Monday, December 11, 2017

The Glory of God

Part 2 of God Incarnate

Text: John 1:14




And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). 


What's the Big Deal?

What’s the big deal about the birth of Jesus? It’s a big deal because Jesus was none other than God in human flesh! The baby lying in the manger was none other than God in human flesh!
Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies. 
In John 1:1-18, Jesus is called “the Word.” Why? As we can tell others who we are by our words, God has told us who he is by the Word, Jesus—God in human flesh.


We Have Seen His Glory

John writes, “We have seen his glory.” “Glory” in this context means brightness, splendour, or greatness. “Glory” is used this way when it’s said, “Let’s plug the lights in and see the Christmas tree in all its glory.” John wants us to think of the experiences of the Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness (found in the book of Exodus). On Mount Sinai, Moses said to God, “Please show me your glory” (Exod. 33:18).

It was God’s plan for his glorious presence to dwell with his people. God told Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary [i.e., the tabernacle], that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8).” After the tabernacle was made, “The glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34). As God dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness, John says that the Word “dwelt (skenoo) among us.” A more literal translation skenoo is “pitched his tent” or “tabernacled.” As the Israelites saw the glory of God when God dwelt among them, John and the other apostles saw the glory of God when Jesus dwelt among them. “We have seen his glory.” How did they see the glory of God?


The Glory of the Cross

Jesus once said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). How would he be glorified? Jesus also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people [i.e., all kinds of people] to myself” (John 12:32). John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (v. 33).

When Jesus was crucified, he was literally “lifted up.” Another meaning of “lifted up” is “glorified.” Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the servant of the Lord (i.e., Jesus) would be “lifted up”: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (Isa. 52:13). The next verse says, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (v. 14).

The cross displays for us the glory of God. How? When you go to a funeral for a person who was greatly admired, do you hear much talk about the dead person’s beauty? No. Usually the characteristics that are most praised are the person’s humility, generosity, kindness, and sacrificial love. Those are the characteristics that we see when we look at the cross (if we believe that Jesus is God in human flesh). That’s how we see the glory of God in the cross. That’s how John saw the glory of God in Jesus.


Do They See the Glory of God in Us?

Do our lives bring glory to God? “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19). “So glorify God in your body” (v. 20) How can our lives bring glory to God? Be like Jesus.

Monday, December 4, 2017

God With Us

Part 1 of God Incarnate

Text: John 1:1, 14a




In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14a). 


Who Was Jesus?

Most people know that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But who was Jesus? There isn’t a more important question than this one. How often do we stop to think about the identity of the baby in the manger? The Gospel of John begins with an amazing claim about Jesus: Jesus was none other than God in human flesh! The baby in the manger was none other than God in human flesh!


The Word Became Flesh

“The Word” is Jesus. In verses 1 and 14, John says five things about Jesus.
  1. Jesus “was in the beginning.” The Gospel of John begins at the beginning. Before the uni-verse existed, Jesus existed. 
  2. Jesus “was with God.” This means that Jesus enjoyed a relationship with God. 
  3. Jesus “was God.” He is not a god; he is God. How can Jesus be with God and also be God? Though there is only one God, God exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is God (the Son), and was “with” the Father and the Spirit. 
  4. Jesus “became flesh.” Jesus was not always human. He became human when we was miraculously conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. Jesus in God incarnate (i.e., God in human flesh). 
  5. Jesus “dwelt among us.” Joseph was told that Mary’s baby boy would be called Immanuel, which means, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). 
Why is Jesus called the Word? Think about why we use words. We use words to express ourselves (i.e., reveal to people who were are). When someone says to us, “Tell me about yourself,” we use words to reveal who we are. We also use words to get things done. If we’re eating at a table with others, and we can’t reach the pepper, we use words to get the pepper: “Please pass me the pepper.” When Jesus, the Word, lived among us, he revealed to us who God is and accomplished for us what we most needed. In the words of Linus van Pelt, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Undeserved

Part 3 of Two Lost Sons

Text: Luke 15:11-32




[The older son] answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (v. 29). 


He Doesn't Deserve This!

Question: Should we always want to get what we deserve? In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. In each parable, there is great joy when what was lost is found (vv. 6, 9, 22-24).

In the first two parables, everyone celebrates when what was lost is found. But the third parable is different. Not everyone is happy. The older son is angry (v. 28). He’s thinking, “My brother doesn’t deserve this! I deserve this!” (vv. 29-30).


What Makes God Celebrate?

The older son is like the Pharisees and scribes (i.e., religious leaders) who had grumbled about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (vv. 1-2). The parables in Luke 15 were meant to teach the Pharisees and scribes that there is always great joy in heaven when one lost person (i.e., someone who needs reconciliation with God) repents of his or her sin. (There always needs to be repentance before reconciliation can occur.) God celebrates—throws a party in heaven—whenever one sinner repents (vv. 7, 10).


Both Sons Were Lost

Both sons were lost. Both sons didn’t love their father. Both sons needed reconciliation. There are two ways to be lost. You can be lost be being bad (like the younger son), and you can be lost by being good (like the older son).

Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). Jesus is speaking ironically. When he says, “Righteous persons who need no repentance,” he means, “People who think they are righteous and think they have no need to repent.” People like the older son (and the Pharisees and scribes) think they have no need to repent.

Where do we find people like the older son? In churches. There is no delight in their religion, only duty. Where does the delight (i.e., joy) come from? It comes from an appreciation for God’s grace. By saying, “My brother doesn’t deserve this!”, the older brother reveals that he doesn’t value grace. 


Jesus Didn't Deserve That!

Imagine standing before the cross. What would you be thinking? “He doesn’t deserve this!” Jesus didn’t deserve that! But he chose to endure that. Why? So that you and I could be treated in a way we don’t deserve. Jesus chose the suffering of the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. We aren’t forgiven because of what we’ve done to atone for our sins. We’re forgiven because of what Jesus has done to atone for our sins. That’s grace.


I Don't Deserve This!

When I understand God’s grace, I say, “I don’t deserve this!” Should we always want to get what we deserve? No, it’s a mistake to demand that we should always get what we deserve. God’s justice demands that there should be punishment for my sin; God’s grace gave Jesus to die in my place on the cross. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

God deserves everything I can give him. “He deserves this!”

Monday, November 20, 2017

The True Older Brother

Part 2 of Two Lost Sons

Text: Luke 15:11-32




And [the servant] said to [the older son], “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in (Luke 15:27-28b). 


No One Searched for the Lost Son

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables : the parable of the lost sheep (vv. 4-7), the parable of the lost coin (vv. 8-10), and the parable of the lost son (vv. 11-32).

In the first two parables, someone searches for what’s lost. The shepherd searches until he finds the lost sheep. The woman searches until she finds the lost coin. So when we get to the third parable, we expect someone to search for the lost son. But no one does. Who should have searched for the lost son?


Lost Sons and Daughters

Humanity is like the lost son. Like a rebellious child, humanity has turned its back on God and gone its own way. In the beginning, though, it was different. The first man and women enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. But when sin entered the world, humanity’s relationship with God was broken. We need for that broken relationship to be restored. We need to be reconciled to God.

The prodigal son thought that he would find happiness in a place far away from his father. Instead, he ended up in a pigsty. Many people think that living for themselves will make them happy. But whether we realize it or not, what we really long for is to go back to what we had in the beginning: an enjoyment of the presence of God.


Jesus, the True Older Brother

Who should have searched for the lost son? The older brother. But he didn’t go searching for his brother because he didn’t care about him. Jesus is the true older brother who was willing to do whatever it took to bring us back to God. He once said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He left heaven and came to earth to bring us back to God.

When the older brother discovers that his father had welcomed back the younger brother and is celebrating his return with a great feast, he’s furious. The cost! He said to his father, “This son of yours doesn’t deserve this!” Unlike the older brother, Jesus disregarded the cost to bring us back to God.
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8). 
Forgiveness is free for us to receive, but it was incredibly costly to Jesus. We enjoy the feast because Jesus took the cup of wrath.


My Brother's Keeper

Do you remember the story of the first two brothers? The older brother Cain murdered the younger brother Abel. When God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”, he answered, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).

The truth is, we are to be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. We are to show concern for the welfare of others. We are to be like Jesus, the true older brother, not like the prodigal son’s older brother.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Father's Love

Part 1 of Two Lost Sons

Text: Luke 15:11-32




But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20). 


A Story About a Father's Two Sons

In the Gospels, Jesus tells many stories. One of his most popular stories is the story of the Prodigal Son. The title is a bit misleading because it’s not a story about just one son; it’s a story about two sons. And it’s also a story about a father whose heart is full of love for his sons.

In the story, the younger son is a rebellious son who leaves home and breaks his father’s heart. The older son remains home and appears to be the good son, but he also breaks his father’s heart.


The Story's Purpose

Why did Jesus tell this story? [1] To answer this question, we need to go back to the first three verses of Luke 15.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 
So he told them this parable…. [2]
The story was told to the Pharisees and scribes—religious leaders. The Pharisees and scribes had “grumbled” because the tax collectors and sinners were “drawing near” to Jesus, and he was welcoming them—even eating with them.

The tax collectors and sinners were non-religious people. They were like the younger brother. The Pharisees and scribes were self-righteous people. They were like the older brother who angrily complained when his father—who represents God—had welcomed back the rebellious son.

The purpose of the story of the Prodigal Son is to teach two truths: First, God welcomes all repentant sinners. What happened when the younger son returned home? “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embrace him and kissed him” (v. 20). Tim Keller writes, “It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, but rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son’s expression of remorse far easier.” [3]

Second, some people who think they’re on the “inside” are actually on the “outside.” On a different occasion, Jesus said to some other religious leaders, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt. 21:31). The religious leaders thought they were on the “inside,” but they were actually on the “outside.” When the story ends, it’s the younger son who’s inside the father’s house, not the older son (v. 28). Both sons are invited into the feast, but only the younger son enters. The older son’s pride keeps him out. “Good” people don’t go to heaven. Only repentant sinners go to heaven.


The Prodigal God

Tim Keller’s book on the story of the Prodigal Son has an unusual title: The Prodigal God. Here’s Keller’s explanation of the title:
The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This terms is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand payment. This response offended the elder brother and most likely the local community. 
In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. St. Paul writes: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses” (2 Corinthians 5:19—American Standard Version). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. [4]
How did God the Father make reconciliation possible through Christ? Second Corinthians 5 goes on to day, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). God sent his own Son into a “far country” to die so that we could be reconciled to him. God was willing to endure the sorrow of losing his own Son so that he could know the joy of welcoming us back home.


Imitate the Father

Many churchgoers are like the older brother—like the Pharisees and scribes. They see themselves as better than other people, more deserving of a place in God’s family. We are to be like the father—like God. We are to have compassionate hearts.

____________________

[1] The stories of Jesus are called “parables.” A parable is a fictional story told to teach a truth.
[2] Jesus told three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son. In each parable, something is lost. And in each parable, there is joy when what was lost is finally found.
[3] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 74.
[4] Ibid., xiv-xv.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Priority of the Gospel

Part 8 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 20:17-38




“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (20:28). 


What Matters Most?

What should matter most to a church?

In Acts 20:17-38, Paul speaks to the elders of the church of Ephesus. The elders are the leaders of a church. In verse 28, we find two responsibilities of an elder: (1) to oversee the church (“in which the Holy Spirit as made you overseers”) and (2) to care [1] for (i.e., shepherd ) the church (“care for the church of God”). [2]

In 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter addresses another group of elders, and he mentions the same two elder responsibilities:
So I exhort the elders among you…: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (vv. 1-4). 
If elders are to effectively shepherd and oversee the church, they need to know the correct answer to the question “What should matter most to a church?”


The Gospel

The thing that should matter most to the church is the gospel. Why? There is nothing people need more than the gospel.

  • Paul describes the gospel as “the gospel of the grace of God” (v. 24). Since we are saved by grace, God deserves all the glory for our salvation.
  • The gospel tells us that we matter to God. Jesus “obtained [the church of God] with his own blood” (v. 28).
  • People accept the gospel (and are saved) by repenting (i.e., turning from sin) and believing (i.e., turning to Jesus): “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 21). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. 
  • The gospel is not just for the beginning of the Christian life. Believing in the gospel is sort of like learning the alphabet. That’s the first thing you learn when you go to school, and knowing the alphabet is something that’s incredibly helpful throughout your whole life. We don’t forget about the alphabet once we finish grade 1. And we shouldn’t forget about the gospel after we put our faith in Christ. The gospel inspires us to do the right thing. For example, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 

What We Need to Do with the Gospel

Since there is nothing people need more than the gospel, we must do two things. First, we must proclaim the gospel. Paul says, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (vv. 26-27). Why would we “shrink” from declaring “the whole counsel of God”? Because parts of it offend people. They don’t want to hear the reason why they need the gospel: they are sinners who deserve condemnation, not salvation.

Second, we must preserve the gospel. Paul warns them, “After my departure fierce wolves will coming in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away disciples after them” (vv. 29-30). “Be alert” (v. 31), Paul says. People who want to draw a church away from the gospel could come from outside the church (v. 29) or inside the church (v. 30).


What Are We if We Don't Have the Gospel?

As we saw in verse 28, one of the responsibilities of church elders is to provide pastoral care. When we think of pastoral care, what do we normally thing of? The best way to care for the flock is to make sure the church doesn’t lose the gospel because all of the comfort and encouragement we have to share is based on the gospel.

What is a church if it doesn’t have the gospel? It’s merely a charity that does good deeds. But the gospel changes lives. There is nothing people need more than the gospel, so we must (1) proclaim it and (2) preserve it.

____________________

[1] To “care” for the church means to “shepherd” the church, which is called “the flock” (v. 28; 1 Peter 5:2).
[2] In the New Testament, elder, pastor, and overseer are three titles for the same office.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Expect the Unexpected

Part 7 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 16:6-34




[The jailor] put [Paul and Silas] into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.... Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:24, 30). 


This Wasn't the Plan!

I’m someone who likes to make a detailed list of everything I’d like to accomplish each day. But often our days don’t go according to plan.

That was the case with Paul and Silas. I’m sure they didn’t plan to be beaten and imprisoned when they went to Philippi. But they probably also didn’t expect that the jailer of the prison would be saved. Sometimes an unexpected turn of events—even a very bad turn of events—can lead to a great opportunity to share the gospel.


A Change of Course

Paul and Silas are “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word [i.e., the gospel] in Asia” (v. 6). Then when they try to go to Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus [doesn’t] allow them” (v. 7). Later, Paul has a vision in which a man says, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9). Paul and Silas interpret the vision to mean that God wants them to take the gospel to Macedonia (v. 10). They were willing to change course when they sensed that God wanted them to go in a different direction. They had made travel plans, but God had a different plan for them.

 Sometimes we sense God’s leading and decide to change course. Other times circumstances force us to change course. Whenever God changes our course—when he takes us in a different direction—it could because he wants to use us to lead someone to faith in Jesus.


Your Reactions Are Showing

Paul and Silas have some initial success in Philippi. A woman named Lydia is saved and baptized (“the Lord opened her heart,” v. 14). But after that, things go bad. Paul is repeatedly harassed by a slave girl who is possessed by a demonic spirit. Eventually, Paul becomes “greatly annoyed” (v. 18) and casts the demonic spirit out of the girl. This angers the girl’s owners because the girl had made them lots of money from fortune-telling. They drag Paul and Silas to the authorities who order Paul and Silas to be beaten with rods and thrown into prison.

How would you have reacted to this turn of events? It would be natural to doubt God’s wisdom: “Why did God want me to come to this city?” Sometimes an unexpected turn of events in our lives can be an annoying setback (e.g., a flat tire) or a serious problem (e.g., cancer). We often react to a bad turn of events by complaining or being discouraged.

Amazingly, that night in prison Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God—not usual activities for people who had been beaten with rods and thrown into prison! And we’re told that “the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). Our reaction to a bad turn of events can open a door—or close a door—to an opportunity to share the gospel. Or maybe our reaction to a problem could make such an impact on someone that we become a link in a chain of events that leads them to one day being saved.

Circumstances Can't Stop the Gospel

Paul and Silas’s imprisonment didn’t stop the spread of the gospel. Actually, their imprisonment helped spread the gospel! There’s an earthquake that night. It causes the doors of the prison to open. But the prisoners don’t run away. Instead of seeing the earthquake as an opportunity to escape, Paul and Silas saw it as an opportunity to witness.

The jailer, though, thinks all the prisoners have escaped. This would mean that the jailer is in big trouble. So he decides to kills himself. But just as he’s about to end his life, Paul cries out to him, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (v. 28). The jailer can’t believe it. Paul and Silas’s reaction to their problems showed the jailer that they were different. Are we any different because of the gospel? 

The jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). They answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31).

So this week when you experience a bad turn of events, think about how it might open a door to an opportunity for you to be a witness. We can be a witness by how we react to a bad situation or maybe even be able to speak about the gospel.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Does God Really Need Me to Be a Witness?

Part 6 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 13:26-51




And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48). 


Not Needed? 

Acts 13:48 says, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Jesus told the apostles, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). But if God has already “appointed to eternal life” those who will believe, do we really need to be witnesses?


The Gospel Is for Everyone! 

In Acts 10, God reveals to Peter that the gospel is not just for the Jews; it’s for the Gentiles too. The gospel is for everyone!

In Acts 9, when Saul is converted, God says, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles” (9:15). In Acts 13, that’s what Saul does. After the Jews in one particular city reject the gospel, Saul announces, “We are turning to the Gentiles” (13:46).

Saul quotes Isaiah 49:6: “I have made you [1] a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (13:47). It was God’s plan to bring salvation to the Gentiles. “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (13:48).


Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

In 13:48 we see two biblical doctrines that appear to be incompatible: divine sovereignty (“appointed”) and human responsibility (“believed”). Some people might read this verse and conclude, “If God appoints people to eternal life, I don’t really need to bother to be a witness. They’ll end up believing somehow in the end.” The apostles believed in divine sovereignty, but that belief didn’t lead them to conclude that it wasn’t necessary for them to be witnesses. They risked their lives to spread the gospel “to the ends of the earth.” If we think that 13:48 gives us a reason not to be a witness, then we are disregarding what the book of Acts is all about!

When it comes to being a witness (i.e., sharing the gospel), we must avoid two extreme views. First, we must not think, “I have to do nothing.” This view puts all the emphasis on divine sovereignty and waters down human responsibility. Second, we must not think, “I have to do everything.” This view puts all the emphasis on human responsibility and waters down divine sovereignty.


Appointed to Be Witnesses 

In 13:49 we read that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” The people who were spreading the gospel were the Gentiles who believed. “Converts are meant to be evangelists.” [2] God doesn’t need us to be witnesses, but he has appointed us to be witnesses. 

Don’t think, “I wonder if God has appointed that person to eternal life.” Instead, think, “God has promised that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12). Who is in your life that needs to be saved? Pray for that person, and look for opportunities to share the gospel.

Application: we have been called to be witnesses to our children. Actively pursue their salvation.

____________________
[1] “You” is the servant of Lord. “A careful reading of the four servant songs has…led many scholars to argue that the servant refers to an individual who fulfills in himself all that Israel was meant to be” (H. M. Wolf, “Servant of the Lord,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 726. This individual is Jesus.
[2] I. H. Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, 245.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

God Saves Lost Causes

Part 5 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 9:1-19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17




But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16). 


A Lost Cause?

Do you know someone whose conversion to faith in Jesus appears to be a lost cause? Maybe that person is a husband or wife, a son or a daughter, or a good friend. It seems like they will never accept the gospel. Maybe you think that you’re that kind of person—that there’s nothing that could happen that would ever cause you to give your life to Jesus.

The book of Acts tells the story of a person just like that. His conversion appeared to be a lost cause. He was the last person anyone expected to become a follower of Jesus. Yet by the grace of God that’s exactly what happened.


The Persecutor Becomes an Apostle

Saul (also known as Paul) was someone who hated the gospel. He desperately wanted to stop the spread of the gospel—so much so that he became a persecutor of the church. He was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and “approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). And he “was ravaging [i.e., destroying] the church” (Acts 8:3). “Entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).

In Acts 9, Saul is traveling to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus. But on his way to Damascus, he meets Jesus and is converted. In Saul’s retelling of the story of his conversion in Acts 26, Jesus says to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). A goad was a sharp stick used to prod oxen (i.e., to get them moving in the right direction). Saul had been resisting the gospel (like an stubborn ox kicking against the goads ). But God can save anyone—even a person who appears to be incredibly resistant to the gospel.

Saul the persecutor—this lost cause—became an apostle. The one who had once wanted to destroy the church ended up doing more to spread the gospel than perhaps any other person in history.


The Grace of God

In 1 Timothy 1, Saul describes himself as the “foremost” (i.e., worst) of sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Saul understood that he had been saved by grace (i.e., undeserved kindness) alone. He felt like he was the person most unworthy to be saved. He says that “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me” (1 Tim. 1:14).

Everyone—not just people like Saul—needs to be saved by grace. Can you identify with Saul when he said, “I am the foremost [of sinners]”? Perhaps he was a worse sinner than you and me, but we should all sense our sinfulness and our unworthiness to be saved. Why did Saul go on to do so much for God?

In 1 Corinthians 15, he writes,
I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (vv. 9-10). 
Jesus once said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). We could also say, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” Saul was willing to do much for God because he knew he had been forgiven much by God. Do you profess to be a Christian but lack the willingness to do much for God? Maybe it’s because you don’t see yourself as being forgiven much by God.


Why Did God Save Saul?

Why did God save Saul? Saul says, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:16).

Saul’s conversion was so unexpected that the believers in Jerusalem didn’t believe he really was a believer: “They were afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Saul was converted in order to give hope to everyone who longs to see the salvation of a “lost cause.”

No one is beyond the grace of God. So don’t give up on that person you think might be a lost cause. Don’t stop praying. They might be “kicking against the goads,” but the Holy Spirit can work in that person’s life to bring about change. And don’t stop looking for opportunities to share the gospel.


How About You?

Maybe you’re someone who has been resistant to the gospel. You’re not a lost cause. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). No matter what we’ve done in the past, Jesus will accept us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Despising the Shame

Part 4 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 5:37-42





Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (v. 41). 


Thankful for Suffering?

One popular Thanksgiving tradition is to ask people what they’re thankful for. You might do this before your Thanksgiving dinner. Each person around the table takes a turn saying what he or she is thankful for. We expect to hear people say they’re thankful for blessings such as family, health, freedom, and salvation (if the person is a Christian). We probably don’t expect to hear someone say they’re thankful for suffering. But that’s what the apostles did in Acts 5.

The apostles had been arrested for sharing the gospel with the people of Jerusalem. They were beaten and ordered not to talk about Jesus anymore. But they didn’t stop talking about Jesus. And they didn’t become discouraged. Instead, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [i.e., the name of Jesus]” (v. 41). If you’re rejoicing about something, you’re thankful for it. Why were the apostles thankful for suffering dishonour for the name of Jesus?


Suffering Shame for Jesus

The apostles had suffered “dishonor” (i.e., disgrace, shame). Since the apostles had been beaten (v. 40), the public would have seen them as criminals (i.e., they suffered shame). Why were the apostles thankful for this? The apostles weren’t thankful merely because they were suffering. They were thankful because they were suffering for Jesus. Jesus was the one who had told them, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The apostles were willing—even thankful!—to endure shame for Jesus because he had done the same for them. 

Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” When we think of crucifixion, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the pain of crucifixion. The word “excruciating” means “a pain like the pain of crucifixion.” Crucifixion was literally torture. But crucifixion was also dreaded because of its shame. “To die by crucifixion was to plumb the lowest depths of disgrace; it was a punishment reserved for those who were deemed most unfit to live” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 338). Crucifixion was carried out in a public place. While Jesus hung on the cross, he was naked for all to see. And he was mercilessly mocked by his enemies.


Despising the Shame

Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” What does “despising the shame” mean? The Greek word that has been translated “despising” (kataphroneo) means “to look down on.” When a person looks down on someone, they are thinking that the person is of little value. When Jesus “despised” the shame of the cross, it was as if he was saying, “Shame, you are nothing to me.” How could he say that?

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” What was this joy? Hebrews 12:2 goes on to say that Jesus is now “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” He was not thinking of only himself when he thought of this joy. He was also thinking of us. He died on a cross so that we could experience the joy of heaven with him! Jesus said, “Shame, you are nothing to me compared to the joy of knowing that many people will be saved because of my death on this cross.”

For us, Jesus endured crucifixion. Therefore we can say, “Shame, you are nothing to me compared to the joy of obeying Jesus.”