Sermon from May 25:
Life in the middle
Have you ever seen the show, “In the middle”? It’s about a family who lives in the mid-west and they are middle-classed. The parents are middle-aged and they struggle through life. Their appliances are continually breaking down, their kids have quirks and issues and their furniture is run-down.
They accept their middle of the road lifestyle. Yeah, sometimes the mom has aspirations to live a more productive life, but eventually all her best efforts lead her to the same place she began.
In the New Testament, Acts stands out as an interesting book. It is a series of stories, like the Gospels, but it’s not a letter like the epistles. It’s smack-dab in between the Gospels and the epistles, too.
Our passage in Acts today tells us about a time in between two important events in the New Testament. The first is the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven which we celebrated this past Thursday. Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of sight. He ascended to His throne in Heaven.
The second important event, which we will celebrate next Sunday is Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. After this event, began the greatest missionary effort of the Christian church in history. This wasn’t a lukewarm experience for them.
But, the time between these two incredible events was a little … slow. The disciples went back to Jerusalem and waited at the place they were staying. They reunited at a central location.
We can get into a rut, too. The Sunday after Easter isn’t as well attended. The flowers don’t have quite the same glory as before, and everyone seems a little bit run-down. We gather to pray and hear God’s word, but it just isn’t the same thing.
It’s kind of like high school graduation. You reach the top of the platform to receive a diploma, but by the next week, you’re thinking about the next step in life. You’re beginning again.
Maybe you’ve just lost your job, or are newly retired. You’re thinking, “now what?” It’s that sense of being lost, in limbo, but not quite in purgatory. It’s the doldrums. At times like this, we “re-assess” and “consider our options”. We want a new life, a strong and stable identity. You might pray more, and read the Bible more in order to find “God’s will” in the situation.
In our passage, the disciples began to pray. They were praying together as one body including Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His brothers. And Jesus was there, too. Matthew records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(18:20).
This was the beginning of a community. And this community wasn’t so small. In fact, when Peter stood up to talk, there were 120 people present. He stood in the middle of them and spoke about Judas.
He was putting things into perspective. After Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter realized how the prophecies by King David in the Psalms were fulfilled by Judas.
And, who was better to realize this than Peter, who denied Jesus, and may have realized that He was this close (finger gesture) to being counted with Judas. If it wasn’t for the intervention of Jesus praying for Peter before the Father, we might have had a different story. Acts might have focused on John, or James, or Andrew instead.
But, Jesus did intervene. He knew Peter would fall. He knew he would deny Jesus. Despite this, Jesus steps into the gap and prays for Peter: Luke records in Chapter 22, verses 31-32:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus gave him the promise that Peter would turn again, despite his falling.
Peter’s sin lead him to weep bitterly for his betrayal. It’s a sin that repeats over and over again. If you consider the Old Testament Israelites and how they so readily worshipped the golden calf Aaron made. God was so angry that He basically told Moses to step aside while he destroyed the entire nation. Thankfully, Moses intervened and Israel was spared.
At other times, God simply struck down those who would betray Him by following other gods. The sacrifice of animals was not enough to intercede on their behalf.
You and I, too, have a tendency to go astray. Maybe we fall into a form of worship of personalities, politicians or our own position in life. We get caught up in money, importance and security. But our God is a jealous God. He will not share His glory with anyone, including you or me. In fact, Jesus Christ has stepped into the middle of human history for one purpose; to kill us. Because, unless He drowns the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, He cannot resurrect us. If we remain hopeful in one work to make ourselves right before God, then we are making ourselves god. In a word, we commit idolatry.
We are made aware of this idolatry and other sins through the preaching of the Law. The law, though, is not the sum and total of Christian preaching. A preacher who only tells you about the Law and what you should be doing is leading you into the bondage of self-righteousness.
Jesus has come and fulfilled all righteousness for you. He has obeyed His Father perfectly for you. He was the “middle man” who defended you and I before the damning testimony of our sin. He has set you free from the rule of sin and death. And He has come to begin the final assault on our greatest enemy; our own sinfulness.
The beginning of this assault was at the waters of your baptism. It continues every time a brother or sister pray for you and with you. It continues as Christ is present in the communion for the feeding of your faith. It continues as you hear the word rightly preached. And, when we go astray, make no mistake about it, the good shepherd is willing to leave 99 other sheep to find you.
Jesus is the intervening God who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals to become our eternal intercessor. And, He didn’t stop there. Jesus Christ still stands before the Father, praying on our behalf as the great high priest. The lot has been cast in your favor in Christ. He never ceases, continually working for our salvation.
And He has given you a new identity; you are a son or daughter of the living God. We have been made the children of God through His blood. Because of this, we can pray with Jesus, saying “Our Father who art in heaven”, all in Jesus’ name.
To God be the glory now and forever,