June 4th 2023 God's Ridiculous Commitment            Acts 2 14a, 36-41

Let me ask you a question: how many of you would like to trade places with me on a Sunday morning? How many of you wish you could preach a few sermons instead of sitting and listening to them?

I read about one pastor who was shaking hands with his parishioners after worship. At the end of the line was a church member who always had something to say about his messages. The woman shook the pastor’s hand warmly and said, “Pastor, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!”

The pastor beamed. “No one has ever said that about my preaching before. Tell me why you felt that way.”

She answered, “Your sermon reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all understanding, and it reminded me of the love of God because it endured forever!”

Ouch! I know that sometimes no matter how much study and prayer I put into a sermon, it doesn’t always come across the way I hoped it would. Still, I pray that in spite of my own failings, the Holy Spirit would speak through me to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I read about another preacher who was also shaking hands with her church members after worship.

As one man passed through the line, he said, “Preacher, I’ve got to tell you something. You preach some powerful sermons. Thoughtful, well researched. I can always see myself in them . . . and I want you to knock it off! They’re hitting too close to home.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people feel like that when they leave Sunday worship. I feel like that as I prepare my own sermons. If I’m not stepping on my own toes, then I’m not accurately presenting the word of God. I’m not listening closely enough to my own message.

One of our own District Pastor’s in 2014 Pastor Zach Zehnder, of The Cross Church in Mount Dora, Florida, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest speech ever given. Zehnder, whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all ministers in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, took the family trade to new heights this weekend with a sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes.

He collected 50 sermons he had preached from Genesis to Revelation and preached them as one long sermon that lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes. He began on a Friday and ended on a Sunday.

Pastor Zehnder conceived of the record-breaking sermon as a way to raise funds for a Florida nonprofit that offers drug and alcohol addiction treatment services. A team of people from his church supported him during his marathon sermon, ensuring that he ate enough and stayed hydrated and took his mandated breaks. They also cheered him on. Pastor Zehnder says, “My goal of the whole sermon was to talk about God’s ridiculous commitment to his people . . . even though we give up on him that he never gives up on us . . .

Pastor Zehnder says Romans 5:8 stuck out to him as a key verse for the whole message: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I think about that theme and Bible verse Pastor Zehnder mentioned as I prepared for today. Peter’s message from Acts 2. He tells the Jewish believers who have gathered in Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire that Jesus, the man whom they had arrested and crucified, was the Messiah sent from God.

Peter says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Not a blasphemer. Not a madman. Not even a prophet. Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. Verse 37 reads, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

About three thousand were added to their number that day. Wow! What is it that Peter offered to the Jewish believers that day that drew them to God? 

The first thing Peter offered them in Jesus is a new life through repentance and baptism. The literal translation of the Greek word for “repent” is “to change one’s mind” or “to transform one’s mind.” For them, repentance meant putting their entire trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

And this repentance, this change of mind, naturally led to the act of baptism. In Jewish practice, baptism had been a part of ritual cleansing or was reserved for Gentiles who converted to Judaism. But Jesus gave us an example of baptism as a symbol of death to our old way of life and resurrection into a new way of life that mirrors the priorities, values and actions of Jesus.

Peter’s audience that day understood that they didn’t have to give up their Jewish identity or traditions. They didn’t have to change their worship in the synagogue or the temple.

Instead, their worship was now illumined by the knowledge that the God of their ancestors, the God of their traditions, the God to whom they devoted their lives could be seen in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Almighty God, the Great I AM, could have remained distant and untouchable. God could have revealed Himself through the Law and the prophets and stopped there. Instead, God became flesh and lived among us. In this way, Jesus showed us the fullest picture of God’s character and purposes. To all who are baptized in his name, he offers a new life with God.

And the second thing Peter offered them in Jesus is the promise of the Holy Spirit empowering their new life. There are a few key qualities that the Holy Spirit develops in a believer’s life. It helps us understand the truth of God. It provides comfort and strength. It creates unity among believers. It is essential in the development of Christ-like character. And it bestows spiritual gifts upon believers that are essential for sharing our faith and building up the Body of Christ, the church. The Holy Spirit equips us to do the work of Jesus far beyond what our own limited vision and capacities would ordinarily allow.

Peter’s sermon could have sounded like a message of judgment, but in reality, it is a message of overwhelming hope. As Pastor Zach Zehnder said, his message pointed to “God’s ridiculous commitment to his people even though we give up on him that he never gave up on us . . .” And the promise he gave to them is the same for us today: through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, we can receive a new life with God. And this new life will be empowered by the Holy Spirit living in us and equipping us for every good work God leads us to do.