Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | October 31, 2010

Sermon on Acts 18:1-17

Downloadable version

We are Encouraged by God’s Grace

Lessons:  Jeremiah 31:31-34, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36

Hymns (from Christian Worship): 203, 349:1-3, 390, 200

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation.  Today we celebrate and commemorate one of God’s great heroes of faith, Dr. Martin Luther.  Today we rejoice as we recall how Luther stood tall, and with God’s power, defeated the Devil and his Antichrist, the Pope.  And we can’t help but think of some of those great moments in the life of Luther.

We think of an October 31st 493 years ago –1517.  This little university professor in a small German town takes the longest 15 minute walk in history.  He’s carrying with him a document of 95 statements, 95 theses, meant for discussion in an academic setting.  These theses, however, sweep through Europe and are viewed as a challenge to the pope’s power and authority, which they were.  And they began the Reformation.

We think of an April in 1521.  Luther stood before one of the most powerful men in the world, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.  He was given a choice.  He could recant all the things he’d written, he could take them all back, or face the consequences, up to and including death.  Luther refused to back down and stood alongside his writings, because, as he said, they taught and preached the Scriptures and he could not take that back.

We think of a June in 1530.  Though Luther was in a castle far away, he was the spiritual inspiration behind the princes and politicians who stood before Charles V once more, and this time pledged to give up their lives rather than give up their confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

We think also of something Luther once said.  In a sermon, I believe, he noted how all he did was sit around with his colleagues and drink Wittenberg beer while the pope and his power toppled and fell.  He did nothing, the Word of God did everything.

That’s the intent of this festival.  We are not here to today to idolize Martin Luther and create a new god out of this man (and he was a man, a sinful man).  Rather, we are here today to celebrate the power of the Word of God.  For it is the Word of God that always works.  It’s the only thing that works.

But we’re tempted to forget. We’re tempted to put our faith in the latest and greatest trick, technique, gimmick or method.  All because we don’t always have a rock-solid faith in the power of the Word of God to do what God says.  He says faith comes from hearing the message.  Not from how I schedule my day, write my grant application, or design my website.  Not from how beautiful our church grounds are or even how friendly our people are.  But it doesn’t always seem like the Word works.  So, we might try some other things to assist the Word.  But, let’s be honest, that doesn’t work either.  If it did, we wouldn’t talk about the slow and steady drip that is the declining numbers of our Synod.  And every other mainline church trying desperately to get people into church.

And so our business can be depressing.  The Church’s work is a life under the cross.  And here we are again, on our knees, repenting, because we haven’t always put our faith in the Word.  We’ve turned to other things.  And we turn away, and it’s back to the Word, but it’s back to a Word that doesn’t always seem to work.  Not everyone likes it.  Not everyone listens.  Not everyone desires to hear it.  Not everyone is converted by my sermons, my Word of God lessons, or your impassioned presentation of the Gospel.  The Spirit works where and when He pleases and He doesn’t consult me on either.

We need encouragement.  And that encouragement is found in the Word.  It’s found in the encouragements Paul received in Corinth.  And they are encouragements of grace.  God’s undeserved love is found behind everything, moving us, pushing us, strengthening us.  Let us be encouraged, as Paul was, by the grace of God in Christ.

Luke writes: Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Paul went to the synagogue persuading and enticing all who were there, even though the results weren’t always there (and led eventually to a court date and a man getting beaten).  No matter what the response, we preach the Word, because the Word does the reasoning, it doesn’t return empty.  It convinces.

Luke writes: But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” It’s easy to forget, but we aren’t the first to be rejected, or the last.  It will happen physically.  It will happen verbally.  We must have the courage to preach the law in all its severity, taking our friends and neighbors to hell.  And we must have the courage to preach the Gospel in all its sweetness, showing those hell-bound souls their Savior Jesus and forgiveness won.  And, as Jesus promises, we will be given what to say when we devote ourselves to the Word.  And when you’ve done your task as one of Ezekiel’s watchmen, you can say what needs to be said.  It is not Paul’s fault if these Jews go to hell (or ours if one of our prospects does); it’s theirs for blaspheming the Word, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit!

 

But, take heart, even such a bad thing, like what Paul does here, leads to good – the Gospel goes to the Gentiles of Corinth.  What doors will be opened by your properly handling the means of grace?

Luke writes:  Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. When the well ran dry at the synagogue, Paul didn’t have to go far.  He establishes a church right next door.  Paul gets to stick his tongue out to the rejecting Jews (in the most evangelical way possible).  God comes through.  Doors slam, others open.  It’s the Spirit’s way:  where and when He pleases.

Luke writes:  Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. Take note, not all the Jews rejected the Gospel.  Crispus, the leader of the synagogue was converted, and because of the Jewish rejection, a number of the Corinthians also heard the Word, believed, and were baptized.

The Word did not return empty.  Even among the Jews there is still the remnant.  There are trophies of grace for Paul among those he loved so dearly.  Note also the word attached to the Corinthians – many.  The harvest was plentiful in Corinth!  The Word did its job!  God provides what Paul needs when he needs it, a plentiful harvest to encourage him in the challenging times about to come. God has come through here too.  Look at all the trophies of grace around you, sitting next to you, in front of you, behind you, for you to rejoice in, for you to take comfort in.

Luke writes: One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.

Was Paul afraid of the uproar he was causing?  Was there some sort of rivalry growing that led up to Gallio’s courtroom and the beating of Sosthenes?  Perhaps Paul was “regretting” his bold words, Your blood be on your own heads. Like we often do, perhaps Paul second-guessed himself, fearing the repercussions of saying what needs to be said, wondering if was really right.  But the Lord tells Paul that when we have the truth and we’ve told the truth, don’t be afraid, don’t hold it in.

And then God gives the reason:  I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city. God treats Paul like Elijah – “You’re not alone.”  This is a specific promise for a specific situation.  In this place and in this time, you will not be harmed (as Paul was in so many other places).  This would not be the end of his mission work.  Or even a delay.  Paul stayed for a year and half, teaching the Word of God.

Perhaps Paul contemplated leaving.  Division had sprung up here, as in so many places.  So often, Paul’s stays were brief and ended not on Paul’s terms.  He wasn’t ready to leave the towns he visited.  But now Paul has a place to settle and lay a strong, solid, groundwork.  God’s grace here, for Paul, is to let him know that things are okay, that he can work boldly and confidently in this place.  He can settle in.

So many encouragements.  So much grace.  We’re not in Corinth.  God hasn’t spoken that specific promise to us.  Our congregation’s ministry, or our Synod’s, might end swiftly or suddenly or violently.  But there was a general promise:  Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you. Your Savior who went to the cross for you is the Savior who said He’s with you always to the end of the age.  Your Savior who rose from the dead for you is the Savior who’s given you the Word that gives life to all men – first of all you.  There’s no reason to fear or be silent.  There’s no reason to be depressed.  For we have been graced beyond all graces, we have been foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.  We have the assurance that nothing can separate us from the Christ who died, who was raised, and more than that, who intercedes at God’s right hand for us.  And for our church and her ministry.  Our hope is built on nothing less than Christ, whom we have the privilege to proclaim as His ambassadors, saying to the world as Paul said to these Corinthians, Be reconciled to God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  Amen.

 

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