October 31, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” With those words, Martin Luther began his 95 Thesis, which sparked the Reformation, 504 years ago today. With the strike of the hammer upon the church door, we are taken back not to Luther, but to the greatest days of the history of the world, when the Kingdom of Heaven invading this world in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel text today speaks of this. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist is in prison and has sent messengers asking if Jesus is the one to come or if they should look for another. Jesus answers with the signs prophesied in Isaiah 61 that speak about Him. He speaks these things so that John might have hope in the midst of his suffering and trials. Here is the man who Jesus says is the greatest ever born of women, suffering injustice, pain, sorrow, isolation, and certain death. And if that wasn’t enough, John’s life would not get any easier because of Jesus’ words. His suffering will continue until he is beheaded, put to death for calling out sin and calling a sinner to repentance and faith.
Jesus says, “From the days of John until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). John experienced violence as the forerunner of Christ, one who stood at the on the threshold through faith in the promise of God. Jesus told His disciples to expect violent opposition at the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven by means of preaching the Gospel; that God’s people would be hated and persecuted for His name’s sake (Matthew 10). And so the truth is under violent attack, pretending that morality and reality are relative and fluid. God’s Word is under violent attacked, no longer treated as the living Word of the living God, without error, applicable to life, and THE authority over body and soul. Christian values are under violent attack as Christians are called judgmental, bigots, mean, unloving, evil, and worse for insisting upon Biblical morality. Your homes are under violent attack by the devil and the sinful world sneaking in through television, the internet, conflict among the family. Your very soul is under violent attack. The devil, the world, and the sinful flesh are enemies of the Gospel of Jesus and seek to destroy you.
This is nothing new, for this is simply the Christian life. Your life will not be any easier by following Jesus. By virtue of your baptism, you have a target painted on your back. Because of faith in Jesus, the gates of hell seek your eternal death in hell. There is no choice but to fight, for evil rages against you whether you want it to or not. The fact that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the days of John the Baptist and is seized by violent men is a fruit of the Word of God (Luther AE 67.129).
Jesus isn’t referring just to the violence of enemies who persecute and kill to destroy the Kingdom. Even though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from the devil and the world, the violent, that is those who trust in God’s promise and refuse to let go of Jesus despite all the pain and the doubts and the fear, take it by force. Violence is the victories of the advancing of the kingdom of God. It’s a holy violence which makes men heirs of God. The force is spiritual, not physical, the violence done to the corrupt heart and soul. It’s a violence in which God delights! There are those who hear the Word in such a way that they cannot be dragged away from it by any violence. They die rather than deny it. These are the ones who beat on the door of the kingdom of God and desire to be saved above all, even to the consequence of hatred by the world, even by their very own families.
The Reformation began with Luther struggling with how God could be just and holy and righteous and gracious at the same time. He stormed the gates of heaven by the power of faith, storming again and again by prayer, forcefully believing that anyone may be allowed in the Kingdom despite their sin, through the free forgiveness of sins only by God’s grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone. Only sinners dwell in hell; sinners who cling to their sin and do not want to let it go. And only sinners dwell in the kingdom of heaven; sinners justified/declared righteous through faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law. This declaration of justification by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone is at the very heart of the Gospel and the Christian life.
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Repentance is sorrow over sin and faith that God is good and gracious and able to forgive. The Christian life, then, is one of repentance as we rightly use our baptism as we examine our daily responsibilities and wrongdoings in the light of the Word of God. This life of repentance is the daily drowning of the Old Adam with all sins and evil desires, and a daily rising of the new man in Christ to live before God in righteous and purity forever. This struggle is one of violence against sinful desires, doubts, fears, uncertainties, self-righteousness, misbelief. This earthly life in the kingdom of heaven is marked with pain, sweat, tears, and blood. The old sinful self is not put to death without the violence of repentance over sin. The violent are those Christians who have been forgiven by God, who live a life of repentance, who suffer in the flesh against temptation, depression, loneliness, isolation, despair. Whose conscience drives them to the daily forgiveness of all sins. God forbid and keep you from impenitence, of quitting the good fight of faith, of rejected Jesus’ forgiveness because you deny your sin or love it more than you love your Lord. Continue to fight the devil and temptation with the sure and certain hope of Christ, that “take they our life, good, fames, child, and wife, those these all be gone, our victory has been worn. The kingdom ours remaineth.”
Christ is invading this fallen world through the preaching of the Gospel. Christ has come and brings His kingdom to your home and your lives. This is the life of repentance and hope. So count yourselves blessed even in the midst of earthly trials. You stand in a long line of heavenly saints, those justified by faith apart from works of the law (Roman 3:28). The kingdom of heaven suffers violence but your struggles in this world are not hopeless or in vain. They have been fulfilled and completed in Jesus.