Sermon Options: May 5, 2019

March 27th, 2019

UNLIKELY HEROES

ACTS 9:1-6 (7-20)

God is described in the Bible as being fond of using unlikely sources or people to accomplish his purposes. The selection of the people that he uses to bring about his kingdom is foreign to us as human beings. Who would have thought the tiny family of Abram would become the foundation of a mighty nation? Who could have guessed that the twelve rough-edged men would make disciples? When God does finally look to the trained religious leaders in the first century, he chooses Saul, later known as Paul. While Saul had the credentials and training for being a spiritual leader in the fledgling church, he obviously lacked the desire! He was the least likely of the rabbis to be chosen to lead and formulate early Christian theology. But that seems to be the mode in which God operates, choosing unlikely sources to accomplish monumental purposes.

I. Portrait of a Vengeful Enemy
In Acts 9:1-2, we see a description of Saul that is designed to communicate the great contrast between his former days and the days after his conversion. In these two verses, Saul is the threatening, murderous, persecutor of the church. His persecution lacked any discretion in regard to women or men. He was posed as the ultimate weapon of hatred against the church. Even he would later describe himself as the "chief of sinners."

We do not know how the church responded to the personal approach Saul took in persecuting them. They certainly feared him (9:12-14). One wonders if they obeyed Jesus and prayed for their persecutor. Jesus warned his followers during his lifetime that such persecution would come and he informed them how to respond. They were to turn the other cheek and bless those that spitefully used them. Someone's prayer must have been sent up. It worked on behalf of Saul and the church. For the church would not only lose a persecutor, but also gain a leader. Saul would not only be changed from the hateful disposition he had created, he would also have eternal life.

II. The In-breaking of God
While human understanding would simply write Saul off as a bad apple or call for his demise, God breaks in to human history to turn the situation around. On his route to sow more evil, a light suddenly flashes around him. Paul was not searching for a theophany, he was taking care of what he thought was a heretical sect. This light was more than a brightness, for a power was present that knocks the rabbi to the ground. No doubt fearful and confused, he now faces a greater authority than that of the High Priest who sealed his journey with papers.

From the powerful source of light that demands Saul's immediate reverence and subjection comes a question that hardly seems appropriate to one of such authority. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul has no alternative but to recognize this person as the Lord. But the Lord asks Saul why he is persecuting him. How could a human effect such a mighty power as this Lord? Saul was unaware of Jesus' teaching during his lifetime that to harm one of the least among his followers was to bring harm to him. In all his religious intentions to serve God, he lost the perspective that his devotion would ultimately bear fruit in the way that he treated God's children. To persecute believers was to persecute the One in whom they believed.

III. An Imperative to Follow
God's activity is always purposeful. Saul's conversion was not something that was done to become a novelty among residents of the area of Damascus. God had a purpose for Saul; he was a man of destiny. It would have been hard to see it immediately but Saul was going to fulfill that destiny. A blinded enemy that was murdering saints, to see such a sight may have made some think justice had been served. But God had a purpose in the blinding of his creature. He had a destiny for this man that was so large that it would take his help to accomplish it.

In Saul's humbled and weakened state he could only obey and find that the Lord worked on the other side of the equation, preparing faith in one of his servants to bring healing, salvation, and fullness to this avowed hater of the church. Saul's own life would demonstrate not only leadership in the church, but also suffering for her under the hand of others like himself. He ultimately would give his life, in a manner like the lives he took. God chose Saul for a purpose to serve in leadership and to die in courage for a faith he once thought heretical. God works that way, choosing unlikely sources—unlikely sources like us. (Joseph Byrd )

WORTHY OF WORSHIP

REVELATION 5:11-14

Wouldn't you like to know the future? Every year the pundits make their predictions regarding the new year. These educated guesses are occasionally right but usually they are broad enough to fit a variety of outcomes and not specific enough to be seen as real predictions. Even in the Christian community we sometimes fail to take our Lord's reminder seriously, "No one knows the day or the hour." There are, however, some things regarding the future of which we can be certain.

I. History Is Ultimately in God's Hands
Revelation chapters 4 and 5 describe a heavenly scene where John is given a brief glimpse of the activity of God. The final destiny of humankind is recorded in a book with seven seals. Only the Lamb of God is worthy to open this book. The twenty-four elders around the throne address God directly with praise and adoration. They exult in the Lamb who was slain and is now risen. His life is a ransom for all. Therefore, he is the only one who holds the key to the future. He is the only one who can open the book with the seven seals. Teilhard de Chardin referred to Christ as the omega point of history. Truly history is his story.

II. Speculation About the Future Will Ultimately Mislead Us
Luther said we should live as if Christ had died yesterday, was risen today, and coming tomorrow. If you tell a new believer that Jesus is coming he will ask expectantly "when?" If you tell a more seasoned Christian that Jesus is coming, he'll inquire as to what eschatological scheme you subscribe to. We need to be continually reminded that we are not on the time and place committee, we are on the arrangements committee. Our job is to simply prepare people for the coming of Christ.

III. Praise and Worship of God Is Our Ultimate Response to God's Grace (vv. 5:11-14)
These verses are based on Daniel 7:13-14. They are incorporated in the canticle "Digmus es," which is sung in the daily prayers of the liturgy. The fact that this worship is offered by angels reminds us that the whole of creation is involved in the worship and praise of our great God. Interestingly, none of the hymns in Revelation are solos. They all involve a choir of persons or angels.

Worship at its best is corporate. Kierkegaard said that we should remember that when we worship, God is the audience. We are the participants in the ongoing drama declaring his glory. Worship declares God's worth. It is both a testimony before humanity and a tribute to the God who alone is worthy of worship, honor, and praise.

Go to any bookstore and you will find a plethora of books about angels. Surveys indicate that most Americans believe in the existence of angels. Yet in every scene in which angels appear in the book of Revelation, they point beyond themselves. If we want security about the future we will find it only as we follow the Lamb who alone is worthy to open the book of the future. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Those who lose their life (and give up on their own hopes for the future) for my sake will find it."

The prince of preachers, C. H. Spurgeon, wrote the following about Jesus: "Oh, Jesus! Thy power, Thy grace, Thy justice, Thy tenderness, Thy truth, Thy majesty, and Thine immutability make up such a man, or rather such a God-man. . . . Thou art music without discord; Thou art many yet not divided; Thou are all things, and yet so all the glories of heaven and earth meet in Thee and unite so wondrously, that there is none like Thee in all things; nay if all the virtues of the most excellent were bound in one bundle, they could not rival Thee." (L. Joseph Rosas, III)

Have You Got Any Fish?

John 21:1-19

John ends his Gospel with the twentieth chapter. The Crucifixion and the empty tomb cause quite a stir in Jerusalem. The risen Christ meets his friends personally at unexpected moments. They are overcome with joy and peace when they encounter Jesus. Their grief has been turned to joy.

Mary is the first to come to the tomb. Her doubt and grief are overcome by unspeakable joy as she encounters Jesus. She had sinned much and Jesus had forgiven and cleansed her. Because of her rejection by the community, she comes to the tomb in the darkness. She discovers that something has happened: the tomb is empty; the stone has been removed. Mary is alarmed when she discovers that someone has been there and disturbed the tomb.

When Mary sees the open tomb she runs to share this disturbing news with Peter. She reports, “We do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2). Mary then returns to the tomb and stands weeping. When she encounters Jesus, she mistakes him for the gardener. Jesus asks her, “Whom are you looking for?” She then asks for the body of Jesus to care for it. When Jesus calls her name, “Mary!” she recognizes it as the voice of Jesus. She falls at his feet and utters, “Rabbouni!” (vv. 15-16).

Many say the appearances of the risen Christ are nothing more than visions. The disciples in their grief had seen what appeared to be Jesus. Some insist that they were hallucinating. There are many explanations of the empty tomb but none that satisfy the distraught disciples.

The word spreads all over Jerusalem. Many go to their own homes to reflect and ponder all these events. Some are filled with fear and lock themselves behind bolted doors.

Thomas, called Didymus, is told about the risen Lord and he responds, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (20:25). Later Thomas encounters Jesus, who invites him to do what he has declared is necessary for him to believe.

Many who hear the news are like Thomas. They have doubt. Finally, they are convinced without seeing or touching Jesus. The witness of others is adequate to convince them. Thus John ends his Gospel with the twentieth chapter.

Then John adds this strange twenty-first chapter to demonstrate once and for all the reality of the Resurrection. The disciples had been given audacious promises by Jesus and called to a higher service to the whole world. Yet nothing is happening. The waiting and the watching are taking a toll. The disciples’ minds are tiring under the strain of delay. They are perplexed and waiting, but nothing is happening.

Peter’s patience is strained to the limit. He watches the boats putting out for the fishing grounds. Peter announces that he is going fishing. Several of the other disciples say they will go with him. It is beginning to get dark, prime time for fishing. They are going to the Sea of Tiberias, named for Tiberias Caesar. The Fourth Gospel is the only one to use this designation. The “Sea of Galilee” or “Lake of Gennesaret” was more often used by the native people. The disciples go fishing to get away from the ridicule of the doubters, the scoffers.

So, they set out to go fishing, unaware that Jesus has followed and is preparing a fire to cook the fish. The simple aim of today’s text is to make quite clear the reality of the Resurrection. The risen Lord was not a vision, or a figment of someone’s imagination, or the appearance of a spirit or ghost; it was Jesus, who had conquered death and was alive. This is the main reason John adds this appendix, to show the disciples responding to Jesus as a person and not as a vision.

As they return, Jesus calls out, “Lads, have you got any fish?” They say no. He tells them to throw their nets on the other side. They do and the net is filled. It was a common thing for someone onshore or at the edge of the water to assist those fishing. From the shore one could sometimes see the fish better than can those in the water.

When the disciples get to land they see a fire of coals there, with fish and bread on the fire. They now recognize the “stranger” as Jesus. John calls out to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (21:7).

When Jesus asks for some of the fish that the men have just caught, they count the “haul” and discover they have caught 153 different varieties— representing all the kinds of fish in the lake. Jesus feeds the disciples as he fed the hungry crowd. They are drawn together in love by his resurrection power. Their unity is restored and their mission is renewed. Jesus has given these men an incredible mission. Now that they have unmistakable proof of the Resurrection, they are ready to share this news with the world. (T. Leo Brannon)

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