The Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2018
Easter Unites Us!
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of our living Lord and Savior,
There are any number of things in this world that bind us together and unite us with other people. For example, when a man and a woman stand before the altar of the living God and speak their marriage vows they are bound together and united in a way which is unique to the estate of marriage. If that couple is blessed with a child they are bound together and united with that child for the rest of their lives. Sometimes common interests, common hobbies or complimentary personality traits bind people together and unite them as friends.
Today, my friends, my goal is to use this portion of God’s holy Word to remind us that even though we may all come from very different backgrounds, even though we may all have very different interests and even though our personality traits may at times clash more than they complement each other we are all bound together in a special unique way. Today let’s see that: Easter Unites us! There are three things we want to see this morning. First, let’s see that Easter unites us as we face opposition to our faith. Second, let’s see that Easter unites us as we boldly proclaim God’s Word. Finally, let’s see that Easter unites us in our love and concern for each other.
Look at the opening verse of our text for today. We’re told, “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” You may recall from last Sunday that after Peter and John had miraculously healed the man who was born crippled they were put in jail for “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). Since the Sanhedrin now realized that they had no justification for putting Peter and John in jail and since the Sanhedrin now realized that they could not deny that Peter and John had indeed miraculously healed this man, the Sanhedrin desperately resorted to bullying. First, they commanded Peter and John “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (verse 18). Then they threatened Peter and John. (See Acts 4:21) Finally they had no choice but to release them.
What did Peter and John do next? Did they go back to their homes and hide? Did they wallow in self-pity? Not at all! We’re told that as soon as they were released Peter and John went to the family of believers and “reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” Then what happened? Did the church go into hiding? Did the family of believers collectively sigh, “Woe to us! Now what are we going to do?”? Not at all! When the Christians in Jerusalem heard what had happened to Peter and John they united together in prayer!
Now look at the prayer which the Christians in Jerusalem offered up to the God of heaven. In verse 24 we hear them praying to the “Sovereign Lord” who “made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” Did God’s people need to be afraid of the enemies who were now opposing them? Did God’s people need to be concerned about the threats that were being leveled against them by these so-called religious leaders? Hardly! Why? Because they knew! They knew that the Sovereign Lord, the Almighty Creator of all things was with them and would protect them!
Now look at verses 25-28. The family of believers in Jerusalem was now able to look back at what we called the Old Testament Scriptures and see that all of this had been revealed by the Sovereign Lord long before any of it took place. At the time of Jesus’ betrayal, at the time of Jesus’ trial, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion the disciples did not understand why all of this was happening. Now they did! Now they understood that the Lord’s holy servant Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. Now they understood why as the Christ, why as this world’s only Savior from sin Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross and why Jesus had to rise again on the third day. That common faith in Easter, that common confession of Jesus as the risen Lord and Savior united the believers in Jerusalem. It bonded them together as they now faced opposition to their faith.
Have the enemies of God’s Church given up attacking the message of our crucified— and risen— Savior? Has opposition to the Truth of Scripture died down over the course of the last 2,000 years? Absolutely not! Over the course of the past few weeks I have tried to point out that the true message of Easter is still being attacked right down to this very day. Sometimes the opposition to Easter is open and easy to see. Sometimes the opposition to Easter is very subtle and much more difficult to detect. Either way, my friends, you and I need to be united against anyone and everyone who is opposed to “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). The reality of Easter is what gives us the unity that we need to we stand firm against those who oppose the Christian faith today.
At the same time that Easter unites us as we face opposition, this unity is not confined to a purely defensive position. While it is extremely valuable for us to come together here in God’s house to seek solace and strength as brothers and sisters in the faith, it is just as vital that we go out there— that we go out into the world and boldly proclaim the true message of Easter to others! Here I direct your attention to two verses of our text. In verse 29 we hear God’s people pray, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Then in verse 33 we are told, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.”
There was a time when Jesus’ disciples were so afraid of men such as the chief priests and the elders of God’s people that the disciples fearfully locked themselves in a room! (See John 20:19) Now they were not only asking the Lord to give them the power to speak God’s Word “with great boldness,” but they were actually doing just that! They went out and boldly testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. What made the difference? What transformed Jesus’ disciples from fearfully huddling in a locked room to boldly proclaiming the Truth of God to others? It all comes down to— Easter! On that first Easter Sunday the risen Christ said to His disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). With the Truth of Easter clearly standing right before their eyes and with the power of the Holy Spirit joyfully filling their hearts— especially after the day of Pentecost— Jesus’ disciples were indeed united in boldly proclaiming to others the Good News of what God has done!
The same thing holds true for us, my friends. On the day of our Christian baptism the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been given the gift of saving faith. That gift of saving faith enables us to look at the cross and see that God’s Son willingly suffered and died to pay for our sins. That gift of saving faith enables us to look at the empty grave in the garden and see that because Jesus physically rose from the dead we are now justified! That gift of saving faith enables us to see that because Jesus physically rose from the dead the entire world had been “Declared: Not Guilty!” by the Sovereign Lord, the Almighty Creator Himself.
Because we are united in our common faith in Jesus as our risen Lord and Savior, because Easter bonds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ we now have the joy, the privilege and the responsibility to boldly proclaim the Truth of God’s Word to others. By simply talking to people about our crucified and risen Lord, by openly living our life in a way which sets us apart from the unbelieving world, by supporting mission work with both our offerings and our prayers we are united with God’s people all across the world as we join with the apostles in “testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
We have seen then that Easter unites us as we face opposition to our faith. We have seen that Easter unites us as we boldly proclaim God’s Word. Now let’s see that Easter unites us as we show love and concern for each other. Look at verse 32 of our text, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” Because of the unity that God’s people enjoyed, because Easter united them “in heart and mind,” God’s people gladly and willingly shared the material blessings that the good Lord had entrusted to their care.
I’ve often wondered what happened to that depth of unity. How did God’s people go from gladly sharing everything they had to many of God’s people today openly expressing the attitude: “All the church wants is my money”— as if we actually own anything at all? I know a pastor who once tried to get his members to turn in a piece of paper which anonymously listed their household income. He was trounced with criticism as the vast majority of his congregation flat out refused.
While I certainly understand that there are many different ways for God’s people to show their love and concern for each other I also believe that the offerings which we place on the altar of our living God are perhaps the closest modern-day parallel that we have today to what we hear God’s people doing here in our text. Not only do our offerings serve as an expression of our love and thankfulness to the Lord for all that He has so graciously done for us, but our offerings also serve as an expression of our love and concern for others— especially as we strive to make sure that the Truth of God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed among us and faithfully handed down for generations to come.
There are indeed any number of things that bind us together and unite us with other people. Marriage, family, friendship and common interests are just a few examples of this. But there is nothing, my friends, absolutely nothing that binds us together like Easter. Easter unites us as we face opposition to our faith. Easter unites us as we boldly proclaim God’s Word. Easter unites us as we show love and concern for each other. Praise God for the unity that Easter gives to us— a unity that will last into eternity.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
To God be the glory!