Originally preached at Alger First UMC on 9/25/2016
The next day the leaders, elders, and legal experts gathered in Jerusalem, along with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others from the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and asked, “By what power or in what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders, are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him? If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12, CEB)
We’re in the midst of preparing for Alger First’s 40th Annual Missions Conference, which is in 3 weeks – Oct. 14-16 – and we’re preparing by spending some time investigating what God’s mission really looks like. What does “God’s mission” really mean? What does it look like to be a community who follows God’s mission? We’re kind of taking a step back, zooming out, and looking at God’s mission in the general. Week 1, we talked about how God’s mission arises from deep community. And week 2, last week, we talked about how God’s mission involves nothing less than complete transformation.
So this week we’ll be looking at how proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ is central to God’s mission here on earth. And it’s central because our world is in desperate need of good news. I don’t know about you, but my heart has been breaking over these past two weeks as I’ve seen the news. I’m sure you’ve heard about the most recent highly publicized shootings, at least some of them. Two more black men and one black teenager were shot by police, in Columbus, Tulsa, and Charlotte. And this has caused the all-too familiar tensions to rise again to the forefront. Charlotte went up in flames, literally. Both the police and our black brothers and sisters living in cities are afraid and feel threatened and traumatized. And the whole country sees this on our TV’s and computers – it’s not like we can really isolate ourselves from all of this because even if we don’t pay attention to this, this is what our neighbors, coworkers, and family might be seeing.
On top of that, we have a presidential race that seems to be polarizing and poisoning the whole country.
We hear about the continuing conflict in Syria and the heartbreaking images and stories of refugees.
And our own community struggles over the absolute epidemic of heroin addiction.
This is our world. And into the midst of this world, God’s mission calls for us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s times like this that I honestly find myself at a loss for words. What good news could we possibly have to share with a world that is so broken, so divided, so anxious, and so fearful?
Luckily I preach from the Bible and not just my own ideas. So where I cannot speak, the Scripture does it for me. I found the passage read for you earlier is especially helpful, so that’s where I want to start our conversation today. Let’s unpack that passage.
If you were here last week and remembered what we talked about, you’ll remember what leads up to this story. Peter healed a crippled man begging at the temple gate, then preached a very convicting sermon to the crowd that gathered. But members of the Jerusalem Council, the head honchos of everything that had to do with Jewish law and religious customs, they heard about it and had Peter and John arrested mid-sermon. The Council was mad that these two were “announcing that the resurrection of the dead was happening because of Jesus.” They were mad at them for preaching the Gospel.
So in the Scripture you heard read today, the Jerusalem Council calls Peter and John before them the next day and asks them “By what power or in what name did you do this?” I love how Peter answers, because he gets pretty sarcastic, probably irritated at having to spend the night in a dark, uncomfortable jail cell. He basically says “Are you for real? You’re questioning us because we made a crippled man walk again? Are you mad at us for doing a good deed?”
Then we read that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims before the Council that the crippled man was healed by the name of Jesus Christ, the same man that this Council had crucified but who God raised from the dead.
So before we go on, we have to realize a couple things. First, we gotta realize that we’ve seen these people before. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were both written by the same author, and were most likely meant to be read as one long book. So if we look back in the Gospel, we see Luke depicting the Jerusalem Council, this same group, as being the ones who arrest Jesus and interrogate Jesus and send him off to be crucified by the Romans.
So realize what Peter’s saying here. Peter starts his proclamation with these difficult words, laying at least part of the blame for Jesus’ death in the hands of the Jerusalem Council, the very people interrogating him and John.
Specifically, he says “This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone!” Now Peter actually took that from Psalm 118, a part that says “The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone!” You know what a cornerstone is, right? It’s not just a decorative stone with a date on it. Back in the first century, the cornerstone was what supported the whole building and was the stone from which every other stone that made up the building was placed.
When the early Christian community read that in Psalm 118, it became a way for them to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was like the Jerusalem Council and the Romans were builders who were building a house and thought Jesus to be just an ordinary worthless stone that they could just throw out. But then God surprised them by turning this Jesus into the cornerstone of the whole Kingdom of God. Peter’s saying “You killed the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead.” That’s a heavy accusation.
And Peter ends with this proclamation “Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”
This is proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. Like I said earlier, proclamation like this is central to God’s mission. So let’s look at this.
When we talk about proclaiming “good news,” what exactly is “good” about that “news?” Now there are many ways to answer that question. But here’s how I see it: this message of Peter’s is “good” because it speaks to a very relevant concern or crisis or problem in the lives of his listeners, the Jerusalem Council.
Like I said, this is the same group who Luke depicts as killing Jesus, the very Author of Life. This is the same council who rejected the cornerstone, and Peter proclaims that guilt to them. But to them, Peter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, which reversed their error. And he offers salvation in the name of this same Jesus. To paraphrase, he says “You killed this Jesus, but now you can be saved by this same Jesus.”
Now the Jerusalem Council didn’t recognize this as a problem in their life. But the Holy Spirit filled Peter so that he could see this problem in their lives and speak truth into it. And the Jerusalem Council’s reaction actually showed that they knew Peter was onto something. Because after Peter finished, they just tried to keep Peter and John from preaching about this dude Jesus anymore. So I think they knew Peter was onto something in this proclamation that could change everything – why else would they try to shut them up?
As I see it, this is a picture of participation in God’s mission. We defined God’s mission last week, does anyone remember what that definition was? When we talk about God’s mission, we’re talking about all that God is doing to bring the nations to Godself. So with what we’re talking about today, we see that proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ is how God is bringing all the nations to Godself.
I see this as being rooted in the Great Commission. Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” Now I know that this is your soul verse as a church, right? And this Great Commission is carried out when each one of us follows the example of Peter by taking up our responsibility to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in our own lives.
Now that brings me back to where we began today with this question: How are we to do this today? How are we to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in our world today?
More specifically, how are we to proclaim the good news today with current events the way they are?
Over the last two weeks, a black teenager and two more black men were shot by police. Tyre King in Columbus, Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, and Keith Scott in Charlotte. Charlotte subsequently went up in flames, literally. The videos of the last two shootings went viral and their deaths, the officers involved, and the grief of their families has been splashed all over our TV and computer screens.
Now Peter’s proclamation to the Jerusalem Council was very relevant to the situation of the Jerusalem Council – he addressed the very present issue of the fault they had in Jesus’ crucifixion, even though they didn’t recognize it as a problem.
Following that, our proclamation must address the real issues of the world. So how do we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in a country whose wound of racism is seen more clearly each day?
How do we proclaim the good news in a world where our black brothers and sisters living in cities are traumatized repeatedly by the videos of these shootings going viral? I have friends who live in Columbus who are black and they say they are terrified when their husbands or sons walk out the door for work or school in the morning because they might not come back.
How do we proclaim the good news when cops fear for their lives as well, when it seems to many that there’s a wall in between the police and those they protect, making it impossible for them to do their jobs?
How do we proclaim the good news in this world? Because these stories are part of our story too. We cannot just ignore these events just because they don’t happen here in Alger.
Now I’m saying this as your brother in Christ who is truly struggling with this: How do we preach the good news of Jesus Christ in a world where it seems like the shadows are defeating the light?
When I was outlining this sermon, I started writing something about how “in times of trouble, the world looks to the church for answers or comfort.” But I had a reality check – that’s not really true anymore. The American church’s proclamation has largely ceased to be relevant to the present experiences of the people, so people go elsewhere to find answers or comfort.
If we are truly to participate in God’s work of bringing the nations to Godself, then our proclamation must be relevant to the issues of the day.
I know that geographically and demographically, Alger is far away from any of these bigger cities where racism is a much more pressing concern, where it boils over into real conflict. But we live in a small world that gets smaller every day. The videos of these latest shootings and all of the past shootings that have been too common have gone viral on social media. The news has talked about it and rehashed over and over again in print, on the TV, and online.
People see what’s happening, no matter where we are. And it’s more than just seeing – people are affected by what’s happened in Columbus, Tulsa, and Charlotte, just like they were affected by what happened in Dallas, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Ferguson, and all the other places. The world seems like a less safe place. The divide between black and white becomes more entrenched. For many, the negative image that each “side” has of the other race is seemingly confirmed, repeatedly.
In the face of all of this, God’s mission for the church is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. How do we do that?
I don’t have a good answer because I’m still struggling with it. But I find help in Peter’s last line. “Salvation can be found in no one else [meaning Jesus]. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans by which we must be saved.”
In those two sentences, the good news that we have to proclaim to the world is shown.
This God we worship is a God who saves.
This is a God who has an active hand in the affairs of humanity.
This is a God who seeks to make us broken humans and our broken world whole again.
This is a God who seeks to wipe out racism and any fear or mistrust that exists between people-groups.
This is a God who works to bring all the nations and all people to Godself, across anything that might divide us.
This is a God who saves us, a God who saves through Jesus Christ.
That’s our message. We are called to proclaim it. That’s the message that God has entrusted to the church, and the message that we are called to proclaim to the world if we want to step into God’s mission.
In the face of racism and violence, God saves. In the face of misunderstanding and anger and fear and hurt and trauma, God somehow saves. In the face of our own failings and inability or unwillingness to understand or listen to people who are different from us, God saves.
This is a message the hurting world desperately needs to hear. This is a message our neighbors, coworkers, and family members are itching to receive, even if they don’t know it yet. We have been given this message of salvation through Jesus Christ to proclaim to the world. So let’s be about that work.