< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter

First Reading: Acts 3:11-21

11While {the lame man who had been healed} clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And his name — by faith in his name — has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”


Psalm 4

1Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. 2“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?” 3Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me. 4Tremble, then, and do not sin; speak to your heart in silence upon your bed. 5Offer the appointed sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord. 6Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!” Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. 7You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase. 8I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.


Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.


Gospel: Luke 24:36-49

36As {the disciples} were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate before them. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”



Practice makes Perfect

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, practice makes perfect.  Besides being a constant reminder from my parents, this advice was drilled into me in Elementary school as I memorized my multiplication tables.  It was expected that I be able to recite them at a minimum to 10 x 10.  To receive “extra credit”, a student could recite them up to 12 x 12.  Even today, I use this skill frequently, and I can recite them almost verbatim.  Things that get drilled into us in our youth, we just never forget because we practiced it so many times.

There was an article on the BrainFacts.org website from April 9, 2014, entitled Does Practice Make Perfect?  Let me read you a couple of paragraphs: “The old adage practice makes perfect has been applied to many kinds of learning, from high school chemistry, to creative writing, to music and sports.  While experts continue to debate the number of hours and the type of practice that is optimal for success, one thing is clear: training improves performance and changes the brain.  Scientists first began examining the ways practice affects performance more than a century ago.

A study of women working in a cigar factory in the 1950s revealed that even after years of practice (in this case rolling cigars), people can become faster at a task.  More recently, movement scientists studying college basketball players found that skilled players are better at making set shots at a foul line than would be predicted on the basis of performance at other nearby locations on the court…” suggesting that massive levels of practice can enhance the actions more than others.  And then finally near the end, “With the advent of brain imaging technology, we now know that the human brain maintains the ability to modify its structure and function throughout life through a process called experience- or learning-dependent plasticity.”

St. James address this in James 2:22, he writes, you see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect.  By practice – by repeating the task – faith is made perfect.  For those with a military background, you know that the Drill Instructors take this “practice makes perfect” principle very seriously.  From the start of my military career, we were drilled in the basics, how to stand, how to march, how to report, even how to dress properly.  But this practice makes perfect didn’t end in Basic Training, it carried on throughout my military career.

In Technical Training School, we were drilled in the fundamentals of Basic electronic principles.  In phase two of Basic Fundamentals, we soldered, desoldered, and resoldered components onto Printed Circuit boards until we could accomplish the task perfectly multiple times.  Having served during the Cold War, we were drilled on the proper donning and doffing of our Chemical Warfare Defense gear until we could do it in our sleep.  And just to ensure we maintained our proficiency, we were tested once a year in a gas chamber to ensure we could operate and survive in a chemical environment.  I’m sure the same thing can be said of many careers, be it medical, firefighting or manufacturing.  Practice does make perfect.  But how does this translate into our spiritual life?

Faith is a belief, a deep conviction that God loves us and will always act in our best interest, no matter what trials and hardships we face at the time because after all, we, too, want to be able to say like the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I’ve fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I’ve kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, (in his piece, Nicomachean Ethics,) “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”  It’s an interesting statement: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”  For us to become good at something, we must practice until it becomes second nature.  St. John address this principle in our epistle reading for today.

In verse 3 we read, “everyone who thus hopes in [Jesus] purifies himself as He is pure.  Then down in verse 7 we read, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteousness, as He is righteous.”  To purify oneself, as Jesus is pure, is a daily process of practicing righteousness.  It isn’t something that happens overnight; it takes prayer, practice, and persistence.  Sanctification, or the ongoing process of becoming righteous, is something we struggle with daily.  I’d like to take this one step further and tie our epistle reading to Paul’s words found in Ephesians 6:10-18.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  Before we can practice something we first must be equipped.  And in the case of our spiritual walk, we start with God’s Power.

In verse 10, St. Paul tells us, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”  We first need to take note that Paul didn’t just say be strong, but to “be strong in the Lord.”  This isn’t a matter of pumping iron, doing yoga, or using resistance bands to increase muscle mass, this is a matter of a daily walk with God.  It’s a spiritual discipline that is so important, we must exercise every day if we’re to be properly prepared to stand against the evil forces of this world.  In other words, we cannot fight satan using our own power, we can only fight with God’s power.

Consider this, the Bible never teaches that it’s hard to live the Christian life.  What the Bible teaches is that, on our own, it’s impossible.  This is why we must be clothed with God’s armor?  In baptism, God gives us what we need to live the Christian life.  In Baptism, He saved us from the power of sin, and through the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our parents, teachers, and spiritual leaders, God provides us with His word.  In Holy Communion we’re fed, nourished, and strengthened for our daily Christian walk.  And because He is our good and loving Father, He gives us those things we need, our daily bread.

The truth is, if we could live up to what God wanted us to be on our own, we wouldn’t need God.  If I could live the Christian life under my own power, I wouldn’t need God’s power.  But the fact is, when we surrender our lives to God, He fills us with His Spirit; He gives us His power; and it’s only through that power, and in that power, and by that power, and with that power, that we’re able to live the life that God wants us to live.  We cannot win against the devil on our own.  But the good news is we don’t have to.  God gives us all we need, and He’s the One fighting for us.  But just because the devil was defeated in Jesus’ death and resurrection, that doesn’t mean that he’s done fighting.

Yes, there’s plenty of room for confidence in the Christian life, but there is no room for pride.  Remember what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Cor. 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  But then Paul added in verse 10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  It was when Paul recognized his weakness that he realized his strength.  If you study the spiritual examples of God throughout history, you’ll find they were people who recognized their deficiency.  They recognized that without God they could do nothing.

Charles Finney, one of the great revival preachers of the past, once kept a huge crowd waiting for more than an hour before going to the platform.  When someone finally sought him out to tell him he needed to come to the platform and speak, he heard the voice of Finney crying out behind a closed door: “Lord, I will not go out there unless You go with me.”

God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  In and of ourselves, we don’t have the power, the strength, or even the endurance to fight evil and win.  But God can and does.  There’s a question in the Bible that asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?”  God is.  We’re reminded in 2 Cor. 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”

The problem is, God, too often, is our last resort, rather than being our first resource.  If pressed, we’d all have to admit that we will try everything before trying prayer.  We’ll organize, advertise, publicize, systematize, mobilize, and scrape the bottom of the barrel of our human resources.  When we try to do these things, we get what men can do, but when you try prayer, you get what God can do.  When it comes to the struggle against sin, death, and the devil, we’ve already lost if we don’t start with God.  Without God we cannot win the spiritual war.  The good news is, Jesus has already won!

The story is told of a little boy that was in his yard trying to move a heavy stove.  He was grunting and groaning and struggling and straining, and not getting anywhere.  His dad was standing nearby watching him with some amusement.  Finally, after the boy was near total exhaustion, he said, “Son, can you not move that obstacle?”  He said, “No sir.”  The dad said, “Well, have you used all of your strength?”  He said, “Yes sir.”  To this the dad replied, “No you haven’t.  You haven’t asked me yet.”

Look again in verse 10 as we’re told how to fight Satan “in the power of His [that is God’s] might.”  Not the power of our might, nor the power of the church’s might.  We’re to fight the prince of this world in the power of God’s might.  And there’s only one way we can have power with God; that is, we must know and trust God.

Daniel 11:32 says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”  See, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how clean you live, how much you do, how careful you are, if you don’t rely on the Lord, day in and day out, you’re not growing in the knowledge of God; you’re a 97-pound weakling in a 1,000 pound war.  There’s only one way we get to know God, and it’s the same way you get to know anyone; you’ve got to spend time with Him.  You’ve got to have a devotional life where daily you spend time in God’s word and in pray.  It’s when you spend time with God and with His people that you get strength for the battle, it’s how you become equipped for the daily fight that takes place.

It goes without saying, satan will do everything he can to keep you from having time for devotion and for gathering with God’s people.  The devil knows that if he can prevent you from being properly equipped, he can win the skirmish.  When we’re ill equipped, we lose the joy and peace that comes with being a Christian.  That’s why it’s an absolute necessity.  In order to purify oneself and to practice righteousness daily, we must know what it means to be pure and righteous like Jesus.  This is the key to being strengthened in His power.

St. Paul bracketed this passage with another important verse, “…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (v.18).  Now understand that what comes last is certainly not least.  The reason Paul concluded this passage on spiritual warfare by calling God’s people to prayer, is because prayer an important part of spiritual battle.

Go all the way back to the garden of Gethsemane.  It was there that Jesus was facing the greatest battle of His life, He said to His disciples, we must stop, and we must pray.  Even though Jesus won the battle for sin on the cross, He won His battle for the cross on His knees in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.  The greater part of the fight against sin, death and the devil isn’t fought on our feet, it’s fought on our knees.

Satan isn’t afraid of our sermons, he isn’t afraid our singing, he isn’t afraid of our service or stewardship, what he’s afraid of our prayers.  If satan can do only one thing in this church, he will keep this church from praying.

Bible teacher Dr. R. A. Torrey, once said, “The devil is not afraid of organization, he’s only afraid of God.  An organization without prayer is organization without God.”  Satan isn’t afraid of buildings, budgets, or programs.  In prayer, we’re equipped with the armor of God that helps us withstand the fiery arrows of the devil.  It’s prayer that satan fights, it’s prayer that satan fears, it’s in prayer that satan is forced to flee.  The armor we put on is worthless unless it’s energized by the power of prayer.

Do you know what a great tragedy is about prayer?  It isn’t unanswered prayer, but unasked prayer.  Think about that.  When we pray, the devil cannot keep God from answering, so he tries to keep us from asking.  The young David understood this.  That’s why a little shepherd boy with a slingshot could defeat the largest and strongest man in the world with a little rock.  The reason David was willing to fight Goliath and was able to defeat him, was because he understood something that no one else in the nation of Israel understood.  He said in 1 Sam. 17:47, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s…”

The third thing we need God’s armor for is so that we can stand for God’s purpose.  Three times in this passage we’re told to stand.  In verse 11 we are told to “stand against the wiles of the devil.”  In verse 13 “having done all to stand.”  And in verse 14 Paul begins by saying, “Stand therefore…”  Being told to stand seems like a strange instruction.  Here you are with the armor on.  We’re spending time in prayer and strengthen by God’s Spirit, word, and His Body and Blood, we want to go on the attack.  We’re ready to head out onto the frontlines and all we’re waiting on is our marching orders.  And now we’re told to “Stand firm.”  Why is that?

When we take a stand for God, we don’t have to go to the battle, satan brings the battle to us.  Recall in Daniel 3 the magnificent story of those three courageous young men who loved God, named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?  A law was passed that everyone in the country would have to bow down and worship the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar.  These three men didn’t cause a ruckus.  They didn’t carry on with violent demonstrations.  When everybody else bowed down, all they simply did was stand up.  And because they stood firm for God, the battle was brought to them.

One of the greatest reasons our country is in the shape it’s in today is because God’s people have been bowing down before the gods of this world, instead of standing up for our Lord Jesus Christ.  For too long, God’s people have been sitting silently on the sidelines, instead of standing strong for our Savior.

God isn’t looking for Christians who can do spiritual somersaults, jump twenty pews at a time, swing from chandeliers, speak in tongues, perform miracles, or do any number of other things.  God is looking for people who will stand firm and stand up for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Can we do any of this without prayer and practice?  The answer is no.

To purify ourselves as Christ is pure, and to sanctify ourselves means we need to practice righteousness each day and to do that we need to put on the armor of God.  And how do we put on the armor of God?  By being in God’s word, by gathering together with God’s people to learn, and by studying God’s word.  The warning for us in the Bible is clear, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  To “be perfect as God is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) means we need to practice.  But before we can practice, we need to know what and how, and we find the answer to the what and how in God’s word and on our knees.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

< back to Sermon archive