Category Archives: New Testament

3 John: Walk the talk

When it comes to the church, there’s nothing the media loves more than A HYPOCRITE. Someone who SAYS ONE thing, but then gets caught doing something DIFFERENT. Someone who TALKS about love, but treats people with anything BUT love. Or who talks about HONESTY, then gets caught in financial fraud. Or who talks about MORALITY and FAITHFULNESS, but then has an affair.

Christians need to be people who LIVE what they believe. Who’s lives SUPPORT their doctrine. People who WALK their TALK.

We say what a difference Jesus can make in our lives. But the reality is/ for many Christians/ there’s not much DIFFERENCE at ALL.

Do people NOTICE you’re a Christian by the way you speak, how you behave, how you treat people? By the way you live your life? Or are you more of a secret agent Christian – BLENDING IN with those around you, ready to make a surprise announcement some time in the future?

There are too many people like Diotrophes. And too few like Gaius. Too many who love to be first, and are more interested in building their OWN little kingdom. And too few who walk in the truth. Who walk the talk. Who live a life of integrity that backs up what they believe.

I’ve been in churches with both of them.

Let me tell you about my Gaius. We were guests in this church for a year. This lady and her husband had been involved in this church for decades. And they made us feel instantly at home. They organised a roster of people for us to visit for Sunday lunch. They went out of their way to show us warmth and hospitality and fellowship. Their interest and love just radiated.

My Gaius would phone us pretty regularly to see how we were doing. We had more phone calls like that/ in that ONE YEAR than in the previous TEN years at our home church!

In some churches the attitude seems to be to get as much work as possible out of the student minister. Because he’s being paid. But here it was different. They genuinely saw themselves as CO-WORKERS in the ministry. And as they invested time and money into US, they were involved in gospel work.

And it wasn’t just a short-term, one-off situation either! There was a HISTORY of hosting student ministers. Over twenty or so years. And as they reeled off the list of who’d been through the church, it was very encouraging to see how they still kept up with these families. And were interested and involved in what they were doing. Co-workers in the truth.

That’s my Gaius. What about my Diotrophes? Unfortunately I’ve met a few. So my portrait here is a compilation of all of them.

My Diotrophes occupies a position of authority in the Church. It might be Management Committee, or Leadership Team, or Choir master.

Diotrophes always has an area of responsibility. His little kingdom. And everything else that goes on in the church has to revolve around that. It might be maintaining the church grounds. Looking after the church’s equipment.

And no group is authorised to use the hall, or grassed area, or carpark, or carpet in the church, or special plates and cups, or photocopier, because it might get ruined.

Or it might be an area of ministry. And no one else is allowed to do anything. Or if they do, it has to be done exactly as Diotrophes decides. After all, this is HIS ministry.

And anyone who dares to suggest something that doesn’t fit into the mould is viewed as a threat. A troublemaker. A boat-rocker.

And so Diotrophes starts to wield his influence. Makes his opposition pretty clear. Maybe even walks out. He did that to me one Sunday.

Or he calls in the favours. Rallies the troops. Draws up the battle lines. Because it’s the ministry of the church that’s at stake! Well, at least HIS ministry.

Perhaps Diotrophes makes a few phone calls. And pretty soon the trouble-maker is black-banned. His phone stops ringing. The seats on either side of him in church are empty. He stands by himself at morning tea.

And it doesn’t take the trouble-maker long to get the message. He doesn’t stand for election again. Stops volunteering for things. He becomes less frequent at church. And pretty soon, he stops coming all together.

And Diotrophes breathes a sigh of relief. Because at last the church can get back to the way it USED TO BE. Back to the way HE likes things done.

(pause) When I think back to my Gaius, and my Diotrophes. I know which one I want to be LIKE. Which one I want to copy. John says, “Do not IMITATE what is EVIL but what is GOOD.”

My guess is most of YOU have known your OWN Gaius’s and Diotrophes. Because most churches have them. Who do YOU want to be like?

Let’s look in detail at THIS church. And at Gaius and Diotrophes. So that we can learn what to COPY. And what to steer well clear of.

1. Gaius

We find out about it from John’s letter to Gaius. We call it 3 John. There’s a FEW Johns. This is the APOSTLE John. The one who wrote John’s gospel. As well as REVELATION. And he wrote these three LETTERS as well.

1. Walking in the truth

It’s about 50 years after Jesus’ death. And John’s a pretty important leader in the Christian community. And somewhere in his travels, he’d come across Gaius. Perhaps even led him to Christ. And even though he’s a long way away, he’s only hearing good things about his progress. Look at verse 3.

(3 John 1:3-4 NIV)  It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your FAITHFULNESS TO THE TRUTH and how you CONTINUE TO WALK IN THE TRUTH. {4} I HAVE NO GREATER JOY than to hear that my children are WALKING IN THE TRUTH.

John’s overjoyed that Gaius is continuing as he left him. His life continues to be moulded by the truth of the gospel. By the demands of God’s word. It’s not just TALK. It’s WALK, TOO. A life that’s CONSISTENT with his testimony.

Occasionally I’ll bump into students I used to teach at school. And many of them used to be in the ISCF group I led. And you know the news I love to hear the most? News that brings tears to my eyes? Not who they married, or how many kids they’ve got. Or what degrees they’ve acquired. Or what career they’re pursuing.

I love to hear news that they’re CONTINUING STRONG IN THE LORD. Even that they’re involved in leadership as well. That they’re giving back some of what they learned. That’s the best news I can receive.

And John says “I have NO GREATER JOY than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

That’s the sort of work it’s worth investing your time and energy in. Is that the sort of legacy YOU’RE leaving behind? Is that the sort of significance you leave in your CHILDREN? In teaching Kids Church, or Yth Gp, or Scripture or Home Group? Neighbours and family and workmates?

Leaving behind people who are WALKING IN THE TRUTH?

That’s what John had done. Gaius still walking in the truth.

2. Hospitality

And he goes on to describe what that walking involves. At least in this case. The SPECIFICS of what he’s heard about Gaius. Verse 5. The second characteristic. Hospitality to the brothers.

(3 John 1:5-8 NIV)  Dear friend, you are faithful in WHAT YOU ARE DOING FOR THE BROTHERS, even though they are strangers to you. {6} They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. {7} It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. {8} We ought therefore to SHOW HOSPITALITY TO SUCH MEN so that we may work together for the truth.

The situation in those times/ was that travelling Christian teachers moved from town to town. They’d arrive. And spend some time teaching and evangelising. And the church would put them up. Meals and shelter.

The problem was that OTHER people decided to get in on the act too. Charlatans. Hoaxes. And they’d live off the good will of the Christians there. Feeding them all sorts of rubbish while they got fat on hospitality.

So what was the right thing to do? Provide hospitality. Or not? Do you take the safe option, and not provide for ANYONE? Or do you risk being taken for a ride, and help the ones you think are genuine?

John’s in NO DOUBTS about what the right option is. The brothers have told him about the warm hospitality they got from Gaius. These were genuine Christian teachers. And John COMMENDS Gaius for looking after them. Even though he’d never met them before.

Look at what John says. Gaius is being FAITHFUL. Verse 5. And LOVING.

And he’s confident Gaius will send them on their way fully stocked up. That he won’t just be generous while they’re there, but it will flow over into their NEXT journey.

John says that sort of generosity is WORTHY OF GOD (v6). Worthy of the God who is so generous to US. Who gives us every spiritual blessing in Christ. And who provides all we ever need.

To look after Christian workers GENEROUSLY is WORTHY of God. I’ve spoken to a missionary who received packages from churches at home. And they’d contain clothes for his family. Old clothes so horrible they were only good for rags. But the assumption was/ the missionaries would be grateful for them.

There’s the joke about the old church deacon who prayed for his minister, “God, blessed are the poor and humble. You keep him HUMBLE. We’ll keep him POOR.”

That’s NOT behaviour that’s WORTHY of God. God is a GENEROUS God. Who cares for his children. Who RICHLY blesses us with ALL that we need. He’s not mean-spirited. Or selfish. Or resentful.. And so the way we treat people should be the same. That’s what it means to send people on their way in a manner worthy of God.

(pause) The Williamsons – Andy and Rosemary – are heading back to Vanuatu in a few weeks. And they need financial support to get there. And they haven’t got there yet. There’s details up the back.

Or there’s the Woldhuis’s. John and Karine. They visited us earlier this year. Heading off to Ecuador in a month or two. And THEY need support.

To give generously to people like the Williamsons or the Woldhuis/ is one way to walk in a manner WORTHY OF GOD.

I’ve spoken to a couple of families who’ve consciously and seriously SAT DOWN. And BUDGETED what they can GIVE UP. So they can afford to give a maximum amount to these new missionary families. Things like no newspapers, no takeaway coffee, no bought lunches. That’s $10 a week. Before you know it that’s $500 a year. EASY!

Is that something YOU could do?

(pause) And look at the reasons John gives for supporting work like this. Verse 7.

(3 John 1:7-8 NIV)  It was FOR THE SAKE OF THE NAME that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. {8} We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.

Gospel workers aren’t doing it for themselves. They’re doing it for the sake of the name. For the sake of Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ. His name sums up the whole message. He is Jesus – who will save his people. He is Christ, the Messiah, the suffering servant who would rule on David’s throne. He is Lord. Lord over life and death. Lord of creation. Lord of your life and mine.

It’s for the sake of THIS name that gospel workers go out. And that means our support isn’t just PERSONAL support. But for the support of THAT NAME. BECAUSE of that name. IN OBEDIENCE to that name.

We’re not giving to the Williamsons or the Woldhuis’s as if they’re a charity case. They’re not BEGGING for their bread. They’re presenting us with an opportunity to serve Jesus. An opportunity to walk in the truth.

3. work together for the truth

(pause) And when we support THEM/ we WORK TOGETHER FOR THE TRUTH. That’s a THIRD characteristic of Gaius.

You’re a CO-gospel worker when you work at your normal job/ and support other full-time gospel-workers.

There are no levels of Christian service. All Christians are CO-WORKERS IN THE GOSPEL when they work for the sake of the name, in the field where God’s put them, generously using the gifts God’s given them.

Is that you? Are you working for the sake of the name? Are you contentedly sowing away in the field where God has put you? Are you generously using the gifts God has given you?

That’s what Gaius was. We’re not told that he was an up-front evangelist, or a church leader, or even a bible study leader. But by being hospitable. Being faithful where God had put him. Being careful to use the gifts God had given him, John said he was walking in the truth.

Are you walking in the truth?

2. Diotrophes

Next we get to Diotrophes. Same church, but poles apart from Gaius. John’s already written him a letter. Because he’s been making trouble for a while. But Diotrophes didn’t take any notice. The letter went straight into the circular file.

So what does John say about Diotrophes? One little phrase is so descriptive. Verse 9. He “loves to be first”

Perhaps he loved to be the centre of attention. Or he loved to be the decision-maker. Or he loved to be the most gifted. Or he loved to build his empire at the expense of God’s kingdom. Or he loved to lift himself up, and put others down.

Whatever it was/ He LOVED TO BE FIRST. And look how that attitude was reflected in his behaviour. Verse 9

(3 John 1:9-10 NIV)  Diotrephes, who loves to be first, WILL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH US. {10} So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, GOSSIPING MALICIOUSLY ABOUT US. Not satisfied with that, HE REFUSES TO WELCOME THE BROTHERS. He also STOPS THOSE WHO WANT TO DO SO and PUTS THEM OUT OF THE CHURCH.

A very sad portrait of a very sad little man. Five actions that showed how he was the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Gaius.

1. While Gaius was one of John’s CHILDREN. Obeying and following his example. Gaius wanted nothing to do with John. He refused to accept his authority.

There are some Christians around who refuse to accept that God has placed ANYONE in leadership over them. Their view of Christianity is that it’s not a team sport, but an individual one. Or if it IS a team sport, that it’s a completely DEMOCRATIC one. Where all decisions should be reached by group consensus.

Yet, that’s not the way God’s designed the church. He HAS placed some in AUTHORITY over the church. To LEAD it. To discipline it. Yes, they are to do that as SERVANTS. Just like Jesus. But there is still authority there.

And Diotrophes refused to accept John’s authority.

2. Secondly, while Gaius WALKED IN THE TRUTH, Diotrophes did the opposite – he GOSSIPED MALICIOUSLY. Spread rumours and lies about John and the brothers.

Perhaps he thought he was doing it from good motives. Perhaps he was genuinely mistaken. Thought they were like the other imposters.

But dragging other people down. Discrediting them without evidence. Is not the way to walk in truth.

We are much too quick to spread information. Much too quick to share “prayer points”. Sometimes it IS necessary to tell God’s people about specific personal details. But it isn’t something you should ever do lightly. Without a serious examination of your motives. Why you’re REALLY telling other people.

3. Thirdly, while Gaius showed hospitality to the brothers, Diotrophes REFUSED TO ACCEPT THEM. No room at the Inn.

Imagine the message this sent to non-Christians. “These Christian evangelists are here. They’re preaching about LOVE and FORGIVENESS and COMMUNITY. And the church is supposed to be backing them up. But look at them. No one will even give them a bed for the night! They’re sleeping in the Pub! What sort of love is that!?”

The brothers were preaching about love WITH WORDS. Gaius was preaching about love with his DEEDS. Generous hospitality is an appropriate response to the gospel. Deeds matching up with words.

But Diotrophes was doing THE OPPOSITE.

How well do YOUR deeds match up with your words in this respect? Are you walking your talk?

4. Fourthly, while Gaius influenced others by demonstrating his love, Diotrophes influenced others NOT to demonstrate love. He stopped them showing hospitality.

He pulled strings, and applied pressure, to make sure no one would welcome the brothers. See it there in v10?

Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so.

Reducing others to his level. Spreading his mean-spiritedness, and vindictiveness, like a contagious disease.

5. And when they don’t agree with him, he goes one step further. Fifthly, he puts them out of the church. This guy obviously had some clout – some sort of leadership role – that meant he could remove people from membership. But instead of using his authority to SERVE, he used it to further his own agenda. To push his own barrow. He loved to be first. And he used his position to achieve that. Christian leadership should never look like that.

And so John finishes his two portraits. One of gentle and generous Gaius. And the other of dangerous and diabolical Diotrophes.

3. Who to follow

And while he goes on to give some more advice to gentle Gaius, it’s also advice to us. Because he tells us which example to follow. And what test to use when it comes to making up our mind about people. Look at v11.

(3 John 1:11 NIV)  Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who DOES WHAT IS GOOD is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Imitate GOOD, not EVIL. Mimic it. Copy it. Watch carefully, then do the same.

Because anyone who DOES good, comes from God. The test of a true follower of Jesus. Of a TRUE teacher, rather than an impostor. Is whether they DO GOOD. Whether they WALK THEIR TALK. Do they say, “Do what I DO!”, or is it just, “Do what I SAY!”?

Because the false leader. The one you don’t want to follow. ISN’T consistent. He doesn’t walk his talk. And John says he hasn’t SEEN God. Truly known him. Hasn’t experienced the reality of God. Hasn’t understood the real implications of the gospel.

(pause) John calls us to walk our talk. He calls us to follow the example of good people. People like Gaius. Who walk in the truth. And whose hospitality is worthy of God.

Are you a Gaius, or a Diotrophes?

Matthew 2: One King Too Many!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

I always thought John Wayne said it. But apparently it’s from a 1932 B-grade Western called “The Western Code”.

It’s what happens when TWO people BOTH want to be in charge. And ONE of them will be disappointed!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” It might have been what someone said in an old Western movie. But it’s ALSO what King Herod said in about 2 BC.

He’s thinking of King Jesus. And the town was Jerusalem.

Because there was a new king in town. And the OLD King wasn’t too pleased. As far as Herod saw it, ONE king was just right. And any new contenders were a threat. Because Herod was in no mood to share his power with ANYONE.

The trouble started when some astronomers turned up. Wise men from around Persia. They’d arrived because they’d noticed a new star appear. And they’d worked out that meant A KING OF THE JEWS had been born. Literally, a sign in the heavens.

And so they turn up at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The obvious place for a new king of the Jews to be born. And they ask, in v2.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

This new KING OF THE JEWS was so important, A star had appeared to herald his birth. Like a 21 gun salute. Or a trumpet fanfare.

The WHOLE COSMOS was sitting up and taking notice. And that’s what these wise men wanted to do, too. Because when they found him, they wanted to WORSHIP him.

The problem was it was NEWS TO HEROD. His wife hadn’t given birth. So there was no new prince HE was responsible for.

And so this new king, whoever he was, was a THREAT. And he thinks, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Now, King Herod – Herod the Great – had a history of wiping out his opposition. He’d already murdered a wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and an uncle. All because he thought they might be a threat.

And they were just NORMAL people. But the wise men were talking about a new king whose birth was announced by a NEW STAR! And who was worth WORSHIPPING. V3 says Herod was DISTURBED, and all Jerusalem WITH him. And no wonder – with HIS reputation, NO ONE was safe!

So Herod got to work. First up, v4, interrogating THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS. “Where would the Christ, or Messiah, appear?” (God’s promised chosen rescuer). They told him Bethlehem was the place. A little town just up the road. That’s what the prophet Micah had predicted.

Next up, he calls THE WISE MEN in, v7, secretly. He finds out when the star had first appeared. That will give him a BIRTH DATE, so he knows how old the boy is.

Then he points them in the direction of Bethlehem. And enlists them to do his dirty work for him. Listen to his instructions. There in v8.

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Yeah right! Herod’s about as likely to worship this new king as Donald Trump is to send a Christmas card to Joe Biden.

And so the Magi head off again. But rather than follow HEROD’s directions. It’s THE STAR that leads the way. So they follow IT, INSTEAD.

And v9 tells us the star stopped over the place the child was. It’s actually a PASSIVE verb. The star WAS STOPPED. It didn’t just stop. It was MADE to STOP. In other words, GOD stopped the star.

The God who controls the events of history. Controlled the star that honoured his Son. The star that rose in the sky at his BIRTH. The star that guided the Wise men to where he was.

And notice what happened next. It’s there in v10. What is it that makes the Magi so happy?

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

I don’t think it’s THE STAR that made them happy. They’d obviously seen IT before. I think it was the fact that the star had STOPPED. They were overjoyed because their journey was OVER. Their searching was finished. They were finally HOME.

They may be hundreds of kilometers from where they LIVED. But they were HOME. The place where the REST of their LIFE BEGAN. Where questions would be answered. Where searching stopped. Where everything would get put into perspective.

Now the NIV translation’s pretty weak here. “They were overjoyed”. There are actually four different words. The old RSV is an accurate translation. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

And this was even before they’d MET Jesus. That’s in v11.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,

Two things to notice, just as an aside. They didn’t meet Jesus in the stable. And he wasn’t in a manger. It was a HOUSE. And it wasn’t a BABY – but a CHILD.

So it must have been some time AFTER Jesus’ birth. (After the night the shepherds visited).

Some other information that supports that:

First, it’s likely the star appeared at Jesus’ BIRTH. And it took the wise men a reasonable period of time to TRAVEL. A number of months at least.

Secondly, Herod sets an age limit of TWO YEARS when he sends his soldiers to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). Because he’d worked out when Jesus was born. And done his sums.

In fact, it doesn’t actually say they went to BETHLEHEM AT ALL. Herod TOLD them to go to Bethlehem. But LUKE’S gospel tells us Jesus’ family returned to Nazareth after his dedication in the temple at 40 days old. So it’s possible that’s where the house is.

So, most nativity scenes and Christmas cards get that bit wrong! Where they show the shepherds and wise men all gathering around the manger.

Almost certainly, it’s two different events. Which makes sense, seeing it’s LUKE’S gospel that tells us about the SHEPHERDS. And Matthew that tells us about the WISE MEN. And neither mentions the other.

So, these wise men finally meet Jesus. And what do they do? V11.

… they BOWED DOWN and WORSHIPED him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with GIFTS of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The journey was OVER. They’d found the one they’d been looking for. And they fell down. They WORSHIPPED. They gave their gifts. In recognition and gratitude.

This little boy/ embodied God himself. And deserved their worship. Not just their GIFTS, but their LOYALTY and RESPECT and their LIVES.

And their gifts show a God-given insight into Jesus. His identity and role. GOLD fit for a KING. INCENSE – used by the PRIESTS in offering up prayers. And a strange gift for a baby – MYRRH – used to embalm A DEAD BODY.

So much expectation wrapped up in such a small bundle. Arrives with the backing of the God who controls THE STARS. The God who prepared his people to expect him through prophetic messages.

This little child destined for such an AWESOME and PUZZLING combination of roles and responsibilities. A KING over the world – over life and death. Over the fate of people. (promised to David, predicted in Isaiah 9)

A PRIEST standing between God and man. Representing one before the other. (An ETERNAL priest in the order of Melchizedek, promised in Psalm 110).

A DEATHLY SACRIFICE – a life offered in place of others. The means of atonement. A suffering servant pierced for our transgressions, promised in Isaiah 53).

Somehow, they’d perceived that this life that had started with such INNOCENCE and WEAKNESS and PROMISE. Would END in POWERFUL, LOVING, VIOLENT SACRIFICE.

No wonder they’d bowed down and worshipped!

That’s ONE reaction to Jesus. But the opposite reaction is never far from the surface. Look at the very next verse. Verse 12.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to HEROD, they returned to their country by another route.

And it was just as well they did. Look at how Herod reacted when he found out. Down in v16.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was FURIOUS, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Herod. And the Magi. Two opposite responses to Jesus.

Herod was troubled. And jealous. And threatened. And furious. He’d do ANYTHING to keep Jesus OFF the throne.

And the Magi. They’d do anything to SEE HIM ENTHRONED. To WORSHIP him. To OFFER THEMSELVES in SERVICE to him.

And it’s the same today. There are millions of Herods around. Puny, deluded kings. Looking to control every part of their life. (Their health, their financial security, their pleasure, their leisure, their choices). Refusing to submit. Always knowing best. Ruthless in dealing with any threat to their autonomy.

You see, anyone who lives life WITHOUT Jesus on the throne. Is a King Herod.

It’s JESUS who deserves to be your king. In fact, he IS the king over the cosmos, whether we recognize him or NOT.

God sent him to be a priest and a sacrifice. To die in our place. To win our reconciliation back to God. And then he RAISED HIM FROM DEATH, DECLARING him to be both LORD and MESSIAH. To be KING over EVERYTHING. (That’s Acts 2:36)

Philippians 2 says God EXALTED Jesus to the HIGHEST place, and gave him the name that is above EVERY name. So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.

And, ONE DAY, that WILL happen. (Every knee will bow before King Jesus). Either WILLINGLY, or Unwillingly.

The wise men just got in EARLY. They bowed the knee to Jesus as a little BOY.

But MOST people AREN’T wise. They’re like King Herod. Most people think life’s about looking after “Number One”. And ignoring the opposition. Doing WHAT they want/ WHEN they want. People might OPENLY thumb our noses at Jesus. Try to wipe him out. That’s what Herod did. Or people might just PRETEND he’s not there. ACT as if he’s not there. That’s probably most Aussies. But either way. For most people. If Jesus is on the scene. (If he’s asserting his right to rule). THAT’S ONE KING TOO MANY.

And THAT sort of attitude/ is what the Bible calls sin. (Setting yourself up on life’s throne. Instead of Jesus. Thinking you know better than the God who created you). That’s sin.

And God says/ that deserves his JUDGMENT. ETERNAL separation from him. Giving us what we WANT. Independence from God for all eternity. (People thought being on HEROD’S bad side was a scary thing. But that’s NOTHING compared to being on God’s bad side.)

Much better, says Matthew, to be a WISE GUY. Wisdom/ is recognising the true state of affairs and acting on it. It’s what the Magi did. Recognise who Jesus is. And submit to him. Fall before him. That’s where we deserve to be. On our faces in front of him.

This Christmas we all give and receive gifts. But how about giving KING JESUS the gift HE deserves? Our loyalty. Our worship. A life committed to serving him as king.

You see, the Magi ALSO knew that once Jesus arrived/ that was ONE KING TOO MANY. They couldn’t continue being king of their life/ while Jesus was king.

And so they demitted. They stepped off the throne of their lives. They bowed down and worshipped. They gave the crown to Jesus instead.

And that’s what WE need to do. The FIRST time we do that is when God makes us a new person. When we become a Christian.

Perhaps that’s something YOU need to do this Christmas.

Most of you have already done that. But we need to KEEP doing that. EACH DAY hopping off our thrones. And bowing before King Jesus. In SUBMISSION to his majesty and authority. And in THANKS that he’s saved us. Give up your kingship in your CAREER. In your AMBITION. Give it up / in your plans for how your CHILDREN will grow up. Or your plans for the future. Give it up in your MARRIAGE. Or your singleness. Give up your kingship over your HEALTH. And over your COMFORT. And PLEASURE. And your FINANCIAL SECURITY.

Wise Guys give up their kingship EVERY DAY. And fall before King Jesus. Because they recognise that TWO kings/ is ONE king too many.

Ephesians 1:3-2:10: God and Us

Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Creation of Adam, is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. It shows God reaching out to touch Adam, giving him life. It was painted between 1508 and 1512. It’s a METAPHOR that shows what God is like. (His character, and how his acts.) Not what he LOOKS like. But his nature and how he acts. It’s a much more intimate image of God than anything painted in the West before it. He’s simply-dressed. He’s the God of Genesis 2 – accessible and interested, actively reaching out to humanity. Rather than the God of Genesis 1 – the all-powerful and distant king, who interacts only with HIS WORD.

And compare God and Adam. Notice how Adam matches the shape of God. Perhaps showing that he’s made in God’s image. But there’s a relaxed, indifferent feel about his posture. While God is engaged and active, twisting and reaching out to bridge the gap. Even down to comparing the fingers. God’s finger is firm and pointed. While Adam’s is relaxed and floppy, like he doesn’t really care.

I think it’s a powerful picture, not just of CREATION, but of THE WHOLE of God’s relationship with humanity, down through history. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God ACTIVELY WORKS to undo the separation that sin caused. To bridge the gap between himself and us. To connect us back into an intimate relationship with himself.

It’s just a PICTURE, but I think it’s quite POWERFUL. And the Bible’s full of pictures, just like Michelangelo’s painting, that help us understand what God’s doing to JOIN US to himself. I’ve counted at least FIFTEEN DIFFERENT PICTURES. (Earthly metaphors that capture something of the spiritual reality). You’ll be relieved to know we’ll only look at TEN today. Each one adds a different emphasis. (Shows God’s work from a different perspective). And they’re given so we’ll UNDERSTAND his offer, and TRUST him, and CONNECT to him. And then LIVE THAT TRUST OUT in PRAISE and OBEDIENCE.

So that’s the goal for today’s sermon. That at the end of it, you’ll see and appreciate more of what God’s done. You’ll rejoice in it, and praise him. And you’ll trust, love and obey him better.  Or maybe, if you’re NOT YET a Christian. When you see ALL THE BENEFITS God gives his children, you’ll WANT THEM TO. And you’ll accept his invitation, and COME to him.

SEVEN of the pictures get mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 2, that we read earlier. We’ll get to those in a moment.

  1.  Covenant

But some of the BIG ones come up quite early in the Bible. The FIRST one is COVENANT. It’s A LEGAL CONTRACT. Often between a king and his subjects. Or between a more POWERFUL king, and a WEAKER king.

The picture of the covenant helps us to trust God’s promises. He’s not going to change his commitment to his people. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram when he’s tempted not to trust God’s promise. In a vision, God tells Abraham to cut some animals in half, and then, v17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land

It’s what happened in that culture with HUMAN covenants. Both parties would walk between animals cut in half. It symbolised an oath, “May THIS happen to me if I break this covenant.” Except here, God, represented by the smoking firepot and the blazing torch, is the only one who walks through the pieces. God will keep his word! And it WORKS. Because Abram BELIEVES God. We’re told, back up in v6, that Abram BELIEVED the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

  • Justification

And that’s ANOTHER picture of what God’s doing. Justification. Or declaring righteous. It’s a picture that comes from the law court. When a judge declares someone INNOCENT, or NOT GUILTY, or RIGHTEOUS. He JUSTIFIES them. In THIS case, not because Abram IS innocent. But he TRUSTS GOD, and so God credits that faith to his righteousness account.

And that’s what God, the just judge, does with EVERY PERSON who trusts him. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He declares them righteous, not because they ARE innocent, but because of their FAITH. No one EARNS their innocence. Because NO ONE is good enough. And God’s legal verdict of justification gives us FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE and JOY, rather than uncertainty and fear. We can REST in it.

  • Atonement

As we move through the history of Israel there’s one more picture that’s really important in explaining HOW God, the JUST JUDGE, can declare guilty people innocent. Because justification doesn’t seem FAIR. And so the picture he sets into the religious structure of Israel is that of ATONEMENT. It’s an image from the TEMPLE. To ATONE for sin means to SATISFY GOD’S WRATH. And, in the Old Testament, God sets up SACRIFICES to do that. He graciously allows the death of AN ANIMAL to satisfy his justice, rather than require the death of the SINNER. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. And then the animal would die in his place. And God would choose to count the death of the animal as satisfaction of justice.

The gory details of sacrifice and atonement emphasise how SERIOUS sin is. And how holy God is. And what a wonderful GIFT he’s given us is his Son. And our response is to offer OURSELVES as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. In humble thanks that we’re not treated as our sins deserve. But that another receives what WE’RE due.

There’s more pictures from the Old Testament we could talk about, but let’s jump over to our Ephesians passage.

After a brief greeting, it jumps straight into it. V3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Paul wants to PRAISE God because he’s blessed Christians in ALL SORTS of WAYS. And then, from v4, he spends the next chapter and a bit LISTING them all. It’s Father’s Day today. And many of you wrote a card for your Dad. Perhaps you THANKED him for the things he does. You may have even LISTED some of the things you appreciate. That’s what we’ve got HERE. It’s a Father’s Day card to our HEAVENLY Father, listing the things we appreciate. (Every spiritual blessing.)

  •  Adoption

And the FIRST of these is ADOPTION. (Which is fitting on Father’s Day). Whoever’s joined to the Son gets adopted into the family, and becomes a son or daughter TOO. Look at v5 In love 5he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

It’s a picture that helps us, as children, approach our Heavenly Father CONFIDENTLY. He’ll listen to us, provide for us, and protect us. We can be sure of his love. Sometimes adopted children doubt the love of their adoptive parents. But the OPPOSITE is really true. A couple who wants to adopt makes A CONSCIOUS DECISION – a COMMITMENT – to the child. You HAVE to love a natural child, but you CHOOSE to love an adopted child. Which is what God, our heavenly father, does. IN LOVE, he PREDESTINED us = chosen BEFOREHAND – to be adopted.

And because we’re part of God’s family, it means we have brothers and sisters all over the world. All children of their heavenly Father. A new family with new loyalties and ways of behaving.

  • Redemption

The NEXT picture of how God has blessed us in Jesus comes in v7. Redemption.

In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood,

Redemption is to do with buying slaves out of slavery. In that culture, a price had to be paid to the owner – normally a debt the slave was working off. After that, the slave WAS FREE.

The image is used of God rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 6:6 God promises

‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

In OUR case, we’re TRAPPED in slavery by SIN AND DEATH. And v7 says Jesus PAID for our freedom with his BLOOD. The chains of sin and death that bound us have been broken. And we’ve been RELEASED to serve him in FREEDOM. Romans 6:18 describes our life like THIS

You have been SET FREE from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

It’s a picture that emphasises we’re not trapped to sin, again and again. Jesus has FREED us, to DO GOOD. TO OBEY GOD.

  • Forgiveness of sins

The next spiritual blessing that’s ours in Christ is ALSO in v7. FORGIVENESS. (In him we have redemption through his blood), the FORGIVENESS OF SINS,

Forgiveness is a picture to do with the wiping out of debt. Or overlooking an offence. Wiping the slate clean. Returning the debtor’s ledger to zero. Re-formatting the hard drive. The picture of forgiveness helps us to APPRECIATE the clean slate we have before God. The fresh start. We’re new creatures, with no guilt holding us back. And knowing God’s forgiveness gives us the ability to genuinely forgive OTHERS. Because we know that we’ve been forgiven a far greater debt than anything anyone might commit against US.

  • Union with Christ

The next image is down in v13. We’ve been UNITED WITH CHRIST. V13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

God joins us to Jesus when we trust him. And then we receive all that belongs to Christ, because he stands in our place. He’s our representative. Like when one of our representative sporting teams plays. Like the Australian cricket team. Or the Diamonds Netball team. When they win, we say AUSTRALIA won. WE ALL won, because our REPRESENTATIVE won. Same with Jesus. He defeats sin and death, and is raised to life. And so are WE, because we’re JOINED to him. HE’S righteous before God because he lived the perfect life, and so are WE because we’re joined to HIM.

If we’re reading carefully, we’ve already seen it again and again in this passage. All the way through, blessings come IN CHRIST. In fact, if I had to choose ONE of the pictures that’s most important (that all the others DEPEND on). This would be it. UNION WITH CHRIST. All the rest flow from THIS. That’s what it says in v3. Every spiritual blessing is IN Christ. (We receive them because we’re in him.) V4 and 11 God CHOSE us in him. V6. He’s freely given us his grace IN THE ONE HE LOVES. V7 We have REDEMPTION in him. In v22 and 23 Jesus is described as the head over everything. And we, the church are his BODY. We’re connected to him, and he guides and gives us life. And, v23, he’s WITH us, filling us with the fullness of his presence in everything.

And if we jump down to Ch 2, we see in v5, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST JESUS. (Since JESUS is seated with God in heaven, we’re there TOO, because he’s our representative. Heaven is where our identity and our loyalty is found.)

And it all comes to us because we’re UNITED TO Christ.

  • Marked with a seal

The NEXT picture is there in v13 too. (Along with union with Christ). We were marked with a seal. Having believed, you were MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance

A seal is a mark of authenticity. Like on a University degree. Or on a land title. To show its REAL. Letters used to be sealed with a wax stamped with the official emblem to show who sent. And when God makes us his own, he puts his stamp of ownership on us, his own Holy Spirit. It says THIS ONE BELONGS TO ME.

We know SOMETHING of God’s presence now. But his Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing even MORE TO COME. Like someone might put a holding deposit on a house they want to be. A commitment that the house belongs to them. And the REST of the money’s coming SOON. God’s SEAL gives us confidence and courage, because we know we BELONG to him.

  • Made Alive

If we jump over Paul’s prayer in v15-23, we come to NEXT picture. Into chapter 2, v5. We were MADE ALIVE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-

The start of the chapter describe what it means to be dead in transgressions. Following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath. Physically alive, but spiritually dead. Separated from God, the source of life. Headed for judgment and eternal death. And dead people are HELPLESS. Have you ever seen a dead person jump up and perform CPR on themselves? When you’re dead, you need someone ELSE to give you LIFE. Which is what GOD does. He makes us alive WITH CHRIST.  Jesus is the AUTHOR of life. The SOURCE of life. And God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. Then joined US to him by faith. So WE are made alive. We enjoy the benefits of his victory! It’s a picture that emphasises the newness of life as a Christian. There’s joy and freshness and purpose and hope. Compared to the old DEAD way of life we USED to live.

  1. Salvation 2.5, 2.8

The LAST picture is right there in v5 too. SALVATION, or RESCUE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been SAVED.

God rescues from EARTHLY danger. From sickness, or enemies, or physical harm. But it’s his JUDGMENT we MOST need saving from. We were headed for DEATH because of our transgressions. It’s what we DESERVED. But God showed us MERCY – he didn’t give us what we deserved. He showed us GRACE – gave us something we DIDN’T deserve – RESCUE! The picture of SALVATION emphasises how HELPLESS we were. God’s holding out the life preserver to us. Without it, we’re DEAD. All we need to do is reach out in faith and GRAB it.

Down in v8 it says that even our FAITH comes from God For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and THIS NOT FROM YOURSELVES, IT is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. God’s rescue is ALL of him, and NOTHING of us. And that means we’re HUMBLED. And GRATEFUL. With no grounds for BOASTING.

I’m going to stop there. Although I’m tempted to keep going. Because there’s FOUR MORE pictures in the next section, before the end of chapter 2! Perhaps you can have a read over it after church, and see if you can find them.

Our response

  1. Hear and believe

But what I want to do before we finish is think about our RESPONSE to all this. Firstly, if God is reaching OUT to us, the OBVIOUS response is to grab hold of him. Verse 13 describes it well. And you also were included in Christ when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were marked in him with a seal

God himself is SPEAKING to you. The true word about Jesus. (Through the Bible, or perhaps someone telling you. Telling you about how God can SAVE you.) Your response is to HEAR the message, and BELIEVE it. And then LIVE OUT that trust in repentance and obedience. And, for those of us who ARE Christians, our response is to partner with God, SPEAK that word of truth, so OTHERS get to hear it TOO, and believe it. And be saved. Have you DONE that yet? (Heard and believed?) If not, then today’s a great day to DO that.

  • Praise

If you HAVE, the SECOND way to respond to these pictures of what God’s done/ is TO PRAISE him. That’s the way Paul BEGINS. Back in v3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

At the very least, that means giving God honour and glory and thanks with OUR WORDS. In songs and prayers. In our conversations with others. But if God’s done so much for us, words are hardly enough. God deserves MORE. In fact, God EXPECTS more. Look at v12 to see his plan (we were also chosen), 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s A WHOLE LIFE. God wants EVERYTHING. Not just your Sunday mornings, or your words, or your work, or your money. He wants you to BE for the praise of his glory. To EXIST for it. Head, heart, hands and mouth. Giving EVERYTHING back to God for his goodness, and pointing OTHERS to it.

  • Do good works

Lastly, our THIRD response is to DO GOOD WORKS. Down in Ch 2 v10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice three times WORK is mentioned? We’re the result of GOD’S work. (His gracious work of choosing and saving and forgiving.) And his PURPOSE in doing that/ is that WE would work. That we’d do the good works he’s prepared for us. Not things WE’D choose. But the ones he’s pre-worked for us.

And notice we’re not saved BY our good works –v9 says that. We’re saved FOR good works.

The good works that are FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. Works of grace and generosity and mercy that point to HIS grace and generosity and mercy. Works of love and forgiveness and rescue that point to HIS love and forgiveness and rescue. Works of truth and justice and life that point to HIS truth and justice and life.

PRAISE BE to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST!

1 John 4:7-21: God is love

It makes a big difference when you know how much someone loves you. In 2015 a Korean man went to HUGE lengths to show his girlfriend how much he loved her. While the couple sat in a restaurant across the street, friends and work colleagues stuck thousands of post it notes on the full length windows on three floors of a neighbouring building. They spelled out a wedding proposal inside a love heart. That’s a big gesture. I’m sure she’s in no doubt how much he loves her.

But it’s NOTHING compared to the big gesture God’s given US. He’s loved us from before the creation of the world. And he wants us to KNOW how much he loves us. But not just so we feel loved. He wants it to change HOW WE ACT.

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Answer the two questions: How do I KNOW God loves me? And how should I live in RESPONSE to that love?

Love demonstrated

How do I know God loves me? Because he’s DEMONSTRATED it. He wants us to KNOW it. (Just like that Korean man wanted his fiancé to know he loved her.) He’s made a grand gesture, far greater than thousands of post it notes. He’s given us his Son. Romans 5:8 says God DEMONSTRATES his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s LOVE! And it was a gift that COST EVERYTHING. Life itself! That’s LOVE! A gift given to those who were undeserving and ignorant and rebellious. Which makes the love even GREATER!

And because we were helpless – stuck in our sin- it was a gift WE DESPERATELY NEEDED. A gift that means we can go from SINNERS to SAINTS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS. A costly, generous gift that demonstrates love.

And 1 John 4:9 says something similar 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. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

God’s love language is gifts. And acts of service. He’s shown love to his children by sending Jesus, his ONLY SON, to die in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. So we can LIVE.

It’s an act that DEFINES love. “THIS is love”. Love begins with God. His initiative. It’s not a reaction to our love for him. True love INITIATES action, rather than simply RESPONDS to it.

In LOVE, he graciously chose us, then sent His Son to die in our place. Then, in LOVE he called us and saved us.

A love story

In fact, one way of thinking about the story of the Bible is that it’s A LOVE STORY. Between God and humanity. The bridegroom and the bride. The story begins with God making us to be his image bearers in his world. In rebellion we ran away. From that point on, God works to entice and woo his unfaithful bride. To win her back. He makes covenants with her, being her God and making her his people.

In the book of Isaiah God describes his historical relationship with Israel like that of a husband and his adulterous wife. In chapter 54 v5, he says

For your Maker is your husband- the LORD Almighty is his name… 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit… 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt, he makes a covenant commitment to them, to be their God. But they won’t commit to him. They keep loving other gods. And so God sends them into exile. And then, IN LOVE, he brings them back. But they still aren’t faithful.

But God’s got a better reconciliation planned. A greater intimacy and faithfulness. In the fullness of time, Jesus comes. And brings the separation to an end. And God joins us to him, in faith. The two become ONE. Ephesians 5 uses the image of husband and wife to describe Christ and the church. (Even the marriage idea of two being united, and becoming one flesh). And a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is to be modelled on Christ’s love for his bride, the church.

And, finally, at the end of the Bible. At the end of this world. Revelation describes eternity beginning with a wedding feast. Between Jesus, the Lamb, and his bride, the church. Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’

And that joy and unity and intimacy will continue FOREVER in the new heavens and new earth.

The story of the Bible is A LOVE STORY. The story of God’s love DEMONSTRATED. Most clearly in the giving of his Son.

Love recognised

And because he’s demonstrated it, it means he wants us to RECOGNISE and APPRECIATE it. It’s not enough for us to just GAIN THE BENEFITS of his love. He wants us to SEE it and UNDERSTAND it. That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19. He prays that you, being ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, 19and to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

The context is about how God’s Spirit lives in us. We EXPERIENCE God’s love because Christ is dwelling in our hearts through faith. That’s what it means to be rooted and established in love. God’s love is the soil our roots grow into. And his love is the foundation our lives are built on.

And Paul’s prayer is that we have the power to UNDERSTAND it. We’ve already gained the BENEFITS of his love. (We’re FORGIVEN and ADOPTED. We know what it MEANS to be loved.) But God wants us to BUILD on that experience.

He wants us to know how WIDE his love is. How all inclusive and encompassing. There are no extremes of behaviour or acceptability that are beyond Christ’s love. And there’s NO ONE beyond the boundary of his love. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Red and yellow, black and white – ALL are precious in his sight. And there’s no situation where his love won’t hold you. No danger, no enemy, no power. Nothing can separate you from his love. (His love is WIDE).

And God wants us to have power to understand how LONG his love is. It’s no teenage infatuation, that lasts a lunch time, and then, tomorrow has moved on. It’s love that began before the creation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (He’s loved us for longer than the Universe has existed!)

And it’s LONG love in the sense that it’s infinitely PATIENT and long-suffering. There’s no limit to the amount of unlovely behaviour on our part that he’ll overlook. It’s not like HUMAN love – that’s FICKLE and TRANSITORY. That stays as long as the object of the love remains LOVEABLE. God’s love has stickability. His love is LONG. In Exodus 34:6-7 God describes himself THIS way. The LORD , the LORD , the compassionate and gracious God, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE and faithfulness, (His love is LONG)

And God wants us to have power to understand how HIGH Christ’s love is. Perhaps the idea is that it’s love that boosts and promotes us. It’s ACTIVE and PURPOSEFUL. It doesn’t leave us where we were. Christ’s love LIFTS US UP, makes us new creatures, with a new purpose and nature and future. It moves us from ONE kingdom into ANOTHER. Ephesians 2:6 says And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his KINDNESS to us in Christ Jesus.

And, finally, God wants us to have power to understand how DEEP Christ’s love is. It’s not superficial or mild. There’s an INTENSITY to his love. He gave EVERYTHING. The depth of his physical and spiritual suffering reflects his DEEP love.

And God doesn’t just want us to UNDERSTAND it, or COMPREHEND it. But to KNOW it (v19). To EXPERIENCE it. To know it from THE INSIDE – from being THE BELOVED.

And that’s a task you’ll never completely achieve. We can only BEGIN to know it. That’s what the phrase means in Ephesians 3:19 “to know this love THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE.” Which sounds like a contradiction, but I think he means we know SOMETHING of it, but we’ll NEVER FULLY ARRIVE. We’ll spend our lives experiencing MORE of what it means to be loved by God. It’s an assignment worth committing your life to.

We know his love more as we read and re-read all God’s PROMISES found through the Bible. And MEDITATE on them, and PUT THEM TO THE TEST. We know it more as we read the gospels – the descriptions of Jesus’ earthly life and teaching and character. How he treated people.

We know it more as Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. As we TRUST him, and OBEY him. And find him faithful, and generous, and wise and good. We EXPERIENCE his love day by day.

And it’s an assignment you can’t do on your own. Did notice that it’s a GROUP TASK? Paul prays (v18) that we’d have power, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, to understand the love of Christ. As we SPEAK to each other, and SING to one another, of what we’re learning and experiencing of God’s love, OTHERS will know it more. And as we LOVE each other more, both LOVER and BELOVED grow in their EXPERIENCE of our FATHER’S love.

Love responded to

So that’s the FIRST two sections. Love DEMONSTRATED, and love RECOGNISED.

And God’s PURPOSE in that is that we’d RESPOND to it. You SHOW you’ve recognised it by the way you RESPOND.

  1. Love one another

And that was the point of the Bible reading from 1 John. The main purpose of the letter is to help the readers identify FALSE teachers from TRUE ones. And one of the three tests for a TRUE teacher was whether they LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS. The true response to God loving you is to love his CHILDREN. See there in v7? Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

A person who DOESN’T LOVE THE BROTHERS shows that they DON’T KNOW THE LOVE OF GOD.

God has SHOWN us what love looks like. It’s costly and undeserved and sacrificial and other person centred. V9 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.

SOME people feel that God loves them because they see a pretty sunset. Or have a feeling of peace as they meditate by the ocean. Or because they got a new job. Or had a baby. Or they’re healthy and wealthy. But those things come, and DON’T come, to EVERYONE. (To God’s children, and those who AREN’T his children ALIKE). And they’re no SIGN of God’s special love for his children. But what IS a clear communication of his love is the GIVING of his only Son to save UNDESERVING SINNERS by dying in their place. And then to FORGIVE their sin. So they can trust, and obey, and love. THAT’S love! THAT’S the God who loves you. And the WAY he loves you.

And here’s the appropriate response to that love. V11 Dear friends, since God so loved US, we ALSO ought to love ONE ANOTHER.

That’s why it’s so important to KNOW God’s love. (To FEEL it). Because it’s the fuel for our love for OTHERS. We love the way the MOON gives light. The moon doesn’t PRODUCE light, it REFLECTS the light from the Sun. And TRUE love doesn’t COME from us. It shines from God ONTO us, and then we KNOW it and TRUST it, and we REFLECT IT ON. That’s what v10 is getting at This is love: NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, but that he loved us

He’s not saying we can’t love AT ALL. I think what he means is that TRUE love doesn’t BEGIN with US. We didn’t love God FIRST. We can only love OTHERS TRULY (in the way GOD loves) when we’re LOVED BY GOD. When we KNOW it, and RECEIVE it. And when we’re JOINED to the God who is love. THEN we can love others with God’s love.

If you don’t KNOW sacrificial, undeserving love TO YOU/ then you can’t GIVE it. You can only give a pale imitation of it. A poor reflection of it. If you haven’t received the undeserved, forgiving, giving-everything love from God. If you haven’t recognised your complete UNWORTHINESS to be forgiven. Then you can’t truly love undeserving people. You’ll only love CONDITIONALLY. You’ll only love when they love you BACK, or when they DESERVE it. Or when you FEEL like it.

How well does our reflected love to others point people to the love God has for us? Is our love costly, and undeserved, and sacrificial? Or is it conditional, calculating, and self-protective? Does it point people to Jesus? Or does it turn people OFF him?

  1. Don’t fear

The SECOND way we respond to God’s love is NOT TO FEAR. To be confident. In ANY situation. Romans 8:35 gives these amazing promises. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us

Whatever happens to us, there’s nothing to FEAR, because nothing can SEPARATE you from God’s protective, powerful, saving LOVE.

  1. Accept discipline

THIRD. Not only can we be CONFIDENT in the face of bad things. We can ACCEPT THEM GRATEFULLY as DISCIPLINE. Hebrews 12 encourages us My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.

Bad things aren’t just things to be endured with COURAGE. They’re TRAINING from the hand of your LOVING heavenly Father.

And, just like PHYSICAL training, NO PAIN NO GAIN. A few verses further on there’s this application. V10 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees

Let life’s difficulties train your SPIRITUAL muscles because your LOVING Father is GROWING YOU STRONG. James 1:2 even encourages us to REJOICE in them, because they develop perseverance and maturity.

  1. Compelled by love

One final response to God’s love. Let it COMPEL you. Inspire you. Control you. In 2 Corinthians 5.14 Paul gives a hint to what DRIVES or MOTIVATES him. He talks about his life’s work of trying to persuade people with the gospel (v11). And that God’s given him the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador, imploring people to be reconciled to God (v20). But in v14 we get this insight into his motivation. For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore ALL DIED. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again

Christ’s love COMPELS us. FUELS, INSPIRES and MOTIVATES us. He DIED for us. And so, we die. We die to our plans and ambitions. We belong to another. We’re, no longer, to live for ourselves. But to live for HIM who died for us and was raised again.

Let me finish with this quote from Jim Packer’s fantastic book, Knowing God. Great questions for us to contemplate about whether the truth of God’s love has reached beyond our HEADS to our HEARTS.

Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian?… If so, certain questions arise. Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me? Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed? Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so? Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” J.I. Packer, “The Love of God”, Knowing God.

Romans 2:1-16: God is judge

It’s been interesting watching the reactions of different people to government COVID restrictions. Most of us are fine. We’ll stay home. We’ll wear a mask. We won’t travel. We’re willing to recognise the government’s authority over us. We’re willing to give up some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the whole society.

But other people demand that they’ve got the right to do what they want. There was Karen at Bunnings, ranting at staff, and refusing to wear a mask. And there was Cynthia Page, who, last week, sued the New York state for its COVID 14-day quarantine period. Because she said it infringed her fundamental right to travel. She lost!

And it’s the same sort of reaction MANY people have to the idea that God will JUDGE them. They feel they have the right to make their own choices, and no one, including God, has the right to question, or intrude on, that independence.

I think it’s the cultural individualism in the West that’s largely to blame. People quite like the idea that God FORGIVES people. Just not the JUDGMENT part. The unspoken rule of our culture is that each of us, basically, has the right to do whatever we want. And perhaps the greatest evil is to RESTRICT someone’s freedom, or tell them they’re wrong.

So what I want to do today is defend the idea of God’s judgment. Firstly, to show that it’s a central teaching of the Bible. Secondly, to give you three reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment. And, thirdly, to give you three APPLICATIONS of God’s judgment. (How it affects how we think and behave.)

The Bible teaches it

Firstly, the Bible TEACHES it. From start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, we see the truth that God holds us accountable. And, in the end, will JUDGE us.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve, tells them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. And then delivers judgment on them when they disobey him. He’s the one who’s CREATED us, so he’s got the right to do with us whatever he decides.

He SEES EVERYTHING. Nothing’s hidden from his sight. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

No one can escape. Even the powerful and rich and well-connected. God is more powerful than ALL of them. Psalm 11:5-6 says The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will JUDGE THE NATIONS, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

Which seems completely scary. But at the same time, God is infinitely WISE, and completely RIGHTEOUS. So we can be confident he’ll always make the RIGHT JUDGMENT. In Genesis 18:25, Abraham is pleading with God to show mercy on the city of Sodom. And he appeals to God’s character in not destroying righteous people. And he concludes Will not the Judge of all the earth do RIGHT? One thing we CAN be sure of, in the midst of uncertainty. God will ALWAYS act wisely and justly.

And then, in the LAST book of the Bible, in Revelation 20, at the end of this world, God will be seated on a great white throne, and everyone will stand before him, and he’ll judge them according to what they’ve done.

And Romans 2, which we just read, talks about that day TOO. In fact, it begins in Romans 1. From v18 we read that God’s wrath is being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of people. They choose to ignore God, and do what they want INSTEAD. And our world bears the SCARS of that. And that’s God’s wrath! And chapter one finishes with this damning description of humanity. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

It’s painful to hear. I find myself not wanting to read the whole list. To skip over it, and just get to the end. But that’s what God sees and feels when he looks at out our world. You may not be ALL of those things. But you’re MANY of them. (We ALL are.) At least SOME of the time.

That’s the situation IN THE WORLD. It’s NO WONDER God, JUSTLY, will JUDGE US.

In Chapter 2, Paul turns his attention to THE CHURCH in Rome. In particular, what God’s coming judgment means for HOW CHRISTIANS RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Specifically, how the JEWISH Christians get along with the GENTILE Christians. And his FIRST point is we shouldn’t judge one other, because we ALL deserve judgment. V1. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment DO THE SAME THINGS.

It’s dangerous to judge others by a standard you can’t live up to YOURSELF. V3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

At the moment, God’s PATIENT. We deserve his judgment RIGHT NOW. ALL of us. But he’s DELAYING, waiting for people to repent. But whenever people take advantage of that. And dismiss and reject and judge others who are different. They’re abusing God’s kindness. And their hypocrisy and blindness is inviting his judgment. The reality is THE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS COMING. V5. But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

I wonder if people think about “their individual freedom to choose” as STORING UP WRATH for themselves? It’s not building assets, or experiences, or qualifications. It’s storing up WRATH!

And then v6 describes what that day will be like. God will give to EACH PERSON according to what he has done

It will be INDIVIDUAL and COMPLETE. Each person. God will be impartial and thorough. There’ll be no special exemptions. No loopholes. No white privilege. No ethnic advantage. Jew and Gentile alike will be judged. And it will be CONSISTENT. According to what each has done. No one will bear the punishment for another’s sins. No one will have their behaviour overlooked.

V9 goes on. There’ll be ONE STANDARD. With no favouritism.

There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.

Why does Paul emphasise Jew and Gentile so much? V12 makes it clear. Because the Jewish Christians thought they had an advantage over the Gentile Christians. They HAD THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW. They thought they had a head start. But, v12, they’re mistaken.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law (that’s the Gentiles), and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (that’s the Jews). 13For it is not those who HEAR the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.

You see HAVING the law isn’t enough. It’s not even enough to HEAR it. You’ve got to OBEY it. It doesn’t matter where you were born. Or what language you speak. Or how often you heard about Jesus. Or how educated you are. Or the colour of your skin. Or how many generations of Christians precede you in your family. The only thing God’s interested in is WHAT YOU DO/ with WHAT HE TELLS YOU.

You’ve sinned. You deserve judgment. But he’s showing you kindness, tolerance and patience. He’s leading you towards REPENTANCE. He calls you to TURN FROM YOUR SIN. To TRUST his Son. And then to LIVE FOR HIM, obeying and honouring him. And your fate on judgment day will depend on what you DO with that message. SO make sure you HEAR and OBEY.

 

Reasons to rejoice in God’s judgment

And that’s a good introduction into the NEXT section. Five reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment.

  1. He offers us an escape

The FIRST reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that he offers you an ESCAPE. We read in v4 of Romans 2. He’ll judge EVERYONE. But he’s showing patience and kindness, leading people to REPENTANCE.

And, v7, for those who repent. Who turn from SELF-seeking, and instead seek glory, honour and immortality – in other words they SEEK GOD HIMSELF- he promises ETERNAL LIFE. An escape from a guilty verdict on Judgment Day. All through the PERFECT life of Jesus, who stands in our place. Yes, God will JUDGE. But we can rejoice that he also offers us AN ESCAPE from it.

  1. It’s good news for the suffering

The SECOND reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that it’s good news for those who suffer. 2 Thessalonians is written to a persecuted church. Paul writes, v4 of chapter 1, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

And then, down in v6, there’s the comfort of this promise God is just: He will PAY BACK TROUBLE to those who trouble you 7and GIVE RELIEF to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

There’ll be RELIEF for the persecuted. And JUSTICE for those DOING the persecuting. Which is good news.

But not just good news for the PERSECUTED. There’ll be relief from ALL suffering. Everything in this world that’s been broken by sin. Relief from sickness and death and loneliness and fear and brokenness. In Revelation 21, following the judgment of God on his great white throne, we read about God joining himself with his people. And, v4, there’s the promise

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.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Judgment will bring to an end everything causes suffering and death. And justice against the culprits. And that’s a real comfort and hope to suffering people.

  1. It’s DELAYED

(That’s the SECOND reason we can rejoice in God’s judgment. It’s good news for the suffering) The THIRD reason is that it’s DELAYED. Which, perhaps, seems a little contradictory to reason 2.

At the moment, according to Romans 1, God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness. He hands people over to the consequences of their choices. He gives them a taste of where their choices will end up if they continue in them. He DOESN’T bring judgment. Which means that, at the moment, there’s SUFFERING.

But at the same time, (we saw in Romans 2:4) that he’s kind and tolerant and patient. He’s LEADING people to repentance.

In 2 Peter 3, Peter answers critics who scoff that God’s judgment ISN’T coming. They say everything’s been the same for thousands of years. And Peter says, God’s done it once before (destroyed the world with WATER – with Noah’s flood), and then he adds, v7

By the same word the PRESENT heavens and earth are reserved for FIRE, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

It’s definitely coming. And, just in case you thought he was a bit slow in bringing it. V9

The Lord is NOT slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It’s not that he’s LAZY, or DISORGANISED, or DISINTERESTED. He’s PATIENT. His desire is for EVERYONE to repent. He wants NO ONE in hell. And so he’s keeping back the day of judgment. He’s giving time, and opportunities, for your friends and family and neighbours and workmates to HEAR about Jesus. For YOU to TELL them. So they can trust him, and repent, and be saved. So rejoice that God’s judgement is delayed. (That’s the THIRD reason to rejoice in God’s judgement.)

Which leads on to some practical applications. How we should live TODAY in light of God’s judgment IN THE FUTURE.

  1. Repent

And the first and most obvious application is to REPENT. We saw it in Romans 2. V4. We WON’T escape God’s judgment. At the moment, he’s being tolerant and patient. His kindness is leading you to repentance. We saw it in the verses from 2 Peter 3. God is PATIENT. His wrath is a slow burn, but unstoppable. He wants NO ONE to perish. He wants EVERYONE to come to repentance. If you haven’t done that. Then TODAY IS A GREAT DAY. Don’t keep PRESUMING on God’s patience.

If you HAVE done that, then God’s patience means he waiting for YOU to tell people about his coming judgment, and his offer of forgiveness. You may be the only Christian some of your non-Christian friends KNOW.

  1. Don’t judge others

The second application is DON’T JUDGE OTHERS. That’s on GOD’S job description, not yours. We saw it in Romans 2. V1, we have no excuse to judge others as guilty before God, because WE’RE JUST AS GUILTY. We’re not QUALIFIED to judge.

And WE DON’T HAVE TO. We can leave the judging up to GOD. He’ll do a much better job of it than WE will. Over in Romans 12 Paul returns to the theme of judging others. V17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The reality of God’s judgment EMPOWERS victims of injustice. They can choose to LIVE AT PEACE. They can choose to respond to HATE with LOVE. They can leave space for GOD to deliver the wrath. Rather than them providing it all.

  1. Live godly lives

And the THIRD application of God’s judgment is it MOTIVATES US TO LIVE GODLY LIVES. Flip back over the 2 Peter 3. We looked earlier at how God is PATIENT with people, and won’t bring judgment HASTILY. And then v10 describes how the day of the Lord will come like a thief and everything will be destroyed. And then we see the application in v11.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

We might expect the answer to be, “Well, do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. There are no consequences. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But no, Peter says the OPPOSITE.

What kind of people ought you to be? You OUGHT TO LIVE HOLY AND GODLY LIVES 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him

Judgment is coming, and then there’ll be a NEW heaven and earth, where RIGHTEOUSNESS will be the standard behaviour. So work hard at being holy and godly NOW. So you’ll be FIT FOR PURPOSE. So you’ll be READY for eternity.

Notice how the focus isn’t being good, so you make it through judgment. Because we WILL. If we belong to JESUS, then our judgment verdict is already DECIDED. We’re INNOCENT. Instead our focus should be on WHAT COMES NEXT.

So look FORWARD to the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. And DO that, by making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

John 14:15-31: Five Reasons the Trinity Gives Us Confidence

Today we’re thinking about the TRINITY. The Biblical idea that ONE God exists as THREE PERSONS. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person has different characteristics, but they all share, equally, the ESSENCE, or NATURE, of God-ness.

It’s a DIFFICULT doctrine. Hard to understand, and explain. It’s awkward and slightly embarrassing. And so, we mostly don’t talk about it. You won’t hear many sermons on it. We hope it never comes up in conversations with non-Christians. But instead of ignoring and overlooking it, today I want to HIGHLIGHT and CELEBRATE it. And, in particular, in how it gives us CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD. That’s something many people LACK.

OTHER RELIGIONS lack confidence before God. Because it’s often all about how well they can keep their rules. There’s UNCERTAINTY. And any confidence is seen as PRIDE or PRESUMPTION.

And many Christians lack confidence before God, TOO. It might be a fear of death and judgment. It might be a guilty conscience that makes them doubt God’s forgiveness. Or they compare themselves to other people, and they feel UNWORTHY. Or maybe they struggle TO PRAY. They lack CONFIDENCE. Is that YOU? Do you lack CONFIDENCE in your relationship with God? If it is, then listen up. Because I want to give you five reasons why THE TRINITY gives you confidence.

Five reasons why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. You can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father

Firstly, the Trinity means you can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father. As Christians, we take it for granted we can KNOW God. (LOVE him. That he’s our HEAVENLY FATHER we can speak to, and have a relationship with.)

But that’s a foreign concept for most religious people. For Muslims, Allah is basically UNKNOWABLE. He’s completely SEPARATE. They hope he’ll be MERCIFUL to them. Their experience is all about SERVING him, not KNOWING him. There’s little sense of his LOVE. Or of having a RELATIONSHIP with him.

And for many Australians, if they believe in God at all, he’s Distant, and at BEST UNINTERESTED. At WORST, an impersonal FORCE. An INFLUENCE. It’s no wonder they don’t want anything to do with him!

But that’s not the God WE know. He WANTS TO KNOW US. John’s gospel begins by describing the eternal God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

The WORD (that’s the SON), and GOD (that’s the FATHER). In some sense, the SAME. And in some sense, DIFFERENT.

But God isn’t just God-in-himself. He’s GOD-FOR-US. (God who MOVES OUTSIDE himself). John ch 1 continues, describing Jesus, the Word. V4 4In him was life, and that life was THE LIGHT OF MEN… And v9 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world… And again, in v11. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus the SON comes to us. Becomes ONE of us. And GIVES US THE RIGHT to become like HIM. To become children of God TOO. Born of God. Only God HIMSELF (God the SON) can bridge the gap between US and HIM. WE certainly can’t. It’s like trying to jump to the moon. It’s like a dead person giving herself CPR.

Our problem is our sin. All of us are guilty before God. We’re DEAD and HELPLESS.

And so the loving plan of the TRINITARIAN God was to offer HIMSELF as a substitute. The Son, in obedience to his Father, dies in the place of sinners, satisfying the wrath of the Father against us. The infinitely perfect life of the God-man providing an infinite amount of mercy for all humanity.

It’s a transaction that takes place WITHIN THE TRINITY. The Trinitarian God JUDGES sin/ and IS JUDGED.

Only the truth of the Trinity offers us solid hope and confidence that our sin’s been dealt with. Only GOD HIMSELF can pay for sin, ONCE. For ALL. The Trinity means that God is the OPPOSITE of an impersonal force. The opposite of the distant, unknowable Allah of Islam. God IS relationship. God IS LOVE. From all eternity, he’s been rejoicing in relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.

But not only that, he bridged the gap between us and him by SENDING THE SON. To SWEEP US UP INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP. Into the FAMILY relationship of the Trinity. Tim Chester, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, says “The Trinity is a missionary community. The Father sent his Son and His Spirit into the world to redeem his people. So the Trinity is good news.” (p173)

God is INWARD-LOOKING. Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving each other. But he’s also OUTWARD-looking, reaching to make US children of God TOO. The Trinitarian God is a missionary community.

  1. We can be confident God is with/in us

That’s the FIRST reason the Trinity gives us confidence. (we can be confident Jesus has brought us to the Father). The second reason is we can be confident that God is WITH us. Once Jesus has BROUGHT us, we can be confident that God will STAY.

From John ch 13 to 17, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. He’ll PHYSICALLY leave them, but he won’t PERSONALLY leave them.  Chapter 14 begins with Jesus telling the disciples he’s going away to prepare a place. But then, v3, he’ll come back and TAKE HIS DISCIPLES TO HIMSELF. (Describing the Holy Spirit coming.)

Phillip asks him about THE FATHER. And Jesus answers, v9 “Don’t you know ME, Phillip, even after I’ve been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen ME has seen THE FATHER.” V10 “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” Very simple words, but describing the complex relationship within the Trinity.

And then a bit further down, from v15, Jesus makes the extraordinary invitation TO BRING HIS DISCIPLES INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask THE FATHER, and he will give you ANOTHER Counselor to BE WITH YOU FOREVER– 17the Spirit of truth.

Can you see the Trinity there? Jesus, the Father, and ANOTHER COUNSELLOR, the Spirit of truth. And Jesus promises that this Spirit of truth will be WITH us forever. He continues

The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he LIVES WITH YOU and WILL BE IN you.

Which probably means that, for the disciples, IN THE PRESENT, the Spirit is with them PHYSICALLY, (in the person of JESUS). But IN THE FUTURE, he’ll be IN them, SPIRITUALLY, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Ok so far? But Jesus continues stretching our minds even MORE. V18. I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

He could be talking about the RESURRECTION, when Jesus comes back them PHYSICALLY. But I think he’s talking about coming to them IN THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, at Pentecost, in Acts Ch 2. Listen to how he continues. (v19)

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The day the disciples realised that JESUS was in them was the day they received THE HOLY SPIRIT. The disciples will SEE Jesus in their experience of him living in them.

Jesus continues, down in v23. Now including THE FATHER.

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. MY FATHER will love him, and WE will come to him and make our home with him.

In the person of the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity makes their home in the believer!

And notice it’s RELATIONAL and PERSONAL. It’s not like subconscious POSSESSION. (Like you see in the movies when someone possessed by an evil spirit.) When the three-person GOD lives in you, it’s about LOVE. “If anyone LOVES ME, MY FATHER will love HIM.”

To be filled with God – to have the Trinitarian God living in you – is about participating in the relationship that God himself enjoys, within himself. Of LOVE. V21, that we just jumped over, fills out that idea some more.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Love expressed in obedience. God loving God loving us loving God. That’s the everyday experience of the Christian. CS Lewis, in MERE CHRISTIANITY, describe it like A DANCE.

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made… If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…

Being joined in a dance with the Trinitarian God. It’s what LIFE’S ALL ABOUT. But it’s what other religions don’t know. It’s the SECOND reason why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. We can be confident we are God’s children

The THIRD reason is/ we can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN. Romans 8 describes what life is like when God’s Holy Spirit lives in you. And there are all sorts of good things. (We’ll look at Romans 8 in more detail in the last week of this series). But the blessing I want to focus on is down in v14.

those who are led by the Spirit of God are SONS OF GOD. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received THE SPIRIT OF SONSHIP (or ADOPTION). And by him we cry, “Abba, FATHER.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST,

God’s Spirit lives in us. That means we belong to him. But more specifically WE’RE PART OF HIS FAMILY. We’re his sons and daughters. IT’S A TRUTH THAT FLOWS FROM THE FACT THAT GOD IS TRINITY. We’re SONS and DAUGHTERS/ because we’re connected to Jesus, God the SON.

Let me show you. V1 of Ch 8 describes Christians as those who ARE IN Christ JESUS. (Who are UNITED TO HIM.) Another way of describing that is that CHRIST IS IN US. By the Holy Spirit. V9 says

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

And one more relevant verse is down in v17. If we children, then we heirs – CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST. The benefits that Christ has as God the Son come to US because we’re joined to HIM. We’ve received the Spirit of SONSHIP.

We’re sons (and daughters), so we’re confident to call God “FATHER”. It’s the Spirit of his Son within us who calls, “Father”.

That’s the THIRD reason the Trinity gives us confidence. We can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN.

  1. We can be confident when we pray

The FOURTH reason is we can be confident when we PRAY. No one I know prays as consistently as they’d like to. We all struggle. But remembering that we approach a TRINITARIAN God will give us CONFIDENCE.

Ephesians 5:20 commands us to always give thanks TO GOD THE FATHER for everything IN THE NAME of our Lord Jesus Christ. We approach God, confidently, through THE WORK OF HIS SON.

Hebrews 10 describes the CONFIDENCE we can have because of what Jesus has done. V19.

Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith

(We pray TO the Father, THROUGH the Son). And thirdly, it’s God’s Spirit IN us who HELPS us to pray. Romans 8 again. V26

the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because THE SPIRIT INTERCEDES FOR THE SAINTS in accordance with God’s will.

Guiding, energising, and going before our prayers. We pray TO God the Father THROUGH God the Son BY God the Spirit.

Remembering that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are INVOLVED with us in prayer changes it from being like reading out a shopping list. To a powerful expression of a genuine relationship.

CS Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity.

An ordinary simple Christian… is trying to get into touch with GOD. He knows that what is prompting him to pray is ALSO God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes THROUGH Christ… God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.

The privilege of prayer is something we take for granted. It’s the fifth reason the Trinity gives us confidence.

  1. Christian unity is based on it, and modelled on it

And lastly, the FIFTH reason is because we can be confident in CHRISTIAN UNITY. All the PREVIOUS reasons were individual. (PERSONAL). But this one affects us AS A CHURCH.

In John 17 Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, the church. It’s a unity whose FOUNDATION is the Trinity, and which is MODELLED on the Trinity. And, thirdly, it ILLUSTRATES the Trinity to the world. V21

(I pray that) all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Firstly, notice that our unity is MODELLED on the unity of the Trinity. “May they be one JUST AS you are in me and I am in you.” Our unity should be like that of the Trinity.

For example, John’s Gospel shows THE FULL EQUALITY of Father and Son. (Different ROLES, but of equal worth and dignity). That’s what Christian unity should be like. It shows THE GLAD SUBMISSION of Father and Son. (The Father delegating to the Son, and the Son obeying the Father.) That’s what Christian unity should be like. And it shows THE JOYFUL INTIMACY of Father and Son. Each one loving and enjoying the other. That’s what Christian unity should be like.

But how can we DO that, when we’re all naturally selfish and self-centred? The secret to being joined to EACH OTHER is by being JOINED TO GOD. “May they BE IN US.” Jesus prays that we would experience and know and love God by his powerful, transforming Spirit living in us.

That’s the only way we’ll show unity. God in us is the FOUNDATION of our unity. Unity won’t simply come through agreed goals, or common projects, or a commitment to inclusion and love, or even correct theology.True Unity – unity modelled on the Tri-unity of God himself – only comes when we are IN the Triune God.

And, thirdly, when we do that, the world will believe that the FATHER sent the SON. “(May they be in us) SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”

The unity of the church is a LIVING APOLOGETIC. An EXPLANATION of God. But more than that, Jesus says it shows something of the TRINITARIAN God. Our diverse unity reflects, and models, and explains the TRI-UNITY of God. “(May they be in us so the world might believe) That YOU, the Father, have sent ME, the Son.”

Let’s not worry too much about whether we can EXPLAIN the Trinity. The REAL challenge is to LIVE it. In the way we’re confident of our standing before God. In the way we pray. In our UNITY. SO THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW that the Father has sent the Son, and loved him.

Acts 6:8-7:60: Stephen, stones and the Saviour

How well do you receive CORRECTION? When someone points out your faults, or mistakes? Do you WELCOME it as helpful advice, and put it into practice?

Or is your first reaction to TAKE IT PERSONALLY? (Get OFFENDED? Perhaps get DEFENSIVE, and give excuses or justifications?)

Or maybe your instinct is TO ATTACK BACK. To point out how the person offering the advice is HARDLY ONE TO CRITICISE. Because they have plenty of faults TOO.

That’s our temptation. Because we’re proud. And we feel HURT.

But correction’s GOOD FOR US. It makes us BETTER. The Bible’s FULL of good advice about listening to correction. Like Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

And correction and instruction’s ESPECIALLY important if they COME FROM GOD. If it’s stupid to ignore advice from PEOPLE, how much MORE foolish is it to ignore it from our CREATOR! From a heavenly Father, who lovingly disciplines us for our GOOD (Hebrews 12:10)? Who breathes out his Word, the Bible, to teach, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness, so we’ll be thoroughly equipped (2 Timothy 3:16)?

James 1 says

22 Do not merely LISTEN to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS.

Listening and DOING. That’s what God’s people SHOULD do when God speaks. But the story of the Bible is how we’re not very good at listening.

And that’s what we learn from the history lesson Stephen gives here in Acts 7. It’s a summary of the Old Testament, And it’s LONG! In fact, it’s the longest of all the speeches in Acts. But it’s got a very special focus, which is all about how Israel REFUSED TO LISTEN to God’s message, or God’s messengers.

And the sting in the tail, and what ends up getting Stephen KILLED, is he accuses his hearers of being JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Because they REFUSED TO LISTEN TO JESUS, God’s righteous servant, and MURDERED him.

And so the question God’s asking US is how well do WE listen to him. Most importantly, are we listening to his SON, JESUS? And living in response to him?

We’ll come back to those questions. But let’s start at the beginning. Ch 6 v8. We’re introduced to Stephen. (One of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians we met last week. They’ve been appointed to distribute the food to the needy.)

But that’s not all he does. He’s full of the Spirit and wisdom. And God uses him to do MIRACLES. And when he goes to his Greek-speaking synagogue, v9, he TELLS THEM ALL ABOUT JESUS. Probably, like Peter in Chapter 2 and 3, showing how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus as a suffering Messiah, who died for sin, and who defeated death.

And because he’s got God’s Spirit and wisdom, those who disagreed couldn’t win the argument, v10. And so people LIED, and accused him, (see it there in v11) of speaking WORDS OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST MOSES AND AGAINST GOD.

They bring him before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. And, v12, MORE false witnesses testify that he was speaking against THIS HOLY PLACE (which means the temple) and against THE LAW.

The three most important things in Judaism. God, the Law, and the temple. And Stephen’s accused of speaking against all three. It’s hard to imagine greater sins in Judaism.

The high priest asks him if the charges are true. And, in v2 of ch 7, Stephen begins his defence. It’s a STRANGE sort of defence, because it’s more of a PROSECUTION, than a defence. (He accuses his ACCUSERS).

On the surface, it looks like a long history lesson of Israel. But if we look a little closer, we notice he does actually address the charges against him. FIRSTLY the charge that he’s AGAINST THE TEMPLE – which they call “THIS HOLY PLACE”. And secondly that he’s against God, Moses and the Law.

What’s really a holy place?

And his point about the FIRST charge (that he’s against this holy place) is that there are LOTS of holy places. Because God’s been at work ALL OVER THE PLACE. THEY think the TEMPLE is the holy place, But Stephen asks the question, “What’s REALLY a holy place?”

He begins, v2, by noticing that Abraham was in MESOPOTAMIA when God appeared to him. God was THERE!

Then he talks about all the places Abraham went. He skips over Isaac and Jacob, and slows down again when he gets to JACOB, v9. His brothers sold him as a slave into EGYPT. But GOD WAS WITH HIM. IN EGYPT!

Fast forward again, through the famine. Jacob and his brothers die. And they get brought back to SHECHEM to be buried, v16. That’s ANOTHER holy place.

Fast forward again through the slavery in Egypt, to MOSES. He flees Egypt and goes to Midian, v29. Forty years later, v30, an angel appears to Moses in the burning bush on Mt Sinai. He hears the LORD’S voice, who tells him, v33, to take off his sandals, BECAUSE THE PLACE HE’S STANDING ON IS HOLY GROUND. MT SINAI is holy ground TOO!

Fast forward again, through Moses bringing Israel out of slavery. An amazing series of stories, but all summarised in one verse, v36. Where we see three MORE locations where God was working through Moses. He did wonders and miracles in EGYPT, and THE RED SEA, and in THE DESERT.

The action slows down again at v40. The people rebel against Moses. And ask Aaron, v41, to make an idol in the form of a calf. And

They brought sacrifices to it and reveled in WHAT THEIR OWN HANDS HAD MADE

Notice what Stephen calls the idol. Something MADE WITH HANDS. (It’s a common Old Testament insult of idols.)

And then, in v44, Stephen turns his attention to the TABERNACLE. Which was made

AS GOD DIRECTED MOSES, according to the pattern he had seen

And the tabernacle travelled around wherever the people went. Through the desert, and then into the Promised Land. And God was in ALL OF THOSE PLACES. THOSE places were holy.

And the tabernacle stayed in the land until King David arrived, v45. David wanted to find a dwelling place for God, v46. But, in the end, it was SOLOMON who built a house for him, v47. And in v48 Stephen paraphrases Solomon’s prayer at the opening of the temple

“However, the Most High does not live in houses MADE BY HUMAN HANDS.

Solomon had ACTUALLY said that God didn’t live in “THIS TEMPLE I HAVE BUILT.” But Stephen describes it, instead, as a HOUSE MADE WITH HANDS. Which is how IDOLS are made. He’s, more or less, calling the temple AN IDOL. At least, the way the Jews of the day were TREATING it was idolatry.

And then to back it up, he quotes Isaiah 66.

49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not MY HAND made all these things?’

Everything belongs to God. Everywhere is HOLY because God’s MADE IT ALL. Forget something made with HUMAN hands. The world’s been made with GOD’S hand. EVERYWHERE IS HOLY GROUND.

The Jews of the time had focussed so much on Jerusalem and the Jews, they’d forgotten that God was God of the WHOLE WORLD, and every nation. And now, in Jesus, the gospel was going TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.

You didn’t need to come to the temple to meet God. God was everywhere.

And that’s a great truth for us to remember. To REJOICE in. EVERYWHERE is HOLY. God is everywhere. It’s been difficult with our building closed. And it’s good to be back. But we don’t go to a BUILDING to meet God. God’s been with us the WHOLE TIME.

We don’t need a certain ritual. Or mediator. Or a congregation.

Because of Jesus’ reconciling work, he’s poured out his Spirit, and now God lives WITH us. Wherever we are. On the top of a mountain, or under the sea. By ourselves, or in a crowd. At midday, or the middle of the night. And he HEARS us when we talk to him.

I think, sometimes, we FORGET that. We under value it. Let’s REJOICE in that privilege. And TAKE ADVANTAGE of it!

That’s Stephen’s answer to the FIRST charge. (That he’s speaking against “this holy place”.) In a sense, he’s AGREEING with them. He IS against what the temple has BECOME.

  1. Who’s really speaking against God and his leaders?

But what about the SECOND charge? Do you remember what it was? It was SPEAKING AGAINST GOD, MOSES AND THE LAW. And we can summarise Stephen’s response with this question, “Who’s REALLY speaking against God and his leaders?”

So go back to the start of Ch 7, and we’ll skim through it again, looking for what he says about rejecting God and his leaders.

Jump down to v9, where he says that the Patriarchs were JEALOUS of Joseph so they sold him to Egypt. They rejected the one God chose to SAVE them from famine. Just like the Jews were jealous of Jesus.

Fast forward to Moses in v20. Stephen says, in v25,

Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, BUT THEY DID NOT.

They didn’t recognise God’s Saviour – just like the Jews did, hundreds of years later, with JESUS!

And then he zooms in on one man’s reaction to Moses’ peace-making efforts. V27, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”

Stephen’s building his case of a history of God’s people who reject God’s leaders.

Jump forward again 40 years later to God’s call to Moses on Mt Sinai. Stephen describes him in v35

“This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush.

They reject MOSES. And so they reject GOD, who SENT him.

And again, v36, even though Moses led the people out of Egypt, and, v38, received living words from God to pass on us, V39

“But our fathers REFUSED TO OBEY HIM. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.

The sin of the fathers was rejecting God and his chosen leader.

Fast forward through the story of the golden calf, and the tabernacle. And Solomon building the temple. And look at v51. Stephen reaches his conclusion. The point of the whole history lesson.

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. YOU ARE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHERS: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One

They’ve accused STEPHEN. But now, he accuses THEM. They’re stiff-necked. And their hearts are dead, and their ears are dull. But it’s not a PHYSICAL problem. It’s a SPIRITUAL one. They’re PROUD. And they REFUSE to LISTEN to God’s Holy Spirit.

And that makes them JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS. Who refused to listen to THEIR leaders like Moses and Joseph. They REJECTED their RESCUERS. They PERSECUTED their PROPHETS. The prophets who predicted the Messiah.

And then, at the end of v52, the EVIDENCE for his charge that they refuse to listen). “You’ve BETRAYED and MURDERED the Righteous One – Jesus!” The worst sin of all! Murdering the One the Law and the Prophets points to. Rejecting the One God sent to rescue them.

I wonder how you’d receive THAT CORRECTION. Would you recognise it as great advice, and accept it. And throw yourself on God’s MERCY?

That’s what happened back in chapter 2. The crowd who listened to Peter’s speech at Pentecost. Peter says,

v36,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ.”

And listen to how the crowd respond. They’re CUT TO THE HEART. And they say, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

And Peter says, “REPENT and be baptised, every one of you for the FORGIVENESS of your sins.”

And they DO. And they ARE. Which is WONDERFUL! And what WE should do TOO.

But how do STEPHEN’S hearers respond? V54, they’re FURIOUS with him, and they GNASHED THEIR TEETH at him. (I’m not quite sure what that LOOKS LIKE, but it SOUNDS BAD!)

But it doesn’t bother Stephen. In the middle of the fury all around him, God gives him a wonderful vision to strengthen him. V55

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

It’s not something that JUST HAPPENED THEN. Jesus is ALWAYS king, watching over his people. And KNOWING the REALITY of it give Stephen COMFORT and HOPE.

May WE understand that same reality, so WE can stand up courageously for our King!

Notice that Jesus is STANDING. Not SITTING at God’s right hand. But waiting to receive Stephen. To welcome him home.

And did you notice Stephen calls Jesus THE SON OF MAN? He’s the only other person in the Bible to call Jesus that! But Stephen had seen, perhaps like no one else before him, that Jesus was more than a Messiah FOR JEWS ONLY. He was the Son of Man, from Daniel 7, who’d been given authority, glory and sovereign power by the Ancient of Days. And that ALL NATIONS and PEOPLES of EVERY LANGUAGE worshipped him. He was a king for EVERYONE.

And that’s enough to drive the Sanhedrin WILD. That Jesus is WITH GOD IN HEAVEN. V57. They cover their ears, and scream at him.

How ironic that God’s correcting them by his Spirit, through Stephen. (About HOW THEY DON’T LISTEN)… And they DON’T LISTEN to THAT!

And then drag him out of the city and stone him to death.

And as they do, Stephen prays to the Jesus he can see waiting to welcome him home. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Like Jesus himself, who’d prayed, “Father, into YOUR hands I commit my spirit.”

And then, again like Jesus, he loved his enemies. V60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In other words, “Show them MERCY. Grant them REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS.”

And that prayer was answered for at least ONE of those watching. Because there was a young man named SAUL, who was looking after the coats. And he’ll end up being the most important human cause in how the gospel spread. He was the PLANT that grew from the SEED of Stephen’s death.

We’ll see NEXT WEEK about MORE fruit that came from that persecution. How it drove Christians out of Jerusalem. But they spread the gospel of Jesus wherever they went. Doing the very thing the Sanhedrin was trying to STOP.

And the church GREW.

But back to the question we BEGAN with. How well do YOU accept correction?

Firstly, about how you TREAT JESUS. Israel’s forefathers rejected the rescuers God sent them. Is that YOU? In your pride and independence, have you said to Jesus, “No thanks. I’m ok. I don’t need your help.”

God sent his Son because WE’RE NOT OK. We’re dead in our sin. Helpless. Bound for judgment.

But God, who is RICH in MERCY, offers to make you ALIVE with Christ. Saving you by GRACE.

What have you done with THAT advice?

Many of us have heard and received that advice. (We’re saved and forgiven) But we need to KEEP doing that. (Listening to God’s word to us, in the Bible). Daily.

Is hearing from God your TOP PRIORITY? The FIRST thing you do each day? How regular is your Bible reading? Jesus advised us, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Is that what fuels YOUR life?

And when you READ, are you EXPECTING GOD to CORRECT YOU? A great prayer to pray before you read is, “God, COMMAND me! Speak, Lord, your servant is LISTENING!”

Or, finally, how well do you receive correction from your brothers and sisters?

We actually have a RESPONSIBILITY as FAMILY to be correcting each other. Galatians 6:1-2 says

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should RESTORE that person GENTLY. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

We show LOVE by correcting people. For their GOOD. That needs to be our motivation. Not pride, or comparing ourselves, or putting someone in their place.

And if you’re on the RECEIVING END. Don’t be like your FATHERS. Don’t be stiff necked. Be HUMBLE. Listen before you speak. (You’ve got TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason).

Try not to take it personally. It’s easier to do that if you know the person is doing it from LOVE rather than some OTHER motive.

But even if it’s NOT given in love, doesn’t mean it’s WRONG. Prayerfully consider the advice. Look for the grain of truth amongst the advice that’s NOT helpful.

Or here’s a hard one. Do you INVITE correction? Are there people you ASK for advice? Do you ever say, “How can I be a better husband? Dad? Public speaker? Employee?”

God is at work on all sorts of situations, in all sorts of place, and using all sorts of people to make you more like Jesus each day. Make sure you’re LISTENING.

 

Acts 4:32-5:16: Keeping up appearances

Keeping up Appearances. It’s a British TV comedy. Starring Hyacinth Bucket. Which she prefers to pronounce BOUQUET. And everything about her is to do with KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. Impressing other people.

Hyacinth turns up to her church working bee. In her best clothes. But she’s not there to HELP. She’s there to BE NOTICED. And so she’s only interested in the BEST, MOST PROMINENT job. But she ends up having to clean the toilets.

One of the reasons we laugh at the show is because we all know someone like Hyacinth. Might be the mother-in-law. Or our boss. Or the next door neighbour. Or perhaps we recognise a little bit of her in OURSELVES. (A BUCKET that wants to look like a BOUQUET.)

We might LAUGH, but in real life, keeping up appearances IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. Because, at the lowest level, it’s all about DECEPTION, isn’t it? Hypocrisy. Pretending to be something that you’re not.

And it’s especially serious when it involves LYING TO GOD. Which is what you see in the passage we’re looking at today. An incredibly scary story of two people who learned the hard way. Two people who stand as an example for all time. That HYPOCRISY is a stench in God’s nostrils.

You know, surveys say one of things that turn people off Christianity is the HYPOCRISY of Christians. Christians who say one thing, and do another. Who are more interested in the APPEARANCE. Than the REALITY.

And the fact that people THINK that/ means the church hasn’t properly learned the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira.

We’re looking at a passage with a contrast. How things SHOULD be. How things SHOULDN’T BE. A passage with a GOOD example. And a BAD example. A picture of GENEROSITY. Set against a picture of HYPOCRISY. If you like, a BOUQUET. And a BUCKET.

The passage starts on A HIGH NOTE. A description of a church that’s BEING a church. Verse 32 in chapter 4; “all the believers were ONE IN HEART AND MIND. No one claimed any of his possessions was his own, but they SHARED EVERYTHING THEY HAD.”

Out of their UNITY; out of their connection as FAMILY; came A VERY PRACTICAL CONCERN for each other. And instead of the usual attitude of WHAT’S MINE IS MINE, there’s the opposite. What’s MINE is YOURS. (Which sounds easy. But most of us know it’s a lot harder IN PRACTICE than it is in THEORY!)

And notice, in verse 33, it’s a SIDE EFFECT of the fact that they’re Christians. It’s not that the apostles are COMMANDING they share everything. Because the apostles are just going about the business of TESTIFYING TO THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. And his LORDSHIP.

But the CONSEQUENCE of Jesus’ lordship. (The practical outworking). Is that when you have a whole bunch of people who are ALL Jesus-FOLLOWERS. Then they’re genuinely UNITED in heart and mind. And so, THEY SHARE EVERYTHING. They genuinely consider OTHERS before they consider THEMSELVES. This is a church that’s working like a FAMILY.

And look at the radical ways that worked itself out. Verse 34; there’s not a needy person left among them. Because every now and then, someone who owns a block of land or a house, they’ll sell it; and they bring the money and they lay it at the feet of the apostles. And they say, “I didn’t really need this. Share it with someone who does. I don’t mind. You decide.”

Verse 36 and 37, here’s an example. Joseph, from Cyprus. The apostles have a nickname for him; they call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Hebrew – Bar-nabas. The Aussie translation is “good bloke”. And you’ll see why. Barnabas sells a field he owns, and he brings the money and puts it at the apostles’ feet.

Cyprus is an island 400 km from Jerusalem. And it may have been that’s where the block of land was. And he didn’t need it. That’s a fair guess. A bit like Bill discovering a long-lost uncle in Scotland who dies, and leaves him a castle or something. Doesn’t need it. So he sells it. And gives it to the church. Same with Barnabas. He sells the field. And brings the money and puts it at the apostles’ feet. “Use it where it’s needed most.” That’s story ONE.

Now look carefully at what happens next. Story TWO. Because it BEGINS in the same way. Ananias and Sapphira are a married couple. And they’re part of the church. And chapter 5 verse 1 tells us that THEY SELL A PIECE OF PROPERTY TOO. Just like Barnabas.

But notice the difference. Verse 2 says, with Sapphira’s full knowledge, Ananias keeps back some of the money for himself; and then brings THE REST. And puts it at the apostles’ feet. We’re not told how much. I mean, it might have been a BETTER block than the one Barnabas sold. Might be that the PARTIAL proceeds were even more than the FULL proceeds from Barnabas.

And the only ones who know the FULL price are Ananias and Sapphira. Or at least, that’s the plan. Because of course, GOD knows. And Peter, with the help of the Holy Spirit, knows TOO. Ananias brings him the money. And Peter confronts him. He says (v3)

“Ananias, HOW IS IT THAT SATAN HAS SO FILLED YOUR HEART that you’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

Here we are in the first months of THE CHURCH, and there’s HYPOCRISY and DECEPTION GOING ON. Ananias and Sapphira have looked at what Barnabas did. And they thought, “LOOK HOW PEOPLE ADMIRE HIM. They call him SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Wouldn’t it be nice if PEOPLE SAID THAT ABOUT US? LOVE a nickname like THAT! They’re trying to BUY ADMIRATION. (Buckets trying to be bouquets.)

But Peter says to Ananias, IT’S THE DEVIL AT WORK. (The end of verse 4), he says “You haven’t only lied to MEN. You’ve lied to GOD.” And verse 5, God passes his judgment sentence. When Ananias hears this, he, literally, drops dead. On the spot. And a bunch of young guys come forward and they take him away and bury him; and everyone’s filled with awe. The word is actually FEAR – which seems more accurate to me!

Verse 7, three hours later, and Sapphira comes in. She hasn’t heard what happened. And Peter asks HER the question. (Testing her. Seeing how deep the deceit’s going to run. But also a chance to have a change of heart.)

Verse 8, he asks her, “Sapphira, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” And she says, “Yes, that’s it. That’s the price.” Not true. But she’s keeping up appearances.

And Peter says almost the same words as before. How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? He says, look, here come the guys who buried your husband. And they’ll carry you out too.

And in verse 10, SHE fell down at his feet. And died. And the young men come and take her out. And bury her beside her husband.

And we’re told in verse 11, great FEAR seized the whole church. And not only in the church, but EVERYONE WHO HEARD ABOUT IT AS WELL.

And, maybe, that’s how YOU’RE feeling, TOO? FEARFUL? WORRIED? CONFUSED about why God would do this?

After all, it seems a tad unfair, doesn’t it? I mean, they’ve sold their block of land, they give MOST OF IT TO HELP THE POOR. In terms of VALUE, probably MORE THAN YOU’D GIVE IN A YEAR. And yet they’re struck down on the spot. For doing what, on the SURFACE, is a good deed.

But it’s the DECEPTION that’s the problem, isn’t it? And that’s what’s scary. Because, if you’re HONEST, you’ve probably done something PRETTY SIMILAR? And you’re wondering whether you’re in danger of God doing the same thing to you TOO?

If that’s how you’re feeling, then perhaps that’s just what God WANTS you to feel. (Not to be CONFUSED). But to feel his gracious WARNING. The warning that FORGIVENESS/ isn’t LICENSE TO SIN. But that God’s calling is a calling to HOLINESS. And PURITY. And HONESTY. Your behavior MATTERS. Your MOTIVATION matters.

It’s God’s gracious warning. HERE. At the start of this chapter of the Christian church. To MERCIFULLY WARN ALL THOSE WHO FOLLOW. It’s a lot like the sin of Achan, (Joshua Ch 7). When Joshua and Israel defeated Jericho. (The beginning of God’s people conquering Canaan, the Promised Land.)

God had given Israel a miraculous victory over Jericho. But then Achan had stolen some of the wealth, when God had said to DESTROY IT ALL. And God punished HIM – put him to death – AS AN EXAMPLE – A GRACIOUS WARNING- to the REST of the people who LIVED AFTER him in the Promised Land.

As far as we know, after Ananias and Sapphira, God didn’t do it AGAIN. In fact, his NORMAL way of dealing with sinners is GRACIOUS FORGIVENESS.

Like Peter himself. He denied Jesus three times. But Jesus forgave and restored him.

Or Paul, who PERSECUTED believers. But God chose him to be Apostle to the Gentiles. He used that same dogged zeal and determination to BUILD the church, rather than DESTROY it.

Or there’s Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. He makes the mistake of TRYING TO BUY THE HOLY SPIRIT. But he only earns a WARNING and REBUKE from Peter. And, it seems he REPENTS.

So BE WARNED. Ananias and Sapphira are God’s warning signpost at the START of the journey. Be careful about HYPOCRISY.

Generous AND genuine

And there’s TWO LESSONS we can learn from this section. FIRST, as Christians, we’re called to be GENEROUS. (That’s what BARNABAS teaches us.)

But that’s not enough. We’re also called to be GENUINE. (That’s what Ananias and Sapphira teach us). And one without the other isn’t enough. In fact, if you want to MAKE one THE TOP PRIORITY, then put GENUINE right at the top.

But let’s begin with GENEROSITY. God WANTS you to be generous. It’s what the Kingdom of God LOOKS LIKE. Again and again through the Bible, OLD Testament as well as NEW, there are commands. There’s BLESSING in generosity. Because it shows you’re trusting God. And he also blesses OTHERS with YOUR GENEROSITY.

God wants you to LOVE THE BROTHERS, so that you HATE to see them doing WITHOUT. And you’re willing to go without YOURSELF, so they don’t suffer.

Recently, I’ve been hugely encouraged by nearly $15000 that 20 different people from our church have given to help others doing it tough due to COVID19. And they give it to the committee of management. And they trust that they’ll be wise in giving it to those who NEED it. Which is exactly how it was back then. And exactly how it SHOULD be. But let’s do it more and more.

And not just MONEY. Without minimising the generosity of those 20 people in any way. For many of us, giving money is relatively EASY. All it hurts is your WALLET – your bank balance. But we can give away MORE COSTLY things.

Like our time. Our energy. Our friendship. Our hospitality. The thoughtfulness of writing a letter. Of telling someone how you appreciate them. We’re commanded to share not just our money, but our EMOTIONS. Romans 12.15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Those things can COST us more than cash. But they can also be FAR MORE VALUABLE to people than money.

But let’s finish by thinking about the challenge to BE GENUINE. Because that’s really where the sting is. Take a look at Peter’s words in verse 4 of chapter 5. (We skipped over them before). He highlights the problem. He says to Ananias, YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO DO IT. He says to him, you didn’t have to sell your land. It was yours in the first place. He says “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?” You could DO WHAT YOU LIKED WITH IT.

“And AFTER IT WAS SOLD, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” You could give HALF. You could give a QUARTER. You didn’t have to give ANY OF IT! God’s not offended by your generosity, or lack of it.

What you DID have to do… was TO BE HONEST ABOUT IT. And not use it to make yourself LOOK BETTER. And act as if you’re something that you’re not. It’s the HYPOCRISY that upsets God.

God’s more concerned with your INTEGRITY than your GENEROSITY. More interested in your CHARACTER than your CASH. Your HEART, rather than your HANDS. The motivation BEHIND the action, than the ACTION ITSELF.

From Hosea 6:6, where he says

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Or 1 Samuel 16:7

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Or Jesus himself (Matthew 6), who had a hard word for the hypocrites, who’d give to the needy, then announce it with trumpets, to be honoured by men. Instead he says, (Matthew 6:3-4)

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. THEN YOUR FATHER, WHO SEES WHAT IS DONE IN SECRET, WILL REWARD YOU.

And THAT’S the answer. That’s where our focus needs to be. ON WHAT GOD THINKS. Ananias and Sapphira must have known, in that moment, that they couldn’t HIDE from God. They must have known he’d SEE their deception.

But the reality was, in that moment, they cared more about what OTHER people thought than they did with what GOD thought.

The hypocrisy and the deception are just symptoms of something else. A DEEPER problem. HUMAN approval and acceptance meant more to them than GOD’S approval and acceptance. The idol they worshipped was HUMAN OPINION.

And it’s what WE do too, when we choose hypocrisy. We choose to value the opinion of PEOPLE more than GOD.

So how do we learn from their mistake? How do we begin to ORIENTATE OURSELVES to look, only, for the FATHER’S REWARD?

The solution is about beginning each day with a commitment to WALK with GOD through the day. Begin each day listening to HIS voice, in his Word, as the FIRST opinion you hear. Let HIS voice tell you who you are. And why you matter. Let his priorities set YOUR priorities.

Give the day to him. Everything you SAY, and DO, and THINK.

Perform for an audience of ONE. Pray that you’ll learn to worry less about the opinions of others, and more about God’s opinion.

But if you walk out the door without giving God a thought. Then that’s likely to be the way things CONTINUE. Your actions end up coming from wrong motives. (Pleasing others, rather than GOD). You’ll value, instead, the voices AROUND YOU. That speak of different priorities, and different choices, and a different identity.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to do things from wrong motives? And it doesn’t just happen with GIVING MONEY. EVERYTHING WE DO can be tainted with wrong motives. Wanting to please MEN rather than please GOD. Or serving from PRIDE, rather than HUMILTY. So people will LIKE us, or APPROVE of us. (KEEPING UP APPEARANCES.)

And that was Ananias and Sapphira through and through. So can I ask you, will you LEARN from them?

And at least back then, it had the desired effect, didn’t it. It was very clear that the CHURCH wasn’t the place for IMPRESSING OTHERS. PERFORMERS. For INSTAGRAM-INFLUENCERS. It was the place for GENUINE CARING. Instead of giving to make yourself LOOK GOOD.

And PEOPLE NOTICED. Take a look a bit further on. Verse 12 and 13, all the believers used to meet together in the verandah area to the side of the temple. And there’s this STRANGE CONTRADICTION in v13 and 14. When they met, no-one ELSE dared join them, even though they’re highly regarded. They’re held in AWE. Except, v14, that MORE AND MORE men and women believed in the Lord. And were added to their number. Not as casual onlookers. But as serious CONVERTS.

Those who weren’t sure / were scared to join them. They recognised more BUCKET in themselves than BOUQUET.

And yet, there were many GENUINE believers as well. Who God had really done a work in. Who were SERIOUS about serving him, and serving others.

When the church is GENUINE, that’s what happens.

As WE get serious about the way we share. Not just because we’re KEEPING UP APPEARANCES. But because we GENUINELY CARE. Care about God’s opinion, and CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER. Then God really WILL add to our number.

May it be so!

Acts 3-4:31: Power, preaching, persecution and plans

There’s one phrase in this whole passage I want you to notice. Right near the end. Acts chapter 4 v13, talking about Peter and John. “They took note that THESE MEN HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.”

For me, that sentence SUMS EVERYTHING UP. (Following Jesus, so that people notice the change he makes in you). It’s the whole point of THIS STORY. And it’s the whole point of the Christian life. And it’s the top priority for churches (To MAKE DISCIPLES – Jesus-FOLLOWERS).

But, more than that, it’s what I want for MYSELF. To follow Jesus. Relentlessly and steadfastly. With single-minded determination and endurance. So that I’m DIFFERENT. And people NOTICE. And give glory to God. And I hope it’s what YOU want, TOO.

What a witness THAT would be if our churches were full of people like THAT!

So let’s pay close attention to see what we can learn about Jesus, and his power that changes those who trust him.

Last week we looked at the end of chapter 2. How the believers met every day in the temple courts. And how everyone was filled with awe, and many miraculous signs and wonders were done by the apostles. That’s the SUMMARY. Now we see an EXAMPLE of that.

  1. Power

(Start of ch 3) Peter and John head up to the temple at the regular time of prayer. Just what other devout Jews did. They enter through one of the popular gates. Which made it a great spot for beggars. (Lots of people passing, keen to obey God, and be generous to the needy.) ONE beggar there was crippled from birth. V3. I want you to notice the unusual way Luke describes his meeting with Peter and John.

3 When he SAW Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter LOOKED STRAIGHT AT HIM, as did John. Then Peter said, “LOOK AT US!” 5 So the man GAVE THEM HIS ATTENTION, expecting to get something from them.

Four different words for SEE. What’s going on with all the LOOKING? Interesting, isn’t it? We’ve got the lame man seeing Peter and John. But only seeing an income source.

Then Peter looks straight at him. And commands him to LOOK AT THEM. So what’s Peter doing?

At the very least he wants this to be something PERSONAL. Something more than just a TRANSACTION. Where a few coins are exchanged.

And that’s often the way it works with beggars, isn’t it? When we pass them in the street? They just want what we’ve got. And we’re tempted to just get away as quickly as we can – whether we give them money or not.

But what would happen if we stopped and ENGAGED with people. Listened to their story. Saw them as real people, with personality, and real needs and opinions and preferences.

That’s at a HUMAN level. But I think there’s something going on at a SPIRITUAL level, too.

The Apostle Paul does something similar over in Chapters 13 and 14. And they help us understand THIS. Chapter 13 v9. Paul and Barnabas are on Cyprus, and a sorcerer called Elymas opposed them. And in v9 we read.

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, LOOKED STRAIGHT AT ELYMAS and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!

Looking at him seems to be a way of assessing him, Discerning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what’s happening SPIRITUALLY. Below the surface.

A similar thing happens in the next chapter. Chapter 14 v9. But with the OPPOSITE RESULT. Paul’s preaching in Lystra, and a lame man’s listening. V9.

Paul LOOKED DIRECTLY AT HIM, SAW that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

THIS time, Paul looks/ and sees FAITH. The man’s heard the message about Jesus. And he BELIEVES it. And so he’s HEALED.

And I think Peter’s doing a similar thing here in Ch 3. Showing SPIRITUAL INSIGHT. He’s looking below the PHYSICAL limitations. And the focus ON MONEY. Is there any SPIRITUAL life there?

And that’s something we should ALL do. What do WE see when we look at people? Education? Fulfilment? Success? Hardness to spiritual things? Pride?

Let’s look DEEPER. Look beyond the externals. Below the skin. Let’s get to know people. Ask questions. Let’s pray for Holy Spirit-discernment and wisdom. Find out what DRIVES them. What they’re THIRSTY for.

Too often, we don’t look long enough, or deep enough, to find out. WHATEVER IT IS, JESUS IS THE ANSWER!

Peter looks at him. He asks the man to look at HIM. The man does, but only because he’s expecting MONEY.

And v6, Peter disappoints him. At least for a moment.

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

My pockets are empty. But my heart’s full. I’ve got something far better than MONEY. The NAME of Jesus. His AUTHORITY. Which has the power to HEAL YOU.

And he takes hold of his right hand, helps him up. And the man’s legs instantly become strong. He JUMPS to his feet. And then he takes off, overjoyed, dancing through the temple courts. PRAISING GOD.

And v9, it’s not just Peter and John looking at him. Everyone in the temple saw him dancing around. And they recognise him as the lame man. And they’re filled with wonder and amazement.

And, v11, the man returns to hug Peter and John. In his JOY, all thoughts about money forgotten. And the crowd follow him, right up to where Peter and John are. Now it’s THEIR turn to come running.

  1. Preaching

And Peter’s recognises it’s time to PREACH. They’ve seen THE POWER. Now, the PREACHING. V12.

You’re STARING AT US as if WE’D cured him. (More SEEING). (Trying to understand what’s happened.)

V13. It’s not US, it’s JESUS. God’s GLORIFIED him. (Raised him to his right side, ruling everything.) You handed him over, and disowned him. God’s SERVANT, the HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS ONE – titles, from Isaiah, for the Messiah.

And, again, v14, you DISOWNED him. It’s an unexpected word… Except it’s exactly what PETER did. He disowned Jesus. Three times. He failed to recognise him. Failed to stand on his side.

And so he feels the WEIGHT of that. And recognises it in OTHERS.

And Peter describes the horror and INJUSTICE of it. Jesus was the RIGHTEOUS one, but they asked for A MURDERER to be released.

And, v15, they KILLED / the AUTHOR OF LIFE. The took away the LIFE of the One who was the ORIGIN of ALL life. It sounds IMPOSSIBLE.

And, in a sense, it WAS. It WASN’T possible for the Author of life to STAY dead. Because God RAISED HIM TO LIFE.

And we’re WITNESSES of it. Just like you’re looking at this healed lame man. We LOOKED at the Resurrected Jesus.

And here’s the relevance of the history lesson. It’s THAT SAME POWER that healed THIS man. (Faith in the name of Jesus has made him strong.)

And now, v17, Peter turns his attention from the healed man to the crowd. “You acted in IGNORANCE. You didn’t realise what you were doing. But that’s no excuse. You still need to REPENT, v19. (Turn back to God). You turned away from him when you disowned Jesus.”

Do that, and God will WIPE OUT your sins. Completely gone. A fresh start.

And times of REFRESHING will begin. New life. Recovery.

And that’s what life will be like until Jesus comes back, v21, to RESTORE EVERYTHING. Not just a fresh start for YOU. Not just restored legs for the lame man. But for the WHOLE UNIVERSE. No more pollution, or war, or disease, or suffering, or death. RESTORED.

  1. Persecution

Peter’s preaching up a storm. But, into Ch 4, he’s interrupted by the temple guard. The priests have heard he’s preaching about the resurrection. Which they don’t believe in. So they send in the guards to break up the crowd. And Peter and John are thrown in jail overnight.

(We’ve seen the POWER, and the PREACHING. Now it’s time for the PERSECUTION.)

They might be in jail. But, v4, it’s too late to stop the message. And lots more believe. At the end of chapter two there were three thousand. Now, the count’s about FIVE thousand! And that’s just THE MEN!

The POWER that healed the lame man. (The POWER that raised Jesus from the dead.) Is the power that grants FAITH and REPENTANCE to THOUSANDS. And a FEW GUARDS, and A JAIL CELL can’t stop it!

The next morning, v5, they’re brought before the Jewish leaders. And POWER is what they’re interested in. V7, “by what power, or what name, did you do this?”

Notice, they’re not questioning the MIRACLE. They just want to know whose POWER is behind it.

And, once again, Peter points them STRAIGHT TO JESUS. V10

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.

The same Jesus they thought they’d removed. Was BACK! It’s by the power of HIS name that the man was healed. There’s NO OTHER NAME LIKE IT. No one else compares. V12.

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

The word for SAVED is the same word for HEALED back up in v9. Peter’s extending its meaning, applying it more broadly. The name of Jesus has the power to HEAL LEGS. But more than that, the power to SAVE FROM GOD’S JUDGMENT. And that’s something EVERYONE needs. Whether your legs work or not.

And there’s NO OTHER NAME that can do THAT.

It’s an extraordinary claim. Because all those listening would know Joel 2, where God talks about the last days, when he’d send his Spirit. And when there’d be wonders in the heavens, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. Judgment Day! And, v32,

32 And everyone who calls on the name of THE LORD (that’s YAHWEH) will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance,

So, YAHWEH is the name people will call on to be saved. But Peter’s saying, as they all stand on Mt Zion, that there’s NO OTHER NAME to be saved by than JESUS.

So, he’s either saying Yahweh’s NOT the name to call on. OR, he’s saying that JESUS IS Yahweh. They’re ONE AND THE SAME.

Jesus, the one they killed, is alive again and healing and saving people. But more than that, He’s GOD HIMSELF!

We don’t know how the Jewish leaders react to Peter’s WORDS. But they DO notice PETER AND JOHN. V13.

13 When they saw the COURAGE of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were ASTONISHED and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

It’s the verse I BEGAN with. The crowd saw the healed man, and are amazed. The Jewish leaders see Peter and John who’ve been changed. And THEY’RE amazed. Ordinary, uneducated men, now speaking with wisdom and courage. And power that convinces and changes people.

Both are because of the POWER of the name of Jesus.

People sometimes ask why we don’t see miracles anymore, like they saw in Acts. The truth is that every person who turns to God in repentance. And who calls on the name of Jesus. And God wipes out their sin. And fills them with his Holy Spirit, so they follow and love, and grow to resemble, Jesus. Every one is a miracle. A miracle that people NOTICE.

May God do MANY MORE miracles among us, like THAT!

The leaders can’t deny the miracle – either in the healed man, or the disciples. So, v18, they warn them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus.

But look at Peter and John’s response. Peter’s not going to disown his Saviour again. V19.

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

“We cannot help speaking”. What does it take for YOU to stop speaking about Jesus? How little does it take for you to go quiet? A little busy-ness? A little tiredness? A little teasing? A little self-pity?

May God make us people who FOLLOW Jesus relentlessly, so people will notice, so nothing will stop us speaking for him! That the good news just BUBBLES OUT OF US!

  1. Plans

Peter and John are released, v23. They return to the brothers. Who are overjoyed. And they turn to PRAYER. In thanks for God’s protection in the PAST. But also, asking for his help IN THE FUTURE. As they do exactly what they’ve been told NOT to do.

And notice how it’s QUALITIES about GOD that gives them FAITH and COURAGE. That MOTIVATES them.

They begin, v24. He’s the God who MADE EVERYTHING – he’s POWERFUL. And he PREDICTED through prophets that people would reject his Messiah. V28.

28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

Nothing is outside God’s control. He’s working EVERYTHING according to HIS good purposes. It’s all part of the plan!

Notice what that MEANS. (The PRACTICAL application of God’s sovereignty). SINCE God’s decided everything that’s happening, that must mean he’ll use the persecution. So, v29,

29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

We LOVE what you’ve done so far. And we want to see MORE OF THE SAME. DESPITE the threats. More boldness. More miracles. More people calling on the name of Jesus.

And God answers their prayer straight away. The place was SHAKEN – God was in the house. And they were filled with the Spirit. And they ALL spoke the word BOLDLY.

May God make us people who FOLLOW Jesus relentlessly, so people will notice, so nothing will stop us speaking for him!

 

Acts 2:42-47: The baby church

I love baby photos. The tiny little hands. The funny ears. The cute helplessness. Photos marking various milestones. The first smile. The first tooth. The first haircut. The first step. (At least for the FIRST child. We sought of FORGOT for the rest)

And these few verses in Acts are something similar. A BABY PHOTO OF THE CHURCH. And, as we work through Acts we’ll see MORE photos. As the baby grows up.

But, here at the beginning, the question is. How’s the new baby LOOKING?

The apostles had begun, like most new parents, uncertain and scared. Not quite sure what to expect, or what they were doing. They’d been praying together, waiting.

Then Jesus had poured out his Holy Spirit. Giving them power to witness to God’s goodness. To guide them. To strengthen them. To be WITH them as they look after this new baby called the church. Making sure it grows up strong and healthy.

It’s certainly off to a good start. There’s been an amazing growth spurt. With a few thousand joining them in ONE DAY.

And verses 42-47 are a baby photo of that milestone.

But, more than just a PHOTO. It’s God’s BLUEPRINT for how he wants his church to grow. How he wants US to grow.

And there’s four aspects to notice. In relation to the APOSTLES, they were a LEARNING church. In relation to GOD, they were a WORSHIPPING church. In relation to EACH OTHER, they were a LOVING church. And in relation to OTHERS, they were an EVANGELISTIC church.

So let’s pay close attention, so we can grow more and more to look like our baby photo.

  1. A LEARNING church

Firstly, they were A LEARNING CHURCH. Unlike what some Christians seem to think today, when you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, he gives you the desire to LEARN. To study. To THINK. The Spirit DOESN’T lead us just to FEELINGS, or to OTHER ways of guidance. v42.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ TEACHING.

The phrase in Greek gives the idea that their devotion is an ongoing, habitual practice. Not a one-off burst of initial enthusiasm.

God’s SPIRIT gives us a desire for God’s WORD. 3000 new converts enrolled in kindergarten for Christians. And the APOSTLES are the pre-school teachers.

And it’s the same today. The Holy Spirit wants the church to be a LEARNING church. Seriously committed to studying the Bible.

Because it’s the Bible that’s the SWORD of the Spirit. Ephesians 6. 17 says that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The Spirit uses the Bible to do his work. To convict people of sin. To teach. To encourage. To guide. To empower. To give joy, and direction.

So let’s make sure we’re a LEARNING church.

Is that a priority for you? Do you make an effort to be part of a home group? Is that a priority? And are you active in SHARING when you meet?

Or what about church? Do you take NOTES during the sermon?

How committed are you to reading your Bible on your own? How solidly have you carved out a regular time each day for it? What sort of ATTENTION do you give to God when you do? Do you give him ALL your concentration, or do you just skim through a chapter like your reading the paper?

Do you actually expect him to SAY SOMETHING to you as you read? That’s a great prayer to pray before you start reading – “God SPEAK TO ME TODAY through your word. Show me YOURSELF. Show me JESUS. Command me.”

What about keeping a journal of what God’s teaching you? Are you listening to sermons in the car, or on the train? There’s so much great stuff you can podcast for free!

What Christian books are you reading?

The Holy Spirit builds a LEARNING church.

  1. A WORSHIPPING church

Secondly, the Holy Spirit builds a WORSHIPPING church. V42 again. (They were devoted)

to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

That COULD be describing fellowship, eating and prayer IN GENERAL. But I think it’s about probably something MORE FORMAL. V46 says they met daily in the temple. Once again, they were DEVOTED to it. Which sounds like it sounds more like a church service. And each of the phrases in v42 has “THE” in front of it. (THE fellowship, the breaking of THE bread, and THE prayers.)

The breaking of THE bread is probably the Lord’s Supper. Remembering with thanks the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood.

You can see a bit more about their attitude towards God in v46.

They ate together with GLAD AND SINCERE HEARTS, {47} PRAISING GOD and enjoying the favor of all the people.

Their worship was GLAD AND SINCERE. And thankful. Notice the VERTICAL and the HORIZONTAL focus. Rejoicing in EACH OTHER. And praising GOD. It’s reminding each other about what God’s LIKE, and what HE’S DONE that make us grateful and thankful.

The BEST sort of fellowship points people TO GOD, not to EACH OTHER. Songs and words and prayers that point us to HIM

They were JOYFUL to be part of God’s family.

Is that what you feel about the time we spend together? Lots of people have told me recently that NOT being able to meet / has made them appreciate church more. And they can’t wait to meet again.

But it wasn’t all LIGHT and HAPPINESS. Look at v43 of Acts 2.

Everyone was filled with AWE, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

The word translated AWE there is actually FEAR. The wonders and miracles caused the awe. The same fear the disciples felt when Jesus calmed the storm. Because it’s the SAME JESUS, by his SPIRIT, who’s now healing and delivering people.

It’s nearly always the same reaction through the Bible. Whenever people come face to face with THE POWER OF GOD. They fall on their faces in FEAR.

And church is at its best when we combine the JOY AND PRAISE with the AWE of meeting the powerful Jesus, who LORD OF ALL.

We need to be a WORSHIPPING church.

  1. A LOVING church

The third thing we see/ is that the Holy Spirit builds a LOVING church. These guys were SERIOUSLY COMMITTED to each other. Look at v44.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. {45} Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. {46} Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

Some people understand these verses to say that the early church were a COMMUNE. They LIVED together in the one house, and pooled EVERYTHING. (Everything was COMMON PROPERTY). And that means we should do the same.

It DOES say they WERE TOGETHER. And they had EVERYTHING in common. It says they SOLD THEIR POSSESSIONS AND GOODS.

But v46 tells us they met IN EACH OTHER’S HOMES. So they can’t have all sold their homes, and lived in the same house.

The same goes for selling all their possessions. It says that AS THEY HAD NEED some would sell something. When a need came up, someone met the need. It might have meant selling the spare cloak, or some furniture. They didn’t have the same sort of banking systems we have. (The same sort of disposable income). We might transfer some money, or give cash. They SOLD something.

This was a LOVING church. And so they look after each other’s physical needs.

But you might say, “Hang on a minute, Dave! It says they had EVERYTHING in common.” Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they had to POOL everything into a common storage area.

At the end of Acts ch 4, it says that none of the disciples claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had. That’s hwat it means HERE when it says they had everything in common.

People were willing to share the things they had whenever they saw a need.

And that’s what happens in church. I know all sorts of equipment and supplies that get shared around in our church. Ladders and tools and camping gear and trailers. Baby clothes and toys. Books. DVD’s. Even holiday houses.

Why does everyone need to own a lawnmower? Or an overlocker?

We SHOW we LOVE and TRUST our brothers and sisters when we loan them our possessions. Let’s make sure we keep doing that. Keep NOTICING needs. Keep offering!

How SACRIFICIAL are you when it comes to the needs of others? Plenty of missionaries NEED our support, while we talk about how much we NEED that new phone, or that overseas holiday.

But love is seen in more than just GIVING MONEY. Because this first Christian church met EVERY DAY. They met in the temple courts – that was probably the FORMAL times.

AND they met in homes. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts. That was LESS formal. It says “breaking bread in homes” – this time without the “THE”. Which probably just means a normal meal.

They LOOKED FOR OPPORTUNITIES to get together. Sometimes it was specifically religious and formal. Sometimes LESS formal.

And notice, they ENJOYED each other’s company. They had glad and sincere hearts. Sometimes I think we ENDURE each other’s company. We can’t wait to get home again. We think that we’re too busy to spend time with each other.

We ask someone how they’re going, But aren’t really interested in the answer. Don’t ASK, unless you WANT to KNOW!

Especially as restrictions on gatherings ease. Let’s be HOSPITABLE. And CREATIVE in looking for opportunities to MEET.

That’s what the EARLY church did. Because the Holy Spirit was building a LOVING church.

  1. An EVANGELISTIC church

Fourthly, the Holy Spirit built an EVANGELISTIC church. That seems obvious from the fact that their first outreach service resulted in 3000 converts. But look a bit closer. It was about more than just BIG ONE-OFF EVENTS. Look at the end of v 47.

And the Lord added to their number DAILY those who were being saved.

On a regular basis. As a result of what they did EACH DAY. People were coming into the church. Their LIFESTYLE was evangelism. They didn’t switch it off. And switch it on. Always on duty.

And not just joining the GROUP. They were BEING SAVED.

What were they DOING, from a human point of view, for people to be saved? Well, there was the apostles’ teaching. There were wonders and miracles performed. There were public meetings. There was the daily hospitality.

But more than those things. People found their LIVES ATTRACTIVE. Verse 47 tells us THEY ENJOYED THE FAVOUR OF ALL THE PEOPLE. There was something WINSOME AND ENGAGING about them.

PART of it would be they sold their possessions and gave to anyone who had need.

And they met together in the temple courts where everyone could see them. And saw the way they TREATED each other. Just like Jesus said, (John 13:34-35) “Love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”

People found their lives ATTRACTIVE. Do people say that about US? What do we need to do for that to happen?

It’s what we’re AIMING to do with our strategy: Building bridges to GENUINE COMMUNITY around Christ.

How can YOU be building bridges to your neighbours? How can you show them the love we have for each other? How can you show them the love of Jesus?

Fourthly, The Holy Spirit built an EVANGELISING church.

  1. Conclusion:

Well. That’s the sort of church the Holy Spirit builds. One that LEARNS, LOVES, WORSHIPS and EVANGELISES.

How can we help the Holy Spirit build THIS CHURCH into one like THAT?

ALL sorts of answers to that question! (It’s probably a question to be asking at the START of a sermon, rather than the END). But as we think about the answer, here’s a fact that’s both an ENCOURAGEMENT and a COMFORT.

The Holy Spirit ALSO wants to build the church like that. So we’ve got A POWERFUL ALLY in the task. And we’re in no doubt about God’s will. He WANTs to build his church. So he’ll be WITH us as we DO.

But it IS up to us to make sure we KEEP LISTENING TO THE HOLY SPIRIT. In Ephesians 5, Paul commands us to KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit. And in 1 Thessalonians 5, he puts it in the negative. “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire.”

And what’s FASCINATING is that BOTH of those passages are about CHURCH. And how to grow a healthy church.

In each passage the command to pay attention to the Holy Spirit is right next to commands about building a Biblical church. One that LEARNS and LOVES and WORSHIPS and EVANGELISES.

I’ll show you what I mean in the Ephesians passage.

From Verse 15.

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, {16} making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil

An EVANGELISTIC church). V17

{17} Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

(That’s a LEARNING church)

{18} Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. {19} Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

(A LOVING church)

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, {20} always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(A WORSHIPPING church)

Let’s press on with the Holy Spirit’s priorities. And KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit. Let’s build a church that’s LEARNING. That’s LOVING. That’s WORSHIPPING. And that’s EVANGELISING.