In this set of three sermons from 1564, Johannes Brenz expounds upon a harmony of the passion history. Each of the translations was completed by different individuals who are all at various locations and stages of their training for the full-time Gospel ministry. The first sermon was translated by Aaron Voss, currently a senior at Martin Luther College, the second by Jacob Haag, currently studying in Leipzig, Germany at the seminary of our sister-synod, the Evangelisch-Lutherische FreiKirche (ELFK), and the third by Tim Rosenow, a first-year student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Skills cultivated in the confessional languages prove valuable to pastoral students at every point of their education and remain a blessing into their ministry. May these words of Brenz be as valuable to their readers this Lenten season as they have been to their translators.
We heard yesterday that Jesus Christ had learned everything beforehand that was about to happen to him in the passion and on the cross. Indeed, before the time of the Passover came, when he undertook the passion, he had preached many things about the Apostles and his own death. He also always knew the things that had been written about him and his cross in the Prophets. Moreover, after the time of the Passover had come, he spoke plainly about his own passion and indicated the betrayal of Judas and the defection of the disciples. In the dread of death, which he little hid before the three disciples, he indicated that everything that would happen afterwards to him in his capture, on the cross, and in his death, was placed before his eyes. However, he could have withdrawn into a safe place and been cautious of his death, since he was still walking freely among the Jews. However, he wanted to be obedient to the calling of his Father, who had sent him into this situation to atone for the sins of men by undertaking the cross and death and to free men from death and hell. For this reason, he did not flee and withdraw to a safe place, but stayed in the garden, expecting those who were going to apprehend him.
First of all, then, this must not be overlooked, that that same Jesus Christ, who was born from the Virgin Mary and who in the past had performed miracles and preached the gospel, both sweated drops of blood in the garden and also undertook the passion and death, just as this is recorded by the Evangelists. Therefore, this must be considered so that we might retain the true Christ in the passion. For there were those who said that Christ had departed from Jesus in the passion and that Jesus alone suffered, not Christ. For they say that Christ came into Jesus at the Jordan and afterwards had departed from him a second time in the passion. These people divide one person into two, namely into Jesus and Christ. There were some who said that Jesus Christ had not actually suffered but only in a ghost. Others said that Jesus Christ had been snatched into Paradise during the passion, and in place of him, either Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene had suffered, just as the Turks think about Christ. Thus you see that in a strange way Satan is lying in wait for Christ. Here he is most hostile to Christ since he sees that Christ is the kind of person who would crush his own head. For this reason, Satan did not yield before the passion, until he might drive him away in the passion through Judas and the high priests. Thus after the passion, after he had realized that he was deceived in his hope and that the death of Christ was the crushing of his head, he left no stone unmoved so that he might remove from men the benefit of the passion of Christ. To be sure, Satan completely kindled false accusations against his divinity and humanity; thus he also kindled false accusations against Jesus’ passion and death.
Moreover, there exists now particularly two factions of adversity against the passion of Christ and its benefit. One is of the Turks, who think that Christ did not suffer, but was led away into Paradise and that another suffered in his place. They pretend this for the sake of Christ’s honor. However, Satan does this so that men might not obtain the benefits of Christ’s death. The other is of the papacy, which says that indeed Christ suffered for sin, but they add that he had earned only the primary grace; we, however, ought to earn a secondary grace by our works. Therefore, these people also take away the true benefit of the passion of Christ. However, we ought to remain constant in the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, which clearly testify that Jesus Christ truly suffered in this way for our sins to truly make atonement for them, and it could not have happened that men would have been able to make atonement for sins in any manner before God. But why do those people not see the same thing that we see in these writings? The solution of this question must be found in divine judgment, human blindness, and the disdain of piety.
However, let us now actually undertake the history of the external passion of Christ. When Christ was speaking with the disciples, Judas came with a band of men, with lanterns, torches, swords, and clubs, went before the crowd, and gave them the sign. But see the obedience of Christ! He did not wait for them to come to him. He himself came forth to them and asked whom they were seeking.
Earlier we saw the heart of Christ, as if it were weak, severely thrown down to the sorrows of death. He was troubled in his mind, when he was still at the table and saw Judas the betrayer. He trembled in the presence of the three disciples and openly confessed his grief. He hastened to prayer, returned restlessly to the disciples, and quickly his weakness seemed to be great. However, now after the passion itself had begun with his capture, and in the other things that will follow, we shall certainly see in him a heroic spirit. When the captors approached him, he proceeded to meet them heroically. He spoke to them heroically, so much so that they withdrew back and fell upon the ground. He commanded them heroically to let the disciples go away free. He rebuked the leaders heroically. Before the council and Pilate, he did everything heroically. This is part of true wisdom and strength. For wise men seem helpless and fearful in the face of dangers, if they should find any reason of shaking off the dangers. However, after they see that they must undertake the dangers on all sides and that they cannot be properly avoided, they undertake and carry on with these things with such a great spirit. On the other hand, foolish and feminine men are fierce in the face of dangers and desire to overthrow all things and level them to the ground. Therefore, they rashly undertake dangers. However, in enduring the dangers themselves, they are by far the feeblest of all. However, Christ was truly wise and brave. For this reason, we see that he certainly had a heroic spirit in the passion, which he underwent one time. However, you will say, “Christ was able to do this since he was the all-powerful Son of God and knew that the passion was not unsuitable for himself but beneficial for the greatest glory; he knew the end of the passion. However, I, a trivial man, who does not know the end of misfortunes, have another reason.” I reply, “Nonsense.” For Christ undertook this passion because of men, not because of himself, in order that men might also become adopted sons of God and the end of their misfortunes might be glory. For this reason, if you believe in Christ, the same that was done in Christ will be done in you, and you will be able to observe through Christ a heroic calmness of mind, as much as is possible in this flesh.
The captors and Judas, who was standing with them, did not recognize Christ at first, but after they had heard his voice, they fell back. Once again, they were questioned. Christ had conceded power to them, but again he acted heroically, indeed divinely, and commanded them to allow the disciples to go away free. Judas approached Christ, greeted him, and kissed him. But in vain, since unless Christ had surrendered himself to their power, Judas’ kiss would have profited nothing. He was seriously rebuked. They approached and threw their hands on him and apprehended him. The disciples wished to unsheathe their swords, but they were forbidden to do so. Peter did not pay attention to the prohibition; he ran into the armed band of men and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Christ restored the ear of Malchus but very seriously rebuked Peter: “Put your sword back in its place! For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” Christ did good to the wicked and severely reprimanded the pious. The appearance of human matters, in the kingdoms of this earth, does good to the impious and evil to the pious. Nevertheless, in divine judgment, Malchus was given to Satan;1 however, Peter received keys of the kingdom of heaven.
In those hours, Jesus spoke to the chief priests, the magistrates of the Temple, and the elders. Just like his remarkable saying to the thief, so also everything else said by Christ, especially in the passion, lacked a proper audience. Moreover, by saying this, Christ indicated that he had not been captured by human strength and diligence, but only by his own volition and submission to authority, by which he had surrendered himself to the command of God, revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, since he spoke about the hour and the power of darkness, do not think that the impious had prevailed only in this hour, when Christ was captured, but it was the power of darkness, the whole time up to this period, to the last day. For the prince of darkness, Satan, was made powerful on this earth because of sin. For this reason, although the pious have favorable success several times in the matters of this age, nevertheless the impious prevail for the most part; they were powerful, they had dominion upon this earth, and it always was necessary for Christ to suffer cruelly, either in his mind or in his limbs. Thus he suffers in this time in the midst of the Turks. Thus he suffers in the midst of the papacy. Thus he suffered in the midst of the Jews. Thus he suffered in the midst of Christians themselves, who were called evangelical, while the impious were plotting against the reputation, life, and safety of true pious men. This is the power of darkness, which will last until the last day comes. For this reason let us not tremble at this darkness, but let us stand together in Christ so that, although the world is fierce, we might rise again unto life, when we shall conquer death in Christ.
The disciples and the young man fled. Jesus was led to Annas, then to Caiaphas. Peter and John followed Jesus. John went into the courtyard of the priest. By asking, he received permission for Peter to be led inside. A slave girl at the door questioned Peter. He denied it. The rooster crowed for the first time. Peter stood near the live coals. Another slave girl said to those standing around, “This one also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Therefore, men rushed in with their own interrogations. But Peter denied it a second time. Finally, a certain one said, “You are a Galilean because of your speech.” And another likewise: “I saw you in the garden.” Then Peter began to curse and swear that he did not know the man. The rooster crowed a second time. Christ looked at Peter. This concern pierced Peter through his soul and marrow and kindled in him the flames of hell. He recalled the words of Christ. He went out and wept bitterly. This thing which happened to Peter was divinely permitted not so much because of Peter as because of the universal Church.
In fact, we first heard earlier that Peter had undertaken a quarrel with Jesus about his denial. Jesus said that Peter would deny him. Peter asserted that he was wrong. Therefore, now you see that Peter had been a liar. This is the judgment on those who resolutely strive against the truth. We must consider the same. The whole of Scripture declares that we are sinners. All have turned away. Every person is a liar. But when we are legitimately accused because of our sins, then we contend that we are not those great sinners who are the kinds of people to deserve eternal punishment; thus, we undertake debates and quarrels with ministers of the Church. For this reason, let us approach a judgment of Peter with modesty.
Then Peter exalted himself above all his companions. Although they all had been caused to stumble, for this reason he failed more shamefully than all. People often solemnly say to one another in quarrels, “I am so excellent, I am so honest, and I am also more excellent and more honest than you.” Therefore, when they ask for forgiveness, it is publicly shameful.
Furthermore, we see in Peter that God allows the highest saints to stumble so that they might learn to use their gifts well and not to misuse them. Peter had a great gift: he was the bravest man in this spirit, and he was fully endowed with heroic virtues. Many things make clear the bravery of his spirit. He walked on the sea. He was the caretaker of the disciples, since he himself was the mouth and manager of the other disciples. Rushing into an armed band of men adds to this. Likewise, afterwards there was a public assembly on the day of Pentecost and he spoke in the name of all the disciples. All these things showed the enormous size of the spirit in Peter. However, he was misusing it when he was exalting himself above the disciples and when, against Christ’s command, he ran into the armed band of men. For this reason, it was divinely permitted that he be publically shamed; by this, he might learn henceforth to use this gift in the obedience and fear of God.
Finally, Peter is an example of repentance, which many have refused to the fallen.
However, let us come from Peter to Christ and Caiaphas. The priest inquired about the teaching and disciples of Jesus. Jesus replied heroically, “I have spoken publicly,” and he was struck with a blow to the face. The unjust servant of the high priest! Jesus severely rebuked the servant, “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Why does he do this? I see that even Christ was impatient. Why did he not turn the other cheek? This is customarily charged against those who profess Christianity if by chance they complain about the unjust afflictions or they reply to foreign insults. In this way the emperor Julian replied to the Christians who were complaining about injustice; he said that the command to them was to be patient. But Christ was not impatient. Indeed he undertook captivity, and afterwards the cross and death, in supreme patience and obedience. Therefore, in this way he could have borne impatiently the death which they inflicted on him. Nevertheless, what he did is his office. Yes, he was accused of sin in the presence of the high official in this place. However, Christ had committed no sin but had come to make atonement for sin. For this reason, he had to testify to his innocence so that we might know that he had never been convicted of sin and that his righteousness was the greatest. Concerning other people, this is a reason, that, although they are sinners, nevertheless it is alright for them to use the help of the high officials against their own enemies or those who do them wrong. Christ was caused to stand before the council. They tried to get testimonies, but there was none. Two witnesses said, “We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
God determined that Jesus Christ, his own Son, would be judged, at first by the council of the high priest, then by the judgment of the civil magistrate, so that his life and his teaching might be most severely judged and so that his innocence might be publicly testified. His most foolish enemies made judgments about him, but they arrived at absolutely nothing. For it was necessary that the innocence of Christ be publically testified, so that we can believe in him alone and trust in him, as also in our justification. The priest ordered him to reply. He would not respond to obvious lies and dissimulation. Finally, he asked him under oath if he was the Christ, the Son of the blessed God. He said yes and that he would prove these very things. The priest tore apart his robe and exclaimed, “Everyone condemns him.” He was mocked, he was spat upon, he was beaten with blows, and they covered his face and said, “Prophesy to us.” God indeed saw but was silent. Christ indeed was beaten but allowed it. Nothing could have become more profitable, nothing more beneficial, from God and his Son. For as far as God was concerned, he closed his eyes since he saw that this passion of Christ was the expiation of sins, freedom for the human race, and the slaughter of the impious. For the destruction of Jerusalem was so much present in God’s eyes, and the most wretched calamity of the Jews—how near to him that outrage was! For this reason he was easily able to suffer. Moreover, because it belonged to his work as Christ, he suffered patiently, since he was consecrated by this way and plan into the highest glory and judgment of the entire world. He obtained from God all believers in him so that those who are affected by outrage and insults might be glorified together with him.
When it was early morning, the Sanhedrin was gathered together and Jesus was asked if he was the Christ. He said yes and was condemned. Then he was led to the governor, Pontius Pilate. At first, we must consider what kind of Sanhedrin this was. Now it was the most important trial concerning the religious community in the entire world. For these people were the people of God. But among these people it was the highest and greatest assembly, endowed with such great authority to discern anything, which seemed to be from the Holy Spirit, just as up to our time it was believed among Christians about the Council of Bishops. Nevertheless, this Sanhedrin condemned Jesus Christ of sin and guilty of death. What must be said about this? That we indiscriminately curse all Councils? Not at all. Stupid and insane men usually do this in this way. They hear that one man or another does this wickedly and then condemn all these kind of men together, for example, skilled men, shoemakers, tailors, citizens, farmers, etc. This madness is clear. Even the Gentiles conclude more properly who realize that it is nobler to favor the whole order because of one or another good man, than to have hated their entire order because one or another evil man. Thus in this place, because of this one wicked council all the councils together must not be condemned, since the Apostolic council was the holiest, the Council of Nicea was itself holy, and some others. Nevertheless, we must learn from this wicked Council of the Jewish Priests that we ought not to simply trust opinions of the Councils, but to test if the spirits are from God, since the Councils can perceive and determine correctly but can also err. For this reason, we must apply judgment.
Then Christ, although he had previously said nothing to the insults, nevertheless, after he had been questioned, responded among this council that he was the true Christ, since he was driven here by the highest business that was ever done in the whole world. For our salvation did not depend on this, namely on who the Babylonian or the Persian king was. They knew very well who the Roman emperor was, but not who the true king of Israel was, or who the Messiah or the Christ was. Therefore, here Jesus kept nothing secret, but in the highest and most extraordinary trial of the whole earth, he affirmed that he was the Messiah and he promised that he would prove it, to guarantee that he would judge concerning this matter, and if anyone might wish to object and prove the contrary, he would be able to do so freely. However, there was no one who was able to prove the contrary. They did not make a charge against his clan, nor the place of his birth, nor the time of his coming, because they agreed to all these things about Jesus. Therefore because these things about Jesus were not objected to in the council, it is clear that all these things are true about Jesus, otherwise the Jews would have accused him of lying.
Thirdly, this condemnation was one of the extraordinary parts of the passion of Christ. He was condemned to death by the council because of the supreme truth, which is for us most of all the saving truth, since he acknowledged that he was the Christ, the Son of God. However, we are able to consider among ourselves how much the suffering of Christ was out of love for us. If only one other obolus2 were taken away from us in public trial, then we would sorrowfully grieve and we would think that a great injustice was done against us. However, in this trial, all glory, majesty, and life itself were taken away from Christ, indeed as much as these priests were able to take away. Therefore, how great do you think this suffering was? Yet he also suffered patiently to obey his Father’s bidding and to make atonement for our sins.
About Judas. Judas was led by repentance. He returned the pieces of silver. He acknowledged the innocence of Christ. He was laughed at by the priests. He threw the pieces of silver into the temple and hung himself from a noose. His midsection burst asunder, his bowels poured out, and the priests bought the potter’s field for a grave. The prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled, and this story about Judas might demand a separate sermon. Nevertheless, we must hurry to other things, but let us say a few things. At first, Judas indeed began his repentance but did not finish it. He recognized his sin. He hated his sin. He did an act of kindness. He recalled his falsehood. He returned the wages of his betrayal. These were, to be sure, good deeds. However, since he did not acknowledge Christ nor plead for his mercy, in this way he threw away his salvation. For this reason, in repenting the most important part of salvation is to believe in Jesus Christ. Secondly, it was horrible that Judas had countless followers in doing evil, but very few in doing good. For there are many, who despise and laugh at the gospel in their heart, and work hard at stealing and inflicting wounds like Judas, who also become worse condemned people, and they do not indeed spare those who do good. But there are a very few, who return part of their wealth to future leaders and acknowledge the truth, just as Judas did. But what good did this do for him? Although it did no good for him for salvation, nevertheless he feels his eternal condemnation more tolerably, just as Christ said about Tyre and Sidon in Matthew 11. Besides, he did good to his heirs, since if this money had come to the heirs of Judas, he also would have brought them their curse. For the wealth is cursed by impiety to this day and created by cheaters. For this reason it would have also brought the heirs a curse. Such wealth is like yeast; when it is thrown into a clear heap, it leavens it all.
Furthermore, when the priests laughed at Judas, you see what kind of a reward men who sin against the favor of the powerful receive. Finally, the priests served Christ, although they did not know it. For although they condemned him because he was allegedly not the Christ, nevertheless they without knowing it bore testimony about him by this purchase, namely that he was the Christ, because Zechariah had prophesied about this purchase. Therefore you see that it is necessary for the wicked to serve Christ, but with their great evil, since they did it unwillingly, and they were thinking something very different.
The condemned Jesus was led to the governor Pontius Pilate. It is clear who Pilate was. They did not enter the Praetorium lest they become unclean. Pilate went outside. He asked and they replied, “If he were not a criminal we would not have handed him over to you,” and Pilate scoffed at them. Finally, they accused him publically. “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” This was the opinion of those making the accusation: “We live in good tranquility, and we be have been obedient to the Roman Emperor, nor do we desire another master because he leads us very mercifully. But this Jesus stirs up a multitude in our nation and makes the common people full of seditious discord, since he says that taxes must not be given to Caesar but that he is the Messiah, that King of the Jews.” In this accusation the same happened, which is accustomed to happen in almost all the accusations of the wicked: they mix lies with the truth. It was the truth that Jesus confessed that he was the Messiah. It was lies that he agitated the nation and opposed giving taxes to Caesar. To this extent, it was a greater sin than if someone simply spoke lies, since if you adorn lies with truth, then besides the sin of lying you also blaspheme God’s name.
Pilate led Jesus inside and questioned him as to whether he was the Christ. Jesus stood like a hero before Pilate and advised him of his own official duty. “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?”, that is, “Do you ask if I am the Messiah for your own sake, so that you might know the truth and obtain salvation, or do you only ask if I am the Messiah on account of the rumor of others, so that you might know something new? Therefore, if you ask for the sake of your salvation, I will not refuse to teach you. However, if you only serve another desire, it is not necessary that I reply.” Pilate was angry yet controlled. “Am I a Jew?”, that is, “Why should I care about the Messiah? What have you done? I judge trials about public offenses.” Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would have fought to prevent my arrest by the Jews.” This is one of the extraordinary statements of the entire passion of Christ, so that we might know the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Nevertheless, it is for our advantage to put it into practice both publicly and privately. The Christians, who live under the Turks, hear the greatest blasphemies against Christ, are themselves oppressed by the Turks, and they see that Christ does not help the Christians with his external help. However, they themselves ought not to be surprised by this. A student is not above the master. If Christ’s kingdom were of this earth, then his servants would fight it out publicly and overpower the Turks. Thus when a Christian is either poor or sick or despised, he ought not to be surprised. If Christ had a kingdom of this earth, then all the mountains would uncover themselves and would display all the greatest treasures, so that the godly might grow rich. Likewise all the pharmacists would bring forth medicine for the sick. However, Christ’s kingdom is spiritual and eternal. For this reason, our salvation will be revealed in another lifetime.
Pilate said, “If you have a kingdom, are you a king, then?” Jesus replied, “I am a king. But my kingdom is not of this world.” “Then what are you doing in this world?” “I came into this world, not to take possession of kingdoms of this world, but to teach the true devotion, true godliness. Whoever loves true devotion is my disciple and boasts about me. Nothing of my business has to do with civil affairs and kingdoms.” Here Christ clearly distinguished between his own kingdom and civil or earthly kingdoms. For these are established on this earth to preserve outward peace and tranquility, to protect the good with outward weapons and to punish the wicked, and to establish political laws. However, Christ’s kingdom on this earth is a teaching of truth. He attends to those things that belong to the true religion: how sin is shunned, how sin is cleansed, how death is conquered, and how eternal happiness is acquired. For this reason, although a godly civil officer ought to apply his own work to support Christ’s kingdom, just as in return the teaching of truth applies its own work to support the earthly kingdom, yet Christ’s kingdom does not consist in the strength and power of an external kingdom but in the power of heaven. Pilate mockingly said, “What is truth?” The wise think that they do not have to dedicate themselves to only one religion, but that it must be inferred from all that it seems. Let us eagerly follow the true religion, handed down in the Scriptures by the Prophets and Apostles.
Just a guess on Brenz’s part. There is nothing in Scripture which speaks either way. ↩
a small Greek coin ↩
Brenz preaches on a harmony of the passion history.
Apr 19, 2011