From the Word
1 And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
Matthew 11:1–5, RSV
Among the works of Christ none is greater than the preaching of the gospel to the poor. This means that to the poor the divine promise of grace and consolation in and through Christ is preached, offered and presented, so that to him who believes all his sins forgiven the law is fulfilled, conscience is appeased and at last life eternal is bestowed upon him. What more joyful tidings could a poor, sorrowful heart and troubled conscience hear than this? How could the heart become more bold and courageous than by such consoling, blissful words of promise. Sin, death, hell, the world, the devil and every evil are scorned when a poor heart receives and believes this consolation of the divine promise. To give sight to the blind and to raise up the dead are but insignificant deeds, compared with the preaching of the gospel to the poor.
Surely these poor are not the beggars and the bodily poor, but the spiritually poor, namely, those who do not covet and love earthly goods; those poor broken-hearted ones who in the agony of their conscience seek and desire help and consolation so ardently as to covet neither riches nor honor. Nothing but a merciful God will help them. These are the ones for whom such a message is intended, and they are delighted in their hearts with it.
Though the gospel is heard by all the world, yet it is not accepted but by the poor only. It is to be preached and proclaimed to all the world as a message only for the poor, as the rich cannot receive it. Whosoever would receive it must first become poor, just as Christ says, he came not to call the righteous, but sinners only, although he called all the world. In like manner all should become poor who hear the gospel, that they might be worthy of the gospel. Hence you see who are the greatest enemies of the gospel, namely, the work-righteous saints, who are self-conceited. The gospel has not the least in common with them. They want to become rich in works, but the gospel wills that they are to become poor. So they clash with the gospel.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 444–45.