Our Risen Savior Still Acts
He Gives the Courage to Speak Your Peace
A sermon based on Acts 26:19–29
Sunday, April 15, 2012 – Easter 2B
"Now hold on just a minute! Let me speak my piece!" "I'll give him a piece of my mind." This morning we hear the account of how the Apostle Paul speaks not just his p-i-e-c-e, a piece, or part of his thoughts, but his p-e-a-c-e. He shared the peace of his mind and of his heart—his risen Savior. And he spoke of this peace in circumstances that might have seemed anything but peaceful.
You see, after his third mission trip, Paul returned to Jerusalem to present an offering of thanks to God, but before long, he was arrested on false charges and sent to rot in prison for two years. But when a new Governor (Festus) took office, Paul would have an opportunity to speak his peace… the peace that God had given him, even while he was in chains—the peace of knowing that Jesus was alive, that his sins were forgiven, that he had peace with God.
We too are called to speak our peace. In spite of some intimidating circumstances and powerful people, we too are invited to tell others the peace of our minds and of our hearts. We are given the task of sharing with them the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
Listen now to Acts 26:19-29 and hear how our Risen Savior still acts in giving his followers the courage to speak of their peace in him…
19 "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." 24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane." 25 "I am not insane, most excellent Festus," Paul replied. "What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do." 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" 29 Paul replied, "Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains."
I. Gain Peace from Your Risen Savior
Paul told King Agrippa, his wife, Bernice, and Governor Festus all about his conversion on the road to Damascus and of Jesus' command to become an apostle to the Gentiles. At the beginning of our text he tells of his response to that call: "So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven… I preached…"
And you know what that preaching brought about. God moved some to believe the message Paul shared, but others rejected it. In 2 Corinthians 11(:23-27), Paul gives us some of his resume…
"I have… been in prison… been flogged… been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea… I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.."
And yet, in spite of all he'd been through, in spite of all he endured, Paul kept at it. He kept giving people a piece of his mind and speaking the peace of Jesus that God given him—knowing full well what treatment he would receive for it.
How about you? If you were tossed in prison for sharing your faith would you still do it? If you were beaten with a rod or whipped thirty-nine times for talking about Jesus would you keep it up? If you could lose your job for talking about religion or for taking a stand for the truth would it be worth it? If you were just teased for telling others about the peace your Savior gives, would you? …Do you?
The truth is we've all received the same commission that Paul did. No, Jesus may not have appeared to you with a blinding light while you were on your way to Soldotna, but he has revealed himself to you. He has revealed to you what he's done to rescue to you. And he's revealed to you what his will and desire for your life is. In Mark 16:15, he couldn't have been more clear: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."
So, are you always obedient to that calling? The truth is we would face far less suffering and pain for sharing our faith, speaking our piece, and telling others of the peace we have in our risen Savior than Paul ever would. And yet, we still don't do it. Not that often.
We think it's a bold move to say, "God bless you!" when a co-worker sneezes. After all, you'd be crazy to risk losing your job in this economy by talking about religion at work! We think we're already considered weird for going to church on Sundays, let alone for staying home Saturday nights. We think, I can witness at a church program. I don't want to risk losing friends at school by talking to them about my faith.
But Jesus said in Mark 8:38, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
And so we might not feel too peaceful when we think about our sin.
Timmy suggested to his brother that he wear the sweater grandma gave him for his birthday. "Are you kidding?" Billy replied, "That thing is hideous! It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen! There's no way I'd ever wear that nasty thing!" And only then did he realize that grandma was standing behind him. And the guilt set in. Grandma had shown him love by pouring her time and energy, her heart and her love into that sweater. But Billy hurt her. Would she even wish him a happy birthday anymore? Peace was lost.
And that's how it can be for us too. Jesus died for you and for me. He willingly endured hell to rescue you and me. So how can we dare be ashamed of him? As the hymn writer put it, "Ashamed of Jesus? Yes, I may… When I've no guilt to wash away, no tear to wipe, no good to crave, no fear to quell, no soul to save." We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being so ashamed of Jesus. We ought to be disowned by him.
But, the message that Paul proclaimed before Festus and Agrippa hasn't changed…
He said, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God… the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."
Christ has won forgiveness for our cowardice. He rose to prove it. We Gentiles have the light of the Gospel. Our sinful silence in refusing to speak our piece and share the peace of our Savior is forgiven. Easter makes that certain.
And we rejoice that it wasn't done in a corner! We rejoice that the prophets foretold it! We rejoice that the resurrection of our Savior is true and reasonable! We even rejoice that the disciples didn't believe it themselves at first, but came to believe in spite of themselves, because we know that they didn't make the story up as if to say, "See, we told you so?" No! They were shocked and surprised when they saw the living Savior because they didn't expect it—even when they should. We rejoice that they were willing to give their lives for their faith because we know that no one would die for a hoax. And so we know that Jesus does indeed live! And we know that our sins are forgiven! And we know that he is with us always! And we know that he will keep his every promise!
And so the peace that we lost by our sin… is restored. Jesus lives. We're at peace with him. Through him, we're at peace with God. And encouraged by his promises, literally filled with courage, we are bold to speak our peace and tell others about this peace that we have…
II. Speak Peace of Your Risen Savior
Imagine if you will, that you're doing business in Anchorage on a dark winter day. And one of your errands takes you to the shady side of town. As you walk down a dark alley, suddenly you notice that half a dozen masked men enter the alley behind you, cutting you off. You try to get inside, but every door you try is locked…and the masked men are getting close. How would you feel? Anxious? Worried? Maybe even scared?
Now imagine the same scenario. You're down the same downtown alley with the same masked men apparently intent on hurting you. But this time you have an armed guard of ten heavily armed navy seals who have been given the task of protecting you at all costs—even giving their lives to preserve yours. Now how do you feel?
The truth is that we have a far greater force than ten navy seals protecting us. We have not just men willing to give their lives for us, but the very Son of God who did give his life for us and who came back to life again. Not even Death can stop him. Now listen to what he promises you…
· "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
· "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
· "If God is for us, who can be against us?... [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:31,39)
· "On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:18-20)
· "So do not be afraid of them… don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:26, 31-32)
· "Do not be afraid. Go and tell…" (Matthew 28:10)
· And in today's Gospel lesson that we just read, he says it three times: "Peace be with you! …Peace be with you! …Peace be with you!" (John 20:19,21,26)
Is speaking of the peace Jesus brings still intimidating? Perhaps. But we know who's with us. Jesus has our back. He promises he will. He is not dead and gone. But he lives! So go! And tell others, "that they should repent and turn to God… the Christ [did] suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." For our risen Savior still acts, giving you the courage to speak your peace. In his name, dear friends, amen.