Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 28, 2017
A Constant Witness - May 28, 2017 - Seventh Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 1:12-26
Thursday we celebrated one of the not so big events in the church year, at least not so big in the eyes of the public. Thursday probably went unnoticed by most, but it was Ascension Day. I contend that the reason we do not celebrate Ascension day is because it is not as “sellable” as Christmas, Easter, Halloween and other holidays. At Christmas we buy stuff to give away or to exchange as presents, at Easter we buy candy, stuffed animals and toys, at Halloween and Valentines Day we buy a lot of candy. What would you buy to celebrate Jesus’ ascension? This morning we continue our trek through the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is Luke’s second writing. His first writing was his gospel account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is his account of the new church and the events of the new church.
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. From Easter to Ascension was forty days. Jesus spent these forty days showing Himself to be alive. He appeared to His disciples, not once, but many times during these forty days. He wanted to make sure that they knew that He has risen from the dead, bodily risen from the dead, that He was not dead, but was alive, that this really was Him, the same person who was with them for the previous three years. He wants to make sure that we know that we worship a living God. Remember, we talked about this fact last week that the difference between the Christian Church and all other churches, religions, cults and sects is that we in the Christian Church put forth the exclusive claim of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We worship a living God.
Not only did Jesus appear to His disciples, He appeared to many people, at many different times in order to give as much proof as possible of His resurrection. Certainly, just as we do not have a listing of all the miracles and works that Jesus did while He was here on this earth, neither do we have a listing of all the times and all the places and to all the people to whom He showed Himself following His resurrection and before His ascension. Thankfully listing all those times is not important, what is important is that it happened and God’s Word bears witness of it happening.
Luke reminds us that during His life and during the time between the resurrection and His ascension Jesus spoke concerning the Kingdom of God. Of course, we are looking back at these events and Luke’s testament of these events, so we can see clearly about what Jesus was speaking. We know that it was Jesus Himself who ushered in the Kingdom of God. We are living in the last days as it were. Jesus told the disciples some of the things that would be happening, but very often they just did not get it. They were very much like many people still are today. So many people just do not get it. People today are still looking for god, but the god for whom they looking is in reality the one they have created in their own image and according to their own likenesses and so they have a hard time with the God of the Bible. “My god is not like that,” we hear. Very often we hear this when something is quoted about the God of the Bible that we do not like, because it does not fit into our concept of god in our pluralistic world of today. Yet, God continually shows us who He is through His Word and especially through His Son, Jesus.
For the disciples, Jesus gave them instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the giving of the Holy Spirit. This giving of the Holy Spirit would be on Pentecost, which was fifty days after Easter, and which is what we will be celebrating next Sunday which is ten days after His ascension, which is when He told them to wait in Jerusalem.
On Thursday we celebrated Jesus’ ascension and after His ascension we are told that the disciples returned to Jerusalem. We are told that they “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (v. 14). Luke even tells us the names of the apostles, that is the eleven remaining apostles. There are only eleven apostles at this time because you may remember Judas had rejected Jesus’ forgiveness and then went out and hanged himself. He simply could not believe Jesus could or would forgiven him.
As they continually gathered together to be in divine service and Bible class, we are told that Peter stood up among the group and began to preach. Peter used this as an opportunity to explain about Judas who was one of the twelve. Jesus called Judas to be one of the apostles. Judas was an important part of the twelve. Yet, Judas sinned which was not really the problem, as all the disciples continually sinned, the problem was that Judas could not believe that Jesus could or world forgive him and so in his despair he hanged himself, dying in unbelief and that is what condemned Judas.
Peter’s message helps us to understand that he believed David’s words in the Psalm to mean that Judas must be replaced, that there must be twelve apostles. When we get to the book of Revelation we would certainly agree with the need for Judas’ replacement and there being twelve apostles as we hear of the 144,000 which is a number in reference to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles (12 x 12) and 1000, the number of completion, meaning heaven will be filled with all those in the Old and New Testament who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 as an indication that Judas must be replaced.
The criteria for replacing Judas was that it must be “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken from us” (v. 21, 22). Actually this criteria makes sense because the one called to be set apart as an apostle most certainly would need to be one who was with the other apostles and Jesus while He was still on this earth.
From the group, only two fit the criteria and so two were put forward. They were Barsabas and Matthias. After the group prayed together they cast lots to decide, or that they allow God to choose for them through this method. Some have suggested that this casting of lots may have been a form of voting, perhaps not unlike the way a congregation votes when calling a pastor. I believe they put two beads of different colors in a bag and drew one out, the one God would move them to draw. Anyway, the lot was cast and Matthias was chosen to take Judas place. And, interestingly enough, this was the last we hear of Matthias.
Today we have been chosen by God. No we have not been chose to be apostles. There are and will be no more apostles, only twelve. Today, however, we have been chosen to be disciples. A disciples is a learner and follower and we have been chosen by God to be learners and followers of Him. Today, we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means, these are the ways our Lord has of continuing to come to us today to give us His good gifts and blessings. As we make regular and diligent use of these means, reading the Word of God, remembering our Baptism, partaking of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy meal, as we continue to make regular and diligent use of these means of grace, the Holy Spirit comes into us to give us, strengthen us, and keep us in faith until Christ comes again.
Even more, today we are to call pastors to carry out word and sacrament ministry among us. As we talked about a few weeks ago, God gives the Office of the Keys to churches, to congregations and congregations call men into the Office of Holy Ministry, to be pastors in order to carry out the Office of the Keys, that is for the preaching of the Gospel, the administering of the sacraments and for the forgiving and retaining of sins. And we also talked about the fact that God calls Christians to be a part of the priesthood of all believers, that is we have all been given the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Baptism in order that we might live lives of faith and be ready and able to give an answer, literally to give a defense of our faith and hope in Christ.
And even more, the Holy Spirit also works in us so that we are able to be the His witnesses in our neighborhood, city, country and the world. This is a natural thing. When we get excited about something, when we have had a great and grand experience, we want to share that with others. We get so excited we cannot keep it to ourselves. So too, with the Word of the Lord and with our relationship with Jesus, we cannot help but tell others and we are not alone, because the Holy Spirit is with us giving us the courage, strength and words to speak.
We have God’s promise. His promise is that He is with us and will remain with us as we make regular and diligent use of His means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments. At the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, at his account of Jesus ascension, we read that Jesus gives us His authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore as you are going make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18b-20). Next Sunday we will celebrate the giving of the power, the giving of the authority, the giving of the Holy Spirit which happened ten days after last Thursday, Ascension day. But until then, we wait patiently with the disciples, anticipating more of God’s good gifts and blessings.
Today we gather, as we do every Sunday, to celebrate the resurrection of our God, Jesus Christ Himself. As we gather to celebrate we rejoice that we can look back and see all the “proofs” of all the Gospel writers, that Jesus is the Christ, that He is God, that He took on human flesh and blood, that He suffered and died for our sins, that He rose from the dead, that He showed Himself alive many times before He ascended into heaven, that He is ascended into heaven, that He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. We rejoice that we have the Holy Spirit, that we have the power and authority from God so that we can live our lives in such a way that they show forth the faith that is in our hearts. We rejoice in the fact that we do have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation and to all this we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.