We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
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. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
Last week we started a sermon series called FRESH. The goal was to get a FRESH start in 2019. We started by getting a FRESH perspective on our relationship with God. We saw Jesus interact with a guy named Levi whom many religious leaders considered a ‘scum of the earth’ sinner to flip our perspectives on God and humans around. We learned that God came for sinners, not the righteous. The Savior from sin did not come for the sinless, but for the sinful.
This is exciting news.
But…maybe you don’t feel so excited.
Ever been to the farmer’s market? There’s one close by that bills itself as full of fresh, local produce. And to be fair – it is! As you walk around, there’s fresh asparagus, locally grown sweet potatoes, and dark green collards that will make delicious cooked greens.
But as you get somewhere near the midst of the market…
Amid Kinston, and even Raleigh proper…
There in the corner, you see it:
A big ol’ section of Florida Oranges.
They’ve even got the FLORIDA orange stickers on them as they sit right underneath the “Local, Fresh Market” sign.
Maybe you feel like that.
Maybe you feel like God’s kingdom is filled with religious looking people.
And, yes, Jesus came for sinners, but…Me? I’m a big, bad sinner.
Like a 3-week old Florida orange in a North Carolina Local Fresh market:
I don’t belong.
Today we are going to take the message of God’s love that brings a FRESH start and look at how it personally affects you. 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. Personally Given by God
The lesson for today comes from the book of Titus. Titus, the book, is a letter written to Titus, the person. Titus, the person, first appears in a few other New Testament books. He came to faith in Jesus from the preaching of a pastor named Paul. But Titus didn’t just become a peripheral believer. He became an active member of the early church. He worked with Paul. He became a missionary. He helped start churches.
Eventually all of this experience led Paul to appoint Titus as the Lead Pastor of the congregation in Crete.
Now I imagine this was an exciting new job for Titus:
He got to share the Gospel!
He got to lead a group of believers to share the good news with their community.
He got to high five kids in children’s lessons.
And he always got the leftovers from the fellowship after worship.
But being a pastor doesn’t come without its challenges.
And being a pastor in Crete didn’t come without challenges, too:
Hotheaded Elders. The elders in church were being quite hot-headed with each other. There were disagreements and arguments. Consider this: Titus was younger than them. It is not so easy to tell older men what to do, let alone rebuke them. (2:1-2)
A Sin-filled Ladies’ Aid. The ladies aid got together to drink wine and gossip. Again – Titus was a lot younger than them. It must have been difficult to go from the “cute, little pastor’s assistant” to their pastor who rebukes them. (2:4)
Peers Struggling with Impurity. The young men were struggling with purity. Titus’ job was to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers and tell them to live pure lives – to stop looking at porn and stop sleeping with people that they weren’t married to. Have you ever tried to tell your peers that what they are doing isn’t right? It’s not so easy. (2:6)
False Doctrine. Some in the church believed things that weren’t true about Jesus; and some of those who believed it were teaching it in their version of group Bible study. Titus’ job? To tell them they were wrong and show them why they were wrong…even if they have doctorates, even if they have master’s degrees, even if Titus was still fairly new to this whole pastor thing! (2:1)
With all these challenges, I imagine that Titus was having some doubts.
I know it, because I’ve experienced the same thing as a pastor.
How can I be their leader?
How can I tell them to stop sinning when I’ve done the same sins?
How can I be the one to give them wisdom when I struggle to make the wise decisions every day?
How could I ever be worthy of being in God’s kingdom? Let alone serving in it?
Paul thought Titus needed encouragement. That’s why he wrote the letter to his comrade. Look at some of the encouragement: At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (3:3)
Wait a second.
Titus is struggling with his worthiness to be a leader in God’s church.
And Paul’s encouraging response is to remind him of his total unworthiness?
And yet that’s what Paul tells Titus:
You were foolish! You didn’t know anything about God’s word.
You were disobedient! You did the same lustful things that the young men are struggling with.
You were deceived – following all kinds of false teachings and wrong viewpoints.
You were enslaved – with sin, with temptation, with guilt and shame.
Why would these words of discouragement be the words Paul uses to encourage Titus?
Because Paul thinks it is vitally important for Titus to understand this:
A Spiritual FRESH Start is NOT of Oneself Personally.
Imagine for a moment if you were really sweaty. Like really, really sweaty.
Like a one-hour workout at the Crossfit gym – biking, running, sit-ups.
You want to freshen up, so…
You take a shower.
You wash with soap.
You even spray on some nice cologne.
Then, you put on the exact same sweaty gym clothes that you had before.
Think about it:
If Titus really was going to start his FRESH Position as a FRESH Titus, the same, non-fresh things would happen!
He’d mess up.
He’d wake up the next day.
And sin and fail and mess up.
He’d feel like he was putting on the same sweaty, stale unspiritual, sinful self every day.
And I’ll tell you the truth.
If you try to start the new year FRESH, by using the same old power, motivation and strength (namely – your own) as you have in the past – it won’t be long before you smell that same old stench of sin.
Instead, look elsewhere for spiritual freshness elsewhere
That’s where Paul directs Titus: When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (v.4-5)
Did you catch that?
It wasn’t because of Titus that Titus was personally saved.
It wasn’t because of Titus’ own accomplishments.
It wasn’t because of his own works.
It wasn’t because of he, himself, or him!
It was because of God!
It was because of God’s love.
It was because of God’s mercy.
The same is true with you.
Your fresh start isn’t personally of you but personally of God!
God, who is holy…
God, who is divine…
God, who doesn’t have an ounce of sin in him…
God, who is merciful to save you from your miserable state…
That God is the God who had a hand in your own personal fresh start!
It’s similar to going to a Five Star Restaurant. It is disappointing to find out that your food isn’t prepared by the Five Star Chef and will only be prepared by his assistant. It’s just not as good. There’s a bit too much seasoning; the fish is uncooked; and the chicken Cordon Bleu is chicken Cordon “Meh.”
But when the Five Star Chef personally has a hand in your dish, it is magnifique!
God personally had a hand in your worthiness.
His hand was nailed to a cross.
His hand shed His blood.
His hand went limp as He died for you.
Three days later…
His hand moved again.
His hand had blood rushing back into it.
His hand was raised in victory as the conquering hero who saved you!
He tells you.
That you, yes you.
You, and I’m not kidding about this.
You, my believing friend, are forgiven.
Because of this, you, yes, YOU; have a FRESH start.
II. Baptism – a Personalized Gift
But that’s not all. Because God is such a God that he doesn’t stop at personally giving you a FRESH start.
Nope. He proclaims it to you in one of the most personal ways ever.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Have you ever been to a church service – and the message is on point! And it’s filled with God’s grace and forgiveness and Jesus your Savior.
And you look around and you see everybody nodding their heads. They look enlightened. They are smiling. A few of them are even throwing in an “Amen.”
And you do too, fit in, but not to draw too much attention to yourself.
Yet…the reality is…
You feel like this message isn’t for you.
That nice-looking church lady over there. She’s even got one of those cross medallions fastened to her pocket. The message is definitely for her.
And that friendly church usher who is always so psyched for worship. It’s probably for him.
But not me.
I have sin.
I have a lot of sin.
The message is for them, not me.
In Baptism, God doesn’t leave you room for doubt. Because in Baptism…
…who else is having their sins washed away than the one whose body is being washed with water?
…who else is being welcomed by the triune God, then the one who is having the name of the Triune God spoken over him?
…who else is being covered in God’s love, then the one whose forehead is covered with water miraculous connected with God’s love?
…who else is being baptized into God’s kingdom, but the one who is being baptized into God’s kingdom!?!
In Baptism, God Gives a Fresh Start to you Personally.
And we know that it works! Because look at the power behind it: God saved us…by the Holy Spirit…through Jesus Christ. (v. 6)
Did you catch that? It is the Triune God himself! The real, divine, three persons in one God, God himself who is actively providing the power in Baptism.
That’s important because the power of this personalized fresh start isn’t dependent on the kind of water that is used. (Wait…has that water gone through three levels of purification?)
It isn’t dependent on the pastor’s morality! (“We’ll have to reschedule for tomorrow. Because I looked at my Facebook feed this morning and had all kinds of unchristian thoughts…”)
It isn’t even dependent on the sincerity of my personal confession. (“I’ll have to redo my baptism because I’m not so certain that I totally meant it.”)
It isn’t event dependent on my age. (“Was I old enough to try make MY baptism effective?”)
The power in Baptism is dependent on God.
The Holy Spirit.
Baptism is personally powered by the Triune God!
Your sins are no match for the volcano-erupting power of our Father!
Your guilt is no match for the holy, innocent blood of Jesus Christ.
Your doubts are no match for the faith producing power of the Holy Spirit.
And this isn’t a one-time power.
It isn’t as if God did this for you one time, but after that you were on your own.
Look again at what kind of a baptism it is: “A washing of rebirth and renewal.”
Rebirth implies a new life.
Rebirth implies a new identity.
Rebirth implies a new being entirely!
Think about it.
We were sinful, now we are forgiven.
We were enslaved, now we are free.
We were foolish, now we are called wise.
We were disobedient, now we are obedient.
We have been reborn!
For Titus, his baptism meant that he could approach his work in God’s kingdom with complete and utter confidence. He had a new identity in Jesus!
For you, your baptism means that you can approach your work in God’s kingdom with the same complete and utter confidence. You have a new identity in Jesus.
But it’s not just about rebirth; it’s also about renewal.
That’s a word that has a negative connotation for me. Because about 5 years ago we signed up for a 1-year magazine trial to Time Magazine and Real Simple Magazine. The deal was that we get an entire year of issues for $2. Every year come Christmas – because I’m not busy during Christmas – as I’m looking at our bank account to make sure that we will survive Christmas presents – I notice a charge from the magazine companies for about $200. And I call the number associated with it – and they are so thankful that I automatically renewed my subscription at full price for a full year!
Usually I select cancel and they tell me I can’t cancel, but GREAT NEWS! I have been selected for a 1 year’s subscription for $2.
Think of Baptism as the incredible, automatically renewing promise of God.
Because nowhere does God’s Word say: “You did wrong. You need another Baptism.” That would make Baptism into a temporal human work.
Instead, the Bible views it as God’s enduring, eternal promise. A promise that renews.
When you are done with an especially sin heavy day – But I am baptized! God made me his child.
When you are dealing with an especially strong temptation – but I am baptized! God put me in his kingdom.
When you are heavy laden with guilt – but I am baptized! – Jesus promised me forgiveness.
The promise of baptism offers personal renewal.
Every day renewal in God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) If you aren’t Baptized, Be Baptized
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized. Because in baptism, you receive the personalized gift of God for you personally in a very personal method.
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized.
Or at least do this: Talk to me about it.
Write a note on your connection card.
Let’s have a conversation to answer your questions over coffee.
And you might say: “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of this blessing.”
You’re right. You aren’t.
But baptism isn’t something that you need to become worthy of receiving.
It’s something that by receiving you become worthy because of your connection to your Savior.
Do you believe in Jesus? Be baptized.
2) If you are Baptized, Remember it!
Sometimes during a birthday party, you open up a photo album or head to your iPhone and start to look at past birthdays.
There’s the one where you tried to put out the candle with your finger.
The one where crazy Uncle Joe tried to convince you that you were turning into a monkey.
The one where all your friends came over, ate up the cake, and ran around playing Ninja Turtles for 3 hours.
But don’t forget to reflect on your Rebirthday.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new identity.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new name – forgiven.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a fresh, new purpose!
This is the picture you need to remember no matter what you face in 2019.
You have a FRESH start.
It’s of God’s eternal promise and power.
It’s who you are today, tomorrow and always – thanks to God’s promise.
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.