Reformation Day (Observed)
October 26, 2008
Text: Matt. 11:12-19
Christianity is dangerous. That is what many are saying in this post-Christian, perhaps even anti-Christian society in which we live. And maybe they’re right! At least in this sense: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12; ESV). Now, I’m certainly not saying that Christianity is dangerous in the same way that, say, radical Islam is dangerous. This isn’t politically correct to say, but there is a reason that Christians are not usually profiled as suspected terrorists. Christianity is certainly not a violent religion, certainly not in the sense that we preach violence, or encourage our members to engage in violence. As a matter of fact, it should go without saying, that to engage in violence in the Name of Jesus Christ is a sin. Don’t go bombing abortion clinics. Don’t kill people who are outside the faith or who oppose the faith. Under no circumstances should you engage in violence in your zeal for the Lord. You have no command from the Lord to do that. In fact, you are commanded not to murder. But violence does accompany Christianity in this way: Christians will always be persecuted for the sake of Jesus and His Word. Don’t let the relative peace with which we practice our Christian religion in America fool you. If you confess the holy Christian faith, you should expect to be persecuted. If you are not persecuted, blessed be the Lord. He has spared you. But you should always be willing to suffer humiliation, the loss of all possessions, and even to shed your blood for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Word.
John the Baptist is a good example. He lost his head for the Lord, literally. Because of his faithful confession of Jesus Christ, and his insistence that the Law of God against adultery applied even to kings like Herod, John was beheaded, and his head awarded on a silver platter to Herodias’ daughter for her seductive dance before Herod and his guests. John did not fear to testify to the truth before kings, and so he has a martyr’s reward. In losing his life, he gained it, for dying to himself and dying literally as a martyr, he received the life of Jesus Christ, life eternal and abundant, the life that is given alone by faith.
Of course Jesus is the ultimate example of the truth that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. For Jesus, being true God in the flesh, suffered violence at the hands of all humanity, for the sake of all humanity, in the place of all humanity, for the forgiveness of all the sins of all humanity, that all men might be saved. Our Lord Jesus suffered the violence of the cross, for you, for me, for all people, the perfect payment for sin, accomplishing in His crucified body the reconciliation of God and men. John is a type, or foreshadowing, of Jesus Christ, in losing his life as a martyr. So also all the prophets who lost their lives or suffered violence on account of God’s Word were types of Christ. For violence is always done to those who speak the truth.
And just as the prophets who came before Jesus were types of His suffering and death, so all Christian martyrs who have come after Him bear testimony with their very blood to His death on our behalf. That is to say, in suffering and the cross, they are conformed to the image of Christ Jesus. The disciples of Jesus Christ look like Him: Crucified. Tradition records that all of the apostles save the Apostle John suffered a martyr’s death. And even though St. John, according to tradition, did not die a martyr’s death, he assuredly suffered for preaching the truth.
So also on this Sunday of the Reformation, we remember Martin Luther and the other Lutheran Reformers who confessed the truth of the Gospel on pain of death. They boldly confessed over against the Medieval Roman Church that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, without works of the Law. And though Luther did not die a martyr’s death, he assuredly lived under the daily threat of such death, and suffered much, including excommunication, the condemnation of the empire, and exile, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Many of those who stood with Luther did die a martyr’s death. Luther even wrote a hymn about two of them, the first two Lutheran martyrs, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch who were burned at the stake in the market place in Brussels on July 1, 1523. The hymn is called, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun,” and in this hymn Luther sang of the victory of the martyrs who passed through the valley of the shadow of death and remained faithful unto the end. “A new song here shall be begun – The Lord God help our singing! Of what our God himself hath done, Praise, honor to him bringing. At Brussels in the Netherlands By two boys, martyrs youthful He showed the wonders of his hands, Whom he with favor truthful So richly hath adorned.”
Yes, Luther sings of the victory of the martyrs. For not only have they been conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ; not only have they persevered in the faith under great persecution; the report of their faithfulness has also spread throughout the world as a testimony to the truth. The word “martyr” literally means “witness,” and has come to be associated with those who shed their blood for a cause, and in the Christian Church, for those who shed their blood for the sake of Jesus Christ. Witnesses testify. They are called upon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In shedding their blood for Jesus Christ, Christian martyrs testify to the truth of the Gospel. Their death is a sermon written in blood. So Luther can sing of the two boys burned at the stake: “Leave off their ashes never will; Into all lands they scatter; Stream, hole, ditch, grave – nought keeps them still With shame the foe they spatter. Those whom in life with bloody hand He drove to silence triple, When dead, he them in every land, In tongues of every people, Must hear go gladly singing.” 
What we encounter here, beloved, is the cost and reward of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Christian Church will never please the world. John didn’t please them. He “came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’” (Matt. 11:18). Neither did Jesus please them. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (v. 19). The world will never be a friend to the holy Christian Church. Thus following Jesus will always lead to the cross and suffering. It certainly requires dying to self. It may even require you to literally shed your blood for Jesus. But in so losing your life, you will find it. Let us never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His cross. Let us never be ashamed of His Word. Let us never be ashamed of those who have shed their blood for His sake. Even in the face of persecution, as for instance has broken out in India over the past few weeks, where many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have lost all earthly possessions, had to leave their homes and communities, been burned out of their own church, and where many have been killed… even in the face of such persecution, let us never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. And, beloved, even if the peaceful practice of our religion here in the United States comes to a violent end, we need never lose heart. If we face persecution, and if we are ever called upon to shed our blood for Jesus Christ, we can consider it a great blessing… a victory, even. For God will strengthen us. In His mercy, God will preserve us. He will preserve us in the one true faith and conform us to the image of His Son, the Crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ. And our testimony to the Gospel will be scattered to the four winds and carried all over the earth, just as all the martyrs who have gone before. Our death will testify to the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world, and to His victory over death in the resurrection.
Violence always follows the truth, and in this sense it is quite true that Christianity is dangerous. It is dangerous to its own adherents, because as disciples of Jesus Christ, you are called to suffer, even the loss of life, for the Gospel. But after all, what is the loss of life, when Christ is risen, and can and will raise you from the dead? So we confess this faith, we confess Jesus Christ along with Martin Luther and the Reformers, the apostles and prophets, John the Baptist, and all the martyrs. We confess “that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” Christianity may be dangerous, but there is no greater danger than the eternal danger of being outside of Christ Jesus. And there is no greater security than the blessed reality of all that our Lord gives us by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife… though these all be gone, the victory has been won! The Kingdom ours remaineth! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun,” Luther’s Works, 55 vols., Ulrich S. Leupold and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1956) 53:214.
 Ibid, p. 216.
 Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).