Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

September 10, 2017

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Acts 4:23-35

Dear Fellow Witnesses for Christ,

After John and Peter healed a lame man on their way into the temple courts they were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin couldn’t do what they would have liked to have done, get rid of John and Peter as they thought they had gotten rid of Jesus, because the lame man was known by everyone and he was standing, walking, right before their eyes. But, that didn’t stop them from threatening John and Peter and ordering them to stop speaking about Jesus.

Think about that. You know how you feel when you try your best to do the right thing, but doing the right thing only gets you in trouble. You feel like giving up. You feel like saying, “What’s the use?” You feel like Elijah – “Lord, I must be the only believer left, so just take me to heaven now.” “Why am I even here; here on earth; here in church? It doesn’t seem to be doing me or anyone any good, and it just gets me in trouble.”

John and Peter must have felt that temptation, but they overcame it. They were able to overcome the temptation to throw up their hands in disgust and give up because they knew why they were there and who was with them.

Why are we here? As we begin the process of planning for the future we want to be reminded of the answer to that question. We all know the answer by heart. We heard it in our Gospel reading. We are here because God wants us to make, or gather, disciples for him. He has made each of us his witnesses; people who know what it means that Jesus lived, died and rose again, and who can share that good news with others. He wants us to work together so that the good news about free forgiveness in Jesus is proclaimed to every person on earth.

Satan doesn’t want that to happen. He incites powerful people to set themselves against God and against any mention of Jesus as Messiah, God’s anointed one, the only Savior. He stirs up fear and selfishness in our hearts so that we keep quiet and fail to fulfill our calling to be God’s witnesses.

John and Peter and the members of the early church recognized these things. When they were threatened they knew they needed to be strengthened so they gathered together with their fellow believers. They took the threats of the Sanhedrin and their own fears to the Lord in prayer. But they didn’t pray selfishly, or hatefully. They didn’t ask to be spared any suffering for Christ, or for the death of those who were threatening them. They based their prayer on Scripture and asked God to help them do what he had called them to do; to keep on speaking his word boldly.

Like them, we will receive power and boldness to do what God has called us to do when we gather with our fellow believers, and base our prayers on Scripture as they did. Think about the truths of Scripture they included in their prayer.

They addressed their prayer to the Lord, the one who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. What a comfort that is! The Sanhedrin was powerful. People in government today who are questioning whether certain nominees should be confirmed as judges or to other offices because they have confessed their faith in God and his word, are powerful. But the God we serve is much more powerful. He created all things by the power of his word. He controls the eternal destiny of every person. Who deserves our honor, respect and obedience more; those who hold political, earthly power; or the one who made and rules all things and who controls where you spend eternity. John and Peter could say, and you and I can say with the Psalmist, in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?

They considered prophecy and fulfillment. They were strengthened and comforted by the fact that what God foretold through his prophets happened just as he said it would. When they were threatened they remembered what God had said in Psalm 2 about the kings of the earth and the rulers of the people joining together against God and his Messiah. They recognized the fulfillment of the prophecy in the fact that Pilate, Herod, and Jewish leaders, people who were normally at odds with each other and even hated each other worked together to kill Jesus. And, they recognized that, although they acted of their own power, they were doing just what God had planned. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection are the ultimate proof that God turns evil into good. God’s will is done, either through you, or in spite of you.

Like these early Christians, we today see prophecy and fulfillment. We see it not only as we read these words and remember what happened in the past. We see it on the news every night. We see hurricanes and earthquakes. We see wars and rumors of war. We see the love of many growing cold and sharp division increasing between those holding to God’s word and those opposing it. We hear about false Christ and false prophets who twist God’s word and see their preaching as a means of financial gain. We see the Gospel reaching places that surprise us, places like Vietnam and China. Read the signs Jesus gave in Matthew 24. Every single one is being fulfilled right before our eyes. Like the early Christians we see God’s word fulfilled in Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, and in things that are happening every day all around us.

As they considered the threats of the Sanhedrin; as they considered who God is and what he had called them to do; as they considered how the prophecies of Scripture were being fulfilled right before their eyes; what did they ask of God? Now Lord, look at their threats and give to your servants the ability to keep on speaking your word with all boldness as you stretch out your hand to heal and as signs and wonders take place through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Give us the ability to do what you put us here to do; and Lord, do what you promised to do.

Their prayer was really a prayer that God’s will be done. And God made sure they knew that their prayer was heard and that his will would be done. After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. Also, everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

We all know why we are here. We have the great commission memorized. If I asked you to join me in reciting it, almost everyone here, even young children, could do it. We are God’s witnesses. We are here, here on earth, here with our fellow Christians, to gather disciples for Jesus by using the tools he has given us – baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and teaching all who will listen everything that Jesus teaches us in his word.

But, all too often we let ourselves get sidetracked. The busyness of our daily lives distracts us. Instead of putting witnessing for Jesus at the top of the list where it should be because that’s why we are still here on this earth, we put it at the bottom of the list. We forget that, if witnessing about Jesus is why we are here, it’s not really an item on a list of things to do, it’s a part of everything we do. It’s something we do as we work, as we play, as we raise our children, as we talk with our neighbors. As John and Peter told the Sanhedrin, we can’t help speaking about the things we have heard and seen. If Jesus is our Savior, the one who lived and died in our place and payed for all our sins, even the times we have failed to witness boldly; if he is the one who rose from the dead, the one and only way for anyone to be saved, we can’t help speaking about him. If Jesus, the light of the world, has caused his light to shine into our hearts, we can’t help but let that light shine through in everything we do and say.

That was certainly true for the early Christians. They let their light shine. They not only continued to witness boldly that Jesus is the Messiah, who lived and died to pay for sin and who rose from the dead to prove it; they put their faith into practice. They didn’t let selfishness or fear keep them from supporting the work of proclaiming the good news about Jesus, or from helping people who were in need. As Jesus promised, people recognized them as his disciples because of their love for others. People saw their devotion to the words of Jesus that the Apostles were teaching, to making time to worship and pray and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to praising God even when they were being threatened by people in positions of power, and they were amazed. God used their actions to spark people’s interest, and as those people heard the good news about Jesus and were baptized, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

As we get into the planning process over the next months it will be important that, like John and Peter and the early church, we remember why we are here. We are not here to build and maintain buildings, although it’s not wrong to do so; we are not here to avoid conflict with the world and make sure no one is offended; we are not here to make sure we get our way, or to amass a large savings account. We are here to witness boldly, as individuals, and as a congregation, to as many people as possible, that Jesus lived and died to pay for the sins of the world, ours and theirs, that he rose from the dead and is coming back soon. When he comes he will judge all people on the basis of whether or not they believed his word that he is the only way, truth and life.

Remember who God is, the almighty maker of all that exists. If he is for you, and because of Jesus you know he is, who can be against you? Remember why you are here; to give witness to what you have seen and heard, to the joy of the forgiveness you experience every day in Jesus. Pray every day, as these early believers did, that God would give you the ability to overcome selfishness and fear and give a bold witness about him in everything you say and do each day. That’s why you are here.