Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

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Note: All Scripture quotations in the written sermon are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016.  Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


The sermon text for the sixth Sunday of Easter is the epistle reading from Acts 17:16-31.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction: “Therefore, when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone…” (1 Thes 3:1). It seems St. Paul was an extrovert and always wanted to be in a group. After being persecuted for preaching the Gospel of Christ in Thessalonica in his second missionary journey in the year of our Lord 51, St. Paul was forced to flee to Berea with Silas and Timothy and when his persecutors heard he was in Berea and followed him there the Christians decided they needed to send Paul away and they took him alone by sea to Athens. There, in Athens, Paul suffered the extrovert’s pain of being all alone. And so what must have been some of his most challenging missionary work from an emotional point of view, Paul’s spirit was provoked by a city full of idols as he waited for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens.

(1) We are pained by our non-Christian acquaintances’ idolatry and worldview because it does not lead to life

We are pained by our non-Christian acquaintances’ lifestyles and idolatry. We are pained by them because we know that they will not lead to salvation and life with God let alone happiness but to despair and ultimately death. Perhaps you have fellow classmates at school, acquaintances at work or neighbours who are not Christian and it pains you to see the way they are living.

I’ve shared this story before but for those of you who have not heard it, some twenty years ago I was a summer vicar in downtown Toronto and I lived in a student dormitory at the University of Victoria right in downtown Toronto. Just to the west is Queen’s Park, to the east is Bay Street and to the north is Bloor Street. The residence is in the heart of downtown Toronto. In my unit in the residence I shared a double room with an old friend from Kitchener. At the time he was not living as a Christian or worshipping God, though he had be baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. He had fallen away from the Lord and it pained me to see him live without the Lord in his life. Down the hall in our unit were two other single rooms with two other guys in them. These guys were the epitome of success among university students: they were smart and good looking, they had jobs and money, one was a computer science undergrad and the other was an architecture major. They wore stylish clothes, were successful it would seem in class and they both had beautiful girlfriends who could have been models. They had everything that a young man could want in the world but they did not have faith in Christ. They went out to nightclubs and partied and on the surface it seemed like they were having lots of fun but there were some signs that not everything was alright: at times they would have fights with their girlfriends or with each other. As St. Augustine says, our hearts only find rest when they find rest in Thee. And so what seems to be smart and be real living apart from faith in Christ ends up giving sadness, pain and death. This creates deep, gut-wrenching pain and sadness for them, I liked them and felt this pain for them just as you most likely feel that pain for those non-Christian acquaintances you have and like.

(2) We know the Word of God gives life!

We know that the Word of God gives life! The world in it’s wisdom thinks it has religion figured out: either there is no God and there is nothing but matter, or you do good God will be pleased you, and if you do bad God will punish you. And so religion for the world becomes a matter of figuring out ways to please God while trying to avoid angering Him. Religion becomes almost like putting a toonie in a snack machine, if you put good in you get good out of God: in the end it’s a form of idolatry and personal control of God through service, it’s a God of a person’s own making. It’s idolatry.

We can live like this though God’s Word tells us otherwise: we can seek to make amends for our sins by good works, or think that by our efforts to keep the Ten Commandments and avoid sin we can earn God’s favour.

But what does God’s Word, God’s revelation to the world say about Himself and how we truly get life? Unless we have God’s Word which reveals who God is and what He is really like and what He has done for the world in Jesus we cannot have true life. Jesus is the Son of God and is life and we can’t get life or even lasting contentment apart from Him. God’s Word has good news, counterintuitive news: God is a God of marvelous grace. We do indeed offend God by all our sins, such as speaking unkind or harsh words to our loved ones as we spend so much time with them these days, but God takes the punishment of our sins upon Himself instead of punishing us. God knows we are born with original sin and trapped, doomed to death by our sins so the Father sends His Son to Earth, in human flesh as a man, and loads our sins on Christ which weighs Him down to the cross taking them away from us and dying with them. God does this for us to atone for our sin and shares the life that emanates from Him with us in Christ. This is the marvel of Good Friday and we learn this only through God’s Word. Yet true life must extend beyond death and God’s Word reveals Jesus’ resurrection is the proof from God the Father in heaven that all Jesus’ promises are true and all His teaching is true. God the Father signed off and approved of every word and miracle and work of Christ by raising Him from the dead. This is life: to know from God’s Word that God loves you and has sent His Son to suffer for your sins and in His Son’s resurrection promises you a bodily resurrection and life and fellowship with Him not only in this life but in the resurrection on the Last Day. The promises and gifts of present peace and future life from God revealed through His Word give us peace and joy and settle our hearts amidst our day to day trials.

(3) Like Paul did in Athens we seek to share the Good News of Christ to our non-Christian acquaintances that they too may have life

What God is showing us through His Word in Acts chapter 17 is Paul is seeking to share the Good News of Christ in effective ways. In Athens Paul was speaking to some of the smartest people who were alive on Earth during his time. As we live in K-W near two universities and the Perimeter Centre for Theoretical Physics we live in that kind of academic place too. Not everyone is super-smart but we learn from the evangelist Paul to be wise and try and share the Gospel of Christ as effectively as we can with others. Paul’s strategy is he tries to make as many connections from the Athenians’ worldview to the Word of God and the biblical worldview as possible. He speaks of the Athenian’s religiosity in making an altar to an “unknown god” which they did in case they forgot to worship one of their minor deities and would offend them. Paul uses the sayings of some of their poets that are in harmony with the Word of God as springboards to explain the true God to the Athenians.

How can we share the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus more effectively? Here are three ideas:

First off, we will want to make as one of our highest evangelism aims the goal of getting the Word of God, the Holy Bible, into the hands of those we evangelize. This is an end goal and may not happen for some time but it should be one of our chief goals.

Second, we will want to make as another goal the aim of inviting them to church when we think they will accept the invitation so they can hear the preaching of God’s Word and see the Church living in peace and harmony. For this remember the 3 nots: I’m not doing well, I did not expect that, I’m not from here. Whenever you hear one of these three “nots” when you are in conversation with a non-Christian acquaintance think of it as the Holy Spirit knocking on your door telling you to invite them to worship with you that Sunday.

Third, to share the Word of God effectively today in the West it is helpful to classify those we are sharing Christ with as either (1) atheists/materialists, or, (2) people who believe in a God/gods/spirits some of whom may be lapsed Christians.
For those who are atheists, we will want to point out the natural law that is implicit in laws of nature to show them their need for a Saviour, that is we will want to show them from things that are observable in life/nature their need for a Saviour. Some of these observations include: (1) no one lives forever/everyone dies, (2) the laws of thermodynamics show us that the whole universe is slowly descending into disorder and chaos which means the universe has an expiry date, and, (3) the science of genetics also shows all life is degrading and getting less fit with every passing generation (which is the exact opposite of the theory of evolution) so the human race will not live forever.

If they listen to this and take this to heart it will create an opening for them to consider their mortality and a need for life. That is our link, our bridge, to tell them that all of this is in accord with what happened after the Fall and go on to speak about God, creation and God’s work of salvation and life in Christ in brief as Paul did to the Athenians.

For those who believe in God/gods/spirits and may be lapsed Christians, we can appeal to their conscience and ask them, Have done enough good to please God? If they say yes, we can ask them questions to steer them in the way of the Law and to see how they really live and how they have fallen short of the demands of their conscience and natural law. If they say no, they have not done enough to please God, we can ask them what they think God will do to them because of their sins. This will have them ponder God’s punishment to the sinner. And then we can go on to share the Good News of Christ with the Word of God.

Our goal in evangelism is never to try and be smarter than someone else but to care for them and listen to them and in conversation ask questions that will put a stone in their shoe and cause them to see that they will not live forever and that they need the forgiveness of sin and eternal life that only God can offer.

Conclusion: The Word of God gives life! Through the Word God reveals His creation of the world and His saving work in Christ. It’s not our evangelism which saves but the Holy Spirit who creates faith through God’s Word which saves. Our peace and trust is Christ’s mighty, saving work for us. We know that Christ rose from the dead never to die again and will raise us on the Last Day. And so we seek to share that Good News with others.

I don’t know what happened to the two guys who lived in my unit that summer I was on summer vicarage. I hope and pray they have stopped chasing the wind, repented, and come to Christ for life. My old friend and roommate, that happened to him, shortly after this God placed a Christian girl in his life and he was renewed in His walk with Christ and began worshipping with her both before and after he married her. So it was a wonderful end to that story. As we share the Good News the results will probably be like St. Paul’s: a fraction will believe and most will reject. But even if they don’t hear us, God may use our efforts to get them to hear the presentation of the Gospel from another Christian later on in life. No matter what, we rejoice in the life we have in Christ and we seek to share the salvation and life that is only found in Christ with others. May God grant that to us for Christ’s sake. Amen.