Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 19, 2016

Sermon on Acts 13:15-16a, 26-33a

Fourth Sunday of Easter — April 17, 2016 — Sermon starts at 26:10

 

IGNORANT SHEEP CAN’T STOP THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Sermon Text: Acts 13:15-16a, 26-33a

Introduction

Have you ever had a well-meaning but uninformed person do something that complicated your plans? An incident that comes to mind for me was the 2004 convention of our WELS Arizona-California District. It has been my job at these biannual conventions to arrange worship, and this was the first convention that I had this job, so I really wanted everything to go smoothly. We were celebrating the district’s fiftieth anniversary with a special service held at the convention center. Since the service was not at a church, we had to make arrangements to make the convention hall look like and operate like a church. One of the arrangements we made was to rent a digital organ to provide the main music for the service. The organ was supposed to arrive several hours before the service. We told the company that we needed it there at 3:00 p.m. to make sure it was set up properly and to rehearse with other instrumentalists and with the choir. As it turned out, the company we rented the instrument from called the resort to find out when they could deliver the organ. But when they called, some well-meaning but uninformed employee of the resort said that the service was at 7:00 p.m. so they didn’t have to deliver it during the afternoon since that would be a little early. Needless to say, that threw off our plans quite a bit. Everything was fine in the end, but a 3:00 p.m. planned delivery would have been much more helpful than a late arrival after 5:00 p.m.!

I’m sure many of you have your own versions of that story—a time when some well-meaning but uninformed person did something that altered your plans and caused you a concern that you would have preferred to avoid. If there was anyone who can relate to this situation, that person is Jesus Christ. Jesus could relate to people trying to thwart his plans. In the Gospel for today’s “Good Shepherd Sunday,” (John 10:22-30), his enemies questioned him. Then, in the verses that follow today’s Gospel, those same enemies attempt to kill him because they didn’t like what he had to say about himself as the Son of God. In the First Lesson for today, the apostle Paul speaks about what was unquestionably the main time that Jesus’ enemies tried to thwart his plans. But as Jesus’ enemies tried to stop him, they didn’t thwart his plans. In fact, their attempts to stop Jesus actually fulfilled Jesus’ plan to rescue the world from sin. And in that situation, we learn this lesson: Ignorant sheep can’t stop the Good Shepherd!

Biblical World

Exposition

Our First Lesson takes place early in the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey. He was in the city of Antioch, some 300 miles north of Jerusalem. After he and another missionary named Barnabas were commissioned, they traveled north of the Mediterranean Sea, heading west, and eventually reached another city in a different region that was also named Antioch. As Paul often did, they went to the Jewish synagogue service on the Sabbath Day. Our reading says, “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.’” It was a common custom in ancient synagogues to invite a qualified guest to deliver the sermon. So after the appointed Scripture selections were read, the synagogue’s leaders invited Paul to be the guest preacher, and he accepted the invitation. 

Here’s a summary of what Paul had to say: “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

I don’t think Paul could have summarized the gospel message any better! As he addressed his fellow Jews and converts to Judaism in the synagogue, he began by explaining how the religious leaders in Jerusalem tried to stop Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Sadly, even though the Jews were waiting for the promised Savior from heaven, they were ignorant to the fact that Jesus was that Savior. Paul notes what we know from the story of Jesus’ Passion: His enemies couldn’t come up with a legitimate charge against him. They finally convicted him of blasphemy; but if you are God, it’s no sin to claim to be God! With that, they hauled Jesus off to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. They changed the charge against Jesus from blasphemy to subverting the government, and convinced the governor to sentence Jesus to death even though Pilate admitted that he couldn’t find anything wrong with Jesus.

But ignorant sheep can’t stop the Good Shepherd! The Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem may have been ignorant to the fact that Jesus was the Savior they were waiting for all along, but the actions they took in their ignorance actually fulfilled the predictions of the Old Testament prophets. Paul pointed out that this was highly ironic, because the religious leaders heard these very Old Testament prophecies on a regular basis when they went to worship in the synagogue each week. Arranging for the death of Jesus only brought to fulfillment the Old Testament predictions about his death. And Jesus’ death led to the fulfillment of the Old Testament predictions that he would rise again. All of this was fulfilled on and after Easter Sunday as Jesus appeared to hundreds of people during the 40 days he remained on earth between his resurrection and his return to heaven.

Ignorant sheep couldn’t stop the Good Shepherd, and even after his resurrection, Jesus could not be stopped. Now the message of the risen Jesus was arriving to these people in Antioch twenty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospel message about Jesus came to them and brought a good number of these people in Pisidian Antioch to faith in Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Application

If God makes a plan, can someone else stop his plan? If God makes a plan, can you or I stop him? Another story in the Bible that highlights this point comes from the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, had a son named Isaac. Isaac married a woman named Rebekah, and they had fraternal twin boys named Esau and Jacob. When the twins were born, God said that the younger twin, Jacob, would be the one whose line of descendants the future Savior would come, and that he should receive the special blessings of the firstborn even though Esau was the firstborn. When it came time to pass on those blessings, the father, Isaac, planned to go against God’s will and give that blessing to his oldest son. And when the mother, Rebekah, heard about this, she made plans to deceive her aging husband and trick him into giving the blessing to the younger son.

God had plans for this family. One parent tried to go against those plans, while the other parent thought that God needed some extra help to make his plans happen. This all led to major strife in this family that eventually sent the younger son, Jacob, on the run to save his life from his angry older brother. But notice from this story that as much as people tried to mess with God’s plans, God’s plans ultimately came to fulfillment for this family.

But it’s not just ancient peoples in the Bible that try to ignore and avoid God’s plans. In our own sinful ignorance, we can do the same thing in our own lives. Because of our sinful nature, each one of us is a wandering sheep that often tries to escape from the loving oversight of our Good Shepherd.

New Testament Illustrations 046Perhaps there was a time when you were ignorant of the truth of God’s Word. You thought or said, “There’s no way I’m having anything to do with church.” You wouldn’t darken the door of a church building unless it was for a wedding or funeral. That’s your plan, and you’re sticking to it—except that even in ignorance of the truth, you can’t stop the Good Shepherd. And so God put your future spouse in your life who brought you to the Lord, or God put a sense of emptiness in your heart as you lived life without him, or maybe God allowed your health to take a turn for the worse to get you to think a little more seriously about eternal matters. But God accomplished his will and brought you into the flock of the Good Shepherd even if you resisted that very thought at one time or another.

Perhaps there was a time when you were ignorant of the blessings of obeying God’s Word. You thought or said, “Some god out there isn’t going to tell me how to live my life!” That’s your plan, and you’re sticking to it—except that even in ignorance of God’s law, you can’t stop the Good Shepherd. And so God gave you a friend or relative that admonished you and got you to think, or God blessed you with a child who came into your life and made you think about your need for a relationship with the Lord, or maybe God permitted an accident to happen that landed you in the hospital and led you to think a little more seriously about where you stand with God. But notice that, in this example also, God accomplished his will and brought you into the flock of the Good Shepherd even if you resisted the thought.

Try as our sinful nature might, you simply cannot stop the Good Shepherd. Think back to what Paul said in today’s First Lesson. Think about how Jesus’ enemies actively tried to stop him. But what did all those ignorant attempts to thwart Jesus accomplish? They convicted an innocent man they didn’t like of blasphemy, and in the process, the innocent Lamb of God and Son of God was sent to the cross where he accomplished his mission and paid for the sins of the world—yes, even our sins of ignorance and resistance of God’s will. Their actions ensured that Jesus was dead on Good Friday and buried that same day, but what did that accomplish? By arranging for Jesus’ death, they set up God’s eternal mission for Jesus to defeat death by his resurrection from the grave! Not only did they not stop Jesus, but their sinful ignorance was used by God to accomplish his plan to save the world from sin and hell—and you are a part of that world that God planned to rescue from eternity.

Conclusion

Look back on the life of Jesus, and notice how even when it seemed like Jesus’ enemies were in complete control, God accomplished his plan all along. Look back on your own life, and perhaps you can remember an incident—or many incidents!—in which it seemed like everything was out of control, but in hindsight you can see how God accomplished his good and gracious will for you all along. So as we head into a new week as sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd, take comfort in the fact that nothing at all, not even ignorant sheep, can stop the perfect plans that your Good Shepherd has made for your life. What great assurance! What great comfort! Amen.

 

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