This is part 5 of Luther on preaching. That means there are 4 other parts about Luther’s preaching that you may have missed. If so, here are the links: Part 1-Introduction; Part 2-Word Driven; Part 3-Clearly Articulated; and Part 4-Soul Searching.
Anyhow, today we are going to be looking at how Luther believed that preaching should be Christ exalting. He wanted to preach the Word in a clear way so that men would be made aware of their sin. He would not leave men in this hopeless plight though. That would be terrible. Rather, he wanted to do all this, and then lift up Christ so high that they might find forgiveness of sins and peace with God.
A Brief Word
This part of preaching is hands down the most important. Preaching is to be a proclamation of Christ and His cross. It is to be a heralding of the glorious news of the resurrected Messiah. This is the Gospel. This is what is to be preached from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corin. 1:17). Also, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corin. 1:18). Paul says that when he was with the Corinthians, he decided to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Corin. 2:2). This is the Gospel of Christ. Abraham testified about the person of Christ. Moses testified about the person of Christ. Isaiah testified about the person of Christ. John the Baptist testified about the person of Christ. Christ testified about Himself because he was the person of Christ! Paul testified about the person of Christ. And Paul warns anyone that enters into the pulpit on Sunday morning, whether they be a man or an angel, that if they preach any other gospel than the Gospel of Christ, let them be accursed (Gal. 1:8-9).
So, with all that being said, the preaching of the gospel is an absolute necessity. It is not only a necessity because salvation is only found in and through the person of Christ. It is also a necessity because the people who are already in Christ need to have their souls satisfied with the steady proclamation of the gospel. They need to be reminded of the excellency and sufficiency of Christ. They need to always have Christ before their eyes so that they can better persevere in this walk of faith. I say that the saints always need to have Christ before their eyes because Paul tells the Galatians, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). The people of Galatia did not see Christ publicly crucified. They were not there when he was pierced to that tree. So how did they see Christ crucified? It was through the heralding of the Gospel. This is what happens during good, sound, and faithful preaching. Christ is placed before the eyes of the congregation as crucified. When this begins to happen, souls will be stripped out of the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God. When this begins to happen, saints will no longer begrudgingly serve Christ, but with an overwhelming zeal they seek to serve Christ in the whole of life.
Part 5-Christ Exalting
The central focus of Luther’s sermon was going to be on the person of Christ. In writing a letter to a friend, Luther said, “We preach no other light than Jesus Christ, the true and only light.” He made Christ the central focus of his sermon because he believed that each sermon was a battle for the souls of his hearers. Luther knew and understood that there is no other name in heaven by which a man is to be saved other than the name of Christ, the Son of God (Acts 4:12). Therefore, he saturated his preaching with Christ, His Kingdom, and His reign.
In order to understand exactly what preaching Christ meant for Luther, it is needful to look into some of his sermons. As Luther was on his way to Worms, he stopped in Erfurt to preach a sermon on John 20:19-20. Luther was known to have a dialogue with himself in the midst of preaching, and that is precisely what is taking place in this sermon at Erfurt. Luther began by saying, “Mark these words: none of our works have any power whatsoever. For God has chosen a man, the Lord Jesus, to crush death, destroy sin, and shatter hell, since there was no one before he came who did not inevitably belong to the devil.” After he made this statement, he then argued his reasoning behind such a statement by talking about original sin. Thus, original sin is why man’s works have no power, and also why everyone besides Christ belongs to the devil. After proving this, he said, “But Christ has shattered death for our sake, in order that we might be saved by his works, which are alien to us, and not by our work.” Luther proceeds to talk about justification being by faith rather than works. It is here that he does his dialoguing, “Now, someone may say: Look, my friend, you are saying a lot about faith, and claiming that our salvation depends solely upon it; now, I ask you, how does one come to faith? I will tell you. Our Lord Christ said, ‘Peace be with you. Behold my hands, etc.’ [John 20:26-27]. In other words, he is saying: Look, man, I am the only one who has taken away your sins and redeemed you, etc.; now be at peace. Just as you inherited sin from Adam-not that you committed it, for I did not eat the apple, any more than you did, and yet this is how we came to be in sin-so we have not suffered [as Christ did], and therefore we were made free from death and sin by God’s work, not by our works. Therefore God says: Behold, man, I am your redemption.” Luther exposes the sinfulness of man and then shows that justification comes from God through faith in Christ Jesus. In this previous sermon, it is obvious that Luther is preaching Christ to the unregenerate. He is preaching Christ to those trusting in their own works. It was not only the unregenerate that Luther knew how to preach Christ to though. He knew how to preach Christ to the regenerate as well.
In a sermon Luther preached on John 14:19, one can see how Luther would preach Christ in such a way that the regenerate would stand in awe. Indeed, he would preach Christ in such a way that the elect would be willing to lay down their lives for the sake of Christ. In John 14:19, Christ is comforting His disciples. They will need this comforting word from their blessed Savior because much affliction awaits them. From this text, Luther understood that Christians that are to remain strong in this world must have an ever-increasing affection for Christ. At the beginning of this sermon, Luther said, “Therefore the aim of this whole sermon is to make the disciples certain of the Father’s love for them and to move them, in turn, to love the Lord Christ.” He then goes on to say, “For he who lacks this love for Christ cannot endure the malice of the devil and the world.” Luther’s emphasis was to strengthen his hearers with the faithful proclamation of the truth in order that their love for Christ will grow abundantly as they ponder on the incredible love of their heavenly Father.
Later on in this sermon, Luther is speaking about how the Devil is going to come and threaten the Christian with death. Luther said that the Christian is to respond to Satan saying, “Do you remember how you devoured Christ? But you had to release Him did you not? Indeed, He, in turn, has devoured you. Therefore you will also be unable to devour me, because I abide in Him and live and suffer for His sake.” Luther is comforting his people with Christ exalting truth. Luther said, “Such comfort and defiance Christians have in Christ, of whom we believe that He rose from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of the Father.” From this, one can see that Luther understood that preaching should consist of proclaiming Christ so that the unregenerate can repent and believe, and also so that the regenerate can be strengthened in their faith.
This is how he desired all preachers to preach. He was passionate about truly holding Christ out to individuals so that faith could be formed in them by the sovereign power of God. One can sense his passion pertaining to this subject when he said, “Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established that he may not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him. This is done when that Christian liberty which he bestows is rightly taught and we are told in what way we Christians are all kings and priests and therefore lords of all and may firmly believe that whatever we have done is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God, as I have already said.” He wanted Christ to be preached in such a way that Christ would not only be an intellectual thought within the minds of his hearers, but rather that Christ would be a personal Savior whom one loves and delights in. He wanted Christ preached in such a way that people would be affected by it. With all this being said, it is clear that Luther believed all good preaching was going to consist of exalting the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew that Paul was commissioned to declare the unsearchable riches of Christ, and that any good preacher is going to do the same.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Letters I, ed. Gottfried G. krodel and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 48. American Edition (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1963) 62
Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, 25.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Sermons I, ed. John W. Doberstein and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51. American Edition (Philadephia:Fortress Press, 1959) 61-62.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Sermons I, 62-63.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel E. Poellot, vol. 24. American Edition (Saint Louis, Concordia Press, 1961) 132.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 14-16, 137.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Career of the Reformer, 357.