Luke 24:44-49 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Selected Text)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 28, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson appointed for the Ascension of Our Lord, recorded in Luke 24:
44And [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that it is necessary to fulfill all the things which stand written concerning me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the Psalms.” 45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures 46and He said to them, “Thus it stands written for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and on the basis of His name, to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And, behold, I myself am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But as for you, remain in the city until which time you should be clothed with power from on high.”
An extremist is “a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.” Do you consider yourself an extremist? Specifically, do you consider yourself a religious extremist? According to an August 2015 Barna Group survey, you are.
One of the prevailing views of our American culture is that you are an extremist because you are a Christian. (I’m waiting for the collective gasp of disbelief.) Fifty to seventy-nine percent of the 1000 U.S. adults surveyed considered it “very” or “somewhat” extreme to attempt to convert others to their faith; praying out loud in public for a stranger; teaching their children that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are morally wrong. If you, as a Christian, have ever done any of these things, you are considered by more than half the people to be an extremist. Twenty to forty-nine percent of those surveyed said that it is “very” or “somewhat” extreme to quit a good-paying job to pursue mission work in another country or to wait until marriage to have sex. Up to 20% considered these actions “very” or “somewhat” extreme: attending church on a weekly basis; reading the Bible silently in a public place; regularly donating money to a religious community; volunteering to help people in need.
So I’m guessing that most, if not all of you, along with me, fall into the category of “religious extremist” based on the views of the culture around us. What does this say about how people, the culture, view the Christian Church? If we are seen as extremists for simply reading our Bibles to ourselves while sitting on the park bench, that doesn’t bode very well. Extremists, you see, are threats because they are seen as dangerous to one’s well-being or way of life. Extremists are considered to be radical, fanatical nut-jobs. And if you and I are perceived as extremists because of the Christian faith, guess what that says about us. Right, we are radical, fanatical nut-jobs. We are dangerous.
Solomon said in the Book of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). The same holds true for the cultural view regarding Christians. Although perhaps shocking to our own ears, it isn’t anything new to be considered an extremist or fanatical or dangerous. Listen to what Luke wrote in Acts 17. “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” (What a tie into our Gospel reading where Jesus says to His disciples, “Thus it stands written for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day”! Paul’s proclaiming this very truth in Thessalonica!) Luke goes on, “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go” (Acts 17:1-9 ESV).
Paul and Silas were extremists! They stirred up the inhabited world with trouble! How so? They proclaimed Jesus crucified and risen from the dead! They preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins on the basis of the saving work of Jesus Christ. It flew in the face of the worship of Caesar as a god. It was counter-cultural to the vast pantheon of gods and goddesses that the Roman world worshiped. With the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord, with the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sin in and through Jesus, comes a whole new way of living, a different way of thinking and acting. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV). And the new is extreme!
At the District Pastors’ conference two weeks ago, we spend some time considering what Paul wrote, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Corinthians. Paul shows how counter-cultural, how radical, yes, how extreme the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul lays it all out there, doesn’t he? These lifestyles, these ways of living are contrary to a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. These sins hack away at faith and seek to turn us from understanding them rightly as “sinful,” but rather as “okay for me.” And once they become acceptable and okay, they are no longer wrong. If they are no longer wrong, then I don’t need to repent. And if I don’t need to repent, I don’t need the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, nor do I need Him to be my Savior. But it’s all a lie. It’s all a deception. Paul continues to level with the Corinthians and with us as he next writes, “And such were some of you.”
Some of the Corinthians lived that way. They were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. They were sinners. And so are you and I and the rest of the world. Paul didn’t slink back from saying so, even though it was extreme. The Roman culture had no problem with most of that list. But Paul speaks the Word of God’s Law to show them their sins and their need, just as the same Word does for us. The world says, “It’s okay,” but the truth of the matter is radically different. It’s not okay. Sin is never okay. It will hurt you and your relationships with others. Sin will ultimately kill you because you stand condemned to death and hell. The world cries, “Fanatics!” The Law cries, “Guilty and Condemned!”
But Jesus Christ says, “Repent and receive the forgiveness of sins.”
It’s counter-cultural. It’s radical. Yes, it is extreme, because only an extreme act of God’s intervention could save humanity from the death and hell we deserve. Only an extreme act of God’s grace could change a sinner into a new creation, a forgiven and redeemed child of the heavenly Father. Only a radical act of sacrifice could bring about a new life of oneness with God.
God’s extreme, radical act was the sacrificial life and death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. All the things that stand written in the Old Testament concerning Jesus were fulfilled. The promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was fulfilled in and by Jesus Christ. The promise that all families of the earth would be blessed by the Messiah, whom God would send by means of the people of Israel, stands completed. Indeed, all of God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Especially, God’s promises of forgiveness, life, salvation, and the restoration to His favor find their “yes” in Jesus when He said “yes” to the cross.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). But as Isaiah had prophesied, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Is. 53:10). As Scripture had announced, so it was necessary to save the whole world by suffering the sins of the world upon a cross. So, Christ took the sins of the world upon Himself as the very Lamb of God. He shed His blood, purchasing forgiveness of sins for all humanity. On the third day, He rose again from the dead, the sacrifice complete, the victory His. And now it’s ours!
By the grace and love of God, through the preaching of the Lord, we realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior. Using Paul’s words again, “And such were some of you.” But now things have change. Paul says, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 ESV). On the basis of the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit whom the Father and Son have poured out upon us richly, we have heard the terrifying message of the Law and the soothing comfort of the Gospel. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place, keeping the Law for us, and giving us the credit as having done so. In our place, Jesus’ suffered death on a cross bearing our sins. There He won our forgiveness and everlasting life. This Gospel that we receive by grace through faith through the Word and the Sacraments has changed our hearts and our minds. We now confess sin for what it is—that which is contrary the revealed Word of God. We are now able to trust that, for the sake of the innocent suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have the free gift of the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.
And part of that life is the new life of faith. We live differently than other people. We teach our children the Word of God in both Law and Gospel. What God calls sin in His Word we also call sin. We pray for the strength of God’s Spirit within us to resist temptation and so not be overcome by sin and evil. We pray for strangers and with strangers because that is who we are in Christ—men, women, and children of the Word and of prayer. We live a life of morality as the Lord has outlined it for us in His Word. We hold marriage sacred as the union of one man and one woman unto one flesh. We wait to have sex until we are married because we are new creations in Christ who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, desire to please God with our actions as a faithful response to His gifts of love and mercy. As Christians, we regularly give of ourselves sacrificially, joyfully supporting the ministry of the Word among us. And you bet we read the Bible wherever and whenever, because it is our source of faith and life lived in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we do love others and show that love of Jesus by helping and supporting our neighbor in any and every responsible way that we can.
In the eyes of the world, this is all extreme. But the thing that makes us most radical and extremist in the minds of our culture is the same thing that made Christians so in the days of Paul. As the Church, believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we intentionally seek to bring other people to the saving faith in the Savior. We attempt to convert others! It’s radical. But we are doing nothing other than following our Lord’s desire that, on the basis of the name of Jesus, we bring the Good News of repentance for the forgiveness of sins into all the nations.
When you share your faith, your trust, in Jesus with a co-worker or a classmate, you are turning the world upside down. When you refuse to go along with the crowd because you know it is sinful and contrary to God’s Word, you are turning the world upside down. When you stand up for Christian ethics and morality in an ever increasingly unethical and immoral culture even though you are in the minority, you are turning the world upside down. You are taking your stand on the Word of God and giving people, through your words and actions, the Gospel message of repentance and forgiveness because your life in Jesus is now radically different.
A whole lot of people apparently see Christians as extreme. Add me to that list and I pray, you also. Our God is God of extreme love, mercy, and grace. He loves sinners the world over so much that He gave His One-of-a-kind Son, Jesus, into a hellish death on a cross in order to save them all from sin and death. And now, you and I and all believers in all the nations have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of God the Holy Spirit. We are new creations, new people who possess an extreme and radical love for God and our neighbor, so much so, that we are willing and able to put it all on the line so that someone else might hear the Gospel, be brought to saving faith by the work of the Holy Spirit through that Gospel, and receive the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. That’s extreme! And that’s who we are in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.