Easter 3b

Preached: April 26, 2009

Stand Firm on the Cornerstone
Acts 4:8-12

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 4:8-12

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Leaders of the people and elders of Israel, if today we are questioned about a good deed done for a sick man, in what way he has been healed, let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead ; in him this man stands before you healthy. He is 'the stone, which was rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' And there is no salvation in any other at all, for there is not another name under heaven given among men in which we must be saved.”

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our crucified and risen Savior, and especially you Rachel, Courtney, Evan, Seth, our 2009 confirmands:

The flames leaped from wooden structures, lighting the night sky. Shrieks filled the air as the young and the old, the helpless and the able tried to escape. Many ran in one direction only to find the flames in front of them as well as behind. Days later after the fire finally burnt itself out, around a quarter to a half of the city was nothing but smoke and ashes ; many lives lost.

Who was to blame for this fire? Why not blame that new religious sect. Many of its followers come from the underclass anyway. For that matter, they worship a condemned criminal. Society would be better without them.

So by order of Emperor Nero Christians were arrested. Some had animal skins placed over them, so that the dogs tore them apart; some were crucified; some burnt alive to illuminate the night ; as Tacitus reports. All this began in Rome around 64 A.D.

Among those caught up in this persecution was more than likely the Apostle Peter, the same Peter who so boldly confesses Jesus in the text today. It is said that he was crucified upside down, for he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same way as our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this teaching and to endure all things, even death, rather than fall away from it?” That question and vow will soon be asked of you, dear confirmands. Where do you find the strength to keep that vow? In the same place that Peter did as he stood before the Jewish ruling council in the text today, in the same place Peter looked when facing persecution and torturous death years later at the hands of Rome. Look to the Cornerstone. Stand firm on the Cornerstone. That's the theme this morning. To help us visualize it, I brought this cement block to serve as the cornerstone.

A. In the face of the world's opposition

1) Give several examples of how the world tries to lure you off the Cornerstone.

The text today continues the account from last week. It was some time after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Peter and John came to the temple and in the name of Jesus healed a man crippled from birth. Crowds gathered. Peter preached. He convicted them of their guilty. “You killed the author of life” (Acts 3:15 NIV), he said. And he pointed them to Jesus: “God raised him from the dead . . . Repent then, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:15, 19 NIV). The Holy Spirit through these words convinced many that Jesus was their only Savior from sin and death. He worked faith in their hearts.

What did Peter and John get for all this good they ha done? They got arrested by the temple authorities, and spent the night in jail. We join them as the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, examines them the next day.

So also dear friends and confirmands, as you live for Jesus, as you, like the Apostles, do good in his name, as you speak about Jesus, you too will face the world's opposition. Now God has blessed us with a country which protects freedom of speech. At this time and place, although the world still opposes us, its power to imprison or burn you alive is limited.

But don't take that vow lightly. Don't think it an easy thing to be faithful unto death. For the world still works its opposition, but in ways less obvious, yet nonetheless in ways that we often fall to. You feel the world's opposition when your peers tempt you to drink underage or to deceive your parents. That's not standing firm on the Cornerstone. You feel the opposition when in order to get a good grade you're tempted to pretend to believe in evolution, at least just for the test. You feel the opposition when “safe sex” or even not-so-safe sex seems so enticing even though you're not married. You feel the opposition when gladly hearing and learning Jesus' word doesn't seem as important as sporting events or shopping or hunting or work or recreation. You feel the opposition when you keep quiet about Jesus because you're afraid others will make fun of you. You feel the opposition when that thought nags you that God takes the fun our life and holds you back with all his rules. You feel the opposition as that feeling of pride and power grows in you and you think that maybe you can do it on your own. Seize the day for yourself and leave your childhood god behind. None of this is standing firm on the Cornerstone.

So don't enter your teen years or your adult life thinking that following Jesus is an easy thing. Left to our own strength, it's impossible. For even though we do not face death or torture, we nonetheless so easily cave in when the world threatens our reputation, our income, our standard of living, our friendships, our family life, our grades, our social status, our pride, and life would seem so much more peaceful and happy if we just compromise and not stand so firmly on Jesus. But such compromising with the world is the beginning of the end. Before you know it you're not simply wobbling on the Cornerstone, but have fallen off. How tragic! For as Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV). If you are not standing on Jesus, the Cornerstone, you are lost and headed for hell.

Where do we find the power to stand firm despite the world's opposition? The answer brings us to part two.

B. By the power of his resurrection that alone saves

1) How did God prove that Jesus is the Cornerstone?

God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter states that as a matter of fact. God raised Jesus. Remember how these same Jewish leaders bribed the Romans guards to lie that the disciples had stolen the body? Well here was evidence staring them in the face more resounding than anything a soldier would say. Here was a man crippled from birth for forty years now walking and jumping because of Jesus' name. Could a dead body decaying in some tomb do this? Of course not. But the living Jesus, the risen Jesus, who is God over all, certainly could and did. That's the testimony of the Apostles.

And not only of the Apostles. The Scriptures of the Old Testament testify as well. Peter quotes from Psalm 118. “He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11 NIV-footnote). Whether the word should be translated cornerstone or capstone, the keystone that keeps an arch from falling, the message is the same. Jesus is the essential stone on which all others depend.

The Jewish leaders had rejected Jesus as unfit for any part in God's house. They had him crucified as a damned sinner. But God raised him from the dead. God showed that Jesus, whom they rejected, is the one, the only one, on whom our salvation depends. Just as the entire building is lined up on the cornerstone, so when the Holy Spirit made you and me living stones, he lined up your faith on Jesus Christ, the Living Stone, the Cornerstone. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV).

Stand firm on the Cornerstone. Outside of Jesus is only death and damnation. But in Jesus you have the power to face down the world's opposition. For you see, Jesus has overcome the world. What is the worst the world can do to you? Take your life? Jesus has conquered death. He has risen from the grave, he lives eternally to save!

2) How does Jesus give you the power to stand firm on him?

As your risen and ascended Lord, he gives you power. For he pours out the Holy Spirit through his Word and Sacraments. That's what the Scriptures had promised, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17 NIV). In today's text we're also told that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8 NIV).

Don't cut yourself off from this power. That's what happens if we neglect God's word and Sacraments. For that is the way he has promised to pour out his Spirit to us. Through his Word the living Savior speaks to you. Like nourishment flowing from a vine to its branches, so the Savior nourishes your faith as you remain in him and his Word remains in you. Through the water and word of Baptism the Spirit came. For through Baptism you, who were dead in sin, were buried with Christ and raised with him. God gave you life, new life. And what a testimony the Lord'ss Supper brings to our hearts! You, dear confirmands, have been preparing for this. For as you know from the Scriptures, in the Lord's Supper Jesus gives you his body to eat and blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. How could he do that if his body were decayed in some Palestinian tomb? For the Lord's Supper not only proclaims the death of our Savior who sacrificed his body and blood on the cross for our sins, but it also brings you your powerful, risen Savior who gives you his same body and blood to eat and to drink.

Go to the word and Sacraments for the power to stand firm on the Cornerstone. Don't rely on having good feelings when you do the right thing or on others complimenting you. Sometimes that might happen, but that's not the power. Doing the right thing will often go against the flow and bring you ridicule. Just consider how Miss California USA must have felt last week. One of the judges asked her about homosexual marriage. She answered that marriage is between man and woman, even though she knew the judge wanted a different answer and this would cost her the crown. Don't trust your feelings. Go to the word and Sacraments for the power.

And don't depend on things turning out better when you do the right thing. Even though Miss California did not win the Miss USA crown, she is getting much more good publicity and support than she would have otherwise. Things seem to be turning out well for her. That's good. But that doesn't always happen when we stand firm on the Cornerstone. Sometimes things get worse. Think of Peter again. At the end of the hearing, the Jewish counsel simply threatened Peter and John. But soon they would be arrested again and flogged. After that Peter would lose his good friend, the Apostle James, who was executed. And as we mentioned at the beginning, eventually Peter died a torturous death because he stood firm on the Cornerstone. Sometimes as you follow Jesus, things will go from bad to worse in this life.

But don't give up. Don't step off of the Cornerstone. Outside of Jesus there is only damnation, death, and hell. For outside of Jesus, you are a damned sinner cut off from God. But in Jesus you have full and free forgiveness, for on the cross Jesus paid for all your sins. In Jesus you have a new relationship with God. for through his death, Jesus reconciled you to God. In Jesus, standing firm on him in faith, you have life and salvation. Life with God. Salvation in heaven. Let the world take what they will, goods, fame, family, even our life. In Jesus you have the victory. For just as he has risen from the dead, so he will raise you to live and rule with him eternally!

What a Cornerstone Jesus is! “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this teaching and to endure all things, even death, rather than fall away from it?” By the power of the Holy Spirit working in you through God's Word and Sacraments, you can say, “I do, and I ask God to help me.” For neither the fires of Rome nor the opposition of the world can knock out your Cornerstone. Stand firm on him. He is your risen Savior. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

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