John was a soldier. Yes, he was a veteran of World War II, but he was also a soldier in two other respects. Anybody who lives to 102 years of age will bear the scars of this life, whether in the military or not. And by virtue of his baptism into Christ, he was also involved in the daily struggle against sin and the forces of hell. So we might say that John was a soldier of three types: in war, in life, and of Christ.
If you were to compare the reality of hell to something in this life, you could hardly do better than to compare it to war. Nobody escapes war unscathed, and John had two purple hearts to attest to that fact. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter, we prayed in Psalm 46. But this raging does not last forever. It was never God’s intention for nation to rise against nation, nor will it be this way forever. As the Psalm assured us, He makes wars cease to the end of the earth.
This is because Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Even when all hell seems to be breaking loose, whether it’s the chaos of war or bearing the battle scars of this life, Jesus is with you to comfort you and give you His peace. Today’s Holy Gospel shows us where we find this peace.
There we heard about another soldier, a Roman centurion. Like any good soldier, he knew how to take orders and how to give them. He had a servant who was paralyzed and experiencing a great deal of suffering. He wanted peace for his servant, and so he turned to Jesus.
That’s why we’ve gathered here today: for the peace of Jesus. Death is painful. Even though John had a good long life, death is never easy. Lynn told me she would have gladly taken another 102 years with her father. When we’re confronted with something that’s too big for us to handle—and even when we seem to be getting along just fine—the best thing we can do, like the Roman centurion, is to turn to the Lord.
Jesus’ Word is powerful to bring peace even into the most hopeless looking of situations. Soldiers understand the power of words. They give and receive orders and a routine basis, and those words, those orders, are carried out. You might say, “Well, Jesus isn’t with us in the flesh the way He was with that Roman centurion.” But it wasn’t Jesus’ physical presence that brought healing to the servant, it was His Word.
Jesus offered to come and heal the servant, but the centurion recognized the power and authority of Jesus’ Word. If this centurion, a lowly Roman soldier, could give orders and expect things to happen, how much more power and authority is there in God’s Word! So he said, Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
This same healing Word comes to you today, with the same power and authority
that it did when Jesus spoke with this centurion. This is why though we mourn, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
The cross goes before us in all of our battles. It is the reminder of Christ’s victory over Satan and the forces of hell. Our struggle isn’t ultimately against the things of this world, but as Ephesians 6 says, Against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. There are some battles we just can’t win. The things of this life can get us down, and there’s no overcoming death by our own reason or strength. But you aren’t left without aid. Jesus not only fought the battles we couldn’t win, but He won them, and He shares His victory with all who are baptized and believe.
Revelation 7 speaks of those who have come out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. If it weren’t for this washing in the blood of the Lamb, there would be no escape from the great tribulation of this life. There would always be cause for fear: have I done enough? Have I been a good enough person? Will Jesus accept even me into heaven as His own child?
If winning the battle against Satan and entering into eternal life depended on anything we do, it would never happen. The fight is fierce and the warfare long, and if you’re in battle long enough, it’s easy to become hardened. Compromises are made, and frustration sets in. That’s why those who have come out of the great tribulation need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. We don’t come out of the warfare unscathed. But God’s healing love is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful. There is great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
John’s time of struggle has now ended. There is no more war, suffering, or death for him. Jesus’ promise in the psalm, He makes wars cease to the end of the earth is now a reality for John. To live is Christ, and to die is gain. As we continue on in our struggle, we live by faith in Christ and His victory over the grave for us.
Many were privileged to know John during his 102 years here on earth, and by worldly standards, that’s a good long time. But by faith in Jesus, you have the blessed assurance of so much more than 102 more years with John—you have all eternity with Him—gathered around the throne of the Lamb with all of His saints, where all of our wounds are healed and there is no more war.
Soli Deo Gloria
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 8:5—13
In Memoriam: +John Overling+
Monday of Septuagesima, 2014
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