Sermon Options: April 14, 2024

March 15th, 2021

What Makes the Difference?

Acts 3:12-19

On the heels of Peter’s healing of a man lame from birth is one of several sermons Peter preaches in the early part of Acts. There is nothing quite like a miraculous healing to get people’s attention, and Peter certainly had got their attention! The text says, “they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened” (Acts 3:10) .

The content of Peter’s sermon is like many sermons in Acts. First, the sermon addresses the historical reality of how people who should have received Jesus as messiah, instead handed him over to the authorities to have him murdered. Second, Peter’s sermon addresses the question: “[W]hy do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (v. 12).

How is it that ordinary people like Peter or John—or even us—can do miraculous works? It is a good question, and one that haunts people who, aside from following Christ, are about as ordinary as anyone else.

I. The Resurrection Makes the Difference in Our Lives

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Peter and the other disciples are discouraged and feel alienated, abandoned by Jesus. Peter knows all too well that he denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted he would. In Luke 23:49, the scene is summarized like this: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance.” Jesus was entirely alone—all had fled, or at least had kept their distance out of fear and shame. Yet, from the empty tomb of Jesus resurrection the church was born at Pentecost.

The book of Acts is filled with stories of the disciples being, in a sense, reborn and becoming more Christlike than they could have ever imagined. Acts 5 tells us: “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by” (vv. 14-15). Clearly, Peter has come out of the shadows of denial to cast a healing shadow of his own.

II. The Resurrection Can Make a Difference in Your Life

Peter’s sermon urges others to partake of this same grace that dramatically changed his own life. This is the primal call of the gospel, calling us into a relationship with Christ, which recreates us in God’s own image. Peter exhorts the people to “repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (v. 19), and this will give new life—whole and complete in God.

Max Dupree tells a powerful story about people’s identity. A young physician had a patient who owned a small business. The doctor had gone beyond normal expectations in helping this businessman, and in gratitude the man invited the physician and his wife to dinner and a symphony concert. During the concert, the orchestra presented a premier performance of a new composition. After the piece was performed and the audience applauded, the conductor turned to the young businessman and introduced him to the audience as the composer—much to the shock of the physician, who had not known of his patient’s musical talents.

The physician wondered whether his patient was an amateur composer whose primary identity was running a business, or whether he was actually a professional composer who also operated a business for the sheer enjoyment of it. “Did his experience with balance sheets help his orchestration? Or did his knowledge of harmony enable him to listen for the music in a well-run organization?” (Max Dupree, Leadership Jazz [Dell, 1992], 186-87).

Each of us has the choice, by God’s grace, to become a Peter of Acts rather than a Peter of the gospel, because Christ can and does work in human life. (David N. Mosser)

Becoming His Children

1 John 3:1-7

The famous writer George Bernard Shaw received a unique proposal from dancer Isadora Duncan. She believed that the two of them should have a child together. As she explained it: “Think what a child it would be, with my body and your brain!”

Shaw declined the offer, sending this response: “Think how unfortunate it would be if the child were to have my body and your brain!”

Parents are justly proud of their children, and often point to physical or emotional characteristics in their children that correspond to similar characteristics in themselves. That’s what we mean when we call little Junior a “chip off the old block.”

But what if your father is God? John says that in Christ we have become children of God. What does it mean for you and me to be children of God?

I. Being a Child of God Produces a New Lifestyle

When we become part of the family of God, we experience a transformation that produces a new lifestyle.

Purity becomes a priority (v. 3). We live in a culture in which purity is not so much an asset as a liability! For example, a generation ago, the loss of one’s sexual innocence before marriage carried a stigma; today, many of our young people try to hide the fact of their virginity because their peers will look down on them for it. What a devastating indictment of a society, when purity is not honored but ridiculed!

For the child of God, however, purity is a priority to be sought. We want to be fashioned in the image of God—to share in his holiness and righteousness. That does not mean we will achieve such purity in this life; but for the children of God, purity is the desire of their hearts.

Sin no longer dominates (vv. 4-7). Before we knew Christ, we were controlled by sin. The apostle Paul says we were “slaves” to sin—it held us in bondage, it dominated our lives. But Christ has freed us from bondage to sin, and we no longer allow sin to dominate our lives as it once did.

Does that mean Christians don’t sin anymore? Not at all. The difference is that once Christ has come to reside in your life, sin is now an unwelcome visitor. You are no longer “at home” in a sinful lifestyle. And as you grow in your Christian walk—through prayer, studying God’s Word, sharing your faith with others—then sin has less and less influence in your life.

One of the ways we recognize the child of God is through a transformed lifestyle. There is another important characteristic John cites here:

II. Being a Child of God Produces a New Hope

Have you attended the funeral of someone who is not a Christian? It is altogether different than the funeral of a child of God. For the non-Christian, the funeral service is really an ending, a ceremony marked by tragedy and loss. For the Christian, however, the funeral ought to be in some sense a celebration. For the child of God, death is not a tragic ending but an incredible beginning of an eternity with God.

We do not know all that we would like to know about that future, but we know that it is filled with hope and expectancy. As John says, “What we will be has not yet been revealed,” but we do have the promise of something special. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (v. 2). We will one day have the privilege of seeing Almighty God in all his glory and power, and we will have the even greater privilege of in some way sharing in that divine experience with the Father.

What a hope! What a Savior! (Michael Duduit)

Getting Up by Looking Around

Luke 24:36b-48

Trust in our Lord is inspired when we look around; Psalm 121 says, “I lift up my eyes.” Trust in our Lord is completed when we look up to him; in the scripture text from Luke we read, “Look at my hands and my feet. . . . Touch me and see . . . .”

I. Getting Up by Looking Around

I’ll never forget a scene from an episode of “The Three Stooges.” Curly cried, “Moe! Moe! I can’t see!” Moe asked, “What’s the matter?” And Curly replied, “I’ve got my eyes closed.”

God’s handiwork is all around us “from sea to shining sea.” All we have to do is look around—open our eyes—and we’ll see Someone very sovereign is running the show. Only the emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually blind of this world cannot see our Lord is in control and will ultimately prevail.

The psalmist was being rhetorical when he asked, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?” He knew God is in control. He quickly sang out, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Therefore, he concluded, “The LORD . . . will keep your life” (Ps. 121).

The psalmist was saying that if God can create a world, he can most certainly conserve us here and now and hereafter.

Are you down? Look around!

II. Looking Around Doesn’t Always Work

Unfortunately, there’s always enough pain and suffering in our world to keep us down. There are intentional tragedies precipitated by nasty people. There are natural tragedies like fire, floods, earthquakes, disease, and so on.

Looking around doesn’t always inspire us. Sometimes it gets us down to look around.

III. Staying Up by Looking Up

When the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples, their trust was completed as their potential for confident living and eternal life was assured. That’s why Jesus said, “Look at my hands and feet . . . Touch me and see.” Getting in touch with Jesus—entering into holy communion with him through the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, fasting, Bible study, sacrament, and fellowship—enables a person to live triumphantly amid the meanness, madness, and misery of life in the modern world.

When Larry King asked Chuck Colson how he has avoided the pitfalls of so many church leaders who can never live up to human expectations, Colson said, “I tell people, ‘Don’t follow me! Follow Jesus! ”

That’s why our church has rearranged the chancel furniture. Our pastors don’t sit in the kingly high-backed seat. We’ve reserved it for our Lord. Only Christ is king! We’ve even put a sign on it: “This seat reserved for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus!”

It’s like we read in Hebrews: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2 NIV). To put it another way, the only way to stay up is to look up to Jesus.

When we’re getting down, we must remember the gospel. We must remember Jesus. We must remember how he conquered death and assured the same for you and me through faith. We must remember his resurrected greeting to the disciples, which is the experience of all who trust in him: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36 b).

That’s how we stay up: we look up to Jesus. (Robert R. Kopp)

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