“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13
Have you ever been astonished by someone? May be a remarkable person you have met that, at first, you didn’t recognise their talent, then you see their talent and are amazed. Throughout the New Testament, Christians bewildered and challenged those around them. Unfortunately, today Christians are easily ignored. We do not incite anything, perhaps other than apathy. What is the difference between then and now? What was it that made the New Testament Christians so distinctive that people sat up and noticed them?
The Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, observed Peter and John and arrested them after they healed a lame man. Peter takes the opportunity to preach that Jesus is the Saviour, the Messiah, and it is in His name that the man has been healed. The Sanhedrin marvel and are amazed. Peter and John were a great surprise to them. Why?
First of all, for their courage. In the face of being cross-examined by those who had crucified their Master, these two men steadfastly witnessed for Jesus. There is not the slightest sign of Peter backing down. They couldn’t be intimidated or diverted in their testimony for Jesus, even in the face of possible persecution, even in the face of potential death. What amazed the Sanhedrin was Peter and John’s total dedication for the cause of Christ. Jesus had warned of this (Matthew 10:13-36). They are not afraid. Jesus has prepared them for what they now face (John 16:2-4). They have seen the boldness and courage of their Lord as He was persecuted and now it is their turn. Although the Sanhedrin did not like it, they were impressed by Peter and John’s bold courage.
We need to be forever faithful if we are to have an impact in our day, as Peter and John and the other disciples had in their day. They turned the world upside down. The Church in our day is weak. It seeks to accommodate the world around it and not confront the evils of our age. But we are called to stand up and stand out against all that opposes the gospel. We may not be liked for what we say, but there is more likely to be respect if we are uncompromisable in our faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. People must know what we stand for and what we stand against. To stand for the Saviour and truth can be a costly exercise. We can be fearful. We need to ask the Lord for courage and boldness to stand for Christ and not to compromise the gospel message; Jesus Christ died upon the cross of Calvary that sinners might be forgiven.
Peter and John were uneducated, untrained men. The Sanhedrin were surprised at their courage because these were not trained, just simple men from Galilee. They could argue their cause. Peter’s sermon persuaded many to believe in Jesus as their Saviour. The Sanhedrin were amazed at the ability of these uneducated men to present their cause.
People were also surprised at Jesus’ preaching and mighty works (Mark 6:2). The Lord had told His disciples they should not worry when called to speak the gospel (Matthew 10:19-20). They would have the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus to follow. Consequently, these fishermen were able to confound the Sanhedrin. This is great encouragement. If God could use Peter and John, He can use me and you. We don’t have to be educated for us to turn the world upside down. The Lord, buy the enabling of the Holy Spirit, can use our qualifications or lack of them. Just trust in Him, follow the Saviour. We don’t have to do a course, have a theological degree, or be trained on other ways, we just have to be His followers.
Too often we rely on celebrity Christians to speak at evangelistic missions because we think someone of that nature is bound to make more of an impression. We thank God for them, but God more often than not, does not choose rich and famous. He chooses you and me. It is the one who is being spoken of, not the one who is speaking, who must be at the centre of the matter. We don’t need experts to defend the gospel. The Lord uses ordinary people with ordinary lives to accomplish His work. (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
God does use people of standing, but not many. But He uses you and me. The way that churches often think their influence will be better is if their ministers have higher degrees. But that doesn’t impress people. What counts is a man’s spiritual stature. Doctorates are good but not the important thing. The important thing is what the Sanhedrin recognised – they recognised that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Jesus’ influence was on them. Jesus had given His disciples a wonderful example to follow and assured them of the presence of the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, Peter and John give a striking resemblance to Jesus in the way they speak and act. Now, after His ascension, they remained in fellowship with Him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The power and presence of Jesus was visible in the lives of these two men. This tells us that the cutting edge of our Christian witness is unbelievers experiencing who we are as followers of Jesus. We are Christ-like in all we do. If we are to have an impact, people need to recognise we have been with Jesus. We need to be more Christ-like. When people see Christ in us, influencing all that we are and in all that we do, then they sit up and take notice. Christ-likeness comes by experiencing faithful fellowship with Him in the Word and in prayer. The Holy Spirit brings us into a deeper fellowship with the Lord. We become more and more like the Lord in character. We become more effective in His service in sharing the gospel. Spurgeon said, “There is a something in the very tone of the man who has been with Jesus which has more power to touch the heart than the most perfect oratory.” Jesus rubbing off onto people.
What did Peter and John have that so amazed the Sanhedrin? The boldness and courage of a Christ-like character. What do we need as Christians today, for people around us for their good and Christ’s glory? The same boldness and courage. So, let’s seek the fellowship of the Lord, and ask by the Holy Spirit’s enabling, to become more like Him, so people know we have been with Jesus.
When I was in Bible college, I was taught that every good preacher does three things: they state their point, then they illustrate it, then they apply it – why is this important to us, how does it apply to lives. So, you state the point, illustrate it and apply it. It seems that the apostle Paul followed this plan. When you read Romans, Paul issues the main theological point of his letter in chapter 3:24, “we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The main point of this letter is we are justified by His grace. Justified means to be declared not guilty. So, whereas before you stand condemned in the dock, facing condemnation and judgement because of your thoughts, your speech, your behaviour, and attitude to God, now you are declared not guilty. There is no condemnation, you are free. Justified means to stand in a court of law and for the judge to say, ‘Not guilty.’ We are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It’s a gift of God’s grace.
In chapter 4 Paul illustrates this, giving an example of someone who was justified by faith – someone who was not justified on the basis of keeping the law, that they had lived a good enough life, or that they were circumcised. His example is Abraham. Abraham was someone who was justified, who was declared not guilty, who was considered righteous, perfect in the eyes of God, before the Jewish law had been given, before the ceremonial law had been given. He was justified because God, in His grace, put His hands on him, chose him, called him and considered him righteous. The only thing Abraham had to do was accept that and to believe and trust Him in the word of this gracious and loving God.
I think Paul goes to Abraham because he’s the father of faith. He is the great example of someone who could not be saved through his own efforts or through keeping the law. It would have been impossible for him to keep the Jewish law because it hadn’t been presented or delivered to them. So, it is illustrated. Here is a real-life example of someone justified, someone declared not guilty, someone who is freed and forgiven – not because he is a great person, or that he was immensely religious. No. it is because of the grace of God. God, in His amazing love, calling and choosing. All he had to do was respond in faith.
In chapter 5 we see the application. How does it affect our lives? The headline is in chapter 5. The main line, the most important point is found in verse 1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Everyone wants peace – peace within warring families, peace when there is division between a husband and wife, peace between nations. We pray for peace in broken communities, when there is division between various groups. People want peace in their hearts. They can’t find peace within them for many reasons: Covid, fear, loneliness.
The peace in this passage of scripture speaks of a deeper peace. I believe if you have this peace, then you have the key to unlocking other types of peace. If you have peace with God, then you can be at peace with yourself. You can know peace in your heart and soul. If you have peace with God, then you can learn how to forgive others and that can lead to peace within our own relationships. I believe if there is revival, then an entire nation is affected. If thousands of people within a community are saved, then that leads to change communities as well and to greater peace. This is the underlying need for every person because it changes our lives today. Even more than that, for all eternity. To have peace with God is our deepest and greatest need.
What are the results of having peace with God? That’s what Paul looks at in the next few verses. So, we have got justification – we are declared not guilty, free ion the eyes of God. Perfect and righteous. You have peace with God. What does that mean? What are the consequences? The first thing is mentioned in verse 2 – we now have grace.
Grace. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) We now have grace in which we stand. Because we have peace with God, we have this grace in which we stand. We think of grace at the beginning of the Christian life, that you become a Christian because of the grace of God. Someone becomes a Christian not because they are especially clever or especially religious. You become a Christian because God, in His grace, places His hands on you and calls you.
But grace is a state, a spiritual condition, in which we continue, so we continue to receive the grace of God not just on the day we become a Christian, but throughout our whole lives. There are two spiritual states: one state is to be under judgement, still in our sin. Without Jesus this is where we are. Without Jesus, God sees our sin and there is no forgiveness because we haven’t repented, we haven’t trusted in the Saviour. That is a dangerous place to be. If we were to die in our sins, without the Lord Jesus, we would face judgement.
But the other condition is to stand in grace, where we are recipients of God’s grace. If you have trusted in Jesus as your Saviour, if you have asked for forgiveness of your sins, if you have received by faith this salvation, by faith you have trusted in Jesus, you have peace with God, you can now receive the grace of God. This means to know that God wants to bless you, to know that God wants to protect you, that God loves you.
Think of all the promises God, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)
That is what it means to stand in grace. That this heavenly Father, who feeds the creatures and the natural world around us, values you. You receive the grace of God and so you are aware of your sinfulness. God reminds you of His grace. You feel helpless and God, in His love, reminds you of the hope you have. You are aware of your sinfulness but reminded that Jesus died for me. All of the truths come back again and again, in His grace. God, in His grace, protects us and restores us again and again. Even when we do fall and when we find ourselves in foolish situations, He forgives – because He is a God of grace. So, you are a recipient of God’s love continually.
Don’t ever think you’re outside of God’s love, or beyond God’s love. Don’t ever think that God cannot show you grace. His grace is beyond anything we can ask for or imagine. His love overflows for us. For all eternity you will stand, and your faith will not fail because God in His grace will keep you. You will stand in grace, and you will continue to stand.
Hope. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. There are no obstacles now. Because we are justified, because we have peace with God, because our sin has been taken away, there are no obstacles between us and God, between us and heaven. On that day of judgement, where the sheep and goats will be divided and separated, because we have peace with God, we can know that on that day we will be received into the presence of the Lord Jesus, into His everlasting, eternal kingdom. We will be with His forever in paradise. We have this eternal hope that we are safe. We will stand in a place where there will be no diseases, no death, no decay. There will be no sorrow, no sadness, no sin. All of those things will have passed away.
We will rejoice in this. Because there is no sin, there is no judgement, we will be immediately ushered into this new heaven. A paradise. But notice what Paul says here; he doesn’t just say we rejoice in the hope of glory, at the thought of going to heaven, to paradise. There is more. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. He knows heaven is the home of God. In heaven we will have glorified bodies. We will have glorified eyes to see Jesus as He really is. Can you imagine that? The fullness of the glory of God, seen in the person of Jesus. We will see the glory of Jesus. Because we have been justified, because we have peace with God, this is a real hope. We rejoice in hope.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” (Romans 5:3-4). Paul acknowledges there will be suffering, but we can still rejoice because God has greater purposes for us, and we can fix our eyes on heaven. We can know that whatever we face in this world, all suffering will come to an end. One day we will see Jesus, the person you pray to, the person to delight in when reading the Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, pours out God’s love into our hearts. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5). We’ve thought about the doctrine of justification (being set free, not guilty), we’ve thought about heaven, we’ve thought about God’s grace. God wants us to understand these things in our minds. He wants us to know these things are true. He also wants us to feel it, to know this in our hearts as well. The Christian faith is meant to affect not just our minds, not just our wills, but it’s to affect our emotions. He wants us to feel His love and He does this through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, the Holy Spirit is our instructor and guide, the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of our sinfulness. He moulds our consciences. The Holy Spirit pours out His love so that we know we are children of God, so that we know we are forgiven.
It is one thing to know this, it is something completely different to understand. I’m becoming more convinced that what we need to remember as people is that God loves us. We have peace with God. There are no obstacles. The Holy Spirit can live and dwell in our hearts and soul and pour out this love. Do you know today that you are loved? Do you know today that God is your Father? Are you aware that the Holy Spirit is in your soul?
When you feel that sense of darkness, or that isolation, pray for the love of God to be poured out like streams of living water into your souls.
Deliverance. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9). There is a time coming when we will all have to face the wrath of God – but because of the death of the Lord Jesus we will be safe and delivered. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).
Because of Jesus’ grace, because of His willingness to go to the cross, because of His obedience to God and His love for Him, He went to the cross. And so, on that day of wrath there will be nothing that we have to face; God will say ‘You are forgiven. You are considered a great and faithful servant.’ And we’ll be about to enter the presence of God.
Some Christians are still worried about that day, thinking ‘Will I be accepted?’ If you trust in the Lord Jesus, you don’t have to say, ‘I hope for the best.’ No. You can say, ‘I know I will be safe. I know that I will go to heaven. I know that I will see the glorious face of Jesus. I know that I won’t face wrath because of Jesus, because He died for me.’
All of these are blessing of being a Christian. To summarize it all – we have been reconciled with God. We are one with God. These are tremendous blessings! At the beginning of 2022, a return to normality would have been good news, to see this Omicron wave pass quickly, that we can return to spending time with loved ones and friends, to go on holidays.
But the greatest news of all is to know that if you trust in Jesus, if you have believed in Him, then you have peace with Him. God is your Father. God is on your side. You are one with Him. You belong to the family of God. That’s how you stand in grace. You are in a safe position, this secure position of someone who can receive the grace of God continually. He will restore you. He will keep you. You have a hope that one day you will be in heaven and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus forever and ever.
You can know the Holy Spirit who pours out the love of God into your heart, so that in the deepest and darkest of times you can know that God loves you. You are delivered from wrath and given life eternal. There is no greater news. There is nothing greater this morning that I could share with you, than to remind you of His profound truths. So, my prayer for you, myself and all of God’s people, and those who don’t know Him yet, that you would find this news and would rejoice in it today and forever.
This account happened about 850 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, during the times of the kings of Israel, with Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria (v1). Syria was to the north-east of Israel. Naaman was highly respected by the king. Why? He had defeated the enemies of Syria. But behind this military success was God. God rules over the nations.
Naaman was a mighty man of valour, strong and brave. However, at some point he caught leprosy, a serious illness, incurable at the time. With time, the body deteriorates, the flesh is eaten away.
During this time, the Syrians had gone out on raids and took captive a young girl who became a servant of Naaman’s wife. Here we see God at work, drawing Naaman into a relationship with Himself. Through these things that had happened, in God’s over-arching providence, He was drawing Naaman to Himself. In verse 3 the young girl says, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Samaria was the northern capital of Israel. This young girl, a prisoner, shows no bitterness. There is love towards her captors. Her faith is very strong. She believes, through Elisha, Naaman could be healed from this disease. She is so gracious and confident.
Naaman’s wife shares this with Naaman, and he, in turn, shares it with the king. The king tells Naaman to go and gives him a letter to give to the king of Israel, saying, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman goes to Samaria, taking the letter. He goes with his chariots and servants. He also takes 340 kg of silver, 68kg of gold – a huge amount, and 10 changes of clothing. This was a substantial gift, telling us how rich Naaman was.
In Samaria, Naaman sees the king, who read the contents of the letter (v6). The response of the king was that Naaman was asking him to do the impossible. Panic set in; he is dealing with a powerful king. Notice, he doesn’t think about Elisha or about God. The prophet Elisha hears the king’s response and sends a message to him, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (v8).
Naaman comes to Elisha in Samaria, the same city. Naaman, a mighty man of valour, stood at the door of Elisha’s house, a very humble house. He stood outside with chariots, servants and gifts. Instead of going out, Elisha sends a messenger (v10), telling Naaman to go and wash in the River Jordan 7 times, and he would be healed. Naaman was a very proud man; success had made him proud. He had expected to see Elisha. Instead of doing what Elisha told him to do, he travelled back to Syria, hundreds of miles away. He despises Israel and wants to wash in the rivers at home. God uses the servant (v13) who knows that because Naaman has been asked to do something so simplistic, he finds it insulting. He encourages him to do as the prophet says.
Naaman then travels to the River Jordan and dips himself 7 times. After the 7th occasion his flesh was restored, like that of a little child (v14). Not only did Naaman have physical cleansing, but he also had spiritual cleansing of his sins. The outward cleansing was pointing to a spiritual cleansing of the heart; his soul had been cleansed of its sins. How do we know? By the spiritual fruit we can see in his life (verses 15-18). He went back to Elisha and notice four things:
He now has faith, “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” (v.15). He believes the God of Israel is the true and only God. That’s faith!
He wants to give a gift he has brought with him to Elisha. He feels great gratitude to Elisha, “So accept now a present from your servant.” (v.15). But Elisha refuses. He presses upon Elisha to receive the gift, but Elisha continues to refuse.
Naaman wants to worship God and asks Elisha for two mule loads of earth so he can build an altar in Syria to offer burnt offerings, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (v17).
Notice there is conviction of sin, “In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (v18).
There was a great friendship between Naaman and the king. When the king went to worship Rimmon, the king would lean on him and Naaman would worship Rimmon too. Naaman says when he returns, he will bow down to Rimmon, not to worship, but in respect for the king. He asks Elisha for forgiveness for that, for God’s forgiveness. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”
We see the fruit. Naaman hasn’t just been cleansed physically, but also spiritually. Naaman has come to know God personally. Let’s apply this to ourselves. Have we each come to know God personally, the God of the Bible, the only God? Have we had a spiritual cleansing from God? Each of us needs forgiveness. Before God we are sinful. We need spiritual cleansing.
How do we have our sins washed away? There is a Jordan we need to wash in. We need to immerse ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to believe the gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2,000 years ago, in order that you and I could have spiritual cleansing, God came down to Earth as a man. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, He never sinned. He kept the commandments of God. On the cross He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered the punishment of our sin, He suffered our hell, on the cross of Calvary. He shed His blood. He died paying that penalty. He was buried and on the third day God rose Him from the dead. That’s the Good News. That is what God did for me and you in order that we might have our sins cleansed.
But we have a responsibility – we have to believe that message. We have to believe each fact of the gospel – that Jesus is God’s Son, that He was sinless, that He kept the law, that He took our sin upon Himself, that he suffered our penalty, that He died, that he was risen from the dead. We have to believe that message.
We have to ask God to forgive us, to cleanse us, based on the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. When we believe that message, when we believe the gospel, and only then, God will forgive us our sins. God will wash our sins away through the blood of Jesus Christ. When we believe that message we become joined to Christ. We become a child of God and God comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit.
When we believe this message God cleanses us from our sins. He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit. We come to know God, become a child of God. The Holy Spirit changes us and makes us more Christ-like, creating fruit in us – worship, praise of God, thanksgiving, conviction of sin and repentance. We don’t want to live the ways we used to live, we want to live the way God wants us to live.
When we leave this world God, through death or when Christ returns, He will take us to be with Him in heaven and with all the saints, for eternity. Have we gone to the Jordan? Have we believed the gospel? Have we believed in Jesus Christ?
We are sitting here, on a lovely sunny day in Roch, because two thousand years ago men and women stood and were beaten for the sake of the gospel. It is a privilege to come together, knowing that others before us took a beating so they could share the gospel, and then their sons and daughters could share the gospel, and their sons and daughters could share the gospel, and we have that beautiful privilege of meeting in freedom today.
This passage of scripture is quite challenging. I don’t know how you would respond if you were living at that time, and you were told not to go and tell people about Jesus, or you would be put into jail. What would you do?
The Book of Acts, Luke’s second volume, records for us what the early church was like. Luke’s first volume, his gospel, tells us all that Jesus did and taught. His second volume, Acts, tells us all that the risen Jesus did. So, we see here is Acts of the Apostles, or you could say, Acts of the Risen Jesus. We now look at everything Jesus did through His Spirit. He has ascended into heaven, and He sent His Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit lives and dwells in His people and they are helping His people live for Him. When you open the book of Acts you realise that there is a small group of people who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the people who turned the world upside down. You and I stand on their shoulders.
Has God’s Spirit changed? Is the Holy Spirit who helped Peter on the day of Pentecost, when he preached to thousands, changed? Has God’s mission changed, to save a people for Himself? Has Jesus Christ changed? Has the cross changed? Is the cross not the same cross that Jesus Christ bled and died on and that is the only means and way of salvation? Has anything really changed? No! Nothing has changed. When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, the Bible says He is waiting to return. We live in the last days, waiting for Jesus Christ to return. God’s Spirit has not changed and the cross stands still as the only means of salvation. God’s mission has not changed. He desires a people for Himself, even from Roch. The Commission has not changed. God has not changed. Until Jesus returns our mission hasn’t changed – we are called to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Take the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and share it with others who do not know him.
Pray drives evangelism. The apostles were doing many signs and wonders, and people were being healed. In chapter four, the apostles had already been arrested (4:29-30). They prayed and their prayer was answered. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If you believe this and have a God-Man who intercedes for you, you can pray to Him. The apostles prayed and were able to do extraordinary things. If you think, ‘Well, I couldn’t do that,’ you would be right. But God can! Christ healed a blind man, the deaf and the lame. God can do all those things because He is God. Evangelism is driven by prayer. God is the one who opens all the doors, who gives us opportunities, the one who answers our prayers. It is ludicrous, as Christians, we don’t pray to the God of heaven, the giver of all things. Pray for an opportunity to witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is about speaking life. The apostles were arrested because they were preaching and they were healing. They were doing all sorts of wonderful things. But the High Priest didn’t like it, the Sadducees didn’t like it. They arrested them (v.17). They put them in a public prison. But an angel of the Lord brought them out and said, ‘Get on with it! Go and stand in the temple court and speak to the people words of life.’ (v.19). The apostles got together (v.21). Did they have a big discussion whether they should obey the angel? No. An angel of the Lord comes and tells them what to do and they do it. They are obedient and they go. At the Ascension Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and a cloud hid Him from their sight as they were watching. Immediately two angels come down and said, ‘What are you doing looking at the sky? Why are you looking up there when you should be looking all around you and getting on with the task of evangelism?
Evangelism is about speaking life. It is so important that an angel of the Lord comes and breaks them out of prison and tells them, ‘Get on with it.’ My friends, this is not a message about purchasing some goods, what colour paint you should buy, what your homes or gardens should look like. It has got nothing to do with this. This is about the words of life. This is about life that every one of us needs, that we live in a beautiful but broken word, that sin has entered in and the wages of sin is death. We experience sin in our bodies and we get old and we creaky and things fail. Yet Jesus Christ came to deal with the problem of sin and death. The good news about the gospel is not just having your legs healed and about being able to see. There is much more than that. It is about having this new life where you have a relationship with God, where you will know Him now and forever, into eternity. We are called to go out and give the words of life. Jesus Christ is the only way. There is no other way in which men and women, boys and girls can be saved. We need to know what God is calling us to do, what is He calling us to be more urgent about in our speaking to others?
Evangelism is driven by prayer, evangelism is about speaking life, but evangelism is about what God is doing. The apostles go back into the temple courts (v.27) and once again they are brought back to the Council, questioned and told, ‘We strictly told you not to teach in this name, yet you are doing the things we told you not to do!’ And they reply, “We must obey God rather than men,” (v.29). Scripture calls us to obey the authorities. In one sense, they are obeying the authorities. They get arrested and they don’t oppose being arrested. They let themselves be arrested. There is one thing we cannot disobey and that is we must be obedient to the laws. But here they are in Acts chapter 5 saying they must obey God rather than men. Even though they are told not to speak in the name of Jesus, they say,’ No, we must obey God, because here are the words of life that people must hear, for there is no other name.’ That’s what Jesus did, isn’t it? He obeyed the will of His Father, not His own. There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was sweating drops of blood, knowing what He would go to, yet He did it, “Not My will but Yours.”
You and I face many dilemmas today, we are faced with complicated situations. We live in a very privileged society, in a very privileged country where there really isn’t that much dilemma about obeying God. We have freedoms, and as we have these freedoms we are not challenged, are we? There is no-one really threatening to put us in prison here in Roch. Don’t get me wrong, there might be cultural variations, there might be regional variations, there might be other variations, maybe a part of a city where it might be more difficult. But it is not about what is happening there, it’s about what is happening here. What is God calling you and me to do?
We have this word of life, and we are living in not difficult days but complex days. With God’s help, we will all know is it that God is calling us to do.
My friends, as you and I live out our lives, as we go about sharing the gospel, the way we live really can help people to hear the gospel. You and I might not have a single conversation with somebody this week, but the way you live really can influence the way people listen to the gospel.
Evangelism is driven by prayer, evangelism is about speaking life, evangelism is about what God is doing in and through us as we are obedient to Him, and the way we live can really help us in our evangelising.
We live in an age of influence. There are more and more celebrities who have an impact on what people do. We are bombarded with advertisements and Youtube channels. Influencers can drive us; they can change the way we look and how we talk. Influencers can change the way we shop. If influencers haven’t got Jesus as king of their lives, it’s going to distract you. This past year we have seen a change in the way we have been influenced. It’s been complicated. We want things to be better than before.
As Christians we need to be thankful of those who have influenced us. Paul is writing to Timothy and reminded him of the influence of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This morning we should be utterly thankful to those who have influenced us. Paul, in prison, is writing to Timothy in Ephesus. Paul is reminding Timothy as he goes forward, of what he needs to be influenced by, of what is going to shape his ministry in the church and the future. Today we hear so many voices, like the voice of the government. If you listen to too many voices, it becomes confusing. This letter to Timothy is really helpful for us; it has key doctrines of what must always be at the heart of our Christianity.
This letter reminds us of the impact of the Spirit of God. In verse seven we read,“For God gave us a spirit not to fear but of power and love and self-control.” As we have seen this week, the media can break a family, a relationship, in one single image on the front cover. But God sees and hears everything. He can reduce everyone’s lives in a moment, but he doesn’t. He offers his grace. The Holy Spirit brings new life. Our life begins to change. He moulds us to be more Christ-like. His spirit helps as to apply and understand God’s words. We’ve been bought by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and called to live for him.
The beginning of verse 8 reads, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” We are called not to be ashamed, not to be worried about what others think of us. All of us are sinners. We need to be saved by grace. We are reminded in verse nine that it is God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” There are somethings none of us can do or be able to do, that only God can do. God alone is the one who can rescue us from the Kingdom of darkness and bring us into the Kingdom of light. We can explore the universe and go to the ends of it, but we will never be able to save ourselves from the sting of death. The gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of God makes it possible to be made right with God.
As we start to rebuild churches and ministries, what are we then to do? To declare that God alone can do what we can never do. In verse 10 we read it is our “Saviour, Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus Christ has destroyed death. He says in John 14 :6, “I am the way and the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.” Friends, are you reminded of that soul single truth this morning? Jesus Christ alone can destroy death.
In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; This cornerstone, this solid ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all— Here in the love of Christ I stand.
We have to remember what Jesus Christ has destroyed. If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, when He calls you home or returns, you are free. Why are we here this morning? To gather and worship God. But we are also here for a purpose, we are here to serve. What is God calling you to do? In what ways is God calling you to serve? Paul is writing to Timothy from prison, he is serving his life out in prison. Timothy is living life in Ephesus where people were trying to distract the church. We live in a fallen world, and we are called to serve in a fallen world. There are challenging times ahead. It is the Spirit who empowers us.
Verses 11 and 12 say, “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I’m convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”Paul makes it clear that contentment requires effort. We have been called by God to live lives that are holy. We are also to be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within us. To have Christian contentment, remember God is with us in all things and in all times.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith aunt love that are in Christ Jesus. by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
The first chapter of Esther is so relevant to our situation today. Hebrew Ahasuerus. His Hebrew Persian title is Xerxes. For the purpose of this sermon he will be referred to as Xerxes.
This scripture is so relevant to our situation today. Esther is one of two books in the Old Testament that actually never mentions God. The other is the Song of Songs. But it would be wrong to think that this book of Esther is just a book of history. The fact that God’s name is not mentioned is deliberate because the message of the book of Esther is this: behind the scenes of life lies the unseen God whose hand controls the movement of individuals and empires. God is not directly mentioned. Why? Because the message is although God is not acknowledged and is unnamed, He’s clearly there. His will is sovereign, and His will and sovereign purpose is being worked out.
Here we are in an age of pandemic. How many people have thought about God? People believe He’s a God who is not relevant; our trust is in science, in SAGE, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The government says we’re following the science, it doesn’t say we’re following God. We live in an age when the church of Christ is struggling in some lands. Perhaps, even as Christians, we are tempted to say, ‘Where is the God of the revivals of Welsh history? Where is the God of times past of salvation of large numbers of people? Perhaps, as individuals, there may be circumstances in our lives when we ask ‘Where are you God, have you abandoned me? I see no evidence of your presence.’ The message of the book of Esther is that God is at work, constantly accomplishing His will and purpose. He’s at work in and through the pandemic, He’s at work in and through the church and He’s at work in and through the life of His people.
The opening two chapters introduce us to the main characters. In chapter two we see Esther, her cousin Mordecai and the ‘baddie’ in the story, Haman. Esther is going to placed on the throne alongside King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) to be the instrument by which God saves His people, the Jews, from annihilation, and therefore assures that the line of the Messiah continues and Jesus is born to be Saviour of the world.
But before chapter two we have a look at chapter one, where the other main character is introduced to us, King Xerxes. Xerxes the First, son of Darius the First, who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 – 485 B.C. He is presented to us in this chapter as the master of all of the civilised world, as his kingdom stretches from India in the East to modern day Ethiopia in the West, a kingdom that was organised into 127 provinces. He is now in the third year of his reign.
From history, we know that he has just successfully put down a rebellion in Egypt and is now turning his attention to Greece. His ambition is to conquer and subjugate the Greek world. He gathers together his commanders and all of the chief of officials of the various provinces to come to his palace in Susa, the capital, to plan the attack on Greece. The Persians believed in mixing business and pleasure and so the occasion of the planning of the campaign is elongated by many feasts. After about six months the preparations have been made, a plan has been drawn up and so the time is being drawn to a close by a great feast. Herodotus, a Greek historian of the period, says that Xerxes was going to raise the largest naval and land force the world had ever seen, numbering 2.6 million men. A huge, huge military operation. Having planned it all out, there was now this great climatic feast.
It was held in the opulent luxury of Xerxes’ palace, which was tastefully decorated for the occasion. It was a fitting backdrop to this display of his royal liberality. Xerxes provides abundantly for his guests, no expense spared. He is magnanimous; there are people from different cultures, different backgrounds with different attitudes. Protocol would be that if the king drinks everyone else drinks. But Xerxes is not going to force people to drink, he allows them to follow their own customs. Here he is, this great king, commanding a vast army, ruling over the greatest empire, fabulously wealthy, but he’s not going to force people to follow what he does.
The man sits upon the throne with total dominion over many nations, with absolute authority. But we know from history all of this went to his head. One of his royal palaces had this inscription written on its foundation stone, “I am Xerxes, the great King, the only King. The King of all countries that speaks all kinds of languages. The king of this big and far-reaching earth.’ But what Xerxes failed to see is that there is a greater King. There is a greater King who dictates the course of Xerxes’ life and the course of his empire. The great, unseen, almighty God who, for His own purposes, raises up Xerxes. The rulers and leaders of the nations feel themselves important. They have their trappings and power and authority. But it is God who appoints governments of all descriptions (Romans 13:1-2). We are to give due regard to those whom God appoints. But we must also expect them to realise that they are answerable to God. They will have to stand one day before their Creator and give an account of themselves, as all men will.
As we look at this man Xerxes I am reminded of another King who has all power and authority, the one before whom every knee must ultimately bow, the Lord Jesus Christ. Xerxes felt he was the ultimate power. But ultimate authority is given by God to only one, His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always uses His power for the good of His people. Xerxes could be generous to a point but King Jesus, who has the wealth of all creation, His generosity is boundless. He pours out grace upon grace upon those He loves.
Here is a king who provides a regular banquet, a great and glorious feast. No banquet on earth is like it. Xerxes threw a great banquet, but nothing compares to the great banquet our King regularly provides for us – the Lord’s Supper. Here we feast upon Him. It’s a love feast for pardoned sinners, whatever their status in human society. The bread and the wine are the symbols of His broken body and His outpoured blood, all for the sake of our salvation. This banquet is the foretaste of the great eternal, never-ending banquet in glory to come.
King Jesus eclipses Xerxes. What a blessing it is to be Jesus’s subjects. Nothing compares. We see Xerxes as a powerful king but then we see Xerxes sees as a drunken king, as frail as all men. On the last day of this feast we find him in high spirits from wine. It impairs his judgement. He commands Queen Vashti to appear before him and his men. He wants them to be impressed by her beauty, he wants them to acknowledge that he is the one with the most beautiful wife in the world. He wants his officials to admire her regal beauty.
But such a request was degrading for Vashti. It was an affront. Vashti was also giving a great feast for women because that was the norm. The women and the men did not mix on these occasions. It was regarded as being wrong for women, particularly women of importance, to be involved in these male-only booze-ups. So, when Vashti is commanded to come, she refuses. She is not going to be belittled in this way. She is not going to be subjected to this demeaning behaviour. Whether she was wise to refuse is a matter for debate, but it is wrong that she was commanded. Here is, perhaps, one of the most telling examples in scripture of drinking to excess. It is said that Joseph Stalin seldom drank himself, but always plied his visitors liberally with alcohol! He knew that when they were drunk they would let slip secrets.
All men are sinful and subject to the same temptations, therefore, all are equally under God’s judgement. All are equally in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown There is no greater place of equality than before the law of God and the cross of Christ. We are living in an age that speaks of inclusivity and equality. Well, there is inclusivity, there is equality. Not found in the ways the people of our day think, but found before the law of God. We are all included. Everyone. On exactly the same basis, exactly the same level – as sinners. There is no-one righteous, no, not one. That is equality before the Lord of God, for all are condemned. There is wonderful inclusivity in the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what gender, social class or race we are, no one is more saved than anyone else, no one has a greater place in the Kingdom of God than anybody else. Here is true inclusivity. That’s the true meaning of conversion.
The Bible, and the New Testament especially, warns of the dangers of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18). We must never put ourselves in a position where something or someone else has control over us, where we succumb to another influence. We are to be Jesus’ alone.
Finally, we see a furious King. Vashti’s refusal sends Xerxes into a rage. He’s no longer proud of his Queen’s beauty, instead he’s irate. He calls together his seven closest advisors, men who aren’t concerned to see justice done. They think if Vashti gets away with it, what about their wives? And so they counsel that Vashti be disposed and Xerxes finds another queen. This Xerxes readily does.
Interestingly, at the start of chapter 2, Xerxes begins to regret this, but at this point he’s going to teach her a lesson. He doesn’t acknowledge his own guilt. He would have been better apologising. He sees Vashti’s refusal as an affront, but of course this lays the groundwork for Esther to become queen – Esther the Jewess, the one who at the telling moment is going to announce to Xerxes that it her people that Haman wants to destroy, that she is a Jewess. In that moment God is going to use Esther to overturn Haman’s plan and ensure the safety of the Jews, and therefore of the line of the Messiah, that the Saviour of the world might be born. That doesn’t mean that what Xerxes did was all right. But God worked though Xerxes’ bad temper and drunkenness. God is at work God bringing about the circumstances whereby Esther will be placed in that most significant position.
We’re all like Xerxes; we find it easier to be angry with someone else than acknowledge our own sinful faults. So, we asked that the Lord gives us grace to see our faults first. How thankful we are that our King will never lose His temper, despite our disobedience. He deals patiently with us.
We may deserve to lose our salvation, but we never will because God is faithful. Our king has given us a counsellor who always advises us – the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). He will never flatterer us but will always tell us what we need to know – the truth that sets us free. In Xerxes we see an all-powerful king who seccumbs to drink and a furious rage. But it is God who is at work. God, through all of this, will ensure the great King will come, King Jesus, the one whose rule is righteous and true, the one who rules for the good of His people. His love always ensures they are safe in eternal salvation. He loves them and guides them by the Holy Spirit and ensures they will always be co-heirs in the Kingdom. What a joy to be subjects of King Jesus. What a comfort to know God has ordained all things. May God be praised!
This is a great way to start a story – two people walking on a long road to home. It is a blank canvas, anything can happen. The two people are sad, distressed, confused; something terrible has happened and they are wondering how to cope and move on. Then another man enters the scene. This is what really drives the story along. But it is not just a story. It is from the Bible, the words of God on a page, 100% true. Everything is built around verse 26, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” The story is hinged around this one sentence.
We know from the start it is Jesus who joins them – the risen Jesus who has conquered death. The two people don’t know. Look at our hope as Christians, if you’re trusting in Christ today.
The two people are Cleopas and another, who is unnamed. It could be his wife or a friend. They are walking to the village of Emmaus, a little, unknown village. Still, even today, we are not sure where it is. Why is it mentioned at all? To give a real historical location – it is a real place with real people. Secondly, it is such a small, irrelevant place and this shows Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance is real. If you were trying to make up a story about Jesus risen from the dead, you’d want to do it in a place people knew to give more credibility. But no, because it is true, it actually occurred in a small, obscure village.
The two disciples were talking intensely. They were distraught, unable to process what had happened. How will Jesus’ death affect them? And someone joins them, but they do not know who it is. “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:16). They were kept from knowing who it is Jesus. This is because Jesus needed to teach them important truths about Himself before they knew who He was. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was dead. We can be disappointed with life and cry out to God, ‘Where are you? Help me make sense of all this!’ To help you know Christ more intently we face trials. We can be spiritually blinded so Christ can be known to us in a more glorious way. Part of the drama of the story is when will the two disciples discover the mystery man is their Saviour?
Jesus asks, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.” (Luke 24:17). This man had obviously overheard the two talking about Jesus yet still asks what and who they are talking about. They stood still, shocked He did not know what had happened. “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Luke 24:19-24).
At first glance their response seems focused; they give a true picture of who Jesus is – a good prophet who did good things, who might have done good things if He had stuck around. ‘Redeemed’ here is linked to a political leader, a victorious ruler on the earth. But that is not why Jesus came. They missed the real ‘why’ of Jesus’ coming. They are clearly very passionate about Jesus but also disappointed. The Messiah had failed in their expectations. They do love Jesus but they don’t understand what is going on. Their hopes have been quashed. Their hopes were in the wrong thing. They lapped up all of Jesus’ teaching but now He had died they have tried to transfer their hope to something else but they couldn’t. They realised Jesus was the answer, but Jesus was dead.
Jesus replies to them with a rebuke, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Jesus is disappointed in their understanding. He is saying, ‘You think I’ve come to save you from Rome, but I’ve come to save you from sin.’
Knowing His followers don’t understand why He came, Jesus guides them through the Old Testament. He starts with Moses and the prophets – the entirety of the whole Old Testament – making it clear why He had to die and where His death was prophesied in Scripture. He rips the curtain away to show the full reality of the Messiah coming back to life. Jesus’ main concern is to unpack His suffering, death and resurrection. Without His suffering and dying, Jesus couldn’t come back to life. If He hadn’t conquered death, sin would not have been conquered. Jesus died and powerfully came back to life again to show authority over Satan and sin, so we can trust in Him and crucify and bury our sin (1 Corinthians 15). He lives, He rules and reigns! He rules above all and every other king. Jesus teaches these two disciples the Old Testament in a New Testament era.
Like these two people on the road didn’t understand, we have masses of people who don’t understand. In Christ’s strength we now do what Christ did – open the scriptures and explain who Christ is – a Saviour to be worshipped and who will save them. Jesus begins to open their eyes that had been spiritually closed. We can know everything Jesus did; some people know the Bible far better than Christians, but they don’t know the Lord who walked the Emmaus road. Knowledge is important, to understand the gospel we have to understand it to affect us – but it must go to our hearts.
Ultimately, it is God who works in us. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, who moves. The Holy Spirit is the comforter – the person of God working in you right now, helping you understand the things in this passage. The Holy Spirit shows us our sin, the wrong things we do each and every day. He is the one convicting you, telling you, you cannot stand before God where you are. As an unbeliever, you are spiritually dead. You need the Spirit to open scripture for you, to show the Cross and what Jesus did for you.
For Christians, believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also walking the road to Emmaus. We doubt. It is easy to trust our Saviour when the sun is shining, but when storms arise you can feel lost. You can lose sight of Him, get angry with Him, wonder why He is doing what He is doing. If so, walk the Emmaus road and ask Him to open up the scriptures to you. Read Jesus’ words in scripture and hear Jesus’ voice. Pray and your relationship with Him will deepen. He has promised to be with us always. We don’t always believe that; we can sometimes think if we can’t feel His presence He is not there. But we need to trust, no matter how hard it is. He is there.
Remember those two people, nobody’s, one we literally don’t know who they were. Jesus first appeared to shepherds. He stoops and humbles Himself to know us. The one who died for us isn’t going to forget us. That is why He died for us – to know Him and love Him more and more. He is a victorious Saviour. He is our hope. We trust in a living, breathing, holy Saviour who has conquered sin and death. He will sustain us. I still sin but Christ deals with it every day. We gather here because we worship a living God. If you’re trusting in Him He is living in you, shaping you to be more like Him. It is not deserved but given to us because God loves us.
The two disciples saw Him in His glorious state at the dinner table. Do you want your eyes opened in a new way? Go home, pray, open you Bible. Trust Him. Trust He is alive and reigning in heaven. Amen.
We have all had days when we have been downcast and troubled. But one man in the Bible who had probably a few days of concern, anxiety and sleepless nights was Joseph. Joseph was a godly man who was engaged to Mary. They both lived in Nazareth. He was a carpenter. He loved Mary deeply. In those days engagement was something akin to marriage. It was a promise that could not be broken. But then Joseph had news; his fiancée was pregnant.
Mary was spoken to by an angel of God. Mary, a virgin, one who feared and loved God, was terrified when she first heard the news. The angel told her not to be afraid, he brought a blessing from God. He told her she would have a child. She was confused. Here was purity; two godly people who loved each other would now be the talk of the town. It knocked her sideways. She asked how it could be, “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
She was overwhelmed. It is not recorded in Scripture if she went and told Joseph but she did go to visit her aged cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant. Elizabeth hid herself for five months. She was old and barren but now pregnant. It was a wonderful miracle of grace. Mary spent three months with her. Then Mary went back home to Nazareth, to Joseph. He could see she was pregnant. The first thing that came into his mind must have been ‘What has happened?’ Had she been unfaithful? He couldn’t marry her. He thought of ‘divorcing’ her but did not want to embarrass her, so planned to do it privately, before a couple of witnesses.
One night Joseph went to sleep and there God spoke to him through an angel in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Well, what a revelation! What a shock! His expectant wife was expecting the Son of God. Being a man of God, he would have known the prophecy from Isaiah. She must be the one spoken of by Isaiah. He woke and immediately, without doubting God’s word, he went to Mary, took her in his arms and they rejoiced together. They married but did not have a relationship until after Jesus was born. Joseph cared for her, looked after her and her most precious gift growing in her womb. People around would have tutted and mocked. They did not know what God had revealed to Mary and Joseph. But Mary and Joseph did not care what the world had to say.
The glory of heaven, the Father sent Jesus to earth for 33 years. God the Son was in the eternal plan to save mankind, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). Here is the gift of God before us, looked after and cared for by Mary and Joseph. He, who could control all the elements, was subject to His mother Mary and step-father Joseph. Such humility! This is the Christ we worship. He was in Mary, then with Mary and Joseph, with His disciples and all those who were called. He helped them, encouraged them and loved them deeply. Immanuel, God with us! They had God walking by their side, God in the flesh – Jesus Christ. Some people hated Him for this. They thought He was blaspheming.
All that happened 2,000 years ago. When Jesus went back to heaven He sent His Holy Spirit. So within us, as believers, is Jesus Christ, the Spirit. They are not to be divided. Here is one who is with them, with us. Immanuel! 2,000 years ago people could see Him, hear Him. When He went back to heaven His disciples were fearful. But when the Holy Spirit came they were bold and could rejoice. And that same Holy Spirit is with us now in Penuel.
We go through situations, problems, difficulties, sadness and deaths. Sometimes we feel God is not with us but He is always with us. He will never change. It is no good relying on feelings. God is with us in every situation. He is with us all the time. Whatever the future hold, Immanuel is with us. Never forget this, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10). This verse is a great comfort in times of trial. When there is nowhere else to go, God’s presence will comfort us. If we have confessed our sins and repented, then this promise is for us. God says He will never leave us or forsake us. Immanuel, God with us. This is easy to say in good time! Believe it! As health changes, our situation changes, government changes, here is one who never changes.
What’s appropriate at Christmas time? What is Christmas all about? It is a time of year of watching cute Christmas films, trees and Christmas decorations. There are Christmas films being released. Perhaps a surprising one is a new war film of the 9/11 events. Christmas is more like the war film than the cute Christmas films.
This is a story of when God Himself comes to this earth in flesh. Mary conceives, the conception is from the Holy Spirit (v.18). This reminds us Jesus was born without sin, therefore, He will war against sin. He took on flesh – God came down out of heaven to take on flesh. This is the nitty gritty of the Christmas story, the real nativity.
We love opening gifts, it’s wonderful. There are things we want, things we desire in this world. Sometimes we may receive things we don’t need. But what we really need is a Saviour to save us from death, destruction and sin. That is what all of us will have to face. Adam and Eve brought death into this world. Adam lived and died. You and I live and die – which is why this message of a Saviour is wonderful. It brings us hope. Jesus was born into this world to be a Saviour.
We are to remember what the significance of the story is – at Christmas we focus on the birth, the little baby. But do you see in verse 21 Jesus will save His people from their sin? “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). This is not just about a baby but what that baby will do. He will fulfil all righteousness and save His people from their sins. This is about a Saviour. It’s a humbling reminder that Jesus came to save sinners.
Look back at your life and all the things you’ve done – your achievements but also your failures, the times you’ve not done what is right – when you’ve hurt the people you love most. Then look at this verse. You’re reminded, if you’re a Christian, at one point in time you were not saved. But Christ came and made you aware your sin deserved hell. By His grace you turned and now follow Him. Jesus went to war for you. Because of your own sin there was nothing you could do, ‘As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.’ (Ephesians 1:1). But Jesus came to save you, not people, but His people. Not everyone will be saved – only those who come to Him and ask for forgiveness.
Once upon a time, when you lived your life your own way, God in His goodness and justice could have left you like that – doing exactly what you wanted – and you wouldn’t have been saved. But in His mercy and love He came to you and made you aware of His love for you, ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.)’ (Matthew 1:23).
What is more important, the gift or the giver? Children get excited about the gift. But the giver is more important, the relationship is more important. What is the purpose of having your sin forgiven? Christmas is all about God being with us and us being with God. There is a time coming when, if you’re one of God’s people, you will be with God. Jesus was with us, died on the cross, then was absent for 3 days before He rose again and appeared with His followers, then left. There is a time coming when we will be with God. Revelation 21 speaks of God dwelling with man, ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death.” (Revelation 21:3-4).
That is where the Christian story started and is heading to. As Christians we are looking forward to a time when we will see Jesus and live with Him in perfection and glory forever. Are you looking forward to seeing your Saviour, talking to Him, being with Him forever? The gates of heaven are open. If you know your sin brings death and destruction and know Jesus died for you, if you confess your sin and repent, then nothing condemns you, you are welcomed into heaven.
There’s a certainty about Salvation. You’ll be with Jesus. The doors are open if you’re a Christian. But on that final day when Jesus Christ comes and His people will live with Him forever, the doors are also going to be shut. When He comes to judge the living and the dead, and make everything right, the doors will be closed. No-one else will ever be able to go in there again. There is only a certain amount of time for people to come to the Saviour, to put their trust in Jesus. For one day the door will be closed.
As God came to be with us and us with Him, share the gospel message – not in our own strength but asking in His Spirit – to change the hearts of children, parents and loved ones. The time is coming when Jesus Christ is coming again, when He will open and close the doors. Let’s get people ready. Let’s remind them of this wonderful, miraculous birth.
Acts – the clue is in the title. It’s about the Acts of the Apostles, what the early church leaders did, about the early church being set up and spreading. It’s about Christianity on the march. Is our Christianity on the march today? Do others in the community see us as being insular? Christianity on the march suggests action – getting out there. The early Christians did not consider it an action not to march. Jesus Christ said, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” (Acts 18:9).
What does a Christianity that is on the march do?
We live in a society that is hostile to Christ and the gospel. How do we march? Acts 2 tells us exactly how. Acts chapter 1 links to the end of the gospels. After Jesus’ ascension the disciples are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth but they stay in Jerusalem. Why? Because they are constantly in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit. ‘And, while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “You heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”’ (Acts 1:4-5).
Chapter 2 is the Day of Pentecost. 120 disciples were altogether in one place. Here we see the wonderful miracle of tongues of fire and the other wonder of wonders, Galileans speaking in other languages. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. There was a mixed reaction to this. Jews from all known corners of the world were there. Some utterly amazed, others made fun of them, saying they were drunk. It’s here Christianity begins its march.
‘But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.’ (Acts 2:14) Peter stands up. This is a very different Peter we see to the Peter of Matthew 26:74 ‘The he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” It is also a very different group of disciples compared with the disciples in this chapter of Matthew. There has been a dramatic change. This is not a Peter who is terrified of what others think of him. He shows remarkable authority. He is standing up physically and spiritually. He sought out Jews who had been mocking them and says, ‘For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.’ (Acts 2:14). It’s customary for Jews not to drink on the Sabbath or during festivals. They would fast, having not eaten or drunk. It was only 9 a.m.
What has brought about this change in Peter and the other apostles? ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.’ (Acts 2:32). These disciples had seen Jesus being crucified on a Roman cross and being brought back to life three days later. Jesus had beaten death, proving He was really who He said He was. The disciples were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus. We serve a risen Saviour. We trust in Christ who lives forever more. As Christians we are going to be resurrected one day because of what Jesus has done. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). This is also seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:16
These disciple weren’t only able to stand up for Christ in front of hostile Jews, Peter and the other disciples stood because they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). The resurrection and ascension of Jesus meant that His promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit would be fulfilled. Peter stood because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Do we have God in us? Do we crave to be filled by the Holy Spirit in such a way that we can stand for the cause of the cross, whatever the cost?
Christianity that is on the march has confidence in the Bible (Acts 2:16-21)
The scriptures prophesied what was seen. Peter quotes Joel, ‘”And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”’ (Acts 2:17). God’s plan for the world is much bigger than you or I think. It includes not just Jews but Gentiles as well. This would have been a very big deal for the crowd. Peter is showing he has confidence in the Bible. He knows he is part of the purpose and promises of God as prophesied in the Old Testament. They have God on their side. They are living out the very purpose of God. They are part of something huge – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied in the Old Testament.
Peter trusts the Bible. Do we have the same trust in the scriptures? Are we confident that the Bible is the inherent word of God and that we are in the Bible? ‘By grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ (Ephesians 2:6). Fantastic! See also John 17:20.
There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ, some in minute detail. Jesus fulfilled everyone to the letter. We need to tell people about them. Do we spend time meditating on it? Does it pepper our conversation? Do we live by it?
Christianity on the march makes much of the death, resurrection and reign of Christ (Acts 2:22-36).
Peter talks about the historical Jesus, but he is not merely giving a history lesson. There’s one pronoun repeated time and time again here. ‘You.’ Peter makes it personal to his listeners. He’s telling them ‘You saw Jesus yourselves, you put Him to death. Peter is not being subtle! He means for his listeners to see the horror of what they have done. The death of Jesus is not an awful accident. The key phrase is in verse 23, ‘This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ God meant for the death of Jesus to happen. Jesus’ death was purposed by God. Christianity on the march makes much of the death of Jesus Christ; it is God’s answer to the world’s greatest problem – sin. Without sin being forgiven we can never be with God. But, the fantastic thing is sin can be forgiven because God planned for Jesus to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Do we make much of the death of Christ?
Christianity on the march also makes much of the resurrection of Jesus. ‘God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.’ (Acts 2:24). It is plainly obvious that Peter is at pains to prove that the resurrection of Jesus really did happen and it was also prophesied in the scriptures. Christianity is on the march because the resurrection of Jesus really did happen.
Peter also quotes Psalm 110 in which David points prophetically to Jesus’ resurrection, ‘The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ (Psalm 110:1) The climax can be seen in Acts 2:26, ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore known for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Christianity is on the march here because God’s plan goes beyond the resurrection of His Son. Peter answers the question of verse 12, ‘What does this mean?’ by showing that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s own answer to the problem of sin and death.
Jesus ascended and poured out His Holy Spirit. Do we have the same confidence? Do we believe in the reign of Jesus Christ? ‘Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the sun, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:9-10).
Christianity is on the march because it tells the world to repent (Acts 2:37-41).
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, convicts His listeners of their sin and need for righteousness. Peter had just called the listeners murderers. They were not offended. By the Holy Spirit they feel the need of an answer, asking “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They know they are in trouble. In order for us to be saved from our sin we need to see our sin and need. The answer is not popular. Our message is the same as Peter’s, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38).The people needed to repent. Nobody wants to be told they are wrong, they are sinners. Repentance shows a change of heart. From the mess of our lives we can receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Do we ache for the lost to be saved? Do we warn people and plead with them? ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ (Acts 2:40).
What is the result? ‘So for those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.’ (Acts 2:41). Isn’t that what we want – 3,000 added to our number this day!