Dear fellow “preachers” for Jesus,
Several Pastors I know sometimes have had unsettling dreams the night before they preach. These dreams seem to have to do with uncertainty and anxiety about being ready to deliver a sermon the next morning. I remember having a recurring Saturday night dream, especially when I was a Vicar, about running around on a Sunday morning five minutes before start of service looking for my Bible and sermon notes. The embarrassment that would be suffered if I were to stumble through the sermon because of not having my notes and feeling unprepared was probably the reason that often times in the dream I’d be half-dressed as I ran around looking for my Bible and notes! As time goes on and a Pastor has preached for a few years and becomes more confident about being ready to preach, the dreams don’t occur as often.
Our lessons today (5th Sunday after Pentecost) are about being ready in our Christian lives to “preach a sermon”, especially when the pressure is on. Examples are found in the “main people” in our lessons – the prophet Jeremiah with the people of Jerusalem (600 B.C.), the apostle Paul late in his ministry life, and Jesus and his 12 apostles as Jesus was sending the 12 out on their own for a few weeks to the surrounding towns and villages as his messengers. These lessons and examples put this question before us, Jesus’ 21st century A.D. disciples and apostles …
Is Your Sermon Ready? What Will You Say?
“I don’t know him”? OR “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life”?
“I don’t know him” are the disciple Peter’s words about Jesus, probably quite familiar to us. Peter basically said this three times the night Jesus was betrayed and put on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (ruling council). Peter was under pressure (so he thought) as he warmed himself beside the fire with the High Priest’s palace servants. When asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples, his answer was, “I DON”T KNOW HIM”.
Is that your sermon? Is that what you say when put on the spot about your relationship with Jesus?
We’ve mentioned it often in sermons and Bible classes, and I’m sure you see it in your own life, that quite often the “sermons” we preach say: “I don’t know him.” The ways of saying “I don’t know him” often are “preached” with words. For the most part we probably aren’t guilty of flat out saying, “I don’t know Jesus.” But I’m sure that there have been times in all our lives when words came out of our mouths that shouldn’t come from the mouth of someone who knows and loves Jesus.
But our “sermons” that say “I don’t know him” aren’t preached only with words. Sometimes it’s the lack of words that says as much as words themselves. Sometimes it’s silently joining in activities that are against God’s perfect will for our lives as his children. Sometimes it’s being silent when love for someone would have us speak up about God’s will, about their disobedience of it and their need of Jesus’ forgiveness for that disobedience. Whether spoken with words or without them, such “sermons” put us in the situation Jesus spoke of as he sent the twelve on their mission trip, “Everyone who confesses me before others, I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven”. I deserve to have Jesus say at my judgment day before God, “I don’t know you; away from me.”
But this Jesus, the Son of God, became God the Father’s “sermon” to us. His apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to call Jesus “the Word” (John 1:1) when writing his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ entire life was the perfect “sermon”, always presenting in word and actions God’s loving truth to all people. In our place Jesus always “made the good confession” about God, about his will for us, and about his selfless love for us. Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin “preaching a sermon” to perhaps some of the same men to whom Paul would “preach” some twenty-five years later. Jesus lovingly spoke God’s truth to them. (Much of what Paul said in Acts 23 echoed Jesus.) In our place Jesus continued the good confession by silently enduring God’s just punishment on our poor confessions. For us then, there is a resurrection to eternal life through forgiveness in Jesus; HE IS THAT RESURRECTION AND LIFE!
Because of this we have reason to preach our sermon, and we know what to say! “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life”. These, of course, are Jesus’ words, spoken to Martha just before Jesus raised her brother Lazarus from death (John 11). But the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is crucial in “preaching” about the forgiveness he acquired for us. His resurrection is proof that, as Jesus’ said from his cross, “it is finished”! So Paul had been proclaiming the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself knew Jesus to be the source of his resurrection and eternal life; and he consistently said so. Paul knew what to say. Jesus’ disciples being sent out for a few weeks on their own knew what to say since they had been taught by him.
Focusing on the Apostle Paul in the lesson from Acts 23, we also observe that in addition to knowing what to preach, Paul also knew his audience. In this instance Paul’s intellect and quick mind are on display. He was on the verge of being beaten to death by members of the Sanhedrin. But when he was able to get in a few words, he was able to take the focus of the group off himself and put it on them by exposing the divisions in the Sanhedrin. Though they were all Jews and “members” of the Jewish faith, they had their differing belief groups – Pharisees and Sadducees (somewhat like the visible Christian Church today with its different denominations). Paul had been a Pharisee before knowing Jesus as the Christ, his Savior. He knew what the Pharisees believed and taught, as well as knowing the beliefs and teachings of the Sadducees. In this particular instance, he was able to use that to his advantage regarding his physical safety.
The Pharisees accurately taught the Old Testament scriptures, correctly teaching God’s commandments for the lives of his people. They believed from Scripture in the spiritual realm, in angels, heaven and hell, and the resurrection of the dead. However, they also missed entirely the purpose of those commandments and the central message of those Scriptures. They believed and taught that by living by God’s commandments a person could be acceptable to God and earn eternal life with him. To “help” people the Pharisees came up with hundreds of smaller commands connected to God’s commands. In reality, they hurt rather than helped, creating more guilt in a person as they saw ever more clearly their shortcomings before their holy God. And then, they missed the central truth of the Scriptures, that the promised Messiah (Christ) would come to be the substitutionary Rescuer of people by being perfect in their place and by suffering God’s punishment deserved by sinners.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, taught the Scriptures as being somewhat mythological – denying the existence of the spiritual realm, of heaven and hell, of angels and of the resurrection of the dead. They would be the equivalent of religious teachers and churches today that also deny those teachings of Scripture and who also teach that many teachings of Scripture don’t apply to these times in which we live.
So, Paul deflected the animosity off himself by saying that he had been a Pharisee and that he was on trial for preaching concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead. While the two groups began bickering amongst themselves, the military commander was able to get Paul out of the situation and to the safety of the military barracks.
In all this, however, Paul had “preached his sermon”; he proclaimed in word and action God’s message for those people. The same was true regarding Jeremiah in our first lesson (Jeremiah 19:14-20:6). Jesus was instructing his disciples about the same thing when he told them, “What I say to you in the dark, speak in the daylight…” and not to fear those who would not joyfully receive what they said and might even try to do them harm. (Matt. 10:27ff)
You, also, are prepared to preach your sermon! Often we don’t think so. But like Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus’ twelve disciples, you’ve listened to your Savior’s Word. If you’ve been through Catechism class, the memorization of Bible passages was done so that when needed those truths are in our heads and hearts.
If you don’t feel prepared, there are things you can do – read more Scripture at home, asking simple questions of the section, like what is God telling me about myself here? …about Him? Come to a Bible Class – especially the current Sunday A.M. class on Bible teachings that were once again brought to the forefront in the Reformation of the Church, 500 years ago.
You are also ready with your “sermon” because you, like the apostle Paul, are usually familiar with the people with whom you have most of your conversations. They may be in your family, or at work, or friends. You know them. You know their life situations. You know their activities and behaviors. You know their greatest need! And you have the “sermon” for their greatest need – Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life!
In every setting may we then be ready with our “sermon” – that points out everyone’s need for a Savior and points to the only Savior, Jesus, the Resurrection and Life! Amen.
Jeremiah 19:14 – 20:6
Jer 19:14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD’S temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”
Jer 20:1 When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’S temple. 3 The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The LORD’S name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib a. 4 For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. 5 I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. 6 And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’ ”
a Means “terror on every side” in Hebrew.
Ac 23:1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”
4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” 5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’’”
6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) 9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
Mt 10:24 “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! 26 “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.