Luther on Trinity Sunday (John 3:1-15)

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All mankind, all the descendants of Adam, are mortally wounded and ruined by sin, by the truly fiery, hellish poison of that old serpent, the devil. Furthermore, help or counsel to heal such wound by any sort of human power, authority, wisdom, righteousness, and holiness avails nothing. God’s only Son was obliged to come down from heaven, become a man, and be lifted up on the cross as an evil, poisonous serpent, in order to become a powerful, effectual remedy unto eternal life for all who, though poisoned by sin unto eternal death, acknowledge and receive him, who was lifted up on the cross, as Saviour.

Now then, in order to be born again, we need to comprehend and appropriate this. How does that come about? By water and the Spirit, Christ says, by the proclamation of the gospel and baptism; in other words, through the external gospel ministry of the church, the Holy Spirit works in the heart of man. The word of the gospel manifests to the heart the crucified Christ, who was lifted up, as the only Saviour and Mediator. Baptism is a true sign and testimony together with the Word; by it the Word is confirmed, and with it God covenants to continue perpetually and unshakably in his promised grace and purpose to wash away our sin and eradicate it. Where the Word and baptism are applied, the Holy Spirit is effectual to excite and awaken the heart to faith, and to lay hold of Christ’s promise confidently, with fear and trembling. If a man, through the Holy Spirit, firmly believes that Christ, the Son of God, was lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, this produces a new heart and a new mind, and consequently a brand new person by the Word in the soul, until the Last Day when the whole body will be radically renewed in its nature, for it will be brighter and more radiant than the sun.

What a great and glorious thing this is, that you believe on him who hung on the cross for your sins, and that you obtain redemption and salvation from sin, death, and the devil, wholly without human work or cooperation in any way! Wonderful, too, is the account of how those poor people who were under attack by the fiery serpents were spared and healed without any kind of medical help when they believed and looked at the bronze serpent on the pole! That faith in the crucified Christ should bring certain salvation and deliverance from sin and eternal death is something that human reason cannot possibly understand or conceive of. Therefore, the Word must be preached without ceasing and this article effectually driven home, in order to fortify ourselves against the misgivings of our reason” (1532 Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday).