The following is a selection from Luther’s Works, Vol. 56. Luther preached this sermon on Palm Sunday in Wittenberg, Germany, on April 13, 1522. The sermon is translated by Karl E. Böhmer.
Sermon on the Coming of Christ,
No one can be more easily recognized than when he is present. That is why the evangelist says that Christ is present, coming in gentleness, mounted on a donkey. He says, “Say to the daughter of Zion: ‘Take note, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey’” [Matt. 21:5].
It is not enough merely to know this; one should also confess it with words such as these: “I know that Christ is the King of all kings, that He is God, that He has redeemed us,” etc. But when one then experiences distress, anguish, danger, death, etc., one soon abandons the confession if it was made only with the lips and not with the whole heart or in perfect love.
Such a man soon falls away; when he considers his sins, he thinks they are too great for God to forgive. When he is faced with death, he is horrified by it. When his reason terrifies him, he ceases to confess God. Therefore, a spiritual confession is needed, one that only the Holy Spirit gives and that does not proceed from blood or flesh, that is, by reason. The reason must go to sleep.
He will think and say in his heart to God: “I know—even if You should abandon heaven and earth!—still, I know that You will never desert me.” This is what it means truly to know God.
Rather, the confession which is needed proceeds from the Spirit; He upholds it so that a man fears neither death, pain, hell, nor the devil, but continues to confess his King and Lord, Christ. It is not enough for a man to confess Christ with the lips or know how to talk about Him; rather, if he knows Christ, he should ask God to give him the Spirit so that he may be improved in his confession and remain in it even in anguish, danger, death, and pain. Then he will not fall away from it when he is faced with sorrow.
Even when God leaves him in anguish so that he thinks he will despair, he will nonetheless know that Christ is his King and that He will not desert him. So his thoughts and his reason cannot have authority over him. He will think and say in his heart to God: “I know—even if You should abandon heaven and earth!—still, I know that You will never desert me.” This is what it means truly to know God.
However, people know God in a bad way when they abandon Him as soon as they are faced with distress. They do this when they do not recognize Him as the one who can help them in their time of sorrow or when they doubt Him. God cannot tolerate this. One must be confident about Him, and the more confident one is about Him, the more He helps and the farther His grace extends.
If you have the Gospel and know what it means, then you must confess it on peril of your soul’s salvation, come what may, or else you are no Christian.
God strengthens people who do this with the Holy Spirit, with the result that they accept with joy everything He sends them, good or bad, because they know that it comes from God. They despise everything on which they had previously set their hope because of the love which they now have through the knowledge of God. They maintain their confession even when the whole world turns against them.
Even so, it has now unfortunately come to the point that people do not dare to acknowledge the Gospel. Not only do people refuse to hear it, but they also scorn it, even though they know that our blessedness and salvation are found in it. This is what the Jews—the scribes—did: they taught from the Scriptures that Christ would come on a donkey, but still they refused to recognize and receive Him, and even prohibited the children from singing [Matt. 21:15–16].
There are also many who say, “I do not persecute the Gospel. I hear it gladly!” That is not enough. If you have the Gospel and know what it means, then you must confess it on peril of your soul’s salvation, come what may, or else you are no Christian.