Twentythird Sunday after Trinity, Sermon A
"Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed." Psalms 2: 1-2
King and prophet David saw in spirit how the heathens rage, the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed. And this prophesy of David has been fulfilled in many ways, first in the Saviour's time, when the enemies of Christ counseled against Him and tempted Him in every way, and afterward in the Apostles' time, when the persecutors of the Christians began to hate the disciples and to lap the Christians' blood. And then in the Pope's kingdom, where the king and Caesar and the pope began to trouble Luther and his brothers in faith, even in that time David's prophesy was fulfilled. But now since the kings and rulers have seen how David's prophesy is fulfilled in every way, no doubt the kings of the earth and rulers have ceased to trouble the Christians, no doubt the rulers now have taken counsel against the prince of the world, but not against the Christians. No doubt the rulers now accuse the drunkards and the whiskey merchants, but not the Christians. No doubt the rulers now hate the thieves and the whores but not the Christians. We do not know against whom the rulers of the world take counsel; do they take counsel together as to how they would torment the crowd of the devil and dragon, or do they take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed? Do the rulers hate the thieves and the whores, or do the rulers hate the Christians? Do the rulers trouble the drunkards and whiskey merchants, or do they trouble the children of God?
We have heard that the disciples received a great joy and comfort from these words of David when the rulers began to persecute the disciples of Jesus. We have heard and seen that the disciples then received great joy from those words of David when they saw that David's words came true or became fulfilled almost a thousand years afterward. And from that the disciples received joy and great power of prayer, when, they remembered these words of David which are found written in the second Psalm of David, which came to mind to the disciples of Jesus when the rulers of the world began to hate them because of Christianity; namely these words of David, "Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed." And why did the disciples receive that great power of prayer then from the words of David? Yes, for the reason that in those words was the truth of God. Their Christianity would not have been right if these words of David had not come true. But exactly from that the disciples of Jesus received great power of prayer, when these words of David became fulfilled in that way, that the rulers began to persecute Jesus' disciples because of Christianity. From where could the disciples of Jesus receive greater power of faith than from this, that they could fit these words of David to themselves, that the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, when they hated and persecuted the disciples of Jesus because of Christianity. David has truly not spoken anything of the disciples in that aforementioned place, but has only spoken of Christ, and said a thousand years before that the heathens imagine a vain thing, and "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed." How could the disciples therefore own for themselves these words, although David in that place has not written anything of the disciples but only of Christ? Yes, the disciples could own these words for themselves in that way, that what the heathens do to the Christians, they also do to Christ. And when the heathens think vain things about the Christians, that they also think about Christ. And when these prophetical words of David were thus fulfilled in Christ and also upon the Christians, then it is a sign that the Christianity is right when it happens according to the Scriptures, namely persecution happens to the Christians according to the Scriptures. From that it is seen that this Christianity is right, since David's prophetical words are fulfilled. If it had not so happened as David has written, namely, first he has written that the heathens think vain things about the Christianity, not only those unbaptized pagans, but also the baptized pagans think vain things about the Christians. Then David has also written that the kings of the world set themselves, that is, prepare themselves to persecute the Christians. It has not exactly happened at these times but it has certainly happened before, and can even henceforth happen. Then David has also said that the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed. That has happened even at these times, and it must happen even henceforth as long as the world stands, that the rulers of the world take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, as long as true Christianity is found on the earth. But when Christianity ceases, then the rulers cease taking counsel against Christ. From these words of David Jesus' disciples have received that faith that the rulers take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed, when they take the disciples of Jesus before the church council. The disciples of Jesus now have such a belief that David's words are now fulfilled, and that the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, who take Jesus' disciples before the church council. The disciples had just come from before the church council, when such a great movement came to them and that great power of prayer, and then it came to their minds what David had written about the Christianity a thousand years before: "Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?" That the heathens rage and imagine vain things was seen then, and even now the heathens rage and imagine vain things about Christ and the Christians. But the heathens do not believe that they imagine vain things when they think wrongly about the Christians, but the heathens think they have the truth when they have hatred in their hearts. And the kings set themselves against Christ, as David says. But the kings do not believe that they set themselves against Christ when they oppress Jesus' disciples through the worldly law, but they think that Jesus' disciples are false prophets and wild spirits, as such the prince of this world has depicted the Christians up to now. Since he has first reversed the eyes of the children of the world, in the eyes of the world the whores and thieves have changed to Christians, and the Christians have changed to blasphemers of God and despisers of the right service of God. They have changed to enemies of God and people in the eyes of the children of the world. Nor have the rulers brought the whores and drunkards before the church council, but they certainly bring the Christians first before the court of the church and then, who knows, they also bring them before Pilate, and there all get to cry out, "Crucify!" There they all get to accuse Christ. There in Pilates law everyone, both the lords and the peasants, can quench their hatred in Jesus' blood, for they have all been cleansed in the blood of the dragon. No others than some women who follow after and weep and some sorrowful disciples pity the innocent death of Jesus. All others are in joy and blaspheme that Crucified One and wag their heads and think, "It now happened good enough for the disturber of the people; he deserved nothing better." And then the rulers begin to hate and to persecute the disciples of Jesus so that David's prophesy would be fulfilled: "The rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed." And it is also seen in today's gospel how David's words have been fulfilled when the rulers of the world took counsel together of how they could trouble Christ and cause harm to Him. But we believe that He can answer so that the rulers of the world could not yet at this time do harm unto Him with their deceit. For at times the disciples of Jesus can rejoice that it has happened as David has said. And to them comes that great power of prayer, when they receive that boldness that they can confess before the whole world that the Christianity is right and the right goal, when all has happened which is written in the Scriptures. Hear, you Anointed of the Lord, what the true disdiples of Jesus pray, Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
In today's gospel it is written bow the Pharisees went and took counsel of how they might entangle Jesus in His talk. Their intention was to summon Him before the law if he spoke something against the law of the country, or against the statutes of the kingdom, or against the faith of Moses. First they took counsel amongst themselves of where they could best take a hold of Him. Then they took some from Herod's group as a witness or attestor and an accuser in behalf of the government, if Jesus would have spoken some word through which they could have taken a hold of Him. But this time their cleverness did not prosper, although the intention certainly was such that they could, through the law of the world or the church law, remove Him from preaching and teaching the people. For the slaves of the devil have always had the same intention as satan had in the time of Job, that he wanted to get a hold of the skin, for satan said to God, "Skin for skin, all that a man hath will he give for his life." The devil has such great envy that when he otherwise does not hold his own, he must get a hold of the skin. So also the slaves of satan do when they cannot otherwise hold their own in arguing, they must take the Christians before the church court. So they did with Stephen, and even now the same thing has been tried. Then if the Christians would be judged in the church court to be teachers of false doctrine, or wild spirits, then the slaves of the world through the law of the world could get a hold of the Christians' skin. Such hatred is in the hearts of the slaves of satan that they want to destroy the Christians just through the law, since the slaves of satan cannot punish the Christians according to the common law. The Pharisees now have the same intention, that they could accuse the disturber of the people, if He would have spoken something from which they could take a hold of Him through the law. At this time we must observe how the Parisees take counsel of how they might entangle Jesus in His talk, that they might summon Him before the law, and also take from Herod's group government men for witnesses and accusers.
You have all heard from today's gospel that the Pharisees have united themselves to take counsel of how they might entangle Jesus in His talk. The Pharisees have such a belief that Jesus of Nazareth is a false teacher, a disturber of the people, and a great sorcerer who is in league with the devil, and so He must be destroyed and killed by all means. And this false belief about the Nazarene has come from that spiritual hatred which surges in the heart of the Pharisees, and this hatred is that serpent's poison which makes their hearts swell. This is that enmity which God, immediately after the fall into sin, put between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and that same spiritual hatred has come from that, that the Nazarene has reproached the Pharisees' denomination as hypocrites. Namely, when the Pharisees avoid outward sins, commit much crookedness secretly of which the natural law cannot take a hold of them, and even if some Pharisees were fined according to the natural law, nevertheless they can bypass the king's law, when there is not such an accuser who takes them before the law. That sinful trade, which the Pharisees keep around the church, is certainly forbidden in the law, but there are no accusers. The Nazarene has reproved the Pharisees that they devour the widows' houses, that they strain at gnats and swallow camels, which signifies that the Pharisees have sharp eyes to sea the Christians' faults, but their own sins are covered, although they are as large as camels or horses. Even if a camel would be a stickle-back which the Pharisees swallow, the Pharisees of this time have the same nature, that they strain at gnats and swallow camels. The Pharisees can also commit adultery in the darkness, for they knew anyway that the sinful woman, who wept in the house of Simon, was a whore. And how did they know this? From their own experience, no doubt. And when the Pharisees bring the whore to Jesus to try whether He will forgive the impenitent whore, they all then slip out when Jesus or the Nazarene says, He who is free, let him cast the first stone. That signifies that whoever is free of this whore, let him cast the first stone. Then the Pharisees all slipped out as shame-faced dogs. But in their own opinion, anyway, the Pharisees were certainly meek and pious. The Pharisee comes into the church to pray before the publican. The publican stands afar off while the Pharisee stands and prays. It is heard that he prays thus, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." We hear, therefore, that although the Pharisee is an evil-doer, although he is an adulterer, although he is a drunkard, although he devours widows' houses, nevertheless he is surely godly in the church. Now when the Nazarene barks at such as hypocrites, mouth-Christians and generation of vipers, anger comes to the Pharisees from that; from that reproach the old Adam of the Pharisee rises. And when the Pharisees do not know for which place they could first begin to accuse Jesus, then they go to take counsel of how they could entangle Jesus in His talk. The Pharisees of this time do just this also to the Christians. They first come together and take counsel of how they can get rid of Him through the law of the world, and when the Pharisees think thus, they also take from the crowd of Herod some government men as witnesses and accusers, for the Herodians are King Herod's servants.
Now you must know why the Pharisees are so angry at the Nazarene. Hatred has come because the Nazarene has barked at them as hypocrites and generation of vipers. He has said that the Pharisees strain at gnats and swallow camels; that is, the Pharisees have bright eyes to see the faults of the Christians, but their own dung they do not want to smell. From where has the hatred come into the heart of the Pharisees? Yes, from that the hatred has come, when the Nazarene has reproved them and called them hypocrites, since they have made promises to God both in baptism and in the Lord's Supper that they shall become truly penitent and make repentance. Such promises the Pharisees have made in the Lord's Supper, that they shall follow the will of God and better their sinful life. Such promises the Pharisees have made before the Lord's altar, that they shall sacrifice themselves to God. But the Pharisees do not remember those promises, but they only mock God with their ungodly life, adultery, drunkenness, cursing, stealing and whiskey trade. For those Pharisees who live around the Church blaspheme God the worst with their sinful business, so that the Nazarene once had to take a scourge and drive out those buyers and sellers along with their cattle, and what else are they than cattle, and even worse than cattle, who make Sunday into a drinking day and a day of vanity, a cursing day, and a fighting day. And when they have lived during the day as cattle, they also live at night like cattle. But such are the worst to bear hatred toward Jesus of Nazareth. Such are the first to accuse Jesus that He is a disturber of the people, and proclaims a false doctrine, and expounds tho words of the Scriptures wrongly, when He says to those who keep sinful trade around the temple, "It is written, my house is a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves." This doctrine must be a false doctrine that the Nazarene says to the drunkards and whiskey merchants, you make the house of God into a den of thieves. The evil spirit smells from their mouths when they come into the temple of God, some drink from the cup of the Lord and the cup of devil on the same day. Look! Such ones become the most angry at the Nazarene, and such Pharisees are the most zealous to accuse Jesus and also to incite the barbarian people to cry out, "Crucify!" These Pharisees have become angry with the Nazarene for this, that He ruins their liquor business! He spoils the drunkards godliness, they cannot drink in peace, not even the whores can whore in peace. The Pharisees have not received peace of conscience as long as the Nazarene is alive. This is the true reason why the Pharisees accuse Jesus of Nazareth and seek for faults in His doctrine, in His speech, in His life; and when they succeed by no other means, they must begin to lie and to seek for six mark men, who are ready to swear for one or two drinks that they have heard Him say thus and so.
What now do the Pharisees think? What kind of counsel will they now take, and from where will they now get a hold of the Nazarene's skin? No doubt they will take someone from Herod's crowd as an accuser, if they could show that the Nazarene forbids paying taxes to the government. That matter is still now untried. The Pharisees have formerly tempted the Nazarene with one whore, and now they will try in another way if they can get some accusation against Him, for it can be surmised that these Pharisees will not get peace of conscience before they can get the Nazarene out of the way, as that royal harlot could get no peace from the enemy before she received John's head on a charger. So are the Parisees as if on burning coals; they get no peace from the enemy until they get the Nazarene away, away! Away! For they have such a belief that the Nazarene is even worse than the devil, but if they had some accusation against Him so that they could get rid of Him, only then joy would come into their hearts. They would then become truly cleansed in the blood of the dragon, and they could soon have a funeral for Him. But their plot did not succeed this time, they could hardly get any accusations against Him. They had to depart as shame-faced dogs.
And since these matters have happened thus, from that can be seen that the Scriptures are fulfilled; especially David's words have been fulfilled, when he says in the Second Psalm that the rulers take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed. From that the disciples of Jesus can now receive the assurance that what the rulers do against them, it is the same as if it were done against the Lord and against His anointed. There now the faith of the disciples is strengthened, that this Christianity is right and that tha Lord has taken them into His care, for thus read His words in the Acts of the Apostles, 4th chapter, 24th and the following verses, when Jesus' disciples were for the first time before the court of the church. They had also been threatened that they must no longer preach in the name of Jesus. Then when the disciples heard that, they lifted up their voice to God in one accord and said, "Lord Thou are God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hapt anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings; and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy hold child Jesus." This great power of prayer has come to the disciples of Jesus after that remarkable day when they had stood before the church court for the first time. And now you disciples of Jesus, when you have seen that it has happened to you according to the Scriptures, that the rulers of the world have taken counsel against Christ when they have demanded that you come before the church court to answer for your Christianity, through which your faith is strengthened, be now fearless to speak the word of God to the heathens with all courage, for the Lord against whom the rulers have taken counsel is your own shelter, your strength and your power. Even if Herod from now on would put some disciples in prison so that the Jews would like him, certainly the Lord will even yet send His angel to release Peter and John from the iron chains of the enemy. That crucified and thorn-crowned King will strengthen your hearts with His Holy Spirit, that you could speak to the rulers and kings and princes, and testify of Jesus of Nazareth and His power to have mercy upon the penitent and to make them blessed, no matter how the crowd of the world rages and grits their teeth, for you are nevertheless blessed, when you are hated and persecuted because of Jesus; for so they have done formerly so that they could fulfill their desire to kill, but finally they can see whom they have pierced. Amen.