The Commemoration of the Reformation
October 27, 2019 A+D
St. Matthew 11:12-15
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Christ, was the Elijah who was to come. This final OT prophet pointed to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. From the day that John preached repentance and baptized, the Lamb’s kingdom has suffered violence. John may as well have sounded a battle cry when he baptized our Lord, for from that day on, Jesus and His kingdom were under attack. Immediately upon coming up from the Jordan after His baptism, Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by the devil. He was attacked by Satan. These attacks of temptation by the devil on the Christ did not end until Jesus breathed His last at His crucifixion.
The violent try to take the kingdom by force for that is the only way they know. Satan, the father of this sinful world only knows temptation, sin, destruction, pain, sickness, and death. He has never created anything. He has never sought after or promoted anything good or lasting. He is only interested in diversion from the truth and distraction from the eternal. He uses sin and death as weapons against the kingdom of God. This is very much like the kingdoms of earth, they conquer by violence. Glory in battle is won by force. The strong, the proud, and the mighty are rewarded. The kings of the earth rule with armies and sanctions and violent weapons. At the first sign of weakness evil men and rebels will arise to challenge them.
But the Kingdom of Heaven is not like this. It does not deal out violence. It suffers violence. It is the Kingdom of martyrs, of the lowly, of the meek, of the humble. Those who want to be part of this Kingdom are those who would suffer violence with and for it. They stand separated from the world of violence. They are in the world, but not of the world. They put their hands to the plow and do not look back. They turn the other cheek and suffer violence. They appear weak, to the world. Because they are obsessed with the Lamb’s Kingdom and the Lamb himself. The picture of faith in this world is this: the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.
The Kingdom of heaven does not operate according to the principles of world. It is not reasonable according to the wisdom of men. Its Ruler did not come with military fanfare on a warhorse in a show of power. He came instead through a lowly birth unnoticed by all except a few poor shepherds who knew it by proclamation of angels and a handful of foreigners who knew it by revelation of Scripture. Even His crowning moment, at the height of His popularity was short-lived. He entered His royal city on a lowly donkey, and that, to die. The cross was His earthly throne. What kind of a God becomes flesh in order to allow Himself to be abused by men? What kind of a God comes to take beatings and die? Not the kind designed by men. This would not have been our plan. What kind of a God is He? He is the only kind. For there is only one God. He is exclusive and jealous. He is righteous and holy. He is creator and redeemer. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is love and He loves mankind. This love drove Him into our world. Out of love, for a while, He denies Himself, comes in meekness and submission, and even, suffers violence. And by the violence done to Him, He wins the Kingdom. He redeems you, buys you back from the accuser Satan. By the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, He now rules at His majestic throne from the right hand of the Father. But He rules by mercy and grace, for this is His Kingdom of Grace, for a time. This Kingdom of Grace is given to each of us as a gift, yet in this world it is still a humble Kingdom that still suffers violence. You, the beloved occupants of this kingdom still suffer, like your King suffered. But only for a short time. For the Kingdom of grace will give way to the Kingdom of glory, when He returns.
Today we remember the days of Martin Luther when the church was under attack from within. The devil was using leaders in the church to do violence to the kingdom of God. The Word of God was traded for greedy lies. Luther was God’s instrument to overcome this violence with the truth of the Scriptures. The Reformation was about returning to the Truth, returning to God’s Word. The everlasting Gospel needs to be preached to those who dwell on the earth–to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. The essence of Luther’s teachings can be summed up from the book of Revelation, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
It is necessary for these words to ring out now. The church suffers violence today—that should not surprise us. The church has never known peace in this world, and it never will. Your lives will be lived on the battlefield, and you will not escape with your life. You never get to just coast through life unscathed, death awaits us all. Because God has marked you as His own in Holy Baptism, the devil will constantly bombard you with violence. You gained a powerful enemy when you became God’s child. We can see the violence and struggle in our own homes, in our communities, even in our churches. The struggle of the Reformation never ends. Satan still attacks the Church, for that is what threatens kingdom.
When violence comes, and it certainly comes daily, we need to confess with all humility and honesty the truth of the Gospel. Jesus is God. Jesus redeems you. Jesus is the Word of truth. Jesus conquered death. When He suffered violence, it was on purpose, so that He could overcome death and violence. Because of His sacrifice, death is no longer the end. He came through death and was raised to life. This is now our hope. Pain and death will come, but death will not be our end. God is in charge, the devil attacks and continues to battle, but the war is over. God’s Word has conquered.
Our salvation is concluded, it is already completed. We do well to look back on it and study it for own sakes and for the sakes of our children, for it is contained in the Bible, but there are no more surprises. Death will not take you by surprise, because you have already died! “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). In your baptism, you died. After baptism there is only life, for you were already raised with Him. Even when physical death comes, your life continues in Christ until the last day when your body will be reunited with your soul. That will be the Kingdom of Christ’s glory.
We have commemorated two events so far this week, the commemoration of Pastor Evanson’s life and work here at Redeemer and today the Reformation. When we commemorate something, we remember it so as not to forget how God works in this world—in time, through real people. We thank the Lord that Pastor Evanson stood firm on the Word of God and preached it even when it was neither popular or lucrative to do so. That is why we also want to remember the Reformation. It was a return to the Word, not as though the Word had vanished, but that the Word had become buried in man-made teachings. Reformation is constantly needed. We need to be reminded that reform is ongoing and that we need to be constantly realigned and corrected by the Bible and biblical preaching. The Reformation in 16th century Germany demonstrates to us that this is a pattern in the sinful minds of men. We are prone to neglecting the Word. We need to push off our own ideas of God and salvation, and we need discipline ourselves to the Words of Holy Scripture. The only way to do that is to pick it up and read it, study it, and teach it to our children. There is always a battle for the Bible. The best way to commemorate the Reformation is to listen to God’s voice in the Bible and gather together around His Sacrament.
On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and wine and said, “This IS my Body… This IS my blood….Do this in remembrance of me. We commemorate His victory over death every time we partake of His body and blood. Your salvation was won through death. In this meal, this sacrament, you partake of a banquet of victory—the victory of Jesus through death. You come this day to celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb which has no end. You are beaconed to come and participate in Christ’s death for your forgiveness and life. What you receive on your tongue is life and salvation to all who believe. Against the body of Christ, violence will come, but violence shall never conquer.
Tho’ devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.