6th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 8 – C)
June 26, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
If Luke’s book, the Acts of the Apostles, was found by someone who had no understanding of Jesus or Christianity, we wouldn’t be surprised if they questioned the whole point of Christianity. Jesus makes bold promises to His disciples but soon after He ascends into Heaven, those same disciples are being arrested, whipped, and as we saw two weeks ago with Stephen, killed. It would be very easy for anyone to wonder what Christ could possibly have in mind for His followers. Jesus told them at Bethany, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” How is their suffering accomplishing that little task? How is Stephen’s death going to contribute one bit to telling others about Jesus? What we’re going to see today is that no matter what happens to His disciples or within the Church, Jesus uses all things to His glory.
As Luke begins Acts 8, it would be easy to wonder where Jesus’ glory is at in all this. Luke writes, “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” If you stopped reading here, you might never see how God really was at work and you might never see His glory. These Christians are driven from their homes and they become refugees as they flee Jerusalem to get away from Saul and prison, but that doesn’t mean the end of the Church or of God’s glory. In fact, this crisis in Jerusalem leads to the Christians to be Christ’s witnesses to those outside of Jerusalem, just as He said they would be.
Jesus had told His followers that when the Holy Spirit brought them power from on high they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in all the world. But in the beginning it would’ve been easy for the disciples and the new Christians to rest on their laurels. After all, the Lord was increasing the number of Christians every day, thousands of people were being brought to faith and even though many refused to believe in Jesus they still respected the Christians. It would have been very comfortable for them to remain concentrated in Jerusalem and just let potential converts come to them. But Christ had other plans so He allowed persecution so as His people were scattered they brought the Good News of Jesus to people wherever they went.
The Christians who fled from Saul and the Jews didn’t just curl up in the fetal position and suck their thumbs until it was all over. They did the opposite, they talked about Jesus everywhere they went. Listen to verse 4, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” They established house churches in the towns in which they settled. They talked to their fellow Jews and to Samaritans about Jesus as the promised Messiah. They proclaimed His death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They witnessed to His resurrection as Lord and Savior. The experience of these first Christians proved that what Paul would later write to be absolutely true, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
As the first Christians fled Jerusalem and became witnesses for Jesus wherever they went God revealed His glory. God used them to spread the Good News of life and forgiveness. His glory enabled them to be more than just believers, it enabled them to be dedicated disciples who were committed to their Lord. This is what we can learn from them this morning both as individual Christians and as a congregation. Are we going to just sit back and wait for people to come through our doors? Are we waiting for people to decided that they need Jesus? It doesn’t work that way! We take Christ to the people. This is why we’re having a booth during the water carnival. We’ve ordered 1000 booklets on a variety of topics that will give us the opportunity to share Jesus with those who need Him. This is why I’m urging you to take a shift in the booth so you can meet people and share what Jesus has done for you.
One of the sins we Christians wrestle with is that we are content to live compartmentalized lives. Do you know what I mean? I mean that we put Jesus in His own little compartment, a box so to speak, and we take Him out on Sunday mornings or other times that we need Him, but the rest of the time He just stays in His box. We often act like there are parts of our lives when we don’t want Jesus around. It’s been said that to polite people never bring religion or politics into a conversation. Unfortunately, most Christians are trying harder to be polite than faithful. But if we compartmentalize our Christian discipleship, we may have the idea that the appropriate place for us to be Christians, to think about and talk about and to sing and pray to Jesus, is here in church on a Sunday morning and not at other times and places. But that would be like the first Christians saying that while their preaching the Word of Christ was appropriate for them in Jerusalem, it would have been better for them to be quiet about it in the areas to which they scattered. They didn’t take that approach, of course. They knew that wherever you go, you take Jesus with you and so it’s a good place to talk about Him.
It’s called intentional witnessing, and it’s something for us to learn from their example. It means making it your Christian intention to be ready to stand up and speak up for Jesus whenever the Holy Spirit gives you an opportunity. It means, as Paul says, be ready in season and out of season to give a reason for the hope that is within you. Be ready for the Holy Spirit will give you opportunities to share the news of Jesus Christ.
We are so blessed as Christians, but especially as Christian Lutherans. We have a message that is second to none. Whenever we share the name of Jesus, we’re sharing with others the love that comes through the cross. When we’re Christ’s witnesses in Lake View, Carroll, Sac or wherever, we’re telling people that no matter what they’ve done in the past, God forgives them. We’re telling them of their need for forgiveness, their need for God, and how He is here for them, right here and right now. Wherever we, like the first Christian refugees, speak the Word God will give it growth.
But what you need to remember is that the forgiveness you share with others, isn’t just for them, it’s for you as well. You are forgiven for keeping Jesus in a box or for not faithfully witnessing to Him. You are forgiven for all your sins, whatever they may be. Jesus lived and died for you just as much as He lived and died for others. Don’t ever forget that powerful truth, for it is His death that makes forgiveness yours.
To hear me say that you must speak of Jesus wherever you go sounds like a command. But’s it not a rule, it’s a privilege, for we are blessed to share the Gospel. And when you proclaim Christ in your life, you will find a bounty of opportunities to share with others the joy and hope you have. You’ll also see, just like the first Christians did, that what doesn’t look good, what doesn’t look like an opportunity, is in fact, God at work. He’s at work to show His glory, His glory for us and His glory for others.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen