Tell People to Get A Life
If you said, “Get a life,” to me, you would be indicating that you think my life or behavior is headed in the wrong direction. Can there be times when we say that to someone because we want them actually to have real life? Apparently so, at least based on Acts 5:12,17-32 “Tell People to Get A Life.” April 28, 2019.
“Get a life!” That’s an expression that slid into American slang twenty or so years ago. It can have several shades of meaning. “You can’t just live in your parents’ basement playing video games. You’re twenty-five years old! Get a life,” in other words, “Start being responsible and productive.” Or “College isn’t just about studying and getting good grades. Get a life,” in other words, “Stop being so boring. Meet new people. Have fun.” Or “You’re always sticking your nose into other people’s business and giving them your unasked-for opinions. Get a life,” in other words, “Mind your own business, and be more caring and respectful.”
If you said, “Get a life,” to me, you would be indicating that you think my life or behavior is headed in the wrong direction or has the wrong priorities. There’s a little edge to that expression, and it can come across as harsh or rude. But can there be a time when “Get a life” is a positive and makes us pause and ponder what life really is, what it’s all about? Can there be times when we say that to someone because we want them actually to have real life? Apparently so, at least based on today’s first reading from the book of the Acts of the apostles in chapter five: Tell People to Get A Life.
The life God gives
Sadducees. When I was a kid, I thought they must be people with a sad life. As it turns out, that isn’t far from the truth, not from their view but God’s. When the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees sashayed past a mirror and glanced over their shoulders, they saw what they thought was a great life. They tried to look like the most spiritual people in Jerusalem. After all, it was their job to care for the worship life of the Israelites. But they only went through the motions and were more interested in making money than in proclaiming the God’s truth. In fact, they refused to pay attention to any of the Bible books except the first five, especially the rules given by God to Moses. They questioned the existence of angels and flat out denied the reality of an afterlife.To the Sadducees, the concept of the resurrection of the dead was a joke. No wonder they were filled with jealousy because right under their noses in the temple courtyards some followers of Jesus performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade ... Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. “Hey! These ‘Jesus people’ are not only attracting crowds with slight-of-hand magic. Have you heard what they are saying? They’re claiming that there is such a thing as a resurrection from the dead and that the blasphemer, Jesus, whom we killed is the first to do it.” So, they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. God had other plans. He sent an angel to free them.
The next day the apostles were hauled in front of the Israelite ruling council to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood. This Jesus of yours interrupted our life and our lifestyle. He tried to overturn our entire culture and religion. His claims were outrageous, even blasphemous, so we killed him and ended his life. If you don’t mind your Ps and Qs, we’re going to do the same to you!”
But Peter and the other apostles had God’s command and support. “Tell the people the full message of this new life.” We have to swing off the highway of this story and pull into a rest stop so we are on the same page with this business called “life.” If someone poked you in the middle of the night and said, “Quick! Give me a definition of life!” you would probably scrape the crust from your eyes, take a second to shake off the cobwebs of sleep, and respond with something about breathing and blood circulation and maybe add that life means enjoying our existence in this world either by ourselves or with others, as in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But God’s definition of life has to do with relationships, especially a close, loving relationship with him. Death is separation from him, swallowed by his anger. Life is being connected to him, surrounded by his love. Now, back on the highway of the story. – The followers of Jesus didn’t argue. They didn’t point fingers. They just told the facts, the real facts of life, real life with God. “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. You Sadducees think you have a life, but in reality, you have no life. What you have is a life that leads to death and separation from God. You see, the God of your ancestors is the God of our ancestors, and he is not interested in padding pockets with money. He is interested in pardoning people with mercy. Yes, you killed Jesus, but God raised him to life so that he could give us deathless life with God now and forever, and that life God offers to you.”
I don’t want to be identified with the Sadducees, and I don’t think you do either. We believe all the Bible is true. We know God created angels. We know there is an afterlife, and we are in the beginning stages of a seven-week celebration of the fact that dead people will be raised to life because of the one great resurrection by Jesus. But there is one thing that links us to the sad case of the Sadducees, guilt. Maybe you don’t feel a burden of guilt right now, but you probably have at one point in your life, and if you haven’t, you will. But whether we feel guilty or not, God makes it clear that when we violate his will, we are guilty. A medical examiner gets done with a corpse, sews up a Y-shaped scar over the chest, and what’s left inside? Nothing but emptiness. Nothing but death. When we speak out of turn and hurt people, when we twist a false narrative to cover our errors and blame others for our problems, when we get obsessed with the almighty dollar as if it’s the only path to happiness, that is emptiness inside. That’s death. That is evidence that we deserve no life with God, no connection with him. But then the Easter message comes in. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Thanks to Jesus we are declared, “Not guilty!” so that we get a life, real life with God, the life God gives.
The life we live
Let’s go back to ancient Jerusalem. We tap someone on the shoulder and ask, “Where can we find the Sadducees?” “Oh, you’ll know when you see a Sadducee because they usually wear Armani robes. If you could look in their closets, you would see several neatly pressed linen shirts and a couple leather jackets with the team colors and emblem of the ‘Jerusalem Jets.’ Most of the Sadducees live in those brick mansions along Caiaphas Boulevard. If you get inside, you’ll see that their homes feature a center atrium with fountains that really work. I know. I laid the pipes. If the garage door is open, you’ll see that chariot or two with a steel body and a silver jaguar perched on the front. The chariot the high priest tools around in has a chrome grill and ‘RR’ emblazoned on it. And if you think that’s fancy-shmancy, let me tell you about the food they have catered in! What a life they live!” Our hands go up, “We get the picture.”
While we’re back in time visiting Jerusalem, let’s also take a peek at the lifestyle of Jesus’ apostles. Only Matthew the tax collector knew what the “good life” was all about. The rest were middle to low income folks. Several of them were fishermen. They could tell us about calluses and sunburn. They were poor, uneducated, and the old saying probably fit, “Old fishermen never die. They just smell that way.” Then they became disciples of Jesus full-time. Here was the Son of God, clearly able to provide plenty of fish and bread and change water into wine, but he chose not to do that on a regular basis. He did not own property or make investments. He asked the disciples to leave their jobs to follow him. They probably lived on handouts. Those apostles didn’t know too much about fancy atriums and working fountains, but they could tell you all about the inside of a jail cell.
If you somehow could time-travel back to those days, which life would you rather have, that of a Sadducee or that of a disciple of Jesus? The choice is obvious, isn’t it? We’d take the apostles’ life because they were far better off than the Sadducees. Doesn’t that sound strange? But it’s not because we know the apostles had a real life to live, living because of and for their God. That means they had Christian realism. They understood the world is temporary and often filled with troubles. They were obedient and followed God’s will. After being freed from jail by the angel they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, faced life with courage and confidence, ... and began to teach the people. They had their priorities straight, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Their life had purpose. They had the privilege of offering others real life with God.
Would you like to move away from fizzled dreams and meet life with a clear sense of realism? Would you like to have God point to you on the last day and announce, “Here is one of my dear children. The evidence is her obedience. The evidence is his life”? Would you like to live with more courage? Would you like to sort out your busy schedule based on God-pleasing priorities? Would you like to open heaven’s door and usher someone you know into the certainty of life with God? Look to the risen Lord Jesus. He is honest enough to give your life with God realism, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). He says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16). He prayed, “Holy Father, protect [my followers] by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). If that’s not a source of courage for living in this world, I don’t know what is.” Because of Jesus we have a life and live the life God gives.
The next time someone says, “Get a life,” to you, here’s how to respond, “Thanks so much for your concern, and thanks for reminding me that I have a life. I’m in a good spot with my relationship with God thanks to Jesus. So, I would encourage you to get a life, and I can tell you how Jesus makes that happen for you and for me so that together we can lock arms and say, ‘We don’t have to get a life. We’ve got a life through the risen and living Lord Jesus’.” Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on April 28, 2019