Acts 3-4, The Power to Stand

  I.      Introduction

Interesting lesson for me to study this week.  This month, we’re in the book of Acts, and we’re up to Acts 3 & 4.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the church usually assigns a range of scripture and a suggested title for the lesson. This week’s lesson from Acts 3 & 4 is called, “The Power to Stand,” and when I first read the scripture, I didn’t see a message that spoke to me.  It’s about Peter healing a lame beggar.   Let’s get our first scene, Acts 3:1-8,

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.  Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.  Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”  So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Now, I believe in miracles.  In fact, I did an entire lesson once on the miracles that God still provides for His people.  But I think in Old Testament times, God did his miracles primarily to demonstrate his power and to pave the way for his Son appearing and fulfill His prophecy.

Today God still does miracles, but he seems a lot more selective about when and where He does those miracles. I know Pastor Samara when he has taught here at the church has story after story of miracles that God still does today in the Middle East.  Here in America, I hear many stories of miracles of God healing cancer.  Saving people from certain death in an automobile accident.  I myself have personal miracles I’ve seen in my life that can only be contributed to God.  I believe in miracles.  I don’t believe in coincidences.

But God doesn’t provide miracles on demand.  I know we all prayed for a miracle for our sister Teresa, but as we know, God did not answer our prayers with a miracle so that we could still have Teresa with us today.  Instead, we will have to wait to see our sister Teresa someday in the future.  Nothing focuses our prayers more than when we are powerless against overwhelming obstacles. 

As y’all know, I’ve been asking for prayers for my mom.  She’s been in physical pain as well as a significant decrease in her mental faculties recently.  Two weeks ago I had planned to get a Power of Attorney from her and had a meeting with her lawyer setup, but her decline was so rapid, we lost the opportunity to get a power of attorney while she had the competency to sign it.  We may yet get a miracle and Mom’s mental state improve, but for now, we’re just muddling along without it.

She has another issue that seems attached to our lesson today.  Her ability to walk has been impaired for some time; she has curled toes.  Some curl up, others down, two of her toes crossed over.  She even had a toe surgically removed because it was difficult getting shoes on.  She had a cane and then a walker.  Now that she’s transitioned to a memory care facility, she’s in a wheelchair. 

Like the lame man at the temple gate, I’d love to give hope to my mother that she can walk normally.  So as I’m studying, I see Peter say,

“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.

Wouldn’t I love to be able to say that to my mom?  “In the name of Jesus, walk?”

This man in our scripture was born lame.  Never played freeze tag or kick-the-can as a boy.  Never ran a race.  And in those days, he really had no occupation available to him except… begging.  But then one day, God stepped in, in the form of John and Peter who gave him more than he needed.  More than physical healing, but spiritual healing.

Do you know how we know God loves us?  Because God sent His only Son to take the place of our punishment.  Belief in this sacrifice brings salvation from eternal punishment for the sin nature we all know we have. 

But what is this salvation?  Salvation is a rescue and it’s ongoing.  Imagine a lifeguard jumping in to save a drowning swimmer, and then says, “I saved you!”  And then tosses him back in.  “Now you try!”  That doesn’t make any sense.  Either you are saved, or you are not.

There are actually two different words used for salvation in the bible.  In the Old Testament, the word salvation is “yesha.”  It means freedom from what binds or restricts and thus effects deliverance.  It is the root word for the very name of Jesus, Yeshua.

In the Greek, in the New Testament, the word translated as salvation is “soteria.”  It means to provide recovery, to rescue, to provide for one’s welfare.  The word for “salvation” is used 45 times in the New Testament.

Salvation is the work of God whereby He transforms a soul from the grip of eternal wrath and condemnation to one of eternal life. God provided this option from His great mercy and provided everything necessary to make it possible.  Scripture says that salvation is of the Lord.  And salvation is only from the Lord. 

II.      Salvation is from the Lord

This concept is important to understand.  Salvation as a gift from the Lord is part of the Five Solas that define the Protestant faith –

  • Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.  It is in the holy word that we find the basis for the remaining solas.
  • Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  • Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone, and this is the complete summary of all five solas.

All of these are completed by Christ.  Man contributes nothing.  All main branches of Christianity – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant – all agree that Jesus is central to our salvation.  But what separates us is that little Latin word, “sola.”  Alone.

Catholics would say that our salvation is in Christ “and.”  Baptism, the sacraments, confession, attendance at mass, penance, and other good works are necessary to salvation.  Catholic theology places equal weight on church and tradition which are contributed by man.  Human additions to the five solas which are all accomplished by God, in Christ alone.

Jesus + nothing = everything.

So in Acts 3, Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time of prayer – three in the afternoon.  There was a man who had been lame from birth that begged at the gate called Beautiful.  When we asked Peter and John for money, they responded in a way that changed his life.  “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Lots of things happened suddenly.  All the people were astounded and rushed to Solomon’s colonnade, a porch on the east side of the Jerusalem temple.  Peter began to explain the Gospel to them.  Members of the ruling council, the same ruling council that had Jesus flogged and crucified, were there and became highly agitated.  They had Peter and John arrested and thrown in jail.

The next day, Peter and John were brought before the religious rulers and asked, “By what power or what name did you do this?”  And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said in Acts 4:7-12,

“Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Peter tells the Pharisees that it is in the name of Jesus, whom you crucified but God raised from the dead, that this man was healed.  Then he quotes Psalm 118:22 to let the religious leaders know they fulfilled prophecy, “the stone you builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.”

And then, the fourth sola,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The Priority of Salvation

Peter is an uneducated fisherman, but he stands fearlessly in front of the most important religious leaders of his day and says that salvation is the greatest need of their soul.

In many ways, man hasn’t changed over the centuries.  We seek self-esteem or money or popularity or power.  But our greatest need is salvation.

We are dead in our sins, we are defiant in our souls, and we are doomed to hell.  Romans 3:22b-23 says

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We are separated.  We are hopeless.  We are helpless.  We are lame and we cannot walk.  And our holy God will not tolerate our sin in His presence.  The perfect good will destroy evil, no matter how slight in our eyes.

God gave the Israelites a sacrificial system to atone for these sins, to atone for their evil.  When they sinned, an innocent lamb would die in their place.  But was temporary and had to be renewed every year.

The prophet Isaiah declared that one day a Messiah would come, to take away the sins of the world as a final sacrifice.  Centuries later, John the Baptist paved the way with his announcement in John 1:29,

“Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Our debt of sin was so great that only God could pay it.  And Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by dying on the cross.  For us, forever.  Romans 5:9-11,

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

So how much does God love us?  1 John 4:9-10,

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

And Hebrews 9:11-15 elaborates,

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Our sins separates us – we cannot stand before a Holy God that will destroy sin in His presence.  We needed a mediator – someone to step in between us and God.  1 Timothy 2:5-6,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

How many mediators qualify for this position?  Who can identify with our sins * and* identify with a Holy God?  There is only one mediator.  Not two, or three.  Just one.  Mother Mary is not a mediator.  The catholic saints are not mediators.  Solus Christus.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

By His death on the cross, He reconciled us to God completely. Our sins, past, present, and future were paid for.

By his perfect life, keeping the Law perfectly, His righteousness was given to us.  2 Corinthians 5:21,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Solus Christus.

The Exclusivity of Salvation

So how many other ways are there to salvation?

I’ve tried to sign up for websites the promote Christianity, but a lot of times I get religiosity instead.  The site tries to appear to appeal to many beliefs and not offend anybody, and call all these beliefs “Christian.”  They are not.  Sometimes, God is described as being at the top of a mountain, with many paths leading to the top.  Other times, it’s described as a wheel with God at the center, and different beliefs are the spokes.  In the end, they say, as long as we are sincere, we all get to the same place, regardless of what we believe.

That’s a terrible misunderstanding of what Christ teaches.

First, we can be sincerely wrong.  I sincerely believed 2020 would be anything other than what 2020 turned out to be.  Hurricane Delta because we finished the alphabet and had to start over at the beginning.  Day 225 of 24 days to flatten the curve.  And what happened to the murder hornets, anyway?  I think I missed the attack of the murder hornets.  So I sincerely believed 2020 would be something awesome, but I was wrong.  We can be sincere and we can be wrong.

And second, Jesus didn’t leave us any other option.   He said that His way is the only way and all the other ways are wrong.  If His way is the truth, then everything else is false.  Peter emphatically says in 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.”

Salvation is found in “no one else.”  Peter says our salvation is through a single person that was crucified and raised from the dead.  Jesus and only Jesus bore our sins, and by his wounds we are healed.

Last month when we were working through the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus, at the end of the book of John, Jesus starts talking about His death.  Jesus reassured His disciples that Jesus would prepare a place for them.  But then John 14:5, Thomas spoke up and said what everyone was thinking,

“We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus’ answer to this question removes all other options  Jesus’ answer gives an answer that points the disciples along the correct path.  John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus didn’t say, “I know a way.”  He didn’t say, “There are lots of ways.”  He said He was THE way.

Imagine you wanted to go to a World Series baseball game.  To get in, you need a ticket.  You can’t just walk up and say, “I’m a good guy, let me in.”  They would look at you like you’d lost your marbles.  But then a guy walks up and says, “I bought a ticket for you.”  Then can you enter? 

Others may say, that doesn’t seem fair.  That seems so exclusive.  Heaven should be a place for everyone.  Everyone is welcome, right?  Well yes, everyone is welcome… as long as you have a ticket.

God doesn’t send anyone to hell.  The most favorite verse in the bible is John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in shall not perish but have eternal life.

The entire world is welcome, but they must accept this gift of the Son.  But not choosing Christ or rejecting Christ outright, most people choose hell.  In saying, “that’s not fair,” or saying “that can’t be the only way” or even “what about all those non-Christians, are they going to hell?” that is a choice * not * to accept Christ as the only way, which is the same as choosing hell.  Matthew 7:13-14,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

It is only through Christ alone, our only Savior, our only Hope, our only Mediator, that we are saved.

The Necessity of Salvation

What if I don’t want to be saved?  Is it really necessary?  Don’t good people go to heaven somehow?  That seems fair, doesn’t it?  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.”

It’s interesting to me that this verse doesn’t end with “by which we can be saved.”  The verse says “by which we * must * be saved.”  Is the bible translation correct?  Let’s look at the Greek word for “must,” “dei”.

necessary, in need of, behooves, right and proper, necessity brought on by circumstances or by the conduct of others toward us.

It doesn’t matter where you live.  Europe.  Africa.  China.  California. New York City.  Austin.  Houston.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or red or yellow or purple.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, or even if you don’t know if you’re male or female.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re capitalist or communist.  You must be saved.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat.  You must be saved.

We cannot do it on our own.  In fact, I believe that’s one of the biggest obstacles to accepting the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, is believing somehow we can work our way to heaven, using our earthly efforts.  We cannot save ourselves.  Drowning people drown without a lifesaver.  Or as Hebrews 2:3 puts it,

“how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?”

III.      Conclusion

Returning to more personal experiences, in our sister Theresa’s last days, everybody prayed for a miracle.  She’s too young to be taken from us, that’s what I was thinking.  But we were unable to save her.  Doctors were unable to save her.  Theresa was unable to save herself.  She needed a lifesaver.

My mom cannot walk without assistance.  I wrote that sentence two weeks ago, she cannot walk without assistance, and revised it twice, but now she cannot walk at all.  She wants to.  But she can’t.  And I can’t help her.   Doctors cannot restore her ability to walk.  She needs a lifesaver.

Our verse started with Peter saying,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

My whole lesson came together in my head with the direction of the Holy Spirit this week in an unconventional matter.  His miracle is still true today when we are seeking hope.  It’s like Peter said, “Theresa, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”  It’s like Peter said to my mom, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 

Philippians 3:20-21,

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Revelation 21:4,

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Our scripture today should resonate with us and give us hope.  Peter said,

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The power to walk, to have new resurrected bodies, to live in eternity with no more tears and no more pain, awaits all those that accept Jesus Christ.  And this salvation is found nowhere else.  Sola Christus.  Scripture alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone.

To God be the glory.

Always on Mission

I. Introduction

We are finishing our study of Acts this week, and Paul is visiting with the Jews of Rome and pleading with them to open their hearts to the good news of Christ. Which is interesting to me because many of these same Jews have been trying to kill Paul for years.

II. Acts 20-25: Ephesus to Jerusalem to Caesarea

To understand Paul’s final words in Acts 28, we have to back up a long way. When I last taught from Acts 20, Paul is saying his goodbyes. He knows his time is short, and we talked about what it meant to live a good life. The Holy Spirit has compelled Paul to return to Jerusalem before Pentecost, Acts 20:16,Slide2.JPG

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

As Paul sails past Ephesus, he calls the church elders from Ephesus to him, and in Acts 20:22-25, Paul tells them that he has been bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and the same Holy Spirit tells Paul that trials and tribulations await, and that despite the fact that the church elders will never see Paul’s face again, Paul is still preaching the good news and finishing his life’s race with joy.Slide3.JPG

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.”

But then the trials and tribulations prophesied by the Holy Spirit catch up to Paul. Paul makes it to Jerusalem and begins to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Good News of Christ to the Jews.

The Jews hate this message and want to kill Paul. But the Jews couldn’t kill Paul themselves because Israel was under control of the Romans. Only the Romans could put Paul to death legally. It’s the same conundrum the Jews had when they wanted to kill Jesus; they had to use political and devious methods to convince the Romans to crucify Jesus. Now the Jews are hearing the gospel from Paul and they think Paul should die for blasphemy.

The Jews in Jerusalem accuse Paul of defiling the temple with his words, and they seize him and begin to beat him, and Acts 21:31 says the Jews were trying to beat Paul to death, but then the Romans hear about the uproar and show up. You might remember Jim’s awesome retelling of this uproar and how Paul spoke Aramaic to the crowd and the crowd became silent. Paul begins telling them that he used to be Saul and persecuted Christians zealously, but then he met Jesus and now wants to tell everyone that salvation is at hand. The Jews listen for a while but then the uproar begins again.

The Roman commander tries to find out what started the fight, but the roar of the crowd was so loud, the Romans couldn’t get to the truth. All the Roman commander knows at this point is that Paul is somehow involved, so he arrests Paul and takes him to the Roman barracks.

And here’s one of those thought processes I don’t understand in Acts 22:24,Slide4

the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

We don’t know why they’re mad at you, so we’re going to rip your skin off and see if that helps us find the truth. Fortunately for Paul, the Romans find out he’s a Roman citizen and release him. But then the Jews go into an uproar again, and the Romans arrest Paul again in Acts 23. In the Jerusalem Roman barracks, Paul hears from the Lord, Acts 23:11,Slide5

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

Paul is in Jerusalem, but now he knows he’s headed to Rome. How wonderful to know your final destination. I know mine; you can know yours, too.

The Jews now try a different tactic; their plan is to request the Romans bring Paul to the Jewish council, and the Jews will try to ambush Paul when he’s out in the open.

But the Romans have had enough of the Jewish shenanigans, so under heavy guard they escort Paul to Caesarea and present him to the governor there named Felix.

Now Governor Felix holds some private discussions with Paul, and of course Paul shares the gospel with Governor Felix. Acts 24:24-26a,Slide6

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul.

In other words, Felix says the bible sounds scary, but if you give me some money, I’ll let you go. How long did this last? Acts 24:27,

But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

Two years this goes on, with Paul witnessing to Felix the whole time. Then Felix is replaced by Festus, and the Jews petition the new governor Festus to execute Paul. When that doesn’t work, they ask Festus to bring Paul back from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and the Jews plan that same ambush along the way to kill Paul. Paul’s been imprisoned in Caesarea for 2 years, but this ambush plot to kill Paul is still alive and well.

Festus asks Paul if that’s a good idea, to send Paul back to Jerusalem. Paul answers for probably the millionth time that he’s done nothing wrong except preach the gospel, but if the Romans think there’s a problem with Paul, then the Romans ought to send Paul to Caesar himself in Rome. Festus thinks this is a great idea, he can wash his hands of this whole mess, he’ll send Paul to Rome to stand trial. The only trouble with this plan is that Governor Festus doesn’t even know what Paul should be charged with. When King Agrippa, the High Priest from Jerusalem, comes to visit Festus, and Festus tries to get an understanding why this man has been in prison for two years. Acts 25:24-27,

Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore, I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

What is this an opportunity for Paul to do? Share the gospel, of course. All of Acts 26 is Paul’s explanation of the resurrection of Jesus, and the High Priest King Agrippa listens carefully to Paul quoting from the scriptures, and then in Acts 26:28,

Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

Agrippa actually agrees that Paul shouldn’t be in prison. Festus doesn’t know why Paul is being held or what the charges should be, but he seems eager to get this mess behind him and decides to send Paul to Rome anyway, thus unknowingly fulfilling the scripture we read about a moment ago in Acts 23 when the Lord told Paul he would go to Rome. And besides, just releasing Paul would cause all sort of problems with those same Jews that have been trying to ambush and kill him for the last 2 years. Instead, Paul gets an all expense paid trip to Rome.

This was no small journey; Rome was a long way away, and the Holy Spirit had already told Paul this trip would be full of trials and tribulations. Here’s a map showing the distance.

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Winter is approaching, and the optimum time to sail has already passed. Paul tries to warn them in Acts 27:9, but the captain and the Roman centurion were set on leaving anyway. What could possibly go wrong, except the shipwreck in Acts 27:14? And being bit by a snake in Acts 28:3? The ship ran aground on the shore of some uncharted desert isle, with Gilligan… the skipper, too. All the while, Paul sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was three months before they were rescued and finally made their way to Rome, thus fulfilling the Lord’s promise that Paul should share the message of Christ with the gentiles of Rome.

Which brings us to our actual verses of study today in Acts 28, the final chapter of Acts. Paul is under house arrest, a single soldier guarding him, and who does Paul send for?

III. Acts 28:17 Love Your Enemies

Paul sends for the local Jewish leaders to tell them about the good news of Christ Jesus. Of course he does. Paul tells them starting in Acts 28 verse 17 that Paul is preaching the good news of the gospel to all Jews, despite the fact the Jews he speaks to all seem to want to kill him. And he’s headed for Rome, and being a Roman citizen, it won’t be Paul on trial, it will be Israel because Paul is a Roman citizen. But Paul has no plans to accuse Israel. Paul wants to save Israel. And the only way to salvation is through Christ Jesus.

Do you see the pattern in Paul’s life? Paul’s mission in life as given to him by the Holy Spirit is to preach the good news to the lost sheep of Israel, to let them know that the Messiah has come, to repent of their sins and accept the sacrifice of the Messiah. And that message is met not just with hostility, but the people he’s speaking to want to kill him. And yet, Paul isn’t mad, he doesn’t take revenge on his enemies, he doesn’t retaliate, nor does he shy away or run from his enemies. He stands his ground and repeats the Good News for all who will listen: the Messiah has come, the Messiah has died, the Messiah is risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father. In other words, Paul is showing us with his very life what it means to love your enemies. Jesus once said to His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48,Slide11.JPG

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I wondered as I studied this how well I was doing in my evangelism. I have a field to work in, provided by God, to share the good news. Do I share the message with those who will be openly hostile to the good news? I don’t think I do. I think I share the Good News with just those that are friendly to me. I have opportunities, at work, when I travel. And I know I often mention my faith when somebody asks, “so, what did you do this weekend?” But I wait to hear a friendly response before I share what it means to have eternal life. I’m much more likely to discuss, say, how many Olympic gold medals the USA curling team has won.

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I’m reminded of the great Billy Graham that went to be with the Lord this week at the ripe old age of 99. During his life, people would ask him why he didn’t do more for, say, racial justice. His answer? That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to spread the gospel. “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” He was friends with Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned, and people pressured him to stop appearing publicly with Nixon. Graham would respond, I’m sharing the good news of salvation.  For a while, there was a movement for Billy Graham to run for Senate. His response? That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to spread the gospel. Billy Graham never wavered from his message, the only message that ultimately matters.

Paul is bold. I like that. And it’s almost as though he completely ignores any animosity toward him as though it’s unimportant. And he’s right – compared to eternal life, well, sticks and stones my break my bones, but Jesus gives life forever. The Good News is not the most important thing: it’s the only thing.

IV. Acts 28:24 Not All Who Hear Then Perceive

When we ask, “what is our purpose for life?”, we should ask first if God has a plan for our life. And He does. Each one of us has a unique story only we can tell, unique abilities only we can fulfill, unique passions God has given to us individually. That’s why some are engineers, some are grandmothers, some are teachers, some are Olympic athletes.
But despite our individual uniqueness and our individual passions, there’s a plan for each of us that we all have in common.

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Our purpose in life is to know God and to make God known. But our job stops there; we share what we know about God. The job of actually convicting somebody of their sin, leading them to repentance, and giving their life to Jesus Christ is not our job. That job belongs to the Holy Spirit.

And I think too many times we tell people what we think the bible says, and not what it actually says. We give them our opinion of what they’re doing wrong in their life and what they must do to be a Christian, when instead we should be sharing the love of Christ with them, encouraging them to read for themselves what God will say to them.
I find it interesting that should one accept the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, all the glory goes to God for the salvation of a soul. But rejecting the Word, the fault lies solely on the sinner.

Paul was a terrific evangelist. He shared the gospel with everybody, with all his friends, acquaintances, and even his enemies. Frequently he shared the gospel with people trying to kill him. Paul shared the gospel with anybody who would listen. Acts 28:24,

 

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Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

Again I say, It’s our job to share the gospel, but it’s not our job to convict. That’s above our pay grade. It’s the other person’s choice whether to believe or not, whether to respond to the Holy Spirit telling Him there’s a purpose for him in this life and the next.

There are many reasons why a person will not respond to the good news. Stubbornness. Selfishness. Even intellect, some feel they are too smart to believe and never understand the irony that they are finite beings that do not understand an infinite God, so they chose not to believe what they cannot understand rather that admit they are not all-knowing. All the excuses, though, come down to pride. In our sinful hearts, we want to do things our own way. But 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way –

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And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Paul was 100% successful in sharing the gospel, but he did not have a 100% conversion rate. And neither will we. Of course, if we don’t share the gospel at all, we will have a 0% conversion rate. But we are to share the good news and leave the results up to God. He is capable. He is more than capable.

V. Acts 28:25-27 Quoting Isaiah

Paul knows that not everyone will believe. Some people are bound and determined to go to Hell and they’re not about to stop and ask for directions.

When some of the people turn away from Paul, Paul tells them that God knew in advance that many would reject God and turn away. As they turn away, Paul says to them,

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“The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,
‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Paul quotes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 6 beginning in verse 9. This Old Testament scripture is quoted five times in the New Testament; it’s quoted by all four gospel writes, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, then it’s quoted by Paul. God is saying in this verse that His grace and healing is available to everyone, but many have closed their eyes and ears to the Gospel.

What do we do with such people? Exactly what Paul does. We tell them that Jesus loves them and gave His life so that they may have eternal life with Him. The Holy Spirit will compel them, but some people have become quite proficient at ignoring God’s call. But we go on sharing the love of Christ anyway.

VI. Conclusion

There is nothing more important than sharing the Word of God. Everything else in this life – houses, cars, spouses and children, money or power – is only temporary. We are only temporary stewards of what God has created. Only our eternity is eternal. Psalm 73:25-26,

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Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

We live in a lost world where many have closed their eyes and closed their ears, but the message we share saves eternal lives. Every person that is not yet reconciled with God remains an enemy of God. And every person reconciled is a cause for rejoicing in Heaven.

We are to know God and to make God known. We start first by reading the bible. That’s how we get to know God. The excitement of sharing the gospel comes from knowing God. If we barely know God, why would we want to talk about Him? So get to know God by reading His word.

Paul is an excellent example of sharing the gospel at all times with all people, friends and strangers and even enemies. That’s our job, too. Our earthly task is to know God and to make God known every day.

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To God be the glory. Amen.

A Life Well-Lived

I. Introduction

What does it mean to live a good life?

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I know what the world shows us. It shows us we should look good and feel good. Nothing more important than being rich. We should have it all. A successful life is defined as having as many toys and as much money as possible. But only if you’re also good looking and have good hair.

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Or success is defined as defeating everybody else, being stronger or more powerful and winning more than anybody else. Even if you have to cheat to get there.

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And I also think it’s interesting that the same things the world teaches us that we should desire are the same things the world uses to bring us down. The world’s richest people have their mansions and their yachts, but then the Occupiers of Wall Street demonstrating against the 1% that have mansions and yachts at the expense of the underprivileged. Or winning a Super Bowl one year, but if you can’t win it again the next year, you’re a loser.

Do handsome actors and pretty actresses define a life well-lived? Does having a super yacht define a life well-lived? Does winning the Super Bowl define a life well-lived? Or is there something else worth living for?

II. Testimonials

The bible is consistent in teaching us more. In Luke 12:16-21,

And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

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The rich man was primarily worried about providing for his body in this life instead of providing for his soul in the next life. There was a famous French statesman named Tallyrand, appointed to the position of Foreign Minister by Napoleon in 1799, who said this near the end of his life,

“Eighty-three years have passed! I am not sure I am pleased when I think back over how those years were spent. How many useless uproars there were; how many failures; how many outrageous complications; how much wasted emotion and energy, and how much wasted ability! Hatreds have been aroused, illusions lost, tastes jaded. And with what result? Moral and physical exhaustion, complete discouragement with respect to the future, deep disgust with respect to the past.”

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I think it’s sad to spend a life quarreling for table scraps and shiny trinkets that get tossed in the casket with the death of the body, when we could celebrate a life filled with purpose that serves God’s eternal plans instead of our own. God’s plans are so much better than our own.

I think of my stepfather who passed away last year. When he married my mother, he treated my brother and sister and me as though we were his own. We were already adults and too old to be adopted, but you would have never guessed we were not his biological children. He introduced me as his son. And as part of his family, he showed me greater love than I was ever able to return. While he enjoyed his job, the only time he would talk about money was to mention his goal of making sure my mother was well cared for. In return, we loved and appreciated all he did for his family. He was a rich man, and it had nothing to do with money.

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And I think of my grandfather who passed away thirty something years ago. He was a tremendous model of peace and joy and love no matter what was going on around him. He took me fishing on his boat when I wasn’t even 5 years old and spent the day with me, and for years later that event defined to ma what family love is. He taught bible study at his local church, I’m told, for over 35 years, and in every way I ever saw, he modeled a Christian life. He was a rich man, and it had nothing to do with money.

You probably have somebody in your life that modeled a life well-lived. When you think of a great role model and a positive influence in your life, who do you think of?

I have a letter to share from a Godly woman from my wife’s church; she has been a missionary in an unfriendly communist country, sharing God’s Word, and writing back to supporting churches telling them that the Good News was being received eagerly in dangerous places. She was diagnosed with cancer some time ago. She wrote this just 2 weeks ago, and I’d like to share it in whole, omitting the names because of her missionary work overseas –

Dear Friends,

The Lord gave us a wonderful Christmas! Thank you so much for praying. I have attached a picture of me with our 8 granddaughters. As good as the picture is, it doesn’t convey how special Christmas Eve with the whole family was, and how much fun! Although I could not stand longer than a couple of minutes because of weakness, I was able to participate in the full 3 ½ hour celebration of our Savior’s birth.

This will probably be the last time that I am writing to you. Starting after New Year’s I began to go downhill again, and signs of the beginning of organ failure are quite evident. The Lord is gracious in that the pain is still manageable, and although for about a week nausea was a real problem, that is now managed as well. We are grateful to the Lord for His care for me.

How can I give you all thanks for the decades of care and support for my husband and me? Way back in 1976 when I was a college student studying English in communist Poland, I met Campus Crusade staff members for the first time, translating for them at our “Oasis” camp deep in the Polish mountains. I was so impressed with their ministry that even before I had committed my life to Christ I asked them if I could do what they were doing, i.e. telling others about Jesus. Over the next 4 years I committed my life to Christ, came on staff (not openly, obviously) and married my husband. And, for the past 37 years, thanks to your prayers and support, I have been able to focus my time and energy on that very thing: telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ. After a couple years of experience and training, I began to help others share their faith as well. I could not have followed God’s call on my life without you. I thank you with all my heart and pray God’s greatest blessings upon you.

According to hospice, in about a couple of weeks (although, only God knows) I will lay down this temporal body. I look forward to that. I cannot claim to understand all of God’s ways with me. In the end, God has given me the grace to walk by faith with many of my questions unanswered. He is good, and He is sufficient. With this knowledge I am at peace.

“Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Phil.4:20

Your sister in Christ

This Godly woman passed away earlier this week. I can read her letter of goodbye that had not one bit of regret in it, full of joy and peace. And I know she had a life well-lived.

III. A Life Well-Lived

We’re studying the book of Acts and we’re in Acts 20 this week and Paul is reflecting on the life he’s lived and saying goodbye for he knows the time he has left in this world is coming to an end. And like everything Paul wrote, even his goodbye is organized and with purpose. There are three parts to his goodbye; first he reviews the past, then he discusses the present, and then the future. He concludes that his past, present and future has enabled Paul to live his life in such a way that he may finish his race with joy.

I reflected on this message from Paul, how he plans to finish his race with joy, and wonder if I planned my life that way. I think a great many of us make plans, but they’re short term plans, maybe with a goal. I’m going to get through high school or college. I’m going to get married. I’m going to buy a house. Those are all things, sure, that we work for, but I don’t think that just because I bought a house means I lived my life well.

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I think if you’re going to run a race that ends in joy, Paul’s messages of past present and future reflect the stages of the race. One doesn’t simply wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I think I’ll run a marathon today.” No, a race requires training, endurance, and a strong finish.

IV. Acts 20:18-21 Training for the Race

First comes the training. If you’re going to run a race and finish with joy, you have to begin with purpose. Paul is talking to the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-21,

And when they [the elders] had come to him [Paul], he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s giving us his autobiography and telling us that his life was filled with purpose. He wasn’t an “accidental” that happened to be at church. Paul says “from the first day” Paul was devoted to his work.

Have you ever heard the phrase “ambassador for Christ?” I think the phrase is applicable, for we are all to be ambassadors for Christ. But too often we forget we have a purpose. Ambassadors have a purpose. Ambassadors know who sent them and why. Ambassadors take that purpose to a place or a people and represent the will of the one who sent them.

But ambassadors work out of a large building, an embassy, that’s also full of diplomats. Diplomats push the paper around and talk out of both sides of their mouths, so they do not offend anyone. Diplomats and ambassadors may share a building, but the ambassador has a purpose. Some people attend church as a diplomat and collect what they believe is a spiritual paycheck. Others attend church out of love and purpose, eager to see how God will use them today. Paul wasn’t a diplomat, he was an ambassador for Christ.

And Paul’s motive, his goal, is also in verse 21, his goal was to serve the Lord. While Paul ministered to people, he served the Lord. Paul lived a life unashamed of the gospel, never shying away because he was worried he’d upset somebody or offend them. The gospel is what it is, the good news of Jesus Christ.

And while we know Paul was unashamed of the Gospel, he shared the good news with “all humility.” He wasn’t a religious celebrity, he was a man who understood that Paul could do nothing on his own, he owed it all to Jesus Christ.

This is how Paul trained for the race. He shared the gospel with purpose to all from the first day. Paul recognized that a life worth living begins with training with a purpose, using the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of the Holy Spirit, never being ashamed and always with humility, knowing that it is the power of the cross that provides salvation, and nothing Paul or you and I do under our own power.

Using these gifts are sometimes met with failure. Paul did all this even through the failures, “with many tears and trials,” because he knew that the message was worth sharing no matter the cost to himself. All to share the message, publicly and from house to house to all those who would listen, that all should repent and believe in Jesus for there is no other means of salvation. Getting back up after failure builds our endurance. And endurance will be needed to run the race and finish the race with joy.

V. Acts 20:22-24a Running the Race

After Paul tells us about how he trained for the race, he shifts now to today and running the race. Acts 20:22-23,

And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself.

Paul shifts from past to present with “And see, now,” or “And now, behold.” Paul makes up his mind with purpose to accomplish today what the Holy Spirit asks him to do. In Paul’s case, he is called to get to Jerusalem before Pentacost, but also told by the Holy Spirit that the trip won’t be easy. Trials and tribulations await. But rather than just gritting his teeth and bearing what inflictions lay ahead, Paul sets his course with purpose. Instead of running away from difficult times, he gets into the boat and sails into the hurricane.

Because of the endurance he has developed, though, from his past exercise of his faith, Paul sets his sights on Jerusalem. Knowing the persecution that our brothers and sisters endure in other countries, I wonder if we are more faithful under persecution. Knowing they are about to die at the hands of extremists, story after story is told of our brothers and sisters proclaiming the good news. Yet, we, who are so comfortable in front of our television with our iPhone by our side keep our knowledge of the good news to ourselves so as not to make others uncomfortable.

Because of Paul’s endurance from His past devotion, Paul has commitment and energy to run the race today, despite the trials and tribulations that are always in front of every true believer. The devil is furious with Christians and sure to inflict trials. I once heard it said that if you’re not experiencing trials, perhaps the devil is comfortable with your faith.

But Paul does not shy away from confrontation; he says he does not count his life dear to himself. He uses an accounting term when he says he doesn’t count his life dear to himself; it’s as though he’s balancing the books, examining his assets and liabilities, and decided that Jesus Christ outweighs everything Paul has to offer. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul puts it this way:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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I heard a story while studying this about a man who decides to dedicate his life and his business to the Lord. Since it all came from God anyway, he was going to dedicate every bit of it back to God. And the next week, one his factories catches fire. As it burns to the ground, the man stands outside, watching it, with his son by his side. And his son asks, “aren’t you upset? Is this your reward? You give everything to God and it all burns up?” And the man answers, “It all belongs to the Lord. If God wants to burn it all up, that’s His choice.”

VI. Acts 20:24b Finishing the Race with Joy

Once we accept the eternal salvation offered by Jesus, we can just sit at the starting line and watch the other runners. We still get to hang a number on a piece of paper around our necks, we can still claim to have entered the marathon.

Jesus calls us to do more. Jesus wants us to enter the race, run the race, and finish the race. He wants us to acknowledge that we have received a precious gift that cost the son of God His very life. To decline this gift is eternal damnation. In Matthew 13:45-46, Jesus describes the goal at the end of the race like this:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

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We have each been offered a pearl of great price, our eternal salvation and life ever after. Are we willing to give up everything to achieve that prize? Or do we hold something back, something we are not willing to risk? What keeps us from celebrating the Good New daily? What keeps us from sharing the Good News daily so others may receive that same gift? Paul tallies up his balance sheet and the score is Jesus: 100, Me: 0. Apart from Jesus, I have nothing. In Acts 20:24, Paul is looking forward to the end of the race. He’s trained for it, he wakes up daily ready to run, and he sees the finish line.
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

VII. Conclusion

I think a live worth living requires living a life with purpose, not just being a diplomat at the Church of Disgruntled Attendees. Whatever our past has given to us is fuel for the race, it has equipped us in a way that is unique to us. And fully-fueled, to live a life well-lived means greeting each day with purpose to accomplish the unique goal that the Holy Spirit has set before each one of us. And despite the trials ahead and the failures behind, recognizing that we are building endurance for the race ahead. And as we see the finish line approaching, finish it with joy. In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul says his goal was to run the race well and finish well:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

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We can sit at the starting line with a number hung around our neck and claim we entered a marathon. We can go to a lukewarm church and be lukewarm diplomats for Christ and hope we do not offend anybody.

Or we can run the race with joy and purpose, we can be ambassadors for Christ with joy and purpose. On that day when we face our creator, we can in all humility look forward to that crown of righteousness. How much joy will be in our hearts when we hear our Savior say,

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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To God be the glory. Amen.