Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 14, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Christ's Gospel Is Sacramental?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Acts 2:1-39
Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed, and His message of grace is for all people. Amen.
If you've ever traveled abroad, it is a lonely feeling when you are in a place where you don't speak the language of the people. When my daughter got to study abroad, I went over to France with her to help her get settled. Let's just say that what French I knew, it wasn't very good and, of course, it was even harder for me to understand people when they spoke to us. I remember trying to purchase a week long subway pass to get around the city to help her take care of some basic items she'd need. Now, getting subway passes, riding subways, I had done this many times in New York. This should be no problem, right? Wrong. Not only did they have a different system, but I couldn't communicate my wishes, my questions, or even understand the different products they were selling. I finally just pointed to what I wanted, gave my money, and then when I tried to go through the turnstiles to get to the train, it wouldn't work. I just purchased this pass, why won't it let me through? I was frustrated, they were frustrated; it wasn't until someone came to me who spoke my language and could explain to me that the week long passes in France always started on Monday. Well, it was Sunday, so my card wouldn't work until the next day. For today, he said, I would have to buy a single ride. When he looked me in the eye and said, "Do you understand?" Finally, I got it. It sure was nice for that person to try to help, to speak in a way that I could understand.
And, think about it; for that person to do that, it took work. He not only had to speak his language; he had to speak mine too. If you've ever tried to be conversant in another language, you know it can be difficult. Many of my relatives, who came to the United States, came not speaking English. They had to learn it, it took work. But that kind of work helped them to be the kind of people who could step in and help a stranger, a visitor who needed help, directions, or just a kind word that they could understand.
Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn't speak or understand the language? Maybe you just needed to find a bathroom in Spain. Perhaps you were seeking directions in Mexico. Or, maybe you've just moved to a new land, and you're just trying to communicate in this language with your teenager who seems very much at home in this new place.
Getting lost in translation is frustrating, isn't it? It can mean big trouble, delayed travel, and overall sense of helplessness. It can be completely confusing.
When President John F. Kennedy gave a speech in the German city of Berlin in 1963, he declared in German, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" The crowd cheered because Kennedy was saying that he too considered himself a citizen of this capital city. It didn't take too long, however, for people to criticize his attempt to communicate in the language of the people. We have been to Germany recently, to Berlin specifically, and our guide mentioned the Kennedy phrase, saying "He shouldn't have used the word "ein." With that addition, the world "Berliner" could also mean a type of pastry, some pundits have even claimed then that Kennedy really said, "I'm a jelly donut!" Now others have said that he was grammatically correct for saying, "Ich Bin Berliner" would have meant "I am a Berliner, I come from Berlin," but that too would have been incorrect. So the debate goes on. Did he say things correctly, was he understood, or was that just another time of being lost in translation?
Translation is not easy. Much can be lost. It takes more than merely finding a word in one language, for that word in another. Phrases are different, grammar is different, and often what is "said in the books," is communicated much differently down on the street.
That's why the message of the Bible is so unique, my friends. For the greatest good news of God proclaimed for all humanity wasn't just a message communicated to fallible human beings so that it could be lost in translation; it was a Word from God, by the power of His Spirit that could be translated and understood by all who received it, and it was a message ultimately delivered by the God of creation Himself, in the person and work of the God/Man Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit!
You know the good news, right? You know what Jesus did, that no one else could do, don't you? If you don't, let me say it as clearly as I can, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became human, walked the earth, suffered temptation and persecution, but lived a perfect life in our place. He was then put to death for us, carrying our sin and imperfection, becoming the perfect Sacrifice to pay the price for our transgressions. Then Jesus was raised to life. God accepted His sacrifice. All our sins were paid for. Now, trusting in Him, we receive the gift of forgiveness and are freed from the penalty of eternal death. Because of God's undeserved love and the life-saving gift of Jesus, we are blessed with the gift of eternal life with Him. We have new hope, new confidence, our eternal source of peace, and a refuge as we endure troubles even in this life.
That's clear isn't it? It's wonderful news! But can the world hear it for itself? Can those who are disenfranchised receive it? Can those who suffer be blessed by it?
But, even more importantly today, can you hear it for yourself? Maybe you're wondering if God could ever love you. Maybe it seems like a whole different language. You may be struggling with self-doubt and deep feelings of unworthiness. Your failures, your sins, your very serious mess-ups in life can cause you to believe that God could never love you. Lost in translation? It can cause all of us to miss a message, to miss a life that God Himself wants us to have.
So, I want to ask you today not to let God's everlasting and all-surpassing love get lost in translation for you. The fact is this: God does love you. He cares about you. Jesus even said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners" (Mark 2:17 NIV). If you think you are too far gone, let me say that Jesus can bring His grace right where you are. Or, if this message seems confusing today, give us a chance here at The Lutheran Hour to help you see the Jesus of the Bible who keeps coming for you and me, translating His grace so that you might believe; like on Pentecost Day so many years ago. Why, because that's just who God is.
Think of what the Bible says about what God is up to for you! For all! He not only promises life and salvation for all who believe in Him; He fulfills His promises by entering into the world, suffering our temptations, overcoming our obstacles to give us His life, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in a way we can see, believe, and receive; and even more, He keeps coming with that message by the power of His Spirit in words, in water, bread and wine to deliver that good news all the way to our ears, to our eyes, to our hearts, to our minds. In verse twelve of 1 Corinthians, chapter two we hear, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand things freely given us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:12). By God's gracious Spirit, the translation comes clear: Jesus gave His life for you! He loves you! You are a forgiven child of God! The Gospel is for you!
Lost in translation because of our sin; yes, but in Christ, found in translation by faith! In the weeks to come, we're going to follow the journeys of St. Paul, where we learn how this message gets translated so that all might believe. We'll see how this message is for the learned and for the simple, it is for the businessperson and the customer, it is for the powerful and the powerless because all are lost in translation without it.
This is the season of Pentecost for the church; it is a time when God's people remember that we have been sent on a mission to witness Jesus to anyone who will listen. Remember back to that first Pentecost Day. You might say that is when people were found in translation. Thousands of people were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world for that festival of Pentecost. The gathering celebrated the barley harvest with thanksgiving and also recalled Moses receiving of the Ten Commandments fifty days after Israel's Exodus from Egypt. This was a time when people remembered that God came down to them to rescue them.
But on that first Pentecost, the one following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God made this all clear to them, to us!
It says in Acts 2: When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
Fire, the loud sound of wind, and words from God Himself as the Holy Spirit moved the disciples to speak in many languages. Why would God do such a thing? The Apostle Peter provided the answer. He proclaimed the risen Savior Jesus Christ and declared; "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21).
Yes, everyone. Why? Because that's just who God is and God can make a way of communication possible where there is no way. On Pentecost Day, God reached into your life, to all nations, to all people with His Good News of new life and new hope through simple fishermen who had no ability to make that communication possible. Listen to the number of nations that heard and understood the message of salvation in Jesus. Acts, Chapter 2 says it this way: Parthians and Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians-we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God" (Acts 2:9-12).
People from Rome to North Africa; Asia Minor to the Middle East, they were there in Jerusalem and heard the good news of Jesus as Savior in their own native tongues. The mighty and miraculous saving work of God got through! Why, that's just who God is. And He is still that way today.
Can you hear it today? Do you understand that God is saying all this for you? Peter said, "The Gospel is truly for all people--for the young and old, for men and women, for those who were free and those who were enslaved." On that Pentecost, the freeing news of the forgiveness of sins and the ever-present Helper and Savior began to be translated into every life. This is what God does. This is His heart. God brings His Good News to you where you're at, in a way that you can understand, for whatever life situation you're in. Do you hear it? Will you receive this precious gift? Will you trust God's love and grace for your life?
And think about this too; the incredible thing about the message of the Bible is that it can be translated so that you can hear it for yourself. There are many who say, "God's Word can't be like that?" It has to be dictated, dug up in plates already etched in stone; it has to be spoken only to the precious few who have a special in on God. But, that is the opposite of the way of the Bible, even the message of the Bible. Through chosen people, yes, God communicates His love for all; but it is through simple people, like you and me; often through nobodies, that this message of being somebody again through God Alone is communicated. Why? So that it might get through to all.
Do you hear the translation into your life? Are you thirsty for God's pardon and compassion? Do you feel like an outsider? Unworthy? Excluded? No religious background? God is coming for you right now. In this message, in Christ, He calls you His own! His Word can give you new life and a new beginning today! Your Savior lifts you up with encouragement and gives you another chance with His forgiveness. Do you hear the translation?
Translators can be very valuable people, can't they? They can be a real bridge builder, a problem solver to people who are lost in translation. To do that, they must not only know the language, they must immerse themselves in the new culture to truly understand the nuances of the language, culture, and customs. Translators visit the native countries. They read the newspapers. They seek out people from the nation so that they can have a full understanding of how communication really works.
Pentecost says, "That's who God is and more as He communicates the message of His Good News for all." Think of what Jesus did to deliver this message of love and grace to us. He immersed Himself in our world as the Word, Jesus Christ the Son of God; He became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. That's what the Savior Jesus did as He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7-8).
God understands you and He reaches out to you so that you can understand Him. The Gospel is for all. It is for you. Why? Why this extreme translation effort? That's what the people in Acts, Chapter 2 asked. They said, "What does this mean?" (vs.12). The question can be translated this way, "What does this want to be?" Or, in other words, "Where is this headed? What will be the result of this miraculous appearance of God? How will this impact our lives today?"
The answer again: everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved! Because that's just who God is; He is the One who "so loved the world that He sent His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life!"
So today, please know that we not only get to receive this message but to share it too; that's the church of Pentecost in action; for as receivers, joy-filled recipients of this undeserved, down to earth grace; as believers we become translators of that grace to others. Remember when I said that I had a hard time getting a subway pass in Paris until someone helped me understand what I was missing? Well, I try to have that same spirit when I see a visitor to New York, or Los Angeles, who seems lost in translation. With a simple gesture, a simple word, or even a small effort to help them find what they need; you suddenly become an effective translator for others.
That's the point with the Gospel too; as one who received God's grace, now you, as a unique person, in a unique location, with a unique perspective, around unique people, you get to be a bridge of that good news to people you know and love. Incredibly, God has always done it this way; ordinary people with an extraordinary message of an incredible Savior; who even promises you that you are never alone in the translation process; for Jesus Himself promises you, "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20).
After John F. Kennedy made his Berlin speech, a German journalist, who understood what Kennedy was trying to say to the German people, he translated Kennedy's remark: "I am one with the people of Berlin." He was able to deliver that word in a way that truly communicated what was meant. Well, God has an incredible message that by the power of His Spirit, you can receive and you can share.
So, in the weeks to come I pray that you will journey with us, as we follow the footsteps of Paul as He proclaims the Good News of this Jesus Christ to people in the ancient power cities of Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Rome, and beyond. Get to know this message, this Jesus, who came for all, and who comes in ways that we can understand, perceive, and believe. Like we learned today, the Gospel of Jesus is for all people, it comes in ways that we can understand and by the power of His Spirit, believe. Why? Because that's just who God is, for you, for me, for all.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 14, 2014 Topic: Christ's Gospel Is Sacramental?
ANNOUNCER: What does it mean when we say the Gospel is sacramental? Why is that a good thing? I'm Mark Eischer, here with our Speaker, Pastor Gregory Seltz. Pastor, today you began a sermon series called: "The Footsteps of St. Paul." We're answering questions now about Paul, his message, and some of the cities that were associated with his ministry. You talked about the Gospel being sacramental, what does that mean?
SELTZ: Well, that was a big emphasis on the trip, Mark. And it goes to, really, the heart of our pilgrimage, we walked in those historical places where Paul shared the Gospel, but it also goes to the heart of the message of God itself, namely, that God's grace comes all the way to where we are to save us.
ANNOUNCER: Could you explain that a bit more?
SELTZ: Sure, the Bible talks about God's work of salvation, about God Himself being willing to come "in the flesh," to redeem and restore sinful humanity.
ANNOUNCER: But when you say, "in the flesh," that doesn't sound very spiritual.
SELTZ: Actually, according to the Bible, that's the way to determine whether or not you're dealing with true spiritual things. I John 4 says that we know we're dealing with God's Spirit when we "acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh." And Hebrews 2, reminds us that God, in order to save sinful humanity, real flesh and blood people, He came among us, in the flesh, to save.
ANNOUNCER: Okay, God comes "in the flesh" to save us, but isn't that physical realm of life where sin and death take place?
SELTZ: It can be, but that's because we brought sin into the equation. We're not sinners because we're flesh and blood human beings. We're human beings who brought sin into our "flesh and blood" lives. In fact, that's why God had to journey from heaven, to a manger, to a cross, to die and then bodily rise again, so that we could be reconciled to Him.
ANNOUNCER: And that's the message we hear every Christmas and Easter, but I suppose we don't always understand the depth of it.
SELTZ: Yeah, I don't think we do, and that's why we need to hear it again and again and again. So, God comes in the flesh to save us; but His message of grace also comes all the way to the flesh level of our lives to bring us to faith. The Bible says, "The Word became Flesh....and these words are written so that you might believe."
ANNOUNCER: God doesn't just make new life possible; He also graciously delivers it.
SELTZ: I like that. Yes, all the way so we can hear, understand, and believe it. Think about it. God's grace in Jesus comes the way God's grace has always come, in flesh level gifts for flesh bound people.
ANNOUNCER: Is that what you mean by sacramental?
SELTZ: Yes, exactly. When you say that the message of the Gospel is sacramental, all that we mean is that it comes to us where we are to save us, in ways we can understand, receive, and believe. Think about it. God's grace in Jesus comes, in words we can see, hear, and believe. We can feel His grace as it is washed into our lives by the power of God's Name in the waters of Baptism. We can even taste, and see, and receive the grace of Christ through His body and blood in the simple bread and wine in His Supper.
ANNOUNCER: And then through these simple and yet miraculous means, God comes to us where we need it the most and that in itself is very comforting.
SELTZ: And really that is the point. This sacramentalness of the Gospel is not some church hocus pocus. It is the way God invites us to receive His grace for our strength, for our comfort, for our confidence. Mankind's religious or spiritual teachings always have us doing things to overcome our failures or doing things to try to live up to spiritual, righteous, perfect standards. But what happens when you realize there is nothing you can do to overcome the sin and guilt in your life? What then?
ANNOUNCER: And sincerity doesn't count.
SELTZ: Actually, sincerity makes it worse, because if you take spirituality, holiness, righteousness seriously, then sincere failure really crushes us in body and soul.
ANNOUNCER: But then comes the comfort of knowing that God came down to that flesh level of our failures with His grace and His mercy for our salvation.
SELTZ: Right, and Christianity then is about who God is, what God has done, and how God comes to brings His reconciling work and message into our lives!
ANNOUNCER: ...which then empowers our lives of service and grace for others.
SELTZ: It does, because "in the flesh" grace wasn't just must meant to be received, it was meant to be lived out and shared. But, remember this, it is who God is, and what He has ultimately done for you..."
ANNOUNCER: And this is also the sort of life God wants for each of us. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"All Who Believe and Are Baptized" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
Click Here to END subscription to St. John's Group Email.
The mission of St. John's Lutheran Church is to preach the Word of God in its purity and to teach this Word to all people. We do so through the means God has given us, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
What We Believe
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod accepts the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and subscribes unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.
We accept the Confessions because they are drawn from the Word of God and on that account regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.