Our Redeemer Lives (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The text I preached on was the First Reading, Acts 2:42-47. As you might discern from the sermon, we sang the hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” split up across different portions of worship today.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. We are almost halfway through this season of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Christ is risen! For the first three Sundays, our gospel reading has taken place on Easter Sunday. We’ve heard three different stories of how various disciples responded to the resurrection.

Three weeks ago, we met Mary Magdalene and a few other women at the tomb. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. And then as they were starting to return home, Jesus was there, and talked to them. They were amazed and excited, but also confused and scared.

Two weeks ago, we met the disciples who were all gathered in one room, hiding behind locked doors. And then suddenly Jesus appeared with them, and said, “Peace be with you.” They rejoiced, but they weren’t sure what to do. In fact, a week later, they gathered in that room behind shut doors again. They were amazed and excited, but also confused and scared.

Last week, we met Cleopas and his friend walking the seven-mile journey to Emmaus. Then suddenly Jesus appeared to them, but they didn’t recognize him. They walked and talked with him for hours, and then when they invited him in, and he broke bread, they finally knew who he was. And they were amazed and excited, but also confused and scared.

There seems to be a pattern here. On Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, all of Jesus’ followers were amazed, excited, confused, and scared.

We see the disciples again in today’s first reading from Acts. But here, we see the disciples acting very differently. Listen again to what they were up to then:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. They ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

That’s different. They still seemed excited and amazed, but they weren’t confused or scared anymore. Now they were committed to one another. They were committed to fellowship and prayer and learning and worship. And they were generous beyond all reason, sharing everything they had with one another. What changed? What changed between Easter Day and this story in Acts?

Well, fifty days had passed, according to Luke. And it’s good to remember that the book of Acts was written by the same author as the gospel of Luke; they’re like parts one and two of one big story. According to Luke’s timeline, Jesus appeared to the disciples for forty days after his resurrection, and he went away, rising up above the clouds. And ten days after that was the Day of Pentecost, and Luke tells us that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in a breathtaking way, like tongues of fire that enabled them to preach about Christ in a way that everyone in Jerusalem understood.

And today’s story take place right after that Pentecost event. This is what life looked like for the disciples fifty days after the resurrection. So what changed? Six weeks of seeing Jesus, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. And I think through those two things, the disciples grew in their faith, and they knew that their redeemer lives.

They overflowed with hope and joy, because they knew that their redeemer lives, and what comfort that sweet sentence gives. They knew that he lives triumphant from the grave, that he lives eternally to save. That he lives to grant them rich supply, and to guide them with his eye. What joy that blest assurance gives – they knew that their redeemer lives.

That’s why we’re singing that song all day today. Because in a way, it’s the song of the disciples in Acts chapter 2. Those disciples knew that Jesus lives, and that he was their savior, their Lord, their redeemer. And they knew that they could put their trust in him. And so they didn’t need to trust in anything else, not their possessions, not their money, not Rome, not anything. They trusted in the one who redeemed them, and they knew that he would provide for them. And so their generosity exploded. They shared everything with one another.

They trusted God and loved one another, and showed generosity beyond all measure. This is what it looks like when a group of people knows that their redeemer lives.

So … why doesn’t our church look like this? We know that our redeemer lives. We are indeed generous, but not to this level. Well, the truth is, neither were they for very long. Keep reading in Acts, and you’ll see that the early church had many troubles and disputes and financial worries. Read Paul’s letters, and you’ll see that the church had all kinds of problems within just a few decades. Why did this generosity, this love, this utopia fade?

Well, my guess is this: over time, their excitement faded. Over time, they started to doubt. Over time, the idea that their redeemer lived didn’t pack the same punch. They starting debating things like who belonged in the church and who didn’t. They got distracted by all the concerns of everyday life. Kind of like us.

But there was still, even then, a Spirit there. The church of the first century always had the Holy Spirit, a spirit of love and compassion and generosity. It was always there, poking through, always there, reminding them. Even if it could sometimes be hidden behind troubles and problems.

And the Holy Spirit still here today. We too have a spirit of love and compassion and generosity here. And I believe that this is because we too believe that our redeemer lives. That belief is hidden sometimes behind troubles and problems, but it’s there.

And can you imagine what we would look like if our faith in that grew deeper. Can you imagine what changes might happen here in our congregation, here in our own lives, if we could see that just a little more clearly. If we believed that just a little more strongly.

If we had just a little more confidence, that he lives and grants us daily breath, that he lives and we shall conquer death. That he lives to silence all our fears, that he lives to wipe away our tears. That he lives and loves us to the end, our kind, wise, and heavenly friend.

Would we look like that church in Acts? Maybe not quite. But would we be closer? Maybe. What would be different if we as a congregation trusted a little more that our redeemer lives? I don’t know. But I think it would be fun to find out. How would your life be different if you trusted that a little more? What would you do differently, I wonder. What would I do differently, I wonder.

We know that our redeemer lives. Believe that. Trust that. Let’s see what happens.

Image by Andreluiz Cunha from Pixabay

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