Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Outpouring (Joel 2, Acts 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 27, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: Jazz piano by Rick Bean
Hymn of Praise: "On Pentecost They Gathered"
 The Word in Music (Choir): "Fill-a Me Up!" (Pepper Choplin)
Song of Response: "O Great God" (Kauflin)
Offering of Music: Jazz piano by Rick Bean
Hymn of Sending: "Spirit of the Living God" (Iverson)
Postlude: Jazz piano by Rick Bean

The Outpouring
Text: Joel 2:12-13,28-32; Acts 2:33-39

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we looked at the Ascension of Jesus, recorded in Acts 1:9.  We talked about the benefits of the Ascension, which largely come about because Jesus has carried true humanity into Heaven and we are connected to and with him in faith and through the Holy Spirit.  We also read that after he left, the Holy Spirit would be poured out on human beings in a new way – a significant and a promised way, so that we would be empowered to be witnesses in the world.

In the days after the Ascension, the disciples and women and other followers of Jesus – about 120 in all – continued to meet and pray.  They selected a new twelfth disciple to take Judas’ place.  And then, ten days after the Ascension (and 50 after Easter), the outpouring happened.  There was a loud noise like a “violent rushing wind” and flames of fire and the followers of Jesus were filled up with the presence and power of God and went out to speak to the crowds of people in Jerusalem.  Immediately, they became witnesses, as Jesus had said they would.  That’s what we call Pentecost, and it marked a beginning of a new time, one that Jesus had promised and one that had been foretold long ago for God’s people and all who would follow.

Today we will talk about how this event was described generations earlier.  We will look at part of the message the Apostle Peter delivered to the crowd that day.  And we’ll be reminded of the scope and purpose of God’s reach into our lives through His Holy Spirit

Promised Time for Repentance (Joel 2)

Long before the time of Jesus, Joel was a prophet of the Lord to the southern kingdom of Judah prior to the defeat of God’s people by foreign powers and the subsequent Exile.  God’s people were prosperous and complacent, not worshiping and obeying God faithfully.  When a particularly bad plague of locusts wiped out all the crops one year, Joel used the event to draw a picture of God’s judgment.  Joel went on to call God’s people to fast, pray, and repent of their sin and turn back to the Lord.  Along the way, he described to them the great and terrible “Day of the Lord,” when God would come in power and defeat sin and evil once and for all. 

Joel warned that a time for decision comes to every person.  But Joel said that it was not too late to return to the Lord. In vv. 12-13 of chapter 2 he wrote: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping, and mourning, and rend your heart and not your garments.”  And so Joel called for a true repentance, this “rending of the heart” that seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness. 

And finally, Joel spoke of the great sign of the Day of the Lord, when God would pour out His Spirit on His people.  When is the “Day of the Lord?”  Is it at the end of time?  Has it already happened?  Is it too late to return to God or can we still do that?  There is a piece to Joel’s message that helps explain all this.  It is his description of the promised Holy Spirit.  In vv. 28-29 Joel wrote:

It will come about after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions, even on the male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

This passage is quoted in Acts 2 at Pentecost.  Jesus told his disciples that he would leave his Spirit.  And fifty days after Easter, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a miraculous way.  When Peter began to speak, he declared that the prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled, that the last days were at hand and God was doing what He said he would do.

Demonstrated Time for Repentance (Acts 2:33-37)

When Peter begins to speak in Acts 2, he helps explain where this outpouring of God’s power fits into God’s larger overarching story.  He begins his message by explaining that what is happening is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy spoken through the prophet Joel (vv. 15-16).  He goes on to say – with commentary on each part – that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mark the time about which Joel was prophesying.  To tie in to last week and the Ascension, his message approaches a peak in verses 33-34, when he names the Ascended Jesus as the one “exalted to the right hand of God” and notes it was not David who ascended, but Jesus.

His message reaches a peak in verse 36, then, when he declares, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”  That’s the Word of God; that is the message; that is God’s story and the word of salvation – that Jesus is Lord and Christ, saving one and anointed one, by God’s will and power.

Now look at what God brought about in those who came to believe.  It is the crisis of conviction, the repentance, to which Joel called God’s people: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said…. ‘What shall we do?’” (v. 37)  This is describing conviction of sin.  The people knew that they were not right before God and shared, directly or indirectly, in culpability for Jesus’ death.  It is not necessary that you be present for the crucifixion to be responsible for it.  One of the necessary realities of salvation is recognizing our sinfulness and being convicted of its tragic consequences… getting to the point of Isaiah facedown before God in Isaiah 6, “Woe is me; I am undone” and asking, “What shall I do?”

What shall we do? Peter responded, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (v. 38)  ‘Repent’ means “turn around.”  It describes the change from a posture of being turned away from God to one of being turned toward God.  That is what conviction of sin can lead to.  It is as if, when we recognize that we may be running headlong into our own destruction, we stop momentarily to see if there is a way out.  Repentance is turning around to face God.  In the first moment, that can be a scarier prospect than continuing to run!  But God’s promises are sure and His grace is immediate.

Peter also instructs them to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”  There were other baptisms already being practiced at that time.  Most close to this context, baptism was a sign of conversion to Judaism reserved for pagans.  Jesus’ name marked this baptism as distinctly different, but it still would cost the mostly Jewish crowd something in terms of respectability and reputation.  It was public and it specifically connected those being baptized with Jesus.

Baptism not only marked those who publicly repented and aligned themselves with Jesus, but it was “for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v. 38)  The detail of God’s work among humanity is captured here in the meaning of baptism.  Hearers were baptized in Jesus’ name to signify that God accomplished forgiveness of sin through His Son, Jesus.  Peter’s instructions were to repent and be marked publicly with the sign of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. 

The Gift and the Promise (vv. 38-39)

Peter continues, saying that God not only forgives sin, but also pours out His Spirit as a gracious gift.  Let me say a word about the scope and the purpose of this gift, because the whole message from Peter drives to this point, the reason for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The scope of the gift is the full reach of God’s love, and the story of that is told from the first pages of the scriptures.  God’s salvation, grace, and gift is for the nations of the world, extended through a particular people, their families, and their witness to the world.  That was the nature of the ancient covenant blessing of Abraham and continues to be the nature of the promises in the New Testament.  God blesses those who repent and believe, gracing them with forgiveness and the Holy Spirit that they might witness and be a blessing, through their own families, to the world.  Do you hear it in verse 39?  “The promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

And that leads right into the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus stated it back in Acts 1:8 (our call to worship!) and now Peter and the others are experiencing it firsthand.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is “power… [that] you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  We are blessed to be a blessing; we are saved to be sent; we are gifted to be witnesses of God’s great love for the world.

For the rest of the summer, we will be looking at the fruit of the Spirit.  Those are specific traits that are manifested when the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  They include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and others.  Each week we will look at one spiritual fruit and a passage where Jesus teaches or demonstrates that fruit.  I will keep reminding you of the scope and purpose of those gifts – that they are given by God that we might be witnesses of His great love in Christ toward the whole world.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Up With Jesus (Acts 1.4-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 20, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Morning Has Broken" (arr. Wyrtzen)
Hymn of Praise: "Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise" (LLANFAIR)
Song of Praise: "Come Praise and Glorify" (Chester/Kauflin)

 The Word in Music (Choir): "It is a Great Day of Joy" [Jazz] (Claude Henri Vic)
Offering of Music: "O How Beautiful the Sky" (arr. Manz)
Hymn of Sending: "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" (HYFRYDOL)
Postlude: "Postlude on 'Llanfair'" (Emma Lou Diemer)

Up With Jesus
Text: Acts 1:4-11

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Church Stuff Quiz Time: What significant theological event was recognized last Thursday, and celebrated today?  Here are some hints: it’s not Jesus’ birth, baptism, crucifixion, or resurrection; it happened 40 days after the resurrection.

Did you guess Pentecost??  No…. that’s 10 days later – we’ll celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost next Sunday.  It’s the Ascension.  When Jesus appeared to Mary on Easter morning (John 20:17) he said, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.”  Well this is it – Jesus ascends… he goes up into Heaven to be with God the Father.

So what’s important about the Ascension of Jesus?  It’s not as big a deal as the “biggies” is it?
  • Incarnation: Jesus’ birth and God’s putting-on of human flesh to live among us
  • Crucifixion: Jesus’ death, which atoned for our sin and “made right with God” all who believe
  • Resurrection: Jesus’ victory over death, which we now share through faith in him
I’ll admit that for most of my life I’ve just thought the Ascension was Jesus’ “trip back to Heaven” – that’s it, end of story.  But there’s so much more! 

The Ascension Narrative (Acts 1)

So let’s start with the narrative – the account of Jesus’ Ascension.  It’s short and sweet and it’s there in Acts 1, and the actual Ascension is only one verse long.  After speaking to his followers, Jesus “was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (v. 9)  That’s about it.  As you can imagine, they just stood and stared, “gazing intently into the sky while He was going.” (v. 10)  But what else can we get from the context here?

We have two main things: what Jesus said before he left and what the angel messengers said after he left.

Before leaving, Jesus final words had to do with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which would come to empower his followers to be witnesses far and near.  This was in contrast to their question of “restoring the kingdom to Israel.”  Instead, Jesus taught (as he had always taught), God’s Kingdom was not of this world – and he was literally about to demonstrate that with one last miraculous sign, his Ascension into the heavens.  I will also simply note for now the very close connection between the promise and work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ Ascension. More on that later!

After he left, two “men in white clothing” appeared and the basic content of their message signaled that Jesus would one day return in the same manner as his leaving. (v. 11)

But what does it all mean?! 

The Meaning of the Ascension

Let me mention several benefits of Jesus’ Ascension to the believer, and you will see these outlined in the confession of faith we’ll use later in the service.  There was also not room to print all the scripture references in the bulletin, but they will be included in the printed and online versions of the sermon.  There are at least four benefits of the Ascension for those who believe. 

1.    A Heavenly Advocate

One of the important realities of Jesus being at the right hand of the Father is that Jesus took our humanity with him.  He is our advocate, and our righteous one at that.  Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus is not only the one who died, but is the one who was raised and is at the right hand of God, and is the one “who also intercedes for us.”  That is why we pray “in Jesus’ name,” because he is our representative, our advocate, our intercessor.  It is as if Jesus tacks on to our every prayer, “…and this prayer is from Maggie, the one I love, the one I died for, the one who I have made a place for with us; listen to her!”  Can you imagine having such an advocate, because you do!

But that verse from Romans goes even beyond that.  As one who intercedes for us, Jesus prays and presents our needs to the Father even when we can’t!  Have you ever felt like your prayers go nowhere or that you simply don’t have the words to pray?  Jesus is praying on your behalf.  That is one of the real benefits to the Ascension, because Jesus took our human experience with him.  He didn’t shed it on earth, but took a real humanity back into the presence of God.  Jesus prays for you!

2.    A Heavenly Humanity

Building on that idea of Jesus taking our humanity with him back into the presence of God, is the assurance – a “sure pledge” as the confession says – that he will take us with him.  Jesus didn’t come for a visit, heal a few people, and then return back to the bliss of Heaven.  Rather, he came and PUT ON humanity, becoming one of us – living, suffering, and dying as one of us.  Even in the defeat of death he didn’t leave humanity behind.  He went out of his way after Easter to demonstrate that he still had an eating, drinking, touchable, human body.  And he took it with him into Heaven.  Romans 6:5 tells us that we shall certainly be united with him in “the likeness of His resurrection.”  I’d also point you to John 14:2, Jesus’ words to his disciples right before his crucifixion.  He told them that he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. 

3.    A Heavenly Heart

One interesting aspect of the Ascension is that it draws our attention to “heavenly things.”  While there is an apt cliché about Christians sometimes “being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good,” in this day and age the opposite is probably more often the problem.  We are so rational and science-minded and sense-oriented that we’ve lost all appreciation of what the ancients called “mystery.”  We spend so much time with TV, computers, smart phones, traffic, and 1000 other things that we rarely take time out to contemplate the character of God or the deeper questions of faith. 

If we say we are Christian, there are earthly and heavenly implications.  Followers of Christ do have a re-set on earthly matters as we grow in what it means to love our neighbor, speaking and demonstrating the love of God in the community and world around us.  But we also are to fix our minds on Christ, and if he is seated with the Father in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), then we should, from time to time, find our mind and hearts pondering those mysteries.  What does it mean to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength – as well as loving our neighbor?  What and why do we gather to WORSHIP God in spirit and truth?  That seeking of heavenly things is what makes this more than some good music, hanging out with friends, and an instructive message.

4.    A Heavenly Gift

Jesus also said more than once that the Holy Spirit would not come until he went away.  Though God’s Spirit has always been existent and active in the world (just look through the Old Testament for many examples), there was a certain “outpouring” that had been promised and linked to the coming of God’s Kingdom and Jesus indicated that the Spirit would come in this way after he had gone. (John 16:7)  Next week we will celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in this promised way. 

The benefits I have previously mentioned are anchored and secured in Heaven because Jesus has carried our resurrected and redeemed humanity there with him.  But the gift of the Holy Spirit is that we are connected with him now!  Those heavenly realities have earthly implications because of the “Holy Spirit glue” of being connected to the Ascended Christ.  This summer we will consider in great depth how that connection with Christ through the Holy Spirit bears fruit in our earthly and daily lives.

The Ascension Applied

Does all that seem to theological and remote?  Consider this comparison: imagine yourself as a child, playing with friends a few doors from home.  Of course you would be focused on the friends and play before you.  But doesn’t it matter what is back home?  Doesn’t knowing that a mom or dad or grandparent is back in the house give you security, freedom, and confidence in what you are doing, knowing that if you get hurt you have a comforter and advocate who will take care of you or take you to the doctor?  It’s also your HOME – what a difference that makes to know you have food and shelter and a bed waiting for you… a sure thing because it’s held for you.  And as parents, don’t we trust that our love and teaching of our children remains with them when they are far from home, guiding their choices and drawing their hearts and minds back with us?  So it is with Jesus, who has taken our humanity home to be with his Father and our Father.  It makes all the difference in the world!

Perhaps the key significance of the Ascension is that Jesus takes us with him.  In John 14:3, Jesus tells his disciples that he will go and prepare a place for them – a home with God.  The Ascension is Jesus making good on that promise.  He has gone to the Heavenly Father, purchased access for us, provided for our adoption into the family of God, and makes ready a place “that where he is we might also be.”  In Romans 10:6, Paul asks “Who will ascend into Heaven.. that is, to bring Christ down?”  The answer is, “No one.”  We can’t go get God or salvation – God had to come all the way down to us to get us.  And He has done that in Jesus Christ, who has not only come for us, but has gone back home to Heaven so we can join him one day.

If the Incarnation is Jesus coming to find us as we are drowning in the middle of the lake, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are Jesus throwing us a life preserver that we might be rescued and live.  But the Ascension is Jesus reeling us back in – to safety and to home.  And of course the reality is so much more vivid – God didn’t just toss us a life preserver, He swam out to save us.  In His Ascension, Jesus carries us BACK HOME with him.  That’s good news in the long run and there are life-changing benefits of that reality in the here and now.  We have an Advocate; we have a “sure pledge” of home; we have a focal point for our worship and service; and we have an outpouring of spiritual gifts.  Good news, indeed.  Amen!

Profession of Faith from the Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Q.46    What do you mean by saying, “He ascended to heaven”?
A.        That Christ, while his disciples watched, was taken up from the earth into heaven1 and remains there on our behalf2 until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.3

Q.49    How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
A.        First, he is our advocate in heaven in the presence of his Father.1 Second, we have our own flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that Christ our head will also take us, his members, up to himself.2 Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a corresponding pledge.3 By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.4

Q.50    Why the next words: “and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A.        Because Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church,1 the one through whom the Father rules all things.2

Q.51    How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
A.        First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.1 Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.2

Scriptural References in the Heidelberg Confession, Questions 46,49-51

Q.46 - 1 Acts 1:9; Mt. 26[:64]; Mk. 16[:19]; Lk. 24[:51]; 2 Heb. 4:14; 7:15[–25]; 9:11; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 4:10; Col. 3:1; 3 Acts 1:11; Mt. 24:30; Q.49 - 1 1 Jn. 2:1–2; Rom. 8:34; 2Jn. 14:2; 20:17; Eph. 2:6; 3 Jn. 14:16; 16:7; Acts 2; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; 4 Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:14; Q.50 - 1 Eph. 1:20–23; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2 Mt. 28:18; Jn. 5:22; Q.51 - 1 Eph. 4:10; 2 Ps. 2:9;110:1-2; John 10:28; Eph. 4:8