Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 3, 2009

Luther on John 6:60-69

Luther PortraitThe three-year lectionary in used WELS congregations has included five consecutive weeks of Gospel selections from John chapter six, the “Bread of Life” chapter of the Bible.  That five-week series concludes this Sunday, the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  (Other liturgical churches would have also had a similar John 6 series, although it may have started and ended on different weeks).  Here are some Luther quotes on the section that we’ll hear this coming Sunday, John 6:60-69.  All quotes are from Luther’s Works, Vol. 23 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8 (Concordia Publishing House, copyright 1959).

On Jesus’ rejection by his own disciples:

Even His disciples themselves declared: “What a strange, peculiar, and stupid sermon! Who can remain His disciple or adhere to Him? He says it was nothing that the fathers ate manna, and that He gives the true bread from heaven! He utterly disparages the fact that our fathers ate manna in the wilderness for forty years, etc.! He is too arrogant. He is carrying things to extremes. Oh, if He had confined Himself to mundane matters, if He had preached on punishment for vice, if He had treated of the Ten Commandments, He would have been an excellent preacher! Now He is going too far when He declares that our fathers were nothing and that He is everything. Who can believe that?” Now they desert Him. …

It is peculiar and strange that those who are close to Christ, are called His disciples, preach in His name, and perhaps also work miracles are offended by this sermon, fall away, and cannot bear to hear Him say: “He who believes in Me will be saved.” This they cannot abide. …

This was recorded by the evangelist John for our comfort. He wanted us to learn from this example that when the Gospel is properly preached in the world, even those become unfaithful of whom one would not have expected it, who really should be most loyal supporters of the Gospel. I have often been shocked to see how weak a policy Christ pursues in His ministry over against His followers, permitting one to desert Him here, another there, and, on the other hand, to observe that the devil exerts himself so much and opposes the Gospel with all his might, with the result that the best people in the world persecute it and among us even the best people fall away from it entirely. Occasionally a person is inevitably haunted by the thought: “My dear man, is that doctrine really true? Is God doing the right thing by permitting such strange things to happen?”

 We are greatly offended by all this, but it is for us to close our eyes forthwith and to say: “Let him who will not stand, fall; and let him who stands, stand. Likewise, let him who wants to persecute the Gospel, persecute it. This doctrine still remains the truth.” The fact that nowadays we still encounter offense need not surprise us, since Christ Himself meets with it. How can I help it that the pope and the fanatics desert the Gospel and grievously afflict us? I can expect to fare no better than my Lord Christ. Since He experienced apostasy, I might know that among us not everyone will stand either.

On the sinful misuse of reason:

But that which is not flesh, which is superior to flesh, is called spirit. Christ wants to say: If all reason could be put together, it could not understand this or tolerate it. The holier, the more ingenious, the more proficient and clever reason is, the less it comprehends. If these words are to be understood and to penetrate the heart, then something more profound than the wisdom of all human beings must be added. We must give reason a vacation and enter a different school. We must refrain from consulting reason. We must bid reason hold its peace; we must order it to be dead. We must gouge out its eyes and pluck its feathers if we are to understand these words. Nothing avails here but to say: “Indeed, in the matter of eating Christs body and drinking Christs blood I am not going to confer with reason; I shall give heed to what Christ Himself says on this subject.” Reason suggests one evil thought after another to you. It continually turns up its nose at these words. But he who can overcome reason enters the spiritual school and the spiritual sphere. He does not weigh these words critically but says: “I want to hear only what the Lord says, namely, that I am to eat His flesh and to drink His blood. More I do not have; here I remain; these words I have heard; this I will believe. It is immaterial to me that I cannot see this or cannot reason it out. No matter whether or not I can reconcile these words with my reason, I will give ear to them. These words call for another Schoolmaster and Teacher than reason. They require the Holy Spirit. He must teach and bless in this spiritual school.”

On faith as a gift of God:

Would you presume to be the man who can claim mastery over your heart? Yes, first you must learn that faith is a gift of God and a divine power. You cannot believe by your own strength. Would you venture to resist the devil? You fool, what are you aspiring to do? This is too big for you. Beware lest you fall prey to such arrogance and suppose that it lies in your power to believe as soon as you hear the words. This is the common opinion of the schismatic spirits and the false Christians today. But when it comes to the point where they must give proof of their faith, to judge a false doctrine, or to console themselves in days of trouble, then their song is silenced, and there is no one at home.

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