[Revelation 14:6-7 / Romans 3:19-28 / Matthew 11:12-19]
In the artwork of the Reformation, when they drew that angel flying directly overhead with an eternal Gospel to proclaim, well, that angel had a face you’d recognize. The folks in those days thought that Revelation 14, our first reading, pointed directly to the events they were experiencing. The angel bore the face of Luther for them, for his was indeed a loud voice that called for all those who dwell on the earth to “fear God and give Him glory…and worship Him who made” all things.
"Eternal" Gospel suggests that the good news was from the very creation of the world hidden in God and that when the appointed time came, God revealed to all people His hidden heart, and He revealed this heart in His Son.
Today’s second reading gets at this glorious good news. First the bad news: God speaks a word of law that shuts the mouths of sinners. When the Law of God thunders, no room for your or my pitiful excuses. The Law demands one thing of us and one thing only: love. And it demands it whole and entire and unbroken – running through our being from start to finish, in all our words, our thoughts, our actions.
Then the Gospel comes after the Law has shut up our mouths and silenced our excuses; after the law has condemned our lovelessness and made us face our helplessness to fix it. The Gospel comes apart from law, apart from anything you do. Through it, God unveils for you a righteousness that is perfect, flawless, holy. A righteousness that is unending love itself. And that righteousness has a name: Jesus Christ. And God reaches Him to you and says: “Take Him, He is all yours.”
God reaches this gift to all and He wants all to receive it. “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – that’s the Law; and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” That’s the Gospel.
This redemption, says St. Paul, this Jesus, God put forward, He gave Him, to be the propitiation by His blood to be received by faith. Faith clings to the blood of the Lamb of God, shed to cover the sins of the world – yours, mine, everyone’s – and so we see the unfathomable love of our God for us.
He had passed over former sins. It looked like folks had got away with murder – literally. But then He reveals, that not one sin was left unpunished in His Son. All were answered for in the Man hanging dead upon the tree, His blood spills down and wipes out mankind’s sin. So that God is both just – He punishes sin – and He is the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus – He credits Christ’s perfect love to all who cling to the blood of their Lamb, their Jesus, for dear life.
Boasting then? No room for it in any Christian’s life. It’s all God’s work, all God’s gift. Room then only to fear God and give Him glory, as the Angel flying directly overhead said in today’s first reading. There’s the everlasting Gospel. It’s more solid than anything you’ll ever encounter in this world. You can build an eternity on it – your eternity. Trust Him! You won’t go wrong. And that’s how God justifies you – apart from your doings, apart from works of the law. He justifies you by giving you Jesus and you hold to Him through the gift of faith.
Another name for holding to Jesus through the gift of faith is “the kingdom of heaven.” We heard about that kingdom in today’s mysterious Gospel.
Our Lord declares quite matter of factly that from the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. John came announcing some great good news. The Messiah was soon to follow. The Forgiver of all sin was upon the earth. But this news wasn’t welcomed by all. It was opposed by many, by folks who were quite happy with their lives the way they were and didn’t see the need for this meddlesome man preaching repentance, calling them to turn from all that they thought was so important and to embrace the Coming One.
Violence began with John and his arrest and you know how his story ended up. His head on the platter. Violence wouldn’t end with John. It would go on. Our Lord’s own gift of love and pardon would be given to the world precisely as His Kingship was being rejected, mocked even. He would be crucified for being exactly who He said He was, for telling the truth, and inviting all people to turn from what is not life to the God who alone IS life.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” says the Lord. The Word that He invites us to hear is the Gospel Word, the Word about the Lord who comes eating and drink, befriending tax-collectors and sinners. Inviting them and all people to find in fellowship with Him, in union with Him, the very purpose for which they were created. Such union is His gift. Nothing that we could ever earn, deserve, merit. We had no ladders high enough to climb to heaven where He was, so in His unfathomable love, He climbed down to where we are. And that’s where He goes on meeting us even today. Where we live. No accident then, that He comes to you in the stuff of this world. He doesn’t ask you for flights of spiritual fancy to soar up into the heavens. Heaven comes all the way down to you. Just like at Bethlehem, the Divine Love was born and wrapped in human flesh. Just like at Calvary, the Divine Love suffered and covered the sins of the world with His bright red blood. So today He comes to you in the stuff of creation – the same Divine Love, the same Lord Jesus, now risen from the dead and glorified. In water, in bread, in wine, in the words of sinful people spoken to each other. He comes and the One who comes is always the same. The Propitiation, the One who is the blotting out of all sin, the Eternal Son of the Father come into the flesh and then back from the dead to bring you to union with God.
That eternal Gospel – that the One who once came for you now comes also to you to live in you and fill you with a life that death cannot destroy, a pardon stronger than all your sin – that’s the Gospel that the angel in Revelation was shouting about. And Martin Luther would take us to task for wondering about the face of the angel. He’d say: “His face? What does that matter! Rather, LISTEN to what he says. Listen to the eternal Gospel given him to speak, rejoice in the Jesus to which He points you. The Jesus who is your Propitiation, your At-one-ment with God.” For that gift, free, unmerited, undeserved and ours by faith, we cry out with saints and angels: All glory be to God on high! Amen.