simple things such as water in baptism, bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and words on a page in Holy Scripture to speak to, meet with, and provide gifts for His people.  Martin Luther explains wonderfully:  “Without God’s word the water [of baptism] is plain water and no baptism.  But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”[2]  Thus, to say that baptism saves you is simply to say that Jesus saves you because Jesus is doing His work in and through baptism!

Why do Lutherans baptize infants?

Lutherans do not baptize infants.  Rather, we baptize people in accordance with Christ’s commands to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  The Bible teaches that all are born into sin and deserve God’s condemnation (cf. Psalm 51:5).  Therefore, babies need the salvation Jesus gives in baptism just as much as adults do.  The Bible nowhere prohibits baptizing babies.  In fact, we are told specifically that the promise of baptism is indeed for children: “The promise [of baptism] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

There are some who maintain that a profession of faith must precede baptism.  And because a baby cannot profess his faith in Christ, he should not be baptized until he is old enough to make such a profession.  In response to this objection, I would point out two things.  First, I would question the assumption that a profession of faith is a necessary prerequisite of baptism.  It often happens that that a person in Scripture confesses his faith before he is baptized, but common occurrence doesn’t always necessarily indicate a divine mandate.  Just because the Bible offers a description of certain things and events (e.g., a person offering a profession of faith before baptism) does not necessarily mean that the Bible is mandating a universal prescription.  Second, I would question the assumption that children cannot confess their faith.  The Psalmist reminds us, “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2, cf. Matthew 21:16).  Children can and do praise God, even if it is with broken grammar and babble.  Finally, from a historical perspective, from the early days of the Christian Church, it was common practice to have parents or sponsors confess the Christian faith on behalf of their children.  The Roman theologian Hippolytus writes this concerning baptism in AD 215:  “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so.  Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.”[3]  I have written more about infant baptism here: http://bit.ly/qHp97b.

Baptism is a joyous gift from God.  For through it, God meets us with His gifts.  Luther sums up the joy and promise of baptism nicely when he writes:  “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”[4]  Thus is the blessing and gift of baptism!


[1]The Baptist Faith and Message,” VII.

[2] Luther’s Small Catechism, “Baptism,” 3.

[3] Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.15.

[4] What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 61.

January 30, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Harder Than A Hard Day’s Night

Christianity promotes and celebrates the value and the glory of work.  Indeed, the famed, even if sometimes maligned, “Protestant Work Ethic” has been instrumental in engendering much of the industriousness that has marked the history of this country.  From the faith’s earliest years, Christians have esteemed work and eschewed laziness.  The Didache, a manual of early Christian practice, doctrine, and discipline from the turn of the second century, lays down this rule for those who wish to join the Christian community:

Let every one that comes in the name of the Lord be received…If the comer is a traveller, assist him, so far as you are able; but he shall not stay with you more than two or three days, if it be necessary. But if he wishes to settle with you, being a craftsman, let him work for and eat his bread. But if he has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness. If he will not do this, he is trafficking upon Christ. Beware of such men. (Didache 12:1-5)

With these words, we hear a call to both charity and industry.  On the one hand, Christians are to receive even strangers into their midst and assist them as much as possible.  On the other hand, if Christians catch whiffs of idleness among a person who joins their ranks, he is to be disciplined.  Laziness will not be tolerated.

Certainly such a strict and demanding work ethic has raised more than a little ire among many.  Overbearing corporate policies and malfeasance among management types is the bane of many rank and file employees.  These troubles, in turn, often lead to a spirit of idleness.  After all, the reasoning goes, if a work environment is miserable and miserly, why would an employee want to give it their all?  If the powers that be won’t treat them fairly, they simply won’t offer their best.  They’ll just do what they need to do to keep their job until a better prospect comes along.  The difficulty with this kind of thinking, however, is that it is patently unbiblical.  The apostle Peter admonishes:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)

A couple of words jump out at me from this passage.  First, the word for “masters” is despotes, from which we get our English word “despot.”  In our day and age, nobody likes a despot.  Dictionary.com defines a “despot” as “any tyrant or oppressor.”[1]  Peter says, despite the wickedness of some despotic superiors, we still ought to work hard.  Their vileness should not result in our laziness.  Second, the word for “harsh” in Greek is skolios, from which we get our medical term “scoliosis,” a condition which describes an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine, or, more popularly stated, a crooked back.  Peter knows full well that many managers are crooked.  Yet, he encourages us to be faithful in our work even when these managers are unfaithful in their leadership.

The sentiment put forth by Peter’s words is certainly not a popular one.  But is a Christian one.  Peter knows and admits that our work will not always be easy.  And yet, when our work is hard and the road is long, we have this promise:  God is working in us and through us amidst even the most adverse of circumstances.   As Paul reminds us, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  Our work, then – even our arduous work – is a place and a space for God to work.  God hides His glorious work in our sorrowful work.

Do you see your work this way?  By faith, you can.  I love the way Gene Veith puts it in his book on Christian vocation:  “It is faith that transforms suffering into a cross.”[2]  May we see the suffering we encounter in our vocations as a cross, gifted to us by Christ, redeeming our suffering for His glory.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/despot

[2] Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002) 153.

October 3, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Luther on Romans 12

This morning’s text in worship is Romans 12. Paul opens this chapter, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Luther offers some great context on this verse – what comes before it and what follows it – in his commentary on Romans:

In the preceding chapters, the apostle laid “the true foundation which is Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11), or “the first rock,” upon which the wise man builds (Matthew 7:24), and he destroyed the false foundation, namely, man’s self-righteousness and merits, which are as “the sand” upon which the foolish man builds (Matthew 7:26). Here now he proceeds to “build upon this foundation gold, silver, and previous stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12). Good works, which are the building, must above all have a sure and dependable foundation on which the heart can purpose to stand and to rely forever, so that, even in the case that the site may not yet have been built upon, the site is ready to do so. The moralists do the opposite of this with their good works. They seek to put their trust in their conscience and, when they have performed many good works, they think they have done enough for themselves, so that they can feel secure. This is nothing else than to build on the sand and to reject Christ. The apostle tries hard to prevent this; this is the purpose of all his letters. To say, as is commonly done, that “sand” means the riches of the world is a superficial and weak exegesis. For Christ speaks here of the people who build (i.e., who do good) and not of misers and worldlings who rather destroy themselves than build up anything.

Hence, it is good works that the apostle calls “sand.” And it is upon this foundation that these people try to build their righteousness in order to obtain a dwelling place for the conscience and peace of mind. But, as a matter of fact, only Christ is this foundation – and before all good works. For even before we think of doing enough or building up, He has given us the foundation as a free gift, namely, a quiet conscience and a trusting heart. Has there ever been a builder stupid enough to lay also the foundation? Do not the builders look for the foundation that is already laid in the earth or do they not accept what is offered to them? So then, just as the earth offers us a foundation without our effort, so Christ offers Himself without us as our righteousness, peace, and security of conscience in order that from then on we can continually build upon Him in doing good. (WA 56)

January 23, 2011 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

Good Friday

On this Good Friday, the words of the prophet Isaiah are especially striking to me:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)

It is important to remember that before Good Friday was “good,” it was ugly.  As Isaiah explains, Jesus, in His hours on the cross, because the most ugly, hideous, depraved, grotesque creature this world has ever known – so ugly, in fact, that people hid their faces in repulsion.  For Jesus, in His hours on the cross, bore the sins of the world.  Martin Luther explains:

God sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” Now the Law comes and says: “I find Him a sinner, who takes upon Himself the sins of all men. I do not see any other sins than those in Him. Therefore let Him die on the cross!” And so it attacks Him and kills Him. (AE 26, Galatians 3:13)

History’s most infamous sins were heaped upon the head of Christ.  What an ugly Friday this so-called “Good Friday” must have been!  What an ugly Christ the people gathered around the cross must have beheld!  Indeed, at the cross, it looked as though the ugliness of sin had overtaken the very beauty of God.  But then, all the ugly sins of humanity encountered something for which they never bargained.  Again, Luther explains:

The sins of the entire world, past, present, and future, attack Christ, try to damn Him, and do in fact damn Him. But because in the same Person, who is the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner, there is also eternal and invincible righteousness, therefore these two converge: the highest, the greatest, and the only sin; and the highest, the greatest, and the only righteousness. Here one of them must yield and be conquered, since they come together and collide with such a powerful impact. (AE 26, Galatians 3:13)

One of these – either man’s sinfulness or God’s righteousness – must yield and be conquered.  So which one yields?  Which one is conquered?

It is here that we find what’s “good” in Good Friday.  For on the cross, a truly bloody battle was waged between righteousness and sinfulness.  And righteousness won. This is the good news of Good Friday.

As you gaze upon the ugliness of cross today, remember that God’s beautiful righteousness is hiding there.  And righteousness won. And not only did righteousness win, but righteousness is now given to you and me by God’s grace on account of our faith.  And this makes this Friday a very good Friday indeed!

April 2, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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