Sermons : 2015 : April 26, The Faith of Life and Death - Acts 4:1-12

This time of year, most of us are looking ahead to the warmer months of summer. We’re thinking about being done with school or summer vacations or graduations. We’re looking forward to spending more time outside or getting some things done around the house. Easter Sunday usually marks a time of transition for us between cooler months and warmer ones. And so we tend to think about how are lives will change as well.

In the church from an events perspective, we move out of Easter and look ahead to summer for different reasons – the end of weekly confirmation classes; VBS, summer camps, continuing education opportunities for me and so on. It’s all sort of a comfortably busy routine – one that we do every year. It’s how we continue teaching the Christian faith and how leaders further their knowledge to equip others. Like I said before, it’s routine and it’s comfortable, even if it is busy.

But it seems my routines lately are getting interrupted more and more by news reports of things happening to other Christians in the world that are not so comfortable. This past week, thirty more Christians from Ethiopia lost their lives at the hands of Islamic extremists. The week before, 12 Christian migrants in a boat of hundreds fleeing Libya for Europe, were thrown overboard because they refused to pray to another god when their boat suffered a puncture at sea. As American Christians, we live out our faith insulated from such tests. And maybe that leads us to look at our faith more in terms of psychological benefits rather than in in terms of what it may cost us.

And yet today, when we read about how those early Christians were treated in the Book of Acts, we see some similarities. It says in verse 2 that the authorities of that day were greatly annoyed by their preaching. It says they arrested them and put them in custody. Then after a night in jail, they were to appear before these authorities to give an answer with their futures hanging in the balance.

In the rite of confirmation, which we’ll have in a few minutes, the confirmands will be asked a series of questions. The first asks if they acknowledge the gifts God gave them in their baptism. The second through the fourth asks if they renounce the devil and his works. The fifth through the seventh asks if they accept the Apostles Creed. We then move on to a question about accepting the scriptures as the Word of God and confessing the doctrine of the Lutheran Church as a faithful and true exposition of those scriptures. And then we move into questions about whether they intend to hear God’s word and receive His supper faithfully.

The final two questions they will be asked today in the rite of confirmation deal with the question of how they will respond if their faith is ever truly tested. The last question especially asks, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

In other words, what will you do if you are the Ethiopian captured by the terrorists? What will you do when you are 1 of 12 Christians in an entire boat filled with those of another faith and when you don’t pray to their god, you know they will throw you overboard? When and if that day comes, will you renounce your faith to save your earthly life? Will you pray to a god who does not exist or worship a deity whom you know not to be true? Or, will you suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this Christian faith?

Today is not merely a day in which Courtney and Douglass reach a milestone. It is more importantly a day when they will give a series of vows. These questions that I read to them are not hoops to jump through nor are they questions that seek mindless, thoughtless responses. Today, Courtney and Douglass are taking their Christian vows. They are publicly testifying before all of you and God that they believe what has been taught to them over the last two years is now their own private beliefs. And they are saying that yes, we do believe in these things. We do renounce the devil; we do believe in the God of the Apostles’ Creed; we do acknowledge the scriptures as the Word of God. And yes, if it comes to it, we will be that Ethiopian or that Libyan who confesses Christ despite the consequences which may follow.

Because somewhere along the way, those Ethiopian and Libyan Christians were taught the meaning of the Christian faith. They were taught about how God sent His Son into the world to save us from sin. They were taught about the meaning of their baptisms and the meaning of the vows that they also professed in front of their congregation. And when that moment came in which they could’ve run away or convert or hide their Christian faith, they instead remained true and faithful to what they were taught and gave their lives in sacrifice to the Triune God.

In his sermon today, Peter finishes up with the words, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” He says this to the authorities of his day, who rejected the person and message of Jesus. Even more so, these are the very Jerusalem authorities who crucified Jesus. And so Peter and John know they’re not standing before some impartial or indifferent secular judges. They’re standing before the very authorities who crucified Christ and so to name Him before them would be to expect that you would have the same happen to you.

But they are not afraid. They are not afraid because they are witnesses to the Resurrection. They have seen the empty tomb and they have seen the Risen Lord. They now know that Jesus’ words were true and that He is in fact, not just the Lord of the earth, but He is also the Lord over death. They know that even if they are put to death that they will have eternal life. And so, they cannot but help to speak of Jesus and speak of Him alone. They cannot help, at times, to speak with such confidence that they offend the authorities of this world.

When asked by what power or authority they preach, they are filled with the Holy Spirit who gives them the very words which testify to Jesus Christ. The confession of the Christian faith has always been a confession of life and death. It was for those early Apostles who were nearly all martyred. It was for the early Christians thrown to the lions and sentenced to meet their end in the Coliseum. It was for the Christians who lost their lives in the French Revolution and for those living in mainly Islamic countries today who cannot honor that god.

It is this faith that is confessed by our confirmands. And with their vows, they will share a bond with those around the world who have made the same confession. They will know that this is a faith that is about a lot more than memory verses and sermon studies. This is a faith of life and death. The Scriptures say that Jesus was the author and perfecter of this faith; that He suffered unjustly and died painfully. But they also say that all who believe in Him have eternal life and that salvation is found in no one else.

In places in the world like our country, our Christianity can come to be about comfortable routines. Our safety here can insulate us from the persecution others endure for the sake of the Gospel. But Jesus has told us that we can and should expect these things in life. And so the vows we take in confirmation are written to prepare us for all that may come with our life with Chri.

But we are not afraid because we believe in the author of life. We believe the payment for sin and the resurrection of the dead is true and there is life beyond this temporary world. And so we confess Christ in all circumstances and to all people. We count the confession as more important than our own personal earthly safety. Routines can keep us comfortable, but there may be times when routines need to be put aside for more important expressions of the faith. I pray that on this day, God would bless both our confirmands with a special measure of His Spirit, to give them the strength to confess Jesus both in life and death in the present time and unto eternity. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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