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Witnesses to the Resurrection
Acts 5:30-32


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday of Easter—April 22, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Have you ever witnessed something so wonderful, so joyous, that you just had to share it with someone else?  A child is born, and the proud father races to the telephone to call the grandparents.  You get a raise, a promotion, a new job, and you can’t wait to tell your family.  A student wins an award or makes the honor roll, and rushes home to tell his or her parents.  When something wonderful happens, you just naturally want to tell people about it.

On the first Easter morning when the women found the empty tomb, they literally ran to tell the others the Good News.  Imagine them, out of breath from running, bursting with joy and amazement.  “We have seen the Lord—he is risen!”  They couldn’t contain themselves because they were witnesses to something wonderful, they were “Witnesses to the Resurrection.”

In today’s reading from Acts, the Apostle Peter is testifying before the ruling council: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  We are witnesses of these things.”

Beginning about 30 years ago, many Christian churches in America embarked on what was supposed to be a new strategy for “Church Growth.”  The emphasis was on using modern marketing techniques to “sell” Christianity in our consumer-oriented culture.   But, 30 years and billions of dollars later, the “Church Growth Movement” is a failure.  There has been a decrease not an increase in the number of Christians in America.  The decline of the Church actually accelerated with the use of slick salesmanship and marketing techniques.

Acts tells us that when Peter preached to the crowd on Pentecost, “Those who received his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”  How can we recapture what they had in the early Church, when a simple witness touched the hearts of so many? 

The first Christians didn’t have things any easier back then.  If anything, it was much harder.  How many of us fear being thrown to the lions because we’re worshipping Christ here this morning?  For the first three hundred years Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire, sometimes persecuted violently, and many thousands of early Christians lost their lives because of their faith.  It was Christianity that was considered in the Roman world to be a pagan, barbaric, backward religion, and Christians were looked down upon and discriminated against as second-class citizens.  And the first disciples were but a tiny handful of mostly former fishermen in the far-off province of Palestine.

Things did not look good for the success and spread of the Christian faith.  There were probably many who doubted like Thomas, doubted that this new faith could even survive, let alone thrive, and spread, and grow.  And, yet, the faith did spread.  Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” and the book of Acts dramatically records the steady march of the Christian faith, from Jerusalem to Rome, from a handful of believers to a worldwide faith.

Less than 300 years after Peter proclaimed, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead . . . We are witnesses of these things,” the once persecuted, despised, and ridiculed Christian faith actually became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the official religion of the entire Western world.  How did it happen?  How could that small band of believers grown to be millions, and today billions around the world?

It all started on Easter morning, when those women were witnesses to something wonderful, “Witnesses to the Resurrection.”  They ran to tell the others, and then they all ran to tell the world.

In 2nd Corinthians the Apostle Paul summarizes the Good News that we share with the world: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.”  The Good News is that Christ reconciled you to God by his life, death, and resurrection.  Because of him, your sins are forgiven, not counted against you.  That is the Good News for which we are Christ ambassadors of to the world.

“You will receive power,” Jesus said, “when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  At Pentecost the risen Lord sent upon his Church the Holy Spirit as he had promised. By the power of the Spirit we too are, “Witnesses to the Resurrection.” 

The Holy Spirit makes us witnesses through the Word of God.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.”

The Holy Spirit makes us witnesses through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, washing away our sins, making us born again as God’s children, giving us faith to trust in Christ our Savior.

The Holy Spirit makes us witnesses through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, strengthening us in the true faith unto life everlasting.

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead . . .  We are witnesses of these things.”  By the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments, we are witnesses, like Peter and Apostles; we are witnesses, like the women who ran from the empty tomb to tell the Good News; we are witnesses, like those first disciples who spread the faith throughout the world.

We are witnesses, in far off places, through our Synod supporting missionaries around the world with our offerings and our prayers.  As Paul says in 2nd Thessalonians, “Pray for us, that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was among you.”

We are witnesses, right here where we live, by the way we live.  As Peter says, “Live such good lives among the unbelievers that . . . they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”

We are witnesses, by serving God and your fellow man in your various callings in life.  As Peter says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

We are witnesses, by worshipping here in God’s house.  With your very presence here this morning you are proclaiming like Thomas your faith in Christ, “My Lord and my God,” announcing to the world, “Yes, I am a follower of the risen Lord.  He is my Savior.  It is him that I worship.”

We are witnesses, by sharing with others the Good News that we cannot contain: “Christ is risen!  Your sins are forgiven!”

How did you come to know Jesus Christ?  Someone, sometime, somewhere told you about him.  Whether it was your parents, or maybe your children; your husband or wife; a neighbor or classmate or coworker; a close friend or just an acquaintance; perhaps a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School teacher or youth leader.  Someone, sometime, somewhere first introduced you to your Savior.  Who was that person in your life?  You will be that person for someone else.

That is how a small handful of Christians conquered the world.  We don’t have to recapture what the early Church had, we have what they had.  For, just like them, we are witnesses to something wonderful, “Witnesses to the Resurrection.”

Amen.

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