Whether the answer is “safe!” or “out!”, in Major League Baseball, the final word is made by the umpires.1 In many ways, the umpires are in the best position to make the call. They’re usually standing right next to the play as it happens, and if someone is going to make the right call, it’s most likely going to be them.
But if you’ve actually been to a Major League Baseball game, or even watched one on television or listened on the radio, you know there isn’t universal agreement that the umpire always makes the best call. I can hear in my mind people yelling at the ump their opinion of the call he’d made. Or I’ve seen on TV how the video replay will at times prove the ump wrong. Well, if you’ve seen any games this season, you know a change has been made to address this: there is now instant replay in baseball.2 It’s a bit complicated as when exactly it can be used, but basically, at certain plays the umpires will go to get proof as to whether the right call was made. They’ll watch the play in question on video and decide whether to uphold the call originally made on the field or overturn that call.
Now, this changed isn’t loved by everyone. Some say it hurts the purity of the game. They say that baseball has always used fallible, human umpires, and that should continue to be part of the game. Other people like the increased accuracy of challenged calls, but they don’t like the extra time they take to complete. Let’s face it, there tends to be a bit of downtime in baseball as it is, and having a few more minutes each game with nothing happening is just too much for some. However you might feel about it, you can’t argue that it’s possible at times to get proof of the correct call from a replay.
Did you realize that you have the opportunity to have an instant replay of the sermons here in church? It’s true. Well, maybe they’re not instant, but you can go back and get proof for every sermon you hear. I don’t mean proof of the exact words I speak3; I mean proof that it’s true.
After all, I tend to make some pretty bold statements during a sermon. Here in the Easter season we’re constantly proclaiming, Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! We’re saying that someone who died is alive again and he’ll be alive forever. Oh yeah, and you will live forever through him, too. That’s a pretty striking thing to say, are you sure it’s true? Or, I’ll stand in the pulpit and tell you the things that God commands you; I’ll tell you the things that God promises you. Yet, I’m not God. So are you sure it’s true?
The way to be sure, of course, is to prove it. There are different ways to prove different things. In baseball the instant replay is a video recording of the play, even though those aren’t always perfect. But the proof in matters relating to us and God? It’s not found in our opinions or in what’s popular in our world today. That proof is only found in the Bible. That’s where God tells us the truth that holds up for all eternity. That’s the one source you can always trust. It’s not a proof that most courts would accept as valid, but it’s the only proof our hearts need with the faith that the Holy Spirit puts there through it. So today, let me encourage you to be ready to look for a replay, to look for the proof of everything you hear about God. The proof is in the Word.
Our text takes place during the apostle Paul’s 2nd missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas have been going around to different cities telling the good news about Jesus. We hear that they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. (Acts 17:1) Even though Paul was the “apostle to the Gentiles”, he usually went to the Jewish synagogues first. Since Paul’s proof was from God’s Word, it made sense to go to people who already would’ve known that Word from the Old Testament.
He definitely used the Word in his time with the synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. (Acts 17:2-3) Paul wasn’t trying to come in saying he was the smartest guy ever or that this was a message he had invented. No, he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. The proof is in the Word, and that’s exactly what Paul was using in his sermons here in Thessalonica. And, as God promises, the Word works4. This was no exception. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4)
Sounds like a successful couple of weeks, right? Well, apparently not everybody was convinced with what Paul said. Some Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. (Acts 17:5) Things got pretty bad pretty quickly. The people who were jealous of Paul and his message started this riot, and Paul and Silas ended up having to flee the city during the night.
We’ll talk about why things might have ended up so badly in Thessolonica in just a minute. But first, just look at the contrast to what happened to Paul in the next city, Berea. On ariving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:10-12)
What a difference! At the last city some of the Jews believed and here many of them did. In Thessalonica we heard about rioting, and here in Berea we hear about the Bereans receiving the message with great eagerness. So why the difference?
I think it had a lot to do with what they did with Paul’s sermons after he preached them. Over in Thessalonica we’re not told much, other than that the Jews were jealous so they rounded up a mob. Why would they be jealous?
Think about it. You go to a Jewish synagogue for years. Things go on pretty much as usual. Then one day a couple of guys show up and turn everything upside down. And for those three weeks that he’s there people are talking about it! And those Greeks who would come to the synagogue, they seemed excited about it, too! It could lead some of these Jews to wonder, “Who do Paul and Silas think they are? Why are they so popular? What does this mean for us? They heard Paul’s message, but instead of going back to what the message said, they got themselves worked up and jealous about the people bringing the message.
Contrast that to what the Bereans did. They examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11) They did a replay of the sermon. They went back to God’s Word to see if what Paul said really fit. And God blessed it. He built up their faith to the point where many believed. The proof was in God’s Word, and they went back and made sure they’d found that proof.
The question for us, then, is pretty simple. Which of these two congregations do we tend to be more like? Do we act like the first congregation from Thessolonica or the one from Berea?
Most of us here in Church might want to say that we are definitely more like the Bereans. After all, most of the people in our church have never started a riot because they didn’t agree with a teaching. In fact, you might argue that you agree with what we teach here at our church; that’s why you’re a member of the church, after all!
But think about this: why do you agree with the teachings at this church (or any church)? Is it because that’s the church you’ve always gone to? Is it because you know the pastor is a nice enough guy and that he’s trying to teach the truth? Is it because you trust our church body to only train a good, qualified pastor that would end up at your church?
I suppose it’s good if you think I’m a nice guy. I suppose I want you to trust me and I certainly make it my priority to preach God’s Word only according to the Bible. But, friends, I don’t want me to be the main proof you have that what I say is true. I don’t want the fact that I’m a nice guy be the reason you attend here. After all, I’m a sinful human being. I might very well do something to make you mad. You might start to think I’m not such a nice guy. And what will you think of my teaching then?
Or, we might base our reaction to the teaching at a church based on how it makes us feel. But what happens when it doesn’t make us feel very good? I know I personally don’t always like what I read in the Bible. I don’t like hearing that I do things wrong, that I mess up every day, that I’m a sinner. But that’s the truth I need to hear. Are you sure you’ll hear the truth you need?
Think about how easy it would be to base what we think of the teaching at a church based on our opinions or what the thoughts and attitudes of the World are. But, that wouldn’t exactly be a solid foundation. When Jesus said in our Gospel for today, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6), that statement could be thought of by some in the world to be a bigoted, hateful statement. How dare we say that Jesus is the only way to heaven when there are so many other religions in the world?
Think of it this way. If I’m basing my assurance of faith on anything other than what God actually says in his Word, I’m in trouble. If I’m basing what I believe and trust on anyone other than Jesus as he has revealed himself in his Word, then I’m lost. As a hymn puts it, On Christ, the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand5.
Let today be a reminder from you to not put the foundation of your faith on yourself on someone else’s opinions or on the ideas of this world. Put your foundation on the rock of God’s Word. The proof is in the Word!
Think of what Paul preached in our text. He preached it to both the Thessalonians and the Bereans. Our text said, he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. (Acts 17:2-3) Friends, rejoice that you too can dig into the Scriptures to have an instant replay, to get proof that what Paul said is true!
You can look at Psalm 22 and see the prophecies there of a Savior who would cry out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and whose hands and feet would be pierced. You can turn to Isaiah 53 to see that Jesus suffered because it was our sins laid on him, and that by his wounds we are healed. You can look at Psalm 16 to be reminded that God would not let Jesus see decay but would raise him from the dead for us! You can look back to our Gospel from today and rejoice that Jesus is preparing a place for you in heaven because that is what he has earned for you.
Does it take practice to be able to dive into the Scriptures like this? Of course! But your pastors want to help you. Your fellow believers want to help you. God has given you his Word to be used and treasured, not to sit on a shelf collecting dust!
So go to it! Go back to that Word and get proof! Maybe you’ll take our worship folders home and read up on the Bible texts. Maybe you’ll use an online Bible to look around. Maybe you will ask for more places to study. Whatever you find to do, go back to that Word. And there, God will build you up. The Holy Spirit will do his work in your heart. He will strengthen your faith and keep you ready to listen to God’s voice in that Word no matter what.
You don’t get a “redo” on this life. You can’t rewind it when it’s done. So be ready by going back to the Word. Don’t look for proof in your own mind or anyone’s opinions. Find proof of God’s love for you in his Son. The proof is in the Word.
- Sermon preached for the 5th Sunday of Easter on May 15, 2014 at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Sermon text: Acts 17:1-12 ↩
- You can find the (quite thorough) rules for the use of instant replay in MLB here. ↩
- You can get proof of that, too, at St. John’s. In the tape that we record for members who can’t get out of their homes to come to church, you can rewind or fastforward to a part of the sermon you want to hear again. ↩
- See Isaiah 55:10-11. ↩
- You can find the full hymn here or even here. ↩