Bob's Sermon for Sunday, May 5, 2018

 

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Are there many paths to salvation?

 

Acts 4:5-12

 

     (Acts 4:5-12 NIV) “The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. (6) Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family.

     “(7) They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’

     “(8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! (9) If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, (10) then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

 

     “(11) He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' (12) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

 

     Theme: Only in Jesus and his resurrection will we find peace now and life in the hereafter.

  

     A trial is the setting of today’s text. Many Americans know about trials from watching TV and movies. You should ask an attorney to find out how accurately films portray courtroom scenes. For sure, no cameras were running when the trial in our text took place. This true written account records some peculiar events.

 

     Why should you care about a trial that occurred 2000 years ago? That trial spotlighted the most important event in history The subjects in that courtroom relate to decisions you made this morning and choices you will make the rest of your life. Most of us put off dealing with the matters it covered. Our delay in facing these issues creates many complications for us.

 

     Are you confident today about the direction your life is moving? Are your current decisions improving your life now and assuring your future in the hereafter? Or are you satisfied by those who say: “There are many paths to heaven. Do what you think is best and you’ll be fine. God is in the forgiveness and grace business”?

 

     Do all roads lead to heaven and so often is said? Are you comfortable that your current decisions will lead to the right outcome and destination? State University of New York Dean, Marvin A. Rapp began a speech with this story: In Paris one day, a detective was following another man. He lost him and wondered if the man he was tailing stopped at a certain hotel. To find out without causing suspicion whether that man had checked in there, the detective formulated a plan. He would go to the desk clerk in the hotel lobby and inquire if he himself (giving his own name) was registered there. While the clerk looked for the detective's name on the register the detective planned to quickly scan the list to determine whether the man he was pursuing had registered at that hotel.

 

     At first things worked out according to plan. He entered the hotel, crossed the lobby, and went to the desk, and asked, giving his own name, if he was registered there. He got the shock of his life. Almost without looking at the register, the clerk said, "Yes, he is registered here and waiting for you in Room 440."

The detective backed away dazed. He nervously took an elevator to the fourth floor and knocked on the door of Room 440. The door slowly opened. There standing before him, was a man looking remarkably like him-a little grayer. a little heavier, with a few more lines on his face-was the man he would be in ten year's time.

 

     Can you imagine their conversation?

     This tale is based on a story entitled "The Man Who Lost Himself." In ten years, do you expect to be closer to inner peace and heaven or further away?[1] Dean Rapp pointed out that for each person there is a "you," ten years in the future. If you could open that future door a decade hence, and look squarely in his/her eyes, will you like what you see?



     How we deal with the focus in our text positively affects what you and I will become. You possibly know that the trial in our text was different. Trials are held because evidence has been produced that someone committed a crime. Some odd facts concerning this trial are:

o   There was no crime.

o   No one did anything wrong.

Two guys helped a disabled man walk for the first time in his life—no charge and no strings. Imagine assisting a 40-year-old walk and run for the first time in that person’s life and then high level authorities arrest you. What is going on?

 

     Another strange fact has to do with the behavior of the two guys who were arrested. They had radically changed. From boastful, braggarts who tended to be empty gas bags—all talk and no walk, they became humble, but very courageous guys who ran from no one.

 

     Why and how did they rehab their lives? That they were transformed is not just my opinion. Geza Vermes is a Dead Sea Scrolls authority noted for his research on the historical Jesus. Vermes is professor emeritus of Jewish studies at the University of Oxford in England.

In an article published in “Biblical Archaeology Review,” Vermes wrote: “On the feast of Pentecost that followed the crucifixion, Peter and the rest of apostles were metamorphosed under the influence of the divine Spirit from a group of gutless fugitives into born again champions of faith in Jesus, the risen Messiah.”[2]

 

     The two men under arrest at our trial had been ambitious, big-talking cowards.

When arresting officers took Jesus to the high priest, the apostles acted like scared sissies—Peter was so afraid that he denied three times that he knew Jesus.

 

     Just a few weeks later, officers of the highest court in the land jailed Peter and John warning them not to mention Jesus or his resurrection. Peter, John, and the other apostles not only refused the court’s order, they spoke eloquently and boldly about Jesus.

 

 

     What caused this radical transformation in them?

 

     Most of my life I assumed that this change occurred because of two main factors.

·         First, beginning three days after his crucifixion, they saw Jesus alive numerous times over a 40-day period.

Jesus satisfied their senses of seeing, hearing, touching, and questioning.

·         Second, I credited the apostles’ new power to fact that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the disciples.

       These factors explain part but not all of the change in the apostles.

 

     After reading Acts 1 for maybe the 500th time, something in the first three verses began to convict me (I never said that I was a fast-learner). Here is what became apparent to me: Luke wrote his Gospel and the Book of Acts to man named Theophilus, lover of God. Luke began Acts this way:“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

 

     That last phrase about the “kingdom” took on new significance for me. Jesus spent the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension proving to the disciples that he was alive. One of his major topics was “the kingdom.” Both “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven,” refer to God’s rule of one’s life.

     “God’s kingdom” (His rule) means that I must turn my entire life over to God’s full management.  No person, idea, or group should control my thoughts, habits, and actions. Neither should political party bosses, billionaires, Hollywood elites, preachers, or folks in a church headquarters somewhere. If I want to be in God’s kingdom, He must rule my life

 

     How do we know what God wants us to do? We read the New Testament, not to find laws, but to see how Jesus lived by God’s will and rule. Start with the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke and note how often Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is like . . .”

 

     The word kingdom appears about 125 times in the four Gospels Jesus clearly explained and demonstrated how we act when God runs our lives. Kingdom principles neither refer to nor apply to the actions of governments. God puts governments in charge to regulate society. God holds government agents accountable and He will judge them. Unless they forbid us to worship our Creator, we are called to obey and respect our governments and their representatives.

 

      The kingdom refers and applies to individuals. Each of us must submit his/her life to God’s control. For example Jesus said in the Beatitudes: 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Their contemporaries mistreated Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc.

        

     Jesus instructed us: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also.”[3]Jesus fully submitted to God and this is how he conducted himself while he was here.

 

     Consider what happened to Jesus: In a “kangaroo” court, religious and political leaders unfairly accused Jesus. They condemned him on the basis of testimony given by paid false witnesses. They beat him, whipped him, spat on him, publicly humiliated him, and crucified him.

 

     Three days after they put him a tomb, he returned from the dead. If they could to return from the dead, what would most people who died unjustly say? You know what the Terminator would say and do in the movies. “It’s payback time. Time for vengeance; those guys will get what’s coming to them.

    

      Did I ever mention my encounter with Billy the Kid?

He wasn’t the famed “Billy” but his name was Billy and he was a kid. I was, too, at the time, in the sixth grade. We strongly disagreed about something; it was probably related to the girls in our presence. He hit my left jaw. I recalled what Jesus said and offered my right jaw. He hit that, too. Having thought I had fulfilled my obligation to Jesus, I shoved Billy to the floor. I kept Jesus’ word, but not the spirit of it.

 

During those 40 days, Jesus reminded the disciples of kingdom actions and thoughts: 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When God rules, we stop worrying, we end our greed, rid ourselves of bitterness, and we leave vengeance to him, which he will justly carry out in the Judgment. Worry, hate, greed, bitterness, cowardice, lust, and hate make us sick, and they upset those around us.

 

     Note what Jesus said in Luke 21:34: “Be careful or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness,[4] and the anxieties of life …” What dominates your mind Sunday through Saturday?

 

     Worry, hate, bitterness, lust, greed, and bitterness lead us away from God; they separate us from Him.

 

     Faith in God, love, praise, and gratitude make us more winsome. There is only one road to heaven and Jesus is the only onramp to it.

 

         For further reading and consideration note what Jesus said about himself.

 

    John 8:12

    “I am the light of the world . . .”

 

    John 10:11

    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

 

    John 11:25

    “I am the resurrection and the life.”

 

    Mark 8:34

    “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

 

     Consider this also:  Jesus is the only one who has conquered death. Why would we listen to or follow anyone else? All others will lead us into a hopeless, deserted wasteland.

 


[1] The Successful Toastmaster, Herbert B. Prochnow, P 106 .This is evidently a short story Dean Rapp had read; but I could not find a record of it. A movie of this title was produced in 1941, but it was not based on this story.  I took s a few liberties with some of the phrasing and minor details, but did not alter the story’s original point.

[2] Jewish to Gentile in “Biblical Archaeology Review” Nov/Dec 2012, p 54

[3] Matthew 5:11, 12, 39 NIV

[4] The Greek word here is meth.

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

 

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