READY TO LIVE UNLEASHED?
Acts 6 :1-7
We’re beginning a new message series today called Unleashed. And the issue we’re going to be tackling in this series is this: The world is suffering and the devil is laughing because God’s people have allowed themselves to be kept on a very short leash. Join us as we kick off our new 8-week sermon series today!
And the very first obstacle they faced is right here in Acts chapter 6 starts in verse 1 says, “In those days, when the number of disciples was increasing.” I’m actually just gonna stop there for a second. In those days when the number of disciples was increasing. Now, if you don’t know what a disciple is, a disciple is someone who follows Jesus, okay, that’s all a disciple is. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus. Now, there’s a difference between following Jesus and being a fan of Jesus. Can we be honest with each other about that? And I think we live in a culture, especially in the West, we live in a culture where you have a lot of people who are fans of Jesus. And what that means is, they like Jesus, they’re on board with Jesus, they kind of like what he taught, they like some of the things he was about. And as long as his agenda lines up with their agenda, they’re happy to wave the Jesus flag. But the moment that their agenda and his agenda come into conflict, they’re not necessarily gonna follow Jesus’s agenda, they’re gonna follow theirs. And then that’s an indicator that they’re a fan. They’re not necessarily a follower.
Followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, follow Jesus. And what that means is, the disciples are always asking the question, “What’s my next step of obedience?” Make sense? That’s the key question for followers of Jesus, for disciples. We’re always asking, what’s the next step of obedience? And by the way, if you’re kind of looking back on your life and do a little reflection right now and going, “It’s been a while since I took a next step of obedience,” you might be more of a fan than a follower. You might not be the disciple. But what Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, says here is that, in this season, the number of disciples, the number of followers, not just fans, but followers of Jesus was increasing. Okay? And what that means is, the church was growing, more and more people were taking their first step, they were putting their faith in Jesus, that was their first step. And they were taking their constant next steps of being obedient to Jesus and his call on their lives, okay. So, the church was growing, basically. And what that really means is, it means that the church was working, okay, it means the church was working, because a healthy church should be a growing church.
Because as we talked about here, the mission of the church is to storm the gates of death with the message of life, this thing we call the Gospel. It’s to share with the world that doesn’t know that God loves them and has made a way for them to be restored to relationship with him. His Son died for their sins so they can be forgiven, he rose from the dead, and he gives us the chance to be brought into relationship with God by following Jesus, by faith in Jesus. And so our job is to share that message with a world who doesn’t know that. And so a church that’s acting as the church, a church that’s healthy really is a growing church. But it’s interesting. The first words of chapter 6 are this, “In those days,” pay attention to that, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing.” And that’s an interesting thing to say. Because we use the phrase in those days to talk about something that used to be true, that kind of isn’t so much right now, right? Like I could say, in those days when I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet. That makes sense because we do have the internet now, right? But I don’t say, you know, in those days when I was growing up, we didn’t have dinosaurs, right? That’d be a dumb thing to say because it’s not like we have dinosaurs now. I mean, that’s all…it’s been those days for a long time, right?
In those days means it used to be true, but it’s not so much true right now. And so what that means is that, as Luke is writing the Book of Acts, and this was probably written sometime in the ’60s AD. The church had been around for a couple of decades now. He was saying, “Hey, back in the beginning of the church, one of the things that was true was the church was growing rapidly, more and more people were following Jesus, making their decision to put their faith in Jesus.” But as he was writing it, he’s saying, “That’s not so much true right now.” What that meant is the church hit kind of a plateau, the church had a period in its history, where it wasn’t doing really what it was supposed to be doing. And what we’re gonna see really, for the next several weeks in this series is, we’re gonna see a series of challenges the church faced, that was keeping it from being the church that God intended it to be. And these are challenges that we all face. And so we’re gonna learn from their challenges and how they dealt with them, what we need to do to be the church that God’s intended us to be, to be the people of God that God’s intended to be.
So, here’s what we really know, we know that if the church wasn’t growing, the church wasn’t going. The church wasn’t growing, it wasn’t going. It wasn’t going out as the church. People might have been coming to church, but they weren’t going out and living as the church because the church, as we say all the time here, it’s not a building we come to, it’s not a program we participate in. The church is a mission we choose to be part of. It’s the people of God living on mission with Jesus out in the world. So, if the church wasn’t growing, it’s because the church wasn’t going. They were just kind of going to church and doing their church thing, but they weren’t living as a church out there. And by the way, that’s exactly what the devil wants. Do you know that? Everybody tells me things like this. They’re like, “The devil is trying to destroy the church.” And my response is always “No, he’s not.” The devil is not dumb. The devil knows he can’t destroy the church. The devil also knows he doesn’t have to destroy the church because a lot of times the church will put itself on such a short leash, that it’s not gonna do in the world what God intended it to do. And the devil knows that if he can get us on a short leash then we’ll keep ourselves there.
Let me tell you something that… I don’t know if you know this. I find a lot of Christians don’t know this about themselves. Do you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, you are the devil’s worst nightmare? Do you know that? You’re the devil’s worst nightmare. Why? Because first off, you’ve been forgiven of your sin, he can’t hold that against you anymore. You’ve been forgiven of your sin. You’ve been adopted into the family of God, you’ve been irrevocably adopted into the family of God, that is who you are now, and he cannot do anything to change that. You’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s come into your life, he is changing from the inside out, and he’s giving you the ability to live on mission with Jesus in the world like Jesus intended. And God has unleashed you into the world, to be an agent of transformation for his glory. Those are all things that are true of you, as followers of Jesus together, making up the church, those are all things that are true of us. And the devil knows that he cannot keep us from being or meant to be, but he doesn’t have to if he can just keep us on a short leash that honestly, we put on ourselves. Because we put ourselves on short leashes all the time.
What we’re gonna see over the next few weeks is the kind of leashes that as followers of Jesus we’re likely to put ourselves on, and the devil goes, “That’s all I need. Yeah. You just stay right there, and I don’t have to worry about you.” Here’s the first leash that they struggled because they could have easily put themselves on. He says, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” He says, basically, there was a church split brewing. There were some people in the church that were looking at some other people in the church and going, “I’m mad at them. I’m upset with those people. I’m upset with what they’re doing, or they’re not doing.” And those people are like, “Well, I don’t know what your problem is.” And so there was a split growing in the church, there was a division growing in the church. Now, what was the source of this? Well, it was some differences. Okay. And Luke tells us the big difference was that they had Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews, okay.
Now, if those are unfamiliar terms, a Hellenistic Jew basically meant a Jewish follower of Jesus because all of these people are followers of Jesus, and all of the early followers of Jesus were Jewish, okay? A Hellenistic Jew was a Jewish follower of Jesus, who grew up outside of Israel and mainly spoke Greek. Hellenistic means Greek, okay? So, that was their native tongue. They mostly spoke Greek. Now, a Hebraic Jew was a follower of Jesus who grew up in Israel and mainly spoke Hebrew. Okay. And what’s happening is the Hellenistic, the Greek-speaking Jews are complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews because their widows, he says, were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. And what that means is that, you know, there was a need in the church. There were some women whose husbands had died and that put women in the first century in an incredibly vulnerable position. And so the church said, “Hey, we need to take care of these people.” And so they were doing a collection of food, and they were passing it out. But apparently, it seems like the Hebraic Jews, the ones from Israel, were the ones doing the passing out and the food was only getting to their widows. The Hellenistic Jews weren’t getting the food, they were being overlooked, they were being passed over.
Now, why would that happen? Well, it’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? It’s because there were some differences. There were some differences between the Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews. They had some differences of language, they had some social differences, they had some cultural differences. And the reality is, can we just be honest about this, differences often give rise to prejudice, right? Because we prefer people who are like us, we prefer people who talk like us, we prefer people who have similar backgrounds and histories. It’s just easier to connect with them, and we prefer to be with people who are like us. And often what happens is that preference turns into a prejudice, and that prejudice then really turns into, not just differences, but disgust, right? There’s a separation that grows because it’s not just that we’re different, they were like, “I’m kind of disgusted by them,” which I gotta be honest with you, is kind of a problem that the Jewish people had struggled with for a long time. See, thousands of years before this, God had called the first Jewish person, his name was Abraham. And God gave Abraham and he gave his descendants after him a series of commandments. And the goal of the commandments was that the Jewish people would be different, they’d be different than the rest of world, they’d be different than the Gentiles.
Now, there was a reason for the differences. The reason was so that the Jewish people would stand out, they would be obviously different than the rest of the world. And that would cause the rest of the world to go, “Why are you guys so different?” and that would give them an opportunity to speak the truth about how God loved them and had called them into a relationship with him. And so it was an opportunity to testify to the reality of God’s love for the rest of the world. God told Abraham, “I’m gonna bless you, and you will be a blessing to all the nations.” And so the differences of the Jewish people were supposed to lead to an opportunity to speak love into the rest of the world. But the reality is that, over time, the differences became a source of disgust for many of the Jewish people, they looked at the Gentiles and they were disgusted by them. It was prejudice. It kept them from being on mission with God. Now, here’s the thing, the Hellenistic Jews weren’t Gentiles, okay? They were Jews. Yes, there were differences, that they spoke a different language, primarily, they had some cultural differences, they had some social differences and practice, things like that. But they had a lot more in common than they had in conflict. They had so much more in common than conflict, right? I mean, they were descended from the same man, they were descended from Abraham, they worshipped the same God, they read the same Bible, they follow the same Jesus, they had the same mission as the church. But that’s not what they were focusing on. That’s not what the Hebraic Jews were focusing on.
They weren’t focusing on what they had in common, they were focusing on what they had in conflict. That was the problem. That was why their differences became a division. Differences don’t have to be a division. Differences can be a really powerful thing. If we’re all the same, we’re not gonna be able to reach all the people that we’re called to reach. And so differences in the church are a really good thing. Division’s not a good thing. The differences didn’t have to be division. But listen to me, differences become divisions, when what happens? When we focus more on what we have in conflict than what we have in common. Happens in the church all the time. All the time. And here’s the problem. Here’s the problem with differences becoming divisions. Division kills mission. Kills it. The moment we allow differences to become division, it kills the mission of the church, because all of our energy gets focused on dealing with the division. We don’t have any leftover for doing the mission. When we get focused on the division, we forget about the mission.
But we’re really good at dividing, aren’t we? Let’s take a little survey online. I’d love to hear your answers as well. How many of us have been at a church that went through a church split? Yeah, that’s a depressingly large number of people weighing in. And I’m not really surprised by it, I mean, I’ve seen it. Years ago, I was driving through and I was in a town in Kentucky. I was on my way to a speaking engagement. And I saw the first Baptist Church of this town. I’ve seen that before. Not a big deal. A little bit later, I saw the second Baptist Church. I was like, “Well, that’s interesting.” A little bit later, same town, third Baptist Church. Before I got out of the town, I also saw the fourth Baptist Church. Now, I would love to think that the reason there are four Baptist Churches in the town is because the first Baptist Church got so full of people who were taking their first step of following Jesus, and so full of people taking their next step of following Jesus. They’re like, “We got to have more room and we can’t reach any more people. We got to build the second Baptist Church. That would be awesome.” I guarantee you, that’s not what happened. Somebody in the first Baptist Church got mad at somebody else in the first Baptist Church, and they got a bunch of other people, and they started focusing more on what they had in conflict than what they had in common. And pretty soon they’re like, “We’re leaving. We need a new church.” And all that division happened. And then it happened again, and it happened again, it happens over and over and over again.
And listen, sometimes churches divide over theology, sometimes they divide over real biblical issues. I get that, that sometimes happen, but that’s not the norm. What churches mostly divide over…honestly stupid stuff. Now, one of the number one reasons that churches go through divisions over the last 30 years has been worship style, style of music that’s gonna be played. And I get that too. I remember playing our church once, probably the first time that church had ever had a band with a drummer in it. And I was leading that song and I felt that went so well. And afterwards, a guy came up to me, and he goes, “Man, that song really made me want to dance.” And I was like, “Yes, score.” And then he goes, “Yeah, if it makes you want to dance, it’s from the devil.”
All right. All right. I am sorry. I just, like, there is no way the devil should be the only one dropping dope beats. That’s ridiculous. Okay? That’s ridiculous. But that’s one of the main reasons that churches split, is over stuff like that. Or they split over preaching style. You know, is it expository teaching? Is it topical teaching? And I don’t know why we get… I mean, listen, I’m an expository teacher, but sometimes I get people that’re like, “Well, yeah. But, you know, you’re not going all the way through whole books all the time.” Yeah, it’s not taught in the Bible that we have to do it that way. It’s not even modeled in the Bible that we have to do the way. I do prefer expository going through a passage, but I don’t see any biblical reason why we have to always do all books. But some people are like, “Well, that’s the only biblical way.” “How can you say that?” I’ll tell you how you say it is because what happens so often, and this happens for topical preachers, it happens for expository teachers. We get more in love with the way we do it than with the Word of God itself. It happens all the time. And the problem is that division kills mission.
Listen, as churches and as the people who make up those churches…because the church is you, it’s us, right. If you want to live on a short leash, all you got to do is focus more on what you have in conflict than what you have in common. But if you want to live unleashed, start focusing more on what you have in common than what you have in conflict. See if it doesn’t change your life. I spent this past week with a group of pastors in California, it’s a group of guys that we have the same mentor. And once a year, we get together with that mentor in a house in California, and we just spend the week kind of talking about stuff and being encouraged by and learning from each other. And I learned some great stuff. Over the years, I’ve actually learned some really powerful things. But what’s interesting is the group of guys that I meet with, they’re really different. We got a lot of differences. Some of them are Assemblies of God, they’re very, very charismatic. Even on the Pentecostal side of things, speaking in tongues and all that. I’m not all that charismatic. I mean, if you see me in the back, sometimes in worship, I’ll have my hand up. If the spirit it’s really going crazy in my life, I might get the second one up there, but… Like, I’m just not a real charismatic guy. I don’t speak in tongues, but these guys speak in tongues. There’s a guy in the group who, he’s Reformed Church, he baptizes babies. And I was like, “How do you make sure they don’t drown? That’s…” He’s like, “We just sprinkle them.” And I’m like, “Everything about that it’s wrong.”
Now, we do believers baptism by immersion, and I disagree with him on that. Absolutely do. But you know what? One of the things that God’s been teaching me over the years is how important it is that I start drawing bigger circles and focus more on what we have in common than we have in conflict. And so this group of guys, you know they’re really different but I have learned so much. I’ve grown so much from being in that group with them. It’s been such a powerful thing in my life. If you want to live unleashed, especially as you think about other Christians, start focusing more on what you have in common, what you have in common. They read the same Bible, in common. They follow the same Jesus, in common. They have the same mission to extend the Gospel into the world, in common. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything there is to agree with, but maybe we need to start drawing a little bit bigger circles. And maybe that would be good for us, not only as the church but as all the people who make up the church. This division had the potential to kill the mission of the church. And there’s no mention of the devil. The devil is not doing it because he doesn’t have to. He’s like, “AlI I got to do is let the church put itself on a very short leash. And I’m good.”
So, the Twelve, “They gathered all the disciples together, and they said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ Now this proposal pleased the whole group that they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. And they presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them. And so the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Now, what the disciples did here was brilliant. It was so good, and it worked. We know it worked because remember, in those days, the number of disciples have been increasing, but then they kind of hit a moment like, “Is that gonna continue to happen? Is church still going to be a mission?” End result, how does it close out? “The number of disciples increased rapidly.” And even Jewish priests were beginning to say, yes to following Jesus. It’s a powerful thing, right. So, it worked. What they did was brilliant.
And here’s what they did, it’s helpful to pay attention to it because it’s really useful in our personal lives. First thing they did is they acknowledged the problem, and they developed strategy to address it, right. They didn’t ignore it. They didn’t go what you and I do, or maybe not you, you’re probably fine. I do this all the time, “This will probably go away.” How many of us have ever faced a problem? Come on. Ever face any kind of problem in your life? How many of you ever faced a problem and ignored it? All right. All hands. How many of us ever faced a problem, ignored it and it just went away? Yeah, it doesn’t happen, but we keep trying it, right. Listen, hope is not a strategy, right. It’s not. Listen, if you want to live all leashed up, kept on a short tether so you don’t live the life that God intended for you, all you’ve got to do is ignore the problems in your life. But if you want to live unleashed, if you want to live unleashed, you need to start acknowledging your problems and developing strategies to address them. And I say this because I know for a fact that there are some people joining us today, some people listening to this message that that’s the Word of God to you. That’s what you’re here to hear. You’ve got a problem in your life, you’ve got a problem in your marriage, you’ve got a problem with your kids, you’ve got a problem at work, you’ve got a problem, you know, in your neighborhood, you’ve got a problem on a team, you’ve got a problem in school, you have a problem in your thought life, you have a problem in your active life, you’re doing some things you know you shouldn’t be, you’ve got a problem. Maybe it’s in your finances. And your strategy, at this point, is this will probably just get better on its own. Now, that’s a recipe for staying on a very short leash in life. If you want to live unleashed you need to start acknowledging the problem and developing strategies to address it.
Now, the disciples use a really good strategy. What it says is basically they picked the right people to address the problem. That was their big strategy. Get the right people on the problem, which is really good leadership advice, by the way. They put the right people in the problem, and they said basically, there’s three things that allow us to know these the right people. Number one, they’re full of the Spirit. What does that mean? Well, it means they were full of the fruit of the Spirit. It means that they showed evidence that they were people who listened to the Spirit, were led by the Spirit. So, the Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit, that the fruit of Spirit brings out of us as followers of Jesus is it’s love, it’s joy, it’s peace, it’s patience, it’s kindness, it’s gentleness, it’s generosity, it’s faithfulness, it’s self-control. All those things indicate that the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives, that’s the fruit of the Spirit. And so they said, basically, we want people who are full of the Spirit, meaning full of the fruit of the Spirit. They show evidence they’ve been listening being led by the Spirit.
Second, they said they want people who are full of wisdom. And if you’re not sure what wisdom is, wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. And to be full of wisdom, means they have a track record of making good decisions. Wisdom is different than information. It’s different than knowledge. Knowledge is just info, right? It’s information. But wisdom is its application, it’s the ability to take what we know and to move that into decisions that glorify God and move us forward in life. They said, “We want people who have a track record of making good decisions, they’re full of wisdom.”
And third thing is they pick people who cared about the problem. They picked people who cared about the problem. We know, they care about the problem because every name that’s on this list is a Greek name. It’s a Hellenistic name. So, basically, they chose Hellenistic Jews to take care of the Hellenistic widows because they cared about them and their people, right? They picked people who cared about the problem. One of the things I learned years ago in leadership was, if you want to keep a problem, a problem, put somebody in charge of fixing it who doesn’t care about it. If you want to fix the problem, put somebody in charge of it who cares about it a lot. That’s what they did. That was their strategy. It was a good strategy. It worked. The church was back on track, the church was back on mission, the number of disciples was growing rapidly. Even priests were becoming… “Oh, that’s fantastic. They did that so well.” But I believe they did one thing wrong. I believe the apostles made one significant mistake. And it’s not so much what they did, it’s what they said. It’s the way they talked about what they were doing. Because the way they talked about it revealed something that actually is gonna become a much bigger problem in the next few chapters. We’re gonna see it over the next few weeks. We see the seed of it planted here in what they said. Well, what did they say? What’s the problem with what they said? What did they say?
Let’s go back to verse 2. “So, the Twelve gathered all the disciples together, and they said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.'” See anything wrong there? Let me read it again. “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.” Anything jumping out at you there? Yeah, it’s that phrase at the end, right? It’s wait on tables. What’s wrong with that? It’s just weird. It’s a weird thing to say. I mean, nobody asked you to wait tables, they asked you to serve widows, which, by the way, is a big deal to God. Do you know that? God has a special place in his heart for people who are in vulnerable positions. And God constantly throughout his Word, he commands his people to demonstrate that they’re his people by taking care of people in need. It’s all throughout the Old Testament. It’s so powerful that, by the time we get to the New Testament Book of James, we’re told this, James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.” Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, it’s to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Taking care of widows is a big deal. You know, waiting on tables just doesn’t quite capture that heart. It just seems to downplay it a little bit, seems to maybe even diminish its significance just a little bit. And what’s really interesting is that this isn’t the first time that the disciples have been asked to feed people.
If you want to flip to the left, flip back to the Book of Luke. Luke chapter 9, verse 12, there was a time in his ministry, Jesus was teaching a large crowd of people more than 5,000, we’re told it’s 5,000 men, actually. So, between women and kids, it might have been double that or more. He’d been teaching them and Luke 9:12 says this, “Late in the afternoon, the Twelve…” same phrase used in Acts 6, by the way, “The Twelve came to him, and they said, hey, ‘Send the crowd away so that they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging because we are in a remote place here.'” They said these people need some food. Now, I personally don’t believe that they figured that out themselves. I think somebody came to them and said, “Hey, the people need food.” And so they went to Jesus and said, “Hey, people need food.” And Jesus replied, “Okay. You, why don’t you give them something to eat? Feed them.” And the answer is, “Well, we only have five loaves of bread and two fish unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” And that’s an interesting phrase there too, isn’t it? Unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.
Years and years and years, I’ve read that, and I’ve always kind of thought, I mean, they were saying they didn’t have enough food. But for the first time this past week, as I was reading that, I realized that’s not what it says. It didn’t say they didn’t have the money to buy the food, right? If they didn’t have the money, they would have just said we can’t afford that. Jesus, the bank account is kind of running low, and we don’t have the ability, we don’t have any credit with the local bakeries. I don’t think we’re gonna be able to pull that off. That’s not what they just said. They just said, “We don’t have enough food unless we go and buy it, but surely, you don’t want us to do that.” They had the money. That’s not what they preferred to do with it. That’s not how they wanted to spend it. And they couldn’t imagine that Jesus really wanted them to use their hard-won funds. They’d probably been donated and collected from people that help support their ministry. And they couldn’t believe that Jesus would want them to use that money to do that. It’s not they didn’t have the money, they just didn’t prefer to use it for that. Which is so interesting. Because if you go back to Acts, I don’t do this very often. But I want to read Acts 2 from a different version, a different translation.
This is from the CLT, that’s the Craig’s Literal Translation. It is a very literal rendering of the original Greek here. They said, “It is not preferable,” very literal, “It is not preferable for us to leave the Word of God to serve tables.” See the problem there? It’s not that what they did was wrong, they did the right thing. But in the way they talked about it, they betray a way of thinking that’s going to become a problem later on. I mean, part of it is that they’re kind of creating a hierarchy of ministry. The Word of God, that’s the really important stuff. And we’re important people so that’s what we need to be doing. Feeding people. Anybody can do that. It’s not that big a deal, right? They kind of created a hierarchy of ministry, and that’s part of the problem. But the bigger problem is just that they’re betraying an issue that they’re gonna continue to wrestle with. Throughout the next several chapters, we’re gonna see it over and over again. Basically what they were doing is this, they were letting their preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. Do you hear me church? They’re letting their preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. It’s gonna become a bigger and bigger issue, as the Book of Acts continues.
Part of the reason I know it’s a problem is because the apostles actually disappear from the story for the next several chapters. They’re not the main players anymore. I mean, they’re supposed to be focusing on teaching the Word, but we don’t see them doing that for next few chapters. In fact, what we see in the next few chapters are about the waiters. They’re about the servers. They’re about men like Stephen and Philip, it’s their story. And what’s interesting is that we never see Stephen, we never see Philip wait on a table. I’m sure they did, but that’s not what God highlights. What God highlights is that they preach the Word. They preached the Gospel, and the Kingdom expanded. That’s the work of the apostles. And Gods says, “No, it’s not.” That’s the work of every member of my church. That’s the work of every member of my church. The apostles were struggling because they were allowing their preferences to crowd out Jesus’s priorities. And they’re struggling to come to grips with a truth that we can so easily forget, which is simply that our preferences aren’t a reliable guide to Jesus’s priorities. Our preferences are not a reliable guide to Jesus’s priorities.
We kind of think they are. We do what the apostles did, not only do we have the preferences but they didn’t have the sanctify him. Whatever, I prefer, surely that’s what God wants. God wants me to be happy, right? Now, listen, I mean, God does want you to be happy, but you know what he wants more than your happiness? He wants your holiness. And sometimes getting holy means that we have to be unhappy for a little bit. Surely, God wants me to be comfortable. No, I actually don’t think that one’s right at all. I’ve never seen anybody live an unleashed life that was entirely comfortable. We sanctify those preferences. And then we think that our preferences must be God’s priorities, but they’re not. They’re just not a reliable guide. A couple weeks ago, I said, you know, we were told all the time you got to follow your passions. The problem with that is that many of your passions are stupid. Look, I love you. Do you love me back? Can you give me some grace today? I know, I know, it’s a problem. I know many of our pastors too because many of mine are stupid.
I remember it was…gosh, it’s been almost 30 years. I was in college, and I was in college ministry. And I was told, hey, by my Bible study, “Hey, we got an expansion campus over there, that campus and I need you this next Thursday, and I need you to go and I need you to do a message. I need you to teach a Bible message.” I was like, “Why I don’t really do that. I do music. I’m a musician. I’ll go and play some songs.” And he’s like, “Well, I really need you to do a teaching from the Bible.” I was like, “Well, I really prefer to do music. That’s my thing. That’s my preference.” He’s like, “I need you to do a message.” I was like, “Well, okay.” So, I went, and I mostly did music, to be honest with you because that’s what I preferred. And then I gave a short little message at the end, I shared a couple thoughts on a Bible passage. And afterwards, so encouraging, so many people came up to me and told me how God had used me in their lives that day, and how God had challenged them. But it was so frustrating. I was so mad about this. Not a single one mentioned my songs. Not a single one said they’d been challenged by my music. Every single one said that God had used my message. And that was really the first inkling that I began to have that maybe my preferences weren’t a great guide to God’s priorities for my life, let alone for his church. Our preferences are not a reliable guide to God’s priorities.
Listen, if you want to live a leashed life, if you want to be kept on a very short leash, if you want to keep yourself on a short leash, it’s pretty simple. Just assume that your preferences are God’s priorities, and let your preferences crowd out God’s priorities. If you want to live unleashed, if you want to live unleashed, you got to stop letting your preferences crowd out Jesus’s priorities. It’s so easy to do, right? It’s so easy to do. Do it individually. I just told you a story in my own life how I would have missed out on God’s priority from my life. I would have started living a much leashed, more leashed life if I didn’t stop letting my preferences crowd out God’s priorities. And it happens for the church as a whole too. One of my mentors years ago told me this story. He was a young preacher in the Deep South, and he had a passion for doing church in a way that was gonna unleash people to live on a mission with Jesus because that’s what we are. We’re the people of God, we’re the church of God. That was his passion, and he was encouraged because the church was beginning to grow, the pews were starting to fill up. He was a little discouraged because they didn’t have a lot of people coming that they weren’t followers of Jesus yet, they weren’t seen a lot of people get saved, make their first decision to follow Jesus, but they were seeing a lot of people coming from other churches. And so that was kind of cool.
But one day he was preaching and a guy showed up in the back, and he looked really different than everybody else in church. Everybody else in church, again, it’s the Deep South. They had suits and ties and dresses and hats. And this guy didn’t have any of that. He had ripped jeans, he had a T-shirt, he had long greasy hair. And apparently, he didn’t just look different, apparently, he smelled different. My friend said he was a combination of BO and weed, intoxicating. And this guy came in, and immediately caused a stir. Everybody saw him and…you know, and there hadn’t been a lot of space in the seats, but the moment they saw who was looking for a seat, suddenly there was no space. Everybody sort of like filled in the space. And so he’s sort of walking down the aisle, and there was nowhere to stop. It was really disrupted. The pastor basically had quit preaching at this point and was watching the poor guy kind of got towards the front of the church and just sort of froze. He’s like, “What do I do now? Where do I sit?” There’s a long uncomfortable silence. And then in the back, an older gentleman stood up. And he was dressed to the nines, suit, tie vest, little pocket watch on a chain, cane, and he walked his way down that aisle with that guy, and he looked mad. And he got up to this poor guy that was standing there, lost and confused. And everybody went, “Finally, someone’s gonna deal with this guy.” And the old man got to him and he put his arm on his shoulder and he pushed him to the very front of the church, to the floor in front of the pulpit. And the old man very stiffly, and painfully got down on the floor. And he invited the guy to sit with him, and they both sat there. He looked at the pastor and the old man went, “Go on.”
And that dude was living unleashed. That was a guy who knew something about not letting your preferences crowd out God’s priorities. If we want to be unleashed as a church, if we want to be unleashed as people, as men and women of God, to live the lives that God called us to, you have to stop letting our preferences crowd out God’s priorities. So, I just want you to wrestle with this truth this week, and I want you to ask yourself this question. Which of God’s priorities has been crowded out by my preferences? Or maybe you can even flip that one around. Maybe that one’s not an easy question to answer. If it’s a question you can easily identify, okay. Great. Deal with that. Maybe you flip it around, and maybe go which of my preferences might very well be crowding out God’s priorities? And what are you gonna do about it? What are we gonna do about it?
God, we ask for your forgiveness. That’s the first thing we do about it. I asked for your forgiveness because I’ve seen it over and over again in my life. I have let my preferences crowd out your priorities and I asked for your forgiveness. And I received it gratefully. Holy Spirit, we invite you to move in us. Show us those places where our Father’s priorities, where our Savior’s priorities are being crowded out by our preferences. Or maybe just show us those places where our preferences are in danger of crowding out your priorities. We ask for clarity, Lord, in those places, and we asked for the courage to do something about it, to take the leash off and to go forth unleashed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
THE SIMPLE GOSPEL
Acts 6:8-15, 7
Profound things can happen when we share the simple gospel. The gospel changes lives. It saves them. We all need salvation.
Greg: Thank you, bro. I’m so glad to be here. Grateful for Danny and his friendship. I’m grateful for Mission Hills. You know, every year we do Dare 2 Share live simulcast that’s simulcast to 1,300 churches across the nation. We actually do it live from Mission Hills. And you guys cancel your Saturday night service so that we can train students how to share the Gospel. I remember talking to Craig, and I’m like, “Are you sure you’re not upset, canceling a Saturday night Service?” He goes, “You know, what? One time a year the people on Saturday night can go to church on Sunday if that means tens of thousands of teenagers across America are getting trained, and equipped, and mobilized for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Hey, I want you to put your hands together for God blessing you with a pastor that’s passionate about the Gospel and a youth ministry that’s passionate about the Gospel. I’m very grateful for Mission Hills. I believe in the power of this simple Gospel message. That simple Gospel changed my life, it transformed my entire family. I don’t come from a typical religious, church-going, pew-sitting, hymn-singing family. I come from a family filled with body-building, tobacco-chewing, beer-drinking thugs, and that’s just the women, sadly, but three of my uncles were competitive body builders. The fourth one was a bouncer at the toughest bar in Denver. The fifth one was a Golden Gloves boxer, judo champion, and war hero. My mom was the only girl in the group, and they were all afraid of her because she wielded a baseball bat. My family was tough. As a matter of fact, the Denver mafia, the Smaldones, nicknamed my uncles The Crazy Brothers. When the mafia thinks your family’s dysfunctional, it’s not good. And we were raised in North Denver. Today it’s called the Highlands, right? Today it’s full of skinny jeans and organic salads, but back in the day it was the highest crime rate area in Denver, and my family was right in the middle of the crime.
My family was not organized crime, my family was disorganized crime. My family was violent. And the toughest one of my uncles was my Uncle Jack. We’ve got a picture of my Uncle Jack, just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating. That’s Uncle Jack. He looks like the Wolverine. He only weighs 185 pounds in that picture, and 85 of those pounds are in that bicep which he is admiring. He once went to jail for choking two cops unconscious at the same time who were trying to arrest him on assault charges. He spent a lot of his time, and his life in jail. My family was violent. They were intense. They were crazy. But one day a preacher from the Deep South who spoke with a southern drawl, for some reason his nickname was Yankee, planted a church in Arvada, Colorado where a guy name Bob Daily was attending. Bob knew my Uncle Jack, and Bob was too afraid to share the Gospel with my Uncle Jack, so he dared Yankee to share the Gospel with Jack. And Yankee was fearless. Yankee goes down to North Denver, knocks on Jack’s door on a Saturday morning, my Uncle Jack comes to the door, no shirt on, tattoos everywhere, two beer cans, one for drinking beer, one for spitting chew. He didn’t want to get those mixed up. He talked like this, “What do you want?” Yankee said, “I’m here on a dare from Bob Daily to tell you about Jesus.” He goes, “Well, I don’t know Jesus. I know Bob, I’ll give you five minutes,” invites him in, they sit at the kitchen table. Yankee explains the simple Gospel to Jack, not religion, but a relationship with God, that Jesus came to die in his place for his sin, and that if he simply trusted in him, he has eternal life. My Uncle Jack had never heard the Gospel so simple. Yankee looked across the table and said, “Does that make sense?” My Uncle Jack goes, “Hell, yeah.” That was a sinner’s prayer was “Hell, yeah.” And have you ever met a new believer that doesn’t know the rules about loving your enemies?
That was Jack because he started telling people about Jesus, and if they didn’t take Jesus, he may give them Moses right upside their head, right? One day right after he came to Christ, he’s in a sauna sharing the Gospel with another body builder. Now in a sauna, you’ve got no clothes on. So he’s buck naked sharing the Gospel with another buck naked body builder. Well, there’s another body builder from a different religion who starts to interrupt Jack’s Gospel presentation, and it’s irritating him because he doesn’t know the rules about loving your enemies yet. So my Uncle Jack looks over at the guy, he goes, “Hey, I’m trying to tell this guy about the love of Jesus, why don’t you shut your stinking mouth?” He continued to share the Gospel, the guy interrupts again, he goes, “Yo, you interrupt me one more time, I’m taking you out.” He continued to share the Gospel the guy interrupts again, boom, Jack hits this guy. The guy falls to the ground, looks up and goes, “Jesus didn’t go around hitting people like that.” He goes, “Well, I ain’t Jesus, I’m Jack,” didn’t know the rules yet. Well let me tell you, Jack began to share this simple Gospel gang members, street fighters, body builders, power lifters. Jack brought 250 people out to Yankee’s church in one month because he wanted this simple Gospel to get out to everyone, this simple Gospel message. And one by one by one, I witnessed as a little kid in North Denver, and I wasn’t a tough kid, think of me as Young Sheldon in the hood, totally true, carried the dictionary, I was like, “Why does everybody want to kill me?” Run, Forrest, run. I spent a lot of time running. But one by one I witnessed my entire family come to Christ.
I wrote a book, it’s called, “Unlikely Fighter,” and it’s about growing up in North Denver. The first 22 chapters, the first 21 happened before I turned 16. It’s about the power of this simple Gospel that revolutionized and transformed my inner-city family, the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to change lives. But there’s an even better book, a much better book called the Book of Acts that’s all about the power of the Gospel to change lives. And we’re going to read in Acts 6 and 7 today the power of this simple Gospel and what this simple Gospel does. And we’re going to read about a man named Stephen, who was a very unique man. He was a Hellenistic Jew, which means although Jewish by birth, he was steeped in Greek culture, and he became a believer. And he was one of the 7 deacons chosen in Acts 6 by the Twelve Apostles to serve the church, but he was more than a deacon, he was also an evangelist. And he was also uniquely gifted with signs and miracles, and he would do those miracles and signs of the power of the Holy Spirit, and the crowd would gather, and he’d preach this simple Gospel, and lives were changed. In Acts 6:8 we read, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power performed great wonders and signs among the people.” So we’re gonna talk about what the power of this simple Gospel does, what it did then, what it does today. We’re gonna see three profound things that happen when we, like, Stephen, preach this simple Gospel.
Number one, this simple Gospel saves the lost. Acts 6, 7, and 8, “So the Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power performed great wonders and signs among the people.” We see Stephen and the other apostles and believers sharing the Gospel, crowds are gathering, miracles are performed, lives are being changed, souls are being saved. We don’t just see it in Acts 6 and 7 we literally see it in every chapter of the Book of Acts. In Acts 1 Jesus commissioned his disciples to take this simple Gospel across the street and around the world. In Acts 2 the disciples’ tongues were set on fire with this simple Gospel. In Acts 3 God used Peter to heal a man’s broken body, and then this simple Gospel to heal his broken soul. In Acts 4 a building was shaken by the power of prayer, and then an entire city was shaken by the power of this simple Gospel In Acts 5 the apostles were commanded to keep quiet, but they never stopped preaching this simple Gospel. In Acts 6 this simple Gospel grew and multiplied across Jerusalem. In Acts 7, Stephen, as we’ll talk about today, was stoned for declaring this simple Gospel. In Acts 8 Philip chased down a chariot and preached this simple Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who then took this simple Gospel to Africa. In Acts 9 Saul was commissioned by Jesus to declare this simple Gospel to the Gentiles. In Acts 10 Gentiles were transformed by this simple Gospel. In Acts 11 Greeks were transformed by this simple Gospel. In Acts 12 the impact of this simple Gospel continued to increase and spread. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey to spread this simple Gospel. In Acts 14 Paul was stoned for preaching this simple Gospel, but unlike Stephen, he survived and continued to preach it. In Acts 15 the apostles rebuked legalists for trying to complicate this simple Gospel. In Acts 16 Paul, Silas, and a teenage boy named Timothy took this simple Gospel to Philippi. In Acts 17 Paul preached this simple Gospel to the intellectually elite of Athens. In Acts 18 Paul took this simple Gospel to the pagan partiers of Corinth. In Acts 19 Paul mobilized the Ephesian believers to spread this simple Gospel all across the province of Asia. In Acts 20 Paul recounted the power of this simple Gospel to the elders of Ephesus. In Acts 21 he updated the apostles in Jerusalem how this Gospel had shaken nations. In Acts 22 Paul was arrested for preaching this simple Gospel in Jerusalem. In Acts 23 Paul was almost assassinated for preaching this simple Gospel. In Acts 25 Paul explained this simple Gospel to a ruler named Festus. In Acts 24 he explained this simple Gospel to a governor named Felix. In Acts 26 he explained this simple Gospel to a king named Agrippa. In Acts 27 he was shipped off to Rome to stand trial before Nero for preaching this simple Gospel, and in Acts 28 Paul preached this simple Gospel for 2 years while under house arrest in Italy.
Let me catch my breath. Phew. This simple Gospel is what the Book of Acts is all about. This simple Gospel is what we need to be all about. That baton of responsibility of preaching this simple Gospel went from the apostles to the church, and down through the ages to us. It’s now…that baton is in our hands. We need to declare this simple Gospel. We need to preach this simple Gospel. We need to share this simple Gospel out loud with words because there are a lot of Christians that say, “Well, I don’t share the Gospel, I just live the Gospel.” I don’t want to fly on a one-winged airplane. I want two wings on that airplane. I don’t want to be a one-winged Christian. I don’t want to just live the Gospel, I want to give the Gospel out loud with words. I know you may have heard that quote from St. Francis of Assisi, falsely attributed to him by the way, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” I hate that quote. I’ve changed it, “Preach the Gospel. It’s necessary, use words.” I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how God infused divine power into a stick that Moses used to part the Red Sea. I don’t know how God infused divine power into a message that when we proclaim it out loud with words, can blast somebody from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God. I just know it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, and it’s our responsibility.
Sixteen years ago I’m at a King Soopers on a Sunday afternoon rushing to get snacks for the Broncos game. I’m with my son who was 5 years old at the time, we’re hurrying through the bottled water and juice aisle, and a lady stops me. “Sir, can you help me?” I didn’t really want to help her, but I thought well, I’d better. She’s like, “I don’t have my glasses, I lost them. Can you read the prices on the bottled water?” So I helped her. And I’m trying to get out of there, she wants to talk. She’s like, “Yeah, I’m just a mess, my dog died.” If it was her cat, I would have just kept moving on, like, “Life’s hard. Cats…” It’s her dog. I’m like, “What happened?” She said, “I had a 1-year-old Great Dane puppy, ran out in the middle of the street, got hit by a car.” And then she started doing something that makes us guys freak out, she started tearing up. I’m like, “Oh no, please don’t cry, stop, drop and roll. Don’t do that, don’t cry, you know, ah.” My 5-year-old son, Jeremy, he knew what to say. He goes, “That’s okay lady, your dog’s in doggie heaven. You can go to heaven too. Daddy, tell her the Gospel,” I’m like, “Duh, duh.” And I remember I trained Jeremy with the kids’ way of sharing the Gospel this simple Gospel, I go, “Jeremy, you share the Gospel with her.” And he holds up his hand and used what we call the Gospel Hand. He goes, “Okay, God loves me. I have sinned. Christ died for me. If I believe, I’ll go to heaven. If you believe in Jesus, you can go to heaven with your dog.” And she’s looking at him, like, he’s kind of a freak and so am I a little bit. And then she does something I wasn’t ready for, she has a meltdown. She begins to cry and scream. She’s like, “I’m so mad at God,” she yells, and everybody’s looking at the meltdown in aisle nine of King Soopers. She goes, “I lost my son to cancer, and I bought a dog to comfort me in my grief, and now my dog’s dead. I’m so mad at God, but now I get it. I’m in.” I’m like, “Ma’am I don’t understand how you must feel. I can’t imagine losing my son. God knows how you feel, he lost his Son too.” Meanwhile Jeremy, my son, he won’t shut up because, “It’s okay, God loves me. I have sinned.” I go, “Back it off boy, this is what daddy gets paid to do,” right? And man, I am in that conversation. Jeremy’s in that conversation. She’s in that conversation. We end up collapsing into each other’s arms, bawling our eyes out. She put her faith in Christ right in the middle of King Soopers. Why? Because of the power of this simple Gospel of Jesus Christ given by a 5-year-old. The Gospel changes lives. The Gospel saves the lost. This simple Gospel saves the lost.
This simple Gospel secondly, it shocks the religious. Well, the religious don’t like this simple Gospel. Stephen’s preaching this simple Gospel, we see in Acts 6:9-12, opposition arose. By the way, when you start preaching the Gospel, opposition’s gonna arise. However, for members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen as it was called, Jews of Cyrene, and Alexandria, as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia will begin to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke. Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen say blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” So they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the teachers of the Law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling class, the religious leaders of the Jews. They were shocked by this message. They were enraged by the message of grace. Why is the simple message of the Gospel so shocking to the religious?
Two reasons, number one, because it focuses on what God has done for us, not what we must do for him. Decades ago there was a conference on world religions that brought in all these theologians from all around the world. And one of the big topics of discussion was what sets apart Christianity from every other world religion. Some theologians said, “Well, it’s the incarnation of Christ.” Others would say, “Well no, it’s the resurrection of Christ.” Well, in walks C.S. Lewis. So they ask him, “What sets Christianity apart from every other world religion?” He goes, “Oh, that’s easy, it’s grace.” The grace of God, the undeserved favor of God, the fact that every other world religion has some sort of turn, try, cry, salvation solution, you gotta turn from enough sins. You gotta try harder. You gotta cry when you fail, and if you do that enough, maybe you can stumble your way into heaven, or nirvana, or paradise, or whatever.
Only Christianity is faith alone and Christ alone. Dr. Charlie Bing in his excellent book, “Simply by Grace,” puts it this way, “Buddhism teaches that one must follow the noble eight-fold path. Islam teaches that one must keep the five pillars, and lead a righteous life. Hinduism teaches that one must adhere to the four yogas. Judaism teaches that one must live a moral life according to the Torah. Mormonism teaches that one must be baptized, and obey laws and ordinances. Jehovah Witnesses teach that one must serve and obey Jehovah. Roman Catholicism teaches that one must keep the seven sacraments. Do, try, cry, the ladder. Only Christianity presents a cross that Jesus did all of the work, that we receive salvation simply not by trying, but by trusting, not by achieving, but by receiving, not based on what we do, but what on Jesus has done. Why is this simple Gospel so shocking to the religious? Because it preaches grace, not good works. Secondly, because it reminds the self-righteous that they’re sinners, and in need of a savior. The Gospel demands you see yourself as a sinner who cannot save yourself, and religious people don’t like to hear that.
Years ago I was invited to a Promise Keepers donor event. There were CEOs of major companies, it was up at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, a beautiful place. There’s CEOs of major companies, there’s megachurch pastors, all these famous people, but there was one dude standing by himself that caught my eye right away, it was Evander Holyfield. He’s standing there against the wall by himself. I’m like, “This guy is a four-time world heavy-weight champion of boxing. This is the guy that beat Mike Tyson twice. This is the guy who had part of his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson in a boxing match.” So I approached him, and I started a conversation, and I kept trying not to look at his ear. But as I’m looking at the ear, and I’m, like, “Oh, I see it. I see it,” and I’m thinking, “Am I saying that out loud? I hope I’m not. I don’t want to get knocked out by Evander Holyfield.” One of the things I love about Holyfield’s style is he believed in the power of the jab. He didn’t just try to knock you out, he set you up with a jab. He had a strong jab, just keep it right in your face, and at the right time, boom. Well guess what? Stephen, he knew the power of a jab. So he’s brought before the Sanhedrin. He doesn’t try to knock them out right away, he begins a history lesson to recount Old Testament Jewish history with the Jews.
The Jews loved to hear their history, and he knew that, he kind of drew them in. He tells a story of Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, how he left the land to go where God told him to go. He talked about the covenant God made with Abraham, the birth of Isaac and Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons which became the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he shared something interesting about these twelve sons. In Acts 7:9 he says, “Because the patriarchs, these twelve sons, were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt.” Do you get what’s happening here? Stephen, boom, quick jab right to the face. Even our forefathers, boom, did something horrible. But before they could, the Sanhedrin could get angry, he quickly moves on to more Jewish Old Testament history. He tells the story about God raised up Joseph from a slave to a prisoner, to a ruler in Egypt. How God used Joseph to rescue his brothers, brought them into Egypt, and how the Israelites multiplied in Egypt were eventually enslaved by an evil pharaoh. Then he tells the story of how God miraculously raises up Moses, a Jew, to become a ruler in Egypt as well, a son of a pharaoh himself. And in Acts 7:25-28 he delivers the second jab, Moses thought his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting, he tried to reconcile them by saying, “Men, you are brothers. Why do you want to hurt each other?” But the man who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside and said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” So again, a subtle jab, boom, right in the face of the Sanhedrin, you guys rejected Moses, the giver of the Law. Early on you rejected Moses, then later on you rejected Moses after he spent time in the wilderness, after he encountered God in the burning bush, after God commissions him to go back and rescue the Israelites from Egyptian rule. Acts 7:39-41 “But our ancestors refused to obey him,” Moses. “Instead, they rejected him, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. They told Aaron, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow, Moses, who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s happened to him.” That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it, and reveled in what their own hands had made. See, Stephen is setting them up.
He’s telling them the stories which they love to hear, but he’s throwing in these jabs. You guys rejected Joseph, boom. You rejected Moses early on, boom. You rejected Moses later on, boom. Now he delivers the knockout blow in Acts 7:51-53, “You stiff-necked people, your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One, and now you’ve betrayed and murdered him. You, who have received the Law that was given through angels, but have not obeyed it,” boom, knockout blow. That simple Gospel enraged them. This simple Gospel enrages and shocks the religious, the self-righteous because it shows them they’re sinners in need of a Savior, that they’re not good enough, that we’re not good enough.
Years ago I went to the dentist, and she asked me, “Have you been brushing and flossing regularly?” I go, “I brush regularly, and flossing is one of those things that I’m trying to aspire to, but, yeah, I’m trying to more,” you know, and I’m kind of hemming and hawing. She goes, “Well, we’re about to find out.” I go, “What do you mean?” She goes, “Well, we have a new dye that we’re going to apply to your teeth. And we apply it to your teeth, we’re gonna turn out the lights, we’re gonna turn on a blacklight, and you’re gonna smile in a mirror, and it’s gonna show all those parts of your teeth where you did not properly floss. We’re about to find out. Let me tell you something, Greg, the dye don’t lie.” And I remember being terrified. I felt like a sinner in the hands of an angry dentist. I’m like, “Oh no.” She applied the dye to my teeth, turned out the lights, turned on the blacklight, made me smile, and I saw all the parts of my teeth that were not properly flossed. I was caught. I was guilty. That’s what the Gospel does. It shows us that we are sinners in need of a Savior, that’s what Moses did with the Ten Commandments. That’s what Jesus was doing with the Sermon on the Mount. You think you’re good, you’ve heard it said, “Don’t commit adultery.” I say if you’ve ever lusted after someone, you’ve committed adultery in your mind. You think you’re good? You’ve heard it said, “Don’t murder.” I say if you hate somebody in your heart, you’ve murdered them in your heart. We all need salvation. We’re all sinners in need of a Savior, and the Gospel makes that crystal, crystal clear.
This simple Gospel saves the lost. It shocks the religious, and finally, this simple Gospel shakes the heavens. Acts 7:55-56, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit looked up to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, look, he said, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Notice here that all of heaven is involved. The entire Trinity is involved. Heaven tears open, Stephen sees in heaven, the Spirit of God is controlling him, empowering him to preach. He sees the Father on his throne, and right next to the Father, he sees the Son. The Son’s standing up almost in anticipation. The Father in complete command knowing that what’s about to take place, the stoning of Stephen is gonna trigger a persecution which is gonna trigger a revival that’s gonna spread across the world. And Jesus in holy anticipation stands up, and I believe maybe all of heaven, all the angels in heaven, all the saints of old leaning over the bannister of heaven watching what’s about to take place, the first martyr of the church whose blood would spark a revival.
There’s something powerful when the Gospel is preached, it shakes the heavens. Jesus put it this way in Luke 15:10, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Last night we had people indicate faith in Christ in our services. First service this morning we had people indicate faith in Christ. Second service, people indicated faith in Christ. There’s a party in heaven happening last night through today. On the way down yesterday to Mission Hills I stopped at Crossroads Mall, and talked to a guy at a kiosk. I was buying some shoe stuff, and his name was Alex. And I just brought it up, and he was open to it. I said, “Does that make sense?” “Yeah.” “Would you like to put your faith in Christ right now right in the middle of the mall?” “Yeah.” Right there in the middle of Crossroads Mall, Alex blasted out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Why? Because I’m a super evangelist? No, because of the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel’s like a grenade, it doesn’t matter who pulls the pin, it’s gonna explode. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 30-year-old Marine or a 12-year-old girl, there’s power in that Gospel message, and all of heaven rejoices.
So what do we do in light of this simple Gospel? I want to give you three quick action steps. Number one, prepare. Prepare for persecution. What happened to Stephen? Acts 7:57, “At this they covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, began to stone him. Meanwhile the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” As I’m sure Craig is gonna share with you in upcoming sermons, the persecution of Stephen leads to the rapid expansion of the church. There’s something about persecution that helps the church grow. We have ministry partners right now in Ukraine. You know what they’ve been doing for the last two weekends? Training and mobilizing teenagers for the Gospel because they knew this invasion may be coming, and they are under danger of being shot and killed. Stephen got stoned with stones, murdered with stones. You and I are not gonna get that level of persecution. We may be mocked, we may be marginalized, but we’re not gonna be murdered or mangled. Are you willing to be mocked and marginalized for the sake of the Gospel? People all around the world right now are dying for their faith in Jesus. Are you willing to be a little embarrassed? Prepare.
Second thing, pray. Acts 7:57-60 “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell on his knees and cried out Lord, do not hold this sin against them. When he said this, he fell asleep.” With his dying breath, he’s interceding on behalf of his persecutors. He’s praying for the lost. He’s praying for their salvation. Who’s that one person you need to be praying for? You know, I tell all these stories of my family being radically converted to Jesus, and when I was a young preacher, I would tell those stories all the time. And one day my grandmother, who’s a Baptist, sat me down, she goes, “I want to tell you something young fella, I’m thankful for Yankee. I’m thankful that he preached the Gospel to the entire family. I’m thankful that God used him to reach all our family with the hope of Jesus Christ. But I want you to know, decades before Yankee came into the scene, your grandma was praying every day for her kids to come to Christ.” So Yankee was an answer to grandmother’s prayer. Never underestimate the power of a praying grandmother, a grandfather, mom, or dad. Be thinking and praying about who you need to be interceding for every single day, and for some of you in this room, some of you are the one being prayed for. Some of you don’t yet know Jesus, and your grandma or grandfather, or mom, or dad, brother, or sister have been praying for you, your husband, wife, praying for you. Well today’s your day. Allow me to share with you this simple Gospel.
At Dare 2 Share, we use an acrostic that we’ve trained millions of teenagers with over the last 30 years. I’m gonna share it with you right now, G-O-S-P-E-L. G, God created us to be with him, He loves you. He cares about you. He longs to be in a relationship with you, but our sins separate us from God. He’s a perfect Holy God, he can’t dwell with sin. So we’re separated from God. We’re under his wrath, we’re on a highway to Hell. And sins cannot be removed by good deeds. I don’t care what religion tells you. It’s like putting white frosting on a burnt cake. We’re all burnt with sin. God sees right through the frosting, right to our selfish, sinful hearts. So 2,000 years ago because God loved us and hated our sin, he sent his own Son into this earth, and Jesus lived the perfect life we could never live. And then paying the price for sin, Jesus died, and rose again. He suffered in our place for our sin. Jesus died in your place and mine, it’s called the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He took the hit for us willingly. And then he rose from the dead, and now everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. Just like you’re trusting in that chair to hold you up, if you trust in Jesus, he gives you eternal life. He adopts you into his family. He gives you his Holy Spirit. He will never leave you or forsake you because life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever. It’s not just about going to heaven someday, it’s about having purpose in life today. It’s about having a new family, a new identity, new belonging, new purpose. And you don’t need to try. You don’t need to turn or cry. You need to trust, and he will transform you from the inside out.
We’re not quite finished yet, but I’m gonna take a moment to just ask everybody, bow your heads and close your eyes just for a moment. If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, today is the day of salvation. You can say this simple, silent prayer in your heart to God if you’re ready to put your faith in Jesus. “Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I know I can’t be good enough to be in your perfect presence, but I believe that Jesus died in my place for my sin on the Cross. And I believe he rose from the dead, and I trust in him right now to forgive me for all my sins, and to give me eternal life. I receive that gift right now through faith.” With heads bowed, eyes closed, if you just put your faith in Jesus, you’re saved, not because you said a prayer, but because you trusted in Jesus Christ based on what he did for you on the Cross. I’d love to know who you are so I can pray for you. So with heads bowed and eyes closed, if that made sense for the very first time, and you’re trusting in Jesus, can you simply raise up your hand and put it right back down? God bless you, and you, and you. Anybody else on trusting in Jesus, just raise up your hand and put it right back down. God bless you. God bless you. Anybody else? There’s a party going on in heaven right now. Heaven is shakin’. Welcome to the family of God. Believers let’s join in celebrating with the angels of heaven. And if you’re one of the ones that put your faith in Jesus, I’m gonna encourage you to text Jesus to 808, the word Jesus to 80875. Text the word Jesus to the number 80875, and they’ll connect you here with Mission Hills, with some stuff that will give you next steps to help you grow in your new-found faith.
In light of this simple Gospel, three things we must do. We must prepare. We must pray. Finally, we must proclaim. Stephen proclaimed this simple Gospel to the Jews. When I think of somebody who’s simple, declaring this simple Gospel, I can’t help but think of Doug. Doug was raised in the inner city of Denver. Doug came from a broken family. Doug was a kid that was slow, he had learning disabilities, but back in the ’70s they didn’t call it learning disabilities, they just called you dumb. Doug had epilepsy, he could have a grand mal seizure anytime of the day or night. And kids were ruthless in the hood to Doug, but Doug was no wimp, he fought back with his fists. By the time he was in high school, and middle school, he was getting expelled from school. He started getting in trouble with the law. His life was in a downward spiral, but then he heard, embraced, understood, and got blown away by this simple Gospel. And I remember the change in Doug, his perspective was completely transformed. He began to share the Gospel with everybody. And remember, he’s not super articulate, but he was so full of joy, people would just listen to him. He’d awkwardly bring it up. Somebody would say, “It’s hot in here,” “It’s hot in Hell, too, let me tell you about Jesus,” boom, bam, and people would listen to him. One day early on a Saturday he’s like, “Let’s go tell somebody about Jesus.” I go, “It’s kind of early.” He’s like, “People need the Lord,” so we go out looking. We can’t find anybody because where is everybody? I go, “They’re still asleep.” Finally, we go to a park, we see what looked to be about an 8-year-old boy playing on a jungle gym, Doug goes, “There’s one,” and starts running at this kid. The kid’s about 100 yards away, he’s screaming “Hey, kid where are gonna go when you die?” And the kid was, like, “Home,” and ran as fast as he could. I’m like, “Doug,” I go, “you scared that kid to death.” He goes, “I didn’t mean to scare that kid, I want that kid to know Jesus.”
Doug saved up his money, bought a bicycle, took that bicycle all over the city streets of Denver, sharing the Gospel with hitchhikers, and people at bus stops and other bikers. One day he pulled up to a stoplight, and there’s a car full of guys at a red light, he thinks they need Jesus. Knocks on the window, they roll down the window, he starts sharing this simple Gospel. He gets halfway through, the light turns green, they said, “We gotta go dude,” he goes, “Well, I’m going with ya.” Holds on to the handle, he goes, “Go ahead and drive.” They take off, 10, 20, 30, 45 miles an hour, Doug’s sharing this simple Gospel with these guys. At the end he goes, “I hope you believe,” he peels off to safety. Later on he tells me this story, I go, “Doug, you’re an idiot. You could have got sucked under those tires, run over and killed.” He goes, “It’d be worth it, it’d be worth it for those guys to hear this simple Gospel ” Doug finally graduated from high school with a GED at the age of 19 or 20. Went to a Perkins Restaurant, saw a server there that he thought was gorgeous, but had a strict “I will not date an unbeliever” policy, so he leads her to Christ on the spot, and then asked her out, and she said, “Yes,” they go on a date. He thinks it’s going great, he said, “We should get married.” She said, “Okay,” she thinks he’s joking, he’s not. Six months later, they got married. They moved to Ankeny, Iowa where for the last 30 years Doug was a custodian at a local public school, and you can see that picture of him, he’s so full of joy. Can you see the joy? He strips and waxes floors at this public school. He shares the Gospel. He sings Christian songs. He shares the Gospel with the kids, and with the teachers, and the administrators, and when they confront him and say, “Doug, it’s a public school, evangelism is prohibited,” he goes, “Yeah,” because he thought the word “prohibited” meant encouraged.
A few years ago Doug had to retire early because he got a form of dementia, started forgetting stuff, but one thing he’s not forgotten is Jesus because every week or so I get a call from Doug, got one yesterday, and many times he’s telling me about the latest person he’s told about Jesus Christ. And one day at the judgment seat of Christ when Doug’s name is called, I believe there will be thousands who stand and applaud who were impacted, and transformed by this simple Gospel that Doug proclaimed, and I want to be one of them because Doug is my big brother, seven years older than me. He watched my back in North Denver. He had a lot of struggles, a lot of problems, but the simple Gospel changed everything. I knew if my brother could proclaim that simple Gospel, that I could too, and I know you can too. The question is, will you? I’m gonna give you what I call the 24-hour challenge, will you begin that Gospel conversation with the one person the Holy Spirit has placed on your heart in the next 24 hours? Why 24 hours? Because, come on let’s be honest, if you don’t do it in the next 24 hours, you’re probably not gonna do it. Why 24 hours? Because, you know what?
Our goal as Christians is not just to exegete the text, it’s to execute it. To be doers of the word, and not hearers only. And I’m gonna give you a very, very simple way to do this. You know, I wrote this book, “Unlikely Fighter” for two reasons. One is to be an encouragement to believers that the Gospel changes everything. The second reason I wrote this is a book that you could give to an unbelieving friend or family member or neighbor that they could read, and through story it would explain the Gospel, and not till the very end does it say, “If you’ve not yet put your faith in Jesus, why not do it now?” We’ve seen God do some amazing things through this book, It came out in November. I think of McKenzie, she works at Dare 2 Share, she gave one of these books to her dad, Peter. He was not yet a believer, he read the book over the weekend. On Monday she goes, “What do you think?” He goes, “I didn’t know it was so blanking simple.” “Did you trust Christ?” “Yeah,” trusted in Christ. I think of Dan up in Portland, he works at a company, he’s got employees, he bought two cases, one for each employee as a gift to start those Gospel conversations. I think of Kathleen, her daughter gave her a book, she read it, she put her faith in Christ, and just a few months ago she was baptized. She’s 94 years old, came to Christ, got baptized. Talk about cutting it close, but hey, she’s in.
Listen, every dollar and every dime of every book you buy goes back to mobilize more teens for the Gospel. The first one is $15, every one after that is $10. I encourage you to buy at least two, one for yourself to read, and one for someone else. But we have people buying 5, 6, 7, 10, and again, every dollar, every dime goes to mobilize a generation for the Gospel. This is a simple tool for you to use, but whether you use this or something else, do something in the next 24 hours to share the Gospel. I want to pray for you, then afterward I’ll be out there. I’d be glad to sign your books for you, but I want to pray for you. I’m gonna ask you to keep your eyes open as I look in your eyes and commission you to do this.
Father, we have that commission from your Son, who told us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded us. We know he’s with us to the very end of the age. I thank you for Stephen and his example, Lord, how he preached that simple Gospel, and how that simple Gospel saved the lost, shocked the religious, shook the heavens. And that same simple Gospel that he preached out loud with words, you’ve called us to preach out loud with words to our friends, and our neighbors, and our classmates, and our teammates, and our co-workers. And I pray that you would infuse us with holy boldness. May we prepare for the persecution that may come. May we pray till our dying breaths for our friends to come to Christ. And may we proclaim this simple Gospel to those who don’t yet know your Son. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen. Thank you.
What is the role of signs when it comes to following Jesus? How important is it for us to have a sign from God before we do something? Signs are things that help us get where we don’t already know how to go, and unfortunately, it’s easy to get obsessed with signs and stall out while waiting. Then what?
And all the campuses, including everybody’s watching us online, how many of us feel like we’ve ever gotten a sign from God? We’ve got a lot of hands. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of signs in my life, I think, some really clear signs from God. Sometimes people are surprised like, well, you’re a pastor. Like, isn’t your whole day filled with miraculous signs? That has not been my experience, that’s not the way. I’ve had a couple of clear signs and then, I’m gonna be really honest with you, I’m actually a little bit skeptical of people who seem to get a lot of signs. Anybody else feel like that?
Like, sometimes I feel like that speaks more to their creativity than their sensitivity, right? Like I had a guy once that was 15 minutes late to a meeting with me and no big deal, whatever, it happens. But he came in and he goes, “Yeah, I’m sorry I’m late. I hit every single stoplight. Every stoplight was red. And I realized,” he said, “That was a sign from God that I’m supposed to slow down and stop rushing through life so much.” And I was like, “No, it’s not.”
It’s a sign you need to leave earlier and stop wasting people’s time. I’m just a little skeptical, but here’s the thing, like, I do believe that God gives signs, but I think a lot of the things that God calls us to do as followers of Jesus, he’s already kind of told us everything we need, and we just need to get busy actually doing, we don’t really need a sign for that. Now, not everybody thinks that way. There are people who are really big into signs. We actually had a family live with us for a while, couple of years back that really big time into signs.
In fact, this family, and I kid you not, they would…what they would do is every morning they would get together as a family and they would pray and they would ask God for a sign about what they should do that day. And then they wouldn’t do anything and until one of them felt like they got a sign about what they were supposed to do.
And the first time I heard that I was like, that is the most spiritual thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. But then I started thinking like, is that really what following Jesus is supposed to look like? Are we constantly supposed to be looking for signs to figure out what it is we’re gonna do as followers of Jesus? Well, that’s what I wanna dig into today. And if you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in Acts chapter 8, Acts chapter 8 starting in verse 1. So while you’re making your way to Acts 8, let me just make sure we’re all on the same page. The Book of Acts is called Acts because it’s the acts of the apostles or it’s the acts of the early church. The apostles, of course, were the followers of Jesus that he used to kinda get the church up and running.
And what we see in the Book of Acts is really the story of the early life of the church. Now, a couple weeks ago, we talked about a certain time where some problems kind of arose in the church. There were some widows or Christians that were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. And the apostles said, here’s what we’re gonna do, they said it would not be good for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. They said, we can’t leave aside the important task of Word work in order to wait on tables. So we’re gonna select a group of guys and they’ll be the ones who wait on tables.
And so, one of those guys was named Stephen. And what’s interesting, as we saw last week, is that we never see Stephen actually wait on tables, what we do see him do is preach. We see him do Word work. And he preaches so powerfully, so effectively, that they kill him for it. That is what happened, right? He preached and he ended up being stoned to death. And what’s interesting is that as he was being stoned to death, there was a man watching, there was a Jewish man watching that. And Luke’s about to introduce us to this man, his name is Saul.
And Saul is gonna become a really big, important player in the Book of Acts here in just over the next few weeks. But here’s how Luke introduces us to Saul. So, Stephen’s lying dead on the ground, they’ve just killed him, and this is what Luke tells us about Saul. And Saul approved of their killing him. Saul was totally down with Stephen’s death.
And from Saul’s perspective, Stephen deserved to die. From Saul’s perspective, Stephen was…he was a blasphemer. He was a heretic because he was preaching that Jesus was God’s Son, and that he had died on the cross to pay the price for our sin. And then God had raised him from the dead. And if you wanted to be saved, you had to put your faith in Jesus, you had to follow Jesus. That was the only way to be saved.
And from Saul’s perspective, as a Jewish religious authority, he was like, well, that that’s wrong, and so Stephen needs to be silenced, he needs to die. And in fact, I can’t help but think that maybe Saul watched Stephen die and thought, “Well, God didn’t intervene. God didn’t rescue him. God didn’t raise him from the dead.” And maybe even Saul took that as a sign that other Christians needed to die. They needed to stamp out this Christianity thing and so, what we see next is this, on that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem. And all, except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Godly men buried Stephen and they mourned deeply for him, but Saul began to destroy the church. And going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and he put them in prison. And those who had been scattered, they preached the Word wherever they went.
It’s kind of an interesting description of what happened there because on the one hand, it’s a description of something bad, but it’s a description of something bad that led to something really good. Do you see that? The bad’s really easy to see, right? I mean, persecution broke out, they’re arresting Christians, or killing Christians, that’s a bad thing, but it actually accomplished something really good. And what it accomplished was good, was it scattered the Christians throughout Judea and Samaria. It kind of made them leave Jerusalem, go to Judea and Samaria. And why do I say that’s a good thing? Well, because that was Jesus’ plan all along.
In fact, if you wanna flip back a couple of pages to Acts chapter 1, after Jesus rose from the dead and he was telling the apostles, “Here’s my plan for the church.” This is what he said, he said, “I want you to go to Jerusalem and I want you to wait in Jerusalem until something happens, until the Holy Spirit comes.” And then Jesus said this, Acts 1:8, “But you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses.” In other words, you’re gonna share the truth about who Jesus is. “You’re gonna be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and then into the ends of the earth.” That was Jesus’ plan for the church. It was a three-stage plan, right? The power of Holy Spirit’s gonna come on you, and at that moment, you’re gonna get busy, you’re gonna move out on mission.
You’re gonna share the Gospel all throughout Jerusalem. And then you’re gonna move out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. That’s kind of the surrounding region. And then, you’re gonna move out from there to the ends of the earth, to the rest of the world. So you’re gonna to take the Gospel to the rest of the world because I want the whole world to have an opportunity to say yes to following me, and be saved, and have eternal life with God, and all those good things that come with it. So that’s the three-stage plan, Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then the rest of the world.
Now, that was Acts 1, and now, we’re in Acts 8, and a lot of time has passed. At bare minimum, one year has passed, and most of us think that actually between three and five years have passed. And where is the church? Well, they’re still in Jerusalem. They’re exclusively in Jerusalem and they’re staying in Jerusalem. They’re not moving out on stage two or three of the plan, they’re staying there until persecution happens. And if persecution happens, and what does Luke tell us? He says persecution scattered them from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. They’re now living out the second part of the plan, not necessarily voluntarily, but they’re finally moving into stage two of the plan. And that’s interesting.
And it raises a couple of questions, I think, because see, what seems to have happened is that this persecution against the church actually accomplished Jesus’ purposes for the church, right? Which raises two questions. The first one’s just this, did God allow this persecution as a form of discipline? Was this God basically kicking the church in the butt going, “I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Get moving.” Was it possible that the persecution was actually a form of discipline? Because see, here’s the thing, anytime a bad thing happens to us, there are three possible explanations for why that bad thing happened. Did you know that?
Anytime a bad thing happens to you, there’s three possible explanations for it. One of them is that we live in a fallen world, okay? We live in a world that’s broken because of our sin. The world doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to work, relationships don’t work the way they’re supposed to work. And so sometimes, bad things happen to us just because we live in a world that’s been broken by our sin. That’s one possibility.
There’s a second possibility for why bad things happen, and that’s because we have an enemy, we have a spiritual enemy. We call him the devil. There is a devil, there are demonic spirits, and sometimes, bad things happen because we’re under attack by our spiritual enemy, that happens.
But there’s a third reason why bad things sometimes happen, and we don’t like it, but unfortunately the Bible’s pretty clear, it’s a real possibility we have to consider. And that is that sometimes bad things happen to us because we’re being disciplined by God. Sometimes because we’re persistent in rebellion and sin, God allows bad things to happen so that we’ll go, “Oh, right, I’m not following God, I’m out from under the umbrella of his safety, and so I need to get back in line with God. I need to repent of my sin, ask for forgiveness, and start walking close with Jesus again.” Bible’s pretty clear that sometimes God allows bad things as a way of disciplining his people because of his love for them, he wants them back in that close relationship with him.
Now, in this particular case, it’s interesting because see, at any time we find ourselves facing a difficult circumstance, we just kind of need to ask some basic questions. And one of the questions we need to ask is, is it possible I’m being disciplined because of a particular sin? So we need to look at our lives and go, am I living in persistent rebellion? Is there a sin in my life that I know is sin, but I’m still walking that way, I’m living in rebellion?
And if the answer is yes, then we have to consider the possibility that the bad thing that’s happening might be God’s wake up call. Now, the church, if they had asked that question, that they might have gone, well, you know, it is interesting that Jesus gave us a plan, and we’re not really living out the plan. We’re not really moving out on the mission he gave us. We’re sticking where it’s comfortable, and kind of safe, and really the church was keeping itself on a pretty short leash until this persecution hit. So, that’s the first question that I think we probably wanna ask is, is it possible that this persecution was actually a form of discipline to get the church moving?
And that leads us to the second question I think we probably wanna ask here, which is just this, what do you think they were waiting for? What were they waiting for? The Holy Spirit had come, the power of God was evident but they weren’t moving out. So, what do you think they were waiting on? If I had to guess, I’d say, they were probably suffering from something that I call when-ism. Anybody here ever suffered from when-ism? You’re like, what is that?
Well, it’s okay if you don’t know what it is because I just made it up. But you know what when-ism is, when-ism is, it’s the tendency to say, “I’ll do blank when blank happens.” I see some nodding heads now. Still not sure if you’ve ever suffered from when-ism, how about this? Anybody ever said, “I’m gonna get in shape when the holidays are over.” Come on, come on. Yeah, that’s when-ism right there. Maybe said, I’m gonna cut down on my drinking when I graduate from college, that’s when-ism right there.
I’ll start practicing generosity when I make more money, that’s when-ism. I’ll start serving others when my kids are out of the house, when my kids are grown, that’s when-ism. I’ll join a Life Group when the pandemic is over. I know, I just commenced to meddling, I’m sorry. Or, Greg Stier challenged us last week to share the simple Gospel and maybe we go, “Hey, I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna start sharing the Gospel when I know more about the Bible. Well, when I’ve answered a few more of the questions in my own mind that I think other people might ask me, that’s when I’ll start sharing the Gospel.” See, all that’s when-ism. It’s a tendency to say, “Well, I’ll do this good thing when this other thing happens.”
And the problem with when-ism is that it keeps us on a pretty short leash. It keeps us from moving out of comfort zones, it keeps us from moving into the scarier world that God’s calling us to. But it’s in that scary place that we’re gonna see the power of God really evident in our lives and through our lives impacting other people as well. When-ism keeps us on a short leash, it keeps that from happening. So, listen, if we wanna live unleashed, that’s what we’re talking about in this series, if we wanna live unleashed, we have to stop giving in to when-ism.
So, ask yourself this question, what good thing is when-ism keeping me from doing? Ask yourself that question. What good thing do you know, you probably should be doing, and you’re definitely gonna do it when this other thing happens? What good thing is when-ism keeping you from doing? I think we all suffer from when-ism, I know I do. Coletta and I realized recently that we were doing it when it came to our neighbors. I mean, we really believe that as Christians, we have to have good relationships with our neighbors.
And we had a couple of new families move into our street over the last couple years. And we did the basic stuff like, we stopped, we said hello. We took them a little welcome to the neighborhood thing, but we went, you know what we need to do though? We really need to build a deep relationship. We need to go beyond the surface. And so, we need to have move for dinner, we need to really get to know ’em, and we’re totally gonna do that when the pandemic’s over or when the holidays are over. Things have been really busy, you know? You know, been going some with my parents. When that stuff’s over, we’re gonna…
And we finally kind of looked at each other and went, “We’re just suffering from when-ism,” and we just need to make a phone call. So we made some phone calls and we said, “Hey, what about this…can we do Monday night? Can you come over for dinner? Can we have you over?” And we just needed to do that because we were suffering from when-ism, it’s an easy thing to do. And I believe, probably what was happening for the early church is they were suffering from when-ism. They’re like, “We’re definitely gonna get busy on the rest of this plan, Jesus, when this has happened.” But what was it they were waiting for? What were they…what when were they waiting on, right?
And I don’t know for sure, but given the way the rest of this passage flows, if I had to guess, I’d say, I think they were waiting on a sign. They were waiting on some kind of a sign from God that it was time to get moving on the mission. Check this out. So, Philip went down to a city in Samaria…and by the way, Phillip is another one of the table waiters. Phillip is another one of the guys the apostle said, “Hey, it’s not right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. You guys wait on tables. We’ll do the Word work. We’ll proclaim the Gospel stuff.”
Now, Phillip, one of the table waiters, Philip went down to a city in Samaria and he started waiting on tables. Oh, that’s not what mine says actually. Philip went down to the city in Samaria and he proclaimed the Messiah there, that’s Word work. Because Word work is a responsibility of every follower of Jesus. We’re all called to extend the influence of the Gospel into every sphere of influence that you and I have. That’s what it means to be on mission with Jesus.
Philip did that. He went down to a city in Samaria and he proclaimed the Messiah there. And when the crowds heard Philip, and they 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, and so, there was great joy in that city.
So Philip goes, and he’s preaching the Word, but he’s also…he’s doing some pretty impressive stuff, right? He’s doing things that we call what? We call them miracles, right? Lame people being healed, demons are being cast out, miracles. But I want you to notice that Luke doesn’t call them miracles. What does Luke call them? He calls them signs. And Luke’s really precise with his words. I think of all the New Testament writers, he may be the most precise with the kind of words he picks, he’s really precise.
And so, I think we need to pay attention. Why does he call them signs instead of what we usually call them? Why not miracles? Here’s the reason. Because miracles are demonstrations of power, okay? Miracles just mean there’s spiritual power there, but signs are something else. See signs, signs show us where we wouldn’t otherwise know to go. Let me say that again, it’s really important. Signs show us where we wouldn’t otherwise know to go. Without these signs, we wouldn’t go in this particular place.
How many of us have a big sign over our house so we know how to get home? No, nobody? How many of us, we have to really pay attention to all the signs on the roads leading to our house so that we know how to get home? No, why? Because you know how to go there. But if you’re going someplace else that you’ve never been before, and you don’t know how to go there, even that you should be going there, you need some kind of a sign. That’s when we begin to pay attention to signs.
Well, biblically, signs are things from God that show us how to go where we otherwise wouldn’t know to go. And it’s interesting, people will often say to me things like, “Well, you know what, I read the Bible and I see signs all over the place, I see miracles all over the place, just seems like they were constantly experiencing these incredibly miraculous events. And I don’t see many of those in my life. In fact, I haven’t seen many miracles at all, and I don’t understand why were they so common back then, and we don’t see so many of them today.” How many of us have ever wondered that? All our campuses online, yeah.
We’re gonna answer that question a little bit today. And here’s part of the answer by the way, it’s that, you need to be careful. Don’t read the Bible and go, wow, there were miracles every day because the Bible records the days where there were miracles. Nobody was writing about days where there wasn’t a miracle, right? Let me prove this to you. If you wanna flip back to the beginning of what we call the New Testament. The New Testament is the after Jesus was born, it’s right after the Old Testament, which is the before Jesus was born. And the New Testament begins with the Book of Matthew, and the space between the Old Testament and the New Testament is this big. It’s a very, very small page. You know how much time is represented by that page right there? About 400 years.
Why don’t we have stuff? Well, the Jews actually called it the silent years. They said, God’s not doing the same kind of miracles, he hasn’t raised up the same kind of prophets as we had at this point. There are ebbs and flows to God’s activity, his miraculous activity and history, and so nobody writes, “Hey, today, I didn’t see a miracle. Day two, see day one.” Nobody does that for 400 years. And so what happens is the Bible records a lot of the highlights, and then we come along, we’re like, well, there are miracles happening every day. Well, that’s not the truth at all. So we gotta be careful about that.
But there are other reasons I think why we don’t necessarily see as many signs and miracles, and we’re gonna unpack three of those today. And one of them is this signs business, what is a sign? Well, it shows us how to go where we otherwise wouldn’t know to go. See, what was happening was Philip was going into a place where nobody had ever heard about Jesus, and they didn’t know any Christians, and so why would anybody listen to him? Well, he did signs. God enabled him to do signs and wonders so that they would listen to him and his message about Jesus. Because they didn’t have any other reason to think they should be listening to this guy, this stranger who wandered into town with this message.
And it’s interesting that in the Book of Acts, when the Gospel went into a place where nobody had heard of Jesus and they didn’t know any other Christians, you often got signs and wonders, but then after there was a church there, the number of miracles and signs tended to kind of decline a little bit. Which is interesting because you see the same thing in history when the Gospel goes into a place where nobody’s ever heard of Jesus, and they’ve never known any Christians, you often see signs and wonders. It even happens today. I’ve had some friends who’ve been taking the Gospel to people groups around the world that they’ve never heard of Jesus, they’ve never met a Christian, and even though my friends weren’t necessarily looking for miracles, they often found that miraculous things happened that caused the people to listen to them. Unexpected, but they were miraculous signs.
And then after there was a church, the number of signs and miracles kind of went down. Well, what’s going on? Are Christians getting in the way of the miracles of God? No. Listen to me. Christians are the miracle of God. Christians are supposed to be the sign that the Gospel message is true because listen to me, Jesus never said, “The world’s gonna know the truth of the Gospel, the world’s gonna know that you’re my followers by all the miracles you do.” That ‘s not what Jesus said. Jesus never said, “Everybody will know that you’re my disciples if you perform signs,” that’s not what Jesus said. You know what Jesus said? This is what Jesus said. He said, “By this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another.” Pay attention to that. That’s how, Jesus said, people would know that we’re his, that’s the proof of the truth of the Gospel, is that we would love each other.
And think about it for a second, in a world dominated by hatred, and we live in a world dominated by hatred, don’t we? In a world dominated by hatred, what is more miraculous than a group of people known for their love? Why don’t we see more signs and wonders? Because you and I are the signs and the wonders. Our transformed lives because of our relationship with Jesus, and the way we deal with each other, and the way we deal with other people who think differently than we do, that have different color skin, that have different social practices, and cultures, and politics, and those kinds of things, how we deal with people that we don’t always agree with, how we love them, that is the miracle that points people to the truth of the Gospel message. You and I are the signs. That’s one of the reasons we don’t see quite so many signs after there are Christians around because you and I are the signs. At least we should be.
But there’s more reasons than just that. So Philip came, and he did these signs, and so people listened to him. And then we’re told this, we’re told that now for some time, a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city, and amazed all the people of Samaria. By the way, I want you to notice as we go through this passage, notice all the words that kind of indicate these people were fascinated, they were obsessed with signs.
They were amazed and he amazed all the people of Samaria. And he boasted that he was someone great, and all the people both high and low gave him their attention and they exclaimed, this man is rightly called the Great Power of God. And they followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. So we got this guy, Simon, who’s been doing miracles.
Now, pay attention, Luke, again, really careful about his words, he didn’t call them miracles, he didn’t call them signs, he calls it sorcery. And I know in our culture today, we don’t necessarily think of sorcery as a bad thing because you know, Harry Potter’s pretty good, right? Don’t think Harry Potter, think Voldemort, okay?
Sorcery in the Bible is a bad thing because sometimes people go, “Well, he didn’t really perform miracles, right? He was just doing illusions and things.” No, no, no, Luke says he was doing miraculous things because he did have spiritual power. The problem is, it wasn’t God’s spiritual power. They might have said, you know, he’s the hand of the great God or something like that. But the reality is, he was in league with evil spirits. Because we do have a spiritual enemy, there is a devil and their demons, and the interesting thing is the devil and demons have spiritual power and they can perform counterfeit miracles. They can perform miraculous signs that nobody else can explain, they’re that supernatural.
And this is another reason why we don’t see as many signs as we sometimes think we ought to. Because a sign doesn’t necessarily point you to God, a miracle doesn’t necessarily mean it was Jesus. There are other spiritual forces that perform counterfeit miracles. You know, the one miracle, the one sign the devil can’t counterfeit, is love. The devil can’t counterfeit that. Well, he’s tried. His best attempt is what we call tolerance, it’s a whole different message. But see, that’s his best attempt to counterfeit love, it’s that, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re doing anything wrong. Just whatever they’re doing, you know, just love them.
Well, that’s not love. I mean, the Bible says that love is sacrificial. The Bible says that love even has difficult conversation, which says, because I love you, I need to tell you what you’re doing, it’s sin and it’s got you going farther and farther from God, and moving into a way of doing life that’s gonna lead to utter destruction. And because I love you, I’m gonna have to have this uncomfortable conversation to try to draw you back into the relationship with a God who loves you more than I do. That’s not comfortable, but that’s real love according to Bible. See, the devil cannot counterfeit that. That’s the one miracle the devil can’t fake. But it’s another reason why we gotta be careful about signs because they don’t necessarily mean that God’s at work, and this guy, that they weren’t.
But when they, meaning the people of Samaria, when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. And Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. So Simon believes, he says yes to following Jesus, he gets baptized, he goes public with it, it’s awesome. But then notice that what Luke tells us is that he followed Philip everywhere, like a puppy dog, right? He followed Phillip everywhere because he was what? He was astonished at the signs. This is a guy who’s fixated on signs, this is a guy who’s obsessed with signs still. And that becomes a problem.
Now, when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. Now, that’s so interesting, okay? So, the apostles are still in Jerusalem. All the other church went on to stage two, they’re out there in Judea and Samaria, the apostles, the only one still in Jerusalem, but they hear that there are Samaritans that have said yes to Jesus.
And you need to understand, that’s hard for the disciples to get their heads around because the Samaritans, they’re messy. I mean, they’re kind of Jewish, so they’re a little bit like the apostles and God’s people historically, but they’re not really Jews because they’ve got Jewish blood, but they’ve also… it’s been mixed with Gentiles, non-Jewish people. And so, you know, it’s kind of hard for them to believe that the Gospel of Jesus would include them, that they could become part of the family of God, too. That’s kind of hard for them to believe.
Basically, when Jesus said you’re gonna start in Jerusalem, then you’re gonna go to Judea and Samaria. They really thought, well, yeah, but you really mean Judea, right? Because that’s Jewish people. I mean, Samaria, that’s just a convenient…you don’t like really mean them, right? Then they get this message that, “Hey, the Samaritans are saying yes to Jesus.” And the apostles go, “That’s hard to believe. Peter, John, you guys can need to get over there, launch an investigation, right? Do a full inquiry, find out what’s going on.”
And when they arrived, they prayed for the new 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. And then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And we need to do a little bit of a theology lesson here. See, the Bible says consistently that when we say yes to Jesus, three things happen, and they typically happen simultaneously. They happen instantly the moment we say yes to following Jesus.
First thing is we’re forgiven of our sins. Instantly, your sins are forgiven. Number two is that we are adopted into the family of God. We become a child of God, it’s irrevocable adoption, that’s who we are now. The third thing that happens immediately, the Bible consistently says, is that we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God comes into us and begins to change us from the inside out. The Bible consistently says those three things happen at the same time.
There’s a couple of exceptions to that set of things happening at the same time, and this is one of the rare exceptions. Because in this case, he said yes to Jesus, presumably, they were forgiven of their sins, they’re adopted in the family God, but they didn’t get the Holy Spirit. Why did the Holy Spirit not come right away? Why did the Holy Spirit not come until the apostles got there? This is I think the answer. Because apparently, the apostles needed a sign that Jesus was serious about reaching the whole world, that Jesus was serious about this Gospel going out and taking root throughout the rest of the world, including not only the Samaritans who were partly Jewish, but even beyond that, to the people who were purely Gentile.
The apostles needed to see that the Holy Spirit was coming on them, that they were given the same benefits of belonging to God’s family, that they, the Jews had. They needed to see that. And so in this particular case, it’s kind of an exception to the rule because they needed to see that Jesus was serious about inviting everybody in the world into this relationship with him.
Now, when Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. And he said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” It’s a guy who’s obsessed with signs, right? He’s trying to go back to his old way of life, where he was able to do those, and now he’s kind of renounced the demonic spirits that were capable of allowing him to do counterfeit signs. But he’s like, “I still want signs. I still wanna do wonders, I still wanna do miracles, and so guys here, I’ll pay you, right? I’ll pay you, and you give me this ability.” It’s a guy who’s obsessed with signs. Here’s Peter’s response.
Peter answered, “May your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money.” Basically he says, “I hope you and your money die. You have no part in this ministry, no share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for being such a thought in your heart, for I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” Anybody feel like this is just a little bit harsh? Why is Peter so harsh? Why does he come down so hard on this guy?
Some of it might be, let’s just be honest. Peter’s a little bit of a hot head, which I love because I’m a little bit of a hot head, and so I love that, you know, God has a place and a plan even for him, right? That his failures aren’t fatal. That might be part of it, but I think there’s another reason why Peter responds so strongly to this guy who’s really kind of obsessed with signs, and it has to do with something Jesus said.
At a certain point in his ministry, Jesus entered into a place where he hadn’t really done any signs. Now, in other places, he had done signs. He’d healed people, and lame were walking, and blind people were seeing. He’d done all these amazing signs, but then he came to a place where he hadn’t done any of these, and there was a group of people who came and this is what they said. This is Matthew 12:38. And then some of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, and teachers of the Law said to him, they said, “Teacher, we wanna see a sign from you. We’ve heard about the signs, we would like to see it for ourself. Could you give us a sign?”
And the implication of course is if you’ll just give us a sign, of course, then we’ll believe you, right? We’ll trust you then. So just give us…come on, give us another one. And this is what Jesus answered. He said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of the Prophet Jonah.” Sign of the Prophet Jonah, Jonah is that prophet who got swallowed by the great fish, spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish. And Jesus is saying, I’m gonna give you a sign kinda like that. I’m gonna die, I’m gonna go into the grave for three days and three nights, and then I’m gonna come back out, and that’s the only sign you’re gonna get.
Why didn’t he give them more signs? Because what he says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign.” What Jesus is basically saying, and what I think Peter understood, which is why he responded to Simon so harshly is that, he understood that insisting on signs is a sign of sin. You hear me, church? Insisting on signs is a sign of sin. It’s a sign of rebelliousness, it’s a sign of disobedience. It’s a sign of unwillingness to move forward in what God’s called us to. Insisting on signs is a sign, it’s a sign of sin. And so Peter comes down pretty harsh on Simon.
And then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” And this is the last we hear of Simon. It’s interesting, people have been debating for thousands of years, whether or not Simon was a true Christian or not because nothing said after this. Some people think, well, no, he, you know, he couldn’t have done what he did. He couldn’t have been obsessed with signs in that way if he was really a Christian, and others go well, Luke said that he believed and was baptized, which seems to say he was a believer. But we’re not told anything else about him and which is kind of a strange thing like, why not finish the story, right? Why not tell us what happened to Simon?
And I think the reason we’re not told is because Simon’s not the point of the story. Simon is not the main focus of attention here. The main focus of attention here is this obsession with signs, and understanding that makes the next thing that happened really interesting. And after they had further proclaimed the Word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel in many Samaritan villages.
And I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t know what to do with that verse. Because on the one hand, they’re starting to get it. On the one hand, their world’s opening up a little bit, they do preach in Samaritan village, like, I guess Jesus is serious about bringing Samaritans into the kingdom of God. And so they’re opening up to that and they’re beginning to move out on mission, but they only preaching in Samaritan villages on their way back to where? Back to Jerusalem.
And the rest of the church is scattered and they’re doing stage two, but they’re going back to Jerusalem, they’re going back to stage one. And it’s interesting, they could have easily sent people back, they could have sent messengers back and said to the apostles, “Hey, it’s crazy, God’s really doing a work here. This is where the Word work is happening. You guys need to get here and you need to be part of this,” but they don’t send messengers to bring them, they just go back themselves.
And as the rest of this story unfolds over the next few weeks, we’re gonna see that that’s still where they are, they’re still in Jerusalem. It’s strange because, you know, Jesus said, “Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes, and then you’re gonna be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and then Judea and Samaria, and then to the rest to the world.” And the Holy Spirit came and it kind of seems like God said, “Hey, this is your sign.” They stayed on the short lease, they’re in Jerusalem.
So then got a lot of persecution to break out, which scattered the rest of the church, everybody, except the apostles into the Judea and Samaria, stage two. And it kind of feels like God is going, “Hey, this is your sign.” And then they hear the Samaritans are saying yes to Jesus, and they go out there, and as hard as it is for them to believe, they lay hands on them and they get the same Holy Spirit. They’re fully members of the kingdom of God, just like them. And that really feels like God’s going, “Hey, this is your sign.” And they’re going back to Jerusalem.
This makes you go like, what are they waiting for? Because you know, it’s interesting, the Bible has a word for when we know what we’re supposed to do, and God’s told us what we’re supposed to do, and we don’t do it. Whether it’s because we’re afraid, or we’re rebellious, or we’re just waiting for another sign. You know what the Bible calls it when we know what we’re supposed to do and we don’t do it? Let me tell you what God says. James 4:17, “If anyone then knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it’s sin for them.”
You know, I told you, there was a family that lived with us for a couple of years, or I’m sorry, a couple of years ago, they lived with us for six months. And the reason they lived for us for six months is because I found out that the guy, the husband had lost his job. And because of that, they’d lost their apartment, and they had four kids under five and they were camping. And so Coletta and I said, “No, come live with us ’til you get your feet back under you. Come live with us till you find a job, and get enough money saved up, you can get an apartment. So please come do that.” So they did it.
And they were with us for six months. And day after day in those six months, they would get together as a family and they would pray, “God, give us a sign of what we’re supposed to do today.” And it’s interesting during that six months, not once, did God give them a sign that he should apply for a job. I mean, I had some hard conversations with them, I said, “Hey, like, you’re young, you’re you’re able to work, and your family needs you to work to provide for them, so you need to go apply for a job.” He’s like, “Well, you know, I’m thinking about it,” and he bought a hotdog stand actually. He was like, “I think that’s gonna be the new thing.”
I was like, “Well, that’s a good idea but maybe another good idea would be to get a job with a paycheck until you get that running.” But apparently, that was never the sign that he needed. At one point, I was like, “Okay, here’s what I think I’m gonna do, Coletta, I’m gonna get a piece of paper, I’m gonna write, apply for a job today, and then in parentheses, this is your sign.” I wonder if that would’ve worked. I believe that was sin. When you know the good you’re supposed to do and you don’t do it because you’re waiting on a sign. It’s not good.
Listen, I think what God’s telling us here is that if we wanna live unleashed, we have to stop waiting for signs and start doing the good we know we need to do, you hear me, church? If you wanna live unleashed you, you need to stop waiting on a sign, and start doing the good God’s already told you you need to do. So ask yourself this question, what good do I know I need to do but I just haven’t done? If you wanna live unleashed, that’s the place you start to let yourself off the leash.
Just ask yourself, what’s the good thing I need to do that I just haven’t done? Some of us know that we need to find a job, or we need to start taking our job really seriously, or maybe we need to get another job, but we’re still waiting on a sign. Some of us know, we need to go back to school, or we need to start taking school seriously, stop wasting the money we’re investing in. Or maybe we need to change majors because we know that’s not what I wanna do with the rest of my life but you keep racking up debt and spending money on a major you know isn’t really where God’s calling you, but you’re still waiting on a sign to do it.
Some of us have been thinking about serving God on a short term trip, but you’re still waiting on a sign of some kind. Some of us have allowed sin to take root in our lives. You’re on a path that’s taking you away from God and his plans for your life. And you know you need to deal with it, but you’re waiting for a sign. Some of us know that we need to be building relationships with our neighbors, that’s me. We’re still waiting on some kind of a sign. Some of us know we need to start serving others, but we’re still waiting on a sign. Some of us know we need to start practicing generosity, but we’re still waiting on a sign of some kind, for some kind of a sign to show up and tell us, “Yeah, it’s time to start doing that.”
Some of us know we need to get out of a relationship we’re in that we shouldn’t be in, but we’re still waiting on a sign. Some of us know we need to get into a relationship, we just need to ask the girl out, or maybe you just need to ask her to marry you. We’re gonna get some marriages out of this message, okay? But you’re still waiting for a sign. Guess what? This is your sign. Right here today, right now, this is your sign. Some of us know that we need… Yeah.
Some of us know that we need to forgive somebody because bitterness and resentment is destroying our relationship with God, and our souls more than it’s doing any damage to them, and so we need to say, I forgive you. We need to let that go. But we’re still waiting on a sign. Well, listen, this is your sign. Some of us need to ask for forgiveness. We need to go to somebody and say, “I’ve done wrong by you, and I realize that, and I am sorry, will you please forgive me?” But we’re still waiting on a sign. Well, guess what? This is your sign.
Some of us, we need to get help for our marriage because it’s not the marriage God intended for us. And we need to bring somebody else into that, to start making it the marriage that God dreamed it up to be. But we’re waiting on a sign. Well, listen, this is your sign. Some of us know that we need to lean in to getting help in our parenting, or in spiritual lives, or in our marriage, or somewhere. We need to get somebody else to help us get unstuck from where we are, but we’re still waiting on a sign. This is your sign.
Some of us need to get baptized. We got baptism coming up in a few weeks. Some of you need to get baptized, you’re still waiting on a sign. Well guess what? This is your sign. And some of us need to say yes to following Jesus. You’ve been circling faith in Jesus for a while, you’re waiting on some kind of a sign. Well, guess what? This is your sign. Would you pray with me?
God as your people, we thank you for signs. We thank you for the greatest sign, which is the resurrection of Jesus. We thank you for so many ways in your graciousness, you go before us and you lead us. Father, we also wanna ask for your forgiveness in the ways that we maybe have found ourselves stuck in disobedience, or just stuck in a place that we aren’t supposed to be anymore, because we’re waiting for someone kind of a sign, when the reality is you’ve already told us the good we need to do, and we just haven’t done it. We ask for your forgiveness.
And Holy Spirit, we invite you right now to move in us and give us the courage. Give us clarity, yes, but maybe more than anything else because we’re already pretty clear. What we really need is the courage to start doing the good that we’re called to do. And Lord, I know there are people listening to this message, that they heard that last one, they heard that they’ve been waiting on a sign before they were ready to commit to following Jesus. And I just pray you would move right now in their hearts and give them the clarity.
And if that’s you, you don’t need any more signs, it’s just time to say yes. You can do it right here, right now. Wherever you are, you’re just gonna have a conversation with God, and it goes a little bit like this, say something like this to God, right now. God, I’ve done wrong, I’ve sinned, I’m sorry. Thank you for loving me enough to send Jesus. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross to pay off my sin. I believe you rose from the dead, and I’m ready to say yes. I’m ready to put my trust in you. I’m ready to commit myself to following you from here on out. Jesus, I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.
Hey, can we celebrate those who made that decision today? If you made that decision, would you do one more thing for me, this is your sign. One more thing I want you to do, I just want you to let somebody know, easiest way to do that, and let us know is text the word “Jesus” to 80875. When you do that, you’re gonna let us know you made the decision, we’re gonna celebrate that, we’re gonna be praying for you.
We also can give you some resources to help you begin living out this new relationship with this God who loves you so much, and has so much in store for you. All the signs are there. Whatever it is that the Holy Spirit’s moving in you to do, you don’t need anymore signs. It’s just time to move. And would you stand with us? Let’s worship the God who goes with us as we go out into that world to live on mission with him.
If we want to live unleashed, we have to stop living in our comfort zones. Uncomfortable places often bring surprising clarity because when we’re willing to get uncomfortable, God works in – and through – us in ways we never thought possible.
And we were just terrible for each other. We brought out the worst in each other, but we somehow kept coming back to each other. You know, we’d break up and then we’d date some other people, and then we’d get back together, and we’d be terrible for each other, so we’d break up. And we’d date some other people and we’d we get back together. And I think that was when I first began to realize the reality that, you know, comfort zones, aren’t always pleasant. We tend to think, “Well, we have comfort zones cause that’s where it’s pleasant.” But the reality is we choose comfort zones and we stay in them because they’re familiar, not necessarily pleasant, right? And the reality is that sometimes we can get pretty comfortable with things that are pretty dysfunctional. I don’t know if anybody’s ever had an experience like that, but I realized that was going on in my life.
And that was the beginning of me realizing this kind of depressing reality about what it means to be a human being, it’s that we’re often more comfortable with familiar poison than with unfamiliar medicine, right? We’re often more comfortable with familiar poison than we are with unfamiliar medicine. We’ll keep drinking the poison, even though it’s hurting us, because it’s familiar, and familiar things are comfortable. Unfamiliar medicine is not something we’re comfortable with because it’s unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar is uncomfortable. And so, I realized that I’d got way too comfortable with some things that were really dysfunctional, and I decided I needed to break out of my comfort zones to begin changing these patterns. And so, I signed up for a summer of service with a group called YWAM, Youth With A Mission. And it was basically, it was called a Musician Summer of Service. I was a musician. And so, essentially, I joined a Christian rock band and we went on tour in Eastern Europe for three months that summer.
And everything about that was out of my comfort zone, okay? I mean, first off Youth With A Mission was a more charismatic group than I was used to. And so, that was uncomfortable. It was out of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert by nature, which means I recharge best kind of by myself or with my wife, and yet, that summer I was with people nonstop. It was exhausting. I’m a little bit on the shy side, honestly, and so, meeting people and not knowing anybody, that was uncomfortable. And Eastern Europe was uncomfortable. The Iron Curtain had come down not too many years before, and it was kind of the wild west. It was crazy. And we stayed in some horrible, uncomfortable places.
I remember one hotel, and I kid you not, I killed 87 spiders in our hotel room. I had like a shoe on a stick and we were just stomping him everywhere. It was crazy. Try to sleep in a room filled with spiders like that, very, very uncomfortable situation, okay? And it got worse. Midway through the summer, it got even more uncomfortable because we had a team leader. His name was Duck. I don’t know why his name was Duck, but that’s what his name was. And he was the team leader, but he got sick halfway through trip. And he had a cough. And so, to deal with the cough, he was buying cough medicine. And it turns out, in Bulgaria, which is where we were, you could buy cough medicine with codeine right off the shelf.
And Duck was an ex-drug addict. He was a recovering drug addict. And so, the codeine kind of messed him up. He made some bad decisions and he got re-addicted to heroin. and he ended up abandoning the team, just left one day. And we had another team leader, and she had a mental breakdown. She started saying…I kid you not, she started saying, “Well, you know, we’re this isn’t happening. We’re gonna wake up.” And I was like, “Well, okay. But until that happens, you know, maybe we should do this.” And I was trying to help her and support her. And I remember vividly one point, I helped her. We found a phone. This is in the days before everybody had cell phones. And so, we found a phone so we could call back to the mission base in Montana. And I was standing there with her to support her.
And I remember she was telling him what had happened. And then I remember vividly, she said this, she said, “Oh, and, and Craig has stepped in as the team leader. Okay. They wanna talk to you.” “Wait, what?” And the guy back in Montana, he didn’t ask a single question. He just basically said, you know, he said something about the mantle passing from Elijah to Elisha, some Old Testament verse. And then he prayed over me and then he hung up. And I was in charge of this team, which was super uncomfortable, so far outside my comfort zone. I mean, most of the team was older than me. And I had never really been and interested in being a leader. I’d never thought of myself as a leader. I never aspired to be a leader, but one of the things that became clear to me in that uncomfortable place was that God had actually put into me a gift for leadership. A gift that people, for whatever reason, that they tended to appreciate my perspective and they tended to be willing to follow where I was leading. And that was for first time I began to realize that, and that really was a path that God put me on that ultimately led to this place, but it was in that summer of discomfort that I began to see that.
It was also in that very uncomfortable place that I was that summer that I began to realize that that comfort zones can be numbing agents. That when we’re comfortable, it’s a little bit like being given anesthesia and we can get kind of numb to some things, especially to the voice of God. And so, the reality is that I was seeking God’s clarity on some things, especially women and relationships and I just wasn’t getting it. But there, in that very uncomfortable place, I began to hear the voice got a little bit more clearly than I had before. Like I said, you know, I knew I was having problems with relationships. And so, I had sworn off all relationships and I wasn’t dating anybody, anything like that. But there was this one girl back at Kent State University. Her name was Coletta Wetmore. And we had never been on a date. We never talked about dating. We were just good friends, but we found that we’re pretty good at being a team for ministry. And I didn’t think, honestly, I was talking much about her, but I remember one night laying in my bed in a hotel, not the spider bed, a different bed, and I was rooming with the lead singer, a guy named Ted. And I thought we were just talking, and all of a sudden, Ted, like he rolls over, he looks at me. He goes, “Craig, you are obviously in love with her. Please just go home and marry her. But for God’s sake, let me go to sleep.”
And then he went to sleep and I spent the rest of the night awake going, “That can’t be right. Is that, God? God, am I in love with her? Am I supposed to marry her?” And I began to hear the voice of God very clearly that I really was in love with her and I needed to marry her, so I came home and I married her. I mean, we went on a couple of dates first, but it was in that moment, that season of discomfort, that I really began to hear the voice of God clearly. And I began to realize something, and that is that sometimes we have to forego comfort to find clarity. You hear me, church? And I say that because I know some of you, you’re seeking clarity. You’re longing to hear from God, but it’s just not coming through. You’re not getting the clarity that you’re craving. And it may very well be that you’re living in a place that’s just a little too comfortable. And sometimes we have to forego comfort in order to find clarity.
And the reality is that for every one of us who follows Jesus, that there comes a time, and maybe multiple times, where following Jesus leads us right up to the boundaries of our comfort zone. Jesus leads us right to the boundary of the comfort zone and then Jesus steps over and keeps going like it’s not even a thing. And it’s only after he’s walked over that he looks back and he says, “So, you’re still with me or not?” And we have to make a decision. Will we follow him outside the comfort zone or stay in that comfortable, familiar place? And the good news is that when we’re willing to follow Jesus out of those comfort zones, we begin to have an opportunity to be part of things that we never thought we would ever a chance to be part of and we begin to see that God works in us and through us in ways that we might not have ever thought possible.
I’m gonna take you to a story today of a man who models for us really well what happens when we’re willing to step outside of our comfort zones. If you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in Acts chapter 8 today. Acts 8, starting in verse 26. It’s the story of a man named Philip. And if you were with us last week, you may remember Philip. Philip was first introduced to us in the Book of Acts because he’d been selected to wait on tables. The apostles, the early church leaders had found out that some of the Christian widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food and they said, “Well, it would not be good for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables.”
So, they selected a group of guys to wait on tables. And what’s interesting, we never see those guys wait on tables. Maybe they did, but that’s not what they’re remembered for. They’re remembered for their Word work. They’re remembered for, they were ministering the Word of God. They were sharing the Gospel. And Philip, in particular, last week, we saw that Philip actually shared the Gospel with Samaritans, people who had some Jewish ancestry, but that was mixed in with Gentile, with non-Jewish blood, and we saw God work through him in a really powerful way. Well, we’re gonna see God continue to work through Philip, but I think, largely, we’re gonna see God work through Philip because Philip is willing to get outside of his comfort zones.
Acts 8:26 says this, “Now, an angel of the Lord said to Philip, go south to the road, the desert road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” And I love how nonchalant that is. Like, an angel told Philip to do that, right. An angel showed up and told Philip, “Go down to this road.” I don’t know about you, but like if an angel told me to do something, you’d get at least a sermon series out of it. There’d probably be a multi-book deal out of that experience. And the Bible just gives us one sentence, just like, “Oh, yeah, that happened.” And that seems weird, but I think it’s probably kind of dealing with the same thing that we were talking about last week. We were talking about the importance of not getting fixated on signs. God doesn’t wanna obsess with signs, and sometimes we just need to start doing the good that we’re called to do and not waiting on sign anymore. And I think that’s kind of what’s happening.
The reason that we’re given signs, as we talked about last week, is not so we get obsessed with them or that we need them all the time, but signs show us where we wouldn’t otherwise know to go. Signs show us where we wouldn’t otherwise know to go. And that’s very much the case in this particular situation because the road that the angel told him to go to was not the kind of road that Philip would normally have picked for himself. It was a desert road or a wilderness road. It didn’t have a lot of traffic on it. It wasn’t the kind of place for you to expect to meet significant people. And because it was a wilderness road, it went through very remote places. It was kind of a dangerous road. It was the kind of place where robbers or bandits would hide out. They were less likely to run into Roman patrols, and so, there were more likely to be robbers on that road waiting, you know, to mug travellers.
And so, it’s not the kind of place that Philip would’ve gone. Basically, this road was outside Phillip’s comfort zone. Do you hear me? He was outside of his comfort zone. And so, now, he has a choice. He can either step outside of his comfort zone and go to this road, or he can stay inside his comfort zone and miss out on what God might have for him out in that very uncomfortable place. So, what happened? And we’re told, “Well, so, he started out.” And I’m just gonna stop there for a second because I love the way the New International Version translates the Greek there. It says, “So, he started out.” I love that because it emphasizes the most important parts of following Jesus in uncomfortable places, which is just getting started.
See, so, often, you know, we think, “Listen, I know I’m not everything that God’s called me to be. I know that I have a lot of room to grow as a husband, and as a father, and as a pastor. I have all these places where I know like, I wanna get to that.” But sometimes where we are and where we know God’s calling us seems like such a leap. We’re like, “How can I ever get there? I can’t cover that distance on my own. And God doesn’t call us to cover that distance on our own or in one big leap. He calls us to consistently take the next what the next, what? The next step. That’s why we say that small steps in the same direction will take you to places you never thought possible. Small steps in the same direction will take you to becoming the men and women that you never thought you could be. But of all those steps that will ultimately get us there, what’s the most important step, and what’s the hardest step? It’s the first step. It’s that first step. It’s the hardest one, but it’s the most important one.
Starting out is the hardest thing. I love what Gandalf said to Frodo. And I know this is a very nerdy reference. Gandalf said to Frodo, he said, “It’s a dangerous thing, Frodo, stepping out your front door, because you step into the street, and unless you keep your feet, you might be swept away to places you can’t imagine.” Listen, I believe Jesus wants to sweep you away. Jesus wants to sweep you away and take you on adventures and let you be part of things that you would never have imagined you could be part of. He wants to do end things in you. He wants to do end things through you that you would never have imagined you could be part of and he wants to help you become a man or a woman that you, in your heart, you dream of becoming, but you can’t imagine actually getting there and becoming that person. Jesus wants to sweep you away to that place. And the only thing keeping you from all that is that first step, it’s starting out.
Philip starts out. He takes one step in the right direction, and then another, and then another. So, he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means the queen of the Ethiopians). And this man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home, he was sitting in his chariot, reading the Book of Isaiah, the prophet. Now, there’s three things that Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, three things that Luke tells us about this man, and all three of the details are really intended to help us understand that this guy was outside of Philip’s comfort zone. Okay?
First thing he tells us is that he was an Ethiopian, and what that means is he was a Gentile. He was a non-Jewish person, which is significant because, up to this point, all of the followers of Jesus have come from the Jewish community. Okay? With the exception, kind of, just a little bit of an exception of the Samaritans we talked about last week, but see, Samaritans, they weren’t exactly in the comfort zone for Jewish people, but they weren’t real far outside of it either because they had Jewish blood. They were descended from Abraham. They read the same Bible. They worshiped the same God. And so, yeah, not quite inside the Jewish comfort zone, but not real far outside of it either. But that wasn’t true for Ethiopian. An Ethiopian was, in every way, a complete, pure Gentile. He even looked really different, right? I mean, the Samaritans looked a lot like the Jewish people, you really couldn’t tell the difference physically, but the Ethiopian was black. There was no mistaking, the fact that this guy was foreign, this guy was different, this guy was not part of the Jewish community. And what you need to understand is that interacting with a Gentile was outside of a Jewish man’s comfort zone. Jewish men didn’t interact with Gentiles. They didn’t hang out with them.
Second thing that Luke tells us is that he was a eunuch. You know what eunuch is, right? And you’re like, “No, no. Please tell us. How uncomfortable can you make this, Craig?” If you don’t know what eunuch is, as my British friends would say it, “He’d had his naughty bits cut off.” Okay? Anybody feeling a little uncomfortable yet? Good. Because if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable, then you know a little bit about how Philip would’ve felt about a guy like this. It was a very uncomfortable thing. And for Philip, it was even worse. It wasn’t just naturally uncomfortable, it was also religiously uncomfortable because in Deuteronomy 23:1, an Old Testament commandment, is this, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting.” Talk about uncomfortable. Crushing, really? May enter the assembly of the Lord.
So, for Philip, it wasn’t just naturally uncomfortable like it is for all of us, but it was religiously uncomfortable. This man, even though Luke has kind of given us some advanced notice and said, “Hey, you’re gonna find out later that he had actually gone to Israel to try to worship,” what we know though is because of that command, he wouldn’t have been really allowed into the worship. He wouldn’t have been allowed into the assembly. He would’ve been kept on the outskirts because the reality is, Jewish men didn’t interact with eunuchs. A eunuch was way outside of Jewish man’s comfort zone.
And then the third thing Luke tells us about this guy is that he was a VIP. “He was a very important person. He was an important official,” Luke says, in charge of the treasury of the Queen of Ethiopia. And Philip’s not a VIP. And so, interacting with somebody of that level of status, social significance was something probably was very uncomfortable for Philip in the same way it might be for you and I. I remember when we were touring Eastern Europe, like I said, it was not long after the Iron Curtain had come down, we were the first Americans most of them had ever seen. And so, we were constantly getting invited to state dinners. The old communist bosses in each town would invite us to these big dinners. And like, sometimes they actually had a literal red carpet that we walked into the building with, which is crazy, because we were a rock band. And every time we were like, “We do not belong here. We should not be having this interaction. We shouldn’t be having these… We should not be here.” It was extremely uncomfortable. That’s the kind of thing Philip’s dealing with in dealing with a very important public official.
And the point of all this is just to make sure we understand that interacting with this man was way outside of Phillip’s comfort zone. It was way outside Phillip’s comfort zone. But it’s on this road that an angel has told him to go to, and he sees the chariot coming and his natural reaction, his place of comfort would’ve been to just step aside and let that chariot go by, which may actually be what happened, because what we see next is the Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” And then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah, the prophet. He ran up to the chariot. Why did he have to run? Because he’d probably let it go by. Wasn’t comfortable to interact. He couldn’t imagine the Spirit would be wanting him to deal with a guy in that kind of a scenario. And so, it had gone by, and then the Spirit’s like, “Dude, that’s the guy. Get up close.” And so, now, Phillip has run, which, by the way, running was outside comfort zone. Okay? Jewish men didn’t run. Kids ran, but Jewish men didn’t run. It was considered to be undignified, which isn’t all that hard to understand, because remember, they’re wearing robes, right? Can you imagine having to hike those babies up?
Like, you’re gonna look pretty silly. You’re gonna look undignified. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but that’s what Phillip has to do. He has to run to catch up. And as he gets up close, he realizes that the guy is reading from the Book of Isaiah, which is fascinating because I’m sure that Philip assumed that this guy, this Ethiopian eunuch, would have no interest in hearing about a Jewish Messiah, right? Because that was the message that Philip had to share, is the message of a Jewish Messiah named Jesus, and he would’ve assumed this guy had no interest in a Jewish Messiah, but now he gets up close and he realizes he’s reading the Book of Isaiah, he’s reading Jewish Scripture. And suddenly, he realizes, “Maybe that assumption was wrong. Maybe there’s something in this guy that is being attracted to the God of Israel and maybe he does wanna hear about Jesus.”
And I think that’s really interesting because I think we can make a very similar kind of assumption that would’ve been natural for Philip, right? It’s easy for us to assume that God brings people into our lives and we think, “Yeah, but they’re not gonna wanna talk about Jesus. They’re not gonna hear about my faith in Jesus or what Jesus did for them.” Especially in our culture where statistics tell us that 10% of people today now say that they don’t believe in any kind of god at all. They don’t believe in any form of god. And that that number is radically higher now than it was even 10 years ago. The number of atheists is increasing dramatically. And so, it’s easy for us to go, “Well, yeah. Given what I keep hearing about how increasingly irreligious our society is, people that I meet, they’re not gonna be interested in talking about Jesus.”
But here’s the thing. If 10% of people don’t believe in God, that means 90% do still, which means that we can assume this person’s not gonna wanna talk about Jesus, but statistics say we’re probably gonna be wrong more often than we are right about that assumption. And, really, the reality is the only thing that’s keeping us from speaking truth, and maybe having a divine moment where God uses us in that person’s life is the fact that we’re uncomfortable starting that conversation. Our assumptions become a smokescreen, but the reality is we’re just outside of our comfort zone to have that conversation.
Philip gets up close and he hears that he’s reading and begins to go, “Huh?” And Philip realized, I think what we all have to realize, which is that people often have more interest in Jesus than we assume. You hear me church? You need to hear this. God has put people in your life who need to hear about Jesus, and people often have more interest in Jesus than we assume. And it’s really, it’s our discomfort that’s keeping us from sharing what they desperately need to hear and are very interested in talking about them. People often have more interest in Jesus than we assume. Now, he hears this man reading Isaiah, which provides an obvious opportunity, right? It’s an obvious opportunity, a place to begin the conversation. But what I want you to ask yourself, though, is, “How did he end up getting that opportunity?” And the answer is he was obedient, right?
He was obedient. He was obedient to the angel going, “Hey, get out of your comfort zone, go to this road.” And having let the chariot go by, which was comfortable for him to do, the Spirit said, “No, dude, go. Go, run. I know it’s gonna be uncomfortable, run.” And so, he ran up and now he heard it. Because listen, obedience creates opportunity, okay? Obedience creates opportunity. Just be obedient to the call of God, especially the call of God to step outside your comfort zone. And you’re gonna find that you have a lot more opportunities than you realized, because God’s always working around you. And he’s creating those opportunities. We don’t see them because we haven’t been obedient. But this man has, Philip has. And so, here’s this man reading from the Book of Isaiah and he thinks, “Huh? Well, maybe this is an opportunity.”
So, he took a next step. He interrupted the man. He said, “Do you understand what you’re reading? Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip asked. “Well, how can I,” he said, “Unless someone explains it to me?” And so, he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Understand that was outside of Phillip’s comfort zone, too. Man was riding in a chariot. Phillip had probably never been in a chariot. They weren’t that common. It was a little bit like you or I being invited into somebody’s private jet. It was outside his comfort zone. And it was outside of his comfort zone to sit in public, even on a fairly deserted road with an Ethiopian eunuch. It was uncomfortable. But the man said, “Why don’t you come on up?” And I’m sure there was a moment where Phillip went, “Whew, am I ready to do that?” But here’s the thing. Listen, next steps are always easier than first steps, right? Next steps are always easy than the first steps. If he’d woken up that morning and an angel said, “I want you to sit in a chair with an Ethiopian eunuch,” he’d been like, “Oh, I don’t think so.”
But now, because he’s already taken a series of steps, he just has to take one more. And next steps are always easier than first steps. Spiritual momentum actually allows us to end up in a place where we’re willing to step even further outside and to do things that we can’t imagine ourselves doing now. But if we’re obedient, if we keep taking next steps, we’re gonna find that each next step is surprisingly less difficult. And maybe even not as uncomfortable as we expected it to be. So, he says, “Hey, do you understand what you’re reading there?” The guy goes, “How could I? I need somebody to explain it to me.” I mean, talk about an opportunity. He says, “Come up, have a seat, explain it to me.”
And this is the passage of the Scripture the eunuch was reading. “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. And in his humiliation, he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants, for his life was taken from the earth.” And the eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” And then Philip began with that very passage Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
It was a perfect setup. The guy’s reading the Book of Isaiah, which allows Philip to go, “Huh? Well, maybe he’s more interested in a Jewish Messiah than I might have otherwise assumed.” And he’s reading a particular passage, and he reads this passage and he goes, “Hey, who’s this talking about, himself or somebody else?” And the answer is, he’s talking about Jesus. This is what we call a messianic prophecy. It was given to a man named Isaiah several hundred years before Jesus was born. But it spoke in great detail about everything Jesus would do, including, as this passage goes on, in Isaiah 53, as Isaiah 53 good news is on, it also predicts that the Messiah would die as a sin offering. He would die to pay the price of our sin that separates us from God. And it goes on to predict the resurrection.
Everything about that passage is custom-made for him to go, “Yeah, he’s talking about Jesus. Let me tell you how Jesus fulfilled all this.” I mean, it’s an unbelievably good setup. And I read that kind of stuff and I’m like, “Come on, God, that’s just not fair. Like, come on. I need opportunities like that. Like, you give me an opportunity like that, I will step up, I promise.” And, you know, I have friends sometimes that tell me stories about, you know, “I was on a plane and I was sharing my faith and this crazy thing happened.” And I’m like, “Come, on God, I need those opportunities. Give me that opportunity, God.”
And years ago, I began to realize that maybe the reason I don’t have that kind of opportunity is because I’m not being that kind of obedient, especially to God’s call to get outside my comfort zone. And so, I began to go, “Hey, maybe God would give me that kind of opportunity if I were that kind of obedient.” And it might be the case for you, too. Maybe God will give you that kind of opportunity, those unbelievable setups if you’ll just be that kind of obedient, especially to the call of God to get out of your comfort zone and to get a little uncomfortable for Jesus’s sake. It’s an unbelievable setup. So, he explains the good news of Jesus. And as they travel along the road, that they came to a body of water, to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here’s water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. And then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Let’s make sure we don’t miss what happened here, okay? Philip just baptized the first Gentile into the Christian community, okay? He just baptized the first non-Jewish person as a follower of Jesus. This guy said yes to following Jesus. He said, “I wanna go public with that right now” and Philip got to baptize him. It’s an amazing thing. And, by the way, it’s also the third stage of Jesus’ plan for the church. We talked about this last week, when Jesus called his apostles together after his resurrection, He said, ‘Hey, I want you to go in Jerusalem and wait there in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit comes. But when the power of the Holy Spirit comes, you’re gonna be my witness in three stages. Number one, you’re gonna be my witnesses there in Jerusalem.” That’s the comfort zone, it’s hometown, right? But then, stage two, is, “You’re gonna share the Gospel in Judea and Samaria, the surrounding regions.” That’s a little bit less comfortable. And then he said, stage three, is, “You’re gonna share the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to the rest of the world.”
Now, last week, we saw Philip take the Gospel to the Judean and Samarians. We saw Philip get to take the Gospel to stage two. Interestingly enough, the reason he was doing that is because the apostles were still back in Jerusalem. Luke very specifically said, “The persecution broke out because the church was there huddled in Jerusalem.” It was a nice holy huddle, but it’s not supposed to be a holy huddle. It’s supposed to be a missional organization. And they were staying there in Jerusalem, and so, persecution broke out and they were scattered. And Luke says, “Everyone was scattered except the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem.” And now, Philip is going beyond Judea and Samaria, he’s sharing with a Ethiopian, a clearly Gentile eunuch, bringing him into the Christian faith. And why is Philip doing it? Why is the table waiter doing it? Where are the apostles? They’re still back in Jerusalem, right smack in the middle of their comfort zone. But Phillip’s not. He shares the Gospel and he says, “Yes.” He gets baptized. And history tells us that he went on back to Ethiopia and he shared his faith, and that was the root of the Ethiopian church, which still exists today. Philip got to be part of that. Why? Because he is willing to step outside of his comfort zones. He baptized this man.
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away. And the eunuch did not see him again, but he went on his way, rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared in Azotus and traveled about preaching the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. So, God doesn’t have a miracle. He gives another sign. What’s the point of this sign? It’s an unusual miracle, by the way. I mean, as near as I can tell, you know, Philip just teleported, right? He was there and then he wasn’t, he was somewhere else. And the point of that is that God is saying, “Hey, I’m all over this. This is my will. I’m blessing Philip and his ministry because he’s doing what I’m calling all of my people to do.” And so, the miracles is an affirmation that this is all from God. This is exactly what Jesus wanted for his church all along.
And the reality is, and we got to make sure we don’t miss this, is that when we’re willing to get uncomfortable, God works in and through us in ways we never thought possible. Do you hear me, church? When we’re willing to get uncomfortable, God will work in you and he will work through you in ways that you can’t even imagine right now. But if you’re willing to get uncomfortable and to see God do those things in and through you, you’re gonna be able to look back and go, “I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on that.” I remember years ago, I was traveling from London back to the U.S. and I was in my comfort zone. When I’m on an international flight like that, my comfort zone is headphones on, laptop up open. I don’t like to talk to people, I’m in my comfort zone. I was sitting in the middle seat and there was a woman to my left and a guy to my right, and I was in my comfort zone and a couple hours into the flight and the Holy Spirit began to annoy me. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but that’s how the Holy Spirit often operates in my life, he just annoys me.
And he started doing, “No, man.” He said he, “This little nagging sense that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and have a conversation.” I didn’t really wanna do that, but I eventually took the headphones off and I closed the laptop. I looked at this woman and she looked really mad about something. So, I was like, “I don’t think so.” And looked at this guy next to me, and he was clearly Muslim. And I was like, “Well, he wouldn’t be interested in talking about Jesus or anything like that. ” But there’s just something about him that I found kind of interesting. And so, we started talking, and it was amazing, very quickly, we went really deep. We connected and we’re on the same wavelength in a lot of different ways and we’re going back and forth and we got way beneath the surface really quick. We were going deep. We were talking about Jesus, and the Quran, and the Bible, and things like that. And it was so comfortable that like, at one point, I said to him, he said that he believed something. I was like, “Dude, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Really, you believe that?” And then a little bit later, I said something, he was like, “No, no, no. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” And we were just having a really good time.
And then somewhere, hours in this conversation, the woman on my left leaned over and she goes, “Can I tell you guys something?” “Sure.” And she goes, “You’re both full of beep.” “Him, right? What…” And then she introduced herself. This is how she introduced herself. She said, “I am an atheist geneticist.” I was like, “I don’t know what to do with that. My name’s Craig. I…” And basically, she started to vomit out all the reasons she thought we were morons for believing in any kind of God. And she kind of threw it all out there. And then she kind of, she ran out of steam and I was like, “Okay, can I talk to Farran now? Because I like Farran.” And I looked over at Farran, and Farran looked at me and he looked at her and he looked back at me and he goes, “Let us get her.” And so, over the next couple hours, this Muslim and I argued with this atheist. And the Muslim and I were on the same team. It was the craziest thing. And, obviously, we didn’t believe the same things. And at certain points after go, “No, no, no. Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” And other times, he’d go, “No, no, do not listen to him. He’s the one who does not know what he’s talking about.”
But we were arguing with this atheist and it was such an incredible experience. And then several hours in, the guy next to this woman and leaned over and he said… And I kid you not, this actually happened. He leaned over and he goes, “Hey, can I just say something?” He goes, “She’s the one who’s full of beep.” And Farran goes, “Yes.” And I don’t know where Farran is spiritually today. We weren’t able to keep up after that. But I know he got to hear the truth of Jesus. And my prayer consistently throughout the years has been God, “Hey, would you water the seeds and maybe got planted in that conversation?” My prayer is that he’s come to find and to follow Jesus. Because for a moment, we had common grounds, that a Muslim and a Christian were arguing with an atheist. That was a powerful moment. And here’s the thing, I would’ve missed it if I kept the headphones on and the laptop open.
Well, here’s the reality. If we want to live unleashed, we have to be willing to get uncomfortable. Do you hear me, church? If you wanna live unleashed, you have to be willing to get uncomfortable. And so, the question I want you to wrestle with is just this, what uncomfortable thing is God calling me to? What uncomfortable thing is God calling you to today? Maybe the uncomfortable thing is to say yes to following Jesus for the first time. Maybe you’ve been circling, saying yes and in committing your life, and your trust, and your faith to Jesus, but for whatever reason, it’s uncomfortable. Maybe you have a family history that makes it uncomfortable or maybe you’ve got friends that make it uncomfortable, or maybe you had a bad church experience that makes it uncomfortable. For whatever reason, you haven’t been willing to step out of your comfort zone and to say yes to following Jesus. Maybe that’s the uncomfortable thing God’s calling you to today. And maybe you need to take that step by just telling us that you’re ready to take that step.
Text the word “Jesus” to 80875. You’re stepping outside the comfort zone. Text “Jesus” to 80875, which is gonna tell us that you wanna follow Jesus. Or maybe you’ve said yes to following Jesus, but you’ve never gone public with it. You’ve never been baptized like this Ethiopian eunuch was willing to do right there in that moment. And so, we got a baptism service coming up a few weeks. Maybe your step outside the comfort zone is to text “baptism” to 80875 and let us know that you’re ready to get a little uncomfortable and be baptized here in public to say that you’re a follower of Jesus, too. Or maybe it’s time to start connecting with others.
At Mission Hills, we really believe that becoming like Jesus and joining our mission happens best up close and over time with other people who can get into our lives and challenge us about our next steps. And that’s uncomfortable. Joining a Life Group, or a women’s group, or a men’s group, or something like that, it’s uncomfortable. But maybe that’s the uncomfortable thing God’s calling you to do, is start connecting with others. Or maybe it’s serving others. Serving others in maybe in our kids’ ministry, or at the greeting team, or maybe at the Life Center where you interact with people that might make you really uncomfortable. And maybe that’s that uncomfortable thing God’s calling you to. Or maybe it’s another thing that followers of Jesus who are on a mission with Jesus do, and that inviting others to find and follow Jesus.
Or maybe there’s somebody that God has brought into your life that doesn’t know Jesus and you’ve been afraid to take that conversation to the next level to invite them to find them follow Jesus, maybe to invite them to come to Easter services coming up here in a few weeks. Or maybe there’s a message in this series that, you know, that that would be perfect for that person that God’s put in my life. Maybe you invite them to come and listen to that message and see what God might do in their lives. Or maybe it’s a sin. Maybe you’ve gotten way too comfortable with something that’s very dysfunctional and you need to deal with that. Maybe there’s an uncomfortable conversation you need to have. What’s the uncomfortable thing God’s calling you to do?
We could take a moment right now to just listen to the voice of the Spirit and respond in faith, and in trust, and in obedience. And it may be that as we’re taking this time, as we’re singing this song, you feel like you need to plant your flag and do something uncomfortable to signal that you’re willing to get uncomfortable for Jesus’s sake. And so, maybe during this song, you need to come down to the front here and just kneel down and pray or talk to one of the prayer people down here. Online, maybe you need to identify yourself and ask for prayer, or just online, say, “Here’s the thing that God’s calling me to do.” Be public about it. I know that’s uncomfortable, but that’s the point. If we wanna live unleashed, we have to be willing to get uncomfortable. Let’s pray over that together. Would you join me?
Jesus, thank you for being so willing to get uncomfortable for our sake. Leaving heaven, coming to earth, that couldn’t have been comfortable. And there’s no question that your death on the cross was extremely uncomfortable. But you were willing to do that. You’re willing to get uncomfortable because of your love for us, and we’re grateful. Lord, we thank you for the example of Philip, who was so willing to step outside of his comfort zones, and because of that, you worked in him and you worked through him in ways we all long to experience. So, Lord, we just confess, confess how easy it is for us to get comfortable and to stay there. And we ask for clarity from your Spirit now about where it is you’re calling us to step over the boundaries of those comfort zones. And we ask for courage from your Spirit to actually take those steps, whatever they look like right now and in this week to come. Lord, move us to discomfort and then move in us and move through us.
Jesus has told his followers that there will be trouble; that it will get frightening. Where has fear got you immobilized? God is telling you, “Get up.” Scary places are great places for growing faith.
And I was watching a woman come up to the dog park, and she had one of those little fufu dogs, right, I’m not sure it’s really a dog. But she had this and it was on a leash. And let me tell you, it was 8 ounces of dog with 80 pounds of attitude. Like it was pulling on the leash, and it was snarling at every dog it saw, like, “Let me off the leash, I will rip you up.” And she got into the thing, she closed the gate behind her and she was in the process of letting it off when the pack of dogs came, by the pack of real dogs came by. And as she let it off the leash, it looked at them and you could see the color kind of drained out of its face. And even though it was off the leash, it actually just got closer to her. And it stayed there the entire time that they were in the park. Because it was afraid, right? And that’s the thing, fear will put us on a pretty short leash. It’s true as followers of Jesus as much as it is for little fufu dogs, honestly. Fear can put us in a pretty short leash. So if we want to live unleashed, we have to stop letting fear call the shots. If we want to live unleashed we can’t let fear call the shots in our lives.
I want to take us today to a story of two men that Jesus called to do some pretty scary things. If you want to follow along, we’re going to be in Acts chapter 9, starting in verse 1. One of the guys that we’re gonna see today is a man named Saul. And we met Saul… if you’re with us throughout this series, we met saw a couple weeks ago. Saul was the guy who was watching while some people killed a follower of Jesus named Stephen. Stephen had been preaching the Gospel boldly in Jerusalem. And some Jewish people thought he was preaching blasphemy, so they stoned him to death. And what Luke who wrote the Book of Acts told us is that Saul was watching and he said that Saul approved to their killing him. So, Saul was down with his execution. In fact, Saul thought all followers of Jesus needed to die. And so, Saul launched persecution basically to destroy the church. That’s the guy that we’re talking about. And then chapter 9 begins this way. He says, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” So he’s still looking to kill the church. “And he went to the high priest, and he asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belongs to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
And there’s a couple of interesting things there. The first is that he expected to find followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus. The reason that’s interesting is Damascus wasn’t a Jewish city. It wasn’t inside Jewish territory. In fact, it was pretty far outside. It was about 130 miles away from Jerusalem, and it wasn’t part of Jewish territory. It was actually in Gentile, non-Jewish territory. And the reason that’s so interesting is because when Jesus first announced to his apostles his plan for this thing we call the church, he said it had three stages. Stage one was they were going to share the Gospel in Jerusalem. That’s home base for the Jewish people. Then he said stage two is Judea and Samaria. You’re gonna share the Gospel in Judea and Samaria, that’s the surrounding region and it’s got some Jewish elements to it, but the Samaritans were partly Jewish, partly Gentile, mixed. And that’s the Gospel’s second stage. But then he said, stage three is you’re gonna take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, which is to say, to purely Gentile territory where there aren’t any real Jewish presence, right?
And so, what we see is that there’s followers of Jesus in Damascus, which is a city in Syria, a Gentile area, means the Gospel’s going out. The followers of Jesus are moving out on mission. They’re going to the ends of the earth, and that’s awesome. But what’s interesting is that they were there because of the persecution. They were there on stage three of the mission because persecution had broken out on them in Jerusalem, Saul had done it, it was really kind of Saul’s fault that the church was actually doing what they’re supposed to do. And that’s just fascinating to me. I love that, it means that, you know, Saul’s persecution of the church was actually accomplishing Jesus’s purposes for the church.
And that’s so important to understand because it speaks to something we call the sovereignty of God. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that term, to say that God is sovereign means that he’s the King. And it means that he’s in control and that everything that happens under his purview is completely in his control. Nothing ever happens that God’s like, “Oh, I have no idea.” Nothing ever happens where God is going, “Oh, I don’t know what to do now.” No, no, God’s in control. And one of the ways we know that so clearly here is that Jesus turns opposition into opportunity, right? He takes the things that look like they’re going to be an obstacle to his plan, and he actually uses them as an opportunity to complete the plan. That’s how in control he is. Jesus turns opposition into opportunity. By the way, that’s a pretty powerful fear fighter. To know that nothing you ever face will get in the way of God’s plan for your life. In fact, what looks like opposition to God’s plan for your life, he can turn into the opportunity to pull it off. It’s a powerful thing.
The second thing that’s really interesting about what Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, says here is that he says that the followers of Jesus weren’t known as Christians. That’s not what they’re called, that they didn’t think of themselves as the church, but they’re called people who belong to the what? Do you see it? “The Way,” that’s interesting. That was the earliest name for Christians. They didn’t call themselves Christians, they called themselves, “The Way” because “The Way” they saw it, they weren’t practicing a new religion, religion is about rules, but they were following Jesus, they had a relationship with Jesus, they were following him, and they were trying to do life “The Way” that Jesus showed them to do life. That’s why they called themselves “The Way” because they said, “Following Jesus means living “The Way” Jesus lived.”
And one of the ways that Jesus lived was he chose faith over fear. He consistently said to the voice of fear, no, you don’t get to call the shots. And he trusted his Father, even when what his Father was asking him to do was terrifying. And I know some of you may go, “Wait a minute, Jesus, never faced fear. Jesus never experienced fear. He can’t relate to that because he’s fully God, and God’s never afraid of anything.” And yeah, he is fully God, but he’s also fully man. And as a human being, he did experience fear. I know that because the night before he went to the cross to pay for our sin, he was praying in a garden. And his prayer was Father, if there’s any way possible, may this cup pass from me. In other words, if there’s any other way we can do this, I would really prefer to do it that way because I understand the pain that’s coming, I understand the sufferings that’s coming, I understand the humiliation, I don’t really want to go through that. So if there’s any way to not have to do it this way, could we do that?
I believe he experienced a little bit of fear in that moment. And part of the reason I say that, because this, this was his prayer. We’re told, “And being anguished, he prayed more earnestly.” And check this out, “And his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” He was sweating blood. There’s a name for that condition, it’s called hematohidrosis. It’s a medical condition, we know about it. It’s where you actually are so afraid, so stressed out by fear that you begin to bleed into your sweat, and it drops out. That’s fear.
We’re told in the Book of Hebrews that Jesus is a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, including fear, he has faced the voice of fear. He knows what that’s like. But the way Jesus lived was to say to fear, you don’t get to call the shots. He put fear in its place, and he chose faith over it. And that’s the way that followers of Jesus were trying to live. And so, even though there was persecution, and Saul was hunting them down and killing them, and they had to flee Jerusalem to survive, wherever they went, they continued to preach the Gospel, wherever they went, they continued to share the good news of Jesus, because they were adopting faith over fear, just like the way Jesus showed them to do it.
And so now Saul hears that the Gospel has gone out to this far city, and he goes, “I gotta stop this, I gotta stamp this out.” So he gets basically letters of extradition to go to that place and to bring these people back. And as he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and he heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked, which is a really interesting question. And I say it’s an interesting question because I believe all the evidence says that Saul knew that God was speaking to him. Why do I say that? Well, what’s going on here has all the appearances of something we see in the old system called a theophany. It basically just means an appearance of God. And when God appeared to people in the Old Testament, what typically happened was first off, there was usually a light that accompanied, there was a bright light. And so, Saul, sees a bright light, and he says, it’s coming from heaven, so he kind of knows where that’s coming from. He’s immediately been trained by his knowledge of Scripture to associate that with God.
Second thing that happens is the voice that speaks uses his name twice, which is typically what happened when God called to people in the Old Testament. He called Abraham. He said, “Abraham, Abraham.” When he called Moses, he said, “Moses, Moses.” When he called the prophet Samuel, he said, “Samuel, Samuel.” And so, now a voice from heaven calls out, he says, “Saul, Saul.” Saul knows that that’s got to be the voice of God. And he reacts to it as though it’s the voice of God because he does two things, he falls on his face. That was an act of worship and submission to God. And secondly, he says, “Who are you, Lord?” That was the Jewish word that you used to address God. God had given them his name was Yahweh, but they didn’t say that name out of respect. And so, they said, Lord and said, Well, that’s the way that Saul addresses him. He addresses them the way the Jewish people understood to address God. And so, everything indicates he knew exactly who this was. This was God speaking. So why if he knows it’s God, why does he say, “Who are you?”
I think it’s because the question that was asked. The voice said, “Why are you persecuting?” And Saul’s response was, What are you talking about, God? I’m not persecuting you, I’m protecting you. I’m protecting your name and your honor. I’m not persecuting you, I’m persecuting these followers of Jesus, they claim that Jesus is your Son. They claim that Jesus is God in the flesh, I’m not persecuting you, I’m persecuting Jesus. And he’s, he’s not… Oh, no… And I suspect in this moment, a dreadful suspicion entered his mind. Is it possible that these Christians are right? Is it possible that Jesus is really God in the flesh? And I think he’s afraid that he knows the answer but he has to ask the question, he’s got to get clarity.
So, he says, “Who are you, Lord?” “I’m Jesus,” the worst thing he could’ve heard at that moment. You suspected, didn’t ya? Let me just make it really clear. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. Now the men traveling with Saul stood there speechless. They heard the sound but they did not see anyone and Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. And so they led him by the hand into Damascus. And for three days, he was blind, and he did not eat or drink anything.” Can you imagine what those three days were like for him? Can you imagine the fear and the terror he must have been experiencing?
Well, first off, he’s blind, right? And that’s a pretty scary thing all by itself. Let’s just do this for me. Could you just close your eyes, unless you’re listening to this while you’re driving, in which case, don’t do that. Everybody else, just close your eyes with me, okay? Now imagine… Don’t open it but imagine that if you did open them, nothing changed. That’s the way things are now. That’d be pretty scary, right? And of course, Saul doesn’t know how long this is gonna last for all Saul knows this is permanent. And he probably honestly, if this is all that happens to him, he got off easy, right? Because listen. The second thing that’s happening is he’s realizing he thought he was an agent of God and now he’s realizing he’d been an enemy of God. He thought he’d been protecting God’s name, now he found that he was persecuting his Son. He’s probably thinking if blindness is the only punishment I get, I got off easy.
Then the third thing that makes it so scary is that he’s waiting. He’s waiting for God to tell him what’s next. He’s waiting for God to tell him what his discipline, his punishment is gonna be. Can we just be honest with each other? I know the same way we know, so we got a lot of kids. So kids, let me ask you this. Have you ever done anything wrong and you had to wait, Mom or Dad told you just go to your room and wait, and we’ll come in in a little while and tell you. Anybody ever done it? Come on kids. How about adults? Have you have ever done anything wrong, and you just had to wait for somebody to find out and find out what the punishment was going to be? Absolutely it’s the worst, right? There’s nothing scarier.
I remember once I was a kid, and I accidentally on purpose made a lake out of our backyard. I was trying to make a pond, I put a cushion in front of a culvert, the drained water, and then I forgot about it. And it was Ohio and it rained a lot. And one day I came home from school and I hadn’t been thinking about I came from school and I was walking past the window, I looked in the backyard, I was like, “Oh, there’s the lake.” I mean, it was completely, yard gone. It was a good-sized lake. And I panicked, and I tried to bail it out and that wasn’t gonna work and I tried to get a shopvac and that wasn’t gonna work. And so, I had to go in and I had to sit down on the couch and I just sat there for two hours waiting for dad to come home. And those two hours were probably the worst two hours of my life, waiting on what dad was going to say when he got home. If you can imagine what that’s like, and multiply by about a million you understand a little bit about what Saul is experiencing as he waits in dark for three days for God to tell him what’s next.
Meanwhile, “In Damascus, there was a disciple, there was a follower of Jesus named Ananias. And the Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. And the Lord told him, go to the house of Judas on Straight Street…” By the way, it’s a different Judas than the one from the Gospels, okay? This is a very common name in those days. “Go to that house and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. And in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I’ve heard many reports about this man,” You’ve heard them too, right? Like you’ve heard the same things I heard, right? “And all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he’s come here with the authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” In other words, Ananias is like, “God, you heard the same stuff I heard, right? This is a dangerous dude. This is probably the scariest guy in the Roman Empire right now for followers of Jesus. You understand that? Like, we ran away from Jerusalem to get away from this guy. We ran away from Jerusalem to hide from this guy. And now that we heard he’s in town, we’re kind of hiding out to make sure he doesn’t find us. You want me to go find him?” Yeah, I’m totally gonna do that. Soon as I change my robes, this one got wet somehow, I’m not quite sure what happened.
I mean, this is an unbelievably scary thing that Jesus is calling him to do. He’s questioning it. It’s so scary he questions God. “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go.'” And actually, in the original Greek that this is written in, what he actually says is get up and it’s exactly the same word that he used to talk to Saul. Saul was there on the street and God, said, “Get up.” And now it’s Ananias, he says exactly the same, he says, “Get up.” Just listen. Fear says, “Stay down,” But God says, “Get up.” You hear me church? Fear says, “Stay down, stay where you are, you don’t want to move from there,” But God says, “Get up.” You cannot experience everything that I have for you, everything I want to do in you and through you, if you stay there. So yeah, fear says, “Stay down,” But God says, “No, no, get up.” So, I wonder, what is God telling you to get up from today? What is God telling you to get up from? Where are you stuck, immobilized in fear and God says, “You don’t wanna stay there. Get up.” He says to Ananias, “Get up. This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles, to the non-Jewish people and their kings and to the people of Israel, and I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Which can we just be honest, that just makes it worse, doesn’t it? I mean, the message he’s supposed to deliver to this scary man is scary too. He’s supposed to tell him. “Oh, yeah, you’re supposed to be God’s main missionary to the Gentiles.” Well, Saul is a Jew of Jews, he’ll later tells us in the Bible, he considers himself a Jew of Jews, a Pharisee of Pharisees. He’s the cream of the crop for the Jewish people and as a Pharisee or that sect of Judaism one of the things they were known for is their dislike of Gentiles. They didn’t want anything to do with Gentiles and now, poor Ananias was to go and say, “Hey, Saul, you’re going to become God’s main man to talking to the Gentiles.” Saul’s gonna want to hear that. And then worse, he’s supposed to go and say, “Hey, I’m also supposed to tell you how much you have to suffer for Jesus’s name.” Oh, goody. I can’t wait to deliver that, right?
And by the way, man, I wish I could tell you that that was just a message for Saul. I wish I could tell you that giving him a picture of how much he has to suffer for the name of Jesus, which is something that Saul was going to have to go through because he had persecuted his people. I wish I could tell you it’s punishment, but it’s not. The same Jesus who told Ananias to tell that to Saul is also the same Jesus who said to all of his disciples, he said, “Just so you know, in this life, you will have trouble.” And not just the trouble that comes because we live in a fallen broken world but the trouble that comes because we follow Jesus.
I really wish I could say that following Jesus doesn’t ever mean going to scary places, doesn’t ever mean suffering, but it does. In fact, and I’m so sorry I have to tell you this, but the reality is, if following Jesus never gets very scary, we’re not following Jesus very close. You hear me, church? If following Jesus never gets very scary, then we’re not following Jesus very close. Because Jesus never calls us to stay there where it’s comfortable. Jesus never says, hang out where you feel safe and secure. No, Jesus says, “Come follow me.” And Jesus leads us into places that are scary. So, if following Jesus never gets very scary, you’re not following Jesus very close. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. The good news is that scary places are great soil for growing faith. You hear me? Scary places are great soil for growing faith. Our faith doesn’t grow where we’re not uncomfortable, our faith doesn’t grow where we’re not a little bit scared but in those places that Jesus leads us to that are scary, we find that our faith grows by leaps and bounds that are fertile soil for the growth of faith.
And I know some people go, “That’s easy for you to say, but you are a pastor. Following Jesus probably isn’t scary for you.” Yes, it is, every day. There’s hardly a day that goes by that following Jesus and doing what he’s called me to do doesn’t force me to do something that scares me a little bit. Maybe it’s having a hard conversation or an uncomfortable conversation with someone. So, sometimes it’s just leading out in a place that I feel like God’s called us to, but not everybody else sees that yet. Those are scary places. I was talking to our communications team about this and they were going, okay, “That’s great, but you know what we need, we actually need to see you do something scary.” Like, “Don’t just lead us, you know, by word, like, we need an example like model it for us, we need you to do something scary. And I was like, well, “What are you thinking?” And they said, “Well, you’re scared of bees, right.” Now, externally I was, like, interesting. Inside, I’m, like, no, no, no, no, no, please, God, please, Jesus, please, come on, come on, please, no, no, no. And I was so relieved that God answered my prayer. Somebody else in the group said, “I don’t know, I don’t think bees are all that relatable. I don’t think that’s really good.” I was like, “Yes.” So what do you think? And then Kelly McSparran, our Communication Director goes, “Oh, can we throw you out of a plane?” And everybody else on the team was, like, “Oh, yes.” Could we? So…
Craig: Well, it is Friday morning and the Creative Team thought that the best way for me to model doing something scary was for us to jump out of a plane. I think this is probably gonna backfire, though, because honestly, I’m not that scared. How are you feeling?
Coletta : No. Totally great, like, what better thing to do on your day off?
Craig: All right. Yeah, we’ll see how this goes. Okay, well, we’re actually at the place now and I am definitely feeling a little bit more nervous. How about you?
Coletta : Yeah, same. Airplanes, definitely some butterflies.
Craig: Okay, signing some of these consent forms, this paperwork, things, like we don’t have any insurance and you could die. Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking, right? Yes, just a little bit.
Coletta: That was awesome.
Craig: So that was intense, way more intense than I expected it to be. It’s good. I’m glad I did it, I’m really glad I did it.
Man: Overcame that fear, right?
Craig: Overcame that fear.
Man: Fantastic. Welcome to the skies, my friend.
Craig: Thank you. So there’s nothing particularly spiritual about jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. But as we were going through that experience, I really did find myself reminded of some things that God has taught me over the years about dealing with fear, about following him in the scary places. The first thing that God has taught me over the years is this, it’s that anticipation is worse than execution. It’s what we think might happen that keeps us from moving forward, right? Anticipation is worse than execution. And the reality is that, you know, we imagine worst-case scenarios. And worst-case scenarios are rarely real-world scenarios, but thinking about them, and anticipating, that’s what keeps us from moving and following Jesus into scary places. As we were getting closer and closer, the anticipation began to build and the fear and the last moment of it was when we were kind of paused at the doorway, and I could see all the way to the ground. And everything in my brain was like this is not a good idea. But the moment we were out, it changed, the moment we were actually falling, the fear began to release the script. Now I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m not gonna say that it didn’t get scary at all.
Okay, like I said, there was no fear, it was very fun. Because here’s the thing, like, you watch people skydive and because the person filming it is always falling at the same rate, you get the sense, like, “Oh, there’s floating, you’re just kind of floating,” There’s no floating. There is only falling. It was scary but it was not as scary as the moments leading up to that. When Jesus calls you to do something scary, it’s the anticipation. It’s so much worse than the execution. Once you actually begin to trust Jesus, you’re gonna go, “Oh, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. This is a good place to be.” I think there’s a reason why Saul eventually wrote these words, he said, “And we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” We take captive every thought because he understands that fear gets a hold of our imaginations and turns it into something that it was never intended to be, it imagines those worst-case scenarios. And so those thoughts that come from fear, those are some of the most important thoughts to take captive, or we won’t trust Jesus and move forward.
The second thing that I remembered that God has taught me about fear, is that scary things are less scary when we’re not alone. Having Coletta with me there, that was definitely helpful. Plus, I didn’t want to look like a wuss in her eyes, and so, right? Scary things are less scary when we’re not alone. I mean, can I just be honest with you? I’m a grown man but sometimes I’m walking up from the basement and the lights are out and there’s a part of my brain going there’s monsters here. Anybody else still feel that just a little bit? Yes. All right, you’re not alone. But you know what, I never feel that when I’m down there with my kids and my wife. Scary things are just less scary when we’re alone. But you know what, when I’m jumping out of that plane, you know what was better than Coletta? The guide. It’s having somebody who knew what was coming and knew what to do if things didn’t go the way I expected them to, that was the best person to be with. And that’s God. When Jesus calls you to do something scary, you are never called to do it alone. He always calls you to do it with him.
I love what Moses said to the Israelites as they were called to face a scary army of people coming against them. He said this, he said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Jesus, after having told his disciples some scary things they were gonna have to face, he said this, “And surely, I am with you always to the very end of the age.” It’s literally the last words of the Gospel of Matthew. And last words are always pretty important, right? He says, surely I am with you always to the very end of the age, I’m not sending you out alone, I’m calling you to come with me. You are never ever alone.
Third thing that I found myself reminded of as I was jumping out of that plane, is that we can’t silence the voice of fear. We can’t silence the voice of fear, but we can choose not to give it the final vote. You can’t silence the voice of fear, that there was no point in that process that I could just go, I’m just not going to be scared anymore. It just doesn’t work that way. You can’t silence the voice of fear and quite honestly, you don’t want to. The voice of fear is actually a God-given gift. Fear is actually a gift from God. It keeps us from being foolish. You know, if you stand at the edge of a high cliff that’s crumbling, it’s the voice of fear that says, “You know what, it might be a good idea to take a step back. You’re being a fool by standing there.” God gave us that, it’s a gift, but the problem is like every good thing that God’s given us when sin gets a hold of it, it becomes a bad thing.
And so now what happens because of sin is the voice that’s supposed to keep us from foolishness is keeping us from faithfulness. Fear was never intended to keep us from being faithful, it was only intended to keep us from being foolish. But now it’s keeping us from trusting God. But you can’t silence that voice. What you can do is you can say to it, but you don’t get the final vote, I hear your voice, you just don’t get the final vote. I love what Jesus said. Again, after he told his disciples some scary things that were coming, scary places he’s going to call them to, he said this, he said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I don’t give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” And understand what he says, do not be afraid, he doesn’t mean silence the voice of fear because that’s not possible. What he means is stop giving it the final vote, stop letting the voice of fear determine whether or not you’re going to trust me, whether or not you’re going to have faith in me. We can’t silence the voice. When Jesus calls us to scary places, we can say you just don’t get the final vote.
How do you do that? Like how do you put fear in its place? How do you tell fear? “Yeah, I hear your voice but you don’t get the final vote in my life.” You know what I think the best way to do that is? It’s a little something called FOMO. You know what FOMO is? It’s the fear of missing out. Please listen to me. Some of the greatest things that God wants to do in you and through you, things that are honestly better than you can even imagine being part of, they’re just outside your reach as long as you’re on that short leash of fear. You don’t want to miss out on what God’s calling you to.
So Ananias said to the Lord, okay. “Then Ananias went to the house, and he entered it.” And by the way, I love that it says he went to the house and he entered it. It kind of suggests he went to the house and there was a little moment outside the house, he’s like, I don’t know about this. He still hears the voice but he doesn’t give it the final vote, does he? He went in and “Placing his hands on Saul, he said Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who has appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. And he got up and he was baptized, and after taking some food he regained his strength.”
Listen, I don’t know if you know this, you may but if not, let me let you in a little secret. This guy named Saul, he became a guy we know as the Apostle Paul. He became the guy that God used to write most of the books of the New Testament. And in fact, most of us are not Jewish. And so, us following Jesus actually ultimately goes back to this being God’s main man to take the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. If it weren’t for what God did in and through Saul who became Paul, you and I wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be following Jesus today, 2000 years later. That’s what God did through this guy. That’s what he got to be part of because he said that the voice of fear, I hear it, I hear your voice. You just don’t get the final vote.
And Ananias, he got to lead that guy to the Lord. He got to see persecuting Saul become the Apostle Paul. I promise you, I guarantee Ananias is in heaven going, “That’s one of mine. Yeah, God did that through me.” He’s proud of that, and he should be. And both of those guys, you think just from what they would have missed out on if they let the voice of fear have the final vote. That’s how we put fear in its place. It’s a holy FOMO, it’s a holy fear of what we would miss out on. We don’t say to fear, “Yeah, I hear your voice, but you don’t get the final vote in my life.” Listen, if you want to live unleashed, if we want to live unleashed, we have to start telling fear I hear your voice but you don’t get the final vote in my life.
So what scary thing might God be calling you to do? What scary thing might God be calling you to do? Maybe it’s to let somebody know you’re a follower of Jesus. Maybe you got two circles of friends. You got a group of Jesus following friends and they all know that you love Jesus. Maybe you got another group of friends, maybe they’re not quite as open to that. And maybe you’ve kind of kept a little bit quiet because you’re afraid of how they might react and what they might think of you. And maybe your scary thing is to just be a little bit more upfront in every part of your life. Maybe it’s to start seeing your work as a mission field, as a place where you have relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, and you might be the only picture they get of who Jesus is. Maybe it’s to get some help. Maybe you’re stuck in somewhere in your life or your marriage, or maybe you’re stuck in sin. And you haven’t admitted that to anybody. You’re struggling with that on your own. And maybe the scary thing is to let somebody else know I’m not doing okay. Maybe it’s a mental health issue. And maybe you’re keeping it inside because it’s scary to tell somebody else, “Yeah, I’m not doing okay.” Maybe that’s the scary thing God’s calling you to is to let somebody else know that you’re not okay. That you need help.
Maybe it’s to join a Life Group. Let a group of people get to know you. Maybe it’s to go on a short-term trip. Share Jesus outside of your comfort zone, maybe it’s to get baptized. Maybe you’re a follower of Jesus, but you’ve never been willing to go public. Maybe you’re afraid to stand in front of people and get baptized and declare your faith in Jesus. Maybe that’s what you need to do. We got a baptism service coming up in a few weeks. So maybe today, right now you need to text “Baptism” to 80875. Take that step. That fear is saying no, no, no, don’t go. But God is saying no, get up and move. Or maybe it’s to say yes to following Jesus. Maybe you’ve been dancing around it. Maybe you believe God sent his Son, maybe you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.
Maybe you believe that he rose from the dead, but you’ve been unwilling to commit your life to him. You’ve been unwilling to take that all-important step of saying, “I’m in. Jesus, I’m going to follow you from here on out.” Maybe that’s the scary thing God’s calling you to do today, in which case you need to text the word “Jesus” to 80875 today. And let us know that you’re going to say to the voice of fear, yeah, “I hear your voice, but you don’t get the final vote in what I do.”
Would you pray with me? God, thank you for the example of these two men and the example of what you did in them and through them when they refused to let fear call the shots. Jesus, we confess that we often fall victim to the voice of fear, we often let it call the shots, we let it have the final vote. Lord, we realize that we’re going to be missing out on an awful lot if we allow that to continue on. So, Lord, we asked for strength and courage through your Holy Spirit to do that scary thing you’re calling us to do, to declare with action right now. “Yeah, fear, I hear you. I’m just not gonna follow you. I hear your voice but you don’t get the final vote in my life.” Lord, whatever it is you’re calling us to give us the courage to do it. To move out into all those things that you have, that you want to be part of. We’re so grateful. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
FROM BEAUTY TO BOLDNESS
It is easy to move through our days glancing over what God has in store for us. This week you are encouraged to pause and gaze upon the beauty of what God has in store for you. He wants to transform you! With that change comes a call to step out in boldness and tell others about Jesus.
You know, I don’t know if you’ve been to a museum before. I know that’s not everybody’s thing, but when you go to a museum and you see a beautiful piece of art and, most likely painted by somebody who’s famous which would probably make that piece of art very expensive. I know it can impact you. It can change you. And I got the chance to go to the Louvre in Paris one time. And I only had half a day in the Louvre, but maybe you’ve heard of the Louvre or maybe you’ve been there, but let me just catch you up to speed. There are 30,000 pieces of art in the Louvre. If you spent two minutes at each one of those, you’d be there longer than a month. I had half a day. So I’m cruising to try and figure out. Did a little research ahead of time, trying to figure out what I wanna see. And so I hit the ground running as soon as it opens, I’m ready to go. I gotta go run over there and see the Venus de Milo statue, which is pretty cool. I had to go find out where the Mona Lisa was, and she’s a lot smaller than I thought she was. And you look at this thing and you can just cruise through it.
And so what I was end up doing is I ended up glancing at everything and not gazing at anything. I was just cruising through to check it off my list to say one day in a sermon illustration that I’ve been to the Louvre. Just to say I’ve done it. And the reality is, is if we don’t slow down and pause and see what God’s up to, we’re gonna miss God. We’re gonna miss what he wants to do in our hearts. Let me show you this picture. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s an amazing picture. It’s a painting of the first miracle of Jesus. By the way, the reason there are benches in art galleries is so you sit down and take a look. And so when you look at this picture, it’s the first miracle of Jesus in Cana. It was painted in the Renaissance, period 1560.
What’s interesting about this painting is that it was stolen and hid away, and stolen and hid away. And through the French revolution, it would finally end up in the Louvre. And so you see Jesus is the center picture, to the rights Mary and the disciples are standing by and you look in the bottom right-hand corner and you see they are pouring out the wine because the miracle is taking place as we speak right here. And the details are exquisite. It’s amazing. And if you don’t stop and pause and look at this picture, you’re gonna miss it. You’re gonna miss the details. Again, that’s true of our relationship with God. If we don’t look at the beauty of God, we’re gonna miss God. And then, we’re not gonna move out on a mission and tell other people about this great God who sent his Son, Jesus. And so I don’t want you to miss that today.
So we are gonna dive in real quick here. Let me remind you what David’s one desire was though. David, King David, you remember shepherd boy turned King David in Psalm chapter 27, verse 4. Here was his one desire. He just had one desire, just one. And he wrote about it all the time in the Psalms. He said, “This one thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and to gaze at the beauty on the beauty of the Lord and seek him in his temple.” So just right now, I just wanna pause right now. I just want us to slow down right now. Love for you to settle in and I’m gonna pray and just ask the Lord to be able to open our eyes as we get close to his Word and change our hearts today. So pray with me.
Father, help us not to miss you today. Help us to stand in awe of you, worship you, glorify your name, and then help us to move out in boldness for you. Grab hold of his Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.
Turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 9, verse 19. We’re gonna continue. Pick up the action at the end of verse 19, because Pastor Craig left off at the beginning of verse 19, if you’re paying attention last week. And so we’re gonna pick it up in the end of verse 19 and see what Saul’s been up to since he had that encounter on the road with Christ. Well, chapter 19, “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”
So, if, let me catch you up, if you weren’t here last week, you realize that Jesus has blinded Saul literally on the road. Saul thinks that he’s doing the good thing by persecuting Jesus. And, but he doesn’t even know he is doing that. He doesn’t even know that Jesus is a Messiah until that moment. And then everything changes for Saul. The scales fall off his eyes. He can see the truth now, and so his whole life and worldview just changed overnight. He now is in Damascus. He finds some believers there, some disciples that are in Damascus, not the apostles, not the 12, but the disciples, just followers of Jesus that are in Damascus. He’s on his way there. And he finds them, but they’re gonna be a little bit skeptical of Saul. They don’t quite believe that Saul has come to know Jesus as his Savior yet, but here’s what Saul does. He immediately goes to a synagogue among his own people and tells them that Jesus is the Messiah.
Can you imagine? This is extraordinary. The same Saul whose enemy number one is now well, preacher, number one. And he goes into the synagogues and starts to share this great news. It does not matter your personality. It does not matter your natural abilities, your spiritual gifts, your social economic status, the job that you have, it doesn’t matter if you’re single or married. It doesn’t matter if you have children and you don’t have children. None of that matters. If you’re a follower of Jesus… now let me make you feel uncomfortable. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you ought to be engaging in spiritual conversations with people that are far away from God and having conversations with them in order to sow seeds and maybe see them come to know Jesus as their Savior. Now you’re wrestling in your seat because here’s what happens.
We get fearful. We back off, we shrink. But Saul didn’t, Saul had an encounter with Jesus on the road. And he goes into the town that he’s on his way to persecute and everything changes for Saul. And he heads to his own people the Jews, opens up the Scriptures because he knows the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah. He knows the prophecy’s concerning the Messiah and he starts to turn those pages and opens it up to his own people and shares about Jesus. Here’s the reality friends. Gazing on the beauty of God will increase your boldness for God. Gazing on the beauty of God will increase your boldness for God. If you’re wondering how your boldness, how your passion for Jesus goes up, it is spend more time with Jesus. And then you’re gonna turn around and realize how good that is. And you’ve got to tell other people about it.
It’s like looking at a beautiful piece of art or God’s creation that does something to your soul. You’re like, this is amazing. It’s like turning off of some of the roads in Colorado when you’re far away and you see the whole panoramic view of the mountains. It’s just unbelievable. Like God created that. It’s crazy in Colorado to see that, but we start to take it for granted and we miss what God might be doing. Now, some of you have been followers of Jesus for a long, long time. Let’s just be honest with one another. You came to know Jesus when you were 5, 10, 20, 25, and you’re older than that today. And you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long, long time, but you have forgotten what it was like when you first came to know Jesus as your Savior and the passion was burning.
And you had to tell everybody about it, your family members, your friends, everybody about that. You’ve forgotten what that was like. And so I pray that today that we toss some logs on the fire of your soul to cause it to burn, especially as we head towards Easter, the greatest historical event of all time. Jesus rises from the grave, that alone should set us on fire to be able to tell other people about him. So here’s the question for you. What is your next bold step in sharing Jesus with others? Again, that might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, a little nervous. Like what, why do I feel nervous about that? I understand. I understand. I get scared, too. But we’ve gotta overcome that because we’ve seen the beauty of the Lord and we’ve gotta tell other people about that beauty. We’ve gotta do that.
Saul did. Saul was getting after it. And he used this phrase, which is very strategic. He talked to them about Jesus being the Son of God. In other words, he wasn’t an imposter. He wasn’t a counterfeit. He was, in essence, God in human form that came to earth as the Savior of the world to become like us. Only, he’s perfect, sinless to be able to share this good news, that he is the Messiah, the Savior, and Saul got it. He instantaneously put all the puzzle pieces together and saw that this Jesus is the Messiah of the world. And so he is gotta go tell everybody about it. Verse 21, all those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call in his name, and hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests.”
See they were skeptical of Saul and you would be, too. And I would’ve been, too, if I was living back then, because he’s on his way to persecute all these followers of the way, all these followers of Jesus, this new movement from this guy named Jesus. But now he’s come to know Jesus. And so he is trying to convince them that he’s on their team. He can wear their jersey, he’s with them, but they’re skeptical and they’re like, “Isn’t this a trick play, Saul? Aren’t you trying to trick us? Aren’t you trying to, like, you know, then arrest us and take us and grab us? And either you’re gonna go stone us, or you’re gonna take us to the chief priest and we’re gonna be on trial. And because you’re trying to destroy this whole thing.” So they didn’t believe these followers of Jesus that he actually came to know Jesus as a Savior. They didn’t believe him. How can this guy who’s been provoking havoc now be proclaiming heaven? How can that be?
It’s a miracle. But every single time somebody comes to Jesus. It’s a miracle. Every single time. Not just these stories back there in the Bible. Every single time somebody comes to know Jesus as their Savior. It’s absolutely unbelievable. You go from darkness to light, just like that. It’s crazy. Have you ever met somebody who you couldn’t believe had given their life to Jesus before? You willing to admit that out loud. It might have been you and your family members are like, there’s no way that ever would’ve happened. I have high school friends who I’ve stayed in contact with and I watch what they’re doing on social media. And back there in high school, there’s no way in a million years like they are far away from God. But today they post verses and they post things about church and they post things that, and I’m like, and sometimes they like and comment on things that I do. And I’m just like, this is unbelievable what a miracle. But again, it’s a miracle every single time somebody comes to know Jesus as their Savior.
Verse 22, “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” Oh, you don’t wanna mess with Saul. Remember Saul was the Pharisee of Pharisees. Saul’s training was to know the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, like the back of his hand. He knew all the prophecies concerning the Messiah coming forward. He had them memorized. He knew what they were. He knew what to look for. The problem was, spiritually, before he came to know Jesus, the scales were on his eyes, he couldn’t see the truth.
It was incredible. But now that they’re off, now that he’s a follower of Jesus. Now he’s trusted, Jesus. Now that he had the encounter with Jesus on the road, he’s putting it all together and he’s baffling the Jews because they’re like, this is incredible. This is, how do you know all that? Well, spiritually speaking, he’s helping them. He’s proving that Jesus is the Messiah or he’s defending the Gospel. He’s defending Jesus, or to put it in another way, he’s putting together all the story of Jesus. So they’d get it. They’d get that Jesus was actually the Messiah they’ve been looking for and they’ve been missing it all along the way. And now Saul wants them to get it. In other words, Saul was the first apologist. Apologetics is defending your faith. It’s giving reason for the hope that you have in a rational way. In other words, apologetics gives us boldness and helps us not have to apologize for our faith.
You see what I did there? I mean, and so we don’t have to be in a conversation with somebody and they ask us some questions and we’re like, I don’t know. It seems like you know more about the Bible than I do, but you don’t know Jesus than I do. And so we get stuck. So we ought to know a few things. We ought to know some of the truth, some of the claims, some the prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus, just so we’re ready to give a defense for the reason we have. Let me give you just a few, because you know that there are hundreds of prophecies that point towards Jesus, hundreds of years, before that he actually is the Messiah of the world.
Let me just give a few of them to you. You know, he, it would be prophesied ahead of time that he would be born in Bethlehem, not Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but Bethlehem, Israel. It’s a very specific place, in a very specific geographic area of the whole world that the Messiah would be born there. Even Herod knew that, he’d heard the rumors, he’d heard the prophecies. So that’s why he had two-year-olds and younger taken out. Because he wanted to try and take out the Messiah. Well, God would protect Jesus and Mary and Joseph to get him out of that space to protect him so nothing would happen to him. Another one is, prophesy said ahead of time, that Jesus would ride in the last week of his life on earth, on a donkey down the triumphal entry road. It was prophesied ahead of time, it wasn’t stallion. It wasn’t an elephant or a camel. It was a donkey. Very specific that this Messiah would come into town on a donkey. Another one is he’d be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, not 25, not 40. It would be prophesied ahead. It would be 30 pieces of silver. Isn’t that remarkable? That’s what took place. Here’s the last one for you the kicker. He would be born of a virgin. That doesn’t happen every day. Something has to happen there. The Holy Spirit, God has to be involved in that one. It would be prophesied ahead of time that the Messiah would be born that way. Well, that’s very, very, very specific and God would have to be involved and sure enough, that’s what happens.
So you put it all together. The historical evidence, the prophecies, the archeological evidence that we have today that you can go see all points to Jesus being the Messiah. So the question for us friends is, let me let spur you on, how are you growing to be bold in defending your faith? What are you doing? What apologetic book are you reading? What prophecies are you memorizing? What places are you going that might help spur your faith?
I’ll give you an idea. I think it really helps to go to Israel. My wife and I love leading trips to Israel. This is unashamed commercial for you right now because I think you all ought to go because here’s what it does. You go to these archeological places, 30 plus places in Israel over 10 days. And you stand in places where you know that you know that you know that Jesus was, the disciples were, King David, King Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were there. It lines up all the biblical stories pointing towards Jesus, being the Messiah. And it’s absolutely incredible. One of my favorite places in Israel, although there are a lot, is the Southern steps of the temple. The Southern steps of the temple, where the pilgrims would’ve gone up to go to the temple, to sacrifice, have other do their sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. All the Psalms of Ascent, if you’ve heard of those before, they would read on those stairs leading up to the temple. Jesus, the disciples, Saul would all taught there. After Pentecost, when Peter was there, he would’ve left where he was, gone to the Southern steps of the temple because they’re all of these mikvehs, cleansing pools, where all the thousands of baptisms would’ve taken place. It’s a remarkable place to be. Well, we have an information meeting coming up for you May 15th. If you’re interested in going to Israel in November or next February, we’d love to have ya.
Verse 23, after many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him – Saul. But Saul learned of their plan day and night, they kept close watch on the city gates in order to what? Kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket, through an opening in the wall.
Can you imagine for just a second, somebody wanting to kill you? I mean, they have a bounty on your head. I’m not talking about parents who would never say this out loud, but in their hearts, they might think something like every now and then I just want to kill you right now. I mean, you’d never say that loud. You just think that sometimes. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about, literally, these Jews in Damascus wanted to find Saul and kill him just like they had done to Jesus. That’s what they wanna do. But the followers caught wind of this thing that was gonna happen. And so they lowered Saul through a wall out the so he could take off and not be found by the bully after school, the one to take him out back and beat him up. Because they’re literally waiting at the gate to see when is he gonna leave? So we can grab him and maybe stone him to death. Maybe kill him another way. Who knows? But Saul didn’t care.
It didn’t matter to Saul. Saul was fearless. This is unbelievable to me, you guys. He comes to know Jesus on the Damascus road. He heads into Damascus. He immediately has to tell the world about Jesus. And what just happened to him? And it didn’t matter if his life was on the line. It didn’t matter. He’s gonna give up everything in order to be bold and share Jesus with the people around him. He’s gonna do it. He’s gonna do it. I can’t imagine, I wanna be at that place where Saul is. I hope you do, too. But the reality is our faithfulness leads to fearlessness.
Our faithfulness leads to fearlessness. When your faithfulness goes up, your fear goes down. The closer you’ve seen the beauty of the Lord, the more your boldness goes up and your fear factor goes down. It just happens. You step out in faith and you live for him and that takes place. And to put it another way, you grow as you go. You grow as you go. You can’t steer a parked car. The car has to be in motion before you can steer it to go left or right or straight. And what God is asking us to do is would you step out in faith? Would you just step out in faith and then I’ll start to guide your life. And you’re gonna be amazed at where I lead you or I take you, the conversations you have about Jesus, the things that are gonna blow you away. But you have to get off the couch, take your arms, uncross them and not sit back and just kinda wait. And then you get frustrated and say, “God is not doing anything in my life.” And I’d say, “Get off the couch, take a step, a faith.” And then as you go, he’s gonna start to guide you. That’s how it works. Your faithfulness goes down, your fearlessness goes up, your fearlessness goes down. That’s what’s gonna take place here.
Well, Paul would summarize his whole boldness strategy in the Book of Romans that he wrote to the Romans later on, he’d say in Roman chapter 1,verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I’m not ashamed of this message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’m not ashamed of it.,” Paul says, “because it’s the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile.” So Saul would turn into the Apostle Paul would say, “I am not ashamed. I’m not gonna shrink back. I’m gonna step forward. I’m gonna have these spiritual conversations. I’m gonna point towards Jesus being the Messiah.”
I’m not ashamed of it because that word power literally means in the original language. It’s the word dynamos, which is where we get the English word dynamite from. It’s explosive, the Gospel is explosive in people’s hearts. It changes them. So Saul is saying, “I’m not ashamed of that. I’m gonna give that to everybody.” Now, somewhere in here, which is gonna be very strange for me to tell you that Saul goes on vacation to Arabia. Not really. No, he doesn’t go on vacation, but he does go to Arabia. We know that from Galatians chapter 1 and 2 Corinthians 11. So somewhere between Damascus and where he is going next, he goes off for maybe up to three years and he spends time over there. No doubt sharing the Gospel with if there are any Jews out there, probably very few but more Gentiles. He’s gonna go share the Gospel with the Gentiles in Arabia, leaving Damascus goes to Arabia.
He’s also spending time with Jesus at some level, somehow and it’s just interesting to me, you can speculate a lot of theologians talk about this. Don’t email me about it, but there it’s, you know, three years in the desert with doing that, and you just connect the dots about numbers. And it’s really fascinating to start to think about. But after that, he would head to Jerusalem.
Verse 26. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him.” Here we go again, just like Damascus, not believing that he really was a disciple, “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told him how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him and how in Damascus, he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”
This is incredible. This is absolutely incredible that he goes to Jerusalem, the same thing is happening that was happening in Damascus. All the believers are skeptical of Saul because listen, some of them were probably standing by when Saul gave approval of the stoning of Steven back there in Acts chapter 7. If you remember that part of the series. And so we probably know that Saul was in charge because they were laying their cloaks at Saul’s feet, giving approval of the stoning of Steven, which is a brutal murder that was taking place. So when Saul comes to town and says, “Hey, guys, I’m on your team.” And no wonder they’re skeptical. Like, what? What just what has happened? So it took a little bit of time for him to convince them along with, well, with Barnabas, Barney, I like to call him, he comes and he shares, well, he shares that, “Hey, this story’s true. Saul did have this encounter. I know the story. I’ve spent a little time with him. It’s the real deal he’s given his life to Jesus. Like he’s now on our team. It’s incredible.”
So Saul, here’s what he does. Verse 28. So Saul stayed with them because now they’re kind of convinced. Moved about freely in Jerusalem, the center city of the world, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. If there is a verse that summarizes this section, it’s this verse right here. He would move out in Jerusalem, mainly to the Jews to share boldly in the name of the Lord. And that’s what we ought to be doing, too. It does not matter if you lose friends on Facebook, it does not matter if you lose Pharisee followers on your TikTok feed. It does not matter if your likes go down on Instagram.
It didn’t matter to Saul. He does not care what anybody thinks about him. He’s on a mission now to go all throughout and travel freely among Jerusalem, the place where he had headquarters, he’s now turned it around and he’s telling everybody like I was wrong. And I can’t imagine Saul probably said he was wrong very often until now, and say I was wrong about this Jesus guy, the guy that we crucified, the guy that, he’s the Messiah, the guy who’s now alive. He came back from the grave. He’s alive. I gotta go tell the world about him.
One of my historical mentors of the faith, I’ve read his biography. I just love his life story because I connect with it in many ways is a guy named Charles Thomas Studd, C.T. Studd, and with a name like that, how can you go wrong? Right? He’s a studd, but he lived from 1860 to 1931. He was a cricketer from London, England, very, very good cricketer. And he turned in his athletic stuff to go be a missionary on the other side of the world. He went to China, India, and Africa over the course of his lifetime, just telling everybody about Jesus. He used sports as his medium. And he told everybody about Jesus. He’s famous for saying this line. “Some wanna live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I wanna run a rescue shop a yard from hell.” And I’m like, let’s go. Let’s go take that hill. Let’s get out after it. We don’t have time to waste because there are people souls that hang in the balance, friends. And if we don’t speak up and say something about Jesus, just like Saul did, just like C.T. Studd did, just like everybody throughout history has done, we’re gonna miss some opportunities if we’re not careful.
Paul was unstoppable. He was unleashed for the Gospel. He had to go. Verse 29, so he talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews. Oh, there they are again. But they tried to kill him. It’s like, there’s a theme. He speaks up about Jesus, people wanna kill him. He speaks up about Jesus, people wanna kill him. He speaks up about… This is what happens in Saul’s life, over the course of his whole life, but it doesn’t stop him. It doesn’t stop him. These Hellenistic Jews. If you remember all the way back to week one of this series in Acts chapter 6, they show up in Jerusalem and they’re the same group that’s still causing havoc. They’re the same group. The Hellenistic Jews were not preaching hell, but they were raising hell for sure. And so they’re these Greek Jews who adopted the Greek language, who had adopted Greek culture, as opposed to the Hebrew Jews who only speak Hebrew. There’s a little sec divide of the Jews in town. And so Saul’s debating with him about Jesus being the Messiah. And so he’s telling him all about this and he’s bringing up biblical truth.
And I don’t know if this has been true in your life. When you tell the truth to somebody, especially biblical truth, it causes a reaction. People react when you say something like, “Jesus is the only way to have forever eternal salvation. You can’t get to heaven any other way other than through the door of Jesus. There is no mountaintop with God at the top. And we have several paths to get there and you can believe whatever you want to because we all believe the same God.” When you say something like, that’s not true, because Jesus would say in John 14: 6, he’s the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. When you say that in our world today, maybe you have, it causes a reaction.
People say, “Oh, you’re so narrow-minded. You’re so judgemental. How can you declare that Jesus, Christianity is the only right way.” Well, because the Bible tells us that’s true. And when you say that today, when you say biblical truth like that today you cause reaction. And it’s the same thing that happened back there when Saul said it, it caused a reaction. When he declares, Jesus is the only way, he’s actually the Messiah, all those Hellenistic Jews and beyond, I’m sure the Pharisees reacted to, they were all coming after Saul they wanted to kill him because to them, it was blasphemy. They’re declaring that Jesus was God, he’s the Messiah. And when it’s true, you’re unstoppable and you’re gonna share it.
So how do you get this boldness in sharing about Jesus? How do you do that? Well, the best way is to spend more time with Jesus. So look at the beauty of the Lord. And the longer you look at the beauty of the Lord, like a beautiful piece of art, the more you’re compelled through the Holy Spirit to go share it with other people that are in your sphere of influence. It just happens. It’s to sit down on the bench, to pause, to slow down, to stare his beauty, and then to turn around and move out on mission for him. But I know, I know this is scary. I know it’s terrifying. I know it’s, you’re hesitant. Like where do I begin? What conversation do I have? How do I start?
Listen way back when I, my wife, and I left Michigan and we headed to South Carolina for seminary. We went on a two-week honeymoon and we literally “leaved and cleaved” and headed south for seminary. And she would transfer into the Bible college, and it was a great place for us to be. But I ran into this class called Personal Evangelism. And Personal Evangelism is where you get a number of tips and tactics and how to share the Gospel with people. And then you have to turn around and go do it. And one of the assignments on that list was to go up to a perfect stranger and start a spiritual conversation and talk about Jesus. I was terrified. Listen, I’m in seminary, I’m studying the Bible. I’m excited about Jesus, excited about where he wants to take us and all these things are going on. I’m on fire, but I ran into that assignment and I procrastinated all the way to the end of the semester.
I waited and I waited and I waited, and what you needed to do is go do this and then write a paper on it, and turn it in. It didn’t matter the results of the conversation. It just, what was your experience in doing that? So I’m putting that whole thing off. I’m terrified to do this. And so as this is getting closer and closer and closer to a deadline, well, the seminary was up here and down a road is where the main town was, which we would go grocery shopping and do some things. So I would drive by this gas station and over to my left, going down and right, coming back was this man selling watermelons out of the back of his truck. And I just, I would see him, but as we’re getting closer to this deadline, I felt like the Holy Spirit was saying to me, “That’s the guy you need to go have this conversation with.” And I’m like, no, no, no, no. I’m having a fight with God about this whole thing. But, you know, I’m getting close to the deadline, so I’ve gotta do something.
And so I finally work up the courage because the deadline is coming for this experience in this paper. And so I pull off, I get gas, of course, I slowly walk over, hoping he gets in the truck and leaves before I have a conversation with him. He doesn’t, he stays there. Of course, I’m gonna buy a watermelon. I buy a watermelon from him. And I say something like, “Sir, have you ever been to church?” Listen, we’re in the deep south. Of course, everybody’s been to church. And so that was an easy, soft landing right there. And he says, “Yeah, I’ve been to church.” And I said something like next, “Sir, have you, do you know who Jesus is? And have you ever given your life to him? And I was like,” just get it out. And he gets a big smile on his face. I think he put his arm on my shoulder and he says to me, “Yes, sir, I’ve been a pastor for 30 years.”
And, son, you keep going. You keep telling people about Jesus, you keep doing that. And I just walked away. I used to call him watermelon man. Now I call him pastor watermelon man. I walked away from that experience in seminary many, many years ago. And I walked away going, “Oh my goodness, I forgot that God is before me with me, and after me. He’s with me every single step of the way, every spiritual conversation I walk into.” He is with me and he’s with you. And we forget. We think we’re doing this whole thing all by ourselves. And we’re not. We’re not. He’s with us every step of the way. So when you feel terrified to have that spiritual conversation with that family member or that friend who is far away from God, but you gotta have the conversation because you’re compelled to, remember, God is with you. He’s with you, friends. He’s with you. He’s not gonna leave you stranded. As a matter of fact, he’s already working in their hearts and you don’t even see it. It’s already taking place.
Then we get to verse 30, when the believers learned of this, that Saul was…they wanted to kill him. They took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Fun little story right here is they didn’t take him south down to. They took him down in elevation from Jerusalem who was high on elevation out to the West Coast to Caesarea and Maritima so he could get on a boat and sail the Tarsus, his hometown, which he’s no doubt gonna go tell his cousins and aunts and uncles and everybody about this Jesus, which is really, really hard, isn’t it? To go to your hometown and do that. But that’s where Saul’s headed to that’s where he is gonna go.
And then we get to verse 31, which is a great summary statement of the whole Book of Acts. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit it increased in numbers.” This is a huge summary statement of what’s been happening in this section of the Book of Acts, but all the way up from the beginning to the Book of Acts, that the Gospel’s been going out and now they’re living at a time of peace. Why? Because enemy number one, Saul, is now on their team. Imagine the guy who’s causing havoc and leading those who are causing havoc on this whole thing has now come to know Jesus. So the church in this time period would be at a time of peace because Saul is wearing their jersey. He’s with them now.
And so as a result, they’re living in the fear of the Lord. They’re encouraged by the Holy Spirit. And as a result of all that, of course, the number of people coming to know Jesus is going to increase. It’s just a natural byproduct of everybody living this way.
So to summarize again, for you, gazing on the beauty of God will increase your boldness for God every single time. Another way to put it is to shrink it up a little bit is, God’s grace gives us gusto. It does. When you understand that you only needed a thimble of God’s grace, but he gave you oceans upon oceans upon oceans of his grace. That’s a little overwhelming and you get a little bit in awe of God, and then you feel compelled to do something about that and go share it with other people that are around you.
I wanna show you one more picture, one more picture, and this is Rembrandt’s picture of the return of the prodigal and a series of pictures. And if you remember the story, Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son who took all the inheritance from the father, even though the father was still alive, which was totally offensive, went off to a foreign land and blew it all, came to his senses and came home thinking he maybe he could just be a servant of his dad now, but the dad, as the parable goes, is sitting on the front porch, waiting for his son to come home. He sees the dust cloud coming in the distance and he knows it’s his son. And he gets off the porch and he runs at his son and embraces him and grabs hold of him. And he shares him and he loves him. And he throws a party for his son because he’s come home. That’s grace friends.
And when you’ve given your life to Jesus, you get that grace, you understand that grace. And then you’re compelled to go tell other people about that great grace. Aren’t you? Now for some of you here, everything we’ve been talking about today might seem like a bit of a blur, a little confusing, little weird. You don’t quite get it. And so maybe your first step is actually to trust Jesus as your Savior to do what Saul did on the road, to do what countless peoples have done through history because everything lines up to Jesus, being the Messiah, the Savior, the rescuer to deliver, and he wants to be yours today. So let’s bow our heads right here right now and think to yourself, do you know Jesus as your Savior?
Have you trusted him as your Savior? And if you’re wondering, if you’re confused, if you know for sure that has not taken place, I wanna invite you to do it right now. All you need to do is say something like this to say a prayer like this. All you need to do is in your own way, in your own words, in your own heart, just pray to him and ask him to be your Savior. Say something like, “Jesus, I know you’re for real. I know you came to earth. I believe that you died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I trust you now, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I realized just like Saul did that they were against, they’re against you. They’re against you. So please forgive me. I’m sorry. I want you, Jesus. I give my life to you now, Jesus. Please help me now live, live for you. Do it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Are you looking for a way to get unstuck spiritually and revive your walk with God? Follow Peter’s example and look for where you can serve like Jesus would, to become more like Jesus himself.
So I gotta be honest, I preached some horrible sermons. I feel like I need to find a bunch of people and, like, repent in front of them, “I’m really sorry, I did that to you.” Like I remember this one message I preached, I don’t remember what the passage was. I do remember I like took 15 minutes in that message, to go off on the proper theological and philosophical way to understand the relationship of God to time. Yeah, I know. And like, I remember that I had a guy afterwards come to me and say, “Hey, I think that was really deep.” I was like, “What do you mean, you think it was deep?” He was like, “I don’t have any idea what you said.” Yeah. That should have been a big clue, right?
What I’ve come to understand over the years is that information doesn’t drive transformation. I used to think it did but I understand now that information doesn’t drive transformation. In fact, sometimes information can get in the way. Sometimes we can accumulate so much information about God that it actually does something kind of nasty to our hearts. It actually makes us arrogant, which gets in the way, it derails transformation.
I had a college English professor, I’ve shared this before, the college English professor that he seemed like the nicest guy in the world. In fact, I don’t know what his name was, I called him Professor Claus because he looked like Santa Claus, like, he had a round belly and a big bushy white beard and twinkly eyes. We studied the Gospel of John in my college English class, and it wasn’t a Christian university so I thought that that was really interesting. But I realized that the reason we studied the Gospel of John, was because he was trying to talk Christian students out of their faith. He was not Santa Claus, he was Satan Claus, right? But the thing is, he knew his stuff, like, he knew the Gospel of John really, really well, way better than I knew it at the time. And honestly, maybe even in some ways, maybe better even than I know it today. He had a lot of information but it hadn’t driven a transformation. If anything, it had made him incredibly arrogant, he had almost contempt for his Christian students who actually believed what the Gospel of John taught us about Jesus.
And so, I definitely understand what Paul said and why he said it to the church at Corinth. He said, “But knowledge puffs up, while love builds up. Those who think…” I love this, he said, “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” So information doesn’t drive transformation, it can actually derail it. Now, that doesn’t mean that information is bad. I think the reality is that information can direct transformation. You know, having the right information about who God is, who Jesus is, gives us a picture of where we’re supposed to be headed, and helps us to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he moves us in that direction. It’s much easier to get somewhere when you have some idea where you’re going, right? So information can direct transformation, it just can’t drive it.
Okay, so what does, right? What can drive transformation? And maybe you’re kind of a new follower of Jesus, and you’re wondering if there’s something that can kickstart your spiritual growth, or maybe you’ve been following Jesus for a while, and you’re feeling kind of stuck, and you’re wondering, you know, is there something that I can do that can help me move forward and becoming more like Jesus? Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
And to do that, I want to take you to a story of a man who experienced a dramatic transformation, a man who became so much like Jesus that, in fact, I think the story we’re going to get shows so many similarities to Jesus and everything he says and does that they’re kind of in your face and you’re forced to go, “Man, how did he get there? How did he get to this place?” So if you want to follow along, we’re going to be in the Book of Acts chapter 9, starting in verse 32 today, if you want to make your way there. We’re gonna be talking about Peter. Peter is one of the Apostles, one of the twelve guys that Jesus entrusted with starting this thing he called the church and we haven’t seen much from Peter in the last several chapters in this series because they’ve kind of been absent from the story. What’s been happening has been going on through other people but here, Peter reenters the story and he reenters with some momentum.
This says Peter traveled about the country, “He went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda.” Now, if you’ve been with us in the series, you may notice that that’s different than what we’ve seen at this point. Luke says that he was traveling about and we haven’t seen that. Luke’s told us that Peter and the Apostles have been staying pretty close to Jerusalem, maybe even sort of mistakenly staying a little close to Jerusalem, because as we’ve said throughout the series, Jesus gave the Apostles a three-stage plan for the church. Stage one, he said, “You’re gonna take the Gospel to Jerusalem, but then stage two, you’re gonna take the Gospel to Judea, and Samaria, the surrounding area.” And stage three he said, “You’re gonna take the Gospel to the ends of the earth to the rest of the world.”
And the Apostles haven’t been doing anything beyond stage one. The rest of the church has. In fact, the rest of church was scattered by persecution. And Luke specifically said, “The whole church was scattered, except the Apostles.” Everybody else has moved out on mission, but the Apostles have been staying really close to home but now we see a change in that, right? Now we see that Peter was traveling about the country.
And you might go, “Was that really a new? Maybe that’s what he’d been doing all along.” But actually, it doesn’t come across super well in English but in the original Greek, it’s pretty clear that this is a new thing. Let me give you a really, really literal translation of this sentence, it would say, but it came to be that Peter was traveling about through all the places and he visited. Three kind of interesting things there. First, it says that it came to be that he was traveling. And the point of that is that this is a new thing, this is not what he’s been doing, this is a new thing. It came to be he started to do this.
Second thing is that he was traveling about. And that’s an interesting phrase because it’s exactly the same phrase used in Acts 8:4 when the early church was scattered, everybody except the Apostles, the other church was scattered. And then Luke said that they traveled about the country sharing the Gospel wherever they went. So the idea is that Peter is now doing what the rest of the church had already been doing. This is a new thing.
And then it says that he was traveling about through all places, which is to say, he’s not hanging out in one place anymore. He’s not in Jerusalem. He is not just in Judea and Samaria, he’s moving out on a mission, and specifically, Luke says that he’s come to the city of Lydda. Now, Lydda was about 25 miles to the northwest of Jerusalem so this is pretty far, a ways out in those days, you know, 25 miles is a long way. So Peter is a long way from home base, that’s a good thing. He’s moving out on mission. And it was part of Judea and Samaria. So this is stage two territory. So Peter is at least out in stage two territory, okay?
And while he’s out there, “He found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years.” So he comes to this area, and he finds a man who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. And I’m curious, I know some of you have been following Jesus for a long time, you’ve studied the Bible a lot. Does that sound familiar to anybody? Does that sound like something you’ve heard before? Anybody? Nodding heads. A few people? Yes. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because it sounds a lot like something that happened to Jesus, actually.
There’s a moment and you can read about it in John chapter 5, if you want to jump there, I’ll just check this out. John chapter 5, Jesus came into an area and it says, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed,” same word. “And one who was there had been an invalid,” which is the same word in Greek, as bedridden, “Had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” So you got a lot of the same words. And so, you had the same kind of people. And so it’s a very similar kind of situation. And it’s too similar probably to be a coincidence.
Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, wants us to kind of catch that similarity because the point is that as Peter moves out on mission, he’s encountering situations that Jesus encountered and the question we want to ask is how’s he going to handle him? Is he going to handle him like Jesus, or he’s going to handle him in some other way? So he encounters a situation, what does Peter do?
“‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat,’ and immediately Aeneas got up.” What’s interesting about that is it’s almost exactly, almost word for word what Jesus said to that man in a similar condition he encountered. And then Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” And at once the man was cured, he picked up his mat and walked. Pretty similar, right? Probably too similar to be a coincidence.
And by the way, the Hebrews didn’t have a word for coincidence, which suggests they probably didn’t think that there was such a thing. They thought that sometimes God works underneath the surface, and we’re not always aware of it until we see coincidence and we’re like, “Well, that was weird.” And God’s like, “Yeah, sure, go with weird. It’s not weird, I’m just working and you’re kind of blind to it.” Okay. We’re supposed to see these similarities. So Peter encounters a situation very much like Jesus encountered and he handles it almost word for word, the way that Jesus handled the situation, right? God works through him, Jesus works through him and heals this man.
And the point seems to be that the more Peter followed Jesus on mission, the way he’s moving out on mission, the more he followed Jesus on mission, the more he became like Jesus, right? The more he became like Jesus, he acted like Jesus, he talked like Jesus. The more he moved out on mission and the more he followed Jesus on mission, the more he became like Jesus.
I just want you to kind of put a pin in that thought for a moment because we’re gonna see that idea continue to develop throughout this story. “And all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him,” they saw the man who could walk now, “and they turned to the Lord.” So interesting enough, Peter is now even more on mission. What he’s doing is bringing more people to a relationship with Jesus. So you have this kind of pattern, right? You know, the more he follows Jesus on mission, the more he becomes like Jesus, and the more he becomes like Jesus, the more he’s on mission with Jesus, bringing people into relationship with Jesus, there’s a kind of a spiral thing going on.
Now, “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha. In Greek, her name is Dorcas,” which is a very unfortunate name. “And she was always doing good and helping the poor.” Now, in Joppa. Joppa was about 35 miles to the northwest of Jerusalem. So the last city, Lydda, that’s about 25 miles northwest, Joppa was 35 miles which was farther out. So the point is that Peter’s moving farther out on mission. Yeah, here’s the thing about Joppa is that it was a region mostly inhabited by Gentiles, meaning there were Jewish people there, but there are a lot of non-Jewish Gentiles there, okay? And it was a seaport, which is where people came and went to the rest of the world.
So this is kind of stage three territory, right? The ends of the earth stuff. And the point is Peter’s moving further out in mission. And as he moves into this area there’s a woman there named Tabitha. Now I really wish Luke had just stuck with her Aramaic name, Tabitha is her Aramaic name but he went further and he said, you know, her name in Greek is Dorcas, like we needed to know that, right? Why do we need to know that? But by the way, just a little free piece of advice, I know sometimes people have kids and like, “I should name them a biblical name.” I’m gonna advise you not to name your child Dorcas. And if you do, my suggestion is don’t bother saving up for college, you want to save up for therapy because they’re going to need that. It’s just that it’s very unfortunate and it’s such a weird name actually because, in Aramaic, Tabitha is the word for gazelle, which is beautiful. Can we show a gazelle here?
Right? I mean, that is a beautiful creature, isn’t it? It’s elegant, and it’s refined and it’s lovely and in Arabic, Tabitha. That’s a beautiful name for a beautiful creature, right? And somehow or other the Greeks looked at that beautiful, refined, lovely creature and went, “Yeah, that’s a Dorcas. Right there, that’s a Dorcas.”
But, why does Luke tell us the Greek name like why do we care? Well, it’s actually going to become important here in a little bit. So just hang on for a second. But he starts with the Aramaic name, which is Tabitha, which is a beautiful name for a beautiful creature, but it’s also a beautiful name for a beautiful woman because she was always doing good and she was always helping the poor, right? This is a beautiful woman. But, “about that time, she became sick and she died. And her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Now, Lydda was near Joppa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him, and they urged him, ‘Please come at once.'”
And that is also remarkably similar to something that happened to Jesus. We won’t go there right now but you can read about it in Mark chapter 5, that there was a moment when there was a man named Jairus and he had a young daughter who died. And when she died, they put her in a room rather than taking her out of the house, which would have been normal, but they put her in a room, and some men went to Jesus. And they said, “Would you please come back at once?” And so again, Peter, as he’s moving out on mission is encountering situations almost exactly like the ones that Jesus encountered. And the question again, is, how’s he going to respond?
Joppa has a little bit of a resistance built into it because, again, it’s mostly a Gentile place. Is Peter gonna be willing to go, is he gonna be at the beck and call of random people? I mean, he’s the Apostle Peter, right? He’s the leader of the church. Is he going to be at the beck and call of people who call him into uncomfortable places? But Peter went with them, just like Jesus did. “Peter went with them and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. Now all the widows stood around him crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”
And I want you to notice something really important here there is an emphasis on the widows. There’s an emphasis on widows, this is only the second time in the entire Book of Acts… In fact, the only other time in the entire book that we have widows mentioned specifically. So there’s an emphasis on this group, the widows and he also says that they were showing Peter the clothes that she had made while she was still with them. Like that didn’t need to be said, right? It’s not like anybody’s gonna think that she made these clothes after she died. So why bother saying that she made these while she was still with them? And the point is to put a strong emphasis on these widows. And so they’re standing around Peter and they’re crying, and then they’re showing him the robes that she made, and understand what that means is that they’re showing him the robes that they were wearing.
And this isn’t a fashion show. They’re not going, “Oh, look how good her seams are, look how lovely her taste is,” no, no, no. They are going, “Hey, look, I’m wearing clothes because of this woman, I have something to wear because she took care of me.” In the ancient world, widows were among the poorest of the poor. They were in incredibly vulnerable, powerless positions in ancient society. But Dorcas had been taking care of them. She had been with them. She’d been providing for them. And so now they’re standing around Peter, and they’re going, “We don’t know who’s gonna take care of us.” That’s basically the question. The widows we’re wondering who’s going to provide for us now, do you understand that?
What’s interesting about that is that it’s very similar to something that happened earlier in the Book of Acts. We saw back at the beginning of the series, in Acts chapter 6. In Acts chapter 6, there was a situation where some widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food, they were in need, but they weren’t getting their needs met. And so people brought that to the Apostles and the Apostles delegated the work. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with delegating the work but the way they did it revealed, I think, something about their attitude towards widows. Listen to their words. If you weren’t with us a couple of weeks ago, it’s worth understanding what they said, as they delegated somebody else to take care of widows, “They said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God,'” neglect teaching, “‘in order to wait on tables,'” which is a strange turn of phrase. “‘Brothers and sisters, she’s seven men from among you, who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom, and we will turn this responsibility over to them and we will give our attention to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.'” To teaching. To prayer and teaching.
And again, I don’t think that the delegation was a problem but the way they talk about this ministry suggests that that’s not a good thing for us to be doing. As the Apostles, it’s more important that we focus on teaching and prayer. And the problem with that is that it’s not very much like Jesus. Jesus throughout his ministry was constantly taking time out to take care of widows. He fed widows. He healed widows. He taught about widows constantly. Widows featured prominently in many of his parables. They’re always sort of the hero, or they’re the people in desperate need being mistreated by somebody else. Widows were clearly very important to Jesus.
In fact, Jesus criticized spiritual leaders who didn’t care about widows and focused on other things. In Luke chapter 20 we’re told this, “While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the teachers of the Law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplace and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.'” In other words, they’re prideful. But, “‘They devour widows’ houses, and for a show make lengthy prayers.'” Isn’t that interesting?
And again, I’m not saying the disciples, the Apostles made a mistake by passing it off but in their way of talking about it, they suggest that they’re not all that much like Jesus when it comes to his heart for the powerless. In fact, there’s some kind of uncomfortable similarities between their attitude and what Jesus warned could easily happen. And so it’s interesting, Peter now finds himself surrounded by widows who are going, “Who’s going to take care of us?” And I love this because it’s a second chance to get it right. And I love that Jesus gave him a second chance because I can’t tell you how many times I need second chances.
I can’t say how good it is to be reminded that we worship a God of second chances, right? And let’s be honest, third chances, and fourth, and fifth and sixth. Like I get it wrong, so often the first time and often the second or the third but we worship a God for whom our failures are not fatal. God doesn’t go, “You didn’t get this right, you messed up, you’re a little bit off on this one, so I’m just done with you.” That doesn’t happen. Jesus died to pay for every one of those mistakes, even the ones we haven’t made, yet. He already knows about them. He’s like, “Yeah, you’re gonna mess up on this one a lot still but it’s okay, I’ve already paid for it.” And he keeps giving us these second chances. And so now Peter is in the situation. And again, he’s confronted with widows in need and he has a second chance. And the question is, how’s he gonna handle it?
“And Peter sent them all out of the room and then he got down on his knees and he prayed.” That’s so powerful. He sent them all out of the room, which is, by the way, exactly what Jesus did when he was in that situation in that room with that young girl who died. The first thing he did was he sent everybody out of the room. Now Peter sends everybody out of the room. Looks just like Jesus. And I’m not entirely sure I know what the sending out of the room means. If I had to guess I’d say it’s probably a sign of humility. The point is that, that they don’t want anybody in the room focusing on the miracle because then it’s easy to go, “Well, then that means that you’re a really important person because you can do these miracles.” He doesn’t want them really focusing primarily on the miracle. There’s probably some humility in that.
“And then he got down on his knees and he prayed.” And that’s powerful in a way that’s really easy to miss because, in the modern world, we’ve come to equate getting on your knees with prayer. And so it almost seems like that’s just another way of saying that you’re praying, right? In fact, if somebody said to you, “You know, I was on my knees last night,” you’re gonna probably naturally assume that they were doing what? They were praying, because getting on your knees and praying, they’re synonymous, right? But what’s interesting is, that’s not the case in the Bible. In fact, in the Bible, it’s pretty unusual to get on your knees and pray. I can only find three instances in the entire Bible, people clearly getting on their knees to pray. That’s not normally what it meant. It didn’t normally mean prayer, what it normally meant was humility.
Typically, in the Bible, when somebody gets on their knees in front of somebody else, they’re expressing humility. In fact, interestingly enough, the only other time that we see Peter get on his knees in the Bible was the first time he met Jesus. The first time he met Jesus, he’d been on the shore and mending some nets, they’d been out all night and hadn’t caught any fish and, and then Jesus showed up, he was teaching, and he’s backing up to the seacoast as people kind of kept crowding around him. And finally, he asked Peter, you know, in a couple of seconds, “Hey, could we put the boat out from shore a little bit,” and they got out and they weren’t very far out. And then Jesus said, “Why don’t you put down the nets for a catch of fish?” And Peter went, “We’ve been out all night, there’s no fish. And dude, it’s the wrong time of day. It’s the wrong part of the lake. There’s no fish, but whatever, dude.” It’s a rough translation to Greek.
So they put the nets down, and they started to haul them up and as they hauled them up, they started encountering resistance. And as they pulled on them, they began to realize the nets were completely full of fish. So full, we’re told that the nets began to break, that the strings began to snap. And eventually, they had to get other people to come. And between them, they managed to get all the catch of fish into the boat. And Luke tells us that the boat was so full that it began to sink. And it was at that moment that Peter had a lightning-bolt realization. He looked at Jesus and he went, “There’s never this kind of fish in these kinds of quantities at this part of the lake at this time of day. You didn’t just know where these fish were, you made this happen.”
What Luke says is that he fell to his knees. And he said to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, I’m a sinful man.” That’s humility, right? Now Peter is on his knees. What we need to understand is this is a demonstration of humility. And in it, you can almost hear Peter’s heart beating a little bit faster and you can almost sense his thoughts moving in the direction of going, “Jesus, I get it. I didn’t get it back then but I get it now. I get how important these powerless people are to you and how important they need to be to me. I didn’t get it right back then but I’m going to get it right now. Would you do work through me?”
So he prays and, “Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.'” And what’s interesting here is I promised I’d come back to this. Luke moves from using her Greek name. He’s been using Dorcas throughout this passage but now he starts to use her Arabic name again, Tabitha. Why the switch? Why the shift? What it suggests is that what Peter was doing, was speaking Aramaic in this moment, okay? He used her Aramaic name, so he would have been speaking Aramaic. And in Aramaic, check this out, in Aramaic, to say, “get up,” he would have had to say, “Tabitha, koum.” All God’s people went, “So?” Right? What are you waiting for? You’re getting into this information thing again, right? Here’s the thing, just let me geek out for a second, okay? It’s really very, very interesting. Peter would have said in Aramaic, “Tabitha, koum.” Tabitha, get up.
Back in Mark. As Jesus was looking at this little girl who had died and been laid to rest there, Mark says this, “He took her by the hand and he said to her, ‘Talitha, koum,'” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” In Aramaic, Talitha means little girl. And so you see the similarity there, right? Jesus took her by the hand and said, “Talitha, koum.” Now, you hear in Acts, Peter telling the dead woman, Peter said, “Tabitha, koum.” It’s just one letter difference. You see how much he sounds like Jesus? I mean, that’s a remarkable coincidence.
And it’s not just a coincidence too because this is an interesting thing, again, sorry, just got to get off here. It’s weird that in the Gospel of Mark Jesus’s words in that moment were kept in Aramaic. All of his other words are rendered in Greek. The Gospel of Mark is written in Greek, all of it, but in this one little spot, those words were kept in Aramaic. Why on earth would Mark have kept them in Aramaic? And so here’s what’s so interesting. You know, Matthew and John, they were eyewitnesses to everything they saw, so their Gospels are eyewitness accounts. Luke interviewed eyewitnesses but Mark wasn’t one of the original disciples. He wasn’t an eyewitness, so where did Mark get all his Jesus stories from? And the answer is he got from Peter. Peter is the source behind the Gospel of Mark.
So as Peter was telling Mark this story, he said, “Yeah, Jesus said,” and I don’t know, maybe the Bible went on, he said, “Yeah, when Jesus said to this woman… Oh, wow. He said exactly what the Holy Spirit led me to say to that woman in the house in Joppa.” And so he told Mark, “Hey, I want you to leave that one in Aramaic. Because what’s happening is that Peter was realizing something incredibly important. He was realizing that it was in this moment that he was the most like Jesus probably at any point in his life. It was in this moment that he was most like Jesus, that he was never more like Jesus than in this moment as he was serving those widows and being used by God to bring back the woman who had cared for them.
Peter is like, “I gotta remember that.” Which is interesting, because here is the thing, Peter was a great preacher. He’s a great communicator but he came to realize ultimately that it wasn’t when he was delivering his most powerful sermon that he was the most like Jesus. Peter was a great leader. People followed him. Thousands of people followed him. Looked to him for their leadership but he is realizing it wasn’t at my leadership best that I was the most like Jesus. I was the most like Jesus at this moment, when I was helping the powerless. So he looked at her and just like Jesus, he said, “Tabitha, koum.” “And she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up, and he took her by the hand, and he helped her to her feet. And then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.”
Don’t miss that, especially the widows, because that’s who it was for. It’s so important that we get this right. See, this miracle wasn’t proof of Peter’s power. It was proof of Peter’s willingness to humbly serve the powerless. Are you with me, church? It’s so easy to miss that. It’s so easy to go, “Oh, look, Peter, such a powerful Apostle, he could even raise dead people.” He can’t. Only Jesus can. But why did Jesus do such a powerful miracle in this moment? It’s not because Peters is the best. It’s not because he’s so powerful. This isn’t proof of Peter’s power, it’s proof of Peter’s willingness to humbly serve the powerless. And it’s in this moment that he’s the most like Jesus.
“And this became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord,” right? And you get this pattern again, right? He’s moving out on mission, which means he’s becoming like Jesus, and he’s becoming like Jesus, he moves out on mission, and he gets a chance to be more like Jesus, and he moves out on mission. It’s just this interesting spiral. “And Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.” Which is an interesting and actually a very powerful way to conclude this story. He stayed in Joppa for a while with a tanner named Simon. Why does that matter? Because a tanner wasn’t the kind of guy that Jewish people stayed with. A tanner, you know, they work with hides, and that meant they had to touch dead animals and according to Old Testament Scripture that God had given them, if you touched a dead animal you were unclean until morning, you’re ceremonially unclean until morning.
Now, over the years, what happened was Jewish people began to take pride in how obedient they were to God’s Word, and not only obedient to God’s Word, but they began to take pride in how many rules that they had invented to keep them even farther away from breaking that rule they were able to follow. And so Scripture says, if you touched a dead animal you’re unclean till morning. But the Babylonian Talmud, it was a collection of Rabbi teachings, it said, “Woe to him who was a tanner by trade.” Like if you’re a tanner, if you’re working with dead animals, you’re like the worst possible person. You’re not on God’s good side. And so what happened was, people tried to stay away from tanners. They didn’t want anything to do with them because there was a point of pride, how clean, how religious they could be.
Now, Peter, staying in one of their houses? He is staying in the house of the very kind of person that good Jewish people stayed away from? Who does that? Jesus does that, right? That’s what Jesus did. Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He went into their homes, he said to Zacchaeus, the tax collector, “Get down out of that tree, right? Today, I got to stay in your house.” He hung out with prostitutes. Hanging out with those kinds of people doesn’t give you prestige and power. It’s not a point of pride that you’re hanging out with those kinds of people, but it is a point of humility, right? Jesus is the guy who does this kind of thing. Now, so does Peter.
And you see, the point is he’s, he’s a lot like Jesus. It’s not where it started out. Peter is impetuous. And he’s rough around the edges. If you follow Peter’s story through the Gospel, the Book of Acts, he gets it right sometimes and he gets it spectacularly wrong sometimes. He’s in the process, like, the rest of us. That’s really good news. But here we see a very different Peter, here we see somebody who has experienced tremendous transformation. He’s so much like Jesus. And the question that we’re supposed to be asking is like, what did it? Like, what was the secret sauce? Right? What was the secret ingredient that drove that transformation? Was it new things he learned? It was things he practiced. He was moving out on mission, that was key. He was serving the powerless.
The point is this, if we want to become like Jesus, we have to humbly serve others in need. That’s the point. If you want to grow in your faith, but maybe like I said, maybe you’re a new believer and you feel how can I jumpstart my process of becoming like Jesus? Because that’s what we’re all about at Mission Hills. We say we will help people become like Jesus and join him on mission. Maybe your new volunteer’s like, “Well, is there any way that I can like fast forward it?” Yeah. You can humbly serve others in need. Or maybe you’ve been following us for a while, but you’re feeling kind of stuck. You feel like I don’t know that I’ve become a lot more like Jesus in the last month or the last year. Or maybe it’s been a longer period than that. I feel stuck. How do I get unstuck? Humbly serve others in need, that’s the secret sauce.
So I just want to ask you to wrestle with this very simple, but really important question. How will I humble myself, and follow Jesus on mission by serving someone in need this week? We’ve been doing challenges throughout the series. And the challenge for this week is to actually maybe write a letter or maybe take something to someone who’s in physical pain, who is struggling physically. It’s kind of what was happening here, that’s a person in need. And by humbling yourself, what we mean is, just by taking that time, you’re actually humbling yourself, because you’re kind of saying, “Hey, you know, my agenda is not as important as their need and so I’m going to serve that person.” You’re humbly serving someone in need by that and God will bless that. He will use that to begin to move you forward from where you are in your relationship with him. So maybe that’s what you need to do.
Or maybe, maybe there’s somebody that needs your forgiveness, and you’ve been withholding it. And in your pride, you’re going, “But I have a right to continue to hold this against them.” Maybe. But humility would say that we do what Jesus did, and we offer forgiveness even when they don’t necessarily deserve it. Or maybe, maybe you need to ask for forgiveness. Maybe pride is keeping you from telling somebody, “I did you wrong and I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”
Or maybe you need to realize that, you know, powerlessness is a very broad category. And in fact, on one level, every one of us is powerless. We may not be widows. We may not be poor but we are powerless in what we need most. We’re powerless to get a relationship with God that we need because our sin separates us from God, and you’re surrounded by people, you have people in your life who are powerless to get what they most need, a relationship with God. And maybe serving them would be that you invite them to find and follow the Jesus that you follow. And that can be difficult. It can be awkward because I don’t know how it’s gonna go if I maybe invite them to come to an Easter service or I share the Gospel with them and I talked to them about my faith in Jesus. You know, I don’t know how they’re gonna respond and pride can keep us from going, “I don’t want to take that risk.”
Okay, this is a great opportunity to humble yourself and serve someone in need because they’re in the same place of need that we all were in the same place. We cannot get we most need. We can’t earn our way into forgiveness but Jesus offered it to us and he offered to us humbly, right? He gave up his position, his power, and his prestige in heaven to come to die in the most humiliating way possible on the cross to pay the price for us. So maybe, maybe you need to humble yourself and serve someone this week by taking one of those invitations on your way out inviting them to come to Easter. Or getting up the guts to share the Gospel with somebody in your life that needs Jesus like you did.
But whatever it is, you want to get unstuck in your spiritual life, this is the secret sauce. We humbly serve others in need. Would you pray with me? Jesus, we thank you for your clear demonstration of this principle that you loved us so much that you’re willing to give up your prestige and your power to humble yourself, even to the point of becoming obedient to your Father and death on the cross. Without your humility and your willingness to serve those of us who are in need, we wouldn’t be here. We would not have the hope we have. We realize that to become like you means that share that same hope. We share that same love. We adopt that same willingness to humble ourselves and serve those you’ve put in our lives that have need, whatever that need is.
Holy Spirit, we just invite you to move in us right now. Speak to us about someone in need that you’re calling us to serve, to be like Jesus by serving them. Holy Spirit, give us clarity. In God, through your Holy Spirit, would you give us the courage to do it? Would you bless us as we move out on mission. Would you bless us so that our moving on mission gives us more opportunities which transform us in a way that information never could? We come to you humble right now and ask that you move in us and through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
God doesn’t show favoritism in who can be in relationship with Him. As a wrap on this series you are invited to do all we can to breakdown barriers that might be preventing us from reaching new followers of Jesus. What can you do to usher others toward a relationship with Him?
So, reconciliation is to bring together again. And really, the mission of reconciliation is to bring together again what sin has torn apart, right? And there’s a couple of pieces of that. The message that we have that allows it to is that God has made a way, right? That even though our sin has separated us from God, he sent his Son Jesus, he died on the cross. He paid the price for our sin. He rose from the dead. And if we put our faith in him, if we say yes to following him, our sin isn’t counted against us. And so, we’re reconciled to God. We’re brought back together again with God. And I think most of us probably kind of get that aspect of our mission, but there’s another side to the mission of reconciliation that we sometimes overlook, and that is, we’re also called to bring back together people that sin has torn apart. It’s not just our relationship with God, it’s also our relationship with others. And the reality is, unfortunately, that one of the biggest obstacles to the mission of reconciliation is just how comfortable we are with existing division. We’re not necessarily looking to reconcile with other people because we’re actually pretty comfortable with that. In fact, that’s a comfort zone. The divisions we have between other people is actually comfort zone. The problem is that division kills our mission.
It was the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated, the most divided hour in America.” And I do think some things have gotten better, but we got a long way to go still. And it’s
not just racial division, right? There’s all kinds of other things that the church has gotten pretty comfortable with, right? There’s stylistic division, that kind of music versus that kind of music. You know, there’s doctrinal division. And I’m talking about the core stuff, I’m talking about the tangential periphery stuff, the kind of gray area stuff. We’ll still divide over that stuff. It’s political division, right? I really worry that’s one of big problems as a church, is we have a lot of political division to get kind of just normal in the church, and that makes it hard to reach people.
There was a family that left Mission Hills last year. And they didn’t talk to me, but they talked to one of our staff people. And the reason that they gave for their leaving the church, and then it was reported to me was they said, “Hey, yeah, we’ve learned so much from Pastor Craig’s teaching. God’s really used him in our lives, but we can tell he’s a Democrat.” And I was like, “Well, first, I’m not a Democrat.” And they don’t get excited because I’m not a Republican either, right? I think it’s my job to preach to both sides of that aisle. And the thing is once I put a jersey on, it really gets hard to talk to the other team, right? If anything, I’m a referee. Okay? The problem is nobody likes the referee. Okay?
But they said, “Yeah. You know, God’s used him in our lives, but he’s a Democrat.” I’m like, “That’s kind of messed up actually, that you believe that God’s working through me and you’ve learned, but the very fact that you think I’m a Democrat, even mistakenly, means that you can’t be here?” That’s the kind of division. And, unfortunately, I see that happening in the church quite a bit, and I’m afraid that division’s killing our mission. Really, one of our biggest obstacles to the mission of reconciliation is just how comfortable we’ve gotten with division, with existing division. So, what I wanna do today is I wanna take you to a story of a man who confronted that tendency that we have to get really comfortable with division, but he realized that he could not be on mission if he was gonna be comfortable with division.
If you wanna follow along, we’re gonna be in the Book of Acts starting in chapter 10, verse 1 today. While you’re making your way there, I’ll just tell you, this is another story about Peter, the Apostle Peter. Now, if you were with us last week, you remember that we saw Peter make some huge progress in becoming like Jesus. We saw a couple stories where he looked just like Jesus. And the secret sauce to that spiritual growth was the fact that he began to be humbly willing to serve powerless people. And today we’re gonna kind of see his final exam. It’s kind of that God kind of gives him a test, “Are you really willing to serve powerless people?” But it’s a different kind of powerlessness that he confronts. It’s a powerlessness that we all face, which is our powerlessness to get what we most need, which is a relationship with God.
Acts 10, verse 1 starts off this way. It says, “At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius. He was a Centurion who was known in what was known as the Italian regimen. And he and all his family were devout and God-fearing. He gave generously to those in need and he prayed to God regularly.” So, what we know about Cornelius is he’s a religious guy, okay? He’s not Jewish. He’s a Gentile, he’s a Roman. And he hasn’t fully converted to Judaism. He is what the Jews call a God-fearer, meaning that he followed a lot of the Jewish religious practices, but he hadn’t fully committed to Judaism. But he did a lot of good religious things, and I would assume that Cornelius, like all of us tend to do, is that we tended to think that, “Yeah. If I just do enough religious things, then I’ll be right before God.” Right? That’s how you get on God’s good side, right? You do the religion thing, right?
The problem is that religious practices don’t make righteous people. Do you know that? We tend to think that it does, but there’s one teaching in the Bible that’s really clear, it’s that religious practices don’t make righteous people. They make self-righteous people. But that’s a completely different thing. Religious practices don’t make righteous people. What Jesus taught us, and he’s very clear about this, is that righteousness can’t be earned by practices, it can only be received in relationship. It’s the essence of the Christian message. It’s what makes Christianity so different than every religion. Every other religion says, “Yeah. Yeah. You earn right standing by your religious practices and your faithfulness of those things.” Christianity says, “No, no. Righteousness can’t be earned by practices. It can only be received. It can only be given to you in the contexts of a relationship.” That when we say yes to Jesus, we put our faith in Jesus and what he did on the cross for us, it’s at that moment that God says, “Okay, your sin is not counted against you, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re righteous.”
And it’s hard for people to get a handle on because it’s counterintuitive. But the reality is that righteousness isn’t a religious score, it’s a relationship status. Do you hear me? It’s not a religious score. We go, “Well, you know, sure it is, right? I mean, I went to church and I prayed this many times, and I read my Bible this many times, and I gave generously, and I checked off all these boxes and all those boxes over there that I’m not supposed to do. I can check those off too.” I didn’t do those either. And we tend to go, “Yeah. Look, I’m righteous.” Maybe not compared to God, right? But I’m grading myself on a curve. Aren’t you? I don’t have to worry about, you know, God’s standard, I got to be better than you guys. And I’m better than you guys. Probably not, actually. But that’s what we do, right. We grade ourselves on a score compared to, “Well, that person over there.” We pick the person who did the worst on the exam and like, “I did better than them. So, I’m doing okay, right?” We tend to think about it like it’s a religious score, but the reality is what Jesus taught us is that righteousness isn’t a religious score. It’s a relationship status. It’s only ours because we’re in a relationship with him.
You know, I’m working on my 30th year of marriage Coletta. And because we’re married, there’s some things that I do. There’s some practices that I have. Like, you know, I wear a ring, right? I don’t date other women. Very basic. Right? Surely, nobody is here and needed to hear that message today, right? If you’re married, you don’t date other women. But the thing is like, those practices don’t make me married. They don’t make me let Coletta’s husband. I’m Coletta’s husband, not because of those practices, but because I committed to the relationship, right? Well, we said, “Yeah. It’s you and me till death do us part.” It’s a relationship status. And it’s like that with righteousness. It’s not a religious score. It’s not a result of the practices. It’s result of a relationship. We can only receive it in relationship.
Cornelius is a good guy. He’s a religious guy, but…and this is so important to understand, he’s powerless to get what he most needs, which is a righteousness that would give him eternal life. He’s powerless to do that. That can only be received. It can’t be earned. The problem is he’s a Gentile. He’s not a Jewish guy. And up to this point, pretty much all the people who’ve entered into this relationship with Jesus have been Jewish people, or at least they’re close to it. Now, there have been a couple of exceptions, couple of interesting hints about what God’s doing, but the Apostles and Peter haven’t been involved in any of that. So, Cornelius is kind of on the outside. He’s on the other side of a division that would get in the way of that relationship.
But one day at about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God who came to him and said, “Cornelius…” And Cornelius stared at him in fear. What is it, Lord?” He asked. And the angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” He says, “They’re good things. They’re not gonna get you into heaven, they’re not gonna make you truly righteous, but they’re good and God’s paid attention.” But he said, “Now, send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who’s called Peter. He’s staying with Simon, the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” And when the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendance and he told them everything that had happened and he sent them to Joppa.
And what we need to understand is that Cornelius probably was operating under the assumption that this wasn’t gonna go well because he was sending Gentiles to a Jewish man and saying, “Hey. Why don’t you back to my house, to a Gentile house.” And Jews and Gentiles didn’t do that. There was a division between the two of them. And so, his natural assumption would’ve been like, “This is not gonna be an invitation that’s gonna be accepted.” But the angel has given him just the tiniest little bit of hope. He said, “Yeah. You’re gonna find this guy in the house of Simon, the tanner.” Now, if you were with us last week, you may remember that. That was kind of an unusual place for Peter to be because tanners were unclean in the Jewish faith. Tanners worked with dead animals, tanning the hides, and the Old Testament law said that anyone who touched a dead animal is unclean until morning. And so, good Jewish people tended to create a division between them and people who dealt with dead animals. But Peter is staying at a tanner’s house. That was an unusual thing to do. And so, maybe Cornelius has a little bit of hope that maybe Peter is not gonna maintain the traditional division, that maybe he’d be willing to step over that boundary.
Now, about noon the following day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up to the roof to pray. He became hungry and he wanted something to eat. And while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to the earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals as well as reptiles and birds. And then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” “Surely, not, Lord,” Peter applied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Now, what that’s telling us is that in this sheet that he sees, there are both clean and unclean animals. And there’s two words being used here, by the way. There’s clean or unclean and then there’s pure or impure. And sometimes people have tried to go, “Well, maybe there’s referring to two different things.” But they’re actually talking about the same concept.
The Old Testament word was clean or unclean, but by the first century, a lot of the Jewish people were using the language of pure or impure. But they’re talking about the same concept. It was a new word. Because language changes over time, right? Like, if went back in time and, you know, somebody showed me their cow and I was like, “Hey, that’s a cool cow.” Right? They’re gonna be like, “Nay. It half not a chill.” Right? It’s just a word that changed. Well, over time, the word had kind of moved from clean to pure. It moved from unclean to impure, but the two words referring to the same thing. And what they’re referring to is the fact that in the Old Testament Law, God had told the Jewish people, his people, he said, “Hey. Basically, there’s clean animals. There’s unclean animals. As my people, you’re only gonna eat the clean animals. You’re not gonna eat the unclean animals.”
Now, a lot of people have argued over the centuries about what exactly made an animal clean or unclean, what God’s, you know, sort of rubric was for that process, how did he figure it out? And, honestly, I think we’re probably barking up the wrong tree there. The Bible doesn’t tell us why some animals are clean and others are unclean, and I think trying to get really detailed about something the Bible doesn’t go into I think is probably a waste of effort. What we know for sure is this, that telling the Jewish people, “These animals are clean, and I want you to stay away from the unclean ones,” was intended to create a temporary social division between the Jewish people and the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people. It was intended to create a temporary social division.
And we always intend it to be temporary, but even so, you might go, “But why would God want even a temporary social division?” And the answer’s basically two things. Number one, He was creating a light in the darkness. He wanted the Jewish people to stand out to be different so people could say, “Hey, why do you guys, you know, do those things and why don’t you do these things that we all do?” And they were able to say, “Well, God told us not to.” “Who’s this God?” And that gave them the opportunity, the platform, just to speak the truth of God’s actions on their behalf, of his love. So, they were intended to be a light in the darkness.
The second reason that he told them to, you know, stay away from the unclean animals and to create this temporary social division was to preserve his people until the Savior arrived. But by creating this temporary social division, it protected them so they didn’t kind of get mixed in and lost in the rest of the tribes. And so, they were kind of there waiting for the Savior to arrive. But it’s a temporary social division to do those kinds of things. And so, now Peter is in kind of an interesting place. He sees this sheet coming down and it’s got clean and unclean animals in it. And the voice says, “Go ahead and kill any eat.” That’s a problem because God had already told him not to. And the voice didn’t say kill the clean ones. It just said kill and eat kind of all of them. Well, he can’t do that and obey the command.
And then there’s also the fact that they’re all kind of jostling around together and there’s an Old Testament command that said that if clean meat touched unclean meat, it became unclean. So, these animals are all touching each other. So, there’s no way that Peter can obey the Old Testament commands, and this voice apparently coming from God. So, he probably thinks it’s a test, right? He’s probably like, “Okay. God’s testing me to see whether or not I’m really gonna obey him.” And he realized like, “Yeah. I’m really hungry. So, I’m maybe kind of at my most temptable.” So, he goes, “Yeah. God’s testing me.” So, he says, “Surely not.” Which is very, very emphatic in the original language. It’s basically like going, “No way, Jose. Not a chance, Vance. I am not gonna do that, God. Not a chance. I’m not gonna do that.”
But the voice spoke to him a second time and it said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” That would’ve been incredibly unsettling for Peter because this wasn’t a suggestion. This wasn’t something that the Jewish religious leaders had come up with. This was Old Testament commandment stuff. God had said, “Those things are unclean. Don’t have anything to do with them.” And now God is saying, “Go ahead and eat them.” And when Peter goes, “No, I’m not gonna do that,” God kind of responds. There’s a little bit of kind of indignation, “Hey, stop calling unclean what I’ve made clean.” And Peter’s natural question at that point, it would’ve been like, “When did you do that? Like, did I miss a memo? Is there a book of the Bible that I didn’t know about? What exactly happened here?” And most Christian scholars, and I include myself in this particular group, we believe that what’s being referred to there is something that the Son of God did, that Jesus did.
In Mark 7:15, Jesus said, “Nothing outside a person can defile.” Or literally, make them impure. They’re using that impure word. “By going into them. Nothing outside a person can make them in pure by going into them, rather, is what comes out of a person that defiles them makes them impure.” And after he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about that. “Are you so dull,” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them, make them impure, for it doesn’t go into their heart, but into their stomach, and then it goes out of their body?” And in saying, this Jesus declared all foods clean.
Now, that’s an interesting statement. And it’s what we call an editorial remark, meaning it’s not what Jesus said, it’s what the Gospel of Mark writer said about what Jesus said. But what’s really interesting about that is that the source of Mark’s Gospel, we talked about this last week, the source of Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter, the Apostle. Peter’s the one who was telling Mark these stories in writing them down, so, this is well might be Peter’s editorial remark. And so, at some point, Peter’s kind of looking back on the ministry of Jesus, he’s thinking back on his experience there on that rooftop with this weird vision and the voice of God saying, “Don’t call unclean what I’ve called clean.” And he kind of puts it together eventually. He looks back on this thing that Jesus said, he goes, “Ah, I see what you do it there. All right.”
But even so, it’s kind of an unsettling thing because God seems to have changed a commandment, which raises the question, “Can God just change any commandment? Are all the commandments up for grabs?” And the answer’s no. And it’s a complex conversation, but let me give you a basic grid for thinking about this. All of God’s commands come from one of three places. All of God’s commandments to us, Old Testament, New Testament, they come from either his character, the creation, or a particular context. All of God’s commands come from character, creation, or context. And what I mean is some of God’s commands come because they are who he is. And he’s calling us to live in a way that lines up with who he is. And so, you know, God says, “Don’t lie or don’t break your promises,” because God is truth and he’s always faithful. And so, he gives us commands so that we would line up with his character.
Some of God’s commands come from the nature of the creation he’s made. He’s created the world in a particular way, and there are some commands of flow from that. I would put as probably the easiest example, God’s commandments about sexual intimacy. This comes from the fact that God created sexual intimacy to be experienced and enjoyed in the context of a lifelong committed marriage between a man and a woman. There’s a lot of commands around that, but they’re related to the nature of the creation.
Now, it’s kind of interesting. There’s no particular reason why there has to be man and woman. Like God didn’t have to create two genders. He could have created like no genders. Like, we could reproduce by sporing, right? We could just release spores. He could have done it. He did it with some creatures, but that’s not how he did it with human beings, okay? And so, there’s a nature of creation. There’sx2 some commands that come from that.
But then there’s some commands that are related to a specific context, meaning they’re intended to do a specific thing in a specific kind of situation. And I would put the dietary laws into that category. The purpose of them, again, was to create a temporary social division between the Jewish people and the Gentiles so that they could be a light in the darkness and so that they could protect God’s people until the Savior could arrive.
But when that context changes, those commands can change. Now, commands that come from God’s character are never gonna change because God doesn’t change. Commands that come from the nature of the creation aren’t gonna change because this is the that we’re in. But commands that come from context might change if God’s purposes change. We can’t change them. But if God chooses to, he has the authority to do that in those particular situations. And the dietary laws were part of that because, again, his point was to create this temporary social division, but now that Jesus has come, the Savior’s arrived, and Jesus isn’t the Savior Jewish people, he’s the Savior of all people.
And so, that message of reconciliation needs to be shared with both Jews and Gentiles. The problem is that division is gonna make that impossible because the Jewish people who have the message aren’t gonna be able to share that message with people that they can’t enter into relationship with. And the dietary laws made that impossible. It’s a little hard for us to understand, but in the ancient world, one of the clearest ways that you signaled the willingness to be in relationship with somebody was that you ate together. It was called table fellowship. And Jews didn’t have table fellowship with Gentiles. Jews didn’t have relationship with Gentiles because they couldn’t eat the foods together.
And so, God says, “That needs to change.” And so, Jesus changed it because the context has changed. He’s doing something new, he’s doing something different. Because Jesus said, “You guys need to understand, I have other sheep. They’re not Jewish sheep. They’re not church people. They’re not people who grew up in the church. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also and they too will listen to my voice and there should be one flock and one shepherd.” And you see the complete lack of division there? But the problem is that the dietary laws created a division, and now that division needs to go away because the context has changed. So, Jesus declared all foods clean.
And now Peter is on the roof and he is confused. This is such a deep part of his cultural identity and for God to suddenly say, “Yeah. It’s all different now. It’s a new world.” It’s interesting. Acts tells us this happened three times and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. In other words, God told him, “Hey, stop calling things unclean that I’ve called clean. So, go ahead and kill and eat.” He’s like, “No way, Jose.” Or, “No way, Yahweh,” I guess it would be. I don’t know. Three times Peter refused the commandment of God. And it’s not because he’s stubborn. It’s because it’s such a deeply ingrained part of the way that the Jewish people thought about what it meant to be faithful. And if you weren’t raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, there’s probably no way for you to really understand that.
I was talking to a friend who was telling me about this meal that he was having in New York City. There’s a lot of Orthodox Jewish people there, and so, people kind of understood that situation. He was eating with a Jewish friend. Now, he was a Messianic Jew, meaning that he was a follower of who happened to be Jewish and he’s like… You could tell he was Jewish. You looked at him, you just kind of knew, but he was a Messianic, which meant that he didn’t think that the dietary laws were something he needed to pay any attention to. He understood that Jesus had kind of changed that, but he had ordered a veggie omelet because that’s what he wanted. And then as he started eating, he realized, “Oh, it’s a ham and cheese omelet.” So, he called the waiter over just to let him know, “Oh, you gave me a ham thing.” And this guy saw that he was Jewish and saw there was a ham on and he just turned white and he started trembling, and shaking, and he just assumed, “I just lost my job.” Because even today among Orthodox Jews, that is a deep, deep identifier. For Peter, this idea that God’s saying, “Hey. There’s no more clean or unclean food. Just feel free to eat.” How can that possibly be the case?
While Peter was wondering about this vision, about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and they stopped at the gate. And I want you to notice they stopped at the gate because they assumed there was a division, that they were not gonna be welcomed to crossover. They assumed there was a division that they would not be welcome into a Jewish house. So, they stopped at the gate respectfully. And I was reading that and I found myself wondering, “Huh? I wonder, what would the people in my life who don’t know Jesus yet, what would they probably assume will create a barrier to relationship?” Because that’s what’s happening. They’re just assuming there’s a barrier to relationship, and it’s like, “What would that be like for me?” I got people in my life who don’t know Jesus. I wonder what they assume is a barrier to my relationship with them. And I’ll be honest, I’m a pastor, and pastors freak people out. So, like, you know, like Coletta and I’ll be walking through the neighborhood and sometimes we’ll see neighbors and they’re out there drinking a beer and they see us and they’re like. They assume I’m gonna be offended by the presence of a beer. I’m not offended by a beer. I think it’s icky, but that’s a totally different thing.
Or sometimes I’ll be talking to a nonbeliever and they’ll say a bad word and then they’ll be like, “Oh, no.” Kind of like, “Are you okay? Are your eardrums bleeding? Right? They just kind of assume that there’s a barrier to relationship because I’m a pastor, but I start thinking too, “You know, it’s certainly possible that we create that assumption that there’s a barrier by things we do.” Right? I mean, the reality is Christians sometimes can be judgmental. And sometimes people hear that judgementalism coming from us and they just assume, “Nobody’s gonna wanna be in a relationship with me when they’re judging me.” And it’s tough, right? We live in a tension. We live in a tension between grace and truth. And if we’re all grace, then we never tell people, “Hey, you’re living in a pit dug by your sin.” We just leave them there. But if we’re all truth, then they have no idea that we’re willing to reach down and help them get out of that pit in the name of Jesus.
So, we have to live in a tension, but here’s the thing. Tension is where we make music, okay? Think of a guitar string. How do you get the right note out of it? You get the right amount of tension between those two things. We tend to go one direction or the other. And it’s not an easy thing to do, but I do wonder, what kinds of things do I do or say in the hearing of my unchurched friends, people who don’t know Jesus yet, that might give them the assumption. Yeah. He’s not gonna want a relationship with me. And I encourage you. I challenge you to ask yourself that question. Well, what are your friends who don’t know Jesus yet, people in your life who don’t know Jesus, what do they just naturally assume is gonna be a barrier to your relationship with them? Maybe because of some things that you’ve done or said.
These guys assume, “Peter’s not gonna want a relationship with us.” So, they called out asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. Now, while Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon three men are looking for you. So, get up, go downstairs, and do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.” And I love that. He says, “Don’t hesitate.” Because he understands, the Spirit understands there’s gonna be some natural hesitation. These are Gentiles inviting Peter back to a Gentile house. Everything in Peter’s upbringing says you’re supposed to hesitate on that. And so, the Spirit says, “Hey, don’t hesitate.” And Peter’s like, “No.” “No, no, no, no. Don’t hesitate. Don’t give them any impression that there’s any kind of a division between you and them. Don’t you give them the slightest fear that you’re unwilling to be in a relationship with them? Do not hesitate to go with them for I have sent them.”
So, Peter went down and he said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” And the men replied, “We’ve come from Cornelius, a centurion. He’s a righteous and God-fearing man.” From the Jewish perspective, from the worldly perspective, he was righteous. Not righteous enough for God, because that only comes from relationship. They said, “He’s a good dude who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house.” Or literally in the Greek, “To come into his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” And Jewish people didn’t do that. They didn’t go into Gentile houses.
And so, Peter’s in kind of a weird place here. He’s suddenly realizing, “Huh?” Something he’d probably seen in the ministry of Jesus, but now he’s confronted with the reality of it himself and he’s uncomfortable, but he’s realizing, “Huh? Yeah. Old ways can be obstacles to reaching new people.” The old ways can be obstacles to reaching new people. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus said. He said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins. The wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” Old ways create obstacles to reaching new people, and he’s got a whole world of new people to reach.
So, I find myself this week asking this question, “Huh? What are some old ways that I prefer that could be barriers to reaching new people?” It’s easier to do with other people, actually. I remembered a youth pastor that I used to work with, I was leading a church that God, by his grace, had given us a lot of growth. We’d gone from like 150 people to 450 people in about a year. And in that time then the church had tripled, the youth group had gone down, and I was trying to figure out what was going on, and why aren’t these new kids engaging? Their families are coming, why aren’t they connecting?
So, I sat in on a youth group night and I heard our youth pastor, he preached a message, and it was interesting. He was using the King James Version of the Bible and I was like, “Dude, what are you doing?” And he knew the kids didn’t get it because he was translating as he went. He’s like, “Well, this old English word actually means this modern word.” And I was like, “Why are you translating a translation?” That’s an old way that’s probably getting in the way of reaching to people. What’s going on? And I said, “Do you think it’s more accurate?” He said, “No.” I said, “Then why are you using it?” He said, “Well, that’s what I grew up with. I just like it better.” Yeah. That’s an old way getting in the way of reaching new people.
But we all do it. I can tell you, you know, I look back several years, seven or eight years ago, I began to realize that like reaching people through the digital realm was gonna be a part of church going forward, and I didn’t like that. I’m an old-school preacher in the sense that I kind of like people in the room laughing at my jokes. I like when I can see they’re nodding or they’re not with me. Like the online thing, I didn’t like that, but I began to realize probably seven or eight years ago, “That’s kind of where the world is, and my preference cannot become an obstacle to reaching new people.” And so, I was starting to lean into that even before Mission Hills. And it’s amazing what God does with it. I was looking over some data that we have, and what we began to realize is that almost no one comes to an in-person service anymore before they’ve been to at least two online services.
That online matters, right? That digital ministry matters. Or I was in the lobby of our South Littleton campus a few months ago and there was a young couple that came up and they said, “Hey. We just wanted to just say hi. This is our first time being here in person, but that’s awesome.” And I’m just asking some questions. They said, “Yeah. We’ve been kind of part of Mission Hills for a year, but this is our first time in person.” I said, “Yeah. Where do you live?” And they go, “We live in Tampa.” And I was like, “Huh? Where’s Tampa?” And they said, “Like, Florida.” And I was like, “Oh. Okay. Man, how did you find us? How’d you get connected to Mission Hills?” They said, “All our parents go here.” I was like, “Oh, so, your parents live here?” And they go, “Well, they live in Pensacola.” By the way, if you’re listening and you’re from Tampa, Pensacola, we love you guys. We’re so glad you’re part of our movement, of our ministry.
But that’s kind of the reality of the world that we live in, but my older way of thinking about it could have gotten in the way of that. And I challenge you to think a little bit about the possibility that there are some old ways that you prefer that could be getting in the way of reaching new people. Can I brag on some of the boomers in this church? Boomers are like, “That doesn’t happen.” Right? When we were first trying to decide whether or not God was calling us Mission Hills, one of the reasons that we really felt like he was because we kept encountering older people who were coming to the 8:00 a.m. service. At the time, the 8:00 a.m. service was in the big room at the South Littleton campus. We didn’t have another service and we couldn’t make the change between the types of worship between the 8:00 a.m. and 9:15. And so, it was contemporary, and they did not like the music.
But what I heard consistently, and I loved this, was they told me, “Hey. Yeah. We really don’t like the music.” But if this is what it takes to be relevant to the next generation and reach them with a Gospel, that’s what matters. Wow. That’s one mission thinking right there. I loved that. It’s one of the reasons we’re here, is that this is a church that wants to be on mission. This is a church that doesn’t say, “We’re gonna hold on to old ways, that that’s gonna keep us from reaching new people.” What about you? We have a lot of old ways we can get in the way, old ways of just hanging out in our comfort zones, prioritizing our preferences, all these things we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks.
So, then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. That’s unheard of. He invited the men into his house to be his guests and then the next day, Peter started out with them and some of the believers from Joppa went along. And what you see Peter doing here so important. He’s living out a principle that social differences cannot be Gospel barriers. Hear me, church? Social differences cannot be Gospel barriers. So, just ask yourself the question, “What social differences am I allowing to be Gospel barriers?” Maybe it’s race, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s something else. Well, those people are just different from me. Yeah, they probably assume you’re not gonna be willing to have a relationship with them. But if that doesn’t happen, then how can you possibly be on the mission of reconciliation?
And the following day, he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. And as Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” That’s humility. While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people and he said to them, “You are well aware, aren’t you, that it is against our Law for a Jew to associate or visit a Gentile?” But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” See, he’s getting the message. He’s putting the pieces together now. You know, what God was telling Peter through the vision wasn’t intended to open up new culinary options. You get that, right? It was intended to remove a social barrier that needed to go for the ministry of reconciliation to move forward.
“But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. And so, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” Cornelius answered, “Well, three days ago, I was in my house praying at this hour at 3:00 in the afternoon and suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon, the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ And so, I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come.”
You can almost hear behind the words there, “I didn’t really think you would. But here you are. And it was so good of you to come. And now we’re all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” And so, then Peter began to speak. And he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but he expects from every nation, the one who fears him and does what is right.” You know the message, God sent to the people of Israel announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with them.
We’re witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews. And in Jerusalem, they killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He wasn’t seen by all people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen, by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he’s the one whom God appointed as judge of the living in the dead and all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers, the Jewish followers of Jesus who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God, and then Peter said, “Surely, no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They’ve received the Holy Spirit just as we have. And so, we order that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” And they ask Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Two things. If you’re joining us today and you’re not a follower of Jesus yet, you wouldn’t say that you’ve committed to that relationship. And maybe you’ve heard for the first time today that righteousness isn’t the result of religious practices, it’s only something we can receive in relationship. And if that’s you, what you need to understand from the story is this, is that there are no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up. God has removed them all. And so, if you’re going, “Well, I don’t know that I can follow Jesus because I’ve done a lot of bad stuff.” Now, Jesus died to pay for all that stuff. Maybe you’re going, “I can’t follow Jesus because I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I don’t know anything about church.” Doesn’t matter. There’s no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up. Or, unfortunately, sometimes the ones that you’ve borrowed from us, followers of Jesus. Because sometimes the way that we’ve lived have communicated to you that there’s a barrier that doesn’t exist. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry. And then my prayer would be that you’d forgive us. But you would understand that there are no barriers between you and God except the ones that you put up.
And so, right here, today, you can say yes to following Jesus. Your sin can be forgiven and you can have eternal life. All you need to do is right now, say to him, “Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I’m gonna be your follower from here on out.” That commitment begins a relationship that changes everything. And if you’re ready to make that decision today, my encouragement is just tell us you’re ready to make that decision by texting the word Jesus to 80875. Just tell us you’re ready to make that decision.
But maybe you’re already a follower of Jesus. And so, you’re going, “Well, what do I do with this?” The bottom line of the story, but also really, this entire section of Acts that we’ve been walking through for the last 10 weeks, it’s this. If we wanna live unleashed, we have to let go of old ways that keep us from reaching new people. Otherwise, we’re not engaged in the mission of reconciliation. If we wanna live unleash, we got to be willing to let go of old ways that keep us from reaching new people. Whether those are old ways of doing church, old ways of living in our comfort zones, old ways of prioritizing our preferences, old ways of just kind of honestly keeping to ourselves instead of living out loud with the faith that we have. You got to be willing to let go of those to reach new people.
And so, as we’re wrapping up this series today, I’m gonna give you a final exam. Here’s your final exam. To live out what we’ve been learning for the last 10 weeks. It’s a very simple question. “Who am I going to invite to an Easter service?” It’s a great way to apply what we’ve been learning. Who are you gonna invite to an Easter service? And I know some of you are like, “Hang on a second. Did you just preach a 10-week series intended to make us invite people to Easter services?” Yes, I did. Because we’ve been given a ministry and a message of reconciliation, this is a great way to practice that. Now, I know that can be awkward. And maybe you haven’t seen it done really well, and so, we put together a little video to tell you how not to do this, how not to invite anybody to Easter service, okay? So, check out this instructional video.
I don’t know how to follow that. I don’t know who those guys are, but they’re good. Someone should sign them. Oh, man. Well, we covered how not to do inviting people for Easter, but maybe just some creative ways of how to invite someone to Easter. Do it out of relationship, of course, and find somebody that you know. I always like to ask people what they do for Easter, Typically, just ask them, “Hey, what’s your tradition? What’s your Easter tradition? That usually opens the door for a conversation that leads to me saying, “Hey. Well, you can check us out online.” You know, I’ll give them the link. Or, maybe, “Hey. Even come check out Mission Hills if you’re in the area.” Or something like that. But, of course, we do those things out of relationship with people we know. And so, hopefully, God’s put somebody on your heart through this season and even today, and you’ll have the opportunity to grab invites on your way out as well. But, hey, let’s stand. It’s good to laugh in church, right? That’s okay, right? Yeah, it’s good. Let’s stand and just thank God for how good he is.