Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Acts 2:5
This Pentecost we will learn that God scatters and gathers His people. Those two words are polar opposites. Scatter is the Law word which names the ultimate terror of being banished from the sight of God. Adam and Eve suffered that curse for a time, and so did our Lord but there was a difference. Our first parents endured it for their own sins, but Jesus for ours. He was forsaken that we might be accepted. “Made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God’s Old Testament church was also scattered, but as we will discover today that dreadful judgment was part of God’s larger plan to gather the whole world to Himself in Christ.
It is no exaggeration, dear Christians, when we say that God loves the whole world and that Christ died for all. You might be tempted to think otherwise, to think that His love applies to everyone else but you. You might think that your sins are so serious and that you are so hopelessly tangled in their web that you could never be extricated, even by the Son of God. But that’s not true. The Holy Spirit, who was poured out on Pentecost, was given for you as well as all others. In Holy Baptism He calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies you, and liberates you from a scattered existence. He gives you new life, new wisdom, new desires and new strength. He makes an everlasting covenant of peace with you, one He will never break on His side, and one He will keep you faithful to on yours! Yes, God gets all the glory, not just most of it.
In our text for the day St. Luke informs us that: there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. But how could that be? How could a man be a visitor in the land God promised would be his perpetually? Centuries earlier God pledged Israel the Jews. Under David and Solomon she became the belle of the ball, and envy of the world because the God of Jacob was with her. But something changed over time, not on the Lord’s part who is ever true, but on the people’s. Once they were in possession of the blessings they forgot the One who gave them, and set off to establish their own destiny. They grew tired of the worship the LORD had prescribed. That was bad on many levels, but especially because the seeds of the Christian faith were embedded in it. Those who ate the bread and drank the cup of temple worship were proclaiming the Lord’s death until He came. They envied the pagans around them and noted how they worshiped. The worship of fertility goddesses was fun and exciting, so God’s people soon whored after the gods of their neighbors. Before long they transgressed every commandment the Wise Lord gave them debauching their lives and their society.
This should come as no surprise. Now as then, when people disregard sound worship practice not only does their worship degenerate but so does their faith, and then their manner of living because orthodox faith, worship and life work together like a three-legged stool. If any is missing, all is lost. But if God is anything He is patient. He understands, better than we do, the material He has to work with. We are addicted to sin as surely as the addict to his heroine, and cannot free ourselves. He gave them numerous opportunities to repent and sought to gather them under His wings as a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not. So when words were exhausted God, as it were, pulled out the strap. He called in the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom in the year 722 b.c. and the Babylonians to destroy the Southern Kingdom in 587 b.c. Many of God’s people were killed in the siege and the rest were forcefully deported to Babylon and from there they were eventually scattered “to every nation under heaven.” Their blessings were revoked, their temple destroyed and now their hope was dead.
But what no one at the time could have possibly known is that this scourge of judgment was also part of God’s design to gather the whole world to Himself in Christ! God’s people were scattered to the four winds empty-handed, but not empty-minded or empty-hearted. Now they needed their religion more than ever, and having been purified by fire they practiced it with greater zeal and joy than before. Wherever they found themselves they established synagogues devoted to the Word and worship of the Living God. In this way the Gospel of the coming Christ was preached and the world made ready for 600 years before His holy birth.
Thus it was no accident that wise men came from the East to worship the newborn king. Or that Simon who lived in Cyrene, 900 miles west of Jerusalem, was visiting Jerusalem that particular Passover, just in time to help the Lord carry His cross to its final location, to the Place of the Skull where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile a world at war with God and one another. Nor was it an accident that the Jews visiting Jerusalem on Pentecost were descendants of the people God scattered 600 years earlier. They were devout Jews, well schooled in the Old Testament scriptures. So well, indeed, that when they heard Peter’s message about the crucified and risen Christ they recognized Jesus of Nazareth as the missing link that made their religion whole. Nor was it an accident that these very people who believed and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, returned to their distant homes taking their new found faith with them. For the next 30 years as the Lord’s disciples carried out their Great Commission to baptize and teach, they utilized those synagogues as forward bases of operation. Nor was it an accident that from these major Christian centers the Good News of life in Christ made its way to every continent and in the year 1889 arrived at the corner of W.43rd and Robert Avenue in Cleveland Ohio. For over 120 years people scattered by sin have received the words of eternal life within these walls. Nor is it the ninth inning for Christ Lutheran Church. Today yet another Christian young lady who was baptized and catechized, publicly confesses the faith she received in this place. Today as the Word of God is preached and the sacraments administered sins are being absolved, hope is being restored, life is being revived, and courage and strength are being given us to face whatever lies ahead. Truly, we can endure all things through Christ who strengthens us!
There are no accidents with God. He who once scattered His people has received them back in Christ. We are those people. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras