This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 12, 2017.
Two particular preaching opportunities jump out of this text that are foundational to who we are as Christians. Both are absolutely necessary for the health of the church and cannot be overlooked. First, Paul gives clear indication of the primacy of witness. Second, there is an opportunity here to better understand the church’s responsibility to disciple. Both sermon directions are weighty and need the attention of the church.
One sermon trajectory could trace the work of the Gospel as the instigator of witness in this passage. Beginning at the end of the selected text, verse 13 notes two things about the Gospel. One the Gospel is of God, not of men. We proclaim that we have the wisdom of God on our side. You will not find God’s eternal truths on Facebook or the self-help section of the bookstore. All those kinds of enticing short-term solutions fall wildly short of the hope of the Gospel. Every magazine you see with 6 easy steps to a better you, will have 6 different steps to a better you next month, it is all for profit and spectacle. The self-help publishing industry could care less about the individual, but the Gospel is full of authentic wisdom for living in our broken world. The Gospel is the only thing that can help our neighbors, yet we find ourselves chasing after the words and approval of men.
Continuing in verse 13, the Gospel is at work today. It is alive and active performing a work in those that hear the message. This work must be unpacked in the sermon as it is critical to fulfilling the promise of the message. The Gospel works in our hearts to pull us toward God by ripping the sin out of our lives and leading us to repentance. We have not found the real self-help we need until this cleansing work of the Gospel is begun in us.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 28, 2017.
After Jesus’ resurrection, he showed himself to be alive to the disciples and many of his other followers over the next forty days. Jesus continued to talk with them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) as his time of departure approached. His final conversation with the remaining eleven disciples took place on a Thursday before he ascended from earth back to heaven. The main theme of the conversation still centered around the kingdom of God.
The disciples thought if their king had risen from the brutal death he endured, then their ideas of the coming kingdom must be alive once more. Perhaps now was the time Jesus would free them from the ongoing Roman oppression they had endured as Jews since 63 B.C. Now would be a wonderful time to put their occupiers out of their sights and cleanse their promised land of Israel of all foreign rule and idolatry that had crept in over the past half millennia plus. Thus, the final recorded question to Jesus from the disciples before his ascension is an important one that helps us understand their ongoing expectations.
“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus tells them such timing is not the main issue for them to concern themselves and instead redirects their question to a promise and a purpose for them. The promise is that power is coming to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is for them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Luke groups his letter of Acts in this succession of chapters: Jerusalem (1-7), Judea and Samaria (8-12), the ends of the earth (13-28).
The theme of “witness” saturates Acts as the word “martures” in various forms is found thirty-nine times. We get our English word martyr from this Greek word for witness as the two became linked through the stories of persecution of the faithful ones who shed their blood as martyrs of the faith as they witnessed about their risen king named Jesus.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 14, 2017.
The conclusion of Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:1-54) became the tipping point that unleashed persecution against the church inside Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) and the spread of the gospel toward Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Jewish religious leaders listening to Stephen boiled over with anger. Some biblical scholars have likened that religious group to a pack of ravenous wolves ready to tear limb from limb this one full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55; 6:3, 5, 10) who was standing before them with the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Just a few years earlier this identical, angry, religious pack felt the same way when Jesus of Nazareth stood before them. They did whatever it took to end Jesus’ life outside the gates of Jerusalem in a bloody mess and were soon to make sure Stephen’s end would come to pass. As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “It was déjà vu all over again.”
The details described in the Bible leading to the deaths of Jesus and Stephen parallel each other in many regards. There was an underground movement of secrecy that gained momentum toward both men as the angry Jewish leaders went to work on their plan towards removal and execution (John 11:45-53; Acts 6:11). The religious wolves accused both of blasphemy and speaking against the Temple (Matthew 26:59-63; Acts 6:12-14). Jesus responded to the accusations by telling the high priest, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:63; cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Stephen responded to the enraged accusers by seeing beyond them and into what awaited him and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Jesus mentions the posture of the Son of Man being seated while Stephen describes the Son of Man standing in heaven. Both were located at the ultimate position of ultimate power: the right hand of God.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 7, 2017.
We live in a society that questions authority figures. We consider it a badge of honor when someone successfully challenges “the powers that be.” Although 1 Peter would not encourage us to ignore unethical behavior in organizations, the writer values endurance through difficulty over retaliation toward oppressors. To endure pain is to resist it. First Peter challenges exiles to behave like sheep in a flock under the authority of a shepherd. The book instructs them to maintain respect for human authority figures, especially those with whom they disagree and to endure opposition as a form of Christian mission.
Verses 19-25 are included as part of the instructions for persons who work together in a family business where the authority figure is not a follower of Jesus. Most ancient households were businesses in miniature. In 1 Peter 2-3, there are instructions for all persons (2:13-17; 3:8-22), slaves (2:18), wives (3:1-6), and husbands (3:7), depending on their position in the home workplace. Presumably, Christians will work for someone who does not share a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Just as we learned in chapter 1 that Christians are not to live segregated lives, so in chapters 2 and 3 believers are encouraged to work in environments where they will encounter nonbelievers.