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 him… What 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!