“Violence vs. the Victor” Festival of the Reformation (Observed) St. Matthew 11:12-15 October 27, 2013 22nd Sunday after Trinity—5th Sunday in Angels’ Tide
IN NOMINE JESU
“These are troubling times in the kingdom.” We’ve heard this line for a couple of years on a quirky car insurance commercial. I could go into all sorts of details in analyzing the advertisement, but I won’t. I’d much rather be faithful to the text for our meditation this day than to be progressive. I’d much rather stick with the words of our Lord than to go with the flow of trying to be cute or clever. One cannot do what one is not. But that line from that commercial certainly applies to our text, as well as to the Church today. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (v. 12). It is certainly troubling when the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. It is most troubling when the Church is subject to violent attacks. And it is most definitely troubling when the people of God are persecuted on account of their faith. The Church was under attack in the first century, she was under attack in the days of Martin Luther, and she remains so now in the 21st century.
Even before the earliest days of the Christian Church (when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost), the people of God faced persecution and suffered violence. Do you remember hearing Moses plead to Pharaoh, “Let my people go”? Jesus lamented over the violence His prophets received at the hands of the forefathers of the Pharisees: “I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Mt. 23:34-35). John the Baptist was beheaded. Eleven of the twelve Apostles were martyred, and John was exiled. The earliest Christians, if captured by the Romans, were put to death. The Roman Catholics condemned Luther and his writings and placed a bounty on him. Under communism, many churches were seized and believers arrested. We could go on and on with the examples of the violence the Church has suffered through the ages, but we have plenty of examples from the present time to cite. Look at the Middle East. What is happening to the Church there? Christians are murdered; church buildings are desecrated, ransacked, and destroyed—all by adherents to a false, hypocritical religion that gives lip service to peace and tolerance but in its writings calls for the slaughter of so-called infidels. Yes, that is Islam, the Muslims; in Luther’s day they were called the Turks. We could rant about the persecution Christians have faced here in America, both at the hands of political correctness and of political policy. Whether at home or abroad, Christians suffer for their faith, but little is reported on their suffering. You may be asking yourself why this is so, and the answer is quite simple: the world doesn’t care. This sinful world doesn’t care about Christians, Christianity, or even the Christ. This unbelieving world doesn’t care about God—that is, the one true God, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is because the world is in league with the devil…and with our sinful nature.
You heard me correctly: “…and with our sinful nature.” We are no better than they were. We are just as guilty as they were. We too have done violence to the Church. The violence we have committed we have done by our silent assent. How active have we been in decrying the violence the Church has suffered in our day? Or have we kept quiet and shown no concern for our persecuted and suffering brothers and sisters in Christ? Have we spent time in prayer, imploring God to ease their burden and to bring their persecutors to repentance? Do we grieve for those who have died for the sake of Christ and for the sake of the Gospel, or do we shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes because it’s not happening to us? We do violence to the Church when we show no care for our suffering, persecuted, and even martyred brethren. We do violence to the Church when we do not hear the Word of the Lord. Just as the Jews in Jesus’ day would not hear John the Baptist, the Elijah of the New Testament, and his call to repentance, we do not hear our Lord when He calls us to repent of our sins, including those sins against His Word—despising preaching and His Word, and not gladly hearing and learning it. We can sit through a sermon and not get anything out of it because we don’t bother paying attention to what the pastor, as God’s prophet here, is saying to us. We get mad because we don’t like what we do hear: namely that we are sinners who deserve eternal death on account of our sins, and that there is nothing we can do to satisfy God’s wrath. We don’t like to hear God’s Law. We also don’t like to hear God’s Gospel, because we don’t like to hear that Someone else has done the work of saving us and that there is nothing further we need to do. We don’t like the Word. That’s because we don’t like Christ, and we don’t like God the Father Almighty. We as sinners are enemies of God and want nothing to do with Him and nothing from Him. We do violence to the Church by doing violence to our own souls, for there is nothing more violent than being in the eternal fire of hell, forever tormented by the devil.
We want nothing to do with God and we want nothing from Him. That’s the Old Adam in us doing the talking. We don’t want God, but we need Him. The new creation wants God in his life and craves what God desires to give us, the gifts Christ freely gives. What does Christ seek to freely give us? The gifts He won for us when He died on the cross in our place. God desires that all people be saved, and to that end God sent His Son, who knew no sin but became our sin, and died, taking away the sin of the world, so that we would live with Him in paradise the blest. You see, there can be no more violence done to the Church than what Christ, the Head of the Church, the Church’s Bridegroom, suffered for her—that is, what He suffered for you and for me. There your Savior was, upon the cross: stricken, smitten, and afflicted; crucified, dead, and buried. He bled and died for the Church. He bled and died for you and for me. He suffered violence at the hands of sinful men, so that our burden of suffering would be lighter, for He knows our burdens, the heaviest being that of our sins. And just as He forgave those who physically nailed Him to the cross, He forgives us of our sins that put Him there. He has risen! He is alive! He is here! He has absolved us. He brings us words of comfort. He feeds us. In a moment He will feed us on His very body and blood. In a world full of violence, Jesus comes and brings peace to our souls. When Jesus comes to us in His Word and Sacraments, He brings heaven down to earth and brings His gifts to us and for us. When Jesus comes with His gifts, these are truly glorious times in His kingdom, a foretaste to His glory that awaits us in heaven, thanks be to God! Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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