Acts 4:1–12 (RCL 4:5–12)
1 John 3:16–24
1 John 3:16–24
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weren’t here last week, I am sorry to say that you missed out on a wonderful
sermon that was delivered by our guest preacher, Don Compier, who is the dean
of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry and who also serves a Spanish-speaking
congregation in Kansas City. In his sermon, Don spoke passionately about what
it means for us to be witnesses of the Resurrection. Today I want to return to
his resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to his disciples for a
period of forty days until he was taken up into heaven. One of these appearances
occurred on the evening of Easter Sunday. Two of his followers had just returned
to Jerusalem, and they were telling the other disciples how they had been encountered
by Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how Jesus had made himself known to them in
the breaking of the bread. (This recognition scene is the subject of the relief
that stands above and behind our altar here at St. John’s.)
Anyway, while these two disciples are
excitedly telling their story, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. The
disciples are all surprised, to say the least. Some are downright terrified
because they think they are seeing a ghost. Jesus tries to alleviate their fear
by pointing to the holes in his hands and feet. He says, “Touch me and see; for
a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). And just to make sure that
he has left no room left for doubt, the Risen Jesus takes a piece of broiled
fish and eats in their presence.
You see, this was not some mystical, visionary experience, but a physical, real-world encounter with the Risen Christ, a flesh-and-blood encounter with a flesh-and-blood, back-from-the-grave Jesus. Having established himself as truly alive, this Jesus then opens their minds to understand the scriptures. He says,
are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything
written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be
fulfilled…. Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the
dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be
proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are
witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44–48).
pointed out last week, in the gospels, when Jesus is talking to his disciples,
he is generally talking to us as well. So when Jesus says, “You are witnesses
of these things,” he is talking to you and me. We are witnesses of these
things. Of course, we are not eye-witnesses like his first followers were, but
we are witnesses, nonetheless, called to testify about those things that have been
passed down to us.
things exactly? Well, Jesus specifically mentions three. We are to bear witness
to the fact that Jesus suffered and died for us, that God raised him from the
dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins has been made possible through
his death and resurrection.
it would be worthwhile to spend some time reflecting on each of these things
which we are witnesses of, but Don touched on this last week. So instead of
talking about what we are called to
bear witness to, I want to talk about whom
we are called to bear witness to.
Book of Acts, right before the Risen Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his
disciples, “Hang out in Jerusalem for a while…. You will receive power when the
Holy Spirit comes you; and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts
1:4, 8). Notice the progression. The disciples are to start right where
they are in Jerusalem, then they are to spread out in ever-widening circles, first
to Judea, then to Samaria, and finally they are called and equipped to take the
gospel to the ends of the earth. But who all does that include?
Does this include
fellow Jews? Yes.
those who were responsible for Jesus’ death? Absolutely.
Jewish followers of Jesus supposed to share the gospel with Gentiles? Yes.
those of other faiths? Absolutely.
why? Why is the gospel about Jesus of Nazareth to be proclaimed to all nations
and all faiths? Because Jesus isn’t just a human leader of one of the world’s
religions. He is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. As Jesus himself
said following his resurrection, “All
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make
disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18). But, how did Jesus acquire
all authority? Well, we might say that he always had it. As the incarnate Son of
God, through whom all things came into being, we could say that Jesus is Lord
by nature, and that would certainly be true.
But the New Testament goes further than this. Across the board, the writings of
the New Testament connect Jesus’ being Lord to his humble act of self-sacrifice
on the cross.
example, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul says of Jesus:
God also highly exalted him
But why did
God exalt Jesus in this extraordinary manner? Because Jesus, even though he was
very God of very God, he became like a slave and “he humbled himself and became
obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
the Book of Revelation, we find this same connection between Jesus’ death and
lordship. In chapter 5, Jesus is worshipped by the whole host of heaven just
like God is. Night and day they sing without ceasing, “You are worthy… for you
were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and
nation” (Rev 5:9). Jesus is worthy
to receive worship because of his death.
I could offer up example after example of how Jesus’ lordship is grounded in
his act of self-sacrifice. The Bible is filled with them, but the simple truth
we need to hear is this: Jesus is Lord of all people because he is the Savior
of all people. Lord and Savior are two sides of the same coin; we cannot have
one without the other. By giving up his life, Jesus rescued the whole world
from enslaving powers of sin and death, and so
all people everywhere owe him their undivided gratitude and allegiance.
But the whole world does not yet know the good news about Jesus. In
today’s gospel Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this
fold.” These other sheep are sheep from other nations, sheep from other faiths.
For God’s vision for creation is to fashion out of all the diverse peoples of
the world… one single flock of humanity… under the loving care and guidance of
one Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid his life down for all sheep everywhere.
have other sheep,” says Jesus, “and I must bring these sheep in.” Jesus brings
these other sheep in, by sending us out. Jesus calls and equips his followers
to shine the light of his salvation into every corner of creation, into the
dark recesses of every human heart. Jesus died that we all might know the redeeming
love and forgiveness of God. And he was raised from the dead that all people
everywhere might be reconciled to God and to one another. We are witnesses to
all these things.
Or, to draw
upon another image, we are ambassadors for Christ. As Paul writes to the
Christians in Corinth:
and gave him the name that
is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and
under the earth,and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the
Father (Phil 2:9–11).
has] reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of
reconciliation, [which is this]; that in Christ God was reconciling the world
to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and [God has]
entrusted this message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for
Christ, since God is making his appeal through us (5:18–20).
are we that God should make his appeal through us to the rest of the world? Wouldn’t
it be presumptuous of us to think of ourselves as ambassadors for Christ? In
fact, isn’t it arrogant for Christians to
claim that Jesus is the Lord and Savior of all people, especially in our ever-increasing global and
multicultural world? These are important questions, and I wish I had time to
address them adequately, but let me sketch out an initial response.
the past and in the present, we Christians have at times been presumptuous and
arrogant. And I dare say, we will be guilty of such things in the future. But,
let’s be clear, these things are not inherent in the gospel that we have been
entrusted with. You see, messengers are not to speak their own words, only the
words that they have been given to speak. And ambassadors do not represent
themselves, but the one who sent them. As Paul makes clear, we Christians
not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your
slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of
darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of
the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay
jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God
and does not come from us (2 Cor 4:5–7).
this treasure in clay jars.” What an incredibly important and powerful image,
for it holds together the twin virtues that we Christians must cultivate, the twin
virtues of faith and humility. According to Parker Palmer, “The spiritual life
is lived in a balance of paradoxes, and the humility that enables us to hear the
truth of others must stand in creative tension with the faith that empowers us
to speak our own.”
do not have a monopoly on truth. All truth is God’s truth, even when that truth
is found in other faiths. As Christians who have been called to go out into the
world as witnesses and ambassadors of Christ, we can with good conscience enter
into genuine dialog with persons of other faiths. We can listen and seek to
understand them; we can acknowledge the truth that they have been given. In so
doing, we are exercising the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ.
we cannot stop there. Along with humility, we must also exercise the virtue of faith.
We must, through our actions and through our words, bear witness to the
treasure that we have been entrusted with, namely, that in Jesus, God was
reconciling the world to himself and that “there is salvation in no one else,
for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be
saved.” Again, we Christians do not have a monopoly on the truth, but we, by
God’s wisdom and grace, have been made stewards of a truth that is for the
salvation of the whole world. And so we must be faithful stewards.
are clay vessels, to be sure, and that calls for all humility. But we have been
given a treasure that is not of our own making, and so it is not ours to hoard.
We have been called by God; we have been equipped with the Holy Spirit. And so
with all faith, let us share the treasure of the good news of Jesus Christ with
the whole world, which God so dearly loves.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9–11).
Delivered on Sunday, April 26th, a.d. 2015