2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how many of you are already ready for the snow to be melted and spring to arrive? How many of you really enjoy driving on snowy, icy roads? Why do people generally not enjoy driving in snow? Why not? Because you have to be careful, you have to drive slowly, you risk getting into an accident, you risk getting stuck. Most of us really don’t enjoy driving in snowy/icy road conditions because it’s a hindrance to where you want to be going. You have somewhere in mind where you want to go, you have a destination, a place where you’re headed, but the snow gets in the way, the snow slows you down, you may get into an accident, you might spin out and get stuck. There’s a hindrance to where you want to go. But there’s a far worse hindrance in life than snow. Each of our lessons this morning are pointing us to the truth that Jesus came for all people, he came to win salvation for all, God wants all people to be saved. But unfortunately, just like the snow gets in the way of where we want to go, there are hindrances that get in the way of people coming to Jesus. What are they?
First of all, we know it’s not God. Our text this morning is from the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. He’s in the city of Antioch, which was part of the region of Galatia. The first place that Paul goes when he arrives at the city is the synagogue. The people there are Jews or converts to Judaism. They have the OT Scriptures, they have all the prophecies of Scripture – including, of course, what we read earlier from the prophet Isaiah. A great place to start and tell them that everything that God promised in the OT is fulfilled in Jesus. What we have in Acts 13 is Paul’s sermon in the synagogue. The first part of his sermon essentially says that OT history is fulfilled in Jesus, the next part says that OT prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, and now he’s on his third part of the sermon.
We’re told, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” There it is! This is the truth that we call “objective justification.” It means that forgiveness of sins is an objective fact, an objective reality. The fact that Jesus really did die and that Jesus really did rise from the dead shows us that the sins of the world are really forgiven. That’s exactly what John the Baptist said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The sins of every person, every criminal and law-abiding citizen, the sins of every murderer and every victim, the sins of every child and every adult, the sins of every American and non-American, the sins of every person were forgiven when Jesus died on the cross. That’s objective justification. So what does Paul do here? “Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” He can say that! No matter who’s there! That means no matter who you meet, no matter who you talk to, no matter their race, their culture, their ethnicity, their background, their past history; you know without a single doubt that Jesus paid for their sins. Period. It’s done, it’s an accomplished fact.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone enjoys the blessings of that. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to heaven when they die. Someone only enjoys the blessings of this justification through faith in Jesus as the Savior. Paul said, “through him [Jesus] everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” This is what we often refer to as “subjective justification.” When God sends the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God or the sacrament of Baptism to create faith in my heart to believe the gospel I receive personally all the blessings of that justification that Christ won with his death and resurrection. Through faith in Jesus you’re set free from every sin.
And how do you know for sure? How do you know that your sins are forgiven? How do you know that your sins are paid? Back in the OT all those sacrifices for sins that the people watched were kind of like checks. When you write out a check it’s somewhat of a promise that sufficient funds will be available to pay your bill. The check doesn’t really have inherent value in itself. That’s why Paul said we have a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses – even with all those sacrifices. What do we have instead? The resurrection of Jesus. Jesus rising from the dead is the pivotal event in all history, it’s proof that your sins are forgiven. It’s like a receipt. When you walk out of Walmart, there’s usually a person standing there and sometimes they want to see your receipt. Why? They want to make sure that you paid for whatever you’re walking out of the store with. What if you walk out and one of those guards runs after you and says, “Did you pay for that?” What do you do? You pull out your receipt and say, “Yes, look at it.” Jesus’ resurrection is the receipt. He paid your sins with His blood shed on the cross, you’ve been set free from sins. It’s the proof of purchase. But it’s not proof just for you, it’s proof for every person that their sins are forgiven.
At the end of his sermon Paul issues a warning. What he’s saying is, “This is incredible good news! You have eternal salvation simply through believing in Jesus as your Savior! Don’t reject it! Don’t turn away from it!” Paul leaves the synagogue and they invite him to come back next week. The next Sabbath Paul and Barnabas are there and practically the whole city shows up at the synagogue to hear the gospel. Great, right? Not so great for some. What’s their problem? Why aren’t they happy with people coming to Jesus? They didn’t measure up, they didn’t go through everything that they went through. They were the devoted, religious people. They were the people who went to the synagogue every Sabbath day. They were not like the immoral, idolatrous Gentile heathens around whom they had to live everyday. And yet, as close as they thought they were to God, they were in reality so far away from him. They hadn’t taken to heart the very Word of God (which they claimed to be defending) which says that the Messiah would come to save not just Jews, but everyone else as well!
What’s their problem? You see, when you base your relationship with God on self-righteousness, on what you’re doing for God, you’re going to be hopelessly insecure. Why so? Because you know deep down that you don’t measure up perfectly, so, to bolster your own self-esteem you have to find people whom you feel superior to. “Those heathens can’t just be welcomed into God’s eternal family through faith!”
Whew! Glad this could never happen to us, right? Wrong! The worst hindrance to someone coming to Jesus is…you and me! And it starts with the wrong attitude and our attitude leads to our actions. Do we have an attitude like Jesus- that wants to seek and to save the lost? What pierces my heart is knowing that these Jews were established church members, they heard the word on a regular basis! Do you have a heart for the lost? Do I? Do we make it difficult for those coming to Jesus? Do we put up unnecessary roadblocks, hindrances, ice and snow in the way of people coming to Jesus? Does sinful pride creep in our heart making us feel superior to…anyone?
God’s law smashes our sinful pride, we’re no better and no worse than anyone else, we all desperately need God’s grace!
The message of Jesus equalizes everyone. It says ALL of us humans are hopeless cases. ALL of us can’t make it on our own. ALL of us are considered worthless in God’s sight because of our sin. ALL of us are a deep disgrace to God. ALL of us deserve nothing but God’s wrath and anger and punishment forever.
That’s what we deserve! But that’s not what we get. For every time that we’ve ignored a lost soul, Jesus sought out lost souls. Every time we’ve constructed roadblocks and hindrances to people coming to Jesus, Jesus broke every barrier down. For every time we’ve been sinfully prideful and felt superior to others, Jesus became the lowest of the low- spit upon, mocked, beaten and crucified. Why so? To forgive us, to wash our sins away, to purify us, to give us His own righteousness. And how do you know? His receipt proves it: He rose from the dead. In the cross and empty tomb God won salvation for all.
Since Jesus came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, God wants the world to hear it! And so what does He do? Jesus gives us the gospel, we’re all condemned sinners, but God forgave us all! We want to share it, we want to take Jesus’ salvation to the ends of the earth!
What does that mean? That means I want to hold firmly on to every truth from Scripture, because forsaking just one is leading people away from Jesus. But that also means I don’t want my opinions, my preferences, my traditions to be like snow and ice in the way of someone coming to Jesus. But how do I get that heart? How do I get a heart for the lost like Jesus? It’s right here. It’s touching and tasting Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of all my sins. In this God takes away my heart of stone and gives me a heart of flesh, a heart of compassion, love, concern, for each and every lost soul and the desire to take Jesus’ salvation to the ends of the earth. Amen.