Bible Text: 2 Samuel | Preacher: John Woodhouse | John Woodhouse gives us an excellent overview of 2 Samuel in 3 components:
00:05:24-00:25:59 Part 1: David’s Kingdom (2 Samuel 1-10)
00:25:59-00:53:10 Part 2: David’s Disaster (2 Samuel 11-20)
00:53:10-01:15:00 Part 3: The kingdom of David and the kingdom of God (2 Sam 21-24)
Brad Thorn tells us about his career as a professional league and union international player. Playing for Queensland, Australia and the All-Blacks. Most importantly he shares with us about his new life in Jesus.
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.
Chances are - if you’re afraid, you’re afraid of the wrong thing.
In the days when royals ruled, Queen Elizabeth I, was sovereign in Great Britain over 400 years ago. For a brief time, she considered marrying a French Duke - clearly, she had a preference for Mediterranean men - and who could blame her? But one of her subjects wrote to her saying it was not appropriate for the British monarch flirting with the French and the Queen was furious. She summoned the man, asked him which hand he wrote the letter with, and then ordered that his hand be cut off and he was sent to prison for 18 months. Now that is what you call royalty with a kick. These days, Queen Elizabeth II can’t even stop the paparazzi from ruining her holidays. How times have changed!
Psalm 2 teaches us that those who defy God and his king have no hope in heaven or hell of getting away with it. Psalm 2 contains 4 scenes. Imagine a camera moving from one scene to the next.
Scene 1: Kings against the King of Kings
The rulers and nations of the earth are pictured in a plot to overthrow God and his anointed one. Our world is in open rebellion against God:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” ~Psalm 2:1-3 (NIV)
The question is asked - not because he is confused, He is shocked at the sheer stupidity of such a rebellion. Such plans will always come to nothing. They plot in vain and in every attempt to overthrow God, we come off second best. Yet still they rage “against the LORD (God of Israel) and against his Anointed one (the Messiah) ”. The one whom God has given the right to rule the universe forever (2 Samuel 7).
This is not kingdom versus kingdom or human versus human, but humans versus God. This is the ultimate and highest form of genuine conspiracy, the ultimate problem is not them out there, those anonymous men in closed meetings who operate in the shadows who are pulling strings to gain control, to crush the lives of the average person. This ignores our part in suppressing the truth. When the Times newspaper, asked its readers, “What’s wrong with the world?” GK Chesterton’s simple answer was, “I am!” Psalm 2 speaks of the Worldwide conspiracy that we are all involved in. It began with Adam and Eve by the time you get to the 6th chapter of Genesis,
… “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” ~Genesis 6:5 (NIV)
This is complete, thorough, and wilful defiance. I think of a woman who rented out her house as a retirement investment. Her mortgage repayments were high and she had the tenants from hell. First the tenants paid the rent irregularly. Then they stopped paying altogether. It was 4 months before the sheriff was able to remove the tenants. If that was not bad enough, they trashed the house and they left behind a photo of one tenant staring at the camera and sticking up her middle finger, what my kids used to call “the rude finger”.
This is what we do to the God who gave us this world to live in. The world has always hated God. That hatred reached its climax when God and man met face to face and Jesus Christ came into the world. Psalm 2 describes the treatment of King David by the nations - it also operates as a prophecy when they plot against Jesus. The apostle Peter draws this link for us he quotes psalm 2 then says
...for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. ~Acts 4:27-28 (NIV)
Psalm 2 looks forward in time 1000 years as the world takes its stand against God’s anointed. Herod, who “treated him with contempt and mocked him”. Pilate, who gave permission to execute Jesus. The people of Israel who cried out “Crucify him” and the Roman soldiers who pierced and nailed Christ.
God became one of us so we hunted him down. Given half a chance, man’s first inclination when he meets God face to face is to kill him. What they did to Jesus at the cross is what we in our sins have always been trying to do - to remove God from our lives; break free, once and for all. I demand my independence!
The U2 song gets it ‘When Love Comes to Town’, I was there when they crucified my Lord I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword I threw the dice when they pierced his side But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.
There comes a time when you need to come clean, your sins and mine nailed Jesus to the cross.
Scene 2: God the king
Now the camera turns to see God’s reaction to the rebellion:
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” ~Psalm 2:4-6 (NIV)
As we see God’s reaction we learn 3 things.
When I was 11, we had a string of casual teachers at school and more than one of them left the class in tears, never to be seen again but God is not intimidated by our rebellion. When the philosopher Nietzsche declares that “God is dead”, and stand-up comedians make jokes at God’s expense. Do not think that God has lost control or that He is a victim of hate speech. He is not tortured with an inferiority complex. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What did God do when:
In a nutshell, God laughed. God will always have the last laugh.
But this is not the laughter of one who enjoys what is happening, He scoffs at the sheer stupidity of mankind. Rebellion is not just wrong, its dumb. Like walking onto a freeway in front of a massive truck going at full speed, and thinking that the truck is going to come off second best - there is simply no contest. God laughs at our futile attempts to defy him. Whenever you’re overwhelmed by what is happening on earth it always pays to lift your eyes from your screen and look up to heaven to see who is enthroned.
To his enemies, God is clear “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” In effect, God is saying, “Do what you like to him, he is still the King.” God’s enemies could not get rid of King David or Son of David. You would not normally think of a crucifixion as a mark of victory.
About 70 years before the time of Jesus, there was a slave rebellion led by Sparticus. They defeated 2 Roman forces, overran most of southern Italy, and they grew to many thousands.
The Roman army’s fury eventually killed Spartacus and his men and to make the point that Rome would not tolerate such rebellion, 6,000 other slaves were crucified on the Appian Way leading into Rome, for all to see. Their bodies were left on the crosses for months. So, the cross is normally the symbol of crushing defeat but on that first good Friday - the cross became the platform for God’s greatest victory. On the cross the Devil was disarmed, Death was defeated, God’s anger turned away from us onto himself and our forgiveness was fully purchased.
That is why Jesus’ kingdom will never end. That is why God made sure that above Jesus at the cross were written the words “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). Written in 3 languages (Latin, Greek and Hebrew) so all the world would know that God had installed his king on Zion
Scene 3: God’s anointed king
Now the camera focuses on the king, God announces his plan for this king:
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” ~Psalm 2:7-9 (NIV)
We learn 2 important things about the King.
Firstly, this king is God`s son. Rebellion against Christ is deeply personal for God, He is his one and only Son, I can relate to that. One day when my daughter was at preschool, my wife found her on the ground with a group of preschool boys kicking her, while the ring leader raised his clenched fist, chanting, “Kill girl, kill girl!” Weren`t those boys lucky I was not around that day. Imagine facing God’s anger after you have defied his Son. Jesus doesn’t become God’s Son when he rises from the dead, but his resurrection makes it obvious to everyone what was hidden at the cross is made public at the resurrection. Christ’s resurrection marks both the defeat of death and it’s a declaration that Jesus is God`s Son. You’re not called to submit to a dead king but to a living Lord. Dead people are not scary, they’re just smelly, but a living Son of God is awfully intimidating. This living King has defeated our ultimate enemy: death.
God made the entire world for his Son. There is not square metre of this universe where Jesus cant say this is mine and I own it. Understand this, and you understand the meaning of life. The Father invites the Son to ask for the nations who rebel as an inheritance. What belongs to God belongs to his Son, the authority of Jesus is so complete that if any oppose him, he will dash them to pieces like broken pottery. Jesus said don’t fear the one who can kill the body fear the one who can throw the body and the soul into hell.
As Bob Dylan once wrote: The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod. The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God. For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears it is only he who can reduce me to tears [...]
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, he is unconcerned, He’s got plans of his own to set up his throne when he returns. On that day those who rebel will beg God to kill them and they wont be able to die. But God does not want to dash anyone to pieces; He does not delight in the death of a rebel.
Scene 4: Kiss the king
The last section is a call to all of us who have rebelled to be wise, to be warned, and to serve the Lord, to give up and take refuge in him.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. ~Psalm 2:10-12 (NIV)
Kiss the Son or kiss heaven goodbye! When you kiss a king, it’s a sign of submission, it’s a mark of surrender, this kind of kiss says, “I want peace with God’s king on God’s terms”.
In the film, The Devil’s Own, Brad Pitt plays an IRA terrorist, he says about the British “They say the word ‘peace’, but … all they want is surrender”
God is saying with me and my son PEACE and SURRENDER must go together. Peace can only come if we surrender to his Son. We all have a choice to make, but what choice is it when the options are so clear?
A ministry trainee at church once explained the rule of Jesus to two Iranian doctors who had spent 8 years studying medicine in Russia. On hearing of Jesus’ authority, they immediately wanted to become Christians. Surprised by their quick reaction, the trainee asked them, “Are you sure? Do you want time to think about it?” They responded, “We have no choice!” Do you see Jesus with such clarity?
Accepting Jesus as Lord is motivated by many things.
Psalm 2, is so clearly fulfilled in Jesus, what most Christians don’t know is that it also applies to us who submit to him. To the church in Laodicea he says:
“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” ~Revelation 3:21 (NIV)
In a surprising twist, we in Christ get to share in the inheritance and rule of Christ. This is why God allows us to call Jesus our brother and not just our Lord. This is why we are deemed to be co-heirs with Christ. This is why we are told that the meek will inherit the earth, not this earth, but the new heavens and the new earth.
What is the difference between Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, and the average Christian? Apart from 177 billion dollars, Mr Bezos dreams are too small. He may one day get you to the moon but in Christ you co-own the universe. We Christians are insatiable dreamers, we refuse to be satisfied with nothing less than everything.
We rightly want it all. Jesus has it all. If we kiss the Son,we get it all - to the glory of God! When we understand this, we will not treat our jobs as if they were careers, our houses as if they were palaces, and our lover as if they were god.
Kiss the Son, or kiss it all goodbye.
What is the role of a pastor? This is one of the issues raised by COVID, both sides of the vaccine debate have wanted me to tell the congregation to get vaccinated or not get vaccinated, I can see why. The best of both sides are driven by love and are concerned for the health of our community, I have unapologetically said “I am a pastor, I am not a scientist nor a doctor” I go to my doctor who I trust for my health, I don’t go to my pastor friends.
But behind the question is my failure to teach the difference between Truth and truth. That is the Big 'T' truth concerns special revelations from God in the bible and the Small T truth concerns everything else from science, politics and psychology. Big 'T' truth is timeless and without error the Small 'T' truth is experimental, open to be tested and examined.
My role as pastor is to speak to what is timeless and revealed, so when I bang on about preaching the gospel as of first importance and love being the most excellent way and that there should be no division in the church of Christ, it's because its revealed truth. I will go to jail for Big T truth not Small T truth. It may not be where you’re itching right now, but my task is to preach what is revealed in season and out of season.
The history of the church is filled with pastors and priests who have over reached, saying the earth is flat or that political leader is the antichrist or in the 70s we were told bankcard was the mark of the beast. Gresham Machen, awesome bible teacher, protested against traffic lights as a violation of human rights. It didn’t take too long before they were made look foolish and made Jesus look bad.
Pastors are to teach what is revealed, no more and no less. I'm not saying that there is not a relationship between Big T truth and little T truth but the Bible has a lot to say about government but it doesn’t say whether we should be a constitutional monarchy or a republic. So, when Christians DIVIDE the church on little 'T' truth, like views on vaccine, I want to say 'you’re over reaching'.
It's not surprising that when it comes to Big 'T' Truth, Timothy guards the deposit that has been entrusted to him. He is charged to avoid godless chatter, this sounds like social media to me, this is the 3rd time that he names false teaching and it's the 3rd time Paul charges Timothy to guard the truth. He is to teach it, guard it, fight for it and take hold of it, verbs like insist, command, refute and silence. The test for big 'T' truth is if it:
… agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching ~1 Timothy 6:3 (NIV)
There is a benchmark of revealed truth. It is Gods Word and not the NEWS nor the INTERNET. Behind false teaching is bad character
they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words ~1Timothy 6:4 (NIV)
PRIDE making them unteachable, who stir up trouble, claiming special “knowledge” - but have nothing to say. They start arguments and simulate imagination, their words betray their motives.
result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth ~1Timothy 6:4b-5 (NIV)
5 words that result in divisions in the church, you know them by their fruit. How much damage is done by false teaching? One of the truths to be guarded is God's word on GREED
False teaching motivated by financial greed.
…who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. ~1Timothy 6:5 (NIV)
Nothing new, nothing shames the gospel more than greedy pastors and evangelists. That is why at MBM all staff wages are set by the Anglican diocese and at MBM we take the minimum. All full time staff members… The money for the books that I write and the conferences we speak at all goes back to church funds. If we teach for you to be content on your salary then we better be content on ours. There is a special word for all of us. As you know there are millions of people who have more than you but there are billions who have much less than you.
A command to those who have less
But godliness with contentment is great gain. ~1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)
The real gain or profit is to be found in being godly and thankful for what you have. I took a funeral of Dave from the Parramatta campus and Julie his wife said they made a decision they were not going to chase after possessions. They had a life filled with love and the Lord Jesus, there were 10 eulogies on how much Dave was a blessing to his family, his church and his non Christian friends. I thought that most billionaires wouldn’t know the joy that Dave experienced.
The way to stay content is to take a step back
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. ~1 Timothy 6:7-8 (NIV)
You start your life with zero dollars and you end your life with zero dollars. In between we spend a lot of time worrying and a lot of energy chasing stuff. You may say ‘well my kids will get it’ Did you know that most wealth doesn’t survive 3 generations. The 1st generation makes it, by the 2nd generation only 30% hold on to it and by the 3rd generation its down to 9%. The point is to sit tight with Jesus and sit loose with your stuff and teach your kids to as well. God has a low bar for us to be content.
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. ~1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV)
Food and clothing is CODE for basic NEEDS not WANTS. So, when you see a friend with a better car, a new house, the latest phone, a loving spouse and I'm feeling jealous, frustrated, resentful or angry, I am to ask myself - Did I eat today? Yes. Do I have a bed to sleep on? Yes. Have I got a roof over my head? Yes. Am I a child of God who has been blessed in heavenly realms with every special blessing? Yes … that is enough… thank you Jesus. This doesn’t stop people being ENTREPRENEURS it means you won’t panic.
The question before us is clear are you seeking to be content in COVID? Contentment is a challenge for those who have less or more. A British movie director was on a luxury liner with 4 Billionaires, he asked them “What do you want in life?” They all said at the same time, “MORE”. My ability to give does not hang on what I earn, it hangs on how content I am. I loved what one MBM pensioner said ‘The first two things I do when I get my pension is I put money for Rent and for the Church’ She gives her best not her leftovers because she is content with food and clothing.
Let me stop and say if you find yourself in desperate financial need then let us know. I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have lost their job because of the economic downturn or no jab no job. I want you to know you are our family. There is a command to be content and a warning if we are not. A warning for those who want to be rich.
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. ~1 Timothy 6:9 (NIV)
While everyone is sharing in the excitement of a pay rise, investment return or unexpected inheritance, God says, oh be careful, you’re sitting on a ticking time bomb, the wealth will incite twisted desires you never knew you had and can plunge people into nightmares you can’t imagine.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. ~1Timothy 6:10 (NIV)
We know that it’s not money but the love of money that is the issue. Jesus already said. You CAN’T LOVE MONEY AND ME! One of us will have to go. I’ve never met a person who said that they love money, we just love what money can buy …lifestyle, status, security, significance, power connections. How many have lost their faith because of EAGERNESS FOR MORE?
Example 1 The older couple receive an unexpected inheritance, they sell house and buy an expensive RV and spend days on endless travel - lost marriage - lost faith. It would have been better if they had died then got that inheritance.
Example 2 A young couple buys a house they can’t afford, they over mortgage and now are working 2 jobs with no time for GG, they are too tired for church and off they go slip sliding away.
Example 3 The price for retail therapy or gambling is that they end up drowning in a sea of credit debt and with it, depression. If that is you, there is hope! We can direct you to good financial counsellors.
A command to those who have more.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. ~1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV)
It’s a command from Christ - Don’t be arrogant. Everything you have has been given to you, what a concept! No matter how clever, how hard you worked, no matter what your parents gave you. Everything you have has been given on loan to steward. Which means everything you have can be taken from you. It took just one Global financial crisis and billionaires went bankrupt, just one little BRAIN Aneurism and your personal bank balance is reduced to nothing.
Unlike false teachers, God wants us to enjoy his good gifts, contentment is not about destroying desires, that is Buddhism and Stoicism, I think it was Luther that said, “The problem with greed is it breeds discontent and we end up NOT enjoying what we do have.” Don’t be arrogant be generous
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. ~1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV)
The King of Kings commands us to be rich in good deeds – in case you missed it, that means, being generous and willing to share. I want to say how much the Sudanese suffering with COVID were thankful for the many who offered help.
John Grisham the Christian Novelist said “I judge a good year not by how much I get, but by how much I give” He knows you can take it with you after all.
In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. ~1 Timothy 6:19 (NIV)
Calvin said ‘When you migrate to another country, you send your goods ahead, you know your old country is not home anymore. You make a decision about your possessions knowing you’re going to a new home. We are to lay up treasure not in this age but for the coming age. Lets be very clear, you can’t buy your seat in heaven, that was purchased by Jesus blood alone. But as a citizen of heaven you can invest in it. John Wesley was right. “Make as much as you can… save as much as you can ... so, you can give as much as you can.”
What helps is knowing that Heaven is for everything I never had time or couldn’t afford on earth. I haven’t missed out, I've just delayed my gratification. You can’t be neutral when it comes to money and greed, friends we are engaged in a war, flee from greed - fight the good fight of the faith.
2. Fight the good Fight.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith… ~1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV)
Greed is the hardest sin to diagnose, only one person in 30 years has confessed it as a sin to me. In my prayer diary each Thursday under the topic of confession, I meditate on 2 questions - How much of my treasures am I storing in heaven? and am I excelling in the grace of giving? Greed is a virus more contagious than Ebola or the delta strain of COVID. The only VACCINE TO GREED IS generosity. We are to swim against a current of consumerism.
I don’t mind reality TV shows like the block or fixer-uppers but understand, it is making us discontent not thankful. We love the convenience of Amazon and eBay but they bring the false promise of satisfaction when my package arrives and it never lasts. Today is the day to lay treasure in heaven.
3. Who is this God that commands?
Who dares challenge me on what I do with my money?
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen. ~1 Timothy 6:14-16 (NIV)
The charge is made in the sight of God who sees everything. It's issued in light of Jesus return who remembers and rewards all those who are generous. The good God who gives us everything to enjoy, the God who alone rules as King of King and Lord of Lord, there is no point trying to outsmart him. He is the God who is truly blessed, He is eternally happy and wants you to be happy, it's why he says It's more blessed to give than receive. The God who alone is immortal - death has no hold on him … but then gives us the gift of immortality, that we may share eternity with him. This God lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see but one day we will see his face. We will see how our generosity will put a big smile on the face of God. As he shows us around the new creation, he will point out how much treasure you laid down in heaven.
This is Big T Truth, we want to give you the opportunity to lay some treasure in heaven. We are inviting you to fill out your pledge for next year, I thought given we are online and with questions about restrictions. But is that not what contentment is all about? I don’t wait for circumstances to change before I am content and from my contentment, in Christ, I can give.
Australia has a soft spot for the underdog, we are an egalitarian culture, in the same suburb, we have rich and poor. We aim for equal access to Education and Health, we speak of the Premier as Gladys and our Prime Minister as Scomo. We have a real sense that we are all equal, there is a familiarity that is attractive but in the hands of some it's an excuse for disrespect, we boo our leaders at sporting events. I liked what one African said to Australian missionaries, ‘You Australians are aggressively casual’
Paul already spoke about honouring widows and Paul now speaks about honouring church leaders. I realised that I would tell my Filo brothers and sisters to call me Ray “Yes, Pastor Ray” “No, you can call me Ray” “Yes, Pastor Ray” You see what I was doing? I was undermining their desire to honour my role, I don’t do it anymore.
Paul has 4 ways pastors and elders are to be honoured
1. Honour them by giving them a proper Honorarium.
In other words, pay them for the work they do.
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. ~1 Timothy 5:17 (NIV)
In chapter 3, leaders of the church were called overseers, here they are elders. Elders have a long-standing place in the Bible, they ruled at the town gates in the Old Testament in the church. In the New Testament, they are to direct the affairs of the church. Literally to ‘rule’ or lead, honour them, especially those who teach Gods word well. All elders must be apt to teach, but not every elder will be given over to full time preaching and Respect leads to Remuneration. You can see by what follows
For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” ~1Timothy 5:18 (NIV)
Your income should be used to bless, bless yourself, bless your family, bless the poor, bless the pastors, bless ministry partners who are overseas.
As we think of pledging for next years church budget, you’re covering 2 out of 5 pastors and missionaries, pray now and plan how you will feed those who feed you the word of God. Paul grounds this in two places
“Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” ~Deuteronomy 25:4 (NIV)
If God wants animals to be nourished from their labour then how much more should pastor elders be nourished from their ministry. When an ox is treading grain God want it unmuzzled and allowed to eat from grain it is crushing. The Aussie version is the person cooking the BBQ can eat some of the sausages while he is cooking
The second quote is from Jesus instruction to the 72
The worker deserves his wage. ~Luke 10:7 (NIV)
We know it's true on the factory floor or the office, just as true in the church and on the mission field. Feed those who feed your faith, when we do, we are partnered with them in the work.
Talking to one of our OMP (Overseas Missionary Partners) in Malta, our giving means we are partnered together in their work, I thank God for how for 30 years at MBM He has inspired so many generous hearts to give to the work of MBM and beyond.
We leaders are to lead from the front, last year the Staff and Deacons covered 13% of the budget
2. Protect them from false accusation
Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. ~1 Timothy 5:19 (NIV)
The Old Testament principle is clear, one testimony is not sufficient to convict a person in court. This principle protects elders from those who slander leaders, they wanted to attack the message by attacking the messenger.
I remember asking one woman to join us on staff and she said
“Thanks, Ray but I don’t want a target on my back.” She knew that when you are in public office you are open to criticism. I remember in the early days of MBM someone going around saying false statements. I realised early on I just had to trust the congregation. It's why this Proverb is on the wall of our office:
In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. ~Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)
In other words, we don’t take things at face value, the exception is in a situation of abuse where a process is triggered that protects all parties, beginning with the victims
To protect the office of elders from ungodly elders
But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. ~1Timothy 5:20 (NIV)
Elders who sin and don’t repent need to be dealt with publicly. Elders who sin grievously need to step down, their sin is to be named before everyone. This functions as both a warning to other elders and it guards the office of elders, it guards the church and it guards the gospel, otherwise, we have nothing to say to the world.
Imagine turning up one Sunday to be told, from a written statement, that one of the pastors, or youth or kids worker, has committed adultery, and is being stepped down, what is worse is when they are not stepped down. Please pray we will not have to. So, Paul ratchets up the command
I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism. ~1Timothy 5:21 (NIV)
That is one serious warning! Don’t let your friendship or their wealth, power or influence blind you to the sin of an elder for we are to give an account before God himself and Lord Jesus.
Honour the elders by not making a quick decision
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. ~1 Timothy 5:22 (NIV)
Resist the urge to appoint an elder quickly. We were told something similar in chapter 3, don’t appoint young Christians as elders or they fall into the trap of the devil which is pride. Don’t be impressed by gifts and ignore character, when that happens all the elders share in their sin. Note the wisdom of not being hasty
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. ~1 Timothy 5:24 (NIV)
Give yourself enough time to watch and wait, let them be tried and tested, faithful in small things before we give them bigger things. As the song goes ‘From little things, big things grow’
Time has a way of bringing issues to the surface, the sins of some are already waiting to be used against them on the day of the Lord. But if you wait, the sins of others will follow a person and in time will catch up with them. Discover they are living a double life, abuse in the home, addiction issues or just can’t take feedback and if you wait it may become clear that they are not fit for an elder.
In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. ~1 Timothy 5:25 (NIV)
We are to do our good works for our Father to see but the reality is, most good works don’t stay hidden. Person x cares for person y, that doesn’t stay a secret for too long, at staff meetings we often celebrate stories and that is good gossip!
And those good works will also be waiting on the Day of the Lord, to be rewarded. In the meantime watch and wait. One person who has been tried and tested is Rahul Dougal, he has been appointed Deacon for the Parramatta campus, it’s a slow process but it’s worth it.
In the middle of all this after Paul says “Keep yourself pure”
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. ~1 Timothy 5:23 (NIV)
My guess is that some of the elders were false teachers, claiming that wine was unclean. Paul is saying elders are not to get drunk but they can drink some wine, especially if it helps the stomach.
Notice that Timothy was often sick. So much for the prosperity doctrine - Come to Jesus and he will give health and wealth. Paul is NOT saying “Tim your often sick because you have sin in your life you need to repent.” He doesn't say “Tim you’re often sick because you don’t have enough faith” “Tim, Jesus is the same yesterday today or tomorrow, He healed then and he can heal now” “You must not have the anointing of the Spirit”
No, he says ‘You’re often sick so take a Panadol’ in this case, drink some wine. He encourages him to use wine medicinally.
Agree or disagree about a particular vaccine. But when I saw that sign “Jesus is my vaccine” in an illegal protest, that is just bad theology. Claiming that faith in Jesus mean you won't have COVID is woeful and makes Jesus look bad.
But for what it’s worth, if I were to give a REPORT CARD, as one of the elders, MBM you’re doing a great job because we Elders feel honoured by you. We all have a bad day, but I truly thank God for how you journey with us as leaders. It's not easy being a leader, it’s not easy being a member of a church.
There are hard days before us, the fear of Vaccination Passports is real, the Archbishop has pushed hard with the government for No Vaccination passports, whatever happens, we are pastors for the whole church, both for and against vaccination. I want to stress that the church of God must hold together in the face of these challenges. It’s easy to have churches filled with one side of politics, one side of vaccination, one ethnic group. The world is filled with ‘like-minded’ groups, no miracle there, but what makes the church really different from the world is the blood-bought unity of Christ. Having very different people united by the Spirit of God.
When we look back after we are over the worst of COVID, we will rejoice that we managed to genuinely love each other with different views. For one reason, we share one Father who did not withhold his only Son. Through it all, we pastors count it an honour to lead MBM, and it’s a joy because of your encouragement and prayer and respect. Honour your Widows, Honour your Elders, Honour your Masters.
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. ~1Timothy 6:1-2 (NIV)
Why didn't Paul dismantle slavery? In lockdown, we are all battling with our rights being infringed but remember, slaves had no rights, Paul calls on slaves to escape NO to obey masters. Worse, if they had masters who are Christians, then serve even better, not worse. Remember, slavery wasn’t tied to one race as in US with only African-Caribbean. In fact, nearly all cultures have enslaved people, the first century there were different kind of slaves, some were enslaved by kidnapping and war, others were enslaved because of owing a debt. Slaves could be teachers and doctors, slaves could be adopted into a family. 30% of Romans empire were slaves, the economy was built on it.
So why doesn’t Paul tell Christian masters to release their slaves? You can see that the seeds of dismantling slavery in the New Testament,
And yet Paul calls on slaves to obey masters. Why? We rightly apply this to our bosses and we need to be seen as respectful in our workplace. Bagging out your boss is not what Christians do, but we get to leave - slaves don’t. So why wouldn’t Paul immediately dismantle this wicked institution? He is working to a higher principle.
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. ~1Timothy 6:1-2 (NIV)
Reform will come but in the meantime Paul was jealous for God's name and the gospel to save the lost. So, the call to slaves is clear, be a good slave and make Jesus look good, be a good worker and make Jesus look good, be a good manager/boss and make Jesus look good.
So, I ask you is God's name and the good news of our Lord Jesus being slandered by how you carry yourself in this season of COVID? The real issue is not whether you took the jab or not it's whether you made Jesus look good.
Over the years we have had people come to Church and they notice someone from their work and awkwardly says, “I would never have thought they were Christian.” Equally, we have visitors come to church because they were so impressed by someone at work who claimed to follow Christ and wanted to know more - they made Jesus look good.
I spoke to a former elder of a large church with a gifted lead pastor, the pastor was asked to be stepped down for multiple
charges of bullying. I said to this elder “How did you guys let it happen for so long” “Ray we fell for the classic mistake. We were so impressed by his gifts we ignored his significant character defects”
It’s a rookie mistake, 101 Christianity, when the gifts of the Spirit outrank the fruit of the Spirit, when that happens the church is in serious trouble and its not as if we were not told.
1 Timothy 3 tells us what God expects of church leaders, be they Elders or Deacons. Whether it's for those who serve in word or deed ministry. God doesn’t allow us to come up with our own list: Smart, good looks and a great sense of humour are not on his agenda. This list tells us a lot about our God and what matters to him. Remember the purpose of the letter.
if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. ~1Timothy 3:15 (NIV)
The church of the living God is NOT built and held up by bricks and concrete but by the truth of God. The church is to hold up and hold out the truth of God. God has placed his Word in the hands of the church to steward. Especially by those whose walk and talk line up
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. ~1 Timothy 3:1 (NIV)
In the New Testament, a church leader can be called Elder, Overseer, Leader, or Pastor but never a Priest. When the gospel is preached, people are saved, Churches are formed
and Elders are appointed. In a real sense, the appointment of an oversee or elder is the application of the principle in 1Timothy 2. Where teaching and authority over the whole church is reserved for male elders to teach and direct the affairs of the church. The first thing you notice is that its not wrong to want to be a church leader - it’s a good desire
I remember reading this as a young Christian and being surprised. God gives permission to ask him for the opportunity to preach and pastor his people. To be sure, God won't call you without letting others know as well. It's a good desire because it is a good work. What greater privilege is there than to present God's church to Jesus on the last day, holy and blameless.
Now if we are all called to submit to elders - then what kind of elders are we called to submit to. The great relief is that CHARACTER is God's main focus. Before you teach it you have to be it. Leaders are called to watch both their life and not just their doctrine. We are saved by grace but we are appointed based on faithfulness.
There are 11 qualities mentioned, notice: What is required of the leader is what is required of every true Christian
As Don Carson once said, “It's remarkable how unremarkable is this list.”
Don’t get drunk and don’t punch anyone in the face, it’s a checklist for every Christian, male or female. Leadership is about character, even the world starting to wake up to this truth.
Now the overseer is to be above reproach ~1 Timothy 3:2 (NIV)
Above reproach is blameless, not sinless, otherwise only Jesus could apply for the job. Above accusation, ours is a public role with public accountability, the more authority the higher the expectations. You have a right to look at my life.
There are 4 areas of being above reproach
In relation to family
Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, ~1 Timothy 3:2 (NIV)
Literally to be a one-woman man, it's not saying everyone else can have 2 wives, the point is that he must be faithful to his bride before he can be entrusted with the bride of Christ. This does not forbid single men from being elders, Timothy and Paul seemed to be single. It is a mystery how the Catholic church still requires priests to be single and celebrate. Presidents and Prime Ministers may keep their job if they have affairs but not Pastors and Evangelists, forgiven, yes but not re-instated.
We are not running a government, it is the church of the living God that Jesus builds - upholding the truth by our teaching and by our life
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) ~1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NIV)
Fathers are to see to it that children obey them, a father who doesn’t discipline their children doesn’t love them. A Pastor who won't discipline the church of God doesn’t love them. It can be hard when kids get older, I remember when the same Don Carson spoke about bringing up teenagers, our rule was simple
“We never tolerated sass and disrespect but pretty much everything else was negotiable”
Interestingly, they are not to see to it that their wives submit, that is the choice of the wife, between her and God. And Fathers are to behave and be worthy of respect. Before I need to be gentle with the congregation, I need to be gentle with my kids. The principle is clear, if you can't care for your family how can you care for Gods church?
I said to my kids when they were very young “You have the most power at church. If I don’t treat you properly then I have to step down from being a pastor.” That was good for them to hear and me to know.
I remember preaching one Sunday on what God requires of fathers, a new person found out he was sitting next to my daughter, Maddy, his first question was ‘What is Dad like at home?’ Right question…I pay her $50 to give the right answer(Joking).
I was talking to my nephew who had become a suffi Muslim.
He was saying how his Sheik mentor had been divorced 3 times, I said ‘that's interesting, the qualification of an elder in a church is how you conduct your marriage and family. If you can't manage your own family, how can you manage the family of God.’ My other nephew who is not a Christian said 'That makes sense…' Above reproach in relation to family and in relation to oneself. Who is the hardest person to lead? - it's you
…temperate, self-controlled, respectable,… not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money… ~1Timothy 3:2-3 (NIV)
Self-control is the last of the fruit of the Spirit, Self-control so that in your anger you do not sin, in conflict you don’t bully and with your money you are generous. At MBM every Elder and Deacon agrees to at least tithe their income, you can't lead others if you can't lead yourself.
Above reproach, in relation to family, in relation to oneself and in relation to outsiders
…hospitable… ~1 Timothy 3:3 (NIV)
An elder welcomes the stranger, each pastor must have the welcoming face of God to the outsider. More than that he…
He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. ~1Timothy 3:7 (NIV)
I break up this list in 1 Timothy over a week and reflect on the different aspects for my time of confession. Next to this one I put the name of a real estate agent, a lovely muslim man, Azzam, who I had to apologise to for speaking with a demanding tone. I dishonoured my saviour before a watching world, which is exactly what the devil wanted.
Above reproach with family, with oneself and with outsiders, hence the warning to not give this role to those who have NOT been tried and tested.
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. ~1Timothy 3:6 (NIV)
It's unfair on newish Christians to give them too much too quickly. Pride is not far from anyone but a new Christian has not had the chance to be tried and tested. The one gift requirement on this list - He apt to teach.
…hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, ~1Timothy 3:2b-3a (NIV)
What I love is that its tucked in there between being hospitable and not getting drunk, Paul's LAST WORDS to Timothy and Elders before he died.
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction ~2 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)
Elders need to teach correctly in the face of false teaching.
You saw me do that last week, many of you thanked me for siding with God. Good shepherds love the sheep by feeding the sheep, the whole counsel of God and not just parts of it.
People ask who are our elders? Our M pastors serve as elders: Mark, Dan, Rob, Pre, Bruce and myself, together we direct the affairs of the church. We are a church that does team pastoring, its why I always introduce myself as one of the pastors of MBM, I too submit to the collective will of the elders.
If the elders focus on leading, teaching and prayer the deacons serve the church in good works which free up elders to do their work - see Acts 6
In our tradition Deacons watch over finances, building, OHS, as well as release funds to assist with those in need. The work of deaconate is carried on by many who care for the needs of Gods people. I am so glad for the leadership at MBM. Elders and Deacons both, are called to be above reproach, both called to hold to onto the word of God but only the elders are required to be gifted in teaching. Although all our Deacons at MBM run bible studies.
They (Deacons) must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. ~1 Timothy 3:9 (NIV)
We are in the process of interviewing a new deacon for Parramatta, he has been tried and tested and found faithful, he will be interviewed at the next Deacons meeting. If accepted, we will present his name to the church. It appears that deacons are not reserved for just men
In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. ~1Timothy 3:11 (NIV)
Phoebe in Romans 16 is called to be a deacon. We do want women to be part of the Deacon board, let me know if you want to be considered for the roles.
Paul says to Timothy
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
Friends a lot is at stake, nothing less than the salvation of the world. The way the church of the living God upholds the truth is not just by teaching the truth but by living out the truth. The key to godliness is the good news of our Lord Jesus.
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. ~1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
While the false teacher wasted everyone's time with myths. Paul is saying the mystery of godliness is no longer a MYSTERY and its never a MYTH. Its all about Jesus, who humbled himself and came in the human flesh, who was raised by the Spirit, proving he was the Son of God. Witnessed by messenger both apostles and angels. Not just preached among the nations, but believed on in the world. Gods word will not return empty.
We may be on lockdown but we had 35 people at Explaining Christianity on Tuesday. For this Jesus may have come in humility but was taken up in of glory. One day he will come to judge the living and the dead, He will come to judge MBM, He will judge its leaders and its people.
What you think of me is one thing, what Jesus thinks of me is another. What do you think is our churches great need?
Robert Murray McCheyne was right “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness”
Oh the damage that is done to the gospel when leaders fall.
That list of fallen leaders is long and getting longer. The list of people who have fallen away because of fallen leaders is longer still. So I plead with you…pray weekly for us pastors, and deacons. Pray for the staff, Growth Group leaders, youth leaders, children's leaders, our overseas ministry partners. Not one leader I know feels they are up to the task. Satans main target for every pastor is his family.
But also pray that God would raise up a new generation of Leaders. Brothers, pray that you would consider this noble task.
Brothers, this is not just a good prayer, it is an urgent need. We have, at the moment, 25 vacant churches in Sydney Anglican diocese alone. We are needing godly men to consider this office, start by taking the next step of serving. By application we constantly are looking for men and women to STEP UP to serve and lead in ministries
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)
Please Raise up godly elders and deacons from among us who will love the church by loving the truth, proclaiming the truth and live by the truth.
Thank you for the many men and women who lead at all levels of ministry at MBM.
May we seek to encouraging them so that their work may be a joy for them. In Jesus Name Amen.
As a pastor, you can avoid a lot of heat at church by just skipping this book and this chapter. That is why we preach chapter by chapter to stop us from only teaching the bits we like.
But first a Warning
This passage is not a full-blown summary of women's ministry. Since the passage is drawing boundaries on who can preach and have authority in the church, the tendency is to talk about what woman can’t do. So, I want to intentionally begin where the Bible begins.
In Genesis 1, men and women are both made in God`s image, from the beginning males and females together are to rule this world under God, together. Under the Old Covenant only male Jewish priests were given limited access to the presence of God in the temple. With the coming of Christ
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus ~Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
Peter says we are all co-heirs with Christ
Ministry and Women
One picture of how men and women work side by side in the gospel is seen in Romans 16, you notice there are a lot of women mentioned. Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena and Tryophosa, Persis, Julia (trust me they are women) Paul calls these women fellow workers in the gospel who worked very hard in the Lord at great personal expense.
Women were engaged in teaching and evangelism. Both Priscilla with her husband Aquila instruct the gifted preacher Apollos more adequately in Acts 18. Then there are the ‘one another’ passages with no gender restriction.
…teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, ~Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
Paul speaks of women praying and prophesying in the church. So, it's with that background we pick up this passage, we are all mindful that this is an ancient text to a church in an ancient culture in Ephesus. They lived before feminism, before the
abolition of slavery. So, is this the word of God for us or a temporary instruction to a local church problem? We also can't be blind that we ourselves are shaped by culture as well.
Many years ago, I read 1 Timothy 2 with two groups, I got a sense that both were shaped by their culture. One group read the passage through a Middle Eastern lens and had no problem. The other read the passage through a Middle-class feminism lens and had a big problem. So we must work very hard to make sure what is driving our conclusions. We also need to come clean on our personal preferences.
For me, I wish there were no differences:
But we are people of the book, that book, including this passage is God-breathed. We refuse to think we are wiser than God. Let's first remind ourselves about the purpose of the whole book?
… I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. ~1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV)
God's appointed apostle Paul charges Timothy to guard the truth in God's church. This letter focuses on how we conduct ourselves at church.
Chapter 1: to silence false teachers; Chapter 2: to pray for everyone including rulers so that we can have peace. With peace, we can preach Christ, who wants all people to be saved.
For men in the church to pray and not fight. For women to focus on inner beauty not external wealth, not on how they look but how they live, to be known for good works not good looks. Then Paul speaks about the relationship between men and women at church.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. ~1Timothy 2:11-12 (NIV)
Paul gives women 2 directives, one is about something they are to do, learn quietly and with all submissiveness. And one is about things they are not to do, to teach or exercise authority.
Don’t skip the wonder: A woman should learn - that was not the expected norm for any women in the ancient world. The equality and education of women is a concept uniquely promoted in the bible. Notice one idea informs the other, to learn is paralleled with to not teach. In full, submission is paralleled not to have authority over men.
While the word for woman can also be translated to wife, you notice no translation goes down that road because the purpose of the book is not marriage but church. Paul says “I do not permit..” remember its Paul the apostle not Ray the Dragons supporter who does not permit.
And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. ~1 Timothy 2:7 (NIV)
So let it be clear, it is God who does not permit women to teach and to have authority over men in the church of God.
Picture a pyramid with 3 levels of teaching:
1 Timothy 2 is speaking about one aspect of level two. Teaching here is authoritative teaching of sound doctrine to the whole church.
It's important that we don’t under apply or over apply this text. To over apply, stops women from having leadership in work or church it stops women from any teaching and preaching ministry. To under apply explains away any relevance for this passage for today's church. Its important that we don’t go beyond scripture. This principle is applied for us by Paul himself.
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well…especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. The teaching and authority restricted to men is the role of elders who teach and preach ~1Timothy 5:17 (NIV)
But this verse appears both limited and emphatic. She is not to be the teacher for the whole congregation nor its pastor elder.
This teaching restricts all women and 95% of men who will never be elders.
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. ~1Timothy 2:11 (NIV)
But not absolute submission-not if it violates God's word 1 Timothy 6:3-4.
Under Christ we are all called to submit to someone, Children to Parent, Wife to Husband, Congregation to Elders, Citizens to Government. We are all called to submit ultimately to Christ, who himself will submit all things to the Father. By submission we mean “a voluntary and willing acceptance of the leadership and responsibility of another.” [Claire Smith] Gods good design
The verse begins and ends with quietness, that is without a rebellious spirit toward either the teaching or the teacher. What I see at MBM are Godly women who humbly accept God`s order of ministry in the body of Christ. Women who have wide ranging personalities, who graciously serve, and love, gifted women who lead teams, and serve on staff, women who raise children and raise issues, and who respectfully stand their ground for Jesus, women who are marked by modestly, prayer, and a generous heart, whose words are drenched with wisdom, patience, and knowledge, who are able to encourage and rebuke when appropriate. Making us a healthy church.
But are we over reading the text?
Was this a temporary ban for a local problem
But this teaching is consistent with other passages that teach of differences between men and women in the family and family of God (1 Corinthians 14). Paul never makes a blanket statement for a specific problem. (Romans 14)
Just as Jesus went to Genesis to affirm Marriage, Paul goes to Genesis where Gods plan revealed and rejected. In contrast Paul may encourage Slaves to obey Master but he never argues for slavery in God's purpose for humans in Creation. In fact he says to slaves if you get your freedom, take it. He doesn't say of women if you get the chance to be an elder take it. Paul gives 2 reason why women are not to teach and have authority over a man in the church of God
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. ~1Timothy 2:13 (NIV)
Adam and Eve represent the first couple, the first family and the first church. Adam is given the authority of the first born to lead Eve in ruling the world under God. You see that authority when Adam NAMES Eve or when Adam is held responsible for the Fall. Eve was made from Adam to be his helper and ally, together they would rule this world under God. The second reason-show where God plan is rejected
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. ~1Timothy 2:14 (NIV)
Adam and Eve both sinned in the garden but in different ways,
Adam sinned by failing to lead Eve by his silence when Eve was tempted, by listening to Eve and taking the fruit, Eve names her sin as deception. She was deceived into listening to the lies of Satan and then leading Adam into sin
Paul is saying this pattern is not to be repeated in the church. God is saying, I want men and women to work together in the family and family of God. Within that I want men to teach and lead the whole church. This is not about women being more gullible or less intelligent or less gifted than men. Women are encouraged to TEACH, women and children prophesy and pray. This is a specific instruction on how women are to use their gifts of teaching in the church of God. Just as WOMEN cant be ELDERS so MEN cant be MOTHERS
The section ends on the note of good works fit for a woman of God which includes motherhood
But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. ~1Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
In case you’re wondering, its not saying you’re going to heaven because you have a baby or you wont feel any pain if you do have a baby. Singleness and Marriage are deemed as gifts from God by the apostle Paul. Here child bearing is part of a long list of good works that marks out women of the Lord who will be saved. She will be saved with a faith marked by godly living. Notice how Paul describes godly widows
well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. ~1Timothy 5:10 (NIV)
Our culture is increasingly anti motherhood
Question: What do you do?
Answer: I am just a mother?
Because in our culture value is only tied to income and not Gods purposes. Just a mother – the Bible views motherhood as more important than that of the Presidency of USA or running a company of 1000 people, hence the grief for women who cant have children
Feminism has rightly pursued equality and justice at multiple levels for women and there is more to be done but it has done two dreadful things.
But Chauvinism under the guise of the bible has done even worse, it has corrupted the beautiful notion of Christ like sacrificial leadership, it has denigrated to hyper headship - an excuse to control, abuse and manipulate women. No wonder that domestic abuse is not lower in churches then in the world.
There is a dance before us in Gods church and in every
Christian family, a dance between men and women who are called to serve together as equal partners. Men and women working together marked by love and respect, not control and fear.
We are missing our chance to show the world how God's order can lead to women flourishing and men leading with sacrificial love. Men who will operate not from fear and insecurity but love and service. At present the elders of MBM are M pastors, each of us work closely with women on staff. Learning together, celebrating each others success, wanting each other to flourish as we all submit to Gods plan.
The pressure of the world is to change God's teaching, the pressure of the flesh is to abuse Gods teaching. Lets stand with God on this issue. Which means we stand with the apostle Paul
But by end of his life Paul says:
At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. ~2 Timothy 4.16 (NIV)
On this issue not many want to stand with the apostle. This truth not to be tolerated- like some awful tasting medicine. This is Gods precious loving word for our good and His Glory. Will we be the church of God which is the foundation and pillar of the truth? And yet will we love our brother and sisters who differ on this important issue?
Well, I don’t think Paul had any idea what would be happening in the year 2021 but this passage reads as if it was freshly scripted by God for us this year! It’s a very timely word.
1 Timothy is a letter that speaks into a whole range of issues that grind against our culture - it’s not anti culture - but trans-cultural - that is - it speaks of how to live as God’s family, in any and every time in history! And generally, that’s going to clash with some aspect of culture! - often has!
I don’t know how you’ve felt about all the decisions the government have been making over the last couple of years as we’ve journeyed through Covid - but I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all felt the frustrations of restrictions! Loss of jobs, masks on everywhere, weddings cancelled, solo birthday parties. Gyms closed, eating too much, everyone’s hair is growing out - I’m glad I learned to cut my own hair before covid!
As Christians we’ve definitely felt the restrictions! Church gatherings closed down, singing was taken away from us, home groups were told they couldn’t meet, our Church has had to go digital - gathering online… which we praise God for.
Now in our tightest version of lockdown … And lots of people are feeling very tense… very restricted… It’s been a really tough time in so many ways but what I’ve found really interesting is seeing how people have been responding to the whole thing online - or on the radio or TV… And it’s not only been interesting but at times it’s been really polarising!! One side against another! Maybe you’ve also felt it?
As people are feeling the stress of the virus and the lockdowns they’re pushing their views and responding intensely to others' views. Many wanting the government to be doing certain things and being really upset when things haven’t gone the way they expected! or wanted.. The polarisation has been crazy! There are so many sides on so many fronts! From Masks to vaccines to laws to freedoms…
Last week was a perfect example! There was so much talk about how our premier, Gladys Berejiklian, stuffed up because she didn’t lock NSW down hard and fast… And then when she finally did lock us down - hard and fast - there was a protest from people not wanting to be locked down hard and fast! She couldn’t do anything right!
It’s been interesting seeing the weight people have been placing on the government to almost be the solution to their life’s problems… “If they’d just do this or that - then my life would be better…” Or if other people would do this or that - stay home, - get vaccinated, - or stop telling me I need to be vaccinated that would affect the government’s decisions and then life would come back to normal for me - I would essentially be - free again!
Christians haven’t been exempt from those feelings, many have felt like the restrictions have even been a target on the church … a form of persecution… feeling like God’s work is being restricted by the lockdowns… And we get it - as ministers - it can definitely feel like that! And though this isn’t that - it’s not persecution: It can definitely feel like lockdown - restricts God!
But I love what Paul wrote from his prison cell while he sat restricted by physical chains!
I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. ~2 Timothy 2:9 (NIV)
It’s not bound! It made it out of that prison cell and it has been powering on through history and through Covid! Praise God for phones and internet! I’ve heard story after story of how God has been actively working even while we’ve been physically separated. And Paul shows us here how God continues to work no matter what’s happening in the world around us — whether restricted or not! He shows us what our role is in that work and where ultimate freedom is to be found! And very different from what we feel like we need to do: Paul says - Our role is to Pray!
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. ~1Timothy 2:1 (NIV)
Paul encourages various types of prayer here as we reflect on the different people that affect our lives. Notice the focus of the different prayers here are not for our daily needs, not for money, food or clothes, but for people! — All people! He means all kinds of people - people in all kinds of places - and he particularly lists those in authority - in their day kings, Emperors, in our day a Queen and our governments, police and so on… I think it can be really easy for us to generally lean a certain way in our prayers based on our personality differences… either focusing on negative things in others or just all the positive things.
But Paul helpfully draws us out of just praying prayers in line with our own views - to learning to see the world and people through God’s eyes and to bring all their various scenarios to him. So, for me it’s learning to not just pray for all the faults I see in others and praise God for food… but thanking him for our Garbos, who take away our rubbish each week… for those who serve in our healthcare system, and keep our shops going… for our electricity companies who keep our lights going… It’s learning to praise God for bringing the vast range of people from different nationalities into Australia - who live up and down our street… who work in our neighbourhood and praying for opportunities to interact with them…
It’s praising God for people who hold different views to me, that they can help me understand the world in a different way than I do… and praying for opportunities to open up conversations together… Praising God for our boss’s and co-workers - and praying that God might sustain them and helps us work together well. For opportunities to love them. So many different people to pray for and praise God for in so many different ways! And Especially - at the moment - our Government! I wonder what your response and attitude has been towards our government over this last little while? What have you been feeling towards them?? So many of us have been really appreciative of them in their difficult task! And have been praising God for them… But I’ve also seen so many Christians attacking or complaining about the government publicly on social media recently… and in different conversations… I’ve personally been feeling for them… I haven’t necessarily agreed with everything they’ve done - but have definitely been feeling for them in their roles!
But as I’d been working on this talk I realised, I’ve been praying for the government with different groups, I’ve been trying to help people think positively about them, even defending poor ol’ Gladys to different people… But I realised I hadn’t been personally praying for them on my own! Or praising God for them… I’d praised them to other people - but not to God… I realised I’d been talking about them a lot, but not talking to God about them. So, I spent some time this week bringing them all before God.
Now I’m not saying you have to be happy with everything they’re saying or even agree with it all - It’s a free country - we have voting rights… but what I will say is what Paul’s telling Timothy and the church in Ephesus! That one of our greatest witnesses to our world that we trust in a Governor that’s greater than any human government is that we pray for our governments - long before we complain about them! 1 Timothy is about God’s family - Christians - Guarding God’s truth by the way we live and speak - so that our world will see and know the glory of the gospel!
If we let go of the truth in the church - we have nothing to give the world! And friends - even how we interact online is a demonstration of our commitment to God’s cause… Not even the way we interact - but what we go looking for! What we speak about and the way we speak online before a watching world can serve to either repel or compel others towards Jesus. Complaining about our government - as legitimate as your points may be - does not help the cause of the gospel!
Historical Context: You know, when Paul first issued this command in the 60’s AD, they were living under the Roman emperor Nero, who was an absolute tyrant. There were no voting rights for all and no democracy, but it was more of a dictatorship! Nero hated Christians and viewed them as the scum of the earth. People viewed Christians as enemies of humankind because they held that their Lord Jesus was Lord above all governing bodies, and that even the emperor should submit to Him. Christians were outcasts - they were quite counter cultural - not engaging in the brutal Roman sports or in political offices at all! Eventually Nero falsely accused the church of setting a fire in Rome and he set a mass persecution against them! Listen to how Nero treated Christians in Timothy’s day:
Its in that context that Paul calls the church to pray - not just for friends and family, for their church and loved ones but for their govt… for people in authority!! Nero and his soldiers… And that’s because the power of prayer is greater than the power of protest - or of any other action we can take - because the God behind our prayers is unrestrictable! He can do far more than we can!
One wise pastor put it this way: Let’s get more Petitions to God in prayer - than signatures to Government in letters. Let’s get our knees to the floor in humility - before our fingers to the keyboard in hostility!
This week I saw a Christian friend share what she’d done for the government - she’d sent a letter to Gladys, encouraging her in her role and letting her know she’d prayed for her!
How much more does that serve God’s cause rather than publicly shaming her?
Imagine she received a heap of letters from MBMers over the next few weeks saying the same thing…? And to what end are we praying? What’s the goal of this prayer?? What are we hoping would happen as we pray and praise God for all these people?
…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. ~1 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
We pray that God might sovereignly handle all the aspects that affect our lives - that we might get out of lockdown??? - NO - That we might have the opportunity to live in a way that demonstrates trust in a God who’s bigger than this world’s issues. Quiet - Peaceful - Holy lives. Not Angry, violent, or civilly disobedient lives. In that way - by prayer and faithfulness - we achieve what God really wants.
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. ~1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
What’s the “Good” here? What is it that pleases God? That we pray? Or when our prayers are answered? Is the good thing when people are saved and come to the truth? I think all are on view - it’s good that we entrust ourselves and other people to God and live in a way that honours him and the connection here is that that’s how God brings people to salvation! Through His people’s prayers and their godly witness. And that’s what God wants! He wants more and more of that!
I put out a post this week on our church Facebook groups asking for people to share how they’ve seen God at work even in the midst of lockdown and it was so encouraging to hear the stories! God has definitely not been restricted! One guy said he was sharing the gospel with the Obrien’s window replacement man who came to fix his car. Another person who lived in a unit block had fresh opportunities to get to know their neighbours who were usually out at work all day. Another started online gaming again and reconnected with some old friends and found that one of them was going through a really tough time and he was able to pray with him and share the gospel with him!
Friends, God’s word is not bound! He hasn’t stopped working! I wonder how that goal - God’s goal of seeing people saved - might affect the way you rethink what life for you should look like in these restrictions? Lockdowns? Helping people see God’s truth!… Spending quality time at home in prayer is definitely not a waste of time! But possibly an opportunity God has given us! Prayer meeting…
Well, I don’t know what’s been keeping you busy at home — but one thing that’s been eating up my time is TV and social media! And it can be really tempting at the moment to get online or listen to the news and get caught up in the polarising ideas and issues of the day… As if one of them is going to be the solution to our present issues… We feel like we need to be on a side or choose a team or have a view and an opinion… Whatever the platform is the world is constantly telling us - come to my truth! See the world my way! Think like me! View the government, the vaccines, science, the media, the world a certain way - and then all your issues will be sorted…
And we can feel like - if we just get this thing sorted… if the government would just allow this or that… if everyone would just vaccinate - if I could just set up my home office in the right way.. If Centrelink would just provide enough supplement… everything will be ok…
We can get fooled into thinking there’s this ultimate solution to our present problems in a worldly scenario. Yes, we should pray that our government do their job well. Yes, we should pray that they come to know Jesus. Yes, we should pray for a greater moral state of our nation and our world — BUT ultimately that will not happen through having the right political party in place! Or through any other social endeavour! Paul says - as you pray for these things remember, Jesus is your only ultimate solution!
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. ~1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)
Paul here raises our eyes from a worldly solution to a heavenly one! See what this verse is doing in the middle of this little passage about praying for people… especially our governments. There’s one God, there’s one ultimate place of rest and restoration! And freedom! With Him! And there’s one mediator between him and us, one person who can ultimately fix the problem between us, one person who can give us the kind of freedom we need and so desire!
One person who can move the hearts of people to come together rather than being polarised! Jesus Christ! God himself! Not Scott Morrison, not Donald Trump, not Biden, not Gladys, not even the Queen, nor any other political party or governing system… no business or social endeavour… God wants people to be saved and Jesus is how that comes about! The truth about him is what saves!
What did Jesus do for us, He gave Himself as a ransom! A ransom is a price paid to free someone from captivity! I wonder how much you’d pay to end this lockdown? What would your freedom be worth? Well, whatever that price, our freedom with God was far more costly - it cost God the life of his only son! He was willing to pay that for us to be freed from our eternal captivity!
Far more serious than the delta stream of the C-virus, our sin had put us in a state of eternal captivity away from God and we were essentially all heading down a road into an eternal lockdown! Away from God, away from anything good, away from loved ones, away from love, away from any signs of the goodness of life - but locked down in eternal death! But as it says in verse 4 - God wanted people to be saved - and he was even willing to pay the penalty for us!
So, he came into our world, into our sickness stricken, sinful and broken world, and he took up the cross. He was willing to take up death and in his death he experienced that separation from his father that we deserved - so that we don’t have to! He did that - So that for those who accept what he’s done, those who have put their faith in Jesus - whether we’re in a physical lockdown, whether we have others around us, whatever’s happening in our lives right now, we can know for sure that we’re never separated from our loving God!
We’ve been given a freedom that far surpasses whatever freedoms we had before covid or whatever’s coming after it! Freedom from judgement, freedom from sin and its reign, freedom from the fear of death, freedom from living in a hopeless state of expecting our government, or any other broken person to be the solution to our greatest needs!
Jesus is the ultimate solution to our need for freedom! This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. Free yourself from the trap of anxiety, fear and outrage, and turn to Jesus - who offers peace and freedom forever. This Jesus and the freedom he offers is what kept Paul praying and testifying as he waited for his chance to speak the gospel to Caesar - he was in jail, restricted under house arrest but confident of the un-chained power of God’s word.
As I said earlier, it’s like Paul wrote this letter this month, as he immediately applies his call to pray, to the men whose way of dealing with injustice and inaction can often be similar to what we saw in the freedom rally last week, hands raised in rage..
I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. ~1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV)
And I think it applies to our women too… My Advice - Take a break from the screens - read the word - watch some Olympics - pray for people - we pray because no matter the restrictions on us, our God is never in chains, He’s always at work!
Father’s day - I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad growing up. One of my Aunties told me when I was like 4 or 5, she would let me sit on her lap in the car and let me help her steer - these are things you could do in the 80’s - and one time when we were coming into the driveway she tells me that I asked if we could run my dad over… I don’t know if that says something about me as a kid or about the relationship my dad and I had even back then.
Things eventually got so rough between us that I moved out at 19 and there was a time we treated each other as if the other person didn’t exist. As I reflect back, I think it was a case of the two of us being too similar in nature and wanting very different things in life! Creating big clashes! We’d fight over the silliest things, neither of us wanting to budge on the issue. The majority of the time I felt like he didn’t care for the person inside, while he was feeling I didn’t care for him because of the way I acted on the outside. It was a real clash, we went through some hard years, it had a big effect on my life and I know it affected my dad too.
Fathers play a huge role in the lives of their children, it’s our great and scary privilege and responsibility. Studies have shown the immensely positive and negative affects a present, involved, loving father can be on a child’s formation compared with a distant unloving one.
Now some of us have outstanding fathers and that’s a great gift! But we live in a broken world and I recognise some of our fathers passed away earlier than they should have. Some of our fathers left us sooner than they should have and some we wished would have left sooner and some of us have not been the kind of father we know we should have been.
Sin and brokenness have affected fatherhood on earth in many ways but today I want to lift our eyes above our earthy fathers, and I want to let the bible encourage our hearts with the reality of our God who has been an ever-present, all-loving, all-wise father to each and every one of us.
No matter what your relationship has been to your own earthly dad, our relationship with our heavenly dad is the one that ultimately defines and shapes who we are!
In the classic book - knowing God, Jim Packer lays out what he thinks a Christian is… he writes: “What is a Christian?” (How would you answer that question?).
“The richest answer I know is that a Christian is someone who knows God as their father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much they make of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as their father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls their worship and prayers and their whole outlook on life, it means that they do not understand Christianity very well at all.”
And my hope is that today we’ll see how having God as our father positively affects our lives in every way, especially in these strange times we’re in right now. So, what does it look like?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? ~Matthew 6:25 (NIV)
Don’t worry! - a phrase every worried person loves to hear. Notice, Jesus starts this section with 'Therefore' He’s just been teaching a big crowd about what it means to have a father in heaven who sees and knows every aspect of their lives and one of the benefits of that he says is not to be consumed with worry. Worry is interesting isn’t it? interesting what worry does to us, it can be helpful at times when it creates helpful action but at other times, it’s just annoying, it can be really frustrating and debilitating! Worry causes us to narrow our vision, to get focused in on a problem, less able to think of the bigger picture, and usually push others away and isolate or we treat others poorly as we try to remove them to focus on our worry.
It’s not like there aren’t things to worry about! I mean from Covid fears to vaccine decisions to people losing their jobs, wondering where their next meals might come from to mental health issues on the rise. Terrorism tearing through Afghanistan! Worrying about the needs of our families, will our kids make it through the year of homeschooling. Worry seems pretty normal right now. It’s very hard to keep our heads out of the tunnel of worry!
I don’t know the things worrying you at the moment but Jesus takes us straight to the big things here in verse 25: Don’t worry about your life… what will keep you alive… He names food and drink… he’s not talking about items for a party… food and drink are things that fuel us, things that keep us alive/going… the sources of life… I mean it seems counter-intuitive but he’s saying don’t be consumed with worry over what’s going to keep you living… then he goes to our bodies - what we’ll clothe them with, again, this isn’t about a decision to shop at the Salvos instead of buying new expensive apparel… a new pair of Nike’s, it’s a question about what we think our bodies are for and what’s really on display for others… Jesus says our bodies are more than, or for more than clothes… so let that worry go…
We’re going to think about each of those things. Our lives and our bodies… There’s a link here between our lives and bodies, and God’s kingdom and righteousness… See if you can work out the link as we go… Let’s think about it… Where is life found? And… What are our bodies for?
If you consult YouTube you’ll find over a million food channels telling you how much food is life and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people in lockdown but I’m also sure they won’t have the recipe to life’s bigger questions… what is life and what am I for? In the ancient world and even in many places today - food can be scarce - and the rain falling for the crops to grow relies heavily upon the Lord of the harvest who sends rain. Unlike us with our Uber eats phone apps, they really experience their life’s dependance upon God for their daily food so there often is a contrast between trust and worry. Worry that their father in heaven won’t sustain them. And we can feel a similar thing when we’re stuck in a really tough scenario where we feel like we don’t know if we’ll get through this, we can’t see a way out, no light and no way forward, feeling like God has forgotten us but look at how Jesus encourages us.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ~Matthew 6:26 (NIV)
Birds aren’t made in the image of God, nor are promised eternal life, yet God provides what they need to live.
We’ve been reading this book with our kids recently, it’s about some birds who are watching these humans in different scenarios in their life. And the birds are getting amazed and confused at how much these humans are getting stressed in their businesses, or in their lives, and they’re cutting corners, and making all kinds of bad decisions because they don’t know they’ve got a father in heaven who cares for them just like he cares for these birds… they don’t understand…
And then at the end of the book the birds see a big group of people and they’re all a bit down… and then it shows Jesus in the middle of the group and he says to them all: “Look at these birds… they don’t run businesses or work, but your father feeds them, how much more valuable are you to your father in heaven!? Your life and your bodies are about much more than food and clothes… And then the birds say - HOORAY! They really do have a father in heaven who cares for them!
If only we’d stop thinking we could find our life, our security, our meaning in something else other than God. And he’s not just talking about food and drink and life’s essentials, it’s not about having enough toilet paper, He’s pressing in to the things we think will give our life significance, worth, meaning and sustenance. What are those things for you? The things you feel like you couldn’t live without?? What would other people notice you couldn’t live without? What is it in your life that you feel if I have this or that I’ll be ok and I’ll get through another day?
Whatever it might be, Jesus strips worrying about it right out from under our feet!
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ~Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
It’s painfully true, what benefit is there to worrying? This really gets to what Jesus is trying to say about life. Where is life truly found?
When I was a personal trainer we used to go to seminar after seminar on the latest trends in healthy eating and exercise and mind-body relationship stuff and every new guru thought they’d found the key to a longer life! It was all about extending and improving life and I had this line I’d keep saying to people “live well, eat healthy, exercise, die anyway” - it was inevitable! They could try to extend it as long as they like, but it was always coming to an end, an end they couldn’t control!
It was a reality check for a community who felt like they could control every aspect of their lives to essentially live forever but just as Jesus says, food and drink can never sustain life eternally because the very essence of life is only truly found in God… he holds it in his hands!! Of course, health & fitness have their benefits, but worrying about food or any other earthly thing because we think that’ll secure us in life is ultimately futile.
Earlier in Matthew when Jesus was being tempted by Satan to forget God and use his power to turn stones into bread to feed his hunger he said “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Our lives are upheld and carried through by God. Worrying just wastes life…
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. ~Matthew 6:28-29 (NIV)
Solomon was the son of King David around 1000BC, if you want to read about him look at 1 Kings 10. He was by far the richest man who had ever lived up to that point in history and long after him… He had whole towns to store his animals and almost everything in his palace was made of pure gold. In 1 Kings 10:27 it says King Solomon made silver as common as stones, it says he didn’t bother using silver in the palace because it was of little value in Solomon’s day.
And He would have been dressed up to display the wealth of his kingdom with gold all over him, just dazzling! I’d say, probably more majestic than you or I have or will ever dress in our lifetimes but Jesus says he had nothing on flowers…
What does he even mean? Look at verse 30
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? ~Matthew 6:30 (NIV)
Notice what flowers are clothes for, what does God clothe with flowers? grass, which is here today and gone tomorrow. God grows flowers, in all their beauty to brighten up the grass and friends, what Jesus is saying is - God clothes us, to brighten up a dark world, not with clothes, but with the light of Christ! With Righteousness! That’s what our bodies are for, that’s what the more than clothes means.
We are made in the image of God, and called by our Father in heaven to display the glory of Christ to the world around us! Not in the way we dress, but by the way we act!! Just before this little section, Jesus told the crowd - you who come to me.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
When Jesus went to the cross, he not only stood in our place of punishment and got from his father what we deserved! But he also gave to us his perfect righteousness! It was a complete transfer and substitute! Our sin, for his righteousness. So for us who believe in Jesus, and have accepted him as our Lord and saviour, God clothes us with Jesus. That’s the privilege we have as his children. When God looks at us, he doesn’t look at us with anger, or disappointment, but with full acceptance, with the same love he has for his own perfect son, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in his righteousness to display His glory to our world as we seek his kingdom above all else!
So Jesus is saying, if that’s what our bodies are for, living out his righteousness, will God not give us all we need to display that beauty, like bright shining stars in a world of darkness!
Daniel saw this future reality coming when he wrote -
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. ~Daniel 12:3 (NIV)
And Paul said:
for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. ~Philippians 2:13-16 (NIV)
Isn’t that a timely word for us! Unlike worry which isolates and pushes others away as it tunnel visions, seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness displays the bigger picture and draws others in, it brings others along with us! This is a very important word for us as a church at the moment in a world that is continually feeling polarising!
Did you know that the clothing industry brings in around 2 trillion dollars each year? Jesus is saying, what you can do for the world around you in Jesus name, for your father’s glory is worth far more than trillions of dollars!! And so he says:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ~Matthew 6:31-33 (NIV)
The point is, we waste our lives with worry about the wrong things! We seek after earthly security and affirmation while our Heavenly Father knows us completely and knows what we need, and as he calls us to seek his kingdom, he promises to actively provide all we need to do that! Hand over your worries to him! Who is far more able to manage them than us…
Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
The other day while I was sitting working on this talk, I was listening to a Whitney Houston song, yeah, I said Whitney Houston, and there was a line in the song that really got me..
One of the verses goes - If I woke up in world war 3 and I see destruction and poverty and I feel like I want to go home…
And it just really struck me, I think that’s what we’re all feeling at the moment, I just want to go home, I want to go back to when things were normal, when even home felt like home. It’s that feeling of being away from home for a while and just wanting to be back in our comfortable space.
But then I thought, whatever happens, even if we don’t get to get back to that situation, wherever we are, whatever state we’re in, we’re always at home with God! And we can know for sure that our father in heaven is walking with us, holding our hand tightly in his, as we walk together through this messy time. He’s never let us go! And he will lead us all the way into eternal life where we are very safe and sound.
Worry isn’t something he asks of us but trust. In such a time as this, we need to turn our panic into prayer and entrust ourselves to our capable Dad.
I’m a dad of 2, Micah is almost 3 and Hazel is 1 and I just absolutely love them! I love watching them, I love teaching them, I love their cheeky grins and their little cuddles. I love when they annoy me and try to type on my computer when I’m trying to write a sermon, I love their confidence to try to pull away from my hand when we cross a road as I’m tightly holding onto them! I have such a strong desire for them, that I want the very best for them in every way possible in life but I know I can’t control that and I know I’ll fail them in many ways as they grow.
But If that’s the desire of an imperfect, flawed man than how much more does our father in heaven have our best interests in mind as he watches us grow through life?
It’s not that God is going to provide us with a big forcefield that stops every bad thing happening to us. He doesn’t promise us an easy road! The Christian life comes with suffering and hardships just like our Lord Jesus faced, but he assures us he’ll be with us as we travel that road and assures us he’ll carry us home!
What we’re promised is in every single moment of every single day, there is a loving, gracious father in heaven who’s with us by His Spirit, growing us, shaping us, guiding us, caring for us in ways that we may never see until we meet him face to face in eternity…but because of that reality, we can be sure that worry is not something we need to add to our character traits.
All those who have put their faith in Jesus, have been adopted as children of God. And as a child of God, you have every privilege our Lord Jesus had! Just as he prayed - Father, thank you that you hear me, I know that you always hear me… and he does…
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~Matthew 6:34 (NIV)
And so the word for us today is…Trust your Heavenly Father, hold on to the hope of eternal life, and live out His righteousness in the opportunities God has provided for us this day.
What are some things you could do, even in lockdown that will bring a smile to your father’s face?
Already I’ve heard of people getting food packages delivered to other people’s places, people calling people who are doing life tough, others doing 1-1 bible studies with people who couldn’t manage zoom, other groups getting together on zoom to pray for our community and the world, families making the most of the time by spending quality time together, even around the word!
Dad’s, can I encourage you to make sure you use this time to be a light in your families.
Dads we have a huge privilege and responsibility to show our kids how to trust in their heavenly Dad. Your kids may not remember the specific things you say to them, or what you read with them in the bible, but what they will remember is where you sat each morning or night, and what that book was that you were reading. They’ll remember how you treated their mother and their siblings, and what your face looked like as your eyes were closed in prayer to your own heavenly Dad. They’ll remember the focus of your life and what kingdom you spent your time and money building and that will have an everlasting impact in their lives!
Well, Praise God, some years back, my dad and I had time to talk and understand each other and we’re on really good terms now. But I wonder how much time you’ve spent recently seeking to understand your father in heaven and his care for you? It’s easy in these stressful times to let our feelings dictate how much we think God cares for us but that’s a very unhelpful way of viewing reality as one of God’s children. Instead, we should seek to hear his own voice on the matter and with that in mind, let me finish with Jesus’ comforting words:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.John 10:27-29 (NIV)
What a comfort!
Happy Father’s Day.
Throughout life, it seems the question that we often get asked is: ‘who do you want to be?’ As a child, it’s always “What do you want to be when you grow up?” An author, A gymnast, A fireman, A footy player. Growing up, I wanted to be a bank manager. Why? Well, I thought as the bank manager I would have access to all the money! Then at the end of high school, we’re confronted with that decision again; a decision that rests on a score out of 100.
As we become adults, the question: ‘what do you want to be?’’ then seems to take a different shape. Rather than people asking us, it tends to be us asking ourselves. Is this what I want to be? I remember in my 2nd-year of university, during the summer break, doing a six-week stint working as an auditor in an accounting firm. Well, that was enough for me to say: “this is not for me.” So off I went and pursued Human Resources. Along the way, it seems we’re forever answering the question. Do I see myself doing this for the rest of my life? Is this what I want to spend my time, my energy pursuing? Or do I chase something else instead?
1 Timothy 4 today is going to put something before us all, something that’s well and truly worth aspiring for.
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, ~1Timothy 4:6 (NIV)
Not you might be, you will be a good minister! The word minister there, it’s not talking about the paid minister, someone like myself, or any of the other staff here. No, Paul uses a different word here, different from the words: elder, overseer, deacon that he used back in Chapter 3. The word here is ‘servant’. It’s not a particularly impressive word. When was the last time you heard someone say they had ambitions to become a servant? I don’t think I’ve ever said to my kids: “Hey, forget becoming a gymnast when you grow up. Much better off chasing the dream of becoming a servant” What does a servant do? A servant serves. To be a servant, by its very definition, is to be the opposite of someone important; power and position, status, fame and recognition. These are off the table when it comes to being a servant because a servant serves. A servant doesn’t have on their radar questions like: Whether I’m appreciated, my reputation, recognition. No, because a servant serves. In the age we live in where it’s all about pursuing my dreams, my freedom, my rights, why would anyone want to aspire to be a servant!
Well, let’s break down what it means to be a servant of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus, who as we saw back in the very first sentence of this letter. Christ Jesus who is our hope, our Lord (1Timothy 1:2). The one who came into this world to save sinners. (1Timothy 1:15) The one who gave his life as a ransom for all. (1Timothy 2:6) There is no greater privilege than to be a good servant of Christ Jesus! What does good looks like for a servant of Christ Jesus? According to 1 Timothy 4, a good servant of Christ Jesus is godly! There it is; godliness. What is godliness? It’s code for living out the truth about Jesus.
Specifically, the focus is on what comes out of the lips and whether it’s backed up with one’s lifestyle. Friends, if 1 Timothy has drilled anything into us over these past few weeks, it’s that truth matters. Especially in the household of God. But what matters just as much is HOW we live out the truth. It’s not enough just to speak the truth we also get to show how good the truth is. We get to show how onboard we are with the truth. We do that through our attitudes, our priorities, what things we say ‘Yes’ to and say ‘No’ to. We do that both within the church and before a watching world. That’s what we’re going to see here today in 1 Timothy 4.
Now, let’s go back to 1 Timothy 4:6
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus. ~1Timothy 4:6 (NIV)
OK, let’s stop there. What comes out of a servant’s mouth are ‘these things’. These things are directed to both men and women. Remember, Paul doesn’t want the women to miss out. He’s jealous they have every opportunity to learn. But what exactly are ‘these things’? The things a good servant points out with their lips are the sort of things we saw back in Chapter 1, things that advance God’s work, things that have love as it’s end point, things that have to do with a purified heart, a clean conscience and a sincere faith, things that involve the trustworthy sayings that are worthy of full acceptance. That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That there is one mediator between God and humanity, the man Jesus Christ. That pursuing the task of an overseer in God’s church is a worthy task. A good servant puts THESE things before God’s family because they’re well aware of the times we’re living in.
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. ~1Timothy 4:1 (NIV)
Notice how THESE things are contrasted from THINGS TAUGHT BY DEMONS. One promotes faith and the other causes people to give up on Jesus altogether. Unlike a godly person who’s on about truth, this demonic teaching comes via verse 2... hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. Whereas the godly person has their walk and their talk line up, the hypocritical liars not only don’t speak the truth but they don’t live it out as well. It’s not like they are trying to turn things around either because their consciences have been dull and insensitive, rather than having their conscience pricked they don’t give a stuff about the truth anymore!
Well, come verse 3 - we get a window into the sort of lies they were spreading.
They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. ~1 Timothy 4:3 (NIV)
Right, so the lie was that you were somehow more spiritual if you stayed single and didn’t marry and if you didn’t eat certain food then that’s what made you holy. Well we know that can’t be right because God’s pro-marriage, He’s the one who invented it in the first place! And second, Jesus has declared all foods clean, so go ahead and eat your bacon, get stuck into
the shellfish! Being godly doesn’t mean pursuing the ascetic lifestyle where we deny and reject the very things God’s given us to enjoy. If you’re not a Christian and you’re tuning in then Number 1 - I’m really glad you’re checking out the things of God.
Number 2 - you may be thinking that there’s no fun in Christianity, that you’ll have to give up too many things if I want to side with Jesus. Well, you may have to give up some things but think of it from the other angle, at last, you now know who to thank for all the wonderful things you get to enjoy when used on God’s terms.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. ~1 Timothy 4:4-5 (NIV)
Look I get that during lockdown, it’s become increasingly harder to be thankful. I’ve struggled heaps, more during lockdown 2.0. I’ve learnt to pause and wait for things to bubble up to the surface that I can thank God for. So let me rattle off a few things, I’m thankful for technology that enables us to stay in touch. Last lockdown our oven broke so I’m thankful for an oven that’s enabled home-cooked food, new recipes to try.
I’m thankful for the sunset I saw on THE Rooty Hill, thankful for the bike I can ride, thankful for these strawberries at $2 a punnet! and so sweet too! How good is it to be a Christian - we know who to thank! Gratitude, that’s what falls off the lips of a good servant of Christ Jesus.
Well, that’s one side of the coin called godliness, what comes out of our lips. The other side has got to do with our lives.
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. ~1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
Notice how godliness is contrasted here with the false teaching that was all over Ephesus or modern-day Turkey, that contrast is important because it shows us that godliness has got to do with truth. Often, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that godliness equals goodliness or simply doing the right thing. I reckon we’ve done that because we’ve bought the lie that it’s all about what we DO, the good deeds I present before God , that’s what helps me earn God’s favour, that’s what gets me into heaven. That as long as on the balance of things, the good outweighs the bad then God will accept me. That would be your classic example of a godless myth that Paul says: have nothing to do with WHATSOEVER! Godliness has got to do with truth. In fact, it’s got to do with God.
Take a look back at 1 Timothy 3:16 in your Bible where we were told about the secret of godliness. Godliness has got to do not with myths about God but truths about God and then Paul rattled off six of them. That God appeared, that He walked out of that grave, Risen and Alive with real hands and real feet and real scars. Shortly after that, the Spirit confirmed he was the real deal, seen by angels, that he was to be preached to the ends of the earth so that people would believe in Him. And that now he’s been taken up in glory. Godliness begins and ends with having a grasp of who God truly is!
And so, on that basis, Paul now says “TRAIN YOURSELF”
WOW! That phrase “Train yourself” - if there’s ever a time when those two words took on fresh meaning now would be it, in the middle of a lockdown, train - not just because many of us have got more time on our hands. No train because with the constant changes and the never ending news cycle that makes us feel
Depressed, disheartened, causes anxiety, uncertainty and fear, that messes with our mental health, that throws us into financial panic. Now, more than ever is the time to TRAIN. Make the extra effort with discipline, put in the hard yards, roll up the sleeves, grit the teeth knowing full well, it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it.
And not just train, but train YOURSELF. We all know the hardest person to lead is yourself but Paul wants us to feel the weight of responsibility falling on our shoulders, the buck stops with us. Now is the time to step up to be proactive. Of course that doesn’t mean you’re all on your own, yes you’re to take the initiative but there are heaps of ways to - as Paul says in verse 6 - ways to nourish yourself on the truths of the faith.
What will training yourself to be godly...what will that look like for you this coming week? Well, let me ask you how’d you go last week in nourishing your soul with God’s Word? Well, why not try and do a PB - a personal best - this week. So if it was zero times you opened up your Bible last week, that’s fine, train yourself to open it up at least once this week. If it was three times then why not aim for four. If you’re used to reading a paragraph then why not aim for a chapter. If you typically avoid reading the Old Testament, why not begin with a short book like Ruth, or Judges. Maybe you want to consider going deeper? Enrolling in a course. Maybe even Bible college for next year.
I’m more than happy to chat about some options. Wherever you are on that spectrum, let’s aim for a new PB! Of course training isn’t a solo thing, there’s plenty of others who God’s given us to join in this training program, your small group would be one of them
I remember one small group last year, during lockdown, they would organise a morning Zoom meeting only the cameras were off and it was just them individually spending time with God. But the fact they were all doing it and they knew others
were there doing it too, they all helped each other to prioritise it, but it’s been so encouraging to hear people live out those truths within small groups too. I’ve heard of small groups organising for groceries to be delivered when someone’s doing it tough. I
heard this week how one group, the leaders sent out home-delivered supper, so the group share it together over the study.
Sending a bunch of flowers to a member who’s doing it tough.
I’ve heard of group members phoning one another during the week, that’s godliness in action, word AND deed. Truth AND love, keep it up! So yes - train yourself but train yourself alongside others.
In verse 8 we come across another one of Paul’s trustworthy sayings that’s deserving of full acceptance.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. ~1 Timothy 4:8-9 (NIV)
Now I know that for a good number of you, you already fully accept the first half of this saying, up until lockdown, you were heading along to a gym. Maybe you were training for a marathon or a half-marathon. Others were heading out for walks - trying to get your 10,000 steps in. Many of you play competitive sports. Now in lockdown, I know a number of you have jumped on board with the Couch to 5K running app. Or you’ve got your home gym setup. To the notion that there is SOME value in physical activity I can hear many of you say a big AMEN.
Exercise, one of those wonderful gifts from God as we saw earlier. Nothing like a good sweat to clear the head!
But note - it’s of SOME value. Over my life, I’ve trained for a marathon, I’ve trained for a Spartan Race, I’ve trained for basketball games, I’ve spent lots of time at the gym, watching what I eat. Its involved plenty of physio along the way too.
Dragging myself out of bed early in the morning yes - it was worth it, I don’t regret it but all I’ve got to show for at the end of the day is a headband. Oh, and a sermon illustration. Godliness on the other hand, that’s our future. Godliness is the currency of heaven and so the effort, the strain, the spiritual sweat you put in now, you’re just getting a head start for what awaits in glory! Paul calls that a win-win, a win for this life and a win for the life to come.
That’s why Paul will go on to say two more things about how a good servant of Christ Jesus backs it up with their lifestyle.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. ~1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
We’ve reached a turning point in Chapter 4, so far Timothy’s job has been to expose error, to point out the lies. However, from this verse on, Timothy is to show how good the truth is by living a transformed life. And here in verse 12 specifically, rather than others looking DOWN on Timothy because of his youth, others are going to look UP to Timothy instead, all because of his speech and because of his conduct.
For Timothy, the way he speaks about Jesus, his God-talk, that’s to be worth copying. The stuff he speaks about, it’s not just head knowledge for him, Jesus is real to him, Jesus
impacts how he conducts himself, the way he goes about relationships. It affects all the stuff we saw last week in Chapter 3. Keeping his anger in check, alcohol, how he related to outsiders. Does the public and private life match up?
Do you remember those spot-the-difference games that were in the Sunday newspapers or in the puzzle book when you were a kid? You’d have two nearly identical pictures side by side and you’d have to try and see what was differences between them. On one there’d be a picture on the wall and in the other one it was missing. One the guy would only be wearing one sock whereas in the other one he was wearing both.
Well, when it comes to godliness, sure there might be differences between our speech and our conduct. Our walk doesn’t always match up with our talk but being a good servant of Christ Jesus involves naming it, not doing pretend. And then being committed to removing those differences, that’s why good servants of Christ Jesus pay attention to how they live and act because our lives are on display. People are watching, people are copying, everything from how you drive to what you post about on social media. How you treat your spouse, what your home life is like. From how you use your downtime to how you spend your money, how you dress. We have a tremendous opportunity to help one another, to model for each other what godliness looks like.
Have a think about the person who you looked up to, or look up to now as a Christian role model. You got someone in mind?
Chances are you picked that person because their walk and their talk lined up or at least they were self-aware and honest enough to know that was what they needed to train themselves in. They had set an example for you in speech and conduct. Why don’t you, before today is out, get in touch with that person if you’re able to, call them, message them, pray for them, express your thankfulness in some concrete way.
Timothy is to set an example, not just in speech and conduct, he’s to do so in a context of love, faith and purity.
Love is what’s behind everything Timothy says and does. He’s setting an example for their good. And not only that, when it comes to faith he’s contenting, he’s pursuing, he’s fighting the good fight of the faith. Showcasing those things as opposed to what others in this letter are described as doing, people like Hymenaeus and Alexander who we met back in 1:20, two guys who’ve shipwrecked their faith. Those who’ve abandoning the faith as we saw in verse 1 of this chapter. Or the greedy who wander away from the faith in 6:10.
And then when it comes to purity, Timothy, like all good servants of Christ Jesus, are to lead the way. Interestingly the only other time purity gets a mention is in 5:2 where Timothy is to treat the younger women WITH absolute purity. Good servants of Christ Jesus relate to the opposite sex in wholesome, appropriate and God-honouring ways.
Chances are, you won’t remember any of the sermons I have preached or will preach 10 years from now. That’s OK. I’m not offended. I don’t think I’ll even remember them myself! But I’m pretty sure you’ll remember how I’ve spoken to you, whether positively or negatively. You will remember whether I listened, how I handled a certain situation, whether I understood you, encouraged you, how I served, not just up-front but behind the scenes.
Those of you who’ve come into my home you’ll remember how I’ve tried to disciple my children, how I treat Teresa, how I made you feel welcome. Knowing that, knowing that’s the sort of stuff that determines whether I’m a good servant of Christ Jesus or not, that’s what inspires me to keep working at godliness.
And finally, part of living a life of godliness, living out the truths of God will mean that of Christ progress - not perfection - is the name of the game.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. ~1Timothy 4:15 (NIV)
Notice how Paul goes all out here, rather than giving yourself half-heartedly, he says go “all in”. Be diligent, make an effort, get absorbed in it like you would binge-watch the latest TV show because by doing so, the results will follow. Only in this case, we’re not talking about progress in terms of better test scores or a bigger paycheck. No, the progress has got to do with growing in godliness!
We often say here at MBM, as followers of Jesus, we want our best days to be ahead of us not behind us. That is, we’re all works in progress, I am, you are, we all are, none of us have fully arrived.
Whenever I’m chatting to someone about stepping up to leading the hesitation every time has either got to do with doctrine, “I don’t have the answers” or lifestyle, “I’m not perfect. I don’t feel I’m good enough”
Well, this verse should come as a relief, the pressure’s off, perfection is not what we’re after but rather progress. I’m glad you don’t have the answers because that’ll make you hungry to go and ask questions. I’m glad you’re not perfect because none of us are and you’re aware of what you need God’s help with!
I often say to couples during marriage prep that the test of a godly marriage will look like the husband saying to his wife: ‘I feel more respected by you this year compared to last.’ And a wife saying to her husband: ‘I feel more loved by you this year compared to last.’ That’s progress!
Progress is the name of the game when it comes to sin too. If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a while, I would hope that there’d be certain sins you could look back on and say, they’ve been put to death from the time you first took the hand of Jesus. I heard one person share humbly this week about how certain TV shows he watched when he first became a Christian he just knows to stay right away from now.
We’re forever playing the long-game on that one in putting sin to death. Recently I’ve been really convicted about the sin of prayerlessness and in particular a shallowness to my prayer life. So, rather than being stuck there, what do I do? I go away, I put the work in. so that in 6 or 12or however many months time, my progress will be evident.
Well, that brings us to verse 16. A good servant of Christ Jesus has got good self-awareness.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
They have got a keen eye on their speech and their conduct because at the end of the day, salvation is at stake. Now we know earlier, from this letter, there’s no doubt, we do not and cannot save ourselves. There is only one mediator between God and humanity, the man Jesus Christ.
But Paul wants to make it clear, we do have a role to play, just as the hypocritical liar or the false teacher leads people AWAY from salvation. So too, the person who takes godliness seriously, the person who’s talk about Jesus lines up with their walk with Jesus, how we speak, how we act, it’ll either help or hinder whether the gospel gets a genuine hearing.
I began by asking who do you want to be? Do you want to be a good servant of Christ Jesus? Are you willing to train yourself to pursue godliness? To put in the effort, the discipline, to get back up again when you don’t feel like it. Well if your answer to that question is Yes, then that will have tremendous blessings not just for your life here and now and not just for eternity. It’ll have blessings for the church you’re a part of too.
In the 10 years I’ve had the privilege of being part of this church, I’ve discovered by chatting to others who don’t call MBM home, that we here at MBM are known for many things.
A zeal for lost, introducing people to Jesus, seeing them move from death to life. We’re known for diversity, that’s probably one of the biggest reputations of MBM, after all that’s what the first M stands for, Multicultural.
It’s such a delight to see the United Nations gather Sunday by Sunday, I can’t wait for that day when we’re all together in person again. I pray it’ll be sooner rather than later. Not only that, we’re also known for our commitment to the Bible. That’s what the B stands for. That we’re devoted to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching across all ages and stages, kids, youth and adults. And the final M in MBM stands for Ministry. See what makes up a Ministry? Ministers, servants, or more specifically based on what we’ve been looking at today, good servants of Christ Jesus. Without that, we’re a shell of a ministry. All show and no substance!
And so, if you call MBM home, I don’t know about you, but whenever someone asks, what is MBM known for. Yes - they’ll mention those things we’re already known for but my prayer is that they’ll be able to say ‘MBM, oh yeah - that’s right. That’s the place where there are truckloads of servants of Christ Jesus.
Servants who serve, servants who set an example when it comes to speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Servants who take godliness seriously knowing that’s the one thing that’ll transition from this age, to the age to come. Servants who are committed to watching their life and doctrine closely.’
I thank God for the many servants of Christ Jesus who call MBM home already. Faithful servants, men, women, children, youth, young adults, singles, couples, parents and seniors. Who are switched to what Paul says in verse 10.
As servants of Christ Jesus, this is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. ~1 Timothy 4:10 (NIV)
How about we pray to that end.
Help us to play our part. Doing whatever it takes. Please show us the areas that need to change. In this coming week. And in the days ahead. Especially in lockdown, help us take the initiative to train ourselves for godliness!
We find ourselves in difficult times indeed. So far, it’s been hard, but mostly straightforward for churches. Mainly because it has been one rule for all. Now we have been told that churches can return to meeting together when we reach 70% vaccination rate anticipated to be October 17th. However, it’s only for those who have been double vaccinated. It has begged a lot of important questions and I don’t want to simply give the road map for re-entry without a theological framework because this is truly a discipleship moment for our church.
I want to begin by acknowledging that our society has been under a lot of pressure these last five years. We have had various important social movements – Me Too, Black Lives Matter, debates on Sex and Gender, American politics – and now COVID vaccination restrictions.
In addition, we have also had fires, droughts, floods and mice plagues. Then came lengthy lockdowns, widespread fatigue, poor mental health, an overstretched health system, exhausted health workers, postponements of serious medical treatments, the rise of domestic violence and addictions, unemployment stress from the economic downturn and government policies such as ‘no jab, no job’. We are facing unique challenges both as a community and as a church. So how do we go forward and glorify God with these added government restrictions?
The Archbishop has given us the freedom to come back or delay. Like every other church, the leadership team is struggling because there is a clash of biblical principles. It’s the perfect storm of issues with growing tension points. The bible treasures a number of truths, and it’s important to remember not one truth stands alone. We need to do more than just quote one bible verse. When the devil quoted scripture, Jesus’ response was “but the scriptures also say…”.
I once heard a definition of a fundamentalist: “Someone who treats a partial truth like it was the whole truth.” So, what does the bible value that speaks into our situation? The six below points are not in any order.
1. The bible values the gathering of God’s people.
God commands us to not forsake meeting with one another as some were in the habit of doing (Heb 10:25). The context is of those who were choosing to not attend the gathering. As I often say MBM online is important but it’s not church, it’s a ministry of the word. It ought to grieve us that we can’t all gather as God’s people to encourage each other, especially when so many are vulnerable. And yet it’s not an absolute value, since you rightly miss church when you are sick, or when work calls you out for an emergency.
2. The bible values the unity of the church.
We are one in Christ. Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, (vaccinated or unvaccinated) for you are all one in Christ Jesus, “I truly hope you feel the grief of all of us not being allowed to meet together as God's family. But this does not mean we don’t put any limits on unity. For example, we don’t change our core teaching if some disagree and threaten to leave MBM. Unity is important, but it’s not the only truth.
3. The bible values obedience to the government.
The repeated teaching in the bible (Rom13:1-2,6, 1 Peter 2:13-14,1 Tim 2:2) is that we are to submit, pray, pay taxes and honour our governments, whether they are godly or not. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burnt at the stake under orders from Queen Mary in the sixteenth century. His second point in his final speech was to obey the government that was burning him at the stake and to do so ‘willingly and gladly without murmur or grudging.’
Why was Cranmer burnt at the stake? Because he was disobeying the government when it came to teaching God's word. Acts 5:29 is clear that “We must obey God rather than human beings!” I said to my son who is a pastor that he may well go to prison for teaching parts of the bible before he dies and Jesus wants him to count that persecution as a privilege (Matt 5:11). However, I don’t see COVID restrictions as Christian persecution, for all people are impacted by them not just believers.
4. The bible wants us to do good to all people, especially those in the household of faith (Gal 6:10).
Our love must extend to how we manage the impact of our health on others. We know our hospitals are at breaking point. Some health workers from church tell us firsthand they are working long shifts. They are exhausted, wards are full, and other medical procedures have been postponed.
We should be conscious of how our health impacts others at church. While I don’t give medical advice as a Pastor where health issues impact church life we take advice from doctors we know and trust. This has been our policy for thirty years at MBM. That is why we are a nut-aware church, or why we tell parents when their child is sick (green runny nose, rash, temperature, or conjunctivitis) they should not bring their kids to church. But the difference here is that the unvaccinated who are healthy can feel like they are viewed as if they are sick and unclean.
5. The bible values respecting conscience and conscientious objections.
We worship a God who understands that not every Christian is going to agree on everything. We are to respect and even protect each other's consciences and choices, even if we think they are wrong.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. ~Romans 14:10
And yet, conscience and individual freedom are not absolutes. You can have a clear conscience and be completely wrong. A person who genuinely believes in the prosperity gospel will be loved at MBM but will not be given a teaching platform.
6. The bible values our witness before a watching world.
We should care about how we are seen by the world. In 1 Tim 6:1, slaves were to submit to their masters. Why? So that the name of God and the good news of Jesus would not be slandered. We should be concerned to make Jesus look good before a watching world, as individuals and as a church. The only thing is, the world consists of different people who are offended by different positions. As a church, we can’t “be all things to all people.”
So, these are some of the issues that push against each other; the gathering and unity of God’s people, obeying the government and obeying God, showing loving concern for the health of our church and community, guarding our individual conscience and choices, and watching how we live before a watching world.
It’s worth remembering it is not a problem unique to MBM. Every pastor, in every church in Sydney, is facing these same issues and very few think there is an easy answer.
Road Map for re-entry
We thought it would be helpful to lay out a road map to deal with uncertainty.
First and foremost because we feel the grief of not having all of us able to attend church because of the restrictions. There are also complications with running MBM kids church, as well as a delay for some still waiting for their second dose.
We are hopeful that restrictions may be lifted beyond 80% vaccination rate but there is no assurance of this happening.
1. If the restrictions are not lifted we wait and NOT meet for five Sundays commencing from October 17 for the sake of those who can't attend.
2. If the restrictions have NOT been lifted we will reluctantly return by November 21st and gather according to government restrictions.
At this point, we want to at least give the majority the opportunity to meet for their good and we want to give non-Christians the opportunity to come to church and hear the gospel.
At that point we hope to start live streaming our services for two groups; those who can't meet because of government restrictions and those who can't meet because of health concerns
3. If the government removes restrictions and allow us all to meet together beforehand we will meet earlier.
If the government allows separate vaccinated and unvaccinated gatherings we will reluctantly consider it, but only as a temporary measure.
Please note that this is not a policy for MBM South West who, as we have announced earlier this year, will become independent in October under the name of, ‘The Church of the Risen King Jesus’.
More information will be forthcoming for MBM Youth and Growth Groups
Whatever road we take there is no soft landing and we hope, pray and have requested the government to lift restrictions as soon as possible. The sad reality is that regardless of government restrictions, every option available to us either now or later excludes somebody
You may be saying;
“Why should I miss out on meeting together for five weeks for the sake of others who choose not to get vaccinated?” Or
“Why should others meet when we who are a part of MBM are kept from the gathering because we are vaccine-hesitant for a medical reason?”
For a moment I ask you to ignore the government law and the MBM road map. I want you to take to heart a key truth that “love limits our liberty”.
Love Limits our Liberty
In Philippians 2, we are called to “value others above yourselves” Then Paul grounds the reason in Christ's humility.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! ~Philippians 2:5-8
There it is! Christ did not use his rights for his own advantage. Rather he went from heaven to earth and from God to the God/man to death on a cross for us. The one who has issued the command to “value others above ourselves”, has led the way. If you are not used to applying this principle in your private life, you may find it hard in your church life.
A Matter of the Heart
As with all truth, it begins in the heart. Can I respectfully place a challenge to us all?
And let us pray that it will not be long before restrictions are removed. The challenge for any church or society is how the majority treats the minority. And who should know this better than we Christians who are in the minority?
Make no mistake there are godly people on both sides of the vaccine debate. And both sides of the debate have said things they need to apologise for and have. We don’t get to postpone godliness in a crisis.
After the recent Parramatta and Penrith semi-final NRL game, some of the players from both teams prayed together in a huddle at the end of the game. They knew their first identity is not their team but their Father in heaven.
If you go MBM Rooty Hill can I ask you to join us on zoom on Sunday (10:45am, 5pm) for question time and demonstrate the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
This is a time to examine our hearts. One brother shared with me how he has been angry at the other side. He knew he needed to deal with that anger and not let it become a root of bitterness.
I would also ask us all to check our motives; Before COVID restrictions…
Love must not be theoretical
The care of the church is the responsibility of every member. That is why there are fifty-seven ‘one another’ verses and the most frequent is “Love one another”. Make a call, send a meal, provide a care package, send flowers, go for a walk and take interest in others. Mark Boyley’s men group were paired off and walked in twos within the LGA to celebrate the end of term growth group.
For your mental health sake, can I suggest you cut back on your screen time. If your family is telling you that your response COVID restrictions are harming them please listen to them and take steps.
What should be our response to the government?
The government is given by God to restrain our wickedness. In our system, the voice of the people is given by God to restrain government. As a good citizen who wants good government use all the channels available to speak up. Get to know your local state member when you see injustices and advocate for yourself and others. It is good for you; your mental health and you are less likely to demonise politicians.
I spoke to a number of folks who are vaccination hesitant due to medical reasons and who are losing their job. With their permission, I offered to call up our local state member for them. Two of them wrote very clear, respectful and direct letters to the minister. We must support those in our church who are losing their jobs. They are under tremendous pressure.
Our hope is ultimately in the gospel, not politics. Do you realise that Christians in Australia have lost every major public debate in the last fifty years? The last being the abortion laws in state parliament last year. We are simply becoming a more post-Christian culture.
Take heart God still rules! How did Christianity grow from eleven scared men in an upper room to become the state religion of the Roman Empire in under 300 years? It was the hope of resurrection. Christians were not afraid of death. Plagues and natural disasters caused chaos in the ancient world and life was unstable. However, Christianity offered a better explanation, a better story, the forgiveness of sins, a resurrected body and the promise of new creation.
Christians generally coped with disasters better, and they took care of their own and others. When plagues happened many stayed with the sick and some of those who survived became Christian. The world also saw how martyrs faced death with such confidence
The next couple of months will be very difficult and it made me wonder what our great grandparents had to face this time last century They went through World War 1, a pandemic, massive economic depression and then World War 2 and all within thirty years.
This is our time friend so let us not forget how great is the God we worship. When Israel was under siege and starvation was so bad that mothers were even tempted to eat their young we read the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ~Lamentation 3:22-23
Let us pray
Precious Father, these are such difficult days. First COVID then lockdowns, and now restrictions. We beg you for relief.
Assure us of the truth that you rule in all decisions and promise to work in all things (good or bad) for our good including this season.
We are all in this storm, but we are not all in the same boat. Some are doing much tougher than others.
We uphold those who work in the health services, for those who have lost their jobs, for those whose mental health is deteriorating, for single parents and for those on their own.
Let those who suffer, not suffer in silence, and may their needs be made known. Comfort them at this time and use us to be that comfort.
Allows us to all gather safely together for our encouragement, as soon as possible.
We ask that as your holy people we would stand out from the world and make Jesus look good. We plead that we would support each other and not turn on each other.
Please give our leaders your Spirit that they may make wise decisions and grant us patience and a godly response when they don’t. Cause us all to lift our eyes off our screens and up to the heavens where you are ruling and reigning
Help us to grasp that you are for us, and with us. Come what may we will praise you for you are:
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To you, Lord be honour and might forever.