( Acts 16:11-15 )
They remembered. In World War II, on the shores of France, a great war was won. During those months the people of France who had been conquered and oppressed by the Nazis were freed. And after the war was over, they remembered. They took the bodies of the men who gave their lives and buried them there on their own shores and on their own land. They did this for a very simple, but important reason: They remembered. They remembered the sacrifice the soldiers gave. They remembered the result their sacrifice brought: Freedom. They remembered. Their children remembered. And still today, their grandchildren remember. And still to this day, when there are children and grandchildren of those who died who travel over to France, the people there set aside time to welcome them and tell them and show them that they remember. This morning, that’s what God’s word invites us to do: to remember. The gospel has brought us freedom. And we hear about that freedom in these words from Acts 11: “1 The apostles and the brothers and sisters who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 Peter began to explain to them step by step: 5 “I was in the town of Joppa praying, and I saw, in a trance, an object that resembled a large sheet coming down, being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came to me. 6 When I looked closely and considered it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 “‘No, Lord!’ I said. ‘For nothing impure or ritually unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a voice answered from heaven a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call impure.’ 10 “Now this happened three times, and everything was drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them with no doubts at all. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and call for Simon, who is also named Peter. 14 He will speak a message to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’ 15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them, just as on us at the beginning. 16 I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, how could I possibly hinder God?”” (Acts 11:1–17 CSB17)
Here in these words, Peter eats with Gentiles. That might not seem like a huge, massive matter to spend time on for us today. But it was in the book of Acts. In fact, the Holy Spirit guided Luke to write many words on this topic. In the previous chapter, we hear about Peter having a vision. In this vision, there is a sheet that is lowered from heaven. God’s voice tells Peter to slaughter these animals and eat. Peter says, “No way!” All the animals on that sheet were ceremonially unclean animals. Three times the sheet is lowered. Three times Peter says, “no.” And the Lord tells Peter to not call unclean what he has made clean. But my friends in Christ, realize that he was not just speaking about animals. He was also speaking about us non-Jewish people, us Gentiles. Jesus rose from the dead. He guaranteed that these Old Testament ceremonial laws do no apply to us anymore. In so many ways, we are set free.
But this is where our temptation to sin comes into the picture. The people of France on the coast of Normandy remember. And not only do they remember the freedom they have, they also thank the families of those who gave their lives to secure their freedom. But when it comes to the freedom we have in Christ today—the freedom from the Old Testament Ceremonial law, do we remember? Do we still rejoice? If I asked you what your top ten list of favorite or most important parts of the New Testament were, would this part of God’s word even make the list? There is the old proverb, that familiarity breeds contempt. Has the same happened with us? We can worship when we want and where we want. We can eat what we want and wear what we want. This is the freedom that the gospel gives to us. And sadly, we see our sin, by our lack of understanding and our lack of rejoicing.
But my dear friends in Christ, just as these words show us our sin, they also show us our salvation. For just as the gospel brings us freedom from those OT ceremonial laws, it also brings us freedom from sin. There are times we should strive to understand what Christ’s resurrection brought us. But we don’t. But that sin along with all the rest is payed for on the cross. That forgiveness is proven to be forgiven when Jesus rose from the dead.
The gospel brings freedom. But in our last verse, note what the gospel also brings us: “When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.”” (Acts 11:18 CSB17)
What is repentance? We use all these theological words. But do we understand them? Could we explain them if we were asked? Repentance is a change of heart, mind, and attitude.1 We used to be enemies of Christ. But now we are his friends. How did that happen? Notice what God’s word tells us: Repentance is a gift from God.
Notice then our role and God’s role in this. Our role is to read God’s word, to study it here and at home. And then to speak the truth in love. But that’s where our role stops. God’s role is to give repentance. Here too we see our own temptation to sin. We have this temptation to conclude that if we just say the most precise and perfect word with the most precise and perfect tone we’ll give this person repentance. Think of how paralyzing of an understanding that is. Either you live in fear of saying the wrong thing, so you don’t say anything about your Savior to your friend, co-worker, or family member. Or, when someone does become a Christian, you face the temptation, that when he or she is a Christian, you can conclude, “I” made that person a Christian. I gave that person repentance.
And my dear friends in Christ, that’s why these words are so comforting to us. God is the one who give repentance. God is the one who performs miracles when and where we cannot. And if you live long enough on this earth, you might begin to see this. You might see a relative or friend who years ago you would have never have suspected would end up being a Christian. But someone, maybe you, shared God’s word with that person. And a miracle happened. God have that person repentance. They had this change of heart, mind, and attitude. And on that day when we see that, you will lift up a prayer of thanksgiving to your Triune God above. For he alone was the one who could get that work done.
What does the gospel bring? The gospel brings freedom. And the gospel brings repentance. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲉⲧⲁⲛⲟⲓⲁⲛ” (Acts 11:18 GNT-ALEX)
Nobody chooses ugly. A few months ago, an old high school friend of mine posted pictures of herself on Facebook. They were before and after pictures. In one picture she had good lighting and make up on. And in the other picture she did not have make up on. And she went on to confess that she had always had problems with her skin. And she became very good with make up for one simple reason: nobody chooses the ugly girl. It’s true, isn’t it? We are drawn to that which is beautiful and that which is best. But it’s not that way with our Lord. Martin Luther put it this way: “God’s love does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. Human love comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.””1 This morning we have an amazing example of this. It would be hard to find a more ugly example of a human being than Saul. In Acts 9, we read: “1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:1–9 NIV11-GKE)
It doesn’t get any uglier than what we read here in these words. In the book of Acts, three times we hear of what Paul’s life was like before he was a Christian. And every time there are more details which make us see how ugly Saul was. Here in these words, he hates Jesus so much that he is willing to get official letters from the high priest in Jerusalem and travel outside of Israel to Damascus so that he can arrest both men and women and put them to death in Jerusalem. There is no other word you can use for this than, “ugly.” And yet, Jesus chooses Saul. And he even appears to him on the road to Damascus. And he does this for one simple and important reason: The enemies of Christ need the gospel. Jesus wants all people to be saved. So Jesus reaches out to this man who is filled with such ugliness and preaches a very powerful message, “Saul, Saul, why are you hunting me down?”2 Out of love for him, he shows Saul his sin. But what happens next is just as interesting: “10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”” (Acts 9:10–16 NIV11-GKE)
The enemies of Christ need the gospel. But notice what we see here. Jesus wants us to share the gospel with them. And here in these words we see what that looks like. Jesus tells this believer, Ananias to share the gospel with Saul. And Ananias asks Jesus if that is really a good idea. Ananias is scared of Saul. The enemies of Christ need to hear the gospel. And he has given that task to his church. But each of us can easily put ourselves in the shoes of Ananias. It is so easy to not share the gospel with unbelievers. It might be like Ananias that we are afraid of them and the harm they can do. It might be that we are angry at them. I remember when I was in high school and I had a Biology teacher who was zealous evolutionist. Day after day I had to hear him say, “Millions of years ago…” So I grew to hate him. Instead of praying that Jesus would change his heart to the truth, I prayed that God would put an end to him. It is easy to not share the gospel because it is so easy to hate those who hate Jesus. Or, we might not want to share the gospel with the enemies of Christ because they might actually be converted. And when they are converted, they might actually join our church. And we might actually have a person with a pierced nose and snake tattoos down the length of his body in our church. We might be embarrassed that a person who did not grow up in church might not instantly act as if he grew up in the church. We might hesitate. But Ananias went to Saul. And here’s what happened: “17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:17–19 NIV11-GKE)
Ananias goes to Saul. And the first action Ananias takes is to call this ugly man who hunted down Christians, “brother.”3 He gives him a name and a title that Saul did not deserve. He tells Saul that he was about to give him an amazing gift. He was about to give him the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then after giving him this promise, he fulfills that promise by baptizing him. And in those waters of baptism he brings forgiveness to him and washes away all of his sin.
And so, my brothers and sisters, this leads us to the question, why. Why did Ananias do this? First of all, no doubt, he recognized that there was once a time when he was an enemy of Christ. And each of us recognizes the same. Everyone of us has been and lived as an enemy of Christ. But God has washed away our sins in those waters of baptism. Second, As each of us sees that we are forgiven and how much we are forgiven, there is this amazing and natural joy at wanting others to have that same forgiveness. And that’s the joy that Ananias had. By God’s Holy Spirit, it wasn’t just Jesus who could say that the enemies of Christ needed to hear the gospel. It was Ananias too. And with joy in our hearts we too say the same today.
And with that joy, let there also be a prayer in our hearts today. One of the great difficulties of sharing the gospel with enemies of Christ is that they act like enemies of Christ. They do not have the joy we have. They do not understand. And what they do understand about Jesus, they despise. And our prayer is that our Savior, Jesus would give to us the same resolve, the same zeal, and the same joy to be able to reach out to the enemies of Christ around us in our lives and share the gospel with them. For the enemies of Christ need the gospel. Amen.
1 The Roots of Reform, The Annotated Luther 1; ed. Timothy J. Wengert; Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), 85.
2 “ⲧⲓⲙⲉⲇⲓⲱⲕⲉⲓⲥ” (Acts 9:4 GNT-ALEX)
3 “ⲁⲇⲉⲗⲫⲉ·” (Acts 9:17 GNT-ALEX)