The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 3: A Bold Witness in Blood!
The Signs and Wonders of Easter Part 3: A Bold Witness in Blood!
Text: Acts 20:17-35
4 Easter, C
12Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. During this season of Easter as we spend time in the readings from Acts we have witnessed many Easter miracles. Healing and release for those who belong to the risen Christ. Eyes that are opened to the truth of the resurrection and tongues that are loosened to speak the truth that death has been overcome. These signs and wonders are not just limited to the apostolic age, but are still to be recognized wherever and whenever Christ’s Church exists. For where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, there Easter continues to change this world and the people in it.
And once again, nowhere better do we see this than in the life of Paul, who’s eyes were opened last week. “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Today’s reading in Acts shows us just how true those words of Jesus would be. In our reading Paul was heading back to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. He decided to bypass Ephesus as he proceeded down the West Coast of Anatolia, just so he wouldn’t be sidetracked by the ones he loved so much. They are his spiritual family and blood is thicker than water as they say. If he goes he may never pull himself away. But his mission in Jerusalem couldn’t wait. So instead he asks the pastors (elders) of the congregation to meet him as he went by. It turns out that this is his tearful farewell, because he “knows” that they won’t see him again.
And what does he say to them? He reminds them of their time together, of the blood sweat and tears they invested in each other for the sake of the Gospel. 18he said: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the bold witness of the Christian Church on earth, and the life’s work of the apostle Paul. It is the basic message of the book of Acts, as well as the foundational message of Jesus Himself. A bold witness to the Law and the Gospel. The sin of fallen mankind and the gracious forgiveness found only in the dead and risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The death we deserve, and the life that God freely gives. The utter uselessness of our works to gain us anything before God, and the unfathomable depths of the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
And it is precisely this bold witness that caused so much blood, sweat, and tears for Paul and the Ephesian Christians through the years. Near constant plotting by the Jews and Gentile rulers alike sought to silence their message and punish the messengers. And even now as Paul is making his way to the holy city of Jerusalem, it still has not stopped. How much would he suffer for the name of Christ? More. He would always suffer more. For the enemies of Christ are out for blood. Always.
Why? There is bad blood between this world and its sin and the kind offer of forgiveness in Jesus. And when you can’t stop Jesus from rising to life after you have killed Him, you can at least go after those who serve at His witnesses. Intimidate, and belittle them always, silence them where you can, and if need be kill them in cold blood! Paul already knew this is what awaited him in Jerusalem. 22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
And you need to know that it still awaits any who dare to speak of the risen Christ to this wicked and deceitful world. And so Paul warns the Ephesian pastors and us: 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Already Paul had seen enough that he could warn of false teachers who would teach twisted things, These are not who would simply turn the church into a checklist of rules to be followed (which is bad enough), but those who would bend the witness of the Church to the whims of the culture. These are the theologians who mix history and culture and end up being proud of the skill with which they find their own thoughts. They are the ones who are continually remaking Jesus in their own image, turning Him into the spokesman and cheerleader of each new societal trend. Note too that Paul is emphatic that only God and his Word are our sure defence.
And that Word is focused around this one history-changing, life-altering, promise reiterated by Paul to those he loved so deeply: 28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood ... 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
See how vividly this promise of God – the promise fulfilled in the Good Shepherd is understood through the pastoral office. The Holy Spirit has very deliberately placed the elders as overseers in the midst of Christ’s people - and He is very interested in the outcome of this action! The habitual work that the shepherd does is their constant task. Bold in witness, tough in Law, forgiving in Gospel. Administering all the forms in which Christ continues to protect and guide and feed and nurture His flock. The emphasis is on the personal involvement and concern of God, through flesh and blood representatives of Christ who has purchased the church for himself.
And the price of that purchase? “with his own blood.” With the very lifeblood of God Himself. Willingly given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. For those who persecute His flock here on earth and those within it who are not bold enough to trust Him and stand up to witness as He has called them out to do. The blood of the righteous and sinless Son of God, the once-and-for-ever Passover Lamb which covers all sin, pays for all sin, buries all sin and fear and doubt in the now empty tomb.
And that is why we are bold to witness by His blood, in His blood, through His blood. It is why Paul who once went to Damascus to persecute the Christians was now willing to say goodbye to those he loved and walk into persecution and possibly even death for the sake of boldly witnessing to Christ. It is why we, no longer need to think of working ourselves up to witness as akin to getting blood from a stone. For blood did come from a stone the very cornerstone of the church. And in that blood you will continue to see so many signs and wonders you cannot help but tell others of the miracle of Easter!
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!