For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Acts is, by far, my favorite book of the whole of the Bible. Luke is telling the story of the Church – how it came to be, how it spread beyond Jerusalem, how it is that we know and love the same Jesus that Peter, James, and John did in Luke’s gospel.
It is compelling and active and it tells of the Holy Spirit’s work in the people of God. It tells of the Holy Spirit moving and filling and gifting. The book of Acts is sometimes called the Acts of the Apostles, but really it should be called the Activity of the Holy Spirit – the work in this book is not the apostle’s work, instead it is the work of the Holy Spirit in people who have encountered the resurrected Christ and come away from that moment radically, completely, utterly different – transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We start with Peter in this book. Peter who at the trial of Jesus was so ashamed and scared and worried that he refused to admit – to the point of cursing – that he had ever followed the one they were about to crucify. Peter was definitely a loud mouth and a leader of sorts in the gospels – he said the things the others were thinking, he both proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and tried to shush him when Jesus predicted his own death. He cut off someone’s ear in the garden and swore to Jesus that he would die for him – and then he later swore he never knew this Jesus person and would everyone just shut up and stop asking him about him?
But in Acts, we read of a Peter who stands before the court of Jewish leaders and says he won’t shut up, he won’t stop proclaiming Jesus. They beat him, the scold him, they tell him to stop. And when he returns to the church he leads, they pray with him for even more boldness and even more strength to say what needs to be said.
Two things – he met the resurrected Christ and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Both of these did not change his personality – he was still a loud mouth with an uncanny ability to speak out about things, but he was no longer a coward about Jesus to others. And the things he spoke about and the reason he proclaimed them, those changes came from a power he had never known, a power he did not know he needed, but a power that Jesus had given to him and all the others who were part of the church that Jesus talked about and the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost. The Church that you and I are still members of today. The Church that gave all of itself for others, the Church that was led by a man who once denied he even knew the one for whom he would ultimately die a martyr’s death. Peter was transformed.
The other person that we read about in Acts, who stands out as a main character, is Saul/Paul. Saul is introduced to us on the day that Stephen dies, a martyr who forgave those who stoned him, who preached an amazing sermon that you can read in Acts 7. Saul was a faithful follower of God. He believed wholeheartedly that God was God and that God was being mocked by these Jesus people. And he could not stand by and let that happen, so after Stephen was martyred, Saul began a campaign against the followers of the Way, as it was called, and although scripture never says that Saul directly killed anyone, he was definitely complicit, as we see in his approval of Stephen’s murder.
But then on the road to Damascus, Saul met the resurrected Jesus. And everything changed.
Saul began the long journey that lead to him changing his name, changing his purpose, changing from a persecutor to a missionary. Changing from the one who denounced fanatically to the one who loved fiercely. The power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit didn’t change all the things about Paul that made him Paul – his personality was still a bit prickly, he was still a complete and total fanatic – but it changed HOW he lived that life and WHY he lived that life.
The apostles were a bit nervous around him, but eventually recognized the wonder that the Holy Spirit had wrought.
Someone who once hated them now called them brothers and sisters.
Someone who would have killed them now fought for them
Someone who denounced them now prayed for them
Someone who thought he knew everything now obeyed their direction and submitted to them
Paul had been changed.
The amazing thing about the book of Acts is that the story it tells isn’t done when we reach chapter 28 verse 31 of the book. Instead, as we read the rest of the Bible we see all of the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters, in Peter’s letters, in James the brother of Jesus, in John the beloved apostle and his Revelation. But the story also doesn’t stop there – the beautiful transformative power of the Holy Spirit is at work in Martin Luther, in John Wesley, in every person – man, woman, and child who follows the Christ and is transformed as a part of the Church. The Holy Spirit is still in the transformation business – your pastor is a testament to that transforming power: an angry and cynical person becomes one who loves beyond her own understanding by the power of grace and mercy and the love that is the Holy Spirit’s trademark.
And it doesn’t stop there – anyone of you can be transformed, can continue to be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Although we see the Holy Spirit’s immediate work in Acts, we also see the Holy Spirit working progressively, building transformation in people and places as time goes by. Our transformation is both too – instantly, we recognize the beauty of a world that is loved by Jesus and God and we become attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, but over time, we grow deeper and deeper in love with the one who has changed us, who has loved us enough to give us this love letter that not only covers these pages, but that has reached us through the people who follow, the people who now live for Jesus, the ones who continue the story of the Acts of the Holy Spirit in the here and now.
Today, as we celebrate communion together, as we read through our reminder of God’s love together, I would ask that each and every one of us remember the transformative power of the Holy Spirit that worked in Peter and Paul is still at work. Every Christian, every saved and sanctified believer in the one true Christ has the transformative power of the Holy Spirit at work in them - including each and every one of us.
Pray that God will show you the transformation in yourself this week or show you where you might need to continue to be transformed and how that might be done. If you ask, God will show you, and the Holy Spirit will work in you.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.
God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.
God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgment.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.