We are Witnesses that Jesus Lives
7th Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
We are Witnesses that Jesus Lives
Acts 1:1–11 (NIV84)
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Martin Luther was not always a happy man. Even after he came to believe that he was forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus, he still had his down days. Luther was not a healthy man and suffered physically. He was often spoken against and many hated him. Not a few wanted him dead. Though many were turning the to truth of the Bible, some were stubbornly resisting God's grace. He was facing pressure from all sides and some days it got to him. It is a good thing he finally consented to be married because Katie Luther knew how to encourage him. On one particularly down day, she changed into black mourning clothes and went around the house as sullen as Luther was acting. When Luther asked her who had died, she responded that God must have died the way he was acting. Luther took the admonition to heart and the story is that he inscribed “He lives” in Latin on his desk.
Katie did something that day that Jesus wants all of his believers to do. She was a witness that Jesus lives. Christ is no longer in the grave. He lives! Just before Jesus ascends into heaven, he gives this mission to his disciples. They are to be his witnesses to the world, witnesses that Jesus lives. We have the same mission today. Though it seems too big of a mission, Jesus equips his people to be witnesses of his death and resurrection. He empowers us with many convincing truths and enables us to look to heaven while we live on this earth. We are his witnesses.
Empowered with Many Convincing Proofs
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Think of the many convincing truths Jesus gave to his disciples in the forty days from Easter to Ascension Day. He appeared to the on Easter evening in a locked room and then did it again a week later so Thomas could see. He let them touch him so they could know that he was not a ghost or vision or dream. He ate a piece of broiled fish with them on Easter evening. He is still a human and really alive. Jesus met them along the Sea of Galilee and helped them catch 153 large fish. Then he ate with them again. And in our portion of Scripture for today, Jesus meets with his disciples again and again eats with them. The same Jesus who died is alive again, just as he promised. They had many convincing proofs that he was alive.
We have even more convincing proofs that Jesus is alive. Though we are not eyewitnesses, we have the eyewitness testimony of the disciples recorded for us in the Bible. There was no benefit for these apostles to proclaim that Jesus was alive. Preaching that Jesus was alive included saying that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Being witnesses of the resurrection got them kicked out of the synagogue. It made them enemies of the religious leaders. It gave them negative financial benefit. They were hated by many in the Jewish community and by those who worshiped the pagan gods. Luther's bad days were bad, but the disciples were opposed by the world. And even though history tells us that all but one of the apostles was killed for proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead, none of them stopped. This is convincing proof that these witnesses were telling the truth. Jesus is alive.
Think also of the apostle Paul. He began as one who hated the disciples and tried to stop their message about Jesus by any means, even by executing believers. Then he became a great witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He is willing to suffer all the persecution he once administered because he is convinced Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and Paul was completely changed. Nothing would keep him from being a witness that Jesus lives. He wrote these beautiful words: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20).
And each believer has one more convincing proof that Jesus is alive. You believe. How is it that you can believe this? All of us were born with a hatred for God. We were all born with a desire to do things our own way. We didn't want a Lord over us. We were not even able to want to believe. “No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is a miracle that you believe that Jesus is the Son of God. It is a miracle to believe that Jesus died and then rose from the dead. It is a miracle to believe that Jesus' death and resurrection forgive your sins and guarantee you a place in heaven. The Holy Spirit has given you this confidence in the gospel. He has given you faith.
Looking to Heaven While Living on Earth
Through this faith we know what Jesus has done for us and for all people. But we, like Martin Luther, still have some bad days, some down days, some days when we look only at earthly problems without seeing God's eternal solution. The disciples had a moment like that on Ascension Day.
They asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Of course, the disciples knew that Jesus paid for the sin of the world by his death and defeated death and the devil by his resurrection. They were looking forward to the eternal peace and joy of heaven with Jesus. They knew Jesus had won the victory for them but why not enjoy the victory now? Why not set up an earthly kingdom of peace and safety now? They took their eyes off the eternal and spiritual blessings and looked to the earthly and temporal.
How easy to do! We are probably not be looking for the perfect kingdom of God to take over the world. But it would be nice if the dishwasher worked and the car didn't need repairs. It would be nice if the copy machine didn't jam and the internet kept working all day. It would be good if the violence stopped in our community. It would be wonderful if we never sent another soldier into harm's way and had no need of Memorial Day in the future.
These are wonderful and good things but this is not where our certain hopes comes from. Our hope is in Christ who has ascended to the right hand of God the Father. We live our lives looking not for heaven on earth, but looking forward to the place in heaven prepared for us by Christ.
But we do not just go through life looking to heaven and ignoring this life on earth. Jesus has work for us to do. We are his witnesses. The disciples took the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Some stayed in and around Jerusalem. Others traveled great distances. Paul made it to Rome and likely even to Spain. Tradition tells us that Thomas made it to India, Matthew to Ethiopia and Andrew north toward Russia.
The Holy Spirit has empowered and equipped us to be witnesses too. We are convinced that Jesus is the only Savior, that he died for the sin of the world and that he rose from the dead. We have the only message that saves. Where is our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth?
Maybe we start in our own home with our own family. We teach the Bible and model looking to heaven while we live through problems on earth. We get to witness among our friends and neighbors, (our Judea perhaps). Maybe you can be a witness that Jesus lives to strangers in your neighborhood (like Samaria) as we invite people to join us for worship and VBS and other events here. And just as the gospel has reached us here in Iowa, we get to help the gospel reach to the other ends of the earth as well. Nyabil just returned from a WELS Kingdom Workers trip to Ethiopia where she along with Pastor Peter Bur and others brought clean water and the Water of Life to those suffering in refugee camps.
Just as important and getting the gospel to those around the world is encouraging the people close to you, the people in this congregation in the truth that Jesus lives and reigns in heaven. Every Christian will get discouraged at times in their life. The problems of this world can overwhelm us and we may not be able to see the end. Encourage your brother or sister in Christ that their Savior lives for them. You don't have to be as dramatic as Katie Luther and change into mourning clothes to make the point. Simple be a witness of what you know. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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