Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this Reformation Day is the Gospel Reading from Matthew 11:12-19.
1. Let’s be honest, this text seems to be an odd choice for Reformation Day. When you think about Martin Luther and the Reformation, you think of Romans chapter 3, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). You think of Revelation 14 and the “eternal gospel” being proclaimed there. Maybe youl think of John’s Gospel, which Luther loved so much, where Jesus says things like, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). But I would be willing to bet that of all the Biblical texts you might think of in connection with Luther and the Reformation, this text from Matthew 11 would not be one of them. After all, this talk about John the Baptist seems out of place on such a day as this. But this text from Matthew 11 is the reading appointed for the Festival of the Reformation in the oldest Lutheran lectionaries—and this is for good reason. This text both challenges and invites us to consider the Reformation motto, “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum”, that is, “the Word of the Lord endures forever.” And so, with this in mind, we will consider our text for this morning under the theme “Apathy and the Word.”
2. Our text begins this way: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:12-15). There are several things to take note of in this text. The first is regarding the mention of John the Baptist. A discussion of John the Baptist might seem out of place on Reformation Day, at least at first glance. But a closer inspection of this text makes it clear that John the Baptist is not the focus of this text. In fact, he is never the ultimate focus of any text in which he appears. So, why does Jesus mention John? It’s because Jesus’ focus is on what began during the days of John and more importantly what John’s arrival on the scene means for the history of humanity. So, according to Jesus, what has happened during the days of John? Violence. From the day that John the Baptist came onto the scene, man, namely the Pharisees and other religious leaders, have been violently opposing the coming of the kingdom of heaven. But guess what. The Word of the Lord endures through all forms of violence and opposition. John the Baptist’s presence on the scene of human history confirms this. The days of John the Baptist set in motion the coming of the kingdom of heaven. John’s very presence fulfilled the last word spoken by the final Old Testament prophet, Malachi. John was “Elijah who is to come.” His presence signals the coming of “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). John’s ministry announced that the kingdom of heaven had come in Jesus. Yet the violence and opposition did nothing but increase toward Jesus. He constantly had to deal with antagonistic religious leaders until those religious leaders came at him with all-out violence, putting Jesus to death. Even though it looked like the violent opposition had won on that fateful Friday, when Sunday morning arrived, that all changed. Jesus had risen from the dead, which proved that even in the face of violence and opposition, the Word of the Lord endures forever.
3. But our text doesn’t end in verse 15 with Jesus saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” When Jesus speaks this way, it usually signals the end of what he has to say, but not here. Jesus goes on, beginning in verse 16, to say: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 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!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:16-19). So, what is Jesus saying here? Well, he is speaking directly against the Jewish religious leaders of his day, whose attitude was apathetic at best and resistant and hostile at worst toward both John and Jesus. They were like children with double standards, simply looking for something wrong with both of them. With John, they were upset that he was too intense and took things too seriously. With Jesus, they were upset that he was not intense and serious enough. Yet Jesus reminds us that the wisdom of God accomplishes his purposes regardless of apathetic, fickle opponents. Even in the face of apathy and resistance, both the Word and the Wisdom of the Lord endure forever.
4. Now, to be fair to our text for this morning, there is as much focus on the attitude of those who hear Jesus’ words as there is on the triumph of God’s Word in the face of opposition. And so, as the present hearers of Jesus’ words, it is worth taking some time to reflect on our own attitude toward God’s Word as well. The Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word of the Lord overcomes all sorts of violence and opposition because God’s Word has power and accomplishes what it says. We might say that we believe this, but the reality is, our actions and attitude betray us. Too often when Sunday morning rolls around, we demonstrate just how little we actually value God’s Word. “I’m tired this morning” or “The kids are being terrors” and so we stay home and resolve to catch the sermon recording later (which probably never happens). Or maybe the decision happens long before Sunday morning when we have decided that our political views or personal preferences are a higher priority than receiving the Word of God with our brothers and sisters. Or maybe we fight off the temptations and do come to worship, but while we’re here, we inwardly gripe about the hymn selection or the length of the sermon rather than joyfully receiving the gifts of God in whatever form they come to us. Whatever attitude we might have on Sunday mornings, be it one of these or one slightly different, our selfish attitudes reveal that we are apathetic toward God’s Word and we care most about ourselves. We don’t highly value God’s Word on Sunday mornings, we don’t prioritize it at other times during the week, and we demonstrate that we’re not all that different from the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who with double standards looked for excuses.
5. My friends, the sinful human condition is apathy towards God. We are born spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. We are by nature in opposition to God. That’s why it is such good news that the Word of the Lord endures forever. The Word of the Lord overcomes violence, resistance, opposition, and, yes, even apathy—even for you. Christ overcomes our apathy through his Word of forgiveness, which he won for us on the cross. My friends, your reality changes when you hear the words, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those aren’t my words—they are Christ’s words which accomplish what they say. If you recognize that you’re stuck in a rut of apathy, there’s only one cure—Christ’s word. Force yourself to get off your lazy backside every Sunday morning, get your rear-end in the pew, and hear the Word of the Lord. And don’t think that once is enough—you need to do this week after week for it to truly make a difference. I don’t care how tired you are. I don’t care how restless your kids are. I don’t care what your preferences or political views are. I don’t even care what your attitude is like, I’m just glad to see you here. When you are in the Lord’s house hearing his Word and receiving his Sacrament, the Holy Spirit is at work. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need you to feel like you “got something out of the service” in order to work in your heart and life. He just needs you here where Christ overcomes our apathy by his Word and shapes us more and more into people who value and prioritize his Word over and above ourselves. May the Lord grant us grace to value his Word enough to allow him room to work in our apathetic hearts as we await the day when all sin and struggles will be no more.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.