A Second Sermon for The Festival of Christ's Resurrection
Where there is Faith, God No Longer Sees Sin
by Dr. Martin Luther1
- Text: And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:36-47)
From this we learn that the appearance of spirits is nothing new. The Lord Himself does not deny the possibility of such manifestations, but rather confirms the belief in them when He points out the difference between Himself and spirits. He says: “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones.”
From this we learn the important and salutary lesson that we are very much mistaken, when we think ourselves alone and the devil hundreds of miles removed from us. He is constantly about us, and sometimes assumes strange masks. I myself have seen him in the form of a pig, of a bundle of burning straw, and in similar disguises. One must know this, lest we become superstitious and think that the spirits which appear are the souls of dead men, as it has been formerly customary to believe. This superstitious belief has been of great advantage to the popish mass and has given it greater importance. Whenever the devil appeared, or made himself heard, people thought that the spirits of the dead were manifesting themselves, as is clearly seen from the writings of popish authors, and even from those of Gregory and other ancient teachers, who regarded such appearances not as spooks of the devil, but as manifestations of the spirits of the dead, even of those who died in faith. We all know, alas, but too well what deplorable, horrible errors and superstitions resulted from this fancy.
Purgatory was supported by this belief, and out of the dream of purgatory grew the doctrine concerning works of supererogation and their benefits to the dead. It is self-evident that the death and resurrection of Christ was lost out of sight by such false doctrines, and that the works of men were glorified instead. Another result was the abomination of the mass, whereby the sacrifice of Christ was set aside and the Lord's Supper shockingly abused; for it was regarded as instituted for the dead and not for the living. Such misery resulted from the superstitious belief that the souls of the departed had re-appeared; when it really was the devil who exhibited himself under various disguises in various places. The people were duped by this deviltry, else they would have had no confidence in the manifestations of spirits; for the devil is known to be a murderer and a liar, so that Christ would not accept his testimony even when he spoke the truth, as we see from the first chapter of St. Mark and from other similar passages.
We assert, therefore, the great importance of knowing and believing that the devil really does appear among us in various shapes and forms. Likewise do the holy angels, so that we are constantly surrounded by them and by devils. The latter are ever on the alert to injure, to seduce and to destroy us, while the good angels hover around us, if we are pious and walk in the fear of God, to protect us from evil and from harm. This we should know, that we may learn to fear God, to pray more fervently day by day, and to trust in Him alone, and implore His protection against the evil spirits, so that they may not harm us with pestilence, nor endanger us with poisons, nor overwhelm us with other afflictions.
The surest and best method of escaping these attacks is to live in the fear of God, to be earnest in prayer, and to love His holy Word. This is the true charm with which we can make ourselves secure from the attacks of the enemy. In that heart, in which the Word of God has its home, the devil cannot abide; he will trot off speedily. Thus the devil cannot make his home in the Church if Christ is there, and Christ has said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there will I be in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20); hence we say that the devil must vanish when Christ comes. It behooves us, therefore, to hear God's Word willingly, to meditate upon it and to converse about it often and gladly. But where falsehoods, slanders and other sins prevail and the conscience is violated, there Christ and His angels depart. Let no one then gainsay the fact that the devil appears, that he terrifies and seduces men, and that he injures them secretly wherever he can. Let us rather learn to resist this demon with the holy cross, not with that alone which we make with the motions of the hand, but with that which we have in our heart by faith, which finds all consolation in the Word of God, and let earnest prayer not be forgotten. Then it matters not how much the devil clatters and spooks around; we are safe from him. Tell him boldly to his face: Thou art a devil and wilt remain such, but I am a Christian and have a Protector mightier than thou; therefore avaunt and disturb me not.
The devil has more than once attempted to frighten me in my own house by making a clatter, but he scared me not in the least; for I stood upon my authority and told him: See here, I know that God placed me in this house and made me master over it; now if thou hast a better claim to the mastery here than I, then stay; but thou hast no business here; I tell thee thou belongest somewhere else, even to the infernal abyss of hell. Then I went to sleep again, and left him to his rage; for I was assured he could do me no harm. This is the first consideration presented to us by our text, which we could not pass by in silence; for the disciples and the Lord Himself speak of spirits that are evil, and which appear for no other purpose than to frighten people and to make them timid.
We come now to the other part of our meditation, in which we shall consider the words of Christ: “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
He says: This preaching, that Christ must die and rise again from the dead, shall begin at Jerusalem, and thence shall spread throughout the whole world, so that in His name, and in that alone, repentance and remission of sins shall be proclaimed. No repentance nor any remission of sins, if dependent upon any other name, even if it be that of St. Peter or of St. Paul, and least of all if it be my own name, is of any account. Why then should I become a monk, with the intention of doing good works whereby I might merit forgiveness of sins? Our text tells us that Christ, by His death and resurrection, obtained for us forgiveness of sins, which “is preached in His name,” and that he who desires to be benefited thereby must believe that Christ died for him and arose again from the dead. This is the preaching to which the text exhorts.
To prevent the impression as if this preaching could be fully understood and comprehended at once in all its bearings, the Evangelist purposely adds these words: “Then opened He,” namely the Lord Himself, “their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.” This is necessary, or people will go to Church and return with as little knowledge of what they heard as cows would have if they had been there. If Christ does not first open the understanding all is dark; it cannot be otherwise.
But what does the Lord mean when He speaks at the same time of “repentance and remission of sins” as intimately connected, and when He states that “this preaching shall begin at Jerusalem?” Is this not a perverse order, to begin the preaching of repentance and remission of sins at Jerusalem, where the greatest saints are dwelling, the Levites, the high priests and the people of God? Everybody is under the impression that this city has no need whatever of the preaching of repentance and of the remission of sins.
These words of the Lord, however, have this meaning: Ye Levites and Jews shall be the first to whom repentance and remission of sins shall be preached, that you may amend your evil ways; if you heed not this preaching, you will nevermore obtain remission of your sins. To preach repentance is nothing else than to announce to the people that they are miserable sinners and liable to damnation, and that it is impossible for them to be saved without conversion and complete change.
It is the Lord's will that such preaching shall be heard throughout the whole world, so that no one might plead ignorance in this, but that all should know and confess that they are sinners. What other advantage could accrue from the preaching of repentance? Yea, thus it must be, in accordance with the Lord's will, that this preaching must begin at Jerusalem, among the chosen people of God, at the holiest place. The Pharisees shall hear the summons to repentance, for they are worse in the sight of God than harlots and reprobates, since they regard themselves good and holy, and not in need of the preaching which calls to repentance.
In short, Christ, with the words under consideration, condemns the entire world and calls all men sinners, and desires of us, if we wish to be saved at all, to fall upon our knees and to exclaim with uplifted hands: Lord, I am a sinner; I need conversion, that I may become better; but inasmuch as I cannot bring this about by myself, be Thou my help, O Lord, and let Thy mercy be upon me.
If we are thus minded, and have no confidence at all in our own exertions and life, then we will realize what is meant by that other expression: remission of sins. The Lord commands that this also shall be preached. First, and chiefly, we must know that we are sinners, and then cry for mercy. If one wishes to become a Christian, he must first of all take this step and confess himself a sinner, having learned to know what sin is; then the pardon of sin, with all its cheer and consolation, can be appropriated. These words of Christ convey, therefore, these two facts to us: that the whole world is steeped in sin, and that it can only be made just and holy through Himself, the Saviour of all.
Man's thoughts are different. One supposes himself pleasing unto God because he chastens his body much and prays often; another, because he has bestowed many alms, and so on. But the Gospel calls all men sinners and tells them: Repent. This causes contradiction; the Pope refuses to acknowledge himself a sinner, as also does the monk in his cloister. In fact, we all are averse to this confession and strive to palm ourselves off as unblamable; but in this endeavor we can never succeed.
What then shall we do? Shall we despair because we are sinners and because God is an enemy to sin? No, for Christ gave the command to preach not only repentance, but also the remission of sins, which should be unto all those who believe in His name. We remember this and are comforted. We say: O Lord, we are great offenders; but spare us for Thy mercy's sake, for we have no merits of our own. If we do this, relief is at hand; for we have the promise of God that the sins of all who accept the Gospel shall be forgiven. This is surely the meaning of Christ's command to preach remission of sins in His name. Without Christ there is no remission.
Thus it is evident that the sale of indulgences by the Pope is a lie and a cheat. He sells them in the name and in behalf of the merits of departed saints, while Christ positively declares: “In my name shall remission be preached; no one else but I died for you, or rose again from the dead that you might live.”
This preaching is called heresy by our enemies, as you are aware, and we are basely charged with forbidding good works. Well, let them slander. We did not first use this language, nor did we invent the doctrine that in the name of Jesus repentance shall be preached unto all nations. But, I ask, if our own good works could suffice, why yet preach repentance? The righteous need no such preaching, but the sinners do. The command of Christ, however, is a general one; He says: Preach repentance to the whole world; from which it follows that all are sinners, and that sin alone, and no good works, are to be found throughout the earth. Hence we see the necessity of preaching repentance and remission of sins.
But the perverse adversaries will not heed this, and continue their slander that we forbid good works. May God therefore enlighten our understanding and enable us earnestly to say: O Lord, have mercy upon us poor wretched sinners; grant that we may comfort ourselves with Thy promise of remission of sins, which Thou hast ordered to be preached in Thy name. Whoever makes such a confession gives God the praise by recognizing His Word as Truth, which accuses us all of sin and demands repentance. But he also gives God the praise by believing the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. The impenitent and unbelieving, on the contrary, blaspheme God, and in the end receive their punishment.
Thus we can become Just before God. Then we should proclaim the Gospel also unto others, do good to them and help them, be obedient, and attend to the duties of our calling. In this wise we can become true saints, holy before God through faith, and then also unblamable before men in our life. The person must first be made pure and acceptable through faith, else what would all good works avail? Surely it would be absurd to call any deed good when the source from which it comes is bad and impure. The heart discredits the truthfulness of God, who orders the preaching of repentance throughout the whole world, and since it refuses to acknowledge itself corrupted by sin, it cannot accept the forgiveness which is preached, and is not benefited thereby.
They who confess themselves sinners, and believe that God for Christ's sake pardons them, are true Christians, in whom there is repentance and remission of sins. Because we teach thus, we are termed heretics and called accursed. But that matters naught. We rejoice that by the mercy of God we have the true doctrine, that we know ourselves to be sinners and can appropriate the consolation of God's Word. In this faith we are enabled to do truly good works, which are performed in repentance and faith. Where this doctrine and preaching has a home, there Christ is; no devil can rule there, nor need his manifestations be feared. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is a happy peaceful heart, prepared to do the Lord's will.
The others who are void of faith can do no good work; and whatever they do, though it be in itself not bad, they do reluctantly and without pleasure. Such works are cheerless and disagreeable, and God cannot be pleased with them. The heart becomes cheerful only through faith in Christ, which accepts the truth that we are sinners, but also embraces the promise of the gracious remission of sins.
A Christian is therefore both a sinner and a saint; he is evil and is good. In ourselves we are sinners, but Christ gives us another name when He mercifully forgives our sins for His sake. Hence both appellations are true. Sins are yet in us, for the old Adam still lives within; and again they are not present, because God blots them out for Christ's sake. They are present before my eyes; I see them and I feel them; but there stands Christ and tells me to repent, to confess myself just what I am, a sinner, and declares unto me forgiveness of my sins through faith in His name.
Repentance alone, though necessary, is not sufficient; faith in the remission of sins through Christ must also be added. Where there is such faith, God no longer sees sin; for then we appear before Him not in our own righteousness, but in that of Christ. He adorns us with grace and righteousness even if, in our own eyes, we are miserable sinners, full of weakness and unbelief. But this conviction of our own wickedness shall not drive us to despair, else we could not heed the preaching of repentance. No, we come and say: O Lord, we are damnable sinners, but Thou declarest that we shall not remain such, and hast commanded remission of sins to be preached at all times in Thy name.
This is the faith that makes Christians. If you kill yourself by fasting, if you beggar yourself by giving alms, you will gain nothing by it; such conduct will make no Christian of you, nor can you thus earn heaven or appease God. Here we read: “In my name should repentance and remission of sins be preached.” Christ says: Tell the people of their sins, and of God's wrath on that account; but tell them also of this remission for their consolation. Christ Jesus alone is our robe of righteousness and our salvation; if we are clothed therein, God is our Father, a merciful God, who condemns us not as sinners, but adjudges us righteous, holy and acceptable, and gives us eternal life.
You well know that this glorious doctrine was not taught before the Gospel of salvation was again preached. The words of the text, that forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ should be preached, indeed remained, but they were not impressed upon the people's minds; doctrine and practice were totally opposed to them, so that he who desired to be saved was taught to do good works, so called, and to pay his debt of sins by his own endeavors. What else was this but to remove sin in man's own name? But such procedure is wrong and useless. The name of Christ, and that alone, brings remission, and therefore this Name must be preached. Not fasting nor giving of alms, not becoming monks or nuns, neither the Pope, not even Peter and Paul, nor the Virgin Mary, can aid us at all in this. Only in the name of Christ remission of sins is to be preached.
From this we learn how pitiable the Papists are, and how miserably they are swindled. When they confess their sins and fain would be very pious, believing themselves absolved from all their sins, they have no remission nor absolution in the name of Jesus, as it should be, but only in the name of the holy Virgin, of the Apostles, or in the merits of the other saints. This is a sham absolution, an abomination to be shunned as the very devil himself. And yet, to increase this horror, people are forced to this practice, as if it were the most glorious service of God. The command of Christ is not thus; He says in our text, remission of sins shall be preached in the name of Jesus, and in none other. Not one of the saints died for our sins; what need then have we of their name to obtain remission of sins?
This doctrine we learn from the Gospel before us, that they who confess their sins and know that they are sinners shall obtain forgiveness in the name of Christ. This method of getting rid of our guilt seems very easy. To accomplish this it is not necessary to carry stones, to build churches, to read mass, but only to hear God's Word, and to praise Him when He has repentance preached unto us, confessing ourselves the guilty ones and then trusting implicitly in His mercy, relying fully upon the name of Jesus, in whom remission is preached. Where such faith exists, sin can do no harm; Jesus is there with the power of His name, and that makes Just. We are therefore secure, not because we have done no wrong, but because for Christ's sake we are accounted of God holy and justified. This we also confess in our Creed: I believe the forgiveness of sins. For such mercy we should be thankful to God, who has given us the Gospel and brought us into the kingdom of Christ; for this is a kingdom of grace, in which all sins are remitted in the name of Jesus.
This doctrine of the remission of sins must be clearly understood and kept apart from that which concerns good works. We do not say that they who desire salvation shall not do good works; for this obligation has been imposed long ago in the law; but we do urge that such good works have nothing at all to do with the forgiveness of sins. Peter and Paul, and all the saints, may have been ever so upright in their daily walk, but this availed them nothing before God; they would not thereby have been justified; only their faith in Christ, that through His death they had forgiveness of sins and eternal life, availed them. We must do good works; but notwithstanding this we must believe the forgiveness of sins only in the name of Christ.
- Luther, M. (1884). Third Easter-Sermon (Prof. E. Schmid, Trans.). In M. Loy (Ed), Dr. Martin Luther's House-Postil, or, Sermons on the Gospels, for the Sundays and Principle Festivals of the Church-year (Vol. II, 2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: J.A. Schulze (Original work published in German, 1545, from Viet Dietrich's stenographic notes of M. Luther's Hauspostille, preached between 1531-1535). pp. 293-306