Skip to content


Luther Preaching

Christ is completely wrapped in the Scriptures, just as the babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes. Preaching is the manger in which he lies and is apprehended, and from which we take our food.” -- Luther's Sermon on Luke 2

“Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times it would all be vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours.” (LW 40, 213)

I believe a return to Luther's theology of the Word might be the most powerful catalyst for change our churches could experience. Luther would have us proclaim Christ with a confidence and liberty which would be utterly transformative.

I ran these seminars for the Staff Team of UCCF Wales. I discuss issues like...

Luther's three-fold understanding of God's Word

The Ministry of the Keys

The Real Presence of Jesus in Proclamation

Law-Gospel preaching

Christ-focused proclamation







I also recommended this paper by David Lotz as preparatory reading

Luther Preaching

Christ is completely wrapped in the Scriptures, just as the babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes. Preaching is the manger in which he lies and is apprehended, and from which we take our food.” -- Luther's Sermon on Luke 2

“Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times it would all be vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours.” (LW 40, 213)

I believe a return to Luther's theology of the Word might be the most powerful catalyst for change our churches could experience. Luther would have us proclaim Christ with a confidence and liberty which would be utterly transformative.

I ran these seminars for the Staff Team of UCCF Wales. I discuss issues like...

Luther's three-fold understanding of God's Word

The Ministry of the Keys

The Real Presence of Jesus in Proclamation

Law-Gospel preaching

Christ-focused proclamation







I also recommended this paper by David Lotz as preparatory reading


luther"It's like that great Luther quote", says the conference speaker. And I lean forward, expecting some fiery nugget - boldly declaiming the works of the flesh as dung, narrating some epic battle with spiritual darkness (probably won by farting in the devil's face), an impassioned insistence on Christ crucified upending all our dearest ideals - essentially I'm expecting some red-meat theology still dripping with blood. And what do I hear? More often than not, it's...

As Luther said, "Humanity is like a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left."

And what is the moral to the story? Be balanced. Avoid extremes. Just like Luther, right?

Well, except that, such a sentiment doesn't sound very Lutheran now does it? If you are looking for a proponent of balance would you really choose Luther as champion of the via media?? Surely not! Surely Luther is the champion of theological extremes: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone - nothing balanced there! The whole reformation is the rejection of a balance between faith and works or between faith and reason. There is a place for works and reason but it comes on the far side of a radical insistence on God's glory to the exclusion of ours.

Balance is not an aim, it's the fruit of an extreme devotion to Christ, and Christ alone.

So then, what's the deal with Luther's quote? Well actually it has been mediated to us through CS Lewis (in "The World's Last Night"). And at that point, it all starts to make sense. Mr Mere-Christianity-Anglican used Luther's line and pressed it into his own service. He made it a word about the dangers of extremes and the wonders of balance. But in the context of Luther's Table Talk, this is what he actually said:

The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can't help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil's. (LW 54:111)

Now, to me, this isn't a quote about extremism. There are only two positions really - on the horse and off the horse. The point is not about finding a median point between opposing wings. In fact, Luther's thought here is itself an extreme view of human nature - that we are in bondage to Satan and want to belong to him!  The problem isn't so much extremism, the problem is a mad (drunken) humanity that cannot save itself and can therefore only be saved by a radical intervention from beyond (not by a resolution of the drunk to 'find their balance'). If you ask me, Luther just isn't saying what Lewis wants him to say.

So next time you hear someone cite Luther's praise of balance, you'll know it's actually a Lewis sentiment. And you can decry it with extreme audacity, safe in the knowledge that balance is a monstrous evil. And nuance is always, always wrong.



Luther PreachingThe Threefold Word

Christ is completely wrapped in the Scriptures, just as the babe is wrapped in swaddling clothes. Preaching is the manger in which he lies and is apprehended, and from which we take our food.” (Sermon on Luke 2)

Preaching as God's own Word

“Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s." (Quoted in Church Dogmatics I/1, p107)

“[God] condescends to enter the mouth of every Christian who professes the faith.” [Therefore preaching must be] “believed as though God’s own voice were resounding from heaven” (LW24, 66)

"We both - pastor and listener - are only pupils; there is only this difference, that God is speaking to you through me. That is the glorious power of the divine Word, through which God Himself deals with us and speaks to us, and in which we hear God Himself." (LW 23, 97)

 Therefore Preachers Inherit the Ministry of the Keys (Matthew 16:19)

[Jesus says,] “Peter’s mouth is my mouth, and his tongue is my key case. His office is my office, his binding and loosing are my binding and loosing. His keys are my keys, and I have no others, nor do I know of any others.” (LW40, 365)

“God has no other way to forgive sins than through the spoken Word, as he commanded us. [For] if you do not look for forgiveness through the Word, you will gape toward heaven in vain for grace, or (as they say), for a sense of inner forgiveness.” (LW40, 366]

Preaching Law and Gospel

The law uncovers sin; it makes the sinner guilty and sick; indeed, it proves him to be under condemnation... The gospel offers grace and forgives sin; it cures the sickness and leads to salvation." (Romans Commentary)

Preaching the Gospels

"I believe that it has now become clear that it is not enough or in any sense Christian to preach the works, life, and words of Christ as historical facts, as if the knowledge of these would suffice for the conduct of life; yet this is the fashion among those who must today be regarded as our best preachers. Far less is it sufficient or Christian to say nothing at all about Christ and to teach instead the laws of men and the decrees of the fathers....Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established, that he may not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him." (The Freedom of the Christian, LW 31.357)

“The chief arti­cle and foun­da­tion of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an exam­ple, you accept and rec­og­nize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suf­fer­ing some­thing, you do not doubt that Christ him­self, with his deeds and suf­fer­ing, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it your­self; indeed as if you were Christ himself."  (What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels)

The Nature of Preaching

"Preaching is naught other but an offering and presentation of Christ." Luther (LW39, 183)

“The preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him” (LW 35.121).

The Necessity of Preaching

“Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times it would all be vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours.” (LW 40, 213)

"To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching" (Freedom of the Christian)

The written Word (the Bible) "is not as fruitful and powerful as it is through a public preacher whom God has ordained to say and preach this.” (Sermon, 21 July 1532)

A Sample of Luther's Preaching

It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open its ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent.

But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital?

And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us.

For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin. . . . He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. (Sermon on John 1:29)

And here's the lowdown on Luther and Preaching from David Lotz: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED


Luther PreachingRecently I taught on Luther's theology of the word. I spoke of the movement God's word makes with us - to kill and to make alive; to uproot and to plant; to tear down and to build.

Consider Genesis 1 - first darkness then light; first the seed then the fruit; first forming then filling.

Consider Genesis 2 - first the man goes into death-sleep then he's raised to unite with his bride.

Consider Genesis 3 - first Adam takes us into curse, then the promised Seed will bring deliverance.

Consider Abraham - first barrenness according to the flesh then life according to the promise.

Consider Moses - even before Israel enters the land he tells them of their inevitable exile and then the LORD will bring them home with an almighty atonement.

Consider Isaiah - he must proclaim the hacking down of Israel's tree until only the Holy Seed is left (Isaiah 6).

Consider Jeremiah - his word to the nation is first judgement then salvation (Jeremiah 1:4-10; cf Jeremiah 31)

Luther did not invent an arbitrary distinction with law and gospel. Rather, he named the pattern of the Word in evidence on every page. This patterns goes through death and, only in going through death, we then enter resurrection. (You'll notice how law-gospel preaching goes hand in hand with a theology of the cross).

Therefore our proclamation should take the same shape. We preach the inability of the flesh, of the will, of human effort when it comes to establishing the wondrously good life of God's kingdom. The law is good - really, fantastically good. But it reveals that we are bad - stinkingly, horrifyingly bad. We preach the reality of our own spiritual death and then we declare the life that comes from outside ourselves. We point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You could call that law-gospel preaching if you like, but Luther has no trademark on it. It's the kind of thing you have to preach if you believe salvation comes only from Christ and never from us.

Anyway... I was teaching these kinds of things recently and two people asked questions in quick succession. The first asked: "What about Leviticus 26-27 - that takes the pattern of blessings then curses." The second asked about Luke 6 - Jesus proclaims blessings then woes. If the shape of the word is law then gospel, why are these significant portions of Scripture proclaiming a 'positive message' and then a 'negative message'?

The answer is fairly straightforward - both blessings and curses are law! In fact they are the quintessence of law.

Law is: "If you... Then He'll..."

Gospel is "Since He... You are..."

Notice therefore that "If you... Then He'll..." is a message that could include curses or blessings. If you obey then He'll bless you. If you disobey, then He'll curse you. Whether the carrot is being dangled or the stick is being threatened the real issue is the phrase "If you...". What makes these messages law is not the curses or the carrots, it's the conditionality.

Both carrot and stick are law. And notice how Moses uses them. In Leviticus 26-27 (and in Deuteronomy) he outlines the potential blessings from Mount Gerazim and then the curses from Mount Ebal (of course he spends much longer on the curses!) By the time you get to Deuteronomy it becomes very obvious (see Deut 4 and Deut 30-34) that Israel will go into the curses of exile and only then attain to the blessings. Curses and blessings are not so much alternative possibilities but consecutive stages in their history.

Think how Jesus uses the blessings and woes in Luke 6. Blessed are those who have absolutely nothing. Cursed are those who think they have it made. Both sides of the coin uphold the one truth - we've got nothing, everything must come from heaven. In other words, it's all about the good law describing the good life that is entirely beyond us. Both the "positive message" of the blessings and the "negative message" of the woes are proclaiming our inability and God's all-sufficiency.

So let me draw a couple of points of application. First, there really is a shape to God's word. We know this supremely because God's Word is Jesus. And there's a shape to Jesus' life - down into the curses then rising into blessing. Certainly the little slice of Scripture we're reading might start with a "nice bit" and end with a "hard bit", but that slice of Scripture exists within a larger context. And if we're preaching, we're called to preach the larger context. We don't proclaim Luke 6:20-26, we proclaim Jesus from Luke 6:20-26. We never want to make the mistake of the Pharisees in John 5 - seeking life in the passage rather than the Person. If we preach the Person then we have to preach the pattern of that Person - a pattern that will be evidenced in the passage too, if we would only do our homework. But that pattern is down and then up, cross then resurrection, law then gospel.

Second, legalistic preaching (preaching law without gospel) is not always harsh-sounding preaching. It could be all about blessings, all about carrots, all about your best life now - if you.... If you only do this, or think that, or be the other - then you'll be blessed. Such a message might sound incredibly positive, but ultimately it's crushing because it's all about you.

Third, law-gospel preaching is not about balancing carrots and sticks. It's not about ensuring we play off the 'nice Scriptures' with the 'harsh ones' so that we're properly rounded. Some might be adept at sugar-coating some hard truths with some sweet verses. Others might temper their lovely promises with fearful warnings. But that is not law-gospel preaching - that is law-law preaching. "Christ is the end of the law that there may be righteousness for everyone who simply believes." (Romans 10:4)

Let's not leave our hearers in between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal. Let's take them on the journey that Scripture takes... through the curses into the blessings, through Golgotha and up to Zion. And let's make sure we preach Christ as the One who makes it happen.




lutherEmma's just written a stonking post on combating the lies which threaten to overwhelm us. She quotes an example from Luther's Galatians commentary:

“Sir Devil,” we may say, “I am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me.” This is the faith that overcomes the devil’.

Here are some other brilliant moves from the same Kung-Fu Master - let's learn how to comfort ourselves, and each other, with gospel hope:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds. (1:4)...

...Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for trifling and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. (1:4)...

...If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin. (1:4)...

...When you see a person squirming in the clutches of the Law, say to him: “Brother, get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of Law and sin. Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace. Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead to the Law and dead to sin.” Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can talk. He can say: “Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.” (2:17)...

...True Christian righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look away from our own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I can see nothing else but Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If I keep on looking at myself, I am gone. If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. We must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and believe with all our heart that He is our righteousness and our life. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who lives in us, is Lord over Law, sin, death, and all evil. (2:20)...

...When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But when we look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of Christ from our own person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are condemned by the Law, dead before God. Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: “I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.” On the other hand, Christ may say: “I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.” (2:20)...

...Read the words “me” and “for me” [in Galatians 2:20] with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. (2:20...)

...We comfort the afflicted sinner in this manner: Brother, you can never be perfect in this life, but you can be holy. He will say: “How can I be holy when I feel my sins?” I answer: You feel sin? That is a good sign. To realize that one is ill is a step, and a very necessary step, toward recovery. “But how will I get rid of my sin?” he will ask.  I answer: See the heavenly Physician, Christ, who heals the broken-hearted. Do not consult that Quackdoctor, Reason. Believe in Christ and your sins will be pardoned. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and your sins will become His sins. (3:6)...

...Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves. (3:14)...

...We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God. (4:5)...

...Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ’s Gospel be known throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him.” (4:5)...

...This is sweet comfort for us (5:5) . And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.” (5:5)...

...Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners.  This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.” (5:8)...

...When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: “You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” If at that time I had understood this passage, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” I could have spared myself many a day of self-torment. I would have said to myself: “Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh.” (5:17)...

...When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh. (5:18)



Here Carl Trueman speaks about Luther's doctrine of the Word and our need, today, to recover a theology of preaching.

The Word of God transforms the reality of the world. That is the power of preaching, that is the power of the pulpit...

I'm convinced that while much time is spent at seminaries, rightly, teaching the technical aspects of preaching... it is equally important that preachers understand the nature of the theological action which they perform when they stand in a pulpit.

It's a vital, vital need.  I think evangelicalism would be transformed if we came to a deep appreciation of what preaching actually is.

Here's my effort on Theology Network to bang that drum....

It is often said that the real issue in preaching is not ‘How to?’ but ‘How can?’  How can a preacher stand before a congregation and dare to speak ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’?  The ‘How can?’ is by far the more pressing question.  And yet, in the textbooks, at the conferences and in preaching groups it seems the ‘How to?’ is the perennial concern.  Notes or full script?  Powerpoint or no?  Topical sermons or lectio continua?  These questions abound.  Even issues like ‘how to address the heart?’ or ‘how to preach wisdom literature?’ threaten to drown out proper theological reflection.  All the while the ‘How can?’ question stands above our practice demanding an answer.

Our silence on this issue could simply reflect the pragmatic spirit of our age.  We want to know what ‘works’ so we can copy it.  But I suggest there is a deeper problem.  Fundamentally we have an impoverished theology of revelation which fails to appreciate what evangelicals from another age held dear – namely that God Himself addresses us in preaching.


Seminars on Luther's Theology of the Three-fold Word


I really very badly want to share this music. I want to share it with everyone who is willing to hear. And that is because I have fallen in love with this music.

She then describes a low time in which she encountered Handel's piano music. It sparked her "personal state of wonder. It hit a really deep chord within me."

"...So that's how I got addicted to this music..."

Now the world must know! And no matter how foolish she feels, her passion carries her out to the world.

"I ended up with so many diverse reactions. It really made me happy because so many different responses to one and the same piece, to me that feels like it's really great music."

The most beautiful moment in performance art is when I can convey my state of wonder at exactly the same moment that you are open to hear it.

Then she plays. (Of course she plays, how perverse to merely talk about the music without offering it to us!).  And notice, it's slow moving in a minor key, then an urgent recapitulation and then a glorious shift into the major key.  I wonder why that works?

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” ― Martin Luther

What do we learn about evangelism from this?  Discuss.


Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896Isaiah is the tale of two cities. Both of them are Jerusalem.

There is the old Jerusalem with its temple - the House of God. It represents the pinnacle of human and religious strength. If anywhere could be safe from the coming judgement, it would be Jerusalem. Yet the LORD repeatedly asserts that Jerusalem is first in line for divine judgement.

A few examples:

In Isaiah 5 there might be a 6-fold "woe" pronounced on the people in general, but it culminates in the temple with the LORD's own prophet (Isaiah 6:5).

When the LORD commissions Isaiah to preach to Jerusalem, his preaching will completely cut down the tree until only the Holy Seed is left. (Isaiah 6:13)

When Isaiah pronounces oracles against the nations (Isaiah 13-21) they culminate with Jerusalem (Isaiah 22; 29-31).

In Isaiah 51, it is Jerusalem that will drink the cup of the LORD's wrath first (cf Jeremiah 25).

Yet on the other side of this judgement comes a salvation that is also "to the Jew first."

Isaiah is cleansed by fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:7)

The holy Seed will come as a shoot from the stump of Jesse to be universal Ruler (Isaiah 11).

After cosmic judgement, our hope will be manifest "On this mountain" (Isaiah 25:6) but "On that day" (Isaiah 25:9).

After drinking the cup, the LORD takes it out of Zion's hand and comforts them (Isaiah 40:1ff; 51:22)

So we see that judgement and salvation as preached by Isaiah is not like this:


It's not that good behaviour could ever avert the judgement of God that rests on Jerusalem. Instead it's like this:


Or, to be more precise, it's like this:


Judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Israel is the house(hold) of God. The temple is the house of God. And, in fact, the world is the house of God. But it's all scheduled for demolition - from the top down.

Yet what about this holy Seed? What about this Offspring of Jesse? Surely He will sum up Israel - isn't that what a King does? Represent people?

What about this Servant King who is the covenant (Isaiah 42:1-6)? What about this Anointed One who takes up the lost cause of His people? (Isaiah 61).  He will bring salvation to Zion, light to the nations, peace to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11). First He must suffer in a very temple-kind-of-way (Isaiah 53:1-10) and then be glorified (Isaiah 53:11-12). In this way He will sprinkle clean many nations (Isaiah 52:15). They will stream to the true House of God (Isaiah 2:1-4) and so salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 65-66).

salvation-judgement31In this way the preaching of Isaiah is classically law-gospel. There is the righteous judgement of God which cannot be evaded by any of our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). And there is one hope for us - the Divine, Davidic Christ of God. He alone bears our punishment and rises to give life. We who receive His word are brought into His eternal covenant and blessed with all His divine blessings (Isaiah 55:3).

Luther did not invent such a paradigm. It pulses through the Scriptures. Because all the bible preaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.


Luther BibleAs early as 1520, Luther identified a proper distinction of law and gospel as central to his evangelical understanding of the Scriptures:

“the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.”

The commandments are law and to be obeyed. The promises are gospel and to be trusted. Confusing these categories is the fast-track towards losing the gospel.

For Luther and the reformers, the theological use of the law is to convict us of sin and guilt and to drive us to Christ. His blood alone can answer the demands and damnation of the law.

And so, for Luther (and for many even in the reformed tradition), evangelical preaching involves this journey of law and then gospel - the demands that kill and the promise of Christ that brings life.

At which point, non-Lutherans are liable to say, "That's sweet. And artificial. Are we really meant to force Scripture into this mould?" It can seem a little alien.

Now I'm not a Lutheran, certainly not in the denominational sense. But let me suggest that something like "law-gospel" is not a Procrustean bed for the Scriptures, but the natural contour God's Word.

As I argue here - it's not just Genesis 1 that can be divided into forming and then filling. The whole of the bible runs from form to its filled-full reality. The law is a key example of this. The Good Life outlined by Moses is filled full by Jesus (Matthew 5:17).

And the journey from form to filled-full reality is a journey from death to life. First comes darkness, then light. First the seed, then the plant. First the curses of exile, then the blessings of restoration. First Adam, then Christ. First the cross, then the resurrection. First the old covenant, then the new covenant. First the old earth, then the earth renewed.

In all this, the ultimate reality is known and intended in advance, but there is a journey to undergo. And law-gospel is but one expression of that journey - through death to life. Luther was by no means the first to spot this pattern. I want to argue that this is the basic preaching of the prophets. Today we'll think about Jeremiah. Tomorrow, Isaiah.

In Jeremiah 1, the prophet is called by the Appearing Word of the LORD who puts His words in Jeremiah's mouth. At this point in history, the Word of the LORD will not appear to Israel en masse (Hebrews 1:1). Christ speaks through His prophets to the people. Only in the last days does the Word of the LORD come in the flesh as His own prophet (Hebrews 1:2).

But here in Jeremiah 1, what is the shape of the proclamation which Christ commissions Jeremiah to fulfil?

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

Notice the pattern? Uprooting, tearing down, destroying, overthrowing. But then: building and planting.

As Jeremiah speaks to his own people he will proclaim total destruction. Exile will come.  Inescapably.

Essentially, those in Jerusalem respond: "Yeah, sure. We're with you on the total destruction thing. Total destruction for the nations. But we have the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!" (Jeremiah 7:4)

But no, says Jeremiah. The temple is the first place to feel the flames. Judgement begins with the house of God (cf 1 Peter 4:17). God's people are not exempted from judgement. In fact they are judged more harshly. Doom is coming. And it is unavoidable. Your special status, special places, special rituals, special behaviours, special leaders are all worthless. The end is nigh. Your only hope  is God's Leader, His Shepherd:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

It's law then gospel. It's Israel and all its worthless efforts then Christ and all His mighty salvation.

The whole pattern of prophetic preaching is like this. The prophets preach righteousness to the people. But they also make it clear that the people's righteousness cannot save. Exile is coming and the only hope is God's Messiah on the other side of judgement.

Law-gospel isn't a 16th century invention. It's at least 2000 years older than that.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer