In the name fo the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“From the days of John the Baptist till now the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence.” (Matt. 11:12) Immediately before Jesus says this John the Baptist, who was in prison for his preaching, had sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah sent from God or if they should wait for another? (Matt. 11:2-3) John knew. But he wanted his disciples to know and believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus. For he knew that he must now decrease and Jesus must increase. (John 3:30) John’s ministry of preparing way (Matt. 11:10; Mal. 3:1), of being Elijah who would come before the great and glorious day of the Lord (Matt. 11:14; Mal. 4:5) was at an end. Jesus was here. He was to be heard, listened to, believed, and followed. But violence had been done to John. John had been shut up. Imprisoned. (Matt. 11:2; 4:12; 14:3-4) And would soon be decapitated. (Matt. 14:5-12)
Because all the law and all the prophets had prophesied till John. (Matt. 11:13) But once John was silenced, the Law and the prophets—the Old Testament ceased—for Jesus was there. And so violence was being done to the Kingdom of God. For John stood in the way of the pharisees and the rulers of the Jews with his preaching of God’s word in truth and purity. So when a crazy king got rid of John for them, they turned their attention to Jesus, seeking to put Him to death. To silence Him. They thought by silencing John, they could silence the Prophets, and the Law. By doing away with John Herod the Tetrarch (Matt. 14:1-5) thought he could silence God’s message about what you should do and not do, what is right and wrong, and the threats of the God’s law that tell us of God’s just displeasure with sin and His righteous judgement of those who do evil. So that when you break God’s laws you will suffer guilt, shame, consequences in relationships, in life, maybe even in society. And the ultimate consequences is that you will be cut off from the Lord. From Life itself. From life in the Spirit.
Now there is another use of the word “Law” too. The Law and Prophets refers to the “Law” as the first five books of the Old Testament, written by Moses, known in Hebrew as the Torah. So this is not the Law in terms of right and wrong, not that Law which always accuses, which always points out our sin and shortcomings. This is the “Law of Moses” (or books of Moses) on which everything in the Bible is based. Even the New Testament is prophesied in them. For the New Testament is the fulfillment of all the promises made in those books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Everything else in the Bible is an outworking of the promises of God given to this particular family, the family of Abraham, and through Abraham to the entire world. (Gen. 12:3) That’s what’s going on.
The Law and the Prophets—the Old Testament—prophesy til John. But the rulers of the Jews came along and teaching sought to take the Kingdom for themselves, not by God’s Word, but by force. So that Violence was being done to God’s kingdom.
And the reason this is the reading for today is that violence is still being done to the Kingdom of God. There are those who seek to take the Kingdom of God, the spiritual Kingdom of heaven which has invaded this earth by calling many to faith through Baptism and the preaching of the Word about Jesus, that spiritual Kingdom which is carved out from the kingdoms of this world, which has citizens in every nation on earth who are now part of this Kingdom that is not of this world. (John 18:36) A Kingdom which is not under the authority of this world, so that it can’t be controlled by this world. Which is why people seek to do violence to it. (John 15:18) To control it. To own it. To bend it to their will. To use it to legitimize their desires and sins. Just as Herod wanted to shut John up, and rulers of Jews wanted to silence Jesus. For this kingdom has no power in this world, except that of the Word of God. But It’s power burns in your bones (Jer. 20:9; Ps. 32:3), forcing you to recognize the truth. So people try to silence that voice of truth.
Now our post WW2 our society is generally thought to be good society. But the Kingdom of this world is not the Kingdom of our Lord. When we think that our country or our society is the same as God’s Kingdom you make a mistake. Worldly rulers are exactly that: worldly. They keep order by violence and force. (Rom. 12:19; 13:1-4) The Lord keeps order and calls His Kingdom into existence by His Word. By converting hearts one at a time, so that they do and believe and think what He does and believes and thinks.
And so we don’t have to look at extreme examples of violence being done to God’s Kingdom under communism or under Nazi-ism. Even in our good culture we have seen the Kingdom of God, the Church, co-opted for the purposes of keeping order in our world. Even an order that you might agree with as good and godly. But that is not the purpose of God’s Kingdom! It is not meant to keep order in the world, but rather to give LIFE to the world! The kings of this world are given by God to keep order. (Rom. 13:4) Certainly the presence of Christians in this world preserves the world—giving the world preserving salt and disinfecting light. (Matt. 5:13-16) So that there is always a pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15) within the world when the Kingdom of God speaks truth to the world. But the Kingdom of God’s purpose is to be the life of the world. (John 6:51) Not the order of the world. Making God’s Kingdom do double duty in this world is doing violence to the Gospel.
You don’t even have to look at the prominent examples of our day where governments are starting to legislate things that differ from God’s definition of morality. Because even the attempt to make the Church the authority which rules this world is a confusion, a violence to the message of the Gospel. For the Church and the State have different authorities which have been granted to them by God. Different purposes.
But when the government at any time or place tells you you must do things at pain of death or suffering that do not agree with the Lord, that is the moment at which you must stand up and be counted and say, “NO, I will follow Lord. Come what may. Suffer what I must. I will follow the Lord.”
So the reason why we have this reading today on Reformation Day, where we remember what the Lord did in His Church 500 years ago, is that 500 years ago, through Luther and many others, the Lord began to set His Kingdom free from those who had taken hold of it. Because the Magisterium—that structure of Pope, bishops, and priests—had taken hold of the Church and was proclaiming not only doctrines not found in Scripture. But that you must believe them or go to hell. So the Kingdom of God was suffering violence in those days. Just as the Kingdom of God does to this very day.
Jesus was saying, “If you will, John the Baptist was Elijah who was to come. The one who was to prepare way for the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Matt. 11:14; Mal. 4:5) John prepared by saying, “Repent and return to the Lord. (Matt. 3:7-12) Don’t listen to what your corrupt leaders are saying. Listen to the Lord, to His word, to Him alone. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15)
Jesus continued, “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in market places, calling to their playmates, ‘We played a flute and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not mourn. You didn’t do everything I told you. You didn’t do it immediately when we called tune.’” (Matt. 11:16-17)
John didn’t do any of the behaviours you’d expect a demon to engage in: to be crazy, to act like you are drunk, to be full of emotion—enraged, irrational, unreasonable. (Matt. 11:18) The only thing John ever did was that he called them on their lies. On their hypocrisy. So they wrote him off saying he had a demon. (Matt. 11:18) They said he was demonic. They weren’t willing to listen to the Word of the Lord. So they called the word of the Lord demonic. That’s the worst sort of evil, when you call God evil! They said that of John who didn’t eat or drink.
Meanwhile, the Son of Man came eating and drinking. He came sharing Himself with us humans, having fellowship with those He came to give the good news of salvation to. And they said of Him, “Look a glutton and a drunkard. A friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19) We see a lot of this in the political games of our day, when the party not in power says what the people in power do is horrible. But as soon as they are in power they do the same and even defend it. They change their tune. They flip the script. Just like kids who insist you do whatever they tell you instant they tell you. (Matt. 11:16-17) It’s ludicrous.
Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matt. 11:19b) So there are times when God’s messengers will not partake of what’s going on in world. They will be ascetics, who separate themselves from the world. And there are times where they will partake just as Jesus did. Where they will welcome sinners and eat with them. Especially sinners who repent.
Really, what’s going on here is two different ministries. John’s was a ministry of repentance. He was sent to call people to repentance from the violence they had done to the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of healing by virtue of the violence that was going to be done to Him. By virtue of the fact that He would take our sin on Himself and suffer for it. So that it is expunged from you. Paid for. So that He forgives your debts. He takes responsibility for them and makes good on all the debts you owe. Two different ministries. One calling to repentance and one granting forgiveness and salvation. Two different ministries. Two different messages in God’s Word—what we Lutherans call Law and Gospel. And as a pastor there are moments where I have to give you God’s stern law. To call you to repent. And there are moments where I give you the sweetness of the Gospel. And wisdom is justified by her deeds. (Matt. 11:19b) John will be honoured in Heaven. Jesus is the King of Heaven. Many will be saved by the ministries of John and Jesus together. This is what happened in the Reformation: the Ministry of the Word, despite the way the world had attacked and done violence to the ministry of the Gospel—the ministry of the word always wins out. The Lord always raises up Luther’s and Johns and Jesus. Always the ministry of Law and Gospel, of the whole counsel of God, will ring forth. For the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church till the day Jesus calls us home in the end.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.