Don’t close your hymnals yet. This morning, I am going to let Martin Luther preach the sermon by taking a look at the hymn we just sang, “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice,” LSB 556.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
As we begin singing Martin Luther’s sermon set to music, Martin Luther reminds us that the true objective of praise is to tell others not just who God is, but what God has done.
Ask most people what God is and you will usually get a list of attributes. God is holy, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, and so forth. Now these are very accurate and truthful attributes of God, but there are many false religions that claim the exact same attributes for their god. Talk to any Moslem and they will tell you that Allah is holy, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, and so forth. While these attributes are certainly true attributes of God, they do not really set God aside from the claims of many false gods.
The way to distinguish the true God from all the false gods is to “Proclaim the wonders He has done.” The victory that His right hand has won is the precious ransom that He pays for us. Here Martin Luther begins to preach the difference between the true God and the false gods. The true God pays a precious ransom for us. False religions ask us to pay a precious ransom for ourselves. So Martin Luther is basically saying, “O.K. church, let’s proclaim to each other and to the world, the true God who shows His love to us by sacrificing Himself in order to ransom us.”
Jesus even tells us what we are to proclaim. For example: a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus as He appeared to His disciples 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46–47) With these words, Jesus tells the church to proclaim His suffering and resurrection by proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name.
The Augsburg Confession tells us that true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror about sin, and yet at the same time to believe in the gospel and absolution that sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ. (AC: I, art. xii). Stanzas 2 & 3 of this hymn proclaim the terror of sin: Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, Death brooded darkly over me, Sin was my torment night and day; In sin my mother bore me. Notice how Luther even brings out the teaching of original sin straight from Psalm 51: 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) These words teach us that we not only commit sins, but we actually are sin … even in our mother’s womb. As we grow in knowledge, the understanding of our sin also grows. Not only do we sin more and more, but our understanding of that sin increases. So Luther continues with: But daily deeper still I fell; My life became a living hell, So firmly sin possessed me.
Do we hope in our own good works? The Holy Spirit speaks through the Apostle Paul: “By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) At another time he wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9) So it is that Luther begins stanza 3 by reminding us that we cannot work our way out of our sinful condition: My own good works all came to naught, No grace or merit gaining; Free will against God’s judgment fought, Dead to all good remaining. Luther even reminds us of Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
By the rime we come to the end of stanza 3, Luther has preached two stanzas of 200 proof terror about sin and so he has fulfilled Christ’s instructions to proclaim repentance. If we rightly understand our sin, we should be terrified, but do not despair. In stanza 4 Martin Luther will begin to preach the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ.
The English translation begins stanza 4 with two of the most beautiful words in the English language: “But God.” Time after time, the history of the Bible shows us that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21) Never the less, after humans really mess up the situation, God comes to the rescue. For example: when Joseph’s brothers are terrified that Joseph will seek revenge, Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:19–20)
The first words of stanza 4 are amazing: But God had seen my wretched state Before the world’s foundation, And mindful of his mercies great, He planned for my salvation. With these words, Martin Luther is telling us that God already planned your salvation before He even said, “Let there be light,” on the first day of creation. How can Luther say that? Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul’s greeting in his letter to the Ephesians. 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3–4)
This teaching blew me away the first time I understood it. When God began the work of creation, He had already planned out my salvation … me … personally. In His perfect knowledge, He knew that I, a damned sinner, would be born on May 10, 1950, and he already had a plan of salvation specifically designed for me! The same is true for each and every one of you. God had a plan of salvation in place for you … personally … individually … before He even said, “Let there be light.”
So what is this plan? Well, Luther continues: He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose easy part But gave his dearest treasure. Here we see that God turns to us with the heart of a father … full of love … ready to make the hard sacrifice for His family. I wonder if Luther was thinking about the words that the Holy Spirit inspired John to write: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
Stanza 5 is simply an expansion of John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God said to his beloved Son: “It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of my crown, And bring to all salvation; From sin and sorrow set them free; Slay bitter death for them that they May live with you forever.” These words teach us that God the Father actually sent God the Son in His love for us.
Stanza 6 is Christmas. It is all about the Son of God becoming fully human in order to save humanity. The Son obeyed his Father’s will, Was born of virgin mother; And God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother. His royal power disguised he bore, A servant’s form, like mine, he wore To lead the devil captive. It is just as the Apostle Paul told the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5)
Now, in stanza 7, Jesus proclaims His Gospel to me, personally, and, as you sing or meditate on these words, He proclaims this to you: To me he said: “Stay close to me, I am your rock and castle. The rock and castle language comes right out of Psalm 46:”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psalm 46:1–3)
Your ransom I myself will be; For you I strive and wrestle; Luther proclaims that Christ will be our ransom as the Apostle Peter writes, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
For I am yours, and you are mine, And where I am you may remain; Here is Luther unpacking the words of Jesus in the upper room: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2–3)
The foe shall not divide us.” This phrase agrees with the words that the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
Stanza 8 begins with Good Friday … “Though he will shed my precious blood, Of life me thus bereaving, All this I suffer for your good; Be steadfast and believing. Life will from death the victory win; My innocence shall bear your sin; And you are blest forever. This is simply the message of the entire Bible. There’s the words of judgement on the serpent in Eden. The suffering servant passages of Isaiah. The actual Passion accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Even the last book of the Bible teaches us that we will sing of the lamb who was slain.
So far, Luther has preached our sin and our desperate need for a savior. He has preached the role of the Father in sending His dearly beloved Son to save us. He has preached the role of the Son in assuming humanity in order to save humanity by shedding His blood to earn salvation for us. Now, it is time for stanza 9 to preach the Holy Spirit’s work of delivering our salvation to us. “Now to my Father I depart, From earth to heaven ascending, And heavenly wisdom to impart, The Holy spirit sending; In trouble he will comfort you And teach you always to be true And into truth shall guide you.
These words are a paraphrase of the very words of Jesus in the Upper Room: 5But now I am going to him who sent me … it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you … 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:5, 7, 13)
By the power of the Holy Spirit we receive comfort, the absolute assurance of salvation, and strength to share the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sin by means of the truth of God’s word.
Finally, in stanza 10, Luther reviews the life of the church. What instructions has Jesus left for His people? “What I on earth have done and taught Guide all your life and teaching; So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought And honored in your preaching.” These words remind me of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew. We are to preach God’s Word in its truth and purity and administer the sacraments according to Christ’s instructions.
In a way, we have come back to stanza 1. The church is here to proclaim the wonders God has done. We are to continue proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Luther ends this final stanza with a warning from Jesus. “But watch lest foes with base alloy The heavenly treasure should destroy; This final word I leave you.” These words are consistent with the warnings of Jesus: 15”Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15) AND “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. (Matthew 24:4–5) Here, Martin Luther preaches the warnings that Jesus gave against false doctrine.
We have barely touched the surface of what this hymn teaches. Each stanza could be the basis for a full sermon. Never the less, this hymn fulfills the words that the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write to the church in Corinth: 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) These words teach us that hymns are one way to teach and admonish one another so that the Word of Christ dwells in us richly.
On this day, we sing this hymn with Lutheran churches all over the world because it preaches the substance of the central verse in today’s Gospel: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) This hymn proclaims God’s love by proclaiming the sacrifice He made by laying down His life for us.
We have proclaimed that even while we hated God, were His enemies, and were dead in sin, God expressed His love for us by calling us friends and offering up His life for us even as Paul said, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Someone recently asked me how much a person must know in order to be saved. My response was that if someone knows what this hymn teaches, they will be saved.
We, as a singing congregation, have proclaimed the wonders that God has done … the wonders that set the true God apart from all the false gods. In so doing, we have also proclaimed a brief summary of the salvation that God offers to us by
God the Father’s grace for
God the Son’s sake through
God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. Amen
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. T Amen
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