Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 40-66.St. Louis: Concordia, 1972. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 52” pp. 206-218.
In chapter 52, Luther says, Isaiah continues to give God’s encouragement to his people. He tells the people to awaken to the reality of their life as a soldier awakens to battle. The motives are those of military triumph (LW 17, 206). The people of God, who have been attacked by opponents, will stand against their adversaries (LW 17, 207). Luther is quick to say that the people of God are saved by grace through faith. However, because we have “obtained it by faith, we can make use of all external laws in a godly way” (LW 17, 207). The problem in Luther’s day is that those who have been set free by God then establish laws which bring them into bondage again. This, as noted in verse 5, is fruitless. God’s people are drawn away from him, and for no good reason. They have leaders who desire praise, even though they are false teachers (LW 17, 208).
In verse 6 God’s promise is that the leaders of Israel will learn that he is the one speaking to them. Luther considers this to belong to the New Testament period. “In the New Testament through the teaching of Christ we have such great liberty that we reject the pope, the bishops, and all who make their bost in the flesh” (LW 17, 209). No matter the apparent dignity of a person or an office, if it is exalted against Christ, it is to be rejected. The gracious relief to God’s people comes from the good news, as presented in verse 7. God reigns. He is the one who gives peace. Luther emphasizes that the peace of the Christian is an internal peace. He distinguishes the gospel message of peace from the law-based message proclaimed by “many of the Enthusiasts and papists” (LW 17, 211). The distinction for Luther seems to be between trusting in laws or ceremonies and trusting in God’s grace.
Though the life of peace is an internal peace, verses 8 and following make it clear that there is outward evidence. God’s people hear the Gospel openly. They respond with praises. God’s comfort may be primarily internal, but our internal attitude shows in outward actions (LW 17, 212). With the hope of salvation, then, the prophet urges purity in life (vv. 11 ff). Purity of life is intended to protect our faith. “We must be surpremely cautious not to hurt this our faith by ungodliness, which bears down on us in every way. This is true since a fall from trust in God and into works is very easy” (LW 17, 213). In the peace we have in Christ, according to verse 12, we do not need to hasten, the act of a fearful person. Rather, we look to the Lord’s timing and stand confidently in his grace (LW 17, 214). In doing this, God’s people prosper. Luther applies the statement of “My Servant shall prosper” not entirely to Christ but also, in some ways, to all of Christ’s people (LW 17, 215). Jesus, however, is at the heart and center of this statement. The text goes on in verse 14 to speak in a way which describes a glorious king who is humble, whose appearance is marred, who is disfigured. Luther clearly identifies this as a prophecy of Christ (LW 17, 216). The conclusion, then, is that the message of life and peace in Christ is to be brought to all nations. The kingdom of God is proclaimed, sprinkled throughout the world, so as to grow.