Philip Melanchthon

Today the Lutheran Church commemorates Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague in Wittenberg. I debated whether or not I should even add that last part, “Luther’s colleague in Wittenberg.” Melanchthon was more than that. And yet, fair or not, this is how we know him. To be honest, too, I think that appendage, “Luther’s colleague,” is not a diminishment of his work or genius. Rather, that was a very important choice he made, and that in very dangerous times. Philip chose to work with Europe’s greatest theological outlaw and stuck with him, through the darkest of times, and often when Luther made it rather difficult personally—great as he was, the great reformer was not the easiest colleague or friend.

Philip Melanchthon has been called “praeceptor Germaniae,” the teacher of Germany. It’s a title he earned. He shaped higher education in Germany like few others in its history. He shaped the curriculum in Wittenberg, which shaped generations of pastors, lawyers, teachers, and a host of other professions. Melanchthon, beyond a doubt, was a brilliant and influential man.

My students seldom get this reference anymore, but Melanchthon was a Doogie Howser of sorts. He progressed quickly through his education. He graduated young with about every degree he ever received. He was a prodigy, and sometimes suffered for that, being denied admission to at least one program because there was a fear he might become too arrogant progressing so quickly so young. He earned all the letters after his name, though. His mind was a gift from God and he was gifted with a work ethic to match it.  

Frail in build, Melanchthon had powerful ideas. Unlike Luther, though, he did not have a powerful personality. He was an intellectual, and a public intellectual, but he didn’t have the demeanor of a prophet. He was thoughtful to the point of being tentative. And that is fine. And the church needs such men. It wasn’t his fault he was cast in Luther’s role after Luther’s death. It was thrust upon him, perhaps unfairly. He was who he was, and his demeanor served him well in many ways, even if it wasn’t suited for the prophet’s task and for the challenges piled upon him with Luther’s death and the great Interim Crisis (which is a post for another day and the main focus of my books An Uncompromising Gospel and The Devil behind the Surplice).

Melanchthon’s great-uncle was the renowned scholar Johannes Reuchlin, famed for his work with Hebrew and the trouble that got him into. Reuchlin had overseen Melanchthon’s education. And yet the relationship between the two soured because of Melanchthon’s loyalty to his colleague and friend, Martin Luther. Melanchthon refused to take a position elsewhere when things heated up with Luther’s Reformation, as we refer to it now. He was committed to Wittenberg, and more importantly to the Scriptures and justification by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. In fact, Melanchthon supplied much of the language we use now to express that as clearly as possible.

Today we give thanks for the life and thought and confession of Philip Melanchthon. Those of you who know me and my work know that I work especially with the life and thought of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, a student of Melanchthon’s who later became an opponent. I’ll admit to sharing much in common with both the demeanor and the theological emphases of Matthias Flacius. I will also say, though, that through my work with Flacius I have grown in my appreciation for Melanchthon. This was a man who sacrificed for the Lutheran Reformation. This was a man who put his time and health into the study of God’s Word and into the instruction of its preachers. This was a man, too, who bore a heavy cross especially after Luther’s death. Like all of us, he struggled under it. And yet, I pray, like all of us, he kept his eyes on Christ, even as he wavered. We do well, then, to give thanks for him and to learn from him, especially from works like the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, his 1521 Loci Communes, and other theological treasures. This was a man who knew Christ and knew Paul, and in that faith, rooted in Christ and shaped by Paul’s beautiful teaching about Christ, he departed, weary from years of theological struggle. God grant us all the same!

If you want a short and accessible little book on Philip Melanchthon, I highly recommend Meeting Melanchthon by my friend and Melanchthon scholar, Scott Keith

Wade Johnston

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at

You can listen to our latest episode here. You can find our latest installment in the Wingin’ It series on Luther here

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New Wineskins

Luke 5:33-39

It wasn’t easy for some to jump on board with the gospel. At least not fully. It seemed to run against their entire religious upbringing. It seemed too fast and loose. Wouldn’t people use the gospel as an excuse to sin? How would the common people behave if they didn’t have to do good works? Wasn’t a big part of the job of religion keeping good order and producing obedient subjects?

It still isn’t easy for many to jump on board with the gospel. Paul heard the same concerns Jesus did. Luther heard the same concerns Paul did. We hear similar concerns today, even among people called to preach the gospel. We can get nervous with the good news of Jesus Christ, with free forgiveness, with unconditional absolutions, with salvation entirely as gift, with the law preached primarily to kill and the gospel preached as if every last hearer already has two feet planted firmly in heaven.

Jesus had just called a tax collector to be a disciple. This surely didn’t sit well with many. He had healed a paralytic, but only after forgiving his sins, something that some in the crowd grumbled only God could do (the whole point). He had called the first disciples earlier in the chapter, fishermen, and with a miracle that illustrated their new calling. He told them to cast down their nets for a catch (this was indiscriminate fishing). He had healed an unclean leper (it says something that the unclean dared to approach him and that He let them).

Now, in the midst of all this, a religious question, an objection, was raised. Was Jesus holy enough? John’s disciples fasted. So did the Pharisees’ disciples. Jesus’ disciples, however? Well, they ate and drank. What was up with that? Where was their religion? Didn’t they care about the laws and customs of their people? They were getting out-religioned!

Jesus’ answer was clear. The Savior has come. The Bridegroom is here. It’s no time for dour faces and asceticism. When the Bridegroom arrives, you feast. The days for fasting and dour faces would come, with Jesus’ death, soon chased away again with His resurrection. But not now. The kingdom of God was at hand.

Even more, Jesus’ wasn’t coming to inaugurate a kingdom of law, Human Religion 2.0. Jesus’ kingdom was a kingdom of grace. His disciples would have to break with the legal scheme of their neighbors and the other religions of the world. Jesus came to preach good news. Jesus is the good news. They were to be gospel people. Jesus told them, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.” Jesus had come to make all things new. He came to make us new. This wasn’t the same old religion.

There is a problem, though. We like the same old. The old Adam, the sinful nature, is a religious fellow and he loves religion so long as it’s not the gospel, Jesus’ religion. Jesus added, poking the bear, chiding the Pharisees, “And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” We can’t by our own thinking or choosing jump on board with the gospel. Christ must kill us and make us alive. The gospel must do the work. That’s why Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of gifts, not of wages.

Enjoy the new wine. Live by Christ’s unconditional absolution. Receive salvation as a free gift, bought with Christ’s precious blood, bestowed upon you free of cost and not as a reward. Will people sin? People will sin either way, but no one will offer true obedience, the obedience of faith, without this gift. No one will do truly righteous deeds unless they are first declared righteous for Christ’s sake—washed, pardoned, enlivened. Sometimes the old wine sounds good, but it will burst the wineskins. In the end it leaves us in self-righteousness or despair, without hope and without God as He came for us to have Him, in Christ, for free, and with free salvation for all.

Wade Johnston

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at

You can listen to our latest episode here. You can find our latest installment in the Wingin’ It series on Luther here

For more writing by Wade, you can find his books here and more blog posts here.

Grateful for the Messengers, United in the Message

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Many of us know the deep gratitude and lasting connection we can develop for and with those who have brought us the gospel, whether when we came to faith or in the dark moments of despair. This is a beautiful thing. God puts a face on His message, on the absolution. And this is how God has promised to work, through people, for us. Few in history have heard this message directly from God or even from one of His holy angels. Such experiences are limited, especially to the ministry of Jesus and the experiences of the prophets and apostles. But God has spoken to us nonetheless and no less, through people. We should cherish that, and those people.

How sad, then, when the devil twists this gratitude and these connections into causes for divisions. How unfortunate when the devil leads us to lose our focus upon the very one to whom those gospel voices pointed us, the One of whom they spoke, the One on whose behalf they served as ambassadors. This is what happened, however, among the Corinthians, and it has happened throughout church history. Paul, Apollos, even Christ were used to this end. And Paul here objects most vociferously to it. He was a messenger, not the message. He proclaimed another, not himself. His absolution had no power but that which Christ gave to it. Christ, not Paul, was to be the object of faith, and not Christ as a self-serving or sectarian rallying cry, but Christ as God in the flesh who came and died and rose to give us heaven, to make us one with Him and each other in His grace and mercy.

The church and Christians aren’t called to woo and persuade, to market and bait, but to proclaim and to point. Christ is the substance of our faith. Our message is the good news of Christ, an actual person and not an idea, a person for us and for all, not just for some. He is a person for us and for all for the forgiveness sins, and not for scoring points or drawing lines where God hasn’t set any boundaries. The gospel’s power doesn’t rest in the one who proclaims it, or in how the person proclaims it, but in Christ Himself.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Thank God for Paul. How can we not feel connected with him when we read his epistles, through which the Spirit has worked for centuries, for millennia? Thank God for those who have put a face on the gospel for you, who have spoken to you God’s mercy and grace, who have absolved you. How can we not feel connected with them for having done so? They’ve been vessels of God to bring us to faith and preserve us in it. But our faith isn’t in those messengers. Our faith is in Christ or it’s of no value at all. Paul knew that. He wants us to know that, too, because the devil would like few things more than for us to forget.

Christ died for your sins. Christ rose for your justification. You are absolved. And that is true no matter who proclaims it to you, no matter who was there when your faith began or who has been there in your darkest hour. And that is true no matter how flowery the language or how persuasive the plea to believe. Christ is a person, for you, and as sure as His grave is empty, so sure is the word of forgiveness, no matter who has brought it or brings it to you. So sure is it when we are those people for others, too. That is the power of the cross. And thank God for that!

Wade Johnston

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at

You can listen to our latest episode here. You can find our latest installment in the Wingin’ It series on Luther here

For more writing by Wade, you can find his books here and more blog posts here.

The God Who Hides Himself…For Us

The college at which Mike and I teach recently suffered a great loss as a student’s time with us in this life came to an end. This devotion sprang from the conversations, Scripture study, and prayer that resulted from this news. It is being shared here because we know that we have many readers and listeners among the campus family who mourn and pray with us, but not as those without hope. We at LTBF ask that you would keep the student’s family and friends, the college and campus ministry staff, the faculty, and all impacted in your prayers. Christ is risen and Jesus is ever Jesus, He who saves, for us.

Isaiah 45:15

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”

God’s omnipresence, that He is in all places, can be both law and gospel. I shudder at the thought of God being present for my every sin. I am terrified at the fact that I have sinned even though I know full well He is present.

God’s omniscience, that He knows all things, can be both law and gospel. It makes me sick to know that God can read my mind. I know the thoughts I’ve had, unintentional and intentional, and they are anything but pretty. How hollow my works must seem if, more than simply seeing their visible appearances, He knows my motivations, which are often much less impressive than appearances would indicate.

Sometimes we like the thought of God’s absence. We can compartmentalize things that way. There are God-things and not-God-things. It helps us avoid paradox, inconsistency, and tension in life and between life and faith. It helps us stay sane. It helps us feel somewhat clean. But God isn’t absent. He hides, but He is never absent.

How does that make you feel? Are you comforted? Is that law or gospel? “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”

Friends, it is gospel. God hides for us. He wants us to find Him where He reveals Himself, and that is in the gospel, in Word and Sacrament, where He is beyond a doubt there for us with grace and mercy. He wants us to know Him by the crucifix, not by a natural disaster, sickness, or inexplicable tragedy. And yet, even in those things, He is there. He is just hidden.

God knows all things, but He also knows you. He really knows you. He knows you beyond intellectual knowledge. He has descended into the flesh and become you. He knows you and He loves you. In Baptism you have, together with the Church, become His bride. He knows you and nothing He knows keeps Him from being for you grace and mercy. He is present in all places, but in Word and Sacrament, in Christ crucified for sinners, He makes plain that the presence that He wants to define Himself by with you is for you and not against you.

Surely He is a God who hides Himself, but that God who hides is always present, and always present as the crucified and risen One, for us even when everything seems against us, even when it seems for sure that He couldn’t be farther away. Why doesn’t He make His presence known in the natural disaster, in sickness, in the inexplicable tragedy? Because that’s not how He wants us to know Him, even as He promises that none of those things shall separate us from Him.

We live in a fallen world. Sad, terrible, heart-rending, thoroughly fallen things happen here, and we shouldn’t sugarcoat it, theodicize it away, or pretend it isn’t so. Platitudes ring hollow. We live in a fallen world. It is so, and it’s that indisputable, if unacceptable, fact that brought God from heaven to earth, into the mire, and put Him on a cross and brought Him out of His tomb.

Where is God? He is where He promised to be. Find Him, like the thief, on the cross. Find Him, like the frightened women, sprung from the tomb. Find Him, most importantly, in the preaching of the gospel, in Word and Meal. He cannot but be there, because He’s wed Himself to these Means. He cannot but be there for you, because that is the only way He would have you know Him there. In the meanwhile, we take up our crosses, not for salvation, but as those saved through the cross of the One who came to make God known, and to make Him known as compassion, life, and hope, even in the midst of hatred, death, and darkness. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”

Wade Johnston

Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

There is a connection between Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther, the German reformer, but it is more than the fact that King’s father (and subsequently he) was named after Luther, although that is true. There are many points of comparison, but not all comparisons are particularly helpful. Both men stood against tyranny. They both spoke about freedom. They both spoke truth to power. This is all true, I suppose, but so have many others. I doubt Luther and King would seen eye-to-eye on the Peasants’ Revolt! And, of course, the theology of the 16th Century reformer is not going to entirely match up with a Baptist preacher of the 20th Century. There are theological differences we should not ignore. Although the Luther would have loved this MLK quote, “All labor has dignity”.

Here is the most important connection and it perhaps can serve as a small piece of a plan going forward as we rightly speak against the ridiculousness and immorality of racism: both men are in a long line of the Christian truth and the best of Western civilization. Neither Luther nor King were sectarian. They both drew upon the wealth of Christian theology from the past. They were not saying anything new. They only pointed out the hypocrisy of the day. Luther never wanted nor intended to break from the Roman Catholic Church. He only wanted the church to teach the pure truth of Scripture. King did not set out to topple the white power structure by force. He only wanted Christians to act in love.

For all their differences and the differences between Baptists and Lutherans today, there is a connection to the ancient church and, yes, the best of Western Civilization with its emphasis on human rights, the liberal arts, and freedom.

Luther, painstakingly sometimes, bends over backward to show that his reform was exactly that, a reform. It is as if Luther said, “I am not saying anything that the best of the Church has not already said.” How many times does he quote Augustine? King showed that his reform was in line with the Christian message and the ideals of the Western Civilization which certainly owed a lot to Christianity. He quotes Augustine in his “Letter form the Birmingham Jail”.

Here is the point: we have a shared heritage despite all of our differences and it is based on the value of a human being that is found most profoundly in the love of Christ. This Christianity and the resulting best of Western Civilization are for all of us. What a shame when it has not been promoted this way! This is for everybody and we desire it for everybody.

I am a Lutheran and this is a Lutheran blog, so I will not pretend that Baptist theology and Lutheran theology are the same. That would be insulting to both sides. But we share a lot, too. All this based on Christ. And that starts with salvation in him alone.

Galatians is not about freedom from suffering or injustice. It is about freedom from the accusations of the law because of Christ’s righteousness that replaces the sinners’ unrighteousness. Yet freedom, value, decency, and love flow from this gift. It is for freedom that Christ as set us free. This freedom from sin is paramount. It is a freedom fully enjoyed in heaven. Until then we will fight for freedom here. Why wouldn’t we?

For those of you who suffer injustice of any kind, I’m sorry. I wish it were not so. Nor will I ever be able to fully understand. But, dear Christian, we are one in Christ and both share in his sufferings as we love one another even with heavy crosses on our backs, some heavier than others. We are one in the fact that we need Christ, desperately so. We are also one because he saves us from our own sins and will take us from this veil of tears to a place of bliss. In heaven we will finally enjoy by sight what we have only known here by faith, what he has been telling us all along though his Word, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Michael Berg

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at

You can listen to our latest episode here. You can find our latest installment in the Wingin’ It series on Luther here

Together with our colleague and a guest on the show, Kerry Kuehn, Mike is offering a practical apologetics course, open to all, in the summer of 2019. You can learn more and register here.

The Wedding at Cana (The Groom for the Groom)

John 2:1-11

Pastors are often asked to preach on the Wedding at Cana for weddings in their parish. It makes sense but not for the reason we might think. It is more than “Isn’t that nice, Jesus went to a wedding and we are at a wedding today.” Or “Jesus blessed the wedding as Cana so he will bless this wedding and marriage.” That’s nice, but perhaps there is something more we can mine from this text.

Did you notice that the groom got credit for Jesus’ miracle? The groom was to be in charge of making sure there was enough food and wine. He might even hire, as in this case, a master of the banquet who made sure the food was served and everything went smoothly. Well, the groom failed. There was not enough wine. Either he was unprepared and bought too little or he was cheap and tried to get by with the least amount of wine he could. Either way he came dangerously close to ruining his bride’s special day and his own family’s reputation. He failed. The groom failed.

Mary saw this coming so she tried to enlist her Son to save the night. She wanted Jesus to save the day. He is reluctant, but he turns water into wine anyway. A miracle. His first. An important event for his disciples and us. He truly is God. But when the wine comes out the master of the banquet gives all credit to the groom. “You have saved the best till last! Most people bring out cheaper wine because the guests won’t know the difference at that point in the night. But you! Oh, what a generous and wonderful man!” The groom gets credit (at first) for the Groom’s generosity. Only Mary, the servants, and the disciples realized what occurred in the moment.

Is this not exactly what happens to us sinners? We who fail are made righteous by Christ. We get credit for his righteousness! And isn’t this a perfect way to start the marriage of two sinners? Here is your righteousness: Christ. And here is how he comes to you: in his Word and Meal. There is a wedding feast every Sunday which looks forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in heaven and it too involves a miracle. You are invited to this wedding banquet. Here you get credit for Jesus’ righteousness. You are forgiven. You are made righteous. Your Groom presents you, his bride, to himself without stain or wrinkle.

So what makes a strong marriage? A lot of things, but it is Christ’s forgiveness for husband and wife and through husband and wife that is essential. So the grooms out there who fail (that’s all of us) and the brides out there who fail (that’s all of them) should come to the Groom who did not. Come to his Meal and his Word. He bailed out the lazy and cheap groom at Cana already and he will bail you out in a far more important way.

Michael Berg

For more content like this, check out the podcast, blog posts, and devotions at

You can listen to our latest episode here. You can find our latest installment in the Wingin’ It series on Luther here

Together with our colleague and a guest on the show, Kerry Kuehn, Mike is offering a practical apologetics course, open to all, in the summer of 2019. You can learn more and register here.


Deliverance from the Devil

Luke 11:14-28

Man, it must have been crazy back then, with all these demons and devils afflicting people, huh? It was really a different day, don’t you think? Thank God it’s not like that anymore, right? But is it so different? No, we don’t have a bunch of exorcisms taking place, but is the devil any less active? Are people any less afflicted? Is hell any less real and its powers any less tyrannical? Read the news. Look around you. Examine yourselves. The devil is still a busy boy. And today’s gospel reminds us that Christ’s work of casting out the devil is as important today as it was then, and he still does it in the same way, with His Word and by His authority as the Son of God, our Savior. Continue reading “Deliverance from the Devil”