Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reformation Day (Observed)

Reformation Day (Observed)

October 25, 2015
Text: Matt. 11:12-19

            “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).  Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?  But we should have seen this coming.  After all, the Kingdom of God comes by the cross, by the crucifixion of the Son of God born of Mary, by the sacred Blood of Jesus and the holy water that pours from His pierced side.  John the Baptist prepared the way.  He announced that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2).  The reward for his prophetic preaching?  His head served up on a silver platter (Matt. 14:10-11).  So it goes for the heralds of the King.  The Apostles and the early Christians were persecuted and martyred.  Martin Luther was under constant threat of burning as a heretic.  His crime was preaching salvation by the work of Jesus Christ alone, and not by our works.  It’s simply the Gospel Paul proclaims in our Epistle (Rom. 3:19-28).  Paul, by the way, was beheaded for that Gospel in Rome, probably the same day Peter was crucified upside down for that Gospel.  And in fact, the first two Reformation martyrs, Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were burned at the stake in Brussels in 1523 for their Lutheran confession of the everlasting Gospel.  Luther wrote his first hymn about them, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun.”  It didn’t make the hymnal.  Go figure.  Now we have images right on our television and computer screens of Christians shot or beheaded by ISIS because they will not deny the Savior, whose precious Name is often the last word they speak on earth.  Jesus speaks the unvarnished truth to us this morning.  The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.  The cross cannot be avoided by disciples of the Crucified.
            Why does the world hate Christians?  Why does it bother them so much, what we believe, teach, and confess?  Jesus tells us in our Holy Gospel.  The world calls the tune, and we don’t dance.  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Matt. 11:17).  When the world rejoices, we Christians often cry out in grief.  When the world mourns, we Christians sing our praises to God.  Because we recognize that the unbelieving worldview is upside down.  The Spirit has given us ears to hear the Word of Jesus and eyes to see the world lost in sin and the delusions of the evil one.  So, for example, the world rejoices when a world renowned athlete decides he is a woman, and we Christians grieve for a man who has lost his way.  The world shames bakers who will not participate in a gay wedding, grieving over their intolerance and perceived hatred.  Christians rejoice that this brother and sister are not ashamed of the Savior, and confess Him no matter the cost, even when it means losing their business and their home.  Great is their reward in heaven.  But the world just can’t figure us out.  What they call good, we call evil, and vice versa.  It reminds us of what Martin Luther famously said at the Heidelberg Disputation: “A theology of glory,” i.e. the theology of the world, “calls evil good and good evil.  A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”[1]  And so the lie exposed, the lie of the evil one by which he holds the world entranced in captivity.  Understand what is at stake for the world if Christianity is true.  It means the world is fatally wrong.  Eternal life and death is in the balance.  And the evil one has convinced the world that if it can stamp out Christianity by persecution and violence, then Christianity must not be true.  The only way to keep Christians from calling a thing what it is, is to silence them, by law or by force.
            Jesus points out there is actually a two-fold rejection of His Word.  On the one hand, John comes preaching repentance and they say he has a demon (Matt. 11:18).  On the other, Jesus comes preaching forgiveness, eating and drinking with all the wrong people, and they say “Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (v. 19).  So the world rejects God’s Law as preached by John, because John calls evil what the world considers good.  And the world rejects God’s Gospel as preached and enacted and won by Jesus, because Jesus calls good those whom the world has condemned as evil.  But this is what the cross of Jesus does.  In the midst of a world that calls evil good and good evil, the cross exposes a thing for what it actually is.  Sin is sin.  Sinners are sinners.  And Christ is the Savior of sinners.  He hangs out with gluttons and drunkards and tax collectors and prostitutes.  You know, those people.  And he even hangs out with you.  And He eats with you.  And He drinks with you.  His Body.  His Blood.  For the forgiveness of your very real sins, all of which have been paid for by His very real death on a very real cross in a very real place: Golgotha, the place of the skull.  Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven in the flesh.  And He suffers violence, and the violent take Him by force to Calvary, for you, that you may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom.
            We know the end of the story.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He wins.  We win, in Him.  But what about now?  What do we do in the meantime?  Because there is very real suffering to be borne for the Kingdom here and now.  The Kingdom still suffers violence and the violent still take it by force.  We have been spared much of this suffering here in the United States.  But there is no guarantee that this will go on forever.  And when the gun is pointed at your head, when the knife is at your throat, what do you do?  Your sinful flesh will be screaming at you to do whatever it takes to save your earthly life.  Don’t listen to him.  Repent.  Crucify Old Adam.  We don’t make compromises with the world just because that is the easy thing to do.  We don’t do what is easy.  We do what is right.  We confess.  We confess Jesus.  We confess His Word.  No matter the consequences.  We suffer them with rejoicing, giving thanks to God that we are counted worthy to suffer for His Name (Acts 5:41).  And thanks be to God, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll say and do on that day.  You should be prepared, to be sure.  But you don’t have to worry.  Because the perseverance of the saints, too, is a gift of God’s grace in Christ.  The Spirit will teach you what to speak.  In fact, He already has.  He’s given you the Creed.  You’ll say it again in a few minutes.  And He will give you the courage and strength to speak what you must in that day.  And He will give you the faith to know that even if they kill you here, you will not die.  You are in Christ, who is your life.  He is risen from the dead.  He wins.  So it’s a miracle of the Holy Spirit, but still we sing, “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).  The violent can’t take it after all.
            The Lord keeps us steadfast in His Word.  Apart from Him, we would fall.  But He defends us.  He defends His holy Church against all the crafts and assaults of the evil one, the persecution and violence of the world, and even the deceptions and desires of our own sinful flesh.  He keeps these at bay.  He supports us in our final strife.  He brings us out of death to life (LSB 655).  Martin Luther didn’t want to suffer violence when, in 1517, 498 years ago, he nailed his 95 Theses against indulgences to the Church door in Wittenberg.  In fact, while he knew there had to be a Reformation, he was hoping it would be a quiet one.  The last thing he wanted was a revolution and the sundering of Church unity.  He wrote the theses in Latin, not the language of the common people.  He just wanted a debate with the academics of the university, to hash it out with his fellow professors.  God had other plans.  Confessing Christ and His Gospel always comes with a cost.  But God keeps us steadfast in His grace and truth by His Holy Spirit, in His Word, by His Sacraments.  He protects and delivers us in times of temptation, and He defends us against all enemies.  He opens our lips, that our mouth might declare His praise.  He looses our tongues to speak Christ into the ear of our neighbor.  “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:11).  So we speak.  So we confess.  And we suffer.  Always remembering the Promise: Whoever “shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32; KJV).  The Kingdom is yours.  The Kingdom is Jesus.  And because He suffered violence for you, you will see Him with your own eyes in heaven.  Praise be to Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

[1] Thesis 21, Luther’s Works, American Edition (55 vols.; ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; Philadelphia: Muehlenberg and Fortress, and St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-86), 31:53.


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