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Witnesses of the Resurrection April 23, 2017

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Acts 5:29-42

Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives the sins of all people.

Function:  That the hearers obey God by witnessing His resurrection.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection

 

Throughout the Easter season, we will be randomly jumping around through the book of Acts.  So, before we start that today, just a quick refresher on what the book of Acts is.  It’s written by Luke and serves as a sequel book to the Gospel according to Luke.  If we were to say his first book was all about the life and work of Jesus Christ, then this second book would be about the work of the Holy Spirit in building up the bride of Christ, His Church.

Acts begins with the account of the Ascension.  Forty days after His resurrection, Christ was taken up into heaven.  It then covers the day of Pentecost, another ten days later.  And that was a great day indeed in our church’s history.  Three thousand people heard the good news of Christ crucified and their sins forgiven.  And they joined the church and Peter baptized them!  But, that’s our text next weekend.

After Pentecost we see Peter and John heal a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ.  This outraged many of the leaders, and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought to trial.  And it’s before this council that Peter can proclaim

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter and John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ left the members of the Sanhedrin baffled.  Luke records a little of their confusion, but ultimately doesn’t tell us whether they believed in what they heard.

After giving them a sound beating and a warning to stop preaching about Jesus, they sent Peter and John away.  But they didn’t listen.  They didn’t stop proclaiming Christ.  And so we come to Acts 5.  But to get the full context, we need to start a few verses earlier.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

 

That’s the context of our reading today.  Peter and John performing miracles in the name of Christ.  Preaching and teaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Christ alone.  And once again, arrested.  But this time, rather than being released, God sends an angel to set them free and to encourage them to go and preach some more.

And so when the chief priests and the officers finally find them, that’s precisely what they’re doing.  And those last words of the high priest are incredible.  If only he had realized it himself.  “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  Yes!  Exactly!  Because it’s this Man’s blood that forgives you of your sins, even the sin of crucifying Him.

Our text today began with Peter’s response.  And it’s a verse you know well.  “We must obey God rather than men.”  As we talk about our government, the laws that they pass, the things they tell us to do or not do, this verse is a helpful guide.  God has given our government the authority they have, and we are to honor them.  But, if their directives go against the will of God, we must obey God.

It’s sort of like the Venn Diagram, those two overlapping circles you learned about in your school days.  In the one circle we have the things of God, in the other, the things of man, and so long as the things of men overlap the things of God, they’re okay.  But they certainly don’t always.  In fact, we could argue they usually don’t.

Even Christians fall for this trap, though.  How much were the two presidential candidates this past fall painted as saviors?  The promise of Trump’s campaign to Christians was that he would protect their religious freedom and stave off persecution of the church.  Go home and Google Barronelle Stutzman, and you’ll quickly find out that’s not true.  The President can’t save anyone.  It’s not his job.

Another source of men that we often obey rather than God is our peers.  You may have thought peer pressure ended when you graduated from high school.  But peer pressure is alive and well among us adults, perhaps even more powerful than it was when we were growing up.  Think about it for just a moment.  One of the things that God has given you to do is to be a witness of the resurrection, to tell others of the forgiveness of Christ given for them on the cross.  What stops you?

What stops you?  Do you not tell them because you don’t like them?  That’s not usually the case, is it?  It’s usually because we like them that we don’t tell them.  We fear losing a friend, or making the relationship more awkward.  We fear the reprimand of our boss if we actually said “I forgive you” when they’ve done something wrong.  Or we fear the persecution of strangers if our faith becomes known.

And so we don’t.  We don’t witness.  But, we are forgiven.  Even for this.  Even of all those times when we could have shared Christ with another, we’re forgiven.  The very message that we’ve been given to carry and proclaim is the message that’s been proclaimed to us.  And its efficacy, its ability to work, doesn’t depend on you.

Let me say that again a different way.  Your forgiveness isn’t dependent on what you do.  Christ doesn’t withhold forgiveness from you because you failed to tell someone else about Him.  That’s not how any of this works!

In the body and blood of Christ, broken on the cross, your sins are forgiven!  Done, gone.  It’s finished.  In His resurrection from the tomb, your death is conquered.  It has no power over you.  The grave is defeated.  Sin and death are removed.  Even yours. Even mine!

We’re forgiven and alive in Christ.  The very message we are to deliver to others is the very message that delivers us: Christ, and Him crucified and risen again.  This is the message of the Apostles.  Even when speaking to the authorities, this is what they preach: the forgiveness of sins.

pause

Often times the word “evangelism” causes us to pause.  That’s Pastor’s job, not mine.  I don’t have time for that.  I wouldn’t know what to say.  All of these things are false.  A brother pastor, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, wrote up a really nice piece on what evangelism actually is.  And listen to just one paragraph from his article:

The Word of God, being the means of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in the heart of sinful man, is effective. It is a false and dangerous tendency to treat the Word of God as mere information that only has benefit when accepted and acted upon (as is the case with American Evangelicalism). The Gospel is the authoritative declaration of sins forgiven (Absolution). In fact, the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

 

Read the book of Acts, and this is what you’ll see.  When Peter and the others are preaching on Pentecost, the people are crushed in the guilt of their sins.  And how does Peter respond?  Does he chastise them further for crucifying Christ?  Not at all!  He forgives them.  And 3,000 are baptized.  That’s what we pastors call, a good day.  Forgiveness proclaimed to a broken sinner.  That’s a good day, regardless of numbers.

When, in Acts 7, Stephen is being stoned to death, his very last words mirror the last words of Christ.  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Even in his dying breath, he’s praying for their forgiveness.

This you can do.  You can announce the forgiveness of sins to a despairing neighbor or coworker.  You can tell them that their failure is not their end.  That their life doesn’t depend on them, but it’s been won for them in Christ.  You can tell this to your beloved spouse or children, as you live together, loving one another as Christ loved His church.

But really, again, the beauty is, it’s not your work.  The Word of God is efficacious, it does stuff.  The Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on you.  This is why the Apostles could readily die for their faith.  It didn’t depend on them.  The church wouldn’t fail the next day because Peter was crucified.  The church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of sins is the work of Jesus Christ done to you and for you; not by you.

This is how you live.  You are the despairing neighbor.  You are the crushed and accused.  You are the spouse or the child in need of the love of another.  And you have it.  It’s yours.  It’s been given to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Forgiveness and life are yours.  He bought them with His own blood, and He gives them to you.

This led to the wise words of Rabban Gamaliel in verses 38-39, where he said,

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

 

Don’t misunderstand that.  Gamaliel isn’t taking the side of Peter and John.  He taught Saul everything he knew about Judaism, and Saul became the greatest persecutor of the church, well, until Christ forgave him.

“If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”  The church is the work of God.  We didn’t die on the cross.  Christ did.  He gives to us the forgiveness of sins.  We didn’t rise from the tomb by our own power.  But on the Last Day, we will rise from our graves by the power of Christ Himself.  These things aren’t our doing, but they’ve been done for us.

And so Peter responded that we must obey God rather than men.  The focus of Peter is on obeying God.  And obeying according to this text is to witness to the resurrection.  And that’s a both/and.  We witness the resurrection not just by telling our neighbors, but because Christ rose.  To witness something is to see it.  And while we may not be witnesses directly, by the power of God, our sins are forgiven, and the gift of life is ours.  And it is in Christ and it is in the work of the Spirit alone that we can be witnesses of this truly awesome thing: Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Transferred in Blood November 20, 2016

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Colossians 1:13-20

Proper 29

November 20, 2016

 

Focus:  God transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

Function:  That the hearers trust in their coming Savior.

Structure:  Following the Lectionary.

 

Transferred in Blood

 

There is no Law today.  Really, in our epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, we see no law at all.  Nothing we’ve done wrong.  Nothing we must do.  Nothing.  It’s gospel from start to finish.  It talks about where we were apart from Christ, and shows us who we are in Christ, specifically, in the peacemaking blood of Christ.

So I want to do something a little different than we normally do.  I want to base this sermon on all three texts.  Let’s let the law come from Malachi, the response of God to that law from Luke, and then what that means for us from Colossians.

The whole letter of the prophet Malachi is essentially one very large accusation of God against the people of God.  And, being God, that accusation is justified, it’s true.  The Lord says, “Your words have been hard against Me.”  That is, we speak against God.  We speak harsh words of our King.  We speak blasphemy against our Maker.  We speak against His name each and every time we break His commands that He gave to us.  We speak against His name with every thought.

And yet our response, the response of the people is “How have we spoken against you?”  Well, there’s the ways I just gave, but we’ll let God speak for Himself:

You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?  And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’

 

We are one and the same.  We wonder, we doubt serving God.  “What’s the point?” we ask of ourselves.  Why should I bother going to church?  Why is it that the more I read God’s Word, the more things seem to go wrong in my life? Shouldn’t they be better?  If I’m following God, why does it seem like I do nothing but mourn and grieve all the time?

We doubt.  We doubt ourselves to be His disciples.  We doubt that we’re really His children.  We doubt His promises that He’s made to us.  We doubt that He will actually bother to keep them.

And then we look around.  We see how the wicked prosper.  They cheat, they steal, and yet they win at life.  They have better homes, better jobs.  Bids for the highest offices of our land.  It doesn’t make sense, but it sure looks like God blesses the wicked for their wickedness.  And just like the teacher’s pet in school, they get away with whatever they want.

I don’t expect that you’ve had all of those thoughts.  But I would expect that all of you have at least had some of those thoughts.  That’s part of our brokenness, part of our sinful nature: that we doubt.  We doubt God.  We doubt His Word.  We doubt His promises to us.

And other parts of Malachi show that for those who transgress, who sin against God, the punishment will be swift and harsh.  God said in 3:5 –

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me.”

 

But Malachi continues writing and says that for those who feared Yahweh, Yahweh heard them, “and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared Yahweh and esteemed His name.”

And of them God said, “They shall be mine…in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them…Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”

When does this come?  When will we see the distinction?  That’s actually the next two verses, which were the first two verses that we read last weekend.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says Yahweh of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

 

The Day is coming.  And while ultimately that prophecy points to Judgment Day, it also points us to our reading from Luke today.  To Jesus, walking, bearing the cross upon His shoulders as He walks the streets to Golgotha, the place they called “The Skull.”

To the women following Him who were in tears, Jesus had pity on them.  “Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”  A judgment was coming.  And Jesus knew it completely.  The judgment that the Jews and Romans handed Him that day did not compare to the judgment that God would bring upon them all in just a few decades time.

Christ continued to walk, and as He reached the place, they nailed His hands and feet to the cross, and raised it up for the world to see, and laugh, and mock this King of the Jews.  And yet, even in the midst of the beatings, the torture, the mockery, the crucifixion, Jesus hangs there and cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Forgiving the very people who took His life.  A distinction between those who serve God and those who don’t.

A distinction we see in the two men crucified with Christ.  One who continues the taunt, but the other, who pleads that Jesus His Lord would forgive him and remember him when He comes into His eternal kingdom.  And to this man, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the context in which Paul was writing to the Colossian church, there was heresy flying around.  People were teaching that Jesus was just one of any number of divine beings that we could worship.  And even those who worshipped Christ, struggled as they were told they must worship Caesar as god, or at the very least, semi-divine.  Some kind of demigod.

It is right into the midst of this tension, that Paul places this letter.  He begins by saying that “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is that gospel I was talking about.  This is the good news, the greatest news of all time.  That you, enslaved in this realm of darkness, stuck in your sins, lost in your transgressions, God has delivered you.  Think of that image.  Think of the dusty and battered box laying around in a dark, dank warehouse.  But the UPS guy picks it up and delivers it.  He takes the box out of the dark, delivers it to its destination, to the place where it belongs.

And it’s the same with the next word.  That He transferred us.  Think of the employee stuck in a job where they’re just spinning.  They can’t do the job right, the boss doesn’t like them.  Things are nothing short of awful.  Work is like death.  And then they’re transferred.  They’re given new life in a new position.

Those aren’t quite the words of Scripture, but they’re still neat illustrations to think through a little.  But Paul is going to spend the next paragraph eradicating this idea that Christ has competition in the delivery business.  So many terms, so many wonderful phrases that we could pick apart for days.  “Image of the invisible God” “Firstborn of all creation.” “By Him all things were created…[even] thrones or dominions or rulers” “in Him all things hold together.”  “He is the head of the body, the church.”  “the beginning,” “pre-eminent.”  “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

But then we get the good news.  I mean, that’s all good stuff. It’s who God is and that’s wonderful.  But without this last verse today, it means nothing to us.  “[A]nd through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

That book of remembrance, the Book of Life, our names are in there in the blood of the Lamb.  That distinction between those who fear Yahweh and those who don’t all points to Christ.  He has made peace, He has reconciled, He has delivered, He has transferred us out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom that knows no end, through His blood.

Jesus has redeemed us.  He has paid the price for our sins, He has paid our debt in full, with His own precious blood.  He laid down His life that we might have a life.  And that redemption, that deliverance, that promise, that forgiveness is extended to everyone.  It’s not that in the water of baptism we re-crucify Christ so that now your sins are washed away, too.  It’s not that in the Lord’s Supper we re-crucify Christ so that your sins are now forgiven along with everyone else’s.

It’s already done.   Your sins, even the ones you don’t know about.  Even the one that is the disease that plagues you and brings death breathing down your neck.  Forgiven.  Gone.  Drowned. Done.  In the blood of Jesus Christ.  Shed on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Imparted to you through His means of grace: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution.  You are forgiven, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness is yours.  The promise is yours.  Life is yours in this God-man, the image of the invisible God.

 

 

Power of Christ December 20, 2015

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Isaiah 40:10-11

Advent 4

December 20, 2015

 

Focus:  God reveals His mighty power in the form of a Savior.

Function:  That the hearers find comfort and joy in the power of Christ.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Power of Christ

 

The best ride in all of Southern California is not found in the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland, but at the airport in Santa Ana. Noise abatement procedures over Newport Beach make takeoffs thrilling. The pilot stops the plane at the edge of the runway and turns the engines up to 100%. The plane is filled up with power. It shakes and rattles as the engines are roaring to be released. Finally, when it feels like the plane is going shake apart, the pilot takes his foot off the brake and the plane is catapulted down the runway. The plane is like a rocket ship taking off for the moon. The raw power of the engines and the power of the airplane are on display for everybody.

In our text today Isaiah leads us to see the power of the Messiah. He writes, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might and His arm rules for Him; behold His reward is with Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:10-11).”

Human understanding of power and God’s understanding of power are two different things. When humanity thinks of power, we may think of those jet engines and incredible outputs. We may think of power as political cunning, or strength of personality, or military power, or other types of attitudes or behaviors that put people under the will of another.

If that is the case, then the power of Christ is something to fear. Coming to the manger, we bring sin and its results. Our brokenness and weakness are on display. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, it would be appropriate. He could look at us with the power of an angry king who’s been ignored by His subjects. He could count up the intentional and willful acts of sedition, the multiple legal infractions, the treasonous gatherings and all the evasion of responsibility. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, He would have reason to do that and His drawing near would be terrifying.

Isaiah leads us to a different power. Power that is masked in human weakness and love for people is what Isaiah is writing about. Babies aren’t powerful, yet the birth of this Boy in Bethlehem was heralded by angels. Itinerant preachers aren’t powerful, but at His baptism this Man was acclaimed as the Son of God. People at their weakest moment are not filled with power, but this Man, when physically destroyed, brought redemption from the cross for all mankind.  God cloaks His power in weakness and makes the weak strong.

The good news of Christmas is that the power of God is for us. Jesus comes humbly and gently, but with power. He forgives our sins through the power of the cross. He puts that grace on us through the power of our baptism. He feeds us and our family of faith in the powerful meal of Communion. Hidden away in a Man, in some water, some wine and some bread. God’s power, made clear through humble means, sustains us in our faith and life.

Part of the joy of Christmas is the deception and the hiding of gifts. Children dig through closets, trunks, and garages to find hiding places. Parents go to extreme measures to ensure that the gifts remain a surprise. So parents’ll put a small gift in a large box. They’ll put a square gift in a round box. They wrap an expensive gift with plain paper. The amount of deception to keep the surprise can be phenomenal, but so is the joy.

When the gift is revealed and the surprise is over, the joy is real.

God wraps up the power of redemption in the baby Jesus. He is wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Yet, He is without a doubt the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The simple outward wrapping belies the power of the gift that goes with us into the new year. God delivers His power in humility. He wraps power up in gentleness.

Many of us grew up with the image of the Good Shepherd. We hear the words “The Lord is my shepherd…” and something deep in the soul finds peace. We love the visual; we love the closeness and the intimacy of these words. Isaiah wrote, “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

Some of us will unwrap difficult things in the coming year. Some of our families will deal with loss and illness. Others will deal with anxieties over money and the economy. Still others will deal with hurts that are so unique to them that only someone who knows them better than they know themselves can comfort them. Through these moments our Good Shepherd tends to us as a shepherd, gathers us in His arms and carries us in His bosom. He is the voice of comfort and the voice of peace. His power is for us in His gentleness.

Many of us will unwrap joyful celebrations in the new year. For some it will be significant anniversaries. For others there’ll be graduations, baptisms, confirmations, vacations, holidays with family and on and on. We smile to even think about the joy of these gatherings. We look at those milestones and give thanks to our Good Shepherd who tended, gathered, and carried us. He shepherds us with power wrapped in grace.

Next stop: Christmas, and we are blessed. In Christ we receive God’s peace, His pardon, His presence, and His power. There for us in the year almost done, waiting for us as a new year dawns, and revealed to us this Christmas in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.