Chapter Six

26. Jesus answered them: Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

In this text we hear Jesus tell the Jews why they are following Him, namely, not because of His miracles and His teaching but for the sake of their miserable bellies, which they held so dear. For they reasoned: “He is a proper Teacher for us. He will provide us with a physical freedom in which each will be sated and satisfied and enabled to gratify his every wish.” The Lord wants to indicate what sort of disciples the teaching of the Gospel attracts. Even today the Gospel finds disciples who imagine that its teaching affords nothing but a gratification of the belly, that it brings all manner of earthly delights, and that it serves solely the wants of this temporal life.

Even today this misconception is so prevalent and pronounced that I have almost grown weary of preaching and teaching. The people come to hear the proclamation of the Gospel as though they were its sincere disciples. But they dissemble, pursuing no other interest than to fill their bellies and to indulge their selfishness. They regard the Gospel as a teaching that is designed for the belly and teaches gluttony and carousing. The concern of nearly all men, from the lowliest to the most exalted, revolves about that idea. Among princes, counts, noblemen and magistrates, town people and country folk, it is quite common to regard the Gospel as a belly sermon.1 But this teaching was not sent from heaven to fill everyone’s paunch and afford him every license. That is not the reason why Christ shed His blood. No, the Gospel is a proclamation about the praise, glory, and honor of God. And it directs us to praise and glorify God as well, for God wants us to praise and laud Him and to do what pleases Him. Thus when we seek first God’s honor and His kingdom (Matt. 6:33), He, in turn, offers to grant us not only this temporal life with all its needs but eternal life as well.

For God satisfied all the bodily wants of the world long before He issued the Gospel; therefore the preaching of the Gospel would be unnecessary for the sake of the belly. In Gen. 1:28 ff. He gave man all the beasts of the field, the fish in the sea, and the birds in the air. He made him master of all these and subjected the earth to man that it might produce grain, wine, sheep, oxen, and clothing for him. Furthermore, God ordered that man should cultivate the soil to have food that would nourish him. God stocks man’s pantry and cellar with abundance to his joy and delight. Finally God also gave man the sun to light him by day and the moon to light him by night, so that man and beast, fatigued by the day’s toil, might slumber and rest. God also gave man everything else he might require or desire.

Therefore it was not necessary for Christ to come and preach about matters pertaining to the body. Temporal goods are bestowed also on such as are not interested in Christ but are ungodly. Yes, I suppose that these people possess the greatest amount of earthly riches. We observe, for example, that the Turk is ruler over many kingdoms.2 One wonders what inspired the assumption that the Gospel instructs one to scrape and scratch riches to himself, to multiply his wealth, to become a usurer, a miser, and a robber—all in the guise and under the cloak of the Gospel. That is not the purpose of the Gospel. Yet people still cling to this illusion regarding the Gospel. They argue: “Well, Christ proclaims liberty in the Gospel, doesn’t He? So let us quit working and gorge ourselves with food and drink!” Everyone scrapes riches into his purse just in order to fill his belly.

Our adversaries, too, are proficient in this skill. They can grab for ecclesiastical property, for cloisters and bishoprics. Every peasant barely able to count to five snatches fields, meadows, and woods away from the cloisters. Under the guise of the Gospel he gives vent to every wantonness, and all the while he claims to be a good Christian.3 This truly vexes me so that I am tempted to say: “If you refuse to be concerned about your salvation and God’s glory in God’s name, then may you perish with your gluttony and drunkenness in the devil’s name!”

But what does it help? Since our Head, Christ the Lord, experienced this, why should we complain if we have disciples who allege that Christ came into the world solely for the sake of our physical well-being? The day will come when Christ will punish such disciples, saying: “This is not what is meant. I preach about a spiritual eating, about spiritual food; I seek the glory of God.” Since He does not confirm them in their idolatrous devotion but upholds the honor of God, His preaching falls on deaf ears. And we fare the same way today.

But let this be our comfort, that there is a purpose in any persecution which our adversaries, the tyrants, direct against the teaching of the Gospel, and in any prohibition to proclaim it, and in any worry we may have that we may starve to death. Such persecution must tend to increase our delight in the Gospel. For example, if we had a prince who did not profess the Gospel but opposed and persecuted it—oh, how much stronger would be the love, awe, and longing with which we would hearken to its proclamation! We would be willing to give two cows to get a pious preacher.4 In the Oberland5 one would give ten guldens for the privilege of hearing God’s Word preached for a year. Our peasants, on the other hand, declare: “I would not give a pfennig for this.” If it were not for persecution, we would be as bad and base as our adversaries. Even now we are willing to let the pastors in the villages die of hunger as we scrape and scratch like misers. Look at what the burghers and peasants, the princes, the magistrates, and the governors are doing! But just go ahead and scrape your riches together! The day will dawn when fellows with hungry bellies and empty purses will come along, count your guldens, take their share of them, and plunder and rob you. I have often predicted that the time will come when you will go a hundred miles in search of a good preacher and of the Gospel.6 But this will be for nothing, and you will not find what you are looking for. Today you refuse to give a preacher three pfennigs; later you would gladly give him three guldens. But no one will believe me now. People will have to learn from experience. Today the Jews, too, would be glad to pay a king’s ransom to hear the preaching of only one apostle or prophet; but they will hear them no more.

Well, a preacher must derive what comfort he can from the fact that sows and dogs will be among the hearers wherever the Gospel is preached; it will not be otherwise. These seek nothing else in the Gospel than their own gratification. And if you have this experience, why do you grieve over it so? You are no better than the Lord Christ. If this is the way He fared, you cannot expect to fare differently. There will come a day of reckoning.

How does Christ the Lord handle this problem? He wanted to turn the people away from such an illusion and such a selfish attitude, to draw them from the belly to the Spirit, to show them that the proclamation of the Gospel was not intended to afford them food for the body and earthly goods but rather to give something far superior to food and drink, house and home, wife and children. It is by no means the purpose of the Gospel to instill greed, a sense of smugness, and a spirit of indolence. For all this would run counter even to the first creation of man, when God ordered Adam to cultivate the garden (Gen. 2:15). After man’s fall He imposed heavy toil on him, obliging him to eat his bread in the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19). Now, as you hear the Gospel, your heart must perceive that this Gospel gives far more than all the world is able to give, far more than all emperors, kings, princes, and lords possess, Therefore the Lord says:

27. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.

It is as though He were saying: “I will supply you with a different kind of food. Why do you want to be such wretched beggars and seek and desire such paltry morsels and trifles from Me? I want to give you a different sort of food, which will not perish, bread that will endure to eternity, which will not let you die but will preserve you for everlasting life.”

But when the people hear that Christ wants to direct them away from bread and from money to the Gospel, from the field and the earth to heaven, they are displeased, and they desert Him. For flesh and blood is interested only in bodily nourishment. The common rabble’s breath reeks only of avarice. In fact, the entire world seeks nothing but money and goods, food and drink. But Christ utters these words here solely for the sake of a few pious people who take them to heart and whose yearnings transcend bread and beer, money and goods. Let the others go where they please—who cares?

Here Christ places two types of food side by side: the perishable and the eternal. If a person were concerned about this difference, he would hold to it unflinchingly and not cling so tenaciously to temporal goods. He would say: I hear that Christ distinguishes between perishable and eternal food. For here Christ wants to say: “Even though I gave you what you already have—like bread baked by the baker—or if I gave you as much as the entire world desires, what good would it do you? If I had as much wheat, barley, oats, money, or goods as the Turkish sultan or the Roman emperor—what, after all, would be gained?” To be sure, Christ does call this a food, but only a perishable food, which does not endure eternally. The term “perishes” connotes contempt for such food. For this food is destined to perish; it is used up; it is of no help. In fact, it even injures body and life if it is misused. What does your scraping profit you? Perishable bread preserves only the temporal life. These words of Christ convey a distinct contempt. Even if a person possessed all the world’s goods, still it would all be perishable. Then why should you despise the imperishable food and eternal life, and rate it lower than the perishable bread and life? Isn’t that madness and folly on your part?

No peasant is so stupid as to give a hundred bushels of grain for a scrap of paper, nor a burgher to give a hundred brews of beer for a drink of water. Burghers would rather serve a drink of beer for a hundred guldens, and a peasant would rather sell a bushel of grain for the same amount. But Christ declares here that this is all perishable, and that he who would have eternal food should gladly surrender all his property for it. Yet it is customary in the world to be concerned only with what is ephemeral and to disregard what is eternal, to take a handful of grain and to let the Gospel go. Thus we senseless fools make bold to defy God. But in the end we shall see who will be the loser.

Therefore Christ wanted to avert our harm and doom by warning us against such stupidity and exhorting us to turn our attention to the eternal food, for this food does not perish. But if it is taken away, you must die forever. How eagerly you should strive for this food and not despise it but esteem it above everything as an enduring food that gives eternal life! You must go in quest of this food; for when the perishable food vanishes, you will be saved forever and have eternal life.

The disciples of the Gospel are such as seek this eternal food and these eternal possessions. St. Peter and the dear apostles, as well as other pious Christians, understood and remembered this sermon well. Thus St. Peter exclaimed on a later occasion: “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), that is, words that give eternal life. They remained faithful to this message of Christ and did not depart from it. The others, however, despised it. Even today coarse and ungodly people say: “Who cares about heaven so long as we have enough flour here on earth?”7 Or: “Why do you prate about eternal life so long as there is enough in this life?” And yet such people claim to be good evangelicals. The Lord wants to teach them not to cling so tenaciously to temporal goods, to this life and its nourishment. God bestowed all this on them long ago, and He is content to have them use their earthly goods for their sustenance and for service to Him. But they should think beyond this, and so He says: “Do not labor for the food that perishes.”

This is a Hebraism. It is as though He were saying: “The care of your belly is your one concern, whereas you should be interested in baking the proper bread and providing yourself with bread, corn, or grain that does not perish. Sow such grain, pluck such ears, gather such supplies into your granaries, thresh them, be concerned and work hard to procure imperishable bread, food that will not let you die. Acquire a treasure that will not pass away.”

Now here someone may ask: But are we not expected to plow, to cultivate, and to toil? It is true, Christ does not forbid this; for in Genesis God ordered man to do these things (3:19). No, here Christ forbids us to confine ourselves to the quest for earthly things and to despise His doctrine and His signs. He complains here: “You seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. You should not seek Me for the sake of goods that pass away; for I am a different Teacher, one who does not preach about perishable food or instruct you in sowing, baking, and plowing. With all this you were familiar long ago; Moses taught you how to labor. That is not the goal of My teaching, and you must not come to Me in search of such things. You must come to Me for everlasting food.”

Thus Christ directs the attention of the people to a different supply of food. But when this is proclaimed to flesh and blood, man soon loses interest in this message. Everyone is determined to remain with bread that he can see and feel. Thus the peasant sticks to his corn, saying: “Yes, I hear that You offer to feed me and to give me bread; but I fail to hear the guldens ring or to see the sacks of grain. Where are You keeping these? I am sure that You are a beggar Yourself. Where do You have Your granary? Where is this food?” In reply Jesus declares:

Which the Son of Man will give to you.

With these words Christ tears the hearts and eyes of us all away from all bakeries and granaries, from all cellars, storerooms, fields, and purses, yes, from all labor, and directs them to Himself. He declares that He Himself is an excellent baker, and He offers to provide what field and purse cannot supply. “Such food you cannot obtain from a baker or gain by your toil. Cultivate your fields as you have been commanded to do since the day of Adam, but it is I who will provide you with this particular food. Your granary and your provisions will not do it.” We ask: “After all, what do You own? In the end You are a beggar as much as St. Peter and St. Paul were, without a foot of ground that You can call Your own; and yet You boast that You are able to give us everything!” But this is pointing man away from temporal bread and provisions to a different type of food, an invisible food which requires no baker, brewer, chef, or peasant, but which Christ gives. He is the true Chef and Miller, who supplies us with a different kind of corn from that commonly found in the world. We must look solely to Him, not to any creature. We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ and not give ourselves to scraping and scratching; we must shun greed.

This is the message which the Lord now presents. But little heed is paid to it. For people are good evangelicals so long as they hope that the message of the Gospel will pasture and enrich them. This is all they look for in the Gospel. But when they hear that through its message they will be delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil, they ignore all this and despise the Gospel.

At present a very unnecessary famine is raging, and the people are falling prey to a disgusting state of covetousness.8 Everything is threatening to go to ruin, and people are on the verge of despair. This is not due to any lack of grain, for God has provided an ample store this year. God’s mercy is not at fault, but the people themselves willfully create such a famine. And what does God do about it? If the Gospel and the everlasting food are despised, then God must bring about a famine, withdrawing physical food from us and ushering in pestilence, war, and every type of catastrophe. Thus He teaches us manners. And then what will our greed avail us? What good will it do then that we despised this eternal food and preferred food for the belly?

The punishment for our ingratitude and our temerity cannot be slow in coming. Even if it is deferred a year or two, it will appear in the end. For this does not involve only a contempt for God’s Word; no, people carry things to such extremes that this virtually implies a denial of the existence of God. They accumulate as though God had died. I hope that of what you have greedily amassed you will keep as little as we whom you are trying your best to skin and to flay. Well, we insist on having a famine. Consequently, we must also gracefully accept all kinds of sickness, pestilence, and death, since we continue to play the role of misers with might and main. I am sure that this fate will befall us too. Now it must be the earnest endeavor of everyone to arm himself with the Word of God, to practice his faith, and to acquire a food that will not perish. God cannot tolerate abuse of His Gospel by the selfish pursuit of our own interests and our greed, which we disguise in the cloak of the Gospel. God does not have His Gospel proclaimed for the sake of the belly, but for the welfare and the salvation of our souls.9

Thus our Lord Christ wanted to lead the Jews away from their concern about the belly and perishable food, and to point them to the fact that He gives them eternal life. He wanted to attract them to spiritual food, lest they imagine that the prophets and Holy Writ provide only what pertains to this temporal life and what emperors, kings, princes, and lords in this world can also supply. No, the prophets and Holy Writ offer more and richer things, for they speak of an everlasting food given only by the Son of Man. As Christ now describes and identifies the donor of this food, the Son of Man, He adopts a peculiar expression. He says:

For on Him has God the Father set His seal.

These words seem foolish, absurd, unintelligible, and odd to the clever and worldly-wise. The Jews must have thought Christ senseless, mad, and foolish. It must have seemed incongruous and incredible that this poor and simple man should come before such intelligent people, especially before the Jews, with the assertion that He would dispense a food which would keep people alive forever, an everlasting food. It was as if a peddler of medicine today were to say to a peasant on the market that his medicine or theriaca immunized forever against sickness, gunshot, and injury, and that it made the user proof against death. Everybody would laugh the peddler to scorn. Such a claim is made here for an everlasting food, and it is made by a poor person, yes, by a beggar; for Christ could not call a foot of ground His own. If a great king were to utter these words, the statement would have carried at least a little weight. But now Christ says: “What all men, yes, the whole world, can do is nothing; I myself will give you a different food, one that lasts forever.” I, too, would have replied: Where does that fool come from? Have you ever heard a greater fool? Here we find a beggar who does not own a single heller maintain that He will give more than all the emperors, kings, and princes on earth. He who possesses no earthly goods claims to give eternal wealth.

But these words of Christ require faith, for they contain a message intended solely for Christians. The world does not comprehend this message; it is ignorant of this food. But a Christian, who is familiar with God’s Word and into whose heart the Lord Christ has put the truth, recognizes Christ solely by faith and remains steadfast in his loyalty to Christ. He regards Christ as the One on whom the Father set His seal to certify that He provides such food. The Christian adheres to such a foolish message and believes in that stupid God, who sent His Son to bestow this food. But whoever refuses to regard Christ as the Giver of such food may go his way and perish.

And when Christ speaks of “the Son of Man,” He wishes to proclaim clearly and publicly that God has a Son whom people can see with their eyes, whom they can touch, hear, and feel. Thus St. John also says (1 John 1:1): “Which we have heard, which we have touched with our hands.” This same physical Being, who was born of the Virgin Mary, will give you everlasting food. He Himself will be the Donor, the Baker, the Waiter, the Brewer, yes, the Cook, and also the Dish and the Plate that gives us the imperishable food. Christ means to say: “My flesh and blood which you behold is the real food which preserves you forever, which assures you of life even in the face of death.” But someone may think: How is this possible? Where is the supply? Where are the butcher’s stall, the granary, the pantry, and the cellar? For reason looks about for all these, and the mind is focused on them. But Christ declares here: “Eat. I will give you food, and this food is I Myself, My flesh and My blood.” Christ does not want me to center my thoughts on my cellar, my storeroom, my grain, bread, and wine; all these I must put out of mind. I must forget about granaries and cellars and fix my thoughts on His flesh. But it sounds like madness to our reason when Christ says: “I will be the Donor, the Baker, the Brewer, and the Farmer. Yes, I Myself will be the Food; I Myself will be the Bread. It must be your concern to eat.” The words “eat” and “food” are all-important. The fanatics still squabble about them.10 Of course, these words must have seemed ridiculous and foolish, just as if you were to say: “If you want to live forever, you must eat my body and drink my blood.” Would you yourself not have felt prompted to exclaim here: “Ah, bind Him with chains! Who knows what has happened to Him?” It must be carefully noted here that we have not deserved this food, but that it has been given to us, that it is a gift. It is entirely different from physical food; it is an outright gift. Of course, bodily food is also a gift of God; for no human being, no king or prince could of himself produce a single kernel of grain from the earth. I can plow, cultivate, and sow; but if God does not bless my toil, I will not harvest a single seed. And for the bread baked from this grain I am also indebted to God; it is His gift and blessing. If God did not bless and prosper the farmer’s labor, all would be in vain. To be forgetful of this is bad enough; but it is a far more grievous fault to close our eyes to the fact that God has also given us Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Gospel, and absolution.

For on Him has God the Father set His seal.

This is also a curious and odd statement, that God set His seal on His Son, who is man, the Son, who is this Food, who is the Owner of the granary, the Baker, the Waiter, and the Supply. It sounds strange to hear that it is Jesus Christ on whom God has set His seal and to whom He has issued His letter of authorization to certify that He is the Chosen One. It is a Hebrew way of speaking to say that God has a ring, a signet, and a seal on His thumb, with which He seals the letters He writes and issues. This seal is Christ and no other; with these words God rejects and condemns all other seals. These words are significant and comprehensive in scope, for they assert that he who wants to be saved must possess this food which the Son supplies; he must be found in the Son, on whom God has set His seal. Without Him he will forfeit eternal life. For here we find the seal and the testimony.

With this word “seal” God proposes to subordinate what is proud, holy, and wise in this world to this teaching and to this single Teacher, Christ. For today the question is still debated whether we are justified and obtain eternal life through our own preparations and good works, through our love, our actions, and our merits. But compare the two, and see whether your works, your merits, your fasting, your praying, and your pilgrimages are the flesh and the blood of Jesus Christ. See whether they are the food which the Son of Man gives. Place the two next to each other, and examine them: my body, my toil and labor, and Christ’s body. No matter how much I have fasted and prayed to the saints, how often I have gone on pilgrimages, abstained from sleep, and performed this or that work—put all this on one pile, stuff it into one sack, and see whether such works are the body and blood of Christ. They will fall far short. Then why does anyone boast of being saved by good works? We cannot give ourselves this food; we must obtain it from the Son of Man. Therefore all that is necessary is that Christ affix His seal, and I am assured that my God is gracious to me. For He does not say: “You will give and place before Me this food which gives you eternal life.” But He says: “I will give you this food. The Son of Man, whom you see before you, will distribute it. You must receive this food, His flesh and blood, from Him. Therefore be alert, stretch out your hand for this food, which is He, Christ Himself, namely, His flesh and blood. This is not your work; you did not perform or effect it. It is God’s work exclusively, and it comes into being without any co-operation whatever on our part.” Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary. Mary, however, did not bring Him into being, but the Holy Spirit, by whom He was conceived. She only lent her body and her members that He might be born into the world of her. Then how can I be so foolish as to presume to accomplish this by means of my works?

On Him has God the Father set His seal.

There is a special accent in these words, as if Jesus were saying: “My Father is not a common man, not a plain fellow. I will tell you who He is: He is God. The Father is He who is known as God. And this Father has His eyes on His Son. He has made everything dependent on Him, so that one is saved by eating His body and drinking His blood. Otherwise all will be damned. God has chosen only His Son, Christ, for this mission. He has put His seal on Him and has placed His will and all His mercy on Christ, and on none other.”

God has only one seal, and this He has set on Christ. On Him alone He has bestowed the Holy Spirit, so that all men should look only to Him. All of Holy Writ points solely to Him, attesting that He alone possesses seal and letter; for He is the exemplar,11 made, given, and offered to be our sole help. Thus God Himself spoke from heaven (Matt. 17:5): “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Since God has put His seal exclusively on Him, we are obliged to lend ear to Him and to accept Him alone. Now if someone should come along and present a doctor other than Christ—as the sophists do today when they call attention to your works, even quoting Scriptural passages which seem to say that good works merit forgiveness of sins, for example, Dan. 4:27: “Redeem your sins with alms”12 —then you must reply: “Away with you! Produce letter and seal in evidence! This verse refutes your words. Here we read that God the Father set His seal only on Christ, the Son. In the face of this, what do you propose to achieve with your good works and with your seal? This is written in Holy Writ. What other source is as trustworthy? If you remove and tear off this seal, you have no use for Christ. Therefore go and test whether God the Father has put His seal on the message which someone is proclaiming to you and asking you to accept. If you fail to find this, rip the seal off.”

Nowhere does this text intimate that good works are to be coupled with Christ, as though the two together obtained for us forgiveness of sins. No, rely on his text, which affirms that Christ alone is our salvation. The Father has set His seal only on Him. He alone decides the issue. Abandon the supplement of your works.13 If you depend on good works, you have forfeited your salvation. Do you expect me to yield to you? Why do you not concede that I am right? In the end you will have to drop the one and, in a word, let Christ be the Man14 on whom God has set His seal. We must hold to this chief doctrine. No matter how the verses dealing with good works are manipulated, as learned men are able to do in order to mystify poor, naive people, this text cannot be ignored and disavowed. And I declare that if I were unable to reply to the passage from Daniel, if I were too ignorant and unlearned to solve it, I would still rather give up the idea that I am to be saved by good works than disregard this clear and explicit text, which declares that Christ is my food and that His Father has set His seal on Him.

The entire Bible orders and commands us to adhere solely to Christ the Lord, the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, as we confess in the Creed. And here Christ says: “I will give an everlasting food, which is My flesh and blood.” These words require no commentary. But the passages dealing with good works do need explaining. For example, when we read: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9), or: “Give, and it will be given to you; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:38, 37),15 I may say that whoever claims to be a Christian must demonstrate this with good works. He must bear fruit, for a good tree is not made and grown from fruit but is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:20). That is how I can explain these passages. But here, where Christ says: “The Son of Man will give you this food,” I can append no commentary.

Now note the significance of this text for you. It is clearly stated that the Father attached His seal and bulla to the Son. With these words He forever denies any honor or merit to all other teachers who claim to nourish me eternally, and He admonishes us to cling solely to Christ. As if He were saying: “Take heed that you abide by this doctrine. If any other doctrine claims that it can feed you eternally, but lacks the seal and documentation, that is, Christ, beware of it!”

I admit that good works and alms, such as giving a coat to a destitute man, are my own works. But they are far from being Christ’s body and blood, for these are God’s work. And here Christ declares that His food is to give me life; moreover, the Father has set His seal on this. Thus we are assured amply and abundantly in this chief doctrine that we are not saved through our good works but through Christ alone, when we eat His flesh and drink His blood. And no one will ever invalidate this; it will abide in heaven and in hell, for God has sealed it. Cling to this food of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, and be assured that no one’s works and alms give life; only this food, the body and blood of Christ, accomplishes that. Then good works will follow automatically. I will do good works to my neighbor; I will feed and counsel him. Each has its proper place. The performance of good works is earnestly enjoined on those who possess this everlasting food and live in hope of eternal life. For our Lord God does not care for the alms of the ungodly, who do not have this everlasting food; nor do their alms aid them in obtaining eternal life. It is obvious that salvation cannot be due to good works performed after eternal life is already assured.

Now if good works follow in the train of eternal life, it is impossible for them to earn eternal life. You must learn to realize that no one can give God-pleasing alms, and that no one can actually be merciful unless he first become a Christian, believes in Christ, and is satisfied by the eternal food. And when we read in Dan. 4:27: “Redeem your sins with alms,” it follows irrefutably that the Christian who performs good works has eternal life assured him prior to his performance of the good works. Why, then, should he seek eternal life through good works if he is already saved by means of this food before he does good works? The passages dealing with good works require a commentary to bring them into harmony with this text, for this text must stand. Good works and alms serve as proof of man’s faith. Good works are a sign and token that we have received the everlasting food by which we shall live. They manifest our faith in God.

To summarize, with this text Christ wants to show the Jews that the possession of physical food is not enough. They are to direct their thoughts also to another food, the spiritual food which is the teaching of the holy Gospel of Christ and of His flesh and blood, given to us and apprehended by us through faith. When I have this food, I will reject not only physical food but also all the spiritual food served by the fanatics and schismatic spirits, all the hypocrisy and false pretense with which they usurp God’s honor and name and set forth an enticing doctrine to lead people heavenward. Observe that Christ alone bears the seal certifying that He bestows God’s grace, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit. Thus God has covenanted and sealed; only this food and the sealed Son must prevail. Where the Son is found, there God is found. Thus God checks and resists all other doctrines and beliefs. And if God Himself does this, no one can oppose it. This Butler will be able to hold His own. Therefore we will also remain with Him. Wherever this article of faith is preserved, all is preserved; where it is abandoned, all is abandoned.16

Thus far we heard about the little nut which the Lord gave the Jews to crack, namely, not to look to Him for physical food but to be intent on the eternal food which the Son would give them. He wants to teach them not only to be interested in this life but also to be concerned about life eternal, for which He promised His help and the proper food. They, of course, would have been content to be fed by Him. It was unbearable to them that He made bold to correct them, to teach and offer them something more precious, and to claim knowledge superior to theirs. Therefore they continued to question Him:

28. Then they said to Him: What must we do, to be doing the work of God?

This is a proud question. They assumed that they knew it all, that they were sufficiently pious, that they had fulfilled all, and that they could easily dispense with Him as their Master and Teacher. They did not need to ask Him what to do, but they challenged Him to examine their piety. Their question implied that He must regard them as fools and ignorant children. They give Him to understand that He would have all He could do to repay them for their good works and merits by giving them their daily bread. Thus the monks and hypocrites blaspheme our Gospel today and say: “Why do you stress faith so much in your sermons?” They imagine that God owes them eternal life for their merits and their holy life. Is it not irritating to observe how one tries to demote teachers to the role of pupils and disciples? People think they know it all in advance and need no instruction. That is why they are vexed when Christ tries to teach them so many things. They defy Him, saying: “What must we do?” As though they were to say: “You are right, for we already know more than You can ever tell us or more than You can conceive. We have the scribes on our side, the divine worship, the people of God, the temple, and the priests. Our fathers and ancestors were no fools. And You claim to be the only smart one? Do You come with Your new doctrine to instruct the whole world? What can You tell us that the world has not already learned?” To this the Lord now replies:

29. Jesus answered them: This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.

This answer disrupted and upset everything. “To do God’s work” is not good German. But we must let it stand in view of the word operemini, which means “to work.”17 Therefore we must adapt ourselves to the Hebrew term. God’s work is not only what God does as God but also what we do. Thus we use the term “divine service” also for the service which God commanded us to render and through which we honor Him. We call a church a house of God, although it is built by man and not by God. But since the church is dedicated to the service of God, it must be termed a house of God. Thus the psalms and the prophets apply the name “the works of God” to works which we perform at the command and order of God and with which we serve Him.18 In 1 Samuel the people say to David (25:28): “My lord is fighting the battles of the Lord,” that is, wars which the Lord approved, ordered, and commanded, and which were waged to promote His honor and cause. God, of course, did not personally engage in war, but David’s war served to honor God. In the Book of Ezra several master builders are asked “to have the oversight of the work in the house of the Lord” (3:8); that is, they were to advance, promote, and finish the structure which God had commanded to be erected, for it was being built to the honor of God. This did not exclude God from the work, for without God we would accomplish nothing. Our flesh and blood, and also our reason and nature, are not given to serve God or do His work one whit. Our flesh and blood serve only themselves. If a single work of God is to be performed, it must be inspired by God, and so it is truly the work of His Spirit. Here, therefore, Christ is referring not only to external works which He performs by Himself without us but also to the works which we do by His Spirit and grace, works which He has commanded, which God requires of us and which pertain to His honor and our service and obedience to Him.

“The work of God” is a peculiar expression. In the prophet Daniel19 we read (8:27): “I lay sick for some days; then I rose and did the kings work.” This is a Hebraism; it means that I am performing the work which the king commanded me to do, the business which is his and pertains to him. But we Germans do not speak this way. In our language this expression lacks the proper ring. A servant would hardly say: “I will go and do my master’s work.” Nor would a maid declare: “I will go and perform my mistress’ work.” We would say: “I will go and do my masters or mistress’ bidding, the work that is his concern and my obligation, the work that serves his interest.” But our text adopts the Hebrew expression. And I am saying this lest anyone be puzzled by these obscure words.

But now they ask: “Who are You to teach us how to serve God? You claim to be a master. Do You not suppose that we, too, are familiar with the work of God? We have the temple, the priests, the divine worship, and the knowledge of God. And You stand there and speak about an everlasting food! Tell us instead about the work of God and the service of God which we are to perform for His sake. We would be happy to hear this and to do God’s will.” The Lord replies: “This is the food you need, that you believe in the Son, on whom the Father set His seal (as He said earlier); for it is He whom the Father has in mind.” With this one statement the Lord directs our attention to the subject of faith, overthrowing all their external worship of the Law and of works. They assumed that they were complying with the commands of God by doing outward works, by observing ceremonies, by engaging in ecclesiastical pomp, by setting themselves apart in food, drink, and garb, and by sacrificing calves, rams, and sheep.20

Christ calls all this a food that does not keep, one that will not aid the dying to attain eternal life. It is a perishable food. It is like a day that passes away and a garment that wears out (Ps. 102:26). Therefore we must not pay attention to what is transitory; we must concentrate on a food that helps eternally. We must apply ourselves to that divine service which lasts forever, for bodily food will not endure. Thus the two kinds of divine service clash here: on the one hand, the transitory and vain service of God, to which they had devoted themselves hitherto and in which they sought nothing more than physical food; and, on the other hand, the true, eternal, and unending service of God, of which they had been ignorant until now. For example, they had not known that the Father had placed His seal on Christ, and that whoever would serve God had to dedicate himself to this service. For the true service of God consists in faith in Him whom the Father sent, namely, Jesus Christ. Thus in Ps. 2:12 the Holy Spirit admonishes men to kiss the Son, and none other. The psalm calls upon all great men, all kings, and all nations to pay homage to the Son, to kiss only Him, to accept and adopt Him as their Lord and King. St. Paul, too, declares that Christ is our Head.21 In Him God has included and united everything, so that he who does not believe in Him cannot stand before God, regardless of what other righteousness, mode of salvation, or wisdom he may have; for all these stand condemned.

All Holy Scripture is in agreement with this true service of God, which is indeed grounded in Holy Scripture. Therefore if you want to serve God, bear in mind that you must believe in Him whom the Father sent. If you want to know how to obtain God’s grace and how to approach God, how to render satisfaction for your sin, and how to escape death, then this is truly God’s will and true service, that you believe in Christ. The text deals with the work that we are to perform, namely, to believe. Faith is a work that man must do, and yet it is also called the work of God; for this is the true existence, work, life, and merit with which God desires to be honored and served. If there is no faith, God accepts nothing as service rendered to Him. Here we have the answer to the question: What is the real service of God? It is the doctrine of faith in Christ. Later Christ tells us about the origin of faith—for no one possesses faith of himself—when He says (John 6:44): “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.” And again (John 6:65): “No one can believe in Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” For faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves.

Here we see the glory of this precious verse, which, like a thunderclap, lays low all wisdom and righteousness, every commandment and ordinance, even the very Law of Moses, and all work-righteousness. It spreads another work before us, far beyond us and above us. For Christ, whom the Father sent, is not my fasting, praying, waking, and toiling. No, my fasting is a work which has its source in me. Waking is also a work of my head and my eyes. Likewise the giving of alms, toiling, and whatever man is able to do with his body, his life, and his soul—all this is our work, emanating from us and not from without. But where is Christ to be found in this? Christ is not our mouth, head, belly, eyes, hands, body, or soul; nor is He any other part of man. He is a Being entirely different from us, just as the sun is not my eye, my tongue, or my belly, but an altogether different being. My eyes can wake; but, for all that, I do not feel or perceive Christ. Furthermore, though I see with my eyes, I still do not behold Christ. He does not want to be grasped by our thoughts and reason. Thus faith is not our work; for I am drawn to Christ, whom I neither feel nor see.

Here He confronts us with a problem that lies outside the range of our senses. We are carried far away from ourselves and our heart, and are led to Christ, whom we do not see, feel, or hear. We are asked to cleave to the Son and to believe in Him. Whatever else I may do in my body, I can feel and see, so that I can say: “There it lies; there it is.” But Christ is not in me. I do not perceive Him with my physical senses as I do my fist and my mouth. He is seated at the right hand of God, His heavenly Father. And here the text states: “Whoever believes in Him serves Me.” Our hearts must cling to Him and turn from fasting, praying, and almsgiving, all of which is in us, and serve Christ alone, aside and apart from our work, so that we may be justified.

Thus Christian righteousness and the genuine service of God lie outside our strength, our work, and our merit, in Christ alone. In this manner God wants to be our Father and our God, that we believe in Him who is not in us but is enthroned at the right hand of God. Therefore we should study this text closely. If you want to do a work that is really God’s work, He does not say: “Slaughter Me an ox or a few turtledoves; or fast thrice a week; or observe this or that holiday.”

Nor does the text state: “If you want to render Me a service, hie yourself to St. Iago;22 abstain from this or that food and drink; don such and such a garb; mumble prayers; vow chastity, poverty, and obedience; put on a cowl.” We find no mention of any of these matters—of food, clothing, shoes, houses, pilgrimages, rules, or vows. For all the rules of man count for nothing here; nor are they mentioned with so much as a word. On the contrary, far above and beyond all these works, God wants to have a different type of servants and has willed to give us a different rule, one that excludes our merits and co-operation. It is to be a gift of God, apart from cowl and tonsure, one that is bestowed on both male and female, namely, on those who believe. Faith is the true service of God. One must believe that there is no help and salvation outside Christ. Only those who believe in Him do the work of God. But if anyone preaches: “I will retire from the world and become a Carthusian monk in order to serve God; I will become a hermit”—thus the world has sought righteousness and the service of God in vows, cowls, and tonsures—he is serving the devil, not God. For where is it written that such a service is rendered to God? When did God order you to serve Him in such a way? Our adversaries realize that they have taught falsely, and now they are ashamed of it. For the service of God does not consist in clothing, in eating and drinking, or in withdrawing into a conventicle or a cloister. It is not based on external works. To believe in Christ and to perform this or that work are as far removed from each other as heaven and earth. The same distance separates the rules of Saint Francis, Benedict, and St. Augustine from faith in Christ. Furthermore, you should know that to become a priest is not the same as to believe in Christ. No, God declares: “If you want to serve Me, you must believe in Him, whom I have sent. You cannot do otherwise. This is My resolve and decree.”

But God by no means condemns the good works of the godly, as, for example, subjection to the government, honoring one’s parents, doing good to one’s neighbor. Such acts are truly the work and service of God, for they are commanded by Him. However, these works are not directly and immediately performed for God but for man. They are an external service of God, but they are directly related to man only. But here God refers to a service which pertains only to Him and does not serve man. According to the ideas and language of the papists, it is a service of God when they flock into the chancel, seclude themselves in a cloister, observe the canonical hours, and read Mass. With these they aim to serve God and not man. They have utterly smothered the other works, those to be rendered to the world and to man; they have occupied themselves solely with works by which they aspired to serve God. They tried to make God gracious to them on the basis of the cowl and the tonsure, fasting and prayer. On such works they relied, and of them they boasted. And if anyone asked them: “Why do you wear a cowl?” they replied: “To serve God.”

Our text is directed against such. It speaks solely of the service to God, the service which pertains only and peculiarly to Him, and not of the offices, the works and the fruit of faith, or of external works enjoined in the Second Table of the Ten Commandments; it refers to the work of the First Table. I do not, for instance, regard it a service or work performed to God when you Jews23 sacrifice in the temple. This is a thing of the past. God no longer desires this service; for in Christ there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female (Gal. 5:6; 3:28). Still less value lies in the works of the papists, the monks, nuns, and priests. They are creatures of the devil and of the Antichrist, who do not serve God at all but seek the kingdom of heaven and the service of God purely in the traditions of man. In God’s name, therefore, get out of the cloister and serve the world in a genuine position! Your position is not the work of God. Therefore away with it! But if you really do want to serve God, I know of no other work and service than faith in Christ. Accept the Son, whom God sent you. Give ear to Him. But if you disdain to accept this Messenger, you will be unable to perform any work of God but will be damned eternally. That is not the way to serve our Lord God. He resents this. God does not need your works. No, adhere to Christ in faith.

This verse is an excellent text to use when attacking the damnable false services of God. God ordained and ordered how we are to conduct ourselves over against Him and our fellow man; He does not require the temple and sacrifice, food and prayer. Your concern must be to occupy yourself with Christ the Lord. Give ear to Him, hang on His lips, and do not let this Messenger be sent to you in vain.

It would displease and vex me sorely if I were master24 of a household and a servant were to make bold to dictate to me, or if a maid were to venture to talk sharply to her mistress. I would say: “To the devil with you, and out of my house, servant or maid!” No, it is proper for the master to issue commands to the servant, and the mistress to the maid. By the same token, it is an evil thing to ignore God’s Word, command, and order, and then to prescribe to God how one should serve Him. Thereby you verily invite and deserve the fire of hell.

That is what the impious monks have done. They have ignored God’s command, dismissed Christ and His proffered grace and mercy, and impudently presented their own rules and works. Thus they here sought to confirm their scale of good works and their vending of indulgences, while they have overlooked entirely what God has ordained. But here God says: “Where did I command you to do this? I sent My Son to you and let Him become man that you might believe in Him with gratitude toward God, and that you might know how to serve God, namely, by believing in the Son and accepting Him.” But the world does not thank God for instructing it how to serve Him. Work-righteousness is merely an external way of serving God; thereby we undertake to teach our God how we must serve Him. Here Christ wants to say: “The worship of the Pharisees usurps the honor that is due Me. They will fail in their attempt and bring down the fire of hell upon themselves with this service. I have prescribed how you are to serve Me, namely, by believing in Me, Christ. Acknowledge Me! Thus you serve Me. Accept the Son! In this way I come to you and you to Me, and then we shall be agreed and united, and God will be pleased with us. After that follow the external good works toward your neighbor, and this is a service also demanded of you by God. This service to man will not fail after we first render God the service we owe Him. In this way you and God will be at one.”25

It is a proud and arrogant question when men ask: “What must we do to labor for the food of God?” They mock Christ, as if they were to say: “Look here, you beggar, do You venture to teach us what to do? You have not so much as a heller in Your purse. And yet You dare tell us that our service of God counts for nothing and that we must honor the Son and believe in Him whom God has sent. This, You claim, is the true service of God.” Even today our adversaries make similar sport of us and blaspheme the doctrine of faith: “Could it be that you people in Wittenberg are the only smart ones? Should we be expected to learn from you? We have the fathers, the old teachers of the church, the councils, and the universities with us. Do you suppose that our fathers erred? Do you regard us as Turks? What is it that you are preaching about faith? Fie upon you with your new doctrine!”

But this text, as well as all of Holy Writ, bears out that God does not respect our works; they are not to be our service to Him. Therefore it is neither necessary nor beneficial to hie yourself to the cloister and become a monk, a priest, or a nun. What God does demand of you is that you honor your parents and your government, that you honor and help your neighbor, that you give to the poor, and that you forgive your fellow man when he has offended you. Furthermore, God declares: “This is a work with which you neither serve Me nor pay Me homage. But if you do want to do something that is pleasing to Me, something that may truly be termed a divine service, then it will be necessary for you to present something more sublime, namely, to believe in the Son. Let Him be commended to you; give ear to Him, for He is My Messenger. He will tell you all that you are to do. And do not meddle with things which He does not enjoin, for they are worthless.”

In St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Colossians we find many passages which declare that God has consummated all the divine services in Judaism, and that Christ was to be the end of the Law (Rom. 10:4). Christ was also to be the fulfillment of the Law and of time (Gal. 4:4), and the fulfillment of all things. Christ was to be all in all and to have all. Therefore he who takes hold of Him in faith will possess forgiveness of sin, the Law will be fulfilled for him, death and the devil will be conquered, and he will obtain the gift of eternal life. In this Man all things are concluded and fulfilled. Whoever accepts Him has everything. The Colossians are also told (2:10): “You have been consummated in Him.” I feel the terrors of hell and the nearness of death’s hour; but if I have Christ, I have come to the consummation, and neither death nor sin nor devil can harm me. For if I believe in Christ, I have fulfilled the Law, and it cannot accuse me. I have conquered hell, and it cannot hold me. All that Christ has is mine. Through Him we acquire all His goods and eternal life. Even if my faith is feeble, I still have the selfsame treasure and the selfsame Christ that others have. There is no difference. Faith in Him makes us all perfect, but works do not.

We might compare this to two persons who possess a hundred guldens. The one may carry them in a paper sack, the other may keep them in an iron chest. But for all that, both possess the entire treasure. Thus the Christ whom you and I own is one and the same, regardless of the strength or the weakness of your faith or of mine. In Him we possess all, whether we hold Him with a strong faith or a weak faith. The entire service of God is contained in this: Believe in Christ, whom the Father has sent to you. Accept His pronouncements. You can offer God nothing more pleasing to Him in heaven or on earth.

But here the Jews become angry with Him for wanting to teach them a new service of God, and now they will attempt to silence Him.26

In answer to the Jews’ question: “What must we do, to be doing the work of God?