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Luther–Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

 

In the following letter, here are a few areas Luther addresses:

  • Christians will not all respond in the same manner
  • Vocation and office
  • Prayer
  • Loving neighbor, Caring for the Sick
  • Denouncing the devil
  • Use of God-given reason
  • Hearing God’s Word, Receiving the Sacrament, Confessing one’s sins
  • Contact the pastor for pastoral care

“We here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them…” (Luther)

 

Luther-Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasO God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that we turn from our wickedness and live. Graciously behold Your people who plead to You and spare us. Withdraw the scourge of Your wrath and be moved in mercy to turn away this pestilence from us; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (LCMS, In Time of Pestilence)

 

 

 

Luther’s Small Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer

 

First Reading–James 5:15-18

15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (NKJ)

 

Second Reading–Matthew 6:9-13

9 “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen

PrayingHands&Cross1Tonight, we come to the Third Chief Part of the Small Catechism.

Luther’s Small Catechism, along with the hymnal, and the Holy Bible, are and have been the primary devotional resources of Lutherans through the years.

They should remain so.

The Holy Bible is God’s Word “Written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4 NKJ), and given “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ).

The hymnal, the book containing hymns, prayers, and liturgies of our church, confess Christ.

The words therein give expression of and direction to Christ our Savior, and life lived by faith in God’s Son.

The Small Catechism of Luther is sometimes referred to as “the layman’s Bible,” as the text clearly states what is necessary for the Christian faith and life.

For review, the First Chief Part of the Catechism concerns the 10 Commandments, how God’s people are to live, how we are to be, to God and neighbor.

The Second Chief Part concerns the Creed, who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do for His creation, temporally, and eternally.

While the Commandments serve as curb, show us our sins, and serve as rule/guide, the Creed testifies of God’s Word in Christ, His doing, Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, for our preservation in the faith and for our salvation.

The Third Chief Part directs our attention to the response of faith to having God as God, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Creator and sustainer of that which saves unto eternal life and delivers from eternal death.

In the words of Luther:

1 We have now heard what we must do (i.e. The Commandments) and believe (i.e. The Creed), in what things the best and happiest life consists. Now follows the third part, how we ought to pray. 2 For we are in a situation where no person can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though he has begun to believe. The devil with all his power, together with the world and our own flesh, resists our efforts. Therefore, nothing is more necessary than that we should continually turn towards God’s ear, call upon Him, and pray to Him. We must pray that He would give, preserve, and increase faith in us and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments [2 Thessalonians 1:3]. We pray that He would remove everything that is in our way and that opposes us in these matters. 3 So that we might know what and how to pray, our Lord Christ has Himself taught us both the way and the words [Luke 11:1–4]. (The Lutheran Confessions, 1-3)

In the second reading, we hear the words of Jesus according to St. Matthew.

Directly, Jesus to His disciples says, “In this manner, therefore, pray…”

Jesus gives the very words to pray.

In St. Luke’s account, the disciples of Jesus themselves inquire about prayer.

St. Luke tells it this way, “Now it came to pass, as He (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” 2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say,” and then the words of the Lord’s Prayer (Lk. 11:1-2 NKJ).

In both accounts, that of Jesus directly giving the words to pray, according to St. Matthew, or according to St. Luke, where the disciples first ask the “how” of prayer, Jesus in both instructs his disciples with the very words of praying, beginning with, “Our Father…”

Such words of Jesus are not to be taken lightly.

When Jesus says, “In this way pray,” or “When you pray, say,” He means what He says.

To say that we cannot or should not pray the very words that Jesus gives to say is hypocrisy if one claims to be Christian, for Christians believe Jesus and His Word.

In our circles, this is not an issue, but it has been in others, simply because they do not take God at His Word.

Yet, taking God at His Word is just what Christians do, because Christians are of Christ.

As the Lord Jesus gives the very words of prayer to pray, no better prayer can be prayed than that which the Lord Himself has given to pray.

Again, Luther writes,

22 …We should be moved and drawn to prayer. In addition to this commandment (to pray) and promise (that God will hear and answer), God expects us and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray [Psalm 51:15], so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress [Psalm 4:1], and we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. 23 This ‹the Lord’s Prayer› is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. For in our own prayers the conscience would ever be in doubt and say, “I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form?” Therefore, there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it daily [Matthew 6:11], because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it. We ought not to surrender this for all the riches of the world. (The Lutheran confessions ¶ 22-23)

God both commands prayer and He promises to hear the petitions directed to Him through His Son.

In His Word is our confidence, both in praying and for God’s response.

We commend ourselves into God’s keeping.

The answer is His.

Into God’s hands we commend ourselves.

In this, too, is our confidence.

Not only does God place on our lips the very words to pray.

He gives the faith that says, “Amen” to His Word and will.

Briefly, the Lord’s Prayer is set into seven petitions, beginning with an Introduction and ending with a Conclusion.

Throughout the seven petitions, we pray the very petitions that our Lord would have us pray.

We request from God the very things for which He would have us request.

We pray that His Name be hallowed among us and by us, by our word and deed.

We pray that His kingdom come, that He give His Holy Spirit, that “we believe His Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

We pray that His will be done, that “the plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature” be thwarted and that God “keep us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

We pray that God give us what we need—daily—that “God would lead us to realize” that God is the Giver of our daily bread, all that we need for this body and life, “even to all evil people,” and that we “receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

We pray for forgiveness, also our continual prayer, “That our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing by punishment.”

We pray “That God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” but “that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

We also pray that “Our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

To these seven petitions we give an unapologetic and sure “Amen,” certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are therefore, heard by Him, for Christ’s sake.

As Jesus gives the very words to pray, and as the Father gives the very faith to pray such petitions as the Lord Jesus gives, so God’s people pray as the Lord teaches.

In the Lord’s Prayer is all that the Lord would have you pray and petition.

All genuine prayer and petitions given to the Lord can thus be said to reflect the Prayer that our Lord teaches us so to pray.

Confidently, therefore, do we “draw near…to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 ESV), certain of God’s Word, confident of His promise.

The One Who gives the Words of the Lord’s Prayer is the Lord Jesus Himself, Who alone pleases the Father. His resurrection confirms this truth, and through Jesus alone, the Father is also pleased with you, and hears your prayers prayed in faith through the One Whom the Father sent.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasDearest Jesus, teach me continually to pray according to Your Holy Word. Give me confidence in Your command and promises, that I petition You in certainty. Amen.

 

 

Luther’s Small Catechism, Part II: “The Creed”

The Apostles’ Creed

The First Article

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

The Second Article

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Third Article

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

5CreedccIn the church, Christians universally confess formulated statements of faith.

These formulated statements of faith, known as Creeds, are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

In the Small Catechism, the Creed “learned-by-heart” is the Apostles’ Creed.

As we continue engaging Luther’s Small Catechism during this season of Lent, we now come to that Creed, that formulated statement of faith whereby Christians everywhere confess belief in the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Apostles’ Creed consists of three articles.

Each article acknowledges the Person and work of the Godhead.

The First Article confesses God the Father and creation, saying in summary form what the Bible reveals about God as Maker of heaven and earth.

The Second Article confesses God the Son and redemption, by and through whom God the Father gives salvation to sinners.

The Third Article confesses God the Holy Spirit and sanctification, how God “calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us in the true faith.”

According to Holy Scripture, the Christian Church believes, teaches, and confesses that God is One.

There is one God, and one God only.

Thus, in the First Commandment, the one true God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3 NKJ).

The prophet Isaiah declares, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me” (Isa. 45:5 NKJ).

Jesus Himself says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6 NKJ).

He also says, “I and My Father are one” (Jn. 10:30 NKJ).

Jesus also declares, “You believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn. 14:1 NKJ).

To rightly worship the true God is to believe, teach, and confess the Holy Trinity, for so has God revealed Himself to be.

In fact, to “confess the faith” is literally to “Say the same thing” as God has said.

This is what faith does.

Confessing sin before God is saying, “Amen,” to what God has said about us and our condition.

Confessing the Christian faith and the Holy Trinity is saying, “Amen,” to what God has revealed about Himself and the true teaching according to His Holy Word.

The Second Chief Part of the Small Catechism confesses God’s revelation of Himself, for our salvation.  It testifies to God’s work in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

In distinction from the Ten Commandments, the First Chief Part of the Small Catechism, the Creed does not command anything.

The Creed does not tell what to do, how to live, or how to become better.

The Creed, with linguistic precision, declares what the Bible teaches, and therefore, what Christians believe, of God and His work, not for Himself, but for us:

God’s work of creating, preserving, providing, and sustaining us in our earthly needs;

God’s work of saving sinners through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, by whose fulfillment of the Law (i.e. The Ten Commandments) in their entirety and whose sacrificial death in our stead is eternal life; and

God’s work of creating, preserving, providing, and sustaining us with the needs of the soul, through Christ’s church, which is all about the Means of Grace, God giving life and salvation, won for us by Christ and His cross, given in God’s blessed means of Word and water and bread and wine according to God’s divine institution.

We believe these things because God so says and so promises.

God makes known in His Word what we are to believe, and so we do believe, for we are His people and not another’s.

We note the words, “I believe” in the Creed.

As a statement of what is believed by Christians everywhere, the Creed does not say everything word-for-word that the Bible teaches of God.

The Creed does identify, clearly and concisely, Who God is, in distinction from Who God is not.

In the First Article, Christians say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

In a few words, Christians confess that God “Created the heavens and the earth,” just as recorded in Genesis 1:1 and given throughout the Bible.

What this means, however, is more than just that God created the world at one point in time and is now either indifferent to it or just doesn’t care about what goes on it anymore.

Nor does God having created the world imply that we are free to believe according to our own notions or that of popular scientific theory that God created differently than what the Bible records.

To believe either that God did not create as the Bible tells us in Genesis 1 & 2 and throughout Holy Writ, or that God just doesn’t care about His creation is to deny what the Bible teaches about God as Creator.

Very simply, such positions deny God as God.

Far from being indifferent to the world and His creation, God continues to provide for its needs.

Human worry and anxiety about our world, including that of climate change, population growth, health, and advancement, are largely commentaries on sinful unbelief.   They are not expressions of confidence upon God to sustain and preserve His creation as He Himself wills.

Yet, as St. Peter says, “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:5-7 NKJ).

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein,” writes the Psalmist (Ps. 24:1 NKJ).

If God was indifferent to the world and the people of it, as some erroneously claim, believe, or demonstrate in plentiful ways, what is to be made of all that the Bible records of God’s caring for His people, His provision of food and water through fields and rain, His compassion on the weary and spent?

How are we to comprehend the sending of the Father’s only-begotten Son, if not by the love of God for the world?

How are we to believe the giving of Christ in Word and Sacrament, if not as the Lord having mercy and compassion upon sinners, sinners who can’t and don’t save themselves, and who, apart from God, remain condemned in their sin?

The Second Article of the Creed clearly testifies to God the Father’s love for the world, in Christ Jesus.

Listen to the meaning given to the Second Article, as expressed in the Small Catechism.

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

These words most certainly testify to what the Bible teaches of God’s love in Christ for sinners.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 NKJ).

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10 NKJ).

“In due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 NKJ).

“When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10 NKJ).

And, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2 NKJ).

We are not deserving of any of God’s mercies and kindnesses—none of them—yet God freely gives what we are not able to earn or merit.

God freely gives that for which we do not ask.

Of His love, God hears our petitions for Christ’s sake and answers according to His good and gracious will and for our good.

Not only does God provide by means physical for body. God provides by means physical for the soul. We call these means, “Means of Grace.”

Throughout these days of Lent, the Sunday readings press onward toward Jerusalem, Gethsemane, and Golgotha, significant locales in the Passion of our Lord.

On the cross is where Jesus won your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal peace with the Father.

There, Jesus died.

There, His shed blood cleanses you of all your sin.

But you don’t there go to receive such blessings, your forgiveness, your peace with God, your salvation.

You don’t go there.

Christ Jesus comes to you.

Christ comes to you in Word, in water, in bread and wine.

Here is where God freely gives you life to sustain your soul, the certainty of sins atoned, God’s grace unmerited.

This is what the Christian congregation is all about—giving God’s divine gifts.

The is what Christians confess by the words of the Third Article of the Creed.

God’s call by the Gospel is through the means of Word preached and Sacraments administered.

This is how the Holy Spirit works, not through the empty vacuum of space and the unknowable, but through the concreteness of the Word proclaimed, the earthiness of water applied, and the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood in real bread and real wine.

By these, the Lord creates faith and sustains faith.

Outside of us and from the Lord, according to His Word, they are certain.

Even as what is outside of us is the means by which God provides for the body, so by what is external to us is the means by which God gives and sustains us to eternal life.

These things we confess in the Creed.

It is not we who provide and do for ourselves.

It is God, Who, through means, continually does so.

Such is His love, that God neglects neither the smallest detail nor our greatest need.

We are bold, then, to confess, “I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God is my God, of Whom I am not ashamed.  He keeps me.  He sustains me. He saves me.” Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-Canvas“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14 NKJ). Amen.

 

 

Series on Luther’s Small Catechism for midweek Lenten Services.

 

 

Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

I am not ashamed, Romans 1:16-17

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

 

Some words of Luther on the Gospel and righteousness…

Let us summarize: The Gospel deals with His Son, who was born of the seed of David but now has been manifested as the Son of God with power over all things through the Holy Spirit, given from the resurrection of the dead, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. See, there you have it: The Gospel is the message concerning Christ, the Son of God, who was first humbled and then glorified through the Holy Spirit. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

In human teachings the righteousness of man is revealed and taught, that is, who is and becomes righteous before himself and before other people and how this takes place. Only in the Gospel is the righteousness of God revealed (that is, who is and becomes righteous before God and how this takes place) by faith alone, by which the Word of God is believed, as it is written in the last chapter of Mark (16:16): “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” For the righteousness of God is the cause of salvation. And here again, by the righteousness of God we must not understand the righteousness by which He is righteous in Himself but the righteousness by which we are made righteous by God. This happens through faith in the Gospel. (Luther’s Works vol 25)

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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