Sixth Sunday after Easter Sermon B.
"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Matthew 5: 11, 12.
Here a great reward in heaven is promised to Jesus' disciples when the people of the world revile and persecute them and say all manner of evil against them falsely, for Jesus' sake. We know that the Christians have been hated since the beginning of the world and this hatred will remain as long as the world stands. In every place where true Christians have been, there they have been persecuted, and if they had not been persecuted, then the Saviour's words would have been vain. But as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear, there has been this persecution of the Christians. But where true Christians are not found, there all grace thieves are allowed to be in peace. The world has never hated those who bear the name of Christians and live as heathens. The world does not hate those who drink, steal, commit adultery, curse, and fight: such are dear Christians and beloved friends of Jesus, just so that they are baptized. But as soon as someone confesses himself to be a Christian and child of God, the Pharisees immediately get bright eyes to see faults in the Christians so that they would be able to accuse the Christians. And when the devil's servants have not found any lawful reason, then they have had to lie about the Christians so that even in this way they would be able to oppress the Christians and injure them. From this is surmised what terrible hatred is in the hearts of the children of the world when the enemy induces them to lie about the Christians so that at least they would be able to suck the blood of the Christians. But now the Saviour says in the gospel of Matthew, 5th chapter, 11th and 12th verses: "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." For the disciple of Jesus, who is sorrowful and despised by the world, this is a great promise of grace, which can uphold his hope when the power of the devil attacks him and there is no one in the whole world who is able to save him from the flames of the fiery furnace. Then has the merciful Lord Jesus so strengthened the faith of His disciples, that they have not feared the world, or the devil, or death, or hell, but they have been able to die with joy and rejoicing. And so we hope that the merciful Lord Jesus will yet strengthen the faith of those few souls who suffer mockery, persecution, hunger, nakedness, and shedding of blood for Jesus' name's sake. Our hope is that those few souls who have been strengthened in their most precious faith would be able, through God's grace, to sacrifice themselves; sacrifice their bodies and their possessions, and even their lives also for the sake of the name of Jesus. For as the great Crossbearer has not spared, a single drop of blood which He has not allowed to flow for the redemption of sinners, so the true Christians have not spared their lives for Jesus' name's sake, but have allowed their bodies to be ravaged, boiled and roasted, drowned in the depths of the sea, torn by beasts, and cast into a burning furnace. And the great Creator, the great Crossbearer, has so strengthened their faith that they have not felt much bodily pain. And with their own blood and their death they have sealed their faith when they, with joy and rejoicing, could die for the sake of the name of Jesus. Are there now many souls who would be eager to leave crying spouses, crying children, crying brothers and sisters, and go to death for the sake of the name of Jesus? There are not so many who could leave beloved spouses, dear friends and relatives and small children. There are not so many who could tear themselves loose from their embrace and their necks and go to the place of massacre. But God be thanked that the hope has not altogether ended, that the merciful Saviour would yet be so merciful and make some, though few souls, so firm and strong in their most precious faith, that they could leave parents and spouses and children and could tear themselves loose from their necks and with joy and rejoicing go to the place of massacre and give their lives and blood for the sake of the name of Jesus. So our hope and confidence in God is, that He would yet strengthen the hearts of these few with the power of His grace and knowledge of salvation, so that they would be able with a blood-red martyr's garment to go to heaven and relate salutations to the angels of heaven and all the blessed souls from those believing souls who yet remain on earth, awaiting that blessed moment when they also are able to greet the angels and preciously redeemed souls who sing the hymn of victory at the wedding of the Lamb upon Mount Zion and in the new Jerusalem, to where all redeemed souls strive, hasten, and long, some more quickly, some very slowly, and some even crawling. "Blessed are ye," preciously redeemed souls, "when the people of this world revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name's sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." If the prophets had not formerly been persecuted, if Jesus had not before been murdered for the sake of confessing the truth, then it would probably have been difficult for the disciples of Jesus to believe that they have a great reward awaiting in heaven, when they are thus mocked, reviled, and harassed for the sake of their faith and their Christianity. But when the prophets formerly have gone to heaven with blood-red garments, whose bloody footprints are still fresh on the road of life, and then the great Crossbearer and thorn-crowned King has traveled that same way of life and death, from whose feet the bloody footprints still feel fresh — when, say I, the disciples of Jesus and those few souls, who are of their faith, behold the bloody footsteps of the prophets and also of the great Crossbearer from the Garden to the hill of Golgotha, then they can be assured that all who follow those bloody footprints will find the prophets and the great Crossbearer in the kingdom of heaven. So follow now those bloody footsteps, you few souls, you chosen disciples of Jesus, and you chosen bride of Christ, whom the blood-red King has purchased with His own blood from the prince of darkness, and with His death has set free from bondage.
Follow now, you daughter of Zion, your King and your Saviour. Follow now, you chosen bride of Christ, His bloody footsteps which yet appear fresh. Behold, you daughter of Zion, how the blood has dripped from His forehead and His heels with every step that He has trod on this sinful earth. If you follow these bloody footprints, then you will certainly find Him on Mount Zion with the heavenly wedding company. If weariness sometimes wants to come, if the knees begin to faint and the hands and feet begin to tremble under the burden of the cross, then bow your knees in Jesus' name and cry with such a loud voice that the voice will be heard even to heaven, and pray that the great Crossbearer would give you power and strength, that you would yet be able to follow His bloody footsteps from the Garden to the hill of Golgotha. If even the whole world and all the powers of hell would begin to move, always remember those comforting words: "Blessed are ye when the children of the world revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven." So hear, You blood-red King, the sigh of the sorrowful, penitent and down-pressed ones when they sigh unto You. Our Father, which art in the heavens, and so forth.
The Gospel: John 15:26-16:4.
In the gospel for today our blessed and thorn-crowned King has made known to His sorrowful disciples what the world will do with them when they begin to follow Jesus' footsteps. "They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service."
This prophesy has already been fulfilled ten times. First by the Jews, then by the heathens, and finally by the papists, and ten times ten makes a hundred times. The first persecution began in Jerusalem, where Stephen first received the martyr's crown, as did many other confessors of truth in the first congregation. Then began a persecution of Christians in Caesar Nero's time, and one can count ten more cruel persecutions in which many thousands of Christians have received the martyr's crown, who are now clothed in white garments and await their brethren whose number is not yet fulfilled. Finally in the kingdom of the pope there was a great persecution against the Christians, in which many thousands of Christians were killed and some were burned alive. And it should be a testimony to the Lutheran congregation that as many souls as have been murdered in the kingdom of the pope because of the Lutheran faith, that so many bloody scratches the Lutheran congregation has received. But it is remarkable that when the kingdom of the pope arose from the first congregation they themselves began to persecute the Christians, and it is yet more remarkable that the Lutheran congregation also began to persecute Christians although, in the beginning, it had to suffer so much itself from the papists.
Thus have Christians been persecuted throughout the times, all the way from that time when the first Christianity began to appear. The Jews have begun to persecute the Christians, then the heathens began to persecute, and when the heathens stopped, then the papists began to persecute. And when the papists became tired, then the Lutherans began, and who knows who will yet begin to persecute the Christians before the last persecution comes.
Let us now by God's grace behold how the disciples of Jesus have to suffer hatred and persecution, mockery and shame from the world, when the time had come that everyone who killed them thought he was doing God a service.
First consideration or examination: Have they been Christians who during persecution have gone to death with joy and rejoicing for Christ's sake? Second consideration: Are they Christians who during persecution do not dare to go to death for Christ's sake?
The great Purger of the floor, who has a casting scoop in His hand with which He purges His floor, has always, during time of persecution, separated chaff from wheat kernels through sifting, because the great Purger of the floor has wanted to gather unmixed wheat kernels into His garner. He is not so careless as some farmers in these times, who put mixed grain and chaff into the grain bin. And they who eat those weed seeds smell like snow buntings.
First examination: Are they true Christians who during persecution go to death with joy and rejoicing? The heathens have said that the Christians' boldness at the moment of death is a terrible hardening and wantonness against the faith of the nation and against the government, which should be a clear sign of this, that the Christians are possessed of evil spirits in the greatest measure when the greatest bodily punishment has not effected a change in their faith, and not even fear of death has been able to make them take back their words and beg the authorities for forgiveness for their wildness. The heathens have mistaken the Christians' valor and boldness to die for their faith to be a great terribleness and cruelty. It is written in the second book of Maccabees, 7th chapter, where seven brothers were sacrificed one after another by the heathenish king because of their faith. The heathenish king became terribly angry when these brothers were not at all terrified by the cruelty of death, neither obeyed the heathenish king's orders in matters of conscience and faith. So also have other heathenish kings taken the Christians' courage and boldness to die because of their faith to be a terrible cruelty, for example king Nebuchadnezzar, when the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not obey the heathenish king's idol worship. And there are many other examples in the history of the martyrs which show how terribly the devil's slaves have become angry at the Christians, when the Christians were not able to obey the commands of the heathenish authorities in matters of conscience and faith. The devil has given the heathens that enlightenment from hell, that the Christians' boldness in death has been a sign of a possessed person. The heathens have received that enlightenment from hell that the Christians were so terribly possessed by evil spirits, that they did not understand to fear death. The Christians' boldness, courage, and joy in death have been a terrible wantonness and obstinacy against the laws of the land and the faith of the kingdom. In the heathens' minds, the Christians have despised the heathens' faith, worship of God, and the heathens' holiest ordinances. So also have the papists considered the Christians' boldness in death to be a terrible wantonness against the faith of the kingdom. When Christians have not wanted to give up their faith, then have the papists taken such a horror from it that they have burnt the Christians alive. Especially there the devil's power in the world can be seen. But among the Christians, that person has always been considered the best Christian, who with joy and rejoicing has gone to death because of his faith, who has not given up his faith because of persecution. And we can also say from all the heart, that he is truly a Christian who does not give up his most precious faith no matter how he would be tormented, hated, and persecuted for Jesus' name's sake. To this pertain not only the Saviour's own words: "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven", but also the book of Revelation's great testimonies of the martyrs' salvation testify that every Christian who gives his life and blood for the sake of the name of Jesus is blessed in time and eternity.
Are the heathens able to go to death because of their faith? Are the papists able to go to death because of their faith? It has not yet been heard that heathens would have died because of their faith, although the papists have forcefully compelled the heathens to convert to the pope's doctrine; as for example, Erik the Holy, one Catholic king in Sweden, who attacked the Finns and with fire and sword compelled them to convert to the Catholic faith. But it has not been heard that the old Finns would have then given their lives for the sake of their heathenish faith. And although the Jews were so zealous in their faith that they bared their necks before Pilate and commanded him to kill them, nevertheless Pilate has not killed the Jews because of their faith, but because of their natural pride. Surely we have heard that heathenish word also, that the Christians have been killed, not because of their faith, but because of their pride, because of their wantonness, because of their disobedience toward the government. But it is altogether a lie, even though the devil paints the matter so before the eyes of the heathens. Already formerly the devil has painted and even now paints such things before the eyes of the heathens, that Christians are heathens, they are false prophets, they are wild spirits, they are possessed by evil spirits, they are enemies of God and man, they are proud, they are stiff-necked, they are disobedient to the government, they are wanton, they are the true despisers of God and mockers of God. Otherwise how would the devil have been able to give his slaves that enlightenment from hell, that everyone who kills them thinks that he does God service. But on the other hand, the Christians have had the belief that everyone who persecutes another person because of his faith, is of his father the devil. But the heathens also imagine that the Christians persecute them. The whiskey merchants imagine that the Christians hate and persecute them, the thieves imagine that they are persecuted when they have to stand in stocks, virtuous whores even cry over their honor when they are barked at innocently, and temperate drunkards complain that the Christians persecute them. Has a stranger thing been heard than that the Christians would begin to persecute innocent people? Oh, you wretched devil, how much you must suffer without cause! The Christians are persecutors; they do not give honorable people peace of conscience.
But now comes the second examination: Are they Christians, who during persecution deny their faith? Much has been surmised of this in the first Christianity. Some Christians have said that such need not be taken into the company of the Christians, who during persecution have denied their faith, no; matter how true a penitence and repentance would be made. But other Christians have taken such ones also to be Christians, who after the fall have repented. We well surmise, not only from the Saviour's words, but also from the Christians' own experiences, that those fickle souls, who under persecution give up their faith and, like Peter, deny that they know Jesus, have not yet come to a true and saving faith; they have not become freed from the world. Jesus has said, "He who loves his life more than me is not worthy of me." And how could he be worthy of Jesus, who because of love of the world gives up his faith and denies Jesus during time of temptation. Just in that is the trial; there is the fire in which the gold is refined. Many have been Christians according to their own mind when there has been no distress because of Christianity, but when such a trial has come before them that they must give up the earthly or temporal life for Jesus' sake, then they have stepped back and begun as Peter to swear that they do not know Jesus. Perhaps Peter has thought that he does not deny Jesus with his heart, although he denies Him with his mouth before the world. But just there is the place — that one lies against his heart, and also lies against God and sins against his conscience. It is entirely a willful sin when a person does or says something against his conscience, even if it would be no greater matter than one horse's dung, he nevertheless falls from grace when he says other than what he knows to be true, but especially in the confession of the Christian faith, which costs more than all the world's joy. But they who in such a way deny their knowledge as Peter, these wretches have not yet come to a knowledge of truth, they have not yet been baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, they have not yet been in the refining fire. There is only one thought which might possibly come to the Christians under trial, namely this thought: whether a person who has followed with the Christians for many years, as Peter had followed Christ, and has consented to the Christian doctrine as Peter, has even felt his unworthiness as Peter, but has not yet felt true sorrow of the soul, as Peter had not yet felt that sorrow when he denied his knowledge of Jesus, if such a person can say directly against his conscience that he rightly knows Jesus, not only according to the outward form, but also according to inward feeling. If, say I, a person who has not yet become partaker of the Holy Spirit, neither has tasted of the power of the world to come, if such a person says he is a Christian and is not one, he then lies before God, even if he confesses before the world that he knows Christ. It would be better for him that before the world he would confess only as much as he has felt and experienced, and then may the devil do with him what he will. If the devil's slaves kill him only because of that confession, that he confesses that this Christianity is right, then it could be possible that in that place the Holy Ghost could fall upon him and that he could receive such strength and such boldness that he could with joy go to death for the sake of the name of Jesus. Such things have truly happened during time of persecution, as we hear from the history of the martyrs, that many a heathen who had not formerly belonged to the Christian group has been taken ahold of just at the place where the Christians were killed and has suddenly received such power from on high, that he has confessed himself to be a Christian and at the same time has been dragged to the chopping block. Such wonders the great Creator has been able to do, and not even the Christians have any longer doubted of his salvation. But the blind devil who now has come upon the earth, who even formerly has troubled them, sees nothing of those who are of God's Spirit. This blind devil, who leads the sorrowless along the broad road to perdition, does not believe, at all, that the love of Jesus compels the confessors of His name to go in the fire if it would be so demanded, although at first it is terrifying to think how terrible the devil's throng must be and what terrible hatred the devil's children must have, when they imagine they are doing God a service when they kill the disciples of Jesus. But thus have the slaves of this world done from the beginning of the world, and thus shall they do up until the end of the world. Although now there is not such severe persecution as has been formerly, nevertheless, in every place where there is true Christianity, there is also hatred and persecution, if not in one way, then in another. If there is not burning as in the kingdom of the pope, then some other punishment has been placed upon the Christians. Some are driven out of the country, some fined, some must sit (in chains) with bread and water, some are excommunicated or banned from the Lord's communion and the unity of the congregation. And the devil's apostles are certainly always found in every place, who try to bring forth lies and accuse the Christians of one thing and another, although we cannot complain that we have yet up until this time been severely persecuted. Has God then, in His wisdom seen that we would not be worthy to suffer more severe persecution for the sake of the name of Christ, or is He still sparing those few souls who could bear the blood-red garment, or has He, in His wisdom, seen that many would not be able to bear a martyr's crown? But if such a time would come, that the merciful Lord Jesus would find it necessary to try the disciples' faith, then our hope is that He, of His great mercy, would grant them power and strength to suffer and to stand manfully in the great war and strife, armed with the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, and the shield of faith, with which they could quench the fiery darts, well knowing that the great war Hero before us has traveled those weighty and bloody footsteps from the Garden to the hill of Golgotha, and many thousand souls before us have followed those bloody footprints to the hill of Golgotha, who now are clothed in white garments and, with palms in their hands, they sing the new song on Mount Zion. Amen, Hallelujah! The bridesmaids, elegant and beautiful, wipe blood from the wounds and the tears from the eyes of those who have been wounded for Christ's sake. Small angels, white and shining, prepare the bread of heaven from the tree of life for those who have suffered hunger for the sake of the name of Jesus. White garments are given to those who have been stripped naked for Christ's sake, and to Jesus' poor bride, upon whom the showy whores of this world have spit, is given a golden crown upon the head, the morning star upon her breast and rings on her hand, and the blood-red garment is washed snow-white. And the poor bride of the Saviour, who here in the time of grace has been taken into the church in the manner of a bride, shall there be placed upon the bride's throne, and the Saviour's bridesmaids will dance around her on the clean floor of heaven, and all the holy angels will rejoice and be exceeding glad with them when the wedding of the lamb is held, and the small innocent children shall cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Amen.