May 26, 2019 Easter Signs
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
“And the sign said, Long-haired freaky people… need not apply” If you’re about my age, you might remember a rock-song done by Leon Russell in 1971 called ‘signs’. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign; Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind; Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
Signs are helpful ~ usually; & they’re everywhere. /Employees wanted; /Out of business; /No shirt, no shoes, no service; /Do not walk on the grass; /Do not disturb.
Some signs we don’t like: /Speed Limit 30; /Limit One Per Customer; /Limited Time Only; /Members only. We don’t like to be limited; we want life to be without boundaries, unrestricted, do our own thing. (we said that in the ‘70s too)
Then there are signs we desire to see. /After a long winter = we look for signs of spring; /if a loved one is sick = we look for a sign of improvement; /people look for signs that another person ‘likes’ them; /our school graduates are looking for any sign that will help them know what to do next in their life.
God’s Church is full of signs. The signs of Lent were dark colors, somber hymns.
The signs of Easter were the smell of Easter lilies, hymns of resurrection, & the Easter greeting = ‘He is risen’, (He is risen indeed, alleluia). *What are the after-Easter signs? The lilies fade, the gathered family leaves, the decorations of baskets & eggs are put away, & Sunday church attendance drops off again. *Is this what it was like for the early NT Church = just another Jesus celebration coming & going? Not in Acts 16. Years later, they were still seeing the Easter signs with a woman named Lydia. The conversion of Lydia is one of the signs of the ongoing power of Christ’s resurrection. Let’s think on that.
Vs.13: “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshipper of God.”
The signs of Lydia were 3: She was from the city of Thyatira; this small city in Asia Minor was a commercial center, especially known for its rich crops, and its production of purple dye from a certain shell fish. It was fitting that Lydia was a seller of purple goods. Purple cloth was costly, and purchased primarily by the Roman nobility. Which is probably one reason she is there in Philippi, an important Roman colony, and a place where many military leaders went to retire. Their expensive purple clothing would reflect their wealth & position. So, these 2 signs show that Lydia was a business-woman of some wealth; but these are signs of the world, not of Easter.
Sign #3 is that we’re told that Lydia was “a worshiper of God.” When this phrase is used, it usually means that the person is not a Jew, but a gentile who believed in Yahweh, the God of Abraham/Isaac/&Jacob. Lydia worshiped the God of the Israelites =
*is that a sign of Easter? Not yet; the news of the Messiah had not yet come to them.
They were not yet believers in Jesus as that promised Christ.
If Lydia was in Philippi on business, she did not let her work stop her from gathering with the other ‘worshipers of God.’ Evidently, there was no synagogue there in Philippi;
if there were a lot of Jews around, they would’ve built one. So what few Jews were there gathered on the Sabbath at a place of prayer. Paul, Silas, &Timothy knew that a prayer-place would normally be near water, so that the people could do the ceremonial washings that were part of the OT worship. So, they go to the river and strike up a conversation with the women gathered there. *A sign of Easter? Close, but not yet.
So, the story goes on: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” We’re not told here what Paul said, but we know from previous chapters what Paul was preaching & teaching; this is his 2nd missionary journey as he now pushes into Europe. He was proclaiming the Good News of the arrival & the saving work of Jesus-of-Nazareth, the promised Christ of God, & Savior of the world.
This Christian Gospel would include all that WE confess in the Creed. Lydia would hear the message that Jesus had arrived & suffered & died on the cross for her, that her sins would not condemn her; and it would include the news that Jesus had defeated death, right there at the grave; and the victory of His Easter now gives life for all who believe that He is the Christ; & that all who are washed in His name belong to Him forever.
We will also notice here how God works on the human soul. Whether a person is religious or non-religious, God works the same way, because that sinful heart is naturally closed to His Savior. Vs.14 says, “The Lord opened her heart” And thru God’s divine work, she paid attention; she heard; her heart was opened to believe. As Ez.11 says, “I will remove the heart of stone…and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes.”
Jesus said in John 6: ‘no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.’
And from Romans 10:17, ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing thru the word of Christ.’ This is why the faithful Lutheran Church does not do what’s called an ‘altar call’, it gives the wrong impression based on something not true. The TV evangelists appeal is that they’re going to tell you about ‘Jeesus’, and then tell you that He’s just waiting for you to ‘open your heart’ to Him so He can come in; // as if God has to wait for you to ‘accept him’, ‘make a choice for him’; // as if you have ‘free will’ to either believe or not believe.
But, no one can boast that they ‘saved themselves’ by accepting God. The human will is dead in sin & unbelief; the human will is fallen & is programed only to resist & reject God.
God wants us to respond to Him, but our response cannot come first; first comes the Holy Spirit, thru the Word of Christ, which is a heavenly CPR & divine electric shock upon our soul. This is why we baptize infants; the Spirit has promised to work thru the water & word to open their sin-dead heart to God, and then they will grow up & respond in that gift of faith. Faith is given to us, not by our work or effort, but by the gracious working of God upon us. When the word of the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus is spoken, if it is believed it’s because God has opened the heart to believe, and the Holy Spirit has converted that person from unbelief to faith ==Thanks be to God. If that person hears but does not believe, that’s their natural ‘will’ & fault; shame on them for continuing to reject the Good News.
Jesus said, ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.’
God’s Word draws, speaking to the soul; the Spirit works on the hearts of those who hear; that’s how the Father is drawing people to Jesus = He gets the credit, for Lydia and for you. For no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.
So, ‘the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.’
There -finally- is the sign of Easter.
No doubt, she then responded to God’s gracious news to her by asking, ‘what should I do now?’ And like Peter at Pentecost no doubt Paul said, ‘be baptized in His name.’ Which she did immediately, along with her whole family/household. Gospel preached, faith received, people baptized = all of them are signs of Easter; signs of resurrection & new life in Christ.
As Titus 3 says, ‘he saved us…by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.’ And 2Cor.5, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’. And Rom.6 says, anyone who is baptized into Christ is baptized into his death and resurrection; sin is drowned and we have new life. Believing people is the Easter sign of God-at-work.
And the signs didn’t stop. Lydia’s Easter Faith now produced good fruit. Just as Jesus said, ‘You did not choose Me, but I choose you to go and bear fruit; fruit that will last.’ Altho Paul was determined not to be a burden to anyone, she implored him to allow her to host the missionaries in her home: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And “She prevailed upon us.” In that time & culture, this Christian hospitality was pretty important to travelers. The Lord had blessed her with possessions,
and her Easter faith now responds to be a blessing to His Kingdom.
This is the power of the message of Easter. It brings life and salvation. We see the signs of an open heart that hears the Gospel, and receives the gifts of Baptism & instruction, which creates faith to believe, and then steers that life to obey and to walk in the ways of the Lord.
/God calls. /God opens hearts. /God creates faith, /& God empowers for service. These are still the signs of Easter, and the evidence that the Holy Spirit is present & working in a person.
We confess this in the catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (explanation of the Second Article). ***********************************************************************************
So, Lydia is counted as the first convert in Europe. She was proof that the effects of Easter continued on. You & your life also are a sign that Easter goes on living in hearts & lives of the people of God.
Maybe right now, tho, you don’t feel like much of ‘a sign’; maybe the thankfulness & joy of Easter has left you. +Maybe it was taken away from you because of anger, bitterness, or the fall-out of someone’s sin against you. +Maybe the effects of illness, sorrow, or death is crowding out the Holy Spirit from your heart or mind. +Maybe the pursuit of friends, new adventures, possessions, recreations, or the sins of the world that look fun = maybe those have nearly extinguished the light of Easter for you.
You are not alone; we all struggle against our old nature, and against the devil & his many followers who aim to steal away /the truth, /the comfort, /the confidence & joy, /the peace that our Risen Savior has worked for us. But we must not let it be stolen or pushed aside. The Holy Spirit still works thru the Word for God’s people, & gives His good gifts. Don’t leave the Word, and you won’t leave the faith and the signs of Easter.
Thanks be to God; who is patient & merciful. Christ died and rose for you! God renews our hearts right here on the Lord’s Day thru Confession & Absolution. Forgiveness & strength is received here in His Meal. This is our ‘riverside’ place of prayer. This is the place where, thru the prophets & apostles, the whole Word of the Lord is spoken to us, and where the Holy Spirit still opens our hearts, so that we will respond again & again with a faith that produces good fruit = like Lydia, serving the kingdom and caring for others.
“And the sign said, Long-haired freaky people… need not apply” Jesus doesn’t have a sign like that. Sign sign everywhere a sign. The world cannot silence the signs & effects of Easter, because the Lord is alive, and He reigns in & thru His church; and He will continue to accomplish His goal of calling people to Himself. Thanks be to God!