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God's Got a Plan

The Gospel according to Paul   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Lord God, bless Your Word wherever it is proclaimed. Make it a Word of power and peace to convert those not yet Your own and to confirm those who have come to saving faith. May Your Word pass from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the lip, and from the lip to the life that, as You have promised, Your Word may achieve the purpose for which You send it, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

Who Knew?


Scarcely a greater contrast can be drawn than that between Paul and Nero. Nero was the Roman emperor, seated on a throne. His name was known throughout the empire. Paul was an obscure Jew, totally unimpressive in his physical appearance—he says so himself in his letters. In a distant corner of the Roman Empire, Paul was a leader in a small, heretical sect that was known only as a group of troublemakers. Virtually no one had heard of Paul, while everybody had heard of Nero.

The interesting thing is that now, two thousand years later, we name our sons Paul, and our dogs Nero.

When I think of how fragile our knowledge is, I am reminded of the speech Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) gives to soon-to-be Agent J (Will Smith) before he enters the world of MIB:
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
Whether we are talking about an individual or an entire group of people, it is easier to decide that some people won’t be saved and therefore we needn’t bother bearing Christ’s Gospel to them. Some people give up on others because they think they are too immoral, some do it because they believe that they lack the ability to properly declare the Good News, and some do it because they dislike, or even hate that person or people group - Like Jonah did regard the people of Nineveh.
In our Epistle text today, Paul makes the case that God was not defeated in His purpose regarding Israel because of the resistance of some - indeed, Paul himself served as a foot soldier in the fight against the spread of the Gospel (; ; ) and look at hin now - an apostle to the Gentiles!
Acts 22:20–21 ESV
And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

You Never Know

This epistle passage, while dealing with God’s will concerning Israel, instructs me that the mind of God is a deep well, and I’m barely drawing from the surface. No one is as good at snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat as God is.
Waking by faith is never easy; Our eyes and ears tell us things, and we are accustomed to giving them the final say, instead of submitting our reason to God’s Word. We are called to the life of being Christ’s image bearers. As a pastor, I am called to continue the work of the Apostolic College, preaching the Gospel to every creature. And yet we all fall short of the glory of God, both priest and people. I look at the congregation, and I see a bunch of empty seats that I have done little to fill. I have not spoken to enough people last week to see the pews filled this week.
Before you get to smug about it, how has your presence led anyone to ask “What shall I do to be saved?” How many times has someone come to St. John’s hoping to find that peace that we offered to them while shopping or dining or even as we greeted them in passing.
Wait, you don’t routinely bless others by saying “May the peace of the Lord be with you?” How about, at least, “God bless you?” You haven’t let people leave your presence without telling them the good news in this crazy messed up world that seems filled with sorrow and trouble? You haven’t comforted others with the comfort by which we ourselves are comforted by God ()?
2 Corinthians 1:3–4 ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
This past week has been a bad week; some folks are saying that it’s like we jumped back into the 1960s. Folks are looking at people who, they once viewed as friends and colleagues like they are total strangers, or worse, enemies, because of social issues that some of us thought were all settled, and others at least thought was going the way of the dodo bird.
We are tempted to give up the pure Gospel in exchange for social activism, to proclaim phrases of defiance instead of peace, and to condemn others to death for whom Christ died because they are yet walking in darkness, not realizing that we could be in danger of joining them. Jesus said,
Matthew 5:21–22 ESV
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
If God were to have held some of us accountable for our Facebook or Instagram posts last week, “in hell we would have lifted up our eyes,” right next to the people whose words goaded us into fleshly outrage that we viewed as righteous indignation. Instead of praying for our enemies, some are saying that we should prey upon them!
As one who has received his fair share, I can tell you that a belt may have stopped my body from doing wrong, but it never made my heart get right. That is a job that only Christ does through the Gospel. That is a work that only Christ, who purchased us with His own blood (), can do.
Acts 20:28 ESV
Pay 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.
Jesus Christ was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, as He said in our Gospel text today (), and yet His Word brought forth the faith of a Canaanite woman who knew that “can’t nobody do me like Jesus!” She believed the report that had gone out about “the Man from Galilee.” The Good News of salvation in Christ reached her ears and she wasn’t going to let Christ go without allowing her to at least get a piece of that blessing, regardless of where she had come from, or who her parents and ancestry might have been.
We are living in dark times, but it is the dark times when the light shines the brightest. We need to be the lights shining in the darkness, especially we who claim to have the Gospel in all of its purity, proclaimed, not in part, but in its fullness of Word AND Sacrament. We might not have the fanciest choir, but, in the Confessional teaching and proper division of Law and Gospel that we proclaim, we have the truth that will set people free.
The life of meaning and purpose that we each seek cannot be found in “Blood and Soil” or in showing others how “woke” we are. Your life is not hidden in abstract utopian visions that try to get to New Jerusalem while ignoring the Throne of God that sits in her midst. You can’t make other people do a better job of paying for their sins than Christ did on the cross. If you only tell others how evil they are, without telling them about the one who became sin for them, you have told them nothing that will deliver them, and are quite possibly calling down a judgment that God has not executed yet for a reason.
Christ came to seek and to save the lost, not just those who already knew their situation, but also for those who are looking for God’s glory in every place except the Cross where Jesus died for me and for you. Woe is me, said Paul, if I do not preach the Gospel. Woe is me, said I, if I replace that Gospel with something else that cannot save, cannot bring the peace of God. So don’t let anger drive you, or fear, or even an ill-founded hope in the goodness of mankind. Instead,
Lt the peace of God, that passes understanding our Lord, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord, Who lives and reigns with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, Amen
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