Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Church: A Place to Belong, a Place to Serve - Acts 6:1-7

The Church: A Place to Belong, A Place to Serve
Acts 6:1-7
Introduction: OK, the United States Soccer team, even though it lost it’s game on Thursday, has made it through to the final 16 of the World Cup.  Some teams in the competition have great stars, but really don’t play well as a team. Others, with perhaps less raw talent, do well because they play together.  I never played soccer in my life, but I watch these guys and like talking about what they do right or wrong. I’m an “expert”… from my Lazy-Boy!  A healthy church requires teamwork. Christianity is not a spectator sport. None of us is here to sit in the stands.  God saves us on purpose for a purpose: to have a part in His mission, for His glory. You are a part of God’s team! 
The Big Idea: God calls all of his people to ministry. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Have you found your place?

I. The Problem: No one can do everything for a church to be healthy (1). It’s not surprising that people looked to the apostles for leadership, but no one can do everything!
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” 
            The church was doing well, despite the opposition and persecution the believers had experienced. But the next “test” the church was to face could have had devastating results if it had not been handled well.
            “In those days…” That is, during a time when there was opposition and persecution from the Jewish leadership, and steadfast endurance from the Christ followers, “the disciples were increasing in number.” God was working and the church was growing, but it was about to face its next test.  But it would not only be external trials that would put the church to the test.  This trial would come from within.
            “…a complaint… arose…” I.e., a “murmuring.”  The verb form of the same root is used to describe Israel’s murmuring and grumbling against Moses (and the Lord!) in the wilderness (see Exodus 16:1-9 [emphasis added]).
“They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.  2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,  3 and the people of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."  4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily."  6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, "At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt,  7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?"  8 And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him- what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD."  9 Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, 'Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'"

It’s easy to look at the Jews in the wilderness and shake our heads at their grumbling and murmuring against Moses, and ultimately against the Lord.  Of course we never hear grumbling in the church do we? Even for New Testament believers it’s easy to forget the blessings God has given, and to get focused on things that seem unfair or even hurtful. 
            We get a hint about the potential division of the church in the next phrase, the Hellenists (the Greek speaking Jews) were complaining against the Hebrews (the Aramaic/Hebrew speaking Jews). They were all Jews, but the Hebrews spoke Aramaic and were concentrated in and around Jerusalem. The Hellenists were Jewish, but their day to day language was Greek and they were familiar with the Scriptures in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.  Most of them lived a distance from Jerusalme and their worship centered in a Synagogue. They often had a lot of interaction with gentiles for trade and business. Ethnic and linguistic barriers can sometimes breed mistrust, and mistrust is fertile ground for divisions. For the church to function the way God designed it, we need to focus on the unity that we have in Christ. We can’t let divisions separate us. 
            This is not the last time that divisions threaten to separate a church in the New Testament. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, for example, he has to admonish them not pridefully align themselves with one leader or apostle against another. If we have believed in Jesus we are baptized into Christ. He is the head, we are each a part of the body. And God calls all of his people to ministry. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Have you found your place?

II. The Solution: Each of us must discover his gifting and calling for the church to be healthy (2-6).
            First of all notice what does not happen here. There is no defensiveness, no denials, no passing the blame. I’ve heard Dan C. say more than once, “There are no problems, only solutions!”
2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."  5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.  6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 
            In 6:2 we see the first time in Acts that the term “disciples” is used for the believers. The twelve called “the full number of the disciples.” The implication is that the believers were all viewed as “disciples.” “Disciples” were not a super-spiritual segment of the believers in Jesus.  In the context of Judaism, a disciple followed the teacher, learning from him, usually because he wanted to be like him. Even though Jesus was in Heaven the believers still followed Him as they were led by the Spirit.  Do you think of yourself that way?  The Great Commission characterizes the work of the church from this perspective. After the resurrection Jesus told his followers at the end of Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples…”  That’s at the heart of what we see in Acts. People believe and are baptized, then they follow the Lord, learn about Him, and begin telling others. It pictures an engaged body of believers. For the church to be healthy everyone needs to do something.
            The apostles recognized their calling and understood that they had to prioritize the things Jesus had given them to do. They didn’t say this matter was not very important, they simply could not take on this task without neglecting their primary calling and ministry. No one can do everything. If we start thinking that we can, or that no one can me it as well as we could, or if I don’t do it, it will never get done, well that is the epitome of arrogance. God designed the church to be a body of mutually interdependent parts. An eye can’t be a foot and an ear can’t be a hand. We all can and must do our part, as God has gifted and called us.  Notice here that the apostles don’t just ask for volunteers. We need bodies to fill these positions. No, the people, together, nominate some to fill the need. I think it is still true that others in the body will encourage us to see our gifts, and to “try on” various ministries.
            Here, the people affected, the Hellenists, were to choose from among themselves seven men who had certain qualities: men of “good repute,” “full of the Spirit” and “wisdom.” Each of those characteristics are important when we choose leaders and delegate authority to them.
·        Good repute” – What kind of reputation do they have in the church and in the community?  What do people think about them? Ministry shouldn’t be a popularity contest, but perceptions usually have some basis in truth. Later when Paul tells Timothy and Titus the requirements for elders and deacons, they were to be men “beyond reproach” (I Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6,7) and “well thought of by outsiders” (I Tim 3:7).
·            Full of the Spirit” – The evidence of a life transformed by the presence and power of God was a requirement. This week Daniel was leading us again in a study of the Book of Galatians in the mixed adult Sunday School class.  Paul speaks in Galatians 5:22,23 of the “fruit of the Spirit” which stand in contrast to the works of the flesh. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control…” People who are controlled by the presence of the Spirit begin to stand out, people notice the change. Not that they are perfect – no one is. But there is less of the “old man” and more and more of Jesus.
·             “…and wisdom…” Wisdom, from a biblical perspective, is more than knowing facts about God or having good theology. Proverbs 1:7 makes it clear that there is a spiritual element in biblical wisdom, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom is God’s truth applied in the believers thinking and living.  We are being transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12:1,2).
      Notice, by the way, that the apostles don’t ask for volunteers, nor do they simply choose these men themselves. They ask the Hellenists, the Greek speaking believers in Jesus, to choose them from among themselves. This is implicit recognition of the priesthood of believers, as they exercise discernment and make choices, trusting that God is guiding the entire process.  This is why we have structures in place in our church that ultimately put the authority in all the members, the congregation.  We have elders and deacons and deaconesses that have certain responsibilities in the church, but they are chosen by the members from among the members.
            As a side note, while these men serve, tending to the need at hand, the apostles would give themselves to prayer and the “ministry” of the Word, the same word, diakonia, is used. Notice that whether it is distributing to the needs of widows, or preaching and teaching the Word, it is all serving, it’s all ministry.  Let me ask you an important question: Who are the ministers in this church? The answer should be: every single member of Boothbay Baptist Church. We are called to serve.  How is your serve?  By the way, I’ve tried to avoid calling these men who are chosen in Acts 6 “deacons,” since the text never uses that word for them. The offices of “deacon” and “elder” are in place by the time Paul is writing his letters to Timothy and Titus, but Paul is not even converted to faith in Christ at this point in the story, and churches are not yet being planted outside of Jerusalem. It may be that this event was the background to the establishment of the office of deacon. In our church, the elders serve essentially as lay pastors, and the deacons and deaconesses seek to assist the elders in the shepherding ministry of the church.  When Paul admonishes the elders in Ephesus he tells them to “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood…” (Acts 20:28). What do shepherds do? They know the flock, feed the flock, protect the flock, and lead the flock. Part of the knowing is watching out for needs, but also encouraging each one in the body to discover and use their spiritual gifts. No one can do everything, but we are a team, and everyone can do something!
            We have names of the seven who were chosen, of most of them we know almost nothing. A couple of them, Stephen and Philip, are soon found preaching the Word (Stephen, in the immediately following context, starting in 6:8 and into chapter 7, and then Philip in Acts 8). So once this critical need was met, it is clear that they could continue to operate in the area of their giftedness. The Spirit sovereignly bestows gifts, we are responsible to discover the gifts we have been given and then to use those gifts for the edification of the saints.
            Notice that the apostles laid hands on those who were chosen, indicating the unity of the church and affirming that they recognized that God had indeed chosen these men for work.  God calls all of his people to ministry. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Have you found your place?

III. The Outcome: As we recognize and embrace God’s design for the body we can fulfill our potential to the glory of God (7). Verse 7 is one of the key “summary statements” we see in Acts, indicating that Jesus is indeed working through His Spirit empowered followers to build His church.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
            The positive expansion of the mission is described in three phrases. First of all, “…the Word of God continued to increase…” I think the idea here is that the Word was going out, it was being preached and shared more and more.  We know the promise that God’s Word is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword and the certainty that God’s Word will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. And we see the effect of the increasing dissemination of the Word in the next phrase…
“…the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem…”
So we see the program Jesus outlined in Acts 1:8 is making strong and solid progress in phase one, in Jerusalem.  Remember He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Pentecost) and you will be witnesses for me, starting in Jerusalem…” The Word is being preached, the Spirit empowered witness continues strongly, and the church in Jerusalem is growing explosively. And though the impression is that most of the growth was from among the masses of Jews and proselytes, that wasn’t exclusively the case. Luke, the writer of Acts, let’s us know that “…and a great many priests became obedient to the faith…”
Jerusalem was the location of the Temple, and it was now, in phase 1 of God’s New Testament mission, that the priests in Jerusalem we having ample opportunity to hear and respond to the Word. After being threatened by the Sanhedrin, the apostles returned to the Temple daily preaching! God blessed their faithfulness. As the church was multiplying, a great many “priests” believed. Notice that that we don’t see any mention of “priests” in the church. A priest is a mediator between God and the people. In this age, there is one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. The protestant doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” recognizes that idea. We can go directly to the Father, through the Son. That doesn’t imply that we can be “lone ranger Christians”!  Quite the contrary, it affirms the central truth I am emphasizing here, we are called and gifted, every one of us, to be part of the Body.
What is God saying to me in this passage? God calls all of his people to ministry. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. Have you found your place?
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Does it make sense to you that God has saved you and that you have a place in the body? No one is saved simply to be a “rester” or an observer. Christianity is not a spectator sport. We need to get out of our Lazy Boy and get into the game.  For this Body to be what God intends it to be every one of us must consider our calling.
     1. First of all, we are all called to be witnesses. I know we’ve repeated that a lot these last few months, but it is a key idea in the book of Acts. We are not all evangelists, but we are all witnesses, placed by God exactly where He intends us to be. Be praying for those around you who need to know Him. Next week looks like an excellent opportunity to invite one or more of those that you are praying for to come. Darryl Witmer will bring a dynamic message, we’ll have inspirational music, and a picnic/barbeque to follow. If everyone brings one, we’ll have a full house!
     2. Secondly, we have all been given a spiritual gift (or gifts). Have you discerned what your gift is? Are you using your gift for the encouragement and building up of the body? If you haven’t discovered your spiritual giftedness or if you are unsure about how you might be able to serve, talk to a deacon, or deaconess or elder and we’ll walk with you as you seek to discern God’s direction for your involvement. God saved you for a purpose. None of us can do everything, but by His grace all of us can do something. Ask God to help give you direction.

     3. Maybe you have trusted Christ as your savior and have been attending Boothbay Baptist Church for a while, but have not yet become a member. Why not? If you feel that God has you here, if you agree that the Bible teaches “every member a minister,” why not talk to an elder about making it official and fully becoming a part of the body?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Our Mission and the Sovereignty of God Acts 5:21b-41

Our Mission and the Sovereignty of God
Acts 5:21b-41
Introduction:  Have you been watching any of the World Cup this week? It’s hard for many of us Americans to grasp how big this is for most of the planet. Except for parents who have kids playing soccer, for most of us in the United States this might be the one time when we begin to give some attention to the most popular game in the world.  The World Cup presents perhaps the biggest, most watched contest in the world of sports. In Brazil, when their team is playing, everything stops, banks close, streets are deserted, even hospitals run on a skeleton staff (no elective procedures!). If you’ve watched the news reports or seen any of the games, when they show the people in the stands, you see people crying, cheering wildly, dancing, or even fighting, depending upon what is happening on the field at the moment. They are engaged in a battle! I am right there with them, aren’t you? But it’s all for fun, right?  Well, a far more important battle is contested daily for the hearts of humans. An aspect of the battle is described in the rhetorical question that begins Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord, and against His Messiah…”  The fact is, that we are not neutral from a spiritual perspective before coming to Christ, and the resistance of humans to the reign of Christ is one of the dominant themes in the book of Acts. 
The Context: We are in a section of the book of Acts where the overarching theme is that Jesus is building His church, even through times of testing. In the immediate context, the apostles had been arrested for the second time after persisting in preaching Christ after having been arrested and warned to stop in chapter 4. As we saw last week they are arrested again in Acts 5, but God had more work for them to do, so He sent an angel in the night who brought them out of the prison, and immediately they followed orders and got back on task.
The Big Idea is a major theme in Acts: Though God’s Mission will always encounter opposition we can trust in His presence and rest in His power as we speak the truth in love.
I. The Wrath of Men and the Grace of God (21b-24). 
“Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought.  22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,  23 ‘We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.’ 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.
         The conflict between fallen humans who don’t know the Lord and God’s kingdom is evident throughout the book of Acts. Jesus defeated death, and through His followers that good news is being preached. Yet those who have not yet believed are not simply “neutral” spiritually.  They are enemies of God fighting against his Rule. It struck me this week as I looked at this part of the story, how God’s grace is evident in His work in this scene. The disciples had been arrested for a second time, and imprisoned.  God sent an angel to liberate them. Yet rather than sending them off to another place, or having them go underground, they were sent to the most public place possible, to the Temple, where they would surely be found. Why? It seems to me that God is graciously allowing the religious leaders, along with the nation, the chosen nation who had been entrusted with the oracles of God and through whom the Messiah had come, to have further opportunity to repent and believe. What a study in contrast, the wrath (and rebellion) of unregenerate humans, and the grace of God!
 The Leadership that opposed the followers of Jesus thought they were in control.  They intended to bring the disciples to be judged, “but” (v.22) God had another plan for the moment. As we continue through Acts it will be evident that God does not keep His followers from experiencing hardship or injustice in this life. Read Paul’s resume in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28,
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;  26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;  27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness --  28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
Well that would cause you to want to sign right up wouldn’t it? But for Paul, and for every Christ follower, the promise is that we are never alone, our days are in His hands, we have eternal life, and “The sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
There is a remarkable contrast here between the anger and intentions of the leaders who don’t know Christ, and God’s gracious intervention.  The striking truth is that humans are in rebellion against God, and yet God in His mercy and grace preserves the church and sends the gospel to the lost. The scene here is reminiscent of the soldiers coming to arrest Jesus in the Garden. They announced their intentions then, and Jesus said, “I AM,” and they fell down helpless on the ground.  They couldn’t touch him unless he allowed it. In this case they go to get the disciples, and they just aren’t there! They are left perplexed about what had happened.  We are reminded that God is in control, but notice that He didn’t send the angel to rescue the apostles and to warn them to get out of town. The Gospel of Christ is still going to the Jew first, starting in Jerusalem. [By the way, there is an interesting parallel between Jerusalem at the feast times and Boothbay in the summer! Remember how the crowds at Pentecost had such a mix of Jews and proselytes from all over the known world. What a mix of people come to this mission field in the summer! This is our Jerusalem, our first mission field].  Though God’s Mission will always encounter opposition we can trust in His presence as we speak the truth in love.

II. Spiritual Blindness and the Grace of God (25-28).
And someone came and told them, ‘Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.’  26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.  27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,  28 saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.’
            You might think that the unexplained disappearance of the disciples from the jail would have evoked questions and an investigation. The doors were locked, they were under guard, and yet they got out? How? But it seems that the leaders are so set in their minds that they were perplexed, but maybe don’t want to know what had happened. As soon as word came as to where the disciples were and what they were doing, they must have been shocked, but rather than considering what this meant, they sent for them, and their intentions were not good. They were blind to the spiritual implications of their miraculous disappearance from the jail and seem to go right back to their plan to suppress and extinguish the followers of Jesus. What a picture of spiritual blindness!
             We have stories of miraculous healings done by Jesus in the gospels, including stories of those who are blind receiving their sight. One of the most detailed accounts is back in John 9, where we see Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The part of the story that I want to note here is that the man doesn’t start out seeking Jesus or asking for healing. Jesus, after speaking to His disciples, goes to him and intervenes. The healed man receives his physical sight, but also, as the story progresses, his spiritual eyes are opened as He comes to recognize Jesus as messiah.  It’s like the song Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see.”  By the end of the story the religios leaders ask mockingly, “Are we blind too?”  And the clear answer is yes you are!  God’s intervention is not earned or deserved, it’s all mercy, it’s all of Him, for His purpose, according to grace.
             When I got saved as a young adult, I suddenly understood the depth of my need and got at least a glimpse of God’s grace. It made sense. My eyes were suddenly opened to understand the gospel. What I didn’t understand was that it might not make sense to everyone else!  I thought that I had never heard the message before, it’s more likely that I had heard but simply didn’t understand!  I was blind, by His grace, my eyes were opened and now I see!  Might I remind you as you seek to share the lifesaving message of Jesus, those you are seeking to see rescued are blind. They can’t see, they are unable to understand (I Cor 2:14).  Yet God has chosen through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.  There is something supernatural going on as we seek to be a witness for the Lord. God is still opening the eyes of the blind!  So be encouraged, though God’s Mission will always encounter opposition, we can trust in His presence as we speak the truth in love.

III. Obedience, the Holy Spirit, and Preaching the Grace of God (29-32).
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.  30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.  32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’"
            In chapter 4 the disciples had asked “You tell us, is it right for us to obey you or God?”  Here they simply state the same idea, “We must obey God rather than men.” Obedience to God was not an option, it was a decision that they had already set in their hearts.  Notice that v.29 ends, talking about obedience, and v.32 returns to that subject. The paragraph focuses on the truth that  the Holy Spirit is working in those who obey Him.
            Verse 30 presents as about as abrupt a contrast as you could imagine. To paraphrase: “God raised Jesus, you killed Him. Your action was the complete opposite, the exact antithesis of what God had done.”  Peter is not very subtle in his presentation, he gets right to the point. This is what God did, after you did your part! And the way He was killed, “hanging on a tree,” was only for the cursed.
              You made him a curse by hanging him on a tree, but v.31, “God exalted Him at his right hand (the place of blessing and preeminence) as leader and Savior (what grace! Not Judge first of all, but Savior) to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. The message of Jesus continued to be preached to the Jews to give the people, including their leaders, time and opportunity to repent—to change their mind about Him.
             The disciples said, “We are witnesses to these things…”  To what things? To his mockery of a trial, to his death and resurrection, and to the pouring out of the Spirit on those who obey. The age of the Spirit had come, God present with us and in us. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something that applied only to a few or the elite or to then and there, it is normative positional truth for all who believe and are born again. So, though God’s Mission will always encounter opposition we can trust in His presence as we speak the truth in love.

IV. The Hearts of Men and the Grace of God (5:33-42).
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.”
 They were enraged, “cut to the quick,” and wanted to lash out in their anger and kill the disciples.  In the entire Bible this word occurs only here and in Acts 7:54, after the speech of Stephen. You know how that story ends!  It indicates the conviction of the Spirit that is the objective exposing of the guilt of an unrepentant heart. There is no pretense toward tolerance or consideration, and certainly no openness to consider the implications of what was happening. Peter’s words were like fingernails scraping against a blackboard, they couldn’t stand hearing it any more.   Their sin was exposed, their guilt was in the light, so their first reaction is to try to put out the light.
34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up…  38 ‘So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;  39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!’  So they took his advice,  40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ
            Murder was on the hearts of the leadership, they had had enough. “But…” God intervened. Not directly as He had done in sending the angel to open the prison door, but subtlety, turning the heart of one of the leaders, perhaps the most influential and most universally respected among them, a man named Gamaliel.  That name might sound familiar. He was the teacher of Saul of Tarsus, and one of the most prominent rabbis of his time. He was so respected that one historian said that “When Rabban Gamaliel died, virtue departed from Israel.”  V.34 says he was held in honor, respected, by all the people. He stood up and spoke, and they listened.  And it seems that God allowed the rabbi’s heart to be softened, so that his testimony could avert the premature cutting off of the apostolic witness.  But was his counsel correct?
            1. Certainly, in an ultimate sense, no one wants to be in the position of fighting against God!  It is surely correct that human opposition is not going to block the progress of what God is doing and ultimately God will defeat every false religion.
            2. On the other hand, it is true that false religions can flourish, even for a very long time. Ultimately they will be destroyed but that may not happen until the final judgment! Islam, pseudo-Christian cults, even humanism which is another form of idolatry are lies opposed to God and His truth, but they are still spreading around the world.  Ultimately God will cut off all the idolatries of humans, but they can spread for decades, even centuries, in this present evil age. Remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,  4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”  This underscores the desperate need of the world, the masses that are perishing in their ignorance. And it also highlights the importance of our mission to rescue the perishing, to bring the only message that brings life to those around us.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Though God’s Mission will always encounter opposition we can trust in His presence as we speak the truth in love.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? One of the themes that carries through this passage, is the grace of God in allowing humans to hear the message of Jesus. Humans are in rebellion against God apart from Christ, “The nations roar and the people devise a vain thing against the Lord and against His Anointed…” Yet God sends the message of the gospel to the lost. Much as the church in the Book of Acts, God has gathered together here a body of believers. Diverse gifts, but a unified mission, to declare the message of His grace to the world, starting right here in our Jerusalem.  Summer is an exciting time in Boothbay since the world comes to us. Visitors, vacationers, seasonal residents, seasonal workers from all over the world. How can we most effectively be the “rescue station” God wants us to be? 
     1. Remember, it’s not about you. God will ultimately be glorified through the preaching of the Gospel. His Word will not return void, it will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent. We want people to like us, we want them to be our friends, but we have to love them enough to risk them not liking us. We need to love them enough to point them to Jesus. Not with pride or arrogance, but one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.
     2. Remember you are not alone! God’s presence is promised to those who know Him. “I am with you always.” I was kind of afraid of the dark when I was a kid. But when my father was there, no problem, no fear, tranquil. He was bigger than anything I might face, and whatever came up, he could handle it!  We are the King’s kids, we call Him “Abba, Daddy.” And Jesus himself has promised, “I will never leave you…”

     3. Let’s determine to allow God to use us as He would this year, let’s make His priority ours. At the end of chapter 9 of Matthew Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth workers into the harvest…” In chapter 10, he sent the disciples! That should be our prayer: Father, the need is great, the fields are white, send forth workers. And here, in our Jerusalem, we are part of the answer.                                                 AMEN.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dad, The Family Shepherd - Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Dad, the Family Shepherd: Fathers’ Day 2014
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Introduction: I like the answer of the little boy who was asked about the meaning of “fathers’ day.” He said, “It’s just like mothers’ day, except you don’t spend as much on the present.”  I decided to break from our Acts series this week to look at what I view as one of the foundational passages for the family, and especially for fathers.  The passage, called the “Shema” (so-called after the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear!”) is so foundational to the Hebrew Bible that pious Jews to this day recite the paragraph, in Hebrew, daily.  The title for the message today is one that I have used previously, “Dad, the Family Shepherd.” There are many parallels between the role of a Pastor, (which actually means “shepherd”) and the calling of fathers as they lead their families.  Shepherds know the sheep, they feed the sheep, they protect the sheep and they lead the sheep. In our church we believe the Bible teaches that God has called the pastor along with the other elders to share in that kind of ministry in the church. (We’ll actually look at that in a couple of weeks when we begin Acts 6 and the choosing of the first “deacons”).   From a certain perspective God has delegated that same authority and responsibility to fathers: they know their families, and are to provide for them and also protect and lead them. 
The passage we’ll look at this morning in Deuteronomy shows the necessity of teaching the next generation and leading them to the Word that gives life. Remember, it’s been well said that God has no grandchildren, only children.  Remembering the context, that is exactly what Moses is doing in Deuteronomy. The generation that left Egypt as adults in the Exodus had died in the wilderness. Moses is calling this new generation to embrace a personal faith in the God of their fathers. And that is true of every generation. They need to be led to their own authentic faith in Jesus, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.  One writer noted the inevitable decline that will occur if we fail to do that: “To our forefathers, our faith was an experience. To our fathers, our faith was an inheritance. To us, our faith is a convenience. To our children, our faith is a nuisance.” To avoid that kind of downward spiral it is essential to do all we can to lead the next generation to authentic, personal, faith in Jesus. We’ve been talking quite a bit about our mission the last couple of years. It starts at home.
       The Creator has established certain principles for being an effective and godly parent – we’ll see several reflected in this text. To be sure, none of us have fulfilled our calling as men perfectly. Honestly I know that I could have made many better choices, especially with my time. I am blessed by the many positive examples that I see in our church.  All of us still have a role to fulfill in impacting the next generation for Christ, and we can all hear the Word and determine to be the positive influence God intends us to be starting today.  His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness! 
The Big Idea is pretty simple (well, simple to say, that is, not so simple to live out!): Nothing can impact a family more powerfully than the teaching and example of a godly father: one who is in the Word and who is walking with the Lord.

I. The Goal of a godly Father: Impacting our Children for Eternity (1-3).  
"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,  2 that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.  3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
            God had spoken. Listening and carefully obeying the Word God had spoken through Moses would give the Israelites the abundant life of blessing in the Land which had been promised by God.  Obedience to God’s revealed Word was the means to his blessing – the way to discover and experience God’s best for his chosen people. 
The underlying presupposition is that men are expected to be students of the Word.  And that makes sense since we cannot impart what we do not possess. We need to be in the Word if we are going to teach the Word. There is a tremendous ignorance of the Bible today.  Have you ever watched “Jeopardy!”?  Brilliant people – often ignorant of basic Bible facts. There was a report of a New England teacher who quizzed a group of college bound juniors and seniors on the Bible. The quiz preceded a class on “Bible as Literature” he planned to teach at Newton High School in Massachusetts.  Some of the answers he received:  “Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers.” “Jezebel was Ahab’s donkey.”  The Four horsemen appeared “on the Acropolis.” The New Testament gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, LUTHER, and John. “Eve was created from an apple.” Jesus was baptized by Moses.  A student in the top 5% of his class won the prize though when asked “What was Golgatha?” He replied, “Golgatha was the name of the giant who slew the apostle David.” The lack of Bible reading and ignorance of what the Bible teaches is endemic in our society.  When we consider that the God who is, the creator of the universe and only Savior of humans, has spoken, and so few are listening, it could be discouraging.  But before we are too hard on unbelievers, we should be sure to look in the mirror and ask how much time we actually spend in the Word. We believe it to be God’s word, yet how easy it is to allow other activities to squeeze out time in the Word!
            Jesus said “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  We can experience God’s best for us as well, abundant life, life with meaning.  Believing God and obeying him are tied together in the Bible.  I think the ESV translation gets the sense of John 3:35,36 and illustrates this truth:
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.  36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:35,36a; see also John 10:27,28).
Notice that in contrast to “believe,” we see “does not obey.” It’s not enough to know what the Bible says. We take God at His Word, and we do what He says. Trust and obey, there is no other way!  Nate Saint said his life didn’t change until he came to grips with the fact that “obedience is not a momentary option: it is a die-cast decision made beforehand…” As James puts it, we are to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only…”
            Deuteronomy 6:2a hints at the generational impact the Bible can have on our families: “ that you, and your son, and your grandson…” Knowing the word, obeying it, teaching it diligently would be the means of experiencing blessing, and also for impacting the next generation(s) for Christ. 
            It is true that a Father’s teaching may not be appreciated in the short term, but it will have an impact on a child’s life. Father’s are not always appreciated, especially by children in the adolescent years. Mark Twain famously said: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in just seven years.” It may take time, but God’s Word will not return void, it will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Nothing can impact a family more powerfully than the teaching and example of a godly father: one who is in the Word and under the Lordship of Christ.

II. The Foundation of our mission: Knowing God Intimately and personally (6:4,5).  It’s a simple fact that you cannot impart what you do not possess. Moses writes here about knowing and loving God: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
            An exclusive commitment to the true God: First of all we see the absolute necessity of a commitment to God, a clear cut, exclusive commitment to the Lord as our God (v.4).  I am convinced that many traditional translations of this verse miss what the writer intended to emphasize. The Hebrew construction leaves a little ambiguity as to the translation, but the context should clarify what the writer meant. Chapters 5-11 of Deuteronomy are an affirmation of the Lord’s exclusive claim to Israel’s devotion and love.  He alone is God!  The NIV notes in the margin, as a possible translation: “Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone!” That seems to be the point the writer is making.
            First, the first word, “Hear!” “Listen well to what I am about to say!” It’s like the preacher who says “If you take one thing away from the sermon today let it be this!” It’s the “big idea” of the combined speeches we have in Deuteronomy. Moses emphatically and dramatically calls for allegiance to the one, true, God…
`dx'(a, Ÿhw"ïhy> WnyheÞl{a/ hw"ïhy> lae_r"f.u,yI [m;Þv.
“Hear O Israel, The Lord (Yahweh) is our God, Yahweh alone.”
In the context I am convinced that this verse is not a statement about God in his “Tri-unity” (that is certainly taught elsewhere in the Bible).  Rather this is a statement that despite the false gods the Israelites would see worshipped in the promised land only Yahweh is the true God, the God of their fathers, and only He is to be worshipped.  As Moses was writing the nation was poised on the plains of Moab as they prepared to enter the Land, they needed to know that it was Ra of Egypt, not Baal of the Canaanites nor Marduk of the Babylonians, nor any other pagan deity, but only the Lord, Yahweh, who deserves their allegiance. 
             Well – that is no problem for us right?  I mean we don’t see idols or false gods that we might be tempted to worship, do we? D.L. Moody said over a century ago, “You don’t have to go to heathen lands to find idols, America is full of them.  Whatever you love more than God is your idol.” Remember, the context is the foundation of the faith that we are to pass on to the next generation. Are we making it clear that the one true God, our creator and savior, is the one and only thing that we worship? Is it clear that He alone sits on the throne of our lives?
             The call here is for an authentic commitment to know Him intimately and to love Him passionately. Notice verse 5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  (6:5).  Notice the repetition “…all …all …all…” The writer is saying in the most emphatic way possible that we need to love God whole heartedly. That is the core of the Christian life. That kind of commitment will be evident in how we live.  Augustine said, “Love God, then do as you please…” If we really love him, we’ll want to live a life that is pleasing to him.  Our kids will see that there is something real, something authentic in our relationship with God.  It’s been said that a child is not likely to find a Father in God, unless he finds something of God in his father. Nothing can impact a family more powerfully than the teaching and example of a godly father: one who is in the Word and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

III. The Means of fulfilling our mission:  Teach the young diligently (6:6-9; cf. 4:9).
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 
            Verse 6 begins, “These words… shall be on your heart…” God has spoken. In order to teach the Word by example and through our words, we need to know it, personalize it, and internalize it!  George Washington said “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” That’s true of nations, it’s also true of families.  Psalm 1, the righteous man “delights in the Law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night…”  Paul told the Colossians, “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you…” (Col 3:16).  John 15:7 Jesus told his disciples, If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  Joshua 1:8 says we are to “mediate day and night” on God’s word.  Does all of that sound radical?  Maybe, but that is normal, healthy Christianity. Does it sound maybe too “religious”?  It’s not about religion, it is about a relationship that is real and alive.  We are called to radical commitment, and that means for us God’s Word is not a suggestion, it is not one way to live, it is not an option, it is TRUTH, and the only way we can live and experience the life God wants for us and for our family.
            A godly father will teach God’s Word diligently and consistently (v.7). NB. The repetition is affirming that always, at every opportunity we need to look for opportunities to affirm God’s truth. It’s not just Sunday School, this is true “home schooling” at its best! “…impress them upon you children…” (NIV). 
                    Moses makes it clear in vv. 8-9 that a godly father is filled with the Word and changed by it.  Proverbs 6:20-23 expresses this same idea,
“My son, observe the commandment of your father And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;  21 Bind them continually on your heart; Tie them around your neck.  22 When you walk about, they will guide you; When you sleep, they will watch over you; And when you awake, they will talk to you.  23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life”
These verses were surely intended metaphorically, the idea being to stay in the Word always, to constantly be aware of and reminded of God’s truth.  At some point orthodox Jews began to literally tie phylacteries on the left arm and forehead during daily prayers, and many Jews still put a mezuzah on the doorpost of their home.  Far more important is the call to allow the Word to transform our mind (Rom 12:1,2) which will change the way we live, and then ultimately our family will also begin to be changed.  The Word is to be taught, and also lived before our family. “Do as I say and not as I do” just won’t make it. Rick Warren wrote this is a devotional:
“…Jesus then says, ‘I showed what You were like to those You gave me’ (John 17:6). Jesus doesn't say, ‘I preached. I sermonized. I pontificated. I lectured so the disciples would know you.’ He says, ‘I showed.’ He led by example [emphasis added].  This is one of the most sobering truths about being a parent. For right or wrong, for good or bad, whether you like it or not your children's idea of God is going to be largely determined by the kind of father you are.  You may not like that. I may not like that, but it's the truth”  (Rick Warren, Daily Hope, June 17, 2010).
What is God saying to me in this passage? Nothing can impact a family more powerfully than the teaching and example of a godly father: one who is in the Word and under the Lordship of Christ. Men, you can have that kind of an impact on your children, even grandchildren and the children in the church.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Make certain of you own commitment to the Lord. Commit yourself to being filled and controlled by God’s Word. We need time in the Word. We have a guidebook from the Maker! You can’t do this on your own!  Raising kids in today’s world, if you are doing it on your own, should scare you to death!  But we are not alone.  With God in us, with His Word, which is absolute truth, to guide us, with our wives to stand by us and the church to support us, you have what it takes to be the family Shepherd God intended you to be, in your home and in the church. I am blessed by the number of men we have that take seriously the responsibility we have to lead our families, to teach by word and by example.  As you are already doing, may I encourage you to excel still more.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost: God is at Work in You!

Pentecost: GOD is at work in YOU!
Acts 5:12-21a
Introduction: Today marks one of the less remembered days of the church calendar: Pentecost.  The first Christian Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, was the birthday of the New Testament Church. Pentecost is also the pivot point, the theological and spiritual foundation of the story of the early church in Acts. And remember, we have the Book of Acts not only as an historical account about what happened then and there, but it is given to encourage and motivate us here and now. The presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and empower the church is a reality that sets this age, from Pentecost to Parousia, apart from the rest of human history.  Why God is here in the Spirit is linked to the question of why He has left us here in the world. Acts 1:8 is a kind key verse that summarizes what we see in the rest of the book. Jesus told His disciples, “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses for Me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”
Last week I heard again the story of the most infamous sea disaster, the sinking of the RMS Titanic. As you know, after the ship struck an iceberg and it began to take on water, there was panic, and as the reality sunk in that the ship was going down, the life boats were deployed, many of them were launched only partially filled. When the ship went down, many went down with it, but hundreds of passengers and crew were left in life jackets, floating in the icy north Atlantic waters. And hundreds perished.  They didn’t die because the ship went down, but they died because the people in the life boats didn’t respond to their cries for help and turn back to rescue them from the frigid water.  Self-preservation overruled the desperate need of the perishing.
Why are we here? An old episode of “Everyone loves Raymond” had Ally ask that question of Ray, her father, and he was stunned into silence. “Daddy, why are we here? Why did God put us in the world and not take us right to heaven?” His reply, “W-w-what???”  It’s a question every believer should consider and also a question that we have been trying to think through as a church over the last couple of years.  What is our mission, and how can we be more effective?
Some of us who are involved in leadership went to a pastors’ conference at Berean Baptist Church in Brunswick. Ron Hutchcraft was the speaker. His messages were relevant to where we are as a church and to our current study in the book of Acts.  He was talking about sharing an unchanging Christ in a changing world.  One of the things that he emphasized is the urgency of the task that has been entrusted to us, that God has saved us for a purpose. He used the analogy of rescue stations that were established up and down the east coast, and made the argument that churches need to view themselves from that perspective. We are not here simply to bask in the joy of being forgiven, we are here to carry on the mission of seeking the lost and bringing the message of life.  When a swimmer or a boat is in trouble, rescuers put themselves at risk to go out to seek and save those who are in peril.   We are not called to be “resters” but rather we are called to be “rescuers.” 
Context: We’ve been away from our study of the book of Acts for a few weeks. The Big Idea of Acts is that Jesus is working to build His church through the Spirit empowered witness of His followers (that’s us!). We initially see explosive growth in the first three chapters as the apostles preach the message of Jesus. But Jesus has warned his disciples in the upper room that opposition would come. He said “in the world you will have tribulation.” The healing of the lame man in Acts 3 get the attention of Jewish ruling council, and starting in chapter 4 we entered a section in Acts that shows that the church grows through testing. The church had just come through it’s first major internal threat, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.  Now the pressure from outside rises again. How would the believers respond? What affect would the threats and hatred of the leaders have on this team of followers that Jesus left in the world?
The Big Idea: The day of Pentecost reminds us that we have the promise of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Here we see that, if you are walking in the Spirit people will begin to notice. Some will be attracted, many will be repelled, but God’s work will be accomplished
I. Good News: If you are walking in the Spirit people will notice (12-16)!  God’s work in us will produce fruit that people can see in our lives. Now we have tried to make the point in our study of Acts that the apostles did have a unique calling, gifting, and ministry. They were the authorized representatives of Christ, inspired by the Spirit to bring His word to the world.
Notice that the Bible says, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico.” (12).  One of the striking features of the early church is that the apostles’ ministry was accompanied by miracles done in the name of Jesus. They were “signs” because they testified to the authority of the apostles. We read a little later in Acts, So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). God has saved us and called us, but we are not “apostles” in the sense that these men were.       
The miracles done at the hands of the apostles were “signs,” but they were also “wonders” because they awed the witnesses who saw them. People could see that something was going on, something supernatural. Well these kinds of miracles do not normally happen today, at least not in the same numbers. Notice that “all” who came were healed. There is no doubt that God still does miracles and that He still heals. But there is also no doubt that the apostles’ ministry was unique, it was foundational.
In the apostolic period, as the church was being established and as the New Testament was being written, the miracles God did at the hands of the Apostles validated their authority to speak for Jesus. The miracles were evidence of God’s seal of approval on their teaching in His name. As the apostles brought the Word of Christ they had a unique authority.  We also see in the New Testament another kind of a sign, one that happens all around us to this day, that is, the transformation of lives that come to Jesus in faith. Later in Acts we’ll read of the conversion of a young rabbi names Saul, one who had been a brutal persecutor of the church. Then we see in Acts 9:20-23,  
“And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."  21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?"
The change in Saul’s life (who would later be known as the Apostle Paul) could not be denied, it was evidence that demanded a verdict. The believers in Jerusalem at first found it difficult to believe that Saul had come to faith in Jesus. And his conversion was an embarrassment to the Jewish authorities. Paul was their protégé who sought to destroy the church, now he was preaching Jesus as Messiah! So they later sought to kill him.
The supernatural work of God evoked an attitude of fear and trembling: “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem” (v.13). Remember the “sign” that had just happened in the immediately preceding context: the miraculous, divine judgment of Ananias and Sapphira. No wonder people stayed away! There was no easy-believism, no “come join the club” kind of attitude. Remember the scene in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when Lucy asks Mrs. Beaver if the Lion, Aslan, was “safe.”  She replied, “Safe? He is not safe! He is the King! He is not safe, but he is good.” There is risk in following Jesus, we’ll see more of that as this passage unfolds. Jesus warned His disciples from the start: “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Notice there are really two groups of “signs” happening here, conversions and miracles:
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”
Jesus continued to work, testifying to the words of the apostles through the signs that were done at their hands.  And listen, the Spirit is still present, Jesus is still building His church. Why does He have us here in the world? There are souls that will be rescued by the life saving message of Jesus. As that mission is carried out, God will be glorified.
            The overriding message of Acts seems to be that God was working in and through the Spirit empowered church to bring the message of Christ to the world. Jesus is building the church, and that truth continues to be true. In some way, our life is light to the truth that God is not dead, that Jesus is Lord. We are called to go and tell. The old hymn says, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying…”  The Titanic has struck the iceberg, and we know the way to the lifeboats! We are not called to step into the boat and rest, we are called to point the way to those around us. Yes, if you are walking in the Spirit people will begin to notice. Some will be attracted, many will be repelled, but God’s work will not be disrupted. The Good News is that if you are walking in the Spirit people will notice. And the…
II. Bad News: If you are walking in the Spirit people will notice (17-18)! Some will notice, and not in a good way!  Those of you who came to faith as adults probably can think of people who were friends, but who suddenly wanted nothing to do with you! Getting serious about your faith is not a guarantee that you will be popular, it involves risk.
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy  18they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.”
Another “but” this time with negative connotations: “But the High priest rose up, and all those who were with him…” God was working, He was revealing himself, but the human opposition rises against the church. The leaders had warned the apostles to stop preaching about Jesus in Chapter 4, and here they are, right back at it!  The disciples had said when they were arrested the first time, they had to obey God rather than man. They knew they were placing themselves in danger, but the task was urgent, they were called to be rescuers, to bring the good news of the Way, the Truth, and the Life to those who were perishing.
        The disciples surely were not surprised by opposition. After all, Jesus had been opposed, and ultimately killed by those who rejected Him. Jesus had told the disciples “don’t be surprised if the world hates you, it hated me first!”  There is a cost to discipleship.  A rescue swimmer is required to go out, not to come back. There is risk involved if we accept the calling to be a “rescuer” and not simply a “rester.”  Chuck Colson well said that God doesn’t require our success, He requires our obedience. If He has us here, in this world, we are to have a part in His mission. Obedience may well come at a cost. Remember Jesus said, “if you want to be my disciple, take up your cross, and follow me.”  Pentecost reminds us that we can experience the Spirit-filled life.  And if you are walking in the Spirit people will begin to notice. Some will be attracted, many will be repelled, but God’s work will not be disrupted.
III. Great News: If you are walking in the Spirit, God’s will will be accomplished (19-21a)!
             First we see a supernatural deliverance (v.19). But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out…” Direct, divine intervention.  The view of the world called “Deism” accepts the idea of a creator God, but looks upon the universe like a giant clock that God set in motion, but after creating it He just watches as it continues on, an endless series of cause and effect.  The story of Acts makes it clear that God intervenes in human history to accomplish His good purpose.  The leaders arrested them and cast them into the prison, “But during the night…” The God who is, the great I AM, has involved himself in our story. Here He sends an angel who miraculously opens the prison door and sets them free.
             Then the angel speaks, and gives a counterintuitive command (20). “…and said,  ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.’" Had you been there, you might have wondered, “Now wait a minute, that is what just got us in trouble!” Isn’t there a less offensive way to carry out this mission?  Remember why we are here. God hasn’t called us to be “resters.” Rescuers accept danger, as they seek and save the perishing, they understand that there is risk yet still they go out into the water or they run into the burning building.  
             God’s presence means the promise of an ability to obey, even if it is difficult (21a). And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.”  The angel said go and speak, they went and spoke. This is what we are here for, this is why God has us in the world! We are not here to survive as a church or to be comfortable with our possessions. We are a rescue station. A lighthouse of Grace and truth to be sure, but more than that, a team of rescuers called by God to bring the message of life to this community and the world. And the point here, as we see God working in these men, is that He will use us.  The Spirit will go before us to prepare hearts and will speak through us the Words of this life.
What is God saying to me in this passage? If you are walking in the Spirit people will begin to notice. Some will be attracted, many will be repelled, but God’s work will not be disrupted.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you wondered lately, what in the world you are here for?  God could have saved you and brought you straight to heaven, but he didn’t. And He didn’t leave you here to be a “rester,” sitting on the sidelines, watching, singing , soaking in the truth, content to be in the life boat. Rather than a “rester,” he called you to be a rescuer.  We all have a part in the mission that God has entrusted to the church.
   1) We have resources for you to access and give out.
   2) You can link our website, or our Sunday messages on your facebook page. 
   3) You can look ahead to events like our upcoming God and Country day (July 6th), and invite someone to be your guest.
   4) You can review your “most wanted list,” four or five people that you know and interact with that you believe need to know Jesus. And then pray, asking God how He might use you to point them to Him.
   5) Ask God to give you the heart of a rescuer, and then ask him to give you eyes and ears to see those around us who desperately need to know Jesus. 

Remember that Jesus left the glory of Heaven to come to this planet and to seek and to save the lost. He died so that we could live. He is still building His church. And He has chosen to use us in the process.   AMEN.