Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 9, 2023

Acts 10:34-43 Commentary

“He was not seen by all the people.”

I’ll say.

This is what Peter tells Cornelius in Acts 10 as he sums up the story arc of Jesus’ life, including the world-altering fact of his having been raised from the dead.   Jesus was raised again!  He arose!!   But . . . by way of a wee caveat Peter has to admit, “He was not seen by all the people.”

To do a Mr. Rogers moment: “Boys and girls, can you say ‘Understatement’?”

As a matter of fact, the resurrected Lord of life was seen by startlingly few people, and not just on the day he actually burst the bands of death and walked alive out of a tomb.  He was seen by precious few folks across the whole forty days he hung around on earth prior to returning to his Father in the Ascension.

And even those few who did see him post-Easter apparently had very little to share about those forty days since the Gospels—and the very first few verses of Acts—are all-but mum on any events during that six-week timeframe.   Consider the 4 Gospels:

–Mark famously gives us nothing after the announcement of the angels.

–Matthew gives us only the mountaintop encounter at which the Great Commission is issued.

–Luke has a tidge more via the Road to Emmaus story (though even that is still on the day of resurrection itself) and then the brief appearance of Jesus in Acts 1.

–Only John gives a bit more at the end of John 20 and then on into the scene by the lake in John 21.

But that’s it.  Forty whole days passed with the resurrected Lord of lords and King of kings walking the soil of this earth but he was seen by almost no one and apparently said and did so little of note that the evangelists recorded basically nothing.

How odd.

I realize the line quoted above represents just a tiny sliver of this Easter day Lectionary reading from Acts 10 but there is something about that line that captures the strange reality of the resurrection as even the Bible presents it.  And maybe that, as much as anything, is a worthy thing to wonder about as Easter rolls around once more.  Why does the New Testament itself present the grandest miracle of them all—the very in-breaking of our future into a moment of history—in such understated, non-dramatic ways?  It’s not how most of us would have written it up had we been given the chance.  It’s not what Hollywood would do with the story.  It’s not even what most churches today do with Easter as we pull out all the stops on the organ, import all the brass instrumentalists we can find, and then sing and shout and carry on with as much fanfare as we can muster.

But not the Bible.  For some reason Jesus did not put in any show-stopping appearances in front of Pontius Pilate and Herod in a kind of “I told you so” slam dunk.  He didn’t even show himself to the religious leaders of the Pharisees and Chief Priests and all the others in whose faces the raised Lord of Life could have wagged a bony (but very much alive) finger so as to say, “You see, I was right when I said you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you!!”

To invoke a football analogy: post-Easter, Jesus never spiked the ball.

Nope.  Nothing of the sort happens.  Jesus does instead exactly what Peter articulates in Acts 10: he relies on the witness of those to whom he did reveal himself to preach this message and to let the Holy Spirit of God generate faith among whomever the Spirit will, which in the case of Acts 10 ends up being a very unexpected and surprising group of Italians who, to Peter’s still-Jewish mindset, could not have been farther outside the bounds of the kingdom.  (As Fred Craddock wryly noted in a sermon on this passage following Cornelius’s invitation that Peter stay and dine with them: “Can you imagine that?  Pizza?”)

But why?  Why rely on uneducated fishermen, women (whose witness was always suspect in a patriarchal society), and the rest of the somewhat rag-tag group of people who went on after Pentecost to tell the world a truth that the man at the center of that truth did not do himself?  I think we too often fail to appreciate the miracle that just is the Church.  For all its problems, struggles, and outright sins past and present (and future) the sheer fact of the Church—that it exists at all and has flourished across two millennia now—does stand as its own kind of grand miracle and may be as fine a testament as any to the fact that there is a power at work in the Church that remains every bit as surprising and shocking as what Peter felt the day he found the Holy Spirit blowing dramatically through the house of a man named Cornelius.

If the Bible proves anything, it is the reality of the line that “God’s ways are not our ways.”  We never would have thought to launch the salvation of the world with a childless pair of senior citizens.

But God did.

We would never have tapped a self-effacing stutterer to become the leader who would take on one of the most powerful men in the world.

But God did.

We would not have used the madam of a brothel to deliver a sermon designed to buck up God’s nervous people.

But God did.

And we would most assuredly have never sent the Savior of the world into the uterus of a simple peasant girl who would then deliver him in a barn out in the backwaters of the empire.

But God did.

So why is it ultimately no surprise that even the grand miracle that just is Easter would play out the way it did.   From the outside looking in, we’d all say, “That can’t work!  Don’t do it that way!”

But God did.

And it worked.

Thanks be to God.

Illustration Idea

In “Christus Paradox” Sylvia Dunstan captured the ironies of Christ’s simultaneously being God and Servant in ways that go along with what we have been thinking about here in terms of the odd—yes, the paradoxical—nature of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and even resurrection.

You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and swordbringer
Of the way you took and gave.
You the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
Stripped of might upon the cross,
Shining in eternal glory,
Beggar’d by a soldier’s toss,
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
Sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
Have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and vict’ry.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our death and life.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
You, who are our death and our life.


Preaching Connections: , , ,
Biblical Books:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!

Newsletter Signup