Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

ACTS 4:23-33


In the name + of Jesus.

M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)  The disciples of Jesus knew this to be true.  Jesus had proclaimed the message which brought them into his kingdom.  He had foretold that he would go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the elders of Israel, die at the cross, and on the third day rise again.  They not only heard that message, they also witnessed its fulfillment.  Jesus suffered, died, and rose, and he did it for sinners.
     Jesus appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days, teaching them about the kingdom of God.  But then he also gave them this charge: Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15)  The Good Shepherd desires to bring more and more people into his flock of believers.  But no one can know about Jesus' salvation unless they are told.  For, faith comes by hearing the message; and people cannot hear it unless it is proclaimed.  Faithful to their Lord, Peter and John went out and preached, starting in Jerusalem.
     The disciples proclaimed the good news, but some did not welcome that news or consider it good.  Peter and John were arrested and commanded not to preach about Jesus or his resurrection.  After they were threatened, they gathered together with the church.  In unity, the church prayed.  What is remarkable is not only what they church prayed for, but also what they did not pray for.  They lifted their voices together to God and said, ... “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:24,29-30)  The Good Shepherd had united his flock in its confession.  Together, they called on the Lord to recognize the threats they were facing, but they did not pray for the death of their enemies or even for their harm.  For that matter, they did not even pray that the threats would stop.  Instead, they prayed that Lord would strengthen them so that they would continue to proclaim the good news even with the threats they faced.
     The Good Shepherd had united his flock around this confession, and he would sustain his flock by this confession.  He does the same for you.  The Lord brought you into the Christian Church by the voice of your Good Shepherd.  He has revealed his salvation to you by his word.  He has declared you forgiven by his word.  He has affixed his word of promise to your heart through baptism.  He makes you children of the resurrection by the message which we both hear and confess.  The Good Shepherd unites his flock in its confession, and by that confession he keeps you united to him and to each other.
     But as it was for the disciples, so it is for us: The world does not want to hear that confession.  If you feel that our world is becoming more hostile to the Church's message, then understand that we are facing nothing new.  Perhaps it is new for us, but it is hardly new to the Church.  You may feel that it is easier to keep your confession to yourself rather than to risk ridicule or rebuke.  And you may feel that it is safer to limit your Christian faith to these four walls.  In some respects, that is true—it is usually easier to do nothing, and it is always safer to say nothing.  However, keeping to yourself makes your confession almost useless.  Faith comes from hearing the message.  So, how can anyone hear the message and be converted to Christ if we will not confess it?  To say nothing means that you fear what man can do to you more than what God can do.  It means you fear losing the praise of men more than praise of God.  And, it also means that you are content to let others perish in their sins because you keep God's good news to yourself.
     Keep in mind, it is not up to the lost sheep to find the Good Shepherd.  It is the Good Shepherd who goes out to find the lost sheep and bring them in.  This is only done when the Good Shepherd's voice is heard.  And the Good Shepherd's voice is heard when the Church goes forth and preaches the Gospel.  If you desire to see more people confessing Christ than despising him, it will only happen when they hear our confession.  The Good Shepherd unites his flock in its confession, and the Good Shepherd urges us to proclaim it.
     The Good Shepherd unites his flock in its confession.  Some people will rejoice and join us in that confession.  Others will hate it.  It will always be this way.  When the believers in Jerusalem prayed, they recognized this: “Sovereign Lord … who through the mouth of our father David … said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.’” (Acts 4:24-26)  But fear not.  Even if the whole world takes a stand against Jesus, they do not erase what Jesus has done for you.  They cannot nullify the promises he has made to you.  Jesus suffered and died for sinners, just as he said he would.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, just as he said he would.  The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep, and the Good Shepherd has taken it up again.  The Good Shepherd lives and reigns to serve you, to comfort you, to encourage you, to feed you, and to protect you.  Jesus has secured for your everlasting life and resurrection from the dead.  The world cannot take that away from you, no matter what they say about you or do to you.  Therefore, we continue to gather as the Church to unite in our confession and unite in our mission to bring this confession to the world.
     If you are concerned at all about what you may have to face for the sake of Jesus, or if you fear that you may falter when you have opportunity to speak for Christ before a hostile audience, then do what the early church did.  Join with God's people to pray.  Let your prayer be like theirs: They lifted their voices together to God and said, ... “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness....” (Acts 4:24,29)  The Church does not seek to live an easy life; the Church seeks to be faithful to her Lord.  The flock knows there are predators who seek to devour them.  They know they are helpless.  That is why we need our Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd unites his flock to hear his voice and to confess the faith.
     The Good Shepherd unites his flock in its confession.  And that confession is not done merely with words.  The early Church confessed its faith with actions as well.  Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.  And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:32-33)  These Christians did not live for themselves, and they did not regard this world as their home.  The Good Shepherd had united them in their love for one another.  Since their focus was their heavenly home, they did not hoard worldly goods for their own worldly kingdoms.  They devoted all that they had—yes, their money and goods—for the good of others, as each had need.  In other words, they loved their neighbors as themselves, even the neighbors who hated them.
     The Good Shepherd is the only one who can instill this kind of love.  For, we love our money and goods more than we should.  But these will all perish.  They will not save us, but they can do good for our neighbor and for the Lord's kingdom.  We have been set apart for such good.  The Good Shepherd has brought us into a better kingdom which endures forever.  This is where our hearts and minds are focused.  This is what we confess with our words and works.  The Good Shepherd unites us in this confession for our salvation and, we pray through our witness, for the salvation of all.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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