Monday, May 19, 2014

“Don’t Be Surprised!” (Acts 7 selected verses)

S-1432 5SOE/3A 5/18/2014 Hymns: (O) #193; (S) #354; (C) #447

Texts: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:22-10; John 14:1-14

Theme: “Don’t Be Surprised!” (Acts 7 selected verses)

Question: “What surprises you?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! The text is from Acts: “And Stephen said: ‘Brothers and fathers, hear me…You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it...But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7 selected verses).

You who are Baptized, Redeemed, Forgiven, Blood-bought and Heaven-bound children of God, in the name of Christ the ONLY true God and Savior rejoice in the everlasting hope and help He has given you. Jesus said: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me…I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you,” (John 14:1; 16:1-4). And from Matthew: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household” (Matthew 10:23-25).

Therefore I say to you don’t be surprised at what you hear and what you see as attacks against the followers of Jesus. Don’t be surprised as violence against Christians is increasing. Don’t be surprised that the media can speak evil of Jesus Christ and demean His name; but don’t say a word against Mohammad or Islam. Don’t be surprised when you see Islam at work in Nigeria as Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls; 90% are Christians and vowed to sell them as sex slaves. Don’t be surprised as you hear of a pregnant Christian woman (Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27), from Khartoum, Sudan, condemned and charged with adultery and apostasy; to be flogged (100 lashes) and hanged to death because she is married to a Christian. Don’t be surprised when you hear the President of the USA congratulate Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player; but a Christian athlete like Tim Tebow is ridiculed. Don’t be surprised when you hear of Harvard University wanting to have a Black Mass to worship Satan on campus; but for Christians they are hindered from having Bible study, prayer time and worship on campus. Don’t be surprised as you listen to TV evangelists who preach prosperity gospel; but not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t be surprised as you listen to Joel Osteen who never talks about sin or hell; but always about being happy. Don’t be surprised at the ways of the world verses the ways of the Eternal Word-Jesus Christ.

Neither should you be surprised at what is taking place in the text before us today. Dr. Luke tells the story of a Greek man—Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit who is murdered by stoning for His confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone. Be surprised at the way the Holy Spirit equipped Stephen to handle himself and gave a glorious testimony of His trust in Jesus Christ in the face of death. Be surprised that He prayed for His enemies. Though, I shouldn’t be! I’m not sure that I could do that myself. Could you? PAUSE.

In this blessed text, we see the way the Savior works on the heart of a man who knows he can’t save himself, but trusts in Christ to save him from the eternal powers of hell and God’s wrath through His death and resurrection. We see how those who follow Jesus live to bring glory and honor to His holy name. We see the power of Christ at work in the lives of those who trust Him completely.

Jesus in the Gospel lesson today stated, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled…” He went on to say in Chapter 16, that people will kill you thinking they are doing Me a favor.” That is how warped our world is. That which is good they call bad, that which is bad they call good. That which is holy they call impure and that which is impure they call holy. Don’t be surprised saints in Christ.

Yes, don’t be surprised when we are offended and demeaned for the sake of Christ. Don’t be surprised at how quickly people get angry with you. Don’t be surprised at someone who speaks well of you to your face, but behind your back they curse you. Don’t be surprised at the wickedness of others and even our own. Don’t be surprised at how people change their minds like shifting sand. Don’t be surprised when saints leave the Good Shepherd, His teaching and abstain from dining at His table. Don’t be surprised when many things take precedence rather than being with the Savior. Don’t be surprised fellow saints. PAUSE.

Fellow saints don’t be surprised at how you and I have behave. Don’t be surprised at how hard it is for us to forgive those who hurt us and forget what they have done. Don’t be surprised at the envy that is in our hearts. As sinners we can do no less than continue to sin, though we try not to.

But today, by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit has brought us here, and in our baptism has called us like Stephen to stand up and speak out of what Christ has done and continues to do. Tell the world of the surprising gift of God’s grace to us sinners. Tell them that Christ in love did the unthinkable, unimaginable and unfathomable—taking our place as the worst sinner, going to the cross, suffering the wrath of God and dying for us.

Tell them how surprised you are that God in love sent His ONLY Son to pour upon us unworthy sinners His grace and mercy which we don’t deserve. Tell them of the love He bore for us on the cross of Calvary. Tell them of His redeeming gift of His body and blood. Tell them that in Jesus, His shed blood on the cross, and His empty tomb we have what we can’t get—surprise of all surprises—forgiveness of sins, SALVATION and eternal life. Tell them of His undying devotion to you and me.

What a privilege you and I have to be counted as the recipients of God’s grace on account of Christ. What a blessing you and I have as Pastor and people of God to be a beacon of light and hope in this dark world. What a joy you and I have to stand on the shoulders of faithful proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ like Stephen, Paul, Luke and the others as we tell the world about the Savior who fills our hearts with love, hope and peace.

Remember beloved in the Lord, that peace rules the day when Christ rules the heart. Hope rules the heart when faith anchors its identity in the Creator—Redeemer, Jesus Christ. When we as His followers take to heart what He has exhorted us to do, don’t be surprised at the results.

Paul the man who stood by the garments of Stephen while being stoned became the greatest preacher and writer of the New Testament. Talk about surprise! Peter the Disciple who denied Jesus, became a pillar of the Church and spread the message to many parts of the world. Talk about surprise! Thomas who refused to believe the Resurrection became the voice of the Resurrection even to India, where he was flayed for His confession as the resurrected Lord. Talk about surprise! James the son of Zebedee was beheaded for being a disciple of Jesus. Talk about surprise! Is it any surprise then, that we Christians are being persecuted? No, it is not!

But thanks be to God that you and I can speak of the great surprise that God would love a sinner like us to the end. Thanks be to God that Jesus is the Mediator between God and man and who pleads for us even now. And this is of course no surprise that Jesus, the Author, Agent and Administrator of our world loved us from before the foundation of the world and will do so even until He comes to take us home with Him forever.

Are you surprised at His love? You shouldn’t! He told us He would love us. He loved us to the end—even to death-death on a cross. Amen.

Now the peace...


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