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.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Your Reputation Precedes You

Part 3 of The Gospel Gone Viral

Text: Acts 2:42-47




And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people (vv. 46-47).


What's Your Reputation?

You’ve probably heard the saying “Your reputation precedes you.” It can be used in both a positive or negative way. If good things have been heard about a person, their good reputation precedes them. But if bad things have been heard about a person, their bad reputation precedes them.

If a realtor has a good reputation, you’ll probably listen to her advice on selling your house. If a car salesman has a bad reputation, you’ll probably ignore his sales pitch. And a Christian’s reputation will affect people’s receptiveness to the gospel.


A Sharing Church

The church in Jerusalem (whom we might call the first Christians) was “devoted” to four things: “the apostles’ teaching,” “the fellowship,” “the breaking of bread,” and “the prayers” (v. 42). The church’s devotion to “ the fellowship” included spending time together and sharing: “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (vv. 44-45). This church was a sharing church. They shared their time (“together,” vv. 44, 46), food “breaking bread,” v. 46), and money (“selling their possessions and belongings,” v. 45).

Do we need to do this? No, it was voluntary (5:4). Description does not equal prescription. But we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss it. “How easy it is to justify our lifestyles and our attachment to things by writing off threatening texts.” [1] Darrell Bock writes, “In our culture, our individual needs and rights come before any needs of the group. The biblical picture is not of what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal, but of what one gives and how one contributes to it.” [2]

Why were they willing to share? They had “glad and generous hearts” (v. 46). And why did they have hearts that lead them to share? Their hearts had been changed by the gospel. The gospel wasn’t something these people merely believed with their minds. Their sharing was not a duty; it was a delight. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). We will give gladly and generously when we are thankful for God’s “inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).


A Good Reputation

The church’s reputation of being a sharing caused them to gain “favor with all the people” (v. 47). “The people” refers to people outside the church (i.e., nonbelievers). They saw that the church didn’t just talk about loving others; they actually did it. Jesus had said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Are people going to listen to us if we have a reputation for lacking love for others? People aren’t going to listen to someone whose life doesn’t match his words (like a marriage counselor who’s been unfaithful to his wife). Everybody hates hypocrisy.

There is a connection between the sincerity of our love inside the church and the effectiveness of our witness outside the church. Luke writes that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47).

What’s your reputation? Your reputation precedes you. Don’t be a hindrance to people accepting the gospel. Live in such a way that you make the gospel attractive to people.

____________________

[1] John Piper, “The Fear of God and Freedom from Goods,” desiringgod.org.
[2] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, 155.