October 28 2012 Sermon
Matthew 11:12 aFrom the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,1 and the violent take it by force. 13 aFor all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is aElijah who is to come. 15 aHe who has ears to hear,1 let him hear. 16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came aneither eating bnor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came aeating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, ba friend of ctax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Violence! Persecution! Suffering! From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of God has suffered violence. King Herod arrested and murdered John the Baptist. The scribes and Pharisees attacked Jesus and then stirred up the people to have him crucified. Pontius Pilate executed him on a cross like a common criminal. Persecutions broke out all over the Roman Empire. Nero burned Christians on poles for night time illumination in his gardens during parties.
From John the Baptist until now…It is still going on. Talk of Jesus is excluded from public discourse. Christmas decorations and even the word Christmas is banned in many places. And right inside the church there is violence against the kingdom of God when some try to control the church and block it from doing its mission, from reaching out to the poor, the elderly, the handicapped, extending its ministry to neighbors in the neighborhood who are still separated from God, and who keep open the wounds from years ago by not forgiving and reconciling with their brothers in Christ.
Yes, who are the violent who take the kingdom by force? Those who sit in the seats of power and influence so they can keep the church captive to their own will and follow their own agendas. Divisions, bickering, not forgiving others, thinking you are in charge and telling others what to do, these are all doing violence to God’s kingdom.
Who are the violent who try to take the kingdom by force? It is you! We are all guilty. All have done violence to the kingdom. In fact, we have all done violence to Christ. He was beaten, scourged, pierced, hung on the cross, executed, and sent to hell on account of you. Every sin of yours is a nail in his hand. Every act of unkindness is a thorn in his scalp. He was punished in hell for every single sin of yours.
Why did God punish Christ? Because that’s what he does to sinners. He destroys them. Think about the Assyrian invasion of Israel. The people’s eyes were gorged out and they were dragged in chains to exile. The pregnant women were ripped open. Babies were dashed against the rocks to kill them. That was the punishment of God. The Babylonians took Judea into captivity in chains. These were all the instruments of God to bring his judgment on his own people who had turned away and were living in sin. We don’t like to talk about God’s wrath or vengeance today. It’s not appropriate for today’s culture. We want to hear peace, tolerance for evil, all good people go to heaven. People don’t want a god who judges, punishes, and casts them into hell. God is supposed to be nice, loving, a warm fuzzy. His laws are supposed to be merely suggestions and not have any teeth. But the God of the Bible is far different. He is a God of warfare, a judging God, a God of vengeance, a demanding God who will not tolerate sin, and will not overlook sin. And you are all sinners. You have all done violence to God’s kingdom.
But, the reason we are here today, the message of the Reformation is that Jesus is a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” If you really understand God’s law, you would be terrified of hell and judgment. No one will escape the judgment of God and no one will escape what is his due. Except for one man, Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for Jesus Christ you are doomed without any hope, but Jesus is a friend of sinners. Jesus is your friend. Jesus came to seek and save sinners. Jesus gave his life for sinners. He lived and died so that sinners might be released from the punishment of God. He suffered and died so that the unrighteous might not die an eternal death. So if you are a sinner and you know it, there is good news for you today. The good news that God has not rejected you and cast you off, but that he has come to save you. Jesus suffered violence, the violence you caused him; the violence you deserve; but he suffered violence in order to free you from the violence of God’s damnation and punishment. Jesus is friend of sinners. Rejoice, oh sinner! Repent of your sin and turn to your friend who has come to save you. If you are troubled by sin and afflicted on account of God’s threats of punishment, then there is good news, even great news. You have a friend who has deflected God’s anger and has saved you from God’s wrath and punishment. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!
But, what about those who are not sinners? Some of you don’t think you are. You think you are good. You think you are exempt from God’s judgment and wrath. You don’t worry about judgment because you don’t think you deserve it. You aren’t that bad in your own eyes. If this is you, then you do need to fear God’s wrath. Because Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous. He came to heal the sick, not the well. If you think you are not a sinner, that is the worst sin of all, because thinking that is the sin that cannot be forgiven. That is the sin that separates you from God. That is the sin for which there is no forgiveness. That is the hardness of heart that rejects Jesus. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit that Jesus said cannot be forgiven.
Stop hiding your sin from God. Stop denying you have sin. Admit your sin. Repent of this sin. Confess it to God. Because Jesus is the friend of sinners. Bring it to God’s throne of grace because Jesus is your friend and he has freed you from God’s wrath. Jesus is the friend of people who admit, recognize, and confess their sin. In him there is salvation from God’s punishment. You cannot escape punishment by being good. You cannot escape punishment even by being sinless. Jesus is the only escape from punishment. He is standing there, in body and blood, at the altar, ready to pour onto you all his forgiveness and grace to any and all who repent and confess of their sin. He has laid aside the wrath of God. He has redeemed you from God’s punishment.
And that is what the Reformation is all about. God’s kingdom was under attack by violent men who denied salvation by grace alone. Who condemned the teaching that we are saved by faith alone with works. Who put to death men like John Huss and others who were burned at the stake because they proclaimed that we are righteous by faith and not by works. War broke out in Europe. Famine and plague struck because of the wars. God’s kingdom was under attack and his gospel forbidden.
But the gates of hell cannot stand against God’s kingdom. God’s word prevailed. The good news that Jesus is friend of sinners is the purest and most soothing gospel. It is Sola Gratia, grace alone, the battle cry of the Reformation. If you are a sinner, then you have an eternal friend who will save you from God’s wrath.
Faith alone, sola fide, the second battle cry of the Reformation, means putting your trust and faith in Jesus, your friend. He will not let you down. He stands at the throne of God pleading for you day and night.
Sole Scripture, Scripture alone, proclaims the great news. This is the eternal gospel that the angel who flew overhead proclaimed to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people is the message of the Scriptures. Jesus is friend of sinners he calls out to all. And who is that angel? It is you! It is all who proclaim the gospel. It is pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, and every believer in Christ who proclaims the message. It is every messenger and herald of the message of salvation in Christ.
Jesus is friend of sinners. He has restored you to a relationship with God. That relationship with God is stewardship. Stewardship is how one lives in relationship with God. Stewardship is being busy with God’s love. Using the talents and treasures God has given you to serve your neighbor. Yes, you might ask, “How can I serve God?” God doesn’t need my service. No he doesn’t, but your neighbor does. And that is what a relationship with God is all about, service to your neighbor.
The time is short before Christ returns. There are many people yet to hear the gospel and repent of their sins. Living as God’s children means working to help spread of the gospel message, contributing to the mission effort so that all may hear the gospel. It means encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ to come and gather around Him in word and sacrament. It means opening the doors and bringing in the masses of people to hear this one simple message: Jesus is friend of sinners. Therefore, He is your friend. He is my friend.