Lord of all power and might, author and giver of all good things, graft into our hearts the love of Your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
We hear the Word of the Lord:
Introit: Psalm 28:8-9
Psalm for the Day: Psalm 28:1-2, 7
Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-17
Gradual: Psalm 90:1-2
Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
The Verse: Psalm 31:1
Gospel: Matthew 5:20-26
We meditate on the Word of the Lord:
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). God demands nothing less than perfection and holiness from you in regard to His commandments (Ex. 20:1–17). Your only hope, then, is not in your own goodness but in the goodness of Christ, who did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them for you. In Christ, your righteousness does indeed exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. For you have been baptized into Christ’s death and your sinful nature crucified. Therefore, he who has died has been freed from sin (Rom 6:1–11). You are now raised with Christ to walk in newness of life and to share in His resurrection on the Last Day. Christ has brought you through the baptismal sea “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Therefore, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).
Luther on the Gospel Reading:
You must acknowledge that you are condemned by the law, and the devil’s own property and that you are unable to rescue yourself by any power of your own. Therefore you must flee to God, pray him to change you, or all is lost and ruined. This was well understood and observed by those highly learned, but they argued thus: If we preach that the whole world is condemned and the devil’s own, what is to become of the sanctimonious priests and monks, for then they too would be condemned? God forbid! Wait, wait, we will sharpen our tongues, bore a hole into the paper for our God, make a comment and say thus: Why, God never meant it in that sense, for who could keep it? He did not command it, but merely suggested it to such as wished to be perfect. Again, the perfect are not under obligations to be so, it suffices if they strive after perfection. Many large books, called Formas conscientiarum, treatises to comfort and acquit the consciences, have been written on this subject. Thomas Aquinas was about the leading heretic in this line. Later the same doctrine was confirmed by the Pope, and diffused throughout the world; this explains the later origin of the Orders, which aimed at perfection. Well, God be praised that we have understood the error, so that we can avoid it.
We comfort consciences in a manner quite different, namely thus: Dear brother all this is addressed not to the monks and priests only; Christ is not trifling with his words; it is a direct command, you must conform to it, or you are the devil’s property. This Is our way of comforting. Alas! exclaims our nature, Do you call that comforting? It is rather a transfer of souls to the devil. True, friend, but I must first take you down to hell before taking you up to heaven, you must despair in the first place, then come to Christ, behold his example, how he conducted himself: toward his enemies, in that he wept over them. But the bare example alone moves you; yet, it does not help you to any extent.
In view of this lay hold of his word and promise, that he will change you; this only will help you. Pray thus: Oh my God, thou hast placed Christ, thine only beloved Son, before me as an example, so that I might lead a like life; but I am not able to do this. O my God, change me, grant me thy grace! God then comes and says: Behold, since you know yourself and seek grace from me, I will change you and do as you desire. And though you are not so perfect as Christ, as indeed thou should be, I shall nevertheless have my Son’s life and perfection cover your imperfections. So you see we must always have something to keep us in the right humility and fear.
This is true comfort that does not rest on our ability, but on the fact that we have a gracious God, who forgives our sins; on the fact that we believe in Christ and not in our own worthiness, he cleansing us from day to day; on the fact that whenever we fall short we should always place our hope and trust in Christ. See, this is the main drift of our Gospel. [Source: Luther’s Church Postil: Volume IV of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983)
Here is the text of BWV 9, which is based on the hymn Salvation Unto Us Has Come
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
Von Gnad und lauter Güte.
Die Werk, die helfen nimmermehr,
Sie mögen nicht behüten.
Der Glaub sieht Jesum Christum an,
Der hat g’nug für uns all getan,
Er ist der Mittler worden.
(“Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” verse 1)
It is our salvation come here to us,
full of grace and pure goodness.
Deeds can never help,
they cannot protect us.
Faith beholds Jesus Christ,
He has done enough for us all,
He has become the Intercessor.
|2. Rezitativ B
Gott gab uns ein Gesetz,
doch waren wir zu schwach,
Daß wir es hätten halten können.
Wir gingen nur den Sünden nach,
Kein Mensch war fromm zu nennen;
Der Geist blieb an dem Fleische kleben
Und wagte nicht zu widerstreben.
Wir sollten in Gesetze gehn
Und dort als wie in einem Spiegel sehn,
Wie unsere Natur unartig sei;
Und dennoch blieben wir dabei.
Aus eigner Kraft war niemand fähig,
Der Sünden Unart zu verlassen,
Er möcht auch alle Kraft zusammenfassen.
|2. Recitative B
God gave us the Law,
yet we were too weak
to be able to keep it.
We went towards sin alone,
no one could be called righteous;
The spirit clung to the flesh
and dared not struggle against it.
We should have walked in the law
and there beheld as if in a mirror,
how wicked our nature was;
and yet we stayed away.
No one was capable, of his own power,
to abandon the wickedness of sin,
though he might gather all his strength together.
|3. Arie T
Wir waren schon zu tief gesunken,
Der Abgrund schluckt uns völlig ein.
Die Tiefe drohte schon den Tod,
Und dennoch konnt in solcher Not
Uns keine Hand behilflich sein.
|3. Aria T
We were already too deeply sunk,
the abyss sucked us fully in.
The depths already threatened death,
and yet, in such distress
no hand could be of help to us.
|4. Rezitativ B
Doch mußte das Gesetz erfüllet werden;
Deswegen kam das Heil der Erden,
Des Höchsten Sohn, der hat es selbst erfüllt
Und seines Vaters Zorn gestillt.
Durch sein unschuldig Sterben
Ließ er uns Hilf erwerben.
Wer nun demselben traut,
Wer auf sein Leiden baut,
Der gehet nicht verloren.
Der Himmel ist für den erkoren,
Der wahren Glauben mit sich bringt
Und fest um Jesu Arme schlingt.
|4. Recitative B
Yet the Law must be fulfilled;
for this reason Salvation came to the earth,
the Son of the Highest, He Himself has fulfilled it
and has quieted His Father’s anger.
Through His innocent death
help has been won for us.
Whoever now trusts on this,
whoever relies upon His passion,
will not go among the lost.
Heaven is destined for him,
who brings true faith with him
and throws his arms firmly around Jesus.
|5. Arie – Duett S A
Herr, du siehst statt guter Werke
Auf des Herzens Glaubensstärke,
Nur den Glauben nimmst du an.
Nur der Glaube macht gerecht,
Alles andre scheint zu schlecht,
Als daß es uns helfen kann.
|5. Aria – Duet S A
Lord, you behold, instead of good works,
the heart’s strength of faith,
only faith do You receive.
Only faith justifies,
all else appears too meager
to be able to help us.
|6. Rezitativ B
Wenn wir die Sünd aus dem Gesetz erkennen,
So schlägt es das Gewissen nieder;
Doch ist das unser Trost zu nennen,
Daß wir im Evangelio
Gleich wieder froh
Und freudig werden:
Dies stärket unsern Glauben wieder.
Drauf hoffen wir der Zeit,
Die Gottes Gütigkeit
Uns zugesaget hat,
Doch aber auch aus weisem Rat
Die Stunde uns verschwiegen.
Jedoch, wir lassen uns begnügen,
Er weiß es, wenn es nötig ist,
Und brauchet keine List
An uns; wir dürfen auf ihn bauen
Und ihm allein vertrauen.
|6. Recitative B
When we recognize our sin against the Law,
our conscience is cast down;
yet we can count as our comfort
that in the Gospels
we shall be once more
happy and joyful:
this strengthens our faith again.
Therefore we hope for the time
that God’s goodness
has promised us,
even though, with wise counsel,
the hour is silent to us.
However, we may be contented,
He knows when it is necessary,
and uses no trickeryon us;
we can rely on Him,
and trust in Him alone.
Ob sichs anließ, als wollt er nicht,
Laß dich es nicht erschrecken;
Denn wo er ist am besten mit,
Da will ers nicht entdecken.
Sein Wort laß dir gewisser sein,
Und ob dein Herz spräch lauter Nein,
So laß doch dir nicht grauen.
(“Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” verse 12)
Although it appears that He does not will it,
do not be afraid;
for when He is most with you,
He does not reveal it.
Let His word be sure to you,
and, although your heart says only No,
do not let yourself despair.