Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘The Book of Acts’ Category

–          For a review of this week’s study:

–          Homework for week # 10:

  • Review your Scripture memory verses (Luke 10:2 and I Corinthians 15:1-4.)
  • Spend some time each day going over the 4-point outline of the gospel (i.e. God, Man, Christ, and Response) and the 4-point outline of redemptive history (i.e. Creation, Fall, Redemption and Recreation) either out-loud or in writing.
  • Spend some time thinking about common misconceptions in our culture regarding the 4-points of the gospel: God, Man, Christ and Response.  Engage in a discussion with a fellow Christian this week regarding these misconceptions and how to address them biblically.
  • Engage in at least 1 gospel conversation this week with an unbeliever.
  • In preparation for next week’s class, consider the following passages of Scripture:
    • Matthew 5:13-16, John 13:34-35 and Philippians 2:14-16. (Note:  In each of these passages, the terms translated “you” and “your” are all plural in the original Greek, implying that these are statements and commands regarding a group of people rather than simply an individual.)
      • What do these passages teach us about the role of the church in evangelism?
      • Read Acts 2:42-47 and think through the questions below:
        • What is the context and setting of this passage?
        • Make a list of all the characteristics of the early church.  Be specific.  Define each characteristic clearly.
        • What was the impact of this church on the community around them?  (Think carefully about this.)
        • How is evangelism described in this passage?  (i.e. What does the church “do” in this passage in order to evangelize the lost?  Think carefully about this.)
  • Reflect on the following questions and issues:
    • Does the church today in our culture resemble the church as described here in Acts?  In what ways are we similar?  In what ways are we different?  How does this affect our evangelism?
    • Consider what you can do to facilitate your local church becoming more like the church described in Acts 2.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

For a review of this week’s study, consider viewing the following resources:

–          Read the manuscripts for the sermons entitled “The God Who Keeps His Promises” (found here http://mbcpastoringlobe.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/the-god-who-keeps-his-promises-%E2%80%93-acts-1313-41/) and “Three Responses to the Gospel” (found here http://mbcpastoringlobe.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/three-responses-to-the-gospel-%E2%80%93-acts-1342-52/.)

–          For a further study of the role of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation, consider listening to the 2-part sermon series by C.J. Mahaney entitled “The Mystery of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.”  You can download it here http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=A1251-00-51.

Homework for Week # 9:

–          Review your Scripture memory verses (Luke 10:2 and I Corinthians 15:1-4.)

–          Spend some time each day going over the 4-point outline of the gospel (i.e. God, Man, Christ, and Response) and the 4-point outline of redemptive history (i.e. Creation, Fall, Redemption and Recreation) either out-loud or in writing.

–          Think about how to connect biblical events (particularly Old Testament historical events) to the gospel.  Discuss this with a fellow ChristianBegin making it a habit to connect everything you read in Scripture to the gospel.

–          Engage in at least 1 gospel conversation this week with an unbeliever (preferably a “churched” unbeliever). In this conversation, attempt to utilize biblical events or passages to ask the following questionWhat does this teach us about God?  What does this teach us about Jesus?

–          In preparation for next week’s class, read Acts 17:16-34 and think through the questions below:

  • What is the context and setting of this passage?  (You might find it helpful to look up the location on a map and/or in a Bible dictionary.)
  • What affect does the idolatry in this culture have on Paul?  What does this teach us about Paul’s motivation in evangelism?
  • Who is Paul sharing the gospel with in this passage?  (Make sure you read the entire passage before answering this…)  How does this affect his evangelism?
  • Make an outline of Paul’s presentation of the gospel in verses 22-31.  Specifically think through the following aspects of his message:
    • How does Paul start his gospel presentation?  What efforts does he make to “connect” with his hearers?  How can we do this today?
    • Paul spends a considerable amount of time describing the attributes and actions of God.  Why?  Make a list of God’s attributes and actions in this passage.  How is this relevant to our gospel presentations today?  How can we do this today?
    • What does Paul teach about humanity?  Sin and judgment?  What response does Paul call his hearers to?  How is this relevant in our evangelism today?
  • How do Paul’s hearers respond to the gospel in this passage?  (Be specific.)  What does this teach us about the responses we should expect engaging in evangelism?
  • How is this passage relevant to our evangelism today?  Spend some time this week thinking about the problem of biblical illiteracy and idolatry in our culture today.  How much or how little does the “average person” know about the Bible today?  What forms of idolatry do we encounter in our culture today?  How does this affect our evangelism?

 

Read Full Post »

For a review of this week’s study, consider reading the sermon entitled “Two Unlikely Men and One Unlikely Salvation” on Acts 8:26-40.  You can find it here https://ramblingpastorman.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/two-unlikely-men-and-one-unlikely-salvation-%E2%80%93-a-sermon-on-acts-826-40/.

Homework for Week # 8:

–          Review your Scripture memory verses (Luke 10:2 and I Corinthians 15:1-4.)

–          Spend some time each day going over the 4-point outline of the gospel (i.e. God, Man, Christ, and Response) and the 4-point outline of redemptive history (i.e. Creation, Fall, Redemption and Recreation) either out-loud or in writing.

–          Engage in at least 1 gospel conversation this week with an unbeliever. In this conversation, attempt to ask the following questionWhat do you believe about Jesus? (i.e. Who is He?  What has He done?)

–          Engage in a conversation this week with a fellow Christian regarding how the gospel relates to human brokenness and sin.

–          In preparation for next week’s class, read Acts 13:13-52 and think through the questions below:

  • What is the setting of this passage?  (You might find it helpful to look up the location on a map and/or in a Bible dictionary.)  What has taken place prior to this?
  • What type of people is Paul sharing the gospel with here?  Why does this matter?  How does this affect his presentation of the gospel message?  (Think carefully about this…)
  • What is Paul doing in verses 16-22?  Make a list of the actions of God described by Paul in this passage.
  • What is Paul attempting to communicate in verses 23-37?  How does Paul describe Jesus in this passage?  (Be specific.)
  • What response does Paul call his hearers to in verses 38-41?
  • How do the people respond to Paul’s message in verses 42-52?
  • How do Paul and Barnabas respond to rejection?
  • How can we apply the principles seen in this passage to our evangelistic efforts? To answer this question, it might be helpful to answer the following questions:
    • What are some wrong understandings of the gospel which are common in the church today?  How does this passage inform our evangelism of those who might hold to wrong understandings of the gospel within the church?
    • How does Paul use Scripture to share the gospel in this passage?  When might this be appropriate in our evangelism?  Is this always appropriate?  Why or why not?
    • What responses can we expect when we share the gospel with others?  How should we respond to rejection in our evangelism?

 

Read Full Post »

The following is a sermon preached at First Baptist Church of Pine on October 11, 2009.

Have you ever asked the question, “Why would God save me?” When I look at myself and remember my sin… not just my past sin, mind you, but the sin which I still struggle with day in and day out… then I can’t help but ask this question, “Why me?”

I know the biblical and theological answers to this question.  Because God loved me.  Because He chose to bring glory to Himself by saving one who is not so wise… not so noble… not so mighty.  He chose to use people like me… who are nothing… to shame that which is something (I Cor 1:26-29.)  But still… in many ways it seems that I was a pretty unlikely candidate for salvation.

Do you know what I mean?  Do you ever feel this way?

I have spent a good deal of time in pastoral counseling with people who feel exactly the same way.  Time and again, I have encountered people who feel that their sin is somehow too great.  That their sin is so heinous… so final… that it excludes them from ever being saved.

Then I think about how God called me into pastoral ministry.  I certainly couldn’t think of a more unlikely person for pastoral ministry than myself.  If you had known me years ago… then you would understand what I mean.

Do you ever feel this way?  Like God could never use you to accomplish His purposes? Maybe God hasn’t called you into full-time vocational ministry… but, if you are a Christian here today… then God has called you into full-time ministry.  Our lives are to be lived wholly for Him… for His honor and glory… in service to Him in large part by serving others.

Do you ever feel like you are an unlikely candidate for His service?  Like someone else could do it better than you?

Sometimes we take these same ideas and feelings and project them onto other people as well.  I don’t want a show of hands or anything, but have you ever known someone who, for whatever reason, you just thought they would never be saved? That they are simply too far gone… too sinful… too removed from God to ever be converted?

If God could save unlikely people like us… through the ministry of unlikely people like us… then can’t we expect God to save those that we deem unlikely in our day to day lives?

We see a powerful example of this in our passage today.  Turn with me if you will to Acts 8, beginning in verse 26, and together let us see an example from Scripture of two unlikely men… one an unlikely evangelist in an unlikely setting… and one an unlikely candidate for Christianity.  And let us see how God brings about one unlikely salvation through these two unlikely men.

Acts 8:26-28 (ESV)26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Our text begins with a man named Philip.  He was an unusual man in many ways.  He was a leader in the early church.  A man committed to service in his local church.  A man described as being “full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:3).  He was a man uniquely gifted by God to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  In fact, after persecution fell upon the early church, this man was part of those who scattered, taking the gospel with them wherever they went.  Philip went to Samaria and began preaching the gospel and a multitude of people came to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is where our text picks up today.  Philip is in the midst of a ministering in Samaria.  Many, many people are being saved.  When suddenly he receives a message from an angel of the Lord, who gives him a very explicit command, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

There is something important for us to note right off the bat here.  This entire event is all pre-arranged by God.  God has definite expectations for Philip here.  Nothing is left to chance.  God is explicitly telling Philip what he must do.  God has a plan… and Philip has a role to play in that plan.

Now take a moment and remember what is going on in Philip’s life.  As I just said, he is in the midst of a very successful ministry endeavor in Samaria.  God is at work here in Samaria and most of this ministry is centered around Philip.  Something amazing is at work here.  Ministry is booming in Samaria.  People are being saved.  There are new Christians who need to be discipled.  If you are familiar with the events surrounding this text, then you will remember that there are false teachers and heretics like Simon Magus lurking around, waiting to lure people astray.  Someone needs to shepherd this new flock to insure that they don’t fall away into error… don’t they?

There is a lot going on in Samaria.  God-honoring ministry is happening all around Philip.  But God explicitly tells Philip here to leave.  Leave this ministry behind and go to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza.  This was not exactly a “hot-spot” of activity.  We are told in a parenthetical statement here that this is a desert road.  This is the middle of nowhere.

From a human perspective… this command doesn’t make any sense.  God is reaching multitudes of people through Philip in Samaria… but now He wants Philip to go out into the wilderness.  And the angel doesn’t even tell him why.  He just says, “Go.”

And what does Philip do?  “ He got up and went.”  God commanded… and Philip obeyed.

Does this describe our obedience of God?  I don’t know about you… but I like to know why God wants me to do something.  I want to see the big picture.  I want to have all the answers.  I want to be able to decide for myself what I should or should not do.

Philip doesn’t see the big picture.  God doesn’t tell him why he is being called out to the middle of nowhere.  He doesn’t know what will transpire when he gets there.  And… from our finite perspective… what he is being called to do now doesn’t seem as important as what he was doing in Samaria.

But God’s ways are higher than our ways… His will is perfect… and our’s is always tainted by sin. His will is the one we should be obeying…

Given the success of Philip’s ministry in Samaria, it seems unlikely that he would be called away by God to a different ministry setting.  But that is exactly what is doing here.  And I find it remarkable that God is calling Philip away from the multitudes in order to reach one very unlikely man.

What does this tell us? God is not only concerned about the multitude… but He is also concerned about the individual.

Do you remember Jesus telling the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in safety to go out in search of the 1 lost sheep in the wilderness (Luke 15)? That same principle is at work here.  God is taking Philip away from the 99 to seek out one lost sheep…)

Enter the second unlikely man… an Ethiopian man.  When we think of Ethiopia today… we generally think of starving children… but it was not so in the 1st century.  Ethiopia was a powerful kingdom in Africa… just south of Egypt.  It had been a powerful kingdom for several hundred years at this point… and it would continue to be a powerful and wealthy kingdom until the 4th century AD.  This man came from a mighty nation…

And he was a mighty man within that mighty nation.  He was a court official of the queen of Ethiopia…in charge of all her treasury.  He was kind of like the chief financial officer for the entire kingdom.

He was a powerful and rich man.  His wealth is seen in the fact that he is in possession of at least a portion of a copy of the Isaiah scroll.  That would have been no small purchase in those days… there weren’t that many copies of the scroll lying around… and to be able to buy his own copy implies that he was a man of some wealth.

But despite his secular wealth and power, this foreigner was a man seeking God.  We are told that he came to Jerusalem to worship God.  I want us to think about this for a moment and unpack this a little…

First… this man traveled a long distance in order to worship GodWell over 200 miles through desert… without air conditioning (Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary.)  This would have been a five-month journey by chariot.  What would motivate this man to travel that far?  It had to be more than curiosity.  He must have had a sincere yearning for God.  So he makes the trek… hundreds of miles… in order to worship God.

What would he have found when he reached Jerusalem?  What would his worship of God been like in Jerusalem?

Remember… he is an Ethiopian… not a Jew.  That means that at the most he would have been allowed to enter into the Court of the Gentiles in the temple.  Do you remember what took place there?  That was the marketplace… that is where the money changers set up shop.  Sacrificial animals were bought and sold.  It was not very worshipful.  Remember… Jesus had been so incensed by the activities in the Court of the Gentiles that He had driven the money changers out of the temple (Lk 19:45-48.)

Do you think this man could have found what he was looking for there?

But let’s unpack this just a little bit more… this man was a eunuch.  I read more than I cared to about eunuch’s this week… and I am not going to go into all the gory details with you… suffice it to say that most scholars believe that he was a totally emasculated male (Bock, Acts, 342, also Witherington, 296.)  This would have impacted him even further in the worship of God.

Deuteronomy 23:1 (ESV) – 1 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 23:1 tells us that no eunuch shall enter the assembly of the LORD.  This meant that a eunuch could not enter into the temple whatsoever.  In fact… it means even more than that.  “The assembly of the LORD” are the people of God.  They are those who are in covenant with God.  They… and they alone… have a relationship with God and enjoy fellowship with him.

A eunuch was denied entrance to the assembly of the LORD.  Therefore…he could not be part of the people of God.  He could not enjoy fellowship with God.  He could not even adequately worship God.  He was excluded from God completely…

Why?  Why would God exclude eunuchs from having a relationship with Him?

The original command is pretty clear that is not intended to hinder people who had some form of natural physical deformity.  This was intended to keep out those who had voluntarily become eunuchs as part of a pagan religious ritual.  This was pretty typical in the ancient world.  In much the same way that circumcision among the Jews was a sign of being set apart to God… becoming a eunuch was a sign of being set apart… usually to a pagan deity… and often for pagan service (Kalland, Expositors Commentary, Deut 23:1, also Deere, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Deut 23:1.)

Why would someone do this?  Often eunuchs were granted positions of great authority and respect among the Ancient Near Eastern people.

So… when we realize the background behind why a person became eunuch… then we begin to gain a greater understanding as to why God would forbid them from being one of His people.  Because, in a very real sense, they were set apart to a false god.

Now… what this means is that… no matter how far he had traveled… no matter how rich and powerful he was… no matter zealous he was to know and worship God… this man would not have been allowed to enter into the temple whatsoever.  He is what was typically called a “Proselyte of the Gate”… one who couldn’t even come into the Court of the Gentiles.  He might have been welcome in a Greek speaking synagogue, but that was it (MacArthur, Acts 8:26-30.)  All he could do is to stand outside and look in at those who worshipped God.  He would be forbidden to worship God himself…

There are consequences for sin.  Scripture is clear… God is not mocked… whatever a man sows… that will he also reap (Gal 6:7.)  This man’s sinful decisions had enduring effects.  They hindered him from coming into fellowship with God and His people.

Every one of us… without exception… is naturally separated from God by our sin.  We are all guilty of sin… naturally we all stand condemned before God.  If we break God’s Law in one point… we are guilty of breaking the whole law (James 2:10.)

But let’s be practical here.  Some sin has farther reaching consequences than others.  All sin leaves us guilty before God and separated from Him… but some sin brings greater shame and stigma and suffering in the here and now.

That is what this eunuch discovered in Jerusalem. Some sin has farther reaching effects than others.  This man was barred from even coming into the temple because of his sin…

Imagine his shame… You don’t come hundreds of miles to worship a God you don’t know anything about.  He came to Jerusalem for a reason…but the shame of his sin kept him from enjoying fellowship with God.

And yet in the Old Testament… through the prophet Isaiah… God promised a time to come in the future when even eunuchs would be allowed to enter into fellowship with Him…

Isaiah 56:3-8 (ESV) – 3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

This promise applies specifically to this man.  It is a promise that God will receive foreigners… Gentiles… into fellowship with Him.  It promises that God will pour immense blessing down upon those who were cut off from Him… even those who were cut off because of idolatrous sin.

And then God begins to talk about the blessing which He holds in store for the eunuch.  In the Ancient Near East… and among the Jews in particular… having children brought great honor to a person.  The more children one had… the greater their honor.

Obviously… the eunuch had no hope of having any children.  He was… a dry tree… unable to bring forth any fruit… unable to achieve any honor for himself.

But here God promises blessing and honor to the eunuch who keeps His Sabbath.  In other words… there is blessing and honor for the eunuch who remembers what God has done.  God promises blessing and honor to the eunuch who chooses what pleases Him.  I think this is another way of speaking of repentance. There is blessing and honor for the eunuch who turns from sin and seeks to do God’s will. Furthermore, God promises blessing and honor to the eunuch who holds fast God’s covenant.  In other words, there is blessing and honor for the eunuch who trusts in the promises which God has made.  In other words, to this man… despite the fact that he was a eunuch… God promised access and fellowship to Him and an everlasting memorial better than sons and daughters “in His house and within His walls.”  This is a promise of eternal life and blessing in the presence of God (Keil and Delitzsh, Isaiah 56:4-5.)

Was the Ethiopian Eunuch aware of this promise?

I tend to think so… because in a few verses we will see that he is reading from Isaiah  53… only three chapters before this promise…therefore these two passages would have been contained on the same scroll.

It would also explain why… of all the possible Old Testament scrolls he could have purchased… why this one?  Perhaps because it is the only passage in all of the Bible which speaks explicitly of the restoration of eunuchs?

Either way… despite a no doubt disappointing visit to Jerusalem… he is returning home to Ethiopia…but he is still seeking God.  After all… what is he doing?  As he travels home, he is reading aloud from the Isaiah scroll which he has in his possession

(Transition: Now don’t forget about Philip.  Here we have two unlikely men.  One… an unlikely evangelist standing around… waiting in the midst of the desert.  One… an unlikely sinner… previously set apart to false gods… with little or no hope of reconciliation with God.  Here we have two unlikely men who… in the providence of God… are going to have a very unlikely meeting…)

Acts 8:29-35 (ESV) – 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

We have no way of knowing how long Philip stood there in the wilderness… just waiting… not really knowing why God had sent him there.  But now his waiting is over.

The Spirit of the Lord commands Philip to go up and make contact with this chariot.  “To join” it… κολλάω … literally “to cling” to it or “be glued” to it.  It is as if He is staying, “Don’t let this one go, Philip…”

Again… he obeys without hesitation.  He runs and catches up to the chariot… and hearing the eunuch reading out loud from Isaiah… he asks him an important question…

Do you understand what you are reading?”

To which he responds, “How can I unless someone guides me?”

Notice the importance placed on understanding here.  Philip hears this man reading the Word of God… but he knows that means nothing if he doesn’t understand what he is reading.

This is something we shouldn’t pass over too quickly.  This is a reminder for all of us that it is possible to hear the Word of God…or go to church… or sing songs… or be involved in any number of religious activities… but if a person doesn’t understand what they are reading and hearing and doing… then it is all in vain.

As Christians, each and every one of us are called to “testify” of Jesus.  To “witness” of Him.  We are called to do our part to bring understanding to others about who Jesus is and what He has done.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that everyone knows and understands the message of the gospel.  They don’t.  Not only is the message of the gospel foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor 1:18), but they often don’t even have the facts straight.

We live in a culture today which is becoming more and more biblically illiterate all the time.

1)      They don’t understand who God is…

2)      They don’t understand what sin is…

3)      They don’t know who Jesus is or what He has done…

4)      They don’t understand what is required of a person if they are to be saved from the wrath of God…

Fewer and fewer people all the time understand what they read and hear in the Bible… someone needs to guide them… and that someone should be us… no matter how unlikely a teacher we may think we are.

In many ways… Philip has his work cut out for him here.  God is at work here.  He has given this Ethiopian eunuch a desire to know Him.  He has brought him to Jerusalem and placed in his hands a copy of the Isaiah scroll.  God has directed this man to one of the high points of the Old Testament… Isaiah 53… and this is what he was reading…

Acts 8:32-33 (ESV) – 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

This passage speaks of an innocent Man willingly offering Himself as a sacrifice for others.  As He is humiliated and injustice is done to Him… He doesn’t open His mouth. He is silent… for He has come to offer Himself on behalf of others.  He has come to endure humiliation and suffering on behalf of others.

The eunuch seems to get this.  His question is, “Who is He?”  Who is the prophet speaking of?  Himself?  Or someone else?

Why would he be so concerned about the identity of this Suffering Servant?  Why would he really care?

Will you indulge me in just a little bit of speculation for a moment?

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to think this man had read the blessings promised by God to eunuchs in Isaiah 56.  If so… then in the context of Isaiah… the blessings of Isaiah 56 flow out of the actions of this Suffering Servant here in Isaiah 53In other words… it is possible for the eunuch to enter into the presence of God and be blessed within the walls of God’s house forever because of what this man has done.

Surely he would want to know who He is!

Acts 8:35 (ESV) – 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

This wouldn’t have been hard to do.  Jesus is the Son of God… but also the Son of Man.  Fully God and fully man.  He came bear our griefs and sorrows… our sin and shame upon His own body.  He was pierced through for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  The punishment we deserve for our sin fell upon Him.  By His stripes… through His death… we are healed (Isaiah 53:5-6.)  He suffered for our idolatry.  He died for the ways in which we have cut ourselves off from God.  He died so that we might live in perfect fellowship with God forever.  He perished so that we might be saved and be part of God’s people for all eternity.

That is the gospel.  That is the good news.  And this is the message which Philip preached to him… beginning right where he found him.

Can you think of two more unlikely people… meeting in a more unlikely place… resulting in a more unlikely salvation???

This should be the model for our personal evangelism as well.  Wherever we are in life.  In the midst of the multitude… or alone in the midst of the desert… when God sovereignly brings those who do not know Christ across our path… then this is what we are to do.  Start wherever they are… and tell them the good news about Jesus.  No matter who we are… no matter who they are.  Our job is to explain to them with as much clarity as we can who Jesus is and what He has done.  And we are to do this no matter how unlikely an evangelist we might be.  And we are to do this no matter unlikely this person is to be saved.

This is what Philip did… and the results were that God saved this Ethiopian eunuch.  We know this because the next thing we are told is that… as they traveled… they came upon water.  Notice what the eunuch asks… “What prevents me from being baptized?

Think through what he is saying here.  The fact that he was an Ethiopian had hindered him in having fellowship with God.  The fact that he was a eunuch had completely excluded him from both fellowship with God and His people.

Baptism is a picture of our belonging to Jesus.  It is a symbol that we have placed our faith in Jesus and we are united with Him.  We have died with Him and risen to new life in Him.  Our sins have been washed away because of what He has done for us.  Baptism is a symbol that we are part of His people, because of what Jesus has done for us.

The eunuch wants to know if he can be part of the people of God.  “What prevents me from being baptized?”  And the answer is, “Nothing!”  Jesus has suffered and died for his sin… and has opened the door so that this man… who was once far off… can be brought near by the blood of Jesus (Eph 2:13.)  He now has a memorial within God’s house… an everlasting future in the presence of God which will never cease.

What hinders him now from full participation in fellowship with God?

Nothing…

Verse 37 is not contained in the best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  In fact… it doesn’t occur in a single Greek manuscript until the 6th century AD.  So it is highly doubtful that it is part of the inspired text.

But there is little doubt that Philip would have said something similar to this.

Acts 8:37 (NASB95) – 37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”]

Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?  Do you believe that He died for your sins?  Do you believe He was buried and rose again?  Then there is nothing which need hinder you from full fellowship with God in Christ for all eternity.  All that is necessary is for you to know what Jesus has done for you and to turn from your sin and trust in Him.  It doesn’t matter who you are… or what you have done… there is a place of everlasting blessing for you in the presence of God if you will only repent and believe in Jesus.

Philip was convinced that this was the case here with this Ethiopian eunuch… so they stopped the chariot… together they went down into the water… and he was baptized.

The text tells us that as they came out of the water…the Spirit of God snatched up Philip and transported him 20 miles away… where he was found in the city of Azotus.  What happened here?  We don’t know for sure.  We don’t know if he was carried off in a chariot of fire like Elijah (II Kg 2:11) or if he was beamed out by God like in Star Trek.  We don’t know.  All we know is God sent this unlikely evangelist there for a purpose… that purpose was now complete… and God miraculously moved him elsewhere.

When he was found in Azotus… he continued preaching the gospel as he traveled up the coast to where he came to reside in Caesarea.

But what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch? We don’t know for sure.  Early church history says he returned to Ethiopia as a missionary and brought the gospel of Jesus to many in his native land (Longenecker, Expositors, 366.)  We don’t know for sure…

But we know he went on his way rejoicing.  He had once been separated from God by His sin and shame… but now He was brought near… and welcomed into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I really only have two things that I want you to remember:

1) God specializes in using unlikely servants in unlikely ways and unlikely places to accomplish unlikely salvations.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what our strengths and weaknesses are… if we are a Christian, then we have a responsibility to be obedient to God’s command on our lives and to share the good news of Jesus with those around us.  Often we may find ourselves in strange places.  We may find ourselves presented with strange people to share the gospel with.  We probably won’t understand exactly what God is doing or why He is doing it the way that He is.  But our job is to tell others about Jesus.  God specializes in using unlikely servants in unlikely ways and unlikely places to accomplish unlikely salvations.

2)      God specializes in saving the unlikely sinner.

Whether it is the Ethiopian eunuch… the tax-collector Zaccheus… the immoral Samaritan woman at the well… the murderous Apostle Paul… or you and me.  No one is beyond the grace of God.

We need to remember this when we encounter people in our day to day life.  No matter who they are or what they have done… no one is beyond salvation.  Don’t let our evaluation of someone determine whether or not we share the gospel with them.  God specializes in saving the unlikely sinner.

Read Full Post »

The following is the sermon preached on Sunday morning at Sunnyside Baptist Church on July 13, 2008.

What does a true church look like?

We all recognize that there are true churches and false churches.  What does a true church look like?  What are the marks of a true church?

A church is a community of people who are united around a common system of beliefs.  And yet, just because people gather around common beliefs, doesn’t mean that they are a true church.  It is possible to gather around the wrong beliefs… and it is possible to gather in the wrong way.

We don’t like to hear this, especially in our pluralistic, postmodern culture where we like to think that truth is relative.  We like to think that we can define the church for ourselves.  But we can’t.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  Jesus Christ is the Builder of His church and He builds it upon the proclamation of the good news that He is the only begotten Son of God, who has loved us with an everlasting love and He willingly died upon the cross for our sin and rose again the third day, so that we might have eternal life in Him.

This is the belief around which a true church gathers… but what does a true church look like? What does a true church gather to do?  What does Jesus expect of the church which He is building?

In Acts 2:42-47… we have a description of what a true church looks like.  What we have here is a clear picture of the birthmarks of a church which Jesus Christ is building.

Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) – 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Who is the “they” spoken of here?  If we go back a verse (v. 41) we see that it refers to the 3,000 souls who were saved after Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost.  “They” refers to the first New Testament church born as a result of the preaching of the gospel.

So what were their birthmarks?

First, we see that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching… literally to the apostles’ “doctrine” (διδαχή)… to a body of knowledge which was being proclaimed by the apostles.

What was this doctrine which the apostles were teaching?  We can be pretty sure that this consisted of about three things…

1)      The teachings of Jesus. 

Remember the New Testament wasn’t written yet.  They couldn’t pick up their Bibles and read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  How would people know what Jesus taught during His earthly ministry if His prize pupils… the apostles… didn’t teach others?

2)      Secondly… it consisted of who Jesus is and what He had done. 

They announced that He is the Christ… the Messiah… the King of kings and Lord of lords… and that He is the Son of the living God… very God of very God… everything that God is in human flesh.  They announced that the only begotten Son of God died on the cross for our sins… and rose again the third day according to the Old Testament Scriptures (I Cor 15:3-4.)  They called men and women to repent and trust in Jesus alone to save them from the judgment to come (Acts 2:38.)

3)      Finally, they preached from the Old Testament, but with a distinct focus upon Jesus as He is found in the Old Testament.

If you read through the sermons in the book of Acts, you see very quickly how the apostles interpreted everything in the Old Testament in light of Jesus.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  He is the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament.  All of the Old Testament points to Jesus… and they made this clear over and over again in their preaching.

So what is the “apostles’ teaching”?  It is the Word of God with a definite emphasis on person, work and teaching of Jesus.

The second birth mark we see here is that they devoted themselves to “the fellowship.”  The Greek word for “fellowship” is κοινωνία and it means have a close association with others. It speaks of being joined around common interests.  It means to live life with others in close, personal relationships.

Notice that it is “the” fellowship.  There is a definite article in the Greek.  This tells us that they were devoted to a specific kind of fellowship.

What comes to mind when we talk about fellowship?  Typically we think of potlucks or sipping coffee and eating donuts and talking about sports or the weather.  After all… isn’t that what we do in our “fellowship halls”?

The fellowship described here is more than that.  It is a specific kind of fellowship, consisting of much more than a cup of a coffee and some light conversation.  What was this fellowship like?  Luke… the author of Acts… tells us here in this verse.

Notice how there is no conjunction (“and”) between the word “fellowship” and “the breaking of bread.”  This is important in Greek, because it tells us that everything which follows is descriptive of the noun before it.  In plain English, what this tells us is that the fellowship in which these early Christians engaged was made up of “the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Most scholars believe that “the breaking of bread” in this verse refers to the Lord’s Supper (again… note the definite article… literally it was “the breaking of the bread”).  The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us.  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are remembering together that Jesus’ body was broken for us and that His blood was spilled out so that our sins might be forgiven.  When we take the bread and the cup to ourselves, we are remembering that we are trusting in Him alone to save us.

This is important to note, because it tells us that their fellowship was so much more than just sipping coffee and talking about the weather.  Their fellowship was grounded in the gospel.  Their fellowship… their sharing of life together… was based upon the work of Jesus.  They remembered Him together and this drew them closer to one another.

But this isn’t all.  Their fellowship was also centered around “the prayers.  This probably refers to specific times of corporate prayer.  Again… notice that their fellowship was more than a potluck.  It was spending time together seeking God in prayer.  Their fellowship together was centered in Jesus and in seeking God together.

Notice that they “devoted themselves” to this.  The word for devoted (προσκαρτερέω) implies continual endurance and effort.  In other words… they worked hard at this.  They made the hearing of God’s Word and biblical fellowship a priority.  It wasn’t always easy for them, but they made the necessary sacrifices in order to make this a reality.

Does this describe us? 

1)      Are we a people who continually devote ourselves to the hearing of the Word of God?  Is the study of God’s Word together important to us?  Are we willing to make sacrifices in order to insure that we are able to gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow in our understanding of God’s Word? 

2)      Are we committed to remembering the gospel in our times of fellowship together?  Do we remind one another of who Jesus is and what He has done for us? 

3)      Do we pray together?  There is an incredible bonding which takes place when we pray with other people.  Who do you pray with? 

These early Christians were united in being the people of God… and God was doing great things in their midst.  Signs and wonders were being performed through the apostles for everyone to see and “awe”… literally “fear”… fell over every soul.  This tells us that people outside the church saw what was going on.  Unbelievers were aware of this amazing work which God was doing and they grew in their respect for God because of the work which He was doing through His people.

We may not see the lame healed and the dead rise again today like they did in the days of the apostles, but the presence and power of God in our midst should still be visible to all.  Don’t limit your understanding of the miraculous work of God to simply healing and supernatural phenomena.  When God transforms sinful human beings into His people… this is a miracle.  It is a miracle when Jesus Christ is actively building a church amidst His people.  And when He is active in our midst, the world will see and be in awe of our God.

This is particularly true of the love which God produces in His people for one another and we see that clearly in the next couple of verses.

All who believed were together.  They were a close-knit community.  They were united in this fellowship which God was producing in their midst.

We see this down in verse 46 as well…“Breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”  This speaks of what we would commonly call the “potluck.”  This isn’t so much a celebration of the Lord’s Supper as it is spending time together… eating meals together… living life together.

These early Christians lived life together in almost a family-like structure and this is seen in the fact that “they had all things in common.”  Now… this was not an early form of socialism.  This basically tells us that they didn’t overly value their stuff.  The word translated “common” (κοινός) basically means something that is not sacred.  Their stuff was just that… stuff.  They didn’t consider it to be all that important to them.  They could use it or let it go… it didn’t matter to them.  In fact, they did let it go when there were people in need among them.  As needs arose they sold their possessions and belongings in order to provide for others.  This included the selling of property (compare to Acts 4:34-37) makes clear.

Think about this for a moment.  How many of us would be willing to sell off some of our prize possessions in order to help those who are less fortunate in our midst?  I don’t know about you, but that would be hard for me.  Why?  Because my stuff is too important to me.  It isn’t common to me. 

This may be hard… but isn’t this what Jesus commands of us?

John 13:34-35 (ESV) – 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  How has He loved us?  To what extent has He loved us?  He loved us enough to give His life for us… to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sin.  He gave His all for us.  We are to love one another enough to sacrifice on behalf of one another.

When we do so, Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples…  The world will know that we are with Jesus by the way we love one another.

No wonder people outside the church were in awe when they saw these Christians.  Not only was God powerfully working miracles through the apostles, but God was working a miracle inside the church, causing them to love one another in this way. 

The people saw this and, as verse 47 tell us, they were “having favor with all the people.”  People respected them, in large part because of the way in which they cared for one another.

Does this describe us?

                                                            1)      Do we love one another enough to sacrifice on behalf of each other?

                                                            2)      Do we consider each other more important than ourselves?

                                                            3)      No church is perfect… but are we growing in this?

                                                            4)      Do we love one another more today than we did yesterday?

The church which Jesus Christ builds is committed to the study of His Word and those within it are committed to one another in love and fellowship, but they are also committed to the worship of God. 

And day by day, attending the temple together…praising God…”  Day by day… every day… they were together in the temple praising God.  Worship was a part of their daily life.  Not just private worship, but corporate worship.  They were “together” in the temple.  They were united in their commitment to worshipping God together.  In fact, the verb here in the Greek is the same as the one in verse 42 translated “devoted themselves.”  They made the necessary sacrifices to be continually devoted to worshipping God together.

Also notice that this worship was done in public.  They were praising God in the temple, before the watching eyes of all the people, including those who had murdered the Lord Jesus.  They were not ashamed of Jesus.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Together they celebrated Him so that all the world could see Him as He truly is.

Are we a people committed to the worship of God?  Not just personally… but corporately as well?  Not just privately… but before the watching eyes of the world?

As people see us and the work which God is doing in us and as they hear us praising the Lord Jesus Christ, God will do His work in saving some. That is exactly what happened here…“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  Day by day… every day… people were being saved. 

This was a witnessing church.  They were committed to evangelism.  And their evangelism was not in vain.  Not because there was anything special in the way they presented the gospel.  Notice that we are not told specifically how they shared the gospel.  They simply lived out their faith… growing in their knowledge of the gospel… loving one another… and praising God before the eyes of the world…and the Lord Jesus Christ added people to their midst every day.

Jesus said, “I will build My Church… and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18.)

So what are the birthmarks of the church which He builds?  Although there are different ways to classify these… I tend to see four distinct birthmarks of a healthy church here…

1)      They were a learning church.  They devoted themselves constantly to the hearing and study of God’s Word.

2)      They were a loving church.  They lived life together.  They loved one another and sacrificed on behalf of one another.  Why?  Because their fellowship was not grounded in the things of this world… but in the work which Jesus Christ had done for them.

3)      They were a worshipping church.  They were continually devoting themselves to praising the God of all grace who had given them everything.

4)      They were an evangelistic church.  They were committed to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world… and God blessed them with numerical growth to a supernatural degree… “the Lord added to the number day by day those who were being saved.”

Are you a Christian here today?  Have you trusted in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin?  Are you part of His church?  Then these birthmarks should be evident in your life as well as the life of your local church.

I would challenge you to examine yourself in light of this…

1)      Am I committed the hearing and study of God’s Word?

2)      Am I committed to fellowship with other Christians?  Not just engaging in small talk after the service, but am I committed to speaking the gospel into the lives of my fellow Christians?

3)      Am I committed to praying with other Christians here in this body of believers?

4)      Am I loving toward my brothers and sisters in Christ?  Do their needs come before my own?

5)      Am I committed to engaging with God in worship alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ?

6)      Am I committed to sharing the gospel with others?

7)      Am I praying that Jesus will build His church here day by day as we imperfectly live out the Christian life together?

If we are honest… we all fall short of God’s expectations for us.  The correct response to this is repentance of the ways in which we fall short and faith that Jesus Christ will complete the work which He has begun in us.  Praise God that Jesus has died for all our sins!  Praise God that He is not done with us yet!

These are the birthmarks of the church… may they be clearly seen in all of us and may Jesus Christ build His Church in our midst!

 

Read Full Post »