Epiphany 2a

Preached: January 16, 2011

In God's Courtroom You're Forgiven through Jesus
Acts 13:38-48

Other listening options or try the podcast at iTunes (You will be leaving our website.)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit proclaims the Good News of Jesus to us is Acts 13.

[Paul continues preaching,] “Therefore, let it be known to you, dear brothers, that through this One [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. And in him everyone who believes is justified from all that you are not able to be justified from in the law of Moses.

“Therefore, watch out so that what was said by the prophets does not come about: 'See, you scoffers, and be amazed and destroyed, because I am doing a work in your day. a work that you would never believe, even if someone laid it out in detail for you.'”

As they were leaving, they were urging that these words bespoken to them on the next Sabbath. When the synagogue gathering broke up, many of the Jews and the god-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke to them, were appealing to them to remain in God's grace.

On the coming Sabbath almost all the city gathered to hear he word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began speaking against what had been said by Paul, blaspheming. Courageously Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to you first. Since you push it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For the Lord has so commanded us: 'I have set you as a light for the Gentiles to be salvation unto the ends of the earth.'”

When the Gentiles heard this, they started to rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord, and they believed, as many as were appointed for eternal life.

(Acts 13:38-48)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

It was the late 40's. Paul and Barnabas had sailed to Cyprus, sent by the church in Antioch in Syria. In fact, the Holy Spirit himself had said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul [whom we better know as Paul] for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2 NIV-1984). Then after the church “had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:4 NIV-1984).

The mission work went well on Cyprus. A Jewish sorcerer by the name of Elymas tried to oppose them. But through Paul the Lord struck him with blindness for all his devilish deceit and trickery. Even the leader of the island, Proconsul Sergius Paulus believed, “for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (Acts 13:12 NIV-1984).

From Cyprus they sailed north to what today we call south central Turkey. They landed at the town of Perga, where for some reason their younger helper, John Mark left. No mission work is reported there. Soon they left and headed north to another city by the name of Antioch. Just as we have Alexandria, Minnesota, as well as Alexandria, Virginia, so they had Antioch in Syria, where they had come from, and now Antioch in Pisidia or Pisidian Antioch, where they've just arrived. Let's join Paul and Barnabus there.

A. A verdict for your faith's joy

1. What do you hear Paul preaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch?

Picture yourself as one of the Gentiles, a non-Jew, living in Pisidian Antioch. Although a Gentile, you have begun to know the Lord, the God of Israel. Even though the Jews are a small group in this city, their God attracts you for he is different than the gods of the Greeks and Romans. He upholds a high moral standard. But even more than that he has promised a Messiah to bring salvation. So you regularly join the Jews at their synagogue to hear Moses and the prophets read. Today two traveling rabbis are here as well. After the readings, they are invited to speak. What are they going to say?

They start by reminding everyone of how the Lord rescued the Israelites out of Egypt and brought them safely to Canaan, the promise land. After the time of the judges, he raised up Saul as King, and after Saul, David, a man after the Lord's own heart. Yes, you've heard this history before from your Jewish friends.

But now Paul says something you've never heard before. One of David's descendants, a man by the name of Jesus, is the Savior. And then he goes on to prove it: John the Baptist pointed to him. This Jesus fulfilled the words of Moses and the prophets read every Sabbath. The leaders in Jerusalem had rejected him and asked Pilate to crucify him. But all that too had been prophesied. And then God raised this Jesus from the dead; many people saw him alive and testify to it. Yes, the good news God had promised for so long had been fulfilled just as the Scriptures had foretold. That's what Paul was preaching.

Now as wonderful as that is, it doesn't compare to the joy his next words bring you. Looking at you sitting there in the synagogue, he says, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38 NIV-1984). Could that be true? Even for me who wasn't born a Jew, forgiveness through Jesus even for me?

Paul goes on, “Through [Jesus] everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39 NIV-1984). Do you feel your burden flung off from your back?

2. What does faith plead in God's courtroom and why?

You know the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, God's holy requirements. How pure and noble they are! And yet how impossible! How could I ever present to him my heart pure from all pride and selfishness, totally devoted to him alone? How good and excellent the law is, but how weak and filthy I am and you as well! How could you and I ever stand before the Lord in his courtroom? “[H]e does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7 NIV-1984). He “is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24 NIV-1984). Look at how he came down at Mt. Sinai. Look at his judgment against the world in the days of Noah. Look at his judgments throughout the history of Israel when his people wandered away. How could you or I ever stand in his courtroom? How could we ever appeal to the law, pleading our case as if we were good enough? What a damning verdict the law unloads across our backs!

But what did Paul say? “Through [Jesus] everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39 NIV-1984). Yes, through Jesus. For through Jesus and only through Jesus you're forgiven even in God's courtroom.

That's the verdict Paul holds out to you as you sit there listening in the synagogue at Pisidian Anticoh. You're forgiven through Jesus. So in God's courtroom faith pleads Jesus. Even now your faith pleads: “Yes, I am a guilty sinner; I have broken your law. But Jesus died and rose for me. Through him I have forgiveness, forgiveness for all my sins. For your word promises: 'Through him everyone who believes is justified' (Acts 13:39 NIV-1984). And that includes me.”

What a marvelous verdict for you right now! You are justified. You don't have to wait and wonder about the Last Day. For “[t]hrough him everyone who believes is justified” (Acts 13:39 NIV-1984) -- not a future tense but present, right now -- “is justified.” What a marvelous verdict for you to believe right now here today!

3. List two actions by which faith's joy shows itself.

That's your faith. And look at how your faith reacts to such joyful good news. They invite Paul back. They want to hear more next week. But so great is faith's joy that many can't even wait that long. They follow Paul and Barnabas and talk with them throughout the week. Do you see the joy? Faith's joy feasts on gladly hearing and learning God's Word.

But there's more. Did you notice how nearly the whole city turned out to hear Paul the next week? Why was that? Paul didn't have a mass media blitz or put up bill boards. He didn't have a raffle or give out door prizes. Rather neighbor told neighbor. You see, faith not only feasts on the word, it invites others to the feast. It can't keep its joy to itself. So great is the banquet of forgiveness through Jesus that there is room enough for all. Faith's joy gladly invites and welcomes others to feast on God's verdict of forgiveness.

In God's courtroom you're forgiven through Jesus. That's the verdict for your faith's joy, dear friend. Feast on it regularly. Share it broadly. Don't stifle faith's joy. For you see, if God's verdict is neglected, then it passes on away from us.

B. A verdict that can pass on

1. What's one of the greatest dangers we face as Christians?

Sometimes it's necessary to point out the sins that infect society: abortion, homosexuality, pornography, drunkenness and drugs, the breaking down of the family, explicit sex and violence so readily viewable, materialism, evolution, etc. But sometimes that can leave us rather smug, shaking our heads at those poor people out there. What happened to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch brings to my mind the greatest danger, or at least one of the greatest dangers, that we face as Christians -- and it's not any of those sins of society I listed.

Paul warned his listeners against rejecting Jesus. Would they scoff and harden their hearts against God's message like their forefathers did in the days of Habakkuk the prophet? Or would they believe? And when they did reject the message the following week what happened? Paul boldly tells them “Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:46 NIV-1984). God's justify verdict passed on away from them.

And that's what will happen to us, if we neglect God's Word. This kind of attitude stands in God's courtroom and pleads like this: “Hey, God, I know that everything's good between us. I've learned about Jesus. I believe. I know you have to save me. So I'll get back to you when the times right.” But that's not faith. Yes, it does say some of the right words, but it's not faith. Rather it's the kind of attitude that is busy with other things and gets around to Jesus later, if there's time. It's the attitude that runs after the promises of this world, assuming Jesus is a safety net who will be there if we need him, but until then why worry about it. How different from that faith we talked about earlier, faith that hungers to feast on God's truth, faith that overflows to share it's joy with others!

2. How close are we to losing God's truth? What can you do about it?

How close are we to losing God's truth among us as it passes on? I don't know. The Jews in Paul's day lost it because they clung to their self-righteous attitude. We will lose it if we cling to our self-indulgent attitude, for both are cut from the same cloth. Look at how God's truth once shown out from the Middle East in the days of the early church. Now it's hardly seen there at all. Look at how it moved on into Europe, shining as a beacon in Luther's day and afterwards. Now those grand cathedrals lie dark and vacant. How long will it remain among us?

Don't speed the passing of God's truth by neglecting it. Rather, rejoice that the light of Jesus shines on you now. Don't take it for granted. With fresh ears hear again that Good News: In God's courtroom you are forgiven through Jesus. I know you've heard it before, many times. But that's the message that faith clings to. That's the message for your joy. Don't replace that joy with the passing happiness of this world. Rather feel again the burden of the law thrown off from you. Rejoice again as forgiveness through Jesus is proclaimed to you. Feast on God's verdict. Share that good news. And as you cherish that good news in your heart, it cannot pass on away from you. For your faith clings to God's verdict. In his courtroom you are forgiven through Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313