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Great Grace was upon them All

2nd Sunday of Easter (B)     April 8, 2018     Text:  Acts 4:32-35     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, this morning we focus on the description of the church in Acts chapter 4.  It is an incredible picture.  The apostles Peter and John are preaching salvation only in Jesus Christ who was crucified and risen from the dead.  This earns instant opposition and bad intent from the elders and rulers and scribes who first imprison them and then command them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.  They answer that they must “obey God rather than men,” and are compelled to continue to preach.  And then there is this prayer:   And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

  And that brings us to our text which is a description of the church, the post-resurrection, Easter church of Acts chapter 4.  And what we want to ponder today is especially this phrase in verse 33:  and great grace was upon them all.

            I remember a very good definition of the word grace that I heard long ago.  It is an acronym based on the letters that spell out grace.  GRACE.  It goes like this God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  Grace is something that is undeserved, free and given as a gift.  We typically think about the forgiveness of sins earned for us by Jesus at the cross as the definitive example of God’s grace.  As it says in Ephesians:  “By grace you have been saved”  (Ephesians 2:5).  And the Resurrection of Jesus, the Empty Tomb, the message of the Angels, “He is not here, He is risen” are all validation that we can rely on this grace, this undeserved gift for our salvation. 

            And so we sing in the hymn “By Grace I’m Saved”  LSB 566:

By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless; My soul, believe and doubt it not.

Why stagger at this word of promise?  Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?

No! Then this word must true remain:  By grace you too will life obtain.

 

By grace God’s Son, our only Savior, Came down to earth to bear our sin. 

Was it because of your own merit That Jesus died your soul to win?

No, it was grace, and grace alone, That brought Him from His heavn’ly throne.

 

By grace! On this I’’ rest when dying; IN Jesus’ promise I rejoice;

For though I know my heart’s condition, I also know my Savior’s voice.

My heart is glad, all grief has flown Since I am save by grace alone.      

            That certainly is great grace.  But notice when we hear, or talk about grace, we talk about it in a very individualized sense.  God’s grace is God’s gift to me in Christ Jesus.  I’m saved by grace.  I’m assured by grace.  I live by grace.  My sins are forgiven by grace.  I am made holy by grace.  Heaven is my home by grace.  Can you hear what it going on?  We know that God so loved the world.  But grace and faith are individualized.  I have been saved by grace through faith and you can also if you believe in the gospel of Christ Jesus. 

            But there is a much different picture painted in the text.  And it helps deepen our understanding of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.  For it says that God’s great grace was upon them all.  God’s great grace was not intended just for individual believers.  God’s great grace was given to the church.  And God’s great grace is not just about the justification of each individual before God, it is about the sanctifying, spirit empowered life of God’s people who are united in Christ in the church. 

           God’s grace is not just a gift to be received by each individual in the heart.  It is a great gift to be received by the whole, all Christians together in the church.  It is not just a gift to dwell upon and give thanks for individually.  It is a gift to be lived out in the church. 

            Notice the description of this group of believers.  You see the effect of Christ’s resurrection played out as a gift of great gift received and lived in the church.  It is bigger than an individual gift.  One way I think of it is God providing transportation for us to get to heaven.  He does not give each individual the gift of a car so that everyone can get to heaven on their own- every person going his own way and own direction.  He provides a bus so that we are all in it together, all going the same way, all sharing the trip together.

            There was a oneness, a community – the reality of the body of Christ – not a body that was dead but alive and being lived in and together.  There was a sense of the connectedness brought about by God’s grace in the church.  Brothers and sisters in Christ was not just a camp song.  The body of Christ was not just a theoretical idea.  They saw it in the eyes of each other.  And they saw Christ in each other and His grace in each other and God’s mercy in each other.

            There was no one who would think of calling his or her possession their own.  Look at the generosity!  There was no consideration for what I had to give.  There was just the great grace of sharing with anyone who had need.  They were of one heart and soul.  There were no doctrinal divisions, no personality divisions, no divisions caused by selfish agendas. 

            There was no fear of threats from outside persecution, nor was there fear of what could happen if they were too generous.  There was no limit of the kind you might have if you didn’t have a Savior who had risen from the dead and was ruling the world at the right hand of God.  There was just confidence in the promise of God and the Word which was being proclaimed with boldness.

            This type of life in the Christian congregation – not a church where you go to receive what God gives me – but a holy people, the body of Christ with Jesus as the head, is only possible by God’s grace. 

            God’s grace has not only united us with God and restored us to Himself, but it has also united us to each other.  It has brought an end to that which separates – like fear and jealousy and lack of concern.  It shows us something higher, something that goes beyond ourselves, something that makes living for more than myself possible, makes Christian community possible. 

            It is what we receive here as we receive the body and blood of Christ, we are strengthened to live in the body of Christ, to grow in the body of Christ, to share the unity we have in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and to boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, even in the face of world that would oppose Him. 

            By Grace I’m saved – Yes, absolutely.  But by God’s great grace in the resurrected Jesus Christ we are united and live today as the body of Christ.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

The Gentle King

Palm Sunday (B)     March 25, 2018     Text:  Zechariah 9:9-10     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, as citizens of the United States of America, we maybe don’t identify with the political structure of a monarchy.  We aren’t used to celebrating the coronation of kings.  In fact, it is often remarked by commentators at the inauguration of a new president about the remarkable peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to the next.

            In many places, this is not so.  The transition from one ruler to another is often marked by violence and bloodshed.  Opponents are also targets.  Those in power one moment may be fearing for their lives the next. 

            I have been reading 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament during my personal devotional and Bible study time.  These books trace the establishment of the monarchy in Israel – the first being King Saul, then David, then Solomon, then civil war and division of Israel into two kingdoms – each with allegiance to their own kings. 

            There were good kings – godly ones who sought to rid the kingdom of false worship and immoral behavior.  But there were also evil kings who led the people astray and acted in very evil ways.         

            And so these two books tell the stories of these kings, one after the other.  Sometimes God Himself caused an evil king to be eliminated.  For example, in 2 Kings 9, the prophet Elisha, at God’s command, sends an unnamed prophet to anoint Jehu, king over Israel.  Thereafter, Jehu gets in his chariot and rode to Jezreel, because that is where King Joram of Israel was along with Ahaziah, king of Judah.  Joram (the son of King Ahab) had done evil in the eyes of the Lord.  So Jehu rides into town on a war chariot, draws a bow, and kills the one who had lived a life of disobedience to the Lord.  Not only that, but Jehu’s men fatally wound King Ahazia, who is also an evil king and then proceeds to have the entire families of these evil men rounded up and executed.  Definitely a new sheriff in town!  And while we might consider it violent and overkill, Kings were commissioned by God to be agents of His justice.  And some were faithful, and some weren’t.  The arrival of a new king was often kind of good news/bad news scenario.  Bad news if you were an enemy, or if you were marked by the Lord’s Law as a recipient of His justice.  Some had reason to cheer the king’s arrival.  Many had reason to hide or run for their lives.  And this pattern was repeated again and again for hundreds of years and for generation after generation.  It seemed that the purification by blood and death of the Lord’s Kingdom would never end.

            And yet, the prophet Zechariah holds out a most astonishing message:  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

            When this new King, this descendant of David rides into town, there were undoubtedly people along the roadside who had “done evil in the sight of the Lord.”  There were those who had lived as the LORD’s enemies.  There were those whose worship of the LORD had faltered.  There were those whose God was their money.  And there were those who didn’t want Him as their King.  And perhaps, there were those who in a matter of days would join the throngs shouting “Crucify Him!” 

            And yet, the LORD does not ride in on a war chariot, drawing a bow and striking down those who deserve to die.  He comes righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey. 

            He has come to purify the kingdom by blood and death once and for all – but the blood that will be shed will be His own.  This King brings a perfect righteousness that no other King has or has lived.  And He has come to bring an end to the cycle of death and evil once and for all.  He says:  I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

            Justice will be carried out upon Him.  He will be the King who dies that we may live and that the Land may be healed.  And He will be the King who will live again that we may live under Him in His kingdom forever.

            This is the King who comes to us.  We, who stand on the side of the road.  We who have not loved Him with our whole heart.  We who have not been faithful.  We who have hurt others by our deeds and actions.  We who should tremble hide or run for our lives.  Look again!  He comes riding on a donkey.  Look again!  He comes to die!  Look again.  He comes to bring an end to the war of sin in us and among us.  Look again! 

            He is our King!  And His rule will never end.  And we are members of that kingdom where the cycle of violence, pain, hatred and death has been brought to an end.  We need not fear.  Instead, we too, can march along with the King who rides on the donkey, bringing that precious message of peace and forgiveness, healing and wholeness to this broken world and broken relationships.  The time of fear is over.  The time of attacking and hating is over.  Our King has come.  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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