Tag Archives: Acts church

If it is of God… Acts 5:29, John 20:19

[for the audio version click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who join Thomas saying to Jesus “My Lord and My God!” said … Amen!

We now have this pretty interesting conflation, two different perspectives have started to see Jesus as something much more than what was imagined. The leaders of Israel seem to be rethinking what they did to Jesus. Thomas straight out asserts Who Jesus is “My Lord and My God!” Gamaliel was a very important man at the time. Luke, the writer of Acts, singles Gamaliel out by calling him “a teacher of the Law held in honor by all the people. The Jewish Encyclopedia says: Gamaliel was the son of Hillel who is still one of the leading authorities on Jewish law and is quoted by many people today. He was the head of the school Hillel in his time succeeding his father. “Gamaliel, as it appears, did most toward establishing the honor in which the house of Hillel was held, and which secured to it a preeminent position within Palestinian Judaism soon after the destruction of the- Temple. The title “Rabban,” which, in the learned hierarchy until post-Hadrianic times, was borne only by presidents of the highest religious council, was first prefixed to the name of Gamaliel.”[1] Much later on in Acts, Paul seems to take special pride in being a student of Gamaliel’s. (Acts 22:3) He gets a lot of notice in Acts, during the early church. If he is proceeding with caution against the embryonic Christian church, then he must have some idea that Jesus is who He says He is.

The amazing things that have happened, certainly culminated in the Resurrection of Jesus, leaves little doubt as to Jesus’ claim to be God. Gamaliel had to have been part of the court that condemned Jesus. I would guess that Gamaliel fell right in line with the majority consensus. Caiaphas proclaims to the leadership that this man, Jesus, must die to save the nation. No thought is given that there might be something a lot more compelling with Jesus, that He might be who He said He was. The concern was with the preservation of the status quo; Israel, it’s leadership and maintaining their way of life. As highly regarded as Gamaliel was, he certainly followed the party line. While we know that there were members of the Sanhedrin who objected to the illegality of the proceedings to try Jesus, Gamaliel wouldn’t have been one of those objectors. If he had objected the Sanhedrin might have at least backed off from condemning Jesus to die and might have even decided to do something else regarding Jesus.

The paradigm has clearly changed for the leadership in Israel. They thought that they were dealing with a nuisance that would burn itself out. They tried, and for the first time in history, killing a man didn’t make Him go away. It seems Gamaliel is hedging his bets a little, but it’s pretty clear that he sees Jesus as a lot more than being an ordinary man. Gamaliel compares Jesus to Theudas and Judas the Galilean. It seems though that Gamaliel is taking Jesus a lot more seriously than Theudas or Judas, neither one of them rose from the dead. It seems that the leadership is trying to prevent a panic. They’re trying not to acknowledge it, but clearly there is a new archetype and they know that they can’t just make the problem, Jesus, go away. They hope that they can, but now they have something much bigger than they expected while trying to avoid setting the rest of Israel off, that Jesus is who He says that He is.

The difference is that while Gamaliel is trying to hedge, not set off a rush to Jesus and still not taking Him seriously. He seems to know the truth, but as so many people do for so many bad reasons, Gamaliel is trying to save his position in Israel. The disciples, as Luke writes, know the truth, they know that there is no other option, they are beaten and we know how brutally Jesus was beaten. Maybe the disciples weren’t beaten as badly, but you know that they suffered more than enough that they shouldn’t be back out on the street rejoicing and teaching and preaching about Jesus. They knew the truth and saw there was no alternative to Jesus, the Sanhedrin was still trying to play its political game with its own people, the Romans and irrational as it sounds God, even though Gamaliel certainly had some perception that Jesus and his disciples were more than the garden variety revolutionaries of previous years.

Clearly John is continuing to emphasize that Jesus is much more than what most people seem to want to believe. Thomas declares it: “My Lord and my God!” Jamieson writes: “He is overpowered, and the glory of Christ now breaks upon him in a flood. His exclamation surpasses all that had been yet uttered, nor can it be surpassed by anything that ever will be uttered in earth or heaven.”[2] This is not some gratuitous acknowledgement, Thomas was completely overwhelmed and was utterly sure who Jesus was. Meyer writes : “ It is a confessionary invocation of Christ in the highest joyful surprise, in which Thomas gives the fullest expression of profound emotion to his faith, which had been mightily elevated by the conviction of the reality of the resurrection, in the divine nature of his Lord. The ὁ κύριός μκὁ θεός μου was the complete and highest confession of Messianic faith,” This is the first time when someone really addresses Jesus as God. For those who like to question who Jesus was and whether He claimed to be God, here is where someone is declaring who Jesus is. It may not be bragging if it’s true, but it’s more credible when someone else is declaring the fact. And again, there are plenty of places where Jesus is readily understood by those He is talking to as to who He is. If it wasn’t true, wouldn’t Jesus lift Thomas off his knees and set him straight? If it wasn’t true Jesus wouldn’t have just let Thomas’ comment ride.

We are His disciples. We see Jesus is making it very clear that Jesus has the authority to and intends for us to take what the disciples then and we who are His disciples now, that we aren’t to just go back home as if it’s all ending. He makes it clear to His disciples then it’s only beginning. He tells them, and us, that the Father sent Him. He has been sent to us to take His word, His life, what He has done for us dying for our sins and then resurrected to give us eternal life, that it isn’t for us to keep to ourselves. Matthew 28:18, John 20:21, Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15, Matthew, John, Luke and Mark all report that Jesus came to send us to tell the entire world about the salvation that Jesus gives us. In John He reinforces this message by giving them a preview of Pentecost. “He breathed on them.” The Greek word the hagios pneuma, the Holy Spirit, pneuma meaning the movement of air, the breath of His Body. He is giving them the Holy Spirit to strengthen them and for them to understand that they constitute His church. As He does by giving them the keys of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:9, He is empowering His church to not just bring the Good News to the world, but that Jesus is empowering His church to save people to the Kingdom, but to also make it clear to those who aren’t saved and that His work is done through His disciples in His church.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6494-gamaliel-i

[2] Jamieson-Fausett-Brown Bible Commentary on website  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/john/20.htm

Harumph, Harumph what are you doing? First St Johns Acts 4 April 26, 2015

 

[For the audio version please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know and love the Good Shepherd said  … AMEN!

In a scene from a Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks plays a rather adle-brained governor. He is asked to sign a bill and he says “We must protect our phoney-baloney jobs gentlemen and he starts to harrumph and the rest of his entourage harrumphs with him. “Hey that guy over there didn’t harrumph” he says.

Reminds me of the scene we have here. It might be a little harsh to label them as phoney-baloneys, but the scene that comes to my mind is the Sadducees and temple guards coming up on Peter and harrumphing. “Harrumph, Harrumph, what are you guys doing here? Wait a minute that guard over there didn’t harrumph. Didn’t we tell you guys to get out of Dodge? At least put a lid on this Jesus stuff and now here you are preaching this stuff right on the temple.” I can hear at least one guard saying: “I was all nice and comfortable, having a cup of coffee and a bear claw, checking my smart phone and now I have to jump up and deal with these guys?” No one was going to cut the disciples any slack.

Remember these guys, the disciples? These are the guys who couldn’t run away fast enough when the guards showed up to arrest Jesus. Big, tough Peter and he denies even knowing Jesus to a little Jewish maid. Up until now they’ve been hiding behind locked doors and closed windows scared to death that the temple guards or Roman soldiers are going to drag them away to be crucified. I’m not minimizing their fear, they had legitimate fears, there really wasn’t anything like due process in Israel at the time. Sure Pilate did try to defend Jesus. But it wasn’t like Jesus, or now the disciples, had some smart lawyers to keep them from being punished. Jesus became a serious liability to Pilate and Pilate had no compunction of washing his hands of the situation and sending Jesus to be crucified. The same could have been easily done to the disciples. There wouldn’t have been any newspaper articles condemning this, the television stations wouldn’t have had film of marches to protest this. The disciples would be flogged and it easily could have been worse.

So what was the difference here? How did these men go from quivering with fear in dark to tigers, standing out in the most public spot they could have been at in Jerusalem? Of course we’re talking about, what was probably the Day after Pentecost they are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit. No doubt Peter and the disciples wreaked some havoc the day before, and now they’ve added 2,000 more people to the crowd they had yesterday. Ya this stuff had to stop, harrumph, harrumph!

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. This has again taken on sort of a frilly connation, but it is intended to be a very serious, very life or death meaning. You can trust Jesus and the fact that He is the faithful Shepherd that lays down His life for His flock, and continues to stand on guard in a very spiritually dangerous world. We had a great talk about this at the Men’s Retreat. We who live in this part of the country, 21st century Americans have pretty much been lulled into very comfortable, affluent lives. Okay, so what do we have to be protected from? From our complacency, from our attitude that we’ve got it all in a brown paper bag and there’s nothing that threatens us! As you’ve probably heard me say, Satan doesn’t care how he gets your attention, so long as it’s not Jesus. If he can just lull the world into this frilly la, la world, a world where we have everything, so we don’t need Jesus then he’s happy to see us lost. Apparently the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy was very traumatic to fans. One of the threads was this great romance and the wife was put in the position where she had to watch as they had to stop treating her husband. She’s sitting next to her unconscious, dying husband telling him it’s ok, everything will be alright. How the world comes to that conclusion baffles me, how will it be alright? Death is terrible trauma, a horrible rending of life, something we were never meant to endure until sin came into the world. There is nothing alright with death and for those who are not saved in Christ, who have rejected God’s plan and lived how they want to, it means eternal condemnation!

What do we have to be protected from, what does the Good Shepherd save us from? Being lulled into death with a false assurance that it’s ok, it’s not! From the spiritual warfare that goes on around us that continues to look for ways to turn us from Jesus to anything and everything, including eternal damnation.

Jesus gives us His assurance, His promise, His genuine love “I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for the flock.” His love is not only to comfort and assure, but to protect, to stand against the evil all around us that can overcome and swallow us up, while we think we are safe and sound in things that we are blessed with, but rust and are destroyed, in the end don’t do anything for us, while Jesus is eternal and all-powerful. We are always so ready to trade the eternal for the trivial.

That’s what we see in our Acts reading today. There are those in the Jewish leadership who understand who Jesus is, they know, they’ve seen all the signs of the Messiah. But like Mel Brooks, harrumph, harrumph, I’m big and important and this is what is real today and I will deal with it when it’s convenient for me. Remember Jesus’s parable of the Rich Man? Where am I going to store all my crops and God comes to him and says: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ All of our wealth and easy living won’t mean a thing. We can either be Pentecost tigers and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit who guides us, and, like Peter, get up before those who just want to harrumph, or we can be nice and complacent. CS Lewis writes in the Screwtape Letters: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,….” We can harrumph all we want and feel it isn’t fair, or it should be up to us but that option wasn’t available to the disciples at Pentecost and it’s not to those who claim to be Jesus’s disciples today. Blow the dust off those journals, ask yourself and write about whether you are of the flock that Jesus shepherds or do you just harrumph your way through life?

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

Living as brothers and sisters in Christ Acts 4: 32-35 First St Johns April 12, 2015

[for the audio version of this sermon, please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN! Then we said He has risen! He has risen indeed!

As you have probably realized, one of my main themes is the resurrection of Jesus. In his commentary on the Book of Acts, Dr McGee points out: “…in the early church the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the very center and heart of the message, and no sermon was preached without it. The theme of Peter on the Day of Pentecost was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[1] Another observation Dr McGee makes, a subject that comes up in terms of Jesus being in heaven: “…He has ascended … But He is still at work! He has moved His headquarters. As long as He was here on this earth, His headquarters were in Capernaum. Now His headquarters are at the right hand of the Father.”[2] That’s more of a discussion for Ascension Day, but can never be overemphasized. Jesus is in glory at the right hand of God continually interceding for His people, for us!

The other thing that we overlook in the Acts church is the fellowship of the church. Lots of people like to say they’re an “Acts” church, but really I haven’t seen it and I’m not sure it can really be replicated. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” This is something that you just don’t see in the church anymore. I believe one big reason is that we are all so immersed in the world, that we project that life into our church life. Too many people see the church not as a place to worship, to truly lift up and glorify God at which the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us the faith, strength and integrity we need to go into the world for God. Instead it’s where we lift up to God our wants in the sense of “ok God, I’m here, You owe me, come on and back me up, help me with my agenda.” We may never be able to replicate the Acts church, until, I imagine the resurrection, but we should always strive for that as a goal. Our mission statement here at First St Johns gives us that focus: “Spiritual Warriors, Faithful Servants, Disciples of Jesus”. Are we focused on what is in Jesus or our agenda? Certainly the church of Jesus Christ has an agenda, Martin Luther put us back on that agenda: ““Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is always and forever about God’s Word and not about our agenda. In a world where we see Scripture being tortuously warped out of shape, the Lutheran Church, at least should be, all about His Word.

Yes, we all have lives, but, as Christians it’s not about how we make God’s Word apply to our life as it is how is God working through us, according to His Word, to shape not just our life, but the world around us. We are way too quick to discount that we are all in the Body of Christ, all indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We take Jesus’ Body and Blood as very real sustenance, if you don’t understand and accept that, then you abuse His Body and Blood. The Body and Blood that were abused to give us true forgiveness of sin. How can we then reabuse that same sacred body? We become part of His Body when we are given the Lord’s Supper, but too often when we hit that door on the way out, it’s no longer about Him, it’s all about getting back to life. Our life is in Him! How can we justify trying to impose our agenda on Him who gave Himself for us when He has promised us “life and life more abundant” in Him? We are complete, when we are together in the Body of Christ, His church, His people. That is very much how the Acts Church was, totally about the Body of Christ.

We have to remember the extremely difficult life that people came in to when they became a Christian. In our reading from Palm Sunday we read: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12: 42-43) What we have in Acts is the result of what happened when people were put out of the synagogue. Anyone could be thrown out. Today, people change churches on a whim. In that time, it could be the difference between making a living or being in poverty, possibly even being left to starve. No Jew would do business with someone who wasn’t a part of the temple, they would not hire them as an employee. When these people became Christians they often had little or nothing in terms of money or material possessions. They usually needed the basics, food and clothing. The Acts Church found itself in the position of having to support its members. We sure don’t have that today. I’ve had this discussion with a few people lately. We do things to help our non-Christian neighbor, but that is not what we are about. We cannot be a general social service agency, the Holy Spirit leads us to do good works and we do good works. But our priority is always about our brothers and sisters in Jesus. First St Johns is a great old church, it has been sustained marvelously by its members. Many who came here at the beginning had nothing and many members of this church gave in order to support those who were in need. We need to recapture that focus here. We don’t have a lot in terms of resources, time, treasure and talent, we have become dependent on what has been left by members and feel that should be enough to further our mission. It is just not enough. We have become way too self-focused, what I get out of the church and that was not what the Acts Church was about. Many Christian brothers and sisters would have starved except; “for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Your church, First Saint Johns, does much, but there is so much to do. When we rely on what was left to us and decide that should be enough to get what we need, we certainly have forgotten what the church is all about. In a way this is a sermon about stewardship, about how we need to portion our time, treasure and talent to the church. But it is also about how we need to be Jesus’ church the way it was originally formed. The Book of Acts is often called the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because it was a church that followed the Acts that the Holy Spirit guided the church in. Are we living that today?

Let’s take a look at how we share with our brothers and sisters in Jesus, which is part of our Christian life as the original church Acted in the Book of Acts. The apostles gave “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.” Me, you, we can all do better, it’s not to say that we’re going to sell everything we have. But as a church we can share, we can share space in our marvelous building and not begrudge its use, we can share our time to serve brothers and sisters and then others, we can share what we have, including but not limited to money. But as always we dedicate more of our time to growing in our faith and sharing that with those who do not know Jesus and helping them in ways that will show them the love of Christ and His church.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Acts” p ix

[2] Ibid p viii

It’s about God and brothers and sisters in Jesus, it’s not about you

I was listening to J Vernon McGee while I was reading this devotional by Henry Blackaby and I noticed how the common thread was “it’s not about you” or me, it’s about God!

Dr McGee was answering the tire old nonsense “a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” I really wish people would think a little more and quit with the simple little cliches. People love to say how much smarter they are than everyone before or now. It’s not true. Dr McGee points out that God is loving. He is also righteous, just and holy.  He has given us a way to be saved unlike any other belief system, but it has to be on the basis of salvation in His Son. But in our day and age when we think it’s all about us, we think God is supposed to take whatever we offer Him. No! It’s not your way it’s God’s way.

We are holy in Jesus.  In Jesus we are in the presence of the Lord, God is holy. That means set apart, sanctified. He will not accept anything less, His nature abhors anything less. The “ONLY” way we can be holy is through God the Son. There is no other way. Jesus said “no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Dr Blackabys devotional was on how what we do and don’t do affects other Christians. We should act only after we consider how our actions will affect other Christians. When we sin “Sin promotes independence. It isolates you from others… God designed you for interdepenence.”

We do have responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Jesus. But that does raise the question in terms of those who aren’t in Jesus. The Acts church was solely focused on only supporting fellow Christians. The church I pastor does reach out to help, but frankly there’s only so much we can do and we have a responsibility to help brothers and sisters. I think we should be very discerning in who we help because we just do not have the resources. The church at all levels does so much with so little for so many and yet the average secularist (who statistically) does very little for anyone else still likes to wag their finger at the church. Yes those same people who love to say how non-judgmental they are.

The take away is this.  It’s just not about you. If you really don’t understand what God is about, you better not go around making statements about what God will or won’t do. I mean come on that’s just stupid. God gave His Son for our salvation we are saved in Him or we condemn ourselves.

We need to remember when we sin, it’s not just about us. Our sin reflects on and affects countless numbers of other Christians. And we should be in service, but primarily to brothers and sisters in Jesus. We are guided by the Holy Spirit to help others but we are focused on serving those who are in Jesus.

Dr J Vernon McGee weekly question and answer podcast for March 14, 2015

“experiencing God Day by Day Henry and Richard Blackaby  p 130