9th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 11 – C)
Sermon Series on Acts
July 17, 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.
Back in 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson complaining that Connecticut was infringing on their religious freedom. In his response, President Jefferson referred to a “wall of separation between Church and State” at the federal level. His words were pretty much forgotten until 1947 when the Supreme Court used them to rule that any government support of religion violated the First Amendment. In the last few decades, we’ve seen unprecedented zeal to keep the Church and State separate as courts, the federal and state governments, and various groups have done all they can to minimize the role of the Church. I know that this drives a lot of Christians nuts, it does me that’s for sure. On the other hand, why are we surprised? Yes, the Church was a dominant force in American history, this, however, was an anomaly. More often than not, the governments and people of this world have opposed Christ and His Church. With this in mind, if we look to the government to rescue us from those who would destroy Church, we’re going to be disappointed. There is only one source of deliverance for Christ’s Church, and that’s Christ Himself.
In Romans 13 Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Paul would go on to explain how God intends for the government to punish evil, to protect the innocent, and to be His servant. Of course, we all know how well that has worked; evil is ignored and good is suppressed. Established by God, the government is to rule justly and in accordance with what God desires. Corrupted by Satan, the government more often than not acts in opposition to what God desires. The government has long failed to honorable fulfill its obligations.
A perfect example of that is found in Acts 12 where we hear “[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” Herod would just be the first of many rulers who would be unfaithful to God. Nero, Stalin, Mao Zedong are responsible for the deaths of literally tens of millions of Christians. They systematically destroyed churches wherever they found them. Besides their hatred for Christ, do you know what they have common? They’re all dead! We hear this graphically in Acts 12 where Herod dies slowly and painfully. Every single government that opposed the Church has disappeared, while the Church has grown stronger. So what will happen to ISIS, to the politicians who fund Planned Parenthood, and to the governments and groups that seek to destroy the Church? They’ll all end up dead as well. They have failed, and they will continue to fail, because they’re not persecuting the Church, they’re persecuting Christ.
So in the midst of persecution of a violent sort, or a subtler type, our help isn’t found in man but in God. David said in Psalm 9, “For He who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” God knows what’s going on, He knows that earthly powers will always fight against Him. What we know is that God keeps His promises, that He will preserve His Church, and that those who oppress Christ and the Church will be punished. A large portion of elected, and unelected, officials hate the Church, but one day they’ll be dead and the Church will still be the living, breathing, Body of Christ. All those who call on the Lord will be saved because Jesus is our beacon of light in a world of darkness. As the writer of Psalm 146 advised, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
One of the notable remarks in Acts 12 reveals part of Herod’s motivation. “When he saw [that James’ death] pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” Herod, in part anyway, was trying to curry favor with the pubic. The government often reflects the voice of those who are the loudest, not necessarily the majority, and this is so clear in our world today. How many tend to get Nativity scenes removed from courthouse lawns? Usually just one or two protestors. How many force schools to ban the mention of God in graduation speeches? Typically just a few. Generally speaking, we Christians are on our own. There are some who allow us to have our own beliefs and opinions, but these people are a silent minority. Most opponents to Christianity want us to shut-up and disappear, and when they say enforce this on us, who speaks for us? No one, right? But again, who are they silencing? Us? Or are they silencing Christ? As Jesus says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” So, is the world going to love us? Are they going to speak up for us? Will they give Christ His due? Of course not! They hate Him. So don’t go looking for the world to defend Christianity, your right to it, or your beliefs. The world is not going to save you, it’s going to try to kill you, if not physically, at least religiously.
In the midst of all this hatred and the opposition to Christ, who’s in charge? You know this! God is the one who will rescue us. He will preserve our faith, and He’ll preserve our lives according to His good plan. He rescues us because of Christ. His love for this world far outweighed the hatred of Him by the world, and so He gave His Son to save this hate-filled world. His death brought forgiveness to God’s enemies, His resurrection gave new love to those who hate. You are rescued from sin and death, because He changed you, and you are rescued from this sinful world because He called you out of it.
Sometimes deliverance comes miraculously like it did in our text. God may very well send an angel to save you. He may work in the most wondrous of ways to preserve you. Peter saw that this is what happened. He said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Most of the time though, we look only to the deliverance that the future holds. Until God calls us home, we will suffer in this world, but our afflictions are only temporary compared to the riches of eternal life that wait for us.
You are saved, not through the people or governments of this world, but through Christ. He is the One who delivers you and who provides salvation for you. He is the One who speaks for us when no one else will. He is the One who will have the last word, who will one-day judge those who hate Him. On that day, He will show who truly rules. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
If deliverance and rescue is delayed, it is incumbent on us to trust.
Look at Peter. He didn’t know for sure what the future held, but he had a pretty good idea. Stephen was dead. James was dead. He was probably next. But what’s he doing in our text? He’s chained up between two soldiers in a filthy cell and he’s sound asleep. He’s so out of it that the angel has to hit him to wake him up. You can almost picture the angel giving Peter a slight kick in the ribs to rouse him. This is a wonderful example for us of trust. He didn’t know the future, but he trusted because he knew that no matter what, his God would save him. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego basically told Nebuchadnezzar, “God will deliver us from the furnace and your hand, and if He doesn’t, it’s not going to change a thing.” Like Peter, they knew who was really the one in authority over them. So also, we know, so we trust. We put ourselves in God’s hands.
We also put others in God’s hands through prayer and supplication. In our text we hear that “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” The church knew God could help Peter and so they prayed. You also are supposed to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are to lift up the suffering to God and ask Him to rescue them. He can do it! Just don’t pray exactly like the church did in Acts 12. We’re told they’re praying for Peter, but when their prayers are answered, what happens? They don’t believe! The servant girl Rhoda is so excited to see Peter she doesn’t even let him in off the street. But the others don’t believe her, they think it’s Peter’s angel. Let us pray with a fervent heart knowing that God hears our prayers for ourselves, other Christians, our nations, and even the unbelievers. He hears our prayers and He will answer them in His good way at His good time. This is our God and in Him do we put our trust.
In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Reformers told Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, “To God above all you owe the duty to preserve sound teaching and hand it down to future generations, to defend those who teach what is right…They should work toward the preservation and growth of divine things, that is, the Gospel of Christ on the earth…and as God’s representatives, they should defend the life and safety of the innocent.” Charles didn’t listen and I don’t think anyone was overly surprised. The government isn’t going to speak for us most of the time and most of the time the people are going to hate us. We don’t put our trust in the government or in the unbelievers because they’re not going to help us. Only Christ Jesus will deliver and preserve His Church. He has promised us that and nothing will change that. In fact, despite what we see around us, despite the hatred towards us, and make no mistake it is hatred, the Word of the Lord will continue to grow and bear fruit. What happened then is happening now, “The word of God increased and multiplied” and for this we praise God.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen