Easter 3

April 14 & 15, 2018   Easter 3

Acts 4:8-12

Dear friends in Christ Jesus:

   They certainly could have taken an easier way out.  Peter and John could have easily saved themselves a lot of trouble had they done things differently.  The day before, Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray and they ran across a man, crippled from birth, begging for money.  Peter told the man he didn’t have silver and gold but rather something even better.  Then in the name of Jesus he told him to get up and walk—and he did.

   Quickly it became a scene.  The man was walking and jumping around, shouting and praising God.  As you can imagine, this caused quite the commotion.  People started to come see what all the ruckus was about, especially when they realized this crippled man they saw begging every day was jumping around.

   As the bewildered people crowded around, Peter took advantage of the opportunity.  He asked them why they were astonished.  He told them that Jesus Christ, whom they crucified but whom God raised from the dead, was the one who has all power, including the power to heal that man.  Peter called the people to repent of their sins and to turn in faith to the powerful Son of God.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, came to faith that day.

   Meanwhile the Jewish leaders were none too pleased.  As Peter and John were preaching they came up, all hot and bothered that Peter and John were preaching about Jesus and the resurrection.  Why couldn’t they just make this Jesus stuff go away?  So they seized Peter and John and threw them in prison.

   The next day they brought in Peter and John and questioned them.  That’s when Peter gave the response that is our sermon text.  Look again at what happened:  “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:  ‘Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’”

   Oh boy.  You can imagine how much that made their blood boil.  Those leaders hated Jesus.  They had just crucified him.  Now these two simple fishermen were preaching that he was alive.  It was even worse because these Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.  Filled with hatred, but left with no other option, they threatened Peter and John and let them go.

   So here were Peter and John, now marked men in the crosshairs of the very leaders that had killed Jesus.  They were in the middle of public controversy.  They were preaching to huge crowds where some were listening but others were filled with hatred.  They had spent time in jail.  They were threatened.  Now they might need to look over their shoulders everywhere they went.

   They could have made it easier on themselves.  Couldn’t they have just walked away?  As the crippled man was running victory laps for the first time in his life, they could have faded into the background and left.  They could have told the crowd to meet them in private if they wanted to learn more.  They easily could have avoided jail time.  All they had to do was keep quiet or tone it down a bit.

   They also could have avoided the ire of those Jewish leaders.  They didn’t have to preach that boldly to them.  They could have listened to their warning and then left.  It wasn’t working in Jerusalem, maybe they could have preached somewhere else.  They could have hidden.  They could have run away.  There were many things they could have done to make their lives easier.

   Isn’t that the hardest temptation sometimes, taking the easy way out?  It’s far easier to mind your own business on the airplane and not strike up any conversations with strangers lest they find out that you’re a Christian.  It’s much easier not to confront your family member about sin.  Why would you want to make every Thanksgiving and Christmas awkward from here on out?  It’s much easier to let your coworkers curse like sailors.  Why would you want to be labeled as the goody-two-shoes loser at work?  It’s much easier not to have any faith conversations with anyone.  Why risk rejection when you don’t really know what to say anyways?

   Come to think of it, there are lots of ways that we could make life easier for ourselves.  It’s much easier not to make a scene at a restaurant and pray before eating.  It’s much easier to accept the invitation to the outing or sports game instead of being the only person to say, “No, sorry.  I go to church on Sundays.”

   Oh sure.  We could save ourselves lots of headache in our lives.  We could never have a difficult conversation again.  We could avoid any and all rejection and never worry about being laughed at or made fun of again.  All we have to do is give in to our heart that is ruled by fear, that heart that wants to keep quiet, that likes life to be comfortable and easy.  If we simply listen to those fearful whispers of our heart, we’ll never have trouble again.

   But there’s a problem with that.  A big problem.  That kind of a heart is also selfish because it wants what is best for me and not for God.  That kind of a heart is doubting because it doesn’t trust that God will give the strength or the words to say.  That kind of heart denies what is true if it doesn’t speak up to share the truth.

   And too often I have taken that easy way out.  But when I make my life easier as a Christian, I’m really not acting like much of a Christian at all.  That’s living in sinful fear and doubt, not in the joy and confidence that Jesus offers me.  That’s living like I belong in the world, and not living like I belong in heaven.  That’s living like the Savior I believe in is still stuck in a grave, not living and ruling over all.

   So that’s why we come here each week.  That’s why we join together week after week to beg the Lord to forgive our fears and doubts.  And have you ever noticed how amazing our God is week after week in our worship?  As we confess our sins in our services, I have never turned to you and said, “Sorry, God doesn’t want to forgive you this week.”  I have never said, “Again?  We’ve sinned again?  I think we’ve run out of chances.”

   No.  Week after week we join in doing exactly what Peter preached to those people.  We turn to Jesus Christ of Nazareth in repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And in abounding love week after week (after week after week) Jesus appears to us and says, “Peace be with you.”  He shows us the holes in his hands and feet and side where he bled for those sins.  And he shows us as clear as day that he is no longer dead.  He’s alive.  He did suffer and die.  He did so for us and for our sins.  But now he’s alive because he won.  He defeated the death and hell that we deserve.  Week after week Jesus tells us that victory is still ours through him.

   And you know what?  That’s the same amazing news that Peter and John found out.  See, they had blown it.  They blew it big time.  They were filled with sinful fear and doubt.  They both ran away in fear from the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter had called down curses on himself denying three times that he knew the Lord.  They locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews.  They had taken the sinful easy route many times.

   But then that Easter evening Jesus appeared.  And he told them, “Peace be with you.”  They saw the holes.  They saw that he was alive.  They finally understood that he died and rose for them, all for forgiveness.  And once they finally understood and knew who Jesus was, they couldn’t help but share who Jesus was.

   So they boldly told everyone.  They told the crippled man.  They told the crowds that gathered round.  They even told the hateful Jewish leaders.  It wasn’t an easy message to share, but they told them anyways that they had crucified the Messiah.  But that stone they had rejected (Jesus) was now the capstone, the structural top stone in an archway or the cornerstone of a building.  They boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the stone on which the whole building stands or falls because (verse 12), “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

   That’s when the leaders really boiled over and warned and threatened them not to talk any more about this Jesus or the resurrection.  But do you know what Peter and John said in reply?  It’s one of my favorites in the Bible.  They said:  “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  How could Peter and John ever stop talking about their risen Savior Jesus Christ?

   And how could we either?  We can’t help but tell others about what we know.  We know the secret to happiness.  We know the key to peace and joy and contentment.  We know the solution to sin and the answer to death.  We know with absolute certainty where we are going to live for all eternity.  And we know all of this because we know that Jesus was crucified but is now living.

   Not telling others would be like a young lady not posting all over Facebook that she just got engaged.  Not telling others would be like new parents not showing pictures of their cute little baby to every person they meet.  Not telling others would be like Packer fans not wearing cheeseheads on their heads to celebrate a victory.  Those things would never happen.  Those people are so filled with joy they can’t help but share the good news with other people.  And the same is true with us.

   Peter and John could’ve taken the easy way out.  But they didn’t.  They knew that Jesus was alive and salvation is found in no one else and they had to share that with others.  We could take the easy way out in life too.  But we don’t need to live in fear or doubt either.  So we gladly pray at McDonald’s and we boldly have tough conversations and we confidently proclaim the only way to heaven and we joyfully come to worship regularly.  We do all this with bold joy because we know that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified for our sins and now is living.  We know that he is the capstone and cornerstone that we build upon.  And we know that he is the only name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved.  You see, like Peter and John we know who Jesus is.  And When You Know Who Jesus Is, You Share Who Jesus Is.  Amen.

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