I. WHAT MOVED CHRIST TO DELIVER THIS SERMON OF COMFORT
[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. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher,
it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without
1. Here in this Gospel we see how the Lord comforts and imparts courage
to his children whom he is bout 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 indeed 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
"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 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
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 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 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.
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
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 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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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 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,