Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. 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. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
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. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “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. 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.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“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.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
Paul says, “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.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: 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! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “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. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.
We are in the middle of our sermon series on Acts. In this series we have been to a lot of different places and learned a different lesson in each place. Today we’re getting a potpourri of lessons from one place and all on hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hypokrusis.” The word was used in Greek theater. It meant: “to play a part,” which, in Greek theater, often meant “wearing a mask.” It’s a part of theater still today – specifically known as the Marvel Big Screen.
Chris Evans dons a mask and becomes Captain America.
Chadwick Boseman dons a mask and becomes Black Panther.
Evangeline Lilly dons a mask and becomes The Wasp.
Hypocrisy, then, is when someone claims to be one thing, when they are not.
Before we begin our study of hypocrisy, 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. One Kind of Hypocrisy
The lesson from Acts 19 is the first big stop on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey. Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. (19:1a) Ephesus was the Capital of the Ancient province of Asia and a bustling commercial center. Paul had briefly been there at the end of the 2nd missionary journey. Before he left, he promised to return if God allowed. Paul’s appearance in chapter 19 is a fulfillment of that promise.
When Paul arrives, he finds some disciples. (v.1b) These men claimed to be followers of the Christ. Paul greets them pleasantly. (Maybe with some high fives, jokes about not having rocks thrown at him, and an invitation to go grab lunch at the local Smashburger).
As they are hanging out, Paul asks them some conversational questions:
What’s your favorite worship song?
What do you do to serve at the church?
Do you like your coffee dark or light roast?
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (v.2)
The Holy Spirit is absolutely in the heart of all believers. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s simple. It’s clear. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, because you need the Holy Spirit in order to believe.
But what Paul is talking about here is something different. Early in the history of the Christian church, during key faith-filled events, the Holy Spirit would visibly manifest his presence within a group of believers. This would serve to prove the truthfulness of the Gospel through miraculous signs. It happened at Pentecost (Acts 2) when tongues of fire appeared on the Apostles’ heads as they spoke in languages that they had never learned. It happened again in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). In both instances, God was making it clear that this faith – and the message that this faith was placed in – was a very real and very divine message.
Paul’s question was about whether that had happened with them.
Did you get to speak in tongues?
Did fire appear on your heads?
Did you open your mouth and rainbows started shooting out?
The answer was a bit surprising:
“We hadn’t heard there was a Holy Spirit…” (v.3)
Paul responded, “Wait. What!?! You don’t know the Holy Spirit? He’s a key part of our teachings. He’s the one who brings us to faith. He’s the one who came down on Jesus like a dove. And Baptism! Haven’t you been baptized? Into whose name were you baptized? Because as far as I know…believers are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HOLY SPIRIT.”
The men responded, “We were baptized into John’s Baptism, into the name of the Christ who is going to come in the future.”
“OK… The Christ. Good. Did you know he has already come? Did you know he already did his Christ work? Did you know his name?”
And the men looked on at another, shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know…maybe…Bob?”
Divine forehead slap.
Here’s the truth: Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
It’s like the time I was at Buffalo Wild Wings and a lady near me was decked out in Tarheel gear as she watched them battle on the football field. A while later, the Tarheels had their quarterback sacked in the end zone. The woman stood up, clapped, and shouted, “Great job! Way to go.”
Until, her friends (also in Tarheel gear) motioned for her to sit down: “Stop cheering. That was a safety. That means its two points for the other team.”
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from IGNORANCE.
Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus…and I believe you can sleep with whomever you want. Does the Bible say differently?
Yes, my social profile says: “Christian”; I like all kinds of quotes from the Bible. Also quotes from the KKK. Is there something wrong?
Yes, I’m a Christian. I’ve been my whole life. But what do you mean when you are talking about salvation by grace? Never heard of it? I thought I’d get to heaven, simply because I was good enough….
Before you say, “But if someone doesn’t know, it’s no big deal.”
Remember that ignorant hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
It’s still wrong.
If your son winds up and punches your little daughter in the face, you don’t say, “It’s ok. He didn’t know. Let him be.” No! You course correct immediately!
In the same way, it’s still wrong when we say we are followers of Jesus, but then do the opposite of followers of Jesus, even if we simply didn’t know followers of Jesus don’t do that.
There’s a simple cure for this kind of hypocrisy. It’s called knowledge. That’s what Paul gave these men. He said to them in verse 4, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Jesus is the Christ.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins. I saw it with my own eyes!
And the group believes.
They are baptized into Jesus’ name.
And that Holy Spirit that they didn’t know about? He makes himself visibly known. They began to speak in tongues, and they prophesied. (v.6) Visual proof of the invisible truth that their faith in Jesus wasn’t fake; it was real.
The same is true for you. Repent of your any hypocrisy of ignorance.
To do that, look at the truth.
The truth may be that what you’ve been doing is sin.
But the truth also is that you have a Savior.
And in Jesus, you are forgiven.
II. Another Kind of Hypocrisy
But not all hypocrisy is caused by ignorance.
Next Paul entered the synagogue, a place where they studied God’s Word.
He went and spoke boldly there for three months. (v.9a)
You would expect this to produce real believers.
These people wore religious jewelry.
They went to worship.
They knew lots of the Bible.
They knew all the words to all their favorite religious songs.
They knew prayers.
They knew religious logos.
They knew God’s Word.
And yet…when Paul was done speaking…
Some of them were obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. (v.9b)
And think about the hypocrisy of it all:
They studied God’s Word.
They knew God’s Word.
Then, they refused to believe God’s Word.
And even openly mocked God’s Word.
Only to sit around congratulating each other for following that Word that they were mocking.
It’s would be like sitting in the Fellowship Hall after worship and gossiping about another believer not being a very good believer and then congratulating yourselves on being such good believers even though you’re doing things that believers aren’t supposed to do.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance; but sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
In fact, the Greek word there means “hardened.” Tough, rough, impenetrable.
Like a rock. There’s nothing getting through the exterior into the heart of the rock. Try it. You can punch the rock. You can hit the rock with a blow dart. You could try karate chopping the rock. Nothing. Even if you took a hammer to it - that rock isn’t splitting.
The same can happen with people’s hearts.
Even the hearts of long-time Christians.
I know racism is wrong. God is for all people. You should go tell it to those people over there. They’re the racist ones. In fact, that’s how all people like them are!
I know it says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. And I haven’t had it! Look at my purity ring! Now excuse me…the adult film. I uploaded on my iPhone is coming after it’s done buffering.
I know it! Pride is wrong. Preach it pastor! Especially at that guy over there. But don’t you preach it at humble me. There’s nobody humbler than I am.
And God’s Word connects with the heart.
And the heart hardens.
And hypocrisy ensues.
If you are a long-time church goer, take extra warning!
Don’t harden your heart to God’s Word.
And then sit around congratulating yourself for following God’s Word.
Instead of hardening your heart, look at God’s heart.
Because God’s heart was not hard.
His heart was filled with compassion.
His heart was filled with love for you…even when you repeatedly hardened your heart against him.
His heart was not hardened like a rock.
When he hung on that cross…
The soldiers reached up with a spear.
They plunged it into his him.
But softened with love for you.
Even now. Even if you’ve hardened your heart before, listen to his heart for you.
Repent of your hypocrisy.
And do it quickly.
III. All Kinds of Hypocrisy
As Paul continued his ministry, God continued to bless Paul. In fact, look at the amazing things that God did through Paul: Even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them. (v.12)
That’s amazing! Paul’s handkerchiefs cured from the flu and his aprons drove out evil spirits. But look at what happened, “Seven sons of Sceva (Which…Listen to the name. It sounds shady. Almost like an evil muppet or something) they went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” (v.12-13)
To be fair, this doesn’t look hypocritical.
It looks like they are trying to help.
They aren’t ignorant of Jesus’ name. They use it.
They aren’t obstinately opposed to Jesus. God is against demons, too.
Yet, look at what happened.
One day an evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (v.15)
Do you see the problem?
But God could.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for Jesus.
But out of love for power.
Maybe they weren’t doing this out of love for others.
But out of love for themselves.
They were hypocrites.
Good ones too! It was hard to tell that they were doing anything wrong.
But here’s the truth:
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from ignorance.
Sometimes hypocrisy comes from obstinance.
But hypocrisy is always exposed.
A family member finds out.
A pastor discovers the truth.
Your spouse learns about what you were trying to hide.
Always hypocrisy is exposed.
Even if you successfully hide it from all other human beings, God knows.
God knows and he will expose it.
At the end of time, you won’t be able to hide it.
And he won’t be able to hide his displeasure.
He’ll simply say:
Jesus, I know…
And Paul I know…
Who are you?
IV. What Now?
Therefore, God calls us to repent.
To turn from hypocrisy.
To turn to our Savior.
And the way to do that is to:
(1). Switch Your Mask
We said that hypocrisy is putting on a mask. Covering up our sins with a nice looking, “Christian” façade.
Make me think of Halloween. That’s a time for masks. There’s a wide variety of them at Precious Lambs. I remember there was one kid who made his own mask. It was made of string and paper. The paper covered up…one of his eyebrows. He said: “You don’t know who I am.” And I said: “Uh-huh.”
Hypocrisy? That’s like hiding behind the paper eyebrow mask.
We think it hides our sinfulness from God.
Instead, check out Galatians 3:27
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Just like a full-fledged mask, it fully and completely covers up all your sins.
Jesus covers up your obstinance.
Jesus covers up your ignorance.
Jesus covers up your sin so much so that when God looks at you, He only sees – His child.
So much so that God calls us to our second WHAT NOW:
(2). Go Public
Look at the reaction of the people to what had occurred. Many who believed came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. (v.18)
Think about that: Believers gathered in the middle of the city with their arms filled of books that they had been storing in their homes. Books that weren’t about the Bible. Books that were about Satan, witchcraft, and sexual immorality.
It’d be like someone coming to the front of church and making a pile of a raunchy racist DVDs, two illegal drug baggies, and an iPhone loaded with pornographic content.
That’s take courage to do in front of everyone, right?
But they had the courage.
Because they were covered in Christ’s righteousness.
Because they knew they were God’s children.
Because they knew God’s children were serious about getting rid of sin.
Because they knew God’s other children wouldn’t ridicule them, but support them.
They went public with it.
Do the same.
Examine your heart.
Find your hypocrisy
And Go public with it.
Go public with a friend, a pastor, or a family member!
And if someone trusts you enough to publicly confess a secret sin to you, don’t say:
“Just a second while I share what you did on social media.”
Share the Gospel.
Remind them of Christ’s mask.
Help them incinerate whatever it is they are struggling with!
Because in that, God’s Word is spread.
In fact, look at the last verse:
In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely. (v.20)
Because when God’s Word gets us to stop being hypocrites and start being real, then God’s Word really spreads.
If we’re real -- real with God and real with each other -- then the community will notice.
We are finishing up our Fighting Temptation sermon series this morning. If you’ve been here following along, this is the culmination. We’re going to take everything we’ve learned about fighting temptation and apply it to enduring in the fight against temptation.
If you haven’t been here, that’s okay. Because we’re going to be talking about how to endure your walk of faith -- in a world filled with doubt, shame, guilt, and other things that make it feel like you should just give up on faith.
In short, if you want to enjoy eternal life…this is for you.
Before we study, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Surrounded by Witnesses
The section we’re going to look at it from the book of Hebrews 12: 1-3. Briefly – Hebrews is a letter written to believers anywhere at any time. We are believers. We are somewhere and sometimes – so…this is written to us.
This is written to you.
Look at the encouragement in chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Right away, I get this picture of a track and field meet. The stadium seating is filled with people. They’ve got their popcorn. They’ve got their sports drinks. They’ve got their sunglasses on and a granola bar for the kids. They are cheering on your behalf – “You can do it! You’ve got this! Keep running.”
There’s even that coach running alongside the infield. He’s the one’s that’s running by you as you hit the corner – he’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s waving his arms in big old circles – (because I think he thinks that it’ll help with the airflow so you can run faster.) He’s part of the crowd of people that are encouraging you and cheering you on.
But who is this group of people that the Bible is talking about?
Who are these witnesses?
(1) Those who have Finished the Race
It is usually in good taste, once you finish a race, to turn around and cheer for those who are still finishing up. You’re letting them know it’s possible by the fact that you already made it.
Scripture is filled with those who have finished the race.
Scripture is filled with those who have fought the fight against temptation.
Scripture is filled with those who have walked the walk of faith.
Like a guy named Abraham -- God said to him, “Get up. Move your family. Go to a different country. Even though I won’t tell you where, it’ll be good, just…trust me.”
And Abraham did.
And God gave him the land of Israel that would lead to the entire nation of Israel as we know them today.
Like a woman named Sarah – God said to her, “Even though you’re 90 years old and are barren, I will come back in a year and you will have a son – trust me.”
And Sarah did.
And God gave her a child named Isaac --- the great, great, great, great, many times over, grandfather of Jesus Christ.
Like a guy named Moses – God said to him, “I will work through you to do miraculous signs and lead my people out of slavery in Egypt – trust me.”
And Moses did.
And God sent locusts, frogs, hail, bugs, darkness and blood until the king of Egypt finally let them go.
And a young boy named David – God said to him, “Even though you are small, I will take care of you. Trust me.”
And David did.
And God protected him – guiding a tiny little stone from a sling shot into the gap of the giant goliath’s helmet – knocking him down – dead.
And a young man named Joshua – God said to him, “Even though there’s a gigantic wall surrounding the city, I will help you defeat Jericho and it will be yours…trust me.”
And Joshua did.
And God roared, Jericho trembled, God shook the city of Jericho and sent the walls of Jericho a tumbling down.
And a guy named Daniel – God said to him, “Even though the king has threatened a night in the lion’s den for not worshipping him, don’t do it. I’ll protect you…trust me.”
And Daniel did.
And God sent angels to calm those ferocious beasts – that come the next morning – the lions were snuggling up to Daniel purring like housecats.
And a young woman named Mary – God said to her, “Even though you’ve never slept with anyone – and biology says it’s impossible, trust me…You will have a Son and will call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
And she did.
And God did. And Jesus was born of a virgin.
And a guy named Peter…And Andrew. And James and John…and Thomas and Philip and hundreds more – to whom Jesus himself said, “They will kill me…. But…three days later…I will come back to life. Trust me.”
And they… didn’t.
But God did anyway. He came back to life.
The Bible is filled with people who have finished the race of faith.
And through the pages of Scripture – they cheer you on:
You will win.
(2) Those who are Running the Race with you
Because when you run a race – it’s good to run a race with friends. It’s nice to have people there to push you. People there to encourage you. People there to say, “You know what. Why don’t we walk for a bit.”
God has given you people to encourage you.
God has given you people to uplift you.
God has given you people to witness to God’s grace and run the race with you.
I remember Pastor John Jeske. He was a pastor of mine growing up. He preached rather long sermons. (Some of you are wondering – “How long does he think a ‘long sermon’ is…?”) He was a kind, gentle, older man – who always took the time to shake my hand and ask how my day was going.
He encouraged me.
One of the interactions that I ever had was a graduation card that I received from him. It said, “Philip, keep holding onto Jesus and keep sharing him with others.”
It wasn’t much.
A few simple words.
Yet – even today –
Years after I received that card.
Years after Pastor Jeske became a member of God’s congregation in heaven.
I hear his encouragement.
I want you to take a moment and think about some of the people God has given you to encourage you.
A grandma? A grandpa?
A church friend?
Because that’s really the point of church. It’s a group of people who gather together to encourage, uplift, run beside, pull each other along, and occasionally -- give someone a ride on their back as we run the race of faith together.
If you don’t have that group of people, God says you need it.
If you have that group of people, God says, “Don’t forget to encourage them too.”
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Because you wouldn’t do very well in a race if your shoelaces were tied together.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you were wrapped up in toilet paper.
You wouldn’t do very well in a race if you are the only one with a weighted backpack of about 50 pounds. (Unless you’re that one guy at my gym – who always wears the 50-pound backpack…I think he wears it when he brushes his teeth.)
But you get the point? You can’t run well when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
And you can’t run the race of faith when things are tangling you up and slowing you down.
Again, what might entangle you? Two things:
(1) Sin that Entangles
This one seems easy.
Sin is bad.
God is good.
Sin is wrong.
God is opposed to wrong.
If you are trying to run the race of faith with God, then you’re going to be immensely slowed down.
And we’re not necessarily talking about tripping up in sin – that happens to all Christians all the time because we are all sinners.
But we’re talking about sin that entangles.
Sin that’s repeated.
Sin that’s repetitive.
Sin that’s got you all wrapped up.
Because think about it:
It’s hard set your heart after God, when your heart is after a bunch of porn on the internet.
It’s hard to run with all your strength, when most of your strength is boasting on social media.
It’s hard to run with joy, when you’re harboring bitterness in your heart.
It’s hard to share Jesus with people of all cultures, when you’d rather share your racist thoughts about other cultures.
It’s hard to trust God’s forgiveness of you, when you’re struggling with forgiving in your heart.
It’s hard to work together to share the Gospel, when you’re working on your own to share gossip about others at church.
Throw off the sin that entangles.
(2) Anything that Hinders
But it’s not just that. Scripture says to throw off anything that hinders.
Meaning things that aren’t necessarily sin.
Cause there’s all kinds of things in this world that aren’t necessarily sin. They are spiritually neutral. Things like: TV, sleep, food, money, career, sports, Rice Krispy Bars, Pokémon, and vegetables – (except for brussels sprouts – those are probably sinful – just kidding…kind of.)
Neutral things are not wrong on their own.
They become wrong, when they consume you to the point of slowing your spiritual race.
Like video games. I enjoy video games. Not the violent, intense, R rated games that have all kinds of questionable content.
But the light-hearted, goofy video games – that leave you questioning how old I am.
But here’s the thing. If those video games start to take up my time, if they start to envelop my thoughts, if I start thinking more about “How can I save princess Peach from Bowser” – rather than – “How can I share Jesus who saves eternally with that person…”
Video games have become a hindrance.
They need to be thrown off.
Think about you and your life.
What is slowing you down?
I bet it’s different than mine.
But I also bet there is one.
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that’s most important.
But it’s not.
So…whatever has become a hindrance to growing in faith, following Jesus, and sharing his message.
Identify and throw it off.
III. Eyes on the Prize
One more thing that Scripture implores us to do as we run the race of faith:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (v.2)
Over at Lafayette Village, every September they hold Octoberfest. Let me say that again – Every September, they hold Octoberfest. (I think that the 4th of July is celebrated on August 10th this year, too). Part of the celebration is the Annual Wiener Dog Race. (Picture it.) It is exactly what you picture. A race with wiener dogs. The race isn’t long. It’s probably the length of a pew. And the dogs are dropped off at the starting line. They are positioned behind a starting gate and then, their owner goes down to the finish line – ready to call for the dog and cheer them to victory.
Sounds simple, right?
But…here’s what happens.
The announcer says, “On your mark. Get set. Go!”
The gates open…and…
One of them immediately runs over to the walls and starts trying to jump over them to get to the crowd.
Another sees a butterfly in the air and chases it to the other side.
A third was on his way to the end but stops when he sees the little kid eating a “hot dog.”
And a fourth – just kinda settles down for a nap.
I remember watching a race. It’s literally 30 feet in length, but it took about 5 minutes because the dogs couldn’t keep their attention on the endgame.
The same thing is true in this life.
We can’t get distracted by shiny, flashy things.
We can’t lose focus from Christ – and drift to career, money, friendship, physique…
None of those things lead to the finish line of eternal life.
None of those things lead to the finish line of heaven.
Only one thing does --
So fix your eyes on Jesus.
Why Jesus? Three reasons…
(1) He is the author of your faith
An author is someone who writes a book. They are the ones who come up with the ideas and write it on a page. People like Dr. Seuss, Maya Angelou and Nathaniel Hawthorne. All authors – all wrote their ideas and thoughts down on paper.
Jesus is the author of faith.
Its contents: He looked down upon earth. He saw that we were mired in sin, guilt and shame. He saw that we couldn’t get ourselves out of it – and eternal death was our destiny. So…he wrote “Faith.”
He came down to earthly willingly.
Lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
Died innocently in our place.
And rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of our sins!
He said, “Put your faith in ME, in ME, in ME, not in yourself, in ME!”
Jesus authored the contents of our faith – but – more than that – he authored your faith.
He came to you through Scripture.
He came to you through the words of someone who knew Scripture.
He came to you through the waters of baptism.
He brought you the message that we are sinners and are in need of a Savior.
He wrote on your heart the words of faith:
“I belong to Jesus.”
“He is my Savior.”
“I will follow him.”
Think about it: If he is the one who set you on this journey of faith!
Since he’s the one who started you on it, keep your eyes on him – he’ll help you through it.
(2) He is the Perfecter of Your Faith
In fact, he’ll get you to the end! The Scripture says, “He is the perfecter of your faith.” That means – you can’t do this race without him. You can’t do this race without your Savior. You can’t do this race on your own.
Be careful with that. It’s so common for Christians to say – “Thanks Jesus for starting me out on faith. I appreciate it. But…I don’t want you to get tired…Let me run it on my own.”
And a couple of paces – they’re passed out in a spiritual ditch.
Jesus said this, “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If someone remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit. Apart from me; they can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
If you think you can do this race without Jesus, you’ll be like one of those old branches lying in the woods. Brittle. Withered. Dead.
But…if you stay connected to Jesus, hear his promise: you will grow.
You will be nourished.
Your faith will flourish.
You will run and you will run fast.
(3) He’s Excellent at Keeping His Eye on the Prize
One more reason to keep your eyes on Jesus.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember how Jesus came to Jerusalem in a festive fashion.
He rode on a donkey.
People were cheering for him.
They were waving Palm branches in the air.
They were pumping their fists in the air.
They were laying their coats on the ground so the donkey didn’t have to step on mud.
The entire city of Jerusalem was watching this one-person parade of Jesus and shouting:
HOSANNA! HOSANNA TO THE SON OF DAVID!
The scene is impressive.
And you might think – I can understand why Jesus wanted to go to Jerusalem.
If that was his goal…Who wouldn’t want to have an entire city singing your adulation and giving praise and attention to you.
That’s not why Jesus went to Jerusalem.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him.” (Luke 18:31-33)
Do you see it?
Jesus reason for going to Jerusalem wasn’t Palm Sunday; it was Good Friday.
He didn’t come to earth for the adulation of the crowd; but the ridicule of the soldiers.
He didn’t come to hear “Hosanna!”; but to hear “Crucify him.”
He didn’t come to have palms waves at him, but to have nailed driven into his him.
He didn’t come to ride on a donkey, but to hang from a cross.
He didn’t come to gain glory for himself; he came to gain glory for you.
Jesus’ eyes were on the prize.
And the prize wasn’t himself.
The prize was YOU.
Hebrews says, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
That ultimate joy of God.
That ultimate joy of God that powered Jesus to go through with dying on the cross.
Was the promise of eternity with you.
What helped Jesus endured his immensely painful moments on the cross, was considering eternity with you.
What will help you endure the intense painful moments in this life, the moments that make you doubt, the moments that make you want to give up…
Is considering Jesus.
You will not grow weary and lose heart.
You will run.
All the way.
To your Savior’s waiting arms. Amen.
Our sermon series is all about the fight that goes on between humans and temptation.
Fighting temptation is something that we all are familiar with in some shape or form…
Fighting temptation is something that we all struggle with in some shape or form.
I have every confidence that this will be a good series for you to be a part of.
To start our study of temptation, we’re going to watch a film.
If you’ve ever been in a sport before, maybe you’ve done that. You’ve watched films of those who are good at the sport in hopes that you’ll learn how to be better at the sport.
And if you wanted to be a better fighter, there is no shortage of epic fights that you could watch.
Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the Thrilla at Manilla.
The Immortal Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III.
Holly Holm defying the odds and taking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
If you want to learn to be a fighter, it is valuable to watch the best fighters battle against some of their most feared opponents.
Today we’ll do that. We’ll examine a one-on-one battle between the Undefeated Against Temptation, Jesus, and the Master of Temptation, Satan, the devil himself. Before we do, 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. The Stakes
The battle we’ll look at today is recorded in Luke 4:1-13. But before we get into the specifics of the fight, I think it’s important to look at how high the stakes were.
Because epic fights, usually have high stakes:
A championship belt.
A gold medal.
Even a $100,000,000 purse.
What were the stakes in Luke 4?
1. Title of “Most Powerful”
The devil is powerful.
He has been winning temptation battle after temptation battle since way back in the Garden of Eden! Back then, in the first temptation battle ever – Satan did not really break a sweat in getting Adam and Eve, two people who had never sinned, to…sin.
Since then, the devil had been on a rampage causing person after person after person to fall to temptation.
Hundreds of millions of people…
All people in all of history up to the point of Luke 4…
All losers to the devil.
Along came Jesus.
He was supposed to be the Savior…
Could he be the One to break the devil’s power?
2. Unblemished Record
Up to this point, Jesus hasn’t sinned. The reason takes a bit of explanation:
Jesus, unlike any other human ever, was born differently.
He was born of a virgin and God.
As a result, he didn’t have a naturally sinful heart like all other humans do.
And was not tempted by his own sinful heart like all other humans are.
In short, he had no sin.
But in Luke 4, the devil gets a chance to go at Jesus in a one-on-one attack out in the desert, away from other people, in a desert wasteland. All with the goal of taking Jesus’ perfect record and adding one blemish to it.
If he can only do that, he can do more than ruin Jesus’ perfect record against temptation, he can also ruin…
3. Your Salvation
The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We have sinned; we deserve death; even eternal death in hell. The Bible also teaches that Jesus came to be our substitute. He would pay the wage of our sins for us by dying on the cross.
In order for Jesus to be able able to pay for our sins, Jesus needed to live his own life without any sin.
Otherwise, when he went to the cross to pay for our sins, the Father would look down at Jesus’ record, see his own sinful blemish, and say, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’d be similar to me having one dollar and wanting to pay for your Dollar Menu Item at McDonalds and the cashier at the register says, “Sir, before you can pay for your friend’s McChicken, I’m going to need you to pay for your own Dollar Fries.”
Sorry, dude. No McChicken for you.
If Jesus sinned – even once, he would have to give his life to pay for it.
And then he couldn’t pay for ours.
And then we wouldn’t be saved.
II. The Fight
The stakes are high. Let’s look at what happens:
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. (Lk. 4:1-3)
Right away, did you notice that the deck is stacked against Jesus?
He’s Alone. No one else is around. No one to encourage him not to sin. No one to tell him, “Hey, don’t do that.” Sometimes the harshest temptations hit us when we’re alone. That’s not a good start.
In the Wilderness. There aren’t any amenities around to get his mind off the temptation. He can’t relax in the hot tub. He can’t grab a drink from the minibar. He can’t just ignore the devil while watching HBO in the hotel room.
He’s hungry. Like…he hasn’t eaten in over 40 days. That’s crazy. Because…I have a hard time fighting off the temptation if I don’t eat every two hours!!! We call that hangry.
And the devil knows it.
This is the opportune time.
Hit ‘em, while he’s weak.
1. Round One
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v.3)
It wouldn’t be hard for you. You control the elements. I know you changed water into wine not that long ago. This should be as easy as a snap of your fingers.
Because…yes…I know the Father promised to care for you but…. 40 days!?! Without food? That’s love!?!
He forgot about you.
He doesn’t love you.
And those pangs in your stomach?
Take matter into your own hands.
Make that stone into some bread.
At first, does that even seem like it’d be sinful. Because Jesus absolutely had the power to change stones into bread.
He once turned five loaves of bread into food for 5,000.
He also turned 7 loaves of bread into food for 4,000.
It wouldn’t have been hard for Jesus to turn stones into a nice warm loaf of Subway herbs and cheese bread, smothered in butter!
But that’s not really the heart of the temptation.
Because Jesus had gone into the wilderness because the Spirit led him there.
He went into the wilderness because it was part of his Father’s plan.
He went into the wilderness trusting his Father loved him and would keep him alive.
The heart of the temptation isn’t: “Use your powers,” it’s, “Distrust God’s Love.”
That’s important to recognize.
Because specifically speaking this is a temptation that the devil could never bring to you or me. Because if the devil told me, “Change that stone into bread,” I would simply say, “I can’t.”
But categorically? He uses this all the time.
“If God loved you, you wouldn’t be so far behind on your rent. Better take it into your own hands. Commit a little fraud on your taxes.”
“If God really loved you, why would he let your relationship be so difficult? Go ahead. Start flirting with other women.”
“If God really loved you, your sister wouldn’t be so sick. Denounce him. Move on.”
The temptation to distrust God’s love is great.
I’ve failed at this plenty of times, too.
But look at Jesus. He says, “It is written: (pay attention to that phrase, we’ll hear it again) ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (v.4)
In other words:
It isn’t bread that sustains. God does.
It isn’t bread that determines that God loves me, the fact that I’m alive does.
And I’m alive so…
Devil, you lie.
I trust God’s love; not your words…
It’s like the devil came in with a few left jabs, Jesus blocked them and countered with a punch to the gut.
Round One. Jesus.
2. Round Two
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (This is a bit of a miracle. Don’t forget. The devil is powerful. Not all-powerful, but powerful. And in an instant he shows him the kingdom of Israel, the Roman Empire, parts of Asia, down into Africa and maybe the futuristic Kingdom of Raleigh NC in 2019.)
And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (v.6-7)
Because Jesus… I know God’s plan.
I’ve read the Scriptures.
He said that once you’ve finished your work on earth, that you will sit at his right hand and rule over all things.
Once you’ve finished your work…
Doesn’t your work involve betrayal?
Doesn’t it involve being arrested?
Doesn’t it involve you being punched, beaten, whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed hand and foot to a cross, and dying by asphyxiation on two old, blood stained pieces of wood?
That sounds awful.
That sounds terrible.
That sounds…like a BAD plan.
Jesus, I’ve got a better plan.
Bow down to me.
It’ll be quick.
It’ll be painless.
All of this will be yours.
And it will all be yours.
Never mind the fact that the devil doesn’t actually rule anything.
Never mind the fact that the devil’s promise was something he couldn’t deliver on.
Focus in on the temptation.
Because the heart of the temptation isn’t: “Bow down to me, but “Distrust God’s Plan.”
Specifically, this isn’t a temptation that could apply to us. God’s plan is not for you to suffer and die on a cross.
Categorically this temptation is something I am sure you have dealt with.
Is God’s plan really that you be kind to your enemies at work? That’s foolish. We need to go call them a few very specific names.
Is God’s plan really that you stay faithful to your spouse? You’re missing out. Check out this xxx website and you’ll feel instantly better.
Is God’s plan really that you sweat your way up the ladder? That’ll take too long. Go on Facebook and spread rumors about your coworkers. You’ll get the promotion faster…
Is God’s plan really that you share the Gospel? They’ll probably ridicule you. Just listen to my plan. Clam up. It’ll be a lot easier.
Wow. That’s a good temptation.
I’ve failed at it too many times to count!
But Jesus responds his way, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (v.8)
In other words:
It isn’t you who is all-knowing, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-loving, God is.
It isn’t you who is all-powerful, God is!
Devil, you lie.
I trust the Father’s plan, not yours…
The devil tried to come back with sideswipe, but Jesus stepped out of the way and clocked him in the back of the head.
Round Two. Jesus.
But the devil hasn’t given up. He slugs some water, spits out some blood and heads to the final round.
3. Round Three
The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (v.9)
Because, I get it. I misjudged you, Jesus. I really did.
You trust the Father implicitly!
You trust His love.
You trust His Plans.
You trust His Word.
Let’s do something to show that trust. Just jump. The southern most part of the temple is only about 450 feet about the ground. It’s scary. But…you’re so good at trusting. Look at what God promised:
For it is written: (“I know you’ll like that Jesus. It’s the Scriptures.”) “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
You won’t strike your foot.
And you won’t splat.
Trust your Father, Jesus.
Wow. Talk about tricky.
The devil makes jumping off the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Raleigh sound like it should be our next church outing.
Something like that would be sinning if we didn’t do it!
But it isn’t.
Because God never told us to.
This temptation is tricky.
It isn’t a temptation to MISTRUST, but to TRUST.
Specifically: It’s a temptation to Trust Presumptuously.
To trust beyond what God promised.
To let your trust lead you into a realm that God has clearly forbidden!
To be fair – you’ve dealt with similar temptations:
It’s good to trust God. He promised to always protect you. So, go ahead: Drink and drive.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to hold you in faith. So, go ahead: Stop going to worship.
It’s good to trust God. He promises to always forgive you. So, go ahead: Sin as much as you want. In fact, if you don’t go on sinning, you aren’t very good in trusting God’s forgiveness.
If you are a long-time Christian, be especially careful of this one. Because the devil plays on our desire to feel like a good Christian at the expense of being a good Christian!
He only tells half the story.
He only brings up half the truth.
And Jesus knew that: Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v.12)
Because the Father is the one who sets limits.
And the Father is the one who determines when those limits are broken.
Devil. You’re wrong. God is the one testing, not the one to be tested.
And the devil unleashes a barrage of jabs to Jesus’ stomach,
But Jesus just stands there, absorbing the blows.
And delivers a killer upper cut to knock the devil out.
The Most Powerful of All.
The Unblemished by Sin.
Your Salvation-Winning-Savior – Jesus Christ.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Celebrate His Victory!
Because you may have fallen to temptation.
You might have lost to the devil.
You might have lost to the devil so often that you feel like your record is 0 - 76,845.
You might feel like a loser.
But you aren’t.
Because Jesus won.
He defeated the devil.
He didn’t sin.
When he died, he paid the price for your sins!
And then – three days later…He rose triumphantly defeating the devil’s counterpart known as death!
Jesus is victorious!
And as a result…
You are victorious.
You are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s love, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have mistrusted God’s plans, you are forgiven.
For all the times you have trusted God presumptuously, you are forgiven.
Take a moment.
When the devil tries to get you to think about all the times that you have lost to him…
Remind him about how he lost to Jesus!
2. Fight with your Greatest Weapon
A phrase that Jesus uses time and again throughout this entire fight is “It is written.” It’s a reference to Old Testament Scripture. And it’s Jesus’ favorite way of fighting temptation.
I think that’s incredible!
Because if I was predicting how this battle would go, I would imagine that Jesus would have sent lighting bolts to turn the devil to a crisp.
Or maybe called down a bunch of flying monkeys to toss him off the top of the 450-foot temple point.
Or even imprisoned him inside of a heavenly cage where he isn’t allowed to eat bread for 40 some odd days!
Jesus doesn’t use his miraculous power.
He simply uses God’s Word.
A weapon – that you and I have access, too.
Hebrews 4:12 says this, “The word of God is living and active sharper than any double-edged sword.”
Friends, use God’s Word to battle temptation.
I don’t mean pick it up and swing at the devil.
I mean use God’s Word.
It tends to knock the devil out.
When he tempts you to lust, tell him, “It is written: Don’t lust.”
When he temps you to hate, tell him, “It is written: Don’t hate.”
When he tempts you to doubt God, tell him, “It is written – that Jesus kicked you in a one-on-one temptation battle. Then he died and rose again. Tell me again…Why should I doubt God?”
3. Fight Alongside Jesus
You don’t need to fight on your own.
You don’t need to take on temptation by yourself.
You have the Savior on your side.
And what happens when Jesus fights the devil?
Check out the last verse.
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left… (v.13)
Did you catch that?
He gave up.
He submitted at the hands of Jesus.
That is what Satan will do when you fight along Jesus.
And as a believer in Jesus, you fight along Jesus.
May God give you confidence to fight temptation this week and always. Amen.
Way back in 2002 when I was a junior in high school, I went on a Mission Trip to Puerto Rico. At first, it was a lot of fun. The climate was tropical. The buildings were beautiful. The beaches were pristine.
But then…we started to work. Up and down, in the streets, hour after hour – knocking on doors, telling people about Jesus and inviting them to our Vacation Bible School. The people weren’t always the friendliest. One man just so happened to be holding a machete. Another man threatened to release his dogs. One house didn’t have anyone in it - just a giant rooster – that wasn’t too keen on my visit.
To be honest – It was hot. It was sweaty. It didn’t seem to be much of a success.
I began to think to myself:
To be fair, I didn’t have it nearly as tough as some people doing mission work have it!
There are missions in the Middle East threatened by terrorists.
There are missions in East Asia threatened to be shut down by the government.
There are missions in India where church buildings get bombed.
All because of mission work. Is it really worth it?
We’ve been studying the book of ACTS and we have that sharing the Gospel was a key part of what the apostles did. Today we’re going to look at one Early Christian Congregation that thought mission work was so important – they sent out church members to go and do that mission work in different cities – in different countries. Our goal in this study of Acts 13 is to find out where the idea for mission work comes from and how much the church (our church) should be involved on a daily basis.
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 our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mission Work is God’s Idea
Our text in Acts 13 deals with a congregation in Antioch, Syria. Antioch was over 500 miles north of Jerusalem. The congregation formed way back when the persecution started in Jerusalem. Christians had tried to avoid the persecution, so they ran away from Jerusalem and settled in Antioch. Eventually they had formed a Christian congregation there. And it had gone pretty well. Check out Acts 11:20-21: “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
That sounds nice doesn’t it?
The group of Christians moved themselves away from the persecution.
They moved away from the uncomfortable unbelievers who were against them.
They had grown together into a nicely sized group.
What should they do next?
Maybe they could build a sanctuary?
Improve their morning coffee ministry?
Divvy up who brought treats to Sunday worship?
Check out Acts 13: While the congregation members in Antioch were worshipping the Lord…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. (v.1-2)
Did you hear that?
Did you hear who decided what to do next?
It wasn’t a group of men sitting in a board room trying to figure out the next best move for the church.
It wasn’t a state mandated next step.
it wasn’t something they found on Pinterest.
It wasn’t the result of a poll on Facebook.
A couple of guys didn’t say: You know what I’d like to do? Go on a mission trip to the beach – and you can all pay for it!
Saul and Barnabas’ mission work was God’s idea.
Have you ever noticed a difference between who comes up with ideas at work? If it’s a fellow coworker, the idea is generally open to critiques and criticism. You might not do it. You might not listen.
But what happens if it is the Boss’ idea? “What’s that BOSS? A movie about tornados and sharks? That sounds rad! Let’s do it!”
What I mean is, the higher a person’s rank is the more you listen to their ideas.
Whose idea was mission work again?
How high does God rank?
No wonder the Antioch congregation follows through! Mission work was God’s idea!
And it shows God’s heart. Because people don’t naturally know about their Savior. Naturally, they need a Savior; but they don’t naturally know about their Savior. Without faith in their Savior, they must face God’s wrath against sin – all on their own. But God loves people that much. He directs affairs in his church and commissioned mission work with the express purpose of bringing the message of the Savior to all people.
Now…I don’t know how the Holy Spirit told the Antioch congregation this. Did he speak out loud? Did he write it on the wall? Did he give them a vision? It’s unclear.
But what is important is what the Holy Spirit clearly communicated: Do mission work.
Now…I don’t see anything on the walls here today.
I can’t hear any voice speaking.
We have the bible.
The Bible is God’s Word.
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is confirmed by Jesus.
And the Bible says this:
Go and make disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19)
In other words:
Our mission work – is God’s idea too.
Sharing the message of Jesus in North Raleigh is God’s idea.
Not the elders.
Not some Synod official.
I imagine ya’ll have busy weeks ahead.
There’s work to do.
Meals to make.
Things to clean.
Kids to chauffeur.
QUESTION: Do any of you have “Do Mission Work” written on your list this week?
Would you put it there?
It’s God’s idea.
It’s God’s command.
It’s God’s purpose for you.
II. Mission Work is Qualified by the Holy Spirit
The church at Antioch had a few different leaders in their congregation. You might recognize a couple of those names. Barnabas – He’s the guy who sold a field to help out his fellow Christians way back in chapter 4. Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen appear to be some guys who had learned from the Apostles and now were teachers of the Word. They all would have made sense as leaders of the church and choices for mission work.
But…there’s one name that isn’t quite like the others: Saul.
Do you remember him? Saul is the guy that a little over a year earlier had been leading the persecution against the church. He had thrown Christians in prison and made death threats against them. It was so bad that his persecution is the reason the Antioch Christian congregation had formed in the first place! Then, he saw Jesus and became a believer. Something that was hard for some Christians to stomach – a big, old sinner like that? Chosen by God to have forgiveness? Should we really let him into the church?
But not only did God do that…
Not only did God make Saul a believer…
Not only did God grant Saul forgiveness…
Not only did God make Saul a member of the church…
But God placed Saul in church leadership!
And then! At the outset of this mission, God specifically requests him for mission work!
Humanly speaking, Saul might be one of the last people I choose for mission work. Can you imagine his work resume? “So, you are applying to go tell people about Jesus. What kind of experience do you have? Oh…you have experience killing people who believed in Jesus…”
Humanly speaking Saul’s past would have disqualified him from mission work.
But that’s humanly speaking…
Divinely speaking, Saul is 100% qualified.
He’s qualified because the Holy Spirit qualified Saul for mission work.
In fact, the truth is: The Holy Spirit qualifies mission workers for mission work.
This is key for you and me.
Because if we thought about our past, if we really, truly thought about our deeds, there’d be all kinds of disqualifications from doing mission work.
I don’t know enough.
I’m too big of a sinner.
I’ve done too much wrong.
I’ve not been here long enough.
But here’s the deal:
It isn’t your past that qualifies you.
It’s the Holy Spirit.
If the Holy Spirit has called you to faith, he has also called you to share in mission work…and qualified you.
He has qualified us.
And that doesn’t mean you have to go across state lines.
You might only have to go across the cubicle at work.
Across the street.
Across the bedroom in your hall.
Keep your eyes open and share Jesus.
III. Mission Work is to be Fraternally Supported
How would the rest of the church react to the mission? Take a look at verse 3. They fasted and prayed, then they placed their hands on Saul and Barnabas and sent them off. (v.3) The brothers and sisters in church, fraternally supported their work. Notice they supported the mission work in two ways:
The congregation participated in the laying on of hands. What is laying on of hands? It’s (get this) the laying on of hands in support of a brother or sister in the ministry. Maybe you lay on hands and say a prayer. Maybe you say a verse of Scripture. Maybe you simply pat him on the back and say, “God’s blessings.” In our congregation, when pastors are installed – fellow pastors will attend the service, lay hands on the rookie pastor and speak Scriptures and blessings on his ministry.
When Saul and Barnabas were being sent out, the congregation laid hands on them, too. Whether it was all the church leaders or just the leadership, Barnabas and Saul are publicly supported.
And I am certain Saul and Barnabas were uplifted by it!
Imagine you are about to run a race. Your friends and family are there. They smile and immediately start booing you. They tell you how awful you are. They hold up signs that say, “You stink at running.”
That’s not very uplifting.
The same is true in mission work. Public support uplifts mission work; public complaints…Not so much.
If I can be honest, there was one Sunday a while back that a pastor friend of mine called. He was feeling pretty upset. To be fair – worship had gone well. There were visitors there. He had given high fives and been excited to share Jesus.
But then after worship – as he was walking to the back to get some cookies – he overhead a few long-time members say:
I don’t think does a very good job. He’s not that good at pastoring. I think he should think about leaving.
Think about it – my friend had received a bunch of high fives and one complaint.
Which do you think he had spent the last day and a half thinking about?
Public support is uplifting; public complaints…Not so much.
Even if it’s true! It doesn’t matter. That’s called gossip. Publicly complaining is like cancer. Public support is uplifting; public complaints…Not so much.
But rather than public badmouthing, God calls us to publicly support mission work and those who do mission work.
How can you do it here? It’s not just supporting me. (Although I do appreciate that) It’s supporting the teachers at Precious Lambs, the teachers at Sunday School, small group leaders, elders, greeters, building committee members! You can do it with a high five. A pat on the back. A THANK YOU. A post on Social Media talking up the ministry at church. A like on your friend’s media who is sharing ministry at church.
That is uplifting.
To be honest, it’s doing what God has already done for you.
Because it is God uplifts us.
He calls you His Child.
He calls you forgiven.
He calls you part of his kingdom.
He calls you a part of this ministry!
God supports us.
We support others.
God supports others through us.
And it’s not just publicly…
Look at verse 3 again. They fasted and prayed. It wasn’t just in public where they showed up in church, gave pats on the back and high fives, but then went home and totally forgot about the mission work.
Instead they went home.
They fasted – meaning they didn’t eat much food in order to focus on the second thing they were doing: they prayed.
They were praying that God would bless the mission work.
They were praying that God would bless Barnabas.
They were praying that God would bless Saul.
They were praying that God would empower them to share the Gospel.
They were pray8ing that God would bless the Gospel in the hearts of those who would hear it.
They were praying that God would continue to bless the church in Antioch and keep them faithfully connected to his Word.
This is something for you to do, too.
To pray for the growth of God’s ministry in Raleigh.
To pray for God’s ministry around the globe.
To pray for those that are a part of that ministry.
To pray that God works through their ministry.
To pray that God’s Word works on the hearts of those touched by our ministry.
To pray that God continues to plant the message of the Gospel in the hearts of North Raleigh.
To pray that God continues to plan the message of the Gospel around the world.
IV. Mission Work is Powered by God Himself
Back to the text.
Saul and Barnabas are sent off. They make their way down to Seleucia and sail to an island called Cyprus (v.5). They are sharing Jesus everywhere they go.
Eventually they make their way to Paphos. (v.6) Paphos is headquarters for the Roman proconsul named Sergius Paulus. Now – the proconsul was very much like a governor. It was his job to rule over Paphos and report to Caesarea who was in charge of the entire Roman empire.
When Saul and Barnabas are in Paphos, Sergius Paul sends for them.
That seems really intimidating. They are standing before a Roman Governor, in a Roman palace, filled with Roman soldiers and Roman advisors. The last time that sort of thing happened was with a guy named Jesus and the governor Pontius Pilate. That ended with Jesus, dead, on a cross.
And as they are talking with the proconsul, his advisors get upset. One of them starts heckling them. He’s the advisor to the king and also a false prophet. In fact, his nickname, Elymas, means “sorcerer” and implies that he was connected with the dark, Satanic arts.
Elymas sees the proconsul hearing the Gospel and starts heckling Saul and Barnabas!
“These guys are idiots! They don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.”
And Saul hears him shouting.
And Saul takes a deep breath.
And Saul shouts:
“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind.” (v.9-10)
Elymas is struck blind.
The dark sorcerer sees nothing but darkness.
And the proconsul? He believes.
Here’s the truth:
Mission work is powered by God Himself.
Mission workers are powered by God himself.
God’s Power was with Saul.
God’s Power was with Barnabas.
God’s Power was with the other disciples.
God’s power is with you.
To be fair, God might not strike anyone blind through you…
But He might lead someone out of their blindness.
The other day I started Bible Basics with someone who was a bit unfamiliar with Christianity. In the first lesson, we talk about resurrection. I told her that Jesus died and on Easter came back to life. (No joke – this is about 5 minutes into class) And she says, “Oh!?! That’s real? I thought it was made up.”
Over the next hours, I didn’t do anything special.
I simply shared the powerful Word of God.
And now? She knows Jesus came back to life.
And she believes Jesus came back to life.
She believes Jesus is her Savior.
That’s why we do mission work.
That’s why God wants you to do mission work.
Do mission work. Amen.
This lesson picks up right after Stephen gets killed. If you remember from last week, Stephen was an ‘ordinary’ church member whose job was to deliver bread to widows and tell people about Jesus. And that’s what he did. And that’s what got him in trouble. In fact, that’s what got him killed – sharing about Jesus.
Unfortunately, the message of Stephen’s death empowered the enemies of the church. In fact, the Bible tells us – A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (v.2) They were afraid that what happened to Stephen might happen to them; so, they packed up and left. I suppose you might picture it kinda like a hurricane evacuation – they left to stay with relatives, friends and Motel 6’s in other cities and towns.
But…here’s what interesting. Look at verse 4: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Wouldn’t you expect them to be quiet about their faith? Stephen had just died because of his faith. I would have expected them to not mention they are Christians, remove it from their Facebook profiles, and peel the fish stickers off their bumpers.
But they don’t.
Here’s the truth that’s going to become very evident over the remaining lessons in Acts: The Gospel is unstoppable.
You can kill one person. You can shut off the Christian radio. You can burn some bibles. You can suspend Gethsemane’s YouTube page from the internet.
But you cannot stop the Gospel.
The Gospel is unstoppable.
God always has a way of bringing his Gospel to the people that he wants to bring the Gospel to.
Namely – the world.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel as it is proclaimed by a young man named Philip (nice name). He was also one of the bread delivery men like Stephen. Through Philip we are going to learn some wonderful lessons about the power of the Gospel. 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. Unstoppable Power
Take a look 8:5. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. So there was great joy in the city.
A couple of notes:
In Samaria. Samaria was just to the North of Judea and Jerusalem. It was formerly a part of the Old Testament Israelite kingdom, but was currently inhabited by the Samaritans…a group that claimed Israelite ancestry from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The point is that they weren’t Jewish. This was a different city with a different culture. A city that would have been very intimidating for Philip to go and share the Gospel.
But he does anyways. Confident that the Gospel is unstoppable.
Signs performed. This probably gave Philip confidence that the Gospel was unstoppable. The Apostles – who had been given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – had the ability to pass on the ability to do miracles to others by laying their hands on them. (It’s kinda like Galactus from the Marvel Universe. Google it.)
That’s exactly what they had done with the 7 bread delivery men. Stephen, Philip and their 5 other comrades had been given the power to do miracles by the 12 Apostles and God worked through all 19 of these men (12 + 7) to make all who heard the Gospel certain that God was behind this movement and this message.
It caused people to pay attention. Look at the result.
There was great joy in the city. Because that’s what the Gospel brings – joy.
It brings joy to know that your sins are forgiven.
It brings joy to know that you are at peace with God.
It brings joy to know that Jesus conquered death.
It brings joy to know that you will conquer death, too.
The Gospel brings joy – Sometimes we forget about that. Sometimes we get too concerned about financial difficulties, problems in our family life or things we don’t like at church that we miss the JOY of the Gospel! Could you listen in and hear it again: Jesus is your Savior!
That’s a message that will bring joy to anyone!
To me. To you.
To your mom. To your dad.
To your son. To your daughter.
To your mailman. To your next-door neighbor. To the swim team teacher.
In fact, the Gospel even brings joy to unexpected people.
Cue verse 9.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people…exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God. (v.9-10)
A few notes about Simon.
Simon, the Sorcerer. That words could refer to two things. (1) Simon was an illusionist. Something like David Copperfield of Bobo the Clown. He used trickery and misdirection in order to impress the crow or (2) He made use of the dark arts. He was somehow getting very real, very scary power from Satan or some other demon.
If that’s true, then Simon is the Voldemort of Ancient Samaria.
It’s not certain, but scholars (and I) tend to believe the second definition. Simon had very real power from some evil spirit. Why? Because earlier in the text, it mentions how Philip was repeatedly driving out demons. Could it be that these demons were so heavily present in that area because of Simon? – because of his dealings with the devil? More than likely. Dealing with the devil and devilish stuff – always has a price.
(Brief side note – because we don’t want to get too far off track. The same thing is true today. Stay away from psychics and palm readings, books about the occult and horror films. When you delve into that stuff, there is always a price to pay. Whether it is the actual appearance of evil spirits or just the heebie jeebies, there’s always a price to pay).
And if all you get is the heebie jeebies. If you get nervous and frightened and think, “God can’t protect me.” The devil wins when he gets you to think that.
Be careful. Back to the text.
Simon had ahold on the people’s imaginations. They viewed him as super important. They called him “The Great Power of God.” And Simon, WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT GETTING HIS POWER FROM GOD, allows the nickname! In fact, he embraces it. Like some Early NT Version of PT Barnum, he tells every one “I am the Greatest Showman!”
That’s a key difference between Simon and Philip isn’t it?
Philip did miracles to get people to praise Jesus.
Simon does miracles to get people to praise Himself.
And now that Philip has entered the area. Now that Philip is there too. Suddenly, there are two dueling attractions in Samaria!
Philip and the Gospel of Jesus.
Simon and the Gospel of Simon.
Who’s going to win?
Don’t be surprised:
The people believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ and they were baptized, both men and women. (v.12)
There it is.
In a head to head battle against a message that is pure evil – the Gospel is victorious!
The message of Jesus as the Savior wins a victory.
Because the Gospel is unstoppable.
People are baptized.
People become a part of God’s kingdom.
In fact, look at the next verse.
Simon himself believed and was baptized.
The dark arts magician.
The Greatest Show in Samaria.
The Guy who had given himself over to demonic power for fame…
Hears the Gospel
That’s Amazing. The Gospel is that powerful.
Which leads to the first application:
(1) Unleash the Gospel
That’s what Philip did. He wasn’t an Apostle. He wasn’t highly trained. He had simply heard the Gospel and yet through his faithful proclamation an entire town under the influence of a dark magician comes to faith!
You do the same thing.
You don’t have to own an Evangelism Degree.
You don’t have to have read Gospel Sharers 101.
You don’t have to have a fancy religious license for sharing the Gospel.
You just tell what you know.
That Jesus is the Savior.
That Jesus died on the cross to save us.
That because Jesus died on the cross we have forgiveness.
That whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
That’s the Gospel.
That’s the powerful Gospel.
That’s the Gospel that brought an entire town under the influence of a dark magician to faith.
That’s the Gospel that brought said dark magician to faith!
(2) Don’t Overlook the Sorcerers
Because too often I think we just aim to share the Gospel with polite looking people.
With people in a nice pastel colored polo and a clean pair of Tommy Hilfiger khakis.
With people who already are Christians.
But Jesus wants his message to make it to the people that look a bit intimidating.
The high ranking, atheist college professor.
The tattooed biker.
The turbaned Muslim.
The gang member.
Even the Satanist!
Maybe you don’t know anyone like that.
But maybe you know someone who puts their hatred for Christianity all over their Social media profile.
Maybe you have a coworker who is always ridiculing Christians at work.
Maybe you have a family member who has told you that he thinks God is stupid.
Those are the people we need to tell about Jesus.
And we can tell confidently, because the Gospel is powerful.
The Gospel is Unstoppable!
II. Not for Sale
Word of what happened in Samaria reached its way back to Jerusalem. The few Christian that were left there – namely the Apostles – were thrilled at what God’s Word had done in Samaria. They sent Peter and John to Samaria to visit the new church in Samaria, to encourage and uplift them.
When they arrived, they prayed for the news believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (v.16-17)
A couple of notes that are really important to understand what is meant by “They didn’t have the Holy Spirit.”
(1) Believers. These people were believers. If they were believers, they already had the Holy Spirit in their heart. The Bible tells us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) Since these people were believers and believers are only believers because the Holy Spirit is in their heart, they had the Holy Spirit in a certain sense. in their heart creating faith.
What is meant then by not receiving the Holy Spirit? It’s a reference to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts to do miracles – like casting out demons, healing people, and speaking in tongues – which is a divine, angelic language that was very prominent in the Early Christian Church. Remember – the Apostles had been given these abilities at Pentecost. They passed on that ability to others in the church through the laying on of hands. Still they hadn’t passed it on to the people in Samaria yet, because they hadn’t been to Samaria yet.
But…when they get there?
Peter and John prayed for them, placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, people in the congregation at Samaria were able to speak in tongues, a few had the ability to heal, maybe even one or two could cast out demons.
It was amazing.
And that’s how our friend Simon thought!
That’s amazing! They can pass out the Holy Spirit simply by laying on their hands!?!
That’s a new kind of trick.
That’s a new kind of magic.
I want it.
I want that power.
I want that ability.
I no longer want to be a magician.
I want to be an apostle.
So he took a deep breath.
He power-walked up to Peter.
He held out a bag of money and said.
“I’d like to buy God’s magic powers. Will a fifty do?”
Peter answered, “May your money perish with you. You thought you could buy the gift of God with money! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that he may forgive you…for I see that you are captive to sin.” (v.20-22)
Now…I haven’t had anyone recently ask me to give them miraculous powers in exchange for a $100 bill. The application of this section isn’t that obvious.
But this is in the Bible for us to read and to contemplate so…
What was Simon after? Power. Influence. He thought he could give some money and get the position of Apostleship.
Question. Think about this. Why do you give?
I’m not just talking about money. But why do you give your time, your talents, your service to this church?
Do you want to GET a spot on the leadership team?
Do you want people to GET accolades for your work on the new building?
Do you want GET the respect of your neighbors because “he’s a church man”?
Or maybe it happens at home. Why do you give your time, talents and treasures there?
Do you want to GET your friends approval as a good, Christian mom?
Do you want to GET your wife’s approval as a good, Christian dad?
Do you want to GET a warm fuzzy feeling because “I’m a pretty good Christian”?
If you are giving in order to get, then your heart is captive to sin.
And that’s wrong.
And…God’s Word says this to you: May your gift perish with you! Repent of this wickedness and pray for God to forgive you.
And as you hear that, I pray that you react as Simon did. Because after Simon hears that call to repentance, his request to the Apostles changes dramatically. He no longer asks for the abilities of an apostle. He simply asks for God’s mercy.
Simon realized what that he hadn’t earned any of that power or prestige from God.
In fact, with his sin, Simon realized that he had only earned God’s punishment.
He needed God’s mercy.
That’s what we need, too, God’s mercy. The only thing we have earned from God is punishment. Not power. Not influence. Not some kind of special title at the church.
So, we ask for God’s mercy.
And God grants it.
He doesn’t just place your name on a church bulletin, but in the annals of heaven.
He doesn’t give you the title of Apostle, but forgiven child of God.
He doesn’t give you a temporary position in his church leadership, but an eternal position in his kingdom.
That’s way better!
And it leads to the final WHAT NOW. Instead of GIVING in order to GET, God wants us to
(3) Give because You’ve already Got!
We’ve got forgiveness.
We’ve got a place in God’s kingdom.
We’ve got eternal life.
We’ve got the status of child of God. Princes and princesses of the King of the Universe!
(Is there any higher status? I’m sorry, but church president, pastor, elder – they aren’t higher than that!)
We don’t need to worry about having some kind of special position in the church or some type of recognition.
We’ve already got the title that lasts.
And to be fair – this keeps all of us on the same page. It keeps us focused on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh, not 200 individual missions to Plant the Message that I’m Awesome in the Hearts of everyone else in the Church.
Instead, we focus together and singularly drive toward our goal of sharing God’s message in North Raleigh.
Giving money to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving time to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving talents to plant the message of Jesus,
And when that is our purpose…
And we’re simply focused on sharing the Gospel…
Think back to our first big truth:
The Gospel is UNSTOPPABLE!
It will be preached.
It will be proclaimed.
It will affect hearts.
It will be planted in the hearts of North Raleigh.
It will work.
Praise God for his powerful Gospel. Praise God for being a part of this kingdom work. Amen.
The other day I saw on Facebook that a person was trying to start a movement – not quite as far reaching as Jesus, but… Their goal was to saturate Social Media with pictures of cute kittens doing cute things. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal – but the goal was to help get rid of negativity and be positive.
Who would be opposed to a picture of a cute kitten?
Answer: Lots of people.
People who like dogs.
People who were downright mean.
People who told her to get a life and that the kittens needed to be her profile pic because she was so ugly.
Here’s the reality -- movements always have opposition – even harmless cat picture movements have opposition.
And so does Jesus.
The American Revolution had the British Forces.
The Civil Rights movement had the KKK.
Even in the fantasy world -- the Rebel Alliance was opposed by the Imperial Forces.
Movements always have opposition and so does Jesus’ discipleship movement.
Last week we learned that disciples are those who follow Jesus’ call. Today we want to dig into Scripture and learn from Jesus himself who our real opponents are and how we can defeat them. 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. Open 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 Story
The lesson for today is from Mark 1:21. It takes place less than a week after the account about Jesus calling the first disciples on the fishing docks. In fact, verse 21 says it was on the next Sabbath Day. Since the fishermen were fishing in the last account, that means they were working. They wouldn’t have been working if it was the Sabbath Day (Saturday); so, it has been at most six days since Peter, Andrew, James and John started following Jesus.
That isn’t a lot of time.
It means they were still in the orientation part of becoming a disciple. They were still at the basics of their training. They were learning about their employer, about the benefits package and the specific role that they would play in the company.
And on this particular day class was outside the local synagogue.
And Jesus was on a roll.
“He is so amazing!”
“I know. His message is so on point. So different.”
“Yep. He talks about forgiveness. He talks about grace. I’m starting to feel like even I could be a part of his kingdom.”
“And it’s not like he’s making it up. Those Pharisees – that’s what they always say. They say, ‘I think’, ‘I surmise’ and ‘my personal opinion is.’ Not Jesus. He says, “This is God’s Word,’ ‘God says,” and “This is truth.”
As the disciples listened to the crowds’ reactions, they couldn’t help but feel excited. This thing had legs.
People were listening.
People were excited.
People wanted to be a part of this.
At least, most people…
WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH US JESUS OF NAZARETH!?!
All heads from the crowd immediately turned to the back.
There stood a man. Disheveled. Hair eschew. A bit of drool coming from his mouth as a wild-eyed gaze stared hatefully at Jesus.
He didn’t look good. And the vein that was throbbing from the top of his head screamed evil.
He spoke again.
What do you want with us? Did you come to Destroy us?
As he spoke, he motioned with his hands to the crowd around them. He meant to call into question Jesus’ motivation for this movement. He was implying that Jesus wasn’t really there to help, but to cause total and absolute destruction.
“I know who you are…!” He made his way forward – inching closer to Jesus as he pointed at him violently – “You are the Holy One of God.” (v..24)
At this, the disciples started to get a bit uncomfortable. Maybe it was the violence the man was spewing or the possibility that he was right! Regardless the crowd’s whispers had changed:
Who is this guy?
Is he right?
Is Jesus really against us? Or is this guy just a demon?
John’s ears perked up. A demon? If that last one was right, maybe this discipling wasn’t really worth it. After all, they had signed up to be fishers of men not fighters of demons. John’s eyes started darting as he looked for an escape route.
At this point, the man was feet away from Jesus.
The tension was building.
The drama was at a high.
The uncertainty of who would win was palpable.
Then, Jesus spoke:
“Be quiet and come out of the man.” (v.25)
No sooner did Jesus finish the “m” on the Hebrew word for “man” than the intruder began to shake.
He fell to his knees and let out a terrifying shriek and fell to the floor. Limp.
Jesus checked on him and the man sat up.
No longer looking evil but exhausted.
No longer hateful, but thankful.
No longer a demon, but a follower.
This is a very important account. It teaches what we said earlier -- there is opposition to Jesus’ message and it’s scarier than you think:
Jesus is opposed by the all too real demons of hell itself.
II. The Terrifying Reality of the Opposition
Have you ever seen Ghost Hunters before? It’s a documentary show on one of the cable channels. The premise is that a bunch of scientists will spend the night in a place that’s “haunted” and try to figure out if it’s real or fake. And they always come back with footage that’s questionable. A floating light. A moving picture. A high-pitched noise.
And…I don’t know. It could be a weird coincidence. It could be camera editing. It could be some guy in the background throwing things on camera.
I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not ghosts. The Bible doesn’t teach ghosts. The Bible teaches that when people die their souls do not hang out on earth to try and get done some unfinished business. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “The dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit return to God who gave it.” This means that those noises and weird instances on ghost hunters cannot be caused by ghosts.
But it could something much worse.
If you are skeptical, this account of Jesus is very helpful. Consider the following:
1. Visible Immediacy of the Change
Notice: as soon as Jesus says, “get out of the man,” there is a violent reaction. It describes him as shaking, a violent shake and screaming. The original Greek sentence says, “And he loud noised a very loud noise.”
And it isn’t just a show! There are hundreds of people presents who absolutely believe something very strange just happened. The Bible says, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this?...He gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
And we know it wasn’t something that they were unsure about. Because do you really want your neighbors to call you crazy? Yet the people were so certain of this happening that they told anyone they could. In fact, the Bible says, “News about Jesus spread throughout the whole region”
This leads to the second point.
2. The Public Nature of the Event
Because this miracle was not done in vacuum.
It wasn’t behind closed doors.
It isn’t like only a few people saw it.
It was at the synagogue.
Lots of people saw it.
Lots of people knew the man who had been possessed.
And lots of people knew that after Jesus talked to him, there was a giant shriek, shaking and suddenly the man was perfectly sane.
And guess what? These people were still around by the time this document from Mark was circulating. Mark’s Gospel is written only about 10 years after the event. The people who read about the demon defeat near at the Synagogue near Galilee could have said “This isn’t true. I was there. It’s fake!”
But they didn’t.
Because they saw it.
And it was real.
In fact, it isn’t the only time.
3. Only One of Many Instances
The Gospel writers report that Jesus drove out other demons. What’s very interesting is that when he did so, there was always a visible, public, instantaneous change that took place in the person which proved to onlookers this was not phoniness.
Jesus drove out a mute man’s demon in Luke 11. The proof it was real? The man spoke -- for the first time in ages.
Jesus drove out a young boy’s demon in Mark 9. The proof it was real? The boy stopped convulsing on the ground, he was held by his father and his father confirmed his healing. (Think about it – would the dad really force his son into convulsions and cutting himself in order to pull one over on some gullible people? No way!)
And then, there’s the story of Legion. Legion who lived on an island. His name wasn’t really Legion – Legion is just the name that the demons referred to themselves because like the Roman Legion – they were many. Legion had been on an island because people were terrified of him because they knew he was demon possessed. They were so terrified that they chained him up.
Jesus went to see him. Terrified the demons, said, “Don’t get rid of us – send us into that herd of pigs over there.”
And instantly – the man fell to his knees healed.
But at the same instant – the pigs started squealing. The crowd with Jesus looked over to the fields and saw a stampede of pigs heading to the lake – to drown themselves.
And you might think? How cruel Jesus!
But understand this – If Jesus had simply said, “be well.” And the man was well – who would believe anything happened?
Instead, Jesus made it very clear –
This wasn’t a ruse.
This wasn’t phoniness.
This wasn’t a trick.
Demons were real.
Very real opposition for his disciples.
All of this leads to one very important truth for you to take home. BE WARY. The Bible says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And to be fair – lions don’t usually come running out, roaring and making as much noise possible in a bum rush attack. Nor do demons.
Instead, they tend to prowl. They hide. They make you think that there is no possible way that they exist…that you are safe…that you don’t need Jesus...that the sin isn’t so bad…that the temptation will be ok…
III. The Awesome Reality of Being Jesus’ Disciple
But don’t be afraid.
Because in the account, did you notice something?
There wasn’t a battle.
Jesus simply spoke, and he utterly destroyed the demon.
Later on – with that Legion guy – when the demons saw Jesus coming, the demons are the ones who scream!
Because while demons might be the things of a horror film for us – Jesus is the thing of horror to them.
THEY DON’T STAND A CHANCE.
Not even years later – when they had successfully tempted people.
When the devil entered Judas to betray him.
When the demons had led people into vitriol and violence that they angrily scream, “Crucify Him!”
And Jesus is nailed to a giant piece of wood to hang and die.
The demons celebrated and drank in the wine of this violence….
…About 5 am Sunday morning. The demons were still waking up from the hangover of their celebration…when…an earthquake, an empty grave – Jesus was alive!
He was not defeated.
He defeated the thing – death – that defeats us all.
He defeated thing – sin – that causes death.
And he defeated the things – demons – that tempt us to sin which leads to death.
Jesus defeated the devil and his demons on the cross!
And that’s the Jesus who is on your side.
So. Do not be afraid. If he was able to take their best shot and turn it around on their heads in devastating defeat while he was dead… What will he do while he lives?
He’ll protect you.
He’ll keep you safe.
He’ll destroy Satan’s attacks.
IV. What Now?
A. Don’t Play with Fire
Have you heard that one before? It makes sense. If you prefer not to get burned, it would be wise not to grab burning logs from your fire place for something to cuddle with. Stay away from the fire and you won’t get burned.
It’s the same thing with these demons. Because maybe you’re thinking: “This isn’t a problem for me. I don’t like the devil and I don’t worship him. It’s all good.”
Ouija board with my Friday night group – It’s just a joke.
Visit to a psychic? It’ll just be fun.
Some kind of mirror trick that I saw on YouTube? It isn’t real - -is it?
Careful. That’s playing with fire. You’ll get burned.
Even the movies we watch. We need to reevaluate. Because horror films – especially stuff related to the devil – it can get to you. It can scare you. It can cause nightmares. Some of you know this and it’s why you avoid it.
But I’m almost concerned for the people who think, “It’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect me.”
Watch out. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion…hidden, making you think it’s no big deal, waiting for the right moment to devour you.
Don’t let him have that opportunity. Don’t play with the Spiritual fire.
B. Call on Jesus
Because Jesus is powerful, and He has authority. His Word has authority.
I remember one time when I was an assistant pastor we were invited over by a fellow pastor to go to a house that the owners said was haunted. Honestly, the pastor seemed a bit spooked by the stories of what was going on there – weird changes in temperature, strange things in the mirror, and little kids who was insistent on seeing scary things.
We went together – a group of us – and…
We read God’s Word.
We implored the devil to leave.
And – I don’t know how much was going on – but I can at least say this: The devil had the lady spooked.
And God’s Word brought peace to the house.
God’s Word is powerful.
So, whatever your demons are – real, possession like demons – or (more likely) guilt, the temptation to lust, addiction, racism, you name it – run to Jesus’ powerful words.
Learn it speak it.
Jesus will drive your demons away.
Because Jesus is on our side and we know who wins.
Unlike the many who will watch the Super Bowl this Sunday and they will get nervous. They’ll get anxious. Maybe the game will get close and they will think, “I don’t know if we’re going to win.”
You know who wins.
It’s not the devil.
It’s not his legions of demons.
And Jesus gives you the victor over the opposition. Amen.