Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Purity of the Church, Acts 5: 1-14



We looked last week at persecution against the church and how paradoxically persecution actually benefits the church.  We found that persecution produces identification with Christ, it produces proven faith,  persecution produces allegiance to God, not man, persecution produces effective praying, and so forth.  Basically, we showed that persecution tends to strengthen the church and increase fruitfulness in the church.  History reveals that persecuting the church  only causes the church to become purer and more powerful and more effective. 

Now, as we will see illustrated in this passage, Satan changes his strategy. If direct attacks do not destroy the church, he will change tactics. Not only is Satan a murderer, going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but he is also a liar, and a deceiver, and so he disguises himself as an angel of light.  In this strategy,  he attacks inside the church, even through the church, where he is more effective at achieving his aim. Satan attempts to prevail by subterfuge what cannot be won by frontal attack.  And so Satan tempts the members of the fellowship to sin, thus fostering rebellion against God from within the very ranks of the church, and using sin to corrupt the purity of the church, which is the secret of her effectiveness.

The fact that there is sin in the church should not come as a surprise to anyone.  It is after all completely evident to the people outside the church.  That is why non believer’s consistently say that the thing which turns them off more about the church is not old fashioned music, or even the preacher’s message, or the lack of young people activities, but anecdotal evidence suggests that what turns unbelievers off more than anything else in regards to the church is that it is filled with hypocrites. 

And to a certain extent they are correct. None of us are what we should be.  There’s sin in the church because there are sinners in the church. But sinners who mourn over their sinfulness and repent of it, trusting in the grace of God for their redemption do not make hypocrites.  But rather hypocrites are people who pretend they are righteous, while they continue to live in sin. The Greek word for hypocrite means an actor on a stage.  Therefore, hypocrites are people who put on an act in order to receive applause from men. And nothing is more damning to the church’s effectiveness, and it’s witness, and it’s fellowship than hypocrisy.  Our Lord was most incensed against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  He saved His most scathing attacks for those that talked the talk, but did not walk the walk.  And the devil knows that sowing hypocrisy in the church will destroy it from the inside.

Jesus said in Matthew 13, that the kingdom of God (which is the church) is like a mustard seed that grew into a great tree.  But people hearing that parable in those days understood that mustard seeds do not grow into great trees, but grow into mustard bushes.  So Jesus is saying first of all that the mustard seed, the church, grows abnormally large.  And then He says it grows so large that the birds of the air came and nested in it’s branches.  What does that mean?  Well, in another parable when Jesus taught about the various type of  soils, He identifies the birds of the air as the devil and his demons that swoop down upon the seed cast into the soil and eat it up.  So birds nesting in the branches of the tree indicates that demons will nest in the branches of the church.  They find refuge there, they find rest there, because the church does not deal with unrepented sin.

As I said, this is the strategy of the devil. He finds it more effective to attack the church from within than from without.  And he does that by tempting us to sin and harbor that sin, producing hypocrisy.  And hypocrisy is one sin that Jesus spoke most vehemently about.

Now up to this point, the new church in Jerusalem had been going famously.  It was growing, it was vibrant, it was powerful.  But suddenly our attention is drawn to this egregious example of pride and hypocrisy in the church, and the Holy Spirit acts swiftly to cut it out of the body.  Because unrepentant sin is like leaven, that is if it’s left in the dough it will leaven the whole lump.  Unrepentant sin is rebellion towards God, which 1Samuel 15 says is as the sin of witchcraft.  It destroys fellowship with God, it destroys unity in the body, it destroys your testimony, and ultimately it destroys lives.  And that is why God moves to deal with this sin of hypocrisy in a mighty way before it destroys this infant church.

Boy, if you want to put a damper on your church growth program, you would think that God striking people dead would do it, wouldn’t you?  I mean, from our point of view that is the wrong thing for God to do if you want to build a church.  But yet God does this for exactly that reason.  He knows that if it is to truly be His church, so the gates of hell will not prevail against it, then He must deal with flagrant sin, rebellious, unrepentant sin, and if it takes these two to make an example, to put the fear of God into this church, then that’s what it takes.  Because God said we are to be holy, even as He is holy.  It is His church.  His Holy Spirit indwells the church. The Son of God shed His precious blood to purchase the church.  And God knows that for it to be effective, for it to endure, for it to prevail, He must deal with the enemy within, the enemy of impurity which corrupts the church.

Let’s look then in detail as to what happened.  The story really starts in the latter part of chapter 4.  Barnabas has done what many others were doing in the church, they were selling property and bringing in the proceeds and laying it at the apostle’s feet.  No one had told them to do this.  This was just the result of their unfeigned love of God.  They loved God, so they loved His body.  They loved His people and so they wanted to participate in serving them, and they did it by sacrificial giving. 

And there had obviously been some recognition in the church of these people that did this.  The church was rejoicing in these people’s generosity.  People that were displaced from their homes or jobs or families due to their faith were being blessed by these folks sacrificial giving.  There must have been a certain amount of accolades and recognition due to these magnanimous gifts.  There surely would have been a certain amount of recognition that these people were spiritually mature, and in the case of Barnabas at least, some were elevated to a place of leadership in the church.  Barnabas would go on to be one of the great missionaries sent out by the church, responsible for nurturing no less person than the apostle Paul, and also John Mark. 

So this couple in the church named Ananias and his wife Sapphira want to get in on this.  Let me tell you, there is no righteousness so sweet as righteousness noticed.  The church is no stranger to this malady of self righteousness today, even as we see it illustrated in these two people in this infant stage of the church.  They wanted to be seen as spiritual, as dedicated, and committed.  But in fact, they had ulterior motives, planning to claim something that was a lie. 

Now we need to realize that these two people were believers.  The text in ch.4 makes it clear that all of the people in the fellowship were of one heart and soul.  But at some point the sin of envy, or jealousy, came into this couple’s hearts as they saw the accolades, or respect given to people like Barnabas.  And that little bit of envy gave birth to another sin which was pride.  They wanted to be seen as spiritual examples.  They wanted to be able to go around with people thinking they were especially spiritual. 

It’s interesting to note their names.  I think they give us a clue to their personalities. Ananias means “Grace with God.”  This guy even had a name which denoted his favor with God.  And perhaps he leaned a little too heavily on God’s favor, even presuming upon the grace of God to overlook his presumptuous sin.  And the wife’s name, Sapphira, is a take on a sapphire stone, which had come to mean beautiful.  That probably is not the best name you want to pick for your child.  It can’t exactly help a child have a healthy self image if everyone is calling them beautiful all day long.  I can’t help but think that both of these people had a pride problem.

And this is purely speculative on my part, but I would not be surprised if they did not see this move as a means to gain a position in the church.  You know, there were upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 members in this church at this point.  And so it’s not surprising that someone would attempt to gain leadership status through some sort of underhanded approach to win the people’s favor. The sin of hypocrisy often lends itself to a desire for preeminence found in leadership or teaching.

So, in vs. 1 Luke tells us that in response to what Barnabas and others had done, this couple conspired to sell some property that they owned but keep some of the proceeds and yet tell the church that they were in fact giving them the full amount. There was no compulsion to sell their property.  They were simply motivated by pride.  They wanted to be seen as something they were not.  They directly contradicted Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” 

Which sin would you have picked to be the first sin that the Lord disciplined in the church?  Maybe you would’ve picked immorality.  Maybe you would’ve picked stealing.  Maybe you would’ve picked some form of blasphemy.  Maybe you would’ve picked some relationship characterized by anger, hostility, lack of forgiveness.  Those are all part of life in the church.  But the sin that the Holy Spirit places here to teach how God deals with sin in the church is the sin of hypocrisy, pretending to be something you’re not. 

That’s why Peter said in 1 Peter 4:17 that it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God first. The church is to be a shining example to the world. God wants to clean out the old leaven which is always a used as a picture of sin in the Bible..  He doesn’t want sin corrupting this new church in it’s infancy.  Because as Paul said, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. He says in 1Cor. 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.”  In the Passover festival, the Jews were to clean out the leaven from their houses.  That was meant to be an illustration of searching your heart for sin and getting rid of it.  Not harboring it.  David said in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”

But Ananias comes to the church and lays the money at the apostles feet in brazen hypocrisy.  Premeditated hypocrisy.  Unrepentant hypocrisy.  You know there are all kinds of ways to sin.  But there are some sins that are more dangerous than others.  Spontaneous sin, or sin of the passion of the moment is one thing.  But deliberate, intentional sin that refuses to acknowledge it as sin is another thing altogether.  It’s like the difference between manslaughter and premeditated murder.  It’s the most dangerous sin in the life of a Christian, and it’s most dangerous to the church.

And so Peter is given discernment by the Holy Spirit to recognize this.  You know, I can’t claim to have Peter’s level of discernment.  But I will say that discernment is a characteristic of a godly leader.   And I do believe that God often gives me a measure of discernment or intuition that enables me to see things where otherwise I might be deceived or fall into a trap.  I think God given spiritual discernment is the only way a preacher can truly teach the truth of the gospel.  And I think you have to rely on that God given wisdom in order to lead the church.  But though I may often find myself thinking inwardly that what someone is saying to me is not right, or that it comes from wrong motives, I do not pronounce deadly judgment upon them.  I let God be the judge, and I let God deal with them, unless He clearly tells me to confront them.

Notice that Peter does not enact corporeal punishment himself here either.  But he does show discernment.  He rebukes Ananias publicly.  And I think he does that for the benefit of the church.  If Ananias just fell over dead from a heart attack without clarification from Peter, the church would likely have erected his statue in the front vestibule. He would have looked like a benefactor who died an untimely death. But Peter, acting on behalf of the Holy Spirit, wants this to be understood, to be an example, a lesson for the rest of the church, that they do not lie to the Holy Spirit.  And that is what Peter accuses Ananias of.  He says you lied to the Holy Spirit, you have not lied to men but to God.

So Ananias fell down dead at that moment, right there in the front of the church.  And Luke says great fear came over all that heard of it. Then three hours later, Sapphira came in.  I don’t know why she was late, I guess she was fixing her hair or something.  Had to look beautiful, you know.  But she confirms the same lie that her husband had given, not knowing that he had just died.  And so Peter rebuked her for testing the Holy Spirit and she also fell down dead in the midst of the congregation. Once again, in vs. 11, Luke tells us that the result was that great fear fell on all the church.  Twice Luke tells us that great fear fell on the church.  That was the goal.

Now fear is another thing that you would think would be bad for church growth.  But actually it serves the purpose of God.  That the church would have a holy fear of God.  You know, as a preacher, every time I talk about the fear of God I am usually encouraged to downplay the aspect of fear to that of just some sort of reverence or awe.  But here in this passage, you cannot escape from the holy dread of Godly fear. Heb. 10:31 “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Listen, Romans 3:18 makes it clear that the primary characteristic of the unbeliever is that there is no fear of God before their eyes.  Then conversely does not that tell you that the characteristic of a Christian should be that they have a fear of God?  We should have a holy fear of God.  We cannot, nor should we want to live in sin, in flagrant rebellion against God.  If He is our heavenly Father, then He says that He chastens those He loves, and He scourges every son. 

I don’t know what your childhood may have been like, but I really loved my dad.  And I know that my dad loved me enough to lay down his life for me if necessary.  When I was a little boy and my dad would come home I would run and leap up into his arms and throw my arms around his neck.  I knew that he loved me.  But on those days when my brother and I drove my mother crazy, and wouldn’t obey, and deliberately rebelled against her, she would say, “just wait until your dad get’s home.”  And on those days when dad would come in the front door I wouldn’t run to him.  I was afraid because I knew that I was probably going to get a spanking.  It didn’t mean that my dad didn’t love me anymore.  It meant that I had a problem and I needed to get straightened out before I could have fellowship with my dad.  But afterwards, when all the crying was over, I would find my way back to my dad, and crawl up on his lap, and bury my head in his chest sobbing and he would tell me that he loved me and I would tell him that I loved him too.  Now to some people today that probably sounds like a form of child abuse.  But I would retort that that kind of attitude is what has produced the kind of society that we live in today.  There is no fear of God before their eyes, and as a result the world is in chaos, families are in chaos, because people do whatever they think is right in their own eyes. 

God’s family is not designed to be like that. God’s plan of discipline of His family, the church is found in Heb. 12:5-10 "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES."  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.”

That’s what God’s discipline is designed to produce – holiness.  2Cor. 7:1 says, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  See, if we were to examine ourselves, and put away filthiness, put away fleshly defilements,  put away sin, and desire holiness, then God will have no need of discipline.  But when we refuse to confess our sins, refuse to acknowledge it as sin, and continue in sin, then God will discipline us for our own good in order to produce holiness.  So rather than continuing in sin we are to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.  To be striving to be holy, even as He is holy.  This is what we were given the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do.  To do righteousness, to be holy in all our behavior, to be set apart, consecrated only unto the Lord.

Some of you undoubtedly are saying, “Well, I can’t believe a loving God could do something like that.”  But in saying that, are you not guilty of defining God?  Are you not guilty of making a god in your own image?  According to what you want God to be?  I would remind you that God is jealous of His church. James 4:5 "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." The church is to be the spotless bride of Christ.  And so He is just in His vengeance against those that would bring sin and shame into His church. 

This is not an isolated example of God’s severe discipline against sin, but this an ever present reality of the early church. According to 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 there were true believers that God was putting to death because of the way they came to the Lord’s Table.  “Some of you are weak and some of you are sick, and some of you sleep.”  You’re dead because of how you desecrate the My table.  Some of you, Paul says.  That means some of you Christians pay the ultimate price for your rebellion. 

In 1 Cor. 5, Paul was writing to address an immorality issue that had continued in the church and everyone knew about it, and the person refused to confess it as sin. And so Paul writes in 1Cor. 5:5 “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  Do you understand what Paul is saying there?  He is saying, I’m going to remove him from the protection of the church, so that he might be destroyed by Satan.  This man is going to be destroyed physically, so that he might be saved in his spirit in the judgment day of Christ.  This man was saved, and so he was going to enter into heaven, but he would suffer the punishment of God here on this earth by allowing the devil to destroy him. 

So we see here in this passage another miracle of the Holy Spirit, empowering the church, but not one that gets all the attention like speaking in tongues, or healing.  But this is the power of the Holy Spirit nonetheless.  It is the power to discipline the church.  The Holy Spirit has that right, and that responsibility, so that the church may be the holy and spotless bride of Christ.  He has the right to purify the church.

So what was the result of this purification, this godly fear that fell upon the church?  Did it kill the church?  Did people stop coming to church for fear that they would be struck dead on the spot?  Did the church shrivel up and die because they were too legalistic, or too condemning?  No, actually the opposite happened.  The church increased in it’s effectiveness.  The purity and zeal for God in the church reached a new level and the whole city was aware of it.  There suddenly weren’t very many hypocrites that wanted to associate with them, that’s for sure.  Look at vs.12-13 “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”

So here is the result in a nutshell.  As a result of purification the apostles were enabled to do even more miracles, the church was unified in doctrine and in fellowship, and unsaved people did not dare associate with them.  That means that there was no social benefit to being a church member.  And people were afraid to try to pretend that they were righteous when they were still unsaved.  But, and this is important, but the people held them in high esteem.  The unsaved community watching this church had nothing bad to say about them.  They weren’t cursing the church because they were a bunch of hypocrites.  No, they held them in high esteem because they could see them practicing what they preached.  They saw the purity and commitment and devotion of this early church and it was a testimony to the unsaved world as to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform men and women, to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ.

And then notice another result of the Holy Spirit’s purification of the church. Vs.14 “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.”  The church continued to grow by leaps and bounds.  The church’s effectiveness was not hindered, but helped as they continued in the fear of the Lord because it’s light burned ever more brighter. 

Listen, in closing I would just ask you today to examine yourselves today in light of this standard of purity and holiness that God expects from us.  Ananias and Sapphira were Christians.  And even though their motives were suspect, they were giving money to the church, weren’t they? They were involved in fellowship.  Wasn’t that a good thing?  No, the fact is that God is not concerned about outward signs of religion.  He is concerned about the heart.  And God sees our heart.  David said, a broken and contrite heart O Lord you will not despise. 

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not just that they kept back some money.  It was that they lied to the Holy Spirit.  And I would ask you today, are you guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit?  Are you telling God that you are His, you have surrendered all, when in fact you are holding back a portion for yourself?  Are you holding on to some sin, holding onto some thing that is not honoring to God?  Have you come here today with your head held high, attempting to put one over on the church, and in effect you are guilty of not only sinning against God but lying to the Holy Spirit by in effect telling saying that you are good, you are righteous, when in fact you refuse to repent of sin that you are harboring in your life? 

If that is the case, then I would “urge you by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1,2) Don’t leave this place today in a spirit of rebellion.  Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed. (James 5:16) That the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint.

Come all the way to God.  Come all the way to salvation.  In Titus chapter 2 we have the full range of salvation delineated for us.  Not just one aspect of salvation, but the full range of salvation is given for us in Titus 2:11-14 which says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,  instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”

That is salvation.  All of it. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  For our God is a consuming fire.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Purpose of Persecution Acts 4: 13-37



None of us would willingly invite persecution, would we?  Our instinct towards self preservation is so ingrained in us that our natural tendency is to avoid anything that might cause us pain or discomfort.  If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time praying that God would deliver you from whatever trial you might be encountering. But the fact is that God often uses persecution and trials for His plan.   What seems injurious to us, is often used by God to conform us in the image of Jesus Christ. 

That is why James says in chapter 1 vs. 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

It’s interesting to notice that at the very beginning of the church, when unparalleled growth was occurring, 10,000 to 20,000 people have possibly been saved and brought into the church, it’s ironic that this is also the time that God allowed persecution to come upon the church in order to complete what had been begun at Pentecost.  Though God never tempts us with evil, He allowed evil men to bring persecution upon this fledgling body of believers and used it to produce maturity and a greater degree of usefulness and fruitfulness.

Peter in His address to the Sanhedrin makes it clear that persecution of Christ was used by God to work out His plan.  Vs. 27, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” 

In the same way, according to the sovereign plan of God, He uses trials and persecutions brought on by evil men to accomplish His purpose;  to produce endurance, to prove our faith and to bring us to completeness in the image of Christ.  So in this passage today we are going to look at 9 ways that persecution brings about God’s purposes.  Nine ways that God uses persecution to perform His purposes.  And as we look at these, it is my hope that it would cause us to look at persecution and trials differently, so that we might fulfill James command to endure these trials and consider it all joy, because we know that it will be used by God for His glory, and our good.

First, we should rejoice because persecution produces identification with Christ.  Vs.13, “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.”  One of the benefits of persecution is that it draws the line doesn’t it?  When Christianity is on easy street and it’s considered popular to be a “Christian”, then many times the lines get blurred between true Christianity that is modeled after Christ’s example and those who just give lip service.  But when persecution comes, and suddenly it’s not popular to be a Christian, when professing Christ can get you fired from your job, or even fined or arrested for talking about Jesus, then the fair weather Christians fall away pretty quickly and those that are truly His disciples become evident. 

To the Sanhedrin who had arrested Peter and John, it was apparent that these men had been with Jesus.  They spoke with the boldness that He spoke. They acted in the power of the Holy Spirit even as Christ had. They showed discernment of the scriptures even as Christ had. And so it was apparent that they had been with Jesus.  Hey, is that something that might be said about you, by people you are working with?  Do your neighbors say that it’s apparent that you are someone who has Jesus?  That should be our goal, to live lives that mirror the life of Jesus, so that people see the resemblance by the way we act, and the way we talk.  And persecution has a way of drawing that out, or better yet, instilling Christ’s attributes in us.  As Paul says in Phil. 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  That means that as we submit to suffering for the sake of Christ, and we die to ourselves, we come to know Him more fully, and we receive the power to live as He lived.

Secondly, persecution produces proof.  Vs.14-16 “And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply.  But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, "What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.”  What kind of proof does persecution produce? Persecution produces the proof of your faith. 

Back in the reference we looked at in James 1:3, the word translated testing is from the Greek word “dokimion” which means proving.  That is what testing through trials is referring to.  God uses testing to prove your faith, so that you have a more sure faith that is able to endure even greater conflicts, do even greater deeds and win even greater battles in this spiritual warfare.  A good illustration of that word is found in the story of David when he was about to go to battle with Goliath, and King Saul wanted David to wear the King’s personal armor.  And remember, David tried it on and said, “I can’t wear this armor, for I haven’t proven it.”  He meant that he had not tested it out in battle.  He couldn’t rely on it.  But God uses persecution to produce trials which produce a proven faith.  Persecution provides evidence of our faith to an unbelieving world that is watching us and even more importantly, it produces a proven faith in us that enables us to live a more victorious life.

Thirdly, persecution produces allegiance to God not men.  Vs.18-20 “And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." 

There really is no such thing as popular Christianity.  The gospel by it’s nature offensive to man’s desire for self determination. Peter, in 1 Peter 2:8 says that Jesus as the cornerstone is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.  And Jesus said in Matt. 21:44 "And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."  The gospel is designed to divide the sheep from the goats, light from darkness, truth from error.  It is designed to separate righteousness from sin.  And God uses persecution to produce that separation.

Today in an age of seeker friendly churches, preachers have tried to take out anything from Christianity that might be offensive in their efforts to woo people into church.  But in so doing, the have prostituted the gospel for the sake of gain.  And the real danger is that hell is richer for it, as people are lulled into a false security that they are in Christ, when all they have done is align themselves with manmade religion. 

But when persecution comes, it suddenly costs something to follow Christ.  And then we often find ourselves having to choose between pleasing men or pleasing God.  And there must be only one real choice for the child of God.  We must give heed to God rather than men, no matter what it cost us.

And that segues nicely into the next principle, persecution produces preaching, not pandering. At the end of vs.20 we read that Peter says, “we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  John would say later in his epistle, 1John 1:1 “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us--  what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 

Listen, there is no hope in preaching a half truth.  There is no hope in preaching a social gospel.  Jesus said in John 8:31, ““If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  The word of God is truth, and only in that truth are we made free.  When we water it down, when we deduct things that are onerous for fear of offending someone, then we risk leaving them still dead in their sins. If they are to have true fellowship with the Father, then they must accept  the Word of Christ as faithfully delivered by the apostles.  We dare not offer a dying world a nice tasting placebo which has no power to save.  They need to know the truth of the gospel in order to deliver them from death.

Fifth, persecution produces praise.  Vs.23-24 “When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM…”  It seems like an oxymoron to say that  persecution produces praise, doesn’t it?  How does persecution produce praise?  Well, for one it reminds us that God is sovereign over all.  He is the creator, and all things have their life and being in Him.  And so there is nothing that happens that is outside of His provenance.  God is sovereign.   He is able to cause all things to work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.  (Rom. 8:28)

A good illustration of that was when Joseph praised God even when his brothers meant him harm.  He said, “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.”  We can praise God that He counts us worthy to suffer for His name sake.  And in Act 16, after Paul and Silas were thrown in the stocks in jail they began to sing songs of praise and God caused an earthquake.  When we suffer for Christ, it produces praise to Christ that isn’t merely lip service.  Praise in the midst of suffering pleases the heart of God.

Sixthly, persecution produces prayer.  Peter’s prayer is continued in vs. 29-31, "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence,  while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.  And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” 

In James 5:16, the KJV says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Persecution produces fervent prayer and righteous men, which produces results.  God hears and answers that kind of prayer. 

Augustine said, “Pray as if everything depends upon God, and work as though everything depended on you.”  Sometimes the work that is demanded is just laboring in prayer.  Sometimes it is laborious to pray.  And yet perhaps that is when it is most effective.  R.A. Torrey said, “Pray for great things, expect great things, work for great things, but above all, pray.”   Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God.  Pray when it hurts, and pray until it hurts.  Pray until you see results.

Number seven, persecution produces power from God.  Vs. 31,  “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”  I can’t help but wonder why the place started shaking when they prayed.  But I have to imagine that it was shaken because the forces of darkness were shaken. Eph. 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” God has given us two weapons to use against these spiritual strongholds;  the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and prayer.  When these righteous, persecuted Christians fervently prayed, I believe that God caused the walls of those strongholds to fall down, just as the walls of Jericho fell down.  And that produced a shaking that they could actually feel. 

Oh, Christians!  How I want us to pray like that.  I want to see us pray so that God cracks the sky and rumbles forth in power and might to put the enemies of the church to flight, to deliver loved ones from sin, and to bring a spirit of revival upon the church.  Notice that when they prayed, God answered with a shaking, but also with power.  That is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, is it not?  It is the power to be what God has called us to be.  The Holy Spirit provides the power to do what God wants us to do.  And what God wanted them to do, and what He wants us to do, is to speak the Word of God with boldness.  Persecution produces power, the power to boldly proclaim Jesus Christ and His gospel in spite of opposition or what the culture considers politically correct.

Eighth, persecution produces unity.  It produces unity in the church.  Vs. 32 “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”  Unity is so important in the life of a Christian. But please understand that unity doesn’t overrule truth of doctrine, but it is the result of truth of doctrine.  We never should sacrifice doctrinal purity for the sake of unity.  But God often uses persecution to bring differing factions together in unity, because persecution has a way of making the plain things the main things.  It has a way of making what is trivial, even more apparently so, to the extent that we forsake the trivial. In other words, some things are worth dying for, and some are not.  Some things are worth dividing over, and some are not. 

In Jesus’ great prayer in the upper room on the night He was betrayed, He prayed for unity.  And He prayed that that unity was founded in the truth.  Listen to part of that prayer from John 17:16-21. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”   Our unity is founded first and foremost on unity in the truth, with the teaching of Christ.  As we are united in that, then we will be united together in the church. 

That is the secret to unity in marriage as well.  Marriage unity is not by finding points of compatibility with one another.  Marriage unity starts by each person becoming reconciled to God first, and when that is accomplished, then that will automatically result in unity to one another. 

Lastly, persecution produces charity. Vs.34 “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales  and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”  I deliberately use the old fashioned word King James word “charity” to describe Christian love.  Christian love is not just an emotional response.  It’s not just a feeling.  Those things might or might not be present, depending on the circumstances.  But true Christian charity is the hallmark of the true church and it is illustrated in sacrifice.  Jesus said, they will know you are my disciples because of the love you have for one another.

And how did Jesus define that love?  He said we are to love one another in the same way that He loved us.  And how did Jesus express His love for us?  He laid down His life for us.  Christian love is sacrificial love.  That is what Christian charity is; sacrificial love for one another.  And that is what this first church exemplified.  There was not a needy person among them.  That is an amazing statement.  There were upwards of 20,000 people in this church.  And yet there was not a needy person among them because of the selfless, sacrificial giving nature of this church.

Persecution had caused many people to not have homes to go back to once they were saved.  Many people did not have jobs anymore once they were saved.  But what is amazing is that in this dynamic, Holy Spirit filled church, there was such a sacrificial spirit among them that they were even selling off their property, land and houses and bringing in the proceeds  to the church.  This isn’t tithing folks.  This is cheerful, willing hearts that want to abundantly contribute to the kingdom of God and they understand that is to happen through the church.  They aren’t trying to see how little they can give, but they are selling stuff to be able to give even beyond their means. 

Listen, the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  He doesn’t hold us under the Old Testament law of tithing in the New Covenant.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t give because we are under grace.  We should give more because we have been given more.  Your checkbook is a testament to your faith in Christ.  Did you know that?  I don’t care to know what your checkbook reveals.  But believe me, God knows. God sees the heart, and He sees the secret things.  And one day, the God who sees the secrets of men’s hearts will reward the secrets of men’s hearts. 

Well, it’s amazing isn’t it, how God uses persecution to bring about His purposes in His people.  I don’t know what kind of trials that you may be going through.  But I can assure you of this – if you are living godly, then there will be some form of persecution, some form of trial in your life.  Jesus said, In this world you will have tribulation.  But remember the words of Peter, who was no stranger to persecution, and who would one day be martyred for his faith. 1Peter 4:12-19 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;  but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

I don’t know what kind of trials or persecution you may be going through, or what the future holds.  But let me close by reminding you of the words of the ancient hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” so when persecutions come, we may know that it is all in the plan and purposes of God.  And He says to us;
"Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

The power of the resurrection. Acts 4:1-12



Today, all over the country, in fact, all over the world, religious people are attempting to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  There are all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies being conducted by millions and millions of people in celebration of Easter.  But the question I would raise today, is what is the significance of the resurrection for us today, besides the obvious historical nature of it?  What is the effect of this day of remembrance?  I’m afraid that the resurrection represents just a holiday to most people, a holiday that has no power beyond simply remembering an event that happened 2000 years ago in the life of Christ.  To merely recount the familiar historical story of the empty tomb is to miss the significance of the power of the resurrection.  It is to miss the present day application of the power of the resurrection.  And if we are not careful to consider the present significance of the resurrection rather than just revisit the account of Jesus’ resurrection then we are in danger of possibly missing the whole point of the resurrection.  To simply retell the same story year after year, Easter service after Easter service, without applying the truth of it, the purpose of it, is to only add condemnation to ourselves for hearing the truth, but in effect rejecting the purpose of the resurrection, which is to give new resurrection life to those who believe in Christ.

In other words, the power of the resurrection is not just limited to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.  The power of the resurrection is the promise of new life for all that believe in Christ and die to their sins.  Jesus promised us abundant life.  Eternal life.  The resurrection is the power over the fear of death.  It provides the certainty that the sting of death is taken away.  It provides the certain hope that because He lives, we will live.  That because He was raised from the dead, we will be raised from the dead.  But the resurrection is not just hope for after we die, but it  also produces hope for new life now.  As we die to sin, we are raised to new life. Rom. 8:11 “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”  And in “Rom. 6:4 we read, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Now that is the message that Peter and John were preaching in chapter 3.  They were proclaiming the startling news that Jesus Christ, whom the Jews had put to death just a few weeks earlier, was actually alive, and the power through His name was available to all who believed to save them from their sins.  It was the power of that resurrected Savior that was present at that time to bring about the healing of the lame man who sat in his suffering at the gate Beautiful for 40 years. This is the message of Peter and John.  Look at vs. 2, “they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”  That was their message.  That the Jews had put Jesus to death, but God had raised Him from the dead.  He was alive, and in His power this man was made well.  And that same miracle power was available for new life for everyone that repented and believed in Him.  And it was available for all who believed in a risen, living, saving Christ who was seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father.

Now that message should have been welcome news to the world, especially to the Jews.  And it was good news to some.  That is what the word “gospel” means, the good news.  On the day of Pentecost 3000 repented and were saved by faith in Christ, by believing that He was risen and living and seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us.   But not everyone believed.  And as we begin this chapter, we see the first stirrings of animosity towards the new church by the established religious leaders of the day, the priests, and the Sadducees; the religious ruling party of the Jews.

So in this chapter we are going to look at five proofs of the resurrection.  Five ways in which the power of the resurrection is illustrated.  First, we see that the power of the resurrection provoked animosity towards the church.  Jesus said don’t be surprised if they hate you, because they hated Me first.  So that is the first point presented in this chapter; the power of the resurrection provokes animosity.  It is amazing that the gospel is frowned upon by modern society, isn’t it?  It’s amazing that something that delivers people from death, delivers people from addictions, from strife, from sin, that teaches it’s converts to do good instead of evil,  is considered by many people in our society today to be something to be suppressed and shut down.  And the first church experienced this to an even greater degree than we see happening today, though we are fast approaching the time when Christians will be considered public enemy number one.  Already in many other parts of the world, Christians are losing their lives because of their faith in Christ.  And we see this reported almost every day in the news.

Peter and John were arrested by the temple guard, directly after healing this lame man.  A crowd had gathered when they witnessed this man that was once lame now jump and leap around the temple praising God for being healed.  And Peter used that opportunity to tell the multitude that it was not due to some power that he or John had that made him well, but it was the power of the resurrected, living Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, who had made him well.

And as they were speaking, the temple officials arrested them and put them in jail.  I sometimes wonder how long I will have the freedom to preach the gospel from the beach as we have done for 8 years now.  The cultural climate towards the gospel is getting more and more antagonistic all the time.  One day, I fully expect the town officials to come out there and shut me down, perhaps even put me in jail.  Though I hope it won’t come to that.  More than likely they will tell me I have to cease and desist and threaten to fine me if I do not stop.

The world doesn’t care if you worship a dead prophet.  The world doesn’t care if you worship a good man, a good teacher.  But the world hates a person who proclaims Jesus was raised from the dead, because that speaks of a living God, a powerful God, a God that reigns and demands out obeisance.  And man doesn’t want to be ruled, but to maintain the right of self determination over his destiny, over his will, and rebels at bowing his knee.  So therefore there is animosity towards the power of the resurrection.  Ironically though, the church is refined and strengthened by persecution.  We grow more under duress than we do in times of ease.  Pruning, whether in the church body or in our individual lives, produces more fruit, not less.

Secondly, the power of the resurrection produces boldness.  The power of the resurrection emboldened Peter and John to preach the gospel, to confront the Sanhedrin and condemn them, even though just a few weeks before Peter had denied and abandoned Christ at His trial.  How did it embolden them?  It wasn’t because they had found some sort of comfort in performing elaborate rituals signifying the resurrection.  It wasn’t because they had established a holiday commemorating the resurrection.  It was because of the confidence of having seen Christ’s once crucified, dead body raised up in newness of life, in a glorified body that was not subject to death, and they had seen the same body of Christ ascend into heaven.  That reality had changed their lives.  It had changed their perception of what harm could come to them.  Whereas once they had run away at the thought of persecution, now they had boldness to proclaim Christ because they knew that same resurrection power of Christ was in them.

Ironically, it was the same court, the same high priests that had tried Jesus and condemned Him to death that was now the very court that they stood in front of.  The same court that caused Peter to deny Jesus three times in order to avoid being caught up in His crucifixion, the same court that John had ran from, was now the very same court they found themselves examined in.  But now they are filled with boldness where they once were filled with fear.  They knew that as Christ had overcome suffering and death, so that same promise was for them as well.  They need not fear what man can do.   As Jesus said in Luke 12:4-5 "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”

So even as the resurrection gave boldness to the apostles, so those of us that have faith in the risen Savior can also claim that same boldness, knowing that we need not fear those that can kill the body, because God has given us eternal life.

Thirdly, the power of the resurrection provides the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Peter and John were now bold where once they were timid, because now they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  And they were filled with the Holy Spirit because of the resurrection.  Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, that He might send to us the Comforter, the Helper, which is the Spirit of God indwelling human flesh.  Jesus said in John 16:7  "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”

And that is exactly what we see happening here.  Peter and John are filled with the Holy Spirit as the text says in vs. 8, so that they are able to answer the high priests and the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish equivalent of the Supreme Court.  This is the direct fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to His apostles in Luke 12:11-12 "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say;  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

This begs the question, by the way, “what is the filling of the Holy Spirit?”  The answer to that question is demonstrated right here in this passage.  It is the power to proclaim the gospel, it is the word of God which is given to you to minister the gospel, it is the boldness to act as God directs you to act, it is the power to do what God wants you to do.  That is what it means to be filled.  It is illustrated by the wind which fills the sails of a ship, empowering it to move under the direction of the captain.

Please understand something.  The Holy Spirit is a person.  He is the Spirit of Christ.  He dwells in the hearts of those who have been saved.  At salvation, you receive all of Him.  He cannot be divided, He is a person.  He indwells the saints with His presence.  So there is no way to get more of the Holy Spirit.  So how are we then filled with the Holy Spirit?  There is only one way, and that is for there to be less of the flesh.  The flesh is in competition with the Spirit.  So we put to death the flesh to be filled with the Spirit. You abandon all trust in yourself.  You humble yourself, let go of the steering wheel, and call upon God to direct you and help you.  It’s about letting go of your wisdom, of your desires, of your passions, of your ambitions, and leaning full on the wisdom and guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit to sustain you and empower you.  The Spirit will give you the power to do what God commands you to do.  That is what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit takes this examination, this trial, and considers it an opportunity to preach the gospel to the very tribunal that put to death His Savior just weeks before.  And He presents the gospel without equivocation.  In answer to their question of in what power or name have they done  this miracle of healing the lame man, Peter answers them in such a way as to delegitimize their interrogation by reminding them that what they had done was a benefit to a sick man.  The Council might not have liked the message, but they could not deny the good result of the miracle.  A lame man had been made well.  Now that was a statement of genius.  Peter’s asking, are we on trial for making a sick man well?  In other words, is it a crime to do good?  Peter is establishing that they have no guilt in this matter.  They have done good to a sick man, which is what the law required, by the way.

So then Peter, in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, turns the tables on the Council.  Though we are on trial for doing good to a sick man, you on the other hand, put on trial a good man and committed a terrible crime.  He said, you crucified Jesus Christ the Nazarene an innocent man.  Pilate said three times during the trial of Jesus that he found no fault in this man.  The charges they brought against Jesus had been trumped up.  But this righteous man, this good man, they had crucified because they did not want Him to rule over them.  They were the rulers of the religion of the Jews and they were willing to commit murder in order to preserve their power.  All the family of the high priest were there that day.  All of the governing council known as the Sanhedrin was there at this trial just as they had been at Jesus’ trial.  And Peter accuses them of murdering an innocent man.  But Peter proclaims Him even more than a man, he declares Him the Messiah, the Christ.  Christ is the Greek word for Messiah.  So when Peter calls Him Jesus Christ of Nazareth, he is nailing down the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, and that it was confirmed by God through the resurrection.   See, that is another proof of the resurrection, that God would not allow His Holy One to see decay in the grave, because He was holy.  He was righteous, and He had no guilt.

The Council though Peter rightly condemns as guilty.  This is a pattern of Peter and the Apostle’s preaching.  They preach guilt first, then grace.  And the unbelievable thing is that Peter offers grace to these guilty murderers of Christ.  I think if I were Peter that day I  would have seen if the power of the Holy Spirit was present for me to call down fire from heaven.  But as Peter would eventually write in his second epistle, chapter 3:9 “The Lord…. is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  Even towards these hard hearted, self righteous murderers of the Son of God Himself, there is the opportunity for repentance.  God offers grace even to the most vile sinner, even to these murderers of Christ.

And that leads us to the fourth power of the resurrection, which is it provides salvation.  Peter says in vs. 12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” Salvation is only possible by faith in the living Christ whom God raised from the dead, as a testament to the efficacy of His atonement. Only Jesus satisfied God’s requirement. Listen, the offer of salvation is as wide as whosoever will may come. (Rev. 22:17)  But also the offer of salvation is so narrow that entrance is only by one name.  Only by Jesus Christ is salvation possible.

That is what Jesus died on the cross for, to save sinners.  To seek and to save those that are lost.  The problem was that the Council and the High Priest did not consider themselves sinners.  They considered themselves as belonging to the kingdom of God by right of their birth.  They considered themselves as righteous by virtue of their good deeds, by keeping the law.  They considered themselves worthy of the kingdom by their positions as priests.  And as such they were truly lost, because they failed to see the need of their salvation.

I wonder how many here today are outside of the kingdom of heaven because they have never confessed that they were sinners, that they were lost?  The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the kingdom of God.  That there is none righteous, no not one.  That all of our righteousness is as filthy rags before God.  Coming to church can’t save you.  Being born into a so called Christian home cannot save you. Being sprinkled or baptized will not save you. Trying to turn over a new leaf will not save you.  There is only one way that you can be saved.  And that is realizing you are a sinner, repenting of it, and trusting in the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, the Holy and Righteous Son of God who gave His life as a substitute on the cross for our sins.  There is salvation in nothing else, in no one else.

And listen, don’t miss that emphasis there in Peter’s statement.  “By which you must be saved…”  You must be saved.  Or you will die in your sins and face eternal death.  The wages of sin is death.  You cannot escape hell but by one means, that is through Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament, there is a great illustration of salvation that is presented in the plague of  poisonous vipers that came upon the children of Israel who had rebelled against God so they were bitten and about to die.  And God instructed Moses to raise a brass serpent upon a pole and said that if any would look upon that serpent they would be saved from death.  All of the people that were bitten were under the penalty of death, they were in the process of dying.  But for those that looked up at the serpent on the pole, God forgave them and healed them so that they lived.

That’s a picture of salvation.  Jesus was lifted up on a pole, a cross, and everyone that has been bitten with the sting of death need only to look upon that cross and be saved.  We all are under the condemnation of death, because we all are sinners.  But Jesus has died for us, so that we might be made alive in Him, if we will just turn from our sins and have faith in Christ.

Those hard hearted high priests and council members as far as we know never accepted Jesus as the cornerstone of their salvation.  They rejected Him.  And so we can only imagine that the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled to them, for rejecting the Son of God.  Jesus had prophesied in Matt. 21:42-44  "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES'  Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.  And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust."

But there was one man there that day who was changed by the power of the resurrection.  And that was the lame man.  He was leaping, jumping, praising God for the miracle He had done in his life.  And this man illustrates the final power of the resurrection, that the resurrection produces transformation.  Because Jesus is alive, we can have life and have it more abundantly.  That was the point of this lame man’s healing, to illustrate the living power of Christ to transform the lame to one that could walk.  To give life to the dead.  To transfer righteousness to those that were sinners.  That lame man welcomed the news that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, that we might have life in His name. That we that were sick unto death might be made well.

The Sanhedrin did not want to recognize that they were sick. That they were dying in their sins just as surely as their forefathers had died from the snake bites in the wilderness.  But this poor lame man knew well his dreadful condition, which he had from his mother’s womb.  We too are sick from our mother’s womb.  David said in Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”  But as the power of the risen Christ was able to make the lame man whole, to transform him from lame to walking, from dead in his sins, to new life in Christ, so  that same resurrection power is available for anyone today, that recognizes that they are lame, unable to walk in righteousness.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And then transformed, we are able to be a testimony to others.  This man that was lame and made whole was the catalyst that caused 5000 men to be saved at the preaching of Peter which followed his healing.   A whole multitude saw the transformation  of this lame man and gave God the glory, and turned to Him by faith in Christ.  Folks, that is the power of a transformed life.  I don’t want to take anything away from witnessing in foreign mission fields or outreaches, there is a place for that.  But I would submit to you that there is no testimony like the testimony that you can have to your own neighbors, your own family, those that see you every day on the street or at work.  That was the nature of this man’s effectiveness.  He had been begging by that gate for 40 years.  Thousands of people had seen him sitting there day after day with misshapen, shriveled legs, having to be carried to the gate and picked up in the evenings.  He was an object of pity, perhaps even loathing by some.  And now by the power of Christ he was well, he was leaping, running, walking, praising God.

Listen, the power of the resurrection is not just about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus at Easter, the power of the resurrection is lived out as a testimony every day by those that have been saved.  I would ask you today, have you been saved?  Has your life been transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ to give you new life?  Have you died to your sins, to be raised in the newness of life in Christ?  Is that your testimony?  Can your neighbors, your family, your coworkers attest to the miracle of your transformation?  Does that witness cause others to want what you have?  If not, then I would suggest you consider your salvation.  As Paul said in 2Cor. 13:5  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?”

I trust that you do not fail the test.  I hope that no one leaves here today rejecting the Savior who gave His life so that you might know the power of His resurrection.  So that you might have life and have it more abundantly.  So that you might walk in newness of life.  So that you might have the power over sin.  So that you might be made well.  So that we might be bold to proclaim the gospel.  So that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit.  So that we might overcome adversity.  So that we might live transformed lives in our homes and communities in order to spread the good news of the gospel.

Last week I spoke of the Great Awakening which transformed thousands of lives across this country when America was in it’s infancy, around the mid 1700’s.  And a man came up to me after the service last week and told me of a poem that was written by one of the men who was touched by that great revival - a contemporary of the great preacher George Whitfield.  This man named Lawrence Trimble wrote a poem called Awaken which describes the power of a transformed life.

One man awake,
Awakens another.
The second awakens
His next-door brother.
The three awake can rouse a town
By turning
The whole place
Upside down.

The many awake
Can make such a fuss
It finally awakens
The rest of us.
One man up,
With dawn in his eyes,
Surely then
Multiplies.

Because of the power of the resurrection, Peter and John were accused of turning the world upside down.  Let us go and do the same.







Sunday, March 29, 2015

The power of conviction; Acts 3:11-26




Today I want to talk to you in a different manner than in the way I normally preach.  As you know, I usually exegete a passage, going verse by verse.  But today I want to share some things that have been on my mind lately, ideas which are promoted by this passage, but not necessarily found through the exposition of each verse. 

This week I have found my soul distressed by several different circumstances that I have heard about, that I might term “failures of the faith.”  Not that the true faith of God can fail.  God cannot fail, and the purposes of God cannot fail.  He is Sovereign, He is over all, and all things exist through and for Him.  He existed before the world began, and will endure forever.  His truth endures forever.  God cannot fail.

But human beings do fail.  Just this week I have been reminded or in some cases confronted with several people who were once part of our fellowship who have fallen, or are in the process of falling away. It is disheartening, even heartbreaking to see these people fall away.  I heard lately that one mainstream denomination which has about 11,000 churches recently published a report that claimed over 294,000 professions of faith in one year.  But in another report some time later, they could only account for 14,000 of them in fellowship.  According to research done by an evangelist named Ray Comfort who reported on the previous statistics of that denomination, 80 to 90 percent of new conversions end up falling away from Christ.

As a pastor, I am particularly broken hearted over people who once professed a living faith in God, who we invested so much in, and who now have turned away from the Lord.  Some of them may not see themselves that way, but their lifestyle reveals that they are no longer following Christ.  Whether they are truly saved  or not is not my purview to know for certain, but it is a dangerous thing to turn away from God and follow after the lusts of your heart, and trust in your own wisdom, contrary to the Word of God.

I feel I am constantly in this battle for the hearts and minds of the people who come under my preaching.  I rightly feel a certain degree of responsibility for the outcome of their souls. So I preach my heart out in an effort to win them to the Lord.  But for the most part, it seems that far too many people are either unmoved by the preaching of the Word, or at least once they leave the church service there seems to be little thought as to the application of the doctrines which they have been taught. 

And so as I struggle to understand this inclination to fall away from the truth, and eventually from the faith, I have searched the scriptures to try to find the answer to the callousness and hardness of people’s hearts.  Additionally I have researched and studied pastors and preachers from past generations to see if there is something missing from church doctrine today which is accelerating this decline into apostasy. 

And what I have found is that the need of the current church culture today is highlighted in this message we are looking at by Peter in Acts 3.  It is revealed in studying the messages of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ Himself.  And research shows that it is the hallmark of every notable Bible preacher of history, as well as the keynote of all true revivals in history.  That is, in order to make their salvation sure, there is a fundamental need to bring people face to face with a Holy God, convicted of the vileness of their sin, and condemned by the judgment that The Righteous Judge will justly bring upon all unrighteousness. They need to understand that God hates sin, and that the wrath of God will be poured out on all sin. Then based on that reality, to preach repentance of their sins that they might be saved.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the message of the church today. The problem with modern Christianity is that there is an effort on the part of the church to make the gospel appealing by removing things from the message which people might find offensive, like God’s law, His righteousness and the judgment to come.  And in it’s place another message is substituted; that God loves you, and if you choose Christianity  it will produce joy, happiness, peace, contentment, and blessing in your life.  The only thing you have to do to receive those things, according to the new gospel message, is believe in God.  If you believe, then you receive grace - the gift of God which produces joy, happiness, peace, contentment and blessings.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? 

The problem is that is not the gospel.  That’s not the gospel message that Peter preached in either his first message in chapter 2, nor his second message in chapter 3.  But the result of Peter’s first message was that 3000 people were saved.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s count, by the way.  Those are real conversions.  Then at the conclusion of Peter’s message in chapter 3  there is an additional 5000 people that are saved.  Again by the Holy Spirit’s count 5000 real conversions, not just professions of faith that seem to fade away after a year or so.

So what is the difference between Peter’s messages in Acts 2&3 and the message being preached in many churches today?  The difference is Peter preached guilt before he preached grace.  Peter preached that the judgment of God was coming.  He impressed upon them their guilt for crucifying the Son of God.  He impressed upon them the vileness of their sin, their hopeless condition, and the judgment that they rightly deserved.   Peter preached virtually the same message twice in chap. 2 and 3.

And then Peter preached repentance.  Once their sinful condition was well established, once they knew that such sinfulness rightly demanded the punishment of death, then he preached the need for repentance.  And after they had repented they received grace which brought about transformed lives.  In Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  And in the next sermon, in Acts 3:19 Peter says, "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

So I suggest to you that true repentance is the ingredient that is missing in many of today’s professions of faith.  Far too often today the supplicant is attracted to the message of “life enhancement” on the basis of merely believing in God, and when they afterwards in due time experience some of the hardships and trials that Jesus said is part of this life and to be expected in this life, then they fall away because their reality does not match what they were led to expect.

But although repentance is necessary for salvation, true repentance is contingent on a couple of essential things.  For one, true repentance is contingent upon a true theology of God.  These people that were saved under the preaching of Peter had more than just a superficial belief in God.  We use the word “believers” today to describe converts and yet unfortunately, many don’t really believe in the God of the Bible.  They believe in a god of their own imaginations.  They believe in a god that is only slightly bigger than they are. And so consequently they have a faulty theology.

By the way, speaking of believing in God.  I understand that this Wednesday is National Atheist’s Day.  Wednesday is April 1st,  April Fools Day.  Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  So be sure to wish all your atheist’s friends happy April Fool’s Day this Wednesday.

But as we examine our text, we see that these men that heard Peter speak were devout men and women.  In other words, they believed in the true God.  They worshipped the God of the Bible.  And yet they were unsaved.  Everyone (with the exception of the aforementioned fools) believes in God to some extent or another.  The Bible says that even the devils believe in God and tremble.  So merely believing in God doesn’t save you.  Worship does not save you.  The Muslim’s believe in God, yet they are not saved.  Because saving faith in God means that we believe that Jesus is the very representation of God in human flesh. Hebrews. 1:3 says, “[Jesus] is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” 

John 1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made which was made.”  Jesus Himself told Philip in John 14, “that if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.”  And Col. 1:15 says “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

The fact of who is Jesus is the cornerstone of salvation.  The Jews Peter was preaching to believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Peter proclaimed in 3:13.  This crowd even believed in the historical Jesus.  They knew He had lived in Palestine until His crucifixion just a couple of months earlier.  They had no doubt He was a real human being.  Yet they were not saved because they failed to recognize that He was the Son of God.  They did not recognize Him as the Messiah, and so they crucified the very God of Heaven.

Listen, it is critical to your salvation that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, otherwise you cannot be saved.  You cannot merely believe in a historical Jesus.  You cannot simply believe in some sort of greater force in the universe.  You must believe that Jesus was a man who lived 2000 years ago, who was born of the Spirit of God, who was fully God and fully man in one being.

Look at the degree to which Peter describes Jesus in order to teach this essential principle.  First of all Peter calls Him the Servant in vs. 13.  That is a direct reference to Isaiah 53, the famous prophetic chapter concerning the Messiah that would have been well known to any God fearing Jew.  It is the quintessential teaching of the Messiah that foretells His suffering and atonement for the sake of the world. Then in vs. 14 he calls Jesus the Holy and Righteous One.  They knew only God was holy. And Jesus Himself said that no one is good except God alone. So therefore, Jesus is God. And then in vs. 15 Peter calls Him the Prince of Life.  It could also be translated the Author of life.  John 1: 3-4 again, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”  So Peter essentially calls Jesus the Creator. Then in vs. 16 Peter states His name as Jesus, which means Jehovah is salvation.  Peter says it is by faith in that name that this man was healed and is in perfect health.

So the first contingency is the proper theology that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh.  The second contingency is a proper recognition of man’s sinfulness. You cannot have true repentance unless you first have a proper understanding of your standing in the eyes of God as a sinner.  This is born out by the Scriptures starting in Genesis.  In response to Adam and Eve’s sin, God said they would surely die, and He cast them out of the Garden of Eden, and furthermore, He removed them from His presence.  God cannot tolerate sin. He cannot have fellowship with sin. God’s judgment against sin was revealed again in the flood when He destroyed all flesh, men and animals except those on the ark, by a world wide flood.  He revealed His judgment against sin again in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme sinfulness by raining down fire and brimstone from heaven, destroying every living thing in those cities.  All of these examples illustrate God’s wrath against sin.

Then in Exodus God gave the Law to establish His standard of righteousness, and detail what constitutes sin and it’s punishment. In Rom. 3:19 Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  In other words, under the Law every one is guilty, and the penalty for that sin is death. Gal. 3:24 says, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”  The Law teaches us that we are sinners, guilty before God, without hope.  We cannot keep it, we cannot achieve righteousness through it because we fail to keep it all perfectly.

“But wait a minute Roy!  We are not under the Old Covenant!  We’re under grace.” I would just ask you a question, are we under Christ?  Is not the gospel the gospel of Christ? I would suggest that the gospel of Christ is founded upon the Law of Moses, even as Peter says that Moses is a type of Christ in vs. 22. "Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”  

To illustrate that principle, look if you will to Matthew 5.  Jesus said, unless  your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees (who prided themselves on keeping the law) you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Then in vs. 21 Jesus begins to explain the Law.  But He doesn’t explain it away, He expands it.  He starts with “you shall not murder.” And Jesus says in vs. 22  "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  So Jesus is saying that for just calling someone a fool you deserve to be thrown into hell.

Then Jesus expounds the law regarding the sin of adultery.  In vs. 28 he says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Therefore Jesus said in vs. 29, ““If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  So Jesus says, just looking at a woman in lust is deserving of hell fire.

Then Jesus deals with the law concerning divorce.  And He says in vs. 32, “that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of chastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  Now Jesus is really upsetting everyone; He says that divorce is equal to adultery, which is worthy of hell. Jesus pretty much sentences 99.9% of the church to hell and He has only covered 3 laws. There are still 610 more to go.

Then Jesus talks about swearing falsely and making false statements.  And He says in vs. 37, “let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”  By extension, that which is evil deserves hell.  And in vs. 38 Jesus explains the law of an eye for an eye, so He says in vs. 39, "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

Then starting in vs. 43 Jesus wraps up His discourse on our obligation to the Law: "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Turns out Jesus’ interpretation of the Law condemns us even more than the Law of Moses does.

Listen, the purpose of the Law is to show us God’s standard of righteousness, and our level of sinfulness.  That there is a great chasm between the righteousness of God and us that no one can leap over.  That we are hopeless before the law, condemned by our sin, and under the penalty of death.  That as Romans 3:10 says, “there is none righteous, no not one.” That every mouth may be stopped.  That it would render us all without a defense.  That we might see our helpless, hopeless situation without the grace of Christ.  That we might know that we need a Savior, and be willing to give everything to gain Christ.

The great evangelist D. L. Moody said, "Ask Paul why [the Law] was given. Here is his answer, 'That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God' The Law stops every man's mouth. I can always tell a man who is near the kingdom of God; his mouth is stopped. This, then, is why God gives us the Law—to show us ourselves in our true colors."

The Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon said, "Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary [its most powerful weapon] when you have set aside the Law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ . . . They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place."

And the late theologian Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones is quoted as saying; "A gospel which merely says, 'Come to Jesus,' and offers Him as a friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convincing of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. (The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the Law; and it is because the Law has not been preached that we have had so much superficial evangelism.) True evangelism... must always start by preaching the law." He goes on to say, "The trouble with people who are not seeking for a Savior, and for salvation, is that they do not understand the nature of sin. It is the peculiar function of the Law to bring such an understanding to a man's mind and conscience. That is why great evangelical preachers 300 years ago in the time of the puritans, and 200 years ago in the time of Whitefield and others, always engaged in what they called a preliminary law work."

Peter presented the law to those Jews that day.  They were guilty of failing to honor the Lord their God.  They had crucified the Lord of Creation.  They were guilty of murder.  They were guilty of false witness. So Peter’s sermon condemns them even as the Holy Spirit was convicting them of their sin.  And yet in the grace of God Peter offers to them the gospel.  It is called the gospel because it is good news.  Just as it is good news to a condemned man waiting for the morning gas chamber to hear the officer of the prison say that the Governor has commuted his sentence.  He has been pardoned. He has been freed not only from the condemnation of death but given a new life.  That is the gospel.  We that are vile sinners, without hope, lost, rightly condemned to hell  have been offered pardon, our penalty paid by the death of Jesus Christ.

What is Peter’s remedy that he offers these poor hopeless sinners that crucified the King of Kings?  Vs.19-21 "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;  and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”

What does it mean to repent?  Well, it doesn’t just mean you are sorry for the mess you find yourself in.  It doesn’t just mean that you are sorry that you got caught.  It means looking at the perfect law of God and mourning over your sinful condition.  It means understanding that you are without hope, and without excuse.  It is seeing yourself in the light of God’s righteousness and holiness and knowing that you are a sinner and only by the grace of God are you given a chance to repent. It means to forsake your sins, to turn from your sins, to mourn over your sin, and to turn instead to righteousness.

Oh, folks, the reason that men and women fall away from the gospel with such ease and peace of mind today is that they have no idea of the Biblical standard of God’s righteousness.  They have no idea of how heinous their sin is in the sight of God. One of the greatest revivals that this country has ever seen was in the early 1700’s, in a time called the Great Awakening.  Jonathan Edwards was a preacher of a small church in Massachusetts who was one of the principle participants in this revival along with George Whitfield.  And perhaps Edward’s best known sermon was one that he titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Just the title alone is enough to send the modern church congregation running for the doors with their hands covering their ears.  They want to hear nothing of an angry God.  To hear nothing of the fear of the Lord.  To hear nothing of the judgment to come.  And yet this is the message, not unlike that of Peter’s message, which God used to bring about a great awakening, a great number of true conversions. 

I’m afraid one of the lost arts of modern society is the ability of critical listening.  To listen to the sermons of old is a test of one’s ability to listen attentively and critically, which seems to be lost to the church as well in our modern era of sound byte sermons.  But nevertheless, I would like to read a small portion of Edward’s sermon so that you can get a glimpse of what type of preaching against sin prompted true repentance and spawned one of the greatest revivals in this country. He read his sermons also by the way.  If you think that you have trouble with my sermons, then perhaps hearing some of his will make me seem so much more kindly and considerate.  We’ll pick up somewhere in the middle on his second point.  
"2.[All sinners] deserve to be cast into Hell; so that divine Justice never stands in the Way, it makes no Objection against God’s using his Power at any Moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, Justice calls aloud for an infinite Punishment of their Sins. Divine Justice says of the Tree that brings forth such Grapes of Sodom, Cut it down, why cumbreth it the Ground, Luke. 13. 7. The Sword of divine Justice is every Moment brandished over their Heads, and 'tis nothing but the Hand of arbitrary Mercy, and God’s meer Will, that holds it back.
3. They are already under a Sentence of Condemnation to Hell. They don’t only justly deserve to be cast down thither; but the Sentence of the Law of God, that eternal and immutable Rule of Righteousness that God has fixed between him and Mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to Hell. John. 3. 18. He that believeth not is condemned already. So that every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell; that is his Place; from thence he is. John. 8. 23. Ye are from beneath. And thither he is bound; ’tis the Place that Justice, and God’s Word, and the Sentence of his unchangeable Law assigns to him.
4. They are now the Objects of that very same Anger & Wrath of God that is expressed in the Torments of Hell: and the Reason why they don’t go down to Hell at each Moment, is not because God, in whose Power they are, is not then very angry with them; as angry as he is with many of those miserable Creatures that he is now tormenting in Hell, and do there feel and bear the fierceness of his Wrath. Yea God is a great deal more angry with great Numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this Congregation, that it may be are at Ease and Quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the Flames of Hell.
So that it is not because God is unmindful of their Wickedness, and don’t resent it, that he don’t let loose his Hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, tho’ they may imagine him to be so. The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.
5. The Devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what Moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their Souls in his Possession, and under his Dominion. The Scripture represents them as his Goods, Luke. 11. 21. The Devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right Hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry Lions that see their Prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back; if God should withdraw his Hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one Moment fly upon their poor Souls. The old Serpent is gaping for them; Hell opens his Mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
6. There are in the Souls of wicked Men those hellish Principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into Hell Fire, if it were not for God’s Restraints.”
(Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God)

Like the congregation of Edward’s church, these men and women that heard Peter preach his message in chapter 3 knew that they deserved the punishment of Hell.  They were well familiar with the condemnation and penalty of the Law.  The now saw the true nature of their predicament, and the punishment that was due them.  And so they eagerly took the offer of grace that was procured through Jesus blood, that they might be saved from the wrath to come. 

Well, you might say, that sounds very dramatic Roy.  But you don’t really scare me, for I believe we are under grace and not the law, and I believe God loves me unconditionally, and if God loves me, He could never send me to hell.  And for that person I would point out Hebrews 10:26-31 which says “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

I will just close this morning by urging you to examine yourselves in the light of today’s message and see if you are of the faith. As Paul said in 2Cor. 13:5 “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?” Are you merely believing in a God of your own design? Have you understood the true nature of your condemnation as a sinner before a Holy and Just God?   Have you ever repented of the sins that you have committed?  Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt where you will be at the moment you pass from this life?  Today is the day of salvation.  God is graciously extending time for you to repent. 2Pet. 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

I will close with one last statement from Edward’s sermon. “And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the Pit of Hell, whether they be old Men and Women, or middle Aged, or young People, or little Children, now hearken to the loud Calls of God’s Word and Providence. This acceptable Year of the Lord, that is a Day of such great Favor to some, will doubtless be a Day of as remarkable Vengeance to others….Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the Wrath to come.”  (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) 

“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace, foul I to the fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die.”  (Rock of Ages)