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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Luther's greatest writing? – on John 1:29 - Behold! (Part 1)

I have pointed out elsewhere how the old (German) Missouri Synod equated Martin Luther with the flying angel in Revelation 14:6, the angel who flew the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.  
The research for my recent blog posts on Luther's Letters and Luther's Timeline have caused me to pause and thrill at Luther, the man of faith.  And now I have spent some time improving some of my previous blog posts, especially my letter of admonishment to Larry Darby (Part 4a and 4b) that made heavy use of Luther on the Doctrine of Justification.  But especially Luther's Twelfth Sermon on John 1:29 in Sermons on John 1–4 (Luther's Works, Am. Edition, vol. 22, pgs 158-170; St. L., VII, 1712-1726 (not online yet); Walch VII, 1633-1651WA, 46, 673-684) struck me so wonderfully.  I doubt that Luther's famed exposition on the Book of Galatians is better than this sermon of Luther, his exposition of John 1:29 –
To cross-reference the quotes that Walther and Pieper used from this sermon, you will find the following indications (starting in Part 2):
  • Walther quotes will be highlighted in yellow, and bold italics added where Walther italicized
  • Simultaneous quotes by both Walther and Pieper will be done in blue
Any highlights I make for myself for commenting, I will use green.

If anyone doubts my basis for doing this blog, if anyone doubts that Luther is indeed the angel in Rev. 14:6, if anyone doubts that UOJ (Universal, Objective Justification) was the heart of Luther's faith, then I point to this sermon of Luther.  It is so wonderful, that I am going to reproduce it here in 4 parts (Table of Contents below).

The first part, pages 158-161 (LW):
12th Sermon on John 1-4 (John 1:29)
Martin Luther
The last time we heard John describe John the Baptist as one who bore witness to the Light, that is, to the Son of God, and as one who testified that we take all from His fullness, grace upon grace; that the Law was given through Moses, but that grace and truth came through Christ; and that no one has ever seen the Father but the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father and has revealed Him to us. Thus far we have treated this testimony and message of John according to the measure of grace which God has granted us. From this we have learned the sum total of the entire Christian faith and doctrine, namely, that Christ is very God and very man, who came into the world that we also might attain grace from His grace and take all from His fullness. All depends so entirely on the Son that no one can know anything of the Father unless the Son, who is acquainted with the Father’s innermost thoughts, reveals it to him. Thus all the world is to be drawn into the realm of the Lord Christ and become subject to Him, for without Him no one can be saved.

This offers us an excellent sermon and testimony of Christ which we cannot comprehend fully in this life; we must accept it in faith until we understand it perfectly and also see it in the life beyond. These are, to be sure, very brief words; but they present an epitome of Christian doctrine and life. We continue on this subject:1

29. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said: Behold, the Lamb of God.

It is evident from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that John did not know Christ before he baptized Him. He did, of course, conclude from the angel’s announcement before his conception that he was to precede Christ and be His herald and forerunner, “to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76–77). John was also aware that the Lord was to follow him soon, for before his entry into the ministry the command had come to him in the desert to proclaim to the Jewish people up and down the countryside that the Lord had come. At the same time John was to baptize with water. John proclaimed the advent of Christ in order to forestall any excuse the Jews might bring up for their ignorance of Christ and their failure to recognize Him because of His humble appearance.

Now John was cognizant of the fact that he had been born to this office, that he had been consecrated and ordained for this mission from the womb (Jer. 1:5), to prepare the way for the Lord. On the very day on which the Word and command of the Lord came to him, therefore, he began to announce the presence of the Messiah to his people (Luke 3:2). He traveled up and down the banks of the Jordan, faithfully pursuing his office and preaching from place to place that the people should pay heed to the presence of the Savior, of whom the Scriptures and the dear prophets had prophesied. The time was now at hand, he declared, as he exhorted them to open eyes and ears. This was the burden of his message to the people: to make ready to receive Him. However, he was not acquainted with the person of Christ until He who had ordained him into the ministry informed him: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He” (John 1:33); later these words were confirmed with deeds. This happened, for instance, when Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John. The heaven opened, and the voice of the Father was heard, saying: “This is my beloved Son.” And the Holy Spirit descended on Christ in physical form, as a dove (Matt. 3:16–17). Then John thought to himself: “This must be He.” Therefore he now opens his mouth and proclaims that Christ, the Messiah, had been born and was already in their midst, and that they should accept and not neglect Him. Lest the Jews accuse God of sending the Messiah secretly without revealing Him to them, and, therefore, because of His poor and lowly appearance, refuse to recognize Him, God dispatched John to wander up and down the Jordan and there to baptize and remind the people of the presence of the Messiah. When Christ came to him to be baptized, John was not yet well acquainted with Him but began to recognize Him gradually in the course of the conversation. Later in chapter one we shall hear of Christ’s Baptism by John, for what is said about John in our present text took place after Christ’s Baptism. At that time John supposed that Christ would necessarily be extraordinary and remarkable in His outward appearance; he surmised that one day Christ would come to him for Baptism. But when John beheld the heaven opening over the Baptism of Christ, heard the voice of the Father, and saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove—when he witnessed this magnificent spectacle, then John was convinced that this was the Messiah. And John was seized with a sense of deep humility, awe, and reverence, thinking: “Lo, did I baptize Him over whom the heavens open?” This prompted him to exclaim: “Indeed, I should be baptized by You, whereas You ask me to baptize You.” Therefore the Lord replied: “Let it be so now” (Matt. 3:15); then He stepped out of the water and went about His mission.

The record in Matthew gives the impression that these words between John and the Lord were exchanged before the Baptism. I shall let it pass without quibbling, although it may well be that the conversation took place after this event. Occasionally the evangelists reverse the order of events; they often report them out of their chronological sequence. It is my opinion that John delivered his memorable sermon proclaiming Christ as the man whom the Law and all the prophets had foretold, who should redeem His people, and of whose fullness we all should take grace upon grace, after His Baptism, when he witnessed that striking scene and was assured by that revelation not only of the presence of Christ but also of His true character. To be sure, God had given His Law through Moses; but this had not improved matters; rather it had made them worse. Grace and truth, however, had not come into the world through the Law of Moses or anything else, but solely through Christ. Therefore all who sought help were to rally about Him. Furthermore, the Law was no longer to have validity, because the Man had now come for whose sake the Law had hitherto been observed. John, too, now looked upon his office as terminated; for now He had appeared who baptized not only with water but also with the Holy Spirit. In all probability John made this statement after he had seen and baptized Christ.

The same is true of the beautiful sermon briefly reported in our text. The evangelist speaks of “the next day,” namely, a day following upon the Lord’s Baptism, whatever day it may have been. This does not imply that it was on the very next day—since the Lord was led up to sojourn in the desert for forty days after this event—but on one of the subsequent days, when Jesus was walking up and down the banks of the Jordan, very likely after He had entered upon His ministry and was now going to search for disciples. At such a time John saw Jesus approaching. It is probable that he recognized Him from the time of His Baptism. He is seized, as it were, with a cordial and happy awe and humility. He does not deem himself worthy to approach Him, but he begins to honor and to praise Him from afar. From a distance he points to Him, saying:
Behold, the Lamb of God!
(continued in Part 2) 
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Table of Contents:
Part 1,   Part 2,   Part 3,   Part 4

I may add highlighting and a few comments before finishing this series.

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