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God has Fulfilled April 22, 2012

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Acts 3:11-21

Third Sunday of Easter

April 21-22, 2012

Focus: God has fulfilled His covenant and His prophets in His Son.

Function: That the hearers see Christ in the Old Testament.

Structure: Road to Emmaus (Interpreting the Scriptures)

God has Fulfilled

            Being a prophet is risky business.  On the one hand, you could never be quite sure what God was going to tell you to do.  He might command you to walk around naked for three years or do nothing but lie on your side for over a year.  But on the other hand, your prophecies had to be perfect.  If you messed up, if you claimed to speak for the Lord and were wrong, you were deemed a false prophet and killed.  Prophesying wasn’t an easy line of work.

But the Bible is filled with prophecies nonetheless.  I can’t give you an exact number, though the debating scholars tend to say there are more than a thousand prophecies.  And prophecies directly related to the coming Messiah are usually said to be somewhere around 300.  Try asking Dr. Steinmann what he thinks the numbers are.

Just prior to our gospel reading, Luke recounts what we know as the Road to Emmaus.  Two of His followers were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  As they were walking, Jesus came up beside them and they failed to recognize Him as the risen Lord.  He asked them why they were so sad and then listened as they told Him all that had happened in Jerusalem the last three days and how they had thought that Jesus would be the One to redeem Israel.  They didn’t quite get it.  Luke then tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Jesus opened up their minds and helped them to understand all of the wonderful details of the Scriptures.  He took the time to explain how the prophecies unfolded, how all of Scripture pointed to Him and what He would do for His people.

It’s no surprise that in Luke’s other book, Acts, we find something similar.  In our reading, the apostle Peter takes the time to explain to the Jews about their Messiah.  It’s not as detailed, but Peter emphasizes the connections.

He begins by tying himself to their roots, establishing that he is talking about the God they believe in, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers.  This is a direct tie to the Old Testament covenant that Yahweh made with Abraham, and continued with Isaac and Jacob.  It was a covenant about blessings, about the numerous offspring Abraham would have, that he’d become nations, and that Yahweh would be his God, and they His people.

But then he shifts to Jesus, the Messiah they don’t believe in.  God glorified His servant Jesus.  You disowned Him, betrayed Him, shouted and forced for a crucifixion, for His death.  You even asked for a murderer to be released in His place.  You killed the author of life, which connects to creation in Genesis 1.  You did all this; God raised Him from the dead.

This man you see before you, who’s running around for the first time in his life, is healed because of Christ, not us.  That’s why you’re here now.  You’re surprised that this man you’ve known as a beggar because he couldn’t even walk, can now move freely.  It’s because of the One you killed, Jesus, who God raised from the dead, He is why this man is healthy.

Peter pulls back from blaming them.  He lightens up so they don’t feel attacked and get defensive.  “Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”  You didn’t know what you were doing.  But it in a way, it’s a good thing.  In a way, God worked through you.  “But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer.”

The Suffering Servant.  Among Christians, the prophet Isaiah’s accounts of the Suffering Servant are fairly well known.  We still wonder today how a Jew can read them, and not see Jesus.  Listen to an example of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

 

So deep rooted are the connections in Isaiah to Christ.  It’s difficult for us to read through a passage like that and not think of what Christ suffered at our expense.  To not think about His crucifixion, how He gave up His life for us.

Peter then invites the Jews into the kingdom, to become a part of God’s family, to be buried together with Christ, to benefit from His crucifixion. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that He may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you.”  He makes a call for their repentance.  Just turn away from your current sinful way and believe as this man has.  He couldn’t walk, but now he can.  See him, see the power of Yahweh, and His Son Jesus.  Repent and believe!

Peter doesn’t end where our text does either.  He brings them back to the Old Testament God they know.  He goes back to Moses, to the prophets, and how it was said that a prophet would be raised up among them, namely Jesus.  He reminds them that they are the sons of the covenant that Yahweh made with Abraham, and then he reminds them of the final part of the covenant: “And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Here again we have a prophecy about Christ, something that Peter and the Spirit were trying to get the Jews to see.  In English, the word offspring is a little unclear, you can’t tell if it’s singular or plural.  But in both the original Hebrew, and quoted into Greek, you can tell.  It’s singular.  It refers to a single seed, or a single descendant of Abraham, through whom all of the nations would be blessed.  It refers to Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, the Messiah who was to come and indeed has come.  The nations are blessed not just by His ministry, but by His love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and the everlasting life that He gives.

Connections such as these exist throughout Scripture.  Just to make you think, here’s another one.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, what did He say, what were some of the final words from His lips?  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Have you ever wondered why Jesus said those words, just as He said them?  Well, let’s pause for a moment.

When we name a hymn, how do we name it?  Typically, we know it by its first line.  “Amazing Grace” is titled that way because that’s how it starts.  That’s how the people of Jesus’ day knew the Psalms.  They weren’t numbered as we have them, they were known by their opening verse.  Now reading through the Psalms, did you ever notice that Jesus was actually quoting one?  Psalm 22 begins “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  I can’t help but think Jesus chose His words carefully.  That even in His dying breath, He was still witnessing to people.  That whoever was still standing around His cross would have heard the words, and been reminded of Psalm 22, and they would have realized it was talking about Jesus.  When you go home today, open your Bible, read it tonight and ponder Jesus’ words.

The Scriptures abound with connections and prophecies like these.  As Luke noted in his account of the Road to Emmaus, the Scriptures attest to Christ.  If you’re curious to see more, look into a study Bible.  If you don’t own one, go get one.  In the margins of the pages, the editors will let you know where passages and quotes come from, and if there’s a connection between one text and another, they’ll show you the connections.  It really provides a way to deepen your understanding of the Bible and what Christ did for you on the cross.  It helps you see that God indeed kept His covenant, that He sacrificed His Son to do what we could not.  That He fulfilled all the prophecies.  That He is indeed our God and we are His children.

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Seeing is Believing? April 15, 2012

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John 20:19-31

Second Sunday after Easter

April 14-15, 2012

Focus: God raised His Son from the dead.

Function: That the hearers hope is firmly rooted in the gospel.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view, but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Seeing is Believing?

 

Christ is risen!  (wait)

Our gospel lesson today has left one of the disciples branded.  Face it, when you think about Thomas, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Doubting.  Doubting Thomas.  It’s just the way it is.  But it is fair?  Should we really pin it all on him?

Often times we think it was just Thomas, but was it really?  On Easter morning, what did the women do?  Did they go to the tomb looking for a resurrected Lord?  Quite the opposite: they went to take care of the body.  And what about the rest of the disciples when the women came and told them?  Did the disciples rejoice?  No!  They locked themselves up in a home and hid from the Jews.

We blame Thomas for doubting because he needed to see it to believe.  But look back at the text.  As the Greek says it, “The disciples were overjoyed having seen the Lord.”  They, like Thomas, needed to see it to believe it.  Until the resurrected Christ showed up in their midst and spoke with them, they doubted.  We’ll just have to face the facts, all of the disciples were doubters.  They all struggled to understand the message even when Jesus was with them.

But, was it really so bad that they wanted proof?  For those of you who don’t know my background, I was born and raised in Missouri, a state whose unofficial nickname is the Show Me State.  You’ll even notice it on my license plate in the parking lot.

There are a couple different origin stories for the nickname, but the most likely deals with Missouri’s first congressman, William Vandiver.  While serving on the House Committee on Naval Affairs, and perhaps fed up with political bickering, Mr. Vandiver questioned the accuracy of an early speaker’s comments.  “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.  I am from Missouri, You have got to show me.”

Missourians aren’t alone in wanting proof of a matter.  We all do it, all the time.  Think of our justice system and how it revolves around the ability to produce evidence and witnesses.  If you go to the store to return an item, you have to provide proof of purchase, a receipt.  And at this point, unless you’re a diehard optimist, if someone told you the Cubs were priming for a World Series run, you’d probably have to see it to believe it.

The disciples weren’t really any different.  Even though Jesus had already told them, they still didn’t quite get this concept of rising from the dead.  Seeing Lazarus raised didn’t help much either.  And telling them that He would rise on the third day didn’t stop the women from going to the tomb that morning.

Let’s not mistake this for disciple-bashing.  It wasn’t some horrendous thing that the disciples needed to see it.  Notice, Christ didn’t scold them or yell at them.  Bear in mind what Christ said, “Peace be with you!”  And then He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit.

The real purpose of this text isn’t about the disciples, or Thomas, needing to see anything.  Instead it’s in what Christ instructed them to do.  “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.”  Get out from behind these locked doors and go share the good news.  Let the world know that I have been raised from the dead.

And then there’s what He said to Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Christ’s concern in this passage is getting the message of His resurrection to as many people as possible.  His concern is for both Jew and Gentile.  His concern is for both you and me.

The problem in the text is that the disciples were hiding.  Their disbelief in Jesus’ resurrection caused them to fear the Jews and hide.  It prevented them from sharing the message of a Messiah.  And even after appearing to them once, they were still locked inside a week later.

In 1 Timothy, Paul tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”    That is also the clear mission that Jesus gave them in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ own disciples, the men and women who had lived with Him during His ministry needed proof.  They had to see to believe.  What’s that mean for everyone else?  The disciples would soon find out.  After Jesus left them, they eventually did unlock the doors and start preaching the Word.  They taught that Christ had indeed been raised from the dead.  Paul would tell the Corinthians that if they doubted the resurrection, they could go to any of the five hundred brothers who had seen the resurrected Christ and ask about it.  They baptized, they instructed, they made disciples.

Over the next couple of months we’ll be reading from the book of Acts, which recounts how Christ’s bride the church grew during that early period.  But there’s a lot of history between Acts and our present day, too much for me to handle in a sermon unless y’ all like the dark ages.

But think about the world around us today.  We already talked about how people still want proof of things.  And it’s no different when they look at God.  How many Christians do you know that want proof of God?  Maybe you’re one of them right now.  In our Bible study a couple months ago led by Mark Wilkening, we talked about attempts to either prove, or disprove, the Bible.  We discussed how non-Christians want proof, or say we should give up our faith.  We all want to be shown.  Missouri just admits it.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  We fit that verse.  And we are indeed blessed.  We are blessed in that God would call us His children.  We are blessed in His love for us and the forgiveness that He has given to us through Christ.  We are blessed by the gift of everlasting life that God grants to His children.

Christ’s admonition to His disciples, to share the gospel with others, is still for us today.  We may not be able to show others a resurrected body of Christ; but, there is much we do have.

It is now precisely as John said, that “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  We have the Word of God, the Bible, printed in mass quantities that we can share.  And as the disciples did, we can talk about the message of salvation, forgiveness, and love that God offers.  In baptism, God still pours out His Spirit.  In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ still bring forgiveness.  When Pastor tells you that in the name of Christ, your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.

The desire for proof plagues all men, those who believe and those who don’t.  But as we learn from one of our brothers, whoever wrote Hebrews, faith isn’t about proof.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Assurance and conviction.  Although we haven’t seen it, we’re sure of it.  Our hope isn’t wishy-washy, our hope is certain.  Our faith is in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It’s in the relationship that He established with us as His people and as His children.  It’s in the forgiveness He died to give us.  It’s in the life He promised to us.  Indeed, we can be certain.  Christ is risen! wait