Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. So the childhood saying goes. But I found it to be hollow, when I was teased as a child. Names hurt. The ridicule of man has an effect on man, or else the ridiculer wouldn't do it.
Jeremiah knew it. He says he was a “laughingstock” and even his close friends denounced him. Christians know it today, too, as even our own family members can mock our faith. Oh, you're not one of THOSE people, are you?
And sometimes, verbal scorn can turn to action. Christians can bear the brunt of persecution that does bring sticks and stones, and breaks your bones. Jewish tradition has Jeremiah stoned to death in Egypt. We know for sure that the first Christian martyr, Stephen was stoned to death. And many Christians, to this day, would die for the faith. It seems we read more of it in the news every day.
We ought to pray for the persecuted church, especially that they remain faithful unto death, and receive the promised crown of life. There but for the grace of God go you and I. Even when we are not persecuted to death, still, there are crosses to bear. Still, your faith doesn't solve all your problems, make your life easy and successful, or chase all the clouds away with bright shiny rainbows. You may well suffer for Christ, for your faith, for the truth – even if you don't suffer unto death.
Do you think you are any better than Jesus? They called him the devil, Beelzebul. They mocked him and treated him shamefully. They stripped and whipped and beat and spit on him. They crowned him with thorns in a sham coronation. They gave him a scepter and royal robe to kneel down in false worship. Sticks and stones? They put him on two sticks to die, and he was buried behind a big stone.
Truly, a servant is not greater than the master. The world hated him. The world hates you, too, Christian. What Jesus got, you will get too, somehow, some way, sooner or later.
I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but this is the hard truth the word puts in front of us today. We preach what Luther called a “theology of the cross”, not a “theology of glory”.
I went to a mega- church here last Sunday and heard plenty theology of glory. God wants you to be successful, healthy, wealthy, happy. And if you believe rightly, and think rightly, you will have God's favor. And good things will happen to you. Nevermind the fact that every day faithful Christians are struck down by disaster and disease. Nevermind that the faithful are mocked and persecuted. Or that they die in anonymous poverty. Oh, but this church building won an architectural award, see how God favors us!
Are you better than Jesus? No. Far worse, a sinner. The good news is not that Jesus takes all the suffering away. The good news is that he has taken your sin away. The good news is not that Jesus makes your life better, or even good, now. The good news is that Jesus has swallowed up death in his victory, and brings abundant life. The gospel of Jesus Christ stands in the midst of all that is wrong and broken and perverted and dying in this world – and speaks a contrary word of hope. Even though you die, yet shall you live. “He who lives and believes in me will never die.”
So have no fear. No fear of the persecutor, the oppressor, the enemy. Even the one who can destroy your body. For the Lord knows his people, even the hairs on your head. He who knows every time a sparrow dies, knows and values you far more than a sparrow. He knows your suffering. Jesus knows all suffering. And he will not forsake you in it.
Have no fear, for you already know what is out there: a world that hates Christians and a devil that would like nothing more than to devour us. To see us turn from God in despair, shake our fist at the heavens in anger, and join the true Beelzebul's company of misery. But have no fear, he can harm you none. He's judged, the deed is done. Christ has the victory, even when it looks like we are defeated.
And Jesus will confess you before his Father. He will say, “Father, this one belongs to me. And so this one belongs to you. I have shed my blood for this one. I have conquered death so this one might live. The world hates this one, but this one I love. The world has called this one all sorts of names, but I have called this one by my name. This one is baptized in your name, Father, and mine, and the Spirit's. This one is ours forever.”
No, you are not better than Jesus. But Jesus is far better than you and I, thanks be to God. And what is his, is ours. His suffering, yes, in which we participate. He had his cross, and we have our crosses. But we share in his righteousness, his holiness, his resurrection and his victory. God will not abandon us any more than he would abandon his own Son. And that is true comfort, even in suffering and persecution.
He is coming again, and until that time he has not left us forsaken. He remains among us by his word, and in the blessings of his holy meal. His true body and blood are present for our forgiveness, and to strengthen us in all the trials and crosses we bear.
And even by receiving this sacrament, we proclaim him – and his death, until he comes. As we gather to receive him, we confess him before men. We say, “I, a sinner, am saved by the promise and gift of my Lord Jesus Christ. Who gave his very body and blood on the cross, even to death - and gives his very (resurrected) body and blood- for my salvation, even now. I confess with all these other sinners, that He is the only savior. The way, the truth, the life. That all his words are true. That all his promises are forever. And I look for the fulfillment of these, when this foretaste gives way to the eternal marriage feast of heaven”.