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Reformation Day – Matthew 11:12-19

by pastorjuhl ~ October 27th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Jesus says in Matthew chapter 24: And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. Thirteen chapters before this, Jesus says, And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. This is the world’s answer to the Reformation. This is also the answer of many adversaries of the Reformation within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

All you need for proof is a history lesson. The Papists made one response to the presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530. Their Confutation was read aloud. The Lutherans were never allowed their own printed copy. They had to work from transcriptions of the oral presentation. After they made their Apology to the Augsburg Confession, any further responses would be made mostly by force. Plenty of blood was spilled over the pure proclamation of the Gospel against the Papacy’s insistence on works-righteousness. Not long after Luther’s death, the forces of the Holy Roman Empire made it to Wittenberg in a show of might. Soldiers begged Emperor Charles the Fifth to exhume Luther’s body, burn it (as all heretics were treated), and have his ashes scattered in the Elbe River. Charles’ response was, “I make war on the living, not the dead.”

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. The devil does everything he can to take you off the scent of the pure Gospel preached from this pulpit. The world tramples on your schedule, throwing all kinds of activities in your face that requires your attendance there and not here. Your flesh would rather be anywhere else but here when the church doors are open. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

The love of many has grown cold in churches all over this country. What began in Europe many years ago has moved here. The passing rain shower of the Gospel is slowly, but with resolve, moving away from here toward Africa, where the pelting rain of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone falls fast and furious. What happened? Don’t we sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee”? Ask 100 random people what that phrase means and one wonders whether or not half or one-third of those asked could answer that question, let alone know what is “grace.”

Generations of pelting rain is drying up in the United States and every one of us here is to blame. But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not lament.” You can’t say you were not warned about the preaching of the pure Gospel disappearing from your midst. The flute player piped his dance for many generations. You heard it, you danced a while, and then you figured he will be here forever, so you quit dancing. Your children quit dancing. Your grandchildren aren’t dancing either.

Wails of lamentation, begging for repentance, go unheeded too. You figured that the Gospel would be here whenever you need it. Like McDonald’s or Walgreens, churches aren’t going anywhere. Churches will always be around. When you need a little shot of the Gospel you show up, sing some hymns, take Communion, then figure you’ve had your Jesus fix for a while. Off you go. Stop by some other time when you need a shot of repentance and forgiveness, just for old time’s sake.

The Church is always in reformation. When She forgets Her story for another story that breeds persuasive popularity, She needs reforming. When Her children forsake Her for idle pleasures of sports and leisure, Her children need reforming as much as She does. The angel flying in the midst of heaven in Revelation chapter 14 preaches the everlasting Gospel that says, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.

The hour of judgment is now. It begins with repentance. The Church that forgets to repent is the Church that is no longer Church. Reformation begins with repentance. Repentance gives way to forgiveness, absolution. Absolution is not something on the fringes of what the Church does. Absolution is what the Church is all about, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus breathes on His disciples in John chapter 20 and says, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Forgiveness of sins dearly cost God our Father. It cost Him the life of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus laid down upon the cross and taken up inside the tomb is your glorious treasure. This treasure is all the Church has to give. How She gives it is strange to the eyes of the world. She gives the treasure of forgiveness and life in the Word preached and heard. Blessed Martin Luther once said the Church is a mouth-house. Preaching sustains the Church. The preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins is all the Church has in the fight against sin and death.

The Church suffers violence because this preaching of God’s undeserved love through Jesus Christ goes against everything that is rational to sin-sick minds. The concept that rational man cannot save himself but must trust in God’s only Son becoming man to bear sin and be the Savior of both Jew and Gentile is so radical that the natural man fights against it with all he has. As you sang a bit ago in the Chief Hymn, the Battle Hymn of the Reformation, “And take they our life/Goods, fame, child, and wife/Though these all be gone/The victory has been won/The kingdom ours remaineth.” Satan is toothless. The Babylon that is the world is fallen. Death is swallowed up in victory.

Yet you take this for granted thinking the Gospel will always be here when you need it. Bear in mind our blessed Lord’s Words: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. The Spirit-inspired words of Saint Paul remain among you…for now. By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

That’s all the Church has to preserve those who are being saved. She has the Word. She has the Word with water in Baptism, washing away sin and bestowing new life. She has the Word with bread and wine, by the power of the Holy Spirit shown for you to be the True Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. She has the Word applied to sinners who confess their sin and receive Holy Absolution.

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. So what does the Church do? The Church does as She has done all Her life. The Church prays. Her prayer remains, Come, Lord Jesus. Her prayer remains ever focused toward the altar, from where forgiveness and life comes. 20th century Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse writes: Instead of holding world conferences and having endless debates about the boundaries between church and culture, it went on praying without ceasing and sang the Te Deum on the debris of a world that was coming to an end. None of its prayers were in vain. They rose to heaven, even though they died away on earth.

As the world crumbles around us and as the Church seems to look more like the world every day, the call for reformation continues to sound from heaven to earth. That’s why you’re here, to pray for the Lord’s coming. He comes, even without your prayers. He comes in His Body and Blood. He will come again with angels adoring to raise the dead and make all things new. The violent will no longer take the Church by force, for they will be overthrown in judgment. The cold love of many will suffer in the burning lake of fire. The great Church victorious shall then be the Church at rest, in the presence of Her Savior forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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