Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.
TEXT: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Matthew 11:12-15
Dearly beloved children of God,
The Reformation we celebrate today came amidst a storm of violence in an already violent age. The Islamic Turks were taking over the civilized world by force, threatening to absorb all of Europe and conquer Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire was almost constantly at war with someone and even amongst themselves, with political intrigue and assassinations instrumental even in appointing leaders of the church.
And into the violent fray, our Lord sent one frightened little monk to be, as we hear in Rev 14:6, "another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth." (NKJ)
Like the prophets of the OT to the days of John the Baptist, the disciples of Jesus, and of course this Christ Himself who were harassed and killed by the very people God sent them to save, the life of Martin Luther was constantly under the threat of violence. For also like all of those, Luther posed a threat to the power of the religious authorities of his day.
Of course, since the fall into sin, it has always been so. Violence is the law of the land. And God's saving grace has always been accompanied with violence, because "the wages of sin is death. [And] the gift of God that is eternal life" in the kingdom of heaven, is ushered in by the death of sin and all that is now under its reign of violence. For you see, sin goes neither willingly nor quietly. It is a raging, relentless taskmaster that recognizes no master of its own - except greater force. Like the bully on the playground, the gangster in the street, or the terrorist among the crowd, sin is defeated only by overwhelming power.
God's shedding the blood of innocent animals to provide clothing for the first sinners, and stationing the cherubim to wield a flaming sword as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis were only a beginning of the violence to come.
The worldwide flood.
Gen 7:11, 23 "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. . . . So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive." (NKJ)
The Exodus from Egypt.
Exod 12:29 And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. (NKJ)
Exod 14:27-28 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. (NKJ)
The taking of the cities in Holy land of Canaan by God's chosen people, Israel.
Josh 8:24-26 And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness where they pursued them, and when they all had fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. So it was that all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand-- all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. (NKJ)
The time of the judges, perhaps most memorably Samson.
Judg 16:27, 30 Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there-- about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed. . . . Then Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life. (NKJ)
The time of the kings of Israel and Judah: 1 Sam 18:7"So the women sang as they danced, and said: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.'" (NKJ)
And we cannot forget the temple rites and bloody sacrifices by which God forgave sins and in the midst of which he dwelt with His people to deliver them.
These acts of God, as bloody and cruel as they were, also were necessary for the sake of the deliverance and protection of His people.
There can be no mistake about it, "the wages of sin is death. [And] the gift of God that is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" was the bloodiest and most cruel of all violence that ushered in the kingdom of heaven once and for all.
Today, even our baptism is violent, though an unseen violence in the spiritual realm. Our Old Adam is put to death there, drowned in the waters of the font as we are buried into Christ's death to rise with Him in His resurrection. But even as we are given peace with God, we become enemies of Satan with a bullseye on our backs.
Oh, most of us do not have to fear suffering the same kind of violence that stalked the prophets, the apostles and our Lord Himself. But we certainly do share in His cup of suffering, for the sake of the Gospel and the dear people God sends it to save.
While there is severe, physical violence being ravaged upon certain Christian outposts in Africa, we here have largely exchanged physical force for manipulation. We see it every day as the news and entertainment media, and even increasingly the laws of the land seek to tempt us away from the way of our Lord. It is as if His Word is less compassionate and more dangerous than the ways of our world of politics and entertainment, even though it is the Word of God that kills sin making children of His enemies and gives us life and hope in its place, while it is politicians and superstars that give us every sin as virtue and kill life especially of the most innocent and helpless.
But the most destructive violence of all is that which raises it's head amid God's own people of His Church. Virtually everybody in "Christendom" would agree that you cannot force anyone to believe, even to the point where teaching the catechism and memorization of Scripture, hymns, etc. is considered to be forcing belief. But rather than just teaching and preaching the truth and letting the Spirit work, we now do violence on the sly. Rather like the classic Jewish mother and feminism, church leaders likes to wield the sword of guilt and shame in order to get their folk to do what they want them to do.
Psychologists call this passive aggression. And in therapy sessions they bring their patients to understand that though it is passive, it is aggression still the same. In other words, it is violence born of hatred and a desire to control.
But God hates nothing but sin and those who insist upon practicing it and imposing it on others.
That hatred He took out on His Son in all its violence, so that those who believe in Him will never have to experience it themselves. You see, God has no desire for control, because he already has all authority and power. But in His mercy He backs away from forcefully controlling us in favor of showering His grace upon us. Indeed, God uses guilt and shame Himself in the preaching of the Law. Although in a different way than sinful men seeking to control. God uses guilt and shame to kill the sin, not manipulate the sinner into doing His will. He uses these things to draw us to the cross, our Savior, His love, and His kingdom of heaven.
Therefore by definition, since it is not born of anger or a desire to control, God's grace and love is always resistible. And since it always addresses the sinner and sin, it is never exactly pretty or desirable to the flesh.
Thus, when the world does not come clamoring to hear and fill the church to overflowing, men want to do something to make it more successful. Sadly, that is precisely where men resort to violence. Some by the forceful aggression of the sword or other earthly punishment, some by the passive aggression of manipulation.
The Gospel of our Lord, however, does not use our very real guilt to manipulate us into obeying the Law. It confronts our guilt head on, conquering it with Christ's fulfilling of the Law and pouring His righteousness upon us.
So though we suffer the violence of the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh, we never need fear the violence of our Lord. That has been fully taken out on His dearly beloved Son - and "It is finished!"
As children of God, you are forever shielded from the anger of God in the mighty fortress of His Church as it wields the Sword of the Spirit that slays the old evil foe, forgives you all of your sins, and keeps you with Christ now and forevermore --
... in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.
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