The Fifth Sunday After Easter May 16, 2004
1 Peter 4:1-11
19, 493, 56, 215
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
In the name of Christ our ascended Savior who is ruling over all things for the benefit of His Church, dear fellow-redeemed:
A fish would be a good identifying symbol for this weekend since it is the opening weekend of the Minnesota fishing season. In the early days of the Christian church the fish became a symbol to identify Christians. In those days of persecution it was important to know the identity of the person to whom you were talking and whether he was a Christian friend or a heathen foe. The fish was used to identify Christians because the first letters of the Greek words that stand for “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior” spell ICTHUS. ICTHUS translated from Greek to English means fish.
When someone is heard, but unseen, the hearers might say, “Who goes there? Or identify yourself!” We ask people to identify themselves more casually whenever we say, “Tell me about yourself.” Sometimes people speak of an identity crisis when a person doesn’t feel comfortable with the way he is identified.
As children of God we are in a crisis. It is not a crisis of identity because our identity is clear. We are declared God’s children through Christ Jesus. Rather, as children of God we have an identity which brings the solution to a world in crisis.
The apostle Peter wrote,“…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, Peter said, “Be ready to IDENTIFY YOURSELF.” This morning we wish to do just that. Our identity is: I. OCCUPATION: Worker for Christ II. OPPOSITION: Numerous and varied III. OBJECTIVE: Seek and Save
After the marauding persecutor, Saul, had been brought to faith along the road on his way to Damascus, God told the prophet Ananias that He had specially chosen Saul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. “…he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel…” (Acts 9:15)
Quite some time passed between Saul’s conversion and the time when he actually went out as a missionary. God had Himself chosen Paul for the work he would do long before He ever sent him out to do it. God had indeed chosen both Saul and Barnabas to be missionaries before they were ever born. It is as God told Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you before you were born I sanctified you I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Saul and Barnabas were actively ministering with the Gospel in Antioch, but now by God’s direction it was time to take the Gospel further out into the world. “’Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” [vv.2-3]
God chose these men. God called these men to their office, but the people sent them out. Did Paul and Barnabas need the congregation’s send-off in order to be missionaries? No. John the Baptist entered his ministry with only the Lord’s call and command. Could the congregation in Antioch have resisted and said, “No, we need to keep Saul and Barnabas here for the work they’re doing?” Yes, but they did not because they submitted to God’s will. It was God’s call and the congregation followed God’s will, but their actions were also an important part of the sending out of these missionaries.
God desires groups of Christians (congregations/church bodies) to call public servants to minister to their spiritual needs and to also bring the Gospel to others. The Word of God emphasizes that God is the one who calls these servants (cf: Acts 20:28). God prospers the work of His called servants, but He does this through the gathering of His children—congregations and church bodies.
In this way, God illustrates and impresses upon us that we are joined together in the work that we do. He is always the active force and final authority in the work of spreading the Gospel, but He has made each of us His ambassadors. “[God] has given us the ministry of reconciliation…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the Word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus has given the authority to forgive sins to every believer. “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained” (John 20:23). Peter wrote, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood a holy nation, His own special people that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
The calling and sending out which God does through an assembly of Christians makes you a co-worker with everything that is done in Christ’s name by those whom you send. As a congregation we call pastors and teachers, but remain co-workers with them. As a church body, we have called, commissioned, and sent out two missionaries to Nigeria and India. The work they do is our work because we have sent them out by God’s guidance. We take an active role in their work through our prayers and offerings.
Annually, the Immanuel Lutheran College Tour Choir goes out on tour to visit several of our congregations. The choir preaches the Word of God through their songs and that Word will uplifts and strengthens our fellow Christians in the congregations which are visited. We are not personally ministering to our fellow Christians, but we are ministering to them because we have sent out the Tour Choir with our support and prayers for the College and the choir.
These are only a couple of examples of how we are workers for Christ through the servants whom we call and send. We are also direct workers for Christ. The work of Christ’s Kingdom did not stop in Antioch once Saul and Barnabas left. Rather, the other leaders and members of that congregation continued to work and it prospered. Likewise, each of us—young to old—works for Christ’s kingdom.
When a little girl says something that shows a simple undoubting trust in Jesus as her Savior, or a young son is excited because “Guess what Jesus did!” they are workers in Christ’s kingdom. They are workers reminding us to lay aside our doubts and cares and view Christ through the eyes of childlike faith.
When one Christian corrects the wrong-doing of another, He is a worker in Christ’s kingdom. When someone who has fallen into a sin accepts correction—not defensively, not as if the other person is coming as an enemy with an agenda, but with humility and repentance—he is a worker in Christ’s kingdom who is fostering peace and harmony upon the truth of God’s Word.
Our commission from Jesus is: “Go! Make disciples!” The occupation which identifies us all is: Worker for Christ!
In our occupation as workers for Christ, there will be opposition. Saul and Barnabas found opposition very quickly in their work. “Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the Word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.’ And immediately, a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.” [vv.6-11]
Greed and selfish interests lay behind Elymas’ opposition. The sorcerer had a lucrative position in his service to the Proconsul. Once Sergius Paulus inquired about Paul and Barnabas’ teaching, the Gospel’s truth became a threat to Elymas’ sorcery. Elymas’ occupation was a “belly server” for his own interests (cf: Romans 16:18, Philippians 3:19, etc.).
Paul would later meet similar opposition in Ephesus because as he preached about Christ the business of selling idols dropped and those who made their income from those idols became angry. In Philippi, Paul and Silas met a spirit-possessed slave girl who made money for her masters by fortune-telling. When Paul cast out the spirit the masters’ income was gone and they started opposition which eventually led to Paul and Silas’ imprisonment.
The reason for opposition to Christ’s workers will in every case come down to a simple and basic issue. The simple issue is that human indulgence is threatened. The truth of Christ’s Word condemns everyone’s sin and with it all the selfishness and lusts that sin produces in our flesh. Workers of Christ’s kingdom proclaim rightfully that apart from Christ we are nothing and that is something that the proud and self-reliant world cannot bear.
The selfish motives of Elymas led him to do a most horrendous thing. To protect his own sinful interests, Elymas worked to “turn the Proconsul from the faith.” [v.8] There is no worse thing any person could do. Out of his sinful selfishness, Elymas worked to pull someone into Hell! Jesus warned against this very thing when He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea…offenses must come, woe to the one by whom the offense comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7).
Elymas’ tool in his plan of eternal destruction was false doctrine. False doctrine is anything that perverts the straight way of the Lord.
The straight way of the Lord is the perfect obedience and holiness which He expects from every one of His creatures. It is the condemnation of the Law which pronounces us damned because of our sins and gives the bitter realization that we cannot save ourselves. The straight way of the Lord is also the sweet news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again to redeem us from our sins and rescue us from eternal damnation. The straight way of the Lord is the willing obedience to the Lord which we demonstrate in our lives of thanksgiving to Him. Anything different from this is false doctrine.
Twisting or changing God’s Word is false doctrine, but we are also guilty of false doctrine whenever we preach a crooked way by our poor example. Self-promotion rather than a careful watching out for the weak is false doctrine. Spiritual carelessness in our own lives and demonstrating a carelessness toward other souls is likewise a perversion of the straight way of the Lord. The temptations that convince us that if something is fun and enjoyable it must be OK, and every other subtle or direct attack on the straight way of the Lord is false doctrine.
False doctrine and those who carry it are subtle. Jesus warned of false prophets coming in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly being ravenous wolves (cf: Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:29). The temptations and attacks of false doctrine subtly change to better work against each of us individually. The opposition tailors itself to attack each individual in the most effective way. Paul warned that “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Paul’s speech to Elymas sounds rather harsh when he says, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness…” [v.10]. God wants us to look upon any perversion of His ways with no less severity. A perversion of God’s truth in any shape or form is a very serious matter indeed because it is the tool which is used to pull people from the faith, even as Elymas sought to do with Sergius Paulus.
God doesn’t sugar coat the danger or the seriousness of sin or anything that carries sin into our hearts and minds. Fellow Christians beware! False doctrine, perversion of the Lord’s straight path, and spiritual enemies abound! You’re going to face opposition in your occupation as workers for Christ, but fear not—walking with Christ and armed with His Word we shall prevail against all opposition!
In our occupation and against our opposition we have but one objective and that is to seek and to save those who are lost. Jesus said this was the purpose for which He came to the earth (Luke 19:10) and by His commission it becomes our objective too.
Sinners will be looking for an answer to their guilty consciences. They will be seeking assurance that they can stand before their Creator and live. Sergius Paulus was missing something that his sorcerer could not provide. As a result, he sought out Paul and Barnabas and asked them to speak to him of Christ. Sergius Paulus is a good example of what Paul described to the Athenians, “God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him…” (Acts 17:26-27).
As sinners search for answers, it is God’s will that they come to wherever they can hear the life-giving Gospel (as the words of our Old Testament reading prophesied). How sad it is to have sinners searching, but not being able to find. Paul wrote the Romans, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard and who shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14)
It is our objective to proclaim the Gospel so that he truth of salvation is there when people come searching for answers. However, even though needful sinners will come to us to hear the truth we also need to seek them out. Our objective includes seeking! We need to go out into the highways and byways (cf: Matthew 22:9). The Gospel calls out to sinners and brings them to faith. Our objective is to take that saving Gospel to those in need.
As we seek those souls in need of salvation and proclaim the saving truth of God’s Word, we do well to remember that His Word can accomplish faith in the face of what seems to be impossible odds. One of the leaders in the Antioch congregation was Manaen, who had grown up with Herod the Tetrarch. Herod was no Christian, but the Gospel called Manaen out of the same childhood to be His own. The Proconsul is described as an intelligent man. Often times, high human intellect and learning and positions of earthly power and influence stand in the way and oppose faith in Christ. The Gospel overcame these hurdles and brought Sergius Paulus to faith.
As we seek and save with our Gospel proclamation we ought never suppose there is a hopeless situation or a person for whom our efforts should not be expended. Nor should our work ever be done with any discrimination or favoritism for our objective knows no such things. As James cautions, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with partiality.” (James 2:1).
We tend to be very goal-oriented people. We have goals for our selves, for our children, for people working under or with us. While planning our goals, let us keep in mind our occupation and opposition. In so doing, we will always remember that our chief goal is to seek and to save. God help us reach that objective. Amen!
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.