Sunday, December 04, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Are We Willing?"

“Are We Willing?”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
December 4, 2011
Acts 11:19-12:25

We’re continuing our study of the book of Acts that we’re calling, “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.”

Jesus told his disciples the Holy Spirit would empower them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Even here.

And we’ve been seeing that happen as we’ve read each chapter.

The gospel exploded in Jerusalem and spread even to the half-breeds in Samaria and then even to the ... whom?  Gentiles. That’s what we saw last week, even the Gentiles are turning to Christ.

And God has used some pretty unusual methods to spread the gospel message, including persecution.

When Stephen was martyred, the believers were scattered, but they were not stopped in sharing the gospel. The gospel began to penetrate into places that it had never been before.

That’s a big part of today’s story, especially in chapter 11.  We are introduced to another major local church in the city of Antioch in Syria. A great church that is a model for all of us.

And in chapter 12, we get a terrific story of answered prayer and the need for humility.

I was having a hard time tying all of the things in these two chapters together to make it into a good sermon, when I realized that I had been asking myself a question as I read the passage over and over.

“Are We Willing?”

Are you and I willing to do the sorts of things that we see the early church doing here in these two chapters?

Are we willing to go through what they went through?
Are we willing to suffer what they suffered?

Are we willing?

Because I don’t think we’ll be at all blessed the way they were unless our hearts lean in that direction.

I actually came up with six “Are We Willing” questions of application for us to think about as we read Acts 11:19 through 12:25.

Here’s the first question.


Acts 11:19.

“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.”

That last phrase is a surprise, isn’t it?

These folks who are nameless missionaries carrying the gospel of Jesus haven’t gotten the memo yet about Acts chapter 10.  Even the Gentiles!

These folks are scattered by the persecution that came when Stephen died. Remember that chapter 7 and the first bit of chapter 8?

Here’s a map for you.

Here’s Jerusalem.
Where is Phoenecia?  It’s along this coast here. Modern day Lebanon.

Cyprus is this island right here.  Interesting fact, Heather’s cousin used to be a professional volleyball player on the island of Cyrpus.

And Syrian Antioch (not Pisidian Antioch, we’ll get to that place later in the book, Syrian Antioch is right about here).

The gospel has really moved.

But it needs to go to everyone. Not just to the Jews.  V.20

“Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”

Look how far they were from home.

Cyprus again. And where is Cyrene?

It’s over here in northern Africa.

It’s probable that the those believers were Jews present at Pentecost and are now disciples of Jesus forced to be on the move.

These nameless missionaries take the gospel to everyone. Even to the Greeks. V.21

“The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.”

Remember Barnabas?

What did his nickname mean?  Son of Encouragement.  Guess what he’s going to do. V.23

“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”

Are we willing to spread the word to EVERYone?

Barnabas was and he was glad that they were doing it in Antioch.

But the new church needed good teaching, and Barnabas thought he knew who would be the best for them. That old murderer Saul. V.25

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, [Tarsus is about here.] and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Second question coming out of that last sentence.


Verse 26 says, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

What were they called before?

Disciples of Jesus.
The Way.
Other names.

I think that this one was supposed to be an insult or at least a joke.

I get the feel from this verse that it was outsiders who called the disciples Christians not insiders.

“Oh, those are the Christ-ians!”

They think Jesus came back from the dead.

They think they are like Christ.

They belong to the Messiah, the Christ.

They’re Christians.”

Another name was needed because they weren’t just Jews anymore, either.  Oh, those are just some Jews for Jesus.

No, they need their own name. Let’s call them “Christians.”

Are we willing to wear Jesus’ name?

Most of us are when it’s convenient.

What if it gets downright inconvenient?

Verse 27.

“During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”

Here’s the question for this one?


This is a really cool way to find out about trouble–before it happens.

Agabus brings a prophecy that a famine was on the way, and apparently, Judea was going to be hit the worst, and the Christians there were, many of them, living in poverty.

And the church at Antioch steps up to the plate.

They take up a collection, “each according to his ability,” and sent help to the brothers in Judea. And they sent it by way of Barnabas and Saul.

That’s Christian generosity.

Are we willing to help other Christians in need?

This Christmas season is a great time to consider whom we might reach out and help.

Fourth question:


That’s truly wearing His name.

And it happened, down in Judea to the apostle James. Chapter 12, verse 1.

“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.”

If you ever wondered how King Herod lived so long, it was by naming his whole family Herod like George Foreman.

This is actually the grandson of Herod the Great who was the Herod who tried to kill the baby Jesus.

And it is the nephew of Herod Antipas, who was the Herod who conspired to kill the adult Jesus.

Now, he’s killing Jesus’ followers.


Not James who wrote the epistle with that name, one of Mary and Joseph’s other sons.

But James the brother of John. One of the sons of thunder.

His thunder was now over. Off with his head.

Following Jesus can mean death.

Are we willing?

Do we believe that He is worth it?

Peter did. V.3

“When he [that is Herod] saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.”

And take off Peter’s head, too.

That’s the risk we run when we follow a King who allowed Himself to be crucified.

Ask yourself the question, “Are we willing to die for the name of Jesus?”

Are we willing to live for Him?

Now, what happens next is one of the best, funniest stories in the whole book of Acts.

If you don’t know what happens, you’re in a for treat.

If you do already know, pretend you don’t.

Remember, James just lost his head. Hope is lost. Herod is taking over. Peter is in prison with four squads of four guards each.  V.5

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

“The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.”

Wait just one second.

How do you think Peter answered this question?  “Am I willing to die for Jesus?”

Notice what Peter is doing the night before his execution?

Sleeping.  That’s a picture of faith, I think. I love this next part. V.7

“Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists. Then the angel said to him, ‘Put on your clothes and sandals.’ And Peter did so. ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,’ the angel told him. [Jailbreak!] Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.”

And Peter woke up.  He’s like being sleep-rescued!

“Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.’ When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door.”

I love the detail. Rhoda was her name.

Knock, knock, knock.

“When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ ‘You're out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’ But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. ‘Tell James and the brothers about this,’ he said, and then he left for another place.”

To an undisclosed location.

Here’s the question for application:


I think that Luke includes this story at least in part to humorously poke fun at how we often act.

What are the doing at Mary’s house?

They are praying for Peter’s release.

What do they do when they hear that he’s at the door?  V.15

“You’re out of your mind!”
“Well, it must be his [guardian] angel.”

Because we all know that guardian angels look and sound just like the people they guard?  What?

They prayed earnestly and God answered their prayers.

But they didn’t expect it. At least, they didn’t expect how great the release was.

But we serve a God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...”

“Peter is at the door.”

“Thank you, Lord.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that God will always do what we ask.

I’m SURE that they prayed for James’ release, too.

But we cannot be fatalistic thinking that prayer does no good.

God answers prayer!

And we should eagerly expect good answers.  Amen?

Does that encourage you to pray again today?

I hope so.

One more question and we’re done. It comes out of this last story about Herod. V.18

“In the morning [back at the ranch], there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. [Ya think?] After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. [You lose a prisoner, you get what they had coming.]Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply.”

We won’t get into the politics here, but you can get a sense of what was going on.

Herod was full of himself. And it showed.  V.21

“On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”


The historian Josephus tells us that on this day, Herod grabbed his stomach and fell down dead.

Apparently, it was deadly intestinal worms that did him in.

But we know that it was God.

Herod was full of himself and was eager to think of himself as a god.

When the crowd of that great television show, Caeserean Idol, started chanting, “Herod! Herod! Herod! This is the voice of a god, not a man.”

Herod just smiled and took it in.  And God took him out.

Here’s the question.


It’s easy to get full of yourself.

We are spring loaded to be loaded up with pride.

But God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. V.24

“But the word of God continued to increase and spread. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.”

And that sets us up for the first missionary journey of this amazing team.

Messages So Far In this Series:

No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church
Even the Gentiles