The Martyr Church: a Devotion for the Church in Convention
TEXT: Revelation 12:7-17
HYMN: Lord of Our Life (LSB 659)
Lord of our life and God of our salvation, Star of our night and hope of ev’ry nation: Hear and receive Your Church’s supplication, Lord God Almighty.
See round Your ark the hungry billows curling; See how Your foes their banners are unfurling And with great spite their fiery darts are hurling, O Lord, preserve us.
Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us; Lord, be our shield when earthly armor fails us; And in the day when hell itself assails us, Grant us Your peace, Lord:
Peace in our hearts, where sinful thoughts are raging, Peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging, Peace when the world its endless war is waging, Peace in Your heaven.
Can there be a more suitable hymn for the Church Militant? It is an essential hymn for the martyr Church—and as long as the Church remains in this world as a faithful witness, we will and must remain the martyr Church.
This is a hymn for the Church on earth marching behind the Lord, yet still bombarded by the enemy. This victory march is often more like a long slog through the mud, getting tangled in barbed wire, digging trenches, only to pack up and press on through the ruined battlefield. Is this an image of winning or losing? A woman hiding in the wilderness. A dragon making war on her little children. Looks like losing. Yet, the woman is given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly… to the place where she is to be nourished. And though her children are attacked, it is because they remain faithful—they keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
In one sense, the Church is both winning and losing. From the perspective of the sinful flesh and this sinful world, we are always losing, always dying. From the perspective of the risen Lord, always living, always rising. And this means that the martyr Church will never be fully welcome in the corridors of power. And we must not let the lords of this world convince us that they will accept us and we can have a seat at the cool kids’ table so long as we play by their rules. We would be swept away by the dragon’s flood of depravity and lies if it were not for our Lord’s merciful deliverance and our certainty that one day He will judge the scoffers, the power-hungry, and the worldly-wise.
This also means that it will never be calm or easy within the Church. Our own hearts will deceive us and seek to turn us over to the devil. We are always in danger of growing weary from the good fight and wishing we could just give it a rest for a time. But we must be ever vigilant and always contending for the Truth. All Christians—pastors and people, young and old—we must talk theology together, study and sometimes argue together, challenging one another with brotherly affection. This is how the Church continues the fight.
And do not be discouraged by the war. Ultimately, the Church is never losing or winning, but has already won. Our God is the Man, Jesus Christ, who died, and behold, He lives with the ancient dragon crushed beneath His feet. The Lord has taken up our cause and He has won it for us. Now, act like it! That means no nervous hand-wringing and no desperate rabble-rousing. Towards the world, the Church remains strong and defiant. And towards the Lord, we are always pleading, ever conscious of the fact that sufficiency is not in ourselves. Our testimony is nothing more or less than the echo of our Lord’s own Word: the proclamation made true by the atoning blood of the Lamb. That blood made peace in heaven. And that peace is and forever remains ours.
The Church on earth has the Lord’s peace in the midst of strife, and the Church lives in the midst of death. So shall we remain the martyr Church. Until we finally come to that eternal city of peace, where palm branches will be placed in our hands, and every tear will be wiped away.
Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord; Peace in our time, O send us! For there is none on earth but You, None other to defend us. You only, Lord, can fight for us. Amen.
*This homily was first given at the 2018 convention of Iowa District East. It seemed a suitable devotion to share as the LCMS prepares to meet in convention this coming week.