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Luther on the Death of Christ

February 15, 2008

The Lord calls him “a burning and shining lamp,” because all who accepted his testimony and believed in Christ–who is not only the Life and the Light of mankind but also the Lamb of God which bears and removes their sins and the whole world’s sins–have thereby been enlightened and have become the children of light and received salvation and life eternal. Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” in Luther’s Works, 22:63.

This, too, is a comfort, as we have heard. Their hatred for you will not arise because of any evil deeds or sins, or because you might be scoundrels and thieves, murderers or adulterers. It will arise solely because you want to preach of Me and say that I shed My blood and died for the world, and that it cannot be, and must not attempt to be, saved otherwise than through Me. This will be the reason for all the hatred and persecution in the world, and it is surely a praiseworthy reason. Martin Luther, Martin, “Sermons on the Gospel of St,” in Luther’s Works,  24:279.

How, then, do we rid ourselves of the earthly? Our Gospel, which they condemn so deplorably, gives us the answer, namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of whom we confess in our Christian Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ.” He “comes from above”; He is not of the earth but from above, as we read in 1 Cor. 15:47. He was not conceived by an earthly being but by the Holy Spirit from above. He brings heavenly things with Him; He becomes man, dwells and lives on earth, prays, fasts, and does good to many. Reason, in its ignorance, says nothing about this. No man has ever descended from heaven, been conceived by the Holy Spirit, suffered under Pontius Pilate, or died for the whole human race. We must all join the little children in confessing: “We believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived, was born, and suffered.” This Man’s work alone accomplished everything. All that we are and have is of the earth, but He who is from above does it all with His death and blood. Even one little drop of His blood helps the entire world; for this Person is very God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He holds the ransom money for me, not for Himself. He was not born, nor did He suffer and die in order thereby to become the Son of God; for He was this already. No, He suffered and died that I might become a son of God through Him and that I might derive my righteousness, wisdom, and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30) from above. Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” in Luther’s Works, 22:459.

You hear “the merit of Christ” here. But if you weigh these words more carefully, you will understand that Christ is completely idle here, and that the glory and the name of Justifier and Savior are taken away from Him and attributed to monastic works. Is this not taking the name of God in vain? Is this not confessing Christ in words but denying His power and blaspheming Him? I myself was once stuck in this mire too. Although I confessed with my mouth that Christ had suffered and died for the redemption of the human race, I thought that He was a judge, who had to be placated by the observance of my monastic rule. Therefore whenever I prayed or celebrated Mass, I always used to add this at the end: “Lord Jesus, I come to Thee and pray that the burdens of my order may be a recompense for my sins.” But now I thank the Father of mercies, who has called me out of the darkness into the light of the Gospel and has endowed me with an abundant knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, as Paul says (Phil. 3:8-9), “I count everything as loss, yes, count it as skubula, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on the rule of Augustine, but that which is through faith in Christ,” to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory forever and ever. Amen. Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians,”  in Luther’s Works, 26:154

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