Follow The Trail Of Blood

Text:  Mark 13:1-13  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

"As soon as My Word is proclaimed, men will divide into two camps: some will receive it with joy, others will be offended [and angered] by it and will begin to hate and persecute those who receive."[1]

These are the words from an old Lutheran theologian talking about the reality that the church cannot be built up in peace, for it is located within the domain of the devil, who is the prince of the world.  Even though the church is a safe ark of comfort in the raging winds and waves of this world, she is also at war. 

Make no mistake about it my friends, the church is at battle and it is not hard to track down the church, all you have to do is follow the trail of blood.[2]  Indeed, we hear it from Jesus when He says that the church, that is you and me and our brothers and sisters who confess Christ around the world, will experience suffering, persecution, and death.  From the church drips the blood of the martyrs. 

But what possible reason could there be for such bloodshed and suffering and pain, especially for the church?  To answer this we must consider that in this world the church never has had peace and never will—peace as the world understands it.  But rather, the church is marked by suffering from the world and the evil one; the church leaves a trail of blood wherever she goes.    

More specifically, this suffering from the world is due to the fact that when the Word of God is properly taught, proclaimed, and confessed, there will be tension.  Sure the Word of God will feed the hungry in spirit and it will comfort those who mourn over sin, that is to say, it will be graciously received by some; however, the Word of God will also cause the self-righteous and the proud to get angry.  And we know what angry people do; they lash out and inflict wounds; and from those wounds the church bleeds.

To witness the brutality of this anger, consider the Biblical story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament.  There in Genesis chapter four we see Abel murdered and lying in his own blood.  He was murdered by his angry brother Cain, because Cain’s hatred for Abel was due to his hatred for God refusing to accept his works-righteousness.

Anger, hatred, and persecution towards the church were not only prevalent in the Bible, but they were also prevalent throughout the history of the church.  And yes, that same anger, hatred, and persecution are with us today in the here and now.  Indeed, the spirit of Cain lives on, as people rise up against the church, when the church proclaims the Law and Gospel.  The spirit of Cain has never liked Law and Gospel and never will, thus the reason for the attacks.  Because of the Law and Gospel, we as Christians will be handed over to councils, beaten, and will stand before governors and kings.  The Word of God has that invading quality that the world simply resists and fights against, which means that we as truth bearers will receive the brunt of the blowback. 

This persecution is not merely a coffee company not choosing to celebrate Christmas on its paper coffee cups, but rather, this persecution is being hauled before judges low or high; it is accusations, denunciation, arrest, lawsuits, fines, imprisonment, verdicts of guilty, and execution of these verdicts, resulting often times in death. 

In the midst of the persecution though, there will be a way out of the pain, suffering, and tension.  Yes, many will come in the name of Christ and will tell our itching ears what they crave to hear. The church will be told,

It doesn’t have to go on like this.  There can be peace.  No more blood needs to be shed.  Oh, things could be grand if only the church learned how to compromise.  If only the church could focus on what unites rather than what divides, things would be wonderful.  If you sweeten your speech, keep your opinions to yourself, and embrace tolerance and love there would be no conflict, division, or shed blood. 

“If these lies were true [and if the church followed these suggestions], then the world would smile and sheathe its sword, the demons would retract their claws, and the haunting crimson road would come to an end.  But then, so would the Church.”[3] 

Dear friends, if we wish to be a faithful church of Christ we cannot possibly become such without striving and fighting against the lies, deceit, and ideologies of the world - lies, deceit, and ideologies in the market place and in our very homes.  This means that faithfulness comes at a cost; it is impossible to escape affliction if we wish to be faithful servants of the Lord. 

Listen now, “it is always easier to rest inside the devil’s crumbling fortress than to trudge on alone in a dark and friendless world.  It is always easier to hold hands with unbelievers inside those walls than risk public defamation by declaring the Gospel from without.  It is always easier to file away the [Word of God] until a more politically [correct] time; to bite your tongue so long as no one else speaks up.”[4]  It is easier to simply get along and smile, than speak the truth in love.  It is easier; but it is not right. 

Furthermore, this is not who you are and it is not who we are as a church.  Zion Lutheran is not a church of ease, but a church that has Christ and His Word as our cornerstone.  Woe to anyone in this church –including your pastor - that would seek ease and comfort above faithfulness to the Lord’s Word.   

Practically stated, we do not seek out tension, nor do we manufacture conflicts and fights in the church and community, but rather we strive for peace, harmony, and unity, but hold to truth at all costs.  We rejoice when harmony, warmth and tranquility fill the church and overflow to our neighbors, but not at the expense of disregarding and eliminating Jesus and His Word.  For we know that apart from Jesus we do not have eternal peace.  

I do realize that this may sound ‘doom and gloom’ for you this morning.  It also may sound like Pastor is exaggerating things a bit; however, I must humbly assert that this is our present reality.  This is what life is like as a Christian, in a world that does not know the Word of God or a world that has the spirit of Cain and persecutes the church. 

That stated, motives for coming to church today may vary.  Many of you come to church to be encouraged, others come for the social aspect, others come to get some pointers for better living, and others come for the coffee and snacks.  While all these things are good, we must acknowledge that today’s Gospel reading is a healthy dose of reality for you and for me.  It is a reality not only on the East and West Coasts of America, but a present reality here in North Dakota. 

What this means is that as your pastor I cannot and will not give us some fluffy and un-true and compromising version of Christianity.  On the basis of today’s Gospel reading from Mark,”I cannot stand before you and tell you that life on earth will be easy and rewarding and a huge success if you just have ‘a little more faith.’  That is a lie.  That is not the truth spoken in love.”[5]  But rather, we as a church must believe, teach, and confess today that the church is to be found where there is the sound and faithful Word of God and where there will most likely be contempt, poverty, shame, and a trail of blood. 

This may insight fear in you and me.  We may attempt to mop up the trail of blood and cover its stain with potpourri.  However, do not be afraid.  Do not be afraid when you are handed over to the ideological lions of our day.  Do not be afraid when you are put into a position to confess the truth of God’s Word.  Do not be afraid when the labels of ‘bigot, intolerant, judgmental, yada, yada, yada,” are flung your way.  Do not be afraid of rolled eyes or sighs of discontentment.  Do not be afraid of bleeding.  Do not be afraid of a bleeding and suffering church.   The reason why?  Even though the faithful confessions of God’s people have brought about a trail of blood from the church in the past and present, we do not look at this trail of blood in fear, for there is another trail of blood that flows from Mount Calvary.  Yes, there is a trail of blood that flows from Mount Calvary, flowing from the death of the Son of God.  As we follow this trail of blood, we are led to Mount Calvary to behold the crucified Savior.  This trail of blood from Mount Calvary is blood that covers you.  You, who have ears, hear!  You are washed.  You are forgiven.  You are justified.  You are sanctified.  All of this by the one who bled for the lives of the world and the lives of the church – you!

O little flock, do not fear.  We do not travel alone in this life.  In the midst of the persecution, suffering, and death, the Lord has always been faithful. In the midst of wars, illness, sorrow, persecution, guilt, and shame, the Lord continues to come to you as He has promised.  The blood of Mount Calvary flows to you this morning in the cup of blessing from this Altar. 

Though weak and frail and frightened you may be, it matters not, for it is not you who fight but the Lord who fights for you.

“You are not alone.  You have your Lord.  He comes to speak words of warning and comfort to you.  He comes to feed your body and soul with His Body and Blood so that you will be strengthened for the times and trials to come; so that you will have joy and peace that surpasses all understanding while you wait and even while you suffer.  For He is not simply your Lord in the future, when all sorrows shall cease, but He is also your loving and gracious and almighty Lord right now, even in the midst of sorrow, [persecution, and strife].”[6]

Glory in fame, numbers, power, and reputation matter not.  What matters is the trail of blood from Mt. Calvary that holds us, the bleeding Church.  What matters is that Christ holds us now and to the end when He will someday say to us, “Well done!  You were faithful; you did not look for ease and comfort; you kept what was entrusted to you.” 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1928), 265-267.

[2] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons (Copyright 2014 Chad Bird), 112.

[3] Ibid, 112.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jason Zirbel, “Life in the Midst of Labor Pains,” LCMS Sermons, (accessed November 11, 2015)

[6] Ibid.

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