Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 11:2-15
Dear citizens of the kingdom of heaven: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The kingdoms of the world grow and expand through violence. The most powerful kingdoms have had the biggest and strongest armies. It’s no coincidence. No kingdom ever became great without a great army.
Glory is found on the battlefield. Conquering other nations is the only way to increase the size of the kingdom. The strongest, the bravest, and the toughest are those who are valued. Violence serves the kingdom well… until a more powerful kingdom rises and takes dominance.
On the other hand, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. It is the kingdom of the lowly and the weak; the kingdom of turning the other cheek; the kingdom of martyrs. The kingdom of heaven is violent to no one; it only suffers violence at the hands of the violent.
Even our King fits this description. Our King suffered violence like a Lamb led to the slaughter without complaint. Our King suffered mocking and spitting, flogging, and torture. Our King suffered violence to the point of death on a cross; God put to death by mere mortals.
This is not our way. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) However, we don’t want to suffer violence. Suffering violence isn’t in our plan. It doesn’t appear it was in John the Baptist’s plan either.
When John suffered violence, he doubted. He sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” How can You be the one if Your followers suffer violence and You’re not doing anything about it? How can You be the King of the kingdom of heaven if You allow Your kingdom to suffer violence at the hands of violent men?
However, while suffering violence, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)
The kingdom of heaven is not competing with earthly kingdoms. It is no threat to earthly kingdoms. Yet, the kingdoms of the earth all too often afflict the kingdom of heaven with violence.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were threatened by Jesus because their only goal was having an earthly kingdom, which they tried to pervert the church into being. Therefore, the leaders of the church delivered Jesus for crucifixion. Earthly kingdoms have persecuted the church since its inception because they cannot understand anything except for earthly kingdoms and they always think that the kingdom of heaven is competing with their earthly kingdoms.
Herod, the king of an earthly kingdom, had John the Baptist beheaded because of John’s preaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. John had warned Herod that he would not be in the kingdom of heaven unless he repented. To Herod, that sounded like an attack on him as an earthly king so he threw John in prison, later to be executed.
Historical writings tell us eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were martyred. The kingdoms of the earth felt threatened by the kingdom of heaven, so they afflicted the Church with violence. The Church has been persecuted throughout history, and is today persecuted around the world more than ever.
The violent think that they are taking the kingdom of heaven by force. They think they are winning the battle. The kingdoms of the earth think that every dead Christian is a victory for them. They couldn’t be more wrong. They can do nothing to the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is not of this world. It is present here, it is in this world, but it is not of this world. The kingdom of heaven is present wherever the King is present. Jesus is present here among us in Word and Sacrament, so the kingdom of heaven is here among us. The world cannot take Jesus away from us.
The kingdom of heaven is present in this world but it has no worldly ambitions. It has no desire to topple governments or take over their lands.
Further, the kingdom of heaven has no delusions that this world will be made into a world of peace and harmony. It has no expectation that wars will cease or that the kingdom of heaven will stop suffering violence in this world. Remember, “If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” Jesus also said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
All is not lost, however, because the kingdom of heaven is not about hatred or about violence. The kingdom of heaven is about the victory won by Jesus on the cross.
The crucifixion may have looked like a huge loss. It appeared that not only had earthly kingdoms defeated the kingdom of heaven, but that the prince of darkness, the prince of hell, had won. The King of heaven was dead. God in the flesh was dead.
The disciples went into hiding behind locked doors. What else would they do? They were scared what the earthly kingdoms would do to them. Then Jesus appeared to the disciples behind closed doors. He showed them His hands and side, the marks of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. He proved Himself alive, risen as He has said.
The disciples came out of hiding. They went and proclaimed publicly that Jesus had risen from the dead. They no longer feared the kingdoms of the earth because they were in the kingdom of heaven. They proclaimed the kingdom of heaven to the ends of the earth, in exchange suffering violence at the hands of violent men.
Suffering violence in this time of Advent, what does the Church do? The Church waits. The Church waits for the return of her King. When the King returns, the violence will cease. Christ will return in the clouds of heaven and all peoples, nations, and languages will serve Him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom which will not pass away or be destroyed (Dan. 7:14-15).
Then the Church will have peace. Our King suffered violence so that we have peace with God now because our sins are forgiven (Rom. 5:1), and when He returns we will have peace on earth also. Our King gloriously triumphed on the battlefield of the cross, and gives us peace: peace with God; peace in the new heavens and the new earth; peace from the enemies of the Church, and peace with each other. We will have peace and the worldly kingdoms will cease to exist. So, the Church waits. The Church waits and prays, “Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.