April 29, 2012: Third Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, forgive us for all those times we’ve sought to impose our will upon You through sheer ignorance. Open our hearts today so that we will seek out Your ways, Your thoughts, Your truths and also move us to be responsive to You every step of our lives. For thereby we will be transported to the high vistas of faith where spiritual clarity is the norm instead of the exception. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR GLORIOUS RISEN SAVIOR!

TEXT: Acts 4: 23-33

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

I’m not a big fan of Jello as it has no real nutritional value and is a bit over-sugared for my palate. But I do know that kids are intrigued by Jello—especially when it is molded into funky shapes. Perhaps Jello was made to conform to our ideas of how it should look, but God wasn’t. And yet, we humans continually seek to superimpose our will upon God and get upset when it doesn’t seem to work.

Peter and John preached awesome sermons after Pentecost, did a whole host of miracles, and basically made mortal enemies of the powers that be. As a result, they were hauled before the Jewish ruling council. When told to defend themselves as to why they were stirring up the people, Peter boldly confessed Jesus Christ. He told them that Christ was the Son of God, that those leaders had killed Him, and that Jesus had arisen from the dead. It was by Jesus’ authority that they preached and a few days before had done an amazing miracle in healing a 40 year old crippled man. And then Peter adds this: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Pay attention to that passage. Peter didn’t say: “Salvation is found in me, or in John.” He doesn’t say that eternal life is discovered by worshiping at a Buddhist shrine, a Shinto temple, or an Islamic mosque. No, only the name of Jesus saves. Only Jesus was the Son of God. Only Jesus died for our sins. Only Jesus has made peace with God Almighty on our behalf. And only Jesus bestows saving faith via the power of the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit pours God’s saving grace upon us through His Word of truth, through baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. That’s why Paul can later say: “Those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

I

After Peter confessed such truths to the Sanhedrin, those mean-spirited men were in a quandary. They wanted to beat them, punish them, and shut them up. Finally, they decided to threaten them and let the apostle’s go. “On their release Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” Believers need the comfort and strength they receive from one another. And then comes a fascinating prayer offered up by all to our Lord. And it’s right here I want you to re-focus on the image of molded Jello.

Prayer is one of the most powerful tools we Christians possess. Talking to God, pouring out your heart to Him, is a privilege, a comfort, a stress-reliever, an awesome responsibility, a blessing, and much more. To be sure, you can pray formally or informally to God. You don’t have to go through some special intermediary, either. Christ Himself tells us to address God directly in the Lord’s Prayer when He begins it by saying: “Our Father, who art in heaven….” What is amazing about this prayer is not so much its content, but its format—or its mold. Instead of praying like most of us would have, saying something like: “Lord, thank you for bringing Peter and John back to us, making them safe, and protecting us. Now continue to bless our work in Your ministry, etc. etc.” Instead of that format, they all join their voices—outloud—in saying: “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:–and then they quote a portion of Psalm 2.” After that, these Christians apply David’s words to what happened to Jesus, giving all glory to God along the way. Then, they finally get around to a petition: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

What’s happening here? Simply this: they are using God’s own inspired Word of truth to honor Him while at the same time confessing their faith in Him and laying a few requests before His throne of grace. This format of prayer presupposes they know the Old Testament. It presupposes that God’s Word is total truth and any promises made in the Bible by God are always true. The old Lutherans used to talk about praying out of an heroic faith. That is, if you really want God to answer in the manner you desire, search the Scriptures, quote His Word back to Him, apply it to your situation, and then He will be literally forced to answer as you wish, while at the same time your faith will be strengthened exponentially. When we talk about: “Getting into God’s Word” that’s what we mean. And right here, the early Christians provide us that exact paradigm or mold to follow.

II

Needless to say, it worked, too. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind…with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”

The older I get the more I’m amazed at how simple we humans are. We know God’s Word is vital for our faith, yet few really read it. We know Scripture is a “Lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” yet few ponder its meaning, search its truths, and are thereby enlightened. We know Scripture is informational, containing rational sentences and conveying rational thoughts, yet we think if we’ve heard or read a passage once we’ve mined its depths and grasp everything about it! We know God’s Word is transportational in that the Holy Spirit has joined Himself to it and works His almighty power pouring out His grace whenever we are exposed to it. And yet, so many deprive themselves of that power by neglecting regular worship and never actually having daily, Word-inspired devotions. But very few ever care to ponder: why does God say this or that in a certain way? Why do believers use that form for their prayer instead of another? And since: “all things have been written for our learning” doesn’t the form, or mold matter, too? I’m not an expert in any of this, I’m just a humble preacher. But I do know that God greatly blessed the New Testament Church in ways beyond our comprehension. Perhaps we need to learn anew from them not only in what we say, do, think, and believe, but also in how we exercise our faith. In any case, the profundity of God can never truly be plumbed by us, but He’s always excited and gratified when we try in humility and love. Amen