The two-way street of devotion
Look at what God’s Word and Baptism does.
Peter preaches to a crowd of faithful Jews about Jesus. He talks about Jesus’ miracle ministry, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. He points the finger: “You crucified Jesus. And, as it turns out, this man that you murdered, God appointed Lord and Christ.”
And the crowd gasps in terror. “What can we do? How can we avoid the wrath of the resurrected Lord?” The Word of God worked. It pricked the bubble of pride surrounding their hearts. It went in deeply, as Hebrews 4 says, cutting, piercing, slicing, and dicing, surgically revealing and exposing our core: sin.
The crowd didn’t argue. “We didn’t do it.” They didn’t dispute. “It was the Jewish leaders, not us.” They didn’t whine and cry. “It’s not fair.” They cut to the chase: “What’s to be done about this?” They begged for help. So Peter helped them.
“Repent. Be baptized. Run from this corrupt generation! Be saved!” He preached and preached and preached. He didn’t stop until they got it. He kept pouring the Holy Spirit upon them and the Spirit washed over them like a tsunami, a tidal wave of law and gospel, drowning sin, bringing to the surface new life: “Three thousand were added to their number that day.” “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The Word of God did this; because nothing else could. These Jews murdered Christ. Absent today’s sermon from Peter and the water of Baptism they received, they would have seconded the Sanhedrin’s soon-to-come verdict on the apostles, “Stop preaching about this nut Jesus and his so-called resurrection, or else!” But the Spirit put a stop to that today: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” And then that law the Spirit followed up with his good news: that crucified Jesus has a promise for you: the forgiveness of sins through his death, a gift, for your children, for the nations, for everyone God calls!
And they repented. The words of the Spirit broke their hearts. Those same words sparked faith that God has a place even for Christ-killers. Because that killed-to-death Christ didn’t stay killed-to-death. He didn’t die on that date and stay dead. Unlike David, Jerusalem’s hero, Jesus rose from the dead. Then God poured his promise upon them in the baptismal waters naming them Christians, no longer Christ-killers, but Christ-followers!
And then they went home and life went on, ob-bla-di, o-bla-da. Except it didn’t. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
Look at what God’s Word and Baptism does. It creates a whole new life. These words in Acts 2 show us that. Faith in Christ didn’t just hide in their hearts; it perspired into every moment of their lives. They devoted themselves to the apostles. They gathered every day. They hung out with believers. They ate the meal of Christ, the holy communion, the Lord’s Supper. They prayed. They shared all they had with whoever needed it. They devoted themselves to this as their way of life, all the time, constantly, continually, faithfully, full time: a full time life reverencing Christ.
The resurrection does this. It changes us. We revere something new. Not ourselves. Not our works. Not the many people and things which we honor and respect in this world: only God alone and His Christ. And God’s Word alone, by which the Spirit reveals our reason for hope and life: Jesus, our Lord and Christ. The one person worth being devoted to because he’s the only person actually, truly, continually, faithfully, full-time devoted to us.
Clearly, we fall short of the Jerusalem church. We don’t gather daily. We don’t have all our possessions in common. Our charitable program isn’t quite so extensive. There aren’t many miracles or wondrous signs happening among us. We don’t have the apostles among us. Or do we?
Of course we do. Nothing prevents us from being the same church the Jerusalem church was except our sinful selfishness. We can devote ourselves as these Jerusalem Christians did.
We have the apostles’ teaching among us. It wasn’t that the apostles said it; it’s what the apostles said. The Word of God from God’s called servants. We have that: pastors and teachers, a congregation, a Christian day school. We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching during the church year and the school year. We have built a liturgical calendar centered around the apostles’ teaching so that by faithfully being in church, you will hear the life of Christ and the whole counsel of God throughout your life on a weekly basis. In our school, we have a curriculum centered on the Word in every subject, but especially in starting the day with the Word of God so that your children know the story of God’s plan like the back of their hand: the shed blood that leads to the forgiveness of our sins. I haven’t even mentioned the 4.7 Bibles that statistics suggest each you has at home.
We have the fellowship, the close union. Fellow Christians surround us. Two hundred of them on a given Sunday. Over four hundred at Bethel. Almost one thousand between the two WELS congregations in Sioux Falls. Hundreds of thousands of fellow Wisconsin Synod Lutherans throughout the country. Not to mention the Holy Christian Church, those Christians across time and denomination. We don’t need to surround ourselves with “this corrupt generation” when the Church is all around.
Of course we have the breaking of bread, God’s holy supper. Here we have, as Paul said, a participation in the body of Christ, the body he gave for us, for our forgiveness, for our salvation. It’s here, as often as you desire it. Not just every other Sunday and on festivals, but in your pastor’s hands, for you, whenever you need it and want it: God’s holy body, God’s holy blood. And we could have it even more if you only asked for God’s grace, for there are half the Sundays on which we are not devoting ourselves to it.
And the prayers. The prayers. This is what the Church does. God comes to us in Word and meal, he washes us in Baptism, and we speak to him in reply. We pray, as our Lord Jesus told us to, as Paul said the Christian does “continually.” This is the worship of the Church, how we ascribe worth and value to our God. He brings us together into the Church through the Word. He creates this fellowship, the family, this body of Christ. He feeds us, and we pray in response. For anything. For everything. At all times. Because he promises to hear and answer, the God who sent his Son promises.
From which flows the rest. A devotion to the Word and the Sacrament ends in sharing our lives with each other. It just happens. God shares his life with us and we end up doing the same. We end up being generous, cheerfully giving.
Maybe it doesn’t look exactly like Jerusalem in Acts 2. God hasn’t commanded us to sell everything and give it to the poor. Yet he does tell us that we take care of the less fortunate, whether fellow believers or not. James writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” So Bethel established a charitable fund to help those in need as we can. Our Synod has Christian Aid and Relief. Worthy charities surround us. And of course, you have neighbors needing love all around you.
The point isn’t that the good deeds Luke and James describe save you. It is that these good deeds and devotion are the natural fruit of the faith that the Spirit works when he preaches the Word of Christ to you and baptizes you in the name of Jesus. God devoted himself to you, adding you to his number; he made you devoted to Christ. Your whole life reflects that. Every day. It just does. You are salt, Jesus said. You are light.
Forgiveness won for us by Jesus, forgiveness given to us through faith in Christ frees us for this. We think so often we don’t have time for this, but, as it turns out, we do. Because it’s not some special part of your life that you have to carve out to the exclusion of something else. It is, quite simply, your whole life. Every bit of your life is devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayer, to the praising of God. A life honoring and respecting God. Reverencing God. Revering him. Continually. Devotedly.
Our reverence comes from God’s grace. He didn’t choose us because we were so reverent. We weren’t - we killed Christ. We are so reverent because he chose us. He washed us clean in the holy, precious blood of Christ (which he gives us in the Holy Supper). He purchased us not with gold or silver, but with his Son. His Son who explained to those Emmaus disciples that the Scriptures said, “It must be so.” The Christ must suffer and then enter his glory by rising from the dead. For you. For your children. For all who are far off. For all whom the Lord our God will call. And through His Word and Baptism he has called and is calling you.
There are the golden words: “for you.” This God whom we crucified, this Lord and Christ, is for you. On your side. Dying for you. Rising for you. Adding you. The Spirit preaches. The Spirit washes. The Spirit feeds. The Lord adds. This is his devotion to us. Continually. Amen.