O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Truth in the face of violence
Truth in the face of violence
Based on Matthew 11:12-19
Preached on Oct 27, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, it was just an Elmo doll. A regular red stuffed animal with two legs sticking down and two arms sticking out and those big white eyes popping out at the top of the head. The first child who saw it bent down and picked it up, a big smile of their face. Of course, then another child saw it, saw that it was being played with, and suddenly wanted it. You can guess what happened. The second child moved to take it - to take it by force- violently. And the first child responded with violence, taking it back by force. In a matter of moments, both children were crying, and the other children standing around watched with worried looks on their faces. Finally, the first child pushed and pulled hard enough and got Elmo back, but as the hype of the scuffle came down and the group's attention turned to other toys, Elmo was thrown to the ground as the child ran to be the first to get the next toy. The once sought after - fought for Elmo lay lifeless and unwanted, twisted awkwardly with its face to the ground and not an interested child in sight.
Today, the Church celebrates Reformation Day, the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses into the door of the Wittenberg church, calling for a return to the teaching of the apostles and the clearing of consciences everywhere by the free mercy of the Gospel. A day when one man stood up against the most powerful structure in the world and held up Jesus. No, you don't have to work for your salvation. You don't have to pay money, or become a monk, or prove to God that you are good enough. Because Jesus has already done that for you. He worked out your salvation. He paid the price with His blood, and He has proven it all by His glorious resurrection from the dead. Of course, Rome didn't like that. For it set God's people free. They didn't have to pay money to ease their consciences. They didn't have to stay within the fence Rome had setup. They didn't have to carry around those burdens Christ had already carried to the cross. And so, for this freeing truth, this Gospel, Luther faced violence and was forced into exile.
In our text today, Jesus is speaking about all of these things. He tells us the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, that the violent take it by force. And He uses John the Baptist as an example. Look at this man, He says, this prophet, look at the one who prepares the way for the Messiah - he sits in prison because he held me up. He will be beheaded because he directed people to me. Because he pointed at me and said, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." Violence. That is what mankind has for this kingdom, this Jesus. That is how we respond to His Word, to His message of free forgiveness and peace that comes to rule our hearts and minds. Violence.
Jesus even mentions the children. He says, "To what shall I compare this generation? What is a good picture of the way mankind treats my Word, my kingdom? 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.' Children. And not the nice, sweet, polite, guests are coming over version. But the whining, complaining, constantly distracted, fight over the doll I don't even want version. That is the way mankind treats my Word, Jesus says. You are never content with what you receive, no matter what I give you. Just, on to the next toy. When I send you John the Baptist, one who looks ultra religious and never does anything remotely questionable, you say he must be crazy. When I myself come among you, like a regular guy, not being concerned with appearances or looking ultra religious, you call me a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! You see, the problem isn't my Word. There is nothing wrong with Elmo. The problem is my children, those who mistreat my Word and each other because of it.
But you and I know what He is talking about, don't we? We all suffer from the same human nature. Yeah, I want to hear about Jesus, but I kinda don't. I want to come to church this morning, but I kinda don't. I want to read my Bible at home, but I kinda don't. After all, I have to take care of this, or that, or the other thing. There is no end to the excuses we create when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. We are experts at it. In fact, by nature we do everything we can to ignore the Word of God. But, it goes a little farther than this, doesn't it? For when we are confronted with this reality, this truth that we ignore God and His Word for most of the day, we become angry. Offended. Violent in our hearts at this Word that would reveal such a scathing truth about us. How dare you accuse me like this? But this is exactly what Jesus is saying about the way mankind receives His kingdom. The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. We are like children who get violent over something we want to throw away. The violence is not theirs, or theirs - it is ours. As Jesus says, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Because this is not why Jesus has come - to make sure we know of our violence - No - For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Jesus came to save us from our violence by putting Himself into it. And He tells us this before we crucify Him.
You're going to be violent to me, but that is why I've come. Because your violence deserves death, but I don't want you to die - so I will position myself in such a way that your violence towards Me brings about your salvation in Me - that everything evil and everything good will be caught up in Me and my human flesh - so that no matter what you face, whether good or bad, you will find your answer in Me - and that position is hanging on the cross in your place. (huge pause)
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. The wisdom of God proves itself true in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - for in the body of that man Jesus - God has proven Himself just, pouring out His wrath on the sin of all mankind, yet merciful beyond measure, promising that the innocent blood of His Son has paid for the sin of all mankind. Has paid for you. This is the wisdom of God, that the most evil thing mankind could possibly do, even murdering His innocent Son, God would work for our eternal good.
Beloved, Jesus is the Elmo doll. Stuffed with your sin. Painted red by His innocent blood with two legs sticking down and two arms sticking out as He hangs from the cross. An object of our childish fighting and anger and violence - cast aside, left alone to die by those who followed Him. And when everyone was done with His twisted body, He lay lifeless and unwanted with His face to the ground.
But He rose from the dead, and not for Himself, but for you. All of it for you. Yes, He says, look at me, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. These are the ones I love. The ones who take what isn't theirs, who become violent to get it. Though they put me to death, it is still them whom I love. I am the friend of sinners. I am the friend of you.
So trust Me dear friend, the day is coming when you will no longer face violence for my Name, when you will no longer have violence or anger in your heart. The day is coming when I will return and take you to be where there is no violence, where my kingdom is the only thing ruling over hearts and minds. And I promise that you will be content. That your heart will rest in my eternal peace. For this is the truth I suffered for. This is the truth I endured for. This is the truth that I died for. And now, it is yours forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr