“This is a dreadful sermon. It brings out a wide difference among the children of Abraham. Christ says, as it were: ‘I know well that you are Abraham’s children, but you do the works of your father. You are Abraham’s children, but you have another father.’ He assigns two fathers to them: “Abraham is your father, but you have another father whose children you really are. And if you are not freed from this father and stop doing his works, your descent from Abraham will not help you. To be sure, you would still be Abraham’s children if another father, the devil, had not come along. But now you are murderers and children of the devil. Think this over! Abraham’s seed is to inherit Abraham’s kingdom and the promise, or the promised blessing, the kingdom conferred on Abraham; and his descendants shall fall heir to all this. But now you are killers and murderers, although you are of his lineage. That marks the difference. If you had remained Abraham’s children, as you are his natural descendants; if you were not false children, the seed and children of the murderer, the devil—then you would be true children, and you would soon be free. But since you are seeking to kill Me, you are not true children of Abraham” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 415-416).
This sermon was preached at the Divine Service on Holy Monday on April 10, 2017. It is based on Psalm 35 and is entitled, “Old Testament Imprecations.”
“John 8:37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham. He says, as it were: ‘You make much ado about the fact that you are descended from Abraham and are of his flesh and blood. But that will not silence Me or disprove My words.’ This is just as if I, Doctor Luther, were to say: ‘I know that you are bishops and priests, that you are baptized, that you are invested with an episcopal office, that you are in the church, that you come from Christ. But that is not enough; it does not make you the true church.’ ‘Well,’ they say, ‘should this not help us, that we are among the Christians, that we are in the Christian Church, that we hold a Christian office?’ No, that will not do it. They have attached far more importance and significance than we do to their claim that they are the Christian Church. With this they meant to imply that no matter what we stress or what we preach, the Christian Church will not err; otherwise God Himself would err.
The Jews speak in a similar way here: ‘We are Abraham’s seed, children of God, God’s people, and Abraham is not a slave of God. But just as Abraham is a friend of God, so we, too, are God’s children and His people.’ Now the papists declare: ‘Since Christ does not err—and He is God—we also are the Christian Church, and the pope does not err.’ We know this well, and you need not teach us this. You are baptized, you are descended from the right people, you are numbered among the Christians, you can recite the Ten Commandments, you can pray the Lord’s Prayer, you can hear a sermon. But to say that because of this you are a Christian—not yet! That is not enough to make you a Christian. That is like the Jews’ statement that they are of Abraham’s seed. Christ says to them: ‘You are not free for that reason. You must come to Me and be delivered through Me, or you will die and perish in Your sins.’ But why is it not enough to be of the seed of Abraham? Were Abraham’s children not God’s very own people? Yes. But Christ says: ‘You are slaves to sin and seek to kill Me, because My Word finds no place in you’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 415).
“And in Ps. 120:7 we read: ‘I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!’
This does not happen when the devil preaches to his own. His doctrine is easily swallowed, for it is comprehensible to reason. But here, where I am peaceful and do not seek war but strive to bring salvation to all the world and preach the Gospel, war is already at hand. The devil senses that the people are being snatched from his toils and trap and are being led into the kingdom of the Lord Christ. Therefore he agitates whomever he can, and he himself wakes up and becomes mad and furious. Thus the peaceful must have a reputation as disturbers of the peace; they must bear the blame for creating discord. But those who break the peace and start the controversy boast that they are lovers of peace. Let it go! The devil rages this way to intimidate people, lest they adhere to the Gospel. Thus he slanders Christ, His followers, and the apostles as instigators of strife and discord.
This complaint is lodged against the apostle Paul in the Book of Acts (24:5), where we read: ‘We have found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world.’ And Christ Himself declares (Matt. 10:34): ‘I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. I will set a son against the father and a father against the son.’ The text offers us consolation against this offense and against the idle talk and the bragging which our adversaries now direct against us” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 291-292).
“But we must take heart from this when we see so many deserting us. It frightens and estranges the people to see so many factions and sects, to witness such a terrible and pitiful situation where all was peace and quiet before. We must take the opposite view and say: ‘What frightens you consoles me, for it is a guarantee and certain evidence that ours is the true Word of God. If it were the word of the devil, it would move along softly and peacefully, just like a serpent slithering along. But if factions and sects result, it is surely God’s Word. And since this is the inevitable course, let it be so. That is what happened to Christ and the others, and we cannot expect to fare otherwise.’
The prophet Jeremiah had the same experience. In chapter 15, verse 10, we hear him lamenting and crying: ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! When I open my mouth, only strife and factions issue forth. Although I have not lent money at usury or borrowed, yet everyone curses me.’ Jeremiah also said: ‘Alas, what shall I preach? I have resolved to keep silence and preach no more; for if I continue long, I will preach only to my own harm and disgrace. This people brings God’s Word down on my neck. Therefore I will content myself and let those preach who like to preach. Well, I would have been happy to do it; but Thy Word was as fire in my bones (Jer. 20:9)’” (Luther’s Works, v. 23, p. 291).