The Perversity of Persecution
April 30, 2023 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2023
Passage: 1 Peter 2:20, John 10:22–33, Isaiah 53:10–12, John 10:10
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Based on the Second Lesson and Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 1Peter 2:19-25 and John 10:1-10 and (22-33)
The Perversity of Persecution
What’s the difference in the world because of Christ’s death and resurrection? That seems to be the question answered by today’s lessons. Ultimately, the difference is one word: Righteousness. But it’s not just any old righteousness that we might invent for ourselves. It’s our Creator’s Righteousness.
Concerning our Creator’s righteousness, there’s an incredible mystery placed before us in Peter’s letter. Listen to these words. 1 Peter 2:20, “. . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”
Why should anyone ever suffer for doing good? The falseness and perversity of the present world order is proved by the fact that this actually happens. And who has ever suffered more because of doing good than Jesus of Nazareth? On this earth, God came in the flesh. He healed every illness, opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf and the tongues of the mute. He enabled the lame to walk and healed lepers. He released sufferers from the bondage of evil spirits. Yet for doing all this good, he suffered horribly in the flesh. How perverse is that?
Let’s get down to the reason it happened. Here’s an event that happened in the tenth chapter of John after the teaching on the good shepherd that we just heard in the gospel lesson. John 10:22-25, “22 Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. [That’s Hanukah] It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. 24 The Jews gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe.’”
These people were pestering Jesus to declare Himself Messiah. Jesus replied that He had already done so. Thus, the only reason they were pestering Him was that they couldn’t believe what He had told them. They obviously had a very different concept of Messiah — an anti-scriptural concept. And that was the problem.
They had invented a concept of Messiah for themselves out of only part of the Old Testament’s teachings on Messiah. They had invented for themselves a powerful, conquering, victorious Messiah who would set all things right on earth. Such teaching about a victorious Messiah does exist in Moses and the Prophets. It will be fulfilled. And Jesus will be the one to fulfill it — not someone else.
However, in Moses and the Prophets there’s equally significant teaching about Messiah that says He will be a suffering Messiah. We’re told the reason He must suffer in Isaiah 53:11, “. . . by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” And Isaiah 53:10, “. . . the LORD makes his life a guilt offering. . . .” And Isaiah 53:12, “. . . he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” It’s plain in these verses that Messiah will bear the guilty sins of His people and suffer for them. But, by offering His life as a guilt offering for the sins of His people, Messiah will enable sinners to be justified before their Creator God. In this way — and only in this way — can sinners be reconciled to their Father in heaven.
It was precisely these verses that the people crowded around Jesus at Hanukah could not understand. As we’ll see, they accused Jesus of being a mere mortal human. But how could these prophetic verses of Isaiah be fulfilled if Messiah had not come as a mortal human? How can anyone become a guilt offering without dying?
So reading on, we see Jesus say in John 10:25, “. . . ‘The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me. . . .’” In other words, Jesus didn’t have to declare Himself out loud. The righteous miracles He was performing spoke loudly for Him — if anyone was listening. For, all these miracles conformed to the works of the victorious Messiah prophesied in Moses and the Prophets. All these miracles confirmed that even though Jesus was a mortal man, He was in intimate league with Yahweh, the Father. For only Yahweh could do such things. In performing these miracles, Jesus was already behaving like the victorious Messiah. But because the people would not believe the Word of God that Messiah must not only be victorious but suffer —and thus be a mortal — the people who were crowded around Jesus on that occasion could not receive Jesus, the suffering and victorious Messiah. No amount of miracles would change their hearts and minds.
Thus, Jesus went on to say in John 10:26-27, “26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” This is precisely what Jesus said in the parable of the sheep and the shepherd that we read in the gospel lesson. This is a hard, brutal parable and saying. In order to receive Jesus as Messiah, you have to have been appointed by Yahweh to do so. Otherwise, you’re lost. Salvation is by Yahweh’s grace alone and by His work alone.
All of us are lost in sin, guilt and condemnation before God — all of us. St. Paul makes a detailed argument from Scripture and human experience in the first three chapters of Romans to prove this point. He concludes in Romans 3:22-23, “22. . . There is no difference, [meaning between Jew and gentile] 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. . . .”
However, he writes in the very next part of the sentence, Romans 3:24, “and [all] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” What this means is that there is no person on earth who has lived or ever will live whose life cannot be justified before God by the sacrificial atoning blood of Messiah Jesus. Even the monsters of history could have had their lives justified before God. There is no sin that’s too great. For, do you not agree that it’s impossible for any sin to be greater than the blood of the Son of God?
Therefore, through Jesus Christ, Yahweh extends His grace to all, so that all who come to Yahweh’s suffering and victorious Messiah might have their lives justified by the blood of Messiah before Yahweh’s Judgment Seat. As it says in Romans 8:1, “. . . there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . .” This is what’s known as universal grace — grace for all.
However, the key is that we have to be in Christ Jesus, and that’s the problem. As sinners, all of us are by nature enemies of Yahweh’s Messiah. By nature we all reject the grace offered to us in Messiah. There are various reasons we do so. Some think they’re so good, they don’t need God’s grace. Others believe that their sinfulness is so great that they’re hopeless. Still others, simply don’t want to be bothered with the subject.
Despite this, it is Yahweh’s will that some of us are to be justified before His throne by the blood of the Messiah He has sent. He wants His Kingdom filled with the ones His Son redeemed. These are the lost sheep that Yahweh brings into His own sheepfold by the power of the new birth. But because of our rejection of Yahweh’s grace, we have no control over who Yahweh brings in. It’s Yahweh’s work and His will alone. It’s by His particular salvation alone. This is what Jesus meant when He said that only the ones that are His people will listen to Him. The rest will not.
So, theologically, we have a huge conundrum here. On the one hand God’s grace is universal. It’s for all. On the other hand, only God’s chosen will enter into salvation. Salvation is what is called, “particular.” Scripture clearly teaches both these doctrines — universal grace and particular salvation.
So, if grace is for all, why are all not saved? That’s a question that has been raised by many through the centuries. Any attempt to reconcile universal grace with particular salvation comes back to some form of works righteousness — that God must have found something good in the person in order to save them. The Roman Catholics and the Calvinists have arrived at these sorts of conclusions. There’s only one other possibility, the false conclusion of the universalists, namely that everyone — even Hitler — will be saved.
But as we see clearly in the Word, Yahweh grants His salvation as He wants. He has not revealed His reasons for choosing only some, except that He said in Exodus 33:19, “. . . ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Therefore, Lutheran theologians teach both God’s universal grace and His particular salvation without attempting to reconcile these two opposite teachings. Scripture gives us no way to do it.
So, how can any of us know if Yahweh has brought us into His sheepfold? First, His grace is universal. There is no one He cannot save. Second, what did Jesus say? “My sheep listen to my voice . . . they follow me.” Only those who belong to Jesus can listen to Jesus. Only those who belong to Jesus will go where He goes and live life the way He lives life. That’s how we can know.
This is not to say that any follower of Jesus will live a sinless life. Temptations are a continuous nuisance and some are strong. The thinking in our own heads can easily deceive us. We can even make an idol of our own devising out of Jesus Himself — the Jesus we want to exist, rather than the Jesus who is.
However, all who truly listen to Jesus’ voice will find their way out of such death traps. God’s Word is strong and can deliver us from death. Those who listen to Jesus’ voice will discover their sins. Those who listen to Jesus’ voice will also find and receive His absolution for their sins, and the new life in Christ.
Consider this. Jesus had those twelve disciples around Him. One of them — Judas — ultimately did not listen and follow. But the rest did — including Matthias, the guy who replaced Judas. Later, there was also St. Paul. All of these remained faithful to Jesus unto death.
Speaking of His sheep, Jesus says in John 10:28-30, “28 ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’”
If Jesus had not been obedient unto death on a cross and had not been resurrected as a reward, it would have been impossible for Him to give anyone eternal life. But because Jesus received the reward of His obedience, He is able to share that reward with His sheep. And notice. Who gives Jesus His sheep? Yahweh, the Father.
But, then, Jesus made a very fundamental claim. I and the Father are one. This is actually what the crowd wanted to know. And it’s what Jesus wanted them to know. If they had been God’s sheep, they would have been glad to hear it. But, here’s what we read. John 10:31-33, “31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ 33 ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”
Jesus said it in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that we examined on Easter. If they will not believe Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if someone should rise from the dead. And the resurrection was the greatest of Jesus’ miracles.
Did you notice the reason the people pestering Jesus were offended? It was because He was a mere mortal man. Fools. How can anyone be resurrected who has not died? Therefore, Scripture is clear. Messiah had to be mortal.
So, if they would not believe Moses and the Prophets, neither would these people believe that the mortal man doing the mighty miracles of God was one with the Father. Thus, when they were pestering Jesus to reveal Himself, they were really lying to themselves. They didn’t want Jesus to reveal Himself so they could believe. Instead, they wanted to do harm to Jesus, even though He was doing the righteous works of healing, miracles, signs and wonders that only the Father can do.
That’s the incredible perversity Peter was talking about in his epistle — suffering punishment for doing good. Jesus Himself is the ultimate victim of this perversity in action. He was abandoned by His own people to be horribly put to death by gentile Roman soldiers. And all this for doing the works of God on earth.
The other day I read a most discouraging opinion piece by conservative columnist Ann Coulter. In the article she gives case after case where she believes Republicans have lost critical state and even national elections because they have openly promoted a pro-life agenda — even looking to criminalize abortion. It’s Coulter’s conclusion that if Republicans push a pro-life agenda too strongly, the women of this country will rise up in rebellion against them and put Democrats in office. Of course a Democrat congress and president will make abortion the law of the land. Therefore, she concludes that even more babies will be aborted than there are now if the pro-life agenda is pushed politically. How perverse is that? Those seeking to save lives will only cause more lives to be lost. Those seeking to do good will be punished for doing good.
And there’s another perversity. On many issues — climate, crime, the rights of parents, race, transgenderism and more — the Democrats have adopted Neo-Marxism. Neo-Marxists seek to destroy every existing social structure in the formerly Christian west and rebuild society in their own image. Most importantly, they seek to install elite authoritarian government everywhere to accomplish this. So, if Ann Coulter is right, the women of this country are willing to turn the country over to Marxism simply so they can have a few moments of pleasure in bed unhindered by the consequences of their actions. How perverse is that?
Seventy years ago women were taught to say no to men they weren’t married to. And if a man forced a woman, it was called rape and punished as such. Seventy years ago men were taught that they needed to marry because sexual union brings children into the world. And children need a father. They were taught that the mothers of their children were to be supported and cared for. While such teaching and such an understanding of marriage and the family has not been unique to Christianity in the history of the world, nevertheless it is Christian teaching. It is Scriptural. Those who know Jesus listen to His voice.
But where are we now? We are a nation who has listened to the thieves and robbers who came into the sheepfold by another way. The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy. That is very plain. But it’s only obvious to those who listen to Jesus. It’s not obvious to a nation of deceived people that thinks destroying its children is somehow righteous. Indeed, if this nation falls under authoritarian rule, we deserve it for abandoning God. As Martin Luther put it, it will be God using one rascal to punish another.
The only way out of all this is Jesus. After all, even the Kingdom of Power — by which Jesus rules unbelievers — is His Kingdom. Those in Jesus’ Kingdom of Grace, His Church, can appeal to Him not to let this situation stand. We can appeal that He would expand His Kingdom of Grace so that there would be more in our society willing to listen to His voice. That’s the only way.
On our part, we can do as commanded and proclaim Law and Gospel as effectively as we can. Nevertheless, rhetorical persuasiveness alone doesn’t win the day. For, without the will and work of Lord Holy Spirit acting in the heart, no one has ever believed Yahweh’s truth or entered the Kingdom of Grace. That’s why we must make the appeal to the Lord Himself.
Now, concerning God’s Law influencing society, the church still has a voice, if it will use it. And people are beginning to wake up to some of the consequences of the godless Marxist madness. Hopefully, more women will wake up to what Marxism is doing to women’s sports and the gender confusion that it’s preaching to their children. Hopefully, they might listen again to Yahweh’s commandments in all things. Hopefully, men might again hear our Creator’s plan for family and fatherhood.
But, of course, we have something far greater than the commandments to offer. And that is the giver of the commandments Himself — Jesus. He said in John 10:10, “‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’”
Without the righteousness of Yahweh, we humans can have no eternal life with Yahweh. Eternal life with Yahweh is the “life to the full” Jesus was speaking of. Jesus Himself is the righteousness of God. Having in the flesh gained for us the righteousness of God by obediently giving up His life, Jesus has been authorized to share Yahweh’s powerful righteousness with us through His Word and Sacrament. Jesus has been authorized to share abundant life with us through the forgiveness of our sins.
During the first three hundred years of the church in the Roman Empire, Christians filled with the grace of God and His righteousness were persecuted for doing what is right in God’s sight in their society. Eventually they won the day. The emperor himself became a Christian. But in the meantime they had to suffer for doing what was good. It looks like those who truly know Messiah will have that perverse situation thrust on them again. But Jesus, the abundant life, is worth it. Amen.
All Bible quotes are from the NIV.
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