The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2018
Easter Empowers Us!
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
Last week you and I saw how Easter empowers the Means of Grace— the message of the Gospel as it comes to us in God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacraments. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ the central message of the Bible is based upon a lie. (See 1 Corinthians 15:12-19) Without the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ Baptism becomes a sweet outward ceremony that has absolutely no eternal/religious meaning to it at all. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord’s Supper is just an ordinance that we follow to try and “feel good” about ourselves. With the physical resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact, the Bible, Baptism and Holy Communion are filled with unequaled power— the power that flows from the Truth: He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Our sermon for today focuses on the next natural step in the progression. Since Easter empowers the Means of Grace and since God has given the Means of Grace to us in order to create and strengthen the gift of saving faith in the hearts of sinners, today let’s see how: Easter Empowers Us! There are three things we want to see this morning. First let’s see how Easter empowers us to share our faith. Then let’s see how Easter empowers us to encourage others. Finally, let’s see how Easter empowers us to be different from the unbelieving world around us.
Easter empowers us to share our faith. Look at how clearly that truth is brought out in the opening portion of our text. Luke writes, “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection to Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began speaking to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
I personally find it very interesting that one of the ways that the Lord used to spread the message of Easter was to allow His Church to experience persecution. On the very day that Stephen was executed for proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that they had “betrayed and murdered” the “Righteous One,” Jesus the Promised Messiah, we’re told that “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (See Acts 8:1) Now think about those words. Humanly speaking, if someone is being persecuted for their faith— to the extent that they have to leave everything behind and run— one would think that once they stopped running they would keep quiet and lay low! Not so with Jesus’ disciples! Luke tells us that when some of the Jews who fled Jerusalem got to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch they began “telling the message”— but only to their fellow Jews. While it is difficult for us to understand the division and the deep seated animosity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles at this time, there was a cultural and religious barrier that was extremely difficult for some if not many of the descendants of Abraham to overcome— even the apostle Peter. (See Acts 10:9ff; Galatians 2:11ff) Some of God’s people, however, were so overwhelmed by the reality that Jesus lived and died to pay for all the sins of all mankind, some of God’s people were so overwhelmed by the reality that Jesus physically rose from the dead to guarantee eternal salvation to everyone who believes and trusts in Him that “They began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about Jesus.”
Only Easter can empower God’s people to look past all cultural barriers, to disregard the color of a person’s skin or the language that they speak and freely share their faith— their faith in a crucified (Pointing to the cross) and risen Savior! Right down to this very day Easter is what empowers us and motivates us to share the “good news about the Lord Jesus” with others— no matter whether they live across the street or on the other side of the world.
Why? Why does Easter empower us and motivate us to share our faith with others? Because we know, my friends. We know that just as Jesus kept His promise to physically rise from His grave on the third day, so also Jesus will keep His promise to one day return to this earth at the end of the age in all of His power, majesty and glory. We know that each and every single human being will be judged by the risen Christ. We know that everyone who rejects what Jesus as done for them (Pointing to the cross) will hear Him say to them, “Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). We know that only those who believe and trust in what Jesus has done for them (Pointing to the cross) will experience first-hand the glorious promise He gives to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). We know that the only way for anyone to come to faith in Jesus is when God the Holy Spirit works the gift of saving faith in their heart through the Means of Grace— the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. And so the joy and the reality of Easter empowers us to share our faith with others— whether that is done personally with our friends, relatives, acquaintance and neighbors or whether that is done through our Synod as we train and send missionaries all across the world.
The power of Easter, however, does not end there. Not only does the reality of Easter empower us to share our faith with others, but the reality of Easter also empowers us to encourage others. Luke continues in our text, “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
Why did the church choose to send Barnabas to Antioch? Because the church recognized that Barnabas had the spiritual gift of encouragement! (See Romans 12:8) In fact, “Barnabas” was not even this man’s “given name”! In Acts 4:36 we’re told, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)….” Barnabas was the one who convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that the feared persecutor named Saul had indeed been brought to faith in Jesus as his Savior and was now preaching “fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (See Acts 9:26ff) How did Barnabas encourage the disciples in Antioch? Luke very simply tells us that he “encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” So simple! So powerful! So necessary— especially when you are being persecuted for your faith!
Easter empowers you to be a Barnabas, my friends. As we gather here in God’s house on Sunday mornings it doesn’t take long to see someone who could use some “encouragement.” We know each other well enough to know if someone is experiencing health difficulties or family difficulties. We know each other well enough to realize when someone has not been here to God’s house for a few weeks now. Instead of asking someone, “Where’s Sally been? Is she okay?” we can be a “Barnabas” to Sally. We can encourage her by calling her on the phone or by sending her a card in the mail. As soon as we walk out of this church we easily find ourselves in “not-so-friendly” territory. We need to be there for each other. We need to support each other. We need to encourage each other as we continue on our journey Home.
What do you do? What do you say? I encourage you to simply follow the example of Barnabas and “encourage them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Easter empowers you to do exactly that! The fact that Jesus lives, the fact that Jesus is the Victor, the fact that Jesus has promised to be with us always, the fact that Jesus is now ruling over everything in heaven and on earth for the good of His Church, the fact that Jesus has promised to come back for us— whether at the time of our death or at the end of the world— all of this means that we have been given both the power and the means to encourage each other to “remain true to the Lord with all (our) heart”!
While this text does indeed reveal to us how Easter empowers Jesus’ disciples, I personally think that the most powerful portion of this text is found in the closing sentence, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” There are only two other places in the New Testament where Jesus’ disciples are called “Christians.” In Acts 26:28 King Agrippa says to the apostle Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” And in 1 Peter 4:16 the Lord’s apostle says to us, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
What we learn here, my friends, is that Easter empowers Jesus’ disciples to be different from the unbelieving world around them. This means that Easter now empowers us to “shine like stars in the universe as (we) hold out the word of life” to others. (See Philippians 2:15, 16) Whether it was the Christians in Antioch so many years ago or us today Easter empowers us to talk differently and to think differently, to live differently and even to love differently from those who does not know that Jesus lives! (See Matthew 22:37-40; 1 John 2:15-17) Since we know what the risen Christ has done for us, since we know what the risen Christ has promised to us— how can we not be different from those who do not know Him! (Pointing to the cross)
As I mentioned last week, it’s not difficult for us to realize that we depend on things in our life that need something to power them. My prayer today is that we will humbly yet joyfully acknowledge that Easter empowers us! Easter empowers us to share our faith. Easter empowers us to encourage others. Easter empowers us to be different from the unbelieving world around us.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!