Thursday, June 18, 2015

Luther's Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Nativity of John the Baptist

June 24th
Luke 1:57-80
New King James Version
Birth of John the Baptist
57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
71 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
74 To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luther's Explanatory Notes:

56-66 wanting. 

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 

Filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied. Here you see how happy the pious old Zacharias is over his son, not only on account of his own person, but that now is at hand and begins what God for so long a time has promised by his prophets. 

68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,

Visited and redeemed his people. The good man speaks here of those things, as though they had already taken place, when he says, "For he hath visited and redeemed his people." For he is so very certain; and so also the child John was present, who should begin the redemption, as the angel had promised him, (verse 17.) This promise, he knew, would not disappoint him. Visiting is nothing else than coming to us and presenting and propounding to us the faithful word, whereby we are saved. 

69 And hath raised up an horn of salva tion for us in the house of his servant David; 

And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. This is not spoken of John the Baptist; for he is not the horn that is raised up in the house of David. Besides this also, he is not of the house of David, having been born in the tribe of Levi; but Christ is from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. But here we must accept the manner of the Scripture, that Zacharias not merely says, God hath raised up a salvation, but "an horn of salvation." "Horn" in the Hebrew language means power, boldness, rule and that upon which one may depend. See Daniel 8:3,5, where the prophet explains it himself, as signifying a kingdom or kings. Christ is especially called a horn, because he pushes with it. But it means that Christ our head (as the animals have horns in front of their heads) is truly our God, and his kingdom a horn; in short, it is the Gospel. In the whole world this must strike here and there, and is our trust on which we rely. But he adds yet, a horn of salvation or blessedness, a blessed kingdom, a kingdom of grace. Whoever is in this kingdom, though he be weak and frail, yet he is in the kingdom, where there is nothing but salvation and blessedness. 

The house of David. He also speaks of "the house of David," so that you might not say, You speak of a king dom in heaven, among the angels; no, but of a kingdom which is among men, who have flesh and blood. Here we must remark that in this king dom there are mortal men, and yet it shall be a kingdom and people who do not die. How is this? Thus: The out ward appearance God lets remain, does not take it away, this mask must remain, that we may feel that we are all sinners under the power of the devil and of death — and yet under this mask remains life, innocence and victory over death, sin and the devil, as he himself says, (Matt. 16:18,) "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 

70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 

A scriptural kingdom. "As he hath spoken in times past through the mouth of his holy prophets." The prophets, and especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, have all pointed out that it should be a kingdom on earth, but a spiritual kingdom. 

71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 

What this kingdom is. "That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us." The Evangelist now describes in detail what this kingdom is. This verse shows that we are his people and his kingdom; we are here among enemies, and can expect nothing, but that we shall be hated, because the nature of this kingdom is, that he will save us from the hand of all who hate us. (Ps. 110:2; 45:6. ) They are many who oppose the Christians (all who hate us;) yet there is no danger, we have One who is stronger than the world and the princes of this world. John 14:30; 1 John 4:4.

73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 

"And the oath which he sware to our father Abraham," that he would grant unto us. 

With this Zacharias will cast back Moses and the whole law. For there it is preached that God will be gracious unto them who keep his commandments and are pious. But where there is mercy, sinners also have something to hope for, that they despair not. Now Zacharias explains this mercy, that it was also to benefit the deceased fathers. Therefore it cannot be a mercy which concerns the temporal life or goods, of which the deceased can no more take part. But this mercy they partake of, that God, for Christ's sake, will forgive their sins and grant them eternal life. True, this covenant, or promise, (Gen. 12:3) was delayed for many years, so that it seemed to be lost; as it is his way when he wishes to accomplish anything, he acts so strangely and wonderfully, as if all were to be unsuccessful. Yet he fulfilled to Abraham all that he had promised. 

A holy covenant. But here it must be specially noticed, that he calls it a "holy" covenantor testament. Here with he looks also upon Moses, through whom God had previously made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, where he gave the law; but it was a covenant which they could not keep. On this account, though that covenant and law was holy and good, yet it became unholy because of men. Therefore God was moved from paternal mercy to make a new covenant with us by the blood of Christ, which is a holy covenant, by which we become holy and free from sin. 

74 That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 

"That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, all the days of our life." 

Upon this follows an entirely new and holy life. 

The little word, "without fear," indicates that we are sure of the good things of the future, as well as of the present life. For a Christian is sure and certain, that his sins are forgiven, although he still feels them. Behold, this it is to renounce the world, and be without fear; namely, to be troubled about nothing, except what is God's will, to speak nothing, but what pleases him, so to live and do such works as I know to be his works, that in all my life, which I live, inwardly or outwardly, I am certain that it is his; thus I am separated from the world, and am yet in the world. This is the principal and highest service of God, that without fear we have a right confidence in God through Christ, that he is our Father, that he who so cordially wishes us well, for Christ's sake will not condemn us, but keep us to all eternity. For this shall continue "all the days of our life," in all our life; that is, forever, and it never ends. 

75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 

In holiness and righteousness before him. The word "holiness" means nothing else than to be pious for the life's sake, in good conscience, not following sin and the flesh, but suppressing it, and yielding a hearty obedience. But what shall a Christian do if either he has fallen or feels that he is not perfect, but feels his sins? Here Zacharias teaches us further, that God has another service, which is called "righteousnes," that we may regard God as righteous, who is willing to forgive all our unrighteousness for Christ's sake. Such a service in righteousness helps the service in holiness, that it may become perfect, since he who is yet lacking in holiness is restored through faith and the forgiveness of sins. 

With the words, "before him," Zacharias distinguishes between two kinds of righteousness or holiness: one which serves before him, the other which does not, and it is here clearly expressed, that God's righteousness and God's holiness are not regarded by the world, as the world does not highly regard God, and he again thinks nothing of it. 

76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest. The holy father is silent in regard to the austere life, which his own son is to lead in eating and drinking (v. 15) and praises only the office of his ministry. "For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways." This no former prophet had been able to do, for they all preached of the future not of the present Christ.

The Scripture thus points John out, as standing between the Old and the New Testaments; namely, that he was a mediator between Moses and Christ. This is a great thing and to be pre ferred above all works; as Christ also did his greatest works by his teach ings, for his miracles are nothing as compared with his doctrine. But that John is a mediator between the Old and the New Testaments is attested by Christ himself in Matt. 11:12-13. The "preparing" is nothing else, but to lead the people up to the Lord. This Lord no one receives unless he himself has been previously humbled.

77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 

Knowledge of salvation; this is such a preaching from which we learn how we can be saved and de livered from death and sin. This is an act of which the world knows not one word. The idea which the Jews had of salvation was to enjoy great riches, honor and power in this world. 

78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 

The dayspring from on high. But whence really comes forgiveness of sins? Here Zacharias answers finely: "The tender mercy of God" does it. Not through prayers or works of the fathers or any of the saints, but through God's boundless mercy, which Luke calls the "tender mercy." Christ was sent out of infinite mercy. And he calls him the "Dayspring from on high," to indicate his divinity; as if to say, On high; that is, above all creatures, where there is nothing higher, but all height, where Christ is in his divinity, just as a morning dawn or rising of the sun, for he comes from the Father as the splendor from the sun. Therefore he is also called the brightness of his glory. Heb. 1:3. 

79 To give light to them that sit in dark nass and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

That is, he will securely and joyfully govern our conscience in his kingdom of grace. Here Zacharias closes his thanksgiving and song of joy, and includes not only his own people, the Jews, (as in verse 69,) but also the Gentiles, and says that all the world sits in death and in darkness.

Luther's Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 186-189.