Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor.” This is the glorious Gospel of Reformation Day. We haven’t come together to celebrate Lutheranism and honor ourselves, but we are here to hear the saving Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We hear this Gospel as we remember that we dwell in the Church Militant, the Church that must, for a time, endure the attacks of Satan. “Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” God has set watchmen who guard against the sad divisions of Satan, watchmen who never hold their peace, proclaiming “‘Surely your Salvation is coming;’ soon your weeping shall be replaced with song, ‘and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.’”
Jesus tells us that “the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” Just a few chapters from now in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will give the reassurance that the gates of hell cannot prevail over the Church. Even though “the kingdom ours remaineth,” it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a smooth ride. What does it mean that the Kingdom suffers violence? Certainly it means that we have enemies from without, people who cannot stand that the Kingdom exists, that we as congregations exist. They want any semblance of Christianity wiped out. That is violence against the Kingdom. But the type of violence Jesus discusses is doctrinal violence. The days ushered in by John the Baptist were the days of the public ministry of Jesus. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, the one making ready the way. But there were many who rejected Jesus. They knew who He was. There was no question in the minds of the Pharisees and the rest of the Jewish establishment. They know John is the last of the prophets. They know Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who fulfills every prophecy spoken in the Old Testament. But they will not believe. The truth is plainly spoken to them, but they reject it and then try to destroy the Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven suffers this violence of false doctrine.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.