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.