Let us pray: Dear Savior, once long ago, You promised the disciples and Your Holy Church that they would receive power from on high. At Pentecost You poured out that power upon them and upon us. Today give us a new dose of that power. Cause us to recognize its strength. And move each of us to use it wisely. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUE POWER
TEXT: Acts 14: 8-18
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
During the average Sunday sermon pastors talk a lot about humility, love, kindness and compassion. Hopefully, every pastor especially stresses the forgiveness of sins, which presupposes a humble, repentant heart. But, we seldom discuss power. However, the Bible is replete with examples of Godly power. Think of Elijah hovering over that dead boy in Zarapheth and raising him to life. That was raw, Godly power in action. Think of the miracles of Jesus. Raw power there, too. Or how about the dying Jesus turning to that thief on the cross and promising him Paradise? Well, that is a bit different than we might expect, but since that promise came from God’s lips, it was power-filled.
We usually view Godly power in human terms. We see it in terms of externals we can sort of understand. Miracles, resurrections, physical healings, or the Pentecost ability to speak in tongues come to mind. But such a narrow view of Godly power would be a mistake. The exact same God Who created the earth from nothing, caused the Red Sea to part through Moses, and led His people to the promised land in that visible pillar of fire; that God employs His exact same power today in the seemingly mundane.—Causing the rains to fall and the seasons to come and go isn’t flashy, but it breeds life. And using the simple water of baptism, the humble elements of bread and wine in communion, and the common words of Christians: “I forgive you all your sins”; well, behind the mundane stands the sublime! Behind such things stands Godly power, even though most refuse to acknowledge it. In fact, God has chosen to use the mundane of this world to really show forth His power. We see that especially in the cross, an instrument of torture and death, which through Christ brings eternal life. Why does God use such things to bring us His power? The answer is: He’s not into dazzling us or preying on our emotions. No, He’s into saving us. To do that, He wants to elicit and work faith into our hearts. And only humble, rejectible vehicles of His grace which seemingly hide His power, can cause a person to hold onto Christ and His forgiveness, even when the world says: “It’s all rubbish.”
There’s another reason behind using the “common and ordinary” to convey His power to us. It’s to keep us humble. If we were given the power to hurl lightening bolts at others or zap out miracles, our egos would become inflated rather quickly, we’d become corrupted by our gift of Godly power, and ultimately we’d do what Satan did so long ago in eternity, we’d try to, or at least believe we could supplant God Himself. Likewise, those viewing such displays might believe, but it would be through fear or coercion rather than through love. And none of the above would honor God.
Today, we are confronted with an amazing lesson in Godly power and we see the human dilemma of both faith and dazzled acceptance resulting from it. One honors God, one does not. Since you and I have been given the hidden, hooded power of God—the Gospel—to use and employ, this lesson is most instructive. And it really teaches us to:
ALWAYS USE GOD’S POWER IN HUMILITY
As I’ve stated, most of the time Godly power is unseen. That’s because it focuses upon changing people from the inside out, whereas our eyes only view the outward appearance. Here both aspects are combined. The result is: the townspeople of Lystra are quite jubilant! They view Paul and Barnabas as greek gods, Zeus and Mercury, the supposed patrons of their city, all because they healed this middle-aged man of his birth defect—the inability to walk. However, the greater power was found in their preaching of Christ crucified and the forgiveness of sins which implanted and worked faith into that poor beggar’s heart. That power saved his soul. That power saved his life eternally. But the townsfolk are oblivious to that miracle, aren’t they? The razzle-dazzle, the healing miracle, was but a fruit given to this man on account of his faith. The faith was all important. But the townsfolk are blinded to real power because it just doesn’t overly excite their senses.
When the local priest of Zeus’ temple puts together a parade to honor Paul and Barnabas, brings a couple of laurel-wreathed oxen to sacrifice to them, and calls them: “gods”—well, Paul has had enough! He refuses to accept their accolades. He refuses to violate the 1st commandment. Instead, he launches into a sermon about how they are only men, how they have come to bring something far better than razzle-dazzle, how the living God—Christ—made everything, sustains everything, gives us signs of real power in keeping the rains and seasons going to sustain life, and how like this healed man, God now wants to heal their souls through the blood of Christ. Luke then adds: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.”
St. Paul knew all about Godly power. He had experienced it during his conversion on the road to Damascus. He had used it in many ways during his life—even raising a dead man in one instance. But most of all, he knew that the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ, was the real dynamite, the real power of God. In fact, in Romans 1:16 Paul writes about this: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.” Paul had been humbled by the power of God’s gift of eternal life. Nothing he did before his conversion had so gripped his heart and changed his life for the better. Nothing before had worked peace with God into his very soul. So, Paul here uses that power wisely and humbly to attempt to dose these Lystrians with Godly power. Through his actions and words, Paul mimics what St. John the Baptist said to his disciples when they asked him about Jesus: “He must increase but I must decrease.” Yes, Paul is living out what Christ said in John 15:5 when it came to using Godly power: “Without Me, you can do nothing.”
I’d like to give you a happy ending to this story. But I cannot. For in the verses following our text we see the fickleness of people who focus on the razzle-dazzle but refuse to listen and experience true Godly power—the power of the Gospel. Rabble-rousing enemies of Paul and Christ appear in the city. Within a few days they totally turn the townsfolk against Paul and the entire group is forced to flee from Lystra for their lives. Kind of reminds you of Palm Sunday and Good Friday, doesn’t it? Hosanna one day and crucify the next.
Baptism, communion, Sunday’s absolution, Sunday school, confirmation classes, Bible studies, sermons—none of them are filled with much razzle-dazzle. And so, it’s easy to conclude that none of them contains Godly power. Don’t make that mistake, my friends! Don’t do what these Lystrians did. Instead, expose yourself to true power, recognize it, rejoice over it, and use it in humility, awe, and thankfulness. Amen