The Sermon for Sunday, January 7th, 2024, the First Sunday after Epiphany
The Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 89:21-30; Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11
The Text: Acts 10:34-38
The Topic: The Anointing of the Holy Spirit to do good deeds
Leo Tolstoy, known for his classic work War and Peace, also wrote A Confession, which tells the story of his search for meaning and purpose in life.
Tolstoy rejected Christianity as a child and went to a university seeking pleasure. In Moscow and St. Petersburg he drank heavily, lived promiscuously, and gambled frequently. His ambition was to become wealthy and famous, but nothing satisfied him.
In 1862, he married a wonderful woman, and they had thirteen children. He had everything, yet he was so unhappy that he was on the verge of suicide. “Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?” he said.
Tolstoy searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy. As he looked around, he saw that people were not facing up to the basic questions of life, such as: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Who am I? What is life all about?
Eventually he found that the peasant people of Russia answered these questions through their Christian faith, and he, too, came to realize that only in Jesus Christ do we find the true meaning of life.
— Nicky Gumbel,
Questions of Life (Kingsway, 1993)
PETER PREACHES THE GOSPEL TO CORNELIUS AND HIS FRIENDS
St. Peter, in today’s Lesson appointed for the Epistle, directs the household of the centurion Cornelius and his friends to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord of all and the giver of peace with God through the forgiveness of sins received by faith. Now this was no ordinary sermon! St. Peter had come at the summons of Cornelius, to whom an angel had appeared during his prayer time and told him to send for Peter, who would tell him what he must do (Acts 10:6, 32). This group of Gentiles had met together at Cornelius’ home in Caesarea to hear what Peter had to say. The Holy Spirit had shown Peter that he should have no hesitation in entering the home of Gentiles, or in associating with them. The opening words of Peter’s sermon show his perception that God accepts people of all nations who fear Him and do what is right (Acts 10:35). God’s acceptance of all who do his will is confirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ in this teaching to all his disciples:
If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
(John 14:23, KJV)
God the Father gives the Holy Spirit to all with whom He and the Son have made their home (John 14:15-16). These are those who keep the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, who believe in Him and receive Him as Lord (John 1:12). The word which God sent the Lord Jesus to preach to Israel is the Gospel, the Good News that through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all who believe in Him will be reconciled to God and have peace with Him.
Peter emphasizes that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (Acts 10:36c), and this is an essential truth of the Gospel which Jesus began preaching after the baptism of repentance preached by John the Baptist. People in the ancient Roman Empire were accustomed to many gods and lords, and the Roman emperors increasingly insisted that everyone acknowledge the current Caesar as lord. The Christian Gospel, however, requires believers to live their lives under the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.
Our Lesson ends with the verse which declares that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, and that he went around doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, since God was with him (Acts 10:38). After Peter had proceeded to speak of the Apostles as witnesses of Jesus’ life and death on a cross, he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, His command to preach and to testify that God had ordained Jesus Christ to be Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 2:39-42). Finally, Peter added that through Jesus’ Name everyone who believes in Him receives remission of sins (Acts 2:43). At this point, the Holy Spirit falls on all who are listening to Peter, to the amazement of the Jewish Christians who accompanied Peter.
Why, one might ask, does the Lectionary end today’s Lesson with verse 38, with its statement that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power to the effect that he went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil?
I believe the answer is that this verse is a key to the effectiveness of all Christian ministry. The Lord Jesus Christ did effective ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. He was also motivated to fight against Satan by healing all who were oppressed by him, whether through possession by demons or through illnesses of various kinds. If we want to be effective in our ministries, using the gifts and abilities God has given us, we must be directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and motivated to pray for the healing and deliverance of all who need it! To live life as fully as possible under the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must be led by the Holy Spirit in all we think, do, or say. Think of the life of prayer that the Lord Jesus had while he lived on earth and remember the fasting and prayer that preceded his public ministry. How will you change the way you live so that the Holy Spirit may lead you effectively to do good and to bring healing to others?
p. 248, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.