Monday, June 9, 2014

Proclaiming God's Deeds of Power: Penetcost Sermon

    There’s an old joke that has gone around and around and around that still bears some truth.  What do you get when you cross a Lutheran and a Jehovah’s Witness?  Answer: Someone who goes around knocking on doors but doesn’t know what to say.

    That’s a shot at those of us who have a hard time with evangelism.  When it comes to telling the story of faith; when it comes to introducing others to Christianity, many of us become silent.  Many of us don’t know what to say or how to proceed.  We know we should tell others about Jesus, but when the rubber hits the road and we come across someone who doesn’t attend church or who doesn’t believe in Jesus, we find ourselves tongue tied.  We find ourselves strangely silent.  And then we feel guilty because we didn’t say anything to this person.  We’ve fallen down on the job, so to speak.

    And, of course, we pastors haven’t exactly been all that helpful when it comes to equipping everyone to share the story of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, we haven’t exactly done a very good job of sharing that story ourselves.  We too are often afraid to engage people and invite them to consider becoming a follower of Jesus.  We too are concerned about offending others.  We too are concerned that we might not say the right thing.  And the advice we often offer isn’t all that great either.  We pastors will oftentimes either say, “Don’t worry about what to say, the Spirit will just give you the words.”  And if you are engaged in a conversation and you know you should say something but don’t, did the Spirit forget you?  Or, we tell you, “Just be an example of what it means to live a Christian life.  If people see how you live and how you love, they will want to be just like you and seek Jesus.”  That’s kind of a stretch for us to say something like that, isn’t it?  It took me quite a few years to realize this myself, because for most of the fourteen years I’ve been a pastor, I’ve said exactly this.  But I finally realized something–it is an impossibility to be an example of Jesus.  It is an impossibility to live out what Jesus taught.  It is an impossibility to do the things Jesus did.   Anyone here ever fed a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish?  Anyone here ever walk on water?  Anyone here ever give up all their possessions, roam around the countryside, depend on everyone for food and drink and shelter while criticizing the religious authorities and telling everyone to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand?  Didn’t think so.  None of us even come close to being an example of Jesus.  None of us.

    And yet, we are called to proclaim Jesus Christ.  Before He left this world and was taken up into heaven, Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Yes, this is the calling of each and every Christian–to make disciples of all nations.  But how do we do this?  How do we do this when we don’t know what to say?  How do we do this when we cannot be a great example?

    Let’s look at our first lesson from this morning to perhaps get the beginnings of an answer to these questions.  Our text lifts up the events of the day of Pentecost.  We see that the followers of Jesus are gathered together praying.  As they prayed, a huge rush of wind blows through their midst.  This is the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised them–the Advocate.  Tongues of flame were seen on their heads, and then something marvelous happened!  The followers of Jesus began speaking in different languages!  Words rolled off their tongues in a manner they had never experienced before!

    And we know why they started speaking in all these languages.  We know, according to Luke, that there were Jews from all over the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem that day to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  These Jews were part of the Diaspora.  They had been living throughout the Empire, many of them for their whole lives.  They had adopted the languages of their various cultures and lost their native tongues.  But on this day, God wanted to make sure they would understand. God wanted to make sure they would be able to know about His great deeds of power.

    And so the message is clear for each and every one of us, right?  The Spirit made the followers of Jesus talk in different languages, so we should all go out and purchase Rosetta Stone software right after worship this morning.  This part of the church can get Spanish; this part can get Czech; this part can get German; this part can get Arabic; and I’ll get Gaelic, just for the fun of it.  This is the whole meaning of Pentecost, right?  No.  I don’t think so.  The point of Pentecost isn’t for us to simply go learn other languages.  We can most certainly do that if we choose, but I think the point is stated by Luke in verse 11, “In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

    Let me narrow that down a little more, “We hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  It’s all about God’s deeds of power.  Which deeds of power?

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save it. 

    In fact, if we actually had the entire story before us this morning from Acts chapter 2, we would see that this is exactly what Peter gets into right after he makes those comments about the prophet Joel.  Here are some of Peter’s words verbatim:

    22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

    I’ll skip down a little more and read what happened when the crowd heard Peter’s words and testimony

    37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

    Well, you might say.  This all sounds well and good, but how does that help me with evangelism?  How does that help me in this day and age?  What does this mean for the church in its present form?  I don’t see us adding three thousand people to the church in this day and age. 

            And you are right.  We don’t see this, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen again.  And I think it could, but we are going to have to look at how we proclaim the Gospel–the good news.  For God’s deeds of power are good news.  What am I trying to get at?
    Just this: there is a difference between good news and advice.  I need to acknowledge that the following

comes from a lecture I heard given by Timothy Keller.  There is a big difference between good news and advice.  Advice givers are a dime a dozen these days.  They are all over the place.  I’ve personally been one for a long time, but I am trying to be a bearer of good news.  I am trying to be a herald.  What is the difference?

    Think of it in this fashion: a foreign army invades a country, and the king heads off to do battle.  If the king wins the battle, he sends back heralds–messengers who proclaim good news.  “The battle is over.  The enemy is defeated.  You did nothing to win the victory, but your king has conquered.  Live in the freedom of victory!”  This is proclaiming good news!!!  But if the king loses, he sends back military advisers.  “Put up the breastworks here!  Calvary over here!  Archers over here!  Prepare to fight for your lives!!!”  Big difference, right.  Big difference.

    Just about every philosophy in the world; just about every religion in the world; just about every particular political institution or club that you will join in this world sends military advisers–this is how you should live your life.  These are the things you should consider important.  These are the habits of highly effective people.  These are the things you should do to become really, truly happy.  These are the things you must do to please God.  Every one of these things is advice.  Every one of these things tries to tell you how to live; and there are many in the broader church who have taken this tract.  There are many in the church who spend a lot of time trying to tell us how we should live and the things we should do.  I’ve spent a lot of time in that camp, and it makes evangelism hard.  Because when you try to tell someone how to live and give advice, you are better off sending an example–being an example.  Living the right way.  Doing the right things.

    And none of us can do it.  None of us can be that kind of example, but the good news is that God wins the victory for us despite the fact that we are poor examples of what He would like us to be.  God wins the victory through the cross and the grave–He defeats sin; He defeats evil, and He promises resurrection while we are still sinners.  He showers His love down upon you and me even in the midst of our brokenness.  This is not advice.  This is good news! 

    And what do you do when you get good news?  What do you do when you have a piece of information that is so fulfilling; so exciting; so life changing?  You share, not because you are trying to tell someone what to do or how they should act or how they should live–you are sharing because it has made a difference in your life, and you know it could make a difference in other peoples’ lives as well. 

    God has performed great acts of power.  He has reconciled the world unto Himself.  He has died for you and for me despite our brokenness.  We are not perfect, but God loves us and He redeemed us.  This is good news!  May it be heard and shared!  Amen.

No comments: