[The following sermon is taken from volume V:128-139 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983). It was originally published in 1905 in English by Lutherans in All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 14. 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.]
THE RAISING OF THE WIDOW’S SON AT NAIN
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I. THE MIRACLE ITSELF.
1. In this Gospel you see how the Evangelist again presents to us a divine miracle, by which he desires to move us to lift our hearts to God, in which is the same state of things as at the time existed in this woman; for today’s lesson was not written for the sake of this widow, but for the instruction and help of all who should hear this Gospel until the end of the world, among whom we also have been reckoned.
2. In the first place notice what lovingkindness and grace were shown to this woman by Christ. We must truly confess she did not merit them; for she is going out of the city with her friends, where there is nothing but crying and weeping. The good woman thought of nothing as little as that she should again lead back her son into the city alive, and for this reason she does not desire it, nor does she ask it, much less has she deserved it. She never thought of such a thing that Christ should come hither; yea, she did not at the time know Christ nor did she know anything of his helping the people. Here all merit and preparations for meeting him are out of the question.
3. Now all this has been written to the end that just as here this deed of mercy befell this widow freely and entirely of grace, only because it solicited Christ’s sympathy,
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so from this we can draw the general rule that applies to all the merciful deeds of God, that they all overtake us without our merits, even before we seek them. He lays the foundation and makes the beginning. But why does he pity us? In this way it continues to be the grace of God. Otherwise, if we deserved it, it would not be grace. And if it be of grace, then we can say to him: Thou art a gracious God, thou doest good also to them who deserve it not.
4. This sermon seems easy to us, but where are they who mean it with their heart? If we believed that everything comes to us from God’s grace and mercy, we would daily run and rejoice, our hearts would continually rise and dwell in heaven. When we once get to heaven we will see that this is true. Now no one believes it. The god of this world, the devil, has such great power on earth that we do not see the work of God nor know it. 2 Cor. 4, 4. Therefore we do not appreciate it, we misuse God’s mercies, and are entirely unthankful to him.
5. If I only kept in mind that he gave me eyes, truly a very great treasure, it would be no wonder if shame caused my death, because of my ingratitude in that I never yet thanked him for the blessing of sight. But we do not see his noble treasures and gifts; they are too common. But when a blind babe happens to be born, then we see what a painful thing the lack of sight is, and what a precious thing even one eye is, and what a divine blessing a healthy, bright countenance is; it serves us during our whole life, and without it one would rather be dead; and yet no one thanks God for it. Examine the entire body, and you will everywhere see traces of God’s grace and goodness.
Hence Psalm 33, 5 says: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.” He had pure eyes and could see far, that the whole world was full of the goodness and lovingkindness of God. From whom, however, has this goodness come? Have we deserved it? No, but it pleased God to cast his gifts thus promiscuously into the world, which the unthankful receive almost as freely as the thankful. We are
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grieved when we are obliged to throw away one or two dollars, or less, or even to give them to the poor; how much does God daily cast away of his goods into the world and no one thanks him for anything? Yes, who even acknowledges their receipt?
6. Thus we may observe all creatures and become convinced of God’s goodness in them. Christ says in Mat. 5, 45: “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” As though he would say: I give it to the whole crowd; but who thanks me a single time for it? He enlightens my and your eyes, but no one acknowledges that it is God’s blessing. If some morning the sun should not rise, or rise three hours late, what distress and loss would that cause? How we would open our mouths and eyes? Then everyone would say: God be praised and thanked, who has given us such a light! But since it occurs daily, that the sun rises and shines at the appointed time, no one considers it a blessing.
So it is with the rain from heaven, with the grain in the field and with all God’s creatures. They exist in such abundance, and we are daily so overwhelmed by their abundance that we fail to see them.
7. At times God permits some man to fall into anxiety and need, into pain and distress, so that the world seems as though it had no God, and it makes a person blind, lame, dropsical, and lets anyone die, as here the widow’s son; for they are his creatures, he can do with them what he will. Now, why does he do this? He does it in such an abundance only that we may continually experience his lovingkindness.
Therefore as the disciples in John 9, 2 asked the Lord concerning the man blind from his birth, whether he or his parents sinned, the Lord answered and said: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents ; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” As though he would say: God desires to be praised in this blind person, for he sees that the treasures of the whole world do not move us, wherefore he floods us with his goodness out of pure
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grace, that he may present a blind person before our eyes, for us to see what a costly treasure we have in the blessing of our sight, although we cannot recognize his grace and kindness in our fortune, that we at least might know and identify them then in our misfortune. Therefore this man had to be blind in order that the others might know themselves, and say: Alas thou good God, what a precious gift I have, what a good thing a healthy body is and a bright countenance! But no one takes it to heart! Yea, it is true we say: have not the cows eyes also! Now, if you were blind you would of course feel the loss, which you do not now feel, because you are well and overshowered with God’s blessings.
8. So it was in the case of this widow, in whom God lets himself be known, as to what kind of a God he is, what he thinks of us, and what we must think of him. This woman has two misfortunes around her neck. First, she is a widow. This is misfortune enough for one woman, that she is forsaken and alone, and has no one to whom she dare look for comfort. And therefore God in the Scriptures is often mentioned as the Father of the widow and orphans, as in Ps. 68, 6 and 146, 9: “God setteth the solitary in families. The Lord preserveth the strangers and orphans, he delivers the widow.” Again: she has an only son about to die, who should have been her comfort. Now, God comes and takes away her husband and son. She had much better have lost house and home, yes, her own life, than her son and husband. But the Lord turns it around. While the husband lived the woman did not appreciate what a blessing a husband was; but when he died she first became aware of it. When he lived, she thought: 0, other women have husbands, too! And thought her husband was like other husbands. But afterwards when he was dead, she became aware what kind of a man she had lost.
So, too, when her son was bright and well, she did not appreciate the blessing of God, but as soon as he died, she then first saw what a treasure she had lost. Before she did not desire to spend on him; but now, since he is
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dead, she spends all she has and even herself upon him. And thus it is also with us. There are many of you who do not expend ten dollars that your child may be reared better; if the child dies the parents wish and say: 0 would to God he were alive, I would give many hundred dollars! Why did you not give something before that he might have learned a little? What is the reason you do not appreciate the grace and blessings of God? In short, the world remains world, and it will not change into anything else.
9. Now, the woman went ahead and did not know what God had given her; but she was soon obliged to experience it. For before she turns around, and she thinks she is the safest, God comes, tries the wife a little and teaches her certain things, takes her husband and her son, This all has been written for us that we might have an example and learn to acknowledge God when he blesses us with a healthy body, a bright countenance, and bestows upon us other blessings. He does not give them to the end that you should rejoice in them; but that you may know what to think of him. When he takes a member out of your family, permits your wife to die, or destroys one of your eyes, all this is done that you may see what you have enjoyed from him.
10. And this is now the common teaching through all the Gospels, that we may see what kind of a God we have. It is also shown us here in this Gospel that God will forsake no one; therefore he permits the wife to see in a new light what kind of a God she has. For when she was forsaken and had neither son nor husband, then Christ manifests himself to her and says: Learn to believe, trust God, know him to whom death and life are alike: have a good heart, be of good courage, weep not, there is no need of it. He then goes and awakens the dead, and gives him again to his mother.
11. This and like miracles God does that the heart may learn how it should be disposed to him and what it may expect from him. As now this wife was fully convinced that there was no hope for her son, that it was impossible for
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her to receive him back alive again; yea, if one had said to her: Before an hour your son will be alive again, she would have regarded it as impossible and said: It is more possible for the heavens to fall than for my son to live again. Behold, here comes God before she looks around, and does what she never dared to ask of him, as it is impossible, and he restores her son alive to her again.
But why does God do this? He permits man to fall so deeply into danger and anxiety, until no help or advice is within reach, and still he desires that we should not doubt, but trust in him who out of an impossible thing can make something possible, and make something out of nothing. If you are so deep in sin that your heart denies you all grace and the mercy of God and makes you think there is no hope for you, as many consciences are ensnared by such anxiety and distress; then turn about and look here how friendly and graciously God allows himself to be pictured by Christ in this Gospel; that you may observe that he means it well with you from his heart; and that he is not here either to condemn or excommunicate you, but to preserve your soul forever. For this purpose such miracles and wonderful works are held before our eyes, and they also serve to the end, that we may see. As God here helps this widow in a temporal way through Christ, so he will help us not only bodily, but much more spiritually, and our soul forever, if we only put our hope in him.
12. But all miracles and works of God are considered impossible in our eyes, and they are also impossible for the natural man to grasp; and this is to the end that God may be confessed to be an almighty Creator, who from something impossible can create something possible, and can make something out of nothing. It is impossible after I am dead that I should live again; and even if I should pray to all the angels and all the saints for it; nothing will result from such prayers; what then can the free will accomplish? Nevertheless in death I should say: I shall live, not through myself, but because I know that my God is so skillful that he can make something, not out of wood that lies
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before my eyes, but it is his nature and way to make a thing possible here from something impossible; and create something out of nothing; otherwise he were not the true and real God.
13. Therefore, if death be present and I can no longer live, I must still know enough to say: Yet I live, and will live; so that death, that is all about me, is like a spark of fire, and life is as great as the sea. Now reason cannot grasp how this takes place. But whoever believes, knows for a certainty that to him death will be like a spark of fire in the midst of the ocean, that is extinguished in a moment. God is almighty, he who believes is in God, therefore he is in life, and though he were in the midst of death. So too a poor person who believes, thinks like this one here in death: 0! poverty is a spark of fire, and wealth is as abundant as water in the sea; now a moment only is needed for poverty to sink, and I will be rich; for by faith God has entirely changed him who now has all things in his power. So also with shame; when one’s good name and reputation go down, people think they will never again be regained; if you believe and hold to God, it is a matter only of a moment, and you are again in great honor. For our God knows the art that from invincible poverty he can create great riches, from great shame unexpressable honor. So it is also with sin, if you believe. Thus sin compared with righteousness, is as a spark of fire compared with the whole sea of water.
14. This you see beautifully illustrated in the case of this woman. She is overwhelmed by exceedingly great pain and anguish, so that she thinks God, heaven, earth and all things are opposed to her. And since she looks into this with the eyes of sense, sees it as it is before her natural eyes, she must conclude it is impossible for her to be delivered from her great anxiety. But when her son was raised from the dead for her, she was as though the whole heaven and earth, wood and stone, and everything laughed and rejoiced with her; then she forgot all pain and suffering, this wholly disappeared just like a spark of fire is extinguished when it falls into the sea. Therefore it is written in the prophet Isaiah
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54, 6-8: “For Jehovah hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth when she is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting lovingkindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer.”
But this I do not see, I think this moment is an eternal something before God; but it is in truth only a moment; and much joy follows as Psalm 8, 5 also says: “For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor.” But this is still all hid from us, and we do not see it as this wife does. Her departed son is in the midst of life, for God has him in his bosom, and intends to wake him. There is a spark of death there that surrounds him, which no one saw. But now when he became alive that was revealed which before was hidden from the whole world.
15. Thus God certainly deals also with us. Here we should learn the kind of God we have, namely, he who surrounds us and is about us in our very greatest dangers and troubles. Therefore, if one is poor, sticks deep in sin, lies in death, is in sorrows and other afflictions, he thinks: it is a transition state, it is a drop and a spark; for God has surrounded him on all sides with pure wealth, righteousness, life and joy, only he does not permit him to see it. But it is a matter of only a little time when we shall see and enjoy it. Thus you have here an example, not of faith, but of the pure grace and lovingkindness of God. Now we must also say a little on the spiritual understanding or the allegorical interpretation of today’s Gospel.
II. THE SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION OF THIS MIRACLE.
16. All works and miracles that Christ does visibly and publicly should be interpreted to the end that they may show forth the works which he does among men unseen and
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spiritually or within them. Therefore this bodily death signifies the spiritual death of the soul, which man must believe. For no one can see into the soul of another while we live; but when we are dead, we then have other eyes, then we see that the whole world is dead. Therefore the Lord spoke to a Pharisee, Mat. 8, 22, who first wanted to go and bury his father: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
17. This youth who is here being borne to his grave is bodily dead. But there are also some inwardly dead before God who still live here in the body. The soul is dead that does not believe in God and cleave to him. And even though he be in the midst of death, yet he lives, as I said above.
18. This spiritual death occurs in a twofold manner: some are dead in their soul, but no one sees that death as we see bodily death, and this woman herself neither sees nor feels it. So the whole world is dead, but it realizes it not. Therefore some are also spiritually dead, who feel it well enough, as those whom the law has terribly punished. We do not here speak of those who care nothing for spiritual death; but of those who feel that they are dead and that their heart trembles, and who feel in their conscience that they have an unbelieving heart. He is dead quite otherwise than he who does not feel it, and yet always lives in wantonness. Now the one who does not experience their unbelief cannot be helped, for he does not know his sickness, and lives on, cares nothing for God nor the world. But he who feels this death, suffers misery and distress, there is struggling and despair, the world becomes too confined for him, he seeks assistance and advice, he despises neither stone nor wood, when they can afford him counsel, not to say that he should hear anything of man, even of the most insignificant person.
19. Who now gives him this feeling. The law does it, in that it reveals sin. The law says: “Thou shalt have no other gods.” When I hear this, I must and should do it, but I cannot. Then I quickly conclude that I am condemned. When I act thus, death comes immediately and there is such
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a struggle in my heart, that if I should receive no help I would have to remain forever in this death and struggle. This then is the death of the only son, who lies in the bier, the pallbearers are continually carrying him into hell.
20. The pallbearers are the preachers of the law, who do nothing else than plunge mankind ever deeper and deeper into death; as those here hasten to the grave with the dead they are the more terrified and driven the deeper into perdition. It never becomes better with mankind, yea, it is ever growing worse.
21. This we have thoroughly experienced under the Pope, in our confession of and in our making satisfaction for sin. We allowed ourselves to think we would atone for our sins by good works; but it was only an anxiety of the conscience. Thus we ever sank deeper toward hell. Hence, when you have people, who fear sin and condemnation, they are already dead, you dare not preach to these much more of the law, you must show them the way of salvation and preach to them the Gospel. When our Papists meet such troubled souls, they refer them to rosaries, to pilgrimages, to this and that work; but one helps like the other.
22. The pallbearers would have still moved on and laid the deceased in his grave and buried him, had Christ not come, so Christ must come also here with his Word and grace. And this now is that other office of the Gospel, which does not teach what you are to do; but whence you are to receive help, that you may do it; as Christ does here. He asks not, what is here? or how do you do this? do you wish to have the youth restored to life again, and the like? He asks none of these things; but he has mercy on the mother, goes to her, touches the bier, and the bearers soon stand still. That is, when man preaches the goodness of God, and when Christ presents us with his merits and works, then the hand is laid upon the coffin, and the bearers stand still, that is, you no longer hear the preachers of the law, you no longer believe them; but you say: preach works here, preach works there, we have a different Sermon. While our hands are on the coffin they accomplished nothing; the
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dead does not come to life again; but when Christ’s hand touches the coffin the mighty work is done. For when men hear that Christ’s work does it, and that his works are presented to us, he says: What need we to do beside? For here our doing is useless and in vain.
23. But the dead will not be raised to life so quickly. The Word of God is of course preached to us, the goodness of God and whatever is given us through Christ; but this is not yet sufficient, this is only first touching the coffin. The voice of Christ in the heart must also be added, that we may believe the Word, that it is really as we preach. The youth does not immediately arise after he is touched, but when the Lord spoke: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!” This voice stirred the heart and caused the dead to rise to life. When I in like manner hear the Word, and allow human traditions to move me, men still bear me ever on and I ever remain in distress, it helps me little. I must besides the external sermon also hear this voice in the heart: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise:” that is, I must believe this sermon, cleave to it with my heart, trust in it, and let neither sin, death, devil, nor hell draw me from it.
24. Thus we have two sermons. One lays the hand on the bier. This does not yet accomplish anything. But the other, when the hand is laid on the coffin and the voice follows in the heart, this accomplishes all. The first proclaims to us the works of Christ, how they are done for us and given to us. But when the voice is heard in the heart, then the one who was before dead begins to speak and to confess the faith with his mouth which he believes and feels in his heart. That is, when the heart believes, the work of love follows, namely, that you speak, that is, preach to others and thank God for the blessing and faith he has shown and given unto you.
25. From this follows great joy and thanksgiving, by which God is praised and exalted; just as here a great report about Christ went over the entire land of the Jews and into all the neighboring countries. Thus a Christian can lead many unto faith. Therefore man should not make a
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work of jugglery out of miracles and wonders, as the Papists have done.
26. This is said on today’s Gospel, in which we see how God helps and saves us, moved by pure grace and lovingkindness, without any merit or worthiness whatever on our part, yea, before we seek or request help from him. God grant that we may believe this!
Luke 7:11-17, Second Sermon
[The following sermon is taken from volume V:140-157 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983). The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Paul W. Meier, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
THE RESURRECTION OF THE WIDOW’S SON, THE YOUNG MAN OF NAIN.
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1. This portion of the Gospel teaches us to know the grace, work and power of God in the kingdom of Christ, our Lord, and to praise and thank him, as well as cheerfully to serve and obey him. For this miracle and act of mercy are related in order that we may recognize him as our helper in all times of need; and then, when we acknowledge him as our helper, that we love him, thank him for his benefits, and willingly suffer and endure whatever he allows to befall us, especially since we know with certainty that he does not permit anything to happen to us in order to destroy us, but only to try our faith, to see whether our trust and refuge securely rest in him, or in something else.
2. It is the nature of flesh and blood always to seek help and comfort from other sources than God, where they should only be sought, and at last, when all other help fails, to come to God for aid; if, indeed, things turn out so well that they do not wholly despair of God, and rush to satan; for many, when no other help avails, give themselves over to the devil. This results from the fact that they do not know God, and think that he has forgotten them, if he permits some small misfortune to happen to them.
3. Over against such thoughts, this Gospel presents a picture of how the Lord Jesus Christ acted toward the poor widow in the time of her greatest need, at the death of her son. On earth no greater need can arise than that caused by death, when the world and everything else have an end. In this greatest extremity he helped her, and raised the dead to life, as an example for us who hear it. For this was done not merely for the sake of the widow and her son, but, as St. John, 20, 31, says: “But these things are done and written, that ye may believe.” In this way he impresses upon the hearts of all this and his other miracles performed by the blessed Lord Jesus, as if he meant to say: Behold, now you hear how this widow’s son was raised from the dead; let this be preached into your heart, in order that you may accept it, and in this learn what God can and will do, that he can and will help you in all times of need, no matter how great they may be. And if it should happen that your
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needs should press heavily upon you and you realize that earthly counsel and help are unavailing, that then you do not despair but let this example strengthen your heart, so that you may look to the Lord Jesus for the best that he can give.
4. This was, indeed, no jest in the life of the widow. First, she lost her husband, and then her only son, whom she loved, died. Among those people it was regarded a great misfortune, if parents could not leave a name or children. They regarded this as a great disfavor of God. Hence, this widow, who after the death of her husband, placed all her hope and comfort in her only son, must have had great sorrow when her son was torn from her and she had nothing left on earth. Under such circumstances the thoughts were undoubtedly forced upon her: Behold, you are also one of the cursed women to whom God is such an enemy that they must pass from the earth without leaving an offspring. For thus it is written in the Psalms and the Prophets, that God threatens the ungodly, that he will destroy them root and branch, exactly as when one so entirely destroys a tree that neither leaf nor twig remains. This was regarded as the greatest curse and punishment, as may be seen in the lives of many emperors, kings and princes, who were so completely destroyed that nothing is known of them. This has the appearance as if it were the utmost disfavor.
5. Therefore this woman had great sorrow, not only because she had been robbed of her husband and afterwards of her son and thereby the family destroyed before her eyes; but, what seemed far more serious, because she was forced to think: Now I see that God is unfavorable to me and I am cursed; for this punishment has been executed upon me because God in the Psalms and the Prophets has threatened the ungodly to destroy them root and branch. This has happened to me. Therefore the miracle the Lord Jesus wrought in her behalf seemed to her altogether impossible; and if some one had then said to her: Thy son shall live again before your eyes, she would undoubtedly have said: Alas! do not mock me in my deep sorrow. Grant me at least
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so much that I may bewail my great misery, and do not add to it by your mockery. This would undoubtedly have been her answer, for she was greatly distressed, both by reason of the loss she had sustained as well as on account of her scruples of conscience.
6. But all this is portrayed here in order that we might learn that with God nothing is impossible, whether it be misfortune, calamity, anger, or whatever it may be, and that he sometimes allows misfortune to come upon the good as well as upon the wicked. Yea, that he even permits the ungodly to sit at ease, as in a garden of roses, and meet with success in all their undertakings, while, on the other hand, he appears to the pious as if he were angry with them and unfavorable to them; as, for example, it happened to the godly Job, all whose children were sadly destroyed in one day, who was robbed of his cattle and land, and his body most terribly tormented. He was an innocent-man and yet he was compelled to endure a punishment such as no ungodly person had suffered, so that at last even his friends said to him: “You must undoubtedly rest under a great and secret sin, since this has happened to you.” While attempting to comfort him, they added to his misery. But he answered, saying: “I have done nothing and hence am not an ungodly person, whom God often allows to live in rioting and to go unpunished.”
7. So also, it was undoubtedly a serious problem to the widow that the Lord our God punishes the good and evil alike. But to the godly this does not come as a mark of God’s anger or disfavor; while to the ungodly it comes truly as a mark of anger, in order that they may be destroyed. For God does not trifle with them, but is truly in earnest. As to the God-fearing, who have not merited punishment, he tries to see if they will remain steadfast. If they endure the test and think: “My God, though thou triest me, yet thou wilt not forsake me,” he will come again and pour out his blessings as richly upon them as he did in the case of Job, who received twice as much as he had lost, both in property and children. The widow found all her joy in her son while he
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lived. God tried her and took her son from her. When she wept and cried he came again and gave her tenfold more joy than she had had before; for she rejoiced more for her son in that one hour than she had done throughout her entire previous life. So richly does our Lord God give again, if only men endure and do not doubt him.
8. Therefore learn from this, whoever can learn: If we are pious and the trials come, which God sends upon us, let us cherish the thought that he means it well with us, and let us not be offended when he permits the wicked, the Pope, bishops and all others to do as they please. These think they have deserved this at the hands of our Lord God and try to justify themselves, if punished on account of their sins. But, dear friends, let us freely confess and say: Lord, thou doest right, even though thou dost punish us; for before thee, Lord, we have no right. But we hope that thou wilt punish graciously and in thine own good time cease. If we do thus, all distress will be removed, no matter how impossible help may seem to be.
9. Flesh and blood, when under trial, say, all is lost. For when our Lord God makes an attack, he does it in such a manner that we know not where to turn; and hence, no matter how we think or plan, we can find no way out, but are hemmed in on every side, as Job says, 3, 23: “As a, man, whom the Lord has surrounded with darkness, “as when one is in darkness and does not know which way to turn. If the trial does not go thus far it is no real trial He who in hunger still knows of a supply of gold or grain, is not yet in real darkness; but when one is utterly helpless and without counsel he may be said to be really punished. As the widow’s way was so hemmed in on every side that she was compelled to conclude: I am cursed, God is against me; so she was in the midst of darkness, where there was neither a way nor an opening, and knew not where to turn. 10. All this is presented to us as an example, that we may learn to remain steadfast in faith and regard God in no other light than that of a merciful God who, indeed, may permit us to be tempted, as if he were angry with us and
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were laughing at us with the world; but let us guard ourselves against such laughter and not become terrified at the anger, with which he attacks his people. It may appear as if at times he were on the side of the wicked and persecuted the godly without mercy; yet it does no harm and it depends only upon a glance. But it is a blind and spiritual glance, which we must give with blind eyes, that is, with the eyes of faith, which sees nothing; For faith is invisible. Faith lays hold of things that are not seen and of things that are not matters of experience, Heb. 11, 1.
11. Philosophers have an art that deals with visible things, which can be experienced and
comprehended; but a Christian deals with invisible, unsubstantial, spiritual things, that cannot be seen, nor comprehended, so that one can hardly think they are possible. In this state Sarah was with reference to her son. There was nothing but the simple word. Her womb was not fit for that because of her age and her natural condition that she was barren, and her son Isaac was indeed invisible and as nothing. So this widow, with reference to her son, did not see that he lived, but saw only that he was dead; but Christ knew that he lived and brought the dead son to life, and so made the invisible visible.
12. All this happened, as I have often said, for us to learn to trust our Lord God and believe in him in all our need, and not become terrified when we do not fare well, nor be offended if the wicked prosper. For our Lord God is one who tries, who allows his own to be tried and to suffer, so that they may truly perceive and learn to know that he is a gracious God, even though he at times hides his grace so deeply that it cannot be seen. Afterwards, if men persevere, it is only a matter of a single word and the necessary assistance is rendered; as in this Gospel, only a word was necessary and the dead son was restored to life. By this he desires to show that what is impossible with us, is so easy for him that it requires only one little word: “Arise.” It is easily spoken, and yet is has power to restore the dead to
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life. We should learn to know that he can and will help us out of all our needs.
13. He who desires to be a Christian should be strong in faith and praise God and his Word, and should say: “I will acknowledge, praise and serve that God, and gladly do and suffer what he wills, who can so readily and easily help.” Thus, this and other miracles of Christ should serve to comfort us and make us better, and urge us on to believe in him and serve him, as no other god, for no other god manifests himself as our dear Lord Jesus has manifested himself. Therefore, we praise and magnify him daily, and daily bring others to him that they may also do the same. May God continue his help more and more. This is the teaching of the Gospel as presented in the example of the widow.
14. This narrative still further exhibits the true nature of Christ’s work, showing why he came and reigns, namely, that he might destroy death and in its stead give life, as the prophet Isaiah, 25, 8, says: “He will swallow up death forever;” and St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15, 24-26, says that Christ must reign until he has destroyed the last enemy, death, for his Christians, and thus give them eternal life; after that he shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father, when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. This is the work he will accomplish among his people and has already begun in faith before bodily death takes place. Afterwards, however, when he shall have brought all his own together he will complete his work in them at the last day.
15. Signs and types, yea, testimonies of the same are found in this and other narratives, that record the raising of people from the dead. But these form only the prelude to the work he will finally accomplish among all Christians. The pictures of both life and death are here placed over against each other, and it is shown where both originate and oppose each other, and how Christ manifests his power and authority over death.
16. For, first, when you hear the Scriptures speaking of death, you must think not only of the grave and the coffin,
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and of the horrible manner in which life is separated from the body and how the body is destroyed and brought to naught, but you must think of the cause by which man is brought to death and without which death and that which accompanies it, would be impossible. This cause Scripture points out and teaches, namely, that it is sin and the wrath of God on account of sin. This cause brings death, always sticks in it, appears from it, and works and draws after it all the misery and misfortune on earth, and in addition banishes man from God and from all his grace and joy.
17. Likewise, on the contrary, when the Scriptures speak of life you must also conceive the cause that brings and gives life; that must be the righteousness by which man is acceptable to God and by which he also finds in God his pleasure, delight and joy, and receives thus from God every good thing he may desire through all eternity.
18. Both these things you may see in this picture, two sorts of persons and processions: the deceased with those who carry him out of the town, and Christ who comes to meet him. All men know very well that they must die and that all of us go the same way, and see death before us, by our side and behind us. Even the learned among the heathen have complained of this misery of the human race; but they have not been able to perceive the cause of death. Most of them think death is a matter of chance, that we die like the brute, and that man is so created that he must die.
19. Others, seeing that so much misfortune, misery and sorrow pass over the human race, that so many die before their time and many are miserably destroyed, things which could happen only by chance, have searched for the cause and have been surprised that such misfortunes befall man, who, alone among all living creatures, is the noblest and should be better situated, and guarded against injury, but they have not been able to ascertain the cause of the evil, except in so far that they have seen how many men, through their own malignity or wilfulness, have brought death and other misfortunes on themselves. But this in itself is a mat-
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ter of great wonder how a man can be so wicked that he can wilfully cast himself into trouble and misery.
20. Here Scripture teaches us, in the first place, that death originated in paradise, as the result of the eating of the forbidden fruit, that is; from the disobedience of our first parents, and since then has come upon all men on account of their sins. For if sin did not exist, there would be no death. By this we mean not only gross sins, such as adultery, murder, and the like; but they also die who neither commit, nor can commit these, as children in the cradle; yea, even the great and holy Prophets, John the Baptist, all must die.
21. Therefore some greater and different sins than murder and similar public crimes, which the executioner punishes with death, must be meant, why the whole human race is subject to death. This is the sin which we have inherited from Adam and Eve, and from our fathers and mothers, which is innate in all men born according to the common course of nature. This exists and remains, as it did in Adam and Eve, after they had committed sin, had been banished from the presence of God, full of evil lusts and disobedience to God and his will. Hence all under the wrath of God are condemned to death, and must be forever separated from God. In this way God manifests his strong and terrible wrath against all men, which we bring upon us through sin, so that all of us must be overcome by death; because we are born of flesh and blood and in consequence must bear the guilt of our parents, and thus have become sinners and worthy of death. Psalm 90, 7 teaches us: “For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled.” It is the wrath of God, he says; hence it is not an accidental thing, or because man has been so created by God; but it is our fault that we commit sin. For since there is wrath, there must also be guilt, which causes such wrath. This wrath is not a mere ordinary thing, but such a serious affair that no one can endure it, and under which all must succumb; and yet the world is so blind that it does not see nor regard this wrath of God; yea, even the pious do not sufficiently com-
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prehend it. The Psalmist says, 90, 11: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger, and thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee?”
22. Much less can the world understand how one may be freed from all this misery, nor can it accomplish this by its own wisdom and power; even as in its blindness it attempts to do, when it hears of the wrath of God and seeks by its: works and life to be reconciled to God and merit life. For since all men are by birth sinners and, under the wrath of God, subject to death, how shall we be able by our own works to free ourselves from death? Alas! when death is considered or how to escape death, there is neither comfort nor hope for anyone, as St. Paul says, 1. Thess. 4, 13: “That ye sorrow not, even as the rest who have no hope.”
23. For neither do these know that it is possible for a single individual to be raised from death to life, and hence they conclude: “He who is dead, must remain dead forever and must be annihilated.” Others, as the Jews, Turks, Papists, even though they hear that there is to be a resurrection, are nevertheless ignorant of the fact how they may take part in the resurrection of the righteous and the saved, think that they can merit eternal life by their own efforts; as we monks have hitherto believed and taught that if we strictly observed the rules of our orders, prayed much, read mass, etc., God would have respect for such a holy life and in consequence help not only us, but others also, to escape death.
24. This, however, is nothing but a vain human comfort and hope, without any authority of the Word of God; for such power and authority to help ourselves cannot exist within us. Since on account of sin we have become subject to death, so that we cannot even delay bodily death, much less can we save ourselves or work ourselves free from eternal death. This we ourselves have been compelled to experience and testify to by our monkery and work-righteousness. For although we have had to do with these for a long time and comforted ourselves with them, yet at last we found them useless. When once the straits of conscience
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were concerned, when we had to struggle and stand before the judgment of God, all this comfort left the heart and nothing remained but vain terrified doubts, yea, even convulsions and tremblings on account of the thought: Alas! I did not live a sufficiently holy life. How shall I be able to stand before the judgment of God! For it must finally come to this, that man must feel and become conscious of that which all the Saints have experienced and confessed, namely, that no one can stand in the judgment of God on the basis of his own life, no matter how good it may have been. Of this the prophet Isaiah speaks, 49, 21: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captives be delivered?” The “mighty” he calls the power of death, that strangles and carries away all men and whom no one can resist or rob of its prey; but by the” lawful captives” he means the law with its judgment, which is God’s judgment and which rightly holds all men captive, so that no one can free himself or others from it, but all must, as far as in them be, remain forever captive under it; for they themselves have merited such captivity through sin and disobedience, and have fallen into the righteous and eternal wrath of God.
25. Therefore there is no help from any creature against this. God himself had to have compassion on our misery and to conceive a plan for our deliverance, as he said in the prophecy of Isaiah, 49, 25: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered.” This had to be done by Christ, the Son of God himself, and he therefore became man, that is, took upon himself death and its cause, sin and the wrath of God, in order that he might free us from these and bring us to life and righteousness. For, as by one man both sin and death came upon all of us; so also by one man must victory over death, righteousness and life be given to us, as St. Paul says, Rom. 5, 17.
26. Therefore this work of life has been accomplished in such a manner that without our effort or work we attain it, just as we became subject to death without our effort and work. And in like manner as we did not bring death upon
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ourselves, except in so far as we were born of Adam and through the sin of another our flesh and blood became corrupt, so that we also must die; so also can we much less work out and merit redemption from sin and death, that is, righteousness and life, but must be brought to it through the righteousness and life of another one. Therefore, since sin is born in us through Adam and has now become our own; so also must the righteousness and life of Christ become our own, so that this same power of righteousness and life may work in us, as if it had been born in us through him. For it is in him not only his personal, but an actual and powerful righteousness and life; yea, a fountain that gushes forth and overflows for all who have become partakers of him, in like manner as sin and death have gushed into human nature from Adam. It means, therefore; that now all men can be delivered from sin and death and be made alive, not by nor through their own efforts, but apart from themselves through the righteousness and life of this Lord Jesus Christ, namely, if he touches them with his hand and through his Word imparts to them his work and power to destroy sin and death, and provided they believe his Word.
27. For this reason we are called Christians, that is, righteous, living and holy people, because we have this Lord and have become partakers of him through the faith of his Word and Sacrament, who is the true sin-destroyer and death-devourer (I say of our sin and death, which have strangled and devoured us) by virtue of his own power and authority. He did both these things in his own person, inasmuch as he took upon himself our sin and death. But since he was not only without sin and the guilt of death, but in himself was perfect and eternal righteousness, and sin and death had no hold on him, they were condemned and destroyed by him, and pure righteousness and life presented to us in place of sin and death. For after his victorious death and resurrection he established a kingdom in Christendom, in which he now continually until death and the grave destroys sin in his Christians through forgiveness and the power of his Spirit, and begins life in them through
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faith, until he can bring them all together on one day, when he will bestow on them perfect righteousness and life, both in body and soul.
28. All this you may see clearly and lovingly presented in this narrative: This youth died, not because he had been a murderer, adulterer or open sinner who had to be punished because of his misdeeds; but before he could have become guilty of sins which those commit who have grown to maturity, and become old, death carried him away only by reason of the sin in which he was born. His mother might well bemoan her own sin, by reason of which she lost her son, who had inherited sin and death from her.
29. But now that he has died, where may counselor comfort and help be found? Certainly not through the mother’s sorrow and tears, which must have been unlimited. If human work and effort could in this case have been of any avail or be meritorious, surely the tears of the widow would have accomplished much more; for they certainly came from a most anxious heart, as of a sorrowing and miserable mother, whose heart was broken by reason of her love for her son, and who would willingly have done and suffered anything, even her own death, in order to have saved her son. And now, that he was dead, she doubtless cherished the secret wish and longing: Ah! if it could be the will of God that my son might still be alive or could again be restored to life. This was so deeply concealed in her heart, that she could not see it herself, yea, she dared not even think of petitioning the Lord, for it, and yet her heart was filled with the thought. If she had been asked and had confessed what her greatest desire was and what she would ask of God; she could have said nothing else than: Alas! what should I desire or ask more on earth than that my son-might live. And this is a more earnest and heart-felt prayer than anyone can express, for it proceeds from a purely inexpressible longing.
30. And yet this is useless both for her as well as all others, and she must cast it aside and remain in doubt; for had she not sighed, wept and prayed most earnestly before
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her son died, that she might retain him alive? But since all this was of no avail and her son had died, how much less could she draw hope or comfort from his suffering; she saw clearly that he could not be brought back by sighs and tears. If this were possible, other mothers would have or would still do it.
31. In a word, unbelief fought against her prayer and made it unavailing; and hence contrary to all human thought, hope and effort, her son was restored to her, alone for the reason that the Lord met and had compassion on the poor widow, as the text says, and comforted her not only with friendly words, but also with his power and authority restored her son alive to her; so that she was compelled to say that it was not her merit or that of any human being, but the pure grace and gift of the Lord, and that he was a Lord who is able to do and give “exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think,” as the Epistle for to-day says, Eph. 3, 20. For this is his way that he always manifests himself towards his saints in a wonderful manner, as Psalm 4, 3 says, and in their distresses hears, delivers and saves them, not according to their own thoughts, hopes and faith, but according to his own divine and almighty power, when human counsel fails and is despaired of.
32. Behold, how the Lord exhibits his work against death when it comes into his presence, and thereby typifies or indicates for our comfort what he will also do for all his people, when, like this youth, they are seized by death. For here you see two processions or companies meeting each other; the one, the poor widow with the dead youth and the people following him to the grave; the other, Christ and those who went with him into the city. The first picture shows what we are and what we can bring to Christ; for this is the picture of the whole world and the way of man on the earth. There is a crowd all of whom must follow death out of the city, and Christ, when he comes, finds nothing else than that which has to do with death.
33. This is the whole essence of human life on the earth, if we look at it in the proper light. There is nothing
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but the image and work of death, and constant and daily approaching death until the last day, since one after another dies and the rest have to do only with the horrible affair how one may carry the other to the grave, and others follow daily. They render this service to the dead, in order that to-day or to-morrow some one else may follow them also to their graves. Wherefore Christ speaks of the character and order of our earthly life to those whom he calls into his kingdom, Mat. 8, 22: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
34. Thus you see on this side and in this crowd of the whole world and of the human race nothing but death. We bring this with us and with it drag ourselves from our mother’s womb, and all at the same time travel the same road with one another, only that one precedes or is carried before the others, and the rest follow after until the last one dies. Nor is there any deliverance or help for this from any creature, for death rules over them all, as St. Paul says, Rom. 5, 14, and drags all of them along, without the ability to resist; Yea, with such demonstration and pomp does death do this that when he overcomes one he defies all the rest who are alive and carries the dead to the grave, and shows them that he has them also in his clutches and under his power and may seize them whenever he will.
35. But on the other hand, you see here also a comforting counterpart of life, and a glorious and joyous procession of the Lord Jesus, who does not go out of the city with the dead, but meets death on his way into the city; not however as those who return home from the grave, only until they shall carry another one out. For the Lord does not come with such thoughts of death, as if he had to fear death and come under its power; but steps into his presence and opposes him as the one who has power and authority over death; first he comforts the poor widow, whose heart is filled only with death, and tells her to sorrow and weep no more, speaks other words which no one else can utter, steps up to the bier, lays his hands on it, requests the bearers to stand still, and immediately follows with a word and
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says: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” These words are instantly followed by such power and efficacy that the dead man did not lie as before, but sat up, bound and covered as he was, began to speak and showed that he was no longer dead; but alive.
36. This was a wonderful and quick change from death to life, on the part of the young man. Where the spark of life had long been extinguished and there was truly no sign of life, there are instantly and fully restored breath, blood, sensibility, movement, thought, speech and everything else that belongs to life; and Christ, with one word, turned the sad and sorrowing procession, and the carrying of the dead from the gate of the city, into a joyous, lovely and beautiful procession of life, in which both the youth, who was being carried by four or more to be buried under ground, together with his sorrowing mother, joyously follow the Lord Jesus, accompanied by the whole crowd into the city, forgetting death, the bier and the grave, and speaking joyously and thankfully only of life.
37. But the glory and honor of this work belong only to the Lord Jesus, through whose power and authority alone death can be removed and life brought forth from it, as he also proves. Hence the fame and report concerning Christ, of which this Gospel speaks, saying that it went forth throughout the whole country, is recorded for our consolation and joy over against the fear and dread of death, in order that we may know what kind of a Savior we have in Christ. For he so manifested himself on earth in his ministry, office and form of a servant, that he can be known as the Lord both of death and life, to destroy the former and bring the latter to light; that although he often met death and fought with it, as in the case of the daughter of Jairus, and again in that of Lazarus, and at last in his own person, he nevertheless finally overcame and destroyed it.
38. Christ also desires to prove in our death and that of all Christians, since death casts everyone of us under the ground and it thinks it has completely swallowed all; as Christ promised and confirmed by his own mouth and word
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in John 11, 25: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Again, John 5, 28 says: “The hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” Then only the work, which he has portrayed in this example, shall really begin, which he has put off until that time, since he wishes to complete it not only in one or a few, but at one time in all, in order to destroy death with one blow, as Isaiah 25, 8 says, so that no one shall forever afterwards be overcome or taken captive by it. This shall then form a truly joyous and glorious procession, when he shall bring together, in a moment of time, all who have died, calling them forth with one word from the earth, dust and ashes, air, water and all other places and, as St. Paul says, 1 Thess. 4, 14, will bring with himself, as the Head, in an innumerable company all believers, having freed all from death and given them eternal life, and, as Isaiah 25, 8 says, having wiped away all tears from their eyes, so that they may forever and without ceasing praise and glorify their Lord, with everlasting joy, praise and honor.
39. We should also learn to believe this and comfort ourselves in the hour of death and in all other distresses, so that, although we may come to such straits that we neither see nor feel anything else than death and destruction, as in the case of this poor widow, because of her son, yea, even though we may be-in the clutches of death, as her son on the bier and on the way to the tomb; yet that we may nevertheless firmly conclude that in Christ we have obtained victory over death and life. For faith in Christ must be so disposed, as the Epistle to the Hebrews, 11, 1, teaches, that it can grasp and hold fast those things that cannot, yea those things of which only the antithesis can be seen, as in this case, Christ wants this widow to believe in and hope for life, when he says, “Weep not;” although such faith was indeed weak and small in her, as it also is in us, since she and all the world had in their minds feelings and thoughts that despaired of life.
40. For he desires to teach us that also in our experience
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there is nothing in us or apart from us, except only corruption and death; but from him and in him only life, which shall swallow up both our sin and death. Yea, the more misery and death are in us, the more and the more richly shall we find comfort and life in him, provided we hold fast to him by faith, to which he spurs us on and admonishes us both through his Word and such examples as the one before us. Amen.