This was preached at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.
In the name + of Jesus.
The apostle Paul and Barnabas traveled to modern day Turkey, to several cities in Galatia to proclaim the good news of salvation which was accomplished by Jesus. At each town, their first stop was the local synagogue. They went to see their fellow Jews who had gathered on the Sabbath to read the Scriptures and sing the Psalms. They were not introducing new and unusual ideas to these Jews. On the contrary, they declared: “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus….” (Acts 13:32-33) In other words, Paul and Barnabas were proclaiming to them, “What you have been reading about in Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms all these years, Sabbath after Sabbath—these are no longer promises. They have been fulfilled. Everything has been fulfilled as God promised through Jesus of Nazareth. God’s amazing grace has been demonstrated. Jesus, who was crucified for sinners, is risen. Righteousness has been fulfilled.
It should not be a surprise that the first place Paul and Barnabas went to proclaim the gospel was to church. But notice how they proclaim God’s salvation to the people. It was not just an idea. Paul and Barnabas spoke of God’s promises from the earliest days of the world’s history up to the present day. God had followed through on everything he said he would do. He did not forsake the world which had sinned against him. God loves what he has created, and he acted to redeem it so that we would not all perish. God’s promises were made by grace, and God graciously fulfilled them.
Also notice that God’s salvation was not done in theory. It was done in history. The sufferings and death of Jesus were historical facts. It took place in Jerusalem. Real men who were among the leaders of the Jews demanded Jesus’ death. They delivered him over to Pontius Pilate, who was serving as the Roman governor over the province of Judea. And Pilate had Jesus crucified. Crucifixions were not done in secret, either. These gruesome executions were made highly visible in well-traveled areas so that people would see those who had defied Roman rule and would be dissuaded from rebelling themselves. The message Paul and Barnabas proclaimed could be verified. And just as all of these actions were verifiable history, so also then God’s grace was verifiable.
Now, this is not merely a history lesson for you. It is comfort for sinners. Your sins are real, and your guilt is real. Some days you are bothered by your sin and guilt more than others, but you always know that these things are real. And if you aren’t sure, ask the people you’ve sinned against. They will assure you that your sins were mean, painful, and not easy to get over. You bear grudges, too, right? That’s because someone sinned against you. That sin was real. It was wrong. And even when you try to do better, you still find that you do the things you promised yourself you would never do again. You will continue to fight against your own sinful nature for the rest of your life. When you fall into sin, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying to fight against temptation because it is hopeless. It means that your sins are real. Your death, whenever it should come, is real. And if you want to find relief from these frustrations and fears, then you need a Savior who is not imaginary and whose love is real.
Paul and Barnabas proclaim that Savior to you. The grace is amazing not because it is a neat idea, but because it is real. The sufferings and death of Jesus has paid for all of your sins. Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that God has accepted that payment for you. It is also proof that death and the grave are temporary things for you. Since Jesus has risen from the dead, so will you. And once again, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was not merely an idea. It is a historical event. St. Paul declared: God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. (Acts 13:30-31) It is a verifiable moment in history, witnessed by hundreds of people. Many of those people suffered persecution, torture, and violent deaths because they declared what they witnessed. They did not retract their testimony. They stood firm on what they witnessed. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead—who was seen, heard, and touched by those who witnessed his resurrection.
God’s amazing grace is now for you, too. We have the eyewitness accounts to assure us that God’s grace is real. God’s forgiveness of your sin and guilt is real. Your salvation is real, your eternal life is real, and your resurrection from the dead is real. Your resurrection has yet to be fulfilled, but as surely as Jesus lives, so shall you. And the Lord has delivered his salvation to you not by imagination, but by real things. You were splashed in the waters of baptism to have Jesus’ salvation poured upon you to cleanse you of all sin and mark you as Jesus’ redeemed. You go to God’s altar to consume bread and wine, under which you take Jesus’ body and blood and ingest God’s salvation. God works through real things because his blessings and grace and salvation are real.
We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus. (Acts 13:32-33) It has all been fulfilled for real. The good news is real. Your salvation is real. God’s grace is real, and it is amazing.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.