In the name + of Jesus.
The voice of the LORD cries to the city—
and it is sound wisdom [O LORD] to fear your name. (Micah 6:9)
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “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) That doesn’t sound right. We would think that Jesus would state that the kingdom of heaven is coming to crush all that are in opposition to it. We would think Jesus would tell us that kingdom is glorious, and that it will stand glorious even as the whole world falls apart. Instead, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. And when Jesus says this, he is not suggesting that anything will change. The verb was translated the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, as if it would soon be a thing of the past. But the verb is actually present tense. The kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, and violent men are grabbing hold of it.
This was the case in the days of Jesus and John the Baptist. Each began their preaching with the exact same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17) The kingdom of heaven is revealed and established in Jesus Christ. He alone is the source of mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life. Outside of Jesus Christ, there is no hope and no salvation. So even if your neighbor or co-worker seems to be nicer than you are, does more good than you do, has achieved more honor, or has sacrificed more than you, that does not save him. Outside of Christ there is no forgiveness, no matter how great someone seems. Salvation does not come by your deeds of love, but by Jesus’ deeds of love for you. In other words: by faith alone.
But your senses tell you that faith cannot be enough. Your senses tell you that you must do something to be saved. There must be something in you that makes you worthy. We usually decide for ourselves what that thing is: I am more sincere. I have put in more time. I have refrained from cheating. I am a good parent. I get to church more than most. We will even give ourselves credit because we intended to do better. In other words, we believe we deserve a reward. And while we recognize that Jesus’ death was important, we think that it is equally important that there was something in us which has merited God’s attention and affection.
So the kingdom of heaven suffers violence—not just from King Herod who kills John the Baptist; not just from Caiaphas who plots to destroy Jesus; not just from Muslims who decapitate Christians; not just from post-modern Americans who are appalled that the Church still calls sins evil; but even from you who take pride in your good works and think that they have earned something for you, who think that your opinion is equal to God’s judgment, and who look down on others because they have not been as righteous or moral or honest as you. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence at the hands and mouths of everyone. For, everyone presumes to think and speak for God and to judge on God’s behalf. This is nothing new. Adam and Eve sought to become like God in the Garden. To this day, we all grasp for that position. We all strive and struggle and violently attempt to seize not just the kingdom but the kingship. Repent.
The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses states: Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said [Repent!], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance. Those words began what we now call the Lutheran Reformation. Now, if something is going to be reformed, there will be an act of violence involved. Steel that is reformed into the frame of a truck will endure violent blows. Marble that is reformed into a statue will be hammered and chiseled. Likewise you, when the Lord works repentance in you, must destroy your sinful nature and reform you into a new nature.
The clash between heaven and hell was never going to be peaceful. The Lord Jesus did not come to forge a treaty, but to destroy Satan and his kingdom. The very first promise of the Savior foretells of the violence. In speaking to the serpent, the Lord said that the Seed of the Woman would “bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Each would deliver a violent blow. Satan struck against Jesus who willing took all Satan had to give. Jesus took your sins, your curse, your death, and your hell. Jesus absorbed all the venom of Satan and endured a violent, shameful death.
But by going into death, Jesus delivered a violent, crushing blow upon sin, death, and Satan. By dying for you, Jesus paid for all your sins. So, by dying, Jesus delivered you from Satan’s domain. Then Jesus destroyed death by rising from the grave. Jesus delivered you from death by his resurrection. Jesus did not leave sin, death, and Satan wounded; he crushed them all underfoot. Likewise, Jesus does not leave you in doubt about your forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. Jesus lives; no one can kill him off. Jesus reigns; nothing can overthrow his kingdom. So, even though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, not even the gates of hell can overcome it. You have been delivered from death to life. You have been brought from Satan’s domain into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is your refuge, your hope, your salvation, and your life. You are secure in his kingdom.
Nevertheless, what Jesus said is still true: “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) You still live in the Church Militant, and that means that the violence will continue. Your greatest struggles are not against the forces of
ISIS, but against
your own sinful flesh. Your
sinful nature does not willingly surrender.
For, it does not want to die. Temptations
from your own flesh are ever-present and persistent. If you surrender to them, you will
perish. So you must fight against and
pray. Put your sins to death by repentance, and
Jesus will raise you up with his divine absolution. You will confess your faith before a world
which despises Jesus, and they will despise and ridicule you for it. You will be mocked for doing what is good,
and you will be despised for calling sins evil.
The kingdom of heaven will not appear glorious in this world. The Christian life with not be easy, and it
will not look pretty. The kingdom of
heaven will still suffer violence.
But fear not! Though Satan rage, though the world rebel, and though your own sinful flesh tell you to retreat or surrender, the Lord Jesus has fought the battle and he has won. The Lord Jesus will still work his reformation in you. Though you will feel battle weary in the Church Militant, the Lord uses those struggles to purge you of your sin, to drive you to your refuge, and to find comfort and hope in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the only place you will find comfort, hope, and salvation. That is why he lets the world go on in rebellion. The world’s judgment is mounting up against it. But you have your refuge in Jesus Christ. There, you find forgiveness. There, you are delivered from death. There, your eternal life is certain. Jesus has given you ears to hear this, hearts to believe it, and mouths to confess it. So do not fear, though the whole world and all of hell break out in violence. The kingdom of heaven cannot be overthrown, and you cannot be snatch out of Jesus’ hand. You have an indestructible refuge. Your God is a mighty fortress. Though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, in Christ, you are safe.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.