Gospel: Matthew 11:12-19
Epistle: Romans 3:19-28
Lesson: Revelation 14:6-7
Psalm: Psalm 46
CLB Commentary – Rev. Ken Narvesen
Today is Reformation Sunday and so obviously a good hymn to use is A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I would suggest you use it right before the sermon, for today’s text is one that talks about the battle that we are engaged in as believers.
Our text begins with one of the more difficult to understand statements in all of Scripture. Bible translators have struggled with it for centuries. The Greek grammar can have two different implications and both of them present us with striking thoughts about life in this world. The one approach says: 12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Another approach reads, “rFrom the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,4 and the violent take it by force.”
In English, the two have completely different thrusts. In the one reading the Kingdom is exerting the force, and in the other the kingdom suffers the force. In the one the force has a positive connotation, in the other it has the more negative connotation of violence. Yet, in the language God gave us the scriptures in, the grammar can mean either one.
I have a suspicion that Jesus stated this in such a way, and Matthew recorded what he said, because both ways of reading it are true.
On the one hand, John the Baptist and Jesus came to this world and broke into it with a powerful advancement of God’s Kingdom.
The prophet Micah had said in Micah 2:12, 13, “12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”
It’s happening, Jesus is saying. John and I have broken into this world. I, the King of kings and Lord of lords am going before my people and breaking open the way for my people to have the abundant life. John too has had a part in this ministry. Malachi had said, in Malachi 4:5, “ 5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” And Jesus said I tell you now, “if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” We
are going forward in force, bringing the kingdom to this dark world, and we invite all who believe to grab hold of the wonder of this kingdom. Jesus was not the pussycat of Judah, but the Lion of Judah! It’s in his nature to go to war against the forces of evil and he calls and empowers us also to be passionate and explosive for the things of the Kingdom!
But you know something? It is also true that this kingdom suffers violence. John is exhibit A of that truth as he awaits beheading in Herod’s prison. And before long Jesus too will be led to the cross.
And so in that statement, that Bible translators have struggled with for centuries, Jesus is saying, “The battle is on!”
When two opposing forces meet, there is always violence. When a cold and warm front meet, there is violence, a storm. When light comes into a room, it drives back the darkness. So also when the Light came into the world, the darkness tried to overcome it. When He who is Life came into the world, death tried to destroy Him. I know you long for peace, but don’t be surprised by the battle.
Sin, unbelief, and rebellion resist the advance and coming of God’s Kingdom. Even our own sinful flesh rebels against the Spirit of God, and we turn against that old nature and grab hold of the grace and mercy of God.
And so this text brings front and center one of the most significant theological themes, the clash between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross. Again, since it is Reformation Sunday, a good approach to this text would be to connect what Jesus says here with Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, which highlights those two competing theologies. This is the battle in which we are locked. On the surface one might talk of indulgences and religious practices like the 95 Theses. But on a much deeper level we must battle against the old nature which dreams of glory now and makes that our goal, and the new man who in response to the gospel clings to the cross alone.