John 3

[[Luther published two sermons for John 3:1-15. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 1-7; the other in verses 8-12 (Part I) and 13-15 (Part II).]]

Sermon for Trinity Sunday; John 3:1-15


1 Today we celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity, to which we must briefly allude, so that we may not celebrate it in vain. It is indeed true that the name “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man. For this reason it sounds somewhat cold and we had better speak of “God” than of the “Trinity.”

2 This word signifies that there are three persons in God. It is a heavenly mystery which the world cannot understand. I have often told you that this, as well as every other article of faith, must not be based upon reason or comparisons, but must be understood and established by means of passages from the Scriptures, for God has the only perfect knowledge and knows how to speak concerning himself.

3 The great universities have invented manifold distinctions, dreams and fictions by means of which they would explain the Holy Trinity, and have made fools of themselves. We shall therefore quote only passages from the Scriptures in order to determine and establish the divinity of Christ. In the first place, we quote from the New Testament, where we find many proof texts; for instance, John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.” Now if he is not made, but is himself the Maker, he must indeed be God. John also says afterwards: “And the Word became flesh.”

4 Again, we quote from the Old Testament, where David says, in Ps 110:1: “Jehovah saith unto my lord, Sit thou at my right hand,” that is, sit upon the royal throne and be a lord and king over all creatures, all which must be subject to thee--“until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” In Ps 8:4-8, we read: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him.? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” That means: Thou hast made him Lord of the whole world. Paul explains this passage, in Eph 1:20 and Col 2:9-10, in a masterly way. Now, if God has set him at his right hand and made him lord of all in heaven and on earth, he must indeed be God; for it would not be fitting that he should set him at his right hand and give him as much power over all creatures as he himself possesses, if he were not God. God will not give his glory to another, as he says in Is 48:11. Thus, we have here two persons, the Father, and the Son to whom the Father has given all that is subject to him. To “sit at the right hand of God” means to be over all God's creatures; he must therefore be God to whom is given all this.

5 God has also commanded us not to worship strange gods. Now, we read in John that, according to the will of God, we should honor the Son even as we honor the Father. These are the words of John 5:19-23, where Christ says to the Jews: “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and greater works than these will he show him, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. For neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son; that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father that sent him.” These are, to my mind, truly clear and distinct words concerning the divinity of Christ. Now, as God commands that we should have only one God, and should not render to any other creature the glory which belongs to God and is due him, and yet he gives this glory to Christ, Christ must indeed be God.

6 Paul says in Rom 1:2-4: “The Gospel he promised afore through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord.” Therefore, according to the flesh he began to exist, but according to the spirit he existed from eternity, although it was not clearly understood before; as it was not necessary that we should make a God of him, but only that we should declare and understand that he is the Son of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Christ himself says in John 16:13: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.” And elsewhere the Evangelist writes, John 17:1-5: “These things spake Jesus; and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that the Son may glorify thee: even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life. And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ. I glorified thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do. And now, Father. glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

7 We also read in Ps 2:8: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” He is truly enthroned king of all. He is God's child, and the world is subject to no other prince or king. Likewise, in another psalm, David openly calls him God, when he says: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Ps 45:6-7. God will make no one such a king who is not God, for he will not give the reins out of his hands; he alone will be the Lord over heaven and earth, death, hell, the devil and all creatures. If he, then, makes Christ Lord of all that is created, Christ must truly be God.

8 We can, therefore, have no surer foundation for our belief in the divinity of Christ than that we enwrap and enclose our hearts in the declarations of the Scriptures. The Scriptures gradually and beautifully lead us to Christ; first revealing him to us as a man, then as the lord of all creatures. and finally as God. Thus we are successfully led to the true knowledge of God. But the philosophers and the wise men of this world would begin at the top and so they have become fools. We must begin at the bottom and gradually advance in knowledge, so that the words of Proverbs 25:27 may not apply to us: “It is not good to eat much honey; so for men to search out their own glory is grievous.”

9 Our faith in these two persons, the Father and the Son, is therefore sufficiently established and confirmed by passages from the Scriptures. But of the Holy Spirit, the third person, we read in Mt 28:19 that Christ sent forth his disciples, saying to them: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Here divinity is also ascribed to the Holy Spirit, since I may trust or believe in no one but God. And I must trust only in one who has power over death, hell, the devil and all creatures, whose authority withholds them from harming me, and who can save me. None will suffice except one in whom I may trust absolutely. Now, Christ in this passage commands that we should also believe and trust in the Holy Spirit; therefore he must be God. In the Gospel according to John, Christ speaks frequently to his disciples of the Holy Spirit, his power or existence.

10 In Gen 1:2 we read: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” But this passage is not as clear as the one last quoted; the Jews attack it and affirm that the word “spirit” in Hebrew signifies “wind.”

11 David says in Psalm 33:6: “By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Spirit of his mouth.” Here it is quite clear that the Holy Spirit is God, because the heavens and all their hosts were made by him. And, again, David says in Ps 139:7-8: “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.” Now, this cannot be said of any creatures--that it is everywhere and fills the whole world-but only of God, the Creator.

12 Therefore, we cling to the Scriptures, those passages which testify of the Trinity of God, and we say: I know very well that in God there are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; but how they can be one I do not know, neither should I know it. This may suffice for the first part. Now we will come back to the Gospel and say something on that in the time that is left us.

Part II: The Explanation of this Gospel; Christ's Conversation with Nicodemus.

I. The Conversation in General

1 In this Gospel you see clearly what reason and freewill can do. You may see it distinctly in Nicodemus, who was the best of the best, a prince and leader of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees held first place in their day. They were, however, in the highest things--in spiritual life--altogether blind and dead before God, however holy, wise, good and mighty they may have been considered by men. The longer Nicodemus associates with Christ, the less he understands Christ, although he is expected to understand only earthly things and the manner of Christ's death. Reason is so blind that it can neither perceive nor understand the things of God, nor all things which properly belong to its own sphere, This is a blow to nature and human reason, which have been rated so high by philosophy and the wise men of this world; the wise ones have said that reason always strives to attain the best.

2 God has here given us an example showing that even the best in nature must fail. In instances where human nature is at its best it is blind, not to speak of its envy and hatred. Christ has here demonstrated by examples, words and deeds that human reason is altogether blind and dead before God, Hence, it cannot appreciate divine things nor desire them.

3 Now, Nicodemus, who is a pious and well-meaning man, cannot grasp the work and Word of God; how then would Annas and Caiaphas? He comes to the Lord at night, which he did from fear, not desiring to be called a heretic by others. From this we may conclude that he was in nature an old Adam, cowardly seeking Christ by night, and that he did not yet possess the true light. If he had been a “new man,” he would have come in the bright light of day, fearing no one. Because of his hypocrisy, the Lord deals sharply with him, cutting off his salutation and all further speech, as we shall see. Nicodemus approaches the Lord with these words:

V.2. “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God. for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him.”

II. The Conversation In Detail.

4 He thinks that he has uttered these words in all sincerity; but there is still the old life and nothing but hypocrisy. For this reason Christ will not accept his salutation, but will take from Nicodemus everything in which he feels secure and will make a “new” man of him, giving him a new heart and enabling him to walk by faith. He says to him:

V.3. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

5 Christ's words are as if to say: No, my dear Nicodemus, I am not moved by your beautiful words. You must give up your old life and become a new man. You have not the faith which you say you have; you are still afraid. Although the natural man hears the Word of God, the Gospel, and delights in it, yet it does not enter the heart. Therefore, we must slay reason and experience the new birth. This is what Christ means when he says that we must be born anew. Reason cannot understand this, wherefore Nicodemus replies:

V.4. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?”

6 Thus reason takes offense at the Spirit, imagines unrealities and conceives of this new birth as a natural birth. Therefore Christ proceeds, explaining this birth to him to clear his misunderstanding, and says:

V.5. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

7 In other words: The new birth of which I speak must be otherwise explained. I do not abolish the natural birth but I speak of a birth which is of water and the Spirit. Then he continues:

V.6. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is borne of the Spirit is spirit.”

8 These words cannot be grasped by reason, which seeks to explain the words “Spirit” and “water,” speculating how such birth may be. Here it sees nothing in the nature of a birth and therefore plays the part of a fool by saying: How can a man be born of water and the Spirit? Indeed, such a source would produce but water-bubbles.

9 Now, Christ speaks and destroys reason, saying: “Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?” You should teach others the spiritual birth, that they might become righteous, but you yourself do not understand it. He defeats reason and the whole law and says: My friend, do you not know how these things can be? It is plain to me, as it was also to the prophets, who corroborate my words. Renounce your reason and close your eyes; cling only to my Word and believe it. Again he says:

V.7, 8. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

10 As if to say: You presume to judge spiritual things by your reason, and at the same time you cannot understand the simple things of nature. He calls Nicodemus' attention to the wind. No philosopher or scientist has ever been able to comprehend and describe the nature of the wind--where it has its beginning or where it ends. We cannot see where the wind comes from, or how it blows past us, or how far it goes. Now, if we cannot by our reason fathom those things which we see daily in nature, much less will we be able to fathom with our reason the divine works which God accomplishes within us.

11 How a man is born anew may easily be told in words. When, however, it is a question of experience, as it was here with Nicodemus, then it is a hard matter to understand and it requires effort to attain the experience. It is easy to say: We must blind our reason, disregard our feelings, close our eyes and only cling to the Word--finally die and yet live. But to persevere in this, when it becomes a matter of experience and when we are really tested, requires pains and labor. It is a very bitter experience.

12 An example of this new birth we have in Abraham, whose son was to inherit the world and whose seed was to be like the stars in heaven, as was promised him in Gen 15:5. Then God came and commanded him to slay his son. Now had Abraham acted as reason dictated, he would have concluded thus: Aye, God has given me this seed, by which he has promised to increase my family, and now he commands me to offer him up as a sacrifice. Surely, God cannot command this; it must be the devil. But Abraham slays reason and honors God, thinking: God is so powerful that he can raise my son from death and increase my family through him. or he can give me another son, or effect his purpose in some other way, which I do not know. So Abraham commends all to God. Here Abraham leaves his old life and surrenders himself to God, believes in him and becomes a new man. Then the angel comes and says to him: “Abraham, Abraham, lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me,” Gen 22:11-12. Abraham could not have imagined that God would thus come to his rescue; nay, he had already in his heart slain his son.

13 Now, the beginning of this birth was in baptism. The water is baptism; the Spirit is that grace which is given to us in baptism. The result of this birth is clearly seen in the hour of death or in times of test by poverty and temptation. He who is born of the flesh fights to defend himself, looks hither and thither, employs his reason to make his living. But he who is born anew reasons thus: I am in God's hands, who has preserved and nourished me before in a wonderful manner; he will also feed and preserve me in the future and save me from all sorrow and misfortune.

14 When we are about to die we feel that we must depart and we know not whither; the house of shelter is not ready and we know not whether it will be a white or a black house. For where there is flesh and blood, there is still the old Adam, who does not know where he shall go, whether below or above, to the left or to the right; on what he should rest his soul and depart. Then there is anxiety and misery in the nature of a real hell; for the torment of hell is nothing but fear, terror, dread and despair. But if I believe in God and am born anew, I close my eyes and do not grope about. I am willing that the condition of the soul be changed entirely, and I think O God, my soul is in thy hands; thou hast preserved it during my life and I have never known where thou hast put it, neither do I wish to know, to which place thou wilt now assign it. I only know that it is in thy hands and thou wilt take care of it. Thus we must abandon the life of the flesh and enter into a new life, being dead to the old. This is a real dying and not merely a painful sensation, like the scratching off of a scab, as the philosophers have said; and they have compared the entering upon the new life with the rinsing of a pot by the cook. There must be a real change and an entire transformation of nature, for the natural state and natural feeling must be completely overthrown.

15 Now, the Lord says here: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” “Flesh” means the whole man, with body and soul, reason and will, who is not yet born of the Spirit. For the soul has entered so deeply into the flesh to guard and protect it from harm that the soul is more flesh than the flesh itself. We see it in death, when the flesh does not willingly give up life because the soul is still present; but as soon as the soul has departed, the body allows itself to be mutilated and permits everything that may be done with it. The Lord our God also alludes to this with these words in Genesis, spoken before the deluge: “My Spirit shall not strive with man for ever, for that he also is flesh.” Man does not desire the destruction of the flesh, or, in other words, to die; but this is the will of the Spirit, wherefore he desires that the flesh may soon be destroyed. Thus the nature of the soul must change and it must become an enemy of the body, desiring that the body may die, so that it (the soul) may enter into a new life. That this will be, we are to believe, but not to know how. It is the work of God, and he has not commanded us to fathom it.

16 Thus the Lord would point out with this simile of the wind that the spiritual man is neither here nor there and is not limited to any time or place. He does not put on a hood, neither does he do any of the things that are merely material, for he knows that they will not avail. In brief, no pilgrimage, no fasting, no money given for masses, no good work at all is of any avail; there must be a new life, that is, all our works must perish and come to naught, as has been said. The new life, however, consists not in dependence upon works, but it abides and perseveres in the grace of God, which he gives us through Jesus Christ. If I would then hold my ground, my works and all I have devised must fall to pieces and come to naught. Consequently, there is in the new man no definite beginning nor end. We indeed hear the blowing of the wind, but do not know whence it comes and whither it goes. Thus it is here: A man preaches and the Word is in his mouth, but no one knows whence it comes to him, what it will accomplish and where it will bring forth fruit.

17 Hence, we conclude from this passage that a Christian should not depend upon works, upon certain places or persons. Reason wonders at this and inquires: How can it be that everyone, who is born of the Spirit is to be compared with the wind and that all our works mean nothing? What results can possibly follow? If this were so, all priests, monks and nuns, with their beautiful and worthy lives, must be condemned. Christ answers Nicodemus' question, V.9. “How can these things be?” as follows:

V.10. “Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?”

18 In other words: You surely should know this, because you are one of those who teach the people, but I see that you know nothing of it. That which I have explained to you, namely, that we must be born anew, you should have taught the people. But you have taught them the contrary--have endeavored to know whence the wind comes and whither it goes, have concerned yourselves about its blowing and other useless things; but the things most necessary to you and the people, you have disregarded. Hear then what I tell you:

V.11. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.”

19 As if Christ said: Should I point out to you how these things can be? It cannot be done. You should believe me, since you say yourself that I am a teacher come from God. When I have said that a man must be born anew and that all your works are worthless, it cannot be demonstrated so that you may see it with your eyes; it can only be explained in words. If you believe it, you will understand it. But Nicodemus did not understand it. Therefore, the Lord, disclosing more and more to him his folly, continues:

V.12. “If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

20 I have only told you of earthly things--how we must all come to naught; that man is dust and must return to dust: how the wind blows--and yet you do not understand it. What would you know if I should tell you much about God? I have spoken to you about insignificant things, and you do not understand them. How would you understand if I told you that our immortal bodies, after death, will shine as bright and clear as the sun? And what if I told you of what comes after death? You would understand this much less. He then explains to Nicodemus a few of these heavenly things and continues:

V.13. “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven.”

21 Reason does not understand what this means, for it is a sermon from heaven; as if Christ would say: The Son of man came upon earth and yet remained in heaven. He again ascended into heaven; that is, he became Lord of heaven and earth and all creatures. Know then that I am he who has come down, who even descended into hell, and yet remained in heaven. For when Christ was in death, he lived; when he was considered the most insignificant and despised of men, he was before God regarded as the most worthy of honor, and the greatest. He ascended again into heaven, after he rose from the dead, assumed again all power, and has become lord of all creatures on earth. No one has followed him in this.

22 We are truly also in death, but at the same time we are in heaven like Christ. Sin and death rule within us, but they have not been able to conquer Christ; nay, in his hand and in his power are life and death, as he says in John 10:17-18: “Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” No one but Christ obtains such power that all things are subject to him. Although before the world he was dead, yet he lived before God, his Father; and although before the world he was in great disgrace and shame, he was yet greatly honored by God. But all this he did only for our sakes. For in the fall of our first father Adam, we are all fallen. Christ had to atone for this fall by his disgrace, shame, ignominy and death, so that we might again obtain honor and life.

23 Christ rebukes Nicodemus here again, as he had done before when be said: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” He says in effect: You presume to ascend into heaven and to escape from hell, but you will fail. Flesh and blood cannot enter into heaven. Only he ascends into heaven, who has come down from heaven, so that the control of all may be in his hands. He can destroy all that lives, make alive all that is dead and make poor all that is rich. It is then here determined that nothing can enter into heaven that is born of the flesh. But Christ's ascent into heaven, as well as his descent to us, was for our benefit, so that we, who are carnal, might also enter heaven. Yet it is only on the condition that first our mortal body must perish. In short, we cannot effect anything by our own works, for God will save us only through Christ, who alone is the ladder by means of which we ascend into heaven. How this ascent into heaven is granted to us, how it becomes our own, Christ explains when he says:

V.14, 15. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life.”

24 What does Christ mean by this? He means that all who would enter heaven and follow him must become new creatures; he ascended into heaven that we might follow him. The narrative to which Christ refers is written in Num 21. 6-9: “And Jehovah sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, because we have spoken against Jehovah, and against thee; pray unto Jehovah, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the standard: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.”

25 Christ uses this Scripture to point to himself; his reference is as if to say: Just as the Jews in the desert, who were bitten by fiery serpents, were saved by looking upon the serpent of brass, which Moses set upon a standard, so it is also with regard to me. None who looks upon me will perish; that is, all those who have an evil conscience, are tormented by sin and death, should believe that I have come down for their sakes and have ascended again. Then neither sin nor death shall harm them; nay, they shall not perish in all eternity. Whoever would enter heaven and be saved, must be saved by this serpent, which is Christ; otherwise he will perish. Thus, this Gospel condemns freewill and everything of human accomplishment and points only to this serpent.

26 The spiritual significance of the narrative in Numbers is this: The serpent, which bit and poisoned the Jews is sin, death and an evil conscience. I know that I must die and that I am under the power of death; I cannot free myself and must remain in this state until a dead serpent is set up for me, one which, because it is not alive, can harm no one, but rather benefit, as did the serpent of Moses. Now, this is Christ. I see him hanging on the cross, not beautiful nor greatly honored. If his death upon the cross were in fashion to win for him the plaudits of men, the flesh might say that he deserved his honors and his exaltation by his works. But I see him hanging in disgrace on the cross, like a murderer and malefactor; thus, reason must say that he is cursed before God. The Jews believed that this was true and they could only consider him the most cursed of all men before God and the world, for they remembered this passage in the Law of Moses: “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” Deut 21:23.

27 Moses had to set up a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery serpents, but did not bite or harm any one, nay, it rather saved the people. Thus, Christ also has the form and the appearance of a sinner, but has become my salvation; his death is my life; he atones for my sin and takes away from me the wrath of the Father. The living, fiery serpent is within me, for I am a sinner, but in him is a dead serpent; he was indeed regarded a sinner, but he never committed any sin.

28 If, then, man believes that the death of Christ has taken away his sin, he becomes a new man. The carnal, natural man cannot believe that God will gratuitously take away and forgive us all our sins. Reason argues in this manner: You have sinned, you must also atone for your sin. Then it invents one good work after another and endeavors to take away sin by good works. But the Gospel of Christ is: If you have fallen in sin, another must atone for you, if a man believes this, he becomes one with Christ, and has everything that is Christ's.

29 This Gospel, then, signifies that our works are nothing, and that all human power can do is useless, but faith in Christ does it all.

[[Luther published two sermons for John 3:1-15. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 1-7; the other in verses 8-12 (Part I) and 13-15 (Part II).]]

Sermon for Trinity Sunday; John 3:1-15 (2nd Sermon)


1 This is another beautiful Gospel and treats of the foremost and chief doctrine in Christendom, namely, the article, How a person becomes holy and righteous in the sight of God. And there is here placed before us a beautiful allegory, showing how reason at its best and holiness in its highest state on earth run aground upon the genuine truth and spiritualness of this matter. For this person, Nicodemus, is highly praised by the Evangelist John, who states that he was great both as to the esteem with which he was regarded among his fellow men, and also as to his beautiful life in accordance with the Law. He was a ruler of the Jews, that is. a counselor in their governmental affairs; and in addition a Pharisee, that is, one of the most learned men, for they were regarded as the wisest. Moreover, he was one of the most pious men; for the members of this sect. were considered the greatest saints. Thus, no fault or blame can be laid on him, and he cannot be made greater: in the government he is a ruler, in knowledge the wisest, and in his life the saintliest.

2 Above these, there is in him another grace, namely, that he has a fondness for Christ, the Lord. This was a virtue far above the other three. The other rulers and Pharisees, though they were the wisest and holiest men, persecuted Christ and allied him with the devil; and no one dared to grumble at their decision; for the grumbler was expelled from the council and unchurched. Still, Nicodemus is so holy as to love Christ and to approach him in secret in order to speak with him and show his love for him.

3 Indeed, he must have been a particularly excellent man among the Pharisees and a man as truly pious as he could be by nature and according to the Law, earnestly seeking the truth and inquiring how and what men were teaching and preaching. Being a wise man, he also observed that this Jesus must be an extraordinary person, and was moved by his miracles to desire to hear him personally and to speak with him regarding his doctrine. For, no doubt, he had heard and learned that John the Baptist recently had introduced a new sort of preaching and baptism and had proclaimed the Messiah, who was then coming, while he had sharply and severely attacked and reproved the Pharisees, as this man is now also doing. Accordingly, he is moved to go to him and to hear what it is that he teaches, and what he is reproving. For an intelligent person like himself cannot understand why there should be anything deserving censure or blame in the Pharisees’ holy life according to the Law and in their beautiful works.

4 Therefore, he goes to Christ with thoughts like these: Christ will rejoice to see me come and will be highly pleased because such a great and excellent man, one of the rulers and of the best of men, so humbles himself and shows such honor to a lowly person like Christ as to go to him and to seek his friendship, a thing Christ dare not expect of anyone. Thus he sets out in a pleasant mood, expecting to be made welcome and to be very kindly received. Nor has he the least fear that possibly he may be reproved or put to school, but he imagines that, since he is acting like a good friend, Christ will in turn treat him respectfully and kindly. Occasionally it still may happen that an earnest preacher is deceived by a person of this sort and allows the good opinion expressed to tickle him, causing him to flatter and fawn in turn.

5 Nicodemus, then, begins with these words: V.2. “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God” etc. That is great praise for this preacher, by which Nicodemus offers his testimony that Christ’s doctrine is from God; that is, that it is genuine truth and God’s Word, notwithstanding Christ was not thus esteemed by all the Pharisees and rulers, but rather considered a seditious spirit and an impostor who had come forward without a commission from the proper authorities, and, in opposition to them, would attach the people to himself etc. Nevertheless, since Christ introduces a doctrine other than that which they had learned heretofore from the Law, and since he assails the Pharisees so vigorously, Nicodemus is as yet perplexed and desires to know what better and different things Christ can possibly teach.

His remarks are as if to say: We see and know very well that your doctrine is beyond reproach and censure and must be true and divine; and whoever wants to bear witness to the truth must so confess. For this is proven by the signs and wonders which you do and which no other ever has done nor can do. However, what do you mean by bringing forward another doctrine and by reproving us? Are our doctrine and works, then, vain and valueless? What do you find in them to censure? We surely have the Law of Moses, which, without a doubt, was given by God. Why, then, do you reprove us when we exert ourselves with all diligence to keep and fulfill the Law, as though God had no pleasure therein and we could not thereby enter heaven? And why do you receive publicans and other manifest sinners instead? What other and better things with which to please God can be taught or practiced?

6 Thus you see that the question which Nicodemus seeks to have answered by Christ is none other than, How may a person lead a righteous life in the sight of God or, as the apostles express it, how become righteous and obtain eternal life? To this question Christ returns a curt and dry answer; he shows himself an altogether different person than Nicodemus had expected to find him. First, he affronts Nicodemus rather harshly, and repels him, as it were, with a thunderbolt, saying:

V.3. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

7 This is a hard text indeed, and an unfriendly reply to so friendly a greeting. For with these words he upsets all pretensions of Nicodemus; yea, he demolishes and condemns all his works and life. He means to say: You consider me not qualified to censure your beautiful discipline and worship as Pharisees, and unable to teach anything better; that is, you do not regard me more than a teacher and instructor of human works, even as you place no higher esteem on your Messiah and expect him to be no more than a person who will praise and laud, guard and keep, your Law and regulations, and who on that account will place you in high honor and authority. But since you take me for a master come from God, I will tell you something that you have not heard before and do not know: My dear Nicodemus, do not imagine that you will please God and be saved by your life and works, no matter how beautiful and precious they may be, even though they be according to the Law.

Although it is true that God has given the Law and demands that you keep it, still you are not righteous in God’s sight on that account; for it is one thing to have the Law and another to fulfill it. It is far from being fulfilled by your outward performance of its works. It must be kept wholly and perfectly, with body and soul, and from the innermost heart, without any disobedience and sin whatever. You Pharisees and self-righteous people are not doing this; for you imagine that you can give God his due by outward holiness, and, relying on and being secure in such holiness, you live in a false confidence, void of the fear of God, yea, you despise his wrath against sin. Moreover, you despise and condemn other people who do not regard your holiness highly and do not pattern after it.

8 To state the matter briefly, he says: Your life and works, which you consider holy, and those of all Pharisees, yea, of all men, are void and avail nothing in the sight of God. A change must take place by which a person is born anew, that is, he must become an entirely different person; otherwise he cannot enter the kingdom of God. There, now, you hear what is my doctrine, about which you have inquired. I do not teach in opposition to the Law of God, to destroy it, but I only charge you with not having kept it, yea, with not understanding it, though you pretend to be its instructors and imagine that you are fulfilling it. You imagine that I ought to preach the Law, the same as you do, and that if the laws of Moses, which you claim to have kept, are not sufficient, I ought to bring to you a new and better law teaching good works, just as you set up many self-elected works in addition to God’s Law, as though you had already fulfilled it.

9 But I am not telling you of new articles, laws or works, for those the Law enjoins are already more than you can do and keep. But I teach that you must become altogether different persons. My teaching is not concerning what you must do or not do, but concerning what you must become. It aims not at the performance of new works, but first at being born anew; not at a different life, but at a different birth. It will not do to put the end before the beginning, or alongside of it; to expect fruit before or as soon as there is a root. The tree must first be made new and there must be a good and proper root, if the fruits and works are to be good. It is not the hand and foot or their actions that must be changed, but the person, that is, the entire man. If this has not taken place, works are of no value and of no avail whatever and a person cannot see the kingdom of God; in other words, he must remain under the condemnation of sin and everlasting death.

10 This was, verily, strange and unheard-of preaching, and a rough and surly answer to our holy Nicodemus who had come to the Lord wellintentioned and thinking that he was in the right way. He had expected least of all that Christ would or could condemn his goodly life and his zeal in keeping the Law. On the contrary, he had hoped that Christ would have to praise them as an example to others, or that he would urge him to continue, or would suggest to him some other work which he was yet to do. Such he was prepared to hear and to do. And now he hears instead that Christ utterly rejects him and condemns all his good and holy living, thus proceeding in an altogether absurd manner. He praises Christ as a good man; Christ in turn accosts him, saying: And you are a bad man. He gives honor to Christ and calls him a teacher come from God; Christ in turn tells him that both his doctrine and life are wrong and have already been ruled out of heaven. For what else is the meaning of his words than this: You are doing many beautiful works and imagine yourself to be holy and without reproach, so that you must needs please God. But I tell you, all that you have done in your past life, or that you may still do in this life, is lost labor and condemned in God’s sight, and not only your works but also your heart and your entire nature — all that you are and all that you do. All must be put aside; the tree with its root and fruits must be cast out and burned, and a new tree must be created.

11 Thus, this first part of Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus is nothing else than a real, sharp call to repentance. Christ, like a faithful preacher, takes pity on Nicodemus because he is so ignorant and still very far from the kingdom of God. Hence he curtly closes and denies heaven to him, yea, he condemns him and hands him over to the devil, stating that, as he now lives or may be able to live in the future, he can never enter the kingdom of God, but must be lost and remain in the power of the devil, of death and of hell. He does this in order that Nicodemus may be brought to a knowledge of self and attain to a genuine understanding and life before God. Penitential preaching of this sort is particularly needed by people like Nicodemus, who pursue their course in the righteousness of their own works and claim to be holy and righteous in the sight of God because they are blameless in the eyes of the world.

12 Thus, Christ always begins the preaching of the Gospel with this point: He first reveals and teaches that which no man’s reason has gathered or known from the Law, namely, that all men in their natural state and life are condemned and under sin. St. Paul also proves this conclusively in the very beginning of his Epistle to the Romans. And this is the first sentence and conclusion here laid down that, in his natural state and with his every ability, man cannot fulfill the Law of God, though he may attempt to keep it; that keeping the Law does not mean doing its work outwardly, as far as human strength is able; and that, consequently, the Law cannot aid man to become holy in the sight of God nor save him from sin and everlasting wrath.

13 If this were in man’s power and could be brought about in our nature by means of the Law, Christ could not say regarding all men, as he does here: “Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That is certainly saying that man in his old nature, no matter to what eminent height he may attain by his gifts of reason, wisdom and virtue, cannot rid himself of sin nor of the power of death, nor can he please God. In short, there must be an entirely different being; that is, the entire person must be changed so as to obtain an altogether new mind and heart, and new thoughts and feelings.

14 Thus you see overthrown, as by a mighty thunderbolt, all the teaching and boasting of men who undertake to instruct people how to become righteous by the strength and works of human nature, or who would at least have works placed alongside of faith, and who claim that men must contribute something themselves toward their righteousness. For here you are clearly told that a person must be born anew or changed before he can see the kingdom of God or do anything to please God. Now, man surely cannot contribute anything to his birth by his own works; nay, before he can be active at all, his birth must have been accomplished. Then, since a new birth is demanded here, the works and activity of the old birth can never be of any value or aid; in fact, they are all rejected and condemned beforehand.

15 Nor can the claim stand that the works which follow the new birth contribute something toward our righteousness, for the new birth must have occurred before a person can be active by virtue of it; that is, one must first belong to the kingdom and to heaven before he begins to do works that are pleasing to God. But this point will be more fully explained by the following verses, in which Christ states’ the process of the new birth. We have here only the introduction, in which he overthrows the Pharisee’s conceit and establishes the contrary doctrine. On hearing this Nicodemus becomes perplexed, and because he does not know what to make of Christ’s words, he blurts out and says:

V.4. “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

16 He wishes to say: What a queer and absurd statement and teaching that is! Who ever heard of a person being born anew, or that it is at all possible to be born differently from the way in which one has been born? What do you mean by proposing and demanding such an impossible thing? If you wish to teach people, you must tell them something that a human being can do. This is the answer which the wisdom and reason of men return to the preaching of repentance and of the new birth, by which the Law receives its true glory. And, indeed, they must answer thus, because they do not know otherwise. Owing to that outward training in a holy lift which a person can obtain by his own strength, provided he hear the Law, Nicodemus cannot endure to hear these things so commendable in the eyes of the world shall all be counted worthless and shall be condemned, especially since there are very few men who thus lead a beautiful and virtuous life. All the rulers of this world, intelligent, wise and great though they are, consider it harmful teaching to depreciate such a beautiful life, and on that account charge the Gospel with aiming to forbid good works etc.

17 However, by so doing, they testify to their own blindness and ignorance in these divine matters. Nicodemus, who passes for a teacher and instructor, by the confession of his own mouth seals his wisdom with greater foolishness, because he is dreaming about a natural birth from father and mother and imagines that he comprehends Christ’s meaning and has effectually blocked his aim. Such is the corrupt habit of human reason, which ever assumes to pass judgment on the Word of God and to act as its tutor, though is does not understand it. As if Christ, whom Nicodemus has to acknowledge a teacher come from God, were not wise enough himself to know that a person cannot be born again in physical birth, and that such a birth would not benefit him! And, indeed, Christ himself meets this conception.

V.5. “Jesus answered: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

18 He means to say: You need not instruct me how to express myself. I know very well what! have said, and in order that you may know that a person does not enter the kingdom of God by his own ability, I say again that he must be born differently, or he cannot enter. However, I do not speak of natural birth, of one’s descent from father and mother, of which you are dreaming because you know of no other birth; but I am speaking of a different birth, a new birth, of water and the Spirit. You ‘certainly have heard me reject this very birth from father and mother by which you and all other men, Jews or not Jews, have been born. Even were! to grant this to be the meaning of a person’s new birth, still, a person might be born over again from his mother’s womb as many as a hundred times, and yet every new birth of this kind would not be different nor better that the former. The reason he declares as follows:

V.6. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

19 These are two clear sayings by which he overthrows the Pharisee’s conception and dream of a natural birth, and explains his opening remarks, in which he had stated that, unless a person receives a different birth, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The term, “that which is born of the flesh,” defines all that man is, and is able to do, according to his human nature in its present state, since Adam. For the Scripture significance of “flesh” is the natural man, in his human sense, born from father and mother, as he lives, works, thinks, speaks, and acts, no matter when, how often, or of whom he is born, or whether he is called a Jew or a gentile. John 1:12 speaks of being born of blood, that is, born in the natural way, from the holy fathers, or obtaining birth through the will of man and therewith accepting membership among the people and children of God. All this is nothing but flesh, that is, it is void of the Spirit. However, to be void of the Spirit means nothing else than what he terms not being able to enter the kingdom of God, that is, being condemned in sin, under the wrath of God, to everlasting death.

20 This certainly is a curt, unvarnished, solemn and awful verdict on all men in their natural state. It lays down the conclusion that by the teaching and works of the Law, such works as man is able to do in accordance with it, no person becomes rid of sin nor is righteous in the sight of God, because his nature is not changed by works but remains what it was before. For this reason no person can, under the Law, enter the kingdom of God nor obtain life everlasting.

21 Again, he says: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” He calls “Spirit” that which God works in us above the ability of human nature, namely, such spiritual knowledge, light and understanding as he reveals to us, to the end that we may know God, turn to him, lay hold of his grace, and cling to him. In order that man may receive these revelations, his heart must first be renewed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that he may learn to know God’s will toward him and may understand the way to obtain grace and everlasting life.

22 The preaching and teaching of the Law alone cannot do this; it, indeed, demands works and obedience of us, but since these things are not possible to our nature, which is characteristic of the very reverse, the only effect of the Law, when correctly understood, is to make us guilty and to condemn us to everlasting hell under the wrath of God. And it is for this purpose that it must be preached, for it was given by God to the end that man should learn this truth first. Now, if man is not to remain under condemnation, but is to look to God for grace and comfort, the preaching of a different word must be added. We are here told that such word is the preaching and office of the Holy Spirit, revealed and brought down from heaven by Christ, the Son of God. Christ speaks of this office now and explains more fully later.

23 Thus there is shown us by this passage the reason for what the first part of this discourse has stated, namely, the reason why a person cannot enter the kingdom of God in the nature he has by birth, and why another birth is necessary, one which must be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Christ rebukes here not only human ignorance and error, but he also begins to teach what the new birth is and how it takes place, although he does not here include all parts which belong to it, but shows, in the first place, only causas efficientes, the causes and means from which this new birth springs and by which it is effected. Later he will tell how it is acquired, and by whom; also the way to receive it. Therefore, we must look at these words a little more closely, so as to learn what being born of water and the Spirit means.

24 Note, in the first place, that he directs Nicodemus to the external ordinance in the Church, namely, to preaching and baptism, because he says that one must be born of water and the Spirit. He is speaking of the ordinance which had been introduced by John the Baptist, the forerunner and servant of Christ. The Pharisees and Nicodemus knew this very well, because they had seen it. By pointing him to this ordinance, Christ wishes to confirm the preaching and baptism of John as institutions that are to be in force and operation forever, and are appointed by God for the purpose of the new birth, and so it is that no one shall go to heaven who does not accept them or who despises them. It is as if he were to say: If you wish to see the kingdom of God at all, you will all have to accept this very preaching and baptism that John practiced, and which you Pharisees were unwilling to accept because you would not suffer yourselves to be reproved by him and were offended at his new and unheard of preaching against your holiness by the Law. All your Mosaical and legal washings, purification’s, sacrifices, worship and holiness will be of no help nor benefit to you. You can enter the kingdom of heaven and be saved in no other way than by this ordinance which preaches Christ and baptizes in his name.

25 This ordinance he magnifies by stating that it is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, by which a person is born anew; that it is not simply baptizing with water, but that the Holy Spirit also is present. A person thus baptized, is baptized not with water only, but with the Holy Ghost. The presence of the Spirit could not be claimed for any other washings and baptisms with water, such as the ceremonial washings of the Jews, else a new baptism would not have been necessary; and it could not be claimed that another means aside from the Mosaical Law and form of worship was necessary for a person’s new birth of the Spirit. The reason is plainly this, because through the Mosaical ceremonies the Holy Spirit is not bestowed and does not act.

26 Thus he shows that there is no other means by which a person is born anew and enters the kingdom of God than the office of preaching and baptism, and that the Holy Spirit is connected with this office and by its means operates in the hearts of men. He does not speak of the Spirit in his hidden and unknown qualities, such as he is in his divine person and essence, without the means by which he has revealed himself, but of the Spirit as revealed in the external ordinance, by which he is heard and seen, namely, by the office of Gospel preaching and the administration of the Sacrament. God does not intend to come and act through his Holy Spirit secretly and privily, nor deal with each individual in a particular manner; in that case, who could know for certain where and how to seek and find the Holy Spirit? But he has ordained that the Holy Spirit shall be revealed to the ears and eyes of men by the Word and Sacrament, and shall be active through this external ordinance, so that men may know that the effects which there take place are truly caused by the Holy Spirit.

27 Therefore, the words “Except one be born anew of water and the Spirit,” are equivalent to saying, A person must be born anew by the preaching of the Gospel and the ordinance of baptism, by which the Holy Spirit operates. For by means of the Word he enlightens the heart and reveals God’s wrath against sin; and, on the other hand, by showing us the grace of God which has been promised for the sake of his Son, Christ, he so kindles our hearts that we begin to believe and soon turn to God, take comfort from his grace and call upon him. And in order to rouse and strengthen our faith he adds baptism as a sure sign, along with the Word, to show that he washes away and blots out our sin and promises at all times firmly to keep for us this grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit which he has promised us. Of this more shall be said at another time.

28 Observe from this text how Christ in plain words ascribes to baptism, which he calls water, such glory and power as to say that the Holy Spirit is present in it, and that by its means a person is born anew. By this statement all false doctrines and errors against the doctrine of faith and baptism are overthrown. Among them, in the first place, is that of the papists, and others like them, who seek to obtain righteousness and salvation by their own works. For you are told here that a person’s own merit and holiness, which he possesses by his old birth from flesh and blood, or has achieved by following his own choice and imagination, are insufficient and avail nothing toward this end. There must be a new birth by holy baptism, toward which man can contribute nothing himself, but through the will and grace of God the Holy Spirit is bestowed by means of the preaching of the Word and by water, which act as father and mother at this new birth by which one becomes a new, pure and holy person and an heir to heaven.

29 In the second place, the pretense of the Anabaptists and kindred sects is here overthrown, who teach people to seek the Spirit outside of and without the Word and Sacraments, by special revelations and operations from heaven, without means etc. Yea, they despise blessed baptism, considering it no more than mere useless water. Hence they are in the habit of saying blasphemously: What can a handful of water benefit the soul? However, Christ says clearly that the Holy Spirit is present with this water, and states that a person must be born anew of this water. He certainly refers to real, natural water, such as John used and as he commanded his disciples to use when baptizing. Therefore St. Paul in Ephesians 5:26, calls baptism a washing of water by which the Church of Christ is cleansed, and in Titus 3:5, he calls baptism the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

30 Yea, Christ so orders his words in this passage as to place at the head “water” and after it the “Spirit,” to indicate that we must not look for the Spirit without and outside of the external means, but know that the Spirit intends to operate in, through, and with the external means and ordinance. Hence both must remain united, and a person must be born anew, of water, by the Holy Spirit, or of the Holy Spirit with and by water. Aside from this instance, it is quite true that, if there were water only without the Spirit, there would be no greater effects than in other water and washings, and there certainly would not result a new birth. For this reason, this birth is called a birth, not of water only, but also of the Spirit, besides and with the water. The Holy Spirit acting at this birth is the male, and the water is the female part, or mother.

31 Moreover, you gather from these words that baptism is not such an unnecessary thing as the sect of the Anabaptists blasphemously claims, stating that one can easily omit it or put it off till old age; or gabbling that baptism is of no benefit to infants, merely because they do not understand how it can be. There is here a plain saying which includes all men in this divine ordinance, namely, that all who wish to enter the kingdom of God must be born anew of water and the Spirit. Hence, it will not do at all to despise this matter, or to put it off, for that would be willfully despising and setting aside the ordinance of God. Such an action, indeed, could not be taken with the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Moreover, it is certain that Christ does not exclude infants in this passage, but they are embraced in it, and if they are to enter the kingdom of God, baptism is to be communicated and administered to them. He assuredly would have them born anew and desires to operate in them. In another place he commands that they shall be brought to him and says that of such as are brought is the kingdom of heaven. Now, if they are to come to Christ, they must not be denied the means and symbols by which Christ operates in them.

32 But this I say of the common ordinance and rule, which ought to be observed wherever and whenever baptism can be obtained. In an extreme case, where it cannot be obtained, there must be exceptions, just as in similar cases of necessity; then the desire to be baptized must suffice, and the person must be brought to Christ and offered to him on the strength of his Word. Of this matter I do not wish to speak further at present. Now, this is what Christ has stated regarding regeneration by the baptism of water and the Spirit. He continues:

V.7, 8. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

33 It seems a marvelous and rare saying to Nicodemus, the wise, intelligent, holy Pharisee, that his work and holiness, and that of all men as well, is so utterly rejected that it is of no avail in the sight of God; that he must let go of it all, no matter how many and how great things he may have accomplished in his life; and that he must become another man. There is really nothing better of which Nicodemus has knowledge or that he understands how to do. Also, he is directed preeminently to this ordinance, in which nothing is done or seen except the external ceremony of baptizing one with water, and the hearing of the Word; and he is to believe that through the reception of these such a change takes place in one that he is born anew and becomes pure, holy and righteous in the sight of God, all of which blessings cannot be attained in any way by human work and ability. Alas! he muses, how is this possible? What can be accomplished by such an insignificant matter as being baptized or bathed with water? Is it not a matter of far higher merit to exercise one’s self with great earnestness and diligence in good works and holy worship according to the Law and to shine in the splendor of a beautiful, upright life and of great virtue? Can you name and extol anything nobler and better in all the world?

34 While the Pharisee is thus musing and wondering, Christ replies, explaining to him by a parable what he had said about the new birth of water and the Spirit; he tells him that this matter is not to be considered by the rule of reason, which has regard to the brilliancy of meritorious works and exemplary life and admires them, imagining that they must be as commendatory in the sight of God as in its own estimation. My dear Nicodemus, he says, I will tell you how this takes place: Your conception of the matter is not the right one; you view it as you would anything perceptible to the senses or to reason. But this is a matter which is beyond the fathom of human reason and thought, and it is accomplished in man by the Holy Spirit.

35 Its process in the heart is similar to the phenomenon of the wind, which blows and blusters when and where it will, and passes through all that grows and moves and lives in creation. In the case of the wind there is no more than a breath or air, which lies still for a while but suddenly begins to move, to blow and rush, and you do not know whence it comes. Now it blows here, now there, producing all kinds of sudden changes of weather, and yet you cannot see it nor conceive what it is; you only hear it rushing. You notice its presence, its stir and motion upon the water or in the fields of corn, but you cannot tell, when it strikes you, when or where or at what distance from you it took its start and how far beyond you it will stop blowing, nor can you appoint time, space and measure for its coming and going. In brief, it is in no man’s power at all to bind and rule the wind, to start or to calm it; it moves freely, of its own accord, and does its work without let or hindrance, when, where, and in what manner it pleases. No man can do ought in this matter, nor discover the process and origin, but as Psalm 135:7 says, God brings it out of his treasuries and secret places, which no man knows beforehand, nor can discover.

36 “So is every one,” he says, “that is born of the Spirit.” You must not stand gaping to see great and excellent works of specious holiness which strike the eye. You must not attempt to estimate and grasp these spiritual matters with your reason and according to the Law and external aspect, examining what great works the person is doing who is entitled to be called a person born anew and an heir of heaven, and how he is living and conducting himself. This matter cannot be thus grasped and comprehended, nor can it be pictured and represented in such a manner that we could say: Behold that person; he is a pious Jew and, moreover, a Pharisee who keeps the Law with great earnestness and diligence, hence he is a living saint and a child of God etc. But this new birth which begets children of God, or righteousness in the sight of God, is quite a different thing. It takes place in one’s heart, not by a person’s own choice or action — for that is all flesh and cannot see the kingdom of God — but by the word of the Gospel, which reveals to the heart both the wrath of God against men — inducing repentance — and his grace through the Mediator, Christ, for the consolation and peace of their conscience in the sight of God.

37 No peculiar or glorious manifestation, indeed, will be seen outwardly in this exalted and supreme work, for there is nothing required for it but the Word and water, which we hear and perceive, and yet the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit is present, kindling and quickening the heart unto true fear of God, true confidence and comfort in his grace, and also unto true prayer, thus renewing the heart and causing a person who receives the Word into his heart to overcome God’s wrath, and sin, death, the flesh and the world, to turn to God sincerely and to conceive a desire and love for everything good.

38 These are genuine, living works of the Holy Spirit, far greater and more glorious than the righteousness of man’s works, which latter possess indeed a great glamour, and are much vaunted in the eyes of men, but are merely dead things, powerless to change in any wise the heart, and which are not followed by genuine and unfailing comfort, and transformation of life. Man, in his own righteousness, remains in the old carnal state of mind, without repentance, in unbelief and doubt, in secret contempt, disobedience, hatred of and enmity against God. This is afterward evident in the real conflict and terror of conscience, where actual flight from God, despair and finally impatience and blasphemy against God, ensue.

39 Such are the genuine fruits of the great and beautiful holiness of Pharisees. Their holiness is without the knowledge of Christ and without faith, and yet claims to be righteous and holy by the rule of the Law. In the end, the great and knotty problem arises which Paul in Romans 7:13 calls sin aroused by the Law. Sin is made exceedingly sinful by it; that is, it is made great and grievous, submerging a person and causing him. to perish in everlasting death. Yet, previously, that same sin and hidden malice of the heart was for a while covered with the outward show of great and holy works in obedience to the Law, permitting the person to live secure in his carnal mind and, as St. Paul says, without the Law, that is, without a genuine knowledge and perception of sin and, hence, also utterly without the Spirit.

40 On the other hand, wherever the Holy Spirit is present he effects a new heart and mind in one, who no longer flees from God but, though he knows and acknowledges that he has sinned and merited God’s wrath, still takes comfort from the grace of Christ, which Christ has promised and proclaimed by the Word of God to those who repent and believe. Thus one obtains a childlike heart toward God as his dear Father, and can cheerfully come before him and call upon him by faith in the Mediator, Christ.

41 Such a new heart and life, I say, is wrought in one by the Holy Spirit through no other outward or visible means than through the Word and baptism, though these produce no external show whatever. It is effected inwardly, before the least ,change can be seen in a person, and yet Christ says that it truly is, and is called, a birth of the Spirit. Reason and human wisdom cannot comprehend how so significant a work should be accomplished by things apparently so very insignificant. Though reason hears, still it does not believe. Nicodemus, too, is still more startled, wondering at these words, and is rebuked by Christ because he wants to grasp the matter with his reason and not to believe it.

42 We have, accordingly, in this parable a beautiful picture which clearly presents to our eyes the process of this new birth. In the first place, there is the external office of the Word and the power which the Holy Spirit exerts through it. As there are in the wind these two features — the blowing, which is the wind itself, and the sound, which is heard without, though the blowing is not seen nor felt except by the person who receives the force of the wind — in like manner there are two features in the new birth; namely, the Word, which is a physical sound that one hears, and the Spirit, who operates with and by the Word. This power is not seen nor felt by anyone except him whom the Spirit seizes, and yet it certainly occurs wherever the external Word and baptism are agents. The Spirit, accordingly, can be seen and apprehended bodily, as it were, in this external institution, which provides us with a certain sign indicating where we are to look for him and where he operates, although the inward power is concealed to human eyes.

43 Accordingly, as I have stated, you must not understand these words “born of the Spirit” as referring to the Holy Spirit in his invisible and incomprehensible divine essence in heaven, but to the manner in which he must be known and apprehended in the Church here on earth, in the Word and symbols. Hence, where these things are heard and seen one may say: There you hear and see the Holy Spirit. Just as you say of the blowing of the wind: There you hear and see the wind. In brief, all that is accomplished by the office of the Word and baptism must be declared to be effected by the Holy Spirit. Just as Christ in our text calls that person born of the Spirit who has received the Word and baptism or as he says elsewhere, who believes and is baptized, etc. Mark 16:16.

44 In the second place, this parable aptly shows that Christianity is not bound up in external affairs, places, persons, garments and other things, such as the outward holiness of the Jews required. A Christian is set up in the liberty of the Spirit, rid of the Law and all its bonds. He cannot be bound and made captive by any sort of laws, rules or works that may be proposed to him with a view of his becoming righteous through their efficacy in the sight of God. (We are not speaking now Of his outward life, in which he may keep all laws, provided, however, it is done without injury and damage to his spiritual liberty of mind and conscience.) Hence, by faith in the Word and in his baptism he remains a free man, superior to all laws, because he has through Christ forgiveness of sin, the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, and governs his entire life accordingly. Through the Holy Spirit, who operates in his heart, he is now become righteous, and has been quickened into life, and, except as the Holy Spirit by the Word guides and directs him, he does not look for other teaching regarding works of holiness.

45 Hence, as Christ here states, Christianity is like the wind which blows where it will, and yet no one sees or knows whence is comes and whither it goes, through what distance or extent it passes. In like manner, the Spirit in a Christian cannot be confined by rules and teachings, nor can it be determined by reason, but it must be untutored and unjudged by everybody, as St. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 2:15. It is not felt, heard and manifested outwardly except in the Word and in its proclamation, by which everybody must be governed, without regard to the persons of men who preach it, no matter how great and holy they are; the only requirement is that they exercise the office and Word of the Spirit aright.

46 However, it is and always will be strange, a thing at which human wisdom will be offended and scandalized, that such a significant, sublime, divine work should be accomplished in so humble and mean a way, by the puny voice of a poor mortal who utters only these words: I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and again: By the command of the Lord Christ I announce to thee the forgiveness of sins, etc. There is nothing in these acts but the breath or sound of the words which strike the ear, and yet these great things are claimed to be accomplished by it, namely, that you are cleansed from sins, saved from everlasting death, quickened and made a new-born child of God.

47 Much pain and labor are involved before a person is naturally born into this world; ten months he must lie in his mother’s womb, and afterwards both mother and infant are in extreme danger of losing their lives in the birth which ushers man into only this miserable mortal life. But in this case of the new birth it is so easy and so soon accomplished that no work could be easier. There is only the Word spoken to one and he is baptized with water, and yet the effect — provided only the heart lays hold by faith — is so significant that the person in that moment is born to everlasting life and snatched out of everlasting death and hell.

48 However, it is part of the perverse arrogance of reason that it wants, in so momentous a matter, to decide and to pass judgment, according to its conceptions, its way of looking at the matter, and after the standard of greatness as it appeals to the senses, refusing to regard the will of God and to recognize his ordinance, when he has issued his word of command in this matter, and hence it is he who is himself preaching, baptizing and operating through the external means. Divine results would necessarily follow, even if he were to produce them through external means still more insignificant. That is the reason why Christ so harshly assails and rebukes Nicodemus, who undertakes to form his judgment here on the ground of his wisdom.

V.9-11. “Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.”

49 Here you can see how into Nicodemus’ comprehension has utterly failed to enter what Christ had stated regarding the new birth by baptism and had explained by means of a parable, namely, that the true spiritual character of this matter could not be seen with the eye nor judged, determined and grasped, as Nicodemus wished to do, by the wisdom and understanding which he possessed from the teaching of the Law. He is so confounded by Christ’s reply that he steps back forthwith, and cannot help being offended at Jesus because the latter proposes what, in his opinion, is an absurd idea. His attitude is as if to say: Is only this single act of baptizing a man with water to be of value, and shall the Law, which God has explicitly commanded us to keep and which he has ‘confirmed with great signs, be pronounced worthless and void? How is it possible that your baptism is such a momentous affair when a person cannot see at all its effects?

50 Before finishing the discourse which he had begun, Christ returns a scathing and solemn answer, in order to show Nicodemus his ignorance and to rebut his carnal notion. Why, he says, you are a teacher of Israel, that is, a person whose duty it is to teach and govern the people of God, and are you so utterly ignorant of these things? Is it not a shame that you who have been appointed to instruct and wish to be extolled as teacher of other people, possess no true perception whatever of these divine things? In what respect are you better than heathen, who are not the people of God and have not God’s Word? For you have no knowledge except that of human works of holiness, such as intelligent and wise men among the heathen also teach. You are utterly ignorant of the teaching which ought to be common knowledge in the Church, regarding Christ, the kingdom of God, and authentic spiritual things. And yet you have the Word of God abundantly in Moses and the Scriptures. You ought to teach the people from the Law to know the wrath of God against their sin, and, in consequence, to seek grace by faith in the promise of Christ. Instead you have perverted everything; you have no knowledge nor experience of genuine repentance, and yet you parade your holiness, secure and insolent, confirming yourselves and others in contempt of God and in unbelief, and with all this, you are dreaming about a Messiah who shall crown you for your Jewish holiness and give you the dominion of the world. Such things you do who pretend to be the foremost people on earth, and by so doing you go farther away from the kingdom of God and merit for yourselves more grievous punishment than others, even manifest sinners. who are more easily instructed and converted than you who pose as great saints.

51 That I call reading him a good, sharp lesson. However, it is done in a friendly spirit, because Christ is talking to a person who, unlike the rest, is not stubbornly despising Christ; and this admonition is necessary in order that he may show Nicodemus the way out of his ignorance, and to rouse his attention to instruction on the subject of how he is to enter the kingdom of God and heaven. Accordingly, he proceeds:

V.11. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen,” etc.

52 You who pretend to be teachers have no knowledge and understanding of things which should be understood by everyone in that society of men called the people of God. And yet, you refuse to believe the teachings which are apparent from the Word and testimony of God, and you judge simply according to your notions. No, it will not do that with your blind and uncertain conceptions you should act as tutors in the things of our definite teaching and testimony, and that you dispute their truth. How much will a pupil learn who starts out by questioning the correctness of his master’s teaching and wanting to be master himself before he has begun to learn? If you have no knowledge and understanding, you must not pass judgment and pretend to be smart in this matter. If you have not seen these things, we have — John and all my prophets; and we are not offering you uncertain fancies, such as a person spins out of his own head, but the doctrine which God has revealed and has had witnessed by the Holy Spirit. It is useless for you to try to accept this doctrine by your reason, or to grasp, to see with your eyes, to feel, how this new birth of man takes place, in the same way that you behold and grasp your works of external worship. You must lock up your reason and open only your ears and your heart, and believe what God’s Word tells you, which Word we have surely received from God with the command to teach and to testify unto it.

53 If you wish to know which is the way, listen: You must believe and receive the Word, and let go of your notions which undertake to comprehend and encompass matters that no reason can understand nor attain unto. Else what need would there be of teaching God’s Word which I have heard and received from the Father, as also John and the prophets have received it by divine revelation from the Holy Spirit and have borne witness unto it? Thus St. Peter in his Second Epistle 2 Peter 1:21, says that no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. For this reason he commands that nothing is to be taught in the Church except that which we know for certain to be God’s Word, not what seems good and right to human reason and wisdom.

54 Therefore, Christ very properly rebukes his Jewish teachers who would rule and instruct men’s consciences in the matter of their relation to God without certain testimony from God’s Word, and who would harmonize their teaching with human reason. The result of such practice leaves the hearer in doubt and uncertainty, confused with heathenish notions of men and never arriving at the true knowledge and experience of the truth.

V.12. “If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things?’

55 I have hitherto told you of earthly things — how a person must be born of water and the Spirit, that is, how the Spirit operates through the external office of the Word and of baptism — things which you can see and grasp with your understanding. You have heard my doctrine expressed in a parable, in a figure of things familiar to you, and you are forced to confess that I have spoken correctly. Now, if you are unwilling to believe the things presented to you in a material way, much less will you be able to believe if I tell you of things not earthly but heavenly and pertaining to the counsel of God, which no one knows except God alone and he who comes from heaven, namely, the Son of God. Whoever wishes to comprehend in any measure the things of heaven must hear and believe him alone who is come from heaven, and who has seen and who testifies of these things. He says:

[[Luther published two sermons for John 3:1-15. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 1-7; the other in verses 8-12 (Part I) and 13-15 (Part II).]]


V.13. “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven?

56 Here he begins to speak of infinite and heavenly matters — of the secret, eternal, unspeakable counsel and will which God framed in eternity. And thus he completes the second part of this discourse regarding the new birth, that is, how a sinful person becomes righteous, a child of God and an heir of heavenly and eternal life; whence baptism has such power and by whom it has been acquired and merited; also how it must be received. And he now begins to speak of himself as the Messiah promised and sent by God, God’s Son and his office and work. Of these things the Pharisees were in utter ignorance, things which seemed far more strange to them than those he had already told them. They could not at all conceive that their Messiah had to be sent from heaven that he might redeem and propitiate all the world, and particularly his own Jewish people, who were condemned and lost, under the wrath of God, and this notwithstanding they had the Law and the ceremonial of Moses. Much less did they understand that he had to die on the cross, that he must be crucified and become a sacrifice for their sins and the sins of the whole world, and that his dominion was not to be in the nature of an earthly kingdom. To be told these things was utterly offensive and intolerable to them. The reason was because they failed to recognize that the whole nature of man in the sight of God merited only damnation and perdition; and because, in their holiness, they regarded themselves as being without sin, or were so bold as to imagine that they could put away and atone for their sins by their own good works and so would need no Messiah, but only one who would deliver them from their temporal bondage and foreign oppression and who would avenge them upon their enemies.

57 Christ’s words mean: My dear Nicodemus, withdraw your thoughts entirely from your own legal righteousness and holiness, and that of all other men, and be careful not to try to enter the kingdom of God by their merit. All ability of men, no matter how wise, learned and holy they are, is of no avail. It is determined with God from the beginning that no man can enter heaven as he is descended from Adam.

58 Yea, there has never been a saint who in his own merit could go to heaven, no matter who he was, whether Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, John or any other. None of these was distinguished as worthy to enter heaven — to reconcile God, to take away sin and death, to merit eternal life for himself and others. But before man can reach heaven, that is, enter the kingdom of God and receive eternal life, there must first come from heaven One who has eternal righteousness and life in himself, who is able to appease God’s anger and to abolish sin and death. He must be the Mediator by whom we, too, may enter heaven. Yea, for this very purpose One had to come down from heaven and, for our sakes, become flesh and blood like we are; that is, he had to take upon himself our misery and sin.

59 With these words Christ directs us to himself as the point of all that he had said before regarding the new birth and the kingdom of God, that it may be manifest that no one can avail himself of these things except through him and for his sake. Without him, it would be in vain that man should even desire to be delivered from his old birth, to be renewed by the Spirit, and to become pure. For had not One first obtained for us these things no one could have realized them. Nor would there be any virtue in holy baptism and the Spirit if they were not bestowed through him and for his sake. Accordingly, the point on which all now depends is that this person, by whom we, too, may be saved, must be known and apprehended. This fact he sets forth in conclusion.

60 It is thus that he pictures his own person: He is the promised Savior come from heaven, that is, he is the true Son of God from eternity; for if he is come from heaven he must have been with God in eternity. But he is descended from heaven, not as an angel who appears and after a while disappears again, but he has taken upon himself the nature of man and, as John 1:14 says, has dwelt among us on earth. For this reason he here calls himself the Son of man, that is, actual man, having flesh and blood like we have.

61 The signification of this descent of the Son of mart is that he has cast himself down into our misery and affliction, that he has taken upon himself our sins and made himself a sacrifice to the everlasting wrath of God which we had merited by our sins. To this he alludes when he here says that he must be exalted. Now, since this man comes down from heaven, personally he must be without any sin whatsoever, innocent and of divine purity. It cannot be said of him that he was born of flesh, as we are, but of the Holy Ghost; and his flesh is not sinful flesh and blood, but is pure and holy. All this was wrought to the end that he might be able to make our sinful flesh and blood pure and holy by his purity and his holy, immaculate sacrifice.

62 But what do these words import: “The Son of man, who is in heaven”? How is it that he has descended from heaven and is still in heaven? Did he not first ascend in the clouds on the fortieth day after his resurrection? True, he descended into our flesh and blood and humbled himself below all men, unto death on the cross, as a man forsaken and accursed by God. However, he was not in the meantime separated from God, but he remained with God all the time and hence was always in heaven; he exists from eternity, ever beholding his Father and present with him, ruling and working together with him, co-equal in power and might. These features of his omnipotence were not in any wise apparent in his humbled state, when he divested himself of the form of God, as Paul says in Philippians 2:7, and went about in the form of a servant, enduring suffering and death, until such time as he was delivered from this state and was exalted again and sat down at the right hand of God, having now been made Lord over death and hell and all elements of his human nature. All this he has manifested by his visible ascension when he was taken up in the clouds before the eyes of his disciples, and in the same visible manner he shall return and be seen by all men.

63 That is the explanation of the record that the Son of man descended and ascended and at the same time remained in heaven in divine essence and power, and in eternal communion with the Father. He does not have reference to a material change of place but to a spiritual removal from humiliation to exaltation, from his suffering and death to his resurrection and heavenly communion with the Father, in which he is not restricted by material conditions. His divinity and communion with the Father he has had from eternity and has continued in possession of them all the time, even from the moment he took upon himself the limitations of his human nature.

V.14, 15. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life.”

64 Here he shows how we may also enter heaven; that is, he shows what he has done for us and how we are to receive and become partakers of his blessing. With these words he proclaims the grand work of redemption, which was decreed by God in his eternal counsel and which, therefore, had so to be accomplished out of the unutterable and fathomless love of God toward the human race, who would not that it should perish (as we have heard in the Gospel for Pentecost Monday, which follows soon after these words). Since there was not elsewhere any help or redress, any expedient for appeasing his eternal wrath against sin, any hope of redeeming men from everlasting death by the agency of any creature in heaven or earth, the only Son of God had to take our place and become a sacrifice for our sin, thereby to appease God’s wrath and make payment for us. This work now is our salvation and comfort and the power that is operative in baptism to the end that we may become new-born men and enter heaven.

65 This is the teaching: His ascending and descending and his being in heaven pertain to himself, and do not help us. They are his prerogatives and no one can do the same. However, he says: I have all things in my power and dwell in heaven above, yet I do not wish to ascend alone, but to draw men upward with me; they could not otherwise ascend, but if they cling to me it shall be accomplished. I shall suffer myself to be crucified and shall rise. Those who believe that I have died for them, I shall draw after me, although they cannot enter heaven by their own strength. Thus he places us on his shoulders and bears us up to the place to which he ascends. Hence, our salvation is not by our strength, but by that of another. With these words all our works are rejected once more.

66 Now, he introduces a beautiful allegory from Numbers 21:6-9, which aptly depicts Christ. When the Jews were journeying in the desert, the way being long and bread and water failing, they murmured against Moses and became very impatient. Then it was that God sent fiery serpents among them, which bit the people. In the countries toward the South there are great deserts, where no food nor drink is found, and there are also multitudes of noxious vermin. The serpents on this occasion were a particularly vicious kind, for their bite caused such fever and such an unquenchable thirst that people had to die. For this reason they are called fiery serpents, such as the Greeks called Dipsades. There may, however, be another reason for the term, for we read that some of the serpents in those countries are so fiery that when they hiss or give forth breath, there issues, as it were, sheer fire from them.

67 On account of this cruel affliction of the Jews there was much pitiful crying and calling among the people to Moses, but he could give no advice until God took pity upon them and said to Moses: Make thee a brazen serpent, like those which are biting the people, and set it upon a standard. Every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live. “And Moses,” so the story runs, “made a serpent of brass and set it upon the standard, and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.”

68 Behold now, how Christ has been typified in this story. In the first place, the main point is that the Jews, when bitten by serpents, could find no aid not remedy until they were helped by looking at such a simple thing as the brazen serpent. This serpent had the appearance of a real serpent, but it was dead and without venom, yea, it was salutary. Not that the brass could help them; what made it efficient was the fact that there was affixed to it God’s order and this promise: Whoever is bitten and looks at the serpent, shall live. This word was wrapped about the serpent, and by virtue of it the serpent helped the people.

69 Now, Christ makes application to himself and says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” etc. This is the true explanation and interpretation of this allegory, or figure: We, too, have been stung or bitten by the deadly fang of the devil, which is sin. As St. Paul says, sin is a fiery, poisonous bite, or sting. If the poison enters the conscience, there is never any rest. Sin hurls against us and sets upon us death; death drives man, causing him to feel that he is in a veritable hell. And there is no help nor redress. You may do as many works as you please, you are condemned, nevertheless, until this miracle of grace arrives for you; that is, another serpent is raised up which is not poisonous nor harmful and has only the form of a serpent.

70 But why does Christ not choose a different symbol? Why that of the serpent by which men had been bitten? Surely, he might have chosen some other figure. The reason is stated by St. Paul in Romans 8:3: De peccato damnavit peccatum. For sin he condemned sin. He has driven out death by death: he has overcome the Law by the Law. How has he done this? Christ was made a sinner upon the cross, bearing the title of an arch fiend in the midst of knaves. He suffered the judgment and punishment which a sinner must suffer. He was innocent, he never committed any sin; yet, the name of a sinner and the guilt and punishment verily settled upon him, and thus he has abolished sin by taking upon himself the sin which was not his, and by suffering himself to be judged and condemned as a malefactor.

71 Now, although he is indeed innocent, nevertheless he is like unto a sinner, and there is in him a salutary sin, by which he means to save us, who are truly sinners, from the deadly poison. He has condemned sin upon the cross; for sin wronged him when it condemned him and inflicted death upon him. For this reason he now obtains authority over the sin of the whole world and rightly and justly condemns sin, because it tried to condemn him. Accordingly, he now pronounces to all who believe, this verdict of justice in place of their sin: Sin shall not harm. you; for it is become amenable to me and owes me penitence. Therefore it shall either be no sin, or else a sin that has been sentenced.

72 Now, the conclusion which Christ draws is expressed thus: “That whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That is saying as much as was said in regard to the serpent: “Whoever looks unto it shall live.” To look unto Christ crucified is to believe on him. By that act sin is canceled and cannot hurt us; or, if it does hurt us, it shall cause no harm. Accordingly, all depends on looking unto Jesus and not on any work. However, while on the former occasion looking was a physical action, looking in this instance is performed spiritually, in the heart, by believing that Christ by his innocence has destroyed sin.

73 Now, Christ might have died upon the cross a thousand times and we would have been helped just as little as the Israelites would have been helped by raising a thousand serpents of their own accord, if this word of promise had not been issued, namely, as is written: “Whosoever believeth on him shall not perish” etc. This word appropriates and applies to us these blessings and makes us certain that we shall reach heaven; that is, certain that for the sake of this exalted and crucified Christ we shall obtain the grace of God and victory over the power of sin, death and hell, and shall receive eternal life, if we believe on him and are thus borne upward clinging to him.

74 Behold, this is the allegory which faithfully depicts to us the misery and need of our entire human nature, and the office of redemption of Christ our Lord, and the manner of obtaining these blessings we have been discussing. It shows how all men were mortally wounded by the fiery, hellish poison of the devil, and no remedy nor aid could have been procured for them if the Son of God had not been given and had not appeared for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil, as 1 John 3:8 states. And this he did, not by a display of the great power, force and might of his divine majesty, but in the greatest weakness and infirmity, by his suffering and dying, when he hung upon the cross, an accursed, noxious worm. But there is a salutary death in the form of this dead serpent; it brings to all who, by their sins, have been poisoned and tainted unto eternal death, a healing balm by means of which they recover and are saved forever.

75 It is very strange to say and to believe that this salvation is achieved utterly without human co-operation. Yon poor Israelites who had to lie among the fiery serpents were not helped at all, though they tried every remedy that they could secure; they only grew worse the more they labored and the longer they strove to defend themselves against the serpents. And at last, when they had despaired of all help and there was no more comfort and hope, no other plan is proposed to them than this, that they must have raised among them just such a serpent, made of brass — a sight that might have terrified and awed them still more! — and must lift their eyes unto this serpent. And yet, it came to pass that whoever obeyed this word of God recovered forthwith and remained unharmed thereafter.

76 So, in this instance, whoever desires to obtain unfailing aid and salvation against sin and eternal death must hear and follow this strange counsel of God, letting go of every other comfort and endeavor, and must fix his heart upon this Christ alone, who has borne our sins and death in his own body. For it is settled that for our salvation no other name under heaven shall avail except that of Christ crucified. Acts 4:12.

77 Thus, Christ has delivered the entire discourse concerning the new birth, or the righteousness of man in the sight of God, going through all the parts which must needs be taught in this connection, namely, whence and by what means it is effected and how it is obtained. He has instructed us concerning the Word, baptism and the Spirit who works through these means; concerning the merit and sacrifice of Christ, for whose sake the grace of God and eternal life are given us; and concerning faith, by which we appropriate these blessings. Accordingly, you must now so retain the thread of this entire discourse that the end shall agree with the beginning. When you are asked: How does the new birth take place, in which the Spirit through the water and the Word makes a person a child of God? you must answer: In the way that Christ has here stated — it takes place when, over and against the terror on account of your sin, you grasp this comfort, the belief that Christ, the Son of God, is come from heaven for your sake and has been raised upon the cross for you, in order that you should not perish but have eternal life. This faith is the chest, or shrine, which holds the treasure of the forgiveness of sins and the heritage of eternal life, and man is saved by it; as Christ says, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” etc.

[[Luther published two sermons for John 3:16-21. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 16-18; the other in verses 19-21.]]

Sermon for Pentecost Monday; John 3:16-21


1 This is another of the true Gospel lessons, such as John is accustomed to write; for he writes in a way to make him alone worthy the name of an evangelist. Now, as you have often heard, the Gospel teaches nothing but that one must learn to know Christ alone, and so the Holy Spirit teaches nothing more. Therefore, examine only the words themselves; they are weighty, precious and comforting beyond measure. First Christ says:

V.16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

2 Now, notice that Christ represents the Father to us as none else than the all-loving and magnetic one, and he brings us through himself to the Father. Everything Christ does tends to help us to acquire a loving confidence in the Father. To simply fear the Father confers no benefit; but to bear to him a companionable love of rare quality makes us blessed. Now, Christ says here, the Father so loved the world that he gave his beloved child for the world, and instituted for us a way to come to him; that way is Christ. I have often said that faith alone is not sufficient before God, but the price of redemption must also be in evidence. The Turk and Jew, too, believe in God, but without means and mediator.

3 What is now the cost of redemption? Today's Gospel points this out. The Holy Spirit teaches everywhere that we do not possess the Father except through a mediator, and he will not allow us to approach the Father without one. Now, the schools teach us to approach the Father without a mediator, through our own good works. That means to reject Christ as a mediator, as Jeremiah tells us did the godless, who thought and said: Let us send wood to him as his food, and we will root him out of the land, and there will be no remembrance of his name. But their plans did not result as they intended they should. Therefore, let us never join them. It would be at the peril of our lives, for we should be despising the priceless sacrifice which the Father made for us. But let us thank the Father for ordering it as he has, and placing between us one who is God and equal with God, and also man, on a level with man; for we are human and he is God. Where God and man oppose each other, man meets with instant destruction, for he cannot stand against God. God has intervened by placing as mediator one who is alike true God and true man. Through him we are to come to the Father; with the price we can pay nothing is accomplished.

4 Now, the schools teach that man is to be saved by his own works; they say: Whosoever becomes a monk or nun, or repeats every day the little prayer of St. Bridget, shall be eternally saved; and all the books are full of like teachings. This is no less than saying: I will work enough to escape perdition; I will turn my sins into vapor, to disappear and open a way into heaven. They wish to discover the sacrifice or price of salvation in themselves and to ignore Christ as mediator. But they must perish, since they fain would come to the Father without a mediator, without Christ, whom the Father holds up before us out of his gracious goodness. Christ teaches here that we are not lost, but have eternal life; that is, that God has so loved us that he allowed the ransom to cost him his only beloved child. Him he placed in our stead to suffer misery, hell and death, and let him drink our cup to the dregs. This is the way we are to be saved.

5 Now, if there were another way to heaven doubtless he would have made it known to us. There is no other. Therefore, let us cling to the words, firmly pilot our hearts along this way and keep within it, and let us close our eyes and say: If I had the merits of all the saints, the sanctity and purity of all virgins, and the piety of St. Peter besides, still I would not give a fig for all I call my own. I must have another foundation on which to build, namely, the words: God has given his Son, that whosoever believeth on him, whom the Father sent out of love, shall be saved. And let us defiantly boast that we must be sustained. Let us fearlessly establish ourselves upon his words, which neither Satan, hell nor death can overthrow, for the Father mightily writes his Word over these terrors and all that clings to them. Come what will, let us say: Here is God's Word; that is my rock and anchor; to that I cling and that abides; and where that abides, there I abide also. For God cannot lie; sooner would the heavens and earth perish than the smallest letter or tittle of his Word would fail.

6 Notice carefully now that man must have a mediator, and that mediator is Christ. Ascend upon him to the Father, and say: Although I cannot exist before thy majesty nor that of any angel - all must shake and tremble - yet I have here one, Christ, whom thou canst not fail to regard. I am under his protection and rely upon thy Word that thou wilt receive me through him. Thou wilt not reject me, for thou must reject him before thou dost reject me. In this way one must come to the Father through Christ, thereby gaining a beautiful and loving refuge in him.

7 This lifts up and cheers a timid, despairing conscience and gives it peace. Aside from God's Word nothing helps, neither cowls nor tonsures, neither the priesthood nor monkery. No human work, be it called ever so holy, is able to silence God's judgment and give peace to our hearts. God has, out of love, given us his Son, through whom we shall be saved; therefore, let no one make another way than this. Guard yourself against adding to it, for so you would but render it valueless. He who adds to it, leads from the right road upon a branch road that goes into the wilderness. Hence, let not your conscience trust in any work, in any merit of saints, but alone in the Word of God. That will not lie to you, but its promise will be sufficient. Then you will lay hold upon God with his own words; upon them you can build; to them you can anchor your heart and confidence. Now follows, further, in this Gospel:

V.17. “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.”

8 With these words one can apprehend God as he is to be apprehended. You do not seek him; rather he seeks you, and pictures his Son before you as a Saviour and not as a judge. Thus there is developed for you a refuge in the Father.

9 It is a common practice to represent the gracious Saviour as a judge, and from this practice has sprung a dependence upon the merits of saints, causing us to turn away from Christ and take refuge in the saint; We fancy that the saints are more gracious and more kindly disposed to us than even God himself. Therefore, one says, St. Peter is my apostle; another says, St. Paul is my patron; and so on with St. Barbara, St. Erasmus and others. But God cannot permit this; the glory must belong to him. My conscience must rest upon the foundation, the eternal, all-knowing truth, else it is a failure. Now, God alone is the truth, and the conscience must rest upon him and nothing else.

10 If I picture Christ as only a judge, I shall fear him. The result will be that soon I am constrained before him, grow afraid of him and then hate him, and my heart becomes corrupt and blasphemous. But when I know him as the Gospel pictures him, and long for him as the best friend that my heart can choose, then it is well; love soon follows. No friend can do as much for us as he has. I forget father and mother and love him; then I have a strong confidence in him. But if one simply fears him, then that one falls back on his good works and makes no recognition of Christ as mediator, thinking to run into the presence of God without him. In this way he works his own ruin. It is with him as the psalmist says of the fools and godless, Ps 53:5: “There were they in great fear, where no fear was.” And in Prov 28:1 Solomon says: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.” For their stubborn hearts are afraid before Christ, though he is still their best friend, and they run when no one pursues, solely because of their stubborn and false conception of Christ.

11 Then learn from this lesson to know Christ aright and to hold him between yourself and the Father; let him alone be the sacrifice which shall secure heaven and salvation. Oh, when this passage comes to mind in the hour of death, when the test comes, what comfort to meditate on its message - how the Lord came not to condemn the world, but to save it. He who believes, cannot be lost, but will be saved, since it is true that naught accomplishes our salvation except Christ alone, who came to be our Saviour. Then believe on him. In the words we are studying, he calls everybody, and even threatens as well as calls, concluding thus:

V.18. “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”


12 When the learned schools would make people godly, they hold before them the judgment, making it as hot as they possibly can; in this way they lead men into terror, where they abandon them, never pointing out a way of escape. Here Christ also presents the judgment and threatens men, but at the same time he tells them how they may flee from wrath. This is his teaching: There will be a judgment, which no one can escape except those who believe without any ifs or ands. If you add anything thereto, you have entered upon the byway into the woods and are lost; for he that believeth not, is lost already. I am the only door that opens into heaven. The way is narrow; you must become small if you wish to pass through the rock. Those who are decorated with good works, like a workrighteous person with shells, can never force their way through. They must divest themselves and become small. One can meet the conditions only when he despairs of himself. If you come hampered with great burdens of good works, you will never be able to forge a way into heaven; you must lay them aside before you can enter.

13 From this it follows that where faith is, there sin does no harm; for faith makes us Christ's. But where faith is not, there is either fear and hatred of God, or a profligate, sinful life. We met with this same truth when we learned that the Holy Spirit will convict the world in respect of sin because, as Christ says, they believed not on him. The only sin is unbelief. Faith roots out all sins. Unbelief is the only reason why man does not know God. Because of it he is in fear in the presence of God. When a man is in fear, he hates and blasphemes God, heaping up his sins and keeping none of the commandments. Now, Christ gives a reason for this judgment; he says:

V.19. “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”

14 The light is Christ the Lord, manifest in the knowledge of him, as he is here pictured in this Gospel. As a glance into the sun, we may look into this Gospel and see what God is. This light is come into the world through the preaching of the apostles and has shone through the whole world. Man is its enemy only because of his evil works; the whole world is fast therein. Why do not the pope and bishops, the priests and monks, permit their deeds to be exposed and their manner of life brought to light? For the reason that their works are evil. Now, the light reveals to us that all our works amount to nothing and we must have Christ alone. When we apply the test of that light, they say: Nay, should I have fasted and prayed so long for nothing? Get out, you heretics! If men no longer believed in the efficacy of works, no one would attend vigils and the mass; then the monks' kitchens would become small and their cellars empty. Since they cannot tolerate such a possibility, they must hate the light.

15 God has blinded them so that they build on stone and wood, overlooking the foundation of truth and failing to build upon Christ. The Gospel aims, however, to establish the heart upon the eternal foundation truth. Now, if one would overthrow their manner of building, the light must be brought and their works be made manifest, that they may be put to shame. They will never tolerate such inspection, however, but must protect their doings, with the consequence that they become enemies to this light. That is just what the Lord says:

V.20. “For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest their works should be reproved.”

16 They hate the light, says Christ; because they do evil; they lead a shameful life, at the same time believing it to be a godly life. The devil, also, would be a fine fellow. He is anxious to sit in a clean place, and not lie before the door; he would come within the heart, but never to the light; he would wear the cloak of respectability, so that his injustice be not seen. Now, let us take the light of day as an illustration. The sun will not refuse to rise because I am lazy and would gladly sleep an hour or two longer. No, it goes forth in its course and does not hide its light, although it is not agreeable to me. Likewise will the Sun of righteousness arise; the evil-doers are unwilling to come into the light, but they cover and guard their sins and evil deeds. Thereby they merit the judgment; for they have not only done wickedly, but they wish to defend their action, which is a double sin.

17 But the righteous gladly approach the light, willing that all may pass judgment upon their works, and they even let the devil examine them. They have cultivated in good soil, because they possess faith, and they go forth in their faith to help the poor. These works are wrought in them by God, hence they cannot be evil. Thus a righteous person gladly permits all the world to act as judge upon his works. It is a beautiful thing when a believer, finding his work is rejected, says: Yes, there is no good at all in the works of my own doing, but the works that are wrought in me by Christ, my Lord, they are good. He desires no honor, but will ascribe all honor to God; will possess all in God that he should possess, and can, with a good conscience, go to the light and not be put to shame. That is what Christ means in his closing words:

V.21. “But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”

18 Now we have heard what our consolation and our final and only refuge is, upon which we should lay our foundation and build. No person who professes to be a Christian dare undertake to do any work, imagining thereby to be saved; he is not saved except through Christ alone, whom it cost his all. We must come to salvation through him and his work, with nothing else added to it. If we build upon human works, we are reckoning directly against God's grace.

19 On the other hand, we must not abandon works, saying as do the impudent: Aye, then I will do good works no longer in order to be saved. True, you dare do nothing with the intent of its being meritorious for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin and for the pacifying of the conscience; you have sufficient for these in your faith. But your neighbor has not sufficient; you must extend a helping hand to him. That you may perform such service, God permits you to live; if not so, your execution would soon be called for. You live for the purpose of serving by your life, not yourself, but your neighbor.

20 Christ the Lord had also sufficient; what the world had was his. He might have passed us by, but it is not the nature of true life to do so. Nay, cursed be that life into perdition that lives for self; for to so live is heathenish and not Christian. Then those who have at present their sufficiency from Christ, must follow the example of Christ and with utter sincerity do good to their neighbors, as Christ did to us; freely, without the least thought of obtaining anything thereby, only with the desire that it be pleasing to God.

21 We Christians are like a child born in the father's house. It brings the title to the inheritance with it, in its flesh and blood; the title to the heritage belongs to it by virtue of its birth. A servant, however, acquires his merit, not in the family, but outside of it. When the child of the house is grown, it must, nevertheless, help to increase and improve the inheritance, making It more valuable; but it does not, first of all, gain the inheritance by works, for that is acquired already by virtue of its birth. Just so, if we believe on God, then we are already heirs and need not to acquire inheritance by our works; yet we must be co-laborers with the Father to increase it. Paul speaks in like manner to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” Phil 2:5ff. That is: Lead such an outward life that it may be like the example of Christ, and help your neighbor with your life and property, thinking not of winning the birthright by your works. Guard your sonship, not by your own foolhardiness, but by faith, and be a co-laborer in extending the kingdom.

[[Luther published two sermons for John 3:16-21. One can be found in the electronic version in verses 16-18; the other in verses 19-21.]]

Sermon for Pentecost Monday; John 3:16-21 (2nd Sermon)



1 This is one of the best and most glorious Gospel lessons, such as John particularly wrote. It is worthy to be written in golden letters, not upon paper, but if possible upon the heart; it ought to be made the daily lesson and meditation of Christians, who should repeat it to strengthen their faith and awaken their hearts to prayer. The words make the sad joyful and the dead alive, if the heart only firmly believes them.

2 It also gives instruction on the chief article of Christian faith, on the glory and liberty of Christians, whereby sin, the Law, God’s wrath, death and hell are banished from believers and abolished, besides all human wisdom, righteousness and holiness are made futile in that which belongs to God’s kingdom. He says: “Whosoever believeth on the Son of God should not perish, but have eternal life,” death, the devil, the terror of the Law, must be banished forever, our merit and worthiness doing nothing to that end. The excellent, great, eternal and divine treasure is thus portrayed here, which we should possess so as to be without fear before the judgment and condemnation of human nature through Adam’s fall, and instead have salvation and victory, and every blessing besides. All this is offered and bestowed out of pure grace, and thus represented only as a gift that can be secured solely through faith.


3 In vivid and significant words the evangelist briefly sketches this grace and gift in Christ, that he may magnify it and portray minutely all concerned — the giver, the recipient, the gift, its fruits and benefits. All is so eloquently great that it is indescribable, and it is difficult to believe only because of its very greatness.

4 Before considering this, however, let us hear why and for what purpose Christ so speaks. He expresses it in the following words: “That whosoever believeth on him should not perish” etc. Here he would show the world the misery and helplessness in which it lies; that it is entirely lost, and would have had to remain lost eternally, had Christ not come with this proclamation; for all its wisdom, art, doctrine, law ,and free-will would not avail in this respect; and in spite of all its teaching and endeavors, it is and will remain lost forever. For, from its very birth, it lies in sin, under the wrath of God, in the devil’s kingdom, and under the-power of death, unable to help or free itself from this condition. Indeed it is so dazed and torpid that it would never have known nor realized its misery had this not been revealed to it through the Word.

5 Christ teaches the same truth at greater length in the declaration made to Nicodemus, just preceding this text, where he tells him plainly and clearly, that neither he nor any of the Jews of his kind, though they had the Law, and diligently performed works and outward divine services (which were at that time, indeed, the most commendable in the world), could thereby ever get to heaven, or see the kingdom of God. For such life and woks are still but the works of man, who, in his natural descent from Adam, is but flesh without spirit, that is without true understanding and knowledge of the divine will, and without genuine and heartfelt obedience to God; in short, it cannot convert itself to God, since it has wholly and fully turned away from God. Therefore, through the Law, man could never liberate himself from sin, the wrath of God and eternal death. Accordingly, if he would see the kingdom of God, he must be born anew, and have an entirely different nature, one that does not proceed from the flesh, as the old one did, but from the Spirit, and which is spiritual; and to this end another word and declaration must be received than that which they have in the Law, and a power beyond man’s ability.

6 That we may become new men, he says, we must first be delivered from the curse of the old birth, that is, freed from sin and death. But since we still have flesh and blood, and live on earth, the old birth continues. Of itself, it must remain what it is by nature. Under its thrall, man, at death, must be damned, for no man is able to appease and remove the wrath and condemnation passed upon him; therefore, no one would ever see God, nor enter heaven. As Christ says: “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven” etc. Hence another way had to be found. It could be only through some heavenly being, righteous and innocent in the fullest sense, pleasing and acceptable to God, who would adapt his perfection’s to our human nature, so that the sin and condemnation that was its by birth might be taken away, and it might be reconciled to God and rescued from eternal death, and might turn to God and begin again rightly to know, love and obey him, and thus experience the beginning of the new birth, and eventually, through death, be thoroughly purified of remaining uncleanness of the old man, forever free from sin.

7 Now, the wrath of God against sin is so intense that no creature could have devised means to appease him or effect a reconciliation; the condemnation was so enormous that no angel was mighty enough to remove it, and reinstate life. Therefore, that one Person, even God’s Son, had to take upon himself sin, God’s wrath, and death, under which humanity helplessly lay, and make the sacrifice for them. Of this, Christ himself says, immediately before this text, that the Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, “that whosoever believeth on him should not perish”. Here he adds the cause which moved God to accomplish this great work, when he says:

V.16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

8 With these words he leads us directly into the Father’s heart, that we may see and know that it was the great and wonderful counsel of God, resolved from eternity, that we should receive help through this Son. All had to be fulfilled, that God’s truth might stand, even as he had promised afore-time in the Scriptures. It is thus apparent that God does not intend to cast us out, and to condemn us on account of our sins; but that he wills that, for the sake of this Savior and Mediator, if we fear his wrath on account of our sins, and keep in mind and firmly believe this eternal divine will, we should attain to the eternal grace of God and to eternal life.


9 Now, let us consider what significant and comforting words these are which depict in their every relation, and in manifold ways, this marvelous work of God, with its inexpressible treasure which is here freely offered us. In the first place, the Giver is not a man, an emperor or a king, nor even an angel; but is the exalted, eternal Majesty, God himself, compared with whom, all men, however rich, powerful and great they may be, are nothing but dust and ashes. Isaiah 40. How shall we describe him? He is incomprehensible, immeasurable, inexhaustible.

10 He is, then, no more a taskmaster, who simply makes demands upon us — as Moses calls him (Deuteronomy 4:24), a devouring and consuming fire — but a rich, overflowing, eternal fountain of grace and of all gifts, who justly deserves to be called Gebhard (a prince or champion of givers). In comparison with him, what are all emperors and kings, with their gifts, gold, silver, land and people? Here the heart should expand and increase with desiring, wishing and expecting that which the Lord God intends to give; for it indeed must needs be something great and valuable that could well become this exalted Majesty and rich God. Compared to such a Giver and gift, everything in heaven and on earth must be very small and insignificant.

11 In the second place, why does he give, and what incited him to it? Nothing but pure, inexpressible love. He does not give because it is a debt or duty, nor because any one has asked or pleaded, but he is moved to do so by his own goodness as the Lord who willingly gives, and delights in giving gratuitously and without solicitation.

12 As there is no greater Giver than God, so there is no greater virtue, either in God or men, than love. One will sacrifice everything for what he loves, even his life. Patience, humility and all other virtues are nothing compared with it, or else are included in its essence. For whom I love, with him I will certainly never be angry, nor injure nor annoy him, nor make myself intolerable to him, but I will be ready to serve, counsel and help him whenever I see that he needs me. In short, I am his fully, as to my body, goods and all my possessions.

13 Accordingly, here, again, the heart shall grow and become strong against all sorrow, because such wealth of unfathomable divine love is set before us, flowing from a fatherly heart and having its source in the highest virtue, which is the fountain of all good, and which, therefore, makes the gift valuable and precious; just as the proverb deems a small gift valuable, when it says: It comes from a loving hand. For where there is love and friendship, one does not look upon the gift so much as upon the heart; it is love which adds great value to the gift. If God had given me only an eye, a hand or a foot, and I knew that he did it out of fatherly love, it would be much dealer to me than a thousand worlds. Now, since he gave us precious baptism, his Word, absolution and the Lord’s Supper, they should be regarded as our daily paradise and heaven; not on account of the appearance of such gifts, which are not great in the eyes of the world, but on account of the great love from which they are given.

14 In the third place, consider the gift itself. It must, without doubt, be something excellent and inexpressibly great, that such a rich Giver gives us, with such sincere and generous love. What does he give? Not great kingdoms, not one or more worlds full of silver and gold, not heaven and earth with all they contain, not the entire creation, but his Son, who is as great as he himself. That is an eternal, incomprehensible gift, even as the Giver and his love are incomprehensibly great. He is the fountain and source of all grace, goodness and kindness; yes, the very essence of the eternal blessings and treasures of God. That is love, not with words, but in deed, in the highest degree, proven with the most precious goodness and wonderful work of which God himself is capable.

15 What more can he do and give? Since he gives his Son, what does he yet withhold, that he does not give? Yes, he gives himself wholly and entirely, as Paul says, Romans 8:32: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” Certainly, everything must have been given with him, who is his only begotten, beloved Son, the Heir and Lord of all creation; therefore, all creatures, angels, devils, death, life, heaven and earth, sin, righteousness, everything present and future, are subject to us. Paul says in Corinthians 3:22-23: “All are yours: and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s”; for this Son is all in all.

16 In the fourth place, how and in what manner is the Son given? Look upon him, in what he has done and suffered! For us he becomes man, is put under the Law, that is, under the wrath of God (on account of our sins). He is put to death, even the most ignominious death — lifted upon the cross and suspended in the air. He was condemned (even as Christ shortly before this had said), taking upon himself the wrath and fury of the devil and hell, and contending with them to such extent that it must be said that he was wholly abandoned. Yet he trampled the devil, sin, death and hell under foot, and obtained the victory over them through his resurrection and ascension. All this he gave us that it might be our own, that we might possess both him and all that he accomplished. And this he does in such a way that the gift may not be said to have been conferred upon us, either as wages or on account of merit, nor is it loaned, borrowed or for recompense, but freely given and bestowed out of purely benign grace. The receiver shall and can do no more in this case than to open his hand and take what God so graciously gives him, and what he truly needs, with love and thanksgiving.

17 In the fifth place he portrays the recipient, who is, in a word, the world. This is indeed a wonderful and peculiar case of loving and giving. Here the one loved is in strange contrast to the one loving. How can this love of God for the world be explained? What does he see in the world, that he is so ready to unbosom himself toward her? If it had been that he loved the angels, they are at least glorious and noble creatures, worthy of his love. But what, on the contrary, is the world but a great mass of people who neither fear nor love nor praise nor thank God, who misuse every creature, blaspheme God’s name and despise his Word, and are, furthermore, disobedient, murderers, adulterers, thieves, knaves, liars, betrayers, full of treachery and all malice; in snort, transgressors of every commandment, and in every particular refractory and obstinate, adhering to God’s archenemy, the abominable devil? Behold, this delicious and gracious fruit! He bestows, as if upon a beautiful and beloved bride and daughter, his dear Son, and with him all things, whereas he would have had more than sufficient reason, at the very mention of the world, instantly to crush her with thunder and lightning to powder, and cast her into the abyss of hell. The word “world” is a sound hateful to God beyond expression; and this is a most strange paradox: God loves the world. Here two things that are in the highest degree antagonistic are combined. It is almost like saying: God loves death and hell, and is the friend of his most bitter eternal enemy, the accursed devil.

18 That is indeed a boundless proof of love, and makes the gift inexpressibly great, when the Giver and he to whom it is given are placed side by side, and God is represented as pouring out his whole heart to his hateful, hostile image, whereas he should have visited him only with anger, vengeance and damnation, and when he pays no attention to the fact that the world is full of contempt, blasphemy, disobedience toward God, and stupendous ingratitude for all the gifts he bestowed upon it heretofore, but swallows up all its vices and sins. Though the Giver be ever so great and beneficent, the wickedness and viciousness of the world, which is excessive and immeasurably great, ought to deter and repel him. For what man can even mark and sufficiently realize his own sin and disobedience? And yet this great love so overcomes God that he take away from the world all and every sin and transgression, and remembers them no more against it forever, so that they are dead and gone, and instead he gives his Son, and with him all things.

19 By this, the truths for which Paul and the articles of faith contend, have now been sufficiently and irrefutably demonstrated and proven; namely: That we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, without merit or worthiness on our part, out of pure grace (gratis), and alone for the sake of his beloved Son, in whom God so loved us that this love has taken away and blotted out all our sins and the sins of the whole world; for there was nothing but sin in us, instead of which he has bestowed his love and forgiveness upon us, even as the prophet Isaiah (40:2) says concerning Jerusalem, and as we ought to preach in the Gospel: “Her iniquity is pardoned. that she hath received of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins.”

20 Therefore, this gift — all of grace — is much greater, transcends and is mightier, than all the sins on earth, so that the unworthiness of any man, yes of all men together, aye the eternal wrath and condemnation which they have deserved, cannot be so great that the greatness of this love and grace, or forgiveness, does not in every particular outweigh. yes, engulf them; as Paul says, Romans 5:20: “But where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly;” and Psalm 103:11-12: “For as the heavens are high above the earth…so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” For what else can that be than forgiveness of sin, when he loves the world while it yet lies in sin, abomination and blasphemy? If he could so love the world, his enemy and blasphemer, as to give so much, even himself, for it, how could he be angry with you and not be willing to forgive your sins, if you desire and seek his grace?

21 What heart would not cheerfully render all good things to him who has shown such love as to bestow his dear Son upon wicked and despairing people, that is, upon the whole world, which means all people, who never did anything good, but at all times have done that which was contrary to his commandments? How can people like these expect such great love and such inexpressible riches as a reward? To think of what I have done and what has been my experience in my monastic life, when I crucified Christ daily for fifteen years, and practiced all kinds of idolatry! and yet, notwithstanding the fact that I so sorely provoked him, he loves me so that he no more remembers all my wickedness but reveals to me his Son, and himself, with all grace. This, indeed, may be called incomprehensible riches of unfathomable love.

22 O Lord God, how little the world takes such great and sublime things to heart! Should we not all rejoice and be glad of heart that we have lived to see the time that we can hear such things, and love and praise our God therefor, and in gratitude, not only willingly serve him, but gladly suffer all things and even smile if we should have to die for the sake of his Word and obedience and to allow these bodies — worms of the dust — to be consumed by fire or sword, or suffer any other form of martyrdom? So little thankful is shameful, abominable unbelief, in its great and blind darkness, of which Christ himself later complains, that there are hearts so possessed, rigid and dead that they can hear such things and yet not believe!

23 In the sixth place, we have the final cause why and for what purpose he does all this, and what his intention is. Of course he has not bestowed it that I may have meat and drink from it, or inferior temporal benefit, riches, honor, power; nor has he given it that it may harm and poison; he has not given his Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper as poison, but that they might be of the greatest benefit to us. As he says, they are given that man may not be lost, but may have everlasting life. It is not for the purpose of giving me many golden crowns and kingdoms, for then I would still remain in sin and death: but that I might be free from hell and eternal death, and not be lost eternally. That is what this gift is to effect; for me hell is wiped out, and the devil cast under my feet, and out of a fearful, sad and humiliated heart a joyful and living one comes forth. In short, God has done all this that I might have an eternal, imperishable life in exchange for eternal destruction and death.

24 It must follow upon the reception of such a great and imperishable gift that, when the Son of God is rightly known and embraced with the whole heart, we have the victory over and are rescued from all evil, and enjoy eternal freedom, glory and happiness; for where he is, there everything must be good. Not that we have earned this, but in his great and eternal love God took pity on us in our misery and helplessness, and gave us his Son that we might be helped; otherwise we would have been lost and would have had to remain eternally lost, and notwithstanding all our workrighteousness and divine services, and never attained to eternal life.

25 He who would now puff up his heart, on account of these facts, has reason enough so to do. For what more glorious and better could heart desire, than that it should be told that eternal life shall be bestowed upon it; that it shall never see death; that it shall never experience want, distress, sadness and temptation, but have pure joy, and a perfect wealth of everything good, and have the assurance that we have a gracious God, and that all creatures will joyously smile upon us? From this it is very evident that it is not God’s purpose and intention to deceive and destroy people, as the devil would make timid hearts believe, holding up to them the Law and their unworthiness; but that he would bestow life, and such life as is eternal and blissful. As a pledge and veritable testimony of this, he gives us his only Son, which he would never have done had he not loved us but was still angry and intended to condemn us.

26 This and similar glorious and comforting passages should be rightly treasured and valued by every Christian, above all else in the world, for they are words which no one can exhaust or fathom; and when they are rightly believed, they ought to make one a good theologian, or more — a strong, joyful Christian, who can speak and teach of Christ aright, judge all other doctrines, advise and comfort anyone, and patiently bear all things that he may experience.

27 But here we must pray for the Holy Spirit to impress this upon our hearts, and must daily exercise ourselves in these things, so that we retire and rise with these words in our minds. But now, just as we regard them, so is their effect upon us. If they do not enter our hearts they cannot produce the fruit they ought to; they must bewail the ingratitude of the world, which makes them pass by our ears and hearts without affecting them, while it runs after perishable goods, honor and fame, thus losing this everlasting treasure; for this it will condemn and curse itself in hell eternally.

28 In the seventh place, and lastly, in what manner may we lay hold of such a treasure and gift, or what is the purse or safe in which it may be kept? It is faith alone, as Christ here says: “That whosoever believeth on him, should not perish” etc. Faith holds out its hands and opens the sack, and allows itself to be presented with good things. As God, the Giver, in love bestows this gift, so we are the recipients by faith, which faith does nothing more than receive the gift. For it is not our doing, and it cannot be merited through our work. It has already been bestowed and presented. All you need to do is to open your mouth, or rather your heart, hold still, and allow it to be entirely filled. Psalm 81:10. This can be done in no other way than by believing these words; for you observe that he here requires faith, and faith fully and perfectly appropriates this treasure.

29 Here you may see, also, what faith is and is called. Not simply an empty thought concerning Christ, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, was crucified, arose, ascended into heaven, but a heart that grasps and embraces the Son of God, as expressed in these words, and positively holds that God gave his only begotten Son for us into death, and loved us so that, for his sake, we should not be lost, but have eternal life. Therefore, he plainly says: “That whosoever believeth on him.” It must be a faith which does not look upon its own works, nor upon its own strength and worthiness, that is, its own quality or the inwrought and infused virtue of the heart, of which the blind sophists dream and imagine, but without dependence on itself, holds to Christ, embracing him as its own bestowed treasure, being assured that on account of him God was moved to love us, but not on account of one’s own work, worthiness and merit; for these things are not the treasure that God gave, that is, Christ, God’s Son, in whom we must believe.

30 Of what benefit is the gift of faith if it is nothing more than such an empty vessel? Of what value unless one looks upon and comforts one’s self in the thought of what is comprehended in it, and what alone makes it precious, so that one may say: Faith may be but a little and insignificant monstrance or pix or box, but in it, nevertheless, there is so precious a gem that heaven and earth cannot contain it.

31 Therefore we so teach from the Scriptures concerning faith — that through it alone we are justified and acceptable before God; because it is faith alone that grasps and retains this treasure, the Son of God. If I weigh this gift and my works in the same balance, the contrast and preponderance is so overwhelmingly great that the holiness of all men is nothing compared with the smallest drop of blood Christ gave and shed for us, to say nothing of all he did and suffered; therefore I can, in no respect, depend upon my virtue and worthiness.

32 And why should we boast so much about our efforts when we learn that we are so situated that we would all be lost forever had not this treasure been given for us? Thereby the glory is taken, not only from all human works, but from the entire Law of God; for, though one possessed it all, and according to his ability complied with all its demands, he still has not attained what is necessary to save himself from eternal destruction. What other purpose have these words: “That whosoever believeth on him should not perish” etc? They are a continual testimony that neither Moses (the Law) nor yet the holiness of all men, could redeem from death or give eternal life. Therefore, everything depends entirely upon this only Son of God.

33 Now, you may see what a sublime and significant matter is embraced in this passage, since the Giver, so great and mighty, the Creator of every creature, does not simply say: Good morning! and bestow a friendly smile; but he loves, yes loves, so sincerely that he does not simply give a beggarly gift of perishable goods, but his greatest and most precious treasure, his Son, who is also Lord of heaven and earth. This love he does not show his friends only, but his enemies, and no creature but the devil himself is less worthy this love than his enemies. For no other purpose did he give himself for them than that he might snatch them from death and hell, and render them certain of eternal life. Of what wonder could one speak or think, that is more marvelous in every particular?

34 However great and unutterable all this is, that is still greater and more wonderful in comparison, that the human heart has been enabled to believe it all. That must indeed be a great heart which can embrace more than heaven and earth can hold. Hence it must be evident what a great, sublime and divine power and work faith is, which can do that which it is impossible for nature and all the world to do, and it is therefore no less a wonder than all the other miracles and works of God. It is even more wonderful than that God became man, born of a virgin, as St. Bernhard says. These things, as we have heard, namely the love of the Giver and of him who was given, and the unworthiness of the recipient, placed side by side, are incomparable as to greatness. On the one hand everything is so great, and on the other, man’s heart is so small and narrow and weak that the in-finiteness of difference is startling and amazing.

35 Should I be told that God has granted to me, above all other men, the gift that I should live on earth several thousand years, in the enjoyment of peace and happiness, and all that my heart desired, I would answer: Nay, that cannot be God’s word, it is too much to believe. Who am I, that God should give me such things? How much less can the heart of man realize that God gave him such a treasure, his Son, and with him eternal life and salvation! Who can express this amazing fact? How precious and excellent even this temporal life is! And who would give it for all the kingdoms, all the gold and possessions of this world? But the extent of this life compared to eternal life and its blessings is much less than a single moment. In short, eternal life is inconceivable; we can only try to conceive by subtracting from it, or contrasting it with the loss and misery that is called eternal loss.

36 Now, the Christian must eventually acknowledge that the honor belongs to God, and to Christ the Lord; that God’s Word is the truth, and it must denounce man’s own unbelief as a lie. Where this acknowledgement is made, the Holy Spirit has already begun with his power and work of faith, and the heart is opened, so that it can lay hold of this treasure, which is greater than heaven and earth; true, the heart proceeds in great weakness, and on earth it can never attain such faith as it should, and does not get beyond the longings and groanings of the spirit, for salvation is inexplicable to man, and the heart must cry out: Oh, that it were true! or: Oh, that one could believe it!

37 Nevertheless such sighs and little sparks of faith are of so much account that God recognizes them as complete faith and says: As thou believest, even so be it unto thee, and since thou hast believed it, thou shalt surely be saved. For this word is a power and strength that is mightier than all the terrors of sin and damnation, and this gift is so great that sin and death and hell are swallowed up by it as is a little drop of water in a glowing furnace, or as a little spark on a straw is extinguished when it falls into the great ocean. If only the heart, in temptation, could recall these words, neither devil nor hell could affright it, and it would joyfully say: Of what should I be afraid? Have I not the Son of God. given to me by the Father, in testimony of which he gives me the Word, which I know is his Word? That cannot lie to me any more than he could lie and deceive me, even though I, alas! cannot believe it as firmly as I should:

38 You say: Yes, I would gladly believe it if I were like St. Peter and St. Paul and others who are pious and holy; but I am too great a sinner, and who knows whether I am predestinated? Answer: Look at these words! What do they say, and of whom do they speak? “For God so loved the world”; and “that whosoever believeth on him.” Now, the world is not simply St. Peter and St. Paul, but the entire human race taken collectively, and here no one is excluded: God’s Son was given for all, all are asked to believe, and all who believe shall not be lost etc. Take hold of your nose, search in your bosom, whether you are not also a man (that is, a piece of the world) and belong to the number which the word “whosoever” embraces, as well as others? If you and I are not to take this comfort to ourselves, then these words must have been spoken falsely and in vain.

39 And surely, this has not been preached to any other than to humanity. Therefore, beware lest you exclude yourself and give place to the thought: Who knows whether it has been given to me? For that would be accusing God of falsely speaking in his Word. But, on the contrary, make a cross for yourself with these words, and say: If I am not St. Peter or St. Paul, I am, nevertheless, a part of the world. Had he intended to give it to the worthy only, then he would have had it preached to the angels alone, for they, are pure and without sin. He could then not have given it to St. Peter, to David, or to Paul, for they were sinners as well as I. No matter what I am, I know that God’s Word is true; and if I do not accept it, then I am committing, above all other sins, this sin also, that I blaspheme the Word of God and the truth, and charge God with lying.

V.17. “For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.”

40 In these words you hear even more forcibly and clearly what are the will and intent of God concerning the world, that is, concerning those who are in sin, and who, therefore, are already under judgment and sentence of condemnation. He takes away everything that would terrify us on account of our sins. He says plainly and clearly that Christ was sent, and his kingdom established, not for the purpose of judging and condemning. Such judgment and sentence have already come upon all men through the Law, because all are born in sin, and are, therefore, consigned to death and to the executioner, and there is nothing lacking but for the sword to be drawn. Now Christ steps between, according to God’s command, and orders both judge and jailer to halt, rescues the condemned and sets him free. This is the reason why he comes to help the world, which he found already under condemnation. This is also proved by the words he spoke: “But that the world should be saved through him.” These words show very clearly that the world was under condemnation, for why, otherwise, was salvation necessary?

41 But at this time salvation was preached to the Jews, and had not yet been heard by the world generally; but they did not believe that they were in such a condition that Christ had to come and save them, a lost and condemned people; they looked for a Christ who should commend and honor them on account of their Law and their holiness, therefore they could neither believe nor accept his proclamation. In John 8:33, when he told them that the Son of God should make them free, they retorted: “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man;” as though they would thereby object: “How dare you say that you have been sent to save us? We are not a condemned people, as the heathen are.

42 But now we hear that Christ has been sent to save those who are judged and condemned; that we should know that he has come to save us. who acknowledge and realize this. For there must some be saved, so that he shall not have come in vain. These are none other than those who are oppressed and terrified on account of their misery and condemnation; to them the friendly words are addressed: “For God so loved the world”, that is, those who feel not love, but only wrath and condemnation. And God sent his Son, not to judge, but to save those who are already judged, etc. To those who do not believe that they are sinners and condemned, the Gospel is preached in vain: for much less will they believe that. they are saved through Christ alone.


V.18. “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”


43 Here is the verdict which makes the distinction between the saved and the damned. It does not depend upon how worthy or unworthy you are, for it has already been determined that all are sinners and deserve to be condemned; but it depends upon whether you believe in this Jesus Christ or not. If you believe, then you are acquitted, and the judgment and condemnation taken away: if you will not believe, the judgment will remain upon you; yes it will only become greater and heavier than before, because you simply augment sin by not accepting Christ, who is to free you from judgment and condemnation.

44 And this, again, is a comforting passage with which to oppose the temptation and terrors of timid consciences which sigh for consolation and long to know how they stand in the sight of God. Such should hear and take these passages to heart; to them they are addressed, that they should know that God sent his Son not to judge but to save, and that God has already decreed that whosoever believeth in his Son shall not be judged, and shall have no reason to fear any judgment and condemnation, but is freed. The Law’s judgment and condemnation are taken away from him, and God’s grace and eternal life are promised and bestowed upon him through Christ, if he only believes these words.

45 On the contrary, a fearful judgment is passed upon those who do not believe this proclamation, but undertake to appear before God and be saved on the basis of their own holiness and merits; for they are at once denied and cut off from all grace, and included in condemnation, from which they shall find no relief so long as they do not believe, even though they may have done many great and important works and walked apparently in eminent holiness. Christ’s condemnation is not waiting them, simply, but they have already been judged through the Law of God, because they did not acknowledge their sins and that, by nature, they were under God’s wrath. What is still worse, they try to make themselves appear beautiful and pious before God; moreover, they oppose him with the sin of despising the Son of God, who was given for their reconciliation and redemption. Hence, the eternal wrath and curse must come upon them, because they do not seek forgiveness of their sins in Christ, but increase and confirm them by their contempt. This is what John the Baptist also says, John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

46 Christ gives the reason for this: “Because he hath not believed,” he says, “on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Because everyone is already guilty, being under sin and condemnation, therefore God will not liberate any one, nor receive him, except through this Son, whom he gave and set apart for reconciliation; and that means, therefore: Believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God, that is, in the Word which the Son preached of him. For faith cannot see what he here gives, neither can it be grasped and realized with the senses; it apprehends no more than the name which has been given him, and the oral Word, heard with the ears. To this he would hold and bind us, that by faith in it we should escape judgment, and be saved. The rest are justly damned, not because they have sin, but because they despise the Son and will not believe in the name that has been proclaimed to them for their salvation and eternal bliss. For to this name, wherever it is preached and believed, all creation and sin and death must yield, and by it the, devil and all the gates of hell shall be frightened and flee away.


V.19. “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”

47 Here the contention begins about this name and proclamation of Christ, and the verdict of condemnation against the unbelieving is manifest, because they do not receive this saying, but, on the contrary, oppose God, and wickedly adhere to their own conceit and arrogance in direct opposition to the clear Word of God and the revelation of his will. This can be nothing but darkness, because it is contrary to the light of his Word, which shines publicly before all the world, bringing believers to the knowledge of God and salvation, but uncovering and revealing the thoughts of others, as the aged Simeon prophesied concerning Christ, Luke 2:35, showing that they are not what they make themselves appear to be before the world when they deck themselves with a false appearance of holiness, but they are contemptible, poisonous worms, pernicious and accursed people.

48 From this contrast which Christ makes above in verse 16, you may see what the world, is; I mean the tender, pious, holy hypocrites and eminent servants of God. They are people who are not only in darkness, that is, in error and ignorance (which could be pardoned), but they at the same time love these things; that is, they uphold and defend and adhere to them, to the displeasure of God and his Word. And so perverse and steeped in Wickedness are they that they bitterly hate both God the Giver and the great and precious Gift, his beloved Son, rejecting this divine love and Gift, notwithstanding their unworthiness. These are, forsooth, loving, pious children, who cannot bear and endure the truth, but hate and reject their own salvation.

49 What shall we say of such wickedness of the world? Who could believe that people on earth could be so wicked and possessed of devils, that even when they hear and see the light of such inexpressible divine love and benefaction, which would bestow upon them eternal life through his Son, nevertheless will not endure this proclamation, but look upon it as the most harmful poison and heresy, against which everybody should close his ears? Yea, though this light is so plain that they can. say nothing against it, but must confess that it is the truth, yet they are so bitterly angry that they neither can nor will accept it, but knowingly oppose it. That, I say, no human heart could believe if Christ had not said so; yea, no one would understand these words if facts and experience had not taught and proved them. It should ever be regarded an accursed, hellish wickedness not only never to inquire in the least about God’s Word, to despise his love and grace, and not to honor the truth, but, in addition, knowingly to love and seek his own damnation; as Paul says in Acts 13:46, concerning the Jews, that they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life.

50 That is what they do who call themselves God’s people, and are the most holy and pious before the world, full of so-called good works and services before God. They will not suffer in the least that their life and works should be called wicked, as Christ does here. Since the Holy Spirit would show them their sins, and lead them to Christ, that they might be redeemed from their sins and condemnation and be saved, they accuse this doctrine of forbidding and condemning good works, and say that it ought not, therefore, to be tolerated. And so God and his Word must bear the blame of their wickedness, although he would correct them and very willingly help them to lead a godly and blessed life. He has done enough for the world, everything that is necessary to do, in that he has permitted his light to shine for it and offered and certified to it his love and eternal life in Christ. What reason can it now offer why it should not be justly condemned according to its own judgment, and on account of its own guilt?

V.20, 21. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be revealed. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be manifest, that they have been wrought in God.”

51 Thus it is proved that their works are evil, because they hate the light and will not suffer themselves to be placed openly in the light, that they may be tried, and that it may be manifest whether they are upright or not, but they seek only to appear well and to shine before men. Just so the world acts in its affairs, even as Christ says, and everyone does as he pleases and desires, and yet does not want to be regarded as having done wrong, but would be considered faultless and pious by all. Although a man in his acts is exceedingly rude in the presence of people, yet he seeks to screen and cover his deeds. That is why no one can be condemned unless he be publicly convicted and confuted. Everyone comes before the court to prove himself to be right and his opponent to be wrong; therefore, in order to get at the truth, his conduct must be exposed through public testimony and proof.

52 Indeed, it is in itself sufficient evidence of the fact that there is something wrong, when one will not allow himself to be taken to task, and is afraid of and resists being brought publicly before the light, or will not suffer information to be given and justice to be done. Even as he who lies nude in bed resists and rages before he will allow the covers to be removed; yes, squirms, wriggles and resorts to whatever expedient he can devise that his nakedness may not be exposed; so every wretch, murderer and adulterer, however wicked he may be, even though his own conscience condemns him, wants to be called a man of honor. Much less will the world submit to be judged in the things which reason does not condemn or censure, and when the devil adorns and veils himself with a most beautiful demeanor and appearance. And so everyone who does that which is wicked wants to be considered pious, pure and holy, and therefore persecutes the Gospel, because it chastises him.; wherefore, God must continue with his light until it may finally become manifest whose fruit they are who persecute Christ, who would help them and all the world. God’s Word, which brings them all grace and blessedness, they blaspheme and reject; pious, innocent people, who confess his Word and love Christ, they exile and murder.

53 This, also, is one of the fruits of the Gospel, that it rebukes and convicts evil, and exposes the devil, who formerly reigned in pomp, unhindered, and in the appearance of God himself. Now, however, he raves and rages because he is so exposed that his presence is apparent to all. Now, it must become manifest which is the true and which the false Church. and who are the true, pious children of God, and who are the devil’s children and hypocrites, liars and murderers.

54 “But he that doeth the truth,” says Christ, “cometh to the light” etc.; that is, he who through the Word of God is brought to a knowledge of his sins, seeks grace and loves Christ, and is also made manifest. Yea, he, himself, comes to the light, holds fast to God’s Word, honors the truth, and is willing that all his doctrines, deeds and his disposition may be made manifest; he defies all devils and men, and openly and fearlessly lets himself be seen and heard, proved and persecuted. Even so, God be praised! through our Gospel, pious Christians do, in their confession and in their lives; whilst others, on the contrary, cover their doings and try to justify themselves with lies and deceit, and all kinds of knavery, that they might, notwithstanding that they have been put to shame by the light of our doctrines and teachings, give their doings some coloring. Therefore, by their works and manifestations it may be known who is upright, and who in truth performs such works as are done in God, according to his Word and will, and are pleasing in his sight.

No Commentary on these verses is yet included

This module currently includes commentaries on:

  • I. Gen 4:8-9:29
  • II. Ps 82
  • III. the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)
  • IV. the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-Luke 1:55)
  • V. Galatians
Also included are Prefaces to:

  • I. Old Testament (at Gen.0.0)
  • II. Job
  • III. Psalms
  • IV. Proverbs
  • V. Ecclesiastes
  • VI. the Prophetic Books (not including Lamentations)
  • VII. the New Testament (at Matt.0.0)
  • VIII. Acts
  • IX. all Epistles
  • X. Revelations
Lastly, this module contains sermons/commentaries from Luther's Church Postil. These mostly cover the readings from the standard 1-year lectionary, including:

  • I. Matthew:
    • {Mt 1:25 linked from Lk 2:21}
    • 2:1-12
    • {Mt 2:13-23 linked from Lk 2:39}
    • 4:1-11 {links to Mk 1:12-13, Lk 4:1-13}
    • {Mt 4:18-22 linked from Lk 5:1-11}
    • Mt 5-7 postil entries not included because of the more complete commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
    • 8:1-13 {links to Mk 1:40-45; Lk 5:12-16; Lk 7:1-10}
    • 8:23-27 {links to Mk 4:35-41; Lk 8:22-25}
    • 9:1-8 {links to Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26}
    • 9:18-26 {links to Mk 5:21-43; Lk 8:40-56}
    • 11:2-10 {links to Lk 7:18-35}
    • {Mt 12:22-30,43-45 linked from Lk 11:14-28}
    • {Mt 13:1-9,18-23 linked from Lk 8:4-15}
    • {Mt 13:16-17 linked from Lk 10:23-37}
    • 13:24-30
    • {Mt 14:13-21 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • 15:21-28 {links to Mk 7:24-30}
    • {Mt 15:29-39 linked from Mk 8:1-9}
    • {Mt 18:12-14 linked from Lk 15:1-10}
    • 18:23-35
    • 20:1-16
    • {Mt 20:17-19,29-34 linked from Lk 18:31-43}
    • 21:1-9 {links to Mk 11:1-11, Lk 19:29-40, Jn 12:12-19}
    • {Mt 21:12-13 linked from Lk 19:41-48}
    • 22:1-14
    • 22:15-22 {links to Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:19-26}
    • 22:34-46 {links to Mk 12:28-37, Lk 20:41-44}
    • 23:34-39 {links to Lk 11:49-51; Lk 13:34-35}
    • 24:15-28 {links to Mk 13:14-23, Lk 21:20-24}
    • {Mt 24:29-51 linked from Lk 21:25-36}
    • 25:31-46
    • {Mt 28:1-8 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • {Mt 28:16-20 linked from Mk 16:14-20}
  • II. Mark:
    • {Mk 1:12-13 linked from Mt 4:1-11}
    • {Mk 1:16-20 linked from Lk 5:1-11}
    • {Mk 1:40-45 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • {Mk 2:1-12 linked from Mt 9:1-8}
    • {Mk 3:22-30 linked from Lk 11:14-28}
    • {Mk 4:2-20 linked from Lk 8:4-15}
    • {Mk 4:35-41 linked from Mt 8:23-27}
    • {Mk 5:21-43 linked from Mt 9:18-26}
    • {Mk 6:31-46 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • {Mk 7:24-30 linked from Mt 15:21-28}
    • 7:31-37
    • 8:1-9 {links to Mt 15:29-39}
    • {Mk 10:32-34,46-52 linked from Lk 18:31-43}
    • {Mk 11:1-11 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • {Mk 11:15-19 linked from Lk 19:41-48}
    • {Mk 12:13-17 linked from Mt 22:15-22}
    • {Mk 12:28-37 linked from Mt 22:34-46}
    • {Mk 13:14-23 linked from Mt 24:15-28}
    • {Mk 13:24-37 linked from Lk 21:25-36}
    • 16:1-8 {links to Mt 28:1-8, Lk 23:56-24:7, Jn 20:1-2}
    • {Mk 16:12-13 linked from Lk 24:13-35}
    • 16:14-20 {links to Mt 28:16-20})
  • III. Luke:
    • 2:1-14
    • 2:21 {links to Mt 1:25}
    • 2:33-40 {v.39 links to Mt 2:13-23}
    • 2:41-52
    • {Lk 4:1-13 linked from Mt 4:1-11}
    • 5:1-11 {links to Mt 4:18-22, Mk 1:16-20}
    • {Lk 5:12-16 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • {Lk 5:17-26 linked from Mt 9:1-8}
    • 6:36-42
    • {Lk 7:1-10 linked from Mt 8:1-13}
    • 7:11-17
    • {Lk 7:18-35 linked from Mt 11:2-10}
    • 8:4-15 {links to Mt 13:1-9,18-23, Mk 4:2-20}
    • {Lk 8:22-25 linked from Mt 8:23-27}
    • {Lk 8:40-56 linked from Mt 9:18-26}
    • {Lk 9:10-17 linked from Jn 6:1-15}
    • 10:23-37 {links to Mt 13:16-17}
    • 11:14-28 {links to Mt 12:22-30,43-45; Mk 3:22-30}
    • {Lk 11:49-51 linked from Mt 23:34-39}
    • {Lk 13:34-35 linked from Mt 23:34-39}
    • 14:1-11
    • 14:16-24
    • 15:1-10 {links to Mt 18:12-14}
    • 16:1-9
    • 16:19-31
    • 17:11-19
    • 18:9-14
    • 18:31-43 {links to Mt 20:17-19,29-34; Mk 10:32-34,46-52}
    • {Lk 19:29-40 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • 19:41-48 {links to Mt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-19}
    • {Lk 20:19-26 linked from Mt 22:15-22}
    • {Lk 20:41-44 linked from Mt 22:34-46}
    • {Lk 21:20-24 linked from Mt 24:15-28}
    • 21:25-36 {links to Mt 24:29-51; Mk 13:24-37}
    • {Lk 23:56-24:7 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • 24:13-35 {links to Mk 16:12-13}
    • 24:36-47 {links to Jn 20:19-29}
  • IV. John:
    • 1:1-14
    • 1:19-28
    • 2:1-11
    • 3:1-15
    • 3:16-21
    • 4:46-54
    • 6:1-15 {links to Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:31-46; Lk 9:10-17}
    • 6:44-54
    • 8:46-59
    • 10:1-10
    • 10:11-16
    • {Jn 12:12-19 linked from Mt 21:1-9}
    • 14:23-31
    • 15:26-16:4
    • 16:5-15
    • 16:16-22
    • 16:23-30
    • {Jn 20:1-2 linked from Mk 16:1-8}
    • 20:19-31
    • 21:19-24
  • V. Acts (1:1-11; 2:1-13; 6:8-14 and 7:54-60; 10:34-43; 13:26-39)
  • VI. Romans (6:3-11; 6:19-23; 8:12-17; 8:18-22; 11:33-36; 12:1-5; 12:6-15; 12:16-21; 13:8-10; 13:11-14; 15:4-13)
  • VII. 1 Corinthians (1:4-9; 4:1-5; 5:6-8; 9:24-27; 10:1-5; 10:6-13; 12:1-11; 13:1-13)
  • VIII. 2 Corinthians (3:4-11; 6:1-10; 11:19-23, 12:1-9)
  • VIII. Ephesians (3:13-21; 4:1-6; 4:22-28; 5:1-9; 5:15-21; 6:10-17)
  • IX. Phillipians (1:3-11; 2:5-11; 3:17-21; 4:4-7)
  • X. Colossians (1:3-14; 3:1-7; 3:12-17)
  • XI. 1 Thessalonians (4:1-7; 4:13-18)
  • XII. 2 Thessalonians (1:3-10)
  • XIII. Titus (2:11-15; 3:4-8)
  • XIV. Hebrews (1:1-12; 9:11-15)
  • XV. James (1:16-21)
  • XVI. 1 Peter (2:11-20; 2:21-25; 3:8-15; 4:8-11; 5:5-11)
  • XVII. 1 John (3:13-18; 5:4-12)
  • XVIII. Isaiah (60:1-6)
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