Sermon – Easter 7 – June 2, 2019
Acts 1:1-26 ‘The Graphic Best’
CT: The Church is built on the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. No evil and no gory end can dissuade God’s plan.
Intro: Movies today have become more graphic than ever before. Sometimes I wonder if one producer is not simply trying to outdo the other. All that violence and gore has a shock effect, but to what end? And then there’s the graphic violence in video games. Some studies show that these games can lead people to violence or at least hardens them to it.
Did you ever wonder why Luke recorded Judas’ death with its gory details? Jesus had just ascended into heaven and left them with the promise of the Holy Spirit and told them that they would be His witnesses to the end of the earth. So why then did Luke include such graphic details and what does that have to do with the Acts of the Apostles and the mission of the Church?
Real Consequences: The record of Judas’ death is one that explicitly tells of the consequences of sin, the reality of evil, and the devil’s influence on people in this world, but also where it ends. Satan is often mocked today as some imaginary fiend, yet Scripture makes no bones about the devil’s existence or his intentions toward you and his power over you. The tragic story of Adam and Eve’s brush with the serpent was the beginning of all that is evil, violent, and unsavoury in this world. The devil defied and disobeyed God from the beginning; he wrote the book on sin and death in the world and we’ve bought into it, for as John wrote: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
And sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). Sin crouching at Caine’s door led him to crush his brother, Abel’s head, with a rock. And his blood cried out from the ground to God. Nothing pretty about those graphic details either. But then there is nothing pretty about death; it’s not a friend; it’s the last enemy to be destroyed when Jesus returns in glory, yet it’s an enemy that Jesus already conquered with His resurrection from the dead!
And then there’s the part we don’t like to hear. Not only does Luke record the graphic details of Judas’ death, but Scripture asserts that Judas faced eternal death. He was eternally separated from the only One who could save him; that’s hell itself with its unimaginable physical and spiritual sufferings. Jesus described it in Matthew 9 as the place “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” In John 17, Jesus called Judas “the son of destruction” or as some translations say, “the son of perdition.” The disciples’ prayer put it kindly: “Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
The same enemies face you and I today, so let’s not stick our head in the sand and avoid these difficult topics. Think of the difference between someone stepping up to buy your coffee at Tim’s because you forgot your wallet and someone bearing the entire cost of your personal loss of your job, home, family, and spouse. What you and I are saved from is more than any worldly circumstance we can even think of. Satan and hell are as real as sin and death; they remind us of the reality we face, but they also tell us just how much God has done for us through His Son.
More Graphic for You: The good news is that the evil that the devil would inflict through Judas’ betrayal became Satan’s defeat. And this is an even more graphic account of violence and evil; it’s Jesus’ trial, suffering, and execution by which God’s wrath is appeased, our sins are forgiven, and both death and the devil are defeated. Mel Gibson’s movie, ‘the Passion of the Christ’, is often too much for people to take in; it leaves me in tears every time I see it. It is a very real portrayal of the brutality, the suffering, the bloodshed, but also the compassion and love of God for you. Seeing the brutal execution and hearing Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” is such a contradiction of evil and grace in one place. (Luke 34:34) The cross is where justice and mercy meet! Watching how the movie careful weaves the Last Supper into the fabric of Jesus crucifixion, His Body and His Blood given and shed for you, drives the point home of how real and how complete our forgiveness and salvation is. Through faith in Jesus Christ, this Good News is ours to live in no matter what evil the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh throws at us.
Church Lives: But also through and in spite of Judas’ betrayal and tragic end, the Church as we know it was born, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The Christian Church is built on the confession that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and He crucified and risen from the dead. In last week’s reading from Revelation 21 John saw in a vision the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, coming down out of heaven. This is a picture of you as part the one holy Christian Church. “And the wall of the city had 12 foundations, and on them were the 12 names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb.” It’s what we confess in the Nicene Creed: “I believe in the one holy Christian and Apostolic Church!”
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord, upon which we receive the teaching of the apostles who were eyewitnesses “beginning from the baptism of John to when [Jesus] was taken up” from them. Those were the specific qualifications for the 12th apostle, and out of all the believers present only 2 names were put forward, but as Peter put it, “one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”
Peter appealed to 2 passages from the Psalms that deal with the enemies of God’s kingdom in King David’s time and applied them to Judas, who by his traitorous act stands as the antitype; the chief representative among these enemies. And while Peter’s words make it clear that Judas’ betrayal was made worse because he was numbered among the apostles, the apostles were not above the rest of the gathered believers. They did nothing, made no decision of this magnitude apart from the body of Christ, yet they were given a special office. Judas had that office, this highest of stations that Jesus could give, such an honour, and yet betrayal came from within that inner circle making Judas’ kiss the most bitter human expression ever recorded; a kiss of betrayal we so often live out in our own lives, when we deny our Saviour and what we are saved from. But out of that kiss came the most graphic expression of God’s love for you ever possible; God gave His only Son into death that you believing in His name might have life everlasting, so that you and I now live with an overwhelming appreciation of all that Jesus saved us from.