Martin Luther on the Sermon on the Mount

Martin Luther (1529) by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Martin Luther (1529) by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Matthew 5:12 – Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

“These are really sweet and comforting words.  They should gladden and encourage our hearts against all kinds of persecution. … For I hear my Lord Christ telling me that He is truly delighted, and commanding me to be happy about it.  In addition, He promises me such a wonderful reward: the kingdom of heaven shall be mine and everything that Christ has, together with all the saints and all Christendom – in short, such a treasure and comfort that I should not trade it for all the possessions, joy, and music in the whole world, even though all the leaves and all the blades of grass were tongues singing my praises.  This is not a Christian calling me ‘blessed,’ nor even an angel, but the Lord of all the angels, before whom they and all the creatures must kneel and adore.  With all the other creatures, therefore, with the leaves and the grass, they must cheerfully sing and dance in my honor and praise…

 “You see, that is how we should learn something about using these words for our benefit.  They are not put here for nothing, but were spoken and written for our strengthening and comfort.  By them our dear Master and faithful Shepherd, or Bishop, arms us.  Then we shall be unafraid and ready to suffer if for His sake they lay all kinds of torment and trouble upon us in both words and deeds, and we shall despise whatever is offensive to us, even though contrary to our own reason and heart.

For if we cling to our own thoughts and feelings, we are dismayed and hurt to learn that for our service, help, counsel, and kindness to the world and to everyone we should get no thanks except the deepest and bitterest hatred and cursed, poisonous tongues.  If flesh and blood were in charge here, it would soon say: ‘If I am to get nothing else out of this, then let anyone who wants to, stick with the Gospel and be a Christian!  The world can go to the devil for help if that is what it wants!’  This is the reason for the general complaint and cry that the Gospel is causing so much conflict, strife, and disturbance in the world and that everything is worse since it came than it was before, when things moved along smoothly, when there was no persecution, and when the people lived together like good friends and neighbors.

“But here is what it says: ‘If you do not want to have the Gospel or be a Christian, then go out and take the world’s side.  Then you will be its friend, and no one will persecute you.  But if you want to have the Gospel and Christ, then you must count on having trouble, conflict, and persecution wherever you go.’  Reason: because the devil cannot bear it otherwise, nor will he stop egging people on against the Gospel, so that all the world is incensed against it.  Thus at the present time peasants, city people, nobles, princes, and lords oppose the Gospel from sheer cussedness, and they themselves do not know why.

“So this is what I say in reply to these idle talkers and grumblers: ‘Things neither can nor should run peacefully and smoothly.  How could things run smoothly, when the devil is in charge and is a mortal enemy of the Gospel?  There is good reason for this, too, since it hurts him in his kingdom, where he can feel it.  If he were to let it go ahead unhindered, it would soon be all over and his kingdom would be utterly destroyed.  But if he is to resist it and hinder it, he must rally all his art and power and arouse everything in his might against it.  So do not hope for any peace and quiet so long as Christ and His Gospel are in the midst of the devil’s kingdom.  And woe upon the peaceful and smooth situation that used to be, and upon those who would like to have it back!  This is a sure sign that the devil is ruling with all his might and that no Christ is there.  I am worried that it may be this way again and that the Gospel may be taken away from us all too soon, which is just what these rioters are struggling for now.’” [1]

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 50–52.

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