“With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this second Sunday after Easter comes from the First Lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of the book of Acts. Dear friends in Christ, that which was from the beginning took flesh and became man. God walked this earth; He taught, He healed, He demonstrated His authority. He suffered, He died at the hands of sinful men. But then He rose; not a spirit, not a phantom, but with the body He took upon Himself in Mary’s womb. God became flesh, and He remains flesh, even after His resurrection, so that John can declare, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.” They heard the risen Jesus, they saw Him with their own eyes. They even touched Him. Jesus invited Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it into my side.” They saw, they heard, they touched, and now they testify. They testify to you what they have seen and heard and touched—that Jesus, who was dead, is now alive.
Their testimony, the testimony of the resurrection, has power, it changes everything. Through this proclamation, you are united with God in faith; all the barriers have been crushed, your relationship with your Creator has been healed. Your sin kept you away from God, but the testimony of the resurrection declares that God has accepted the sacrifice of Christ on your behalf. And this changes everything. You now have fellowship with God, the fellowship that was intended at the beginning. Paradise is restored; God and man, so long at odds, are brought back together. This fellowship means life, eternal life. Your sin, which kept you from God, has been eliminated, done away with, destroyed. The resurrection proves it. The apostles told you what they saw and heard and touched so that you would live even though you die. “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
The testimony of the resurrection creates fellowship with God, and from your fellowship with God flows fellowship with others. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” The apostles testified to what they had seen, heard, and touched—that Jesus, who was dead, is now alive—not only to reestablish fellowship between man and God, but also to bring fellowship between men. Their testimony has the power to do this; it changes everything.
People are brought together in unity around one banner: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Their unity doesn’t come from themselves; when viewed by the world, the Church is a hodgepodge of people from different backgrounds and situations. But all have one thing in common: they have each been given eternal life through Christ’s victory, proclaimed to them by the apostles who saw, heard, and touched the risen Lord. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The testimony of the resurrection changed everything; they no longer looked out only for their own needs, but instead they saw themselves as part of a community, a Church, centered on the one who died and rose again for them. Only the testimony of the resurrection could create such unity. “With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Selfishness was abolished in favor of love toward God and then toward their neighbors.
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” The testimony of the resurrection changes everything. Now, not only is the relationship of these believers with God restored, not only do they live in unity with each other, but that unity, that love is turned outside of themselves to others. The testimony of the resurrection means that “there was not a needy person among them!” The resurrection matters, the resurrection makes a difference, not only for eternity, but here in this world. The love shown to them in Christ flowed from them to those around them; in sacrificial, self-giving love, everyone who had a need was provided for. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus Christ had been proclaimed to them.
The resurrection of Jesus has been proclaimed to you and me; we heard it last week in all of its glory, and we hear it each and every Lord’s Day. It has established a Church, a place where those who are in fellowship with God through Christ’s redemption can gather together. Today we are here gathered in fellowship together—despite all the differences in background, economic status, family situation and everything else, we are here as equals, as those for whom Christ died and rose again. But unity is another matter. Can it truly be said of us that “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul”? Sadly, it cannot. Instead, we live at odds with each other, selfishly seeking our own interests. We want our own way at the cost of unity; we gossip and complain against others who are members together in this fellowship of believers.
And if our unity fails due to sin, the kind of self-giving love exhibited by the early Church is almost non-existent. Can it truly be said of us: “There was not a needy person among them”? Would we even think of selling our house or field to help someone in need? But don’t even worry about fields and houses, simply hear the exhortation of St. John: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” For decades now the Church has slowly been giving over care for the poor to the government, to the extent that the Church and her members do very little to providing for the physical needs of its members or of the world. When we look at the picture of the Church given by Luke and compare it to our congregation today, the result isn’t pretty. Does the resurrection truly matter to us? Does it even make a difference in how we live our lives a Christians, as a congregation?
Unfortunately, the testimony of the resurrection, despite its power, doesn’t create a perfect utopia. Those brought into fellowship with God and one another remain sinners. Even Luke’s beautiful picture of the early Church soon fell apart due to sin. Right after our text, Ananias and Sapphira lie to the apostles, claiming to bring the full price of a field for the needs of others while withholding some in greed and selfishness. Then, in Acts chapter six, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” In both the giving and the distribution to those in need, sin invaded the early Church, as it has invaded our church.
Like the earliest Christians, we have heard the testimony of the resurrection, but we have failed to live according to it. Christ’s resurrection hasn’t seemed to change very much, for we still fall into sin against God and against our neighbor. But God for this reason doesn’t cease the proclamation of resurrection victory, He gives us more! The testimony of the resurrection is the only source of forgiveness; it forgives our lack of unity, it forgives our lack of love. The apostles were sent out not only to proclaim what they had seen, heard, and touched, but also to give forth the benefits of that testimony. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” The testimony of the resurrection is Christ’s answer to the sin that fills His Church, that fills our hearts. The apostles, and all who follow them in the pastoral office, are sent forth both to declare Christ’s resurrection and to give out the forgiveness that the resurrection has won.
Only the testimony of the resurrection has the power to forgive your lack of unity and love, and it does, whenever you confess your sins and hear the blessed Absolution; whenever you receive Christ’s very own Body and Blood. This testimony of the resurrection declares to you that the one who died on Good Friday, bearing the weight of your sin—all your sin—was raised from the dead on Easter morning in victory. On the cross, Jesus offered the sacrifice for your sin; God proclaimed to the world that He accepted that sacrifice, that death itself has been destroyed, by raising Christ from the dead. The testimony of the resurrection comes to you constantly because you need to hear it; you need to be given Christ’s own blood-bought forgiveness every time that you sin.
The testimony of the resurrection changes everything! Only that proclamation can restore fellowship with God, only that proclamation can restore fellowship with one another. We look at God differently; He is no longer the wrathful judge, but the One who in love gave His Son as the sacrifice for our sin then raised Him in victory over the grave. We look at the Church differently; this congregation isn’t just a collection of people, it is an assembly united by our fellowship with God. We look at those in need differently; they are no longer an inconvenience, but those whom God has blessed us with the resources to assist. The testimony of the resurrection changes everything! You are now a beloved child of God, and you will live even though you die, for your sins are forgiven and you are united once again with your Creator, to live in glory forevermore. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.