Lectionary Central


     Home      Back to Quinquagesima





Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday; Luke 18:31-43 

A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 1525.

[The following sermon is taken from volume II:125-132 of The  Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand  Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by  Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and  Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11.  This e-text was  scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and  it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]


1. This Gospel presents to us again the two thoughts of faith and love,  both in that Christ says he must go up to Jerusalem and suffer  crucifixion; and in that Christ serves and helps the blind man. By the  first thought, that of faith, it is proved that the Scriptures are not  fulfilled except by Christ's sufferings; also that the Scriptures speak  of no other theme than of Christ, and they treat only of Christ, who  must fulfil the Scriptures by his death. But if his death must do this,  then our death will add nothing to that end; for our death is a sinful  and a cursed death. However, if our death be sin and cursed, which is  the highest and severest suffering and misfortune, what can our  suffering and death merit? And since our sufferings are nothing and  are lost, what can our good works do, in view of the fact that  suffering is always nobler and better than doing good works? Christ  alone must be supreme here and faith must firmly lay hold of him. 

2. But Christ spoke these words before be finished his passion, when  on his way to go up to Jerusalem at the time of the Easter festivities,  when the disciples least expected to witness his sufferings, and  instead anticipated a joyful occasion at the Feast of the Passover.  These words Christ spoke for the purpose that his disciples might  later grow stronger in their faith, when they recalled that he had  before told them, that he had voluntarily offered himself as a  sacrifice, and that he was not crucified by the power or strategy of  his enemies, the Jews. Long before Isaiah also had prophesied that  Christ would voluntarily and cheerfully give himself as a sacrifice, Is  53, 3-7; and the angel also on Easter morning, Lk 24,6, admonishes  the women to call to mind what he here utters, in order that they might be assured and the firmer believe how he suffered thus  willingly in our behalf. 

3. And this is the true foundation, thoroughly to know Christ's  passion, when we not only understand and lay hold of Christ's sufferings, but also of his heart  and will in those sufferings, for whoever views his sufferings in a way that they do  not see his will and heart in them, must be more terrified before them than they are made to  rejoice on account of them. But if one sees Christ's will and heart in  his passion, they cause true comfort, assurance and pleasure in  Christ. Therefore Ps 40, 7-8 also praises this will of God and of Christ:  "In the roll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do thy will, 0,  my God." The Epistle to the Hebrews says on this point: "By which  will we have been sanctified;" Heb 10, 10; it does not say: Through  the suffering and blood of Christ, which is also true, but through the  will of God and of Christ, that they both were of one will, to sanctify  us through the blood of Christ. This will to suffer he shows here in  this Gospel when be first announced that he would go up to  Jerusalem and allow them to crucify him; as if he had said, look into  my heart and see that I do all willingly, freely and cheerfully, in  order that it may not terrify nor shock you when you shall now soon  see it, and you think I do it reluctantly, I must do it, I am forsaken,  and the power of the Jews force me to it. 

4. "But the disciples understood none of these things," says Christ,  "And this saying was hid from them." That is as much as to say:  Reason, flesh and blood, cannot understand it nor grasp that the  Scriptures should say how the Son of man must be crucified; much  less does reason understand that this is Christ's will and he does it  cheerfully; for it does not believe it is necessary for him to suffer for  us, it will deal directly with God through its own good works. But God  must reveal it in their hearts by his Spirit more than is proclaimed  by words into their ears; yea, even those to whom the Spirit reveals  it in their hearts believe it with difficulty and must struggle with it.  Such a great and wonderful thing it is that the Son of man died the  death of the cross willingly and cheerfully to fulfil the Scriptures,  that is, for our welfare; it is a mystery and it remains a mystery. 

5. From this it now follows how foolish they act who teach that  people should patiently bear their sufferings and death in order to  atone for their sins and obtain grace; and especially those who  comfort such, who should be put out of the way by the civil law and  the sentence of death, or who are to die in other ways; and pretend  that if they suffer willingly all their sins will consequently be  forgiven them. Such persons only mislead the people for they bury  out of sight Christ and his death upon whom our comfort is founded,  and bring the people to a false confidence in their own suffering and  death. This is the worst of all things a man can experience at the end  of his life, and by it he is led direct into perdition. But you learn and  say: Whose death! Whose patience! My death is nothing; I will not  have it nor hear of it for my consolation. Christ's suffering and death  are my consolation, upon it I rely for the forgiveness of my sins; but  my own death I will suffer, to the praise and honor of my God, freely  and gratuitously, and for the advantage and profit of my neighbor,  and in no way whatever depend upon it to avail anything in my own  behalf before God. 

6. It is indeed one thing to die boldly and fearlessly, or to suffer  death patiently, or to bear other pain willingly; and another thing to atone for sin by such death  and sufferings, and thus obtain grace from God. The first the heathen have done, and many  reckless villains and rough people still do; but the other is a  poisonous addition, devised by Satan, like all other lies, by which he  founds our trust and consolation upon our own doings, and works,  against which we are to guard. For as firmly as I should resist one,  who teaches me to enter a monastery, when I wish to be saved; so  firmly should I also oppose any who would in my last hour point me  to my own death and suffering for consolation and hope, as if they  would help to wash away my sins. For both deny God and his Christ,  blaspheme his grace and pervert his Gospel. They, however, do much  better who hold a crucifix before the dying and admonish them of  Christ's death and sufferings. 

7. I must relate an example and experience that is in point here and  is not to be despised. There was once a good hermit, reared in this  faith of human merit, who was called upon to comfort a man of  prominence upon his death bed, and he approached the sick man  dauntlessly and consoled him thus: My dear friend, only suffer death  patiently and willingly and I will pledge you my soul you will be a  child of eternal life. Well, he promised him he would do so, and he  passed away by death with this comfort. But three days later the  hermit himself became sick unto death, when the true teacher, Rev.  Reuling, came and opened his eyes so that he saw what he had done  and taught, and he lay until he died and lamented that he had given  such counsel and consolation: 0, woe is me, what have I advised!  Frivolous people laughed at him that he failed to do as he had taught  others to do; he offered another the pledge of his own soul that he  might die in peace and he himself now sinks in despair not only  before death, but also at the advice he so confidently had given and  now so publicly rebuked and recalled. But God surely said to him  that which is written in Lk 4, 23: "Physician, heal thyself;" and  another passage, Lk 12,:21; "So is he that layeth up treasures for  himself, and is not rich toward God." For here surely the blind led the  blind and both fell into the ditch, and both were condemned. Lk 6,  39. The first, because he died trusting in his own patient suffering  and death, the other, because he despaired of God's grace and had  not acknowledged it, and besides he also thought, had he not  committed sin, he would have departed this life saved; and in both  Christ remained unknown and was denied. On this point some books  are misleading, in which the sayings also of St. Augustine and others  are sounded forth, how death is only a door to life and a medicine  against sin; for they do not see that these words are to be understood  as referring to Christ's death and sufferings. But simple and plain as  this example is, it teaches us in a masterly manner how no work, no  human suffering, no death can help us or stand before God. For one  cannot indeed deny here that the first did the highest work, namely,  suffered death with patience, in which free will did its best; and yet  he was lost as the other who confessed and clearly proved by his  despair. And whoever will not believe these two examples must find  it out by experience for himself. 

8. The above is said concerning faith in the sufferings of Christ. As he  now offered himself for us, we should also follow the same example  of love, and offer ourselves for the welfare of our neighbor, with all  we have. We have spoken sufficiently on other occasions that Christ  is to be preached in these two ways; but it is talk that no one desires  to understand; the Word is hid from them; for "the natural man  receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." 1 Cor 2, 14. 


9. The second part of our Gospel treats of the blind man, in which we  see beautifully and clearly illustrated both the love in Christ to the  blind man and the faith of the blind man in Christ. At present we will  briefly consider the faith of the blind man. 

10. First, he hears that Christ was passing by, he had also heard of  him before, that Jesus of Nazareth was a kind man, and that he helps  every one who only calls upon him. His faith and confidence in Christ  grew out of his hearing; so he did not doubt but that Christ would  also help him. But such faith in his heart he would not have been  able to possess had he not heard and known of Christ; for faith does  not come except by hearing. 

11. Secondly, he firmly believes and doubts not but that it was true  what he heard of Christ, as the following proves. Although he does  not yet see nor know Christ, and although he at once knew him, yet  he is not able to see or know whether Christ had a heart and will to  help him; but he immediately believed, when he heard of him; upon  such a noise and report he founded his confidence, and therefore be  did not make a mistake. 

12. Thirdly, in harmony with his faith, he calls on Christ and prays,  as St. Paul in Rom 10, 13-14 wrote: "How then shall they call on him  in whom they have not believed." Also, "Whoever shall call upon the  name of the Lord shall be saved." 

13. Fourthly, he also freely confesses Christ and fears no one; his  need constrains him to the point that he inquires for no one else. For  it is the nature of true faith to confess Christ to be the only one who  can and will help, while others are ashamed and afraid to do this  before the world. 

14. Fifthly, he struggles not only with his conscience, which doubtless  moves him to think he is not worthy of such favor, but he also  struggles with those who threatened him and urged him to keep  quiet. They wished thereby to terrify his conscience and make him  bashful, so that he should see his own unworthiness, and then  despair. For wherever faith begins, there begin also war and conflict. 

15. Sixthly, the blind man stands firm, presses through all obstacles  and triumphs, he would not let the whole world sever him from his  confidence, and not even his own conscience to do it. Therefore he  obtained the answer of his prayer and received Christ, so that Christ  stood and commanded him to be brought unto him, and he offered to  do for him whatever he wished. So it goes with all who hold firmly  only to the Word of God, close their eyes and ears against the devil,  the world and themselves, and act just as if they and God were the  only ones in heaven and on earth. 

16. Seventhly he follows Christ, that is he enters upon the road of  love and of the cross, where Christ is walking, does righteous works,  and is of a good character and calling, refrains from going about with  foolish works as work-righteous persons do. 

17. Eighthly, he thanks and praises God, and offers a true sacrifice  that is pleasing to God, Ps 50, 23: "Whoso offereth the sacrifice of  thanksgiving glorifieth me; and to him that ordereth his way aright  will I show the salvation of God." 

18. Ninthly, he was the occasion that many others praised God, in  that they saw what he did, for every Christian is helpful and a  blessing to everybody, and besides be praises and honors God upon  earth. 

19. Finally, we see here how Christ encourages us both by his works  and words. In the first place by his works, in that he sympathizes so  strongly with the blind man and makes it clear, how pleasing faith is  to him, so that Christ is at once absorbed with interest in the man,  stops and does what the blind man desires in his faith. In the second  place, that Christ praises his faith in words, and says: "Thy faith hath  made thee whole;" he casts the honor of the miracle from himself and  attributes it to the faith of the blind man. The summary is: to faith is  vouchsafed what it asks, and it is moreover our great honor before  God. 

20. This blind man represents the spiritually blind, the state of every  man born of Adam, who neither sees nor knows the kingdom of God;  but it is of grace that he feels and knows his blindness and would  gladly be delivered from it. They are saintly sinners who feel their  faults and sigh for grace. But he sits by the wayside and begs, that is,  he sits among the teachers of the law and desires help; but it is  begging, with works he must appear blue and help himself. The  people pass him by and let him sit, that is the people of the law  make a great noise and are heard among the teachers of good works,  they go before Christ and Christ follows them. But when he heard  Christ, that is, when a heart hears the Gospel of faith, it calls and  cries, and has no rest until it comes to Christ. Those, however, who  would silence and scold him are the teachers of works, who wish to  quiet and suppress the doctrine and cry of faith; but they stir the  heart the more. For the nature of the Gospel is, the more it is  restrained the more progress it makes. Afterwards he received his  sight, all his work and life are nothing but the praise and honor of  God, and he follows Christ with joy, so that the whole world wonders  and is thereby made better.