Archives - June 2019

Free for What?

June 30, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this day is from our Epistle text, where Paul tells the Galatians, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Today’s Epistle text could not be timelier! We are just a few days away from the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of our country. On that day in 1776, the Continental Congress declared that the original thirteen American colonies were no longer subject nor subordinate to the monarch of Britain. According to the Declaration, these thirteen colonies were now united, independent states, and they were free. Free from the tyranny of taxation without representation in the British Parliament. Free from the intrusion of British soldiers into American homes via the Quartering Act. Free from the imposition of an admiralty court, in which American colonists could be tried and convicted anywhere in the British Empire without the presence of a jury or a shred of evidence. The Founding Fathers declared themselves and those in their country to be free to live as they saw fit, without the intrusion of the British Empire.

Freedom is in our DNA. It’s what countless soldiers have fought and died for in the 243 years it’s been since the signing of the Declaration. Consequently, as inheritors of the country that the Founders established, we as Americans think we know what Paul is talking about when he mentions “freedom” to the Galatians. But the way that he talks about it … might sound a bit off. Something about it rubs against the grain of our American sensibilities. Why? As always, context is king when trying to understanding any text, and the context of this letter certainly provides insight into the freedom Paul is talking about, and why he’s bringing it up.

See, in nearly every epistle that Paul writes, early on, he’ll mention how thankful he is for what God is doing through the person or church to whom he is writing. Not so with the Galatians. In his letter to them, Paul is angry. He’s upset. He’s frustrated. He’s concerned. In the opening chapter, after a rather terse greeting, Paul writes, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. The problem in Galatia was that the Galatians had bought into the lie of “Jesus-and,” the false teaching that you need Jesus and something else in order to be saved. In this case, courtesy of the Judaizers, they had bought into the “Jesus-and-circumcision/Jewish customs” lie. The people of Galatia, Gentiles by birth but Christian through conversion, had listened to the Judaizers and their claim that all Christians not only need to believe in Jesus to be saved, but that they had to follow all Jewish customs and laws, including the law that all male believers be circumcised, in order to be saved.

Clearly, this is not the Gospel, and thus, Paul’s reaction. He’s upset that they’ve bought into this lie that renders Christ’s sacrifice moot, and he spends the remainder of his letter reminding the Galatians of the truth. Our text for today sits near the end of the letter, and here, Paul reminds the Galatians, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Further in this text, he tells them that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

This is what the Galatians had done. They had submitted themselves again to the lie of works righteousness, and were thus in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith! Paul doesn’t want this for his beloved Galatians, and Jesus most certainly does not want this for those He’s redeemed by His precious blood! So Paul reminds them, For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have to deal with false gospels of our own here in modern America. Like the Galatians, we do have “Judaizers” and legalists to contend with, but we’ve also yoked ourselves to another nefarious form of slavery; antinomianism, the idea that God’s Law no longer applies to us as Christians and we are thus free to do whatever we please. It’s what you get when you’ve got a society of sinners who feel they are entitled to freedom. Indeed, it’s a corruption of the good gift of freedom that God has given. You might even say that we Christian Americans have a “Jesus-and-freedom” problem.

Paul’s listing of the works of the flesh sounds like a laundry list of “rights” and “freedoms” that Americans have been fighting for and indulging in for decades: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. America has an antinomian problem, a freedom problem. In the name of freedom, we allow children to be ripped apart in their mothers’ wombs, having the gall to think this is a “right” afforded to us. In the name of freedom, we allow sexual immorality of all types and stripes to be normalized, even lauded and applauded as “bravery.” In the name of freedom, we embrace selfishness and lawlessness and narcissism “so long as it doesn’t hurt me or anything of mine.” Is that what freedom is? Is that what freedom is meant for? To live how I want to live, regardless of whom it hurts? To get what I want at the expense of others? To do whatever I want, whenever I want, and to hell with the consequences and whoever it hurts?

By no means! Because of Jesus’s all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, we have been redeemed, saved, freed from our sin; since that is the case, as Paul writes to the Romans, How can we who died to sin still live in it? How can we bear to live in it? This is not to say that it’s possible for us to not sin, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we embrace sin and wallow in it! We have been freed from our sin for a purpose that Paul makes very clear: to be a slave to Christ, our crucified and resurrected Lord!

Paul’s words to the ancient Galatians are absolutely pertinent to us who live in 21st Century America. Like the Galatians, we have been called to freedom in Christ in order that we may serve one another through love – not for our salvation, but for the good of our neighbor! God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does! That is the purpose of our freedom as Christians and as Americans: to serve one another in our various vocations! You have been redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord! Your sins are forgiven for His sake! You are free! Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

The Founding Fathers established this constitutional republic to be a land of freedom, and for that, we are thankful. But the freedom they afforded us cannot compare to the true freedom that is given to us by virtue of our baptism into Christ Jesus’s death and resurrection! The gift of freedom that He gives to His people – not just Americans, but all His people throughout the world – is a far richer, far costlier, eternal freedom. It is the freedom from sin, death, and the devil! He declared it when He cried out from the cross, It is finished! May God our heavenly Father help us to never abuse this freedom given in Christ! Rather, in humble gratitude, may He help us to use that gift of freedom to serve one another in true Christian love!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Afraid of Jesus?

June 23, 2019
By Rev. David French

Today’s gospel lesson follows the lesson of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee which, you may remember, ends with Jesus asking His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” That is, the disciples’ fear was a symptom of their lack of faith.

Our lesson today picks up as Jesus and His disciples arrive on the opposite shore. We get the impression that Jesus hardly had time to step out of the boat before fear presented itself once again. A demon-possessed man threw himself at Jesus’s feet. In the 2nd chapter of James [19] we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe (that)—and shudder!”

The demons in this man were shuddering. But this is a different kind of fear. Luke records that, “… when [the man] saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’” The demons wanted to get as far away from Jesus as they could, but when Jesus says, “Come,” they obey, and when He says to go, they go.  They have no free will, no option but to obey.

The truth is, there are no atheists or agnostics among the demons or fallen angels. They have a far better knowledge of God than we can ever have on this side of heaven. Yet, their knowledge of God produces a very legitimate fear. You see, because of their superior knowledge of God, they know their fate – the Abyss, the eternal torment in the fires of hell. 

Fear also affected the people of the nearby town. At first, they were afraid of this demon-possessed man. The parallel accounts of this event in Matthew and Mark tell us that the demons were so fierce that no one could pass that way. All the accounts tell how even chains could not restrain this man. Honestly, the people in this area had good reason to be afraid before Jesus came. The odd thing is, these same people were still afraid; not of the man who had once been demon-possessed, now they were afraid of Jesus and asked Him to leave. He hadn’t even gotten off the beach when He turns around, gets back into the boat, and leaves.

But why were the people so afraid of Jesus? We can understand those who lost their herd of pigs being upset, but the people from the city and surrounding areas were also seized with fear. Jesus had removed the threat of the demon-possessed man. You’d think they’d be rejoicing, but instead they’re seized with fear. Why?

Well, it goes back to the fear and terror that demons have in God’s presence. Demons live in terror of judgement day, and they want humanity to know that same terror, or more to the point, they want to rob us of the peace of God. Remember, they hate God but can do nothing to hurt Him … at least, not directly.

What they can do is attack the God’s beloved children - you and me, those with a free will. If they can plant the seeds of their fear and hatred of God in us, like they did in those living in the surrounding areas, they will have at least cut Him to the heart. We hear that pain, for example, when Jesus says in Matthew, “… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

The demon-possessed man in today’s lesson was frightening in many ways, but even more frightening are the demons that no one notices. The townspeople in our reading could point to the demon-possessed man and say, “I sure am glad I’m not possessed like him.” Even though they believe in demons, which I’m only sure(ish) that you can say that about our culture today, they didn’t understand that not all demons produce the symptoms they witnessed. 

Demons work in all levels of society and in all the places of the world. They influence people who live in castles and those who live in huts. Their goal is to maintain our natural hatred and fear of God until the day we die, and so enter into the eternal punishment that God created for them.

Understand first that they are as Scriptures reveal, real. Second, they will not hesitate to use anything as a means to their end - pride, money, power, pleasure, entertainment, sports, family, prestige, apathy, despair, anything to get you to take your eyes off the cross of Christ. They might use summer activities to nudge our sinful nature to find a convenient excuse to miss a week or three of God’s life-sustaining Word. I’m not saying that if you miss church once then you’re going to end up in hell, but you know as well as I do, the second time is easier to miss than the first. Demons can be very subtle when trying to destroy our relationship with God.

But did you also notice there was one person who was not afraid of Jesus? That is the man who had been demon-possessed. As Jesus got into the boat to leave, that one man begged to go along. And that is the change the Holy Spirit makes in each of us as He works faith in our hearts. Not always as dramatic, but still, it is by grace through faith alone that we also can see Jesus for who He really is. He is a stern judge to unbelievers, but to all who believe, He is our loving savior who was willing to die for us and whose only desire is that we be with Him in heaven, forever.

“So you could be with Him,” that’s the reason Jesus offered Himself as the payment for sin, His blood to rescue you and me from the now empty threats sin holds before our eyes by those unknown demons who seek to sow the seeds of fear in us.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus didn’t stay long in that area. Still, He did establish a foothold of His own in the area. That foothold came in the form of the commission He gave to the man who once was demon possessed. Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” The man who now had no fear did as Jesus said. He went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. With these words we hear in its simplest form the commission God gives to every Christian: Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.

The Scriptures tell us that we have many spiritual enemies. Among these are sin, death, and the devil. Today’s reading tells us that Jesus has power over the devil and his demons. Other portions of God’s Word tell of the power Jesus has over our other enemies. On Easter morning we see from His resurrection that Jesus conquered them all by His suffering and death on the cross.

We who listen to God’s Word know by grace through faith that we have no reason to be afraid of Jesus. We confess and believe that His love has set us free, and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free to receive and to share His gifts of forgiveness, love and mercy; gifts that bring you and all who believe life with Jesus, forever. 

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 8:26-39

Who, Indeed

June 16, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Trinity weekend is from our Gospel text, where John records, the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think? Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and the Jews around Him are incensed! They are outraged to the point that they want to put Him to death by stoning, right then and there! Why on earth do they have this visceral reaction? I mean, what’s their beef? What is it about these words that Jesus has just spoken that prompts such an attempt at violence?

Well, the answer to that question is found far, far earlier in the witness of Scripture. In Exodus 3, Moses has come into the very presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God has tasked him to go before Pharaoh and lead the people of Israel out of the midst of Egypt and the slavery in which they languished. Now Moses asks a reasonable question: “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God’s response is beautiful, powerful, majestic, and glorious in its simplicity: “I AM THAT I AM.” This God has no need of pretensions; He doesn’t need to list His accolades or declare His mighty deeds in order to receive reverence and honor and worship. He’s not the god of thunder, or fertility, or death. He’s above all that. YHWH simply is, and He needn’t say more than that.

That’s what YHWH means – I AM THAT I AM. Now, when the Greeks translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint), they translated this phrase as Ego eimi ho own – “I, I am the Being (One), the One Who Is.” Not surprisingly, because of the Hellenization of Judea that took place during the time between the Old and New Testament, the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was saying when He said, Ego eimi, that is, “I, I AM.” He was equating Himself with YHWH, the God of their fathers! El-Shaddai, the Almighty God! Yet, He was just a man, according to their eyes! So obviously, this was blasphemy that Jesus was speaking … unless, of course, He were telling the truth.

The real question at the heart of this pericope is not, “Why were the Jews so angry at Jesus?” The question is, “Who is Jesus?” That is the question that the Jews had been asking since the last chapter. And it’s a question that is still asked today. Is Jesus a prophet, as some people both then and now seem to think? Is He a mere teacher, a great rabbi who taught great truths? Is He merely a creature, albeit the perfect creature, as Arius opined? Is He a lunatic or a demoniac, as many at Jesus’s time (and ours) speculated? Is He a figment of our imaginations, as many in our time question? Or is He … who He says He is? Is He “I AM”? Is He the LORD, YHWH incarnate? Is He the Creator, the eternal Logos that spoke creation into existence? The witness of both Scripture and history reply with a resounding, deafening, “YES.”

The opening words of John’s Gospel account make it abundantly clear: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. Jesus was in the beginning, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was with God, and He was (and is) God. As the Eternal Logos, He spoke all things into existence; there is not one thing, either visible or invisible, that Jesus did not have His hand in creating – yes, even man. When YHWH spoke and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” Jesus was speaking along with the Father and Spirit. John’s opening words tie Jesus inexorably to the creation of … well, creation.

Now, in the defense of those gathered to hear (and stone) Jesus, they apparently didn’t know this. They thought He had a demon. They thought He was a heretic, a Samaritan, one who doesn’t rightly understand theology. In reality, they were the ignorant ones. Jesus says as much, saying they don’t know the Father at all; if they did, they would recognize Him for Who He is without even having to ask. They would have known that He was not only Messiah, but Creator. They would have known He formed Abraham in his mother’s womb, knew him even before he was a twinkle in Terah, his father’s, eye. Indeed, they would have known that Jesus had formed all of them in their mothers’ wombs. But they did not. They heard His words as blasphemy. They heard His words as fraud. They heard His words as falsehood, even though He spoke the truth. He knew the Father – He knows the Father, and He was here going about His Father’s business.

They wanted to know who He was, He told them, and His answer sent them into a fit of murderous rage. But Jesus’s time had not yet come, so He hid Himself from them and left the temple to continue going about His Father’s work. This incident, however, would come up later during His trial before the Sanhedrin. They ask Him straight-up, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus’s response is the same as before: “Ego eimi, I, I AM.” He did not hide this time when they sought to lay hands on Him. He didn’t stop them from flogging Him. He didn’t push their hands away as they pressed the crown of thorns into His brow. He didn’t beat them back as they stretched His arms out on the cross to nail Him thereto. Because He is not just the Creator, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. He is the Redeemer, the Person of the Trinity Who took on human flesh in order to be destroyed by poor, miserable sinners, for poor, miserable sinners.

Who is Jesus? He is God, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. Even as He was putting the cosmos in order, He knew that He would die this way. Before He created the dry land as distinct from the seas, He knew that that ground would quake and the very rocks would crack at His death. Before He created the beating heart of Man, He knew that His would be pierced for the sake of Man. Who is Jesus? Who, indeed? He is the One Who testifies to the Father, Who did the work He had been sent to do. He is the One Who reigns from the right hand of the Father. He is the One Who, with the Father, sent the Holy Spirit to give the gift of faith. For that matter, He is the One to Whom the Holy Spirit points. He is the One Whom Abraham saw and rejoiced – indeed, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Who is Jesus? He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and this day and every day, we believe, teach, and confess about the Great Three-in-One and One-in-Three, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

+ In the Name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: John 8:48-59

Common Sense

June 09, 2019
By Rev. David French

“Common sense.” I don’t know why it’s called “common.” We all know there’s nothing common about it. I think we would agree that the simple, practical wisdom that we call “common sense” is getting harder and harder to find. In fact, if you spend any amount of time interacting with people, you’ll quickly learn that common sense is actually pretty rare. Lots of people claim to have it, and yet, very few people actually show it.

The reason I begin this way is because, believe it or not, common sense is foundational to our faith, our mission, and our ministry. It’s true. But, keep in mind I’m not referring to worldly common sense; the kind that says “don’t stick your finger in an electrical outlet.” I’m not even referring to the sensibilities that are truly common to all those borne of Adam, a sinful common sense that we’re all conceived with and born with. No one has ever had to be taught to lie. No one has ever had to be taught to be selfish. It’s common to all men. It’s the ugly side of common sense.

No, the common sense I’m talking about is the sense that’s only common to faithful Christians. So, what does it mean to be a Christian? In its most basic definition, to be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. Jesus is the leader, and we are His followers. He leads, we follow. Simple enough, certainly common sense would say so. And yet, how often is this “Christian common sense” ignored, even by the faithful?

Consider this morning’s lesson from Acts. But, before we do, I want to remind you of the words Jesus spoke to these same apostles as He stood in their midst on Easter Sunday and opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, saying to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.” That’s it. Not a lot of need for clarification.

Now consider the words of Jesus spoken to His apostles just before He ascended: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Again, not a lot of need for clarification. So, to make disciples and grow the Church, we baptize and let Christ do the teaching; that is, teach His Word. Let Him do the talking. We are not taught by Jesus to give our opinions or speculations. He doesn’t command that we talk about our feelings or try to fill the need du jour. None of that. Just make disciples by baptizing them and teaching all that Christ has taught and commanded. 

You see, at both Easter and His ascension, Jesus makes it very clear what the faith of the Christian is founded upon; that is, Himself. At both, Jesus makes it very clear what all faithful mission and evangelism and “church” is all about: His Word and sacraments. The account of Pentecost which Luke records for us in Acts shows so beautifully how His apostles practiced faithful, God-given common sense.

By and through the working of the Holy Spirit, they were emboldened to open their mouths and speak the profound yet simple truth of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world. They were able to stand before all kinds of strangers and speak the truth about sin, the need for repentance, and the blessed assurance of forgiveness by grace through faith, just as their Lord Christ had commanded them to do. Peter declares, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they [the huge crowd of strangers] heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”

So, I ask again, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Again, it’s just common sense that a Christian is a follower of Christ. Peter and the rest of the apostles showed this faith-filled common sense. They spoke the truth - the words God gave to them. They called sin “sin.” They called all who heard to repentance. They pointed all who were in need of salvation, forgiveness, and peace to Christ and to His grace freely given in the waters of holy baptism. “This promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off … everyone whom the Lord calls to Himself.” That is, to everyone who the Lord loved enough to die and rise again for. It’s all so simple. God’s Word rightly taught and His sacraments rightly administered.

And yet, this faithful common sense seems to be so very uncommon in the life of Christians. How often do we, with the best intentions, strive to make disciples and yet fail to do the one simple thing that Christ calls us to do, to let Him do the talking? This God-given miracle of “speaking in foreign tongues” was given to the apostles for one simple reason, so that they could proclaim the Word of God, both Law and Gospel in the language that the hearers could understand.

My friends, that’s what “Church” is all about. That’s what evangelism and mission and worship are all about. That’s what being a follower of Jesus is all about, sharing the love and forgiveness you have received in both word and deed each and every day the Lord grants to you. “For Jews demand miracles and Greeks seek wisdom….” Today, people seek entertainment, a self-serving sense of purpose, and a feeling that convinces them that they really are good. But, the truth is, like every other self-proclaimed good works we do, they, like chaff on the threshing floor, will be swept up and tossed into the fire because they cannot save you.

But, faithful followers of Christ are different. We followers of Christ the Lord are called to humbly, faithfully, and obediently follow His lead. We do that by taking up our crosses and following Him, trusting that He is working all things for our good and for the good of those who love Him. We let Him do the talking as we share His word and point to the one true source of grace, mercy, and peace -- that is, His cross.

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles, and not very wise or productive or flashy or fun to the masses today either. The truth rarely is. You know as well as I do that worldly common sense tells us that this message of Christ crucified is a terrible business model. It won’t bring in the masses that we are hoping for. But, to those who are called by God, Christ, the word incarnate, is the very power and wisdom of God. He alone is our hope and He is God’s gift to you.

May the simple yet powerful truth of God’s unconditional love and word of forgiveness be your confidence, your joy, and your peace until the day we are all together with Him, our Lord and Savior.

In His holy and precious name, Amen

Tags: Acts 2:1-21


June 02, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our first reading where Luke records, And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s not unheard of during the dress rehearsal of a stage production that, as the company is playing through a scene of the play, that they will suddenly hear the word, “HOLD!” belted out by the stage manager. The actors know to stop whatever they are doing and freeze, instantly. It doesn’t matter what they were doing – speaking a line, walking, performing a complicated dance move, in the middle of doing a push-up. Whatever they had been doing, they freeze. This allows the stage technicians to make necessary adjustments so that the rehearsal can resume. There’s a good reason why the actors freeze: safety. They may not know what’s happening elsewhere on the stage. For all they know, a trap door may have opened incorrectly or at the wrong time. A prop may have fallen and become a tripping hazard. A bolt may be loose on some part the backdrop and is at risk of falling upon the company. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s for the good of the actors. Hopefully, the issue is resolved quickly without breaking the momentum of the rehearsal, and things can resume as normal.

We seem to be in a bit of a hold today in our text. A few days ago, Christ Jesus was lifted up into the sky out of the sight of the disciples. He had told them that, in a matter of mere days, the Father would bestow His promise to them. Jesus had told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That was a few days ago … and they were still in Jerusalem waiting for the fulfillment of this promise to them. Waiting for what we now know would happen on the Day of Pentecost. They were, for all intents and purposes, in a hold.

However, unlike actors in a hold who freeze, the disciples were not entirely still for the time they waited for the hold to be completed. Luke tells us that, In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. … For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

It seems quite reasonable that they would do this. After all, in the history of Israel, 12 was a pretty important number. 12 sons of Jacob, and thus 12 tribes of Israel. When it came time for appointing land plots to the different tribes, the tribe of Levi did not get a land allotment; well, instead of leaving it at 11, God decided that the two half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim would be considered full tribes and receive allotments, thus bringing the number back up to 12. Now, in Jesus’s time, He had originally called 12 apostles, though, as we heard, one betrayed Him. In rather graphic detail, Luke describes that traitor’s ghastly end. Needless to say, they were down to 11. Things undoubtedly felt …. incomplete; awkward. A space needed to be filled. They needed to get back to 12, so they brought forward a few candidates. They prayed. They cast lots. The lot fell to one of the candidates, Matthias, and he was numbered to be one of the apostles.

Now here’s the question … it might be a little uncomfortable: did the apostles act hastily? I mean, did they act when they were supposed to hold? No doubt they had good intentions, believing the promise that God had in store for them in a few days and wanting to be back at full strength, but was it the right thing to do? In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells his readers about how the resurrected Lord Jesus appeared to many different people, finishing the list by saying, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Did they act hastily? Didn’t God have everything well in hand? In hindsight, doesn’t it seem obvious that He had plans to bring Saul/Paul in to be Judas’s replacement? Who can say? At this point, we can only speculate, because Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. However, it is worth mentioning that the people of God, as both sinners and saints, have a nasty habit of trying to fulfill God’s will on their terms. When Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, they thought they would help God’s plan along by having a child … through Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant. To help Jacob receive a blessing from his father, Rebekah had the son dupe his father into giving it to him. In an attempt to ensure the victory of Israel against the Philistines, Saul consulted the witch of En-dor to summon Samuel, long dead, for counsel. Good intentions, but hastily performed, and without regard to the promises that YHWH had made to them, the One Who has always kept His promises.

What about you? Do you fall into those same traps? Do you seek to fulfill God’s promises to you by your own actions? Whether the disciples sinned in their actions or not, we know that this is something all sinners are wont to do, even those redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord. How arrogant can we be to think that we can bring about God’s blessings, the fulfillment of His promises to us, by what we do? All our actions are tainted with sin! Our best works, however well intentioned, are as filthy rags according to the prophet Isaiah. That goes for the patriarchs. That goes for the prophets. That goes for the disciples. And that certainly goes for us, as well. We are clumsy bumblers, and our best intentions do not mitigate our sin.

Perhaps the most obvious instance of this principle is the work of the Sanhedrin. Make no mistake, folks, they had good intentions as they called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus. They had good intentions as they watched Him march up Golgotha’s hill, as He was nailed to the cursed tree. They had good intentions as they walked away from that place after Jesus breathed His last and yielded up His spirit. This, in no way, exonerates them from their actions. Their lack of faith, their open hostility to the things of God, and their condemnation of an innocent Man to death were horrific actions, however good their intentions. We are clumsy bumblers, all.

Thanks be to God, He can use bumblers like us. He used Abraham’s unwise choice to bless him with another son, Ishmael. He used Rebekah’s and Jacob’s shrewdness and deceit to ensure the bloodline to the Messiah. Saul’s fall led to the rise of, undoubtedly, one of the greatest kings in Israel, David, the one who had a heart after God’s own heart. And the actions of Judas, the Sanhedrin, the Romans, however wicked, brought about the full forgiveness of sins through Jesus’s self-sacrifice upon the cross. God uses sinners and their sinful actions to further His Kingdom, to bless His people, to be a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Did the apostles act hastily? Did they jump the gun? Did they act when they should have been on hold? Whether they did or not in that particular instance, we know that we do. And we take comfort in the fact that, in spite of our clumsy bumblings, God can still use us for His eternal purposes. So, by all means, we recognize St. Matthias as Judas’s replacement, while also recognizing the apostleship of Paul of Tarsus. Think of it less as a “stage hold,” and more of a “Be still, and know that I am God.”

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Acts 1:12-26
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