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Like most brethren, I’ve been transfixed by the tragic events this past Sunday at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, TX. I mourn the deaths of both the guilty and the innocent, but I salute the courage of the members of the security team who put their own lives at risk to ensure that no more innocents would die.
I suspect that most Christians feel as I do. Intuitively, we sense that a man who kills in order to protect others from a criminal has done no wrong. Like a shepherd, he is defending the flock from wolves.
Nonetheless, our feelings aren’t enough to decide the matter. We also must reckon with the Scriptural witness on the subject. Previously, I’ve both written and preached that Jesus’ famous commandment to “turn the other cheek” should be read narrowly, with reference to persecution by the Roman government. It does not address defending ourselves from criminals. In fact, at several points, other Biblical arguments assume that people will practice self-defense.
However, that leaves another question. What about the many times in the book of Acts when Paul and others are attacked by angry anti-Christian mobs that aren’t part of the government? We don’t see Christians fighting back against the mobs either. Doesn’t that imply that Paul and the others were pacifists?
The behavior of Paul in Acts 16 and elsewhere is consistent with pacifism, but that’s not the only reasonable explanation. Throughout the New Testament, in numerous passages, Christians are told to live in a peaceable, quiet way that will bring respect from outsiders. This makes the gospel more attractive (the kind of people who will submit their lives to Christ generally don’t appreciate disturbance of the peace), but it also protected early Christianity from being crushed by the government.
The early church had its troubles with both Jewish and Roman officials, but those troubles would have been much worse if the first-century church had developed a reputation for provoking and participating in public disorder. Gamaliel would not have spoken up to save the apostles in Acts 5 if there had been blood in the streets. Paul would not have been able to defend himself before Felix in Acts 24 if he had been stirring up more trouble by fighting back. His defense in 24:12 is based on the fact that he didn’t.
The logic of 1 Timothy 6:1 applies here too. Disobedient Christian servants and unruly Christian brawlers both lead to the doctrine of Christ being spoken against. The reputation of the church is more important even than our own lives, and we should act accordingly.
By contrast, Christians protecting their own from murderers does not bring the doctrine of Christ into disrepute. The opposite is true. I’ve seen nothing but praise for the West Freeway members who stopped the shooter in six seconds flat.
Indeed, if all such incidents were resolved so quickly, I suspect there would be many fewer shooters. Killing sheep appeals to cowards, and shooters are cowards. Fighting guard dogs doesn’t.
We are responsible for submitting to the government that God has put in place, and we cannot participate in public disorder. However, the Bible also calls us to be wise in an evil age. The death toll at West Freeway is heartbreaking, but it could have been much worse. I am thankful for those whose foresight ensured that it would not be, and I think that all churches will do well to imitate their example.
Psalm 146 is an outpouring of praise to God for His goodness. Its opening phrase (“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!”) is used, among other places, in the third verse of “It Is Well with My Soul”. The psalmist continues from there to promise God that he never will cease to praise Him. He urges others not to trust in princes, who are mortal, but in God, who created all things and remains faithful. Whenever His people are in need, God sees them and blesses them. By contrast, He strikes down the wicked. He will reign forever, and everyone should praise Him.
Psalm 147 continues the theme of praise by considering God’s work in creation. The same God who cares for His people numbers and names the stars. He uses His infinite strength to care for the weak and vulnerable. Because of His providence, He is worthy of praise. He feeds all living things, and He cares for His own.
Next, the psalm invites the people of Jerusalem to praise God. He has cared for them, and His power is so great that even the weather does His bidding. Finally, His care is shown in that He has given His people His law.
Psalm 148 is one of the most familiar psalms in the psalter because it is paraphrased in our hymn “Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!” It invites all of the creation to praise God: the angels, the celestial bodies, the elements of creation, living creatures, and all people. God is worthy of praise from all of these because He is above everything else.
Psalm 149 calls God’s people to praise Him. They are invited to glorify Him in a number of different ways. They praise Him because they can be certain of His help in defeating their enemies among the nations.
Psalm 150, the final psalm in the book, is another call to worship. It invites God’s people to praise Him in different locations, for His great works, and with various musical instruments. The psalm (and the book) concludes by appealing to everything that has breath to praise the Lord.
This morning, all of us are aware that this Wednesday, December 25th, is Christmas, a day on which people across the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of us also are aware that there is nothing in the Bible that says that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated on December 25th, or, indeed, on any other day. Nonetheless, it is true that at this time of year, more than any other, people are talking about Jesus.
What’s the big deal? What’s so important about a baby born in a stable in a backwater of the Roman Empire that we should still be talking about it 2000 years later? Certainly, the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin is impressive, but if that were the most noteworthy thing that Jesus ever did, He would be nothing more than an obscure historical footnote. This morning, then, let’s turn to the Scriptures to see why we should care about this Jesus.
I had the idea for this sermon about six weeks ago, when Mike Young preached for us on Acts 2 and the first gospel sermon. As I was following along in my Bible with him, I noticed something I’d never seen before. At least in the ESV, the phrase “this Jesus” occurs three times in Peter’s sermon, and the three uses of the phrase highlight the most important things about Jesus’ life.
The first “this Jesus” phrase points out that He WAS CRUCIFIED. Let’s read together from Acts 2:23. There are three things in this verse that I want us to focus on. The first is that Jesus was killed on the cross. This might seem like a duh point, but believe it or not, there are plenty of folks who want to argue about this. Muslims believe that Jesus only appeared to be crucified and was brought up alive into heaven. Many skeptics argue that Jesus only passed out on the cross and came back to His senses in Joseph’s tomb.
Not so. As Peter says here, and as everyone in Jerusalem at that point knew, Jesus died. He breathed His last on the cross, and he was taken down dead from the cross. Even extrabiblical writers like Suetonius and Josephus confirm that Jesus was killed.
Second, Jesus was delivered to crucifixion and death by the plan of God. Around this time of year, people like to put up nativity scenes, and even though I don’t think that the shepherds and wise men came to visit Jesus and Mary at the same time, there they all are, gathered around the manger.
Though of course it wouldn’t be historically accurate either, I think it would be thematically appropriate if all those nativity scenes also included a cross, because Jesus was quite literally born to die on that cross. Indeed, the Bible tells us that even before the world was created, God had determined that Jesus had to die. His death was the culmination of a plan that was older than the universe.
Third, let’s pay attention to “you”. None of the people in the crowd that day were directly involved in Jesus’ death, but Peter tells them that they were responsible anyway. This morning, I want us to consider our own responsibility. Before anything else existed, God looked into the future and knew that He would have to send His sinless Son to die, and it was our sin that made His death inevitable. We didn’t nail Jesus to the cross either, but neither can we walk away from our share in His suffering.
The second “this Jesus” statement in Acts 2 reports that He WAS RAISED UP. Look at Acts 2:32. Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how extraordinary a statement this is. In my time as a preacher, I’ve preached many funerals and attended many more, but never once have I seen the body in the casket come back to life. We know that dead people don’t rise from the dead, but Peter here is insisting that Jesus did exactly that.
In order to back up this extraordinary statement, Peter says that “we all are witnesses.” There are a couple of senses in which I want us to consider his words. First, he is obviously talking about himself and the other apostles who are standing next to him. They saw the risen Jesus, they talked with the risen Jesus, they ate with the risen Jesus, and they even touched the risen Jesus.
They were so sure that Jesus had risen that they spent the rest of their lives proclaiming that He had, and many of them even died because of their testimony. Indeed, our word “martyr” comes from the Greek martus, which means “witness”. Because they were willing to go to torture and death rather than take back their testimony, we can know that they were completely convinced Jesus had risen.
However, besides the human witness of the apostles, Peter’s sermon points out two other kinds of witness. The first is the witness of prophecy. Just before v. 32, Peter quotes from Psalm 16, which is only one of many prophetic passages in the Old Testament that foretold that God would raise His Holy One from the dead. Today, we know that weather forecasters can’t correctly predict the weather next week, but the prophets of the Old Testament looked into the future and predicted the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ, right down to the tiniest detail. This proves that both the prophecy and its fulfillment are the handiwork of God.
The third witness in this text is the witness of miracles. The apostles confirmed the word they preached with signs and wonders. In Acts 2, they display the miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages. Other miracles that are even more impressive appear throughout the New Testament. If somebody says they saw a dead man come back to life, you can safely ignore them. If they claim that, then raise a man from the dead themselves, then you’d better start listening!
Our third “this Jesus” phrase reveals that He WAS MADE LORD AND CHRIST. Consider Acts 2:36. Let’s begin by talking about what “Lord” and “Christ” mean. “Lord” is straightforward. God put Jesus in control of everything. “Christ” is less so. I suspect that most Americans believe that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. It isn’t. It’s a title, like “King”. It means “Anointed One”, and it carries with it the idea that Jesus is God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king. In short, Jesus was the fulfillment of everything the prophets had told the Jews to expect.
Second, notice that Peter says that we can “know for certain” that Jesus is Lord and Christ. This is the consequence of the witnesses we talked about in the last section. If you accept the eyewitnesses, the prophecies, and the miracles, you also must accept the pre-eminence of Jesus. As the next verse shows, the people who saw these things certainly were convinced!
That, in turn, is a belief with consequences. We can’t accept that Jesus is Lord and go on living the way we used to live. That would be like acknowledging that we live in the United States of America, yet refusing to obey any of its laws. Like the Jews in v. 37, we also have to ask, “What shall we do?” Sometimes, the answer is the answer of v. 38. We have to obey the gospel. We have to become Christians through baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. Always, though, the answer must be that we will devote our lives to the One we call “Lord”.
Psalm 141 asks God to help the psalmist remain faithful. It opens with a request to God to attend to the psalmist prayer the way He does to the offerings made at the tabernacle/temple. The psalmist then asks God to help him keep his speech, thoughts, and friendships from evil. It’s better to be rebuked by the righteous than to be favored by the wicked! Indeed, the psalmist hates the wicked and anticipates that the powerful people who help them will be destroyed.
Nonetheless, at the present time, the psalmist has been left without protection, close to death. In his trouble, he looks to God and trusts in His protection.
Psalm 142 also looks to God for help in trouble. The psalmist expresses his sorrow to God because he knows God sees the way forward for him. This is important because the psalmist’s enemies have set traps for him and his friends have abandoned him. In these dire circumstances, the psalmist has no choice but to cry to God. Only God can rescue him from persecution and prison, and if He does, the psalmist will give thanks to Him.
Psalm 143 has similar content. The verses to our hymn “I Close My Eyes” are taken from Psalm 143:1, 10, and 8. In the psalm, the psalmist asks for God to hear and answer him rather than judging him for his sins. The psalmist’s enemies have oppressed him, and he is distressed. In these circumstances, he thinks about what God has done before and longs for Him. He pours out his soul before God and hopes that He will answer him and lead him to safety. Ultimately, the psalmist is confident that God will answer him.
Psalm 144 is a martial psalm. It begins with David expressing his gratitude to God for helping him fight and protecting him. He marvels that God would expend such care on him. Next, he invites God to help him in battle. If God does, he will praise Him. The psalm concludes by asking for several blessings: rescue from enemies, many children, agricultural prosperity, and peace.
Psalm 145 rejoices in God’s goodness and power. The psalmist begins by promising to praise God forever because of His greatness. God is so great that His praise will continue through all successive generations. In addition to being great, He also is kind and compassionate. His people will continue to praise Him because His kingdom will last forever. God protects and provides for everyone, loves the righteous, hears their prayers, and judges rightly between them and the wicked. Therefore, He should be praised forever.