The Fourth Sunday After Easter May 9, 2004
1 John 2:28-3:2
39, 785(Children of the Heavenly Father), 464, 465
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And being let go, [Peter and John] went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
In Christ Jesus, the Savior upon whom we build our hopes and upon whom God’s Church is also built, dear fellow-redeemed:
Today is Mother’s Day. Children of all ages across our land are visiting their mothers, sending cards and gifts and flowers, or phoning their mothers all in honor of motherhood. It is the day on which the people of our nation spend more time on the telephone and more money for flowers than any other day in the year. One hopes that it isn’t just today and that it isn’t just the superficial external ways of showing love that are expressed by children, but rather that they possess a deep and genuine love for their mothers.
Today’s honoring of mothers and next month’s honoring of fathers is certainly good and scriptural because parents are a gift from God. There is, perhaps, on this earth no greater love than the deep love of a mother for her child. Even the love of a father is different. Yet, as deep and unique and significant as a mother’s love is, it is still less than that of our Lord. In Isaiah God speaks of His great love, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
On this day when we consider the great bond that we have with our parents and the gifts that God gives through them, we recognize that there is an even greater love, an even greater bond. The bond that we share in Christ supersedes any bond of blood descent whatsoever. Today we consider the unity and the blessing we have as we build our hopes and confidence together on Christ. WE SHARE UNITY IN CHRIST I. We have a shared worldview II. We have a shared purpose and III. We have a shared blessing.
The unity we have is in the faith we share in Christ. The miracle of physical childbirth is something done by the powerful hand of God as He takes the love of a man and a woman and creates a child. Similarly, the bond that we have within the family of God is created by His powerful hand. In the opening chapter of his Gospel account John writes, “But as many as received [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). We share in the bond of Christ not by blood descent, but by God’s eternal desire and will to save all sinners. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that He sent Jesus to die on the cross, to shed His blood, so that through that blood we might have salvation and inherit eternal life! Through the saving will of God we have been brought together in this family of God and the unity of Christ.
In our text, Peter and John had just returned from appearing before the Jewish leaders. They had been threatened and told that they should not speak of Jesus’ name anymore. When they were released they went back to the other Christians. Everyone in this group of Christians were Jews and from that area. They had much in common nationally and even some family relationships, but that is not what brought them together. Peter and Andrew were not there simply because they were brothers, nor were James and John, nor any of the others. They were all there because of their common ground—their unity in Christ.
Being fellow servants of Christ and having that bond immediately changes the way we look at one another. Each of our individual circumstances and lives have similarities. We have similarities in backgrounds, but also differences. There are similarities in work, but also differences. Places of living, personality traits, and so many other things differ between each one of us, but our worldview doesn’t see all these differences as much as it sees souls redeemed by Christ. Looking through the eyes of faith we see others as God sees us. Yes, God sets us in different nations and different places. Yes, He makes us male and female and gives us all of our other differences, but the unifying factor is a soul—a soul that is lost without Christ, but with Christ is saved forever.
In Revelation, John saw the gathering of believers and writes that they came “…out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation…” (Revelation 4:9). Ours is a worldview that spiritually sees no differences of gender, of race, or of language, but simply sees souls in need of redemption, redeemed by Christ, and now in need of the saving Word. Paul also reflects this in his letter to the Galatians when he writes, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
The unbelieving world sees this world as a series of political and business maneuverings that you can control. It views itself as the master over destiny. Our worldview in the unity of Christ sees God’s guiding hand in all things.
After the apostles had been told to never more speak of Christ, they prayed, “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them.” [v.24] Right there we share a view toward everything in this universe that is vastly different from the average person in the world! Knowing that the eternal, mighty God of heaven and earth created all things changes the way we see this life. We share the understanding that life is precious. Life is a gift from God not to become man’s plaything to be manipulated and used at will for every sinful whim and selfish aim. Rather, it is a gift from God to be preserved. It is a gift He holds in His hands. We look at all the masterpiece of God’s creation and see the mountains and the trees and the lakes. We enjoy the beautiful days of Spring and then Summer turning to Fall, and finally Winter melting into another spring. We see these seasons and know that our God is in heaven ruling all things that He has created. This changes the way we approach the day to day events, the mysteries, the tragedies, and all the things we can’t understand unless we know that there is a God who is in control and guiding it all.
The gathered Christians said, “Lord, You…by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. [vv.24-28]
Christians in this time had just lived through the most dramatic part of history. They had witnessed the Son of God die for their sins. They understood that these enemies had conspired against Jesus and killed Him. But they knew that behind all of this, God’s hand was still guiding events. They saw the enemies raging against God and against His Christ, but they knew that God in heaven was laughing against such attempts because those attempts will always fail. They recognized the opposition to God and His Word as being the hatred toward Christ and His Church, but they also knew that God would use even this for the spread of His Gospel. They recognized God’s hand in all the events they had just experienced, and they prayed that He would continue to guide and bless their work in the same way.
This worldview is different from what we find in the world. We too can see God’s hand and have that complete confidence that God is working all things out for the good of his people, even when it doesn’t look as if that is the case. It is a worldview that we have and that we share through Christ. God’s will is going to be accomplished and He will guide the events of this life toward that goal.
We also share a purpose. In a worldview that acknowledges that God is control and trusts His guiding hand, we go to Him with our prayers even as the early Christians did. Their prayer was this: “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” [vv.29-30]
The early Christians’ one purpose was to spread and share the saving news of Jesus. They knew that accomplishing this purpose would take boldness. Their lives had just been threatened. They knew (because Jesus had told them it would be so) that there would be more trouble in the days and years ahead. So they prayed, “Lord enable us to fulfill this purpose.” They prayed for the boldness, the clarity of faith, and conviction to go out and to preach the Word of Jesus. Together they worked. They “were of one heart and one soul.” [v.32] They were so united in their purpose that they shared their belongings with one another to help accomplish the work of the Gospel. “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
This is our shared purpose as well. Satan doesn’t like us to share a purpose. He doesn’t want us to share this unity of goal. He doesn’t want us to be bold. So he works hard to lead people astray, to inject all sorts of false teaching and dissension so that we lose a sense of purpose and are distracted from the true purpose of why we exist as individual Christians and also as a Christian congregation.
Satan wants to work among us as well. He tries to exploit all the differences we have in personalities and backgrounds and interests. He tries to get each of us to put our interests and our desires up a little higher. If he can cloud our vision so much so that we see what we want and lose sight of the common goal and purpose, then he smiles because he has succeed in distracting us and we won’t have that unified purpose anymore. Where the unity of purpose is fading, cracks begin to appear, strife begins to arise, people contend with one another, and the goal suffers.
There is an example of this among the apostles (Acts 15:36ff). Paul and Barnabas had a “falling out” concerning Barnabas’ nephew, John Mark. It was personal thoughts and opinions which created a contention. These men wisely chose to go their own separate ways so that the goal wouldn’t be hindered. When we do face differences, when Satan does work to distract us in whatever way it might be, then we need to stand guard against Satan’s attacks and amend whatever rifts and divisions may occur. Remember, we share a goal. We’re pulling the same direction, we have the same purpose of sharing the Gospel with one another and the world in which we live.
As Satan continues to work against our unity of purpose, there are those who follow false teaching. So we find that there is not unity among all the Christian churches on this earth. We should not expect unity among the individual visible churches. When the Scriptures speak of unity it is not a unity among all the different denominations on this earth, but rather a unity among all those who put their faith in Christ. Faith is the determining factor. In this life, because Satan is working and there are those who follow after false teaching, there will be divisions. God wants us to be standing together with those with whom we share a complete confession in our worship and fellowship. Jesus knows His sheep. Being a sheep of the Good Shepherd goes beyond denominational divisions, geographical divisions, racial divisions, and more. It is built purely on that faith in Christ. All who believe in Jesus as their Savior are members of Christ’s Church. This invisible Church of all believers is where we find the unity of which Paul speaks when he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
We have unity in salvation and in the purpose of sharing that salvation. Wherever the truth of the Gospel is professed, the Spirit is there working, people are being brought to faith, and there are members of the Holy Christian Church—the invisible gathering of all believers in Christ with whom we are unified in Christ.
We also share with one another in a blessing. After the Christians had offered their prayer, “the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” [vv.31-33]
The Lord answered the Christians; prayer bountifully. They were given boldness to proclaim. Their message had the desired effect of bringing many into salvation and they shared a love between one another. It was a love that sacrificed self and gave to the other. It was a love that modeled the love of the Father who sent His Son. It was a love that modeled the love of the Son who willingly gave Himself for the forgiveness of sins. They shared that common blessing of God’s grace.
We also have the opportunity to show similar love in our dealings with one another. We are not bound by God to practice a material communism as the early Christians did by which all things were held in common, dividing up all material blessings equally among those who needed it. However, the principle and the essence are the same. So great was the love they had for one another that when one was in need or suffering and others had a way to help, they did. They weren’t so distracted by their own personal lives that they had no time for others—within and without the congregation. They had a common goal. They had a common purpose. They saw the world in a common way. They knew what they were to do and God’s grace was showered upon them magnificently so they could do it.
God will not let us down. As we seek to go through His Word and use His Word, let us pray for the same kind of boldness and the same sense of purpose and the same work to be done with the same blessing! He will bless us together and we will gain all the more through the working of the Spirit.
This unity is eternal. others, fathers, husbands, wives, children—all of the earthly associations in which our love runs so deeply will fade and be gone. This life is passing. It is the way of the earth. It is a love for now. The love of Christ is a love that is eternal because before time began God chose you to be His. It is a love without end because the glory of heaven is without end. It is a love which we share, upon which we put our hopes, and in which we are unified in Christ. Amen.
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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.