[The following sermon is taken from volume III:73-85 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 12. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard P. Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
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I. What Moved Christ to Deliver This Sermon of Comfort
1. Here in this Gospel we see how the Lord comforts and imparts courage to his children whom he is about to leave behind him, when they would come in fear and distress on account of his death or of their backsliding. We also notice what induced the evangelist John to use so many words that he in-
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deed repeats one expression four times, which according to our thinking he might have expressed in fewer words. There is first of all presented to us here the nature of the true Christian in the example of the dear apostles. In the second place, how the suffering and the resurrection of Christ are to become effective in us.
2. We also see that Christ announces to his disciples, how sorrowful they should be because he would leave them, but they are still so simpleminded and ignorant, and also so sorrowful on account of his recent conversation at the Last Supper, that they did not understand at all what he said unto them; yea, the nature of that which Christ presents to them is too great and incomprehensible for them. And it was also necessary that they should first become sorrowful before they could rejoice, even as Christ himself was an example to us that without the cross we could not enter into glory. Hence he says in Luke 24, 26 to the two, with whom he journeyed to Emmaus: “Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” If therefore the dear disciples were to have joy, they must first of all pass through great sorrow. But this joy came to them through the Lord Jesus; for it is decreed in the Gospel, that without Christ there is no joy; and on the other hand, where Christ is, there is no sorrow, as is plainly stated in the text. Hence when Christ was taken from them, they were in great sorrow.
3. And these words here in this Gospel Christ the Lord spake unto his disciples after the Last Supper, before he was apprehended. Let us look at them:
“A little while and ye behold me no more, and again a little while and ye shall see me, for I go to the Father.”
II. THE SERMON OF COMFORT ITSELF.
A. Contents Of This Sermon.
4. “A little while,” he says, “and ye behold me no more,” for I shall be taken prisoner and they shall deliver me to death. But it will not last long, and during this short time ye shall be sorrowful, but only remain steadfast in me and follow
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me. It will soon have an end. Three days I will be in the grave; then the world will rejoice as though it had gained a victory, but ye shall be sorrowful and shall weep and lament. “And again a little while, and ye shall see me; and, Because I go to the Father.” That is, on the third day I will rise again; then ye shall rejoice and your joy no man shall take from you, and this will not be a joy of only three days, like the joy of the world, but an eternal joy. Thus the Evangelist John most beautifully expresses the death and resurrection of Christ in these words, when Christ says, “A little while, and ye behold me not; and again a little while, and ye shall see me; and, Because I go to the Father.”
5. An example is here given us, which we should diligently lay hold of and take to heart; if it went with us as it did in the time of the apostles, that we should be in suffering, anxiety and distress, we should also remember to be strong and to rejoice because Christ will arise again. We know that this has come to pass; but the disciples did not know how he should be raised, or what he meant by the resurrection, hence they were so sorrowful and so sad. They heard indeed that they should see him, but they did not understand what it was or how it should come to pass. Therefore they said among themselves, “What is this that he saith to us, A little while? We know not what he saith.” To such an extent had sadness and sorrow overcome them, that they quite despaired, and knew not what these words meant and how they would see him again.
6. Therefore we must also feel within us this “a little while” as the dear disciples felt it, for this is written for our example and instruction, so that we may thereby be comforted and be made better. And we should use this as a familiar adage among ourselves; yea, we should feel and experience it, so that we might at all times say, God is at times near and at times he has vanished out of sight. At times I remember how the Word seems neither to move me nor to apply to me. It passes by; I give no heed to it. But to this “a little while” we must give heed and pay attention, so that we
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may remain strong and steadfast. We will experience the same as the disciples. We cannot do otherwise than is written here; even as the disciples were not able to do otherwise.
7. The first “a little while” in that he says, “A little while, and ye shall behold me no more,” they could soon afterwards understand, when they saw that he was taken prisoner and put to death, but the second “a little while” in that he says: “And again a little while, and ye shall see me,” that they could not understand, and we also cannot understand it. Yea and when he says: “Because I go to the Father,” that they understand still less. Thus it also goes with us: although we know and hear that trials, misfortune and sorrow endure but a little while, yet we see that it constantly appears different than we believe. Then we despair and waver, and cannot be reconciled to it. We hear and we know very well that it shall not last very long, but how that result shall be accomplished we can never understand, as the disciples here cannot understand it.
8. But since they are unable to understand it why does Christ relate it to them or why is it written? In order that we should not despair but hold fast to the Word, assured that it is indeed thus and not otherwise, even though it seems to be different. And although we do at times depart from the Word, we should not therefore remain altogether away from it, but return again, for he makes good his Word. Even though man cannot believe it, God will nevertheless help him to believe it, and this he does without man’s reason or free will and without man adding anything thereto. Yea, the Evangelist tells us that the disciples could not understand the words the Lord spake to them; how much less could they understand his works which followed afterwards. So very little does the free will and understanding of man know of the things pertaining to the salvation of the soul. These temporal things the free will can perceive and know, such as the cock crowing, which he can hear and his reason can also understand it; but when it is a question of understanding the work and Word of God, then human reason must give
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it up; it cannot make head or tail of it, although it pretends to understand a great deal about it. The glory thereof is too bright, the longer he beholds it the blinder he becomes.
9. This is presented very plainly to our minds in the disciples who, though they had been so long with the Lord, yet they did not understand what he said to them. Well, neither will we be able to learn nor to understand this until we experience it; as when we say, Such and such a thing happened to me; this I felt and thus it went with me, then I was in anxiety; but it did not last long. Then I was encompassed by this temptation and by that adversity, but God delivered me soon out of them etc.
10. We should take to heart and firmly hold fast to these words and keep them in mind when in sorrow and distress, that it will not last long, then we would also have more constant joy, for as Christ and his elect had their “a little while,” so you and I and everyone will have his “a little while.” Pilate and Herod will not crucify you, but in the same manner as the devil used them, so he will also use your persecutors. Therefore when your trials come, you must not immediately think how you are to be delivered out of them. God will help you in due time. Only wait. It is only for a little while, he will not delay long.
11. But you must not lay the cross and sorrow upon yourself as some have indeed done, who chose for themselves death and imprisonment, and said, Christ willingly entered into death; he willingly permitted himself to be apprehended and delivered. I will also do the same. No, you dare not do this. Your cross and suffering will not long delay coming. These good people did not understand it. The dear disciples also said in Mt 26, 35 that they would remain with Christ and die with him. Peter said in John 13, 37 he would not deny Christ, or would give his life for him; but how was it in the end? Christ went into the garden, trembled and quaked, was apprehended, put to death; Peter however forsook him. Where was now this great confidence, this boldness and courage of Peter? He thought Christ would die with
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joyful courage, and he would also follow him, but alas he was badly mistaken.
12. Here you easily see that the sorrow and sufferings, in which we expected to remain permanently, were of our own choosing, but when the hour finally comes, of which you never thought before, you will hardly be able to stand, unless you become a new man. The old Adam despairs, he does not abide, he cannot abide, for it goes against his nature, against his purpose and against his designs. Hence you must have your own time, then you must suffer a little. For Christ withdraws himself from you and permits you to remain in the power of sin, of death and of hell. There the heart cannot accomplish very much to calm the conscience, do whatever it will, for Christ departs and dies. Then you will have the refrain, “A little while, and ye shall not behold me.” Where will you go? There is no comfort. There is no help. You are in the midst of sin; in the midst of death; in the midst of hell. If Christ would not come now independent of any merit of your own, then you would be compelled to remain in this tribulation and terror eternally, for thus it would have happened also to the disciples, if Christ had not risen from the dead and become alive. Therefore it was necessary for him again to arise from the dead.
13. Now this everyone must experience and suffer, either now or upon his deathbed when he dies, but how much better it is to experience it now, for when at some future time we shall be cast into the fire for the sake of the Gospel and be counted as heretics, then we shall see of what profit this is; for if the heart is not strong at such a time, what shall become of us, for there our eyes shall see the torture and the terror of death. Whither shall we go? Therefore if Christ is not present, and if he should then withdraw his hand we are already lost; but if he is with us to help, the flesh may indeed die, but all is well with the soul, for Christ has taken it to himself. There it is safe, no one shall pluck it out of his hand. Jn 10, 28.
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14. But this we cannot accomplish with words, an experience is here needed for that. Well it is for him who experience this now, then surely it will not be hard for him to die. It is very perilous indeed if we must learn this upon our deathbed, namely, how to wrestle with and conquer death. Therefore it was indeed a great favor and mercy of God, which he showed to the holy martyrs and apostles in whom he had first conquered death, then afterwards they were prepared without fear to suffer everything that could be laid upon them.
B. This Sermon Of Comfort Explained.
15. All this is presented to us in our Gospel, but since the disciples could not understand what he meant in that he said “A little while” and he noticed that they were desirous to ask him, he continues and explains it to them in these simple words and says,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
16. This is spoken to all Christians, for every Christian must have temptations, trials, anxieties, adversities, sorrows, come what may. Therefore he mentions here no sorrow nor trial, he simply says they shall weep, lament, and be sorrowful, for the Christian has many persecutions. Some are suffering loss of goods; others there are whose character is suffering ignominy and scorn; some are drowned, others are burned; some are beheaded; one perishes in this manner, and another in that; it is therefore the lot of the Christian constantly to suffer misfortune, persecution, trials and adversity. This is the rod or fox tail with which they are punished. They dare not look for anything better as long as they are here. This is the court color by which the Christian is recognized, and if anyone wants to be a Christian, he dare not be ashamed of his court color or livery.
17. Why does God do this and permit his own to be persecuted and hounded? In order to suppress and subdue the
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free will, so that it may not seek an expedient in their works; but rather become a fool in God’s works and learn thereby to trust and depend upon God alone.
I8. Therefore when this now comes to pass, we shall not be able to accommodate ourselves to it, and shall not understand it, unless Christ himself awakens us and makes us cheerful, so that his resurrection becomes effective in us, and all our works fall to pieces and be as nothing. Therefore the text here concludes powerfully, that man is absolutely nothing in his own strength. Here everything is condemned and thrust down that has been and may still be preached about good works; for this is the conclusion; where Christ is not, there is nothing. Ask St. Peter how he was disposed when Christ was not with him. What good works did he do? He denied Christ. He renounced him with an oath. Like good works we do, when we have not Christ with us.
19. Thus all serves to the end that we should accustom ourselves to build alone upon Christ, and to depend upon no other work, upon no other creature, whether in heaven or upon earth. In this name alone are we preserved and blessed, and in none other. Acts 4, 12 and 10, 43. But on this account we must suffer much. The worst of all is, that we must not only suffer shame, persecution and death; but that the world rejoices because of our great loss and misfortunes. This is indeed very hard and bitter. Surely it shall thus come to pass, for the world will rejoice when it goes ill with us; but this comfort we have that their joy shall not last long, and our sorrow shall be turned into eternal joy. Of this the Lord gives us a beautiful parable of the woman in travail, when he says:
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come, but when she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into the world.”
C. This Sermon Of Comfort Is Illustrated By A Parable.
20. With this parable be also shows that our own works
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are nothing, for here we see that if all women came to the help of this woman in travail, they would accomplish nothing. Here free will is at its end and is unable to accomplish anything, or to give any advice. It is not in the power of the woman to be delivered of the child, but she feels that it is wholly in the hand and power of God. When he helps and works, then something is accomplished, but where he does not help, all is lost, even if the whole world were present. In this God shows to the woman her power, her ability and her strength. Before this, she could dance and leap; she rejoiced and was happy, but now she sees how God must do all. Hereby we perceive that God is our Father, who also must deliver us from the womb and bring us forth to life.
21. Christ says here to his disciples, So it will also go with you. The woman is here in such a state of mind that she is fearful of great danger, and yet she knows that the whole work lies in the hands of God; in him she trusts; upon him it is she depends; he also helps her and accomplishes the work, which the whole world could not do, and she thinks of nothing but the time that shall follow, when she shall again rejoice; and her heart feels and says, A dangerous hour is at hand, but afterwards it will be well. Courage and’ the heart press through all obstacles. Thus it will also be with you, when you are in sorrow and adversity, and when you become new creatures. Only quietly wait and permit God to work. He will accomplish everything without your assistance.
22. This parable of the woman is a strong and stubborn argument against free will, that it is entirely powerless and without strength in the things pertaining to the salvation of our souls. The Gospel shows very plainly that divine strength and grace are needed. Man’s free will is entirely too weak and insignificant to accomplish anything here. But we have established our own orders and regulations instead of the Gospel and through these we want to free ourselves from sin, from death, from hell, and from all misfortune and finally be saved thereby. A great mistake.
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23. Here you see in this example, that if a man is to be born the mother must become first as though she were dead; that is, she must be in a condition as though she were already dead, she thinks it is now all over with her. Thus it shall be also with us. If we want to become godly, we must be as dead, and despair of all our works, yea, never think that we shall be able to accomplish anything. Here no monastic life, no priest-craft and no works will be able to help; but wait thou patiently and permit God to do with you according to his will. He shall accomplish it; permit him to work, We shall accomplish nothing ourselves, but at times we shall feel death and hell. This the ungodly shall also feel, but they do not believe that God is present in it and wants to help them. Just as the woman here accomplishes nothing, she only feels pain, distress and misery; but she cannot help herself out of this state.
24. But when delivered of the child she remembers no more her sorrow and pain, but is as though she had become alive again. She could not before even think that her sorrow and pain should have an end so soon. Thus it is also with us in the trials of sin, of death, and of hell; then we are as though we were dead; yea, we are in the midst of death, and Christ has forsaken us. He has gone a little while from us. Then we are in great pain and cannot help ourselves; but when Christ returns, and makes himself known to us, our hearts are full of joy, even though the whole world be to the contrary.
25. This no one can realize unless he has once been encompassed by death. He who has once been delivered from death must then rejoice; not that such a person cannot again fall and be sorrowful at times, but since this joy is at hand he worries about nothing. He also fears nothing, no matter by what dangers he may be surrounded. This joy can indeed be interrupted, for when I fall again into sin, then I fear even a driven leaf. Lev 26, 36. Why? Because Christ has departed a little while from me and has forsaken me; but I will not despair, for this joy will return again. I must not
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then continue and cling to the pope, nor endeavor to help myself by works; but I must quietly wait until Christ comes again. He remains but a little while without. When he then looks again upon the heart and appears and shines into it, the joy returns. Then shall I be able to meet every misfortune and terror.
26. All this is said and written that we may be conscious of our weakness and inability, and that as far as our works are concerned all is nothing, all is utterly lost. But this joy is almighty and eternal when we are dead; but now in this life it is mixed. Now I fall and then I rise again, and it cannot be eternal, because flesh and blood are still with me. Therefore Christ says to his disciples:
“And ye now have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”
27. All this David has described in a psalm in a most masterly and beautiful manner, when he says in Psalm 30, 1-8: “I will extol thee, 0 Jehovah, for thou hast raised me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. 0 Jehovah, my God: I cried unto thee and thou hast healed me. 0 Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol, thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, 0 ye saints of his, and give thanks to his holy memorial name for his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime; weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to Thee, 0 Jehovah; and unto Jehovah I made supplication.” Where is now the man who just said: “I shall never be moved?” Well, he replies, when thou, Jehovah, of thy favor didst make my mountains to stand strong, then I spoke thus. “But when thou didst hide thy face, I was troubled,” I fell. If Christ were continually with us, I really believe we would never be afraid; but since he occasionally departs from us we must therefore at times be afraid.
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28. In this Psalm is beautifully portrayed to us how to recognize and experience a good conscience, for here David considers the whole world as a drop, and is not the least afraid of it, even though it should storm and rage against him, for he has the Lord with him. He has made his mountain to stand strong, but when he fell and the Lord hid his face from him, then he was afraid. Then were heart, courage, and mountain gone. Then was he afraid of a driven leaf, who before was not afraid of the whole world, as he also says in another psalm unto the Lord: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Ps 23,4. Likewise in Ps 3,6 he says: “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of the people that have set themselves against me round about.” Passages like these can be multiplied in the Psalms, all of which show how an upright good conscience stands, namely; when God is with it, it is courageous and brave, but when God has departed, it is fearful and terrified.
29. Here we rightly understand now what the words of Christ signify, “I go to the Father.” Before this no one understood them, not even the disciples. But this is the road: I must die, he saith, and ye must also die. Peter vowed boastfully; for according to the old Adam he wanted to die with the Lord, and we all think we want to die with Christ, as all the other disciples said that they would enter into death with Christ. Mt 26,35. But all this must perish in us. You must come to the moment of trial, when Christ does not stand by you and does not die with you, when you cannot help yourself, just like the woman in travail. When this takes place, then you come to the Father. That is, you are filled with his power, and be makes a new man of you, who thereafter is not afraid, whose character is already here a heavenly character, as St. Paul calls it in Phil 3, 20; and this has its beginning here, by faith. Then you become courageous and brave, and can say as the prophet in the
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Psalm, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people,” and “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Why all this? Because you have come to the Father. Who can now overthrow God’s omnipotence? No one. Aye, then no one can do anything to you or cause you any harm.
30. This no one will understand until it has come to pass. Have you been encompassed by death and been delivered from it, then you will say, I was in death, and if the Lord had not delivered me, I would have remained in death’s grasp forever. The entire thirtieth Psalm refers to this, which you will do well to examine thoroughly and consider faithfully.
31. Here you have now the fruit and the example of the death and the resurrection of Christ, and how free will is nothing, and everything reason concludes regarding these things, which pertain to our salvation. May God give grace that we may lay hold of it and regulate our lives accordingly, Amen.
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:87-96 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 12. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard P. Bucher. It is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
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1. First, we will consider this narrative in the simplest manner, as it occurred after the Last Supper, while the Lord was in the garden on the way with his disciples to his last sufferings and death. In this historical narrative of today’s Gospel the Lord preaches his death and resurrection to his disciples, the words of which narrative the disciples at the time failed to understand, these words being to them dark sayings and totally hidden from them–an experience that may easily be ours, those of us who are not yet firmly established in the faith. What, however, hindered the beloved disciples from understanding the narrative? This, namely, that they thought Christ was about to establish a temporal kingdom which would make an impression upon the world, and move along in pure, perpetual life, not in death, of which he here speaks when he says: “A little while, and ye behold me no more.” As if he wished to say: I will be with you yet a little while longer, perhaps to midnight; after that I will die and be buried, and be taken out of your sight, so that you will see me no more. But again a little while and ye shall see me; that is, on the third day I will arise again and see you again, and ye shall see me again.
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2. This is the sense according to the history, and they are very cold words if not understood in a spiritual way. Yet the Lord also comforts his disciples and says that they will be sorrowful because of his departure but their sorrow will soon have an end. It will be with them as with a woman who lies in the pangs of childbirth; as soon as she is delivered of the child, she forgets her pain. And although this is plain and easy to understand, yet the disciples did not understand how they should fare, what the Lord meant to teach them by these words and by this parable; for such words they had never before heard. But these sayings seem simple to us now, since we often preach and apply them. Were not this the case they would be as dark to us as they were to the beloved disciples. Therefore, let us carefully examine these words and first consider what it means to go to the Father
3. To go to the Father means nothing but to enter upon a new life. As if Christ were to say: I will leave this life of time, of the senses, of nature and of death, and will enter upon the immortal life, where the Father will make all things subject to me, where there is no sleep, no eating, no drinking, as while I lived in the body, and yet the flesh and blood, which I took from the virgin Mary, will continue. That is, I will take to myself a spiritual government to rule the hearts of believers in spirit and faith, and not found, as you imagine, a temporal kingdom. To this spiritual rulership I cannot come except by the way of death. But, as I said, the disciples did not understand it; they thought they would lose the Lord entirely when he died. Hence they fell into grief and sorrow.
4. Now, here we must take heed, and also learn something from this, lest we read this narrative in vain. To the beloved disciples the greatest pain and sorrow were not that they should never again see the Lord in the body, but the fact that their hearts had lost the Lord was a greater distress and calamity. They were happy to behold the Lord in the body, but they clung much more to him with their hearts. Hence they also thought: If he disappears from our eyes, he will also
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disappear from our hearts. Just so was it with their joy. To see him again in the body was not the true joy; that they could hardly expect. But that they received him again spiritually and by faith into their hearts, as Saviour and Comforter, was their true comfort and joy. For when he is believed in as the Saviour the heart rejoices, and aside from this belief there is no help, no counsel, nor any comfort at hand.
5. This we see in the case of the beloved disciples when they fled and forsook and denied the Lord, and shockingly fell into the sin of unbelief. Then there was no longer a Saviour before their eyes. Comfort had departed, Christ had fallen out of their sight, counsel and help were no longer present, and they would have had to remain in this grief and doubt forever had Christ not again caused them to rejoice; for besides this Saviour there is none other. Hence, when he is removed there is no other comfort to be had, and nothing but anxiety, need, despair and hell itself must be there. This was the real anxiety, grief and sorrow of the disciples.
6. What agony and grief, think you, they must have had when they recalled the kindness and friendship of the Lord, and the good deeds he did them, and that they were all so unfaithful to him! Then their hearts confessed: Aye, how friendly and lovingly he associated with us and showed us all exceptional love and friendship! And we have acted thus toward him, have forsaken him and are forsaken by him. Like unfaithful villains, we have denied him, have misused his teachings and grace. What will become of us? We dare not appear before God, neither can we stand before man, much less before Satan. There is now no consolation. The Saviour has departed. We are in a hopeless, condemned and lost state. Observe, the beloved disciples stood in such anxiety, need and grief that no fasting, no praying, no chastisement, could have helped them. All was lost.
7. In like manner God deals with his children today. Whenever be wants to comfort them, he first plunges them into similar anxiety and temptation. It is agony unbearable when the conscience passes sentence against one. The heart and
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every refuge fail and anxiety penetrates every nook of the conscience. Anguish and fear consume the marrow and bone, flesh and blood, as the prophet David often laments in his Psalms.
8. But Christ does not let his disciples be long in such anguish and need. He had said, “And again a little while, and ye shall see me.” This happened on Easter, when he appeared to them and offered them his peace, by which he comforted them and they forgot all the distress, fear and need which they had endured for the little while, until the third day. Narratives like this we should remember when we are in anguish and need, and have lost all hope of comfort. When man is troubled by an evil conscience because of his sins, the heart thinks it is eternal pain; and so it is, also, as man calculates, for he sees no end of it. He thinks God is against him and will not help him, and he himself will not allow God to help him. He looks about and finds no succor from any creature. Yea, he thinks all creatures are his enemies. Therefore, the heart soon concludes and says: Here is eternal anguish, here there will be no change, here there is no help, no comfort. God and everything are against me. In truth it is not so, but it is only a transition. It will not last long. If we can only keep quiet for a little time, he will surely not remain away long with his comfort. This is the Lord’s meaning when he here says to the disciples: “A little while and ye behold me no more,” namely, when ye are steeped in anguish and trouble. “And again a little while, and ye shall see me,” namely, when I shall visit you with my consolation and cause you to rejoice.”
9. Since the holy disciples experienced what it was to be overwhelmed by anguish and want, we must not think that it will be better with us. God will not make an exception in our case. But let us remember that Christ foretells to his disciples their fall, fear and sorrow, and also comforts them in order that they may not despair. Thus we should likewise comfort ourselves and allow the same to be spoken to us, so that when we are taken captive by sin and feel our consciences
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troubled and burdened, we do not despair; but rather remember it will not continue long. Therefore this is a very comforting Gospel to all troubled and terrified consciences. First, because Christ promises here he will not let them be captives to their misery very long; then, because he shows such kindly friendship to them–casts them not quickly from his presence, although they do not at once learn and understand his discourse; but bears with them, instructs them and deals with them most tenderly.
10. Therefore, should a person come into like fear and misery of conscience, he ought to call to mind these words, and say: Well, a change is taking place. Christ says, A little while and ye shall see me again. It will not last long. Keep calm. It is a matter of only a short time and then Christ will permit us to see him again. But where the conscience is so terrified, one cannot grasp nor understand these words of comfort, even if he hears them. Such was the case with the disciples here. While they were in trouble they could not understand these words. It requires an effort if one is to comfort such terrified and troubled consciences. Hence the Lord uses a parable to explain his former words, in order to establish the disciples firmly in them. He takes an example of a woman in the labor of childbirth, and in such labor that she does not die from it, but brings a happy sight to the world. This is also very comforting and is spoken in order that the disciples may not despair when overtaken by temptation or fear, but may remember that, like a woman lying in travail, it will soon have an end; it is pain for only an hour or so. Christ thus, by means of this parable, makes their sorrow and trouble sweet and beautiful to his disciples.
11. Now we must carefully consider this example. As it is here, so is it in temptation, and especially in the perils of death. Notice how God deals with a woman suffering in childbirth. There she is left alone in her pain by everybody, and no one can help her. Yea, nothing whatever is able to rescue her from her agony; that rests in the power of God alone. The midwife and others around her may indeed com-
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fort her, but they cannot avoid the agony. She must go through it, and venture and freely hazard her life in it, not knowing whether she shall die or recover, because of the child. There she is truly in the perils of death and completely encompassed by death. This parable St. Paul also uses in I Thes 5, 3, when he tells the Thessalonians how the day of judgment will suddenly fall upon them, just like the pangs of a woman in travail, and they will not be able to escape.
12. Just so it is also when the conscience is in agony or when one lies in the perils of death. Then neither reason nor anything else can help. No work, whether this or that. There is no comfort. You think you are forsaken by God and everybody; yea, you imagine how God and everything are against you. Then you must restrain yourself to quiet and cling only to God, who must deliver you. Besides him nothing else, neither in heaven nor upon the earth, can deliver. The same God gives his help when he thinks it is time, as he does to the woman in travail. He gives her cheer when she no longer thinks of her pain; then joy and life are where death and all distress reigned before. In like manner God makes us happy, and gives us peace and joy where before there were misery and all kinds of sorrow. Therefore, Christ here presents to us all this example, and comforts us with it, in order that we may not despair in the time of death and temptation. It is as if he wanted to say to us: Dear man, when fear, sorrow, temptation and tribulation come, doubt not, despair not. It is only for a little time. When these are over, then follow their fruits, peace and joy.
13. In such sorrow and distress the beloved disciples were when the Lord departed from them. They were forsaken by everybody. They had no place of refuge. They stood in the gate of hell, expecting every hour to meet death; and they heard the judgment of God, thinking they had sinned and must now be given over to Satan. But immediately after his resurrection Christ comes and causes them to forget all their affliction and heart-sorrow. Then they become happy and go and bring forth fruit, and bestir themselves to help all man-
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kind to the same joy. It is a beautiful example and a comforting passage of Scripture for all who experience temptation and trouble. Such should remember that Christ says: “A little while and ye behold me no more and again a little while, and ye shall see me,” and never forget the Gospel of the woman in travail, who gladly goes through all and soon reaches the goal.
14. This Gospel thus arms us for temptation and tribulation, and the sum of it is, that Christ the Lord reveals himself to his own as pure love and friendship, so that they are comforted. This may ever be the case with us, since we know, and from this Gospel learn, that Christ will not forsake those overwhelmed by the perils of death and the temptations of conscience, but will come and comfort them just as he does here his disciples, not leaving them long in their distress. There is truly still hope for one who is terrified in conscience and is troubled because of his sins. But when one doubts and falls into such presumption that he feels in his heart: “There is no hope for me. It cannot be otherwise. I must be condemned. There is no help nor comfort left, do as I will”–when man is brought to this and hazards everything, it is a terrible fall. May almighty God ever protect us against such a fall! Though the sin be ever so great, if only one does not doubt he will be in no trouble. God will surely rescue him in his own good time.
15. Thus, you have heard here of two kinds of sorrow: The first, that of the disciple when deprived of the bodily presence of Christ; the other, our own, when his spiritual presence departs from our hearts. The first sorrow Christ removed by his resurrection; the other he removes when he causes the conscience again to rejoice. Of this he here speaks further, and says:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: ye shall be sorrowful but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
And immediately following the parable he adds:
“And ye therefore now have sorrow: but I will see you
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again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh away from you.”
16. Here the Lord means the joy with which the conscience is again comforted and made to rejoice when Christ becomes known as a Saviour. For then sorrow, sin, death, hell and all misfortune vanish. And this is not a worldly joy, as the world rejoices, sings and dances over success, but it is a heavenly and eternal true joy before God, and truly well pleasing to God. Of this joy the prophet says in Ps 68, 3: “But let the righteous be glad; yea, let them rejoice with gladness.” And Christ says here to his disciples: “And your joy no one taketh away from you.” How does this come about? Thus: When Christ stands again before your eyes, and the conscience finds that it possesses the Lord, from whom it expects everything good, then nothing more can be done for him; for who will harm the heart that is thus established upon Christ? Of what should one be afraid as long as he can say: My Lord Jesus Christ is Lord over all things; over death, hell, Satan, and over everything in heaven and upon earth? As St. Paul also defiantly boasts in Rom 8,31-39. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, xFor thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ (Ps 44,23). Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor
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any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
17. These were the words of St. Paul. In the same spirit David also speaks in Ps 27,1-3, and says: “Jehovah is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, even mine adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell. Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, even then will I be confident.” And in Ps 23, 1-4 he says: “Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul: he guideth me into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
18. Behold, how courageous and defiant is this man! Who gave him such a valiant and defiant courage? or whence did it come to him? From the Saviour alone. And the more we are driven from him, the more we cling to him. The more injury, misfortune and sorrow people cause us, the more we rejoice, for this joy is eternal; and the more they tear us from it, the greater it becomes.
19. Now the question may be asked, can one fall from this joy? Yes. And as soon as we fall, eternal pain is at hand, out of which, although it is in its nature eternal, yet God rescues his own. Thus the joy continues forever, but as long as the person is upon the earth he may fall from it. You should understand it thus: Christ is my Saviour, if I so believe and confess. This joy is to me an eternal joy so far as I remain in it. But when Christ departs out of the heart, then the joy also departs. The grace continues, but the conscience can easily fall. I tell you this to the end that you may not be offended in the future when many of you shall fall from the Gospel and deny Christ. For wherever Christ shall be with his joy and comfort, there the cross and persecution are also
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soon at hand. But I fear we have neither the joy nor the persecution, since we so little appropriate the Gospel. We continue ever in our old nature and despise the dear and precious treasure of the Gospel; therefore God will visit us with greater punishment than he did the Jews, namely, with blindness and error. As Paul says to the Thessalonians: “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thes 2,1-12. For God cannot allow his Gospel to be disgraced. That one should stumble he will indeed allow, but for one thus to despise his mercy he will not permit, and it is not right that he should. Therefore, it is to be feared that heresy and working of error will come, so that no one will know what is the trouble, as is already evident and will become still more so. May God restrain Satan and save us from such a visitation! Amen.
[The following sermon is taken from volume III:97-109 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983. It was originally published in 1907 in English by Lutherans in All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 12. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard P. Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
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This sermon was preached in 1542 and published in the same year in two pamphlet editions, under the title: “A sermon for Jubilate Sunday, preached before the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse, by Dr. Martin Luther, Wittenberg, 1542.”
I. CHRIST’S PASSION AND RESURRECTION
1. This Gospel contains, and likewise pictures for us, the high and excellent work God accomplished when Christ,
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his only Son, died and rose again from the dead for us. Much has been said on this theme and there is much more to say. As for myself, I find that the more I study it, the less I master it. But since it is God’s will that we think of him, praise his work and grace, and thank him for the same, it is proper that we speak and hear all we can about them.
2. The Lord addresses his disciples here in dark and veiled words, which they do not understand; chiefly, no doubt, because he wishes thus to admonish them and thoroughly impress these words, so seldom heard, upon them, that they may not forget. A deeper impression is made upon one by words that are seldom used than by the forms of speech in general use.
3. The result was that the disciples even repeated the words twice and asked one another what they must mean. Christ likewise repeated them, and no less than four times. Still they remained dark and unintelligible words to them until later he revealed their meaning, when he rose from the dead and bestowed upon the disciples the Holy Spirit. Then they clearly understood his words. So we now understand them, to the extent that we hear and read them; but that they should be understood to their depth, that will not be in this life. But as I said, the longer and the more one learns from them, the less one can, and the more one must, learn.
4. For the Word of God is a different government, and the Holy Scriptures a different book, from the discourses and writings of man. St. Gregory spoke truly when he uttered the fine proverb: The Scriptures are a river in which a large elephant must swim and across which a little lamb can wade on foot. For the Scriptures speak clearly and plainly enough to the common people, but to the wise and very learned they are unattainable. As St. Paul confesses concerning himself in Phil 3, 15.
5. And St. Peter says in I Pet 1, 12 that such things were announced and written in the Scriptures that even the angels have their satisfaction and enough to occupy them, in the great work that Christ, God’s Son, became man, suffered death on the cross, but rose again and sits now at the right
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hand of the Father, Lord over all, even according to his human nature, and governs and preserves his church against Satan’s wrath and all the power of the world. We have, it is true, the words treating of this, but the angels see and understand it and therein have their eternal joy. And as they in eternity cannot behold it enough, much less can we understand it, for it is a work that is eternal, inexpressible, unmeasurable and inexhaustible.
6. This is said de cognitione objectiva; that is, as one sees it at a glance, as the angels view it, and as we will see it in the life beyond. But in this life we must have a different understanding of it, a practical knowledge (cognitio practica), that we may learn to confess what the power of this work is and what it can do. This is done by faith, which must cease in the next life, where we also shall know it by a full vision of it.
II. THE COMFORT CHRIST MINISTERS TO HIS DISCIPLES IN THEIR SORROW, AND THE JOY OF THE WORLD.
A. The Sorrow Of The Disciples And The joy Of The World.
7. We must learn here now what it is that the Lord says: “A little while, and ye behold me not; and again a little while and ye shall see me,” etc. This passage is fraught with as much meaning as that other: “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice,” etc. “But your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” A rare saying: A little while not see and be sorrowful, and yet a little while again see and be joyful.
8. According to the letter and history, it is indeed easy to understand what these words mean, especially in our day. In the confession of our faith even the children say: “I believe in Jesus Christ,” etc; “was crucified, dead and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead.” These are the two “little whiles,” of which Christ here speaks. But since there is deception where we also seek, and taste it, and we should try to bring it into life or experience, the words have a wonderful depth of meaning–that we should lose Christ, whom we
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believe to be God’s Son, who died and rose for us, etc; that he should die in us, as the apostles experienced until the third day. A terrible crucifixion and death begin when Christ dies in us and we also in him. As he here says: Ye shall not see me, for I am to depart from you. That is, I die, hence ye also will die, in that ye will not see me; and thus I will be dead to you and you will be dead to me. This is a special, deep and severe sorrow.
9. As there are many kinds of joy, so there are many kinds of sorrow. As, for example, when one is robbed of his money and property, or is reviled and disgraced when innocent, or loses father and mother, child and dear friends, etc; likewise, when Satan afflicts and martyrs one’s soul with sad thoughts, as Satan so easily can, though one knows not why or whence. But the really great sorrow above all sorrow is for the heart to lose Christ, so that he is no longer in view and there is no hope of further comfort from him. There are few who are so sorely tried. Surely not all even of his disciples experienced this. Perhaps not St. Thomas, St. Andrew, St. Bartholomew, and others, who were such good, common and plain people. But the other tender hearts, St. Peter, St. John, St. Philip and others, to whom these words applied, as they all had heard that they would lose Christ and never see him again.
10. Christ here also addresses, more than others, persons who truly believe and experience that Christ died and afterwards rose again; and it is to them a little while, in a common, small and childish sense, and only a bodily sorrow. But the disciples had to keenly feel and experience what it is to lose Christ out of view, not only to have him taken away bodily, but also spiritually, leaving them in a twofold misery and sorrow. For they had had not only the joy of his bodily presence, in that he was so long with them, cared for them, ate and drank with them, and passed through loving, sweet customs and fellowship, but he had associated so affectionately with them and had borne their weaknesses, yea, companioned with them more intimately and lovingly than a father does with his children. He often gave them remarkable liberties
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and even animated them by innocent trivialities. Therefore, they were pained to lose such a companionable Lord,
11. But the chief cause of their sorrow lay in the fact that they had set their hearts on his becoming a mighty lord and king and founding a government by which he would make them, along with himself, lords. They thought he would never suffer them to die. Such was hitherto their hearts’ joy and confidence in this Saviour.
12. Now, however, they lose both utterly and at one time, not only the friendly companionship of the Lord, but also this beautiful, glorious confidence, and they suddenly fall into the abyss of hell and eternal sorrow, Their Lord is most shamefully put to death, and they must now expect every moment, because of him, to be seized in like manner. They must now sing this song of mourning: Alas, how our confidence is now totally lost! We hoped to become great lords through this man and possess every joy we desired. Now he lies in the grave and we are fallen into the hands of Caiaphas and Judas, and there are no more miserable and unhappy people on the earth than we.
13. Notice, this is the true sorrow and heart agony, of which Christ here is really speaking, into which God does not lead everyone, nor anyone so readily; for here he offers comfort against it, as he shows in this Gospel. Other bodily suffering and need may be considered sorrow, as, when one suffers persecution, imprisonment and misery for Christ’s sake, and loses his property, honor and even his life. But the greatest of all sorrows is to lose Christ. Then all comfort is gone and all joy is at an end and neither heaven nor sun and moon, neither angel nor any other creature, can help you; nay not even God himself. For besides this Saviour, Christ, there is none in heaven nor on earth. Now, when he has departed, all salvation and comfort are gone, and Satan has gained an opportunity to plague and terrify the troubled soul. This he desires to do in the name and person of God, as he can then play the part of a lord.
14. On the other hand, the highest of all joy is that which the heart has in Christ, our Saviour. That is, indeed, also
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called joy, when one rejoices over the possession of great fortune, money and property, power, honor, etc.; but all this is but the joy of a child or of a maniac. There is also the infamous joy of Satan which even rejoices over the injury and misfortune of others, of which Christ here also says: The world will rejoice, and laugh in its sleeve over your crying and weeping when they put me to death and cause you every misfortune. There are also many like these in worldly affairs, who can never be happy unless they have brought misfortune to their neighbor or have seen him meet it. They are like the poisonous reptile, the Salamander, which (as the fable runs) is so cold that it can live in fire or can exist out of fire. So these people live and grow fat on the misfortunes of other people. The nice, envious person who is sad when another prospers, and would gladly have one eye less if thereby his neighbor had none, is the product of Satan.
15. But all this is still nothing compared with the joy the world, ruled by Satan, has in opposing Christ and his followers. It rejoices the most over the great misfortune of his followers in that Christ is crucified, all the apostles are banished, the church is completely destroyed, God’s Word is silenced and his name totally blotted out. This is spiritual joy just as truly as the severe sorrow is spiritual. However, it is not from the Holy Spirit, but from those who belong, body and soul, to Satan, and still are called the wisest, the most learned and the holiest persons upon the earth. They are like the high priests, Pharisees and scribes, who have no peace and know no joy so long as they hear the name of Christ mentioned and know that his Word is preached, or see one of his disciples still alive. As they say, in the Wisdom of Solomon 2.15: “He is grievous unto us even to hear or to behold,” and while Christ hangs on the cross, they blaspheme and revile in great joy thus: “If thou art the Son of God, and the King of Israel, come down from the cross; he trusteth on God, let him deliver him now,” etc. Mt 27,40-43. See how their hearts leap with joy, what a paradise and kingdom of heaven they have in seeing the dear Lord reviled on the
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cross and put to death; and that they themselves did it, is to them nothing but sugar and sweet grapes.
16. Observe, Christ here gives such joy to the world, and on the other hand severe sorrow to his disciples in that they must see, hear and suffer this. It must penetrate through their hearts, through their bodies and lives. And he truly pictures the world here to be as terrible and horrible as a child of Satan that has no greater joy than to see Christ defeated and his followers shamefully condemned and lost.
17. We see almost this condition now in our clever noblemen, the pope, the bishops and their rabble; how they maliciously rejoice and shout when they discover it goes a little ill with us, and how anxious they are that it under no circumstances remains concealed. It must be trumpeted forth until it reaches the abyss of hell. Dear God, what have we done to them? They still have their property and money, power and luxury, while we have hardly our daily bread. It is not enough that they are superior to us in everything they crave, while we are in other ways harassed and afflicted but they must besides be such bitter enemies to us that they do not wish us God’s grace but would have us burned in the lowest fires of perdition!
18. It is always a horrible sight, and the true fruit of the infernal spirit, that people cannot rejoice so highly over the good nor over worldly or human joy. Yea, no gold nor silver they love so intensely, no stringed instrument sounds so sweet to them, no drink tastes so good as to yield them the joy they feel when they see the fall and grief of pious Christians. They are so inflamed by hatred and a desire of revenge that they enjoy no really happy moment until they are able to sing: Praise be to God, the villains are at last out of the way! We have now rooted the Gospel out of the country. They have no rest and taste no joy before they have brought this about. Heretofore they have sought and partly accomplished this by many prompt intrigues, tricks and ill offices, and God allowed some to have for a short time a little joy, which individuals contrived and arranged. But they by no means tooled their anger in this way, as they had desired to do.
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B. The Comfort Christ Ministers To His Disciples.
19. Hence, Christ wishes to say here: You have now heard both what kind of joy the world will have, and what kind of sorrow will be yours. Therefore, learn it and cleave to it when you meet and experience it, so that you may have patience and lay hold of true comfort in the midst of such suffering. I must try you thus and let you taste what it means to lose me and for me to die in your hearts, in order that you may learn to understand this mystery and secret; for you will otherwise not study me. It will be too great for you to serve your time of apprenticeship in this exalted work, that God’s Son returns to the Father, that is, that he dies and rises again for you, to bring you to heaven. And if I do not allow you to be tried for a time, you will remain too imprudent and finally be incapable of doing right.
20. Therefore, he says, you must adapt and resign yourself to this, so as to experience what this “little while” means, and yet not despair and be wrecked therein. And therefore I tell you before, that it must be so. You have to pass through such sorrow inwardly and outwardly, that is, both in body and soul; but when it takes place and the hour comes that you have nothing to comfort you, and you have lost both me and God, then hold fast still to my Word that I now speak to you. It is only a matter of a little while. Now, if you can learn this saying, and retain these small words, “a little while,” and “again a little while,” there will be no trouble.
21. True, the first “little while” that you now see me and still have me with you, until I depart from you–that you can suffer and pass through. But the other “little while,” until you shall see me again–that will be an especially long and hard time for you. For it is the hour of true sorrow, when I will be to you dead, with all the joy, comfort and assurance you had from me, and you yourselves will be totally lost. However, my dear little children, only think of these words and forget not entirely what I now say to you. It shall not be so forever. A little while I shall be lost and not be seen. This you must now learn by experience. But only retain this much, that I called it “a little while,” and in my eyes it is
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only a little, short hour, although in your hearts and feelings it is not a little but a long while; yea, an eternally long while and a long eternal while. According to your feelings you will not be able to think differently, for when I am taken from you, you have lost all, since I am the eternal good and the eternal consolation. When that is gone, there is no longer a little while, nothing but the eternal; namely, eternal sorrow and death.
22. Notice, Christ preaches here for the comfort of his disciples and of all Christians when tempted thus by God, whether it takes place inwardly or outwardly, bodily or spiritually, especially in the highest form, which is called losing Christ out of the heart; that they may learn this passage, and retain this drop of the lavender water, by which to refresh and strengthen their hearts. Christ, my Lord, has surely said it shall be only a little while. Although I now lose him and know of no joy whatever, but lie prostrate and languish in pure sorrow, yet I will use that drop and cling to the cordial that he shall not continue to be lost to me. He says that it shall be only a little, short season, although it appears to me indeed to be great, long, and eternal. He will come again, as he here and in John 14, 18 says: “I will not leave you orphans; I come unto you,” etc. And thus we shall possess in him eternal comfort and joy instead of this little season of sorrow.
23. On the other hand, Christ says further that you must endure it that the world rejoices over your suffering and sorrow, for which it has no reason except that of pure satanic jealousy, by which it is so completely blinded. embittered and exasperated that no joy relieves it until its jealousy sees you stumble and become ruined. This is its heart’s delight and pleasure and it esteems it a heavenly, eternal joy. Then it says: Let us now see whether God will save him; is he the Son of God, then let him come down from the cross, etc. Mk 15, 31-32. As if they should say: He is now out of the way, and we are done with him forever.
24. But notice what further follows. Just as you, he says, shall not be robbed of a view of me forever, nor remain in your sorrow, so they shall not rejoice over your misfortune
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forever; but it shall be for them also only a short season, and be, as they say, a dance at high mass. For I will soon come to you again and make it worse and more bitter for them than it has ever been before. This was fulfilled in them after Christ’s resurrection, so that the Jews have no severer suffering than that they must hear and see Christ, our Lord. Although it pleases them a little that they slander Christ and his mother Mary and us Christians in the most ignominious manner, yet true joy they can never possess as they desire. And they continually hope that their Messiah will come and uproot all Christians.
25. Thus, also, our Caiaphas and Judas, the pope, with all his factions, who continually console themselves with the hope that we shall yet be uprooted cannot be happy while we live and the Gospel spreads. Nothing that causes man to rejoice has any effect upon them. Some are so angry that they cannot cease their raging and roaring until we all are dead. When that takes place they will be once happy, but the joy for which they long shall never be theirs. For, although we are dead, the Gospel will still remain and others will take our places, and that will be to them a new heart agony.
26. The Turk likewise imagines he will exterminate Christ and enthrone his Mohammed in all the world, and he rejoices whenever there is any hope of doing so; but this joy he craves he shall never experience. Our Lord, whom the Turk himself highly exalts and must esteem as a great prophet, shall restrain him; yea, finally season his joy and make it bitter enough through the exalted work of his death and resurrection, by which he tramples under foot sin, death and Satan. The victory which God accomplished through Christ was long before announced in the Scriptures, whereupon the beloved prophets and fathers died in this joy, as Christ says of Abraham in John 8, 56.
27. Since Abraham received such joy before it had yet transpired, but was only in word and promise, how much more can and will he receive it in the future after it has transpired and is proclaimed in the earth and even in heaven by the angels! Neither pope nor Turk can smother and extin-
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guish it. They may indeed try to smother it, and fancy they have a bite of sugar when they do Christendom a little harm; but they shall never obtain the joy they hope for and for which they thirst.
28. They may rejoice for a season, Christ says, but not longer than while you are in sorrow. That joy is particularly short, as your sorrow is short and lasts only a little while, and shall soon be turned into joy that no one will take from you. Without doubt that joy will, on the other hand, be also turned into sorrow that will never end.
29. Here upon the earth, however, you will not be able to have enough joy, nor will it be of the true, perfect quality that will quench your thirst. Only a foretaste, an appetizing morsel or a refreshing sip. It is too great ever to be exhausted as also the work that develops this joy is far too great to be fathomed by our learning. God mingles and tempers things thus upon the earth so that those who should by right rejoice must experience great suffering and sorrow; and, on the other hand, those who should be sorrowful here are happy and have a good time, but still in a way that this outward joy works their ruin. For they cannot acquire the true inner joy they long for, therefore their outer joy will also be their destruction. Their wealth, power, honor, pleasure and high living by no means make them happy, and they cannot lay their heads down to rest until they see that Christ is dead and his disciples are banished from the earth. These are always poor, miserable people whom one may truly pity. They fare the worst in that they cannot have their temporal joy pure, as they desire, because of their jealousy and hatred; and we even are altogether too ready to take vengeance by doing them harm. What more misfortune can they have and what greater injury can they do themselves than that they themselves should spoil and annihilate their own joy?
30. We also have true sorrow, both outwardly and inwardly, when Christ conceals himself from us; not like them, moved by jealousy and hatred, but because we do not possess Christ, the chief good. For this, however, there is already
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mingled with the sorrow the sugar that Christ speaks. Beloved, only persevere a little. It shall not be eternal, but shortlived sorrow, and soon it will be better. It is only a matter of a little while.
31. These words I hear, but when sorrow comes, it is stamped so deeply in the heart that I do not feel this comfort, and I fancy that it is impossible for the sorrow to have an end. However, this comfort keeps me, so that I do not fall from Christ to the other party. Though I experience grief and need, still they keep me, so that the sorrow must not be thoroughly bitter. As in the case of the others, their joy is sweetened and sugared through and through, yet it is always spoiled by wormwood and gall, so in our case sorrow has within itself its sugar and honey.
32. Therefore, let us continue to hear Christ and learn to understand his language, that we judge not according to our feelings, as if comfort were lost forever and sorrow had no end. That you feel and think thus, he says, I know very well; but still listen to what I say to you and learn only this word modicum, a little while. Sorrow must also be felt, but it shall not harm you, besides it shall not last long. Even by this the sorrow is already sugar-coated and tempered. Later, when the “little while” has passed and triumphed, then one feels what Christ says: “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Then the true joy of the heart commences and the soul sings an eternal Hallelujah, and Christ is Risen–a joy which will in the life beyond be perfect, without a defect and without an end.
33. Notice that the articles of our faith, both on the death and the resurrection of Christ, are thus set before us in this Gospel, and how the same must be put to practice by us, learned, and exercised in our deeds and our experiences, and not only heard with the ears and spoken with the mouth. Also, that we thus feel it, and such power works in us that both body and soul thereby become changed; that is, Christ dies in us and we also die in him. That is a great change, from life to death. However, then I must cleave firmly by faith to the words Christ says, “A little while,” and not only
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hear, but also take to heart the truth that trial will not last forever, but there will be a change from death to life when Christ again rises and lives in me and I become alive in him. Then the words shall come true, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh away from you,” etc. For this meeting every Christian should be prepared whenever he is called for it; for he must experience something of it either in life or at the hour of death; so that he will then be reminded of this saying of Christ and let nothing tear this comfort out of his heart. Amen.
34. Whatever is to be said further on this Gospel in a textual exposition of it you can read in the explanation of the three chapters of John, the discourses Christ spoke at the Last Supper to his disciples, where this and the Gospel for the following Sunday are treated at length.