As you may have read in the introductory paragraphs of the bulletin, we’ve now entered the season of Epiphany. It is the second oldest season of the Church year; important, cherished. That’s because it’s a season that tells how God shows himself to the world in Jesus. And what does he say? In the Savior, Jesus, God proclaims the good news of genuine peace.
The thing about peace in our lives is that it’s very often tenuous. Peace is the absence of troubles – and the presence of good. And, your reaction to its proclamation might be disbelief or maybe skepticism, because you know that trouble only stays away for a time and good often comes with caveats. Blessedly, the peace we find in Jesus is pure good news because it’s genuine peace – real and unadulterated – and here’s how Luke tells you in Acts this morning.
Jesus’ genuine peace is universal. It is intended for all people – any place, any time, any color, any age. God had been saying that for a long time, actually – since the beginning, and through people like Abram (“All nations on earth will be blessed through you…”). But you see Peter just catching up with God in v.34-35 where he says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism…” That’s because Peter’s talking to Cornelius, the non-Jewish Roman soldier who loved God and worshiped him. Peter’s talking to Cornelius after Peter had learned in a dream from God that God was not distinguishing anymore between Jews and Gentiles; wasn’t marking out rules about clean and unclean foods or certain festivals to follow. God sent Peter to talk to Cornelius without respect to what he looked like or where he came from so that Jewish Peter and Gentile Cornelius could know that “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation…”
Which means that the peace God proclaims is also for people like you. Which is nice – you often observe peace in others’ lives, from afar, as something you wish for. Maybe sometimes you think about peace as something other people deserve; because of what you’ve done or not you don’t. But listen – God does not show favoritism to the rich or to one race or a certain class of people. You cannot buy him with the good things you do. The worst of your bad things is not more bad than his love can take. It is not an indication that he loves your neighbor more when their lives are going better on the face of things. There isn’t with God an “in” crowd and a “cool” group. These temptations, these ways of thinking we can put aside. Aside from what we can accomplish or achieve, who we are or how much we can pay, God “accepts [those] who fear him and do what is right.”
Now that sounds suspiciously like some of the things I just said weren’t part of the equation? But it is in fact quite different. Those who “fear God and do what is right” are the kind of people the psalmists talked about. People like you. They actually do “walk in his ways” – do what is good and right, the things God loves. But they do so because they understand how a relationship with God works: where they don’t have what God desires and God supplies what they need. They know that for all the things they haven’t done and all the wrong they have “with the Lord is there forgiveness.” And so they fear him – love and respect, reverence his greatness. This because they understand like Peter that their hope for life is “in the Lord’s unfailing love” and not in their own faithfulness or goodness or the circumstances of life. For any person there is peace because God universally applies it – to any category of people who know his love in forgiveness and are moved to live according to his will.
And we can say that with confidence – God’s peace is for everyone like this, and everyone should want it like this – because in this way it’s secure. We seek to secure peace by locking our homes with stuff that can fail, by trusting in governments that are corrupt, by saving for a future that can fall apart at a moment’s notice. God’s peace is secure because it’s like none of these things. It’s based on Christ’s completed work alone. Prophets of old to apostles new, God’s regularly said there’s only one name and one way to rescue from the one thing that truly takes away peace: sin. To Cornelius Peter proclaims the truth: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…” This is the word from God. God brings through people like me and you a good news message.
It’s like the messenger long ago who would run from the battlefield back to the waiting city with news of the enemy’s defeat – victory! Peter was bringing to Cornelius the message of victory over sin through Jesus Christ. A few verses after our section Peter tells why. At the battlefield of the cross, Jesus bore the brunt of God’s wrath against sinners. He paid the full price of sin and met the terms of the peace treaty, written in his own lifeblood. He won the victory through what looked like a great defeat, his death. And the peace he brings is so secure because it’s not just that the things God hates Jesus took care of – but also that what God loves Jesus supplied. Peter summarizes the ministry of the Savior with these words: “He went around doing good.” He healed those dominated by the devil – not just the demon-possessed but everyone overpowered by sins. And he did everything that was good in God’s sight. Just as he did with John the Baptist – no reason for Jesus to be baptized himself – no sin to remove, no holiness needed – and yet, “to fulfill all righteousness”, everything God considers right, Jesus did everything he could.
Do you ever worry that you haven’t done all the things God wants? That’s a decent worry. Do you ever consider how tenuous it would be if what you did won peace with God? You can’t even remember to always take out the trash. That’s a worthy consideration. But not in Epiphany – not where the light of Jesus’ goodness is shining all over the place. In “going around doing good” Jesus secured for us the promise of every good thing with God. Not only are we not at war, but everything is alright; not only are your offenses removed, but you have everything you need to be okay with God.
And now, as if it weren’t enough that God totally intends his peace for you, whoever you are, despite what you’ve done, and secured it for sure, there’s one more reason to rejoice. It’s kind of like those gifts at Christmas where someone shows that they know you and they took time themselves to actually think about what to give. God’s peace is personal. Isn’t it a rather significant thing that God himself came down at Christmas in Jesus, christened Savior of the World? The Son of God – creator of the world, lifeforce of all, Lord of all things – he came down, to be Jesus of Nazareth from the 942 to find out by personal experience what it’s like for you in 262/414 of this sinful world. Isn’t it rather significant that, at his baptism, the Holy Spirit comes down from heaven and the Father speaks out so you can know how he feels about all this peace-winning work, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Isn’t it great that Peter could say, “God sent…the good news of peace through Jesus Christ…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…and God was with him.”
Rejoice my friends because, in Epiphany, we’re standing in the warm glow of the most personal thing. God did not send a gift card, but hand-crafted the gift of peace himself. He himself won the peace that makes us whole and alright with him. And that’s true right this moment for you. God comes with his Spirit’s power in his Word to speak it and fire it up in your hearts. Do you remember how Paul talked about this Word you hear, the one he preached? “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” You don’t come here for human wisdom, nor human power – you come to have God powerfully work on your hearts. To have his Spirit open your minds like he did for Peter and the disciples. Because God’s peace is personal – intended personally for you and powered personally by him – Paul can describe our Epiphany joy like this: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” As we gather around God’s Word this morning, he lights up the dark places of our hearts – our sadness with comfort, our fear with his strength, our worry with his promise – he lets us know the glorious peace of God in the face of Jesus, whose good work we see. Whose good work sets our hearts at peace.
Be encouraged by Peter’s word – God’s Word to you – that there is actually genuine peace: universal peace that applies to everyone; secure peace because of what Jesus has done; personal peace that God hand-delivers and personally empowers. This is good news. And here’s the Epiphany question: what do we do with good news? By the word of Isaiah the prophet or Peter the apostle, at God’s sending and with God’s power – go out and share. Proclaim the good news of this genuine peace. Amen.