14th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 16 – C)
Sermon Series on the Book of Acts
August 21, 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, which was read a few minutes ago.
As we’ve journeyed through the book of Acts with Peter, Paul, James, and numerous other people, good and bad, we’ve heard some interesting stories. The Pentecost miracle, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, and Saul’s conversion were some of the highlights. There are also many others that we didn’t get to; we skipped many of Paul’s stops and the riots and violence that frequently arose. And we didn’t cover the time that Paul brought Eutychus back to life after the young man fell out of a window when he dozed off during a sermon (although, maybe we should have).
Beginning in Acts 22 the rest of Acts become a series of murderous plots, intrigue, lies, and a midnight journey with a couple hundred heavily armed Roman soldiers. This dramatic sequence of events is intended to fulfill the Lord’s words to Paul, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’” Jesus had a plan for the Gospel, and He used the schemes of sinful man to accomplish it. This is the last sermon in the series on Acts, but it’s an important one for what we we’re going to learn from Paul is that now is the time to take a stand.
The events leading up to our text show the opposition to Paul ratcheting up to a new level. He’s been harassed and charged with numerous religious violations such as stirring up unrest, and more seriously, bringing a Gentile into the Temple. These charges lead to his arrest and almost a torturous interrogation, until he’s scurried off to the town of Caesarea to be imprisoned.
Paul isn’t breaking any laws, the accusations are baseless, but nevertheless he’s held under house arrest. During this time, he frequently defends himself and speaks the Gospel, although much of it falls on deaf ears. At the end of two years, the Jews seek to extradite Paul to Jerusalem so he can be killed, but as a Roman citizen Paul has the right to a trial in Rome, which he claims. He says, “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” He knows he’ll never get a fair trial in Jerusalem, if he even arrives there safely, so since Nero hasn’t yet gone off the rails about Christianity, Paul wants him to hear the case. He will stand before the Emperor and boldly proclaim the Gospel.
Unless you’re really not paying attention at all, you’ll know that opposition to Christianity is ratcheting up to never before seen levels in America. There has always been hostility directed at Jesus and His Church, even in America, but open hatred is the new, trendy thing to do. Christians are being accused of numerous violations which are religious in nature; hypocrisy, homophobia, hatred, close-mindedness, forcing our beliefs on others. For the most part all of these accusations are baseless. Sure, there are bad Christians, but they’re a tiny fraction of Christians.
We’re accused of standing the way of equal marriage out of hatred. Fire department chiefs, judges, and heads of corporations are being fired for personal opinions. We’re accused of standing in the way of progress, transgender rights, and any other whims of a changing society. The overarching desire of our society is that Christians must change or be silent. One unnamed presidential candidate revealed her bias when she said, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” regarding the Church’s position on abortion. In other words, get with the program Christians and don’t stand in the way.
I hope that I’m not telling you something you didn’t know, but if you’re unaware of the extent of opposition to Jesus I pray this opens your eyes. You also need to know that I’m not rehashing all of this in order to vent my righteous anger. I simply want you to be aware of the battles that Satan is waging against the Church, and to beware of what’s required of us. Saint Peter says, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” In other words, boldly confess what you believe. Don’t be silent and don’t just go along with the prevailing winds for if you do, you’ll be blown off the faithful course. Instead, stand firm in your faith. Paul could’ve caved and given the Jewish authorities what they wanted, but that would’ve harmed the Gospel, it would’ve been a sin. We do what he did, and what Christ did, we speak the truth in love. We preach God’s Law and Gospel it in all places and the consequences be damned. If we’re silent, what good does this do? We’ll save our hides but we’ll also show our fear of the people and our faithlessness to Christ. As Jesus warns us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Don’t be afraid of the haters, speak of Jesus. Speak clear, speak loud, and do so publicly.
Paul stood before the governors Felix and Festus, King Agrippa, and Nero because he had the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus that He was with Paul. We too are promised the presence of that Holy Spirit, and that promise was fulfilled in your baptism and when you were brought to faith. Because you are forgiven the power of Christ and the Gospel is in you. This power means that you don’t need to fear anything or anyone. Paul stood fearlessly before the most powerful people in the world because he trusted Christ. We probably won’t have to stand before kings or presidents, but what about city councils, school boards, commissions, employers? What about our friends, family, and neighbors? What about our enemies? By the power of Christ, we can follow Paul and make the bold confession of Christ Jesus. We have the greatest news for people; the forgiveness of their sins. Our sins are forgiven, we have eternal life, and we proclaim this wondrous fact to everyone. Christ lifts us up on our feet and gives us courage and strength. In Him, and in Him alone, do we stand firm in a hostile world.
Paul was sent to Rome to proclaim Christ, which he did faithfully, and Rome became a center of Christianity. We may not go to Rome or Washington DC, but we proclaim Christ where we are right now. And what we trust, more than anything, is that Christ will use us and our words and He sees fit. King Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” To which Paul replied, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Paul’s prayer is ours; that as we stand firm, those who hear us will be convicted of their sin and be brought to faith. And if this doesn’t happen, may we faithfully sing with Martin Luther, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” So stand firm my forgiven brothers and sisters in Christ! No matter what happens or what hostility may come, know that Christ has already given you blessings far beyond what this world has to offer, and that one day you will stand firm before your God in Heaven.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen