Reformation Vespers at St. Paul’s
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus for modern ears: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
St. Paul reports that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. A sword is an instrument of war, a tool for killing, appropriate for the Church Militant. It is designed to separate flesh from bone, tendon from cartilage, soul from body. The Word of God made Flesh, the Prince of Peace, did not come to bring peace. He came to bring Himself, a sword for the division of Israel, set for the fall and rise of many. He divides father from son, brother from sister, daughter-in-law from mother-in-law. He cuts the dead from the living. He replaces the bond of genetics and culture with the bond of the Spirit sealed in Blood. This cutting, His Word, the Truth, causes discord, division, and fighting among men. The demise of Satan’s false, temporary peace is violent. Wherever the Word of Truth is preached, wherever men embrace and rejoice in it, there will be fighting. That is what swords, like the Bible, are for.
This is because Jesus Christ is the most important thing that there is. Next to Him, His holy life and death, nothing else is significant, not who wins the world series, not terrorist attacks, not our own shallow lives. All of that is meaningless when compared to the eternal reality of God’s love for man in the sacrifice of His Son. That is what matters. That is worth fighting for.
But most people will not talk about religion. They fear giving offense. You are allowed to have opinions in our society about almost everything. You can embrace flagrant immorality, engage in unapologetic sodomy. You can gamble, cheat, lie, steal and the daytime talk shows will celebrate you for the diversity that you bring. But no one is to judge religion. Pierce and brand every part of your body, disfigure yourself and recruit in the school yard, but don’t dare talk about your religion with exclusive language, as though yours was the only way, as though there were false religions that lead to Hell. Our society’s last taboo is conviction about God and His Word. Confess that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and you are bound to be disliked and even persecuted. Protocol dictates that we look the other way as men race toward perdition, lest we should offend the damned.
Repent. It is your society, your culture. You are guilty of being more concerned with the opinions of men then the opinion of God. But no matter what men wish there is only one way to heaven, there is only one Name that carries salvation from the God of Abraham. And no one who places his trust anywhere else, in Allah or Mohammed, in Buddha or the Great Spirit in the sky, will go to heaven. Hell doesn’t need to be acknowledged by the atheists and modern pagans. Hell doesn’t care if anyone believes in it or not. It can wait. They’ll believe in it soon enough and they won’t be offended in Hell for us having warned them, no matter how offended they are now. There is only one thing that matters, one thing which will not pass away, one thing that will endure, that which always has been: the Word of God. And those who carry the Word of God in their hearts will be purified in the flames and restored to a creature better than Adam in the garden.
That Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, became our flesh, bone, and cartilage. He took up our cause in the Virgin’s womb. He allowed the Law to do to Him all that Justice demanded of and should have done to us. The Father sacrificed His Son in a Roman execution, to the sword of the state. His soul was divided from His Body. He died in our place for sins that He did not commit. But He rebuilt His Body. He resurrected His Flesh. He rose again to life. By that bloody death and glorious resurrection He has redeemed you, snatched you out of Hell to be His, done what you could not! Complete payment has been rendered on your behalf. Death, Hell, and the devil could not keep Him from you, His beloved. For you, His chosen Bride, He rose again to life. He emptied the Father’s wrath into Himself just to make you to the Godhead and worthy of His love. He has declared you chaste, immaculate, righteous. Your sins are gone. Your weakness, your fear, your doubts are forgotten. They have all been paid for, forgiven, removed. There is no more. There is no one to accuse you. It is finished. Believe in Jesus and you will never die. All those who trust in Him, who find forgiveness and acceptance through the substitution of His perfect life for theirs, who have been joined to that historical event outside of Jerusalem in the mystical washing of water and Word, will live forever in heaven. That will not pass away. That is what matters.
God’s Word is still a sword. The Church on this side of glory is still at war. The Word of God still cuts and divides. The place where it is rightly preached is always marked by discord. The Truth is painful to the fallen ears of men. It is the stench of death to their lusting nostrils. And it is worth fighting for and fighting about. By the Grace of God, we have been called by the Spirit, begotten of the Sword, made alive in crucifixion. We have felt our own hearts pierced, the old man slain, and a new man raised up in us by Grace. The war rages inside of us. For He has made our hearts into instruments of faith and faith must fight unbelief..
Thus, we have been liberated from the devil. He can harm us none, but still we struggle. But for us fights the Valiant One. So, bring it on, old Scratch, we are ready. We are ready for this war, for that lying, defeated enemy, for we have a sword that cannot lie, a lamp unto our feet and lantern for our path. We cannot lose. We will not go back peacefully into the
Bondage of the devil, no matter how peaceful that bondage seems. We will not pretend as though the debt has not been paid, as though God has not fulfilled His Word, as though we have been left to speculate and imagine for ourselves a way to God. We will not tolerate lies from men about our Savior and His Word. We will not be cowed by devils, armies, governments, or petty Church bureaucrats. We will fight. We will wield this sword for the life of the world. We will take this peace-shattering Good News to the four corners of the earth that men might have the peace that passes all understanding, peace announced to shepherds in their fields, peace with the Father bought by the Blood of the Son.
Here is the Truth: Jesus is Lord. There is none other. He rules in us by the power of His sacrifice and the gift of His life. Here we stand. In His Word He speaks to us, calls us from darkness to light, forgives us. He picks us back up again, strengthens and renews us. Soon, He will come again in glory. His power will be evident. Creation’s expectation will be met. The fog will clear. The veneer will be stripped away. Satan’s lies will be exposed.
Then we won’t stand. Then, we will kneel. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. What a joyous day it will be. Until then, we fight. We fight and we rejoice in the joy that is already ours, the forgiveness that is now bestowed, and the token of the resurrection to come. We are already free. Soon we shall be whole. We will then be free to sing His praise, to bask in His love, to kiss the Son, our beloved Bridegroom,
forevermore, our warfare will end, the sword will be beaten into a plowshare. And we sinful men made clean will lie down with the Lamb.
In +Jesus’ Name.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana