Jesus shunned the devil’s shortcut to splendour and chose the slow task of building God’s Kingdom person by person by way of the cross. Alone “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” Today’s passage shows how Jesus is qualified to answer that prayer.
I’ve been watching a show on TV called 'Alone', it’s a survival show, survive for the longest in the wilderness and you win.
It is you versus a slice of freezing Canadian (or wherever) wilderness. Your only shelter is what you can build, your only food is what you can collect or catch eg fish, leaves and slugs.
You get no help, you don’t even know where the other competitors are, let alone how they are going. You just will have to persevere for weeks and months on end, hoping the other competitors ‘tap out’ and quit first. If you’re the last person standing you go home with half a million dollars.
Now, the interest in watching the show is that it's about people’s stamina as they face incredible hardships, as they basically starve, lose their body fat, lose their minds, as they face the temptation to ‘tap out’ at any moment, to press the button on their sat phone and get evacuated back to food, warmth and shelter.
Jesus was led into temptation and it was on no reality show.
He didn’t hunt and gather, He fasted for 40 days, He was as hungry as you can get. Imagine confronting your enemy after that! His body, mind and will would be at breaking point. You can see how He would be so vulnerable to the temptation to ‘tap out’.
To ‘Tap out’ by the way is really a martial arts term when you’ve been wrestled to the ground, and you tap on the floor to say ‘You’ve got me, I submit, I give in.’
Since our forefather Adam in the garden, we’ve been tapping out under temptation. Adam and Eve ate fruit in a paradise where they already had every God-given food and comfort they needed. Israel tapped out and gave in countless times, especially in their 40 years in the wilderness and you can see the parallel here with Jesus’ 40 days. Israel grumbled and complained, they turned to despair, and they ended up dancing around like idiots worshipping a golden calf.
All of us humans, none of us, you or me, can kid ourselves that we’re above tapping out. Giving in to our appetites, be they terrible vices or more commonly hidden, but equally sinful sins.
Who will rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God who rescues us through Jesus Christ our Lord! Let’s see how that plays out here…
There are four sections to this chapter. Let’s look at them in turn.
You know what Jesus was being tempted to here? To take a shortcut to splendour. He was tempted by the devil to gain all the kingdoms of the world without the pain of the cross. He need only tap out and give in.
And make no mistake, if Jesus had succumbed, you and I would not be here today. We would have no salvation, we would be slaves to the devil.
Everything hung in the balance here in the desert.
Now temptation only works if you are given a genuinely attractive offer. Take the first one.
…“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” ~Matthew 4:3b (NIV)
He is the Son of God, He has just been told that by the voice from heaven after His baptism. The devil doesn’t try to dispute that, just twists what it means. Surely a quick fast-food miracle would be fine for the Son of God? There is no one around to even see! It would be nothing! Just like Israel eating Manna in the desert, what’s the big deal? But it would be the first step on a slippery slope of putting his own needs ahead of God’s.
Jesus will listen to only one voice! “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of Lord.’” (Deuteronomy 8:3b)
One voice only. The Spirit of God had descended on Him like a dove, had led him into the wilderness, He would only obey His voice. And note where the Spirit’s voice is found here - it is found in Scripture. Do you know Scripture well enough to use it when temptation comes?
A servant is not above his Master, don’t think for a moment that you won’t be tempted by reasonable-sounding whispers:
James says we have to learn to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) Jesus resisted with the words of Scripture. Are you reading? Memorising? Praying over Scripture? Do you know it well enough to use it?
I have heard sermons on the temptation of Jesus that are all like that, all about following Jesus’ example as we face temptation. But this passage is about what Jesus did for us, before it is an example of what we’re supposed to do.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:5-6 (NIV) [Psalm 91:11,12]
What is the temptation here? Why would Jesus be remotely interested in throwing Himself off the biggest precipice in Jerusalem?
There is the temptation!
But Jesus won’t be sucked in
“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ~Matthew 4:7b (NIV) [Deuteronomy 6:16]
The devil might have quoted Scripture, but he uses it in a way that puts God to the test, far from submitting to the rule of Scripture, he manipulates it. But again, Jesus will only listen to one voice, He won’t twist God’s arm for His own comfort. The voice at Jesus’ baptism identified Him as not just the ruling Messiah, but the wording echoes Isaiah’s suffering servant. To be the Son of God is to suffer! He will go to the cross! Jesus will not shortcut to splendour. He stays on task.
The devil pulls out the big guns here,
…the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:7-8 (NIV)
Imagine being offered the American Presidency? Well, big deal! you’re never going to change the world even with that for just a few years. But this is different! This is permanent presidency/prime ministership/Kingship over every nation. Every time. From the Roman Empire to the Chinese. But…
…“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” ~Matthew 4:10 (NIV) [Deuteronomy 6:13]
Enough! Away from me! This is the same voice that will finally send the devil to hell, Jesus takes charge, He will not be distracted, He stays on mission.
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. ~Matthew 4:11 (NIV)
Notice that Jesus resisted calling down angels to rescue him earlier but now he gets angels! Caring, feeding and restoring him! He never tapped out and God came through. The angels know who He is. And they will sustain this suffering Messiah for the long path ahead.
And that path begins in our next paragraph.
1. Jesus is the Great light
Jesus begins his ministry by moving house, but this is more than a sea change! It parks him right in the heart of the old Israelite tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali. They had long since been smashed by the Assyrians so that the area now had mixed blood. It wasn’t considered pure Israel like Judah was… it was now: ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. Which says a lot about Jesus, He had come for all 12 tribes, not just pure and proud Judah. And the mention of Gentiles is a hint that He had come for more than just these 12 tribes too!
None of this should surprise a Bible reader… in fact it should excite us, as Matthew makes clear by quoting Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” ~Matthew 4:15-16 (NIV)
And the excitement really comes if we read on a couple of verses later in Isaiah:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne… ~Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)
The old Northern tribes of Israel had been stuck in terrible darkness since they broke away from Judah 9 centuries earlier, their dodgy kings stopped them from going to the temple in Jerusalem, stopped them from living under the kings in David’s line, and made them worship more golden calves and then they were exiled. It was a long, long, dark, dark night. The very shadow of death. But now the dawn has come… a great light draws near the horizon!
Are you an early riser? It is not my thing but when I force myself to get up early, I always love it. I woke up at 4 am on my day off one winter’s morning and couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to get up and drive to Mt Hay in the Blue Mountains, it has views in all directions. As I arrived, there was a glow 100km to the east, over Sydney’s CBD, I could see all the city buildings in the crisp morning air but beyond it was the light of dawn, a glow that grew and grew until the Sun blinded my eyes an hour later.
Jesus is the Great Light for broken, sinful, deathly Israel and He walked into their villages, crying out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
At last! Near, like dawn on the horizon because the King has come. The Prince of Peace, claiming David’s throne forever!!
But notice the message, the kingdom of heaven, the great light, is for those who repent, who stop living in darkness, accept the King on His terms of pardon.
This is just like John the Baptist’s preaching but we have more information now. The King has come, He has passed the test in the wilderness. Three years later He will pass the test on the cross. He never tapped out. He demands we repent and follow Him and enjoy THE LIGHT, who overcame sin, death and the devil for us. Let me plead with you today, if you haven’t yet, repent and turn to Jesus and live under his peace! Be like those being baptised today, repent, and know their joy!
2. Jesus recruited fishermen
Do you want to know what repentance and kingdom living looks like? Look no further than Peter and Andrew, or James and John. Jesus says jump and they say ‘how high’?
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. …and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. ~Matthew 4:19-20, 22 (NIV)
‘At once’, ‘immediately’ they leave their old life behind and follow the King. They are in His service now, they would literally follow him on foot for three years, learning how to fish for men and women. This is the best Bible college or MTS ever!
The challenge of this passage for us, is their willingness. Now they may have already known Jesus, but when the call comes they turn their backs on all that is familiar and comfortable – their jobs, their father and they sign up immediately. How willing are you? Jesus is not an accessory that you add on to life, another god to add to the shelf. He is the LIGHT at the centre of your new life, and He calls you to go fishing.
How willing are you?
You get the idea. Where is God nudging you to serve? “immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” And it is an exciting task.
3. The news is good!
When Jesus goes fishing for people throughout Galilee the response is staggering:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis,Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. ~Matthew 4:23-25 (NIV)
Why is the fishing so good? Are the crowds so big? Because the news is truly good news. We can so easily forget that!
We get used to Jesus and lose the sense of wonder. He is truly amazing! Have you ever had a brand new Christian join your Growth Group of old-timers? It is the best thing for the group! Everyone gets to see the wonder of Jesus again through the new Christian’s eyes. Everyone’s joy gets rekindled!
These verses picture an amazing foretaste of the Kingdom of God, sickness, demon possession, & disability are all erased on the spot. In Jesus, the curse upon Adam in the garden is temporarily reversed. At the cross in a few years, Jesus will utterly undo it! The Great Light is dawning! And the crowds see it! They come from every corner of the old Israel and even beyond.
Think about it… this joy will be ours for all eternity! Imagine Jesus walking down your street in heaven, as he has ten thousand times before, and you’re rushing out to see Him again. Heart filled with joy and wonder that you, of all people, you, are even there at all! Looking again at the nail scars in his hands and feet, evidence that your sin, though deadly, was fully paid for. That is why we should go out and fish for people! Good news is good and not to be kept to ourselves!
Not tapping out, drawing all this together. On Monday nights a group of MBM men don’t just pray ‘keep us from temptation’ to pornography, but take action. They meet. Support one another & pray. And see progress. As we mentioned last week, you can join them, just email [email protected] and the guy at the other end of that email will give you some info in confidence.
Those guys seek God’s help to not ‘tap out’.
But how are they different to anyone else out there who wants to overcome sin? Because they have a Saviour who withstood temptation for them! Jesus is a GREAT LIGHT to us because He resisted the darkness of the evil one for us!
Imagine if we resist the temptation to be saved? The leader of the denomination we used to be part of in Thailand impressed everyone by fasting for 40 days like Jesus! Then depressed everyone by committing adultery soon after.
Jesus is a great light because He did what Israel, you and I, failed in again and again. He withstood the devil and his schemes and then went a step further, utterly disarming the devil through his death and resurrection.
Matthew chapter 4 is not about Jesus giving an example of how to fight, though a great example it is, it is about Jesus winning the war for us! Securing our salvation. Only saved people can learn the art of not tapping out.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. ~Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
In Jesus we have mercy when we tap out. In Jesus we have grace to help us not to next time.
And filled with His Spirit, you have the power to not tap out.
So, there you are with your girlfriend or boyfriend, the lights are low, the music is on, you swore you were never going to let this happen, but now every nerve in your body is electricity, you’re here now and you’ve never felt such desire to go further. The devil is whispering in your ear that it is no problem, enjoy this, to hold back is unnatural, don’t think about tomorrow, you’ll never be in this moment again. Well, let me tell you, you can stand up, go for a walk together and cool off so to speak, you do have the power to step off that slippery slope you were starting to slide down, you can say ‘no’. More than that, you can say ‘yes’ to glorifying God, building trust with this one you love, building integrity, holiness, witness. “Away from me Satan”.
Jesus said that for you so that you can walk in His victory and not tap out!
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light”
Today I want to begin by teaching you an Ancient Anglican Liturgy taken from our Scripture text: God is good… All the time… And all the time… God is good. In the sermon when you hear me say, “God is good”, then I want you to say the next line. This is the main message that Jesus wants us to see in this part of His sermon.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Jesus wants us to see that His Father is good! He uses his sun and rain to create a safe space where all people can see his goodness. And this is how he wants us to treat others.
Why is Jesus the King calling God a Father? and why would he want us to be children of our heavenly Father? Why is it so important to Jesus that we see his Father as good? Why do we, in fact so many people, find it hard to see God as good?
Jesus is going to answer these questions for us in three ways:
God is good… All the time… And all the time… God is good.
So, what’s wrong with us? You can be excused for thinking the way we fix our problems is to try harder! Righteousness must exceed the scribes and Pharisees! Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Trying harder to keep God’s laws is not what Jesus is saying.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, Raca, is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, You Fool! will be in danger of the fire of hell. ~Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)
What does it look like to be children of our good and loving Father in heaven? Not murder! Being children in God’s family looks like a relationship with God and others. Murder is the ultimate destruction of a relationship. Jesus uses the 6th commandment to show us the perversion of our hearts. There are other ways to kill a relationship than pulling the trigger. Raca! You Fool! I am most like this when I drive. When I am in my home!
We are in danger of the fire of hell. Hell is eternal separation from God and others in a place of torment! Do you see what Jesus is doing? The purpose of the law is not only to show us the perversion of our hearts but to protect us here and NOW! When our anger turns to bitterness, we experience a destructive fire burning inside us. “Bitterness is a poison we drink hoping to kill someone else.”
What do we do? We make restoring relationships a TOP priority. Settle matters quickly. Do it while you are still together! BEFORE you are locked up in the prison of your own self-righteousness, arrogance and conceit. Looking down your nose at others while blind to the fact you are looking down from the tower of your own prison cell. God NEVER treats anyone this way - not even his enemies. He is PERFECT. He sends his sun and rain on all people. He gives generously to billions who not only don’t know him but don’t even want to know him.
God is good… All the time… And all the time… God is good.
We not only abuse anger but we twist God’s good gift of sexuality.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. ~Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32 (NIV)
Murder destroys lives and relationships while a divorce is always the tragic end of a relationship that started in love.
“The man who divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect.” ~Malachi 2:16 (NIV)
Whether it is the man or the woman who does the divorcing, it is always traumatic! If you have suffered the trauma of divorce and need help, please speak to me or our women’s pastor, Kim, so we can help you encounter God’s healing love.
The marvel of God’s law is it gives protection to those who are victims of other people breaking God’s law. It also pulls back the protection we place over our hearts and exposes our deepest longing on the inside. God placed protective boundaries around our sexuality when he made us male and female. The latest statistics say 16% of American young people are now struggling with issues of gender.
Our Bishop, Gary Cou, told us in a recent staff meeting that the number one reason people struggle to listen to the Christian gospel are concerns around issues of sexuality. As I have been speaking to others about God’s goodness over the past few months, I have come against this roadblock several times. We have been told by our culture that in order to have REAL life, to truly be satisfied, we must be free to pursue and express our sexual longings any way we want. God sends his sun and rain on everyone! GK Chesterton wrote, “The man who knocks on the brothel door is knocking for God.” Jesus tells us that even in our sexuality we are looking for relationship with God. Whether we look at porn, commit adultery, change our bodies from one sex to another, these actions will never satisfy the deepest longing of our heart for connection.
Here’s the bomb of the sermon: If you keep this law 100% and you marry someone who does the same, sex will not satisfy you. “If you don’t sleep around before you are married you will have a great sex life.” As if a great sex life is the goal! What if you are single? In the eyes of the church, single people can sometimes be seen as second class citizens to those married with children. This is NOT the view of Paul who wished all people could be single like himself.
Apparently, Jesus had a very successful life without ever getting married or having sex. In Augustine’s Confessions St. Augustine writes, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Our sexuality is a precious, beautiful gift from God - that is to be made male and female. But to think we can find the answer to the longing in our hearts in God’s good gift would be to love the gift more than that Giver Himself.
I don’t know where you have been knocking looking for God, but I do know this, Jesus is right when he says, do whatever it takes to get out of sexual bondage. Just as anger leads to the destruction of relationships in the fire of hell, so can twisting God’s good gift of sex.
Steve, I don’t know if I can trust you! A recent study of Americans showed that in 1964 77% trusted politicians. Today 16 %
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. ~Matthew 5:33-37 (NIV)
These verses raise questions: Do I swear an oath in court? Do I sign a sworn document?
Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. Trust is the essence of a relationship and it’s no different in our relationship with God. The original lie of Satan. We abuse anger, twist sexuality, break trust and fail to bring justice.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. ~Matthew 5:38-41 (NIV)
It sounds like Jesus is advocating abuse! He stood up to the religious leaders and rebuked the high priest. So, what is he saying - we are the ones who act unjustly? Take my eye and I’ll take both of yours. Shame me on Facebook I’ll post photos on Facebook and Instagram! This may be how we treat our enemies but that is not how God treats His! His sun and his rain.
God is good… All the time… And all the time… God is good.
What is turn the other cheek all about? In Eastern culture when someone slapped you on the cheek they were not trying to hurt your body but your reputation. They were shaming or insulting you. When you are God’s dearly loved child - remember - This is my dearly loved Son? You are in a safe place. You are protected from all other insults and shame because there is NO condemnation.
So you can give someone the shirt off your back, you can go the extra mile even for your enemies. That’s what God does for us and way more. While we were his enemies Christ died for us. We have abused anger, twisted our sexuality, broken trust, done violence to justice and now God sums up all his law by telling us to love our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? ~Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)
Remember Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment of all? WE love people who are like us and we despise those who are not. The algorithms of social media are set up to feed this trait! Even in church it is easier to talk to people we know rather than those we don’t. Differences makes us uncomfortable. So Jesus says, Be perfect! We have to be made perfect, mature, complete. James tells us to rejoice in our trials and suffering because it makes us complete, lacking nothing, Jesus was made perfect in his suffering.
When we see Jesus hanging on the cross we see more than a man dying. We see a man trusting as he cries out Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Imagine the delight in Jesus when he comes out of the grace on Easter Sunday morning?! Yes!!! I knew my Father would not leave my body and soul in the grave. Jesus invites you to take time to enjoy God’s safe place and there come to know him as your Father. And in relationship with God.
In the last couple of weeks, we have looked at the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus has been teaching his followers what the lives of those who follow Him would look like. Here at MBM, we have handbooks, of the expectations and character qualities of what it would look like to be a part of a ministry team.
A handbook on what it looks like to be on Jesus’ team, to be a citizen of heaven. In the chapter before this Jesus taught His followers that they should go above and beyond, to live a righteous life i.e. a life that is doing the right thing by God. And in the passage we’re looking at today, Jesus challenges us on the motivation behind why we do the things we do. He challenges us to think about what’s our motivation behind doing the right thing.
Have you ever thought about that? Why do you do the things you do? What motivates you to do what you do? Everything we do has some sort of motivation behind it.
Think about your job. What is it that motivates you to get out of bed each morning and go to work? There may be some of you who love your job. But I’m guessing for most it’s to get paid so you can pay your bills.
If you’re at school or in uni, what motivates you to study? Maybe it’s because you love whatever it is you’re studying but for some of you it’s just to get your marks and pass.
Behind everything we do, there’s some sort of motivation. It may be a little motivation or it may be a lot of motivation. But motivation is what often drives us to do things.
When I in was year 6, we had just moved to Australia and there was this girl that I was head over heels for. And whatever chance I would get, I’d try and hang out with her and she used to do gymnastics after school so guess what, I was pretty motivated to do gymnastics. Now, I had no desire or passion to do gymnastics, no way was I flexible! But I was motivated to do it because I wanted to get the girl!
The reason we do the things we do in life is that we’re all driven by some sort of motivation. Even logging on or coming to church today, what was the motivation for you turning up? Maybe some of you were dragged here, you did it to keep your spouse or your kids happy. Maybe some of you are here because you think it’s a sense of duty.
In this passage that we’re looking at today, Jesus wants us to question our motivation as to why we do what we do. Specifically in this context, He wants us to question, what’s our motivation behind our acts of righteousness. What drives you to worship God?
In this passage, Jesus does this by giving us a principle and then applies this principle in three practical examples. In each example, Jesus addresses our wrong motivation behind doing the right thing and points us towards what our motivation should be.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
The principle Jesus is laying down is that if: “DO THE ‘RIGHT THING’ IN ORDER TO BE RECOGNISED BY OTHERS” If that’s our motivation, we have no recognition from God.
Now I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ words cut straight to my heart. One of the things about me is that I’m a people pleaser. I find it so hard to say “No” to people because I want their approval. I mean I did gymnastics in order to get that girl to like me! And as I was preparing for this talk, I believe that God was exposing the wrong motives in my heart of why I do some of the things I do.
When I started here at MBM, God taught me that I cared more about performing to please others rather than to serve Him. My role used to be overseeing our gatherings and getting feedback about how a service went etc. My motivation was to do the right thing, execute well, in order to get good feedback. I cared more about what Ray thought rather than purely serving to the glory of God.
Honestly, that’s why I think God has me preaching this sermon because I struggle with this first-hand! But I can’t be the only one… But I know I can’t be the only one! I’m sure many of you struggle with it too. The desire to please others, to get their approval. And I’ve been praying, that as we listen to what Jesus has to say that the Holy Spirit will reveal the areas of your life where you too may have the WRONG motivation behind why you do some of the things you do.
So, let’s have a look at how Jesus takes this principle and applies it in real-life situations. He applies it to three parts of what was common in Jewish worship. Giving to the poor, prayer and fasting.
Principle 1 - Giving
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)
God had commanded his people, in the Old Testament, to take care of the poor and needy, to show compassion to them. One of these ways was to give money to the poor, it was an important part of Jewish worship. But instead of this being an act of righteousness, instead of it being about caring for the needy, it became about the applauding of others. People would give and take care of the needy, in public places like synagogues and streets so that people could see what they were doing. That was their motive.
And the word Jesus uses to describe such a person is a hypocrite. The word hypocrite best translates to the word actor. In Greek plays a hypocrite i.e. the actor would wear a mask, pretending to be someone they’re not. In other words, they would put on a show and deceive others. They look one way on the outside but, there was something else on the inside. And the way ‘hypocrite’ is used here, could be hinting that not only does the hypocrite deceive others, but they also deceive themselves! Genuinely thinking they’re doing the right thing!
And just like an actor comes out at the end of a play and waits for the applause, likewise, the hypocrite waits for the applause of the audience. That’s what motivates them to do what they do. Their motivation behind their compassion is to receive glory for themselves. And Jesus says, Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. The reward for the hypocrite, those of us who are motivated to do the ‘right thing’ to be seen by others, is the applause of people, and nothing more. You get recognised by others, but you get no recognition from God.
But Jesus says, if you’re on my team, that shouldn’t be your motivation on why you take care of the needy, on why you ‘do the right thing’. You’re not to “sound the trumpet”, and draw attention to what you’re doing. As followers of Jesus, we’re not to post on social media and say, “Look at how generous I am!” “Look at how compassionate I’m being!” Instead, those of us who are followers of Jesus are to give secretly. So secretly, that our ‘left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing’!
You see, our motivation, the Christian’s motivation, isn’t the applause of others. But is to please our heavenly Father, our reward is to know that he sees our generosity, sees our compassion. And it’s His approval that truly matters!
A friend of ours was going through a tough time at the start of COVID. Her husband had lost his job and she was only working part-time. They had kids to support and they had just moved into a new house. It was a stressful time and they were struggling financially. And then they received a large amount of money from an anonymous friend. The result of that was that this lady posted on Facebook, praising God for taking care of them. That’s what Jesus is talking about! She still doesn’t know till today, who gave them the money. But that generosity pointed this woman, her family and probably the hundreds of people who read that post, towards God. No one knows who that person is, but their Father in heaven knows what they’ve done.
Donations for Youth Camp, we are encouraged by the generosity of Launch donations. It is an expensive camp, and your generosity enables our youth to hear about Jesus and grow deeper in their relationship with him. Many people will never know who you are but your heavenly Father knows! That’s what counts! That’s the reward followers of Jesus look forward to.
But maybe you’re thinking, hmm, that doesn’t sound like much of a reward. Doesn’t he know everything anyway? That’s not much motivation. If that’s you, can I encourage you to ask yourself, Am I on Jesus’ team? Am I a citizen of heaven? You see Jesus gave his life, for hypocrites like you and I, people who constantly struggle with the wrong motives so that we can be a part of God’s family. Because of Jesus, we can call the God of this universe Father!
By rising again from the dead, and giving us the Holy Spirit, He has given us new hearts and a new understanding of what truly matters in life. What we value, what we see as a reward, is different to those who are outside the value. The reward that the hypocrite gets is only temporary, it doesn’t last forever. A thousand years from now, people aren’t going to know your name, who you are, what you did with your life, but a thousand years from now, God the Father will know what you did. And the only opinion that will matter is His.
You see, when you start seeing life through the perspective of Jesus, it changes EVERYTHING! What you see as a reward changes, the only approval that matters is your father in heaven.
Let me encourage you, if you don’t see being known by God as a reward then get in touch with us, come to Explaining Christianity. Hear of God’s love for you and find the joy of being known by Him through Jesus.
As a Christian, our motive isn’t the applause of others but the recognition of our Father in heaven.
Principle 2 – Prayer
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Lord’s Prayer – 9-15) ~Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)
Again, just like in the example of giving, Jesus says that if our motive behind prayer is to impress others, then we’ve received our reward in full. In Jewish culture, the synagogue was the centre of Jewish life. like the temple, synagogues were known as a house of prayer. Now often the ruler of the synagogue would call on individuals to pray. And the picture that Jesus is giving us is of someone who is ‘standing’ to pray, obviously to be noticed. Jesus isn’t condemning standing and praying but again, Jesus is getting at the motivation behind prayer. The hypocrite prays to be noticed by others. But Jesus encouragement to his disciples is to go into room, shut the door and pray to your Father who sees what is done in secret.
Now, what does Jesus mean that we need to pray in secret? In fact, for all three examples, giving, prayer and fasting, Jesus says that they need to be done in secret. Does that mean we should never do the ‘righteous’ things in public? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. It would contradict what he said back in Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)
What Jesus is getting at is the motive behind why we pray, why we do the right thing. You see the right motivation is what Jesus describes in Chapter 5:16. It’s so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”
If we think that prayer is about impressing others, we miss the gift that prayer is. What Jesus is teaching us here, is that prayer is about a relationship with your Father in heaven. It’s not about impressing those who are listening. Look at verses 7-8, you don’t have to babble on and on and on as if somehow that would be more effective. Jesus says, that’s what the pagans do, but you see the pagans had no concept, of a God who is like a father who cares and responds to His people. Jesus shows us that to pray to God as our heavenly Father indicates a personal relationship. It’s intimate.
My daughter Isla, doesn’t have to come to me prepared with big words to try and get me to do something for her. She doesn’t even know how to talk to yet! But she knows she can come to me because I’m her dad and she knows she’ll find love and protection. Because of Jesus you’ve got the ear of God of this universe. You can relate with him like a child does with their Father, He cares for you and wants you to come to Him.
Jesus then goes on to give us an outline on how we should pray. That’s motivation we should have when coming to God in prayer. Like a child to a Father. Not to impress others. If that’s our motivation, we miss the gift of prayer.
Principle 3 – Fasting
Lastly, Jesus ends with the example of fasting.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. ~Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)
Now I’m not going to go into detail about fasting because it can take a whole sermon, you can look at that in your growth groups. But briefly, fasting is to deny yourself of something, most of the time food, to focus on God.
Fasting isn’t done, because we lack anything. We lack nothing in Jesus but rather the act of fasting says, “God you’re more important than food” “You’re more important than whatever I’m giving up.” In Jesus' day the religious leaders fasted twice a week. They didn’t have to do that, it was a law they added on. But Jesus shows us that their motivation wasn’t to focus on God, it was so others would notice them. When they fasted, they wouldn’t shave or bathe and they would have this ‘sombre’ aurora about them so that people would be like “Wow” look how religious they are. It’s all about the show.
But Jesus says to his disciples when you fast, he does expect them to fast, when you fast, don’t let anyone know the difference. Comb your hair, put some perfume on, fasting is between you and your Father no one else needs to know. There’s no need for a performance.
You see we live in a ‘hustle’ culture, we want people to know how busy we are, how much work we’re doing. I guarantee you; you’ll have a conversation this week where you’ll ask someone how they’re going and the response is, “Ah, I’m busy”. I’m working so hard. And they probably are, but they want people to know. But we can do the same thing as the church, we want people to know how much we do, we want them to know how ‘busy’ we are for the Lord.
You see this principle that Jesus applies to Fasting/Prayer/Giving isn’t limited to these three acts of righteousness. It APPLIES TO EVERYTHING we do in life. The next time you’re kind to someone, or donate money or help someone out or serve at church, ask yourself, “What’s my motivation to do this?”
You know the beautiful thing about it is, that there’s freedom that comes from doing the right thing for your Father in heaven alone. Being a people pleaser is hard! I know first-hand. It’s like this weight that you carry around all the time, it’s tiring always trying to please people.
But Jesus sets us free from that, because of Him we have the full approval of God. We don’t need to please anyone else. Imagine how that would change the way you approached being generous to someone and they didn’t say thanks. Your heavenly father knows what you did or the hours you put into serving here at church, but no one notices. Your heavenly father notices and at the end of the day, that’s what counts.
There is at least one person in your life you are in a power struggle with. A power struggle is where “One person is trying to change another and the other person is refusing to be changed.” Where a person wants you to be a certain kind of person or do a certain thing but you don’t want to be that kind of person or do what they are demanding. The classic mistake in marriage is that each person enters thinking, often unknowingly, they will change the other person only to discover the other person doesn’t want to change.
I remember one pastor, Paul Tripp, in the US saying how his wife was constantly talking to him about his anger. So one day he bit back and said ‘95% of the women of his church would love to be married to me’. She responded by saying “I must be part of the other 5%”
In one sense the birth of Jesus created the biggest power struggle of all, Herod wanted to kill Jesus and Jesus refuses to be killed.
It's surprising because there is nothing more powerless than a baby. They are powerless, if you don't feed them they don't get fed, if you don't change them they smell, if you don't move them they stay put. Their only weapon is their scream.
All of which makes the reaction of King Herod to the birth of a baby a little surprising. A child is born in Bethlehem and a 70-year-old King is terrified, in fact, all of the city of Jerusalem is disturbed.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. ~Matthew 2:1-3 (NIV)
King Herod is seriously worried, the child born is called “the King of the Jews” but that was Herod's title. The Roman Senate, 40 years before, declared Herod to be King of the Jews. What we have here is the clash of two Kings, two very different Kings.
First - The child Jesus was the legit king, He had the credentials-genealogy. The Bible predicted that God's appointed forever King had to be Human: Jewish; Tribe of Judah; Line of David; Born of a Virgin in the town of Bethlehem.
Jesus ticks all the boxes predicted in the bible. Herod on the other hand was the illegitimate King, that is why he burnt his own family records.
If you think you’re a little insecure? You have nothing on King Herod. Josephus the Roman Historian tells us that Herod saw everyone as a threat. He had murdered his favourite wife, he killed his own 3 sons along with the mother in law, brother in law and uncle as well as a cast of thousands It was said, “it was safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son.” Herod is so terrified of being dethroned that he organised the mass slaughter of every boy under two in Bethlehem
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. ~Matthew 2:6 (NIV)
How different are these two kings? Herod was the butcher of Bethlehem, he spills the blood of hundreds of boys. He did not want to share his power and every boy under two paid the price. This is the dark side of Christmas. Jesus in contrast would only allow his own blood to be spilt at the cross. When they came to arrest Jesus he said to Peter “Put your sword away, I'm the only one dying this weekend.”
No surprise that 30 years later Jesus would hang under the sign: "This is the King of the Jews" (In Matt 2 is the only time King of Jews is used in a positive way re Jesus and by Outsiders) so the world would know it was written in 3 languages.
The coming of Jesus peels open the desperation we humans have for power and control. CS Lewis, who wrote Narnia, tells how he was wrestling with letting God take control.
"What mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, …Christianity placed at the centre of what then seemed to me the great interferer.… what I wanted; some area, however small of which I could say to all other beings "This is my business and mine only" He wanted some area of his life where he could fence God out, with barbed wire and guard it with a notice that said “No admittance!”
Deep-seated resistance to give up control to King Jesus. Does this sound familiar? Of course, it does. Even as Christians we have those corners of our life where we say to God “Stay out”.
Rebellion to Christ may not always look as ugly as Herod wiping out every boy under two. Most often it's just ignoring Jesus' claim on our life. Most adopt a passive-aggressive posture to Jesus. How do we often treat people we are in a power struggle with, by limiting contact and tolerating them 2-3 hrs in the year. And maybe that is what we do with God… give him 2-3 hours a year…We are engaged in a power struggle.
Remember: A power struggle is defined this way “One person trying to change another and the other person refusing to be changed.”
Either God wants to change you and you are refusing to be Changed or you are trying to change God to agree with you and he is refusing to be changed. Herod does not want to change and worship Jesus.
There is no power struggle between wise men and Jesus, the Magi were wise men from the East, probably Persian, modern-day Iran.
I read one cartoon that said if the 3 wise men were instead 3 wise women:
It doesn’t say there were 3 of them nor that they were kings. The Magi studied the stars, probably royal advisers to the courts of the eastern nations. They came to realise that to worship the true God you must worship his Son, King Jesus.
They stopped worshipping the stars and came following a star.
Somehow (and we don't know how) they have been told that a star will take them to the King of the Jews. Do you know what makes these Magi wise? In fact, what makes anyone wise is that they worship God's appointed King of Kings. Jesus is God's way to God.
They say you can't grow your IQ but you can grow your EQ. You can definitely grow your Wisdom. There are in the end only 2 options for worship, you either worship the true God or yourself.
The Magi come to worship because they recognize Jesus as the King of Kings. They came and bow before him and were filled with Joy. They came bearing gifts fit for a King, giving him their best. They had come to worship, not the stars, but the one who created the stars. That is what you do to God's king.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. ~Matthew 2:11 (NIV)
While the wise men travel 800km to worship, Herod cant travel 8km to go to Bethlehem. People say I want to worship Jesus but not to gather each week. In the end, you can't win if you enter a power struggle against Jesus. Herod, he plans, he plots and plays his many games and it's all a waste of effort and time, it is so futile.
What is crystal clear is that God is in control. Each time Herod plots to kill Jesus God gives Joseph and the Magi dreams, telling them to move on, change direction, like a game of chess.
Herod is outsmarted and checkmated. God is so in control as he always is.
Entering into a power struggle with God is like seeing a Buffalo run headlong into a train, you may admire its courage but you have to doubt its wisdom. The Buffalo is going to come off second best.
Are you in a power struggle with God? Who do you worship?
There are one of two options, You or God. Herod worshipped himself, his need for Power, Control, Comfort and Approval. Can you identify these idols.
If you seek power or success, or winning or influence
If you seek approval
If you seek comfort (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)
If you seek control (self-discipline, certainty, standards)
Whether it's power, approval, comfort or control, Jesus says it's time to be set free and worship me. Jesus says I am no longer a baby in a manger, I have become a man who lived the life you should have lived. I no longer hang on a cross, the price for your sins has been paid. I no longer lay in a tomb, I've risen, never to die again. I am now seated at the right hand of the father above all power and authority. I will come back and on my thighs are tattooed the words ‘King of King and Lord of Lords’
Your longing for power will be satisfied for you will sit on my throne and your desire for approval will be met, for I love you. Your need for Comfort will be addressed for I will be with you 24/7, you will have rest. Your yearning for Control will be satisfied for all authority in heaven and earth has been give to me, you can relax.
Your power struggle with me needs to come to an end. Let this day be the day when Jesus is your king and your saviour.
There was a time when different States had different mottos on their number plates
Different local councils had different mottos: Sutherland shire is "the birthplace of a nation". Botany Bay is where Captain Cook landed. Nothing like a few years to make us realise how insensitive that sounds to first nation people.
But for Israel, her birthplace was the wilderness and the river Jordan. In the wilderness, God entered into a covenant at Mt Sinai. It was in the wilderness that Israel was tested and found wanting. From there they crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land.
So, it's not surprising that John the Baptist came crying out, in the desert and baptising in the River Jordan. Here was Israel's birthplace. The last of God's great prophets came to renew the
Covenant with God's people. Calling on them to start again in preparation for the Messiah, God's King.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” ~Matthew 3.1-2 (NIV)
It was a message of repentance, turn from your sin and turn to God. Like the prophets of old, it was a call for Israel to come back to God. You cant start the new life unless you turn from the old life, it was a word to begin again, it was not just to the ratbags of Israel
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan ~Matthew 3:5 (NIV)
To God's own nation, John came saying, ‘You have got it wrong start again! Repent!’ Repentance is not just remorse, take Peter and Judas, both sinned, both felt bad. Judas betrayed Christ and he was seized with remorse, Peter denied Christ 3 times and wept bitterly but only Peter repented.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ~2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV)
Repentance brings salvation and leaves no regret. John the Baptist is like the sign on a ramp on the expressway that says
"Go back, you’re going the wrong way" The message from this prophet was bringing Israel to her knees.
Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. ~Matthew 3:6 (NIV)
John was calling for Jews to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He is telling those who thought they were in that they were out and had to start again. They came confessing. To confess your sins is to stand with God and agree with you, I have failed I need your mercy. But not all came to repent
… he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, ~Matthew 3:7 (NIV)
They represented the two big elite sections of respectable religion. They didn’t think they needed to confess and get baptized. So John hammers them with a barrage of judgment.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. ~Matthew 3:7b-8 (NIV)
You can't fake repentance, good works will never put you right with God but good works will always be found in the one who is right with God. Faith will always bear fruit. Faith and good works are like conjoined twins who share the same heart. They must not be confused, they must not be separated.
You try to have faith without works or repentance without fruit and you will die! It's why at MBM our vision is to see lives transformed not just informed. So why won’t these Pharisees and Sadducees repent?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Matthew 3:8-9 (NIV)
They had trusted in their national religious identity, they say to themselves, ‘I am a Jew, son of Abraham, therefore I am a child of God’. John had exposed their misplaced trust.
What conversation do you have with yourself? Because I am an Anglican, a Catholic, Orthodox, or Baptist; because I am Assyrian, an Arab, or Argentinian; I have been baptized, confirmed, ordained, I'm ok with God.
You are not born into a faith, you need to be born again.
What lies are you telling yourself right now? Stopping you from repenting? Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And the Kingdom has come near because the King has come and his name is Jesus. God is beginning a revolution.
In Jesus, God has come to reclaim the world that has turned its back on him. From Isaiah 40 John the Baptist's job is to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord - Yahweh.
The message is not simply repent, it's repent or die, to those who want to play religion the warning is severe.
The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. ~Matthew 3:10 (NIV)
No fruit = No salvation.
No repentance = No Rescue.
It is not a popular message to preach repentance.
A guy at church who smoked dope, understood it was wrong and felt remorse, he understood Jesus' death for his sins but smoked with guilt, morning, noon and night. His last minister told him he should stop it but he said, ‘we all battle with sin’. I see no battle so I see no fruit of repentance, I suggested he consider stop calling himself a Christian until he does repent. He walked away, slightly dumbfounded, 2 days later he came back and thanked me for drawing the line. He was a man with a weak will in a society with a weaker will. He confused remorse and regret for repentance. Produce fruit for repentance
The one who will bring this judgement will not be John but Jesus, not so meek and mild
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. ~Matthew 3:11 (NIV)
And for those who do not confess and bear fruit
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. ~Matthew 3:12 (NIV)
For those who don’t repent Jesus will cut down and cast out and they will be consumed in the fire of judgment, Jesus is not to be fooled with.
There was this Christian woman who went on Tinder, engaged in a series of sexual relationships, married one of the men she was sleeping with who claimed to be Christian and together they attend church. They never missed a beat at church, he didn't feel any guilt or shame, she had no problem with it. No confession, no remorse, no repentance, she has no idea that the axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Christianity is not a religion it is not even a relationship with Jesus. Christianity is a relationship with Lord Jesus on his terms.
John twice says No to baptism. He says ‘no’ to those who don't want to repent and He says ‘NO’ to the one who doesn't need to repent. The amazing thing is that Jesus wants John to baptise him. You see the problem? Why would the sinless Son of God, the judge of all the earth, need to be baptised for repentance?
What sin would he need to confess? There is none! He knew no sin.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” ~Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV)
When everyone else is baptized what happens? They confess their sins, when Jesus is baptised the Spirit descends and anoints Jesus as Messiah. He is what Israel never was and in him God will start again.
If you have repented and put your faith in Christ I urge you to be baptised as a mark of repentance. When we each are baptised and confess our sin, the heavens remain silent,
God says you will get no argument with me!
When Jesus is baptised God tears the heavens apart and declares “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Finally someone who did it right and kept the covenant.
Have you noticed that when people are prepared to confess their failures to each other we are so quick to rescue people?
You’re not that bad, You’re being too hard on yourself, You’re only human. When what we should be saying is You’re much worse than you can imagine, You’re more loved than you can ever hope.
But why does Jesus allow himself to be baptized? As St Paul put it ‘He who knew no sin...became sin’. He is the Servant of the Lord from Isaiah 42 who stands with us before he dies for us, Jesus identifies with the sin of the people he came to die for.
The ministry of Jesus begins by not just with a call to repent and a word of judgment but instead Jesus standing in your shoes allowing himself to be baptized so that he can bear your sins.
This is the logic: you sin, He dies, He dies you live. Sinless Jesus not only plunges into the waters of the Jordan, He plunged into the judgment of God at the cross. Without Jesus' death, the call to repent is impossible and unbearable. With it, repentance is a joy and privilege.
When I became a Christian I was convicted by the Spirit in whom I was baptised into. I had prior lied about my Dad's income so I could get a government allowance, I knew I needed to confess the theft to the government and pay it back. Restitution is part of repentance, I got a job and paid the government back $5000 over a year. Repentance is a Spirit-given gift, I loved paying that money back, I was so glad to know Jesus and enjoy his mercy and be in his kingdom.
After what Jesus did for me it was the least I could do.
Our good works confirm our election. There are a lot of Christians who lack assurance because they have an intellectual faith not a faith with the fruit of repentance.
Have you ever wondered: Why didn't Jesus go straight to the cross. Drop down from heaven and by-pass 33 years of suffering, pay for the sins and then make a clean exit?
But in some fashion Jesus needed to be more than a human to die for our sins, He needed to be an obedient human who lived a faithful life, who was tried and tested. God was in search of one who would love him with all his heart, one who would climb on the cross as the Son who learned obedience. That is why.
The Spirit of God led Jesus to be tested with real choices and found obedient. We know Adam failed that test and we know Israel failed as well. But would Jesus? In one sense Jesus is called to fill the shoes of a nation. Israel was called God's Son, as a nation, it was her task to obey God and be a light to the nations and the hope for the world. As God's son Israel failed badly. Only with Jesus do you hear the Father saying at the beginning and end of Jesus ministry "This is my Son in whom I love, with him I am well pleased"
What we have in today's passage is nothing less than a battle for your soul. Were Jesus to fail at any point, heaven would be closed to all.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. ~Matthew 4:1-2 (NIV)
So far the devil had a 100% success rate with humans. Every human who has ever walked on this earth had surrendered to temptation and sin. It's not surprising that Satan did not want his record broken. After 40 days of not eating Jesus is not just famished, this is not just cranky Ray when dinner is served late.
Doctors say after 40 days of no eating your organs begin to shut down, your muscles begin to spasm, your heart beat is irregular and your decision making impaired. The devil comes at a moment of profound weakness.
It's like 3 rounds in a UFC match.
The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” ~Matthew 4:3 (NIV)
Jesus is the Son of God, He knew it, The Father knew it, Satan knew it. But would he be an obedient Son? Now that his stomach cries out for food, now that he has not eaten for nearly 6 weeks. All the time Jesus has access to power that lies at his disposal.
Did you know that Jesus never performed a miracle just for himself? He did miracles for the Father's glory. He did miracles out of compassion for others and He did miracles so that you may believe he is the Son of God and be saved. But he never did a miracle to benefit himself
This was not why he was empowered by the Spirit. He would miraculously feed 5000 but he would not feed himself.
Would Jesus be like Israel who spent 40 years in the wilderness? God tested them to find out what was in their heart and they repeatedly tested God rather than trust him. Jesus response to Satan is clear and decisive.
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” ~Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
We rely on God's word for life in the same way we rely on food to feed our bodies.
Moses said ‘These words are not idle words, they are your life.’
The question is will Jesus trust the words that leave his Father's mouth? The devil has come to hi-jack the rescue mission, to get Jesus to misuse the power at his disposal. All Jesus had to do was snap his fingers and he could have covered the desert with croissants and melted butter. Just like at his hour of death could have snapped his fingers and called on 1000s of angels.
But that would not be the Father's will.
A couple from church lived next to the neighbours from hell, drugs, loud music and violence. One day the neighbours bashed the wife, the husband worked for a tattoo parlour, owned by a bike gang. When the bikie's heard what had happened to their mate's wife they wanted to take them out. He had so much power at his disposal but at that moment he chose to trust God's word to not repay evil for evil.
God required that Jesus learn obedience and not use his powers to avoid the pain of obedience. It's so hard to trust God and not cut corners, that is why its called temptation. When you think there is no other option but to sin because too much pain is at stake, too much money is at stake, too much pride is at stake, too much pleasure is at stake or too much shame at stake. Jesus lives by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” ~Matthew 4:5-6 (NIV)
This time temptation comes packing a Bible not a porn site.
Satan quotes from Psalm 91, a Psalm that speaks of God's protection for those who trust him. He has your back. So Satan comes along and flips it by wanting Jesus to test God. See if you really trust God's Word, throw yourself from this building and his angels will come. The order is reversed by Satan, as with Israel, Satan is eager to have Jesus test God instead of trust him.
Like the man I heard who said ‘I don’t wear seat belts because God promises to take care of his own’ ‘I don’t take out insurance because I am a child of the King of Kings’ and then was robbed. I'm sure he was a child of God but he was not a wise one.
The problem with "name it and claim it" theology. What they call trusting God is actually testing God. Here is a verse, out of context, used to pressure people to believe in something God hasn’t said. Jesus will trust God so Jesus quotes the word of God that he feeds on.
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ~Matthew 4:7 (NIV)
We are called to trust God not test him. God does not have to prove himself by giving you health and wealth or a job or a relationship. He proved himself by raising him from the dead, we are called to trust his promises.
Anyone can quote the bible, even the devil, the wise one knows what the Bible also says. During the COVID seasons, I raised a number of issues health, government, freedom of conscience, love for weaker brothers, etc. If you grab one of them and forget the others then you’re not reading the bible well. If all you do is say the Bible says, by quoting one verse, you can miss the point, you need to say, the bible also says... Good bible reading is like juggling balls. If each ball represents a truth and you hold onto one of them then others fall. The Fundamentalist is someone who treats a partial truth like it were a whole truth.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:8-9 (NIV)
Is Satan claiming too much? Were the kingdoms of the world his to give? It's true that the Devil is the Prince of this world, he is the god of this age who has blinded the minds of unbelievers.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, happens outside the will of God. He talks like he is sovereign when he is not. As Jesus keeps obeying his father, all the way to the cross, He will pay our debt and defeat death. So prevent Satan from accusing you and condemning you.
Jesus has fought for your soul and won, God had created the world for his Son, not Satan and Satan can't stand it. God says to his Messiah King and not Satan
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. ~Psalm 2:8 (NIV)
But the temptation here is that Christ will be crowned without the cross, he must suffer and be killed before he is raised on the 3rd day. So with us first the suffering and then the glory.
There are no short cuts, the way of the messiah is the way of the Messiah's people
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. ~Matthew 4:10-11 (NIV)
No compromise, the response by Jesus is to quote the Word of God and to give God exclusive worship, in the words of Psalm 73: "Whom have I in heaven but you, and the earth has nothing I desire besides you."
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. When is an opportune time? When times are good and bad? Like that proverb
"Don’t give me too little or I might steal, don’t give me too much or I might forget you"
When I am overworked and tired
When I am successful and proud
When I am healthy and invincible
When I am bored and distracted
When I am in love and forget God's love
When I have been wronged and feeling entitled
I'm often asked how to tackle temptation
Sigmund Freud's nephew ran an ad company in the 1920s, in New York, he was asked how they can get women smoking, so he organised for a number of models to walk in the May Day Parade. At a certain point, newspaper photographers were told to wait, the women stopped, lifted up their dresses, reached for a packet of cigarettes in the garter belt and lit one up. The photo went round the world and the message was clear “Smoking empowered women” What they thought was freedom was now taking 5 years off their life. Satan promises life only to enslave us to sin and death. The joy of sin is for the moment, the joy of obedience is long-lasting.
There is a growing interest in finding out about where we come from, going back through records. I think we want to find out who we are by finding out where we come from. I was given a birthday gift to do my DNA Ancestry.
No wonder I’m confused. Who am I? Who are you? But if you want to know who you are then you need to find out who is Jesus? To find out who Jesus is you need to see where he comes from.
The genealogy in Matthew begins to tell us who Jesus is and where he came from. Let's be honest, it's not the most interesting way to start the gospel and begin the New Testament. The list of names puts Jesus in context. The whole of the Old Testament is compressed into 17 verses. What is the purpose of a genealogy? It answers the question people were asking.
In the words of John the Baptist, "Are you Jesus the one or should we wait for another." The waiting is over.
1. The origins of Jesus
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: ~Matthew 1:1 (NIV)
It is literally the genesis/origin of Jesus Christ. Although Jesus goes back into eternity, according to the flesh, Jesus goes back to Abraham, the father of God's people. Jesus doesn't just burst on the scene unannounced, claiming to be Lord Christ, and Lord without credentials. Of all the people on the list, Jesus is seen as the Son of Abraham and Son of David. Jesus is the YES to the promise to Abraham who lived 2000 years before Jesus
The LORD had said to Abram, ... all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12.1,3 (NIV)
Jesus is now the agent of world blessing. Jesus is the YES to the promise to David who lived 1000 years before Jesus
I will raise up your offspring to succeed you,...and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. ~2 Samuel 7:12,13 (NIV)
Jesus locks into both co-ordinates, son of Abraham and son of David. God had been planning Jesus' arrival for a long time.
Blaise Pascal who I think said:
"The climax of all that was foretold was to demonstrate that it could not be said it was all due to chance. Anyone with only a week to live is not interested in believing that all this is merely the work of chance"
In the words of Jesus to the Samaritan Women, Salvation from the Jews, God's plan of salvation is not through the Chinese or Maltese or Americans it was only through the one nation, the Jews. Someone who could trace his line through to David and Abraham. It is pointless looking for a saviour anywhere else, don’t waste your time, but it has been a long wait.
Rise and fall and rise again. What we have here in the genealogy is a selected list of names, great and not so great. It is a quick overview of the Old Testament, where the history of Israel is broken into 3 sections. Each section with 14 generations on view.
The first comes from the time of Abraham to King David, a promise to an old man ends up with Gods people living in
God's place under God's King. The second period is the downfall of David's family line, his dynasty. God's people lose their land, their temple, their blessings and their king and sent them into exile. So what happened to God's promise? No saviour to bless the world and no king to rule the world. But the promises to Abraham and David still stand. God is not in a hurry. Life went on after the exile and the promises given to
David and Abraham cried out to be fulfilled.
…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. ~Matthew 1:16 (NIV)
The waiting is over, the roller coaster of Israel finally ends with Jesus. God has kept his word. While the Saviour had to come from the Jews, He is the saviour for the world.
As you scan the names, you notice what? In this Jewish male line you have 4 women, not only four women but non-Jewish women, not just non-Jewish women but women who were victims of sexual abuse or participated in sexual immorality
verse 3 - Tamar, who was abandoned and forced to seduce her father in law, Judah.verse 5 - Rahab, not a Jew and a prostitute
verse 5 - Ruth was a Moabitess, the arch-enemy of Israel
verse 6 - Uriah's wife Bethsheba was the wife of a Hittite, a non-Jew and a victim of abuse caught up in adultery
Jesus is not from thoroughbred stock, He too had a shady past.
The bible does not do pretend, rather than hiding the shameful past, it highlights it. So what is the point? This Jesus has come to invite Jew and Non-Jew, Male and Female, Saints and sinners, they include his own family line
... For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. ~Matthew 9:13 (NIV)
As you read you might think that Mary is part of this suspicious past of Jesus.
2. This was not your normal pregnancy
A teenager who got pregnant outside of marriage.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. ~Matthew 1:18 (NIV)
Before the days of obstetricians and IVF. Joseph a Jewish nobody in the line of King David, discovered that his fiancée Mary is pregnant. It's not impossible to be pregnant without being married. In Australia, 56,000 children came into this world without having mum and dad married. What made this pregnancy different is that it happened without sex, before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph didn't know that of course, he thought Mary had sex with another guy, so he was about to quietly break it off.
Hard for Mary and hard for Joseph.
Righteous Joseph did not want to bring shame to Mary even though Joseph thought Mary brought shame on him. To break a betrothal you needed a divorce. Joseph would have felt so hurt and it would have been so easy to make Mary pay. The righteous thing was to love. Then he gets the astonishing news that Mary was made pregnant by God. The point here is that Joseph is not the natural father of Jesus but the adopted one.
The word ‘father’ is missing to describe Joseph's relationship with Jesus.
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah ~Matthew 1:16 (NIV)
Jesus does not have Joseph's DNA in him. Jesus is part of this family line, but not his bloodline. This birth is different because this man, Jesus, is different. The one who left the womb of Mary would be no less than God himself.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). ~Matthew 1:22-23 (NIV)
The wonder is not that a woman bore a child without sex, the wonder is that God has become a human. That is why this Jesus can require so much when you’re God.
When Joseph names Jesus he is recognizing that Mary's child is his legitimate son. So, what's in a name? I once paid $20 to find out that Galea comes from a noble family. The man who gave us this record said that some people get really upset when they find out what their name means. A lady with a common Irish name wanted to find out what it means and upon the computer came the meaning "One with an ugly head."
The angel who came with the news went on to tell Joseph not only is the child born of the Spirit but a name that will remind everyone then and for generations to come as to why he came.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” ~Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
He is to be named Jesus/Joshua because he will save his people from their sin. The name Jesus tells you he is the Saviour. The title Immanuel: tells us that he is God, Jesus fully God and fully man. Our Saviour needed to be human because
only a human can take the sins of another human, only God can endure the punishment that our sins experienced.
From the moment he entered that womb he was on a one way road that would lead him to his death, a death on a cross.
Jesus is God's great rescue plan
Jesus saves his own ancestors from their sins.
As you look over the names of his ancestors you see they needed saving. The worst was Manasseh who offered his own son in child sacrifices to false gods. King David the pick of the bunch was himself a murderer. The ancestors of Jesus burst the bubble of Jewish pride. God's people needed to be saved from their sins.
How were the Jews saved before the Saviour came to die? One of my favourite kid's talks is a family is lined up at an ice cream van with the father at the end of the line. Each child enjoys the ice cream before the father at the end of the line pays for each ice cream. Faithful Israel enjoyed forgiveness before sin was paid for and Jesus came so that we may be saved from our sins
There are 4 ways to misunderstand Jesus and miss out on his rescue plan
1. If you think there is no sins to be saved from.
Gods got a case against you and can I say a darn good case.
There is only one guy that I’ve ever met who thought he was perfect. He had a dozen cans of beer that were empty. If I was smart enough I should have asked his wife and she could have told me the truth.
2. Most admit that their not perfect but there is a refusal to admit that God will punish sin. God can't expect me to perfect, so I don’t expect he will punish me. But the wages of sin is death. Your upcoming death is the first reminder that God takes sin seriously.
3. You may heard some say "I don't have to wait for hell I have already suffered it." For every Christian, this earth is the worst it will ever get, for every non-Christian this earth is the best it will ever get.
4. If you have a very sensitive conscience you may think that something in your past is unforgivable. You may be here and thinking, could Jesus forgive my abortion, my adultery, or incest, or the way I treated my children or parents. Most names mean nothing but Jesus' name says it all.
And then Jesus says it himself.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest ~Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
Have you ever had your breath taken away? I don't mean that hard knock on the sporting field, I mean that sense of being overwhelmed. Looked over a cliff's edge, stand before a wild animal, faced a consuming bush fire or lost control of your car.
Isaiah's breath was taken away by nothing less than the holiness of God.
Point 1 - The Vision of the Holy King
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. ~Isaiah. 6:1 (NIV)
This vision comes in the year that King Uzziah died, the same King who trampled on the Holiness of God by offering incense that only the priests were allowed to do. So, God struck him with leprosy and lockdown. The throne in the vision tells us that God is the true King, no one else is in charge “He is high and exalted” The only other time that phrase is used in Isaiah is of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52.
High and exalted for we do not look down on this King as if God is our slave. We do not look out at this king as if God were just a peer or mate or buddy or homeboy, we look up for he’s high and exalted on his throne.
So radically different to us, above us and beyond us is God. He is not like us and we certainly are not like him. In this vision, His endless robe fills the temple as his glory fills the whole earth. All pointing to his breathtaking majesty. We never get to see what God is like in this vision but we do get to see and hear the Seraphim, these 6 winged heavenly beings
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” ~Isaiah 6:2-3 (NIV)
The seraphim, literally "the burning ones", have 2 wings to cover their feet, 2 wings to cover their eyes. So, even though they are sinless, they are unable to look at God. With 2 remaining wings they do God's bidding, constantly on the move in praise and service. Then this picture gives way to words, not once and not twice but 3 times for emphasis, the seraphim, bouncing off the walls, sing to each other. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.
In heaven, there are some songs you will never get sick of singing. Not surprising that Isaiah’s preferred title for God is “The Holy One of Israel”
A Holy God calls for a holy people. It is not ours to grow a large crowd but to grow disciples of Jesus. Ours must be a holy mission, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.
Point 2 - God is so profoundly different.
People spend lots of money travelling the world to see something different, only to end up with a version of the same old. Everything about God is different to us, you want different? Do you want unique? Gaze into the glory of God's holiness. Even the sound of the holy praise from the seraphim is enough to shake the foundation of the temple. Isaiah is under sensory overload, like a 3D Imax experience, sight, sound, touch. This is one awesome Holy King
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ~Isaiah 6:4 (NIV)
Friends, this is not the God you can slap on the back and call mate, he is not "the man upstairs". The shaking of the doorposts stops Isaiah from approaching. The smoke stops Isaiah from seeing. Isaiah is very much aware that he is unworthy to be there. It was the holiness of God that Israel had forgotten which led her into every possible sin.
Already in chapter 5, Isaiah issued for a series of woes...
5:8 Woe to you who add house to house of consumerism
5:11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks
5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil
Woe to you is now woe is me. Isaiah is standing before this Holy God, he is not taking comfort that others are worse.
Point 3 - The Confession of Isaiah
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” ~Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)
In the presence of such purity, you’re only left with one come back “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined!
God is uncompromisingly holy.
How many sins did it take Adam and Eve before they were kicked out of the garden? Just one sin and every human dies. Just one touch of the Ark and Uzzah is dead 2 Samuel 6. One lie and Ananias and Sapphira both bodies are carried Acts 5.
The question is raised “Who can stand in the presence of a holy God? It's why Peter says:
Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” ~Luke 5:8 (NIV)
So very, very different to the aggressively casual way Australian culture talks of God. Australians treat God as if they were some talkback radio shock jock, like Kyle Sandiland or Ray Hadley. Or those who boast in words like, “Wait till I meet God and give him a piece of my mind.”
Isaiah only has a vision of God yet this holiness is enough to absolutely terrify him. Ruined, literally lost and undone! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Our lips carry the words that are a mirror to the heart. Gossip, slander, rage, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing and blasphemy. God will judge us by every word that leaves our mouths. Isaiah has a deep sense that he is in serious, serious trouble.
One Holy God + Unholy people = There is big trouble.
So hopeless he does not even bother to ask for mercy.
I remember having a dream when I was a young Christian, I was on the deck of an aircraft carrier and there was this old plane on the deck, out of control and spinning ever closer to me, pushing me further back on the edge. I feared being pushed off.
Then the plane stopped moving, I felt this sense of relief...I'm safe...until I heard the booming sound, I looked up and there was this massive plane about to crash land on top of me. I thought to myself “Oh No Im dead!” “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined!
Point 4 - The Cleansing of Isaiah
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” ~Isaiah 6:6-7 (NIV)
Imagine the relief to hear those words, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Modern Australians have reduced guilt to just an emotion and made our consciences our only judge. If that is the case, then all we have to do is join a self-esteem class and learn how to forgive ourselves. But Isaiah is facing God's holy anger as a sinner. A thousand "I'm sorrys" is not going to cut it. Old Covenant or New, confession is never enough.
So, the seraphs take a coal from the altar and touch his lips to make him clean. Guilt has to be removed by God and only then sin is forgiven. But if the blood of bulls or goats doesn’t forgive sins you can bet your life neither will the coals that fuel the altar. For that, we wait for Jesus, 700 years later, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The one born to a virgin, the suffering servant on whom the Lord will thankfully transfer our sin and the punishment those sins deserve.
Isaiah is now a totally forgiven man, he is what Israel could become. He is what you are in Christ. He is what some of you could be if you come to Christ.
So back to my dream, when the plane was about to land, I told myself in the dream. “I am going to die so I will close my eyes count to 10 and when I wake up I will be in heaven. So I counted to 10 and woke up to find I was only in my bed, I was so, so disappointed. Why? Because I knew my guilt was taken away and my sin atoned for.
Now Isaiah takes up the call to preach.
Point 5 - The Commissioning of Isaiah
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” ~Isaiah 6:8 (NIV)
This is the first time God speaks in the vision. Now forgiven before a holy God…He is thankful, he is busting to serve because he who is Forgiven must love much.
Send me, he doesn't ask 'where? when?' or how long?' just says "send me". Whatever it takes, send me! Isaiah is told here is not so much what he would say but what is the reaction to his preaching. This is Isaiah's mission statement
He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” ~Isaiah. 6:9-10 (NIV)
In other words, God says ‘Isaiah, know this, you will preach and they will not listen, yours will be a church emptying ministry until Israel is not much more than a burnt stump. What a shocking message to preach. The preaching will harden only hearts that are already hard.
Fast forward 750 years - Christ died and rose again and the good news went from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. In Acts 28 Paul is in Rome under house arrest, the Jews come and hear the message that Jesus is the Messiah who had to die for their forgiveness. They reject the message and Paul then quotes this verse in Isaiah 6: "Isaiah was right…you are forever listening but never perceiving" and then says:
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” The seed from the dead stump of Israel will bear fruit. ~Acts 28:28 (NIV)
Understand the time zone we are in, we live in a time of reaping. They will listen! Do you believe this? This is the reason why we are right to approach the mission optimistically. God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!
There are 3 billion people who are not a Christian and don’t know a Christian nor have no contact with a church, if we preach to them they will listen. Our problem is that we are guilty of one thing and it's this “We believe in a God who can but probably won't.” we need to repent of that. Yes, some places and times providentially will see more or less success. Yes, Chinese and Iranians are God's favourites at the moment but our Holy God has called us to a holy optimism. God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!
Now that will take your breath away. Do you believe this? The good news is, God is not calling us to Isaiah's ministry of hard hardening. You are called to serve in the era of reaping. You may or may not get to the overseas mission field but God has placed nations all around you. When I just beg you, don't reach your death bed and realise you have missed this great opportunity.
Have you ever invited someone to Explaining Christianity? This year, pray daily to invite 3 people. I know too many that wake up later in life and know they wasted their life.
Sandy and I planned to go to Malta 33 years ago to do gospel ministry but her health stopped us. The Apostle Paul did not plan to go to Malta but a shipwreck took him there to preach the gospel.
Most people don’t know where Malta is, I usually explain it this way: if Italy is the foot in the Mediterranean and Sicily is the ball that it's kicking. Now imagine a bit of mud flicking off and landing in the Mediterranean, that’s Malta. Unlike Australia, which is the biggest Island in the world, Malta is a very small Island, in some maps, you can't even see it. It's only 30 km long. When I went back to Malta in 2009, I wasn’t sure the Island would be long enough for the plane to land. The population is around 400,000 and there are more Maltese in Australia than there are in Malta.
Malta is the size of Blacktown City council but it still has 68 different local councils. How is that possible?! It was and still is a very religious people. There are 365 churches, 1 for each day of the year. MBM has sent 3 families to serve as overseas ministry partners. China may have ¼ of the world's population, the USA might be the richest nation in the world, but Malta has 10 verses in the bible.
While many have left Malta to find a better life, the apostle Paul is carried to this Island to offer eternal life but it was not just the storm that did it, it was the hand of God.
The story so far:
Most of Acts tells the story of how Paul took the message of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world. Along the way, he got in trouble. He was stoned and starved as well as arrested. What he did to others was now being done to him. Eventually, he is placed under arrest and sent to Rome to have his case heard.
He is put on a ship with other prisoners and when the ship docks at Crete God warns Paul not to leave Crete until after the winter. The Captain refuses to listen, the ship takes off for a 1000 km journey for Rome, the ship is caught in a storm for 14 days, the time it takes to have a two week holiday. The ship was thrown around the Mediterranean, like clothes in a washing machine. God then tells Paul that all will be kept safe
Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” ~Acts 27:23-26 (NIV)
Richard Branson who recently sent the Virgin Galactica flight to space, tells the story of when he was on holiday with his first wife in the Caribbean, it was the last day of their holiday and he pleaded with a deep-sea fisherman to take him out on a charter. The Captain didn’t want to do it as the weather was not fine. He paid him some extra money and against his better judgment, the captain said yes. A couple nearby, on their honeymoon, heard about the deal and joined them. After an hour or so on the ocean the storm rose up and the charter boat was hammered in the storm until it all went quiet they were in the eye of the storm. What do they do? Another side of the storm awaited them. Richard's wife said to him this boat won't take another battering, we have to swim to shore, and that is what they did. They swam for an hour, reaching the shore they walked for another hour to get help and the search and rescue went out and to this day that boat and its passengers were never found. All lost on board except Richard and his wife who escaped with their life.
Richard is alive because he listened to his wife, those on Pauls ship are alive because they listen to the word of God through Paul.
God has revealed to Paul that all will be saved but not the ship, God is clearly in control of this storm, God wants Paul to preach the gospel in Rome at the heart of the empire but not before he does so in this small Island on the outskirts of the Empire, it was planned. God is not just interested in big empires, He is interested in small islands. He is interested in his name being glorified in Blacktown, not just Berlin, He is interested in people being saved in Mozambique and Mexico, He is interested in repentance being preached in Penrith and Pakistan.
The gospel doesn’t just speak via planned mission trips, it happens in unexpected storms, as it has during COVID.
So God makes Paul have an unexpected stop off.
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. ~Acts 28:1 (NIV)
My family grew up not far from St. Paul Bay, where the apostle landed. Notice what the first thing we read about the Maltese
The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. ~Acts 28:2 (NIV)
Who could argue with that? If this doesn't prove that the bible is the word of God then nothing will. Why unusual kindness?
Unusual because it didn’t happen very often. When a shipwreck takes place people loot, just like when a riot or a flood hits a town then TVs and X boxes walk out of stores, it's every person for themselves. So here was God's common grace through non-unconverted Maltese, even the Roman governor of Malta was kind.
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. They honoured us in many ways and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed. ~Acts 28.7,10 (NIV)
The Maltese are described much nicer than say the people of Crete.
“Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. ~Titus 1:12-13a (NIV)
Sorry if there are any Cretans with us.
A good reminder, being kind does not mean the Maltese won’t need to repent and be saved.
After the Shipwreck, Paul gathers some brushwood and puts on a fire. At that point, a snake escapes the heat and bites Paul on the hand. The so-called ‘kind’ Maltese say to each other.
“This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live ~Acts 28:3-4 (NIV)
Not so kind now. Why a murderer? He might have survived the horrific storm but he did not survive the snake bite. Pauls snake bite meant he was punished for some bad crime like Murder.
At this stage the Maltese did not know the bible, like many faiths in the world, bad things happen to bad people
…Justice has not allowed him to live ~Acts 28:4 (NIV)
Justice is not another name for fate. The Maltese, like many in Roman Empire, believed in the Roman gods. The goddess of justice DIKE (or Dicé) - daughter of Zeus, she made sure justice took place in the world, she was Ms Payback, she made sure that you get what you deserve in life.
The Maltese think Paul may have escaped the shipwreck but Ms Payback won't allow him to escape the snake bite that Paul must have had coming. Like the soldier who survives 3 years in Changi Prison of war only to be killed by a tram in Melbourne the same day he arrives.
It’s a form of Karma where you reap what you sow. What a cruel doctrine. It means every disabled person, every sick baby, is suffering for past sins. It treats the victims as guilty. It’s a sad thing and people all over the world, including Malta, still believe it. My mother tells of one woman who said that the reason why another family lost a child is because they stopped going to church. But Karma theology comes back to bite you. A year later the woman who said that had a son who became a paraplegic.
While suffering and death came as a result of sin the bible is clear that things happen and it's not always the result of a particular sin. The book of Job shows suffering came to him as a compliment from God. Jesus commenting on 2 tragedies where lives were lost said that they are no worse and you are no better - unless you repent something worse.
There are now no venomous snakes now in Malta but there was then. A new superstition surfaces saying that even if a venomous snake enters the borders of Malta it will lose its venom. I always thought that would be an easy theory to test. Take an Australian king brown snake and see what happens.
Paul is one moment a murderer then next he is called a god. He survives the impossible, now they want to worship him…
But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. ~Acts 28:4 (NIV)
They changed their minds, which means that they repented, they went from one wrong idea to another, from thinking he was a murderer to thinking he was a god, but that is not the change of mind that God wanted. He wanted them to go from worshipping idols to worshipping Jesus, not Paul. The same thing happened earlier in the books of Acts 14, in a place called Lystra in Turkey, you could say that these were the first Lysterines. Paul heals a crippled man and they want to worship Paul. One moment they are called gods then next they are nearly stoned to death. Here in Malta, they thought he is a murderer but now think he is a god. How fickle!
Without the bible you just keep jumping to wrong conclusions, at the mercy of superstitions, creating fear and suspicion. The miracles that Paul performed on the Island of Malta were part of the evidence that Jesus is alive and Lord. The good news is that God raised a dead man to life as Judge of the earth. In the past, God overlooked such folly but now he commands all people to repent, to turn from worthless things to the living God.
Its word for every nation, big or small, it’s a word for every generation, it’s a word to you. They thought the goddess Justice had punished Paul, Justice may be the name of a false god but its the very nature of the true God. Gods justice means that sins will not be ignored
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; ~Exodus 34:6-7 (NIV)
God forgives sin but not one sin will be ever be forgiven without first being dealt with at the cross. Your sin will be punished either in your body or in the body of his Son who died on the cross. Which is to be friends? Either Jesus will carry the weight of your guilt at the cross or you will carry the weight of your guilt through eternity. That answers the question of how can God be right, and make us right when we are so wrong? It's at the cross that justice meets mercy, at the cross justice and mercy kiss, setting us free, free from condemnation, free from blame, free from self-loathing, free from superstitions. We don’t have to live in superstitions and Karma for Jesus is the great Karma buster. The Maltese were right the first time, Paul was a murderer, in fact, he was the worst of sinners and he was forgiven.
You don’t have to live in uncertainty, whether God can forgive, the good news is that God justifies the ungodly.
It's amazing how so many Christians in times of suffering start to revert back to pagan thinking. Is God punishing me for some sin, am I reaping what I sowed, is my infertility, unemployment, singleness or cancer payback from God. When instead what we need to do is cast our cares before our Father in heaven, who loves us.
Behind the goddess Justice is Satan, he has been exposed as a liar and stripped bare at the cross, disarmed with no right to accuse.
Christianity is always on trial. Always has been and always will be!
Today, especially in the Western world, we’ve seen Christianity on trial all around us. No matter how old you are, no matter where you find yourself, in the courtroom, in the classroom, in the common room or in the living room, Christianity is always on trial. Followers of Jesus will always be accused, questioned and challenged about their faith. If you love the Lord Jesus and that’s not happened to you yet, get ready for it. And if you’re thinking of taking the hand of Jesus, let me give you the heads up, this will happen sooner or later.
Let me give you a few examples: Christianity was on trial when Jack Philips, owner of Masterpiece Cakes in Colorado was fined for refusing to bake a gender transition celebration cake.
Christianity was on trial when Joshua, an Australian uni student was suspended, why? Because he prayed for another student.
Christianity IS on trial in Victoria right now, whereas a Christian, you can be charged for praying with people about issues of gender.
That’s one end of the spectrum but it can also be in the simple, everyday questions like: Why are you missing our family event because of church? Or among colleagues: why aren’t you getting drunk with us tonight? They’re questions. But they’re more than questions aren’t they. There are built-in accusations like: why are you against our family? Why aren’t you one of us?
I’ve heard of a person from another church being challenged with the claim that the Bible promotes domestic violence. I’ve heard of youth being asked in the playground: “You’re a Christian, you hate gays don’t you?”
Friends, you don’t have to be in a courtroom, Christianity is always on trial and when we’re on trial as followers of Jesus, we’d do well to learn from what Paul does in this pressure-cooker situation. In this back end of Acts, we’ve been seeing how Christianity is on trial through the experience of Paul himself. Paul, the great ambassador of Christianity. Love him or hate him, Paul would have to be in the top 10 as one of the most influential people in the history of the world.
Paul’s already been on trial 3 times. Way back in Acts 22, he was first put on trial before the crowds in Jerusalem, then there was the Sanhedrin, effectively the Supreme Court back then.
In Acts 24, he fronted up to a Roman tribunal led by the Governor Felix. And as we turn over the page to Acts 25-26, Paul’s got two more trials in store. One before the new Governor in town, Festus, and another before King Agrippa.
Now there’s plenty of sources outside the Bible which confirm the existence of a Roman Governor called Festus, which means we’re talking roughly 60AD. We’re in Israel, or more specifically the province of Judea. There’s local Jewish political
and religious leadership but ultimately they’re answerable to the mighty Roman empire.
For the last two years, Paul’s effectively been under house arrest in Caesarea, is about 100km north of Jerusalem, it’s the administrative centre with Government offices and Embassies, like Canberra, but without the roundabouts. Now the fact, he’s locked up doesn’t seem to bother Paul, he’s got some freedoms, he’s even had opportunities to speak about Jesus.
But even more so, Paul knows, based on a direct word from God, that despite his current circumstances, it’s not a matter of if he’ll get to Rome, but when. And that’s because of who the main actor in Acts is, the book of Acts is 28 chapters long.
28 chapters that describe the ACTS of the Risen Lord Jesus through his apostles, by the power of the Spirit. We saw it last week in 23:11 as the Lord Jesus spoke a direct word to Paul
…. “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” ~Acts 23:11 (NIV)
Paul can take heart because God’s got it sorted. Even though he’s on trial, locked up in Judea, Paul’s 100% confident that God will get him to Rome! In fact, it just so happens that God’s way to get him to Rome is via these trials. Paul himself probably didn’t expect he’d arrive in Rome in chains and as God would have it, by appealing to Caesar himself, Paul books his ticket to Rome!
…But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” ~Acts 25.11-12 (NIV)
The fact that this is God’s way of getting Paul to Rome, dragging him before the authorities, having his very own life threatened while riots form around him, proves yet again that God’s ways are not our ways. How much do you and I need to hear that right now? Whether it’s being forced into isolation. Whether it’s testing positive. Whether it’s having things, good things, like holidays or social catch ups cancelled. Or in our family’s case, it can be having a ticket to Hamilton, the musical, cancelled. Not once, not twice, but three times, this week, we FINALLY got to see it and boy, it was worth it the wait!!
Well, in the midst of the cloud of COVID, how comforting is it to know that ultimately, there is someone who is calling the shots.
Especially when you contrast God’s ways with the ways of evil, blood hungry Jews.
They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. ~Acts 25:3 (NIV)
With a change of Roman governor, from Felix to Festus, the Jews have hatched this new plan. Seriously, I’m amazed at how relentless these guys are. They’ve been waiting two whole
years to get their hands on Paul who is public enemy number 1.
Well, the ambush doesn’t quite happen. Now it just so happens that the Jewish King Agrippa, and his sister Bernice are in town. Maybe, just maybe, these guys will finally give the blood-thirsty Jews what they want.
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in ~Acts 25:23 (NIV)
Russian artist, Nickolai Bodarevsky, has depicted this scene in his painting, so there’s Agrippa and Bernice sitting down in their fine clothes and jewellery along with all the other heavy weights, listening to Paul plead his innocence. Surely if anyone wanted to act in the interest of the Jews, if anyone wanted to hatch a dodgy plan to wipe out Paul, surely it’d be Agrippa. After all, it seems to run in the family, his great grandfather, hunted baby Jesus down and wanted him dead the moment he was born. His own dad ordered James, a fellow co-worker of Paul’s, to be beheaded.
Well, Agrippa doesn’t end up following in his parents footsteps, and maybe that’s because he’s influenced by Festus early on:
Take a listen to what he says to Agrippa.
I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. ~Acts 25:25 (NIV)
A few days before Agrippa and Bernice’s arrival, Paul had appealed to Caesar, it would be his only hope for acquittal.
This caught Festus off guard, he now not only needs to send Paul to Rome to front Caesar but he needs a charge. Something with enough teeth on it, enough substance to it, to
send Paul to Rome with. Otherwise, it’ll all be a waste of Caesar’s time and come back to embarrass Festus. Only he can’t find one.
But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. ~Acts 25:26 (NIV)
Even Agrippa, instead of conniving some scheme to wipe out Paul, is intrigued. He wants to hear from Paul firsthand, which is how Chapter 26 opens, with Paul laying out his testimony, his story of how he came to know Jesus.
Now Luke’s recorded Paul giving his testimony 2 other times already. So, it’s worth asking, what’s his purpose in using up precious resources? Because remember these guys were writing on parchment scrolls, using up ink. Luke obviously thinks by including these details yet again, it’ll help us have certainty in our belief. Well, I reckon it’s to prove an historical point and to make a spiritual point.
So first, the historical point - Paul wants to point out, especially in front of a Jewish big wig like Agrippa, that Jesus is God’s promised, long awaited King! The one that was predicted and promised all along throughout the Jewish scriptures. Paul wants Agrippa to join the dots, he’s got all the pieces of the puzzle by virtue of his Jewish upbringing, Paul just wants to help him put it all together. Take a look at how he opens up his speech to Agrippa, after describing how he’s a Jew through and through, raised a Jew and lived in Jerusalem.
And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O King, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. ~Acts 26:6-7 (NIV)
Paul’s saying here that, by sending Jesus, God’s now come good on his promise! A promise made way back to our original ancestors. And in case it hasn’t clicked for Agrippa yet, Paul has another crack
But I have had God’s help to this very day, so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” ~Acts 26:22:23 (NIV)
Right, so the Messiah’s job description involves three things. Unlike every other king, this king will: first - suffer, second - rise from the dead, and third - speak a message of light not just to the Jews but to the Gentiles. That’s code for non-Jew.
Now if you’re hearing Jesus’ job description for the first time today, chances are your reaction is probably the same as Festus.
Really, Festus’ reaction describes all of us at some point or another, because let’s face it, if you’re a Christian here today, you’ve signed up to believe in some weird stuff. At least in the world’s eyes. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience of trying to share Jesus with someone else and them just looking at you blankly. “You really think this stuff is true?” Sometimes, even we ourselves ask that question. Especially when we hear the words fall from our lips. We think to ourselves: Gees - this does sound weird.
And yet, this has been the historical point Paul’s been making all along. Just a few verses earlier, Paul has described to Agrippa how God transformed him. How it took nothing short of Jesus himself appearing, grabbing his attention in the middle of the day. Blinding Paul. In Paul’s own words in verse 11, he was obsessed with hunting down Christians, punishing and even killing them. But now his new obsession is to see them rescued!
Which brings us to the second point Paul makes in his speech,
the spiritual point. If Jesus’ job description involved suffering, rising and speaking then for the new Paul, his job description, straight from the lips of the same Jesus, can be found in verse 16.
‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ~Acts 26:16-18 (NIV)
Paul’s focus is on the Gentiles. Specifically, as he invites people to follow Jesus, he’s to:
Notice here how Paul is speaking in spiritual categories. He’s not talking about physical, tangible things. Things you and I can see on the outside. He’s not offering a new fad diet that will make you lose 20 kilos so that it’ll be obvious to everyone.
Instead he’s speaking about matters of the heart, of the soul, of what God sees and knows about us. And if, and this is a big if. If you’ve got the ears to fully comprehend Paul, he’s actually revealing something quite offensive and quite disturbing about our true spiritual situation.
What I outlined just before was putting it positively. Open eyes, moving from darkness to light etc. But let me frame it the other way around. Let’s imagine that Paul is speaking to the cultural norms. The identity statements that we live and breathe today. In five different ways, you guys are actually much worse off than you think you are. See, as much as we’d like to think otherwise we’re actually spiritually blind. I’m legally blind, I’ve even got the driver’s licence to prove it.
But left to our own devices we’re actually incapable of clawing our way out of this situation ourselves, no amount of human reason or scientific research, or technological advancement.
When we’ve yet to find a cure for cancer then we have got absolutely no hope of finding the cure for spiritual blindness. That’s because we’re not as enlightened as we think we are. We’re actually far worse off. Paul’s verdict is that we’re in complete and utter darkness.
The third thing Paul says is this, that as much as our world invites us to dream big, to imagine we’re free to do what we want, whenever we want. If only we follow our dreams and never give up. The fact of the matter is that we’re enslaved. We don’t actually have complete autonomy. There actually is someone holding us back, Satan. We’re enslaved to Satan.
The fourth statement Paul makes about our true spiritual condition is that we’re not as innocent as we think we are. That despite sincerity or despite the fact our moral compass is now self-determined. In God’s eyes, we fall short. We don’t measure up. We have missed the mark. So much so that we’re in desperate need of someone to offer us forgiveness.
And finally, we’re a people who even though we’re longing for inclusion, looking for community, we’re actually shut off. You think lockdown and iso were bad, this is far, far worse. Boil it all down and what Jesus is saying to you and me today is this: without me, you’re in more trouble than you could ever imagine.
Now to an outsider that is thoroughly, universally, completely and horribly offensive.
And yet, it’s really important to understand at this point. That as difficult as it might be to stomach this piece of news, Paul’s heard this from the lips of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus.
This is Jesus’ account, His perspective. Without Jesus, we are in a world of trouble!
Well, thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. I’m not sure if you noticed it when Paul was making that last statement about who we are. But Jesus alludes to verse 18
…a place among those who are sanctified by…. ~Acts 26:18 (NIV)
Their spiritual performance? By their hard work? By their family background? No - it’s by their faith, their trust, their dependence on me.
Here friends is the universal welcome of Jesus. One that Paul issues to, as he says a few verses later. Verse 22 - “small and great alike”. I love that little reference!! Sure he’s addressing Agrippa, someone who’s great, but he’s also offering this welcome to the small as well, to the lowly, to the poor, to the oppressed, to the marginalised, to the victims, to the sick, to the mourning, small and great alike.
I’ve already talked about how weird Christianity and Jesus can sound to others or as we hear it fall from our lips. Well, here’s the warm welcome Jesus offers; to small and great alike.
I reckon one of the big overarching challenges the book of Acts puts before us is the call to action again and again. The invitation Acts puts on the table is to be part of someone’s story. Be part of someone’s story in them coming to know Jesus. Time and time again, we’ve seen boldness in the face of opposition. We’ve seen people speak up for Jesus at great cost. Because the fruit of that is something so special. So precious. Acts has shown us how, that as a result of people being willing to be part of someone’s story in coming to know Jesus, they’ve had their lives turned upside down. Right way up. We saw it in Paul’s own before and after story. Before he met Jesus he was the chief persecutor, throwing Christians behind bars and hunting them down. AFTER he met Jesus, it’s a different story, he is the Chief proclaimer of Jesus, a part of thousands and thousands of people’s story.
We’ve heard Paul’s story today. Let me ask you, if you’re someone who has, thanks to Jesus, had your eyes opened.
You’ve stepped into the light. You know for sure that your sins are forgiven. Who’s story are you seeking to be part of? Let me end with two concrete ways that can happen for you. First thing is to share your story, after all, that’s what Paul beautifully demonstrates for us here. The simple act of him telling his own story. Instantly, he becomes part of Agrippa’s story, he becomes part of Bernice’s story, he becomes part of Festus’s story and all the other high-ranking military officers and prominent men who were gathered with them that day.
And so, if you haven’t already, you could simply follow Paul’s structure to telling his story. Paul begins by describing what his life was like before he met Jesus. We’re told he’s religious and it got to the level of religious fanatic. So much so that he opposed Jesus and his people. For some of you, you may have had the privilege of always knowing Jesus. You can’t remember a time when you DIDN’T know Jesus. There’s nothing boring about that sort of before story. That’s an incredible privilege and all of us have a part to play in helping the kids and youth of our church be able to re-tell that story themselves, God-willing.
But others, you’ve got a distinct BEFORE story. One that, like Paul, was very clearly in rebellion towards Jesus. Either way, the next part of telling your story is to describe how you came to know Jesus. For Paul, it was meeting Jesus, in a vision, on the Damascus Road. For you, probably not similar, but you’ll have a way of describing the same reality. You met Jesus through a friend, through reading and listening to his words.
And finally part 3, how did Jesus change you. This is the after part of the story, where you outline the difference Jesus makes.
It’s very obvious for Paul, we’ve got it recorded in our Bible’s
You’ll have your own story too, you may describe how you’ve found a place of welcome, of acceptance. How you’ve been freed from the evil power of Satan or how you’ve had your eyes opened. Telling your own story is a great way to be part of someone’s story because it’s YOUR story, no one knows it more than you. It’s very natural, you don’t have to worry about getting it wrong.
But this is not the only way we can be part of someone’s story.
There’s perhaps an even easier but no less powerful and effective way to be part of someone’s story. Upon hearing Paul’s own testimony, listen to how Agrippa responds.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” ~Acts 26:28 (NIV)
Don’t you just love Agrippa’s honesty there? Even better is Paul’s reply
Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” ~Acts 16:29 (NIV)
So often the application of every Bible verse is read your Bible, pray or tell others about Jesus. Well, as a preacher, I for one am so glad that I can say today with a clear conscience that
Acts 26 has the last two of those applications!!! And did you notice the success here, success for Paul is not in whether Agrippa takes the hand of Jesus or not? No - it’s actually in him being truthful as he’s told his story. Directly answering Agrippa’s question and it’s in him now praying for him. Paul is so utterly dependent on God. Short time or a long time, it could be today, it could be after Paul’s long gone.
Also, he knows full well that just as God intervened in his own life, it’ll be the same God who’ll have to intervene in Agrippa’s life. But not just Agrippa, notice there: “All who are listening to me” There’s the universal welcome, the open invite God issues yet again.
Let me end by telling you the story of a bunch of guys from our 9am service last week, who, through the simple act of praying, were part of someone else’s story. Cafe. Praying. The owner asked what are you doing. One guy said we’re thanking God. That was enough, to see them front left in the Rooty Hill auditorium last Sunday. All through the simple act of praying before a meal in public.
Friends when it’s that easy, why wouldn’t you want to be part of someone’s story.
Have you known how the phrase “God willing” is falling off our lips? It's one of the things that Covid has blessed us with, we can no longer be certain about the immediate future. We make our plans and then there's another viral variant, a new government policy and plans are changed. We go into lockdowns, border closures, and as today - live services stop.
So, I say ‘see you next Sunday for live services, God willing!’
As Paul sets his face to Jerusalem, he passes from one city to another catching up with new disciples.
We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. ~Acts 21: 3a-4 (NIV)
In chapter 20, the Spirit urges Paul to go to Jerusalem, now he seems to be telling Paul to not go to Jerusalem. So, which is it? Either the apostle got it wrong, the disciples got it wrong or the Spirit got it wrong. We can live with Church getting it wrong. We are surprised if the apostle got it wrong but we are in big trouble if the Spirit got it wrong.
When the voting for a new Pope in 2005 was taking place the Australian Catholic Archbishop - George Pell was being interviewed on TV. He said that the Spirit directs the decision of the Cardinals to appoint the man God wants to be Pope. The interviewer then asked the Archbishop "What about those Popes who even the Catholic Church admits were heretics or sexually immoral?" Then Archbishop Pell replied "Well, sometimes the Spirit gets it wrong."
So my first question from today's passage. Does the Spirit get it wrong? This is not the only time that the Spirit warned Paul about his trip to Jerusalem.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. ~Acts 21:10-12 (NIV)
Again Paul ignores the warning to not go to Jerusalem, is Paul resisting the Holy Spirit? Is he despising Prophecy?
Let's look carefully. Agabus, with the style of an Old Testament prophet, re-enacts out what would happen to Paul if he goes. It's clear that this is from God, we are told it is what the Holy Spirit said and we also know it's from God because it happened.
The Spirit got it right! So did Paul get it wrong by going? No! If you look carefully the Spirit did not say 'don’t go'. God lovingly warns the Apostle but does not stop the apostle.
If anyone got it wrong it was Christians. The co-workers jumped to the wrong conclusions.
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” ~Acts 21:12-14 (NIV)
Like so many Christians they thought that avoiding suffering is what God always wants. Friends, the world lives by one formula, that happiness is the most important thing in the world. It's deadly! And it's making us an immature culture when your highest goal in life is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. You will not do the Lord's will.
EXAMPLE: One woman who was seriously ill had a minister who would only pray for healing and nothing else. She became exasperated with him and said to him "Why do you deny me the opportunity to know my God better through this suffering."
It didn’t help Paul to tell him to avoid suffering and not go to Jerusalem. Let's see what did help
When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. ~Acts 21:5 (NIV)
So the point of the warning was to not only prepare Paul and the other Christians to expect it and so not be discouraged. It was to provoke support and prayer. We are quick to give advice but we are slow to bring those needs before our Father in heaven. Do the Lord's will whatever the cost and entrust it to the Lord for his will be done.
1. Is the 'all things to all men' a waste of time?
Paul comes back to Jerusalem, he has two groups who could oppose him, he has Non-Christian Jews who despise him and he has Christian Jews who are upset at his reported view on the Jewish law, especially converted Pharisees. It's this second group that is his focus.
He is warmly greeted by his Jewish brothers in Jerusalem. Paul tells how God saved the nations through his ministry and they praised God. James, the Lord's brother, appears to be the head of the church in Jerusalem, he instructs Paul to join in a Jewish Nazarite vow of purification and to pay not just for himself but for 4 others. Why would he do this? He wants the Jewish Christians to know that Paul is not anti-law of Moses. He is being slandered and accused of telling Christian Jews that their children should be circumcised. So why would he agree to share in a Jewish vow and pay for four others, this is the principle of 'all things to all people'. To be a Jew become like a Jew.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. ~1 Corinthians 9:20 (NIV)
In that chapter, he lists all his rights as an apostle and then he talks about and forfeits those same rights. He lets love limit his liberty. Its rarely followed by Christians and it's an easily misunderstood principle. Paul himself was accused of being inconsistent and people-pleasing but it comes from grasping that he knew that in Christ he was neither Jew nor Gentile. His identity was bound up with the Lord Jesus, he could sit loose with his culture because he was defined by Jesus. It freed him to work to a higher principle than love, whether they were non-Christians and need to be saved or whether they were Christians and he did not want to cause offence
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. ~1Corinthians 9:19,22 (NIV)
In short, we bend for others for that is what Jesus did for us.
What is the result of this costly sacrifice for Paul? More trouble!
2. Is the 'all things to all men' a waste of time?
Wanting to work on his relationship with Jewish Christians, Paul is attacked by non-Christian Jews. ‘You feel like saying you cant win!!! He is spotted in the temple by non-Christian Jews from Asia, where Paul had an effective ministry, they go berserk and stir up the crowd. They accuse Paul of being anti-Moses, anti-law, anti temple and anti-Jerusalem.
They wrongly assumed Paul had brought a non-Jew, Trophimus, into the temple, the whole city was up in arms. They drag Paul from the Temple, they began to beat him with a view of killing him, until the Roman commander steps in. So much for being all things to all men, he does the right thing, he takes a Jewish vow for Purification, he pays for 4 others. For his trouble, he gets beaten to within an inch of his life while showing his respect for the law of God, he is accused of hating the Law of God.
But friends if its the right thing to do then do it. Forfeit your rights, compromise, bend here, bend there and expect that it will get misunderstood. You may well get condemned any way, we don’t judge something by the outcome, if something is right then its right, whether it appears to work or not.
EXAMPLE : If I choose not to lie at work and then I lose my job, it doesn’t stop being the right thing.
The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. ~Acts 21:33 (NIV)
Just as the prophecy has warned. For the Lords will be done!
Whatever is happening God has not lost control. What is clear is that Paul is allowed to live. The Roman Law again protects Christians from Jewish opposition and Paul will use the chaos to preach the gospel and give a defence.
The Roman commander can't get to the truth from the rabble, the crowd is dead set wanting to kill Paul. Amidst all this conflict what is Paul doing? He angles for an opportunity to give his defence and share the gospel to the crowd. He gets permission, Paul follows Jesus words to be cunning or wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.
Notice he starts with what they have common. So he speaks in Aramaic which gets their attention and he reminds them he is a Jew with the best credentials. He has been trained under the best of the rabbis. He was born in Tarsus but brought up in Jerusalem like them and has a zeal for the law. Like them he had persecuted Christians - what they were doing to him - he had done to others. Paul was no lone ranger - he had the backing of the High priest and the ruling Jewish Council
But in the midst of his persecution, on his way to take Christian prisoners in Damascus, the living Jesus appeared to him. In a blinding flash, he heard the voice of the Lord Jesus
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ~Acts 22:6-7 (NIV)
He both sees and hears from the risen Lord Jesus. You would think that would have triggered the crowd in a feeding frenzy, but it doesn’t. He is told that he is chosen by God to witness to all people what he saw and heard from Jesus. He is told to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. None of this caused a reaction.
Paul wants to make the point while praying in the temple and in a trance he is warned to leave Jerusalem because of persecution. He tells Jesus in the trance that he would be accepted because he was the greatest Christian persecutor.
His conversion should win the day but still no reaction. What gets their goat.
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” ~Acts 22:21-22 (NIV)
The thought of wanting people like you saved made them want to kill Paul. As far as they are concerned no human is fit to live who would want someone like you, a non-Jew to be in Gods kingdom and be part of Gods people. So did Paul's defence work? It would not get him off the hook. This will be the first of 5 opportunities before the courts and the crowds for Paul to give a defence. He wasn't flogged but that had more to do with the fact that Paul was born a Roman citizen.
Let the Lords will be done. And it was the Lord's will for Paul to stand before courts to give witness and that witness was that anyone from any nation who called on the name of the risen Lord Jesus will be saved. But what guarded Paul was not his Roman Citizenship. It would be that the Lords will be done.
"When David Livingstone was asked if he didn't fear that going into Africa was too difficult and too dangerous, he answered, I am immortal until the will of God is accomplished."
In other words, I will live as long as it takes for God to do what he wants me to do.
Let's not be ashamed of Christ. The Spirit warns us that anyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted. That should lead us to pray. We should seek to forfeit our rights and bend for others. Let us take the opportunity to side with Jesus, to speak for Jesus. Knowing that the outcome is in God's hand.
The Lords will be done
I’ve got so many great stories and memories from our time living in Asia. One memory was sitting in India and reading 3 book series with our son Taran when he was just a little fella, The Chronicles of Prydain, the Narnia Chronicles and finally we read The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings. It took years, sitting on the cane lounge with our legs spread out towards each other. It was always so hot that we’d have to make sure our skin wasn’t actually touching, we were sweating, but we were engrossed. Now fast forward 10 years and a global pandemic later. On day 1 of the Covid lockdown in Thailand, mid-March 2020, I realised it was time to dust off the old books and start reading with Ruby. We got through the first two series in about 4 months, we had a lot more time on our hands. The image from those books that’s been in my mind and heart over the weeks preparing for today's talk is from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s where Aslan, the Lion, breathes life onto the people and the creatures of Narnia that have been turned into stone by the wicked White Witch. As Aslan breathes his warm breath on them, the people thaw. Colour, warmth and life return, as the horrible spell is broken.
Today’s passage is about the Gospel, life through faith in Jesus, going out across the ancient world in Acts chapter 18. And amazingly, how God still uses his people today, to be a part of that great work. (verses 1 - 18a) the Gospel goes to Corinth. So firstly today, the Gospel goes to Corinth.
Verse 1 has the first mention of Corinth in the bible. Corinth was the main city of southern Greece, a busy place of trade and travel. But Corinth was famous in those days as the city of the Greek goddess of Sex – Aphrodite, which is where we get the word aphrodisiac from. It was a pretty wild place.
So, in Acts 18 Paul goes to Corinth as the next step on his mission trip, he meets a Jewish couple called Aquila and Priscilla, and a wonderful gospel friendship is born. One of the things that bond Paul with Priscilla and Aquila is their trade, they’re all tentmakers, they make and they repair tents. And in a very generous act of hospitality Priscilla and Aquila invite Paul to and come stay with them and they all keep busy earning money together through their trade.
But Paul’s heart, as always, is to share this message of Jesus which has completely transformed his own life. So come Sabbath day, Paul downs tools heads to the Synagogue, and preaches the good news to any Jews or Greeks who happened to be there. But before we move on, we need to notice one important fact about Pricilla and Aquila’s story. What got them to go to Corinth in the first place? Why did they end up there? It’s possible that they were among the first Christians to ever arrive in this completely unreached city. The answer is tucked in verse 2, they went to Corinth… because they’d been kicked out of their home in Rome. It was religious persecution that made them to pack up their life and leave. As refugees, they needed to run to save their skin.
As a young Christian fellow, I used to think that I’d love to be persecuted for my faith. I can take it! I can stand firm! Send me some suffering God. I’m ready to be your faithful servant! I was a little naive. About 20 years ago, Leaf and I had our exploratory trip to India . We met our friends Steve and Ellen. As we sat bright eyed and bushy tailed in their house, they told us about the pain of the adoption process they were going through to get their precious daughter out of an orphanage. They were really beaten down. But I remember thinking all for the Gospel hey? Bring it on! Bring it on!
There was a knock at the door. It was their teammate. He was a doctor. How exciting? A real Gospel worker. Maybe I can meet him? Maybe I can get his signature? I didn’t get to meet him because he came to see Steve and Ellen, and deliberately didn’t come inside, because he had just been diagnosed with Tuberculosis in his lungs and was terrified that he would pass it onto Steve and Ellen and also to his wife at home. In my head, I’m like, ‘Yeah, TB for the Gospel. I can take it.” A few minutes later, the phone rings. It’s Ellen’s dear friend Robyn. Robyn had heard that a bomb had just gone off in a church in Pakistan. 5 people were killed and her uncle was injured along with 400 others. That was the day when persecution started to loose its charm for me. Real people killed and real people suffering for their commitment to Christ.
We don’t know the ins and the outs for Priscilla and Aquila, but looking back, we can see that God used all things to His glory. Now that’s a really easy thing to say. That God is at work in all things for my good. I’d love to say that 15 years of faithful service has taught me to believe it, but I’d be lying. I don’t like suffering. I used to think I was a faithful Christian. Until I really suffered. When you get to the point where your head feels like it will explode from confusion and your heart feels like it is sinking into a deep, deep, dark hole in the ground. It’s so much easier to believe that there is no hope. There’s no way out of that hole than it is, to believe, that God is at work for my good.
It doesn’t make sense. It seems, at the time, like a cruel lie. Is that something that you can relate to? Even lately, maybe you’ve been struggling deeply and you’re just so worn out. God has a word for you today, and for me. You see Paul also knew about suffering, he knew about it a lot. Up till now on his journey, he’d been beaten so badly that his attackers thought he was dead, he’d been flogged, and imprisoned. In Corinth, where he is now, the Jews reject and abuse him. And so, Jesus comes to Paul in a vision
…“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” ~Acts 18:9-10 (NIV)
Now this a specific promise to Paul at a specific time, while he’s in Corinth. But some of this promise is for those of us who are Jesus’ people today, it’s a promise to us, all the time. The words, “For I am with you”. Do they sound a little familiar?
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, … surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. ~Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Do you, as a son or daughter of God, need to hear these words? I do. It’s so hard to be hanging on when things are so dark and so bleak, and your strength is just gone. Jesus says, “It’s ok, I’m with you. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you now and always.” You know that phrase that’s around today? People say, “You got this!” Jesus doesn’t say to us, “you got this”, he says, “I got you.” We don’t have to have stuff worked out. As long as we have Jesus, we just move forward, day by day, sometimes it’s more inch by inch, and he works it out. These were words for Paul and they’re for us today.
I’ve also noticed about Acts 18, is that it’s littered with beautiful Gospel relationships. Paul with Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy and Silas arrive and financially support Paul to preach full time. In verse 7, Titius Justus, a Gentile worshipper of God, opens his home for Paul to share the message of Jesus there. Because the Gospel goes out into the world through Gospel relationships. Can you open your door for gospel ministry? A meal? A Bible study?
The couple, Steve and Ellen, that I just mentioned before from 20 years back, they have become some of our dearest friends in the world. We lived together in India and then in Thailand. We’ve laughed and we've cried, we’ve hurt each other and we’ve hugged each other. And we have the wonderful testimony like what Paul and his team saw in Corinth
…many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised. ~Acts 18:8 (NIV)
Because the Gospel goes out through Gospel relationships. The second movement in Acts 18 is the Gospel going to Ephesus. Just like Corinth, this is the first time that Ephesus is mentioned in the Bible, again, Paul goes to a completely unreached area. Now today Ephesus is a spectacular site of ruins in Turkey but back then it was a big commercial city. So, when Paul goes with the Gospel, he takes a team of trusted friends. Because how does the Gospel go out? Through Gospel relationships, yes that’s right.
Priscilla and Aquila go with Paul. They lived and worked together for a year and a half in Corinth and so now, they pack their bags and hit the road together. Paul continues to train them and guide them, because soon he’s going to leave them to continue on the work without on him. It’s a beautiful model of a spiritual friendship.
In our years in Asia, we wanted people that were mature to join our communities to serve alongside us. The dream team would have been a mix of ages and gifting and personalities, but most importantly, people that love Jesus and are mature and experienced in ministry. Have you been serving faithfully in your context? Could you go to an unreached area for the Gospel? But maybe you’re thinking, Brendan I’m not a ministry machine, I’m an engineer, I’m a nurse, I’m a teacher, I’m in IT, I do admin, I’m retired. But what about going somewhere to enable the work to happen? Being in a support role?
Janet Banks is a friend of ours from Mt Druitt and she served faithfully as a primary teacher for decades around Mt Druitt, in fact, she was Leaf’s primary teacher, Janet is tough and she’s skilled. She now teaches at a tiny school for missionary kids in the middle of Niger, Africa, so that parents can stay on the field serving Jesus. And our very own Al and Liz Walker, in the Philippines, are doing exactly that at Faith International. Keeping missionary families on the field. Maybe you might like to pray Jesus’ prayer for the Father to send out workers into his harvest field. The need is still so, so great.
Now friends at MBM, I need to say, I wrote and preached this sermon one week before Ray and Sandy’s bombshell was dropped, I was as shocked as all of you. In missions, there are heartbreaking goodbyes, whether it’s a new church plant in Parramatta or going to pastor a church in Dubai. There’s a price that is paved in tears, but because of the Gospel, the goodbyes on earth will all be eclipsed with that final hello that we have together in the new Kingdom. Our stories on earth don’t end with a goodbye, for those of us in Christ, there’s a new beginning coming with the never-ending hello. And plus, a stopover in Dubai will never be boring ever again.
But now Paul leaves the ministry in Ephesus in the hands of Priscilla and Aquila, their apprenticeship is over. And off he sets on his Home Assignment, Deputation, Furlough, different words for the same thing. Where the Christian worker goes back to the church where he or she was sent from, to give a report of all that’s happened. This is the conclusion of Paul’s second mission trip which lasted 3 years.
Paul goes back to Antioch from where he was sent out. After Paul’s first mission trip, it says this about Paul’s home assignment.
From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving in 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. ~Acts 14:26-27 (NIV)
And so now in chapter 18, today’s passage, Paul returns again to Antioch, and we can confidently assume, that Paul would have reported to the church once again.
This is our sixth Home Assignment where we’ve reported back to the saints here at MBM church. What you’ve done in sending us out and receiving us back, is what the church has been doing for 2,000 years. And we want to say a huge thank you to every one of you for the support that we’ve received over so many years. Emails, Facebook messages, financial support, care packages, visits. Through this Gospel relationship that we have had together, if we look back at the ongoing legacy, praise God, there are lots to celebrate; We’ve seen travellers come to place their faith in Jesus. We’ve seen a global network of communities with the same vision for travellers get started. We’ve trained up people to share Jesus with seekers and seen them go and travel all over the globe. We’ve seen a weekly Christ-centred meditation start-up in a neighbouring city of northern Thailand and probably best of all, we’ve fed about 10,000 hippies and travellers in our Jesus communities and have been able to tell them that we do it, because we love Jesus and we love them. It has been a powerful witness and a great privilege, and you have all enabled that to happen. As this is now our final Home Assignment as a family, I would encourage you all to find another mission family to support, just as you supported us. Get behind them. Pray and give. And grow to love the people and the culture that your workers have gone out amongst. Support them well, because the Gospel goes out through Gospel relationships.
And now, we come to our final section in Acts 18 and we see how the Gospel grows in Ephesus. You’ll remember that Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus to continue on with the work there. From 1 Corinthians 16:19 we know that they successfully started a house church in Ephesus. Praise God for that!
But in the last section in Acts 18 we’ve got this interesting person named Apollos who appears out of nowhere. Apollos is a Jew and comes from Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was the ancient equivalent of our modern day Cambridge or Oxford, a city of great learning. So Apollos has a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, he’s a great preacher and he teaches about Jesus accurately, but there are some gaps in his theology. It’s really hard to be sure of what these gaps are though. Some commentators say that maybe he didn’t know that Jesus had taught for all believers to be baptised, or maybe his own understanding of the Holy Spirit was somehow confused. But either way, he begins to preach in the synagogue in Ephesus. And now we get to a fascinating verse
…When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. ~Acts 14:26-27(NIV)
This powerful orator from Cambridge University gets up and preaches up a storm. Priscilla looks over at Aquila and says, “He’s young, passionate, gifted, but a bit misguided, shall we invite him to lunch dear?” And they do. Notice what they didn’t do. They didn’t shout him down as a heretic. They didn’t gossip and ruin his reputation. They didn’t belittle him. They didn’t smile and thank him politely and then rip him to shreds on the drive home from church. They invite him to their home, into their lives. They reach out to extend the hand of Gospel friendship and in that context, they explained the truth more fully to Apollos.
The ones discipled by Paul, are now discipling a young and talented, upcoming leader. They have become his mentors. In the context of relationship and hospitality, they instruct Apollos. They might not have his gifts, but they have lessons that Apollos needs and so they teach him. Is there a younger person that you could mentor? Get alongside and help them to grow in their life and in their ministry? But the other angle to look at this encounter is from Apollos’ view. He could have said, “Look I’m the preacher here. I’m the upfront guy. I’m the leader.” But he doesn’t. He humbly receives their instruction. Apollos is more eager to serve effectively than to keep his ego intact.
Are you a Christian leader? Do you have mentors that you go to? Are you open to instruction by a person in your church? If Priscilla and Aquila invited you for lunch, would you go? What we see here is mutual humility from both parties. Because Gospel relationships must exude grace to each other. Why? Because Jesus and his grace is at the centre of our gospel relationships. Now there are so many other applications we could look at here but we don’t have time. The wonderful role of women in the New Testament church. The beautiful sight of a husband and wife doing ministry side by side like Priscilla and Aquila, enabling others to flourish. And it would appear that Apollos did flourish. After a while he gets the churches full endorsement to go as a teacher to the church in Corinth and continue to water the seeds that Paul and Priscilla and Aquila had earlier planted there.
How does the Gospel grow in us? As we come to the end of Acts 18, we’ve seen the Gospel going out to Corinth and Ephesus and then grow through Gospel relationships. But what about us? How does the Gospel grow in us? How does it take root in our lives?
…he was a great help to those who by grace had believed ~Acts 14:26-27 (NIV)
In other words, it only grows by God’s touch, God’s initiative, by God’s miraculous work of breathing on people made of stone and making them come to life again. When you’re made of stone, it’s very difficult to do anything at all, even scratch your nose, let alone bring yourself back to life.
But the grace of God at work is sometimes hard to see. I’ll give an example. My dad’s a reader, he reads a lot, he loves novels and war history and where the good guys beat the bad guys. I’ve been praying for my dad since 1990. That’s a long time and plenty of time to get discouraged that nothing will ever happen. Two and a half years ago, we visited Australia, I knew my dad was attending church with my dear mum, I knew he was even going to Bible study. If you were to have asked him why at the time, I think he’d say, “I enjoy the historical side of things”. So when I was visiting I was excited to ask about where dad was at with God. I think we were out around one of my dad’s famous BBQ’s (wood not gas) and started chatting. I was very discouraged when as the conversation wrapped up, my dad said something like, “Yeah, but Bren, I’m going to church, but nothing’s happened!”. I remember saying to Leaf, “I can’t believe that nothings happening. That doesn’t make sense.” I was really discouraged. About a month later, I heard an incredible story of my dad getting his life together in a big way. And I started seeing things happening. As time went on, I heard that my dad was getting more involved in church and his Bible study group.
A year ago, our family returned to Australia with our collective tails between our collective legs. They were a tough 12 months, we were so beaten down, we finally got to see my mum and dad and had another beer around the BBQ. I was excited to talk to my dad more and see what was going on for him. We talked and he started to talk about his bible readings and things he was enjoying. I could see things were happening. So I asked him a curly question. I said, “Yeah but dad, with all this bible study and going to church, do you think you’ve done enough to be a Christian?” He just looked at me stunned and said, “But it’s not about what we do, it’s about Jesus and his death and resurrection.” Fist pump. It’s by grace that we believe and are saved. Only by grace.
Friends we all need relationships. We want good friends. We want mentors. Many of us would like to be married one day. We long for that small group where people really have each others back. We all want a bestie that will stick by us through thick and thin. You’re thinking, if I had those types of friendships, I’d really be ok. Just one friend like that. The bad news is these relationships are hard to come by. The good news is, that there’s a friend waiting that I’d like to tell you about. A faithful companion (and he doesn’t have 4 legs). A friend who is closer than a brother. A friend who would be willing to put it all on the line for you. A friend who has your back, and who would be willing to take the knife for you. And a friend that will be with you always with no goodbyes. A friend that loves well. This the message of the Gospel. Jesus is that friend. He’s the faithful one who sacrificed his relationship with his Father, he was prepared to lose that relationship, to die, so that we would never have to be cut off from God ever again. This is the Gospel relationship that we all need.
Jonathan Edwards says, all other things in our life are the shadow. But God is the substance. God is the one we need. Jesus is the friend you need. And he comes to us by grace. We don’t straighten up our lives and then go to him. He comes into our lives and then by that same grace he starts to straighten us up. He helps us. And when we find this friendship with Jesus, and he changes us, we don’t sit back and wait for friends to come to us. Because we have Jesus, we go out and we are a good friend, to everyone. Even to people with different skin colour or a different accent to us. We bare the good news in words and deeds and then we stand back in wonder as Jesus breathes on hearts of stone and makes them alive again. Do you need this Gospel relationship with Jesus? Ask him to breathe on you. He will. Maybe even now, you can feel a thawing in your fingertips.
Merry Christmas friends, I hope this is a time of blessing, I hope the presents are to your liking. Every parent thinks their kids are special, we grandparents are even worse. As my friend Al says ‘If I knew it was going to be this good I would have bypassed being a parent and gone straight to being a grandparent’.
Some parents think their kids are exceptional, you find them standing on the sidelines shouting at the ref. They are sure their child can sing better than Adele, play soccer better than Lionel Messe. I guess we are all a little guilty trying to live out our dreams through our kids.
But only one set of parents had the right to think that their kid was out of this world... That would Joseph and Mary for their Son was God their son literally came from out of this world. And you can tell by heavens reaction to his birth.
1. I bring you Good news
At the birth of any child, there is a lot of fuss, cameras, light, actions, visits and presents. But at the birth of Jesus, the angel of the Lord turns up and makes a big announcement to the shepherds. Since I'm the son of a goat herder shepherds have a special place in my life.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. ~Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)
Here is God's comment on Jesus birth, God wants the shepherds (and you) to know that the birth of this child is Good News. Who doesn’t want good news?
Once I heard that we are going to have 25,000 cases of COVID per day by the end of January, I needed cheering up. We need good news because you can't live life without hope. It's always good news when a baby is born, this is Good News because the waiting is over. For today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; at that moment in history - the long awaited Saviour has arrived.
It's been a long time coming. In the bible, 2000 years before the first Christmas Day, God said to Abraham that he would have a descendant who would bless the world. 1000 years before the first Christmas day, God spoke to King David and said that his descended would be a king whose kingdom would never end. 500 years before the first Christmas day, God spoke to the prophet Micah and said that God's king would be born in Bethlehem (11.4 km from Jerusalem). Here is the promise
“But you, Bethlehem ... out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, ~Micah 5:2 (NIV)
The wait has been so long. It's like when my kids would say on those holiday trips up the coast ‘WHEN. ARE. WE. GOING. TO. GET. THERE?!’ God's people knew that the Saviour was coming, they just did not know when he was coming, only Mary could lock in the date, once conceived by the Holy Spirit there was only 9 months go. But at the birth of Jesus, the waiting was over, no more wondering when. Today in the town of David (Bethlehem) a Savior has been born to you; Today, it may be old news for us but oh its still good news. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
It's good news because he is a Saviour, the same angel told Joseph “You shall name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Born in Bethlehem and DIE in Jerusalem, so you can live forever. Born to die and to take upon himself your sins and guilt.
We need a Saviour just as much as they did. We need to be forgiven just as much as they did. With this Saviour, there is nothing that he can't forgive. It's good news because he is God's forever King. Someone is in charge of this crazy world.
Your forever story is bound up with this forever king, it's good news because he is the Son of the Most High. God has made himself known. He has come for one thing, for you to be in a personal relationship with him on his terms.
God went to a lot of trouble to make sure that you would know that the Christ had to be born in Bethlehem.
Question: How did a couple living in Nazareth end up giving birth in Bethlehem? (128 kms walk away.) That is one long donkey ride. It's not like Joseph said to Mary “Well my darling we better get going, so climb on this donkey because we are going to Bethlehem to fulfil Micah's prophecy”
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… And everyone went to their own town to register. ~Luke 2:1-2 (NIV)
God worked in the heart of an Emperor living in Rome 2000 kms from Bethlehem. He gets the emperor to organize a Census across the whole Roman empire. The Census required Joseph and Mary to move to their hometown of Bethlehem, just when the baby was to be born. And so fulfil the prophecy in Micah. A reminder that this is not a myth or Middle Earth, we are not dealing with an episode in Stars Wars “A long, long, time ago in a Bethlehem far, far away” Let's not also miss the phrase He is born to you...
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. ~Luke 2:11 (NIV)
Born to bless you; born to do you good.
Martin Luther once said "Why is it when I go into my Garden all the birds fly away as though I mean them harm." If he was Maltese and had a shotgun sure.
This one born on Christmas Day has come to save not to condemn you, He has come for you.
Why is it when I mention Jesus among some of my friends they change the subject as though Jesus meant them harm?
Could it be that some of you love Christmas but are afraid of Christ? Right now running away from him in your heart?
Could it be that you’re thinking, ‘I'm too ashamed Ray, I cant be saved’
Could it be that you’re thinking, ‘I am upset with God taking my loved one away? This Christmas will be an awful one.’
Could it be that you’re thinking, ‘I am afraid of what the Saviour will ask of me because he wants to be my lord as well?’
Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘I don't want to be disappointed yet again, this is truly a broken world.
In the kid's movie "The Incredibles", it opens with the main superhero, Bob Par, engaging in a quick run of heroic acts, he saves one person after another, but as soon as he saves one person another person is in trouble, needing to be rescued, a bit like a Bondi lifeguard. At one point he is frustrated and says “Why doesn't this world stay saved?” It keeps breaking down.
God's Word to you is this: I have good news for you, I’ve not just come to forgive you, I’ve come to bring in a new world where there is no more crying or grief or pain or death. Yes, no more COVID. As Saviour, Lord and King nothing less than a new creation is on God's agenda. I've come not just to save you but save this world. This baby has been born to you and for you. With good news comes Great Joy. Whenever the angel meets up with shepherds fear turns to joy.
I don’t know what happened when you were born. If you're the firstborn, then I’m sure they made a fuss, if you’re the 4th born, like me, then you’re lucky if they take a photo. When Jesus was born Heaven opened up and the Angelic Hallelujah chorus turns up
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” ~Luke 2:13-14 (NIV)
Not just one angel but an army of angels burst on the scene, louder than a Wanderers soccer match, praising God “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Notice God's glory is tied to our peace, what is good for us, is good for God.
LOOK! the angels may not have burst into song when you were born - sorry to disappoint but did you know that they burst into song every time a person is born again
I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. ~Luke 15:10 (NIV)
Since Jesus is Saviour, we need to surrender to him, since Jesus is Lord we need to serve him. As Maltese we grew up calling Jesus I’ll 'Bumbein' - The Baby. There is nothing intimidating about a baby, but this Jesus is no mere baby, He is Lord, Saviour, King of Kings. When he becomes YOUR Lord, Saviour and King then you are born again. Those who have a personal relationship with Jesus
... are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, ~1Peter 1:8 (NIV)
This is a flabbergasting joy, a joy so wonderful that at times you won't be able to find the words to describe it. If you are not born again, you don’t know this joy, you may know happiness but not joy. Joy, the one unique Christian emotion where you’re gripped by a deep sense of thankfulness for being rescued by Jesus, from hell itself. And friends that is why when the Saviour comes, praise and thankfulness always follows. As we know, you can't silence a person who’s in love.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:20 (NIV)
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For all people and that includes you. They had no room for Jesus when he was born, I wonder if you have room in your heart for this Saviour, Lord and Christ?
This is my last Christmas sermon at this church, so please hear me. Jesus doesn’t need you but you need him! He doesn’t need you but he wants you and is for you he is offering you the greatest gift - himself. But like any gift it must be received. Today a Saviour is born to you and for you.
I often say Gods providence makes MBM looks more organised than it is. When I planned the sermon series 12 months ago, I had no idea that I was leaving for Dubai and preaching this passage.
Paul is speaking his final words to a church he won't see again. This is the only speech in Acts that is directly addressed to Christians
- Paul is specifically speaking to the leaders of the church
- Called by the standard 3 titles - Elders, Shepherds and Overseers
Notice they are in the plural - A good reminder that only one of the Pastor elders of MBM is leaving for Dubai, the rest are staying. You’ve had me for 31 years.
Paul was with the Ephesians church for 3 years and is now away for 1 year. Since that time, false teachers have savaged his character and he is forced to defend his ministry. The integrity of the gospel is tied to the integrity of the messenger. So he looks back, he looks forward and then he looks straight at them with a word of warning.
1. He looks back to his past ministry
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. ~Acts 20:17-18 (NIV)
Six times Paul appeals to their experience of him: 'You know', 'You remember.' and 'You are witnesses'
It's the reason why the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. The Ephesians knew Paul first hand, he was above reproach, Not just at the beginning but consistently for the whole 3 years.
I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents ~Acts 20:19 (NIV)
He reminds them of how he was in their presence. He was not afraid to be vulnerable with them. He took his calling seriously because souls were hanging in the balance. This was not a job - they mattered to him.
I remember in the early days of MBM a committed brother fell away. I went to his place of work to see how he was going and before I knew it I broke down and cried. In ministry, there are tears of grief, tears over those who won't repent and tears over those you see drifting away.
Anyone can impress when the wind is behind them, it's only when you’re hammered that your character comes to the surface. It's why we don’t appoint Elders who are young in the faith and have not been tried and tested. We watch and see if suffering has made them bitter or better.
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. ~Acts 20:20-21 (NIV)
He taught the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In season and out of season, welcomed or not, he held nothing back that was for their good.
As far as I know, I can't think of a Biblical truth I clearly see in scripture that I did not clearly teach you, no matter how unpopular. From predestination to God's view on sex to government, I taught what I believed. Because it's only the truth that sets you free. How many times have you heard me say ‘We refuse to believe the lie that we are wiser than God’.
Paul preached consistently both privately and publically, it was the same message to Jew and Non-Jews. Notice the summary phrases: he covered 'the whole counsel of God', he focused on the gospel of grace. His message called for the response - Repentance to God and Faith in the Lord Jesus.
You can fake a great interview but it's hard to fake 3 years of ministry. His Loving tears, his perseverance in trials, his faithful teaching and his use of treasures. Paul did not covet anyone's silver, gold or cloth, he lived out the truth that it is more blessed to give than receive. He was a stumbling block.
One of my in-laws asked me what my salary would be in Dubai. I said I have no idea and she couldn’t understand how I could make such a big decision without knowing the salary.
Paul says appeals to their experience of him. Can I ask friends:
“What case can you make based on how you have lived.” In other words, make it your aim to have a death bed confession - able to look people in the eye and say “You are witnesses and so is God how I conducted myself before you.” Whether you’re a parent, or pastor, a worker, friend, or brother or sister in Christ, it won't do to say ‘Do what I say not what I do.’ It won't do to say ‘What I do in private is nobodies business.’ Live life where you’re able to say ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ.’ Which includes a bucket load of apologies.
Paul then moves from what they know to what he knows
2. His future suffering
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. ~Acts 20:22-23 (NIV)
The Spirit of Jesus lovingly warned Paul again and again that in Jerusalem, prison and hardship await but everyone except Paul makes the same mistake. If suffering is coming then it must be avoided at all cost, Paul must change his travel plans.
They confused the warning of suffering from the need to avoid it. Paul will not be stopped.
Sandy and I have really appreciated it when people have given reasons not to go to Dubai. But what I loved is that the cost of going was not one of the reasons to not go. Our prayer was simple, if you want us to go we will go, if you want us to stay we will stay, whatever the cost. The issue for Paul was not the suffering, the issue is finishing the race well
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. ~Acts 20:24 (NIV)
The issue friends is not living well but ending well. Paul's life didn’t matter only Jesus' Kingdom did. To be fair, he was given a specific brief as an apostle, to complete the task given by Lord Jesus.
This is very clarifying, getting the cancer diagnosis is not to be your biggest concern, missing out on the job or love of your dream should not be your biggest grief. Finishing well. Not once but twice Paul says to the elders “I am innocent of the blood of any of you.”
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. ~Acts 20:25-27 (NIV)
In Ezekiel 33 - The watchmen stands guard and announces that the enemy is coming. If the people don't prepare for that judgment, it's on them. If the watchmen does not warn and blow the trumpet then it's on him. In this passage, Paul is blowing the trumpet and warning the elders of false teaching that is coming.
Like a lifeguard who warns the swimmers that a shark is in the water, he is innocent of their blood.
Travelling west one holiday, I noticed an old Vauxhall car veering off the road, the senior driver fell asleep at the wheel and was heading for death. All I could do was blow the horn and warn him, he woke up, heeded the warning and veered back.
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. ~Acts 20:25-27 (NIV)
There is a limit to a pastor’s responsibility. We can plead, urge, preach, teach, warn with tears but we can't repent for you or we cant believe for you. We can't live your Christian life for you.
We can't say your prayers, read your bible for you, parent your kids, serve at church for you and forgive your enemies. That is on you. We are explicitly told that the church grows as each part does its work.
Paul looked back on his ministry, he looked to his future suffering in Jerusalem and he now speaks a word of warning in the present.
3. Final Words of Warning
Keep watch over yourselves and the church
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. ~Acts 20:28 (NIV)
Keep watch over yourselves first, the hardest person to lead is yourself. The last of the fruit of the Spirit is Self-control. How many Pastors have brought the name of Jesus into disrepute? Pray every day for the nominators, that they appoint a man who watches over his life and doctrine every day. Paul was aware after preaching to others that he would not himself be disqualified.
He knows that he has to give an account to Lord Jesus when he returns. We Pastors must never forget that we are sheep before, therefore shepherds. Early on at MBM, I realised I was rejoicing over the salvation of others and stopped rejoicing over my salvation. I was watching over the souls of others and forgot to watch over my own soul. It’s a serious task to watch over the souls of others. When an Anglican minister is ordained these words are spoken to him
"Have always therefore printed on your mind how great a treasure is committed to your care. For they are the sheep of Christ, whom he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The church and congregation whom you must serve is his bride and his body. And if it should come about that the church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgment that will follow."
I don’t know one minister at MBM who does not shudder when they hear those words. Not one pastor who feels they are up for the task. Each one of us is aware of how we failed in some area. We know we will be judged by God more severely and sometimes the sheep can bite
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. ~Acts 20:29-31 (NIV)
When it comes to false teaching be alert! It can start by being bored with the gospel. It can start when Pastors wanting to scratch where people itch and ignoring hard truths because they want to be liked or bending to an ever-changing culture.
From the beginning of MBM, we have sought to preach the whole counsel of God chapter by chapter. Its why our preaching series for 31 years follows the same pattern.
Did you hear when I did warn you? How you cannot love Jesus and not love and serve his people. Was I clear that faith alone in Christ alone saves and that faith without works is dead - that anyone who divides the church starts a war with God himself.
Did you hear when I said if you’re ashamed of Christ he will be ashamed of you or that a love of money is the root of all kinds of evils? Did I warn you that unless you repent and have Jesus as your Lord you cannot be saved? I will be honest, the hardest thing about leaving MBM is entrusting you to God
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. ~Acts 20:32 (NIV)
I keep telling myself that MBM is God's church, not mine. Jesus purchased you with His blood, not mine. It's His gospel of grace and not mine that transforms lives. Now is not the time for final goodbyes; you will see me again.
Remember Sandy and I will be your new overseas ministry partners. I fear at MBM we have a soft underbelly, a good number who seek comfort over Christ, who have moved from being part of the core to being part of the crowd, who have become Consumer Christians, happy to receive but don’t give of themselves. In short, some Christians have stopped counting the cost. That is why I think the best sermon I can give you is for Sandy and I to go to Dubai.
We spent the last week minding the grandkids. We are aware that we are going to miss their birthday's parties and Christmas together. When my kids and grandkids cried at us going, I remember the tears of my mum 41 years ago when I told her I could no longer in good conscience be Roman Catholic, she cried for 2 years. The verse that I held on to then was:
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;… ~Matthew 10:37 (NIV)
When I saw the tears of kids and grandkids the second part of the verse came back to me.
…anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me ~Matthew 10:37 (NIV)
Jesus is worth it! Have you stopped counting the cost? Don’t dishonour Christ by hiding behind some form of cheap grace
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. ~Matthew 10:38 (NIV)
That my friends is a warning from the Spirit of King Jesus.
When was the last time you shared the gospel… and what was the response?
My wife Sally was born in Kenya, her parents were missionaries there. They came back when she was about 6, then 20 years later they went back full time to the same place.
Her dad is the head of the missions in North Kenya. We’ve had the privilege of visiting a couple of times and doing some ministry there.
They head out on these missions to people living in the aridest places. They drive for hours where’s there’s just nothing for ages and then a little town of huts will pop up in the middle of nowhere. They’ll stop and tell them about Jesus. Most of the towns they come to have never heard the gospel before.
One town they went to last year, had lived in fear of demons and the spirits of their ancestors for as long as they could remember, and after spending time telling them of the power of Jesus over the Spiritual realm, 60 households turned their lives over to Jesus! He’s seeing that happen all over the place as they take the word out!
God’s word is powerful enough to break the hardest heart and to call in those we consider the furthest gone. But the question for us is - do we believe that?
All the way through Acts - since Jesus rose and left, people have been opposing and speaking against this Gospel message; trying to discredit the word of God. Here in chapter 19, we see God confirming the validity and power of his word as lives are continually transformed, the word goes out and the world experiences the difference that Jesus makes.
Let’s dive in! First off we meet a group of people who, like my taste in music, are living in the past.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” ~Acts 19:1-4 (NIV)
These guys had been around when John the Baptist was calling people to repent and get ready for the one who was coming after him. They were faithful Jews, trusting in God’s promises of a saviour who was coming: They just didn’t know he already had! They were missing the final piece! So Paul tells them the gospel and they’re baptised into Jesus’ name!
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. ~Acts 19:5-7 (NIV)
They finally experienced the fulfilment of all they’d been looking forward to. They had a part of the story and were believing that part, but until Paul filled them in on the fullness of the Gospel, they had no personal relationship with the Christ they’d been waiting for. And all it took, was the Gospel! The message Paul was entrusted with.
See, it’s not enough just believing in some closed idea of God, thinking "that’s good enough". Instead, true salvation, a personal relationship with Jesus, takes hearing and believing the truth - the Gospel. This is the Gospel Paul and the Apostles were taking to the world.
I wonder if you’ve personally accepted that message. These guys show us something of what many of us can fall into. Something I had also fallen into.
That is, a state where you know some things about God, but still don’t know God personally. Not in a personal relationship with Jesus by His spirit, based on His truth!
This can particularly affect people who have grown up in a Christian household or have a background of Catholicism or other denominations or religions that was very heavy on tradition and not a relationship. You may have heard lots of things about God, and taken on many of those things, but not personally met and accepted Jesus. Maybe you’re listening here today and recognise that’s you. You know some things about God, but haven’t personally accepted that God’s own Son, Jesus - died in your place, for your sins, offering you forgiveness for everything you’ve done - enabling you to begin a relationship with him now and spend eternity with Him in heaven.
If that’s you, let me invite you today to accept his offer! All it takes, is to pray and ask Him to forgive you, to give you his spirit and lead you in his word. If you’d like to talk more, come and see me, or stop at the ‘New Here’ flag.
Over the next couple of verses, we see the word opposed again by the Jews in the Synagogue, so Paul takes those who have believed down the road to a pagan hall and he meets with them daily to talk about Jesus and the Christian life and verse 10 says:
This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. ~Act 19:10 (NIV)
Luke wants us to see that God’s word would never be bound to a building! This reminds me of the last couple of years through Covid, even though we couldn’t meet in the church building, the word continued to go out, and even to areas we didn’t expect. We were seeing people turning to Jesus online, over zoom and even people overseas were benefiting from that ministry. As much as some of us flinch at the word 'Zoom', it was a massive blessing that we praise God for!
The word just can’t be constrained to a building! It rang out in Ephesus as the disciples came in and went out, and I pray it keeps ringing out from us here as we gather and go!
After confirming the power of the word there, the next section is another confirmation of how there’s no one and no power God’s word isn’t powerful enough to transform.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. ~Acts 19:11-12 (NIV)
OK, now this is just crazy right. Hankies and aprons healing people. What is going on there? And I think the big question is - is this something we should expect to see happening today? And if not, then why not!? Discussions about Miracles in the bible and today can be tricky ground to navigate, especially when reading Acts, because Acts doesn’t always give us clear signs of what is meant to be read as just descriptions of special events, compared with what we should expect as the normal Christian life.
One thing I love here is that Luke himself, the author, is a Physician, a doctor, a man committed to science, and he sees no issues accepting science and God’s hand in performing miracles. In his mind, they’re not opposed, but completely possible, because of who God is. As I said at the beginning, this chapter especially, is working to show us how God was
confirming the power of His word through the Apostle Paul. And one of the ways he confirmed his word was by enabling Paul to do miracles!
When Jesus was on earth he called specific people to him and marked them as Apostles. Apostle means - a sent one - a messenger. These Apostles were commissioned to be the particular witnesses for Jesus who would pass on the gospel of Jesus’ life to the generations after them. This is why we call our faith an Apostolic faith - faith in the message of the Apostles.
…one of the chief signs / marks of an Apostle is that they perform signs and wonders - miracles! ~2 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV)
These miracles confirm their message! Miracles never save a person, but they draw attention to the message that does save!
The apostles were given the ability to perform specific miracles to confirm that saving message, which we now have today written down in our bibles! Which also bears witness to their miracles, as we read here. What Luke writes here isn’t for us to think our lives will be the same as Paul’s, but for us to see and have confidence that: The Word Paul preached about Jesus - was the truth that brings salvation and eternal life! Because God confirmed it through Paul’s miracles! If we walk away from this just wanting to do the miracles, but not wanting to preach the word, then we’ve missed the point!
Now, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t still do miracles through people, or that he can’t do miracles anymore! Absolutely not!
I’ve heard story after story of how God has continued to do miraculous things throughout the world to bring people to himself, but what we often see, is that it happens in places
where God’s word is harder to source and it draws them to His word, and once they come to find His word, the miracles don’t seem to be as prevalent. Not as needed…because miracles don’t save, only the Gospel saves!
I’m happy to chat more about this with you personally if you’ve got more questions. What we’re seeing here is a confirmation that this Word Paul was preaching – is powerful and trustworthy! And that’s what I think this next little section is showing us. There are some people going around trying to drive out demons saying - “in the name of the Jesus Paul preaches - come out” - but getting nowhere… even to the point that the demon-possessed people overpower and attack them!
The demons say “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you!?” again, confirming God was doing something particular through Paul that he wasn’t doing with others. Look at the effect that has on the surrounding area!
When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. ~Acts 19:17 (NIV)
Notice first of all who’s name was held in honour - Paul’s! NO - Jesus’! Even as powerfully as God might decide to use someone - the glory and focus are always for Jesus’ name! Not ours! So, let’s keep preaching it and looking for the miracle of a saved life: Someone receiving the miracle of the Holy Spirit! Moving from Death to life!
Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. ~Acts 19:18-20 (NIV)
Back then a drachma was a day’s wages, so that’s 50,000 days worth of work! 136 years! These people considered the power of the word of God of more worth than their sorcery! Of more worth than their livelihoods, as they burned their means of making money. More powerful than their shame as they confessed their deeds, and were ready to openly, publicly change their lifestyles for the name of Jesus! That’s a powerful word! And we see this in verse 20 - these changed lives caused more lives changed!
But as I began with, the question for us is - Are you convinced of the power of the word? Of it’s worth or Jesus’ worth in other people’s lives?
I think we can often decide ahead of time if people’s lives are too hard for God to work on and we don’t share the gospel with them because we think it won’t work. Or we see their lives and they look so comfortable or messy that we convince ourselves the word isn’t worth their life change. We limit God! I do it all the time! It’s so foolish! We forget our own stories. Let’s stop doing that - Christmas is coming up - let’s use the opportunity to speak up and watch God go to work! And as he does, you can expect it to have an effect on others, positively & negatively…
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” ~Acts 19:23-27 (NIV)
So, obviously, the gospel has been spreading and loads of people’s lives have been changed, so much so that the idol-making business has gone downhill! The guys making these household gods are upset for a few reasons. They think these idols / statues are real gods and will lose their glory - if that’s possible. If their god loses followers - they lose their jobs. It’s a sad reality, they’ve built their lives around a false god, a god who is dependent on their followers… who they’re continually making images of, thinking there’s something real going on there… They can’t see the inconsistency… either way, they’re not happy!
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. ~Acts 19:28-32 (NIV)
Isn’t this just a classic picture of our world today! This mob unite over a common mindset and storm into the theatre - a place where they would have held shows, meetings and also gladiator wars, slaughtering animals and people. They want blood! They’re Angry! Violent! Confused. They want their lives back, they want money! They drag in Paul’s travelling buddies! They really want Paul - the cause of all this! But the Church won’t let him in - they know how this ends… he was stoned before. But I love what happens next! And I think this is the point of this section, the city clerk stands up and pretty much tells them to pull their heads in.
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. ~Acts 19:35-36 (NIV)
He’s saying, if Artemis is truly God, we shouldn’t have to defend her like this but obviously, the resurrection of Jesus has brought these “undeniable facts” into question.
I love what Spurgeon said about God’s word when someone asked him to defend it’s validity, he said, the bible is like a lion, you don’t defend a lion, you just let it out of its cage and it defends itself!
Anyway, the Clerk says, if these guys have done something wrong, the courts are open, you can put in a case there.
You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. ~Acts 19:37 (NIV)
They’ve done nothing wrong, us on the other hand:
As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” ~Acts 19:40 (NIV)
It’s just beautiful and shows that the only thing the Christians had done “wrong” was share the gospel! The Ephesians were rioting because they were feeling the effects of the good news taking root in people’s hearts. And there’s such a contrast here between how the world takes matters into their own hands when life turns upside down and how the church brings about change. Rioting, anger, rage and violence is fuelled by a false idea about life, worshiping a false god. Compared with Paul, who’s nowhere to be found, because he’s already made his
Difference, through the preaching of the gospel, no rage, no violence… just words! It reminds me of what the Apostle Peter wrote, to a church suffering under the weight of their culture.
Live such good lives among the pagans [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. ~1 Peter 2:12 (NIV)
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. ~1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)
The word is powerful to change lives…We don’t need to be like this crowd and take matters into our own hands - we need to be like Paul. Preach, and let God do his work.
I’ve been reading Exodus lately, and I’ve loved seeing this connection with God’s word and his power…Moses - faltering lips - called to go to pharaoh and just speak “Let my people go”
Not called to do anything violent! God did miracles through him, but he was called to speak - and let God do the work! Same when the people left Egypt, God told them to ask the people for their gold and silver, He didn’t say, before you leave, sneak in and grab as much as you can… but just ask, and watch me do my thing! I'll make them favourably disposed towards you…
And so today, God calls us to speak! To share the gospel and watch him go to work! Share the word, and watch God move hearts. The Gospel transforms, and God’s given us the privilege of being his witnesses, as others experience our changed lives. We ourselves are God’s walking Miracles today!
Never underestimate your testimony as a witness to God’s miraculous confirmation of His powerful word! Share your story!
We all know that Christianity has a shrinking voice in the public square. Since the 60s sexual revolution, we went from quaint to irrelevant to the enemy in a short time. With the growing hostility to biblical Christianity, we are perceived by the media to be on the wrong side of history.
Tim Keller was right, for the first time, the modern secular West doesn’t see itself as a culture, it's just right and everyone else is wrong. In the public square, we live in what OS Guinness calls "The world of the ABC… Anything but Christianity."
As we think of great commission to make disciples of all nations, it's very easy to be intimidated, it's very easy to be overwhelmed, it's very easy to be pessimistic. This is the challenge as we seek to bring the gospel and plant churches in Australia. Will we be intimidated? Paul's sermon in Athens will speak to this fear.
The apostle Paul is on his 2nd missionary trip and he finds himself in Athens, this is not a Contiki tour of the Greek Islands.
He is waiting for his co-workers to join him and as he walked around the city, with a great history and proud culture, he is not just curious, he is deeply upset. Athens was a forest of idols.
why was Paul so distressed? Paul is jealous for God's glory, who will not share his glory with another. They have turned the living and speaking God of the universe into a lifeless image who needs to be carried. Oh, that we would be jealous for the nations to glorify God.
Before long Paul is invited to speak at Areopagus-Mars Hill, this is infotainment at its worst and best. These epicureans and stoics didn’t so much love truth but love new ideas. At one level Paul is a Jew talking to people from other cultures who worship other gods. He is in our world, a multicultural, multi-faith world. His God is clearly different from theirs. Paul begins respectfully and he begins where they are.
They are extremely religious people but ultimately, they worship what they do not know. He starts where they are at. Paul notices an altar marked ‘to an unknown God’, they were having an each-way bet. He finds points of agreement to show that Jesus is Lord over every culture. We need to hear it for one reason because, in our post-modern secular Australia, we are told that we don't have any right to share the good news of Jesus with other people, that we do more harm than good.
John and Betty Sharpe, who worked amongst the Tegutil tribe, for 12 years in Indonesia, saw 75% of the tribe become followers of Jesus. Years later one American anthropologist said to the people…“People from my country USA think that what Betty and John did was wrong by bringing Christianity and changing your culture.” One of the Tegutil men was very upset and said “Go back and tell your people what it was like before John and Betty brought Jesus, we lived in fear... fear of spirits... fear of ancestors”
So, what do all humans have in common
1. One Creator
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. ~Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)
Paul begins by placing all humans under the one God who created the heavens and the earth. This was the opposite of the Epicureans and Stoics, they believed that everything is a random fluke, not unlike modern Australia. Paul draws a circle around all humanity, we have all been created by the one God, we don't create space for God in temples, he creates space for us here on earth. We don’t make him in our image, He made us in his image. Every nation, language, tribe, have one thing in
Common, we are all equally dependent on him, he is not dependent on us. Paul quotes their own poets in a hymn Zeus: "For in him we live and move and have our being." He is trying to show how the greek gods were spiritually bankrupt. These gods need us to serve them. Idolatry always places gods at the mercy of humans and not humans at the mercy of God. We don't carry God, he carries us.
2. One God and One Ancestor
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; ~Acts 17:26 (NIV)
Paul believes in a historic Adam. Go back far enough and we are all related. We are cousins by blood but we are brothers and sisters by the blood of Jesus. Adam is as much the granddaddy of the Aborigine as he is the granddaddy of the Turk. A proud Assyrian from MBM, who will remain nameless, did a DNA test, he was shocked to find that he is only 35% Middle Eastern. I’m 27% Arabic and he thought he was a thoroughbred, and he is, he is 100% a child of Adam.
When my friend was pregnant and people asked her ‘what are you hoping for?’ She gave the same answer, a human! We are all children of Adam. By the way, this is what makes racism both wrong and stupid, whether institutional or personal racism, constantly examine yourself to see how racism can lurk in your heart. Will you embrace the full humanity of every person? One God, one Ancestor.
3. One purpose in Providence
God is in charge of the rise, spread and fall of every people.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. ~Acts 17:26 (NIV)
It was God who determined when the Athenian culture would flourish and when it would end, it was God who decided when the Russian Revolution would begin and when the Soviet Union would be dismantled. God is the reason why 1⁄4 of babies born are Chinese. It was God who decided who and how many migrants would come to this land. God was behind you or your father or your grandfather or great, great, great, great grandfather coming to his country. Whether it was 50,000 years ago or 5 days ago. This is not to deny the injustice of land taken from first nations people.
4. God One Purpose in Providence : To reach out for him
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ~Acts 17:27 (NIV)
God's hand is found in every event of a cultures life with one reason, one purpose so that people can seek him and find him and be saved. All history is salvation history. God's hand is found in every step of a nations life so that they would be saved. I don't know how this works out in every detail but I know when God humbles humans and dislocates nations that people cry out to God.
Whether your grandparents were part of the 3 million who migrated from Europe after WW2 like my parents. In the 70s there were 120,000 Asian refugee migrants and 20,000 who escaped the Lebanese Civil War and tens of thousand of political asylum seekers from an oppressive dictatorship in South America.
In the 80s there were Chinese student refugees from the Tiananmen Square massacre.
In the 90s there were the Yugoslav Wars in the Balkans and more recently the Sudanese civil war and the Syrian crisis. God has brought the world to us so that they may reach out for him.
MBMs extended Vision and mission statement makes this clear.
God, in His sovereign control of history, has brought the nations into our backyard. We refuse to let this wonderful opportunity slip through our hands. God desires all people to be saved and so do we. Why do you think you are living in Australia? it's not just for a better life, it's for eternal life, and yes we can speak to every culture because we all share the one common judge.
5. One Judge
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” ~Acts 17:31 (NIV)
God has appointed one man to be judge over all nations, there are no cultural favourites. Everybody will have to give an account before this judge, the Lord Jesus. No one gets in because they think to themselves: "I’m Australian Anglican" or "Italian Catholic" or "American Baptist" or "Chinese Buddhist" or "African animist" or "Indian Hindu". Every human on this earth will stand before one Judge and his name is Jesus Christ king of kings. That we have not already been judged is Gods mercy, He has overlooked our rebellion so far
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. ~Acts 17:30 (NIV)
6. One command, to repent
There is one command for all people everywhere, turn from idols and trust in Lord Jesus. Repentance is not just remorse, you can be sorry for sins you never stop doing, repentance is not just reform. Lots of alcoholics have said 'no' to the bottle and not 'yes' to Jesus, repentance is about turning from my sin to Jesus. From a life run by me to a life run by Jesus. Repentance is about making Jesus the main character of your life. Aligning my view of the world with Jesus'. The plea, "But I was brought up this way" will not stand on the day of judgment. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that we are victims of our culture or family.
This God commands all people everywhere to repent, all nations, all ages, all classes, all styles, all personalities, all sexual orientations, all religions, all generations, to repent. You and I are not at the mercy of our upbringing. What we need to be clear in our head is this
7. One Proof for all people
There is no excuse now.
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” ~Acts 17:31 (NIV)
As far as God is concerned the resurrection of Jesus is enough proof for everybody to become a Christian.
Bertrand Russell, a famous British atheist philosopher, was asked “Bertrand what would you say to God on judgment day if Christianity proved to be true?" He said, "You didn’t give me enough evidence." But as far as God is concerned the resurrection of Jesus is enough proof for all people to repent. For every Australian in every state or territory regardless of who they are or where they come from: a Kenyan grandmother, a Columbian farmer, a Thai nurse or a Portuguese chef.
God commands all people everywhere to repent. No one is born a Christian, God has no grandchild. Kids and teenagers, you need to repent for yourselves.
The result of Paul's talks was that some became disciples while others laughed. Which is it to be for you? Will you be a follower of Christ or will you laugh in the face of this evidence? The tendency today is to focus on the cultural difference but God tells us we have far more in common. The one God made all of us from one man and we will stand before one judge who was raised from death and issued one command.
That is why when God speaks to Athenians 2000 years ago before microphones, microchips, microwaves. He speaks as much to you and me. We will all stand before the one judge and the evidence for the resurrection is sufficient proof. There is no "us and them" where it counts, it's just us. Remember it's God who commands not you. So yes gently, respectfully, winsomely, share this message.
And today God commands you to repent and he commands your loved ones to repent.
So often when conflict arises there are times when we need to ‘agree to disagree’ but there are other times when we simply can’t. It's not like there was no conflict in the early church, one of the things I love about the bible is that it won't pretend, it’s 'a warts and all' story. In this midsection, in the book of Acts, we have two major conflicts recorded for all to read. One that needed to happen and the other one unfortunately often happens. One was a matter of salvation and the other was a matter of wisdom. I'll take the second one first
Question: What is the hardest thing about being a missionary?
It's other missionaries! Paul and Barnabas worked together so beautifully, for so long, and saw so many saved and many churches planted. Then Luke tells us they had a sharp disagreement. It was over whether to take John Mark with them on the 2nd missionary trip. You can imagine Barnabas, the son of encouragement, telling Paul “We must take him, sure he bailed on us, but don’t we believe in grace and hey he is my cousin” Paul said “No way Barnie! The gospel is too important and if he was not faithful in small things we cant give him big things.” Notice the solution, they agreed to disagree. This was a wisdom call.
We are not clear who was right. We are clear it didn't stop either of them preaching the good news of our Lord Jesus.
It's important to learn when to ‘agree to disagree.’ Don’t be an idealist! Conflict happens in the church! I've seen godly men who are good friends, who love Jesus and join the same church staff, and in 6 months one resigns.
Paul never lost respect for Barnabas but on this one, they went their separate ways and didn’t lose sight of the gospel.
The other conflict was not one you could ‘agree to disagree’
It is the most important conflict that has ever been waged. Certain men from Jerusalem came to the beautiful multiethnic church in Antioch to tell non-Jews that they were not true Christians
The Issue: Salvation by Works or Grace.
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” ~Acts 15:1 (NIV)
You can take the man out of Pharisee but it's hard to take the Pharisee out of the man. If these teachers were right then the church of Antioch was not a true church and all non-Jews had to become Jews to be saved. This would have meant that the Gospel is no longer good news.
Faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.
Right now unvaccinated people are having their privileges stripped from them. Unless you are vaccinated you can't keep your job. It has created tremendous pressure. How much more is it to say to non-Jews, you can't be saved unless you’re circumcised.
At one level we can understand how the issue of circumcision arose. God nearly killed Moses for not circumcising his 2 sons and it was quick thinking by his wife that saved him from death.
Circumcision was the God-given sign that you belonged to God's people. Everything was at stake.
We have all experienced someone coming along and denying our salvation. Unless you have this spiritual gift, belong to that particular church then you are not going to heaven.
I was offered $10,000 to sack a student minister, by their mother, because she wanted them to come back to her church. She was convinced that unless he went to church on Saturday he could not go to heaven.
Paul and Barnabas immediately take on the false teachers.
This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. ~Acts 15:2 (NIV)
The language is strong because this is the most important issue the church has ever had to face. This was so important that they went to the apostles in Jerusalem to sort it out. The process is all done in a gracious, clear, public, ordered and emphatic way.
How is this matter to be cleared up? What is interesting is this - they do not go to the Prophets for an answer as in the Old Testament. NO! There is no word of knowledge, no word of wisdom. The Apostles and Elders gathered and a passionate debate takes place among the leaders. This is the first Church Council and it would not be the last - the Council of Nicea 325 dealt with Jesus being truly God. What is interesting is that in a Church so Spirit-filled, led by Apostles who were still alive, the right thing to do was to have a debate among the leadership with bibles open.
When you see churches debating issues, like the Anglican Synod (Parliament), don't lament that the church is divided, this is the way things have always been done, so pray that the right decision is made. So pray for your Synod Reps: David and Pat Jackson.
After much debate, three people speak, Peter Paul and James. They all point to what God has done. Peter affirms that God chose him to preach the gospel to the Nations. He saw how God poured his Holy Spirit on these believing non-Jews just as he did to Jews in Pentecost. In other words, God makes no distinction between them and us, between non-Jews and Jews. Their hearts were cleansed not by the law of Moses but by faith in Lord Jesus. So to place them back under the law would be to test God not trust God. God made them Spirit-filled Christians not by circumcision but by faith in his Son.
Peter makes the side point - let's face it, we Jews couldn't carry the load of the law and its 613 commandments, so why lay it on the non-Jewish Christians. Then the clincher.
No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” ~Acts 15:11 (NIV)
We are all saved in the same way as they are, by grace and not by law, through Faith alone in Christ and not works of the law, by what Christ has done not what I do. This is the issue that is forever being fought over throughout the church. This is the issue that is being fought in every heart. God accepts me, not on the quality of my performance but on the perfect performance of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. Christ loves me no more on my good days, He loves no less on my bad days. To trust Jesus, I need to stop trusting in my good works.
There was once a TV ad with the two boys in the hospital waiting room, they both had their hands stuck in the cookie jar. They could not pull their hands out unless they let the cookie go!
Let's be clear, we are not to stop doing good works but stop trusting them and cling to Jesus. We are not yoked to the Law we are yoked to Jesus, our identity is not tied to religious symbols but to our relationship with Jesus.
So first Peter then comes Paul and Barnabas and their point is simple.
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. ~Acts 15:12 (NIV)
If Peter witnessed the conversion of the nations and the gift of the Spirit, then Paul witnessed the signs of wonders among the Nations, again making the point: What God did among them he did among us. There is no ‘us and them’ Signs and wonders are used to not only prove that Jesus is alive and Lord but also show that nations are in.
God has gone to a lot of effort to show us once and for all that you and I are saved by grace and are part of God's people.
Finally, James, the Lord's half-brother speaks. It should not surprise us that the nations are included, because God had predicted it.
Acts 15:15-18 he quotes Amos 9
The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’—things known from long ago. ~Acts 15:15-18 (NIV)
It wasn’t a new idea, the Bible always said God's remnant will include the nations who call on God's name. It's not for those who bear the mark of circumcision but bear the name of God.
On this one, we are not going to ‘agree to disagree’
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. ~Acts 15:19 (NIV)
There is no Jesus plus Christianity
There is no faith plus works gospel
There is no mixing of Grace and law good news
If this battle had not been fought and won then it's not just that we would have to book every new Christian to see a doctor to be circumcised, it means that Jesus' death might as well have never happened. Paul says that if righteousness could be gained by the Law then Christ died for nothing.
We steal God's glory when we don’t rely on the finished work of Christ. Christianity would be as useless as every other religion
The writer C.S. Lewis once came late to a conference and he asked the ministers what they were discussing? They said “What is unique about Christianity compared to every other religion?” He said “That is easy, Grace”
500 years ago bishops, priests, nuns, and ordinary laypeople left the Catholic church. Why? The church stopped preaching that we are saved by faith alone in Christ, alone by grace alone.
With the gospel of grace comes freedom, true freedom is given to serve others.
James then asks only that the Non-Jews abstain from 4 things.
Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. ~Acts 15: 20 (NIV)
But Jesus had declared all food clean, Christians are not under the law of Moses, so why ask them to limit their freedom?
For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. ~Acts 15:21 (NIV)
You’re free to eat but don’t use your freedom to harm others. Let the truth of the gospel set you free but let it set you free to serve your fellow Jewish Christians. Let love limit your liberty.
Not every Christians get this!
In the last couple of weeks, I heard two lovely stories. One person chose to not get vaccinated because they loved their spouse who was strongly vaccine-hesitant. I know another person who has strong concerns about vaccination who got vaccinated because they wanted to teach Scripture in schools.
In both cases, they made love for spouse and the lost, their highest value. Grasping grace sets you free to love and love sends us in all sorts of directions
Luther said, Paul was hard on the gospel and soft on love, he would not allow the false teachers to demand circumcision,
He would not ‘agree to disagree’ This was the time to be nonnegotiable! But when he took Timothy on his mission trip, he asked him to get circumcised, Why? So that the Jews could hear the gospel from Timothy.
John Newton said Paul was like an Iron pillar on essentials and like a reed in nonessentials. Let's pray for wisdom to know the difference.
Life is full of defining first times: The first time we went to school, got a job, fell in love. Our world has its quota of first times and they are game-changers: The first time women voted; first time humans landed on the moon.
The book of Acts is a book of first times: The first time Spirit came down on all of God's people in Jerusalem; first time Samaritans called on the name of Jesus and the first time non-Jews were fully included in God's family.
Now we see in Antioch the first time a Church made up of Jews and non-Jews and the first time a church intentionally sent out missionaries. We are going to cover 80 verses in 30 minutes to inspire you to play your part in God's mission at MBM.
It took 11 chapters in Acts before it was clear that God has no favorites and he accepts all people who fear him. Jesus may have said “Go and make disciples” but it took a big push by God, through persecution, to force out the disciples from Jerusalem, and with them, out went the gospel. But they didn’t get the memo because they were only preaching to Jews in places like Antioch. Antioch is located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean. It actually took some men from Cyprus and Cyrene to preach to non - Jews in Antioch and many became Christians. So now for the first time, we have a church in Antioch with Christian Jews and non-Jews. Barnabas then goes to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him back and together they taught for a year to large numbers of believers. The church of Antioch has reaped where others had sown and now it was time for them to sow so that others may reap.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. ~Acts 13:1 (NIV)
A generous church - this church has already sent money to Christians in a famine in Jerusalem, sent with Barnabas and Paul. They were a multiethnic church, Saul from Tarsus; Barnabas for Cyprus, and possibly two Africans, Simeon called Niger which means black and Lucius of Cyrene - North Africa.
They were economically diverse, not just slaves. Manaen was either a school friend or a foster brother to King Herod. They were gifted in the word ministry and they had Prophets and Teachers and they were about to send their best preachers on the mission field.
Antioch would serve as the first church-based mission to the nations. In that sense MBM shares some similarities with Antioch: We are both multiethnic and economically diverse. We have also sent some of our best teachers out: Rowan to New Zealand and Grant to MBM South West. Like Antioch, we are a sending church; planting churches locally and globally by sending homegrown missionaries.
Antioch had ministry trainees like John Mark and during the past 30 years, we have had 35 Ministry trainees and 105 student ministers. We have reaped where others have sown and we sow where others will reap. Our leadership at MBM is like that of Antioch, I count 13 different cultures across staff and deacons and next year we will be joined by our first African MTS, Kwabena. From the beginning, we understood that the Kingdom of God is bigger than MBM.
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. ~Acts 13:2-3 (NIV)
This first mission was cutting new ground. I say explicitly because all mission is Spirit-led but here the Spirit of Jesus directly speaks, perhaps via a prophet, set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, the point is clear, this is God's plan.
The second mission trip has no explicit mention of the Spirit. But all plans were be bathed in prayer. We are to prayerfully depend on the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I have ever told the church but before I went to Bible college I prayed and fasted 3 days. When we started MBM we prayed each week for a year. The bishops laid hands on me and ordained me to plant MBM.
It's clear that the living Jesus, through his Spirit, is directing this church to send missionaries to the nations. It would take 2 years (46-48AD) and I count 6 places that they went to evangelise: Salamis and Paphos (in Cyprus); by boat they went to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium and Lystra and Derbe, all in modern Turkey.
Here are some patterns between MBM and them.
1. They went to the Jews first.
Jesus is first a Jewish messiah. He was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises. Some of the Jews would become elders in the new churches. At MBM we first reached Maltese and other second-generation Middle eastern and Mediterranean.
2. They went to cities and towns
Cities have more people to evangelise and they were more likely to find a synagogue (a hub for the Jews) in the cities. Our focus the Western suburbs of Sydney; where many call home.
3. They then went to the nations
They saw many non-Jews converted, the first was Sergius Paulus. He was impressed by teaching about the Lord. Roman readers of Acts would realise that the gospel is not just for slaves and Jews but for the intelligent Roman elite, and he was not the last.
4. They faced growing opposition
In Paphos, they encountered a Jewish false prophet who was into magic dark arts. Elymas hindered Proconsul from accepting the message. And Paul, full of the Spirit, confronted him headlong
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 for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” ~Acts 13:9-11 (NIV)
Paul gave him 5 descriptions and not one was a compliment. He didn’t so much issue a curse on Elymas but announced God's judgment. Paul knew exactly what it's like to have the hand of the Lord against you since he was blinded 14 years earlier.
In Pisidan Antioch Paul was slandered and thrown out of the region. In Iconium they threaten to stone him and in Lystra they actually did stone him and left him for dead.
For us, at MBM the opposition has been as individuals and families. The first Maltese to become a Christian got punched by her father in the face. She is now the wife of an Anglican Minister. I remember visiting the parents of an Italian woman who was the first to be baptised at MBM, her father was angry and wanted to see me. I remember sitting in his kitchen where he kept telling me he had a shot gun in the next room, with bullets. All the while his dog was chewing my new slacks.
Jesus was clear with his disciple and Paul is clear with us.
… “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. ~Acts 14:22 (NIV)
Of course, you can avoid hardship by not being salt and light and by being silent. Some like John Mark found it too hard and he returns home. But it's not the end of the story for him. We will see Paul say later “Get me John Mark he is very useful to me.” Your past failures don't have to determine your future ministry.
5. They respond to persecution with great boldness
In Lystra, a lame man is miraculously healed through Paul. These people from Lystra, thought the gods had come down again, they confused Barnabas and Paul with the Roman gods Zeus and Hermes. One moment they try to worship Paul and then they try to kill Paul. But Paul gets up, shakes the dust off and went on to the next town to preach.
No matter how bad it got they didn’t skip a beat. They went to the next town and preach Christ. Their courage was breathtaking.
McCrindle research shows that people are more open to hearing about Christ:
Since last year I prayed every day for courage and I ask you to join me in this prayer as we look to 2022. Sandy and I were waiting for a cup of coffee and a lady walked past and said ‘I feel the need to ask you, do you know that Jesus loves you?’ Let's prayerfully depend on the Holy Spirit for courage.
6. One door closes and another opens.
Again and again, the rejection from some Jews spearheaded the good news going to the nations
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. ~Acts 13:46 (NIV)
Our first focus was to reach 2nd generation Mediterranean and Middle eastern but then we found ourselves with a large group from hippy or heavy metal - heavily tattooed, who loved the message. At one stage we had 13 up the front where one person led the next to Christ. Eventually came those from Asia, South America, Africa
7. As apostles they were blessed with signs and wonders.
Miracles of healing such as the lame man in Lystra, miracles of Judgment on Elymas, these apostles were in the words of Isaiah, a light to the nations
John and Betty Sharpe were members of MBM for 12 years, they took the gospel to the Tugital in the jungles of Indonesia. One of the men who got converted, years later, told John that when he first came to their tribe he was following John in the jungle and as he was about to pull out his machete to slice Johns's head off, he said someone stopped his hand. When all is said and done, they like us were committed to same thing.
8. They preach same gospel according to the scriptures
Paul gives an extended speech in the Synagogue in Pisidia Antioch. Paul addresses Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, it would be the same message for both. Paul retraces the steps of Israel's history and the points were clear.
This is God's salvation for all nations:
All good preaching is grounded in the scriptures
All good preaching focuses on the good news of Jesus.
All good preaching calls for a response with a warning
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. ~Acts 13:38-39 (NIV)
It's good news because Jesus alone offers a clean slate and a fresh start. Only through Jesus can you be justified and set free. True freedom day is not coming out of lockdown, It's coming out from under the wrath of God and it's knowing you are fully pardoned.
I was watching Gladys our former Premier being grilled by ICAC and her words were being used against her. She looked so uncomfortable. Then I thought, Try being on judgment day with your words used to condemn you. In Jesus we are Justified, we know now what God is going to say on the last day - Not guilty! That is why it's called a message of grace, good news of our Lord Jesus.
I beg you that there is only one Saviour and he comes to forgive, but you must come to him. Then as now, some believed and some rejected. As then - so now
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. ~Acts 13:48 (NIV)
What kept Paul steadfast and true? What keeps me sane seeing that some accept and some reject? This is God's salvation and those whom he chooses for eternal life will believe. So our labour is not in vain. That is why we don’t change the message-whatever happens during COVID; that is why we don’t panic for this is his mission.
Paul's mission is not just to preach Christ. Paul and Barnabas backtrack and visit the same places where they were slandered and stoned. It's to strengthen Christians, appoint elders, and establish churches.
Many know the MBM vision but not many would know our mission statement which is:
To bring all people in the west of Sydney to Christ, and into maturity of Christ, and establish them as active partners in the church of God to the glory of God the Father.
It's why after Explaining Christianity we offer a year-long course called Firm Foundation course. To make sure new Christians are grounded. After Firm Foundations, we invite them to Belonging to join our church. And if not our church, then to join another.
The apostles returned to their home church in Antioch to report what God had done.
On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. ~Acts 14:27 (NIV)
In a sense it's what we are doing today in the celebration series as we look back and reflect on what God has done through us all. In 2021 we are celebrating over 20 people come to faith this year and over 100 people Explaining Christianity
God doesn't need us but his plan is to use us. And what a plan!
Not every church is a sending church. This has been our privilege at MBM for 30 years. May it always be so as we turn our attention to the next campus in the next couple of years.
It's hard to appreciate what we all take for granted. When was the last time you thanked God for your Australian citizenship? So little regard that we threaten citizens with a fine if they don't vote but if you lived in a refugee camp on an endless waiting list you will treasure that citizenship when you finally get it. I was talking to a newly arrived Afghanistan man at Westmead hospital on Sunday, he was visiting his sick mother, he was so thankful for our medical system, so thankful for Australia allowing him to come here, he was an interpreter for US forces and 6 others didn’t make it.
Today God wants you to appreciate a precious truth - That God accepts people from all nations. It cuts through every temptation to racism. In this section of Acts, Peter is slammed for going to a non-Jewish house and eating with them. What's the big deal!
In Chapter 11 Peter is retracing the events that led him to have fellowship with Cornelius–a God fearing non-Jew–who he led to Christ.
It's hard for us to appreciate because for the last 2000 years the church has been in the hands of non-Jews. But at the beginning of the church, the vast majority of Christians were Jews. As yet the apostles haven't been confronted with non-Jews coming to Christ. They are trying to catch up with what God is doing. This is one of the biggest jumps the apostles will ever have to make.
Like last week we have 2 visions given to 2 people to make 1 point. God will show the church he has no favourites. Two visions from two angels which confirming that what has happened is real.
…‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ~Acts 11:9 (NIV)
Peter is in a coastal town called Joppa, he has just raised a woman from the dead and as he is praying and waiting for lunch to be prepared he falls into a deep trance on the roof of the house. In the vision a sheet appears and is lowered, in it are the very animals that God declared as unclean in the Old Testament, they were off-limits to any Jew who wanted to take God seriously. In the vision, God surprisingly says to Peter... Kill and eat! Peter is still a good Jew and resists.
“I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ ~Acts 11:8 (NIV)
Peter was committed to the Law even in his subconscious. No rasher of bacon, no lobster mornay has ever touched his lips. But it is God who sets the terms for worship and the terms have changed. With the coming of Jesus, all food is clean. It so goes against Peters grain so that he won't do it. Remember, all his life eating pork was a sin. God is moving him on to New Covenant freedom and he is reluctant to catch the freedom.
“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ ~Acts 11:9 (NIV)
There is nothing more arrogant than saying something is wrong when God says it's right. It's what religion is all about, thinking you can be more holy than God, claiming you know better than God. Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. Consider every major world religion, they are still calling clean - unclean. Muslims and Jews refuse to eat pork, Hindus and many Buddhists refuse to eat meat. Jesus was already clear on this, it’s not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean it’s what comes out of your heart.
Master chef owes its existence to Jesus declaring all food clean and don’t we enjoy our freedom, remember our International luncheons pre COVID, food from the Pacific Islands, China, SE Asia, Philippines, Africa, Middle East, Mediterranean, South American - I think Crocodile made it on the menu once (it tasted like Chicken).
We take for granted the celebration of our freedom in Christ. It is the height of arrogance to tell God how he is to be worshipped. I love to tell the story of my wife’s 30th birthday present, I gave Sandy a very big expensive red wheelbarrow, you may laugh - only because you don't know my wife. Now we live in a 2 bedroom unit and it would be a lousy gift.
God was now declaring that all food is clean for all time. You can't be wiser than God. Remember when Jesus said he must suffer and be killed and peter rebukes him Jesus? Jesus rebukes Peter, “you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” We do not tell him how he is to be worshipped, he tells us.
This vision points to something bigger than Christians being able to eat sweet and sour pork, just as there were no unclean animals so there were no unclean nations. So, God gives a vision to a man, who was once off-limits to a Jew.
“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.’ ~Acts 11:11-14 (NIV)
Cornelius was the man who had the vision and sent for Peter. He served in the Roman Army as a centurion with 100 men under his command. Cornelius was a devout God-fearer, he would have been viewed as unclean not because he was a soldier but because he was an Italian, a non-Jew. In the midst of one of his many prayers, he receives a vision. Both Peter and Cornelius are given visions, like a chess player God is moving the pieces. In a vision to Cornelius, he knows to send for Peter, and in another vision, to Peter he knows to go to Cornelius. If eating unclean food was almost impossible for Peter, eating with unclean Non-Jews was impossible.
Peter arrives at Cornelius house with 6 others, each serving as witnesses to this big next step in God's plan. This is probably the first time Peter has entered into a Gentile's home. Cornelius and his family were so excited because Peter will bring a message through which he and his household will be saved. Notice Cornelius invited everyone he knew because he wanted his loved ones to be saved, Peter found a large gathering of people. I see that each time we run Explaining Christianity, people invite their loved ones. Notice how Cornelius responds to meeting Peter
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.” ~Acts 10:25-26 (NIV)
This will happen again in Acts, humans confusing the message with the messenger and Peter will not allow it. He is there for them to worship Jesus, not him. It's so easy to miss the point, notice his first point
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. ~Acts 10:34 (NIV)
Have you ever thought as you read the gospels that if you invited Peter to your house for a meal he would say 'No'! If you were one of the 5,000 you would have been fed but kept separate from the rest. Even after Pentecost, there was no way you could visit Peter in his home. Only now does he realize that God accepts from every nation the one who fears him. We may want to say to Peter ‘What took you so long?’
God is now redefining his terms, better said that God is fulfilling his promises to Ab to bless the world. The shift from Old Covenant to New Covenant is now taking place, God does not show favouritism, His holy nation will be a holy people, now from every language and tribe. The reason this takes place is not some government policy on tolerance and inclusion where some fear of being called a racist. It's tied to who Christ is.
So, Peter brings Cornelius up to date with God's plan. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ who is Lord over all, He was anointed by the Spirit, empowered with signs and wonders, went around doing good, casting out demons, killed by men on a tree, raised to life by God, seen by God chosen witnesses who preached. God appointed Jesus as Judge of the living and dead.
The message from the Old Testament prophet and New Testament apostles is the same. "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” God has no favourites. "God so loved the world that whoever believes..." and yes, that even includes the Italians. Since I'm 52% Southern Italian and Malta lies 100 km off the coast of Sicily that particularly warms my heart. To confirm this final step, God pours out his Spirit among these Italians.
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. .. So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” ~Acts 11:15,17 (NIV)
What God did for Jews at Pentecost He has now done for these Romans at Caesarea. The point here is not that we ought to expect a vision before we share Christ or that every new Christian should break into tongues, the point is that the ground has been cleared, God has no favourites! The Gospel is for all nations, forgiveness is for those who repent, don’t take this for granted.
At MBM we get to have front row seats on this amazing plan of God. We started as the Maltese Bible Ministry 30 years ago and within 2 years we had more Assyrians. Then came other Mediterranean’s and Middle Easterners, then Chinese, S E. Asians, Indians and Sri Lankans, Africans and South Americans as well as Indigenous and 2nd, 3rd ,4th, 5th generation Aussies.
In hindsight, I would not have started with a single ethnic focus. At MBM we are now convinced that each new campus is multi-ethnic unless there is a need for specific language ministry such as Arabic Soul Salvation. We don't want the world to miss out on the wonder that salvation is for all who believe. Our fellowship at MBM is a reminder that God has kept his promise to Ab to bless the nations. Each gathering of MBM is a picture of the age to come where people from every nation is gathered around the throne. So, lets gather next week and each Sunday and show the world that Christ is Lord of all nations where people from warring nations are no longer at war.
Early on at MBM we had a Greek and a Turk co-leading a Bible study. They loved to say ‘The only thing we fight over is who came up with the kebab.’ That truth must be worked out on every angle, race, class, style.
I remember preaching on the book of James on how God does not show favouritism, one man came up to me and said ‘Ray I was really convicted by the sermon today’ ‘Why is that Joe?’ ‘Frank Spiteri asked me to ride with them today and I said ‘yes’ ‘I don’t understand?’ ‘Ray, a Harley rider never rides with Japanese bikes.’ Joe had rightly understood that we define ourselves in terms of Christ not cultural preferences and style. Don’t take for granted that God grants even the Gentiles repentance that leads to life.
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” ~Acts 11:18 (NIV)
Once the disciples heard Peter story they went from anger to praise the Lord. God shows no favouritism for those who fear him and repent.
A response is required. Can I urge you whoever you are wherever you come from and whatever you have done. Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus who is Lord of all. Jesus is Judge of all but he is only Saviour to all who trust him.
Only in him is full forgiveness found. May God show no favouritism and accept any who come to him. Let's make sure we never take this truth for granted. Let us praise the Lord Jesus for we are citizens of heaven.
Our Vision at MBM is to see lives transformed through Jesus Christ to the glory of God. No better example of a transformed life is that of Matt Anderson who sadly died this week at age 30. Facebook alone tells you how many people were impacted by him. He served both here and overseas, in some ways he was just like Paul who said we not only shared the gospel but our very lives, and yet Matt’s story is very different from Paul's.
Matt did not have much of a before and after story, at age 15 he was having hour-long prayer times while Paul in contrast had a massive before and after story: he was the worst of sinners, he was ultimately an example of God’s grace and he was then given the most important job - to take the gospel of grace to the ends of the earth.
We resume our time in Acts. Let's take a step back, Luke in his gospel first told the story of Jesus' life death, and resurrection. In Acts, he tells the ongoing story of the living King Jesus taking the good news to the ends of the earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven and 50 days later the Spirit descend. He turns 12 scared lambs into 12 bold lions preaching, with the threat of arrest and death. The good news spreads from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth. The church spectacularly grows from 12 to 120 to 3,000 to 5000. The church becomes devoted to prayer, fellowship, apostles' teaching, and breaking of bread. With blessing comes persecution, forcing believers to be pushed out of Jerusalem, with them the message spreads to Samaria. Today we see one of the worst persecutors of Christians becomes the preacher of Christ.
Saul was behind the death of the first Christian, Stephen, not satisfied with one dead Christian.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. ~Acts 8:3 (NIV)
No Christian was off-limits, both men and women. No house or synagogue was beyond his reach. No city was exempted.
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. ~Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)
There was an uncontrolled zeal to wipe out the name of Jesus, to eradicate Christianity from the face of the earth, Saul in his own words tells us in Acts 26 - many saints in many cities were dragged out of many synagogues and sent into many prisons - All in God’s name. He is more like a suicide bomber doing it for God’s glory. If they were taking votes on the person most likely to NOT become a Christian, it was Saul. Many thought it was just impossible for him to be saved. Imagine the most unlikely person today to become a Christian and then double it that is Saul! Ruthless, focused and determined in his hatred. No one would have expected him to be saved.
1. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul was onto his next city, arresting even more Christians in Damascus - 220 kilometres, when who should appear on the road to Damascus but the living Lord, Lord Jesus, the absolute last person he expected.
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.” ~Acts 9:3-6 (NIV)
Jesus confronted the persecutor head-on, the flashing light, the voice of the Lord Jesus, and then the question… “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Shouldn’t he have said ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my people?’ Saul was killing Christians, not Christ. Jesus had already ascended to heaven but Jesus stands so close to his people. When you mess with Christian people you mess with Christ, it’s always that personal with Jesus. You cannot love Jesus and not love his church.
But of course, Saul did not know Jesus, when he hears the voice he says, “Who are you, Lord?” That was a giveaway, different from when Ananias hears Jesus and he says “Yes, Lord.” Notice also this is not a private vision. Mohammed and Mormonism rely on private revelations that can’t be verified and fact-checked. When Jesus speaks to Saul, there were others around him who heard the voice as well and they were not Christians.
Ananias, who is a Christian, is in Damascus and he also is given a vision about Saul’s vision. It was at the same time in a different location, independently verifying what happened to Saul really took place. Ananias is told to go to Saul who by this stage has been in Damascus for 3 days. Saul is blind, in prayer and in such deep sorrow he can’t eat. We can only imagine what went on in Saul’s mind those 3 days
How wrong can one person get? So serious that Paul never stopped calling himself the worst of sinners, which means you can only be the 2nd worst. But mercy comes to Saul, the worst of sinners. At the command of Jesus, Ananias lay hands on Saul and he is instantly healed of his blindness and receives the Spirit, and is baptized. The change is so complete he will change his name from Saul to Paul - he is a new creation. Almost without hesitation, Paul begins to speak of Jesus. The persecutor becomes the proclaimer
2. The Persecutor becomes the Proclaimer
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. ~Acts 9:15 (NIV)
This was no simple offer of forgiveness, it was a commissioning not just a conversion. He would not just be a disciple like every Christian but an apostle. Jesus was giving not just a fresh start but a job, He is God’s chosen instrument. His many letters remind us of that truth “Paul, called to be an apostle by the will of God.” This is one job you cant apply for. He will carry the name of Jesus to nations, to kings and before the people of Israel.
Paul’s conversion will take the lead in the mission to the nations. Acts will now mostly follow Paul, taking the good news …to the ends of the earth. And sure enough, as soon as he regains his strength he preaches in Damascus.
At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. … Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. ~Acts 9:20, 22 (NIV)
Notice what he preaches, Jesus is the Son of God – the Christ, the very thing that Jesus was condemned to death for, the very thing Saul arrested people in synagogues for. The one who led the fight against Christianity is now leading the defence for Christ because Jesus appeared as God’s Son and God’s reigning King, that was enough to guarantee his death sentence.
3. The Persecutor becomes the Persecuted
The hunter becomes hunted. Jesus had already lovingly warned Saul
I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. ~Acts 9:16 (NIV)
This warning is not in the small print on page 342, Jesus was upfront with Saul. As Acts unfolds, we will see him beaten, stoned, arrested, shipwrecked, jailed and left to die. Just as he caused many to suffer, so now he will suffer for the name of Jesus. No greater evidence than Saul, a Christian killer, now becomes a Christian witness that Jesus is alive.
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus for numerous reasons, it is not just based on eyewitnesses who were friends of Jesus. The greatest witness to Jesus being alive came from his greatest enemy. That is probably why Paul’s testimony is repeated three times. If you don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead then why does Paul change sides? He lost everything including his life for this Jesus, he got no money, he lost all respect, it was replaced by a life marked by suffering. Can you keep on rejecting this evidence?
The Jewish leaders were just not interested in the truth, the moment Saul preaches, he is persecuted. First in Damascus where he came to arrest Christians…
After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews 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. ~Acts 9:23-24 (NIV)
Saul, came into that city with great power and authority, he is now humbled and helpless and finds himself blinded. Flat on his face and led by others and given sight through a disciple of Jesus. Then ended up being lowered at night down a basket through an opening in the wall.
From Damascus, he goes to Jerusalem and it’s no better there… Again, boldly preaching he finds himself with a death sentence and then sent off to his home city, Tarsus, all because he met the risen Jesus. One of many pieces of evidence that Jesus is alive.
4. Brother, Saul
What is clear is that Saul was one terrifying man. Every Christian feared the day he might come into their town, their synagogue and their homes to hunt them down. Imagine you’re one of the only 1000 Christians left in Afghanistan waiting for the Taliban to come knocking on the door.
Now the same followers had to deal with a different issue. Now the issue was welcoming, forgiving and trusting the man who tried to kill them. When Ananias was first told to lay hands on Saul in a vision, he tells Jesus…
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” ~Acts 9:13-14 (NIV)
When he comes to Jerusalem, the disciples also were afraid.
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. ~Acts 9:26 (NIV)
You don’t blame them! Every believer was afraid - could they trust him? Was he some undercover spy, like a double agent? Imagine Saul would take his place in this church with the relatives of the late Stephen. How could you break bread with a man who broke your brother, the one who organized your son’s death? How could you drink of cup with one who spilled the blood of your loved ones; who was behind the arrest of your friends and family?
But Ananias said it better than anyone.
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.” ~Acts 9:17 (NIV)
There are two words that stand out for me: "Brother Saul" How hard it would have been to say: "Brother Saul" And how important it would have been for Saul to hear "Brother Saul" Not just "friend", or "sir" but "Brother Saul." Before he had time to prove he was genuine. Before he had time to say “I’m sorry” out came the grace of the Lord Jesus, Brother Saul. The same grace was offered by Barnabas before the apostles.
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. ~Acts 9:27 (NIV)
Barnabas urged the apostles to accept him. He is one of us. What do we learn? We believe in the God who can convert anybody. Nothing is impossible for God
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. ~Isaiah 65:1 (NIV)
I get shocked when a person says to their loved one: "I don’t want you coming to church unless your heart is in it." What? Who cares. If God can show mercy to the worst of sinners, then He can show mercy to anyone, including you. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. No one is so bad that they cant be forgiven. No one is so good that they don’t need to be forgiven. If God can show mercy to Saul, the worst, of course he can show mercy to you.
There is a dangerous bi-product to grace. We want to sometimes avoid people who God has forgiven. It’s the same problem of having those nations you were taught to hate now as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Whatever happens friends don’t stay away because you have been hurt by thoughtless words about whichever side of the vaccine you may fall. Refuse to define yourself or other in terms of vaccine. Don’t tear down what the gospel of grace has restored.
The early church had to fellowship with the worst of sinners who had killed their family. There is a temptation here, can you see it? Answered in two words Brother Saul.
God has taken our brother Matt home, He taught us not to waste what years we have, he not only shared the gospel, he shared his very life and for that example we thank God.