“12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,[a] and violent people have been raiding it.” – Matthew 11
Who are these violent people?[i]
We’ll get to that in a few minutes, but first, let me ask you the following…
What are some of the most important things in life we could know?[ii]
- Who am I?
- Whose am I?
- Who is God?
- What am I called to do?
- What is His will?
And, most critical of all:
- Where do I, right now, in this present moment, stand before God? Am I right with Him?
The Scriptures say that “Now is the day of salvation”.
[Questioning] Where am I in relation to that?
I’ll tell you this much: the violent ones are those who really don’t want you thinking too hard about such a question.
Or thinking, for that matter: “I wonder how much the Bible can help me with an answer?…”
And yet, questions like those are the questions.
That last question about where we are with God is the question.
We, and those we love, will die – and then face judgment.
Even though death is not the way things were originally meant to be… we should now always plan with death in mind.
Its not bad advice to….
- Go to a lot of funerals!
- Make big decisions in cemeteries!
- Picture eternity as a line, stretching across this sanctuary and far beyond… your life being a mere dot on that line.
Why is there this death? Death, frankly, is awful.
It’s because of sin!
Because we are sinners.
How often have you tested yourselves against the Ten Commandments?!
For when this is done seriously and thoughtfully, we will indeed realize that things are quite, quite bad:
It’s not that we are sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.
- A polluted fountain!
- A spiritual disease like leprosy or AIDS!
- Utterly turned in on ourselves!
- Little gods in our own minds, proudly strutting through the world…
Even the Apostle Paul, as a Christian, cried out: “Wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”
There is still a deep rot within us… even as Christians we most certainly do not fear, love, and trust in our God as we should… we rather, inevitably so, follow in the train of our first parents, Adam and Eve.
The evidence that you are a sinner is your death.
And how do we deal with this reality?
I’ll tell you again, the violent ones cannot help you, me…
Who are they?
These violent ones who seize and plunder the Kingdom of God?
It is not those who trust in God. Those, who “by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality…”
No – such ones do as they do because God has seized them.
He has saved them, raiding hearts and turning them to Him though the sharing of His Word….
The book of Mark gives us a wonderful picture of this, putting the *focus* on the seed…
that is the Word of God and His work through it:
[Jesus] said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how…”[iii]
And in Matthew we read: “A farmer went out to sow his seed…. [some] seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear…”
So, again, who are the violent ones? (I’ve been building up to this a while, haven’t I?)
Again, the violent ones, are not the “sons of God,” created through His Word. They are not the peacemakers, the meek, the “poor in spirit”.
On the contrary, the violent ones are the angels who fell – Satan and his demons… and also those who follow, perhaps even unknowingly, in his train.
They are all the deceivers and the deceived who fight the Word!
Folks, this is why we sing:
Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to nought all he has done.
It’s a war out there… Well, even in here…
As the Scriptures reveal to us, the violent ones include all of the false Christians, Israelites, and Gentiles who are actually Satan’s “sons”.
Whether they intend to or not, these are the ones, who by their lives, will lead the “sons of the Kingdom” astray through various means…
… and cause them to lose their faith… (Kingsbury)
The Evil One, we are told, begin all of this by sowing confusion in the Garden of Eden!
…and he hasn’t stopped.
In Matthew 13:19, we are told that it is he who steals the seed… the Word of the Kingdom from the heart of the one who has not heard it with understanding.
And in Matthew 13:38-39 we are told how the devil actually raises up “sons of the Evil One” in the world.
He plants them.
And leading up to this revelation in the text, Jesus tells us that since the Enemy has planted weeds among the wheat, the weeds can’t be pulled up without uprooting the wheat….[iv]
So, again, the violent ones have been identified.
It is Satan – and those he “plants” among God’s people to thwart God’s will.
There will be no pure church on earth….
Again, these are the ones, even within the church, who resist God’s kingdom…. These are the ones who snatch, seize, rob, steal, “plunder” or raid it.
Their God is their own belly. The fact of the matter is that the violent only respect overt displays of power – [sarcastic:] only for good, of course!
This being the only “language” they understand, they first and foremost do violence to the Scriptures.
They do violence to the simple and humble words of truth and love spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.[v]
What does this mean for us practically? It means the battle is for the prominence the Word of God has in your lives.
And Satan not only snatches that seed and plants his own in your midst, but again, he’d also you rather not ask certain questions:
- Whose am I?
- What am I called to do?
- Where do I, right now, in this present moment, stand before God? Am I right with God?
Again, those questions are good questions. Very good questions.
Questions that never change… and that have answers that really don’t change either…
And yet, today many are given the impression that we live in an age where the only constant is change –some have called it “postmodernity” and others “liquid modernity” [vi]
—where they believe the Bible is easier to discount and ignore…[vii]
That said, the power of the world’s ways, the “Spirit of the Age” or the “Zeitgeist,” has been upon us from the beginning—even if not in its contemporary form
—and we shouldn’t think for a minute that people haven’t always been finding creative ways to discount and ignore God’s voice…
Take this morning’s passage, for example!
It indicates that many even in Jesus’ day did not particularly like His answers to these questions.
Rather they wanted their own answers to these questions. Answers they like.
They wanted their answers as if from a buffet line, picking and choosing what they find pleasing or amenable.
And this means they can’t listen to Jesus…
For some, we can hear what Jesus says and stick around… even wrestle with Him!… and still find some rest for our souls…
Like it says at the end of this chapter in Matthew: the things of the Kingdom have been hidden from the “wise and learned” and revealed to His little, believing children.
Then, He goes on to say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[viii]
Still, some aren’t feeling so blessed.
Instead, these will endeavor to put Jesus in His proper place…
Dance when we play the flute!
Mourn when we sing this dirge!
And then they glance over at us:
“You too, ‘orthodox’ Christian – get a move on. Sing to our tune….”
Now, on this Reformation Sunday, we are ready to speak a little bit about how this text relates…
What was the Reformation? Who was this Martin Luther?
Was this friar who lived some 500 years ago a heretic who thoughtlessly tore the church apart?
Or… was he, and the Reformation he sparked, the worst nightmare of the violent ones?
One thing is for sure: Martin Luther feared God. His law was deathly serious.
When hearing this morning’s Revelation passage, he would have focused on the part that spoke about the “hour of judgement” – and been terrified…[ix]
The leadership of the church in his day, however, did not understand him or his experience.
Well, we note that even in our Gospel reading, it was, sadly, the very leadership of the church who rejected the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
After all, they were evidently fine with John, the embodiment of the law of God, being thrown in prison by Herod for preaching God’s law to him.
Why did they reject John, the embodiment of God’s law?
Not primarily because his peculiar kind of holy life got people’s attention… and made them realize their own lack of holiness – which it certainly did – but primarily because he, like the Old Testament, the Torah, the Book of the Law… prepared the way for the Christ, and pointed to Him.
Just as was prophesied, the Elijah preceding the Messiah had come!
…and they did not want him.
Jesus, of course, while also living according to God’s law, came to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom… He came to accomplish the truth of what had been prophesied. (Hillary)[x]
And He too, like John, confronted the unbelief and corruption found among God’s people…
Truth could not be so effectively suppressed when He was around…
So they also subjected Jesus, the embodiment of the Gospel, to persecution.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 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!’
Why would they do this?
The answer is because, from the perspective of the world and the violent ones, any Jesus you can imagine is better than the One the Scriptures reveal.
After all, the God they worship also has standards as well!
…and they, evidently, feel that they fill the bill….
At the close of the Gospel reading, we hear: “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Again, all throughout the Gospels, Jesus is attacked by the leadership of God’s church, His assembly.
Those who, as he said, “sit in Moses’ seat….”
Why attacked? Because he called not their positions, but their exercise of their positions, into question.
He dared to challenge them.
And we see He is justified by His deeds… His deeds attempting to reform… at least those with ears to hear.
And a similar case, I submit, can be made for Martin Luther. A pastor and even university professor in God’s church, he spoke out about how they were getting God’s law wrong:
- They were daring to add to God’s commandments!
- They were tying heavy burdens on the people’s backs!
- They were implying that money—given in the right spirit of course—could free family and friends from God’s punishment!
- They were saying that a Christian could, in their lives, do even more than God required!
- And then, that merit, just like a surplus bank account, could be shared with others!
The train, frankly, had gone off the tracks. We see this even more in how they had gotten the Gospel wrong:
- The cup of Christ’s blood was not for the laity, but only the priests.
- The act of becoming a monk was considered equal to Christian baptism.
- It was the work of the priest that was a contributory factor in the people’s salvation.
- And a Christian could not—despite what Luther’s own priest had told him—be certain of God’s salvation by being absolved of their sins
That last one is where the crap hit the fan as we might say today.
And rightly so.
The Bible talks about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us peace with God… and that the Christian can know, really know, that He has eternal life.
As Luther put it: we have “the joyous exchange [at the cross], in which the holy Christ unites himself to the sinful creature and thus eradicates our sin by making it his own and replacing it in us with his own righteousness…”
When Luther said things like this, his opponents attacked him with words like this:
“[Does he not make the soul] a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes the most chaste of men a pimp? As if Christ does not take the trouble… to choose…. a pure and honorable lover!…”[xi]
Strawman argument though this may have been, Luther certainly knew he was a sinner.
He was convinced that he was rotten to the core…
that because of his sin he was going to hell…
and that God hated him…
But he found great comfort from his priest, his “father confessor,” John Staupitz…
Staupitz told him to flee to Christ.
To see that Christ showed Him the true face of the Father.
The father’s heart to Him.
Maybe you saw the 2003 Luther movie, where Staupitz has Luther grasp a crucifix, and tells him to repeat the Psalm:
“I am yours. Save me.”
“I am yours. Save me.”
The Roman Catholic Cardinal Cajetan, on the other hand, prosecuted Luther
…and told him that with his understanding of confession and absolution Luther was building a new church.
Luther responded by saying he would not become a heretic by recanting the view that had made him a Christian…
He would rather die and be burned, exiled, or cursed.
The die was cast!
This communication – the living voice of God which proclaimed, “I forgive you – be at peace my child” – was not, is not, to be silenced.
For the “violent ones” shall have no ultimate power over us.
As Luther put it, versus his opponents: “Sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved;
they are not loved because they are ‘attractive’” (Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 [post 95 theses])….
Carry on, Lutheran.
Carry on, Christian.
[i] Some more recent commentators have suggested that this passage describes the way that Christians come into the Kingdom.
On the contrary, the context of the passage suggests the opposite. They are rather those who do violence to the word of God, and defy His Kingdom in a variety of contexts and ways. h
[ii] Some modern philosophers might suggest questions like the following:
- Do I exist?
- Do other persons really exist?
- Does God exist?
- Is my ability to choose black or white socks this morning really my free will or just an illusion?
- Is the bioelectric power of human beings being harvested by artificial-intelligence-driven machines, while their inert bodies are being satisfied in the Matrix – and only taking the red pill will help us see this? : )
Really, though, none of these are the most pressing questions….
Perhaps some better, and more common questions, might be things like these:
- Will I be a person who is respected? Honored?
- Will I marry? Have kids?
- Will I be successful in the work I do?
- What about my vocation? My calling?
- Do I see that what is highly valued by the world is often subordinate in God’s account?
- When I die, will my family be taken care of?
- Will I live a long life?
Some of these answers you can find out… surely others you can, with God’s leading, influence or even make happen… And some, of course, you can’t know.
And all of these things are not insignificant.
They are not, however, the most significant things. These are all, after all, only related to our time on earth, our temporal existence…
And they are most definitely not ultimate matters!
[iii] It continues: “All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
[iv] The parable:
24 Jesus [said]: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
[v] They say: “Words, bread, wine, water… bah!”
The Word of God, on the other hand, is full of power and action, but at the same time most often operates in quietness, in humility, seemingly in weakness….
[vi] Where, as one recent commentator has pointed out (Rod Dreher), even seemingly rock-like things like the “infallible” Roman Catholic church melt into lava…
[vii]Whose am I? What is my purpose? Where do I, right now, in this present moment, stand before God? Am I right with God?
Again, those questions are good questions. Very good questions.
And they are in fact timeless questions. They are what we might all Trans-historical. Trans-cultural.
And there are also, in effect, timeless answers.
The world however, always on the move—and always eager to cooperate with the violent ones—is always eager to evade and deny this.
And now, in the past 200-300 years can do it much more effectively.
You see, in the past, even nonbelievers had the idea that there was something very important about the past. That we could learn from tradition. That there was a Golden Age to be recaptured.
This is no longer the case.
Now, we leave it all behind!
All is only progress, all the time!
The things of this world, the words by which we have described them, and we ourselves – all evolves!
All of this seemingly makes things like the Bible easier to discount and ignore.
[viii] And like John the Baptist, who cannot be encouraged when we get Jesus’ answer about how we can know that He is the One we have been waiting for….the blind see… the deaf hear… Messianic prophecies fulfilled!
As Jesus goes on to put it: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me!”
And do you feel blessed that, just a few verses after our text for today, Jesus does not say to us, like He did to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida “it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you….”?
[ix] In the Revelation passage for this morning we read the following:
“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
The Lutheran Reformers, noting that this passage from the book of Revelation mentioned the “eternal Gospel”, embraced this as a prophecy about Martin Luther himself that countered the teachings of the Roman Catholic church!
The young Martin Luther, however, would have likely seen that passage differently…
[x] Again, right before our Gospel reading today Jesus reveals to John’s disciples that He is indeed the chosen one:
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
[xi] From the Dominican inquisitor of Cologne, Jacob Hochstraten, summing up the “traditional Catholic teaching” on salvation. Fuller quote (from 1526):
“What else do those who boast of such a base spectacle do than make the soul… a prostitute and an adulteress, who knowingly and wittingly connives to deceive her husband [Christ] and, daily committing fornication upon fornication and adultery upon adultery, makes the most chaste of men a pimp? As if Christ does not take the trouble… to choose…. a pure and honorable lover! As if Christ requires from her only belief and trust and has no interest in her righteousness and her other virtues! As if a certain mingling of righteousness with iniquity and of Christ with Belial were possible!”. For citation see here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/unchildlike-reformation-eve-2/