Monday, April 25, 2016

Rise and Shine! (And Give God the Glory!) A sermon based on Acts 13:44-52

Rise and shine and give God the glory! That's what God tells Paul and Barnabas in this week's sermon. They were to get up and go and be a light to the Gentiles as they shared Jesus, the Light of the World, and his Gospel message with non-Jews. We too are called by God to rise and shine and give God the glory! We give him the glory for rescuing us from sin and hell. And we give him the glory by sharing that message with others. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 13:44-52 and be encouraged to rise and shine! 

Rise and Shine! (And Give God the Glory!)

A sermon based on Acts 13:44-52

Sunday, April 24, 2016 – Easter 5C


The proverb found in Proverbs 27:14, "If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse," comes to mind when I think back to my childhood days and recall my mom throwing open my bedroom door and singing loudly to a tired little boy just trying to get a few more winks of sleep before having to get up and get ready for school, "Riiiiise! And shiiiine! And give God the glory-glory! Riiiiise! And shiiiine! And give God the glory-glory! Rise! And! Shine! And! Give God the glory-glory, children of the Lord!" Then she'd add, "Seriously, Robert, rise and shine. It's time to get moving."

In a sense, that's what we hear God telling Paul and Barnabas in our text for this morning. He wanted them to rise and shine—to be a light for the Gentiles (or non-Jews). And he wanted them to get moving, not to stay in Pisidian Antioch for more than a short time, but to go elsewhere to carry the light of the Gospel to others—to Gentiles.

And God tells us what he wants us to do as well. He wants us to rise and shine and he wants us to get moving. He wants us to give God the glory for rescuing us by the light of the Gospel. And he wants us to give God the glory as we get moving and try to rescue others with that light.

This morning we hear the results of Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch (which we heard last week), which (ironically) took place one week after he preached there. The events are recorded for us in Acts 13:44-52…


44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

I.        Rescued by the Light

Adrian was out hiking in the woods with his kids. And they were having a great time. They had so much fun, in fact, that Adrian completely lost track of the time. Before he knew it, it was time to head back or they would be caught out here in the dark. He gathered up the kids and got them moving right away.

But Adrian, being unfamiliar with these woods, took a wrong turn and went down another path. Then trying to correct himself he added a second wrong turn. And soon, before he knew it, a deep darkness settled in the woods. And he had failed to bring a flashlight.

What was he going to do? The kids were getting tired and now scared. And if he were being honest, he was a bit scared too. Would they spend their night out here—and without a tent? How would they ever get back to the car?

Even though Adrian knew that it would panic the kids, he couldn't help it. He was starting to panic himself. So he let out an angry and frightened cry of frustration! Aaaaaargh!!!

And later he would thank God that he did. Because it after a few more minutes of panic, he heard a cry back. "Hello? Is someone out there?" And then Adrian saw the light. Another hiker was still on the trails. But he had a flashlight! Maybe he knew the way out of these woods!

Sure enough Adrian met a man named Aaron who approach him and said, "Everything okay? Anyone hurt? Good. Get a little turned around out here? Need some help? There's only one path that goes back to the road. Come on. I'll show you."

What relief Adrian felt! He'd been rescued by someone with a light!


In a way, Adrian's story is similar to our own. We were once lost in the darkness. Not literally, but spiritually lost, groping around in the darkness, trying to make sense of life, trying to make sense of the pain and the panic and the frustrations that we faced. We were so hopelessly lost that we were doomed to spend not just a night, but an eternity in hopeless darkness.

But we were rescued.

Isaiah prophesied about Jesus (in Isaiah 9:2), "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." And when Jesus came, he said of himself, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

The Light has come to rescue us! The Light of the World has saved us from eternal darkness.

"Rise and shine and give God the glory?" That's exactly what Jesus did. He rose to the occasion of leaving heaven to live a humble life on earth, even under his own law. And he was a shining example as he kept it perfectly. But he was more than just an example as he kept the law perfectly in our place. He literally rose when he was raised up on a cross to pay for our sin. And he shined victorious over sin and hell. And he literally rose when he came back to life and shined in his resurrected glory on Easter morning.

"Rise and shine and give God the glory?" That's what Jesus was all about: bringing glory to God by rising and shining and rescuing us from the darkness of death and hell by his life, death, and resurrection.


And thank God that he didn't stop there, but that he also sent a messenger to you to tell you about it—some parent or pastor or teacher or friend, some Paul or Barnabas—to illumine your path by sharing the Gospel with you so you see Jesus for who he is: The Light of the World, the Light even for us Gentiles, the Light that bring salvation to the very ends of the earth!

Because someone has shared that message with us, Christ now shines to us, not as a faint, dim light that guides us as we walk out of our problems, but as the rescue light that found us when we were lost, that saved us from sin, death and hell! Now we know that we have been "appointed for eternal life," and that heaven is our eternal address, that we have been rescued, and that we will be brought safely home!

Now be glad and honor the Word of the Lord! And one way we honor it is to read it and learn it and know it better. But another way to honor the word is to know it better, not just to know it better for ourselves, but to better share it with others. Now we shine that same light to others to help find them…


II.      Rescue with the Light

Aaron was out hiking in the woods. And he was having a great time. He was enjoying his hike so much fun, in fact, that Aaron completely lost track of the time. Before he knew it, it was already getting dark! It was definitely time to head back to the car. Thankfully he brought his powerful mag light. Otherwise he might get caught out here in the dark. He gathered up his gear and got moving right away.

But as he was hiking in the dark, shining the light on the path in front of him, he heard a strange noise. It wasn't an animal. It sounded more human. It sounded sort of like an angry and frightened cry of frustration! Aaaaaargh!!!

What to do? He was already late and wouldn't be home when he told his wife he would be. If he went in the direction of the cry he'd be even later. But, still, what if someone was hurt or in trouble. He shined his light down a different path and went in search of the cry.

And later, he would thank God that he did make that decision, because it wasn't long until he found them—a man named Adrian and his two kids, terribly lost and scared in the dark. What relief he saw on the man's face and on the face of those poor kids! He would lead them to the road and to their car. He would help rescue them.


In a way, Aaron's story is similar to our own. We have the light. We know how to navigate through this life with the light. But we're not content to be only concerned about ourselves. We use the light that we have to help rescue others.

You see, we aren't called to be just lighthouses beckoning everyone to come see our our light, just don't get too close. No! We're called to be the rescue party that goes to find others, taking the light to them, just as Jesus found us!

Will it be inconvenient? Of course! Might others talk abusively against us? Sure! Might they even stir up persecution against us and even expel us from the region. Yeah, it's possible. But we will rise to the occasion and we will shine in those moment of truth as we live for Jesus, not our own personal comfort, confident that if those things happen, God will work them all for his good purposes.

Just look how Jesus used abuse and persecution for his good purposes with Paul and Barnabas. He used that persecution to drive them to preach to a new group of people. Their plans were frustrated. Some relationships were cut off. They were forced to relocate. But it was God's way of letting them know to get moving—to go somewhere else with the light of the Gospel, to go to the Gentiles.

It's almost certain that in our lives, some of our plans will be frustrated. It's almost certain that some of our relationships will end. And it's not unlikely that many of us may someday relocate to a new residence. But God will use those circumstances to create new opportunities for us to rise and shine the Gospel in the lives of others. Maybe it's his way of saying he wants us to get moving.

Maybe God will allow you to lose your job so you can be a witness to a whole new set of co-workers somewhere else. Maybe God will allow you to end up in the hospital so you can share the joy you have in Jesus with the doctors and nurses. Maybe God will allow a breakup so that he can bring a new boyfriend or girlfriend to faith through you. Maybe he will allow you to endure persecution or pain so you form new friendships and shine the light of the gospel to someone new.

And so, confident that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him," (Romans 8:28) we will rise to the occasion and shine with the light of the Gospel, that others too may know the Light of the World who no darkness can overcome. (John 1:5 NIV)

You know, Jesus didn't just say, "I am the light of the world," in John 8:12. He also said in Matthew 5:14 and 16, "You are the light of the world… let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

So, it's not just a catchy "get out of bed song." It's our motto: as we, "Riiiise and shiiiine and give God the glory-glory!" We give him the glory for shining the light of the Gospel in our lives and rescuing us. And we give him the glory as we shine that light in the lives of others. So rise and shine! And give God the glory-glory, children of the Lord! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shepherd People to the Shepherd (A sermon based on Acts 13:15-16, 26-33)

Do you want to help shepherd people into heaven? Then learn from the Apostle Paul. As we study a portion of his sermon in Pisidian Antioch, we see how he did two things: First, he pointed people to the Scriptures, that is, the Word of God. Second, he pointed people to the Savior, their Good Shepherd, Jesus. That's all we do too. We point people to the Scriptures, we point people to Jesus, and by shepherding them to the Good Shepherd, we help shepherd them into heaven. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 13:15-16a, 26-33 and be encouraged to shepherd people to the Shepherd!

Rise and Preach!

Shepherd People to the Shepherd

A sermon based on Acts 13:15-16, 26-33

Sunday, April 17, 2016 – Easter 4C


In September of 2016 we're planning on having a Christian Education Sunday here at Grace. In that service we'll set aside time to rejoice in the blessings of Christian Education here at Grace, and through our called worker training system. And on the second Sunday of the month, we're planning on hosting a guest preacher, Pastor Mike Otterstatter, who is the recruitment director for Martin Luther College.

And speaking of guest preachers, Pastor Tom Schmidt, the former pastor at Grace, will be returning to guest preach here on July 17th.

So what do think about guest preachers? Do you like the variety? It does usually break up the monotony of the same guy saying pretty much the same things week after week doesn't it? We pastors usually love to have a guest preacher for a week where we can sit and be fed once in a while instead of doing the feeding as usual. And we joke that it's always a win-win: If the guest pastor doesn't capture your attention like the resident pastor does, the members of the congregation say, "Boy, pastor, we sure are glad to have you as our pastor." But if the guest pastor keeps you on the edge of your seat, the members of the congregation say, "Boy, pastor, you should go on vacation more often."

By the way, did you know that our service is modeled after the service in a synagogue? We follow a liturgy, read several lessons and comment on one of them at length. We say prayers, sing hymns, and go home. But there's one key difference: In the synagogue guest preachers were way more common. Visiting rabbis would be offered the chance to take the pulpit fairly often.

In our text for this morning the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, a city in the middle of modern day Turkey, invited the apostle, Paul, to be their guest preacher. And Paul, of course, did an outstanding job of preaching. He pointed people to the Scriptures, that is, to the Word of God. And he pointed people to the Good Shepherd, that is, to Jesus. Acts 13:15-16 sets the stage…

15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak." 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and [began to preach]…

Of course, we too can do the same. We too rise to the occasion whenever asked to share our faith. We rise and preach. And we do just as Paul did: We point people to the Scriptures. We point people to the Shepherd. We shepherd people to the Good Shepherd. Let's listen to Acts 13:26-33, the third part of guest preacher Paul's sermon in Pisidian Antioch…

26 "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'


I.     Point People to the Scriptures

Do you know what the word pastor means literally? My Latin I students do. It's one of their vocabulary words. The Latin word pastor literally means Shepherd. That's what a good pastor does. He takes care of the flock.

Pastor Paul was doing his best to shepherd this flock in Antioch. And he was doing a good job. For starters, he was feeding them. He was feeding them with healthy spiritual food of the Word of God. He was sharing the message that God had given his people so long ago and pointing out how it was fulfilled. Did you catch that?

"This message of salvation has been sent. …in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath… they had carried out all that was written about himWhat God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us… As it is written in the second Psalm…"

Now, I don't know that we have Paul's complete sermon in Acts 13. We might just have a summary that Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, jotted down as he listened. Paul may very well have gone into more details, referencing "the reading from the Law and the Prophets" that the synagogue rulers had just read.

Perhaps he referenced Isaiah 53, which especially highlights the suffering and death of our Savior. Maybe he pointed out how the Messiah would be "despised and rejected" not embraced, just as the religious leaders had despised and rejected Jesus. Maybe he showed them how it read, "he was pierced for our transgressions," not stoned or hanged, and then pointed out the fulfillment in Jesus' death on a cross. Maybe he showed them how that prophecy twice said, "he did not open his mouth" and made the connection that Jesus went through two mock trials where he remained silent in his defense. Perhaps Paul's sermon explained the apparent contradiction in verse 9: "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death." Maybe he explained how Jesus was assigned a grave with condemned criminals, but was buried in the new tomb of rich Joseph of Arimathea. And maybe he showed them how verse 11 predicted Jesus' resurrection from the dead 700 years before it happened: "After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life."

When you go home, check out my Facebook page. Scroll down past the bacon recipes and go watch a video on my page of a young Jewish Christian sharing Isaiah 53 with other Jews. You'll see what a powerful prophecy it is.

And I'll bet that even if he didn't reference Isaiah 53, he still shared the main point of verses 5 and 6: "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." This is, after all, the "message of salvation" that was given to the Jews.

But even if we do have the complete sermon of Paul and this is all he said, the point is the same. Paul pointed his listeners back to the Word of God. He pointed to prophecies fulfilled by Jesus' death. He pointed to prophecies fulfilled by Jesus' resurrection. And he pointed to these prophecies fulfilled as convincing proofs that these things could be believed. These were convincing proofs that this message was from God. These were convincing proofs that their sins were forgiven by Jesus' perfect life and death in their place.

Do you want to shepherd people into to heaven? Then share the Scriptures with them. Of course, to share them, you first need to know them. Read them, study them, learn them. See how the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus. Learn some of those prophecies that point to Jesus. There are a ridiculous number of them since this seems to be an area where God likes to show off. Or at the very least, just study Isaiah 53 and compare it to Matthew 26-28. Then you'll be ready to share with others the convincing proofs of the Scriptures—the convincing proofs that show that this message of salvation is from God—the convincing proofs that their sins are forgiven by Jesus' perfect life and death in their place. Because, ultimately, the point of these proofs isn't just to show that our beliefs are right and that theirs is wrong. The point of the Scriptures is to point people to the Good Shepherd…


II.    Point People to the Shepherd

Paul highlighted the Scriptures and prophecy fulfilled. But he didn't do it just to prove that his Jewish Scriptures were right. He did it to highlight Jesus. His point in proving prophecies fulfilled was to point them to Easter.

But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.

God raised Jesus from the dead. This was the proof of sins forgiven. Paul's goal wasn't to say, "I'm right. My religion is the true religion. Your religion is wrong." No. His goal was to convince others that it was reasonable to believe what he preached that they too might believe their sins were forgiven.

A good shepherd doesn't just win the argument to prove that he is right. A good shepherd always tries to steer the conversation back to Jesus. So as you try to shepherd people into heaven, don't just try to prove the Bible is right. In fact, you don't need to prove anything. Just share the message of salvation because, "you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent."

And I love that phrase "message of salvation." I think it's an inspired pun. You see it's a message about the salvation that God was won for all people and in that sense it's a message of salvation. But it's also a message through which God gives salvation. It's a message of salvation because it's a saving message.

And you know that message. You know it well. It's the message that "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." It's the message that in spite of how poorly we listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd and read and study his word, in spite of how often we refuse to follow him and turn to our own way, he laid down his life to take away the sin of the world.

Believe that message. You are forgiven for doing a poor job of shepherding people into heaven. You're forgiven for not listening to his voice. You're forgiven for not following him. You're forgiven for all of your sins!

But don't just believe it. Share that message of salvation to point people to the Good Shepherd.

If you don't have a perfectly polished apologetic and don't have an answer to any and every objection. Don't worry. Just point people to the Shepherd. Do like Philip did when Nathanael objected, "Can anything good come from [Nazareth]?!" and simply tell others, "Come and see." (John 1:46) Do like John the Baptist did and point to Jesus saying, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Just point people to the Good Shepherd who said, "I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28) Just point people to the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep to make that happen. (John 10:11)

Yes, pray that God would send more shepherds out. Pray that he would move the hearts of more young people to consider entering the full time ministry. Come to our Christian Education Sunday in September and listen to guest preacher, Pastor Otterstatter. Pray for Grace Lutheran School, for Martin Luther College, and for Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Support them with your offerings if you're able to help those training to be full time shepherds.

But don't stop there. You too can shepherd people. You don't need to have the title, pastor, to be a shepherd. And you don't need a degree or to have gone to our called worker training schools. You don't need to have a high school degree or to have made it past the third grade! All you have to do is preach the message. Point people to the Scriptures. And point people to the Good Shepherd. And in doing this, you too, just like Paul, will help shepherd people into heaven. In the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us sheep, amen!

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Rise and See! (A sermon based on Acts 9:1–20)

Isn't it nice to be able to see? Thank God for your gift of sight. But thank him even more for the spiritual sight that he's given you. You see clearly how he's rescued you from sin and hell. You see that there's nothing left for you to do because he's done it all for you. Now open your eyes to see those who don't yet know of his grace. See all the opportunities you have to share him with others. Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on the account of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-20, and thank God for his gift of spiritual sight. See how he has saved us. And see how he can use us to help others to see too!

Rise and See!

A sermon based on Acts 9:1–20

Sunday, April 10, 2016 – Easter 4C


There are a handful of times in my life that I've been genuinely scared that my life might end. One of those was when I couldn't see. I had just bought a mo-ped in Raleigh, a 50cc scooter that could maybe hit 40 mph if I was going down a steep hill. I would often ride on the shoulder of the road to let cars pass. Well one night, when I was riding the 8 miles home from church, a downpour hit. And because my glasses kept getting all fogged up if I kept the helmet visor down and rain covered my glasses if I kept the visor up (there are no windshield wipers on a scooter) I could barely see a thing in the dark. But that didn't stop the semi-trucks on the highway from coming within inches of me as they kept barreling past at their regular speeds. I haven't told Becky, but that night, I thought there was good chance that she would become a widow. (Not that she'd have trouble remarrying.) 

But that night while terrifying me, later made me appreciate again God's gift of sight. It's a gift we so often take for granted until we start to lose it. When I can't find my glasses, when the snow is causing a white out on the road, or when you're on a scooter in a downpour, anytime that vision is lost even partially or momentarily, we appreciate what we once had.

What a blessing sight is! How much easier life is if you can see and see clearly. Have you ever considered what it would be like if you went blind tonight? Thank God for that gift of sight. But thank God not just for the physical sight he's given. He's given each of us a much better sight. We have spiritual sight. We see Jesus clearly! We see the way to heaven! We see that there's nothing we have to do to get there! And we see how we can lead others there too.

Our text for consideration this morning is found in Acts 9:1–20…


Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"

"Yes, Lord," he answered.

11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.



I. See How He Has Saved You


Can you imagine what Saul went through that day on the road? What a shock that day must have been. Here he was faithfully serving God with passion and zeal—doing all within his power, using all of his resources, devoting all of his time—to stamping out this Christian sect that dared to blaspheme Jehovah by suggesting he became a homeless man! He went above and beyond the call of duty not only rooting out such heresies in own city, but traveling to other cities to help them too! It would be like you not just defending the truth here at Grace, but going up to Faith in Anchorage (on foot, mind you) to correct some false teaching there too. What zeal he had for the Lord!

What a shock then to have this Jesus—the disciples of whom he was trying to murder—appear to him on the road in such brilliant glory that it robbed Saul of his sight! His zeal, his passion, his determination was horribly misguided. To say it was a total paradigm shift would be a huge understatement. Everything he knew, everything he was so certain of, had suddenly in an instant, in one encounter that maybe lasted only a few seconds, had completed changed. His mind must have been blown, his world turned upside down! And his sight was lost.

But why did God take his sight? So that Paul could really see. When Saul could see with his physical eyes, he was blind to the truth of Jesus. Only in losing his sight did he see how blind he'd been. He had worked so hard, but failed miserably because his aim was totally off.

When Paul lost his physical sight his spiritual eyes were beginning to open up. Jesus told him to rise and go to Damascus to have his sight restored. And there, in a vision, the blind man saw—he saw a man named Ananias come to restore his sight. And after three days, after Ananias put his hands on him, Saul could see again. But even more, he could see anew! Guided by the Holy Spirit, he saw the truth! He saw who Jesus was! The Son of God! His Savior from sin! His Savior risen from the dead! What wonderful sight Saul had! 


Now to some degree or another, perhaps with the aid of corrective lenses, you and I can see with our physical eyes. But we too were once spiritually blind. We didn't know which way we were going or what we needed to do to get there. We were working hard, but were still failures because we worked for the wrong things. And even if we knew the right things we could never work hard enough. Our aim was way off. We were like blind people shooting at a target they couldn't see.

It reminds me Alice in Wonderland asking the Cheshire Cat which way she should go? He said, "It depends. Where are you going?" And when Alice replied that she had no idea, the cat replied, "Then any road you take will get you there." Not all roads lead to Rome. And not all paths lead to heaven. If we were left in our blindness we could work as hard as we could, sprint as fast as our legs would pump, do all within our power, use all of our resources, devote all of our time to get to heaven, but we would still fail miserably because we'd be going in the wrong direction.

We were born blind in sin and blind in unbelief and then we bumped and crashed our way through life, stumbling our way to hell. Our zeal or sincerity didn't matter because our aim was totally off.

But, God has since opened our eyes. We're now enlightened, as if the light has been turned on when we were in the dark. So we're not in the dark anymore. We're not blind. But see with amazing clarity! "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see." Now we see the road to heaven. Now we see, that it's not our zeal or our efforts or our accomplishments that get us there, but entirely God's grace to us in Christ. We see how Jesus lived a perfect life for us. We see how God put our sins on him. We see how he paid for them by his death on a cross. And we see how Jesus rose from the dead as the proof! We see how Saul became Paul, how the persecutor became the preacher, the murderer became the missionary and we see that there is no other explanation for this 180 degree turn, other than the fact that he really truly saw the risen Savior on that road to Damascus.

So we see how we are at peace with God. Our sins are forgiven! The things we've done in our misguided zeal are erased! Our mind is blown away by God's grace to us! And our world is turned upside down for the better! We are not going to the hell we deserve! We are going to heaven! We see the way there is in Jesus. We see clearly the Way. We belong to the Way. That is, we belong to Jesus. Now, let's help those stumbling in the darkness. Let's guide them so they can see him too.

II. See How He Can Use You


Can you imagine what Ananias went through that day in Damascus? What a shock that day must have been for him. Here he was faithfully serving God with passion and zeal—doing all within his power, using all of his resources, devoting all of his time—to build up this Christian sect that honored Jehovah by proclaiming his Son as the Savior of the world. And now God asked him to go visit the man who would kill him the first chance he got? What exactly was God asking him to do? To become another martyr? To die like James? To be stoned to death like Stephen?

But God told him to rise and go to Judas' house, to talk to the persecutor, to lay his hands on him, to help him to see—both physically and spiritually. And though I'll bet he still wasn't terribly excited about the mission God had given him, he got up and went.

And what a blessing he received! Ananias got to be God's instrument in bringing Saul—later called Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the author of so many of our New Testament books—to faith! He got to be the one the Holy Spirit worked through to convert this great missionary. And he learned a valuable lesson that God picks his missionaries in sometime the most unlikely of places.

And friends, our eyes have been opened to that same truth. We see how God has chosen us, selfish sinners that we still are, to be a part of his team, to go and be the hands and feet, the mouths and tongues of Jesus himself as he uses us to bring others to faith!

He uses murderers like Saul, chickens like Ananias, drunks like Noah, adulterers like King David, doubters like Thomas, deniers like Peter, cowards like all the disciples. He uses sinners like you and failures like me. He takes away our sin—all of it! He takes away our failures—every one of them! He calls us perfect, sinless saints—each one of us, not just those Biblical "heroes." And uses each of us in his Kingdom to help others to see!

You're not out of the game because of your past sin. If God can use Saul to become a pillar of the faith, then he can use you to be the same. God used Ananias to get to Saul. Had he refused, maybe the church would be without Paul. And who knows, but God, what that person that you reach with the Gospel might do for the Kingdom down the road of life?

Soon we'll be starting a new Bible Class exploring ways that you can share the Gospel, even if you're not an extrovert, even if the thought of knocking on a stranger's door leaves you terrified. We'll brainstorm other ways that we can get the Word out that others might see God's grace. Watch for it, and if you can, come to it!

If you cannot be like Peter, if you cannot Preach like Paul, you can still encourage someone who can. You can pray for them. You can be like faithful Aaron holding up Moses hands. And through our efforts, as we do all within our power, use our resources, devote our time to build up the Kingdom, others will see too! They'll see their Savior! They'll see the truth! They'll see the way to heaven is not in their efforts or works, but in Jesus. And they'll see the peace that we see now.

Larry Hester was 33 years old when the doctor gave him horrible news. He would soon be completely blind. For the next 33 years he went through life in the dark. But then a medical breakthrough came in 2014. Hailed as a bionic eye, the world's first FDA approved device that restores sight to the blind was implanted on Larry's retinas. He only sees fuzzy shapes with extreme contrast with light and dark. But he can see.

God restored Saul's sight perfectly. God gave him better sight—spiritual sight. God has given us the same. Now let's rise and go and be like Ananias as we help others to see what we see—the Way, Jesus, our risen Savior! In his name, dear friends, amen.

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Great Escape! (A sermon based on Acts 5:12, 17-32)

What a jail break took place that night! The Apostles of Jesus flew the coop and the guards weren't even aware until morning when they found their cell still locked, but the disciples gone! We've experienced a jail break of our own. We've escaped from sin, death, and hell! But neither of these escapes came about because of some great plan the apostles or we came up with. No. God set them free by a miracle of his grace. That's how God set us free too. And he did it by his own great escape -- his escape from the tomb! Read or listen to (download) this sermon based on Acts 5:12, 17-32 (or watch the whole service at and rejoice in Gods' Great Escape won for you! 

Rise and Go Free

The Great Escape!

A sermon based on Acts 5:12, 17-32

Sunday, April 3, 2016 – Easter 2C


In 1943 members of the Royal Air Force were captured by the Nazis and put into a high security prison camp. Because these allied soldiers had escaped before, this time, the Germans put them in an unescapable prison.

But the prisoners refused to believe that it really was unescapable. So over the course of the next year the men dug three tunnels (three so that if one was discovered the Germans would assume they cut off their only escape and would leave the other two undetected). The prisoners affectionately called their tunnels, Tom, Dick, and Harry.

And finally, in the spring of 1944, wearing civilian clothes and carrying forged papers to cross any borders, sixty-six prisoners crawled through Harry to their freedom. Six years later, Paul Brickhill, one of those escaped prisoners wrote a book about his experience, which 13 years later was turned into a movie by the same name: The Great Escape.


This morning we hear about another great escape. The Apostles of Jesus pulled off an even more spectacular prison break! They broke out of a locked and guarded jail cell without their guards even being aware of the escape and finding the cell doors locked again behind them! They didn't tunnel out or even devise an escape plan, but an angel of the Lord miraculously freed them and told them to go stand in the temple courts and teach the people!

Of course those who imprisoned the apostles were baffled at how they escaped. Much like they were baffled at how Jesus had carried out his great escape from tomb! They tried to silence the escape artists, but couldn't. They wouldn't stop talking about Jesus.

You and I have had our own great escape. We were once prisoners to sin, to death, to hell. But we've escaped! Of course, like it was for the disciples, that wasn't because we could come up with any escape plan, but because of what God pulled off for us. By Jesus blood, by his death, and by his resurrection—by his escape from the grave—we escape sin! We escape hell! And one day we will even escape the grave! And we can't keep that message to ourselves! It's just too exciting! We have to share it!

This morning we hear of three great escapes: one of the disciples from their prison cell, one of all people from sin, death, and hell. And both were made possible by Jesus' escape from his tomb. All three are described for us in Acts 5:12, 17-32…


12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade…

17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."

21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 "We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.

25 Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."


What brought about such hostility toward the apostles from the leaders of Jerusalem. Our text seems to indicated that they were jealous of the disciples' ability to do miracles, connecting verse 12 to verse 17. But the Greek word translated jealousy is zaylos, the word from which we get the English, "zealous." I personally don't think it was petty jealousy ("People will like Jesus' disciples more than they like us."). I think they were genuinely zealous to stop anyone from blaspheming God by suggesting that he was the homeless bum named Jesus.

They wanted to stop this "Christian heresy" from spreading, from robbing people of their Jewish faith, from taking them away from the true God. And to stop the message, they had to stop the messengers. They tried to command them to stop and "gave [them] strict orders not to teach in this name."

But these apostles, as they called themselves, refused. They continued to meet together in public places, right next to the temple itself! Well, one sure way to shut them up was to lock them up. And we see their considerable power and authority that they can and did.

How bleak it must have seemed for those apostles as they spent the night in that cold, dark cell. Here they were, only trying to do what Jesus had told them to and now they were facing such opposition they were locked up. How would they spread the message now?


Well, we know what it's like. Okay, maybe we don't know what it's like to be jailed or imprisoned for talking about Jesus… at least, not yet. The day may come sooner than we think. But still, we do know what it's like to face persecution for what we believe. We know what it's like to be teased for being "holier than thou." We know what's like to have others shun us because of our faith.

And, in a sense, we know what it's like be imprisoned too—shackled to our guilt, locked in to our sinful habits and patterns, caged by our selfish nature, so the good we want to do we don't do and the evil we don't want to do, well, that's what we find ourselves doing again and again.

We know what it's like to be stuck in sin. We know what it's like to be too timid to speak up about Jesus out of fear of persecution. We know what it's like fail to put our trust in God and to look only to our own resources and strength for deliverance.

And so we too are "guilty of this man's blood." We are responsible for Jesus' death. He died because of our sin. And we were in a bleak situation, locked up with no way out, deserving of eternal prison in hell that makes any Nazi prison camp seem like a vacation cruise. And no matter how well organized we were, no matter what schemes we devised, that prison really was unescapable. We could never break out…


Though the apostles could never devise a plan to break out of their jail cells, they didn't need to. They didn't spend that long in prison before their jailbreak! And what a mystery faced the leaders in the morning. How in the world did these Houdinis do it?! How did they escape and leave the doors locked behind them with the guards still there, yet oblivious to their disappearance? How did they sneak out?

Of course, we know the answer. Luke tells us how the apostles flew the coop: the angel of the Lord miraculously broke them out! What a great escape! And no wonder the Sadducees, who denied the existence of heaven or hell, of angels or demons, of anything supernatural really… no wonder they were left puzzled. No wonder the guards and the chief priests were puzzled at the report of this jailbreak!

It must have been almost as puzzling as that other great escape: Where in the world did the body of Jesus go? How could the disciples have hidden it? Where did they take it? How did they pull it all off?


But it's no mystery to us. We know that Jesus came back to life after his death on the cross. We know he sends his angels to guard and protect us. And we know how he sprung us free from the prison of hell.

Jesus broke us out by his blood. By being killed, by hanging on a tree, by his blood, Jesus paid for our sins. By his exaltation, by his resurrection, by his jailbreak from the tomb, we have the proof! We know that our Prince and Savior has given us repentance (that is, a change of mind about our sin and need for deliverance) and he has given us forgiveness of sins (for every sin – for being too scared to speak about our Savior, for our failure to put our trust in him, for trying to work out our own escape, for every one of our sins!)

Our "Savior" has done just that; he saved us. He has set us free! The Greek word that's translated "forgiveness" in verse 31 is aphesis, which literally means deliverance, liberty, or release from imprisonment. Talk about a great escape! This is the greatest escape ever! We are free from sin, free from guilt, free from despair, free from having to work out our own escape plan! We're free from satan's grasp, free from hell, free from death itself—for we will live again even after we die!

Jesus came to "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and… to release the oppressed." And that's exactly what Jesus did. He said in John 8:36, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." And we are free indeed—free from sin, death, and hell, but also free to serve God in thanks…


How frustrated the Jewish leaders must have been. Even after being imprisoned, even will all their threats, those pesky apostles just wouldn't shut up. "We must obey God rather than men!" they declared and just went right on teaching right in the temple courts, even preaching to the Sanhedrin!

What courage these persecuted men had! They came to trial when they were summoned and didn't disobey the very government that had them unjustly arrested when their command was in no way in conflict with God's Word. But when they were commanded to keep quiet, that command was in direct conflict with Jesus' command to go into all the world and preach the Good New! It was in direct conflict with God's command through his angel to "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life." So that's exactly what they did! With no concern over the consequences they boldly defied the command of their superiors.

How different these men were from before! Before they were hiding behind locked doors. Now they were in the temple courts. Before they were scared for their lives. Now they openly defy those who had the authority to lock them up and throw away the key! What made the difference? Easter. By Jesus resurrection the Holy Spirit set them free from their sin, from fear of death or torture or pain. It made them bold to live for him, come what may, so they boldly preached and taught and filled Jerusalem with their teaching.


And friends, Easter does the same for us! We have been set free from sin and death and hell and guilt and shame. We have been set free from fear of persecution, of death, of torture and pain. We too have seen—through the eyes of faith—the great escape that Jesus made from the tomb! We've seen the great escape that Jesus won for us!

And God has given his Holy Spirit to us too, who makes us bold to say, "We must obey God rather than men!" and to preach and teach the truth of God's Word, come what may. We may face persecution for it. We may be commanded to shut up. But what can they do? Lock us up? Take our lives? We'll escape!—Even from death! We'll escape hell and go to be with Jesus! So bring it on!

With an even greater courage than those brave soldiers in that Nazi prison camp, we will boldly share the message of God's great escape for Jesus from death! We'll boldly share the message of God's great escape for us from sin and from death! We'll bold go and fill the Kenai Peninsula and the internet with this teaching that others too may enjoy God's great escape! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen! 

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611

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