The Words of this Life for You

April 24, 2022; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz
Easter 2 C.png

The Words of This Life Are for You

 

Rev. Kurt Lantz 2 Easter C Acts 5:12-32

April 24, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON

 

 

Dear believers in the Lord,

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

“Can I Believe?” The CBC radio program Tapestry interviewed Dr. John Stackhouse, Professor of World Religions at Crandall University in New Brunswick, author of the book “Can I Believe: Christianity for the Hesitant.” This is not a recommendation of his book. I have not read it. I only heard the interview on the radio and it seemed to resonate with today’s Gospel Reading and the special circumstances of the Apostle Thomas and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dr. Stackhouse claimed that rational thought will only get you so far in evaluating religions, and based on rational thought, Christianity does not stand up well against the other major world religions.

 

To some extent we have all come across this with family and friends and even with ourselves. There is a whole lot about the Christian religion that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that people would believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, since we have never seen anyone else rise from the dead ever. But really, that is just the tip of the iceberg, the part that sticks out as we celebrate that unique resurrection of Jesus Christ this Easter Season.

 

Dr. Stackhouse explained, “When I teach Islam, I teach some very basic concepts that God is great... and therefore what's the appropriate response of the human? It is to submit. And Islam means submission to the greatness of God. If I follow the teaching of Gautama, Siddartha, Buddha, and I understand the world to be an unbreakable cycle of suffering that is fuelled by my desire and my attachment to things, that can be broken only by my seeing things as they really are and detaching myself from them to eventually enjoy the relief of Nirvana, that makes a certain kind of sense... But nothing has affected the course of history more than the fact of the Christian religion. And it's so very strange to think that this young man who dies in his early thirties is somehow not only the saviour of the world, but the Lord of the universe.” (Interview on Tapestry, CBC Radio One, April 21, 2022).

 

It doesn’t make rational sense. The divinity of Jesus Christ may not be as big a pill to swallow as the humiliation and crucifixion of God become man. The fact that the Son of God would rise from the dead is not as rationally objectionable as that He would die in the first place.

 

Honestly, we are all somewhere on a spectrum of belief. The Bible makes it clear that we do not now believe as we will when we see Jesus face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). That makes sense. But there is a whole lot of spectrum from that perfect belief in the light of the beatific vision, to wherever the delineation of unbelief might lie. How little can you believe and still be a believer? In the Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b). Believed everything? Believed only some things? Believed what or how much or how strongly or how actively?

 

Last Sunday Dr. Stephenson highlighted that the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning were perplexed and frightened, and when they told the disciples, the disciples did not believe them (Luke 24:1-12). This week we heard that Jesus fixed that problem when He Himself appeared to those gathered in the upper room and then they believed. But Thomas did not believe when he was not there. Yet, Jesus fixed that by coming to them again and even inviting Thomas to touch and handle and see that it was Him, risen victorious from the dead. And the blessing that means so much to us was a bit of a stinger to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

 

A few months later, after Jesus had shown Himself to people for forty days and ascended into heaven, then what was it like for believers? Surely, everyone was fully convinced and they all boldly lived out their life of faith in uncompromising belief and word and deed. That’s not exactly the way the Book of Acts records things. The Apostles were in Solomon’s Portico, where Jesus used to teach in the temple, and they were telling people about His resurrection and ascension. But the rest of the disciples didn’t dare join them up on the porch, even though they believed (Acts 5:12-13). They didn’t dare to join them for fear that what happened to Jesus after He taught in that place, might happen to them too. And they were not far wrong in that belief, for the chief priests had the Apostles arrested out of jealousy, just as they had arrested Jesus. Perhaps like the rest of the believers, we are not so fully convinced as to boldly proclaim in places where we know there will be some backlash, in public or in private.

 

And what do we see in the general population of their day? The people in general held them in high esteem. They believed that much. And they brought out their sick to be healed (Acts 5:12-14). That was the extent of the action of their belief. And although no one dared to join the Apostles publicly, Luke records for us that the Lord was adding to Himself those who were being saved. He wasn’t doing it by any more personal public appearances. After the first 40 days He no longer showed Himself risen from the dead, but had ascended bodily into heaven.

 

Still, people came to believe. That was not the end of it. Still, He convinced those who at first thought the account of His resurrection was nothing more than an idle tale. Still, He gave faith to those who said they would not believe unless they touched His crucified and risen body themselves. Still, He sustained the faith of those who were afraid to stand publicly with the Apostles. Still, He continues to bless those who believe what defies rational thought. And so we can be confident that still, today, Jesus is drawing people to Himself, creating, strengthening, and sustaining the faith of believers everywhere, even in our nation, even in our community, even in our homes, even in ourselves.

 

An angel came to the arrested apostles in the prison and opened the doors so they could go out (Acts 5:19-20). It was not Jesus coming to stand in their midst although the doors were locked (John 20:19, 26). The Apostles were sent out to speak “the words of this life.” That is how the Lord continued to gather more and more people to Himself even after ascending to the right hand of the Father. He continued to grant them faith to believe an irrational message.

 

And that is what Jesus continues to do today from the right hand of the Father. He calls more and more and more people to believe something unbelievable. Christianity is the one religion that has had the greatest impact on human history, while at the same time being based on an irrational message, “the words of this life” that Apostles preached and that continue to be proclaimed to people whom the Lord is drawing to Himself; people who are somewhere on that spectrum of belief because of “the words of this life”, people like you and me and your family and friends whom God is blessing to believe what they have not seen.

 

The Alleluia and Verse that we sing comes from Peter’s words at a time when a whole bunch of disciples stopped following Jesus. Jesus had preached some irrational things, such as: “I AM the Living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he will live forever. And the Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). And as many turned away and no longer followed Him, “so Jesus said to the Twelve, ’Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:67-68). What Jesus preached that day is the same irrational message that the angel told the Apostles to go and speak in the temple (Acts 5:20).

 

“The words of this life” compose the irrational message that “The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30). If God is all-powerful, it makes sense that He could do that. If mankind is full of the sin and jealousy that we know is within our own hearts, then it is believable that the people would call for Jesus to be crucified.

 

“God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader and Saviour” (Acts 5:31). That is credible, too, if God had sent Him and man rejected Him. But why has God done this? What would be the credible reason for Him to do this? What would be the believable thing for God to do to those who killed His Son, once He raised Him from the dead and seated Him above all rule and authority in the universe?

 

This is where “the words of this life” become irrational and incredible and would seem to be unbelievable. God has exalted His Son, whom you crucified, over every power and authority in order “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31b). That is incredible. That is irrational. And yet through the very power of these words of life that come from Jesus through His Apostles with the power of the Holy Spirit, there are believers. The unbelievable is believed and these words are the words of the life which God wants to give to all.

 

The irrational, incredible, unbelievable is believed. God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in order that He might give you repentance and the forgiveness of sins; that you might have eternal life with Him, forgiven and free from the burden of any sin that would keep you from Him. These are “the words of this life”: God forgives you, not just for crucifying His Son, He forgives you through that death of His Son, and in His resurrection and ascension He grants you that life of forgiveness and peace.

 

When Jesus came to the disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room in fear, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20:23). It is unbelievable. Having been killed at the cries of the crowd for Him to be crucified, Jesus rises from the dead and commands His Apostles to go and forgive people like that. There was forgiveness for the Apostles’ own rejection of the message from the women who came back from the empty tomb. There was forgiveness for Thomas, who so boldly declared his obstinate unbelief. There was forgiveness for those who would not stand publicly with the Apostles while they preached, and for those who would bring their sick to be healed but quickly disappear into the crowd when the temple guards came by.

 

To you, God has sent “the words of this life.” He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in order to give you repentance and the forgiveness of sins. No matter what kind of a believer you may be, no matter where on the spectrum of faith you sit, “the words of this life” are for you. They are words to bring to you the life of repentance and forgiveness. “The words of this life” proclaim to you that this Man Jesus whom you crucified, God has raised from death and given Him supreme authority and power... in order to be your Saviour. These words have been proclaimed and written and still come from God to you, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

 

 

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.