Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our Gospel text for this Reformation Sunday is an interesting one. It invites us to consider a topic that we might not immediately associate with Reformation Day. That topic is the violence which the kingdom of heaven continues to suffer. And so, with this in mind, we will pay particular attention to the first four verses of our Gospel text as we consider how:
1.) The kingdom of heaven is constantly suffering violence
2.) But the one who has ears to hear will recognize our Lord’s work through it all.
II. The Kingdom of Heaven is Constantly Suffering Violence
2. First, we consider how the kingdom of heaven is constantly suffering violence. In the first verse of our Gospel Reading, our Lord says: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
The kingdom of heaven is constantly suffering violence. On this Reformation Sunday we can’t help but be reminded of the ways in which this was true for our fathers in the faith. If Luther was guilty of anything on October 31, 1517 when he posted the Ninety-Five Theses, he was guilty of naïvety. He just wanted to have an honest academic discussion about the current practices of the church. But what he quickly discovered was that the church was under attack by its very leadership. Through subtle manipulation and outright open hostility, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ had been removed from the church. And the leadership of the Roman Church had no interest in restoring the pure Gospel, despite Luther’s earnest requests. Instead of allowing the law to show their sin so that they might repent and believe the Gospel, these leaders of the Roman Church proved themselves to be enemies of the Gospel. They violently removed the men who opposed them, which led to much war and bloodshed. And in so doing, the Pope and his bishops, in a very real sense, removed themselves from the kingdom of heaven. This is how the Evangelical Reformers, whom we now call the Lutheran Reformers, viewed themselves. They were the ones who held fast to God’s Word in the face of violent opposition. They were the ones who refused to abandon the Gospel message of the kingdom of heaven, even when the bishops, who should have been the chief defenders of the Gospel, refused. The Reformers saw themselves as yet another generation of God’s people who, along with the prophets and apostles and martyrs, must suffer violence for the sake of the Gospel. We can look back through history at any point and see quite clearly that the kingdom of heaven is constantly suffering violence.
3. So, my friends, it shouldn’t surprise us that the kingdom of heaven continues to suffer violence today. We are living in the midst of an ideological war. And the battle is not between Left and Right, between Democrat and Republican. The battle is between the Kingdom of Heaven and the violent opposition of the Old Evil Foe. The second we fail to recognize this, we have played into our enemy’s hands. He wants us to be blind to his schemes. He wants us to get caught up in the things that don’t truly matter. He wants us to become so immersed in ourselves that we cannot see what he’s trying to do to us. And if we’re not careful, the Old Evil Foe will violently take away the kingdom of heaven from us. We are at greatest risk of this happening when we leave our uniquely Christian way of thinking behind in favor of the world’s ways. If I can be blunt, we Christians need to stop religiously watching the mainstream news media. We need to stop blindly consuming social media content as if it’s harmless and objective. We need to think critically. These are tools that the enemy uses subtly and cunningly to manipulate us into becoming blind to his ways. That’s not to say that these things have no place at all in the life of a Christian man or woman. After all, we do live in this world. But if you find yourself spending more time-consuming media than you spend in prayer and God’s Word, you need to stop, take a hard look at yourself, and repent.
“The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight” (LSB 656:1).
My friend, we must not be blind to how the Old Evil Foe continues to inflict violence on the kingdom of heaven today. We must recognize his schemes and resist them. How do we do so? This leads to our second point of consideration.
III. The Lord is at Work Through it All
4. Now we consider how the one who has ears to hear will recognize our Lord’s work through it all. Beginning in verse 13 of our Gospel Reading, our Lord continues: “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 11:13-15).
There is an Old Testament passage behind this statement of our Lord. That passage is from the very end of the book of the prophet Malachi, where we read: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Malachi 4:4-5).
Notice that in this prophecy, the law of Moses and the prophet Elijah are not the point. They are signs of what matters. They are pointers directing you to the main point. Moses doesn’t matter. Elijah doesn’t matter. What matters is “the great and awesome day of the LORD.” Similarly in our Gospel text, John the Baptizer doesn’t matter. What matters is that to which John points. What matters is that “the great and awesome day of the LORD” has come in our Lord Jesus. He who has ears to hear will understand this. “The Lord whom you seek” (Malachi 3:1) has come. He has come to deal with the violence and the violent men who continue to inflict violence on the kingdom of heaven. The Lord has come to overcome violence with peace. He has come. And so, “for us fights the valiant One, Whom God himself elected” (LSB 656:2).
See, our Lord knows all about suffering violence. From the temptations of the devil to the hounding of the Pharisees, from the trick questions of lawyers to betrayal by a close friend, our Lord suffered continual violence. And in fact, it was through suffering violence that our Lord would overcome the violent attacks of our enemy. When our Lord Jesus hung on the cross, suffering the full effects of the violence directed against the kingdom of heaven, the Old Evil Foe thought he had won. “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19). It was precisely through his violent death on the cross that our Lord began to reverse the effects of violence that the kingdom of heaven has suffered. Now, don’t misunderstand, he hasn’t eliminated the suffering of violence, but he has overcome it. He has “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). And those of us who trust in him will in due time be delivered from the violence and evils of this world by the “eternal gospel [which is] proclaim[ed] to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Revelation 14:6).
5. So, my friends, remember our Lord’s words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).
Our Lord is at work through everything that we endure in this life. He is at work through all of the violence and evil. He is at work through all of the lies and deception. He is at work through it all. So, take heart because Christ our Lord is at work, and he will deliver us from the violent attacks of the enemy.
Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpower 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.
The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit.
And 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 656:3-4)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.