#13-Heathen Enlightened by the Gospel

That the wise men came to Jerusalem and inquired after the newborn king signifies nothing else than that the heathen were enlightened through the Gospel, came into the Christian church and sought Christ. For Jerusalem is a figure of the Christian church, into which God’s people are gathered, which in German may be called, vision of peace, because in the Christian church peace is seen, that is, when all have a good conscience, and peaceful confidence of heart, who, being in the Christian church and being true Christians, have forgiveness of sins through the grace of God. 133. Now in this peaceful place, Herod the devourer of men, would reign at all times; for all the doctrines and works of men, have in them this vexatious evil, that they in their very nature mislead, oppress, and destroy the true Jerusalem, ensnaring good consciences and pious hearts, teaching them to trust in themselves and in their good works, thereby causing faith to perish, peace and a good conscience to be destroyed, while the rule of Herod with its great show and clamor and faithless works, alone remains. This is what our Gospel wishes to say, that thus Christ was born and sought after at the time of Herod, in the very city of his kingdom. For evangelical truth wages its whole warfare with the false holiness of Herod, and every time it renews the strife it finds Herods, who rule the people with their doctrines and human works, and these things are so for no other reason than that the truth condemns these doings of theirs and teaches the pure grace of God instead of works and pure faith instead of law, in order to rescue the people of God from the reign of Herod, and save them for the true Jerusalem. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #132-133, p. 371-372).

#12 Where can such a Christian Holy People (the Church) be Found?

Well then, the Children’s Creed teaches us (as was said) that a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world. This is an article of faith that cannot be terminated until that which it believes comes, as Christ promises, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” [Matt. 28:20]. But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world? Indeed, they are supposed to be in this life and on earth, for they of course believe that a heavenly nature and an eternal life are to come, but as yet they do not possess them. Therefore they must still be in this life and remain in this life and in this world until the end of the world. For they profess, “I believe in another life”; thereby they confess that they have not yet arrived in the other life, but believe in it, hope for it, and love it as their true fatherland and life, while they must yet remain and tarry here in exile—as we sing in the hymn about the Holy Spirit, “As homeward we journey from this exile. Lord, have mercy.” We shall now speak of this.  First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.147-148)

Picture:  Noah’s Ark teaches God’s salvation through water, a symbol of baptism, which saved us (1 Peter 3:18-22).

#11-The Star

123. Now, what is the “star”? It is nothing else than the new light, the oral and public preaching of the Gospel. Christ has two witnesses of his birth and kingdom; the one is the Scripture, the written Word; the other is the voice or the word preached orally. The same word Paul calls in 2 Cor. 4, 6, and Peter in 2 Pet. 1, 19, a light and lamp. 124. The Scriptures are not understood until the light is risen, for through the Gospel the prophets arose; therefore the star must first arise and shine. In the New Testament sermons must be preached orally, with living voices publicly, and that which formerly lay concealed in the letter and secret vision must be proclaimed in language to the ear. Since the New Testament is nothing else than a resurrection and revelation of the Old Testament, as Rev. 5, 9 testifies, where the Lamb of God opens the Book with its seven seals. We furthermore see that all the preaching of the apostles was nothing else than a presentation of the Scriptures upon which they built. Christ did not write his doctrines himself as Moses did, but he gave them orally, and commanded that they should be published abroad by preaching, and he did not command that they should be written. Likewise the Apostles wrote very little, except Peter, Paul, John, Matthew and a few others; from the rest we have nothing, for many do not consider the epistles of James and Jude apostolic writings. Those who have written do nothing more than direct us to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, just as the angel directed the shepherds to the manger and the swaddling clothes and the star led the wise men to Bethlehem. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #123-124, p. 371-372).

Picture:  The Good Shepherd Window

#10 A False Church Has a “Holiness” Greater than Christian Holiness

All this then has been said about Christian holiness, which the pope does not want. He has to have one that is much holier, namely, that found in the prescription of chasubles, tonsures, cowls, garb, food, festivals, days, monkery, nunning, masses, saint-worship, and countless other items of an external, bodily, transitory nature. Whether one lives under it without faith, fear of God, hope, love, and whatever the Holy Spirit, according to the first table, effects, or in misbelief, uncertainty of heart, doubts, contempt of God, impatience with God, and false trust in works (that is, idolatry), not in the grace of Christ and his merit, but in the atonement by works, even selling the surplus ones to others and taking in exchange all the goods and wealth of the world as well earned—all that is of no consequence because a man may be holier than Christian holiness itself.

Thus, in the second table it matters not that they teach disobedience toward parents and rulers, that they even murder, make war, set people against each other, envy, hate, avenge, are unchaste, lie, steal, are usurious, defraud, and indulge in every villainy to the utmost. Just throw a surplice over your head and you are holy in accordance with the Roman church’s holiness, and you can indeed be saved without the Christian holiness. But we will pay no attention to these filthy people, for any effort expended on them will be futile. “God’s wrath has come upon them at last,” as St. Paul says [I Thess. 2:16]. Instead, we shall discuss the church among ourselves. (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.147-148)

Picture:  The present organ was repaired and enlarged in 1928, with chimes added in 1932.  It has 26 ranks, 77 stops, and 1679 pipes ranging in size from less than an inch to 16 feet.

#9.5 – God Humiliates His Preachers To Be Fools

Therefore God was not concerned about the circumcision, but about the humiliation of proud nature and reason. 4. So we also have baptism in the New Testament, in order that we should be buried in the water, and believe that we are thereby cleansed from sins and saved; also, that Christ’s body \ is in the bread of the altar; also, that we worship the crucified man as Lord and God. All this is immeasurably far above, and contrary to, reason. So the works and words of God are all contrary to reason, and this, in turn, is also contrary to God and recoils at the sign that is spoken against. Before men it was a very foolish speech, when Noah built the ark and said, the world would be flooded. So Lot must needs have been a fool, when he said, Sodom and Gomorrah would perish. Moses and Aaron were fools before King Pharaoh. In short, God’s Word and his preachers must be fools, as St. Paul says, 1 Cor. 1, 21. In all this God seeks nothing but this humility, that man bring his reason into captivity and be subject to divine truth. Abraham and his seed received the foolish rite of circumcision, in order that by it they should give glory to God and suffer him alone to be wise.  (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #3-4, p. 309-310).

#9 A False Church without Repentance, Faith or Renewal Denies Christ

For they, having rejected and being unable to understand the Ten Commandments, preach much about the grace of Christ, yet they strengthen and comfort only those who remain in their sins, telling them not to fear and be terrified by sins, since they are all removed by Christ. They see and yet they let the people go on in their public sins, without any renewal or reformation of their lives. Thus it becomes quite evident that they truly fail to understand the faith and Christ, and thereby abrogate both when they preach about it. How can he speak lightly about the works of the Holy Spirit in the first table—about comfort, grace, forgiveness of sins—who does not heed or practice the works of the Holy Spirit in the second table, which he can understand and experience, while he has never attempted or experienced those of the first table? Therefore it is certain that they neither have nor understand Christ or the Holy Spirit, and their talk is nothing but froth on the tongue, and they are as already said, true Nestoriuses and Eutycheses, who confess or teach Christ in the premise, in the substance, and yet deny him in the conclusion or idiomata; that is, they teach Christ and yet destroy him through their teaching.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.147)

#8-The Preachers Are God’s Messengers; The Shepherds the Learners

Here then we have these two, the faith and the Gospel, that these and nothing else are to be preached throughout Christendom. Let us now see who are to be the preachers and who the learners. The preachers are to be angels, that is, God’s messengers, who are to lead a heavenly life, are to be constantly engaged with God’s Word that they under no circumstances preach the doctrine of men. It is a most incongruous thing to be God’s messenger and not to further God’s message. Angelus means a messenger, and Luke calls him God’s messenger (Angelus Domini)….
55. There is no more terrible plague, misfortune or cause for distress upon earth than a preacher who does not preach God’s Word; of whom, alas, the world today is full; and yet they think they are pious and do good when indeed their whole work is nothing but murdering souls, blaspheming God and setting up idolatry, so that it would be much better for them if they were robbers, murderers, and the worst scoundrels, for then they would know that they are doing wickedly. But now they go along under spiritual names and show, as priest, bishop, pope, and are at the same time ravening wolves in sheeps’ clothing, and it would be well if no one ever heard their preaching. 56. The learners are shepherds, poor people out in the fields. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #54-56, p. 153-154).

#7-Not All Mangers Have Christ

He lies in the manger. Notice here that nothing but Christ is to be preached throughout the whole world. What is the manger but the congregations of Christians in the churches to hear the preaching? We are the beasts before this manger; and Christ is laid before us upon whom we are to feed our souls. Whosoever goes to hear the preaching, goes to this manger; but it must be the preaching of Christ. Not all mangers have Christ neither do all sermons teach the true faith. There was but one manger in Bethlehem in which this treasure lay, and besides it was an empty and despised manger in which there was no fodder. Therefore the preaching of the Gospel is divorced from all other things, it has and teaches nothing besides Christ; should anything else be taught, then it is no more the manger of Christ, but the manger of war horses full of temporal things and of fodder for the body. , 51. But in order to show that Christ in swaddling clothes represents the faith in the Old Testaments, we will here give several examples…” (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #50-51, p. 151-152).

Picture:  The hand-carved wooden altar of Historic Trinity Evangelical Lutheran dates from 1896.

#6-Christ Was Born at Midnight-Into a Dark World

In the second place it is pointed out by the fact that Christ was born at midnight, by which he indicates that all the world is in darkness as to its future and that Christ cannot be known by mere reason, but that knowledge concerning him must be revealed from heaven.
38. In the third place, it is shown by the light that shined around the shepherds, which teaches that here there must be an entirely different light than that of human reason. Moreover, when St. Luke says, Gloria Dei, the glory of God, shone around them, he calls that light a brightness, or the glory of God, Why does he say that? In order to call attention to the mystery and reveal the character of the Gospel. For while the Gospel is a heavenly light that teaches nothing more than Christ, in whom God’s grace is given to us and all human merit is entirely cast aside, it exalts only the glory of God, so that henceforth no one may be able to boast of his own power; but must give God the glory, that it is of his love and goodness alone that we are saved through Christ. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #36-38, p. 147-148).

Picture:  Noah’s Ark resting on a hill as the waters of the deep break forth.

#5-The Supernatural Sermon and Light

Now it is clear that nature could not have discovered such a doctrine, nor could all the ingenuity, reason and wisdom of the world have thought it out. Who would be able to discover by means of his own efforts, that faith in Christ makes us one with Christ and gives us for our own all that is Christ’s? Who would be able to discover that no works are of any value except those intended to benefit our neighbor?  Nature teaches no more than that which is wrought by the law. Therefore it falls back upon its own work, so that this one thinks he fulfills the commandment by founding some institution or order, that one by fasting, this one by the kind of clothes he wears, that one by going on pilgrimages; this one in this manner, that one in that manner; and yet all their works are worthless, for no one is helped by them. Such is the case at the present time in which the whole world is blinded and is going astray through the doctrines and works of men, so that faith and love along with the Gospel have perished.
36. Therefore the Gospel properly apprehended, is a supernatural sermon and light which makes known Christ only. This is pointed out first of all by the fact that it was not a man that made it known to others, but that an angel came down from heaven and made known to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, while no human being knew anything about it. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #35-36, p. 147)

Picture:  This side of the baptismal font depicts Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  We are satisfied with our Lord’s baptismal provisions.  When downcast, we hope in God!