Day of Pentecost, Proper A
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 2:40 Sermon
June 15, 2014
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
227 "Come Holy Ghost In Love"
229 "Holy Spirit Hear Us"
236 "Creator Spirit By Whose Aid"
234 "Holy Ghost With Light Divine"
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT THE RIGHT WAY
TEXT: “And with many other words [Simon Peter] bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, 'Be ye saved from this untoward generation.'”
There's an illustration that I have used often to describe how we are saved. I think that the illustration of a person drowning in the ocean puts this in terms that we can readily understand.
The situation is simple. A person is stranded out in the middle of the ocean, and needs to be rescued. If that person is not rescued, then they will be lost forever. Add to this that it is God's will that the person be rescued and not remain lost in the middle of the ocean. So consider now the various explanations that people give.
Person 1 says that drowning is a myth, and that a person can tread water to keep themselves afloat.
Person 2 says that he was in danger of drowning, but then he found his own way to the shore and swam to safety.
Person 3 says that he was in danger of drowning, but then God pointed him to the shore, so he swam to safety.
Person 4 says that he was in danger of drowning, but then God threw him a life preserver. He grabbed a hold of it, and God pulled him to safety.
Now of these four people, which one had it correct? Well, let's take a look at each one. Person 1 represents the atheist. To the atheist, there is no other reality than being in this body of water, so there is no need of finding a way out. Heaven in their opinion is a mythical place, so why try to go to a place that doesn't exist?
Person 2 at least has a bit more sense, but has no real idea as to how to find what they are seeking. They have convinced themselves that they can discover the way by their own calculations and reckoning. This might describe the agnostic, or the person who simply claims to be spiritual without any clear-cut definition.
Person 3 at least realizes that there is some sort of god out there somewhere, so this person starts searching through the various religions, with the idea that every religion is valid and credible. This is the universalist or deist, who believes that there are many roads to the same god, and that every religion will point out their own unique way.
That leaves us with Person 4, the one that sees God as throwing out a life preserver. We grab a hold, and then God pulls us to safety, bringing our weary and worn and almost lifeless body home, where he restores us and heals us and holds us in his arms forever.
Now that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? That fits our idea of being rescued from a certain death, and being restored, doesn't it? To us it may sound good, but it is NOT what the Bible teaches us. Unfortunately there are Christians who believe this, and there are pastors who teach this. Because to humans like us who rely upon human reason and logic, it sounds good.
First of all, what seems right to us is far too often not the correct way. If we look at Proverbs, we find God repeating these exact same words twice! In chapter 14 verse 12, and again in chapter 16 verse 25 God says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." He doesn't want us to forget it either. That's why we appeal to Scripture alone when it comes to our faith without subjecting it to our own faulty ideas. As it says in Proverbs chapter 3 verse 5: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."
Okay, so now I have gone through persons one through four, and none of them are correct. That must mean there is a fifth person who is out there stranded in the water. So let's see how this person describes their situation. Person 5 says that they were stranded in the water and they had drowned. They were completely dead. Then God came and pulled their lifeless body out of the water on to the shore, and breathed life back into them.
This is the way Scripture describes us. We are powerless to save ourselves in any way, shape, or form. God is the only one who can save us. In Ephesians chapter 2 verses 4-5 we read: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ; by grace you have been saved."
In our natural sinful state, we were stone cold dead as far as God is concerned. There isn't even so much as a twitch that could give us the power to even touch a life saver much less grab on to it. Dead is dead, and that pretty much describes it.
Dead people can't have faith. Continuing on with verses 8 and 9, here are some familiar words: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." The very fact that you do believe and have the power to believe and have faith is something God does for you. This is not something you can generate yourself.
This is further illustrated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 2. He writes in verses 12-14: "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." Someone who is spiritually discerned by nature cannot save themselves. God has to intervene.
I wanted to go through this illustration of the people lost in the water to bring us to our text for today, which is at the end of Peter's Pentecost sermon. Our text says, “And with many other words [Simon Peter] bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, 'Be ye saved from this untoward generation.'”
The word I want to focus upon here is that word "untoward." What in the world does that mean? "Untoward" is a word that the King James Bible likes to use. Other translations use words like "perverse," "crooked," and "corrupt" here, which in my opinion doesn't quite get to the meaning of the Greek word.
We'll look at that in a minute, but let's first check out this curious word "untoward." We're familiar with the words "to" and "fro," meaning to go back and forth in opposite directions. So we can go "to-ward," or toward something. The opposite of that is "fro-ward," meaning "from-word" or away from something. Both of these words are very specific; it's either one direction or another. But now we have a third word in the mix, which is "untoward." This essentially means that something is going in every different direction. It's going every way but the right way.
The best picture I can give you of something that's "untoward" is to think of a broken fire hose. Have you ever seen that? The broken hose is flopping all over the place spraying high pressure water in every direction. Or on a smaller scale, think of a garden hose with a hose nozzle attached. If you let go of it, the hose will do much the same thing. It will just flop around, maybe shooting water through the open window of your car or giving your spouse an unsuspecting shower. Now I have heard people use the word "untoward" as a fancy synonym for "improper," but that really doesn't capture the full essence of the word.
The actual Greek word here is "skolios." This is where we get the English word for the spinal condition known as scoliosis, where the spine is going different directions. Or there's the word "skelter," which means to scurry. Most of the time we say "helter-skelter," which is a type of rhyming slang used to describe something that is confused or careless, or something done in a disorganized or haphazard way. "Untoward" seems to be a rather fitting definition.
This is the way Peter is describing the people of this earth! When I opened with my illustration of the people in the water, we can see some very good examples of what an untoward generation will do. They will go every way but the right way. People need direction, and this is why our faith is so important. The Holy Spirit brings us directly toward God through faith in Jesus Christ, which delivers us from this untoward world.
The primary function of the Holy Spirit is to give people the gift of faith. Faith is not something we produce ourselves or create within our minds. Faith defies human logic and reason. But faith, which is the gift of God as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2, is the one and only thing that gives direction to an untoward generation of people.
Every time I study this section, I automatically think of what Luke records in chapter 3, verses 4-6. This is where Luke recounts the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy regarding John the Baptist. We read: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Peter exhorts us in his Pentecost sermon to be saved from this untoward generation. When we consider the role John the Baptist had, it becomes quite clear that Jesus came to make an even and straight pathway to God. And there's only one path too, one that an untoward generation will never find on their own. An untoward person will go every which direction but the right one. That's why we need the faith the Holy Spirit gives, and the Word of God to give us the light for our path.
When the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, several things happen. First of all, we become conscious of our own sinfulness. Our pride and selfishness are laid bare, and we see just how imperfect we are. We can see how sin has dictated our actions time and time again. We can see how our untoward lives have been on a course of destruction. We can see where we are in desperate need of God’s help and forgiveness.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus, and gives us faith to believe in him as our Saviour. We can see just how much God loves us and wants us to be a part of his kingdom. God lets us know that nothing we can do—no acts of kindness or mercy will ever be enough to meet his standards; we need the righteousness of Christ to do that. And through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we have that. Our record is clean, and we stand fully forgiven before God our righteous judge.
And finally, the Holy Spirit continues as the motivating force in our lives. The Holy Spirit continues to work in our hearts through God’s Word. We come to church to hear and learn from that Word, to speak to God in prayer, and to praise him for all that he has done. The Holy Spirit continues to provide hope and comfort in our lives, and give us strength day by day. The Holy Spirit also leads us to want to do God-pleasing things with our lives, so that we live for him, and not just for ourselves.
It’s the Holy Spirit that gathers us together as a Christian Church. Christians in kindred spirit gather together for worship, learning, prayer, praise, and works of service. Christians remember the Sabbath Day by doing this very thing. Worship becomes an important function of life, like gathering at the table for a smorgasbord. God richly blesses the lives of his children through each other.
Some years ago, I came across a little snippet with regard to the Holy Spirit. I have no idea who wrote it, but I have quoted it before, and I think it is worthy to be repeated. It's some good food for thought.
The Holy Spirit is like a breath that blows away the dust and makes everything clean.
He is like refreshing cool water to a parched throat.
He is like a cleansing bush fire that burns away all the thick undergrowth so that something new can rise out of the ashes.
He is like a potter who starts with an odd-shaped lump and moulds and shapes it into something beautiful.
He is like a renovator who uses what is already there and strengthens, refreshes, and revitalizes what’s there.
He is like a loving spouse whispering into an ear reassurance of love and support.
He is like a parent guiding and helping a confused child.
He is like a tour guide who points us in the right direction to see things that we would otherwise have missed.
He is that gentle tap on the shoulder that makes us realize, “Hey, that’s me that needs a new beginning and new direction.”
He is that fierce shaking that wakes us up, and reminds us that there is more to life than earning money, and relentlessly pushing ourselves until we are tired, stressed, and depressed.
That is what the Holy Spirit does—he revitalizes, renews, refreshes, empowers, creates, he reminds, he guides, and he comforts the church—those in the church, and those whom he touches outside the church.
We live in an untoward world with an untoward generation, where people are going every way but the right way. We can be thankful that God has given us his Holy Spirit to put us on the right track and keep us there.
Dr. Martin Luther best describes the work of the Holy Spirit in the meaning of the 3rd article of the Apostles' Creed, which is what I will share with you in closing this morning: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.