Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Epiphany (January 6) - Jesus, Savior of Gentiles: The Wise Men

Matt 2:1-12

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Luther's Explanatory Notes

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. 
In the days of Herod, the King. In these words the Evangelist Matthew declares, that the prophecy of Jacob is fulfilled: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Genesis 49:10) As Herod, the alien from Edom, was now governor or king, this was an indication, that Christ, the true King had come; for before the reign of Herod was ended, Christ was already born, that the prophecy might be fulfilled. Christ was the natural King and rightful heir to the throne; but Herod was made king by the sword. Herod was externally a mighty king, successful in war, cunning, etc.; but internally, in his house, or family, he was unsuccessful; but Christ, our true King, was externally very poor, despised and rejected; but inwardly full of all joy, comfort and courage.

There came wise men. No doubt, these wise men were the remnant of those, who had been the scholars or disciples of the prophet Daniel. The Evangelist calls them magi; such may be regarded as students of nature; for magic is the art or study of nature or created things; such students of nature were Solomon and others. In imitation of these some have sought to do other things, which are not in nature; these are art-fanatics and sorcerers.

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 
Born King of the Jews. The promise given to Abraham, "In thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed," (Genesis 12:3) is here in process of fulfillment; for here God reveals this child, his dear Son, to the Gentiles by such wonderful means, and moves them by the Holy Spirit to seek and worship him.

This was a great and wonderful sign to the Jews; him, whom his own nation, the inhabitants and citizens of Canaan, neither seek nor recognize, these strange and foreign people seek and come so many days' journey to find.

The star-gazers and astrologers can not strengthen and magnify their false art by this gospel; for although the magi may have been proficient also in these arts, yet they did not use this star further than as a sign. For they do not pretend to foretell what shall in future be done to Christ, but are satisfied that the star is the sign of a great King, and only ask where he may be found. The stars are not set, that they may regulate my birth or your birth, but that they shall shine. (Genesis 1:14)

But when they say "his star" they do not mean that Christ had just created it, but simply that it is a sign of his birth. Also, when they say they came to worship him, they do this, because in the east the kings were worshiped.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 
Herod was troubled. What now is the cause of this fear? Nothing else than this concern, "If this child is to rule, we must become beggars; if this child is to be exalted, then we must be put down." It is the same with the Jews in Jerusalem, as it was with the Israelites in Egypt; this trouble in Jerusalem shows their unbelief; they trusted more in human than in divine power.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Demanded where Christ should be born. Here we ask why Christ did not permit the wise men to be led by the star to Bethlehem, but required his birth-place to be searched out of the Scriptures. This was done to teach us to be guided by the Scriptures, and not by our imagination, not to follow any human wisdom, example of saints, explanations of the fathers, ghostly aparitions and the like. We seek neither Jerusalem nor Rome, but King Christ in the Scriptures.

But here we see how the Scriptures and Christ have three kinds of disciples.

1 The first kind are the Priests and Scribes; they understand the Scriptures and teach them to every body, while they themselves do not live according to them.

2 Another kind are Herod and his people; for Herod also believes the Scriptures. Yet notwithstanding he rises up, and sets his head straight in opposition to God's word and work.

3 The third kind are the pious magi. These are they who openly and freely confess Christ and his truth.

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 
Prince and governor. That which the prophet meant, and yet passed over in silence, the Evangelist expressed and fulfilled, as he looked more upon the spiritual greatness. As he is a Lord and Prince, and yet is not glorious before the world, what can his Lordship be, but that he is mighty and rich in that in which the world is poor.

His goings forth. After these words in Micah follows this expression: "Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." The Scribes did not repeat this to King Herod; yea, probably did not understand it themselves. The prophet wishes to say, I foretell the Lord, who will come from Bethlehem, but he has been before the creation of the world; therefore our true and eternal God must be with him. Again, if he is to come in the fullness of time from Bethlehem, he must also be a true natural man.

The prophet proceeds in proper order; he writes first of the bodily birth; and of this he speaks more than of the other birth from eternity: for he who would know how our adorable God is disposed towards us, must begin below, and learn what he has done on earth, and how he has revealed himself to men.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 
Privily called the wise men. Why does he call them privately? Because he feared that if he called them openly, the Jews might anticipate him, and instruct the magi that they should not inform him correctly, in order that the new king might remain in safety. But that he asked them at what time the star appeared to them, was because he thought "The Jews might hide the new king for a time, until he is grown up, then proclaim him and destroy me; therefore I will anticipate them."

If human wisdom could have helped him, he would have acted cunningly enough, to kill Christ; but it is true, as it is written, "The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; he maketh the devices of the people of none effect." (Psalm 33:10) "The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth." (Psalm 37:12)

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they had heard the king. From this we learn that the true saints may indeed be deceived by the hypocritical saints, but they can not be permanently deceived; they must soon be instructed from heaven. The "hearing," also, may therefore have been spoken of by the Evangelist, because they heard the quotation, from the prophet; this is an example of how the enemies of Christ are sometimes useful, and teach correctly. (See John 11:49-51; Matthew 23:2-3; and Balaam, Numbers 23:24)

The star went before them. Here the Magi teach us the right faith. After they had heard the preaching and the word from the prophet, they were not indifferent nor slow to believe. And yet they had many offences and hindrances. The star goes before them and leaves them not, till it brings them to Christ, neither does it go any farther, but stands still over the house where the Child is. Thus also the light of the Gospel is as a lamp in the darkness (2 Peter 1:19) leads us to Christ, goes no farther; for beyond Christ it teaches us nothing. (1 Corinthians 2:2 ; Colossians 2:8)

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 
Rejoiced with exceeding great joy. This is always the experience of the Christian after his adversities. God stands by him, and becomes so cordially sweet and so clear to him, that he not only forgets his fear and adversities, but also gains love and courage to endure still more adversities.
11 If And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 
And saw the young child. Such consolation the wise men needed very much, (verses 9, 10) for in the house they found nothing but poverty and beggary; but they hold fast what they had heard from the prophet Micah, and had seen in the star. Only the Scripture and divine light can reveal the Lord to us. (Matthew 16:17; John 6:44) It does not depend upon whether any one is learned or unlearned, whether he knows much Scripture or not, but he has it, to whom God gives it.

We notice that the wise men were not offended at the lowly and poor appearance of the little Child Jesus. If we would join them in honoring Christ, we must close our eyes to everything that is beautiful and brilliant, and glorious in the estimation of the world, and exercise ourselves in such works as appear foolish and of little importance in the estimation of human reason; for instance, such works as feeding and clothing the poor, consoling the distressed, and helping our neighbor in his troubles.

12 And being warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. 
Being warned of God. Thus God will be with us and uphold those who seek and confess the child Jesus, and though they may be in great danger and trouble, yet he will deliver and finally save them.

Not return to Herod. And why does he not let them return to Herod, as he could easily have protected the Child against the whole world? That was done to teach us that we should not tempt God. What we can perform in a proper way and accomplish by natural means we should not despise. You must believe no sooner and no farther than the word of God authorizes. But this is the most noble purpose, that we avoid human tradition and do not fall into it again, after we have once been delivered from it, just as the Magi were loosed from Herod and returned not to him.

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 
When they were departed. The an gel could have warned Joseph pre viously, three or more days before ; but our Lord God let it come to the last extremity, when there can be no longer delay.

Child and mother. The angel does not say, Take the child, whose father thou art, but take the child and his mother; give the child into the care and protection of his mother only. (Matthew 1:20) .

But why did Christ do this, and expose himself to so much trouble and misfortune? Why does he not rather avail himself of his divine power, or the protection and help of the angels, who could easily have removed Herod? Answer: The Holy Scriptures thereby present to our view the Lord, as a natural man, who was like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, as St. Paul says in Philippians 2:7.

But here we also see that, although God permits his church to be afflicted, yet we must confess that he truly and faithfully stands by her. Thus God has arranged it through the wise men, that they should provide the necessary means for the Child's support in his flight into Egypt, (see verse 11.) That was doubtless no mean present. Thus God will constantly stand by his word and his church. Though tyrants may rage, they must still let his Church and the Word remain; yea more, their rage and persecution shall be the means of increasing the Church and spreading the word of God still farther. There is no doubt of this. Doubtless Mary and Joseph spoke to others of the great wonder connected with this Child, and brought them to faith and salvation.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 13-16.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Second Sunday After Christmas - God's Protection: Fleeing to Egypt

Matt 2:13-23

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”
19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Luther's Explanatory Notes

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 
When they were departed. The an gel could have warned Joseph previously, three or more days before; but our Lord God let it come to the last extremity, when there can be no longer delay.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Circumcision (January 1)

Circumcision and Name of Jesus
(Christmas + 8 days)

Luke 2:21
21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Luther's Explanatory Notes

The circumcision of Christ. With the eighth day it is meant that the Jewish circumcision should continue no longer than the law; that is, to the time of Christ, who has made an end of the law; for the Scripture keeps this order, that after six days is the Sabbath, and the day following the Sabbath is the eighth day, when a new week begins.

Circumcision, like baptism, the Lord's Supper, and adoration of the crucified one, is a humiliation of the haughty nature and reason of men, since it seems to them a ridiculous, senseless and unnecessary command. Now circumcision means nothing else than the cutting off of all that the fleshly birth brings with it. For the spiritual significance of circumcision is this, that there is a lack, not only in the fingers, hand, foot, ears, or any other member of the body; that is, of works, but in the whole disposition of nature, that its birth and all its descent is sin ful; as also the circumcision had to be performed on the eighth day, when the poor child had not yet committed any actual sin.

But this spiritual circumcision hurts and is very painful; just as the other (bodily) brought with it shame and pain. Thus this also must bring the same; it must hurt, the Old Adam must submit and come to shame.

The difference. But we must make a vast difference between the circum cision of Christ and that of the Jews, as wide as between heaven and earth. For, for his own person our dear Lord had no need of it. He does it for our sake, for we needed such a man, who was without sin, and who fulfilled the law and also appeased the wrath of God. For this reason he subjects himself to the law, bestows this vic tory upon us, which he obtained by the law, that we might use and enjoy it, and henceforth have all that right to the law through him, which he has to the law, that it may henceforth no more condemn us nor hold us in bond age.

His name was called Jesus. The last part in the circumcision is, that the child receives a name. Before a man is circumcised and by faith puts off the Old Adam, he has no name before God. (Matthew 25:12) But he has a name before God, who is circum cised in spirit. Romans 2:29.

Named by the angel. But that he was named Jesus by the angel before he was conceived in the womb, serves this purpose, that every one may know that it is such a name which is pleasing to God, since God himself has called his Son by that name. Let us learn and mark with diligence, that this child is called Jesus, and is a Savior, who came to redeem us from the deepest and greatest distress; namely, from sin, and not from the inferior need and temptation which this life brings with it.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 196.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Holy Innocents (December 28)

Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Matthew 2:13-18
New King James Version
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: First Sunday After Christmas - The Presentation of Christ

Luke 2:33-40
New King James Version

This text is tied together with the Purification of Mary (Feb. 2)

The Presentation of Christ

33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
39 So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. 40 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: St John the Apostle (December 27)

John 21:19-24
New King James Version

Living in the Light of God's Word

 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
    20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” 23 Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: St. Stephen the Martyr (December 26)

Matt. 23:34-39
New King James Version

Suffering for Christ

 34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
    37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Christmas Day 2 - Nativity of Our Lord

John 1:1-14
New King James Version

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Chrismtas Day 1 - Nativity of Our Lord

Luke 2:15-20
New King James Version

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

Luther's Explanatory Notes

These verses show what the results and fruits of the word of God are, and the signs whereby we may know whether the word of God is in us and is active.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Christmas Gospel In Prophecy and Persecution

I came across a video  that brings home what the Bible says about the Advent of Christ: both His first and His second Advent. The text cited by the old man in the video is the Old Testament lesson for Christmas Day, Isaiah 9:2-7.

Before watching the video it would be good to read what the Apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:
Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 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.

It is vital for us as Christians to understand that the sin denying and prosperity teaching liars like Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll and many other pop-Evangelical American teachers are undercutting and destroying the faith once delivered to all the saints. They are not preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Instead they are preparing their listeners to fall into pressure to give up.

Christmas, the first Advent of our Lord, is a day the true Church uses to focus on the gift of God Who chose to become also a human baby boy. He truly is Immanuel, "God With Us" and our Savior.

The video was filmed in Hyde Park, London, England and uploaded in February 2015.

At the heart of the video is the prophecy from Isaiah chapter 9. This prophecy is of the first Advent, the coming of Christ in the flesh.

Lifting up and praising God with vague lofty choruses that make no reference to sin, grace, the means of grace, or the forgiveness of sins in Christ will not prepare any Christian for a confrontation like this.

Focusing on what God can do for me now to make my life, my retirement, my stress better does not prepare any Christian for this kind of confrontation.

It is only the solid preaching of the actual written Word of God, His Law, His Gospel, the very words of His prophecy and fulfillment in Christ and dwelling in His means of grace that can prepare any of us for this day. That, my friends, is exactly what the liturgy of the Divine Service does. This is exactly what Confessional Lutheranism is preparing us for by teaching the Small Catechism.

Surrounded by the enemies of Christ, this man, however imperfectly, was enabled by God to preach forgiveness in the Christ. He directed them specifically to the promise of Christmas in Isaiah 9. His speech to his persecutors is also a prayer for them, their forgiveness, their deliverance. It must come with warning.

Christmas is such a warning as well as a promise.

May God keep us all steadfast in His Word until our ends. And may He enable us also to speak the Truth with love even to those who would seek our public disgrace, ruin and death. Amen

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Christmas Eve' - Nativity of Our Lord

Luke 2:1-14
New King James Version
1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: St. Thomas the Apostle (December 21)

Strengthening of Faith

Gospel: John 20:24-31
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 
The doubting Thomas. Yes, you say, but who knows whether it is certain and sure with God, that my sins are forgiven? Rest upon what Christ says here, verses 21 and 23, and elsewhere (Matt 18:20) "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Fourth Sunday in Advent - Rejoice!

Rorate coeli

John 1:19-28
New King James Version
19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said: “I am
      ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
      “Make straight the way of the LORD,”’

   as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Third Sunday in Advent - Forerunners of Christ


Matt 11:2-10
New King James Version
2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” 7 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he of whom it is written:
      ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
      Who will prepare Your way before You.’

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, 3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? 
John sent two of his disciples, It is certain that John sent to inquire on account of his disciples; for they did not yet regard Christ as the one for whom he was to be regarded; they waited for one who would move along pompously, highly learned, as a high priest, or a mighty king.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Redeeming Christian Holy Days: Brumalia in the Roman Republic

Brumalia--Pre-Julian Latin Sources: Chronological Presentation

One of the modern claims against Christmas is that Christians took the ancient Roman holiday known as Brumalia and baptized it for their own use. The claim is that Brumalia was celebrated in ancient Rome on December 25th. And the claim is that it was a widely known and celebrated holiday in pre-Julian ancient Rome. I am working through the Latin literature and putting together translations for the Julian/Late Antiquity periods as well. But, God willing, that will be finished some time next year. This article deals with the pre-Julian period of the Roman Republic.
Web pages against Christmas often use this quote verbatim:
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of religious knowledge explains, "Christmas, the date of the festival depended on the pagan Brumalia (December 25) following the Saturnalia (December 17-24), celebrating the shortest day of the year and the new sun.
This misquote appears to have been created by Herbert W. Armstrong in his booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas
But that is not what the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia actually says. What it says, after showing the origins of the use of December 25th in some of the Church Fathers (e.g. Hippolytus, and Clement) the article raises the issue of whether the date was related to Roman pagan practices.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6)

Mark 10:13-16
New King James Version

13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: Second Sunday in Advent - Watchfulness

Ad Populus Zion

Luke 21:25-36
New King James Version
25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

    29 Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
The Importance of Watching

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Redeeming Christian Holy Days: The Christians Stole December 25th

How does a Christian deal with claims like this?

The tactic used in this meme is intimidation. There is no way most readers could research all these claims. The implication is that the maker of the meme must have done the research. Therefore it must be true. After all, how can I possibly argue. This is the use of the Snow Job fallacy []

The meme is not really historical. It is a type of Big Lie Technique [], and the Half-Truth [].

Contrary to the closing claim: “Most scholars” do not actually make such a claim as this meme pretends. Nor were early church leaders wanting “to seize the enthusiasm from crowds already gathering on” that day.

I would encourage readers to spend some time actually reading these myths to discover that none of the claims are true. That has great value in refuting these arguments in the future. But don't read the folklorist stuff. Read the old myths in translation from the ancient languages. What you will find is that the people who put out memes like this do not have any legitimate claim. They are just passing along a group of lies.

And there is another valuable way of showing the claims that these other pagan gods cannot possibly have been born on December 25th. December 25th did not exist as a month or a day in any of the calendars of any of the cultures in the list. December is an exclusively Roman cultural month name.

For Those Who Want Some More Detail

But, But, Buts:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30th)

November 30th
St. Andrew's Day

John 1:35-42
New King James Version
35 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

Monday, November 23, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Gospel: First Sunday in Advent - Jesus, our Coming King

Ad Te Levavi

Matthew 21:1-9
New King James Version
1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” 4 All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
5 “ Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. 8 And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
Hosanna in the highest!” 

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

This Gospel comprises two parts. In the first place, It exhorts us to accept King Christ, who comes to us, and at the same time reveals what this king brings us; that he is sent for our help. In the second place, It warns and arms us against the offense of the poor and lowly form of Christ.
1 And when they drew nigh unto Jeru salem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,
2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.
3 And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 
The Lord hath need of them. The Lord does not want a flatterer for a preacher, as he does not say, Go around the village or along side of it; but go into it, resolutely, and tell them what they do not like to hear. This is also said for the comfort of the preachers, that they shall not be troubled as to who shall believe and receive them; for it is declared, (Isaiah 55:11) "My word shall not return unto me void."
4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 
That it might be fulfilled, etc. This prophecy is quoted by the evangelist, to let us see that Christ did not come on account of our merit, but on account of divine truth; since he was promised so long before, ere we to whom he was sent, had an existence. Romans 1:2.

In order that the Jews might not excuse themselves and say, If we had known that the Messiah would come so poor and lowly, we also would have attended to it, and received him; therefore the prophet (Zechariah) pointed this out to them so long time before.
5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.
Behold thy king cometh. He says, "Tell the daughter of Zion, that she take no offense at his humble appearance; but close her eyes, and open her ears, see not how lowly he rides along, but hear what is said of this poor king. Thus it also appears a small thing, that through Baptism and the Sacrament so great things should be effected; but do not let thine eyes deceive thee.

He does not say, Speak about the daughter of Zion, but to herself shalt thou speak; she shall believe it of herself and without doubt, that it shall be to her, just as these words read, and not merely to others also.

With the words, behold, or take notice, he wakes us up from our sleep and unbelief, in that he would announce something great, unusual, remarkable, which had long been desired, and which should be received with joy. To reason and nature it is altogether disagreeable, that this should be the "King" of Jerusalem, who comes so poor and lowly.

It is thy King, says he; that is promised to thee, to whom thou belongest, who, and no other one, shall rule thee; he is thine, who art driven and plagued by sin, devil, death and hell, flesh and world.

He comes. Doubtless, thou comest not to him and bringest him; he is too high above thee, and too far from thee; with all thy trouble and labor thou canst not come to him. He comes "to thee." He gives himself to thee, as thine; that all that he is and has may be thine.

Meek. Not as he came to Adam, Cain and Mount Sinai, etc.; not to reckon with thee, nor demand payment of a debt; all wrath is laid aside, nothing but meekness and goodness is here. But the evangelist has slightly changed the words of the prophet; for the prophet gives Christ three titles. Poor, Just, Savior, while the evangelist, for the sake of brevity, gives only one, "Meek." Yet in the Hebrew language the words, poor and meek, have nearly the same meaning, and such a poor man does not mean one who is in need of money or goods, but one who is contrite and lowly in heart.

The word "Just" in the prophet Zecharias, is not to be understood in the sense of strict righteousness, with which God judgeth, but it properly means pious; for when we in German say, this was a pious man, the Scripture says, He was a righteous or just man. That this is the meaning here of the little word "just," is evident from the other little word in the prophet, "Savior," or he that saves.

This poor and beggarly king, says Zechariah, will have a different power from all that emperors or kings have had, for he is called "just" and a "Savior." But no emperor, with all his power, can redeem from the smallest sin.

Thus he retains nothing at all for himself; is satisfied, that in the first place he has God, and is blessed; he serves us therefore only according to the will of his Father, who would have this done by him. Therefore this is not thy good work, that thou givest alms or prayest, but that thou devotest thyself to the good of thy fellowman and servest, and supportest him, where he has need of thee.

He rides not upon a stallion, but upon an ass, which is not a valiant animal, to indicate that he comes not to alarm men, but to help them.
 6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, 7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.
Disciples did as Jesus commanded. The arrangements and the conduct of the disciples towards Christ show that they had no fear or terror, but an entire, friendly confidence in him.
8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way. 
Spread their garments in the way. This also was a divine service, which was due to this King, and indicates that, according to the example of the apostles, we should honor and adorn Christ with our profession and our whole lives.

The nature of the palm tree is, that when a beam is made of it, it yields to no weight, but rises against the burden; therefore palm branches were carried before lords and kings, when they had gained victories and moved in triumphal processions. Also the bearing of olive branches was a sign of submission, especially by those who desired grace and peace, as it was customary among the ancients. So also is the word of this Gospel a word of grace from this King, which brings us peace. Romans 1:16.
9 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. 
Hosanna to the Son of David. One part of this divine service which is due to this King is, that we shall receive him; the other part is, that we shall sing hosanna to this Christ; that is, that we wish him prosperity and blessing in his kingdom, and do all we can for its promotion and in crease. Hosanna means, "O Lord, help; Lord, grant prosperity to the Son of David."

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 118-120.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Last Sunday (Trinity 27) - Eternal Life

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Heaven's Eternal Joy: The Bride of Christ

Matthew 25:1-13
New King James Version

25 “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 3 Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

6 “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

11 “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bride groom. 
Ten virgins. "Virgin " signifies purity. A virgin herself does not court, but is courted. Thus God courts for souls, has his goods offered to them and courts them. (2 Cor. 11:2) When a bridegroom loves a virgin, he cares only for the virgin, not how rich, how beautiful or how poor she is. Thus also Christ looks upon them as virgin souls, and looks not upon their defects.
2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. 
Five were wise, etc. Some of them believe the word, come forth and do good works, and let their lamps shine before the world; for they are well supplied with lamps and oil; that is, with faith and love; these are pointed out to us as the wise virgins.
3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: 
The foolish virgins. On the other hand the foolish virgins have only lamps; that is, outward appearance and show, and they act according to their manner, continually saying, "Lord, Lord." Matt. 7:22.

The mouth is here, indeed, but the heart is far from God. They are not in earnest, seek their own and not God's honor only, there is no fear of God in them; they rejoice, indeed, they want to be at the wedding, but there is no oil; that is, no faith in them. They imagine for themselves a thought, a fancy in the heart which they regard as oil.
4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 
The wise took oil in their vessels. The wise virgins have the right faith, which God has wrought and put into their hearts, whereby they can protect themselves. The oil, which we have, is the unction of the Holy Ghost. (1 John 2:27) This function is a certain knowledge of God, which burns, and they live in fear, and apprehend that God might be angry with them. Therefore they anxiously entreat the bridegroom and pray for mercy. But while they thus cry, their lamps burn, and they expect from God the best gifts in all their solicitude.
5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. 
Slumbered and slept. It is consoling, that it is said, they "all" slept, both the wise and the foolish. The wise also sleep; true Christians also sin sometimes. But the assurance and consolation are here: Despair not! there are people in the kingdom of heaven who are sleepy. God can endure sin in his kingdom; if only the sinner acknowledges his sin and repents of it, God opens the door when the sinner knocks.
6 And at midnight, there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. 
The bridegroom cometh. This is the consolation, the bridegroom permits the cry to come before him and calls us to himself. No one need despair; let none look upon his imperfect life.
8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. 
Lamps gone out. A troubled conscience have they who seek help only when the bridegroom cometh, and must give up their self-conceit; then they begin to see what ails them; then there is a revelation of sin, that they are afraid of God, when they should have run to him for their greatest good.
9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. 
Go and buy for yourselves, etc. These unhappy virgins go and seek all kinds of help from the people; therefore have they no peace and no rest. But the wise virgins have great joy on account of the voice of the bride groom, whose goods they all enjoy (John 3:29.) This is the greatest joy of the wise virgins, to hear the voice of God, as David also prays, Psalm 51:13-14.
11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 
Lord, open to us. They should have called out, O Lord, and dear bridegroom. But as they did not call thus, the Lord says, "I know you not; they are within who ought to be in. Depart from me," etc. That will then be a terrible judgment; then they shall be forsaken by all saints, yea, by all creatures; for whom the Lord does not know, him will no one know. When we regard him only as a Lord, then there is no consolation and re demption. Why do they not cry to the Bridegroom? Because they have no oil. Why do they run to the people for oil? Because they have never known the Bridegroom. Just so the rich man in hell cries, My lamp is gone out, send Lazarus. This rich man seeks from Lazarus, and finds nothing.

13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. 
Watch therefore. Let everyone see to it that he has both these two things, the oil; that is, the right trust, and faith in Christ, and the lamp; that is the outward servitude toward his neighbor.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 140-141

Monday, November 09, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Second Last Sunday (Trinity 26), Martinmas - Last Judgment

2nd-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Trinity 26
And the text for the Feast of St. Martin, Pastor- November 11
Last Judgment

Matthew 25:31-46
New King James Version

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 
When the Son of man shall come. The aspect of such glory and majesty will immediately bring the greatest terror and pain to the damned. 2 Thess. 1:9. It is, indeed, painful to the Christians, that they must remain in the midst of the untoward, perverted, bad people of the world, which is the devil's kingdom (Matt. 12:10) but here, as in all their sufferings on earth, they have the consolation of the future day of judgment, when Christ shall make such a division.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 
Those on his right hand, etc. It sounds strange that he makes the judgment entirely dependent on these works alone, and gives them as the ground and reason of it. These are called the works of mercy, or on the other hand the unmerciful works, which (to speak in a subtle manner) are the works only of the fifth commandment. But what of the works of the other commandments? Why does he so highly exalt these commandments which are also approved by Turks and heathen?

Answer: 1. It sounds as if he would teach hereby that many among the Christians, after having received the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and of grace through Christ, afterwards became worse than the heathen. Matt. 19:30.

2. He wishes to remind us, who are redeemed from the condemnation of the fifth commandment and eternal death, and have a gracious God, who bestows on us all goodness for time and eternity, that we should also look upon this goodness shown to us as an example.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 
When saw we thee an hungred? etc. With these words he does not say that those who are not Christians merit eternal life by such works, but he speaks of the works of believing Christians. For there is no doubt of this, that whoever will do such works of mercy to Christians, must himself also be a believing Christian; but whoever does not believe on Christ, will certainly not have such an affec tion for Christians, and much less for Christ; that for his sake he should show mercy to the poor; there fore he will also pass sentence on both parties accordingly, whether they have done those works or have not done them, as an open evidence of the fruits of their faith or their unbelief? Behold, here already in this world the distinction is made between the sheep and the goats, that each may very well perceive it in himself, and this must also be seen outwardly.

Then shall the righteous answer him, etc. But how does this come, that the "righteous" do not know that they have done this to Christ, as they say, "Lord, when saw we thee an hungred?" etc. Evidently, because they do not regard what one gives, perhaps to a poor preacher, school master or sexton, as such a precious thing before God. Yea, the world regards it as money entirely thrown away.

Did it not to the least .... did it not to me. You will not be able to excuse yourself; for then he will tell you through your own conscience: Friend, were there not people who preached to you? or perhaps, poor scholars who should have been educated and trained to preach God's word? or other persecuted, suffering poor Christians, whom you could have visited and supplied with food, drink and clothing?
46 And these shall go away into ever lasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
These shall go away, etc. Who ever is so disposed that he does works of mercy for Christians, because he believes he has a faithful Savior and Redeemer in Christ, who has reconciled him with God; yea, who himself also suffers oppression from the devil and the world, on account of his faith, let him be joyful and of good courage; for he has already secured the blessed, joyful sentence: Come, thou blessed one!

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 141-142.
 thus far Luther.

Additional comments:
about November 11th, St. Martin, Bishop of Tours

I'm including some background on St. Martin and Martinmas because of his significance to European Christianity, the shape of the Church Year, and because Martin Luther and Martin Chemnitz were baptized on this date and named after him. It would not be inappropriate, then, to take this opportunity to preach on the Gospel lesson historically selected for this observance.

About St. Martin

Martin was born in Hungary, the son of a Roman tribune of the Imperial Horse Guard Auxilia either AD 316 or 336. At age 10, and against his father's desires, he became a catechumen of the Christian Church. At age 15 he was required to serve in the Roman cavalry (ala). When Caesar Julian (the Apostate) succeded his father Constantine, Martin left military service, was jailed for desertion, and set free by providential circumstances. He then chose to become a priest. He studied at Tours under Hilary of Poitiers, and opposing Julian's Arianism. He preached the Nicene Confession of the faith on his way to Italy to confront the Arians. At Illycrium he was publicly scourged for his confession of faith. After a short exile he returned to Tours after Hilary was re-seated as Bishop in AD 361. Tours became a major center for promoting the genuine Nicene Confession of the Christian faith.

He reluctantly accepted the position of Bishop of Tours in 371, after which he sought to widely proclaime the Nicene Confession and convert the pagans. He launched a project of destroying pagan sacred sites. According to his contemporary and biographer, Sulpicius Severus, Martin did this even by acceptiing and surviving a challenge from the pagans as to whether the True God would spare his life. [Life of St. Martin, Chapter 13]

Martin made a reputation with the secular authorities as an effective advocate for the imprisoned, to the extent that the authorities would try to avoid meeting with him lest they be publicly persuaded to release certain prisoners. His charity is celebrated by the legend about his sharing of his cloak.

Martin died in 397 in central France. He became popular throughout all of Celtic and Germanic Europe.

Martin's Day,  Martinmas, and Advent

By the 6th century the Feast of St. Martin on November 11th was observed as the beginning Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin's Lent). This period paralleled the Lententide before Easter. It was observed from November 11 to Epiphany, January 6th. During these 56 days with 40 days of fasting. In medieval documents Martinmas was very often regarded as the end of the agricultural year and the beginning of winter. In 581, the synod held at Macon, in Gaul declared Martin's Day to be the beginning of a season of preparation for Christmas. According to the Gelasian Sacramentary, as early as AD 750 this prepratory season had been reduced to five Sundays preceding. Pope Gregory the VII reduced it to the four Sundays of Advent during the eleventh century. Throughout these centuries, however, Martin's Day was still observed not only as a popular Church festival, but also as the end of the economic/legal year and the popular beginning of the winter season. (Tille, Yule and Christmas, chs. 3-6)

Two More Martins

On the eve of Martinmas in 1483 a baby boy was born to Hans and Margarethe Luder in Eisleben, Germany. They brought their new child to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the next morning, November 11th, and named him after St. Martin of Tours.

On November 9th of 1522 a baby boy was born to Klaus and Euphemia Chemnitz. Their son was also named in honor of St. Martin, in all probability he was also baptized on Martinmas.

So on this day we have the opportunity to teach by the example of Martin of Tour's steadfastness to the Nicene Confession of the faith in opposition to Arianism and paganism. We have the opportunity to teach by the example of Martin Luther's stance on sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia. And we have the opportunity to teach by the example of Martin Chemnitz, perhaps the main mover behind the confession of the truth of Scripture in the Lutheran Book of Concord.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Third Last Sunday (Trinity 25) - End Times

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)
Signs of the End Times

Matthew 24:15-28
New King James Version
15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.

26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) The abomination of desolation. 
Matthew intertwines here both the end of the Jewish people and the end of the world with each other. There are therefore two special things in this Gospel. The first is a warning for the pious Christians, who would live to see the destruction of Jerusalem, in order that they might know this beforehand, and could make their escape. The second is a warning that relates especially to our last times.

The "abomination" of which Daniel writes (Chap. 9:26, 27) is, that the emperor Caligula set up his image everywhere, and also in the temple of Jerusalem, as an idol, that they should worship it and offer him incense; for the Scriptures call the idols a special abomination, because God and all pious hearts loathe and detest them; for this sin is more at enmity to him than any other. This abomination before God must have a fine outward appearance of holiness before the world, that the true holiness may be destroyed.
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 
Not come down from the housetop. The houses of the Jews were square at the top, and paved, that one could walk, stand or sit upon the roof. But, says Jesus, there will be no time for ascending and descending from the roof; let house and furniture burn, and do not think of returning to the house again. After the Jews had been warned by many signs that they should submit to the Romans, they would not; but the disciples and apostles hastened away and obeyed the warning of Christ.
19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! To them that are with child. When the trouble comes, it comes commonly sorest upon the group of wives and children. 20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day; 
Winter or the sabbath. The Jews had an especial command, that on the sabbath they were not allowed to go as far as they desired. Acts 1:12.

Pray. He did not wish to perform a miracle, to keep them alone safe amidst the enemies. But he also says, "Pray" to indicate and teach us that we should also pray, and that such prayer will induce and incline God to remember us, and give us success and prosperity in our undertaking.
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 
Great tribulation. We can read in history how miserably they perished and killed one another. Thus also Matthew writes that such a tribulation shall come at the last day. For, what he had hitherto said, had reference to the Jews; but here he combines both, yet breaks off abruptly, cares not much about the order in which the expressions that he has uttered follow each other, but leaves it to the Evangelist Luke to arrange.
22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. 
Except those days should be shortened. This applies to both events, but especially to the last day; the meaning is, that the misery shall not last so very long, for the sake of the pious; for the war against the Jews did not last quite two years, until peace was restored.

As then the punishment was a bodily one, so at the end of the world it will be a spiritual punishment that shall be inflicted on the wicked. As it is written in 2 Thess. 2:8, "And then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming." He himself will do this, without means, by his word. Thus the power of the pope has been weakened and broken by the Gospel, but his final destruction is reserved unto the last day.
23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 
False Christs .... false prophets. When the light of the Gospel shall shine forth in the world, then the devil will come with so many factions and sects, false prophets and false teachers, that whoever will look with spiritual eyes upon the world, will imagine that no one can be saved.

Lo, here is Christ. He warns us to beware of those who set forth the kingdom of Christ and bind the Christian life to outward visible things, and that we should not permit ourselves to be torn from this foundation, that we do not become Christians by such means, but only through his blood can we enter into the kingdom by faith.
24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
False Christs and false prophets. It is not necessary to make a distinction here between false Christs and false prophets. Yet we may refer the former to the Turk and his doctrines, and the latter to the pope and his teachings. And the Lord Christ adds something to this, which is still more terrible; namely, that these false Christs and false prophets will be mighty in performing miracles, "show great signs and wonders." This confounds the people, and overwhelms them, to think that these should perform such miracles, whereby not only the common people, but even the very elect might be deceived.

At the time when the emperors were more powerful, they antagonized the pope; — yet they did not accomplish much, but the pope excommunicated them, etc. These were greater wonders than the raising of anyone from the dead.

But this we should know first, that many false miracles can be performed by the devil. When God withdraws his hand, on account of sin, and permits him to deceive the world, then he can restore sight to the blind; yea, even raise the dead to life. Not as though he were a creator like unto God; but he draws up such apparitions, which the people think are real miracles.

In the second place, we should pay careful attention to the design of these signs and wonders; for the intention of all false wonders is, that the devil may confirm his lies thereby. The apostles also performed many signs and miracles, but they all had this design, that the Gospel might be strengthened by them, and that Christ might be known and accepted in all the world. Therefore when a pope or a monk raises one from the dead in the name of St. Anne, it is done by the help of the devil. Then the people say, The holy St. Anne hath helped me, and they are strengthened in their idolatry. We should not believe any of these wonders, after the Gospel has gone out into all the world, and has been sufficiently confirmed by miracles and signs.

Deceive the very elect, etc. These are terrible words, when we consider how those who preach salvation by works deceive the people with such show and energy, that even the be lieving saints are unable to resist the error, but unite with them, as has been the case.

For St. Bernard during his life built 160 monasteries, and was an abbot for 30 years. All this came about through the cry, "Here is Christ." But when he came to die, he said, "Oh, I have lived a bad life! But this is my consolation, that thou God hast said, A broken heart thou wilt not despise." Thus the elect have fallen into error — but did not remain in it. Hence it is incorrect to say, The holy fathers and teachers thought and lived so and so; there fore we must follow their example; for he (Christ) is more than all the saints.
25 Behold, I have told you before. 
I have told you before. As much as to say, No excuse will be valid. The good Lord warns us faithfully. He not only foretells it, but adds some thing to it, teaches it earnestly and repeats it; and then it avails not, that you boast and put your trust in your wisdom, riches or ingenuity. It can not help you, for even the elect are deceived.
26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. 
Behold, he is in the desert. "Deserts" are the pilgrimages and fieldchapters (Feldstifte.)

Secret chambers are now all spiritual monasteries.

But the Christian life is not to be confined to the deserts and monaster ies, but is to move about freely, as Christ and the apostles lived; the min ister is to come forth among the peo ple, preach and exhort publicly, in or der to bring the people to Christ.

Go not forth, or out into the desert. Let Christ, the Holy Ghost, God and all the holy angels be outside, but go thou not out. "Oh, but if God should raise up a new prophet, should we not then go out?" If one should rise up today, look sour, fast, wear a gray coat, and be out in the woods, I believe the whole city would run out to him, notwithstanding that here we have Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and all the ordinances instituted and ordered by God. But do thou say, I will remain where the congregation of Christ abides, with Baptism, with the divine word and abso lution, and I will let go the "Lo, here" and the "Lo, there," and I will not be something extra, above what God has ordered; in this thing take care of thyself, and afterwards in thine outward life conduct thyself like other God-fearing hearts.
27 For as the lightning corneth out of the east, and shineth even unto the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 
As the lightning cometh from the east. As if he would say, The lightning is unconfined, and in an instant takes in the whole sky, so my kingdom is not confined to the "here" and "there ;" must not be called Rome, Jerusalem, or St. James; but it is everywhere in the world.
28 For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. 
Where the carcass is. That is, where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered, there will also be Christians. Therefore you need not ask where the place of Christ's coming will be. I may be where I will, we shall certainly get together. But now it is strange that he compares his kingdom with the carcass of a thief on the gallows. But here Christ is looked upon as nothing but a carcass, or as a condemned, crucified man, and all who believe on him and cling to him, must be regarded as eagles.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 136-139

Monday, October 26, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: All Saints' Day -Saints and Martyrs

November 1
All Saints' Day

Matthew 5:1-12
New King James Version
5 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

The Sermon on the Mount.

Christ, in Matthew v., vi., vii., teaches briefly these points:
  1. First, as to the eight beatitudes or blessings, how every Christian ought particularly to live, as it concerns himself; 
  2. Secondly, of the office of teaching; what and how a man ought to teach in the church, how to season with salt and enlighten, reprove and comfort and exercise the faith. 
  3. Thirdly, he confutes and opposes the false expounding of the law; 
  4. Fourthly, he condemns the wicked, hypocritical kind of living; 
  5. Fifthly, he teaches what are upright and good works; 
  6. Sixthly, he warns men against false doctrine; 
  7. Seventhly, he clears and solves what might be found doubtful and confused; 
  8. Eighthly, he condemns the hypocrites and false saints, who abuse the precious word of grace. 
1 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain; and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 
 Jesus went up into a mountain. Here the Evangelist gives a preface and display of how Christ disposed him self for the sermon. It is not God's will that we should run astray with his word, as though any one were driven by the Holy Spirit, and therefore must preach and seek places and corners, houses and pulpits, where he has no official appointment. Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:15 and John 16:20.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Those who are not spiritually high minded. To be spiritually poor means, that we do not attach our hearts to worldly possessions, whether God has given us worldly goods or not.

And again, to be rich in spirit means to be attached in our hearts to worldly possessions, whether God has given us worldly goods or not. (Psalm 62:10) Those are spiritually poor who are not self-confident, who keep God before their eyes, and do not live at random, like the world; but who are careful of what they do, and do not do; who honestly compare their lives with the word of God, and see how our nature is so corrupted by sin that the proper obedience is sadly lacking, and they appear to themselves as the greatest sinners.

The kingdom of heaven is theirs. That is to say: Behold, man shall be delivered from death, sin, hell and all misfortunes, and shall have God for his friend, a cheerful conscience and in addition eternal life.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 
Blessed are they that mourn. Thisis another characteristic of the Christians, that they not only have oppressed hearts, but also tearful eyes, because all kinds of misfortunes befall them. Because, while the devil and the world are the most inveterate enemies of the Christians, it is impossible, that such enmity should continue without injury. But since Christians also have flesh and blood, it is not possible that they should laugh in their afflictions; they are plagued, oppressed and driven so long, that their eyes overflow with tears.

They shall be comforted. Christians mourn; but only for a season. Look to the future and then the promise is: "Blessed are they, for they shall be comforted." This we see exemplified in the case of poor Lazarus. For it is not Christ's will that there shall be nothing but mourning and sorrow; but he warns those who are not willing to mourn, and teaches his Christians, that when they meet with adversity it is God's will, and they should also be resigned to their condition, and that they should not curse and rage and despair, as though there were no mercy with God.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 
Blessed are the meek. When it goes evil with worldly people their eyes overflow and they conduct themselves badly; but my disciples, says Jesus here, have a meek and lowly heart, and would not think of avenging themselves; but as God in his providence has permitted the affliction to come upon them, they cheerfully resign themselves to his will, and endure the affliction.

For they shall inherit the earth. Here we see what his promises are: In verse 3 heaven was promised them, and here in addition also an earth ly inheritance is promised them — their bodily wants shall also be supplied.

The world regards itself in possession of the earth, and seeks to protect its claims.

Therefore choose one of two things, whichever you will; either that you live in meekness and patience among the people, and retain what you have in peace and good conscience; or lose more by tumultuous, riotous contention and strife, than you can gain, and yet have dissatisfaction and a bad conscience in addition.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are they which hunger and thirst. This hunger and thirst is experienced, by those who love to hear and read God's word. Such a one has this firm hope, that he shall find comfort and consolation from the word of God, in all kinds of trial, perplexity and in death. But those who are filled with their own conceit, who do not read or hear God's word, but disregard and despise it, shall finally hunger and thirst so intensely, that no one can relieve them with the smallest drop of water, just as was the case with the rich man in hell. Luke 16:24.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 
Blessed are the merciful. One quality of mercy is, that we readily forgive sinners and fallible ones. The other quality is, that we are generous to those who are suffering distress and are in need of help, and this also towards our enemies, for all of which we can not expect any recompense.

These, the merciful, then have the consoling promise, Ye shall also find pure mercy, both here and hereafter; and such mercy shall ye find, which shall unspeakably transcend all human benefaction and mercy. Just as we are merciful, and assist the poor in their distress, even if they are our bitterest enemies, so God also will assist us in our trouble, readily forgive and forget all our sins, and grant us grace and mercy.
8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 
Blessed are the pure in heart. He who would indicate a pure heart to be such an one in which there are no evil thoughts, no murder, no adultery, etc., has indeed correctly indicated; but the Holy Ghost alone prepares the heart by means of the word of God; otherwise where the word and faith are not already in the heart, the heart remains unclean.

Shall see God. This does not mean to lead a contemplative life, or to see him with our bodily eyes (with these no one can see him in this life) but by faith which sees his paternal, friendly heart, in which there is no anger or unkindness.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers. The peacemakers are more blessed than the peaceable; namely, those who make, promote and maintain peace among others; here they offer a good word, there they interpose a good word, and every where they seek to promote quietness and peace, where they find strife, disturbance and con tention. Thus also did our Lord Christ.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so per secuted they the prophets which were be fore you. 
Blessed are they which are persecuted. Here the Lord states in conclusion, what shall be the treatment of the faithful Christian, that for this, that he is full of good works, even towards enemies, and bad people, his reward from the world shall be that he shall be persecuted, and exposed to bodily injury, the loss of all worldly goods and life itself for Christ's sake.

But he also distinctly adds, For righteousness' sake, to show, that it is not sufficient to be simply persecuted, when it is not for righteousness' or Christ's sake.

Blessed people are ye! For in the first place, ye suffer from the world and have not deserved it; therefore ye suffer for my sake, and I will richly reward you in heaven. Are there one or two who persecute us, then there are many more, yea, ten thousand angels, to one, who take our part, who smile upon us, console us, and pronounce us blessed.

But what do you say to this, that there is so much said in the Sermon on the Mount about reward and gain? Answer: It is not meant here, that by our own merit, we shall gain the grace of our baptism, or Christ and heaven ; but all relates to the fruits of Christianity. For in this sermon Christ does not say how we become Christians, but speaks only of the works which no one can do, unless he is already a Christian, and is in grace, as the words show, that they must endure poverty, distress and persecution, because they are Christ ians, and inherit the kingdom of heaven. These are pure consolations to the Christians, as without them they could not endure such distress, persecution and misery, which they know he will certainly reward. This does not mean that they merit for giveness of sins and the inheritance of heaven, but that they shall be rec ompensed for their sufferings with so much greater glory.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 25-27.