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Worship Series: Connected
Worship Theme: Connected to the Scriptures
- CW 149 Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
- Saxophone Solo: I Know that My Redeemer Lives
- CWS 756 We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight
- CW 154 Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks
Message: Connected to the Scriptures
Pastor Jon Brohn
7 years. A lot can happen in 7 years. 7 years ago here’s how much snow was still on the ground in March. Our family was smaller—kids in high school and college, and no grandbabies. St. Croix broke ground on new dormitories. 8th graders were loving life here at school.
A lot changed in the 7 years after Jesus left his disciples and went back to heaven. Peter was no longer the disciple who denied Jesus. He boldly shared his eye-witness accounts with everyone. Meanwhile, the Pharisee Saul hunted Christians to arrest and kill them. Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. He called Saul to become one of the most powerful gospel preachers the world has ever seen. Persecution continued and even grew worse, causing many believers to scatter. As they scattered, the church grew because wherever they went, they shared their faith and connected people to Jesus’ word! A famine hit the Jerusalem church particularly hard, and believers who heard about the famine sent their gifts to support fellow believers in need.
“At about that time, King Herod laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword” (Acts 12:1–2 EHV). Persecution was in Herod’s genes. King Herod’s grandfather, Herod the Great, tried to get rid of Jesus when he gave the order to kill all the boys 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem. King Herod’s father, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist beheaded and gave John’s head to Salome on a silver platter. King Herod, also known as Agrippa, became king of Judea in 40 AD. He kept the family tradition of persecution going, laying “violent hands” on church members. He arrested James, John’s brother, one of the apostles, and had him executed.
“When [King Herod] saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter during the days of Unleavened Bread. After arresting Peter, Herod put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him. Herod intended to bring him before the people for trial after the Passover” (Acts 12:3–4 EHV). Wait a minute! I thought that the Jews couldn’t execute people. Didn’t they need permission from Rome? King Herod had the authority. He was king, and Rome had given him permission to rule as he saw fit! He wanted to keep peace in his nation, and he loved to give people what they wanted. He had built theaters and racetracks. He did whatever he could to make the Jews happy, including getting rid of men like Peter. Did you notice when Herod arrested Peter and scheduled his trial? Passover. Just like the leader of the new movement, Jesus. Peter would stand trial the day after the people ate the Passover, and he would be executed!
Four Roman soldiers escorted Peter into the prison. The iron gate slammed shut behind him, the metallic sound ringing in his ears, the message clear: “You’re here, and you can never leave!” Four soldiers guarded Peter for a six hour shift. Then the next four would come on duty for another six hours. These men had eyes on Peter from the moment they arrested him. He was going nowhere. Peter had nothing!
One of the most sobering moments in my life was my first visit to the Stillwater Correctional Facility. I had just finished my volunteer training. After the session had finished, the prison chaplain took us on a tour. I placed my driver’s license in a little slot. I took off my shoes (everything metallic was already stowed in a locker) and walked through the metal detector. Shoes back on, we stood in front of the prison door. It slid open, and beyond were steel bars, the color of pea soup. The doors behind us slid closed, we heard a metallic click and a loud buzz, and the massive wall of bars swung open. We stepped into the prison. The door swung shut. The sound of the steel clanging made the hair on my neck stand up. I was in prison, and if they decided not to let me out, I wouldn’t get out. At that moment, I had nothing!
Do you ever feel like that—like a prison door has slammed shut and you have nothing? We watch the news at night and the prison door slams behind us - political unrest, crimes against children, thieves, murders, arguments about who is right. For the past year, COVID has been a giant chain that weighs us down with every step we take and we feel like we’ve got nothing.
Does home feel like a prison, filled with hurtful words or actions of a spouse or parent? The mountain of debt hanging over our heads? Our struggle with depression, or anxiety, or worry? A never ending cycle of doctor visits, medications, and pain. We look at it all and we feel we have nothing!
One of my friends shared his personal prison with me. His granddaughter was born last week. What was supposed to be a joyful day quickly turned to hurt and disbelief. The baby girl suffered from brain damage, and no one knows why. Her little body lies limp, she struggles to swallow, let alone suck, and the doctors don’t know whether she will live or die. As they look at this precious little life, it looks like they have nothing!
Peter wasn’t very worried about his nothing. “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church earnestly offered up prayer to God for him. The very night before Herod was going to bring him out for trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers. He was bound with two chains, while sentries were in front of the door, guarding the prison” (Acts 12:5–6 EHV). I have one question as I read these 2 verses. How could Peter be sleeping? “Peter—this is the end! Herod arrested you and he’s going to kill you, just like your buddy James. You remember James, you know, the guy who was with you and John whenever Jesus needed some support? He’s dead. Dead! In just a few hours that’s what you’ll be—dead! There is no hope—you have nothing! How in the world are you sleeping?”
Peter could sleep because he was connected to Jesus and his promises. It was the night of Passover. Peter could picture family and friends gathered around the roasted lamb and unleavened bread. They remembered the story of the Exodus (which ironically means “way out”) from Egypt. The lamb’s blood saved them from death! The Lord rescued them again on the shores of the Red Sea! Peter had even more to remember—Jesus’ own words: “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Peter knew what God had done the last time he was in prison. An angel led Peter and the rest of the apostles to freedom, fulfilling the words of Psalm 91: “Yes, [The Most High] will give a command to his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11–12 EHV). Peter could sleep in peace, knowing that even though he had nothing, he was connected to Jesus and his Word. If an angel came to rescue him again, Peter would go on preaching and teaching. If no angel came and he met his death at Herod’s sword, Peter would get to see Jesus. Jesus + Peter’s Nothing meant he had Everything.
Peter had Jesus, and Jesus took care of Peter. He sent an angel on a SEAL Team 6 rescue mission. The angel didn’t have to sneak inside. He simply appeared. Peter was sound asleep, so the angel hit him on the side and jolted him awake. The chains fell off! They walked past the first guard post, then the second one. No one saw them or stopped them. The giant iron gate, the one that had slammed shut behind Peter, sealing his fate, opened automatically, like the door at the grocery store as you’re leaving. When Peter finally realized that this wasn’t a dream he confessed, “Now I know for sure that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from everything the Jewish people were expecting” (Acts 12:11 EHV). Peter was free. It was time to go to work. He left and went on to another place where he could connect people to the Word. Peter’s Nothing + Jesus = Everything!
Our Nothing + Jesus = Everything. We can’t solve the world’s problems, let alone our own problems. Is it hopeless? Do we have nothing? Think about my friend’s little granddaughter. It looks hopeless, like they have nothing. Jesus says they have everything. Jesus loves that little girl. She belongs to him, thanks to the power of baptism. Her parents and grandparents love her. They have everything! So do we. Here’s the reality. Our Nothing + Jesus = Everything.
Lots of people around us are stuck believing they have nothing. They are drowning in hurt and hopelessness, and they are looking for answers. We have the greatest gift of all. We can go out and get to work with Jesus’ love. We can be the people who love our neighbors when hate tries to win. We can talk to the person at the doctor’s office who is worried about COVID and share our confidence in Jesus. When Jesus is our everything, we can find a safe place to be, away from the hurt and abuse, while still loving the person who has hurt us. Don’t forget about taking all these things to Jesus in prayer. Peter’s friends prayed for him. Our prayers are just as powerful, and God promises to hear them. Pray for our nation, our friends, and even our enemies!
We can still rest well tonight because Our Nothing + Jesus = Everything. We know that we have angels watching over us and guarding and protecting us. We have a Savior who gave up everything and became nothing for us. He died so that we can be at peace and go to sleep at night assured by his Word that we have everything! If we wake up in the morning, we have Jesus. If we don’t wake up, we get to see Jesus. It’s all good! It’s a win-win situation. Our Nothing + Jesus = Everything! Amen.