3rd Sunday of Easter Proper B3
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 3:12-21 Sermon
April 22, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 246 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
TLH 364 "How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds"
WOV 716 "Word Of God, Come Down On Earth"
TLH 309 "Who Is This That Comes From Edom?"
YOU NEED A GOOD SCOLDING!
TEXT (vs. 13-15): 13 [Peter said] The...God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
Have you ever been scolded before? That's kind of a silly question I guess, because I believe that everybody has been scolded by somebody in their lives at one time or another. And some of us have probably been scolded more than others.
If you think back, I'm sure that you can remember people who have given you a good, old-fashioned scolding, or have given you the proverbial "piece of their mind." Mothers and fathers scold their children. Children get scolded by their grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and various other people. Husbands and wives scold each other. Adults get scolded by their bosses, police officers, and judges. And yes, I've scolded my share of confirmation students. It's pretty much a given fact of life. If you exist on this earth, then you've experienced a good scolding for something. Sometimes we didn't deserve it; but most of the time, we have to admit that we had it coming.
Scolding is never pleasant either. I remember a situation where I was eating dinner at a restaurant with an older couple. They were baby sitting with their little grand daughter, who was probably five or so at the time. During the meal, she started acting up. As we were walking out of the restaurant into the car park, the grandmother was giving her a good scolding. I was following behind them, and I saw the little girl react as she reached her arm around her back and put it across the seat of her pants. She was expecting to get a swat on the backside. She knew from the scolding her grandmother was giving her that she was in trouble.
I think that for most of us, we can almost picture a particular person shaking their index finger at us while upbraiding us for doing something we shouldn't have done, or not doing something that we should have done. And if you're looking at the business end of that finger, it almost seems like it is two feet long, especially from the vantage point of a child.
This morning, I'm not going to stand here on my high pedestal and shake my finger at you like some pietistic hypocrite. In fact, I've heard people complain about pastors who do that very thing. They'll say things like, "Oh, that minister was preaching right at me, and I don't like to be scolded from the pulpit." Or you might hear, "I was so offended by that sermon!"
Of course I have to preach God's law. It's part of the whole counsel of God. If we look at Romans chapter 3, verses 19-20 we read: "19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."
Forgiveness is of little value if you are not being forgiven for something. God's law needs to be preached. And if somebody is ever offended by a sermon, it can be for two reasons, and two reasons only: Either the sermon contains false doctrine, or it has struck a guilty conscience. And you can bet that when somebody objects to, or otherwise takes umbrage at being scolded from the pulpit, it's most likely words of complaint being generated and spoken from a guilty conscience.
In our First Lesson for today, we meet up with Peter. And if there's anybody in the Bible who can give a good scolding, Peter is definitely the man for the job. The disciples of Jesus had a whole variety of personalities and backgrounds, but none of them had quite the straight-forward and no-nonsense approach like Simon Peter did.
If we look at these first few chapters of the book of Acts, our First Lesson reading is but a small section of a whole narrative regarding Peter and the way he was dealing with the people he was preaching to. Peter and the disciples went to a place at the eastern side of the temple, called Solomon's colonnade, sometimes referred to as Solomon's portico, or Solomon's porch. This was not to be confused with the Royal Portico, which was on the southern side of the Temple. This was a place where people could gather, sort of out of the way of the rest of the activity. Even so, Peter's preaching still gathered people by the thousands.
If we back up one chapter to Acts chapter 2, this is the text of Peter's Pentecost sermon. Verses 31-32 read, "31 [King David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses." Do you hear that? Peter is giving broad public testimony that Jesus had physically risen from the dead! He did not stay in hell, and his body did not see decay. Instead, he was physically raised from the dead! What a story that is! This was coming from Simon Peter, the man who doubted the women's witness of the resurrection. This was the man who was so afraid of the Jews, that he was locked up and hidden away with the other disciples. Look at the power of God working within him!
But now the other shoe drops. Peter says in verse 36, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom YOU crucified. You can almost picture Peter standing there shaking his finger, scolding the Jews assembled in front of him. He was giving them a very sound scolding indeed! They were probably standing there with their mouths open in a state of shock.
Now they could have become offended at his remarks, and walked out in a huff, muttering something like, "how dare he scold us?" But that's not what happened. In verses 37-38 we read what happened: "37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' 38 And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" The power of God's Word through Peter's preaching had done its work. A whole bunch of people came to faith that day.
The lead-up to the scene in our First Lesson is the account of the healing of the man crippled from birth. He was sitting at the temple gate, begging for money. Peter and John see him, and he is healed in the name of and by the power of the risen Christ. And this certainly made the people sit up and take notice.
I set the scene for today's First Lesson using Peter's Pentecost sermon, because this is the way he was scolding the Jews for the death of Jesus. Listen now to how he addresses them in verses 13-15: "[God] glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."
Now if you thought that the scolding Peter gave the Jews on Pentecost was something, just look at what he does here! He's making them responsible for denying Christ, for asking for the release of the murderer Barabbas, and for putting him to death. He is accusing them of some pretty severe stuff here, even murder!
You can almost hear their individual reactions, can't you? "All right Peter, enough is enough. You're making it sound like I called for the release of Barabbas, and I was at home in bed at the time! You're making it sound like I'm the one who pounded the nails into his hands and feet, and I wasn't even in town that day! And how dare you blame me for denying Jesus, when it was you who denied him, Peter, you self-righteous hypocrite! How dare you scold me for stuff that I didn't even know about?"
Oh my. That sounds pretty unfair, now doesn't it? But if we read verses 17-18, listen to what Peter says in reply: 17 And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled."
Ignorance is no excuse; and if you think it is, just try using that as a defense in a court of law. The Jews were God's chosen people. They had the Scriptures at their disposal. They should have known the prophecies about the Messiah. But instead, they chose ignorance. And because of that, Christ's blood was on their hands.
And what about Peter? How could he have scolded the Jews for denying Christ, when he did it himself? Was Peter a self-righteous hypocrite? Some might think he was, but he was not. Peter was a repentant, contrite, and forgiven sinner. Peter knew he was wrong, and he was forgiven for it. And that's a whole different ballgame than being a self-righteous hypocrite.
So what do you think? Do you think you deserve a good scolding from God? Our Epistle lesson this morning is the continuing sequence of readings from John's first Epistle. Going back to chapter 1 from last week, listen to verses 8 and 10: "8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." And now moving to chapter 3, listen to verses 4 and 8: "4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning."
Oh, do those words sting! Now we've got both Peter and John scolding us! You think the Jews were bad? At least they were cut to the heart by what was said. God's law was doing what it needed to do. Call it scolding, upbraiding, being called on the carpet, or whatever, God's law had to convict and condemn sinful hearts.
You and I are just as bad. Remember the line of the old Lenten hymn: "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee, I crucified thee!" (SBH 85:2) Yes, we are as guilty of sin as those Jews were that heard Peter's words. And we need a good scolding too.
If you want a good kick in the conscience, just think back over this past month...no, let's make it even easier. Think back over this past week, those last 168 hours, and what you were doing. How many times would you have been embarrassed if Jesus would have suddenly materialized right there in front of you and caught you red-handed? How many times would you have been caught doing something other than the right thing? How many times have your thoughts, words, and actions been less than God-pleasing? How many times should you have been hanging your head in shame? How many times have you needed a good scolding? And do you know what? I tried doing that myself, and I'm ashamed to say that I just lost count. I need a good scolding just as much as anybody.
God's law scolds us. But before we give up hope, we need to look at the rest of the picture. The beautiful part of all this, is that we aren't just left hanging with no hope at all. Because what Jesus endured, he did out of nothing but love for you and me. Peter is great at scolding, but he's also great at communicating the hope that comes with forgiveness, which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
We might be tempted to just shake our heads and say, "Yeah Jesus, but you have no idea what I'm going through. You don't know the temptations that I have." And so we're tempted to go off by ourselves and wallow in our own self-pity for a while, and try to figure things out on our own rather than turning everything over to Jesus.
There is one section of Scripture that I frequently use, because it is so comforting in such situations. Hebrews chapter 4, verses 14-16 read: "14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
When God's law scolds us, Jesus is the answer. His forgiving love for you and me is what led him on that journey all the way to Calvary's cross. He bled and died to forgive our sins, so that through nothing but faith alone, we will have all that he offers. Even though God's law scolds us and makes us feel guilty, it will never bring us forgiveness or peace. We can't be scolded to the cross. That only comes through God's grace, his undeserved love that draws us to him with tenderness and mercy.
This morning, we are celebrating the Lord's Supper. Here, we receive the true body and true blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In, with, and under the elements of bread and wine, he gives us that very same body that hung on the cross, and that very same blood that was spilled at the hands of wicked men. That's the body and blood that bought our forgiveness.
From the cross, Jesus didn't scold anybody. Instead, he said "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He says the same thing to us here today. We know that we are forgiven for our many sins. That's the assurance that Peter wants everybody to know. Even though he scolded the Jews, many thousands of them came to faith in their Saviour. The Holy Spirit touched their hearts just as he touches ours.
And so as we depart from our Lord's house today, being nourished with the Lord's Supper, we can joyfully proclaim with the hymn writer: "His body and his blood I've taken, in his blest supper, feast divine; Now I shall never be forsaken, for I am his, and he is mine. My God, for Jesus' sake I pray, thy peace may bless my dying day." (TLH 598:9)