What about the Change?

You can watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Mark introduced us to Ananias. The Lord told Ananias to get ready to receive a new Christian named Saul. Ananias protested reminding the Lord that Saul was a known persecutor of the church. God told Ananias that Saul was a chosen instrument and that He needed to show Saul how much he was to suffer for the name of Jesus. This morning, we’ll see how Ananias responds to God’s command.

I encourage you to read Acts 9:17-22.

The first thing we see is that Ananias does as instructed. Notice that Ananias does not offer alternative plans. He doesn’t bargain with the Lord. He doesn’t spend time in prayer, or speak with his friends, or fast, or put a poll on Facebook. We have so many examples in Scripture where people immediately obey what the Lord has told them to do so why do we find it so difficult to be obedient? Do we really comprehend Jeremiah’s words in Jer. 29:11 when God says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Sometimes we’re expected to do things that don’t make sense to us, things that cannot be explained; things where we must exercise faith. Don’t be scared of God’s will.

Put yourself in Ananias’s position. He’s told in a vision to make nice with a guy that has been persecuting the church. Saul’s reputation precedes him. Saul is known throughout the area as a guy that is on the offensive against the church. It’s not that he’s saying mean things – he’s murdering or has his hands in the death and imprisonment of believers. So, for Ananias to put aside what he knows about Saul is pretty significant. Ananias obeyed the Lord even when it made no sense to him. “Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying hands on him says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananias calls him “Brother Saul.” We know from reading the Scripture that Saul was not a biological brother. This is a reference to being related through the blood of Christ so something also happened in Ananias’s heart to greet Saul so warmly. Ananias was given two jobs for this first encounter with the infamous Saul of Tarsus. First, Ananias tells Saul that it’s the Lord Jesus, the same Lord Jesus that he had been persecuting, that sent him to get Saul his sight back. We know from 9:8 that even though Saul could open his eyes, he could not see. Now that’s a scary endeavor. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight.” We don’t know what those scales were or how they worked other than the Lord put them there to help Saul recognize exactly who Jesus was.

Second, Saul, “got up and was baptized.” When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see that baptism is an outward demonstration of a changed heart. We saw it with the Ethiopian eunuch and it’s the pattern that has been established in Acts. Maybe you’re thinking, hold on, what about Simon? Simon was baptized in 8:13, but Peter told him in 8:21 that he has, “no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.” Peter went on to tell Simon that he was, “in the bondage of iniquity.” Instead of repenting as Peter told him to do in 8:22, Simon asked them to pray that he would escape judgment in 8:24. Simon was not a true convert. We know that Saul was a true convert because of what follows. Right after being baptized, Saul, “took food and was strengthened.” He had not eaten for the three days he was without sight.

Here’s some proof of a life transformed. God really can change people. Often in the church, we want to hear stories of how God snatched people out of the gutter, how He redeemed someone from drugs, alcohol, and wild living. It’s a big draw to have someone from the absolute worst of society share how God saved them. Of course, we should all rejoice in being saved from the bondage of sin, but often times, those stories of deliverance from great sin leave people longing for a more “powerful” testimony. I have said it before and I will say it again. God gets more glory from a life of obedience than He does from a life of sin. Let’s take a quick look at something this man we’re looking at wrote. Read what Paul had to say about this in Rom. 6:1-7.

So, let’s take a look at what happened to Saul right after he was made new. Look at the rest of v. 19. “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus.” We’ll see from Acts 22:3 that Saul studied under the Pharisee Gamaliel so he would know the Old Testament. He spent several days with the disciples perhaps receiving some specialized instruction in his new found faith. V. 20 says, “and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” This is vitally important and one of the reasons Saul had been in such opposition to what the apostles were teaching. The apostles were dragged into jail twice for doing what Saul is now doing. Stephen was killed for what Saul is now doing. Saul is proclaiming that Jesus is God which was defined as blasphemy by the religious crowd. This is quite the turnaround from what people knew about Saul. He’s going into the synagogues of Damascus and telling people that Jesus is God. That’s where there are people – remember the synagogue played a key role in the life of a Jew. He went into the synagogue and freaked out the people.

You remember in the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was a miserly man who had disdain for all things good. When wished Merry Christmas by his nephew, Scrooge replied, “Bah, humbug.” Scrooge’s nephew says, “Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure.” Humbug means fraud or hoax so Scrooge was saying Christmas was a hoax. I quote from Dickens’ the words of Scrooge: “What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books, and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Everyone is probably familiar with Scrooge and when the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future visit him, he has a change of heart. A complete turn around and the people are shocked and amazed. This is what I envision to be the response of the people of Damascus. “All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Every single person that heard Saul speak was amazed. Amazed here means so astounded as to be practically overwhelmed. The people knew about Saul; he had a reputation and Christians were probably warned about him. They knew he was a destroyer; they knew he imprisoned believers; they likely knew he was at the stoning of Stephen; they knew he would stop at nothing; they knew he was on his way to Damascus with the authority from the chief priests to haul them off to Jerusalem in chains so for Saul to have a turn around to the extent that he declared that Jesus is the Son of God was nothing short of miraculous. I’m sure the people were skeptical, I’m sure they were guarded, I’m sure they had their doubts just like Ananias did, but one thing is for sure: they were they were completely shocked.

Here’s some more proof. While the people sat around talking about Saul and how incredible the current events were, “Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” There are two really cool things in this verse. First, Saul grew stronger and stronger. How that took place, we can only imagine. Perhaps it was the Lord speaking to him, maybe the disciples shared some things they had picked up the previous few years as they walked with Jesus, maybe Saul saw the confidence people had in Jesus; we just don’t know. Second, he confounded the Jews in Damascus. Confound means confuse, cause astonishment as to bewilder and dismay. The Jews were befuddled. These are still the Jews that rejected Jesus as Messiah. They were confused because Saul was preaching what he had previously condemned as blasphemy. Finally, Saul confounded the Jews because he proved that Jesus is the Christ. Now that’s a pretty huge statement. Saul was able to defend what he now believed. What he previously rejected, he now embraced. What had been defined as blasphemy, now brought hope. What he had attacked, he now articulated. What he had condemned, he now communicated. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Christ is the New Testament designation of the Old Testament Messiah. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God that cleansed humanity from sin. Jesus is the anointed one as prophesied in 1 Sam. 2:10 and Ps. 2:2. Jesus is the mediator, the advocate, the redeemer, the reconciler, the Holy One, the everlasting God, the all knowing God, the all seeing God. He is our strength, our Creator, our comfort, our confidence. He is our banner, our shepherd, our great High Priest, our provider, our healer, our help. As John so beautifully wrote, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Jo. 20:30-31) This is what Saul proved. No refuting, no doubt, no shame. This is Jesus who is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God.

Saul is miraculously saved and the outward demonstration of that transformation is a complete 180. What will happen to him? Will he suffer persecution like the apostles? How much will he suffer? Will the religious crowds seek to silence him? Join us next week at we continue to look at the former Christian killer turned Christian convert.

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The Persecution

Last week, Pastor Zane told us that Stephen was murdered for his faith at the hands of the people, yet he remained full of faith. Christlike to the end, he prayed forgiveness for the actions of the ignorant people. We see one man’s life ending and we were introduced to a young man named Saul whose story was just beginning. This morning, we’ll see what happens when a man full of self-righteousness and misaligned zeal goes on the offensive.

Take a couple of minutes and read Acts 8:1-8.

In Georgia, you can be charged with a crime simply because you knew it was going on. You can ask my buddy, Pastor Zane, for details because that’s what happened when he was convicted. We have Saul being in, “Hearty agreement with putting him to death.” The Council, led by the high priest, found Stephen guilty of the crimes to which he was falsely accused and drove him out of the city where he was stoned to death. While Saul agreed with putting Stephen to death, it had a profound effect on him as we’ll see later in Acts. This martyrdom of Stephen ushered in widespread attacks against Christians living in Jerusalem. “And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” When we read Scripture, we tend to think in periods of time, but all that we have been looking at the last several weeks occurred over a two-day period.

Stephen’s dead body was still warm when Satan went on the offensive against God’s holy plan for humanity. Every believer in Messiah was driven from the place most of them likely had lived their entire lives, and fled to places unfamiliar to them. They literally ran for their lives. Believers were scattered in the regions of Judea and in Samaria. Scattered mean to sow throughout. Now that’s pretty interesting. It’s the same word used when scattering seed. What happens when you scatter seed? It grows. The seed of the gospel left Jerusalem just as Jesus commanded in Matt. 28:19-20. But, the apostles remained in Jerusalem and we’ll see them mentioned again several times in Acts. Stephen is dead and, “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentations over him.” This is not some misplaced parenthetical thought. These men took a real chance burying Stephen. Jewish law prohibited funerals for convicted criminals and Stephen was convicted of blasphemy and speaking against the temple and against the Law. They buried him, cried and wept loudly and beat their breasts.

It goes from bad to worse for believers. Saul, “Began ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravage comes from the same word that is used to describe what lions, and tigers, and bears do to their prey. He was vicious in his attacks against believers. He burst into houses and was an equal opportunity destroyer dragging men and women out. Saul would stop at nothing. How he put them in prison, we don’t know, but remember how many people turned to Christ in the first six chapters. There were thousands in Jerusalem and just because Luke says they were scattered doesn’t mean that everyone got out safely. Imagine sitting down for a meal or to unwind and the door to your house is kicked in and before you can react, a man grabs you and literally drags you out. Don’t think Saul was by himself in this, there had to be others that were working with him to bring such widespread destruction on the church.

The narrative takes a startling turn here. In v. 4, Luke says, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Do not read this verse lightly. Understand what is going on. Family members, loved ones, friends, people they knew had been dragged off to prison or worse, and yet they preached the word. How can these believers, who are suffering such hardship, continue on the mission before them? I think it’s not only a fair question, but a stark contrast to how we react to adversity today. One of the seven men that the apostles chose to relieve them of the responsibility to feed the widows had been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and was stoned to death. These new believers who were forcefully driven from their homes fleeing for their lives went on doing the very thing that got Stephen killed. How can these things be? The only conclusion I can draw is that they truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of old, that Jesus was Emmanuel meaning God with us, that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for sin, that new life is found in Christ, that all hope is found in Christ, that Jesus is the avenue to reconcile a sinful people to a holy and perfect God. It seems to me that they genuinely loved the Lord and that love moved them to action – to tell other people about Jesus. It’s not enough to say you love Jesus. If there is no action, then your love is just words. You love your children? You work a job to support them, to provide a place to live, food on the table, clothes on their back. You scrimp and save to give your kids a chance for a better life than you had. All this is motivated by your love for them. You say you love Jesus, but why don’t you share what Jesus has done for you with people that may not know anything more than we celebrate His birth on December 25th?

These believers are scattered throughout the land and they preached the word. Luke calls out Philip who was one of the seven mentioned in Acts 6:5 as, “Being full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Verse 5 says, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.” Samaria was the region northwest of Jerusalem and that’s where Philip ended up. The them refers to the people in the city. Philip took to heart the message that he heard and saw and wanted to share that with others. So, he begins by, “proclaiming Christ.” The Samaritans were largely considered half breeds by the Jews so they were neither Jew nor Gentile. Samaritan lineage goes back to the northern tribes of Israel when God divided the land to each tribe. The northern tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes were Judah. Israel was taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., but not all the people were taken captive. Those that were still in the land intermarried with the native population and did things that were detestable to God like installing their own version of the high priest to conduct worship in the temples they built in the high places. Idolatry was widespread in Samaria. So, for Philip to begin ministry there is pretty incredible, but it wasn’t the first time a Samaritan would be shown the love of Christ. Remember the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well?

Let’s take a quick look at Jo. 4:5-26. This is the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. V. 20 gives us some insight into the misguided notions the Samaritans have. She tells Jesus that her fathers worshiped on Mt. Gerizim, but the Jews say you have to worship at Jerusalem. Jesus then gives her the bombshell that there is coming a time that worship will not occur at a place. She tells Jesus that her people are looking for Messiah who is called Christ, but she doesn’t know that she is talking to the Messiah until Jesus reveals it. Jesus had to clear up some wrong teaching the woman received at some point. So, we fast forward to a time when all that Jesus said has been fulfilled. Remember that Philip is “proclaiming Christ” and for all the misunderstanding and idolatry in Samaria, the message Philip shared was exactly what was needed in that area. Luke says, “The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed.” The crowds paid attention to Philip and the message that he preached was confirmed by corresponding signs. Demons were cast out, the paralyzed and the lame were healed. Don’t put the cart before the horse here though. The gospel was preached and that’s what the people responded to. Miracles are great and awesome and they can provide a draw to the truth of Jesus, but they do not take the place of genuine faith in Christ. The miracles are not the point of this story – the gospel is the point of the story.

The conclusion: “There was much rejoicing in that city.” The gospel is the great cycle breaker. The unclean are made clean under Christ. The lame are healed under Christ. Half-breeds are adopted by God. People of questionable backgrounds are made new. Racism eliminated; hatred replaced by love. I believe it can still happen today. There was much rejoicing just as was promised in Lk. 2:10 when, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

The good news really is for all people. It seems that the Samaritan people were ready to hear the life changing news of the gospel. Believe it or not, there are still people today that are waiting for the message. Be like Philip. Even in the midst of persecution and suffering, he proclaimed the Christ.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Last week, Pastor Zane went over the characteristics of the early church. We saw some incredible signs and wonders being accomplished through the apostles. The people had such faith that they would carry the sick into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow would pass over them which led to others bringing their sick and afflicted to the apostles so that they could be healed and people flocked to get closer. God was using the apostles to do incredible things, and He wants to use us to transform the world. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people in authority get jealous.

I encourage you to take the time and real our passage for today found in Acts 5:17-32.

We start with a very important word: but. Signs and wonders were taking place by the power of the Holy Spirit through the apostles. Sick people were healed; the afflicted were made unafflicted. The popularity of the apostles was growing and as people heard the message of the Gospel, they responded with decisions to follow Christ. The church was growing to the point that the number of people became multitudes, there were too many to count.

And then we see something that can plague any ministry leader. “The high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealously.” And there it is. Jealousy is not always a bad thing. Divine jealousy is a single-minded pursuit of things that are holy. Ex. 20:5 speaks of God as a jealous God in the exclusivity of our worship. 2 Cor. 11:2 refers to jealousy in the exclusivity of the marriage relationship because you need that to make the marriage permanent. Not jealous because your spouse was talking to someone else or because they have a job. It’s jealousy over the importance of the marriage covenant. In modern English, jealousy is defined as a feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. In this context, jealousy is not good. In fact, I think I’ll paint with a broad brush and say that jealousy in ministry is rarely good. When we start looking at what others are doing for the Kingdom, or how many people they have, or how many salvations they experience, it can lead us to feel inadequate or somehow that we’re missing the mark. I’ve been there and it’s not a good place to visit. Your pastors regularly pray for other churches and pastors in our area. We must be Kingdom minded and not inwardly focused and that takes effort.

The high priest and all his associates were jealous of the apostles because of what was going on. They were filled with or consumed by jealousy. So, the high priest orders the apostles taken into custody and they were physically dragged to jail – again. Remember they were thrown in jail in 4:3. The next day, there was an inquisition as to what and why they were doing the things they were doing. Remember after the last encounter with the Council, they were, “commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18) Don’t forget the important conclusion from that story: the Sanhedrin that Pastor Mike spoke about: the Pharisees and the Sadducees found no fault in them and let them go – they didn’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. We don’t know the exact time frame between that day and the day we’re talking about now, but it couldn’t be long. The Council was jealous of the success experienced by the apostles. Success is very difficult to define, especially in church. I’ve experienced this myself when I was seeking a job in ministry. Search committees wanted measurable means of success that they determined. The Sadducees were envious that people were responding in droves to the truth that the apostles were teaching and demonstrating in their lives and in the lives of countless individuals that responded to the message.

So, into jail they go with the intention of being tried the following day just like in Chapter 4. The Lord had something else in mind. The Spirit of God is moving mightily and things are happening that are inexplicable – they are by definition miracles: people healed, demons cast out, people selling stuff and giving to those in need. These miracles could only be attributed to the power of God. And He shows up again in the form of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord, “Opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” This isn’t just a great escape, this is miraculous! They were let out and were told something very specific: “Tell the whole message of life.” Keep doing what you’ve been doing; tell people about the resurrection, tell people about the transforming power of God, tell people how He dragged you from the miry clay, tell people how you’re a new creation, tell people how you’ve been redeemed, redeemed, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Don’t miss this! The apostles, “entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.” No prayer service, no consideration if they should do it again and risk being thrown in jail again – it’s already happened twice, they simply obeyed. The high priest sent his minions to get the apostles out of jail, but those guys find the apostles gone and the jail locked up tight as a drum with the guards in place totally unaware that the prisoners had been set free. The officers report back to the Council and tell them what they found inside the jail – nothing.

“Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.” They didn’t understand how those guys weren’t still locked up. As they’re scratching their heads, someone comes in and says, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” The Sanhedrin are not the kind of people that take too kindly to having their orders ignored. Back to the temple the captain and his officers go to do over what they did yesterday. Remember the captain is second in line after the high priest and is responsible for what happens in and around the temple. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Something different happens from the previous day, the captain and officers brought them back to the Council, “without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).” Normally, the punishment for disobedience would be stoning and the captain probably wanted to make that happen, but the apostles were so popular that if they were harmed, the captain and his officers feared retribution from the crowd. Remember the Council was filled with jealously over these men of God.

Here comes the stand-off. The stand-off includes one of the most often misquoted and misused phrases in Scripture. The apostles are brought before the Council again to be questioned by the high priest. The high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Remember in Peter’s first and second sermons, he placed responsibility for the death of Jesus on those he is standing in front of. Of course, the Council is responsible for Jesus’ death just as we are in the sense that we needed atonement for our sin. The difference is the Council thought their religiosity would save them. Their message was not received by the people. The message of the apostles was received by many people and the Council sought to shut that down once and for all.

After the high priest’s accusation, Peter and the apostles respond by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” I want to spend some time here to clear up this phrase. I have heard this used as justification for civil disobedience, for not submitting to a husband, for trying to dominate a wife, and for beating children. I’ve heard it used to justify witnessing for Christ on the job and not working. I heard it used as a legalistic proof text for anything and everything church related. What Peter says has nothing to do with any of that. If we are to take 2 Tim. 2:15 to heart, and we should, then we must understand what is happening in the context of the verse you’re looking at. I think we often get interpretation and application mixed up when studying scripture. Just to set the record straight, there are some things in Scripture you can read and understand the meaning in the context in which it was written. But there is great danger in carelessly handling the Word of God. It must be studied with the understanding of the human author, the intended audience, the time in history, the culture at the time, the language, and a host of other important aspects. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, that sounds a lot like work; I thought we’re supposed to sit back and enjoy so great a salvation! Let me put it in perspective. The average American spends just over 8 hours a day at work. That same guy spends almost 9 hours a day in personal care which includes sleeping, 2.5 hours a day in leisure pursuits, and just over an hour eating. The average American spends about 7.5 minutes a day in pursuit of religious activity. Hold on now, I’m not an average American, I am a Christian! How you spend your time reveals your priorities. When Jude says to, “Earnestly contend for the faith” in Jude 3, he means it. I cannot comprehend how people will work so hard at things of this world and casually pursue the things of eternity or perhaps even ignore them all together. If you find yourself without time to study God’s Word, to spend time with God, to pray, to fellowship with believers, to go to church, or to pursue God, you need to reevaluate your time.

“We must obey God rather than men.” Do you think God would tell us to, “Obey your leaders and submit to them,” (Heb. 13:17) yet not really mean it? Do think He would tell us, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God,” (Rom. 13:1) and not really mean every person? If you’re at work and your boss says you cannot witness on the job, consider what he is saying. Are you witnessing when you should be working? Do you have an attitude that you’re going to do whatever you want regardless of the authority? Do you think that God would have you sin no matter what you do? Obey God and sin against the authority. Obey the authority and sin against God. No win situation. If your boss really, really says you cannot mention God or Jesus at all, ever at work, find a different job. There are breaks that legally cannot restrict your conversation, but when your boss expects you to work, then be the very best worker you can be. Be a model employee. If you’re going to use the obey God card, you better know what God says and many, many times, people use that to justify their own desires.

Peter concludes his defense before the Council in vs. 30-32. He reiterates what he said the last time he was before these men. God had given these men the privilege and responsibility to carry the Gospel message to the people. The Council was attempting to stifle the message of hope the apostles carried to the people. What the apostles were doing was not illegal, but teaching about Christ did not line up with the goals of the Council. The message of hope carried people from the burden of religion to the freedom found in Christ.

I do not believe that God will put you in a situation where you must sin to honor Him. Believers absolutely should obey God, but it’s rarely an either-or situation. If you want to use the obedience card, you better play it consistently in every avenue of life. So, what happens next? What will become of the apostles? Will they be able to escape the clutches of the Sanhedrin? We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens to these heroes of the faith.

Sharing is Caring

You can watch and listen to the message here.

Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “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. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 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.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

An Unlikely Leader

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The last time we were in Acts, Pastor Mark walked us through some mountain top experiences. No matter how exciting those breath-taking experiences are, they cannot sustain life. Food and water are found in the valley and that’s where God equips us to live life for Him. This morning, we’ll see one of the disciples take a position that no one would have foreseen.

I hope you’ll take a look at our passage found in Acts 1:15-26.

You’ve heard it said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Simon Peter made a great first impression in Scripture, but we often forget about that and focus on his shortcomings. According to Matt. 4:18 and Mark 1:16, Simon Peter was recruited by Jesus on the shores of the sea of Galilee along with his brother Andrew. Scripture tells us that Jesus told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matt. 4:19-20) Peter made a great first impression of obedience.  he did what Jesus commanded him to do. As we get to know Peter through the gospels, we begin to see him in a different perspective. We saw his faith waiver when he walked on the water toward Jesus in Matt. 14:30. When Jesus told the gathered crowd that the Pharisees were like blind men leading blind men, Peter asked Jesus to explain what that meant. He rejected the idea of Jesus’ atoning death and even tried to rebuke Him in Matt. 16:22 when Jesus responded by saying to him, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23) Peter struggled with forgiveness wanting to limit it to seven times; quite generous when you think about being wronged by the same person. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. And no one will ever forget Peter telling others that he did not know Jesus. We learn that Peter was as human as any of us and we like to remember all his failings, but the Peter we see in Acts is not the same Peter that likely screamed like a little girl when he started sinking in the water.

Then we begin to see the new and improved Peter. “At this time” refers to the times of prayer and waiting that followed Jesus’ ascension to heaven. “Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons).” Peter stood up; he took the lead here. The other 10 disciples would have been there too. These men that walked and talked with Jesus, who saw and experienced things that no one in history has experienced since were all together and Peter is the one that takes the lead. Some people are born to lead and others have leadership thrust upon them. There was no election here, no casting lots, no drawing straws, no jockeying for position. Peter stood up and took charge because that’s the way God wired him. Peter shares what I believe was a very impassioned message that I’m going to highlight.     “Scripture had to be fulfilled.” The Bible is right and it’s always right in every case when taken in context and applied in and with the correct cultural understanding. Either Scripture is correct all the time or it’s not. The benchmark for a true prophet of God is that all his predictions come true; if the predictions or prophecies do not always come true, even one time, then they are not a true prophet of God. Peter uses the past tense in v. 16, “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Peter is referring specifically to Ps. 69:25 which he quotes in v. 20a and even reminds us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter is reminding the people about what happened and we tend to think a lot of time has passed, but look at v. 12. This was right after the ascension.

Peter knew the Scripture and he knew the importance of it. You can say all day long how important Scripture is in general and is to you, but if there is no demonstration of that importance, it’s just words. I know from experience how excited people get about an upcoming Bible study. You will never get all you need in the walk of faith by listening to your pastors or teachers. The mandate in 2 Tim. 2:15 is directed at all believers. Until you get a hold of that, your growth will be limited, at best. In the same breath, Peter gives us some insight into Judas. You’ve heard about the duck test? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. This uses what is known as abductive inference. Since Judas looked and acted like a follower, the most likely conclusion is that he was a follower. There were clues along the way that although he looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, he was a chicken. Just because someone acts like a follower does not make it so. This has and does plague the church even today. People in church walking with believers and acting like believers, but have never made a decision to follow Christ for themselves. I maintain and will maintain for all my days that there is strong evidence in Scripture that does not suggest we become more and more like Christ as live a life of faith, but Scripture demands that we become more and more like Christ as we live our lives in obedience to Him. It’s really hard for us to grasp how Judas walked with Christ and the disciples for those years in public ministry and experienced the wisdom of Christ and observed the miracles of Christ and yet remained lost. Peter even tells us in v. 17 that Judas was counted among those in ministry. Vs. 18-19 provide a parenthetical thought about Judas that Luke gives us as a side note for our understanding. Then we come to the second half of v. 20 which gives us the purpose for Peter standing up. Peter quotes Ps 109:8 giving us the business at hand and says, “Let another man take his office.” “Office” that Peter refers to literally means position as overseer.

Take a look at the qualifications for Judas’ replacement. I guess a good question to ask is why replace Judas at all?        Why not continue with the eleven? These men had demonstrated their faithfulness, they were capable, they were hand-picked by Jesus. There is no biblical requirement to have twelve in this office that Judas vacated. When we get to Acts 12:2 that tells us the Apostle James died and no replacement is mentioned. Perhaps adding a 12th apostle is a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel or to the 12 thrones of Revelation. This we do know: Jesus told the disciples in Matt. 19:28 that they would sit on 12 thrones. Given what we know about Judas, Jesus could not have been thinking that Judas was one of the 12 that would be in heaven. At the very least, and not a bad reason at all, Peter reminds the crowd about what Ps. 109:8 says. Scripture must be fulfilled.

In considering a suitable replacement for Judas, you’d think it wouldn’t be a big deal. Peter was looking for a duck and it really had to be a duck. Peter stands and gives the crowd the first qualification. Judas’ replacement must be a man who witnessed, first-hand, the entire ministry of Jesus. That means he must be faithful. He must have persevered over time. From Jesus’ baptism to His death to His resurrection to His ascension. Peter and the rest of the original 11 most certainly would have known the one that would be recommended. The recommendation was coming from the 120. This was the qualification for the apostleship that we will see throughout the book of Acts, but the office didn’t last forever. The key qualification then is obviously, the one chosen must be an authentic believer; a follower. How do we know? Because faithful people do not quit. There is a demonstration in their life of the power of God over time. I know too many people that are on fire for God for weeks or months. I don’t know a ton of people that are on fire for God for years and decades. I do know lots of people that have attended church for years. This is a wonderful reminder that ministry leaders should be considered and chosen from those people that are already faithful. So, a demonstration of authentic Christ following is the baseline.

The other qualification is that the one chosen must be a witness to the resurrection of Christ. This would be crucial as they went about sharing the good news of Christ. That’s different than what we share about Christ. In speaking to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, Paul reminded them that their faith was built, “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20) Two men were recommended: Joseph and Matthias. Both men qualified, but one only one would be selected. No secret ballots, no show of hands. “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” They prayed. In Lu. 6:12-13, we see Jesus praying before the original 12 were selected. They prayed because God knows the heart of a man. “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Don’t freak out by what looks like the element of chance. God chose who He would choose. In those days, this was the way it worked. As we’ll see next week, the Holy Spirit did not operate ten the way He does now. Matthias is chosen without fanfare, without ceremony, and takes his place among the 12.

We started this morning looking at the first impression we get from Peter. While he had some issues when he was new to the faith, we saw him emerge as a leader of the apostles: Peter – version 2. He shared the importance of Scripture with the 120. He reminded the people about Judas and provides the qualifications for the office of Apostle. Matthias is selected and walks out of the Bible, never to be heard from again. Would there be other apostles in the New Testament? What about people that call themselves apostles today? Stay tuned as we walk through this awesome book.

The Depth of Wickedness in Man

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Last week, we reaffirmed that we are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. We finished last week talking about a contentious woman. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, allow the power of God to transform your life. This morning, we’ll see the depth of depravity that’s present in the wicked.

Take a look at what Solomon says in Pro. 21:10-19. Where does wickedness come from? I think that’s a good place to start. We need to understand the foundation for wickedness that is present in man. People born into this world don’t need to make a conscious effort to do wrong – it comes naturally. We’re born with the sin nature that is passed from father to son from generation to generation. We saw this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Rom. 5:19a that told us, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” Remember, “There is none righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) Sin is the lost person’s master and you have to do what the master says.

Wicked people do wicked things because they have no power to do otherwise. Of course, they can do things that society would call good, but goodness evaluated by a morally bankrupt culture is not the standard. I know that sounds harsh, but we’ve got share the truth of Scripture so people are aware of where they are. Eternity’s too long not to tell the truth. The wickedness is formed in the soul at conception because of Adam’s disobedience. That’s why, “The soul of the wicked desires evil.” Desire can also be translated crave. Evil dominates the thoughts and plans of the wicked. Remember what led to the flood: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Remember the second greatest commandment Jesus referred to in Matt. 22:36-40? He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wicked have no favor for their neighbor.

Let’s do some quick review. V. 11 says, “When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.” It’s the same principle we saw in 19:25. When people see that others are held accountable for their actions, it will deter bad decisions. That’s one of the reasons the news reports sentencing for high profile crimes. Wise people make themselves available to learn and are willing to receive instruction. This leads into the next verse, “The righteous one considers the house of the wicked, turning the wicked to ruin.” Even though there may be short term gain for wickedness, the righteous wants to avoid the pain and suffering that comes with it. The righteous remember Pro. 12:7 where Solomon said, “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” No amount of prosperity or comfort in this world will turn the righteous from following God. I’m sure this next verse has been used to justify all sorts of pseudo outreach programs. “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” This is a verse that speaks to mercy, but it can’t stop there. It’s great to feed people who are hungry and clothe people that are naked, but if that’s where you stop, it’s just a good thing to do. The Gospel must be intentionally woven into that work for it to be a work of God. Our primary goal as a church is to make disciples, but if all we do is feed hungry people, we’ve missed the goal established for us by Jesus Himself. This verse speaks to the cry of the poor being ignored. If we ignore the plight of those in poverty, then our cries will not be heard. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

The next verse is not an endorsement to bribery. A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.” Gifts are often appropriate, especially when given in private. If you make a big show of giving someone a gift, then the emphasis is on the giver instead of the receiver. If a bribe is offered to subvert justice, that is clearly unbiblical and must be avoided. “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.” This make sense, right? If you are righteous, and the only way to be righteous is through the blood of Christ, you want to see justice done. This is the justice dispensed by our government: you want to see right things accomplished and wrong things squashed. So, the next obvious question is, right according to who? We must stick to the unchanging standard of God’s Word. There may be amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but there are none to the Bible.

“A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.” The path of righteousness is a straight and narrow path. Last October, Kari and I were in the mountains of NC and we went hiking. What’s nice about hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway is the hiking trails are marked. If you get off the marked path, chances are good you’ll get lost. If you stay on the path, you won’t get lost. This is the metaphor Solomon is using. If you get off the path of understanding, you’ll end up with the dead because you will be dead. In Matt. 7:13 Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” There are no alternate paths to righteousness. It is only God’s way through Jesus.

“He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” I could spend a whole lot of time here because this is sure a verse for today. The pursuit of pleasure drives many people – even in the church. Solomon is not just talking about pursuing pleasure, but coveting pleasure. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but if that’s your focus, something’s wrong. If you’re looking for the next fun thing, the next thing to entertain you, the next thing to wow you, Solomon says that you will become poor. Solomon also says, “He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” At the risk of being labeled old fashioned, I think this loving wine thing is an epidemic in the church. I know I spent a lot of time on 20:1, but Solomon addresses the topic again. Do you look as forward to getting into God’s Word as you do having that glass of wine? The oil in this verse refers to olive oil. This seems a strange addition to the wine. Wine and oil were common at banquets. Overall Solomon is saying if you pursue pleasure and luxury, you’re going to be poor. Turn over to 2 Tim. 3 and we’ll tie up this thought nicely with Paul’s warning to Timothy. Look at vs. 1-5. Avoid here means keep away from. That’s a pretty stern warning.

“The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous is in the place of the upright.” This is a pretty challenging verse that has to do with justice. The same idea occurs in Pro. 11:8 where it says, “The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.” The wicked are atonement or payment for the righteous, but don’t confuse that with the atonement of Christ that brings redemption to those that believe. In Exodus 12, the Israelites were told to put blood from a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their houses. The Lord said He was coming and when he saw the blood, He would pass over the house and go to the next. The Jews followed the instructions and were spared at the expense of the Egyptians. In that manner, the Egyptians became a ransom, or payment for the righteous. Righteous and upright don’t mean perfect here, but an overall desire to follow after God.

In Joshua 6, God told Joshua to lead Israel into battle against Jericho where the walls came tumbling down. Israel was instructed to take nothing as spoils from the battle: no gold or silver, bronze or iron – those are holy to the Lord. Following the victory at Jericho, Josh. 7:1 tells us, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.” Achan’s sin affected the entire nation of Israel. Their next battle occurred against the much weaker Ai where they were soundly defeated causing Joshua to tear his clothes and go into mourning. God told him to get up and told him what had happened to cause Israel to be defeated. God declared that, “Israel has sinned,” and because of that, “Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” (Josh. 7:11ff) God instructs Joshua to cast lots to find the guilty party and the lot eventually falls to Achan. Joshua confronts Achan who says, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Josh. 7:21) Joshua sends people to Achan’s tent and they find the spoils exactly where Achan said it would be. Achan the wicked, was used as a ransom for Israel, the righteous. Achan was stoned to death and then burned. Everyone else in Israel followed God’s instructions – they had a desire to follow after God. I know that was a somewhat lengthy explanation, but sometimes, you really have to work at understanding the meaning of Scripture.

Let’s get one last one in for today. “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.” This is similar to 21:9 that we looked at last week and Solomon adds vexing here. Vexing means intending to harass and full of disorder or stress. Now, that’s a lovely woman. First, the man is alone on a roof top and now he’s alone in the desert or wilderness. The commonality between the two verses is that it’s better to be alone than deal with an argumentative and unruly wife. I don’t know if that woman from 21:9 found her way to the roof and now the guy has to get away even more or not. It’s better to be exposed to the harshness of the wilderness – the wind, the weather, and the sand than it is to be with that harsh and vexing woman. And before you allow the thought to enter your mind, this is not an endorsement to leave a woman that is constantly arguing and causing stress in your life. The best way to handle a contentious wife is to love her as Christ loved the church.

Another message that covered a lot of ground. We saw where wickedness starts and that’s in the soul of humanity as we are born into sin through one man’s disobedience. Wicked people do wicked things because they don’t know any other way. Righteous people look at pleasing God rather than any short-term gain from wickedness. Don’t shut your ear to the cry of the poor, but make the Gospel an intentional aspect of any acts of mercy you engage in. We looked briefly at gift giving, exercising justice, and staying on the path of righteousness. Don’t love pleasure so much that you forsake God. We looked at the results of Achan’s sin and finished looking at the vexing woman and hopefully we now have a better understanding of the depth of wickedness in man.

God is Always on the Throne

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Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes when you’re the one determining punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith and also suggest you ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback regarding your walk of faith. This morning, we’re going to look at who is ultimately in charge.

Our passage today comes from Pro. 21:1-9. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

throneSo, who’s in charge? That’s a great question that many people ask, particularly in times of national or international crisis. Solomon reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” What’s that really mean? Are we all just puppets in a crazy game controlled by God? The answer lies in the very difficult concept of God’s sovereignty. I really believe that if you take God out of the equation, life would implode. It is God who keeps everything in motion. In Is. 46:10 God said, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”

Ultimately, God’s purpose will always be accomplished. Don’t confuse sovereignty with God’s will. When we consider the model prayer offered by Jesus in Matt. 6, He prayed that God’s, “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is not always accomplished here. One significant example is people dying without receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us that God is, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” So, what can be gained by people dying apart from Christ? I can honestly say I don’t know. God uses everything at His disposal to accomplish His ultimate goals. He often uses you and me to accomplish it. That is the privilege of free will. God wants us to choose to do His will just like you want your kids to choose to do what’s right instead of forcing them to. Sometimes you might use enticements or rewards for your kids to do what you want. You supervisors and managers will sometimes do the same thing – a bonus or time off. But it really does your heart good to see people do what’s right because it’s the right thing and they choose to do what is right. When you consider a higher plain, God will lead and guide people to do what will ultimately accomplish His plan. For us, it’s spending eternity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what lies beyond that and does it really matter?

 We saw God’s way, now look at man’s way. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Back in Pro. 16:2 Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  There’s not much difference in the two verses. Evaluating the motives of people can be very difficult. I confess that I sometimes am not a good discerner of people. I tend to believe what people say at face value, but I do learn to read them. When you consider motives, you can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, and you can do the wrong thing for the right reason. Does that sound like gibberish? Let me give you some examples to help you understand. Here’s the right thing for the wrong reason. You financially support the work of the ministry because you can take a tax deduction. Your kids are good and obedient all day so they gain favor to go out that night. You volunteer to teach a class so everyone sees how smart you are.  What about the wrong thing for the right reason? You steal food to feed your family. You lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings. You withhold the truth from someone so you don’t alienate them. The best and wisest thing to do is the right thing for the right reason. You give to the work of the ministry knowing that ministry costs money and God has blessed you with financial resources. You speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences knowing that truth sets people free. That’s where God wants us. If you’re not sure, pray like David when he said, “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.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

This leads right into the next verse. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.” When I read this verse, I immediately thought about Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam. 15, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint Saul as king of Israel. Samuel gave Saul this command from the Lord: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3) Those instructions are clear. So, Saul got together his troops and went to battle and defeated the Amalekites. The Bible says, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:9) Saul is the king of Israel and blamed the people for his disobedience. The conclusion is found in 1 Sam. 15:22-28 that tells us by one act of disobedience, Saul is stripped of his throne. Obedience is the utmost and highest principle in the Bible. As I often say, everything we do can be placed securely under the umbrella of obedience. Giving, prayer, Bible reading and study, serving God and others, as well as a boatload of other commands and principles in Scripture.

Let’s review some principles already covered. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.” Don’t be proud or your torch will be snuffed out. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” The way to gain advantage in this world is to work hard. The word diligent means careful and conscientious in one’s work. The assumption is that the work is not sinful and the hard work puts you in a favorable position. If you’re hasty: that is, you cut corners, take the easy way instead of the right way – you’ll come to poverty. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Dishonesty and fraud get you nowhere. Cheating is stealing whether it’s knowledge or material goods. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.” This verse is tied to the previous one. Solomon is talking about the violence that the wicked use against others. The violence they engage in will come right back to them. “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.” It’s a contrast between the guilty/wicked and the godly/pure. Evil people do evil things. Righteous people do righteous things. The only power in us to do what is good, right, holy, and pure comes because God has granted us the power of the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of His one and only Son. When we go back to Genesis, we learn that. “The Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” (Gen. 7:1) Noah was righteous and that’s why he was spared.

Let’s spend some time on the next one. Solomon says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” He makes a comparison between two things. Living in a relatively uncomfortable place at peace or living in a comfortable place with an uncomfortable situation. No one lives on a roof, right? In biblical times, the roof of a dwelling was typically flat and often served many purposes. In 1 Sam. 9:25, “Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof.” In 2 Sam. 11:2, David walked around the roof where he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In Ps. 102:7, David was, “like a lonely bird on a housetop.” In Acts 10:9, “Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” The roof was a great location for prayer, meditation, meetings, and was sometimes used as a place to sleep.

It’s better to be on that rooftop than it is with a contentious woman. Just what is a contentious woman? This woman is quarrelsome, prone to argue, disagreeable, and is no fun to be around. What does she argue about? Anything and everything. She fights against everything done. She is desperate to be the boss, to be in charge and to control everything that happens in the home. If the man tries to exercise his authority, she gets all the more contentious. He finds it more comfortable to retreat to the roof. As we have seen, Proverbs is a book of wisdom and perhaps this is the wisest thing for the man to do. Go to the roof where he won’t be tempted to engage in her contentions. Little is accomplished by arguing with someone that will not hear the other side, will not listen to reason, and will not accept what they consider defeat. I can imagine that it’s difficult living with some spouses. I know that some people come from dysfunctional homes where the love of God was not prevalent. I know it may be tough to be at home because of what you have to deal with. Wisdom dictates the best course of action. You still need to be the man that God has called you to be. Have you loved your wife unconditionally? Have you demonstrated it? A dedicated time of earnest prayer away from the fussing and fighting is better to do than quit. Too many people take the easier road and that’s to give up. I’ve heard a ton of reasons why not holding true to the marriage covenant is the only course of action. When you say, “I do,” that’s a very serious commitment that should only be broken by death.

Don’t take the road that Adam took when he blamed Eve. Take responsibility for the relationship as the one that is in authority. And don’t what if: what if she won’t follow? What if she leaves me? I assure you that God understands what you’re going through and He understands the seriousness of the marriage covenant. We just saw in 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When God told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby and she overheard and then laughed, God asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) It really comes down to a matter of trust and no one ever said it was easy, fun, or would change overnight, but don’t exclude the power of God from the equation. Waiting on God to move and work in people’s lives is tough, especially when they’re in your own home or family.

We are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. God’s not wishy washy, so don’t you be either. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. It’s best to be honest always. We closed out with a very difficult relationship. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, I pray that you would allow the power of God to transform your life because He is always on the throne.