jump to navigation

Till Christ Returns May 17, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Acts 1:1-11

Ascension

May 17, 2012

Focus: God lifted His Son to His right hand and poured out His Spirit upon His people.

Function: That the hearers bear witness to the ends of the earth.

Structure: If this…then this…and thus this…

 

Till Christ Returns

            Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!

As we draw near to the end of our Easter season, we’ll be moving from the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the time of the church.  Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles, which we call Acts, will help us make that transition.

Luke prefaces Acts with the idea that his first book, Luke, talked about all that Jesus did and taught up until His ascension into the heavens.  Much like we might expect from the books and TV shows in our own culture, the sequel begins with a bit of summary or recap of what happened before.

Luke rewinds to the suffering of Christ.  It’s a flashback to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to the betrayal of Christ, His arrest, and the bitter torture He endured all the way to the point of death on the cross.  But considering that’s only verse three of an entire book, we know that death isn’t the end.  Instead, we rejoice each and every day that on Easter morning, God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

And Christ’s resurrection was no secret, either.  The resurrected Lord and Savior of man revealed Himself to His people, appearing to the disciples, and many more as proof of His message.  Proof that He is the very Son of God, and that His death defeated our sin.

For forty days then, Jesus Christ roamed the world, preaching and teaching again, but this time with all the authority of God the Father in heaven.  No longer did He speak in parables and ways which the disciples couldn’t understand, but instead He slowed everything down, began with the Old Testament, and explained all that the prophets had said about Him.  He taught them how all of the Scripture pointed to salvation through Him, forgiveness paid for on the cross.

But Luke then recounts one of Jesus’ last conversations with His disciples.  He told them to remain in Jerusalem, remain in that city where Christ was arrested, where His followers are persecuted for their faith.  Remain, and wait.  Wait for the gift from above, the gift that the Father will surely give.  It’s the very gift that Christ Himself told the disciples about.  “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”

Jesus didn’t hide anything from the disciples here.  He made sure that they knew what He was saying.  “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  When John prepared the way for Jesus, he said that he was baptizing with water, but that One would soon come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  The disciples knew John was talking about Christ, but now Christ reveals that that baptism is about to happen.  Stay here in Jerusalem for a few more days and then “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke then tells us how the disciples confused law and gospel, though they did err on the side of the gospel.  We can debate just what they meant when they asked Jesus whether now was the time for Him to restore Israel.  They may still have been stuck in that culture’s idea of the Messiah as One who would set up an earthly reign.  Or perhaps they truly understood now and knew that the end was near.  Either way, here we see that their thoughts were like ours, in that we do nothing, and salvation comes from God alone.  Is it time yet for You Jesus to restore everything?

Whichever way they were thinking, they were likely surprised by Jesus’ response.  That’s God’s alone to know.  It’s not our job to try to plan the end times.  But rather, Jesus tells them, you have something to do.  See, in just a few days’ time, the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit.  And to this our Lord instructed them “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

By Luke’s account, these were Christ’s final words to His disciples before the ascension.  In verse nine, the disciples witness Christ being taken up into the heavens and then being hidden from their eyes by the clouds.   Luke makes it sound like they just kept staring, fixated on what had just happened.  Puzzled that Christ had not only just left them, but just did something not humanly possible.

That they were mesmerized and astonished is evidenced by the angels that then appeared to them.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Thinking about the situation, we might’ve expected the angels to say something more profound or to tell them that the ascension was necessary, but they simply don’t bother.  The angels did provide some comfort for the disciples in reminding them that Christ would come again, He would return.

Luke’s accounts of the ascension, both in Luke and in Acts, have a different purpose.  The disciples wanted to focus on Christ, what He was doing, and how He was leaving.  But for Luke it’s all about the transition.   I don’t want to launch into a sermon on what we’re transitioning to, as that would spoil Pastor’s sermon next weekend when we celebrate Pentecost, as that’s the transition.  So instead we’ll focus on Luke’s account at hand today.

Luke downplays the importance of Christ’s ascension.  That doesn’t mean he makes it irrelevant.  It’s still important that Christ ascended into the heavens, took His rightful place at the Father’s right hand, and began His everlasting reign.  It’s still important because Christ had to go heaven in order to send the Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, to send the Holy Spirit to us.

Just as we know from the beginning of time, that God the Father didn’t stop with creation, neither does Jesus stop.  Sure the Father rested on the seventh day, more so to provide us with an example than anything.  But He has continued creating, sustaining, and caring for His creation ever since.  In that same way, just because Jesus has ascended into the heavens doesn’t mean that He has stopped working.  Christ is still the mediator between God and man.  He still forgives us of our sins and reconciles us to our Heavenly Father.  He is still present among us when two or three are gathered in His name.  He’s still with us, present in body and blood at His table.

But Luke shifts the focus.  As he already noted, his gospel was all about what Christ did and taught.  But this introduction to his second book shifts from what Christ did, to the work of the Holy Spirit.  The book of Acts is all about the glorification and growth of God’s kingdom through the Spirit’s work, and how He then works through the disciples and the church to strengthen and sustain the church.

Oddly enough, the Lutheran Study Bible describes the power mentioned in verse eight, the power the disciples would receive when the Holy Spirit came upon them, as superhuman strength.  I’m going to stick myself out on a limb here and disagree with the Lutheran Study Bible’s unholy footnote.  In a media rich society, that sounds like a superhero.  But, the Spirit isn’t giving them the power to lift boulders.  The power instead, is the gospel.  The love, forgiveness and salvation of God.  And it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit, that in Him, we may do good works.

This particular work, that Christ Himself has given, is to share the gospel.  That’s why He immediately followed power with being witnesses, spreading the gospel in Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Christ’s command here is in all essence, the same as the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that we “go 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.”

So while He was speaking directly to His disciples, and we’ll hear much more on that next weekend at Pentecost, Christ’s command, commission, exhortation, includes us.  Part of being a follower of Christ, being filled with His Spirit, is sharing the good news to the ends of the earth.  There are people right here in Elmhurst who need to hear of God’s love and forgiveness.  They’re in Villa Park, Bensenville, Chicago, St. Louis, Ohio, and Asia.  People everywhere need to know.  And the Spirit enables us to tell them.

All of this is why the angels’ statement seems so strange.  Why are you standing here?  Sure He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  In the meantime, there’s work to be done.  It’s glorifying to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that His kingdom and His message is shared with everyone.  For God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Advertisements

Love Each Other May 13, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 12-13, 2012

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

In chapel this week, we talked about how we all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  Most stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious.  Love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or so in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s new Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  At our men’s retreat a couple weekends ago, we looked in depth at being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  And we discussed a couple of Bible verses on this topic.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  And what better a day than Mother’s Day?  That one day of the year that we set aside to let our moms know just how much we appreciate everything they do for us.  Hopefully everyone remembered!

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Now, I don’t want men to feel left out, as similar things can be said about fathers too, but that’s next month.  I stumbled across any number of stories this week in honor of Mother’s Day, but I would like to share one with you that I think really illustrates the love of a mother for her child.

There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were both  terribly disfigured, downright gruesome. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, at home crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was. Despite the hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what had happened.

“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”

Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s marred hands and arms.

I chose that story because it illustrates how much a mom truly loves her child.  It demonstrates the lengths that she is willing to go for her baby, the sacrifices she’s willing to make, and also the lack of respect and appreciation that she’s willing to endure when her children hit puberty.  It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.