Last week we looked at the beginning of the second missionary journey. The purpose of the journey was to:
There were plenty of mission fields to choose from! The Gospel had its origins in Judea, a smaller country with a land area of a couple hundred square miles. Since the rest of the world was untouched by the Gospel, there was a lot more of the world that needed to hear about the Savior.
As a result, you might expect the mission team to head out to some largely populated area as quickly as possible to share the Gospel with the most amount of people.
That would make the most sense because it would be the easiest way for Paul to “pad his stats.”
Have you ever heard that phrase? It’s a sports term. Sometimes you need to “pad your stats” in sports, because stats (or statistics) are key. They have been around since baseball cards started including them on the back of a player’s card. (Think about it: You don’t want to be that one guy with the .067% batting average. They can flip the card, look at your face and forever associate you with “not being that good at baseball.”)
Good stats, on the other hand, might increase the value of your card. It could improve your legacy. You might even get a reward. Stats are the reason that players sometimes stay in a game – even when their team is winning by a lot – to get a couple more hits and “pad their stats.”
If there was an apostolic version of baseball cards, you might expect Paul to “pad his stats.” He had a good run in his first season as missionary. In his second? It’d be an opportunity to bring his total number of people evangelized to the tens of thousands, to double the number of churches he started, and to better his average of “conversions” to “sermons preached.”
In today’s lesson God does the opposite. He guides the missionary team far away from the logical next steps in mission work, far away from what made them comfortable, and far away from what would have “padded Paul’s stats.”
Why? We’ll investigate God’s Word for the answer. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Acts 16 says this: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” (Acts 16:6-8)
A little bit of geography:
Phrygia and Galatia are to the north of Judea. They region starts to curve around the Mediterranean Sea to the east. This is essentially the route of the first missionary journey. In fact, Galatia is the name for the whole region of churches from that first missionary journey. It’s also the reason that Paul’s letter to these churches is called “Galatians.”
Paul and his missionary team went there to deliver the message from the Jerusalem council that “Grace meant grace.”
But then, they tried to head to the west to the province of Asia. There’s a lot of people in Asia. Some of the largest populations in the world are in Asia: China, India, Russia, even Bangladesh. While these countries wouldn’t have been as populated back then, there were still plenty of people in Asia who needed to hear about Jesus.
This seems like a logical next choice for mission work.
But they were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (v.6)
Now, Scripture doesn’t tell us how this happened.
An invisible force field?
Roads that were shut down?
A donkey that got sick?
Scripture doesn’t say.
But somehow, they concluded that they couldn’t go to Asia at this time.
So, they tried to go north. They came to the border of Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia… (v.7a) Bithynia is modern-day Turkey, a gateway into the northern kingdoms of modern-day Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. Again, there were plenty of people who need to hear about Jesus up there and it was a logical next step: just head north and BAM – you’re there!
But The spirit of Jesus would not allow them to… (v.7b)
And again, there’s no indication of how this happened:
A sinkhole in the road?
Timothy got the flu?
Soldiers force them to turn around?
Or maybe the Holy Spirit simply says: “Nope.”
They can’t go west.
They can’t go north.
They came from the south.
They go east and went down to Troas. (v.8)
I imagine Paul was a bit confused:
Isn’t the Gospel for all people?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the West?
Aren’t there thousands of people to the North?
O Lord, why do you keep blocking our route?
As they settled down that evening, God gives them an answer:
…Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (v.9)
I don’t know how Paul knew he was Macedonian. (I’m unsure that I’m that familiar with genealogical and racial features enough to pinpoint someone from Macedonia just by viewing them)
Maybe he was waving a Macedonian flag.
Or eating Macedonian food.
Or maybe he had on one of those t-shirts with the outline of Macedonia on it and the phrase: “Home.”
However, it happens, Paul immediately shared the news with his friends: “Guys, I know what God wants us to do! I saw a man…a Macedonian man. He asked us to come to Macedonia. He pleaded with us. So…get up! Pack up. He needs our help. They need the Gospel of Jesus now!”
The next morning, they do just that.
They head to the local harbor.
They obtain a ride on the boat across the Mediterranean.
It’s a couple days journey until they get to Neapolis.
From there they head to a leading city of Macedonia, Philippi.
And Paul might have been thinking:
This is great. God must have big plans.
If he had us travel 500 miles from our last stop in Phrygia, there must be a large amount of people he wants us to preach to.
If he had us jump on a ship, risk a shipwreck, and possibly get seasick, there must be crowds awaiting us.
If he is having us enter a Roman colony, with the danger of Roman soldiers and racism against Jews like us, there must be a second Pentecost awaiting us!
When they get there…
There’s no Jewish synagogue to go preach at.
There’s barely any Jews in the city at all.
The whole atmosphere is foreign, confusing, and difficult.
The missionaries are there for a few days without the Bible recording anything of substance.
Finally, they go outside the city gate to the river. (v.13)
Away from the population.
Away from the confusion.
As they are praying, a group of women comes to the river.
Most likely, they’re bringing their laundry to the river to do some wash.
And as they are washing their clothes…
…Paul can’t help himself.
Nice water, huh? Water…It’s important. But I know of something called “Living Water.”
I see you’re cleaning your clothing. But what have you done lately to cleanse your soul?
Look out that you don’t trip on a rock. Speaking of rocks – Jesus is my Rock. Is he yours?
And most of the women?
They don’t listen.
Just an annoyed smirk and a “Just let me do my laundry, weird religious dude.”
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia….
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (v.14)
The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Lydia.
The Greek text of the Bible literally says that she was a purple dealer. A purple dealer wasn’t someone who passed out Crayola crayons. Her job was to dye clothing the color purple. It was a fine business to be in, because purple clothing was quite expensive. In fact, wearing purple was a sign of being rich. It was a status symbol (like wearing a Gucci dress with a Coach handbag or dressing in an Armani Suit with a pair of Air Jordan’s on your feet).
We don’t know much else about Lydia.
She was a person.
A sinful person.
And just like any sinful person, she had reason for a Savior.
Maybe she’d gotten a good portion of her wealth in less than upright ways.
Maybe she’d spent so much time pursuing riches that her life felt void and empty.
Maybe she’d gone through a recent divorce with her husband; kept the money…and a lot of shame.
Maybe her visit to Philippi left her on the fringes of society, a refugee, alone.
Maybe she knew that the purple clothing she sold was only a façade; that could not cover the guilt upon her soul.
But when she heard about Jesus.
She heard about forgiveness for all her less than upright ways.
She heard about how Jesus brings eternal riches that will never leave you void or empty.
She heard about how Jesus’ death repaired her relationship with God and removed all her guilt and shame.
She heard about how Jesus rose from the dead and promised to be with his disciples so that they are never alone.
She heard about how Jesus’ gives us a robe, even more gorgeous than a robe of purple.
About how Jesus gave a robe of righteousness to completely cover her sins!
Lydia heard all of this.
II. Notes about the Eternal Importance of One
That’s the point of this whole story.
It’s the point of the 500-some mile journey.
It’s the point of the trip on the ship.
It’s the point of the foreign Roman colony.
It’s the point of the trip to the river.
The point was getting the Gospel message to Lydia.
And this wasn’t Paul’s plan.
It was God’s.
Think about how God goes out of his way to save Lydia:
He came out of heaven…for Lydia.
He lived on earth…for Lydia
He died on the cross…for Lydia.
He rose from the dead…for Lydia.
Then, God guided Paul.
Blocked some paths.
Got him to Philippi.
Got her to Philippi.
So that there is a seemingly chance encounter at the river which leads to the eternal salvation of her soul.
God did this because God placed eternal importance on one person, Lydia.
And…God has also placed eternal importance on YOU.
(1) See the Eternal Importance of You
Have you ever received a canned email from a company about how special you are?
I got one of those from Netflix recently.
I quit the subscription and they sent me a message that said they “loved having me as a customer” and they “hated to see me, Philip Kiecker, go.”
So…I signed up again.
Because they cared about me so deeply.
A while later, I was having trouble connecting, so I used the help app for Netflix to try and connect with a customer service representative and the representative texted me:
“Hi! How can I help?”
“I can’t get my Netflix connection to work.”
“Happy to help. Please provide your full name.”
I thought: “That’s odd. I thought they loved me as a customer and hated to see me go, but…”
I gave them my name.
Then, they said: “I’m sorry. There’s an outage. There’s nothing we can do to help, Fred.”
I thought they cared!
Maybe you feel that way about God.
Maybe you’ve been tempted to believe that God doesn’t care.
That you aren’t important.
That you are forgotten.
God went out of his way to save YOU.
He came out of heaven…for YOU.
He lived on earth…for YOU
He died on the cross…for YOU.
He rose from the dead…for YOU.
And God arranged events in your life to bring you to saving faith.
Maybe he had your mom bring you along, kicking and screaming to church, since you’ve been 4 years old.
Maybe he had a friend invite you to worship, invite you again, invite you, invite you, invite you and invite you some more.
Maybe you had a chance encounter with a stranger at our modern-day version of the Philippian River –the local laundromat.
Somehow God brought saving faith to you.
Because you were eternally important to him.
And if you aren’t a believer yet, understand this:
God has arranged events in your life to bring you to this message right here.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus rose for you.
Jesus is your Savior.
(2) See the Eternal Importance of Others
Because Lydia didn’t stop with herself. Look at what happens next: She and the members of her household were baptized. (v.15a)
It isn’t likely that all her household was already down at that river doing laundry.
And yet – the baptism appears to have happened in the river, because it takes place before “She invited [the missionaries] to her home.” (v.15b)
That means Lydia must have went back home:
Told her family about Jesus.
Told her kids.
Any servants that might have been working at her purple factory!
Then, she led them all back to Paul.
Paul told them about Jesus.
And they were all baptized into his name.
Why did Lydia do this?
Because she saw the eternal value of her family.
She saw them as eternal souls in need of a Savior.
Just as God did.
Just as God wants us to do.
Mr. Rogers used to have a song that he sung on occasion: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The song goes on to identify common 1980s neighbors – the mailman, the police officer, and the fire fighter.
That was in the eighties. It might be fun to hear an update:
Who are the people in your 2019 neighborhood?
The Whole Foods clerk.
The Starbucks barista.
The Uber driver.
The Amazon Delivery woman.
Even…the Google fiber installation crew. (They’re in everybody’s neighborhood…all the time.)
But these are more than just people in your neighborhood.
They are eternal souls in need of their Savior.
The mailman? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The police officer? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The fire fighter? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Whole Foods clerk? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Starbucks barista? An eternal soul in need of the Savior.
The Uber drive, the Amazon Delivery woman and the Google fiber installation crew…. Eternal souls in need of the Savior.
That’s what they are.
And you, as a believer in Jesus, have what they need.
See the eternal importance of others.
(3) See the Eternal Importance of Your Part in Kingdom Work
After Lydia’s household is baptized into Christ’s family, she doesn’t just bid adieu to the missionaries and go back to who everyday life.
She invited the missionaries to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” (v.16)
She realized that God’s work wasn’t done in Philippi.
She figured that they would need a place to stay as they shared the Gospel in Philippi.
She might not have been an eloquent speaker like them, but she wanted to partake in the ministry in whatever way she could.
She saw the eternal importance of her part in kingdom work and she served…
The same is true here.
We have a big mission: To Plant the Message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh (and Beyond).
That’s a lot of people.
In the triangle, that’s close to 2 million people.
We can’t do it alone.
So, we do it together.
Together with Jesus.
Let me tell you the story of Priscilla.
Priscilla had a child in need of childcare.
Priscilla searched online for a Childcare Center.
Priscilla found an ad that some of you developed.
Priscilla found an ad that your offerings helped support.
Priscilla visited Precious Lambs where some of you spend all kinds of time planning for, decorating, and building.
Priscilla enrolled her child in Precious Lambs where some of you taught her child about Jesus.
Priscilla brought her child for worship where some of you greeted her, made friends with her, high fived her.
Priscilla now knows about her Savior.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her.
Priscilla now knows about his love for her – because God works through all of you to make that happen.
That’s the eternal importance of one.
May God guide us to see our eternal importance as we are motivated to see the eternal importance of others. Amen.
Last week we investigated the very first church meeting in the history of the church. The main outcome of that meeting was that grace means grace. Jewish believers couldn’t make a theological case for requiring non-Jewish believers to follow Jewish customs. Similarly, we shouldn’t make grace difficult for ourselves or others.
Grace means grace.
When the decision was finalized by all of the leadership, the next step was to make that decision known. Since this is the 1st century A.D., they couldn’t just tweet out their decision.
They needed to hand deliver the decision to the churches.
Paul and Barnabas volunteer to deliver the message. They figure while they’re doing that, they can also visit new places and do some more mission work (Acts 15:35)
So… they head home.
They pack up extra pairs of sandals.
They put on their fanny packs.
And meetup at the church to see if there’s any leftover outreach material that they can take with them.
Unfortunately, that’s where things go wrong.
Barnabas wants to bring along a young man named Mark. Mark had joined them in their first missionary journey, but halfway through, he deserted them.
As a result, Paul doesn’t trust Mark. He doesn’t want any wishy-washy folk on his mission trip. He figures that Mark will just do the same thing and won’t be a valuable partner.
Barnabas is more forgiving.
They part ways.
Which - it isn’t necessarily wrong to disagree.
It’s wrong to be jerks about disagreements.
And I’m sure that’s what the devil wanted to happen so that the message of the Savior never made it out of Antioch again!
But…you can see God’s hand in the midst of the disagreement because now there’s no longer one mission trip, but two.
Barnabas and Mark head to the island of Cyprus.
Paul and a believer named Silas head to the northern countries of Galatia.
The devil loses.
The kingdom is multiplied.
The Gospel is above all else.
The book of Acts focuses in on Paul’s journey. As it does, it introduces us to a young man named Timothy. He is the focus of our sermon today. Before we dive into his story, let us pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Timothy’s Story
Acts 16 says this, “Paul came to…Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1)
Lystra was one of the cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey. (Acts 14) If you remember, that’s the place where God worked a miracle through Paul and Barnabas in order to heal a man who had been lame from birth. As a result, many of the people started to worship…Paul and Barnabas. When Paul told them to stop, they tried to murder them by tossing stones at their heads.
Timothy was probably not a part of that.
He was one of the few that believed what Paul said about Jesus being the promised Savior.
In fact, Timothy had a mother who was a believer. He had been raised by his mother to know the promise of the Messiah.
His mother took him to their version of Sunday School.
His mother read him stories about Creation, Noah’s Ark, and the parting of the Red Sea.
He probably did some finger paint art of David defeating the giant goliath.
As he got older, he got involved: ushering, saying hi, making the coffee!
And when Paul came to town teaching that Jesus was the Messiah…
He examined the Old Testament prophecies.
He examined Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ life.
He listened to Paul’s eyewitness account of the Resurrection.
And he changed his faith in the coming Messiah into faith in the Messiah who had just come.
And quickly he became a well-liked leader in the church, even as a young person…
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (16:2)
Notice those aren’t just the people in Lystra, but the people in the neighboring church of Iconium as well.
Maybe he attended worship in Iconium when he was on vacation.
Maybe he helped the people of Iconium run a Vacation Bible School.
Maybe he ran a young person’s small group somewhere between the two cities.
Maybe he played church softball where he crushed a few home runs but was Christ-filled and polite while he did so.
Timothy’s faith was evident in all that he did.
Such that Paul wanted to take him along on his journey…(16:3) But the issue was that Timothy wasn’t circumcised.
Now, you might be thinking: Why is this a big deal? Wasn’t the whole point of the Jerusalem meeting that we talked about last week – that Jewish traditions were not a requirement for grace?
Remember – the meeting in Jerusalem had a lot of discussion.
It had a lot of disagreement.
It was challenging for the leaders of the church to accept that their longstanding Jewish traditions weren’t needed.
If the leadership had a hard time with it, what about the average laymen?
It might be similar to you having a bunch of tattoos up and down your arms. One with a big old heart that says “Mom.” You believe in Jesus, but you know that if you head to the local retirement home people might not want to listen to anything you have to say if they see tattoos on your arms.
Rather than have them miss the Gospel of Jesus…you wear a turtleneck.
That’s the same thing Paul is thinking. Rather than have groups of dissenters following and jeering them as “uncircumcised heathen,” Paul said: “Maybe…it’d be wise if…you were circumcised.”
And you know what? Timothy didn’t hesitate.
Even though he didn’t have to, Timothy was willing to be circumcised in order to remove any obstacles to sharing the Gospel.
That’s amazing faith!
That’s a mature faith.
That’s putting the Gospel above all else.
Paul takes Timothy along. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reach by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (16:4-5) Timothy proves himself so mature that he works with Paul throughout the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Paul even trusts him enough to go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), to go Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, it culminates in Timothy being the pastor assigned to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3)
Talk about impressive.
Timothy is the kind of guy living a faith that any Christian parent would want for their children.
That any believer would want for themselves.
II. Lessons from Timothy
How did Timothy do it?
How did he get to such a strong faith?
Maybe you’re wondering:
What does Timothy have that I don’t have?
There’s no Heirloom Greater than Jesus
Take a look at what Paul wrote to Timothy, many years later when he was that pastor in Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5)
Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow? It’s probably the best show to come out of PBS since Mister Rogers. It’s a reality show in which people bring their antiques, heirlooms, and collectables to a panel of experts who examine their piece and give them an estimated value of what their item would bring in an auction. Sometimes it’s more than they expect. Sometimes…a lot less.
There was a woman on their recently named Rose. She brought along a painting that had been in her grandmother’s toy room for years. She had always played by it. She had conversed right under it. She had seen that painting in her grandmother’s room for her decades.
When her grandmother died, the family was rummaging through some of her things and came across the painting. Rose said that she would take it because it gave her fond memories of grandma.
She put it up in her attic. She didn’t even hang it up.
But one day as she was cleaning in the attic, she noticed a mosquito on the painting. She swatted at it and as her hand hit the painting she noticed that she could feel the texture of the paint. It wasn’t a copy, but an original. She took it to Antiques roadshow to get it appraised.
How much? Close to $300,000.
Friends: There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
That’s the heirloom that was passed down in Timothy’s family
From his Grandma Lois
To his mother Eunice.
Friends, you have been given the same heirloom.
Maybe it isn’t from a Grandma Lois or a mother Eunice…
Maybe it’s from an aunt, an uncle, a friend, or a coworker.
Regardless, understand this:
(1) There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
Because no other heirloom brings peace with God.
No other heirloom brings forgiveness of sins.
No other heirloom wipes out guilt.
No other heirloom defeats evil.
No other heirloom conquers death.
No other heirloom gives eternal life.
Only Jesus can and does.
(2) Fan into Flame
This is a priceless heirloom.
One that needs to be cared for.
That’s the whole point of the next verse: Fan into flame the gift given to you by the laying on of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you understand that reference? Air is necessary for a flame to grow. It’s why when you’ve got a pile of charcoal and it appears to be going out, you open up the lid of the grill, blow on the embers and they come back to life. In the past, they even had this big accordion-like thing that would blow air on the fire when you pushed it together. It was a safer option than get your face right next to the glowing hot rocks.
Paul reminds Timothy to keep fanning into flame the gift he’s been given.
And what gift was that? Two scholarly options and both are theologically sound.
First of all, the gift of faith. That’s the gift that we share with Timothy. When you come to faith in Jesus, it’s as if a single flame has been lit in the fireplace of your heart.
But if you don’t feed that flame, if you don’t tend to it.…eventually it goes out.
And, dear brother and sisters, if you don’t fan your faith into flame with the truth of God’s Word, it will fade away.
If you stay away from worship…faith grows dimmer.
If you stop reading your Bible…the flame starts to flicker.
If you drop out of your group study…the flame becomes a lone ember.
If you remove yourself from Jesus…the flame may go out.
When the gentle message of God’s Word comes to your heart again…
When you study God’s Word…
When you get into a Bible group…
When you hear God’s promises of his love.
When you meditate on the truth of his sacrifice.
When you worship and contemplate the words of praise.
That single flame?
Becomes a roaring fire.
A Timothy-like fire.
Stoked and ready to serve in His kingdom.
Want to be like Timothy? Fan that faith flame with God’s Word.
But the gift may also be a reference to the gift of talent. In fact, Paul reference the “Laying on of hands,” which literally means, “laying on hands.” It’s something that the early Apostles did as a way to confer special gifts on members of the church.
Timothy had special gifts! He was a pastor. He was outgoing. He was smart. He was patient. He was gifted with the skills to be a pastor.
You might not have pastor gifts.
But you have some kind of gifts.
Kid care skills.
Flower planting skills.
Whatever skill you have been given…
Recognize it’s a gift from God;
Put it to work in God’s kingdom.
And fan it into flame.
There’s a woman at the retirement home that I serve who loves coloring. Every day I make it there for Bible study; she’s working on coloring pictures. I asked her if she enjoyed doing it and she said that she did. She said that she colors because it’s a way that she can give thanks to God – even if it’s more difficult for her to do much else. And then…she said that she was practicing because she wanted to get better at color choices and shading so that she might give glory to God through her artwork.
Friends, that’s fanning the flame…
For God’s glory.
(3) Be Bold
Because it could be easy to be intimidated by all of this Jesus stuff.
It would easy for Timothy to feel unqualified or inadequate.
To feel uneducated.
To feel nervous, anxious and frightened.
He might be tempted to be timid.
And you might be, too.
But look at what Paul reminds Timothy that is also a reminder to you:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He made flames appear on the heads of his disciples.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He roared like a tornado without an actual tornado.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they have never learned.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He worked through fishermen, accountants, political activists…and even a young boy like Timothy to spread the message of the Gospel.
And that same Spirit will work through you.
Will be with you.
Will guide you as you serve in his kingdom.
(4) Be Loving
Because if the Spirit were only powerful…well…
Suddenly evangelism isn’t about winning souls.
Suddenly evangelism is about winning…
Maybe you’ve seen this in action.
Christians head to online forums, find a blog, and spending all day trying to give them spiritual complexes with God’s Word in order to prove that I am godlier than they are!
It’s as if we view God’s Word like a chair that we’re slamming onto someone’s head in order to stand over them in superiority.
But God didn’t just give us a spirit of power. He gave us a spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He didn’t crush us with God’s law, but crushed sin with the Gospel.
He didn’t dominate sinners, but saved sinners from domination.
He didn’t destroy us for our sins, he destroyed our sins for us.
We do the same.
Empowered by God.
Loved by God.
We speak boldly.
But we speak lovingly.
We remember the goal isn’t “to win,” but “to save souls from eternal hellfire.”
(5) Be Disciplined
That was Paul’s whole point to Timothy. It was his main reason for writing to him.
Even though he was no longer a rookie…
Even though he was now a long-time pastor…
Even though he was a veteran of faith…
Paul’s main directive to Timothy was to be disciplined.
Because God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity…but a spirit…of self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Part of preparation for youth confirmation is memory work.
Memorizing truths about God’s Word.
It may not have always been easy.
It may not have always been fun.
It may not have always been something you looked forward to.
But that’s being disciplined.
That’s taking the truth that God loves you.
And taking it from the page.
Planting it into your brain.
Guiding it into your heart.
When you kids bully you and you feel unloved, you remember: “God so loved the world (me) that he gave his one and only Son (for me) that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
When you feel confused about what path to take in the future, you remember: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When you are tempted by friends to do things that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, you remember: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When you are in college, alone, as if no one will be there for you: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Do you remember at the beginning we talked about the heirloom of eternity that has been given to you.
We said it goes back to your parents.
Even to your grandparents.
But here…we’re reminded it goes farther.
It goes back to the beginning.
It goes back to before the beginning.
The heirloom of eternity comes from before eternity.
Brothers and sisters…
Cherish that heirloom.
Fan your faith into flame.
Until God confirms your faith eternally and takes you home to heaven. Amen.
Last week we started our summer sermon series called ACTS: The Early Church Initiative by reviewing the first fourteen chapters of the book of Acts. In it, we learned that a priority for the Early Church was to place the GOSPEL above all else…because in the Gospel, Jesus placed YOU above all else.
Today we are picking up where we left off last year. Which was action packed. Last year we heard about:
Fire appearing on the disciples’ heads.
A paralytic healed.
A Jesus-hater blinded.
A sorcerer converted.
Thousands baptized into Jesus’ name.
And as exciting as those things were, today we’re going to dive into something just as exciting.
Something just as thrilling.
Today we are going to hear about a marvelous, amazing, incredible, action packed…Meeting.
As we go through the events leading up to the first Church Council meeting, pay attention – you’ll see theme of Gospel above all else – running throughout the discussions. Our goal is to learn from that. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Problem
The account is from Acts 15 which begins right at the end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A journey that was successful. They had brought the message of the Gospel to people living in different countries who had never heard of Jesus.
And when they returned to their home congregation in Antioch Syria – the congregation that sponsored the mission trip – they shared their success!
About Cyprus where the Gospel overpowered the lies of a Satanist.
About Pisidian Antioch where they preached on the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And the congregation was thrilled.
As the night was winding down, Paul noticed a sign that had been affixed to the congregation’s 1st century version of a bulletin board: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1)
He went and got Barnabas.
Can you believe what they’re teaching?
This is the church that had convinced me it was by God’s grace apart from any Jewish custom that we’re saved.
A church sponsored OUR mission trip in which we were told to teach - people were saved by God’s grace apart from anything else.
A mission trip on which we taught that people were saved by Jesus apart from anything, anything, anything else.
Over the next couple days, there were heated discussions:
Paul and Barnabas said the Gospel was all about Grace.
The opposing leaders argued that it was about God’s grace…and following Old Testament Jewish Law.
A good portion of the people sat back and nodded in agreement with whomever made the last point.
Finally, they decided to send this question to the leadership of the Christian movement.
“Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v.3)
Because the Apostles were the original twelve, they were the men who had followed Jesus.
Who had been taught by Jesus.
Who had been EYEWITNESESS of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Who had been commission by Jesus to preach the Gospel.
On whom the Holy Spirit had come in a hurricane like sounded, landed on their heads in tongues of fire and taught them languages they never learned.
If anyone knew what the Gospel was really about -- it was them.
II. The Very First Council Meeting
So, the group set off from Syria and headed south to Jerusalem.
As they went, they stopped at other churches where Paul and Barnabas told of the incredible works of God.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
And how all the churches were thrilled!
They were excited.
They were excited with how the saving message of Jesus had made its way even to non-Jewish people.
And the excitement continued in Jerusalem.
The Apostles welcomed them.
They hugged them.
They sat down and listened to Paul and Barnabas talk all about their journeys.
They got teary-eyed.
They were ready to sing “Praise God from whom All Blessings Flow” when…
Some…stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (v.5)
Because in the Old Testament, God required obedience!
Don’t believe me? Read Leviticus. Read Numbers.
They had to be circumcised.
They had to cover their heads.
They had to wear prayer shawls.
And that’s our tradition.
A tradition added to by great men.
A tradition passed down by great men.
Traditions not to eat pork.
Traditions not to eat shellfish.
Traditions not to join in fellowship with anyone who doesn’t follow these traditions.
We’re supposed to drop them?
Centuries of Traditions, gone?
For the sake of some “Dirty Gentiles?”
I don’t think so.
At this Peter stood up.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles….
Peter who had preached a phenomenal sermon on Pentecost:
“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the Gospel…”(v.7)
Do you remember that?
I was up on the roof doing some meditation when I went into a trance.
In that trance, God gave me a vision of a sheet filled with all kinds of animals.
Animals that we TRADITIONALLY don’t eat.
Food like pork chops, bacon, and oysters on the half shell.
And I said to God, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
And God said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (vs. 14-15)
And then God repeated this sequence two more times.
And right at the end of it, when I was wondering what it all meant, three men sent by Cornelius, a Roman, stopped at the gate of my house. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” (vs. 19-20)
I went down to answer. The men were sent here by his master, Cornelius, who had a vision from God – about me being in that house.
Wouldn’t I come to tell about Jesus?
Because that’s was the point of the vision.
God’s message wasn’t just for Jews anymore.
It was a message of Grace for Gentiles…
But you don’t’ have to take my word for it!
Because when I was there and when I preached the message of the Gospel.
The people believed…Something that only happens by the Holy Spirit.
And they began speaking in tongues – a miracle that happens only by the Holy Spirit.
A miracle as proof that this was real faith given by the Holy Spirit.
Guess what!?! That happened in a home that didn’t have any Jewish traditions.
They weren’t circumcised.
They weren’t wearing prayers shawls.
“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (v.8-9)
“Now then, why do you try to test God?” (vs. 10)
Because you might think that you’re testing the Gentiles.
You might think that you’re testing their faith to see if it’s real and if they’re willing to become followers of Jesus.
You’re testing God.
You’re telling him:
“Hey God, I know you said that it’s by grace through faith in Jesus that we’re saved, but…I’m gonna preach the opposite. I want to test how long it takes for you to strike me down with a lightning bolt for teaching the opposite of you.”
Because…think about it!
You’re putting yokes on the necks of these Gentiles.
A yoke just like you put on your donkey.
Something that makes general movement in life much more difficult.
You’re putting yokes on their necks by demanding that they keep all these Old Testament Traditions…
When you couldn’t even keep them yourself.
Avram, look at that prayer shawl. That’s not regulation length.
And Jeremiah, I saw you last Sabbath. That walk was lots longer than the allotted 3000 steps according to our tradition.
And Ezekiel…I’ve got a guy over there who told me that he saw you eating a BLT last week.
And don’t even get me started on the lies, the greed, the lust, the moral failures of each and everyone of you.
Brothers, for centuries, we were under the yoke of a law that we could not keep.
The message of Jesus freed us from that yoke.
Why put that yoke on someone else?
Why not lift that yoke?
We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (v.7)
Until eventually, Paul and Barnabas took the opportunity to tell all about what happened on their missionary journey.
About the Gospel overpowering the lies of a Satanist.
About preaching in the streets in front of thousands of people.
About being chased out of the city, mistaken for God, and narrowly avoiding attempted murder.
And about how through it all, the Gospel was preached, and hundreds of souls came to faith in the saving message of Jesus.
When they were done…
James stood up.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
James, a Jew through and through.
We’ve heard from Peter.
We’ve heard from Paul.
We’ve heard from Barnabas.
But perhaps we need to hear from one more witness.
A witness that’s Jewish.
A witness that’s traditional.
A witness that cannot tell a lie.
The Old Testament Jewish Scriptures:
Amos 9:11-12 says:
“After this I will…rebuild David’s fallen tent.
…17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name.” (Acts 15:16-17)
Grace is grace.
We can’t force them to be Jewish and we don’t need to. And we don’t need to keep these traditions because Jesus fulfilled them all with His perfect life, death and resurrection. God doesn’t require sacrifices anymore!
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)
Brothers and sisters,
This is the truth.
Grace is grace.
It’s a truth that was discussed in Jerusalem.
By the Apostles of Jesus himself.
They came to a conclusion.
It hasn’t been overruled.
It hasn’t been overturned.
Grace is grace.
It isn’t worked for.
It isn’t earned.
It isn’t given in response to following Old Testament customs.
It isn’t given in response to following human customs.
It’s all about Jesus.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
Forgiveness is yours.
By God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
Therefore, we follow the advice of James, the leader in Jerusalem. Don’t make Grace difficult.
1) For Yourself
How good are you at puzzles?
I can usually handle them if they are 20 pieces or less.
I’m really good if they have an outline for each shape.
I’m especially good at the puzzles for 4 years old and younger.
But I have a friend who is so good at puzzles, do you know what he does?
He flips the puzzles upside down.
He does them cardboard side facing up.
He wants to make it more difficult…
Sometimes I think we do the same thing with grace.
We add in the qualification of “perfection.”
We need to be the perfect mom.
We need to be a stellar dad.
We need to be the best teacher, an incredible provider and the best keeper of Christian customs ever.
We tell ourselves that in order to receive grace we need to follow God’s Laws perfectly.
just to be sure…
…we add in some of our own human customs and laws just to make it really difficult.
Grace is grace.
And because of God’s grace in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Jesus said this, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
He said that because by grace salvation is yours.
By grace, you don’t have to earn God’s love.
By grace, you already have it.
2) For Others
I was at pastor’s conference this past week. And I was talking to a pastor who was telling me about something that happened to him recently. He had a gentleman join his worship service whom he had been trying to get to come for a long time.
A friend who wasn’t a part of a church.
Who didn’t actively worship and hadn’t known much about Jesus.
As he finally attended worship, the man was moved by the Gospel.
He was emotional as he listened.
He even shouted: “Amen,” at the end of the sermon.
Afterwards, the pastor was excited, and he went to talk to a member of his to share his excitement.
And he said, “Wasn’t it awesome having him join us?”
And the person he told this to simply rolled their eyes and said, “You better talk to him and tell him that we don’t shout AMEN around here. Especially if he plans on coming back.”
Friends, don’t make grace difficult for others.
Don’t add to God’s grace.
Don’t require human things.
Let grace be grace.
Grace for you.
Grace for the people you talk to.
As unyoked children of God, be in the business of unyoking those with heavy burdens to bear.
Because…the Gospel teaches that God placed YOU above all else.
And we, as an extension of the early church, need to place the Gospel above all else.
We are restarting a sermon series that we did last summer. If you remember last summer, we went through a book in the Bible called “ACTS.” Acts is a book that describes the “ACTS of the Early Church.” This, by the way, is the Early Church in which our church finds its roots. The goal of the series was to discover (1) What the Early Church found important to do and (2) Consider how we might refocus on doing the very things that they did.
Because I think it’s really easy for a modern church to get distracted.
Maybe you know this, but Facebook knows what you think. Their website records everything you do on Facebook. Then, they distract you with ads for the very things you’ve been searching for on your Facebook profile.
For instance, Friday was a teacher workday. The teachers had some food delivered from McAllister’s deli. And even though I wasn’t in charge of ordering that food…my account must have been logged into the computer that was used for ordering and... coincidence? I am getting all kinds of ads for McAllister’s Deli.
The same is true for being a pastor. Because I am a pastor, the majority of the ads I see on Facebook are about church from businesses aimed at churches. The ads usually go something like this: “Your Church NEEDS this!” It’ll lead to articles that say things like:
Now these things could be beneficial.
But when it comes to what church NEEDS to be doing…
I’m thinking the answer should come from God, not the advertiser paying good money to track my internet usage habits.
Today we are going to dive into chapter 2 of ACTs and use the story of Pentecost as a base point for review of the last year’s sermon series. (That’s about 14 chapters in one sermon). Our goal is to identify the thing “Above All Else” that the Early Church needed to be engaged in and understand why we need to be doing that same thing.
Before we do that, a prayer:
Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s “Above All Else”
Acts 2 take places during Pentecost. It was an Old Testament festival that occurred “fifty days after Passover.” “Pente” a root form meaning “five.” That’s where we get the word “pentagon,” or “five-sided shape.” “Pente” meaning “fifty” hence, a festival fifty days after Passover.
It was a big festival. It happened every year. It drew thousands of practicing Jews to Jerusalem. This year was no different. The streets were filled with people. They were up early shopping the marketplaces and getting the items necessary for celebrating the festival later that day. It was just like every other year.
At about 8 o’clock in the morning, there was the sound of a hurricane-like wind. Only it wasn’t coming from the sky, but a small corner house.
After that sound was going for a while, out of the house, burst a group of men with what appeared to be flames of fire ignited on the top of their heads.
Men who, being from Israel, should not have known the 20-some different languages of the various people there in Jerusalem for the festival.
Yet they spoke clearly. Efficiently. Fluently.
It was amazing.
It was incredible.
It was…too good to be true.
Someone shouted: “They have had too much wine.” (2:13)
Because…getting drunk usually increases your language skills?
But the reality was that this was more than a house party.
This was more than a regular celebration.
This was divine and miraculous.
This was God!!!
And now with everyone’s attention focused exactly where God wanted it, God moves one of the men, Peter to stand up and speak this message:
“15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people…’” (Acts 2:15-16)
That’s what’s happening! With the hurricane sound. With tongues of fire. With the different languages. This is God’s way of getting your attention.
About 50 days ago.
It wasn’t just 50 days until your 50 days celebration.
About 50 days ago.
You guys killed Jesus.
And this Jesus?
Wasn’t just some rebel.
Wasn’t just some teacher.
Wasn’t just some nice guy.
He was God.
He did miracles exactly like what you’re seeing here today!
He didn’t just cause storms; he stopped them.
He didn’t just make fire appear; but bread and wine and water.
He didn’t just speak different languages, but he spoke to dead people to make them alive.
He did the very things that only God could do because he was God Himself.
And you killed him.
You killed God.
And death didn’t stick.
I saw Him.
Now at this point the group that was listening started to get very uncomfortable.
Because some of the people who heard this were the very people that had been in Jerusalem 50 days earlier shouting for Jesus to be crucified.
And…if this was true…
Then, they had sinned.
And if this was true…
Jesus would be coming back to vaporize them.
What shall we do?” They cried.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
And that’s it.
God’s message to the very people who killed Jesus…
About how they could get right with Jesus was simply this:
Turn from sin. Turn to Jesus.
To turn from unbelief to turn to belief.
Their way into God’s kingdom was simply belief in Jesus!
And be baptized.
To have someone pour water on you in Jesus’ name.
And the miraculous God who did these very miracles here today will work through that water to bring you forgiveness.
Does that seem too easy for those sinners?
Does that seem too easy for any sinner?
Does that seem too easy for you, a sinner?
Guess what? That’s the main message of the God powered, God inspired Early Christian Church.
The Early Church’s main message, also known as the Gospel, places you above all else.
It’s kind of like an internet troll. Someone who logs in and gets updates on your social media page or your blog…only because they can’t wait to go on your profile and argue…maybe post an obscene emoji and make you generally angry. Send inappropriate emails to every in your contact list, too.
How many of you wake up on a day to day basis and say: “I hope that internet troll guy is doing good today. Hey, maybe I should call him to check in. Better yet…Let me send him some Uber Eatz…what’s his favorite? Chicken wings?”
We have rebelled against God.
Like a spiritual internet troll to God we have repeatedly gone against him.
Consciously or not – when we complain about his rules, sin, do the opposite - we are completely against God.
Yet, He still did everything to save us!
In fact, he put YOU above everything else. Peter’s words bring that truth to the forefront.
(1) Above the Father’s Other Plans
Check out verse 23: “Jesus was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.”
This Jesus thing wasn’t an accident.
It wasn’t an incident that got out of control.
It wasn’t an UNPLANNED thing.
It was planned by the Father eternities before you were ever you.
In fact, God set things in motion from the beginning of time to achieve your salvation, to bring you forgiveness and to connect you to his kingdom.
God’s ultimate plan isn’t a fireworks celebration for himself.
It isn’t millions of people bowing down to him.
It isn’t to have his name be the most Googled name of all time.
In heaven with him.
(2) Above Jesus’ Own Life
Peter continues, “Jesus was handed over to you…and you put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (v.23b) Notice the phrase “Handed over.” It doesn’t say, “You actively took him by force,” but he was passively “handed over.”
Jesus knew God’s plan was to have him die.
And he still volunteered for it.
Not because it would be easy. It isn’t as if Jesus said, “You know what would be a lot of fun? To have nails jammed into my hands, to have my metatarsals separated by a spike, to press a crown of thorns deeply into my skull and to hang up there while everyone ridiculed me until my lungs gave up and I died.”
Jesus went to the cross because…YOU.
Because He placed you above HIS OWN LIFE.
(3) Above the Holy Spirit’s Inconspicuousness
Peter continues, “Jesus has sent…the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (v.33)
How much do you know about the Holy Spirit?
Briefly: He’s God.
One of the three persons in the ONE Triune God.
He’s always been around.
In fact, he appears at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1 it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Now…the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
The Holy Spirit is there.
He is only mentioned in passing in a few vague Psalms and prophecies.
He prefers to do his work in inconspicuous mystery.
And the Holy Spirit goes out of his way to draw our attention to his presence.
The Holy Spirit wants you to pay attention.
He wants you to see how Jesus’ put YOU above his own life.
He wants you to know how God put YOU above his other plans.
He wants you to know that the Gospel places YOU above all else.
II. The Early Church’s “Above All Else”
Now the scene is a courtroom.
Peter is there.
But this time…he’s in chains.
And the people surrounding him are not a crowd of believers.
Violent angry men.
The same violent angry men that killed Jesus.
And unlike some of the people at Pentecost, these people want nothing to do with Jesus.
In fact, that’s the reason they have Peter arrested!
They want him to stop teaching about Jesus.
They want him to stop preaching the Gospel.
They want him to stop…or else.
And Peter looks around.
They’re glaring at him.
He knows they’re serious.
Serious…and blood thirsty.
He doesn’t care.
“We must obey God; rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In other words:
The Early Church would keep preaching the Gospel.
They would keep telling people about Jesus.
Because they would place the Gospel above all else.
This is just one story that illustrates that.
Because throughout the book of Acts, the devil does everything possible to try and shove the Gospel to the bottom of the Early Church’s priority list.
But the Book of Acts is filled with stories where the Gospel triumphs!
Where it is placed above…
(1) 1st Century Racial Prejudices
Because the Gospel started among the Jewish people.
And the Jewish people – they had developed a superiority complex.
They thought themselves as God’s special people.
Afterall, the Old Testament was all about them.
They were God’s special people – to the point that they wouldn’t interact with non-Jewish people.
They wouldn’t eat a meal with them.
They would definitely not spend time with them unless they were forced to!
Enter a guy named Philip.
He’s on the road to Gaza.
He comes across a man who is an Ethiopian.
Normally Jews avoided non-Jews, but the Gospel doesn’t discriminate. “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29)
Philip walked right up to the chariot, got into the chariot, sat right next to him in the chariot and shared the Gospel.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
This isn’t the only time.
Acts 8, says Philip also went to Samaria to continue telling non-Jewish people about Jewish.
Acts 13 and 14, chronicles an entire missionary journey specifically to non-Jewish people!
At Pentecost itself, the Gospel was presented in languages beyond Hebrew of the common Jewish people!
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Racial Prejudices.
(2) Social Status
This is a big deal. Because at that time, the most common religious entity – the Pharisees—loved rich people.
They loved people who could contribute to the upkeep of their gathering spaces.
They loved people who could also afford fine jewelry and fancy robes.
They loved people who would make them look cool by association.
Peter and John?
In Acts 3, the very first individual described hearing the Gospel?
A blind beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar.
A blind, homeless beggar at the bottom of social status.
And yet Peter is sure to bring him the message about how Jesus gives him the status of God’s eternal kingdom.
The Early Church placed the Gospel above Social Status.
(3) Jewish Traditions
To be fair, the Gospel is above any tradition.
Specifically, for the Early Church, Jewish traditions had become an obstacle to the Gospel.
And some of the staunchest Jewish traditions at that time had to do with food.
The tradition was that Jews only ate certain foods.
The tradition was that Jews only ate after washing their hands in a ceremonial way.
The tradition was that Jews never at in the home of a non-Jewish person.
Acts 11, Peter, who is 100% Jewish and 100% a follower of Jewish tradition…receives a vision.
In the vision, God tells him to go ahead – to eat meat – from…traditionally, unclean animals.
In other words, God tells him to break tradition. Peter refused by saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
As soon as the vision is over, Peter receives a knock at his front door.
It’s a servant from a Roman Centurion – a non-Jewish, Roman centurion – who has invited him over to eat.
That’d be breaking tradition…but God had told Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
Peter went because he placed the Gospel above even his own traditions – all God’s doing. Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35
The Gospel was above Jewish Traditions.
(4) Above Personal Vendettas
One of the more famous accounts in the first half of Acts is the account of a guy named Saul.
Saul, who did not like the Gospel.
He did not like Jesus.
In fact, he persecuted those who followed Jesus by threatening them, beating them up, and throwing them in prison.
Jesus appeared to him.
Then he became a believer.
In fact, Saul became such a committed believer that he wanted to help the disciples share the Gospel.
Acts 9:20, 26-27 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues [in Damascus] that Jesus is the Son of God…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. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.”
Because it’s not about them and what they feel. It’s about Jesus. We support others who want to share God’s Word
They put the GOSPEL above their own personal issues.
(5) Above Their Own Safety
Back to where we started.
The disciples began shouting the message of Jesus…
…in the middle of the very streets where Jesus had been put to death.
…surrounded by the very people who had supported his death.
But they didn’t care.
And this continues.
In Acts 3, they are put on trial.
In Acts 5, they are imprisoned.
In Acts 7, Stephen has stones thrown at him until he is killed.
In Acts 8, they undergo the aforementioned persecution of Saul.
In Acts 12, Peter is put on death row.
And at no point do they stop preaching.
At no point do they stop telling about Jesus.
At no point do they put their own lives above the Gospel.
Because the Gospel is about how Jesus put US above his own life.
III. WHAT NOW?
Consider these two truths:
The Gospel places you above all else. The Early Church placed the Gospel above all else.
Because of God’s work with the Early Church, you have the Gospel in your heart.
A simple What Now?
Put the Gospel Above All Else
I mentioned those Facebook ads at the beginning.
I think the devil works pretty similarly in our lives.
He’s smart. He watches us.
He knows the things that will distract us.
The things that will tempt us to think:
“God didn’t love you that much.” And “The Gospel’s not that important.”
Rather than the GOSPEL above all else…
He wants you to place the ALL ELSE above the Gospel.
Don’t let him.
PLACE THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE!
Throughout this summer I am praying that God works in your heart to:
(1) understand more fully how God placed you above all else,
(2) throw light on areas in which you have placed other things above the Gospel,
(3) guide us, as a church, to refocus on placing THE GOSPEL above all else. Amen.
Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. Amen.