“Did you follow me, or did you do your own thing?”
God’s eternal purpose is to bring people into and under the protective, saving Lordship of Jesus.
The purpose of a church that is fulfilling God’s purpose is to be involved in saving people and keeping people saved. When we have succeeded in the treasure hunt, we join the rescue mission.
Loving God means loving what God loves. Christians are passionate about souls because God is passionate about souls. Christians pray about souls. When Christians make a “blessing list” or a “most wanted” list, they show they are looking at people and are aware that that those people have souls.
We go out to bring them in. We send others to bring them in. The question is always the same, “How is the harvest going?” When Jesus taught about the harvest, he spoke of the need for more harvesters. The church has a lot of workers who are not harvesters.
Disciples of Jesus make more disciples.
We go out to bring disciples in. We are present where they are to bring them into Jesus. We proclaim him to bring them in.
We go to teach people how to become disciples.
When disciples do not know how to make disciples, we teach them how to make disciples.
When disciples struggle with following, we seek to strengthen them and teach them how to follow more closely.
Look at the ministry of the church. Look at the mission work of the church. God is going to ask one thing. “Did you do my work or did you do your own thing?”
“Did you follow me, or did you do your own thing?”
Yesterday Was Easter Sunday. Church buildings were filled–celebration, victory, joy, hope. But for many, after hopeful Sunday comes the return of a reality less hopeful, even hopeless!
Sermons are heard on Sunday but intended for Monday through Saturday. Sermons must touch daily life. Ideally, an “Easter sermon” is not only for Easter Sunday but for the days that follow, because after “Hopeful Sunday” comes the reality of daily life. Easter focuses on an essential event in the Jesus’ story. Without the resurrection, the story of Jesus is meaningless. Easter celebrates resurrection and forgiveness. Easter celebrates changed lives, newness, hope. We have hope for salvation; we have hope for our own resurrection. But in this singular focus of Easter, it is easy to miss the rest of the story….
The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as a high priest–both faithful and merciful. He is faithful high priest and able to make atonement because he is Son of God. He is merciful high priest who understands the weaknesses of the people because he is Son of Man. The Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection usually focuses on his faithfulness to save. The resurrection is a powerful story that matters because of what comes before–Jesus came to earth as a human being. It is easy to overlook this part of the gospel: Jesus comes to be like us; he identifies with us; in his life, ministry, and death he experiences life as we experience it; he knows tears and pleading prayer and suffering. He is merciful; he understands life; he knows what we need. In his resurrection, he shows us a possibility beyond our experience. He declares the possibility of eternal salvation; he also declares the possibility of new life in Christ in the here and now.
Beware the trap! On Sunday we see hope. On Monday we go back to fishing. Where is Jesus today? How often do we think of the resurrection story during the week? The resurrection is a story of hope for eternity, it is also a story of hope for today and tomorrow. Life here is not hopeless, empty, futile. Failures are not forever. The post-resurrection stories of Thomas and Peter impress us; the stories of nine other disciples are not told in the Gospels but would be equally impressive. Look to Jesus to throw off the weight. Look to Jesus to run the race. Look to Jesus to manage the turmoil of life, the conflicts, the sorrow, the times when you cannot see the future. The resurrection proclaims strength in a world that at times overwhelms us. Jesus’ resurrection declares his daily presence in our lives and his intercession for us before the Father’s throne. And that is not a story only for Sunday–that is a story for every day of our lives!
I am thinking and rethinking Acts, the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This sermon is basically a summary of what I saw when I studied Acts. Here are the principles we have identified: the story of Jesus is a life and death story (or a death and life story); the story of Jesus is to be proclaimed; the story of Jesus is to proclaimed even to the most unlikely; the story of Jesus is a forgiveness story; the story of Jesus changes everything.
First steps toward obedience, responding to and living out the Easter story, the Jesus story. How? It is appropriate that we have one more post-Easter lesson in this series. Lesson #6, the story of Jesus, what does it mean? The last truth—really a question: to whom is God sending you with the story of Jesus?
Acts: God sent the apostles to the multitudes of gathered Jews, 3000 responded.
God sent the apostles to preach in the city of Jerusalem, many more responses, eventually 5000 counting only the men.
God sent Stephen, he died.
God sent Philip to Samaria.
God sent Philip to the desert, to an Ethiopian nobleman.
God sent Ananias to Saul.
God sent Peter to Cornelius, a Gentile, but was thereafter content to send Peter to the Jews.
God sent Paul to the Gentiles. Acts is filled with specific names and places.
Paul tells about being sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles three times in Acts: chapters 9,22,26. He mentions it in Galatians 1. He was acutely aware of having been sent by God to preach. He felt he had no other option, 1 Cor. 9. I learn from all of Paul’s accounts, but I especially like 26:15-20.
• Paul was a servant and witness
• Paul experienced God’s rescue, and was promised continued rescue as he went to preach
• Paul was sent:
o to open eyes
o to turn people from darkness
o to turn people from Satan to God
o to offer forgiveness
o to show people the way of the sanctified life
Principles, Takeaways for your prayer life–
SACRIFICE. Ours is a world of opportunity, challenge, blessing. A poll found that most are “satisfied” with our evangelism and mission efforts. Wake up! Our efforts are meager at best. A man who served many years as a missionary was asked, “Do you like the work?” He replied, “Do I like this work? No, I do not like dirt, dirt floors, rough concrete floors. I do not like walking into houses through goat refuse and chicken litter. I do not like people who live like the world—but they do not know any better, and someone has to tell them. Is a Christian to do nothing for Christ that is unpleasant? Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to ‘go’ and we go. Love constrains us.”
SENT BY GOD. A missionary is one sent. Missions is inspired not by the needs of men but the command of Jesus. I go because he told me to go. The great danger in missions is that what God’s eternal plan for his creation is overshadowed by the pressing needs of humanity. Sympathy overwhelms the sense of “sentness.” Seeing such enormous needs, human powers fail. We forget that we are not sent to elevate people, educate people, nor to ease the plight of needy people. We are sent with good news for eternity. Inspiration to preach the gospel is always first, never second.
URGENCY. We do not make our lists, thinking and praying about those to whom God is sending us, because we do not grasp the urgency. I read about a young missionary that went to a remote village to tell the gospel story. No one in that village of 231 people had ever once heard the gospel. The chief reluctantly let the missionary speak to the entire village. When the villagers were told about Jesus’ life, arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, they were amazed. Some wept openly. They marveled that the Son of God loved them and died in their place so their many sins might be forgiven. They wanted to know more. An older man came to the young missionary immediately after the presentation and asked, “When did God give you this message? How long have you had it?” The missionary replied, “God gave this message to people long ago, but I only learned it a year ago.” The obviously upset man grabbed the young missionary and through tears he cried out, ‘God gave you this message last year and you did not come to tell us before my mother, father, and son died?” All around us are people who have not heard the gospel and those who need to hear the old, old story. All around us are people with problems so severe that only the gospel can provide relief. The gospel is God’s power for salvation. In our world are billions of people who have never heard the gospel once. They are waiting for someone to tell them the Truth. Why are we not going? Are we purposefully disobedient? Are we ignorantly disobedient?
BE SPECIFIC. To whom is God sending you with the story of Jesus?
I am thinking and rethinking Acts, the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This sermon series shares what I learned, lessons I heard, applications I heard when I studied Acts. We know these stories—do we really know these stories?
I see in this series a study of first steps toward obedience, responding to and living out the Easter story, the Jesus story. How? Lesson #5, the story of Jesus, what does it mean? Resurrection living. Today I do seek to advance the study of Acts. I want to talk about us. I want to talk about applications. Where is the Jesus story visible in my life? How has it changed me?
The fifth truth—the story of Jesus changes everything. This is not about baptism and then you get to stop, this is about changed lives. This is resurrection living. Easter is about changed lives. Easter once a year doesn’t work. That is OT—Passover once a year. In the NT, remembering Easter is weekly, remembering resurrection is every week.
The book of Acts is filled with stories of changed lives—the apostles, 3000, 5000, the Seven, Simon the sorcerer—don’t you want to think he got it right? Paul, Cornelius, the list continues. Today we live in Acts 29, and the list continues. This is about us.
The Jesus story is a story of resurrection. The topic that got the early preachers in trouble was resurrection. Nothing is quite so exciting as resurrection–the dead living again, anastasis, literally “to stand up.” Spring is aptly named. This is a time of bounce back capacity, resiliency, renewal, rejuvenation, restoration.
Christ’s resurrection story is told by all four gospels. Not many other resurrections in the gospels. The son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’s daughter. One resurrection story, well-known, is unique to John’s gospel–the resurrection of Lazarus. These are stories of physical resurrection. This is almost always the meaning of the word in the NT.
Today we think of resurrection, I want to affirm that Jesus is our leader in resurrection. He went first, he succeeded, he shows the way. In fact, in the Supper we celebrate his death and resurrection every Sunday, “until he comes.” There is something nice about having a leader. Even more meaningful, it is special when the leader chooses us. Leaders are for leading. How can we know if someone is a leader? Is anyone following? Jesus is our spiritual leader.
Jesus leads us in a specific path–resurrection living. What does this mean? How do you understand this? Today we focus not on resurrection after our death, but on resurrection living in the world today.
This resurrection living is true life, authentic, genuine. It is not characterized by failure. It is not futile, it is not fatal, it is not final. It is life that is full, free, forgiven, and oriented toward the future.
When Jesus leads us in resurrection living…
1. Our lives are not futile. Jesus PROVIDES.
Literally, pouring out easily, empty, vain, useless. We would perhaps be empty were it not for the larger, eternal perspective. Jesus gives purpose. Life is difficult, not easy. Burdensome. But as the poem, “Footprints,” suggests, Jesus helps carry that burden.
2. Our failures are not fatal. Jesus EMPOWERS.
Literally, resulting in death, mortal, lethal. The word is related to fate. Destiny, inevitable, predetermined, controlled, decided in advance, decreed. The results of our failures are not fatal.
We all make mistakes, but mistakes are not permanent, not eternal when Jesus is leading us. Through Jesus we find power to overcome.
3. Our death will not be final. Jesus PROMISES.
Promises of Jesus cannot be broken, undone, forgotten. In 1 Cor. 15, he is described as the firstfruits, the promise of what is to come.
Today, we celebrate, but tomorrow life’s rocky road may return. The roses may show their thorns. Go away today knowing one thing, not just that it is so nice that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that because he was raised, “Burdens are lifted at Calvary.” Sins are covered, futility, fatality, and finality are erased. As we become like him, we are “Christians.” Will you on this Easter Sunday mirror Jesus–experience the death of the old person, bury that old self in baptism, experience the beginning of resurrection living? It is the beginning of life with him, for him, following him.
I am thinking and rethinking Acts, the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This sermon series seeks to summarize what I saw when I studied Acts. We know these stories—do we really know these stories?
I see in this series a study of first steps toward obedience, responding to and living out the Easter story, the Jesus story. How? Lesson #4, the story of Jesus, what does it mean?
The fourth truth—the story of Jesus is a forgiveness story. There may be a better word, there may be a word that connects with the contemporary world, but the story of Jesus is a continuation of God’s forgiveness story for the world. I am not sure how we can tell the gospel story, the story of Jesus, the Easter story, without proclaiming that the story of Jesus is a forgiveness story.
There are softer words—redemption, reconciliation; there are related words and phrases that seek healthier living, better relationships, etc. etc. etc. But the message must not be forgotten. My greatest need must not be overlooked. The Easter story is meaningless without an awareness of sin. The importance of the Jesus story in my life depends on my understanding of my need for forgiveness.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
Acts 8:22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.
Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Acts 2:40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Acts 2:47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Acts 11:14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
Acts 15:1 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Acts 16:17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Acts 16:30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Acts 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
The Easter story is the story of my forgiveness, of your forgiveness. God doing what we could not do for ourselves. A death and life story for everyone, because everyone is need of God, restored relationship.
• Creator God exists, evidence all around us. There is a God.
• He wants to be recognized, he wants to be known, and he wants to be known as he is, for who he is—holy, loving, just. Recognize him.
• He wants to be reverenced, worshiped. Respect him.
• He created humankind for relationship, he desires relationship, which relationship was broken by the entry of sin into the world. Respond to him.
• He desired restored relationship—-reconciliation, redemption, he has acted; his gracious action motivates repentance and changed lives; he makes possible restored relationship vertically, but also horizontally.
• He wants us to reflect his glory.
When we tell the story of Jesus, do we make it easy for others to see its importance? In my observation, we too often begin in the wrong place, or we begin without establishing basic fundamental truths that make the story important to every person.
No matter how well I live, how good I am, how much I do, how active I am, I need the story of Jesus. I am grateful for the story of Jesus. It is life-saving, it is relationship-building, it orients me for life. I am seeking God so I can share him. I am forgiven to forgive. He saves, he keeps me saved.
He places me in a safe place, a place where he keeps all of his saved ones. That is the church. That is not the subject of this series, but that is a biblical concept that we human beings have also messed up royally. I want to come to that after we study God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
The story of Jesus is a story of forgiveness: help, hope, and home.
I am thinking and rethinking Acts, the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This sermon is basically a summary of what I saw when I studied chapters 6-10. I will not mention many details of those chapters. You can read them. Stephen—the sentence, the sermon, the stoning; the scattering of the saints spreads the gospel; Samaria; a proselyte Jew from Ethiopia; Saul-Paul, Cornelius. We know these stories—-do we really know these stories?
First steps toward obedience, responding to and living out the Easter story, the Jesus story. How? Lesson #3, the story of Jesus, what does it mean?
The third truth—the story is to be told to everyone in every place—even to the most unlikely!
We miss the unlikely aspect of Acts. The summary statements of Acts. Almost always focused on quantity.
6:8, the word spread, a large number of the priests (Jewish priests!) were obedient the faith. They gave up their livelihood, they gave us status, prestige, power, position, prominence. Perhaps not at the beginning—with the integration of Judaism and Christianity, but certainly in the future.
8:1-4, scattered to Judea and Samaria! Samaria! To the Samaritans, this is a new group, they believe and obey, they are baptized. The preaching was the good news of the kingdom, the result was baptism. Whoops! Samaria! Is this OK? Is this acceptable? This was not apostolic preaching. This was not the authoritative group of preachers, the witnesses. This is second generation preaching, preacher. Is it OK to preach to the Samaritans? Can they be accepted? These are Jewish by religion, but only half-Jewish by birth. We must put ourselves in the context of first-century Judaism with the coming of Christianity, and all of the first Christians were Jews. This is not easy. Did God withhold the Spirit (temporarily) in this case? If so, it was for the benefit of the Jews, so they would accept the Samaritans. Or, that they Holy Spirit was not yet manifest, and that such was only possible by the imposition of the hands of the apostles? This is a traditional interpretation. Regardless, our point today is that the gospel was being told to the least likely.
8:26ff, to an Ethiopian nobleman, servant of queen, Jewish proselyte, Gentile by birth, Jew by religion. Philip goes to preach to him, by Holy Spirit. This time there will be no problem, no coming of the apostles to bless the preaching of Philip, Philip has been approved, the message can go forth without hindrance to the world. This is not normal, this is the most unlikely, but the preaching bears results.
9:1ff, Saul. Perhaps never a more unlikely candidate. Jesus intervenes personally, Ananias still has doubts. But the gospel is received. And the church grew in number (9:31).
10:1ff, Cornelius. Gentile, God-fearer. Can gospel go to “pure Gentiles”? Peter preaches and the Holy Spirit comes early. In Samaria, the Holy Spirit came late. Here it comes early. Why? To convince the Jews who had accompanied Peter. The Holy Spirit’s coming was known by speaking in languages to praise God. Thus they were baptized.
This is not the end of the unlikely candidates. The process continues even in our day.
• Countless examples about which it was said, “It probably won’t do any good.” But it did!
I am thinking and rethinking Acts, the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This sermon is basically a summary of what I saw when I studied chapters 1-8. I will not mention many details of those chapters. You can read them—I mentioned them briefly last week. Pentecost, the church, conflict with the Jewish leaders, suffering, Ananias-Sapphira, following Jesus is costly; Stephen—the sentence, the sermon, the stoning; the scattering spreads the gospel far and wide.
First steps toward obedience, responding to and living out the Easter story, the Jesus story. How? Lesson #2, the story of Jesus, what does it mean?
The second truth—-the story is to be told! In this lesson, we will support this point with a study of a very few chapters from Acts, right at the beginning. I will not list the multiplied Scriptures throughout the New Testament that address the need to tell the story. (In the sermon, this is a detailed study, even though the notes are abbreviated here.)
In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, the story was told.
In Acts 3, Peter told the story to those who had seen the crippled man healed. This is, as it were, the second gospel sermon.
In Acts 4, Peter and John, and the apostles, were proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. When they were commanded not to speak, but their response was that they could not help themselves! What would happen in the contemporary church if we could not help ourselves, could not keep from speaking the good news of Jesus? They rejoiced to have the opportunity to speak, and they prayed for even more boldness. But it is only the apostles to this point that are mentioned as testifying to Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps because they are the only “witnesses” available.
In Acts 5, we may have a hint of this apostolic preaching, because it was the apostles who were arrested. But they were miraculously released, they returned to proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection that makes possible new life. Peter and the other apostles responded (v. 29), the apostles were flogged, and rejoiced to be counted worthy of proclaiming. 5:42 appears to refer to the apostles.
In Acts 6, the apostles chose a ministry in the word and prayer, the word spread, even to the priests.
In Acts 7, Stephen preaches the first gospel sermon not preached by an apostle so far as we know. We are seeing a change. Do not miss this. It was the apostles as witnesses who preached in Acts 1-6. Now we have a sermon by Stephen, the result of which is his death. The story of Jesus is a life and death matter.
In Acts 8, persecution comes to the church, all but the apostles are scattered, and all go forth boldly preaching the word, wherever they go!
This next step in the story never ends—-in Acts or in the centuries thereafter. It continues today. The focus in Acts is mostly on special events, we will talk about those next week. From Acts 8 onward, the story is about Christians sharing the story. Peter will get attention, Paul will get the majority of the attention along with his companions, but a quick reading of Acts reminds that the power that took the gospel to the Roman world and to the then-known world in the first century was not centered in a few powerful preachers or unique personalities. It was a power that brought the gospel to Samaria through Philip; to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch by those who were scattered (11:19); to Galatia as those who heard the message continued to spread it; to Asia Minor (several of those who led in the proclamation are mentioned in Paul’s letters); to cities in the Roman Empire through Aquila and Priscilla; through Apollos…and the story goes on and on.
The story is to be told
It was first told by the eyewitnesses, the apostles
Afterward, it was told in every place by every Christian
The key phrase: We Cannot Help Ourselves! May that become a reality in your life during this Easter season.