SermonsDiscover the Joy of Leaving Laodicea Behind
In John 20 we find some events that took place on that momentous Sunday, the first day of the week, when Jesus was raised from the dead. Some of those events took place early that Sunday morning and other events happened later that day, at evening. It was at this time, in the evening of the same day, that Jesus appeared to His disciples and others who were hiding for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). And then, to this frightened and confused group of friends and disciples, Jesus spoke these words:
John 20:21 – “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
His words to them were comforting and also challenging. Just like they are to us today. And then Jesus uttered some of the most misunderstood words in all of the gospel accounts. He said:
John 20:23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Do you see how a lazy interpretation of this verse could lead you to believe that God has granted fallen, mortal men the ability to forgive sins? And those sins are forgiven, not because they are confessed by the one who has sinned, but by the forgiveness of an uninterested third party. How can that be? Want to know more? Then keep listening.
Trying to live the Christian life in the flesh is exhausting and, quite honestly, impossible. But that’s how many believers live today. They start out well, full of hope and empowered by the Spirit, and then digress into a life of flesh, pride, and reliance on human wisdom rather than the wisdom of God. But the early church shows us the “abundant life” Jesus promised those who follow Him fleshed out in real time (John 10:10).
And it’s all based on faith.
Look at the faith involved in the healing of the lame man at the Gate Beautiful. Question: Whose faith is the agent God uses to perform this sign and wonder?
Acts 3:6-7 – Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
Note what happened here. Peter had something that he was able to give to the lame beggar. What was that? And how did Peter know he possessed whatever he possessed? And the healing took place, not when Peter spoke the affirmation, but when he “took him by the right hand and lifted him up” (Acts 3:6). That’s faith. But whose? The beggar’s? Not really. It was the faith of Peter.
What does this mean? And what can we learn about exercising our Spiritual gifts in the world today? Want to know more? Then keep listening.
The best way for the early church to disciple the 3,000 who came to faith after the preaching of Peter’s sermon would be to let them learn to live like the disciples had lived for the last three years. Think about it. How did the disciples of Jesus, who had left everything to follow Him, support themselves during the time they went from city to city with Jesus? Did they take out a home equity loan on their house? Did they max out their credit cards to fund their extended mission trip? Did they cash in their 401k, take the tax hit, and continue on with their vision quest with Jesus? What did they do?
They lived by faith. Just like the early church did. Consider the following:
Acts 2:44-45 – Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:32-35 – Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
Did you ever wonder how that is even possible? How can we trust each other that much, like they did? Seems impossible, doesn’t it? Want to learn more about living by faith? Then keep listening.
In Acts 2, after the promised Holy Spirit came mightily upon the faithful praying in the upper room, and after Peter preached his Spirit-empowered sermon, the infant church grew from 120 to over 3,000 literally overnight. And now the apostles had a logistics problem. How were they to manage a crowd of over 3,000 newbies without the benefit of Christian literature or Lifeway, CCM, K-LOVE, God’s Not Dead 1 and 2, WinterJam, or local mega-churches with multiple, cross-town campuses? What were they to do?
The answer was simple. They were to teach their new Christian brothers exactly what Jesus spent three years teaching them— how to live by faith. That’s right, faith. Remember?
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith (pístis) is the substance (to place under, the basis, foundation, that which underlies the apparent) of things hoped for (confident expectation, to abide still, to expect fully), the evidence (proof, conviction, assurance, supreme confidence) of things not seen.
As we dig deeper into the life of the early church, we’ll discover that faith was pretty much all they had. And it was enough for them to turn their world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Do you want to know more about what it means to live by faith? Good. Then keep listening.
When Peter stands up in the midst of the 120 and declares that Judas must be replaced, he was speaking the truth (Acts 1:20). It is true from Scripture that God intended to someday replace Judas. But that doesn’t mean it was the right time to decide who the Lord had chosen to become part of the Twelve. What happened then, and what often happens with each of us, is that we decide a course of action, present God with two options we have chosen, and then ask Him to choose which of our choices is His will. And this assumes it was His will for us to do what we’ve determined to do in the first place.
The lesson from Acts 1:15-26 is that doing the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing. Everytime. No matter how much it feels like the right thing and the right time.
And it often takes years to undo the mistakes we make for the right reason, or so we think. Remember, spiritual maturity is asking God what His will is, and not trying to force Him to choose the lesser of two evils that we have chosen. Do you want to know more about this classic error of presumption? Then keep listening.
When the 120 met together after the ascension of Jesus, there were some logistics we often overlook when considering their 240 hour prayer meeting (Acts 1:14). For example:
What about food?
Did they go home to eat several times a day?
Did someone have food catered in to them?
Did they go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s daily?
Did their family drop off lunch bags each day?
Or did they go on an extended fast?
And if so, what was that like?
I believe it was a time of prayer and fasting— and not just prayer alone. After all, that’s what Jesus expected them to do (Matt. 6:16-18). Which raises one last question: What can fasting do for me today? Or, why should I fast since fasting seems to be passe in the church today? Consider the following:
Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
In summary, fasting opens up your spirit in ways that are hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
Have you ever considered adding fasting to your prayer life? You should. You really should.
As we begin to look at how the Holy Spirit moved in the lives of ordinary men in the book of Acts, we are confronted with a few questions. These questions have to do with the character of the men Jesus chose to fulfill the mandate He gave to His church. And what was that mandate?
Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power (dúnamis) when (what) the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Then, the first set of questions:
Has this mandate changed for the church?
Does it still apply today?
If so, how are we doing?
Have you received the power Jesus promised?
And how is that power being manifested in your life?
Do you see that kind of power in the church today?
If not, do you ever wonder why?
How would you answer these questions about the church? How would you answer the ones that are more personal in nature? The ones about you and the power, or lack of power, in your life? Do you see a disconnect between the account of the church in Acts and the place you worshipped last Sunday? Me too. But what are we going to do about it?
When we try to determine the exact day that Jesus was crucified, either Friday or Wednesday, we come face to face with an ugly fact about the history of the church. That ugly history shows the depth of the church’s hatred for the Jews during the first and second century, much like the church’s hatred of the Jews today. Church councils were called to try to determine a uniform date for Easter in order for it to not correspond with the Jewish Passover (the 14th of Nisan), even if they are, in reality, intrinsically tied together.
For example, the Council of Nicea (325 BC) unanimously ruled that the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox (March and September); and if the full moon should occur on a Sunday, and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the following Sunday.
Why try so hard to make sure no Christian festival corresponds to its Jewish counterpart, even if by accident? Antisemitism. But there’s so much more to this debate. You have the two Passovers during the passion week, the rantings of Emperor Constantine, and the excommunication of the Quartodecimans. Sound intriguing? Do you want to know more? Then keep listening.
If we were honest, we’d have to admit that the picture of life in the church as revealed in Scripture and our own personal church experience are not always the same. In fact, they often seem like polar opposites, night and day. Consider what Paul said about life in the church:
Ephesians 3:20-21 – Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works (where) in us, to Him be glory (where) in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
And yet, knowing this, we still struggle with trying to find the answer to the questions that trouble us the most.
Why can’t we keep our children involved in church?
Why can’t our children hold to Biblical morals?
Why can’t our children make Godly decisions?
Why can’t the church make a noticeable difference in our nation, culture and family?
Why can’t we get victory over our own sins?
Why can’t we see Jesus move in our lives like He did in the past?
Is there an answer to these questions? Is what we’re experiencing in church, Sunday after Sunday, all there is? Or is there something missing? And if so, what is it? How do I find it? What can I do?
If you want to know the answer to these important questions, then keep listening.
In the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals to us what life is like in His Kingdom, He contrasts the Old Testament Law with its true intent. And it does this by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old… but I say unto you.” Or, to put it another way, “You have an understanding about the Law and what it governs, but I want to show you the true intent of the Law and what it really means.”
The Law governed external actions. Or so it seemed to them and to us. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus shows us the true intent of the Law by contrasting it to the human understanding of it. In other words, only actions matter in the mind of men. But with God, everything comes from the heart.
“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Do you want to know more about having a heart that is pleasing to the Lord? Good. Then keep listening.