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The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

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The Importance of Distinguishing Law & Gospel

thelutherandifference

“For Luther, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel opened the door to a right understanding of God’s Word and, therefore, a right understanding of God’s will for humankind and our salvation.  Throughout its history, the Lutheran Church has continued to maintain that rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is absolutely necessary in this regard.  The Law shows us God’s will and reveals our sin; the Gospel proclaims our salvation in Christ.  To confuse these two doctrines is to remain confused about ourselves and about our God.  To misunderstand them is to misunderstand the reason for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, Law and Gospel are the means by which we can rightly understand the whole of the Christian faith.” [Edward Engelbrecht (ed.), The Lutheran Difference (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p40-41)]

Sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive

Heidelberg Disputation

Thesis 28

 

God is loveThe love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…the love of God which lives in man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive…Christ says: “For I came not to can the righteous, but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]. This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35], says the Apostle. (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518)

Heidelberg Disputation

 

The Great Exchange

 

LutherPreachingThrough faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Rom. 1[:17]: For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed …; as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3[:28], such a faith is called ”the righteousness of God”: “We hold that a man is justified by faith.” This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more. (LW 31, Two Kinds of Righteousness, 1519)

Two Kinds of Righteousness

The one thing necessary

Freedom of  a ChristianOne thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36], “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4[:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing.  On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that of the Word. Moreover, the entire spiritual estate—all the apostles, bishops, and priests—has been called and instituted only for the ministry of the Word. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of the law; and if he has no need of the law, surely he is free from the law. It is true that “the law is not laid down for the just” [I Tim. 1:9]. This is that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness or wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man’s righteousness and salvation. (LW 31, The Freedom of a Christian, 1520)

Free resources from Lutheran Press

Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

That'sYourInterpretationIt is held by some that “The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant ‘Reformation.’[1]  Part of this is true.  Dr. Luther was a 16th-century German monk (of the Augustinian order).  However, the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Luther for his teachings.

Claims about Individual Interpretation of the Bible

In referencing an understanding of the Bible at the time of the Reformation, Peters states, “As the confrontations between Lutheran the Church’s hierarchy ensued and tensions mounted, Luther accused the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths, and he more and more came to believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the individual believer, was the only true religious authority for a Christian.  He eventually rejected Tradition as well as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) as having legitimate religious authority.”[2]

Luther did, of course, accuse the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths.  Luther also did reject Tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (and Lutherans still do) as having legitimate religious authority (as such authority usurps the authority of God’s Word).  However, Peters is incorrect to say that Luther claimed the only true religious authority for a Christian is the Bible, “as interpreted by the individual believer.”

Luther did believe that God’s Word is the final authority (the formal principle) for faith and life, and that no church and no pope has authority over this authority.  Yet this claim that the Bible is the final authority did not derive from his own personal interpretation of Scripture.  Rather, this interpretation came from Scripture itself.[3]  In other words, Luther claimed that his preaching and teaching did not come from his own interpretation, but from what Scripture said itself.

For Luther, claiming a personal interpretation as authoritative was the same thing as placing oneself as the final authority over Scripture (the very same thing the Catholic Church, in fact, does).  Instead of placing himself as the master of the text (magisterial use of reason), Luther submitted himself to the text of Scripture (ministerial use of reason) as servant.  He himself was not the final say of what Scripture meant or did not mean.  The Bible itself was (and is) such a judge.[4]

For the Catholic Church to claim that tradition or the teaching authority of the Catholic Church has legitimate religious authority over Scripture, or is the only one who can rightly interpret it, really, is to apply the erroneous accusation against Luther to itself.  Whether it be an individual (i.e. the personal believer or the pope), the Catholic Church, or another church that claims exclusive rights to correctly interpreting Scripture, each of these places themselves above Scripture, and therefore, against Scripture.  To make the claim, “That’s your interpretation,” where the other simply states what Scripture states, is to do the same thing.


[1] Peters, 2.

[2] Peters, 2-3.

[3] 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21.

[4] The hermeneutical principle here described is, “Scriptura Sacra Sui Ipsuis Interpres” (Scripture interprets itself).

 

 

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