Easter Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Yr A

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Easter Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Yr A Powered By Docstoc
					   Sermon by Pastor Robert Green, Third Sunday of Easter, 2011, Yr. A, No. 875, Ascension Evangelical Lutheran
            Church, Harrisburg, Grace Through Christ, Lewisburg, PA, W.E.L.S., based on Acts 24:10-21
                                                  “What hope had Paul?”
    I wonder what hope Osama Bin Laden had after 9/11 that he would live out a long life. He obviously had
concern for he lived behind 18 foot walls and took pains to leave no electronic record of his whereabouts. That hope
had to fade when he realized he was under invasion by the US military. No one knows what Osama Bin Laden was
thinking in those final seconds when he saw the Navy Seals enter his room. One thing is for sure, his hope of living
securely in his compound evaporated in a moment of time.
    St. Paul was faced with many situations in his life in which his hope of living a secure long life had to be
challenged. The reading for today comes at the end of three of four missionary journeys Paul made during his
ministry on earth. During this three year journey Paul had, among other things, visited Macedonia and Greece along
the way encouraging the Christians to make an offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul accompanied some men with
the offering to Jerusalem. But there was concern for his safety for while on the trip to Jerusalem, through the Spirit
some believers in Tyre “urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” Then while in Caesarea the prophet Arabus came
down from Judea took Paul’s belt and bound his hands and feet saying, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews
of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” What hope had Paul of a
peaceful visit to Jerusalem?
    Once he arrived the brothers in Jerusalem were concerned that many Jews were angry with him and were telling
others that Paul was against Judaism and was against keeping the Law of Moses. So the brothers asked Paul to
accompany some of the brothers who had made vows, in Christian freedom, to the Temple in Jerusalem and that
Paul join their purification rites and pay the offering price to show he was not against the Law of Moses. This was
not an offering for sin, but a free will offering and so Paul agreed.
    When Paul was in the Temple Court some Jews, who had seen him in Jerusalem with a gentile convert assumed
he had brought the convert into the inner Temple Court, which was strictly against Jewish law, and began accusing
Paul of desecrating the Temple. We are told, “The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all
directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.” The Roman
garrison was attached to the Temple and when the commander heard the uproar he sent men to bring order and
arrested Paul. The commander allowed Paul to address the crowd who listened to his account of his conversion and
call to serve, but went ballistic when Paul said Jesus had sent him to proclaim forgiveness to the gentiles and the
crowd screamed “Away with him.” This may well have brought back to Paul the shouts of the Jews against Jesus on
Good Friday. What hope did Paul have?
    The commander had Paul appear before the Sanhedrin to find out what the charges were against him. Paul
realized he was getting nowhere. He knew the Sanhedrin had two parties the Sadducees, who rejected any notion of
the resurrection, and the Pharisees, who believed in a bodily resurrection, and so he said, “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.” We are told,
“The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.” The
commander had Paul brought to the barracks and ordered him to be whipped so that he would confess his crime, but
Paul claimed Roman citizenship which automatically protected one from such treatment. Paul’s nephew then told
the commander that forty Jewish men had vowed not to eat until they had killed Paul and so the commander sent
Paul to the ruling governor, Felix, in Caesarea. What hope did Paul have to escape with so many wanting him dead?
    Once before Felix the high priest and elders of the Jews made their charge against Paul through a lawyer named
Tertullus who presented the case before Felix saying, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up
riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the
temple; so we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we
are bringing against him.” 9 The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.”
    In the reading for today we are told, “When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that
for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify
that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with
anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot
prove to you the charges they are now making against me.”
    Paul represented himself and though he had been trained as a lawyer, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “A lawyer
who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Paul offered his defense which essentially was none of the
accusations were true. But it was his word against the chief priest, the elders and the lawyer. What defendant would
simply rely on his testimony that all the other witnesses are lying? His approach was to show that he had little
chance to do what the Jews accused him of for he had e only arrived in Jerusalem 12 days before and had been in
custody for six days. But the charge was far more serious for if Paul was stirring up trouble all over the world, Felix
as a Roman governor had the duty to keep the peace. Felix understood the seriousness of the charge of desecrating
the Temple. Felix knew he had to placate the religious leaders to keep the peace. What hope had Paul for a fair trial
with the same group against him that once successfully stood against Christ?
    Paul sought to show Felix that this was merely a religious dispute and so said, “However, I admit that I worship
the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law
and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a
resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and
man.” At the time the Roman Empire considered the Christian faith an offshoot of Judaism. The Jews wanted no
such identification with Christianity and in calling it a sect they used a word that gives us the English word for
“heresy” to show Christianity was not associated with Judaism.
    What hope had Paul? Take careful notice how Paul placed his hope in the truth of all Scripture. In this he had
hope, which means to be sure and certainty about something, of the resurrection. To be sure, the Pharisees also
believed in a resurrection, though without faith in the Savior. They believed in a resurrection based on work
righteousness which meant their resurrection would come by their own righteousness or obedience to the law. This is
why they still charged Paul, for Paul believed in the only resurrection that comes by the work of Christ Jesus to win
eternal life for us by his suffering and death on the Cross and his own resurrection from the dead. Christ’s salvation
only would come to the individual through faith in Jesus. If Paul were right, the Pharisees were not only wrong, they
were doomed.
    To strengthen his point that his hope was based on the resurrection and this whole dispute was religious in nature
Paul went on to tell Felix, “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the
poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There
was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia,
who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here
should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—21 unless it was this one thing I
shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you
    But what hope had Paul that the trial would result in a favorable verdict? What did it matter, Paul’s ultimate hope
was in the resurrection. If the trial resulted in imprisonment, in more beatings, or in death, Paul still had the hope, the
absolute confidence in his resurrection to live eternally with Christ. Thus, the key is that the hope of the resurrection
made all the difference for Paul. This hope was a principle of life for Paul. He lived trusting that no matter what
came his way, no matter what the Jews did or Felix, Paul knew he would die and be resurrected.
    So what does this really matter to you and me? We too face trials and tribulations in this life. Some are dealing
with financial hardship and may wonder, “What am I going to do?” Others may be worried about the years to come,
especially the elderly who have limited income, but do discount the younger ones who wonder what life will be like
when they are ready to retire. Illness or great loss can strike at any time. Can we not join with Paul and say in the
great scheme of things in the face of good times and bad, “What does it matter, for we too have the hope of the
resurrection!” This is a principle for each of us to live by. To be sure, that principal does not put bread on the table or
a roof over our head, but it does gives us reason to have hope and comfort in the most difficult of times, for it means
we have the forgiveness of sins and have been declared right with God.
    Osama Bin Laden lived with hope in worldly things, in an eighteen high fence in a secluded area, forgoing
common electronic use, all to live a secure life, and looked what it got him. What hope have we, but the same hope
of Paul, the sure and certainty of the resurrection. We can believe in the resurrection, for as Peter says in the reading
from 1 Peter for today, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with
perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from
your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen
before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in
God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” That is why we can
believe and have hope in the resurrection and that should make all the difference! To God be all glory, amen!

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