Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied girly-men. Such words hardly come to mind when you gaze upon the prophets of old. These men were, well, they were men, and you knew it. Sir Robin of The-Search-for-the-Holy-Grail fame would not have made the cut. They all had their weak moments, but mere moments they were. Moses went face-to-face with Egypt’s Hitler. Elijah hacked to pieces the lying preachers of Baal. Jeremiah would have preached ten thousand popes and a million tyrants into sackcloth and ashes. John the Baptist, priest at the Jordan, was the rightful heir of this legacy. He preached until the scoundrels shut him up by chopping off his head.
As these men preached, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence and the violent took it by force. As it was with those preachers of old, so it is now. The church has peace, which she offers and bestows, but that peace is most certainly not the absence of violence. A trail of blood trickles behind her. She is whipped by the world when she refuses to yield to the world’s demands. Her flesh is ripped by the teeth of wolves sporting wool upon their backs. The dragon of hell will give her no rest, for he knows his days are numbered.
The church suffers this violence not because she is violent but because of her husband. As they have hated him, so they hate her, for it is his name she bears, his ring she wears, his truth she dares to proclaim. John preached it; Luther preached it; there should be no Sunday when you do not hear it: “Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.” All the prophets and the law prophesied this. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The Red Sea he split to lead you through the font and into the land of milk and honey. His is the body of the bronze serpent upon that crucifixion pole, healing all bitten by the hellish fangs. The Goliath named Death he slays with Death’s own blade. He is the Redeemer for whose suffering Job longed, God enfleshed to save your flesh, that you may one day stand before him face-to-face.
Luther joins that short list of biblical preachers who proclaimed the truth in the face of the lie and lived to tell about it. Most witnessed with their death what they proclaimed during their life. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and always will.
Think not that we will be spared. We won’t. If anything, we have lent a helping hand to the violent ones. Though our lips have been reddened with our Savior’s blood, those same lips cannot wait to use violent words to belittle and besmirch one for whom Christ died. Though in our hands has been placed the Word of him who is love, those same hands are virtually empty of charity. Our fists clench the god colored mammon green. To what shall we compare our generation? We are like the spoiled children of kings who spit in the face of paupers on the street. We have been given so much, yet we treasure so little. And what we do treasure is all too often, from heaven’s perspective, the playthings of hell.
Let us repent. We are not our own; we were bought at a price, and every coin was paid in blood. But it was not demanded of him, not ripped from him. Jesus paid freely and liberally. No vein remained filled with that crimson gold. All he emptied out so that he might have you and you might have him, and with him, peace.
In that violent sacrifice came peace—peace that is not the absence of war but the fullness of God. That is real peace, not something missing but something there: Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, fear not, though the earth gives way, though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though rulers rage against the Church, though leaders bark threats, though take they our life, goods, fame, child, wife. Though these all be dried up, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. Splash and rejoice in those waters, for they are filled from the pierced side of him who rejoices to see his children enjoy what he so freely gives. God is in our midst. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter, for one little word can fell them. But the church shall not be moved.
So be still and know that he is God. He is the God who made with you a new and better covenant, signed in blood, sealed in flesh. It is his oath that he is your God and you are his people. And though you may disown him, he will never disown you. He has forgiven your iniquity and remembered your sin no more. Though violent men assail you, he will never leave your side. How could he? He has made you bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, skin of his skin, soul of his soul. He has mixed his blood with your own, breathed into you the Spirit of life. @@You can more easily separate heat from light in fire than you can separate Christ from his own.@@ Who he is, you are, and who you are, he is.
So fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and he has declared himself guilty that you might be pardoned. Worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water, for he made them for you. No good thing does he withhold from those who are his. And such you are.