Easter 4b

Preached: May 3, 2009

Our God Rules Victoriously
Acts 4:23-33

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus our Savior is Acts 4:23-33

After they were released, they came to their own and reported as much as the chief priests and elders had said to them. After hearing this, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said, “Almighty Master, you are the One who made the sky and the earth and the sea and all the things in them, the One speaking from our father through the Holy Spirit from the mouth of David, your servant:

Why do the nations act proudly, and the peoples ponder empty things? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One [Christ].

For truly they ; both Herod and Pilate with the nations and the people of Israel ; they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do as much as your hand and your plan had ordained ahead of time to happen. And as for the current circumstances, Lord, look at their threats and grant to your servants to keep on speaking your word with courage, while you stretch out your hand for healings and to cause signs and wonders to happen through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.

When they had prayed, the place in which they had gathered shook. All were filled with the Holy Spirit and were speaking the word of God with courage.

The full number of the believers were of one heart and soul. No one was saying that any of their possessions was their very own, but all things were held in common by them. With great power the apostles gave out the testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

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

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Mark 14:31 NIV), Peter earnestly boasted. But as you well know, only a few hours later he was vehemently denying that he even knew Jesus, not just once or twice but three times. “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times” (Mark 14:72 NIV). How easily our human strength and resolve dissolve away as waves of troubles, threats, or worries wash up against us!

But what a different Peter we've been seeing these past weeks! No longer relying on his own strength, but rather filled with the Holy Spirit since Pentecost, Peter boldly preached Christ crucified and risen to the crowds that had gathered after the man born crippled was healed, as you heard two weeks ago. After being arrested for that, Peter boldly confessed Jesus before the same Jewish council that had condemned Jesus to death, as you heard last week.

And the reading today brings this account wraps up. The ruling council, the Sanhedrin, knew that they could not deny the miracle. Everyone could see the crippled man now walking. But they had to put a stop to this preaching. So they commanded Peter and John to no longer speak or teach in the name of Jesus and after further threats released them.

Would Peter and John and the others cave in to these threats? Would they try to stand on their own against these foes? Would they tone down their message hoping to reach some sort of amicable compromise with the Jewish leadership? They did none of these. Rather they turn to the Lord in prayer. They call on him in faith and ask for the courage to boldly and openly keep on proclaiming his message, uncompromised. For they knew, believed, and confessed that, because Jesus had risen from the dead, their God ruled victoriously.

That, dear friends, is also what you know and believe and confess: Our God rules victoriously. That's the theme this morning.

A. Know that all is under his power

1) How did our Creator direct history for our salvation?

The apostles prayed: “Sovereign Lord, . . . you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” Our God has power over all, for he is the Creator. We confess this every time we say the creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Evolution is not some alternate interpretation of Genesis. Evolution is not the advance of the enlightened mind leaving behind prehistoric myths. Evolution is an attack on our God, a denial of who he is, an undermining of faith. It sows doubt under the guise of intellectual wisdom. It leads to fear, uncertainty, and death while seeming to promise the triumph of the human spirit. For if God did not create the world as he said he did, did he raise Jesus, as he said he did? And if Jesus has not been raised, your faith is futile and our hope is empty, all useless.

But by faith you, dear friends, know that our God made all things our of nothing. And not only did he get it all started, but he continues to rule over all of history. All is under his power. The apostles' prayer praises God for this as well. They quote Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One” (Acts 4:25, 26 NIV). They note how what God had said a thousand years earlier through their forefather David had now been fulfilled. “Indeed Herod [a king] and Pontius Pilate [a ruler] met together with the Gentiles [from the nations] and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (Acts 4:27 NIV).

But just as the Lord created all things also his mighty hand worked the evil desires of these enemies to serve his gracious plan. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:28 NIV). Our God is the master. All is under his power. God the Son, Jesus Christ came, just as foretold. He was betrayed, tried, and crucified, just as foretold. He rose from the dead in victory, just as foretold. In him we have forgiveness, life, and salvation, just as foretold. For our Creator who rules over all things has worked salvation for his people. And he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Know that all is under his power, for our God rules victoriously.

B. Believe it despite the present evidence

1) What does the visible evidence of life point to?

But where's the evidence of that victory? Or is it all an empty claim? Six years ago, on May 1, 2003, from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, President Bush said, “In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_accomplished, accessed 1 May 2009). He also spoke of the difficult work ahead of bringing order to Iraq and the continuing War on Terror. But many took his speech to be a declaration of victory, that the mission had been accomplished. There was a claim of victory, but where was the evidence? Over 98% of American casualties happened after that date. Over 100,000 American soldiers are still in Iraq. Maybe the traditional military war maneuvers were finished in 2003, but the evidence shows that at best it was an incomplete victory at that time.

So what about the evidence of Jesus' victory? Show me the evidence that our God rules victoriously. None of you objected when I said that God not only made all things but he also rules over history, that all is under his power. So now prove it to me. Show me the evidence. For I contend that the evidence proves the opposite. The evidence proves that God does not rule victoriously. If God ruled over all, why would his apostles be arrested and eventually executed. If God ruled over all, why do the forces of evil so often win? If God ruled over all, why do you and I still have so many struggles in life? Why do we feel so weak? Why do we face false accusations or the gossip of others? Why do we suffer and sooner or later die? How many casualties have there been since Jesus claimed victory over death? That's the evidence I see.

2) Where must faith look to be sure of the victory?

So is the Easter victory just another empty claim, proved false by the evidence? So it would seem, judged by what you can see or feel or reason. But faith, dear friends, takes God at his word. Faith turns a blind eye to the evidence that can be seen or felt or reasoned out. But this is not blind faith. For faith sees by a supernatural light. Faith gazes into the brightness of God's Word and sacraments. Faith prayers, “Lord, you have spoken. That is all that I need.” So faith cherishes God's message that shines out from the Scriptures and the sacraments. Despite the visible, tangible, reasonable evidence of daily life, faith focuses on God's promises.

How many of our worries, fears, and doubts come because our faith takes its eyes off of God's Word? Well, actually, all our worries, fears, and doubts come because of that. Like Peter, who walked on water as long as his faith focused on Jesus but began to sink when he worried about the waves, so also you and I. How many troubles we cause ourselves because of our lack of faith!

But how merciful and gracious our God is! He has not given up on you, O you of little faith. He has not given up on me. How merciful and gracious he is! He calls to you through his Word and Sacraments. He speaks tenderly to you, saying, “I gave my Son Jesus for you. Though evil seemed to triumph as he hung on the cross, that was my plan to save you. He has paid for your fear, doubt, and worry. His perfect, complete faith covers all the weakness and holes in your faith. For I, your God, raised him from the dead, just as I had promised. He has won the victory, the full, complete, and final victory. He's won it for you. Believe my word. Believe me instead of relying on the present evidence of what you might see, feel or reason out.” Yes, dear friends, believe that your God rules victoriously. For Jesus has risen from the grave and is coming again in glory. Believe despite the present evidence. For “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 NIV).

C. Confess it in words and actions

1) Describe the words and actions that flow from faith.

So we live by faith, not by sight. The Apostles prayed to the Lord for the strength to boldly, courageously, and openly confess in words and actions their crucified and risen Savior. Left to their own strength, they would have caved in to threats and worries. So they pray, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29 NIV).

The Lord answered their prayer. “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33 NIV), the text says. Despite what would happen to them, they knew and believed that their God ruled over all. The victory was his. He who created all things and ruled over history, he who raised Jesus from the dead, he would keep his word.

This faith enabled them to testify not only with their words, but also with their actions, and not only the apostles but all the believers. Instead of clinging to their earthly possessions, trusting their wealth to see them through hard times, they freely shared what they had to help fellow believers in need. For they knew and believed that the one who created all things and raised Jesus from the dead could certainly take care of their bodily needs. Their faith focused on God's promises.

So also our faith shows itself by confessing our victorious Savior in words and actions. Pray for the Lord to give you the strength to serve him in what you say and do. Pray that he grants you the courage to proclaim your victorious Savior, your risen Savior. Pray for the faith that trusts that God will provide for you so that you freely, cheerful give showing love and care for others. In these things, we often struggle with doubts and fears tempting us to keep silent or cling to our possessions. But here again your faith turns to Jesus for forgiveness and looks to him for strength, even as Peter did, who once denied our Savior. Faith focuses on the light of God's promises shining from his word and Sacraments. Faith follows our Good Shepherd, listening to his voice always. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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