Luther’s Notes on the Gospel: Fifth Sunday in Lent: Judica – Jesus, Son of Abraham: Our High Priest

John 8:46-59

46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
48 Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”
49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50 And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. 51 Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”
52 Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ 53 Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”
54 Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. 55 Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
59 Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Luther’s Notes

46 Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?

This gospel teaches how the obdurate become more frantic the more one teaches them and treats them kindly. The word is like unto the sun: good things, such as wax and butter, the sun melts and softens; but bad things, such as mud, it hard ens like stone.

Which of you convinceth me of sin? His life is innocent, and he defies them and says, Who among you can convict me of sin? So he defies also in regard to his doctrines, for he says, “If I tell you the truth,” etc. Thus he acts and thus he teaches.

These two things should be the characteristics of every preacher. It is true, no life is so perfect, that it can appear without sin before God; therefore it is sufficient, that it is blameless before the people. But the doctrine must be so good and pure that it merits the approval not only of man but also of God.

Therefore the Jews have no excuse for their unbelief; for because they are not the children of God, he also pronounces the sentence upon them and says:

47 He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.

He that is of God heareth God’s words. Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. This is nothing else than, ye are of the devil (v. 44.) Christ speaks these words so simply, that no one thinks they contain any great things. But any one who will carefully consider what this means, to be of God, or not to be of God, must confess that Christ speaks here of great and excellent things. For it is true and certain that we can not accuse a man harder, nor attack him more severely, than when we say that he is not of God. Therefore all depends on this, that we gladly hear God’s word and diligently keep it.

We must distinguish between the nature and the use of a thing. A man who lies and deceives has, indeed, a good tongue given him of God, but the use of his tongue is of the devil. On the other hand, “to be of God” means, that we use our ears so that they delight in hearing God’s word, and are willing to be corrected. Again, that we pray, preach, instruct, and comfort with the tongue.

48 Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil ?

Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil. That hard, earnest word, which the Lord spoke to the Jews, “Ye are not of God,” they could not endure; for they claimed to be the children of God; therefore they rage and revile both his life and doctrine. They revile his doctrine when they say, ” Thou hast a devil;” that is, you teach the devil’s doctrine, you are an apostle of the devil: they revile his life by saying, “Thou art a Samaritan,” that sounded worse in the ears of the Jews than all other vices; as if they would say, You are a villain in your whole skin, you are a heathen. Thus Christ teaches us here how we and his word shall be treated; both our lives and our doctrine must be condemned and reviled. To this is added the impertinence that such despisers of the word claim to be right, and want to defend such blasphemous expressions as the Jews here use, “Say we not well, Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” He is the worst devil, who even pretends to be God, wants to appear holy, claims that he is right, and will not be contradicted.

49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth.

I honor my Father, and ye do dishonor me. What now does Christ do? He disregards the disgrace which they heap upon his life ; he is silent and suffers them to call him a “Sa maritan” or a “villain” (v. 48,) he defends himself very little, but says, “I honor my Father,” etc. I am what I am; “There is one that seek eth and judgeth” who I am. This we also shall do; not defend our freedom by fighting, though we are innocent ; but we must never consent to surrender our innocence, in order that the evil reports about us may not alienate some simple people from the faith. We must not entirely disregard our good reputation before men. But we must not in any wise permit the doctrine to be quenched, but establish it more and more, exalt it higher and higher, risk upon it neck, body and life, honor and goods. Christ here defends the doctrine and says: “I have not a devil.”

But why does he say, “Ye do dishonor me”? Why does he not say, I honor my Father and you dishonor him?

Inferentially he shows here that the Father’s honor and his honor are one and the same, as he is one God with the Father. Yet, along with it he also will have our ministerial office, which praises God, properly honored.

51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.

He shall never see death. He not only defends the doctrine, but also ascribes to it an imperial power over the devil, death and sin.

If a man keep my word. By this he does not mean the law; for that word no one keepeth (John 7:19,) yea, it killeth (Romans 7:11) but he means the gospel.

And from this we may very well understand what he means by the “keeping;” namely, it is not said of the keeping as one keeps the law by works; for such word of Christ must be kept in the heart by faith.

He shall never see death. But how happens it, that some shall neither see nor taste death; when Abraham and all the prophets have died? Here we must pay attention to the words of Christ, who makes this difference, that death is something else than to see or taste death. We must all die, but a Christian does not see or taste death; that is, he feels it not, is not frightened by it, and goes into death gently and quietly, as though he fell asleep and did not die (John 11:25). Therefore also death is called in the Scriptures a sleep.

Verily, verily, I say unto you. Alas, that the Son of God must swear so solemnly, “Verily, verily,” on account of our indolent hearts, to make us believe that we shall live forever, since it were but just and sufficient, if he had spoken only one word.

The power of the word. So great and mighty a thing is the power of the word of Christ, that where it is received in the heart by a firm faith, salvation is already begun here, and by the resurrection and victory of Christ death. together with sin, devil and hell are already overcome and swallowed up.

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

Abraham rejoiced to see my day. But the reason why the word of our dear Lord is so powerful, is indicated by him in the verses 56 and 58. It was a difficulty in the way of the Jews, that Abraham, Moses and other holy men, who were publicly recorded in the Scriptures, had died; then they thought Christ was not equal to them; therefore they considered it vain glory, that he should extol his word so highly, but Christ replied: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.” Thus the prophets also saw him. They did not see him with their bodily eyes, but with the eye of faith in the heart; that is, Abraham perceived Christ, when it was promised to him, (Genesis 22:18,) “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” All the saints from the beginning of the world had this same faith in Christ, which we have, and they were true Christians. Thus we also must be saved thereby to the end of the world.

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Thou art not yet fifty years old.

But on account of their carnal mind the Jews did not understand any of these things; therefore they denounced him as a liar.

58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Before Abraham was, I am. That is, I am the true and only God. Christ does not speak here of his human, but of his divine essence. He does not say, Before Abraham was, I was, but “I am.” For this belongs only to God, that he was not created, nor made, like Abraham and other creatures. God is called, and is not created or made, but “I am“; that is, an essence which has neither beginning nor end.

59 Then they took up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

The Jews took up stones. But here reason is terribly offended and runs mad, that man should be God; reason cannot reconcile this; and this is the thing at which the Jews still take offense at the present day, and can not stop throwing stones and blaspheming.

It is still the case at the present day, that many read and study the Scriptures, and yet can not find Christ. He had hid himself and gone out of the temple.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 324-346.


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