Sunday, April 29, 2012

Acts 4:23-33 Easter 4

Introduction:  Like sheep hoping for help from their Shepherd, we see how the apostles looked to their Lord for protection.
The Sanhedrin had warned them with threats that they should not preach about the resurrection.  The apostles would be criminals.  Terrible things could happen to them if the continued to preach.  But on the other had, if they shut their mouths in fear, the Word of God would not be heard and would soon be forgotten.  What should they do…preserve their lives or preach God’s Word?  They did what Christians should always do in troubling times…they prayed.  They brought their troubles to God.  But their prayer was not what we might expect, and God’s answer was not what we might have hoped for, if we had been in their shoes.
Today, when enemies of Christ plot against the church, what should we pray for?  Should we pray that God would destroy them immediately, so that we will not be in danger of falling away from him?  The apostles did not.  Instead, they prayed the God would give them power to preach in spite of their fears.  Instead of destroying his enemies, God preserved his Church by giving power to those who preached his Word.
This story gives us an opportunity to see how God has cared for his Church in the past, and consider how he still cares for us now in our troubling times.   Since this is Good Shepherd Sunday, let’s use that metaphor from the Gospel, and consider how Jesus, our Good Shepherd, cared for the apostles after he ascended into heaven.  We see that he used his Word as a staff.  He comforts us with his staff, and he saves us with his staff. 

Theme: We learn to trust the Shepherd to guide us through trying times.

1. We are under attack.
We might feel like sheep sometimes, and we might wonder if our Good Shepherd knows how many of us are being lost.  We see Christians who we know and love falling away from their faith.  Our own children, whom we raised in the church, have wandered off on the wrong path.  They maybe don’t even know how far they have strayed from their Shepherd, but they are too far from Jesus for him to be able to comfort them in their troubles and guide them on the right path.   There are a thousand things to blame—Everybody thinks that you should be able to be lazy and sleep on your day off.  The devil uses that on Sunday.  He uses this “Emerging Church” idea that we don’t need to go to church anymore, because we have all the guidance we need from TV preachers and Christian bookstores—essentially, the lie that you can get everything you need while you are still in your pajamas.  He baits those church leaders and Christian authors with popularity, and they write on the popular topics of Christian life and self-improvement, but all too often they stay away from Christ.  They lead God’s sheep off on the wrong path, where the Shepherd can’t protect them anymore.
Then there are all those who pose as Christians but are not.  The Mormons say many things that sound Christian and they call themselves Christian, but they will drag you away into a religion that has no one to save you from your sins.  The Jehovah’s witnesses offer Christianity but they take away the Son of God.  When I was growing up, I saw the Jehovah’s Witnesses snatch a whole family away from Jesus.  The father was the last.  He wanted to stay, but he couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from his family.
You see all of this happening, probably even in your own families, but you are not permitted to ask God why he isn’t doing anything about it.  You are not allowed to wonder where your Good Shepherd is in all of this mess.  That would be sinful.  You would be breaking the 1st Commandment, where God commands us to hold him as our only God, love him, honor him, and trust that he knows what he is doing.  You would be breaking the 2nd Commandment, where God commands us to use his name to pray to him in our troubles, and thank and praise him for all that he does.
We need to be able to look beyond the appearances to see our Good Shepherd working.  See how he was caring for the apostles as they were attacked.  He does the same for us. 

2.  The Shepherd comforts us with his staff.
The Jewish Sanhedrin, which had crucified Jesus, now threatened his disciples.  The apostles were nervous.  They were like sheep who saw how dangerous the path was becoming.  Look how God’s Word was like the shepherd’s staff.  It assured them that their Shepherd was with them, they were on the right path, and everything would be alright—  They prayed together, “Sovereign Lord, you who made the heaven and earth and the sea, and everything in them.”  This is something we know from the Word of God—Genesis chapters 1 and 2.  Even if no one else could help them, God could.  Even if the kings and rulers who crucified Jesus now turned against them, God could help.  God’s authority is higher.  God created kings and rulers.
The Lord reached out his Word as a shepherd’s staff to assure them also that this was the right path.  He knew it well.   It’s always reassuring to be led by someone who knows the way.  I went spelunking in Tennessee once when I was in college.  I never would have crawled down into that dark wet cave if I had been by myself.  There would have been too much danger of getting lost or stuck.   But I was going with someone who knew the way, a guide.
Jesus had traveled this road already.  He knows how the devil and the sinful world fight against him and his people.  The apostles thought of how Jesus had faced all of this before, and they were reminded of Psalm 2—“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”   When David wrote Psalm 2, about 1,000 years before Jesus was born, already God knew what was going to happen.  He was planning it.  He already had drawn up a blueprint of how the rulers and kings would rage and plot against Jesus, although he did not force them to do it.  He had planned that all of their raging would amount to nothing.  Actually, in wonderfully ironic twist, God would use their plot to crucify Jesus as his plan to rescue us.  Jesus’ crucifixion was the death penalty for our sins, and his death gave him the opportunity to conquer death for us. 
Jesus has already traveled that road and beaten the devil.  We can be sure that he can do it again when the devil attacks us with all the enemies of our faith.  The couple of you who play video games know that the game gets much easier after you have already beaten it.  You have confidence.   Now just think, the devil has already brought his worst against Jesus, and Jesus beat him.  Isn’t that a good reason to have confidence in Jesus, your Good Shepherd?
The apostles were comforted with the thought that Christ had already been down that road before.  He had been attacked, and he had come through victorious.  He could guide them safely down the path now, and bring them to victory too.
When God’s enemies attack us, we know that God has seen this before, and the Good Shepherd has already been through it.  He knows the path that will bring us through all Satan’s plots, and he will guide us safely to the other side.

3. The Shepherd saves us with his staff.
So you have confidence in your Good Shepherd.  Now, when the devil attacks our faith, and we see so many losing their faith, we naturally do like the apostles did.  We pray.
But what should we pray for?  If we pray that God would destroy his enemies, right now, we can be pretty sure that he will not do that.  Not unless it is time for Judgment Day.  But don’t get frustrated with God.  Don’t ask him why he isn’t doing anything.  Look again at what the Good Shepherd did for the apostles.
He did not open up the ground to swallow the Sanhedrin, like he did when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses.  He actually did nothing at all to the Church’s enemies.  In fact, he would soon let them rage a bit more against his Church.  The enemies pose no threat for the Good Shepherd, because they rage and plot in vain—they will accomplish nothing as long as we are with Christ our Shepherd.  So the apostles didn’t bother praying for their enemies to be destroyed.  They prayed that God would give them courage.  They needed courage to preach and write, so that the Word of God would not be destroyed.   And look what God did: “As they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  
It was more important that God preserve their courage than preserve their lives.  If the apostles’ courage would have failed, then the Word of God might have been lost.  But they preached the resurrection of Jesus powerfully, and it filled their hearts so that it didn’t matter if they would live or die.    They knew that their enemies’ worst schemes would amount to nothing.  Even if they were executed it would be nothing, because Christ faced the same and he rose from the dead.  They knew that Christ, our Good Shepherd, would raise them from the dead too.  There was no great danger for them.
Because God filled them and others with resurrection courage, the Word of God has been written and passed down through the centuries to us.  You have this precious Word that tells you your Good Shepherd is risen from the dead.  In that same Word your Good Shepherd has promised you that because he lives, you also will live.  Now if your Shepherd has filled the apostles with the Holy Spirit so that this promise of resurrection would come to you, don’t you think that he will make sure no one takes it away from you?   As long he lives and his Word is with you, there is no real danger.  His enemies could not conquer him, not even by killing him.  Now that he is risen, he will not let them harm his people.  He will use his Word as a staff to guide and protect us, and our enemies will not be able to touch us.  Whether we live of die, we will always have the assurance that we will be with Jesus forever.
Now, what about those who do fall away?  If they have strayed too far from the Shepherd’s staff, sometimes he lets them be taken.  If they have forgotten his Word and wandered off down another path, and refused to be brought back, sometimes Jesus lets the enemy take away their faith.  It’s a warning for the rest of us to stay close, stay within his reach; stay where his Word can touch our hearts. 
So, what should we do when we feel the threats of God’s enemies coming against us?  They threaten to tear us away from our Good Shepherd.  We turn to him in prayer, but don’t expect him to destroy his enemies.  Expect him to preserve his Word in us.  He gives us confidence that he will keep us safe, because his Word has endured through all these centuries, and that eternal Word of God is written in our Bibles and on our hearts.  We have confidence that our Good Shepherd will keep us because he has faced these enemies before, and they were powerless against him.  Though we may be threatened, we have good reasons to trust the Shepherd to guide us through trying times.  Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Acts 4:8-12 Easter 3

Acts 4:8-12
 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Wouldn’t you like to be filled with the Holy Spirit, like Peter was?  Or maybe you would like me to be filled with the Holy Spirit in that special extraordinary way, so that you could hear a divinely inspired sermon? 
But in the history of the Church, that kind of appearance by the Holy Spirit is rare.  He usually works much more quietly.   In fact he works in all of us through his Word, but you will scarcely notice it.  This is the way he wants it.   As Jesus said, the Spirit is like the wind—he blows wherever he pleases, and nobody sees it, but you see the effects of his work.  We may not see the Spirit working, but he is with us.  Jesus said he would send the Spirit to all of us after he went back into heaven.  He called him “the Counselor.“  Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  When we are under trial, the Holy Spirit is with us to advise us and strengthen us with God’s Word. Wherever you find the Word of God, there you will find the Holy Spirit working to teach us about Christ.  But like the wind, you will not see him—not unless it is an extraordinary occasion like this one in the book of Acts.
Perhaps Peter was the only one who noticed it, but he was so suddenly filled with extra wisdom and power from God that the Bible tells us he was “filled with the Spirit.
This is in fact exactly what Jesus told us would happen.  He said, “when you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
See the power of your living Lord, who has given the Holy Spirit…
1.     To Peter, for speaking extraordinary words
2.     To us, in the Word that he spoke.
1.  Peter needed extraordinary help to speak this Word.  Look at how the Sanhedrin went to such great lengths to silence Jesus!  Think back all the way to when they crucified Jesus.  They were willing to violate all their moral standards just to have Jesus dead.  They bribed Judas to betray him.  They arranged for people to tell lies about him at his trial.   When forced to choose between a murderer and Jesus, they released the murderer into society so that they would not have to let Jesus go free.  When Pilate said he would have nothing to do with this innocent man, the Jews said, “Let his blood be on us, and on our children.” 
Then, after he had been crucified, the guards came with the report that the tomb was empty.  The chief priests were willing to bribe them with a large amount of money, so that the guards would say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”   And then they were willing to pay even more money to Pontius Pilate to keep the guards out of trouble.  Now, in the temple, there was a lame man walking, running, leaping, and praising God.  He had been healed by Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John.  All of the people in the temple were talking about it, and Peter and John were telling them that it had happened by Jesus’ power, and that Jesus was alive again!  They couldn’t think of what to do, so they arrested them!  And for what?  Peter hit the nail on the head—“Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed…”  For an act of kindness, they were put on trial!  Such hatred for Jesus!  Such hatred for the Easter gospel! 
What if they would have succeeded in snuffing out this good news that our Lord is risen and alive?  None of us would have heard.  We would all be in the dark, hopeless and helpless when we face our own death.
At that crucial time, Peter stood on trial.  Peter, who had been so afraid of the Sanhedrin that he denied even knowing Christ.  Peter needed extraordinary help.
The Holy Spirit, whom our living Lord Jesus sent to teach and encourage his people—the Holy Spirit rose to the occasion.  He filled Peter with courage and gave him these words to say, “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel; It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, [in his name] this man stands before you healed!  He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Wow!  He told the leaders of the Jewish church that they had rejected their Savior, fought against their God, and that they were going to hell—because no one can be saved without Jesus, and they were most certainly without Jesus.  What a bold sermon!  So many people need to hear that today.  So many people are going to hell because they think they can turn their back on Jesus and find a different way to God.  So many people are going to hell because they think they can turn their back on the Jesus who is revealed in the Bible, and make a different Jesus out of their own thoughts.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more of the Holy Spirit make us feel a little more connected to our living Lord Jesus?—we would be afraid of nothing, like Peter.  Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus would make his power a little more evident by sending the Holy Spirit to take away our back pain and arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and give you your hearing back or your eyesight? 
Before you start to think like Adam and Eve did—that God is holding something back from you—remember that we do still have Peter’s sermon.  We do, in fact, have all of the words that the Holy Spirit has given us through the mouths of the apostles and prophets.  In fact, in this account, the words that the Holy Spirit gave to Peter were based on the words of Scripture. In the same way, the Holy Spirit teaches us to find the power of our living Lord in the words of the Bible.

2. Look how the Holy Spirit used these words from Psalm 118 to put the power of Christ into Peter’s message: “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Those words were talking about God’s promised Savior, the Messiah.  He would be like a stone that the builders rejected.  Now, I have a little bit of experience with building walls like they did back in those days.  When that Psalm was written, building a wall was very similar to building the fieldstone retaining walls that you see around people’s houses and gardens.  When I would build those walls, I would start with a pile of stones.  I would throw away any stones that didn’t have broad, flat sides—they would not have fit well into my wall.  This is what the Psalmist was describing.  Through that Psalm writer, the Holy Spirit had said that Jesus would be thrown aside like a useless stone. 
And that was exactly what those religious leaders of the Jews did.  As they were intending to build up the church of God, they came upon Jesus, and decided that he would not fit into their church.  In fact, like a wobbly stone in a wall makes the wall weaker, they decided that Jesus would be harmful to their church.  So they crucified him.  With these words of Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us to recognize our Savior by the fact that he was rejected and crucified.
And then the Bible says that this stone, whom the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.  Now again, I know that if you start your wall off with a shaky stone, there’s really no chance that the wall will stand.  If the bottom shakes, the whole thing will shake.  The cornerstone—the stone at the bottom of the corner of the wall—that stone is the most important.  If that stone is shaky, then two walls will fall, and really the whole building will fall with it.
For this reason, in ancient times, the leaders of the people were sometimes called “cornerstones.”  What happens if the leader of the army runs away in the middle of the battle?  Chaos!  Disaster!  Defeat!  The cornerstone needs to be a man who is both fearless and powerful.
Christ, who was crucified, is that cornerstone leader of God’s Church.  God proved it by raising him from the dead, and then giving us these powerful proofs of his resurrection—the tomb was empty, he gave Peter and John the power to make a crippled man walk, and now they were speaking fearlessly and powerfully about Jesus.   Look at the power of God’s Church, riding out into battle against the Sanhedrin that crucified Christ!  Where does the army of God get its power?  From Christ, of course, the cornerstone, the fearless and powerful leader who rode out into battle for us against sin and death, and rose again victorious!
The Holy Spirit used the Bible to teach us to trust in Christ.  Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, and the sudden power of his disciples—all of this happened because Christ is the fearless and powerful leader of God’s Church.  He is the leader of God’s Church and our only Savior, and we know it because he fulfilled the Scripture!
Conclusion:  So I ask again, do you want the Holy Spirit?  You have him, with the Word of God.  Through that Word—the Bible—he still teaches us to know Christ as our Living Lord and to trust in him.  Even when the Holy Spirit filled Peter in that powerful way, he still used the words of the Bible.  The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to teach us that it was Christ who made the lame man walk.  It was Christ who has wiped our sins away, and Christ who has given the promise of eternal life with him.
So do we really have any reason to wish for more power from the Holy Spirit?   Our risen Lord is taking care of his Church.  He has given us the Holy Spirit as our Counselor who teaches us and encourages us with God’s Word.  He teaches us to trust our Lord Jesus as our powerful leader, who conquers all our enemies and leads us victoriously through this life into everlasting life.  The Holy Spirit came in an extraordinary way speak through Peter.  Today he ordinarily uses the words in the Bible to continue to speak to us.   Our Lord is taking care of us. We have everything we need.  Our Living Lord has sent us the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Acts 3:12-20 Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter                                                                       April 15th, 2012
Acts 3:12-20

Look at your Living Lord Jesus!  See his powerful work!  Who could argue that he is still dead, when you see these powerful signs!  Surely it was not Peter and John who did these things, but the power of the Lord in them.  When the trees shake, you know the wind is blowing.  When a lame man walks, you know Jesus is working.

Those people came running to Peter and John because they had seen a man walking, a man whom they knew had never walked before.  The man was walking, and jumping, and praising God.  And part of his praise, evidently, was that he told everybody what Peter and John had done.  The man had been begging by the temple gates, as he did every day.  Peter and John approached him.  Peter said to him, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  And then Peter took him by the hand and helped him to his feet.  Instantly he was strong, and that man who had never walked began to run and jump.  When the people heard him tell this story, they ran over to Peter and John to find out more.

But Peter pointed the people to the real miracle worker—our living Lord Jesus.  “Men of Israel, he said, why does this surprise you?  Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.”

Now, if they were amazed at the crippled man who was walking and jumping, they would be more amazed that Jesus, who had been crucified, was alive.  That’s an incredible claim, but how else would you explain this miracle?  And perhaps even more than that, how else would you explain this powerful change in Peter?  Isn’t this the same Peter who had been so afraid of the Jews that he had denied even knowing Jesus?  Isn’t this the same Peter who had felt like such a hypocrite, that he fled weeping into the night?  How was he saying these powerful things now?

Peter preached that Jesus is the Son of God—and this was the same message that God Jesus crucified.  Peter preached to the Jews, “You Jews condemned the Son of God.  You condemned him to death, even though the heathen Pontius Pilate recognized that he was innocent.  You Jews disowned your God.  You took a murderer instead of the Holy and Righteous one.  Jesus was the author of life, by whom all things were created.  In fact, he was the one who gave you life, but you gave him death.   And then you Jews thought you were rid of him, but God raised him from the dead.”

You can’t say things like that today and get away with it!  Back then you could be killed for saying things like that—Jesus was!  Where did that courage come from?  It could only be that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and Peter saw him, and now Jesus was with Peter to give him courage and power.  Peter could only have said these things if Jesus were alive and with him.

There is one more amazing thing about this story.  A lot of people actually believed what Peter and John said.  In chapter 4 we hear that the number of believers grew to 5,000.  What else could that be, but the power of Jesus?  In Peter we see power for speaking about Jesus.  In his message we see the power of speaking about Jesus.  What else could it be, but the work of our Lord? 

Theme: Your living Lord gives power to his people!

1.  The Power for speaking about Jesus.

Think first about the power in Peter that moved him to preach like he did!  Would you have had the guts to do that?  Why not?  Don’t you believe that your Lord is alive and he is backing you up?  Yes of course you believe.  But…

It’s not easy to say those things.  It is not easy to tell people that their sins make them God’s enemies.  Now, we are not talking to people who crucified Jesus, but we do have to tell American Christians that their sins make them God’s enemies just as much as those Jews.   People who think they are good Christians don’t want to hear that.  They don’t want to know that the true God demands a perfect life.  They don’t want to know that they have actually set up another god, an American god who settles for man’s best effort.  The American god thinks the way Americans think.  If they think that they should go to heaven, then that is what their god thinks too.  If they think its enough to go to church once in a while when they feel they need it, then that is what their god thinks too.  What they think about the Bible is what their god thinks.   This is the fatal flaw of mainstream Christianity!  We have lost the objective reality of what God thinks!  People need to be told to wake up, because Christ is alive, and he still backs up his Word.  What the Bible says is still what Christ says!   Anyone who disagrees, whether its on abortion or homosexuality or marriage or anything else—anyone who disagrees with the Bible is an enemy of God.  Now do you have the guts to say that?  Even if that person might be your wife, child, or grandchild?

Whether you personally tell someone that or not, you are at a church that says those things.  Do you have the guts to associate with me, if the media finds out what I just said?

Truly, I don’t actually have the guts to say that either—not by my own power. We do believe that our Lord is alive and backing us up, but we are also afraid.  And it is hard for our faith to conquer our fear.  We are afraid of starting a fight.  We are afraid of what people will think and say.  We are afraid that people will find out what a bunch of hypocrites we are, and they will use our words against us.   After all, who of us has been perfect?  We have all done things and thought that God will not mind.  At one time or another, we have all made a god who thinks what we think.

The Jews could have come back at Peter, and called him a hypocrite.  They could have said, “Weren’t you the one who denied him on that night when he was put on trial?  Why didn’t you say anything then?  You allowed us to crucify our God.”  I wonder if Peter was ever afraid of being called a hypocrite.  I think he was.

Peter knew that it was not in his power to do these things.  He said to the people, “Why do you stare at us, as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk.”  Peter found nothing especially powerful or godly about himself.  But he found power to deal with his guilt and overcome his fears.  That power was with him because our living Lord Jesus was with him. 

You are not going to find the power in yourself to say what needs to be said.  That power is given to you at the time when you need it.  The Living Lord is with you, to give you power.

Jesus has promised it.  He said, “you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them…do not worry beforehand what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  And also, “Surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.”

2. Power of speaking about Jesus

Power for you—
Before you get to speak the Word of God, you need the power of that message for yourself.  You need to deal with your guilt—Peter promises that your sins are cancelled through faith in Jesus.  That means that all of those times when you have been too afraid to speak have been cancelled, wiped off your record entirely!  That means that all of those times when you have excused your own sins have been wiped out!  Anything that would cause you guilt and make you feel like a hypocrite has been erased.  Peter also promised that your soul will be refreshed through faith in Jesus.  Because your heart has been weighed down by a load of guilt and a long struggle against sin, Jesus promises to give you refreshment through his Word.  Like a cold glass of lemonade refreshes your body on a hot day, Jesus comes to you in his Word to refresh your soul with his gracious promises.  And not only that--he comes to stay with you, and be so close to you that the Bible would even say that he is "in" you.  How much more closely could you be connected to your Savior?  Because you need him constantly to remind you of your forgiveness, and constantly to refresh your soul again, Jesus has promised to dwell in you.  Peter promised that   Jesus would be sent to all who believe.

Power for others—
That Word of God that works for you with such power works for other people too.  Look around you at how many other people believe it! Other people will believe it too!  Their number grew to 5,000!  Imagine that!

Power for the Church—
Whenever Christians start to talk about Evangelism, it is amazing what kinds of ideas they come up with to bring people into the church.  Maybe people will join our church if we have more activities, more outings, more meals, maybe we can have a carnival with some kind of Jesus theme.  But sometimes Christians need to be reminded that the Word of God makes people want to join the church.  Specifically, the Gospel—the Word that tells you that God has cancelled your sins, wiped them out completely, and he wants to be with you.  That is what makes people want to join the church.  It isn’t the gimmicks and programs that give a church its power.  Our power is the Word of God.  Real evangelism is putting God’s powerful Word out there.  Anything else is just messing around.

Conclusion:  Have a little peace knowing that the courage and the power do not come from you.  It comes from your living Lord, Jesus Christ.  Have the peace of knowing that your sins are forgiven.  Be a bold Christian, because Jesus has chosen to use hypocrites like Peter who denied him, and hypocrites like you and me.  He has washed us clean in the waters of baptism, fed our souls with his very body and blood, and given us these comforting promises that our sins have been wiped out, and that he will always be with us and in us.  Be a bold Christian, because Jesus has chosen to be with you, and use you.

He may put you in a situation where you need to stand up for the truth.  If that happens, he will be with you to back you up.  Have peace, knowing that when you say, “This is a sin because this is what God says,” your Lord Jesus is alive to back you up.  That person will feel the truth in his heart, and if he resists he will find the truth when his life is over and he sees Jesus sitting in the judge’s seat.  If you personally are not called on to tell the truth about God, you are at the very least called on to support your church, because together we proclaim the truth.  Have a little peace, knowing that our living Lord backs us up.

And have a little peace knowing that you have Jesus backing up his promises of forgiveness too.  Don’t worry about whether or not people will believe it.  The power doesn’t come from you.  The power comes from the Word of God, and from your living Lord who spoke it and backs it up.  Whenever any of us promises forgiveness, God actually wipes out sins, God, your living Lord backs up his Word and refreshes the soul, and in fact he gives himself to be Lord in that heart also.  There is power in this Word, and God will have it be spoken.  He will give you power to do it, and he will give you power to stand with me when I do it.  Just as he did for Peter, so he does for us.  The Living Lord gives power to his people.  Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of our Lord                                        April 8th, 2012
Mark 16:1-8

The disciples were afraid on that first Resurrection morning, and the women were sad.   How strangely different from our joyful mood this morning!  We celebrate life, they were mourning a death.  The women were bringing spices to the tomb to give Jesus this one last honor before leaving his body to decay.  And so with heavy hearts they walked to the tomb early in the morning on Sunday, and they wondered how they would roll the heavy stone away.  It doesn’t seem that the thought ever crossed their mind that Jesus perhaps might not be in the tomb.  They did not remember all those times when Jesus said that he must die, and rise again on the third day.  Their only thought was that their Lord was dead, and it was all over.
But then they caught sight of the tomb, and saw something they had not expected.  The stone was already rolled away.    How strange!  Had someone taken the body?
They went into the tomb, and to their surprise, there was an angel!  He looked like a young man, and he was dressed in a long dazzling white robe.  They were startled, surprised, shocked, speechless.  The word Mark chose translates that they were scared out of their wits— just as any of us would have been.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be alarmed.”  Why not?  Because there is good news!  The angel said,  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.”  Perhaps for the first time, they looked over to the stone slab where the body had been laid, and they saw that Jesus was not there!
No time to sit around and stare, though.  This good news needed to be told to the others.  The angel told them, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.”
But the women, trembling and bewildered by the whole experience, left and did not tell anyone, because they were afraid. 
We have to ask, “Why didn’t those women tell anyone that Jesus was alive?”  “Why were they afraid?”  I think we can understand that they thought the disciples would not have believed them.  The women themselves probably didn’t know what to think either.  The sight of their dead Lord was still fresh in their minds, and it would take a lot to overcome that memory.  It seemed like it was all over, and it would have been hard to believe anything else, even from the mouth of an angel.
I think we can understand how they would think that Jesus’ death was the end.  They had seen him raise other people from the dead before, but he had seemed so powerless to save himself when they arrested him and put him on trial, and when they crucified him.  How could they expect him to do anything now that he had died?
Isn’t it true that we would also have thought that Jesus’ death was the end?  Isn’t it natural for us to think that death is the end?  We have heard all his promises of resurrection for those who believe in him, but still, any time someone you love dies, it is so natural to think that you will never see that person again.   Even after we have heard that Jesus himself rose from the dead, it is difficult to believe that we really will live with him.  Sometimes we even do things that make it seem like we don’t believe it at all.  Why do we fear death?  If our Lord is alive, where does our fear come from?  If a gun were pointed at your head, and someone told you to deny the resurrection, would you be afraid?  Would you deny your Lord, knowing that he is alive and he will know what you have said?  Wouldn’t you know that your Lord will welcome you into heaven if you are killed because of him?  Wouldn’t you know that your living Lord would care for your family and comfort them after you are gone?  Or would you be too afraid to risk dying for what you believe?  That’s something to think about, isn’t it?  The truth puts us to shame.
Christians, we face death as a reality, and we have not seen yet what happens on the other side of death.  But Jesus has seen, and he is alive again for us!  Now our Lord Jesus knew that we would have a hard time believing in a resurrection that we have not seen.  He knew it would be natural for us to think death is the end, because death is all that we have seen.  And so he gave us every possible proof that he is alive.  Every detail of that Resurrection morning was prepared for us, because Christ knew what we would need to see.
Now, unfortunately for you, you will not get to see the empty tomb with your own eyes.  You have to look through the eyes of the eyewitnesses.  Mark did not see these things, but Peter did, and so did the women.  Mark worked closely with the apostle Peter, as an interpreter, and Peter told him all that had happened.  So what we have in Mark’s Gospel is actually a collection of eyewitness accounts.   It was written for you, so that you too can see that Jesus the Nazarene is risen.  Pay attention to every detail, because Jesus did these things for you, to take away your fears.
First of all, on that Resurrection morning, we notice that our Lord had been planning to make sure everything would happen just right.  Just as he had arranged his Palm Sunday entrance, just as he had arranged his Maundy Thursday Supper, so now he arranged for the women to come to the tomb on Sunday morning and find it empty.  If Jesus had died any earlier on Friday, none of this would have happened.  If Jesus had died earlier on Friday, the women would have had time to buy the spices and prepare his body for a proper burial.  They would have had no reason to return to the tomb on Sunday morning, and they would have been left with that fear that Jesus’s death was the end.  As it happened, by the time Jesus was taken down from the cross, it was too late to do all of that.  The Sabbath was coming, when they could do no work and touch no dead bodies.  They had to wait until after the Sabbath, until Sunday morning.   Isn’t it just like the Jesus we know to die at exactly the right time, so that the stage would be set for the women to return to the tomb on Sunday morning and see these things that would take away their fear!
But then what would have happened if the stone had not been rolled away?  Jesus had already considered that.  He knew that the women would be coming to the tomb, and he knew that they would not be strong enough to roll the stone away.  He wanted them to see that he was not in the tomb anymore.  So he helped them out, by making sure the stone would be rolled away before they even got there.
Now what if none of that had happened, and the women had not seen the empty tomb?  If they had not seen that his body was gone, when they saw him later they would have believed that he was a ghost.  As it is, he had a tough time convincing them that he was not—our fear that death is the end is so strong!   But Jesus gave them this proof to take away their fears—the women entered the tomb and saw that the body was not there.  The cloths that had wrapped Jesus body were there, Jesus had left them neatly folded on the bed, as if he had simply woke up, changed clothes, and left.  He rose from the dead, truly, in every sense; with a new, perfectly alive body.
What if an angel had not been there to tell us what it means?  We do know that Mary Magdalene did not go into the tomb, and did not hear what the angel had said.  She thought that someone had taken the body.  The other women would have thought that also.  As for us, our faith in those promises Jesus spoke about his resurrection would not be strong enough to conquer our fears that his death was the end.  We would not connect the empty tomb with his promises that he would rise from the dead.  That needs to be explained to us!   And look what Jesus did to take away our fears—he sent an angel to preach that first Easter sermon!
What if the angel had not made special mention of the disciples and Peter?  They might have been afraid and ashamed to see him again in person.  But Jesus  wanted to take away their fears.  He sent a personalized message to them, to show that they were still in his heart and on his mind.  Though they had deserted him, they would see that their Lord still thought of them and wanted them to know this good news that he was alive.  Peter especially, who had denied him—he would hear that the angel had made special mention of him.  Peter would hear that Jesus wanted him especially to know this good news.  But here’s the really neat part—that special message also takes away our fears.  We can count ourselves with Peter and the disciples who deserted him, for every time that we have failed our Lord.  He sends good news to all who have denied him, and all who have hid their Christian faith.  He is risen!  He wants you to know that he is your living Lord!
But what if Jesus had not gone a step farther, and appeared to them in person?  Mark tells us that the women were still afraid after all of these proofs.  The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, the angel’s preached a sermon, and yet they were too afraid to tell anyone about this.  Jesus knew that his people would still need to see him in person.  St. Paul tells us that he appeared to the women, the apostles, and more than 500 other people.  Who could argue with all those eyewitnesses?  There really is no reason to doubt or fear, because Jesus certainly has risen from the dead!

Conclusion:  The Proofs Give us Peace 
I know it’s hard for us today to believe in a resurrection we haven’t seen.  I know that death still seems terrifying because we don’t see what will happen on the other side.  But give your heart a little peace in knowing that your Lord Jesus  has seen the other side, and he has given you all these proofs that he is alive again.  Believe the eyewitnesses!  There were more than 500 of them, and they were willing to die rather than deny that Christ is risen.
And there is one more proof.  You have a powerful message before you today.  These words from Mark are so powerful because they are not words from a dead man.  He lives!  This is a message from your living Lord!  It was preached by an angel.  It was seen by the women, and Mark wrote it down for us.   Your Lord is alive, and he has sent this to you!  So don’t be afraid, be at peace.  Jesus is still with you to help you in every need. 
And not only that—the whole Bible in fact is a message sent from your Lord to help you in every trouble.  And even though it was written so long ago, it still works because the Lord who gave it to us is still alive!  For example, because Jesus said in the Bible that we should speak for him and forgive sins, the pastor speaks for Jesus and says, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And you know what?  It actually still works, because our Lord who commanded us to do this is still alive!  And in the same way, when you receive the body and blood of the Lord for your forgiveness, it still works!  Jesus still gives himself to you, the Father still sees Jesus with you and in you, and he forgives your sins because Jesus is still alive.  And Baptism works because Jesus is alive.  The water of Baptism marks you as someone who belongs with Christ.  What good would that do if Christ were dead?  None at all.  But Jesus Christ is risen, and that does a lot of good.  Your baptism now means that you must rise from the dead also, because you belong with Christ, in heaven, and not in the grave.
If that seems like a lot to believe, remember the proofs.  It was just like our Lord to know us so well that he would give us all the proofs that our weak faith needs.   Let your faith rest in the facts.  The tomb was open, empty, and the angel preached that Christ is risen.  The women saw him and the apostles also, and many more people besides.  Don’t be afraid of death, because Christ has given you all this proof that he is not dead.  Christ is risen, and he showed you these things so that you would have peace.  Amen.