Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

EFCA Today Book Review: College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture


I have the privilege of coordinating these reviews. It's great to see them be completed and posted.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Glory to the Newborn King"

“Glory to the Newborn King”
Christmas Sunday
Luke 2:13-14
December 25, 2011


I invite you open your Bibles with me to the book of Luke chapter 2.

It seems like we end up here every year at Christmastime, and with good reason.

I love the story in Luke chapter 2.  It’s good news of great joy!

This year for Advent, we used “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to give us some awesome things to think about during the Christmas season.

Now, be honest. How many of us used to think that that song was about a angel named “Harold?”

Nicknamed, “Harry.”

Harry the Angel?

Am I the only one?

I said last night, as we lit each candle in our wreath, that Hark! is now my favorite Christmas carol.

That’s because of the rich theological truth embedded in it.  It’s full of the true meaning of Christmas.

We’ll sing it together in a few more minutes.

Today, our title and the central thing I want to say comes from the last line that gets repeated over and over again in the carol: “Glory to the Newborn King.”

Interestingly, John Wesley, who originally wrote this hymn didn’t write those words. He didn’t write, “Glory to the Newborn King.”

He wrote, “Glory to the King of Kings.”

Which is, of course, the same person.

In reality, there have been a lot of changes made to this hymn over the years.

John Wesley wrote it in 1739 as a long poem as a “Hymn for Christmas Day,” and it didn’t have that chorus that we’re used to singing at the end of each verse. [slide]

And it started like this, “Hark How All the Welkin Rings. Glory to the King of Kings.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that the words got changed over the years. Sometimes I hear people complaining about changing words to hymns and changing tunes that go with hymns.

Well, for the first 100 years or more Hark! was sung to the tune that we normally sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

It wasn’t until 1855 that William H Cummings took Felix Mendelssohn’s tune and put these words to it so that it is what is familiar to us today. 

Anybody know just what the “welkin” is?

I had to look that one up.

“Welkin” is an old English word to stand for the sky, the heavens, the celestial sphere.

What you see when you look up at night time.

And what the shepherds saw when they looked up in Luke chapter 2, verse 13:

A sky full of angels.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host [an angelic army] appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Can you imagine?

So that’s why Wesley wrote, “Hark! How the Welkin (the Sky!) Rings. Glory to the King of Kings.”

It was actually Wesleys frenemy (that’s a friend who is sometimes an enemy or an opponent) George Whitefield that changed the words to what we know today.

Hark! The herald angels (the angels sent to be heralds of Jesus) sing, “Glory to the Newborn King.”

And today, I want to ask, what is glory?

“Glory to the Newborn King.”
“Glory to God in the highest.”
“Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”

What is glory?

And why are these angels singing it?

Of course, we don’t know if they actually sang.  Verse 13 says that they praised God and said “Glory to God in highest.”

But I think we all hear them singing those words. Not just boringly chanting them, that’s for sure.

But what did they mean?

What is glory?

Glory is a hard word to define.

It’s one of those words that you-know-it-when-you-see-it.

But how do you define it?

Here’s one way. It’s the beautiful greatness of God.

And saying, “glory to God” is announcing, proclaiming, declaring that God is amazingly great.

The Old Testament Hebrew word for glory is “Kavod.”

And it literally meant, “heavy.”

Like we say, “heavy, man.”

That’s awesome.

Rulers in the ancient world were the best fed. And the best fed got what? Heavy, right?

So, if you were great. Then you were great.

You had weight if you were great.

Kavod!

One of the things I like to pray for people is that Jesus would be BIG in their life.

I think that gets across this idea.

I pray that Jesus would be BIG in your life.

Or we could use the word “credit.”

We love the credits at the end of movie now.

Who gets the credit?

Who gets the BIGGEST credit?

Glory is credit.

To glory in something is to exult it so that it is BIG in your heart.

We see people glory when they enjoy a great football game or whatever you like.

They jump up and down, they yell, they sing, they raise their arms.  They do a little dance.

They glory. Something is big in their heart.

Glory, praise, magnification be to God in the highest.

Glory to the Newborn King.

Does that make sense?

The angels knew that something GLORIOUS, something tremendously great had happened on that first Christmas night.

And it took a whole army of angels to say it like it needed said.

Glory to God in the Highest!

What was so glorious?

Well, so many things.

We’ve been singing and sharing about them all this Advent season.

The hymn is full of wondrous things.

“Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
“Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb”
“Veiled in Flesh the Godhead See, Hail the incarnate Deity”
“Light and Life to All He Brings, Ris’n With Healing in His Wings”
“Born to raise the Sons of Earth, Born to Give them Second Birth”

So many ways of saying it.

Jesus is God become man who brings us salvation.

Salvation is what is so glorious.

And there are so many ways of glorying in it.

Let me share with you verse #4.

You may or may not know this verse.

My guess is that most of us don’t. It’s not in our hymnal, and I have several hymnals at home, it’s not in any of those.

It wasn’t actually in Wesley’s original, either.  But it’s taken from four stanzas of Wesley’s original poem and re-worked into a verse, probably by Whitefield.

And there are several versions of this out there, too.  Proof again that Christians songs can be fluid and open to revising for current needs and trends.

Can you read it from there?

#4. Come, Desire of Nations Come,
Fix in Us Thy Humble Home;
Rise, the Woman's Conquering Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent's Head.
Adam's Likeness Now Efface:
Stamp Thine Image in its Place;
Second Adam, from Above,
Reinstate Us in Thy Love.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
Glory to the Newborn King.

Familiar to anybody here?

Of the four verses, this is one that is a prayer.

And it’s like a theological pound cake. Dense and rich with biblical truth.

It’s about salvation.  How glorious the salvation is that Jesus brought when He was born that first Christmas day.

“Come, Desire of Nations Come.”

Now, that my friends is a reference to Haggai chapter 2.

I ask you to turn there, but we’ll be done with it before you could find it.

John Wesley knew his Bible, didn’t he?

God says in Haggai 2:7 says, “I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with [what do you think the word is?] glory,' says the LORD Almighty.”

And Wesley saw Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of Haggai 2.

He prays, “Fix in us thy humble home.”

And that’s a prayer for Jesus to come not just to Earth but to each believing heart.

As Paul prayed in Ephesians 3, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

And not just live there, but remodel the place.

“Rise, the Woman’s Conquering Seed, Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.”

What’s he talking about there?

That’s salvation!

It’s talking about Genesis 3. And the Fall.

When God cursed the serpent he said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Ever since Genesis 3 there has been a battle between the seed (offspring) of the serpent and the seed of the woman.

And John Wesley understood that this was the gospel.

That Jesus would crush the serpent.

And so Wesley prayed, “Rise, the Woman’s Conquering Seed (That’s Jesus), Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.”

And there, he’s talking about the effects of Satan and the Fall being defeated in us.

That sin would be conquered in us.

And that we would become Christ-like

“Adam’s Likeness Now Efface.”

Efface means erase.

Take away our sin.  Rub it out with a Pink Pearl Eraser.

And then, “Stamp Thine Image in Its Place.”

The first man Adam is what we are all like.

But this little baby born in Bethelehem is the Second Adam.  Read Romans 5 or 1 Corinthians 15.

Jesus is the second head of humanity. 

“Second Adam from above Reinstate Us in Thy Love.”

That’s salvation!

And that’s something to glory in.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, ‘Glory to the Newborn King!’”

Glory that the Desire of Nations has come!
Glory that we are His humble home by the Holy Spirit!
Glory that Woman’s Conquering Seed Has Risen and Has Bruised in Us the Serpent’s Head!
Glory that God is stamping His own image into our hearts and reinstating us in His love.

Glory!

Glory!

Two words of application this morning.

First, is INVITE.

Each of us needs to receive Jesus as our own Lord and Savior if we are going to glory like this song calls us to.

Pray to the Lord, “Fix in me your humble home.”

Invite Him to be your Lord and Savior. Your King and Rescuer.

Jesus came to bring salvation.  Invite Him in.

Second word: EXULT.

Let your heart overflow with the GREATNESS of the Lord.

And worship Him.

Rejoice. Jump. Sing. Dance. Lift your hands. Yell.

May Jesus be BIG in your heart and mine.  Getting all the credit. All the glory.

Exult.

Glory!

He is great. Sing of His greatness.

GLORY to the King of Kings.
GLORIA in Excelsis Deo.

Glory in the Newborn in the King.

Anita, come on up here and let’s sing this.   Hymn #133.

Let’s sing all four verses this morning.

And sing them with all of our hearts.

Glory to the Newborn King!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Paul's First Missionary Journey: Part Two"

“Paul’s First Missionary Journey: Part Two”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
December 18, 2011
Acts 14:1-28
Our sermon series is on the book of Acts. We’re calling it “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.”

And we haven’t gotten to Pennsylvania yet!

But we have gotten out of Jerusalem.

In fact, we’re on a journey right now. We’re on Paul’s First Missionary Journey.

That great church in Antioch in Syria has sent Paul and Barnabas out on a gospel mission.

They went from Antioch to Cyprus. Two cities on the island, Salamis and Paphos where they encountered and defeated the Jewish sorcerer Bar-Jesus.

Then they went across to Perga and then to Pisidian Antioch where they were busy sharing the gospel.

The word of the Lord spread there and many (especially Gentiles) believed in Jesus but they also encountered persecution and decided to head out of town to the next big city called Iconium. 

Iconium is a pretty big city. It still is today. They call it Konya today. K-O-N-Y-A. It’s still on the map.  You’ll notice that it’s in the province of Galatia.

So our book Galatians that the adult Sunday school classes have been reading was probably read right here in Iconium.

And that’s where our story starts today.

In today’s chapter, we’re going to see four major things that describe the second half of the first missionary journey, and I think we can learn from all four.

#1. Division.
#2. Confusion.
#3. Opposition.
#4. Completion.

Now, I’m not saying that every short term missions trip is going to have these four features, but I think that all of us in gospel ministry–and that should be all of us here–should be ready for all four.

There is something to learn here for each of our lives.

Acts chapter 14, verse 1.

“At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who  refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.”

Now, my word for this section is division.

#1. DIVISION.

You can see it right there in verse 4.  “The people of the city were divided.”

That should not surprise us, but it often does.

The gospel divides.

It’s good news! But not everyone thinks so.

Verse 1 says that Paul and Barnabas, when showed up in town went as usual to the Jewish synagogue.

Why did they do that?  They did it because those folks were already about half-way there. They already knew the Old Testament, they just needed to know the name of the Messiah.

And verse 1 also says that they spoke so effectively that many got saved!

Yes!

But verse 2 says that there were Jews who refused to believe “and stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.”

Did that stop Paul and Barnabas?  Verse 3

“So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.”

That didn’t stop them at all. In fact, they got bold and God (note that it’s God who does it) enabled them to do miracles that confirmed the message.

But miracles don’t change everyone’s mind.  They didn’t with Jesus, and they don’t with the apostles.  V.4

“The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. [There is split down the middle of the city.] There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. [Mob violence. The martyring of Stephen all over again.] But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.”

Division.

Division can be a good thing.  If everyone is going in the wrong direction, then a division where some (many?) begin to go in the right direction is a very good thing.

And that’s what happened here.

A church was born in the middle of that division.

And the world is still divided over Jesus.

The word is still divided over the gospel.

Verse 3 calls it, “the message of his grace.”

The gospel is the message that Jesus has sacrificed Himself to give us forgiveness.

And lots of people don’t like that message.

They’d rather try to earn their way.
They’d rather do it their own way.
They’d rather not entrust themselves to this Jesus guy.

The world is still divided.

When we share the gospel, we should expect division.

Jesus said that it would divide families....of course it’s going to divide cities.

And even though they had to hotfoot it out of town, they haven’t changed their message.  V.6 again.

“But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.”

More miracles. Verse 8.

“In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.”

Praise the Lord!

But...#2. CONFUSION. V.11

“When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

Whoa!  Can you imagine?!

First, the miracle. Then the confusion.

And Paul and Barnabas probably can’t understand the local language, so they don’t know what’s going on.

This one guy had faith to be healed. He was believing what he was hearing about Jesus.

But most of the folks here can only see the miracle and put their idolatrous interpretation on it.

These guys must be Zeus and Hermes come to visit!

Can you imagine?

That’s confusion for you.  V.14

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: ‘Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.”

Glad they didn’t let it go to their heads!

You know that would be a major temptation for someone in that position.

Think of all of the stories like this that you’ve see or heard.

Someone is mistaken for a god. What do they do?  They play it up for awhile.

Being a god has its privileges.

But those stories never turn out well do they?

And that’s not why Paul and Barnabas have been risking their lives.

They’ve been risking it to bring the gospel. The good news. V.15

“We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn form these worthless” idols to the living God!

The answer to confusion is to keep sharing the truth.

Keep trying. Keep clarifying. Keep explaining the way it really is.

There is a lot of confusion out there about what Christianity truly is.

You probably get that all of the time when you’re talking with people.

Some people think that Christianity is about being good, doing good things, being a good person, being moral, going to church, making God happy by being good for Him.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!

That’s not Christianity.

That’s confusion.

Christianity is about good news.

We have been bad, and Jesus has paid for it.

He died on the Cross to satisfy the righteous wrath of the Father against our sin.

And now He offers us forgiveness if we will turn from our sins and our idols, worthless things, and trust in Him, the living God.

And everyone knows that they need Him, but they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  That’s where Paul is going in verse 16 and 17.

He’s the “living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own [rebellious] way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

And you know it.

Every good gift is from him.

But people suppress that knowledge because they realize that if its’ true then they are accountable to the living God.

And they are.  We are.

But more than accountable, we can be redeemed by Jesus if we turn from our sin and turn to Him.

That’s not confusion. That’s Christianity. That’s the gospel.

Keep telling people.

Now, you know that it can’t last. Crowds are fickle. One second, they are going to sacrifice a bull to you.

The next second (or at least after a little bit of time) they try to kill you. V.19

“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”

#3. OPPOSITION.

Of course, that’s putting it lightly. It’s really persecution.

They threw stones at him.

And they threw so many stones and so heavy stone and so jagged stones at him that they thought he was dead.

You see many in the world do not like our message.

It’s amazing that we don’t have that happening right now in the United States.

We have an amazing moment right now in history where we are free to share and believe the gospel message without much fear for our lives.

It’s not that way in many places around the world. We are living in an exception right now....right now.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy anyway. There is still opposition.

And there always will be. That was Paul’s message to the believers, after he got up and could talk again.  V.20

“But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.”

Did you catch that?

Where did he go after he got up?

Back into the city?
And then they went down to Derbe where they made more disciples.

And then they ... what?

They returned to Lystra again. And then Iconium. And then Antioch.

Didn’t they have trouble in each of those cities.

Yes, they did.

But the answer to opposition in gospel ministry is courage.

Even after being stoned, Paul goes back through.

Was he scared?  Probably.

But he was also bold. And he knew that he had a job to do.  V.22 again.

“...strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.”

That’s the truth.

Some people with a big smile on their book cover tell you that following Jesus means everything working out great.

Paul said with his big bruised face, “We must go through many hardships to enter the  Kingdom of God.”

Not that going through those hardships earn us a place in the kingdom. Christ did that.

But following Him will mean hardship, trouble, persecution, opposition.

Count on it. Strengthen yourself for it. Encourage others about it.

Take courage that means.

Paul and Barnabas don’t return the shortest way.

They backtrack along their route again all the way to Attalia and then catch a boat home.

I think that shows great love for the Lord, the gospel, and the church.

And it show courage.

Have you experienced opposition being a Christian.

It isn’t easy.

It’s not supposed to be.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

That’s the way it works.

Verse 23

“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.”

After making new disciples and planting new churches, they appointed leadership and then entrusted them to the Lord Jesus whom they had entrusted themselves to.

And then they headed home. V.24

“After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.”

#4. COMPLETION.

Mission accomplished.

Time for their report. Verse 27.

“On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”

The first missionary journey was a success.

It’s important to get a report back about how goes the mission.

Next August, I look forward to hearing back from our Serbia Missions Team about their experience. What they saw, heard, did, learned, and achieved.  What God is up to in that part of the world.

Next month will be a month of missions reports here at Lanse Free Church.

We’re going to hear from several of our missionary families and missions organizations about their last term of service.

That’s important when a mission is completed to have a report.

The key focus of Paul’s report is that God has been at work, especially among the Gentiles. V.27 again.

“Reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

Now, that’s going to raise a few issues which we’re going to see in a few weeks when we get back to Jerusalem in chapter 15.

But you and I should very happy about it.

Because the gospel has gotten one big step closer to Pennsylvania.

Messages So Far In this Series:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Paul's First Missionary Journey: Part One"

“Paul’s First Missionary Journey: Part One”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
December 11, 2011
Acts 13:1-52

Our series is called From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania, and we’ve been watching the gospel spread just like Jesus said that it would. He told His apostles, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The spread of the gospel has been rapid but bumpy, and it hasn’t gotten too far from Jerusalem yet.

But it’s starting to.

Last week, we saw the gospel take root in a forming a great new church in Syria in the city of what? [Antioch.]

The church at Antioch was a great church. Last week, we saw how they were dedicated to the gospel and biblical truth and how they were generous with their treasures, giving to those who were in need. The church at Antioch is where believers were first called Christians–bearing the name of Jesus Christ. And that church was a growing church.

It also became a sending church. Antioch was the first great intentional missions-minded church.

That’s what we are going to read about in just a second.

This church sent out Paul and Barnabas on what we now call “Paul’s First Missionary Journey.”

Paul’s First Missionary Journey takes up two chapters of Acts, chapters 13 and 14.

Today, we’re only going to get through chapter 13. We’ll do chapter 14 next week, and then take a break from Acts for Christmas.

Now, I’m not going to say that Paul’s first missionary journey is typical of all missions work–that would be a real stretch.

But I do think there are things we can see happening here that do happen again and again when God’s people get excited about God’s global mission and get busy living it out.

Five headings this morning as we seek to understand this story.
#1. BEING SENT.

Acts 13, verse 1.

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas [we know him by now], Simeon called Niger [Niger means “black” in Latin. He was probably a black man as was probably this fellow next to him], Lucius of Cyrene [we saw that as North Africa last week], Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) [some ties to royalty] and Saul [the persecutor turned Christian and Bible teacher].” 

So, this is a church full of great Bible teachers. Prophets who have special gifting and teachers who can explain what the Scriptures mean and apply it to life.

And from this team, God is going to send out some missionaries. V.2

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.”

Stop there for a few seconds.

Being sent.

Notice that going on a missions trip wasn’t just a good idea that somebody had.

God the Holy Spirit was involved.

Who did the sending?  Verse 2 and verse 4 make it clear that the Holy Spirit did the sending. How did He speak to them in verse 2? It doesn’t say. I would imagine that God used one of the prophets from verse 1, but it doesn’t say.

It does make it clear that the Holy Spirit is doing the sending. This is a God-thing.

God the Holy Spirit is involved in missions.

Notice, too, that the call comes while they are worshipping, while they are fasting, while they are praying.

But it’s not just the Holy Spirit who does the sending. The church is involved, as well. Verese 3. “They placed their hands on them and sent them off.”

I get the picture of financial provision, of ongoing prayers, and concerns. They don’t  just say, “Well, it was good knowing you. Off you go!”

There are only two godly responses to missions. Go or send. That’s it.

And Barnabas and Saul are going. The church at Antioch is sending.

This makes me think about our Serbie Missions Trip that is forming for August 2012.

Tim mentioned a few of the details during the announcements.

We have between 5 and 10 youth and adults that are going to form our Serbia Missions Team.  They are planning to fly 4500 miles from here to Belgrade and connect with the Elijas family.

Remember the Elijas family? They aren’t as big as the Durochers, but they’re getting there. They are friends of Heather and mine from our Moody Bible Institute days and they are indigenous missionaries in Serbia.

They have visited our church several times and on their last visit while they were singing and sharing, Becky Forcey got a vision for a short-term team to go from our church to where they work and help out.

If you remember, Ernie Degrasse once went to Serbia to help the Elijas with a building project, too.

Our Missions Ministry Team has been praying and working for over a year now on the details, and I’m very excited about this opportunity.  How many here, would you raise your hand high, are seriously considering going?

And it’s not too late for people to get involved. Talk with Becky Forcey about it.

We are going to formally interview and form the team on January 11th and then we’ll be telling you more about it including how you can be involved in raising the funds for this trip.  On the last Sunday of July, we’re going to be doing verse 3. “Placing our hands on this team and sending them off.”

Now, here’s where they went.

The started at [where?] Antioch in Syria.

And verse 4 says that they went down to Seleucia, and then caught a boat for Cyprus.

Who was from Cyprus?

Barnabas was. So, the first trip was to somewhere familiar.

Why are they going on this trip?  What is the point?

It’s to spread the gospel. Verse 5

“When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.”

Salamis is here on this end of the island.

They go to where the Jews are and proclaim the Messiah.  They have a young man traveling with them named John (also called Mark, John Mark). He helps them with their needs.

Then they travel to the other end of the island to Paphos. Verse 6.

“They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.”

Woo!  Things are heating up all of a sudden.

I’m going to call this section:

#2. CLASHING WITH EVIL.

A Jewish sorcerer?!  That’s two things that shouldn’t go together!

He is a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. What does that name mean in Hebrew?

Barnabas is Son of Encouragement.

Bar-Jesus would be Son of Jesus or Son of Salvation.

This guy is anything but!  He’s trying to keep Sergius Paulus the proconsul (or governor) from the faith, from Christianity. From the truth.

Time to clash. V.9

“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.”

Woo-hoo!

That clash didn’t take long.

From here on in the story, Saul is called Paul.  Apparently from verse 9, we find that Paul was Saul’s other name.

And here Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and is bold to clash with the forces of evil.

You are not Bar-Jesus. You are Bar-Diabolos. Son of the devil.

He has strong words, doesn’t he?

There are times for strong words, especially in the face of great evil.

And the end result is that Elymas goes blind.  Paul must have thought about how he was blind after he saw the light.

And the proconsul, Sergius Paulus also sees the light. Verse 12.

“When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.”

Notice that it wasn’t just the power that Paul showed but the teaching that convinced Sergius Paulus to become a beliver.

Now, I think that this guy is the first Gentile convert who wasn’t a seeker in any way.

Not a proselyte like the Ethiopian treasury official nor a God-fearer like Cornelius.

This was just a plain old Gentile out on a island.

But he believes! That’s awesome.  That’s you and me.

Praise God for those who are willing to clash with evil in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But our journey is just getting started. V.13

“From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.”

Now, take note of that. We aren’t going to talk about it today, but it becomes a point of contention eventually between these guys.
                               
They are here at Perga and they go on to the Antioch here. This was Pisidian Antioch, not Syrian Antioch. There were 16 Antiochs in the ancient world named for a ruler called Antiochus.

This is the one here that Paul and Barnabas travel to. Notice that Paul has clearly become the leader.  I think that’s fine by Barnabas. He knows who is the greater teacher and the one who has the greater calling on his life.  V.14

“From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.’”

That’s all the encouragement that Paul needs!  He launches into a gospel presentation.

#3. PREACHING THE GOSPEL.

Now, I want you to notice how Paul never gives the gospel the same way twice. He does things in similar ways in similar situations, but he’s always tailoring his presentation to those whom he is talking to.

I think we can learn a lot by how he talks about the gospel.  He presents it here among the Jews, as a story. Their story. V.16

“Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: ‘Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. All this took about 450 years. ‘After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'”

Stop there for just a second.  Do you see what he’s doing?

He just preached Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and most of 1 Samuel in just 6 verses!

It can be done.

He’s starting with what they know, especially the promises that God had given the Jewish people. Where’s he going?

He’s going to Jesus.  V.22 again.

“After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' ‘From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.”

Now, he’s got their attention. He skips 1000 years between David and Jesus and explains his point. V.24

“Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus [he came to that which was his own but his own received him not], yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him [read Isaiah 53!], they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people [There’s that word “witnesses” again!]. We tell you the good news [the gospel!]: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' So it is stated elsewhere: ‘'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' ‘For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.”

There is a lot there, and I’m not going to repeat it all for you, but just check your footnotes to see how much Scripture Paul used in this little sermon.

The whole Old Testament pointed to Jesus.

And (v.32), “What God promised [the Jewish] fathers he has fulfilled ... by raising up Jesus.”

And now, Paul brings it home. V.38

“‘Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. [That’s been the point of our study of Galatians all Fall in adult Sunday School.] Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:  ‘'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'’”

It’s the same gospel that we preach today.

Turn from your sins and trust in the Savior!

And you will be forgiven.

Verse 38 again, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”

That message never gets old.

Just think about it.

Every sin that you have committed. Every lie, every lust, every dishonoring of parents, every covetous thought, every idolatrous choice, every angry word.

Every sin forgiven. “I want you to know that through Jesus [what he did on the cross, by his resurrection] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”

That’s the best news in all of the world.

Do you believe it?

Have you come to believe this gospel?

Are you forgiven?  Are you living as a forgiven man or woman or child?

Don’t scoff at it. V.40 again.

“Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:  ‘'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'’”

Don’t be like that. Don’t say, “Couldn’t happen. Nobody comes back from the dead. Not three days later.” Don’t say, “Couldn’t happen to me. I’m too far gone to be forgiven.”

Believe the gospel and be saved!

And then preach that gospel to those who desperately need to hear it.  V.42

“As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. [They are interested.] When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.”

But that’s not all they encountered.

#5. WITHSTANDING OPPOSITION.  V.44


“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.”

Not everyone is happy about this gospel of Jesus Christ.

There will be opposition. There will be persecution. There will be rejection.

We have to be ready for that. Paul and Barnabas were.

“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'’”

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”

“ But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.  And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Not long ago, Paul was persecuting Christians.

Now, Paul is a persecuted Christian.

This is often what happens when Paul comes to town: trouble.

And we need to expect it.

This last week, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the churches of New York City who have been meeting in public schools throughout the city.

You know that real estate is impossibly expensive in New York.

There are 60 churches that have been renting space from the city for their worship services.  The city contends that “churches meeting [inside public schools] outside school hours inappropriately influence children.”

That’s a true story. That’s happening now. They have until February 12th to find somewhere else to meet.

Some of those churches have been meeting there for more than 25 years.

Now, I don’t say that to get all political.  (We could talk about why this is and what the best responses would be.)

I say that to prepare you and me for what is inevitable in this world.

The clash between those who share the gospel and those who oppose it.

We just have to be ready to withstand opposition to the gospel.

And keep preaching it!

Because God has plans to use it to save people. Look again at verse 48.

“When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”

I love that.  I love all of the different ways that Luke uses to talk about conversion and salvation.

Here is it “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

Bring on the opposition. It can’t stop God’s saving purpose in this missionary journey.

All who are appointed for eternal life will believe.

God is sovereign over it.

#5. WELCOMING NEW BELIEVERS.

“The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.”

You can’t stop it.

You can’t stop the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The withstanding of opposition and the welcoming of new believers happen at the same time!

No wonder that after they leave, shaking the dusty from their feet in protest, they are (v.52), “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Because He’s at work.  He sent them, and He goes with them.

And He’s with us today, as well.

We’re going to leave Paul and Barnabas in Iconium and come back to them next week.

But let’s ask ourselves whether or not we’re willing:

To be sent or to send.
To clash with evil.
To preach the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
To withstand opposition with faith and love.
And to welcome new believers with joy.

If so, then we are on mission ourselves.

Messages So Far In this Series:

No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church
Stephen
Philip
Saul
Even the Gentiles
Are We Willing?

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.

#1. ARE WE WILLING TO SPREAD THE WORD TO EVERYONE?

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.

#2. ARE WE WILLING TO WEAR JESUS’ NAME?

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?

#3. ARE WE WILLING TO HELP OTHER CHRISTIANS IN NEED?

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:

#4. ARE WE WILLING TO DIE FOR JESUS?

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.

James.

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:

#5. ARE WE WILLING TO EXPECT GOD TO ANSWER OUR PRAYERS?

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.”

Yuck.

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.

#6. ARE WE WILLING TO PASS THE PRAISE TO GOD?

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
Stephen
Philip
Saul
Even the Gentiles

Friday, December 02, 2011

In the Mail!

I killed a tree or two today.

I printed out the four copies of my project and put them in the mail (and kept one for myself). After it was all said and done, each copy was 310 pages from cover to cover -- 1550 pages! They are in three ring binders and have been surrendered to the USPS.

Can I take a nap now?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ready to Submit!

Rejoice with me!

My doctoral project is now ready to submit!

This afternoon I talked with my advisor who agreed that everything seems in order to print it out and send in the copies to the school.

Hard to believe that first writing day was just 331 days ago when I wrote:
Counting today, there are 331 days until December 1st.

December 1st is my "deadline" for turning in my Applied Research Project to Westminster Theological Seminary if I want to graduate in May of 2012.
And today's the 1st. How's that for timing?

December 1st was my own deadline. The school's deadline is December 15th, so I have a little bit of time left, but it won't be needed. Hooray! Thank you for praying me through this process. Thank, you, Lord, for your grace and blessings!

Tomorrow, I'll check it all over one last time, print out four copies (about 1300 pages), three-hole punch it, and put it in the mail to WTS (for the next/last few steps leading up to a May 24th graduation).

And then, breathe a big sigh of relief....


Photo by Nate Weatherly

Sunday, November 27, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Even the Gentiles"

“Even the Gentiles”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
November 27, 2011
Acts 9:32-11:18
                           
For those of you who were participating in “the guess the title contest” that we weren’t really having, the title of this message is not Peter or Aeneas or Dorcas or even Cornelius.

It is this: “Even the Gentiles.”

And I get that from the NIV’s rendering of Acts 11:18 which will be our last verse this morning: “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

Even the Gentiles.

So far, in our study of the book of Acts, the gospel has spread like wildfire in Jerusalem and in Judea and even in Samaria. We’ve seen that in Acts 1-8.

And in chapter 8, we also saw the gospel of Jesus Christ spread to a proselyte, the Ethiopian treasury official who was probably Gentile but had apparently converted to Judaism.

But now in Acts chapter 9, after the arrest and salvation of Saul, we are going to see the gospel of Jesus Christ move beyond Jews and half-breed Jews and converts to Judaism to bona fide Gentiles.

And that is amazing.

You and I don’t truly comprehend the barrier that existed between Jew and Gentile.

The observant, pious, godly Jew was supposed to be separate from all things Gentile.

But that is about to change.

And the change is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit of God.

God’s empowering presence – the Holy Spirit orchestrates a plan to connect a Gentile who is ripe for gospel harvest and the lead apostle of Jesus Christ who brings the gospel with him.

That apostle’s name is Peter, and the story turns to him in verse 32.

It’s been several chapters since we were with the apostle Peter. Verse 32 picks up Peter’s trail. He’s traveling in the north of Israel along the seaboard and sharing the gospel and seeing God heal people. V.32

“As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

How exciting!

Healed by the name of Jesus. The power of God is still present and operating through Peter. And people are seeing that and turning to Jesus.

Next, Joppa. That city where Jonah got into his trouble. V.36

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’ Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

Dorcas must have been a wonderful saint. She cared for people in extremely practical ways.  The Lord loves that kind of ministry!  V.40

“Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.”

And that exciting day leads up to this next story.

Simon Peter is living in Joppa with the other Simon, Simon the tanner.

And the Holy Spirit orchestrates the genuine spread of the gospel even to the Gentiles. Chapter 10, verse 1.

“At Caesarea [which is also in the North, not too far from Joppa] there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”

Cornelius is a Gentile.

He is God-fearing. He is generous. He is a good man, but he is a Gentile, not a Jew.

He is a Roman soldier. A commander of a group of 100 men known as the Boys from Italy.

Cornelius is a Gentile, and God has marked him out to be the bridge from the Jews to the Gentiles. V.3

“One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.’ When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.”

Got it?

Do you see how the Holy Spirit is orchestrating this whole thing?

Day One: An angel tells Cornelius to send for Peter.

Day Two: While the 3 men from Cornelius are traveling, the Holy Spirit talks to Peter. V.9

“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners.”

I’ve said it before that I always imagine this sheet to be red and white checks.

It’s time for Peter’s Picnic. V.12

“It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’”

Do you have the picture in your mind?

Peter’s hungry. And a giant picnic cloth from heaven drops down and has every animal that Leviticus forbids Peter to eat.

But God Himself says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

What’s going on?

I know one thing. It’s never smart to say, “Surely not, Lord!”

“No” and “Lord” don’t go in the same sentence together!

“I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

Good for you. Do it know.  V.15

“The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”

Three times!

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 
“Surely not, Lord.”

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

What’s going on?

Is this about food?  Well, yes and no. It’s about food and more than food.

It’s about people.

The Holy Spirit’s timing is perfect. V.17

“While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’”

And guess what? They are not Jews.

“Peter went down and said to the men, ‘I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?’ The men replied, ‘We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.’ Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

That’s amazing! That itself is amazing. That he would invite these Gentiles in to stay for hospitality. But it gets better than that. V.23

“The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along [witnessess]. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. [Something big is going to happen.] As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.  But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.’”
       
And both of us are here because of the Holy Spirit.  V.27

“Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Did you catch that?

Peter has figured out the meaning of the vision, the meaning of the picnic.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

“Do not call anyone impure that God has made clean.”

God is doing something new. V.29

“So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?’ Cornelius answered: ‘Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.' So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.’”

Can you feel his anticipation?

Here we are. We’re ready to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.

Give us the gospel!

Okay. Here it is.

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news [gospel] of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. We are witnesses [there’s our word again!] of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify [witness] that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’”

That’s the gospel, friends.

And it’s going to the Gentiles.

“You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judean and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” v.44

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message [and believed!]. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. [Remember when that happened on the Samaritans a couple of weeks ago in Acts 8?] For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God [this is FOR REAL]. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

They were baptized.

Not circumcised. Baptized.

They didn’t become Jews.

They became Christians.

Even the Gentiles!

Now, notice that they still needed the gospel.

Even though Cornelius was a pretty good man, upstanding, generous, seeking God in some real ways, it took the gospel of Jesus Christ and the baptism of the Holy Spirit for them to be saved.

Even Cornelius needed the gospel–but he got it and was saved!

And baptized. If you have never stepped forward in baptism, I want you to notice how important it is in the Bible, especially in Acts.

“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water?” (V.47).  They are genuine believers just like us. And genuine believers get baptized with water when they believe.

Even the Gentiles.

Now, we’re not done yet. What Peter has done will be controversial.

There will be people who are Jewish Christians who are not going to be happy with Peter’s actions. They will need some convincing. Chapter 11, verse 1.

“The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”

What. Were. You. Thinking?!!

Peter says, “I know, I know, I thought that the same thing, but let me tell you the story. V.4

“Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' ‘I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'”

“‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again. ‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.' ‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'

So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

Three questions as points of application this morning.

#1. EVEN US? GIVE THANKS THAT YOU HAVE BEEN INCLUDED!

I think that it’s easy to miss the fact that the picnic was about you and me here in Pennsylvania.

How many here are Jewish?

Anyone?

One tenth?  One hundredth?  Anybody know?

Acts 10 should be one of our favorite passages in the whole Bible.

Because this is where we come in.

Now, of course, God has always had a heart for the Gentiles. The whole point of Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles.

But it didn’t always work that way.

And before this point, you had to come into Judaism to come under God’s wings.

But now the even the Gentiles have been granted repentance unto life.

Even—you and me.

I wonder how many of us when we sat down to our Thanksgiving meals this last week gave thanks that we are included in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s not a forgone conclusion. It’s not something to be taken for granted.

It is all grace.

Even us.  Give thanks that you have been included.

Thank you, Lord!

#2. EVEN THEM? ACCEPT THOSE WHO ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM YOU.

I think that the lesson that Peter learned has a broader application than just that Jews should accept Gentiles as genuine Christians.

The Lord pounded this into Peter’s head:

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

But we do that all of the time when we fail to love other Christians who are different than we are.

Maybe they believe some minor point of doctrine differently than we do.
Maybe their skin color looks different than ours does.
Maybe they are rich or they are poor.
Both sets of those people enjoy excluding one another.

Maybe they talk different or have different traditions they practice.

Maybe they just get on our nerves.

But they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.

Acts 10:28, “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”

Accept those, as brothers and sisters, who are very different from you.
 
That does assume that you are a believer.

That’s our last point today.

#3. EVEN ME?  TURN TO JESUS TODAY.

You might think that you are too far for Him to reach, but you are not.

He makes the lame to walk and the dead to rise again!

Be like Cornelius and his friends and family and those folks in Lydda and Joppa.

Turn from sin and trust in Jesus, and you will be saved.

Come to Him, and you will be made clean.

That’s what he was doing when (chapter 10, verse 39), “they killed him by hanging on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and cause him to be seen.”

Turn from sin and believe in Jesus today.

Chapter 10, verse 43, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Even the Gentiles.

Messages So Far In this Series:
No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church
Stephen
Philip
Saul

Sunday, November 20, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Saul"

“Saul”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
November 20, 2011
Acts 9:1-31

Two week’s ago’s message was titled “Stephen.”

Last week’s message was titled “Philip.”

After church last week, someone told me, “I know what next week’s sermon is called.”
   
“What?”

“Saul.”

And that’s right.

Today’s message is about that murderous young man who was bent on destroying the fledgling church of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

And Saul said, “Not if I have anything to say about it!”

We met this “beast” two weeks ago when Stephen was stoned. Saul was there.  He was holding the coats of those who were pitching rocks at an innocent man.

And the Bible tell us that Saul was giving approval to his death.

“Yes! Yes! Let’s stomp out these Jesus freaks.”

More than that, Saul was dragging men and women out of their homes and tossing them into prison for believing in Jesus.

We’re going to see that he has not stopped. He has only gotten worse.

But something is going to happen to change all of that.

Chapter 9, verse 1.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”  Stop there for a second.

Saul has been very active as a persecutor of the church.

And successful. He’s tossed a lot of believers into the slammer.

Remember last week we read that the church had been scattered in this great persecution. And probably the greatest persecutor is Saul.

Saul is on a mission to stamp out the church.

And he’s willing to travel for it.

Damascus is 150 miles from Jerusalem, and in Syria, not even in Israel.

He gets authority to extradite Jesus-followers from faraway Syria and drag them back Jerusalem for trial. No one is safe from his clutches.

The church is scared of Saul. He is enemy #1.

And so Paul heads up the road to Damascus to make some arrests.

...But Saul is the one gets arrested. V.3

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’” Stop there for a second.

What a moment!

This story is told three times in the book of Acts.  Three times! It must be pretty important.

In one of the times, he says that the light from heaven in verse 3 was brighter than the sun.

All of sudden, Saul is surrounded by flashing light, brighter than the sun and he can’t see a thing, but he can hear something.

Someone asks him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Now, notice something there. Very important to note.

We are Jesus’ body.

When you persecute the church of Jesus Christ, you are persecuting Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my church?”  He could have. It would have been true.

He says, “Saul, Sual, why are you persecuting me?”

That how intimately Jesus associates Himself with us.  Chew on that for a while.

Saul could probably guess who is speaking, but he asks anyway, just to make sure.

“Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” v.7

“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.  [He saw the light and it was blinding.] So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Saul was arrested by Jesus.

He had planned to come roaring into Damascus to root out the followers of Christ.

And instead, he comes limping into Damascus, blind and helpless.

And for three days he fasted and prayed.  I think they were prayers of repentance and new faith.

Next step. V.10

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’”

Uhhhh. 

“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’”

Did you know about that Lord?

I’m just checking here, Lord. I’m not saying, “No.”

I’m just checking to make sure that I’m hearing you right.

Did you say, “Go to Saul?”  V.15

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’”

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Go, Ananias, and encourage Saul that he is my chosen instrument, and tell him that he will suffer.  V.17

“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Stop there for  a second.

I love that Ananias calls him “Brother.”

That’s the first time that Saul has ever been called “Brother” by a Christian.

And he will use that word again and again in his writings.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me to you. See and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And Saul could sing, “I once was blind but now I see.”

Notice that Saul gets baptized soon after getting saved.

That’s the normal pattern. Becoming a Christian. Signify that with water baptism.

And then Saul did something that not all Christians do. He began to preach! V.19 again.

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ [People can’t believe their ears.] Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”

This is not a flash-in-pan. This is no trick. Saul is convinced and converted and is seeking to win others to Christ. 

But it’s not easy. V.23

“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”

What a ironic twist.

This is what Saul came to Damascus to do. And now, he’s the target.

Later, he comes to Jerusalem.  V.26

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”

You can see their problem.

“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.”

Probably the same bunch who killed Stephen that he agreed with before. Now he’s the target. V.30

“When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. [His home town.] Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

That’s a healthy church!

“It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

That is was a great gift to the church after the great persecution.

Now, what lessons can we draw from this passage of Scripture?

It’s very familiar.

It’s very important to the story of Acts. Because this man Saul is going to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The one who stood opposed to Jesus’ promise is the one of the key people to fulfill it.

I’d like to make four points of application this morning. More could be said. And will be as we will hear this story told two more times as we study Acts together.

But these are four for us today.

#1. THERE IS REAL HOPE FOR HARD CASES.

Saul was the least likely person to become a follower of Christ.

This guy was stomping out the followers of Christ.

Now, he is one.

How did that happen?

Notice. Jesus came looking for Saul, not the other way around.

It’s Jesus.

Saul was arrested by Jesus.

Do you have someone in your life that you despair of their ever becoming a Christian?

They are just too far gone, too hardened, too spiteful, too bitter.

They say that they don’t want anything to do with Jesus.

Well, that was Saul.

So, your hard case is not beyond the power of God.

Don’t stop praying.
Don’t stop looking for opportunities to reach out with the love of Christ.
Don’t stop sharing the gospel just because they are a hard case.

There is real hope for hard cases.

They can change through Jesus!

And that goes for you, too.

It doesn’t have to be somebody far away who thinks they are two hard a case for the Lord.

Could be somebody right here in this room.

Not everyone has a Damascus Road conversion.

Nobody else I know got knocked off a donkey or horse by a blinding light to become a Christian!

For many of us, it was a quiet thing that happened, and we can’t even tell you when.

But we know that Jesus did arrested, and now we believe in Him.

There is real hope for hard cases.

Don’t give up on them.

Ladies, is there a hard case in your life right now that you should be inviting to the Women’s Christmas Tea?

Don’t just invite your Christian girlfriends from other churches.

They have their own things.

Invite some hardened lady who is skeptical of all of this Jesus stuff.

Invite somebody who once went to church but decided that it was just full of hypocrites and quit.

Invite somebody who hates Jesus. You might be surprised at what happens next.

#2. BECOMING A BELIEVER MEANS ACCEPTING SUFFERING.

Did you notice that when Saul become a Christian his life got harder, not easier?

We do people a disservice when we communicate to them that trusting Jesus will make their life a whole lot easier.

In one sense, it does, of course. It gives us new joy and a new outlook on life and a great ending to our own personal stories that makes it all worth it.

But becoming a Christian also means that we become servants of Jesus. In the words of verse 15, His “chosen instruments.”

And v.16, “I will show [Saul] how much he must suffer for my name.”

It’s not a bed of roses.

Following Christ is worth it, but it is not easy.

It could mean getting dropped out of town in a basket.
It could mean running for your life.

Becoming a believer means accepting suffering.

Have you heard the Lord say that to you?

“I will show [him, her] how much [they] must suffer for my name.”

Have you accepted that part of being a Christian?

It’s actually hard to be a new Christian.

That’s why we have point #3.

#3. WE NEED TO BEFRIEND NEW BELIEVERS.

I don’t look down on Ananias or the disciples in Jerusalem for their skepticism.

V.26 “They were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”

But what would have happened if Ananias or Barnabas had not taken that risk?

They were brave to reach out to that former monster and call him brother.

And more than that, sponsor him with the other believers.

Now, most new believers aren’t like Saul was. They aren’t former persecutors of the church.

But it’s still not easy to be a newbie.

We need to reach out and welcome sinners into our midst.

This church is good at that.

I’ve seen this church love on new believers whom they would not naturally be attracted to.

Someone who comes from a bad background.

We welcome them.

The church is for sinners.  The church is to be a hospital for sin-sick people, not a museum full of perfect exhibits.

Is there someone that you need to befriend? To reach out to and make sure they feel encouraged?

Let’s all be Ananiases and Barnabases.

And #4.  JUST ONE NEW CHRISTIAN CAN MAKE A BIG IMPACT.

We have only just begun to see what Saul is going to do.

He’s going to be the first major missionary of the early church.

He’s going to end up writing 13 books of the New Testament.

We know him even better by the name “Paul.”

Just one person becoming a follower of Christ.

What kind of difference could that make?

All of the difference in the world.

Which brings me back to the question that we’ve been asking ourselves for the last few weeks.

“What is stopping you?”

What is stopping you and me from talking to others about Jesus?

We might only lead one person to faith in Christ.

But what if that person is the next Saul?

Just one new Christian can make a huge impact.

Let’s not give up.

Let’s not stop now.

Let’s be like this new Christian here in Acts 9 who wasn’t hardly a follower of Christ for a few days before he was telling others about Jesus.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving.

The thing we have most be thankful for this year is the same every year.

Jesus.

Jesus, who is the real hope for hard cases.
Jesus, who shows us how much we must suffer for his name, and how much He is worth it.
Jesus, who befriended sinners like us.
Jesus, who uses us to make a big impact if we will only just follow Him.

Let’s be thankful for Jesus.

Messages So Far In this Series:
No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church
Stephen
Philip