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About this series
God's Agenda for Planet Earth (including you)
Sometimes it's confusing to try and figure out God's agenda for a world in turmoil, much less make sense of your unique purpose in His bigger picture. Yet God has a specific calling for each of us, and learning to walk in that calling propels us to take steps both large and small that DO change the world. This series, drawn from Acts, examines the Biblical truth about God's agenda for planet earth, His perfect timing and what all of it has to do with you. You'll learn how to recognize how God's plan unfolds in your life and in the world around you, and how to avoid the "grace stoppers" that can destroy God's work in your life.More from this series
The second lesson from Acts 4 is, “Fear not, the Holy Spirit will protect you.” Because, see, once you say, “Well, if it starts coming out of my mouth, well, you know, I’m going to get a bad reputation or it might limit my job or, you know, He might, oh, gosh, what if it works? That could get really scary. I might have to go on a mission trip or, or…”
So pretty soon we have this fear of what might happen. Notice what happens as we pick up the story in verse 13.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John they realized they were unschooled, ordinary men.” That’s good because that’s who most of us are. “They were astonished and they took note of these men that they’d been with Jesus.
“But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then they conferred together. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everybody living in Jerusalem knows that they’ve done an outstanding miracle and we can’t deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer anymore in His name.’
“Then they called them back again and commanded them to speak or teach no longer in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it’s right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’
“When they had further threatened them then they let them go and they couldn’t decide how to punish them because all the people were praising God for all that had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.”
Will you underline this one verse? “We could not stop or help ourselves from thinking.” It’s unstoppable. But notice what? He says, he doesn’t say, “We couldn’t stop speaking about these intellectual arguments. We couldn’t stop thinking about this obligation and duty.”
He says, “We couldn’t stop speaking about what we personally have seen and what we personally have heard.”
When I hear some of us, as pastors, tell people about what they need to do in terms of being more active, and caring, and sharing for their faith? I think we push the wrong end of the stick. I think that’s a mixed metaphor but you get the idea, right?
See, I think we’re always telling people what they ought to do, ought to do, ought to do, ought to do. Here’s the deal. When you are experiencing the love of Jesus and you’re experiencing His power, when you see Him working in you, when you hear His voice, you won’t be able to stop telling people about what’s going on.
Because what’s going to happen over time is you’re going to start caring way less about what people think of you and way more about how much God thinks of them. And that’s freeing.
Notice the promise that Jesus gave. He says, “The Holy Spirit will protect you, fear not.” And then notice the very last night. I mean, He knew! These were people that lived with Jesus for three years, night and day. They knew Him.
And on the very last night He said, “I’ve told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you’ll have trouble but take heart, I’ve overcome the world.” He protected Peter and John.
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a hard time. They had a night in jail. We’ll see later they go through some difficult times. But God will protect you. He can protect your heart, He can protect your children, protect your fears.
But you need to understand, when you boldly step out and allow Him, not just through your life but through your words to speak, He’ll take care of you. He’ll protect you. I mean, He’s God. He spoke and the world came into existence. And He loves you.
And He loves those people that you care about that so many times, right? You get right there and the words are stuck right here and you just can’t get them out. “There is no other name given unto man under heaven by which we must be saved.”
You are the conduits. You are the greatest Christian some people know. Some people may never hear unless they hear it through you and me.
The third lesson is, “Fear not, the Holy Spirit will empower you.” Some of us feel like, you know, “I just, um, I don’t have what it takes. It’s not just that I don’t know what to say, I just, I just don’t have what it takes.”
Notice how the story continues on verse 23 and where and how they experience God’s power. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and they reported all that the chief priest and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”
Listen to this prayer. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “You made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant, our father David.”
And then they quote Psalm chapter 2. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His anointed One.”
Do you see what they’re doing? They were just taking baby steps. I mean, the morning just, it was just less than forty-eight hours ago Peter is just on his way to a prayer meeting. He doesn’t know anything any more than you and I.
On the way to the prayer meeting this happens, then the miracle happens, then he ends up in jail, then he’s in front of all these really smart, powerful people and stuff starts coming out of his mouth. When he got done with that I bet John went, “Whoa. Man, where did that come from?” “Oh, remember He said He would speak through us? Boy, that happened.”
And then they leave and they go back and they tell the people, “This is what happened,” and then they realized, “Wait a second. This is exactly what David prophesied. He said the nations would rage, they would come against this Messiah.”
And then notice what the text says, “And as they prayed to the God who created everything, who is in charge, who is sovereign,” what does he say? “Indeed,” he gives examples, “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and with the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your Holy Servant Jesus whom You anointed. They did what Your power and Your will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats,” and notice his request, “enable your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
And then in response, kind of like God saying, “You boys, you’re on the right track.” Verse 31, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God boldly.”
Now notice one line that may catch you is verse 29. Verse 28, right above it. “They did what Your power and Your will had decided beforehand that should happen.” God wasn’t caught off guard by Judas. He wasn’t caught off guard by Herod. He wasn’t caught off guard by the religious leaders or by the Gentiles.
You need to understand there’s a sovereign God over His story that we call history and He’s absolutely in control. However, He gave us, as individual beings, the freedom to make choices that we’re responsible for.
Judas, the Gentiles, Herod, Pontius Pilate – they freely made those choices that God was aware of. He is absolutely sovereign and they’re absolutely responsible and free moral agents.
Anytime you push either of those things to an extreme you get in trouble. God’s ship of history will arrive exactly where He determines it to be but inside of that ship of history on the journey, we all make very individual decisions that we have the freedom to make and are held responsible for that do make a very real, legitimate difference.
But Peter was saying, from the big picture, God, knowing His love for us, knowing the human heart, He would bring His Son and allow these people to rage against Him and notice what the issue here is. He empowers them. Notice they didn’t pray for protection. They prayed for more power.
See, something has happened, it’s a real subtle thing. When paradigms shift and they happen real subtly what happens is you don’t even see them happen and then pretty soon you’re over here and you’re using all the same words and your heart of hearts, as far as you know, doing exactly what you think is right. But the paradigm has shifted.
This group of people actually believe that they were on mission and their mission was to fulfill what Jesus told them who had raised from the dead. They felt like their number one priority was to take this message of life. That people’s eternity was hanging in the balance and the Creator of heaven and earth and all that there is had actually empowered them to express His love to people.
They weren’t trying to figure out how Jesus could make their life easier. They didn’t pray, “Oh God, change the circumstances. Oh God, stop the persecution.” What did they pray? “Give us power! God, will You enable us to do even more of what just happened?”
In a couple chapters it gets worse in their persecution. And instead of whining and complaining, they thank God for the unspeakable privilege of being counted worthy to suffer for Him. That’s a little different than Christianity today, isn’t it?
See, what’s happened, the subtle shift is, our consumeristic mindset, Oh God, make my world work out, little by little by little has drifted into the Church.
And so, the depth of our hearts, our prayers, they go something like this, God, make my life work out. God, give me a nice home. God, help everyone I know and love not to get sick or get bad. God, help me find that right person so I’ll really be happy. God, once I find that right person, will you give us a couple kids? 2.8 would be great. And then would you please protect them and allow them to get in really good schools and, God, you know, they have to be in this and this and this and this because I want to be the king of their world because they need to be the best in music, the best in that. And I’m going to tutor them for their SAT schools. And really what I want to do is I want to be the king of my world and I want my world to totally work out. Jesus will You please help me make mine work out so I can be super happy and fulfilled because I’m the center of the universe and I’m the king?
And that’s how we view. God, what’s wrong? Why did You allow this cancer to happen? Why did I lose my job? Why did my house go upside down? As though God’s purpose is to be your self-help genie.
You’re on His team, He’s not on your team. You’re on mission. They don’t pray for, “God, take away all the pain.” Give us power in a fallen world so that when I lose my house, they see something different. When I get cancer, they see something different. God, life is so short and so temporal, would You enable and empower me and give me all that I need to fulfill Your divine plan for my life?
And here’s what you’ve got to understand: when you do that, out of His overflowing mercy, He will often bring a wonderful person into your life. He’ll often give you, usually three or two, not 2.8 kids. He will often bless your kids with a talent and allow them to get into nice universities or be gifted in sports or music.
And if properly understood, they’ll realize, what do they have that they haven’t received? And they’ll be stewards of that for the glory of God, not asking Jesus to make their life work out to make them “fulfilled and happy.” See, that paradigm shift changes everything.
This group was trying to figure out: how do we fulfill the agenda God gave us? Not: how do we get God to fulfill the agenda we think will make us happy? And so, He answers their prayer.
I couldn’t help but see this. You know, they go through this and as soon as they get out of jail they came together corporately and they prayed. That’s, like, before God. And then their prayer was that they could be on mission. And then what we find is they gather in community.
See, you all need to understand we’re not trying to figure out how many people we can get inside this building and count that number and be happy with that. We’re not trying to figure out how we can just, sort of, up everyone’s moral quotient fifteen or twenty or thirty percent and give everyone a little, nice, “I’m a Christian.”
We’re trying to become Romans 12 Christians. We’re trying to be authentic followers who are surrendered to God who live separate from the world’s values, have a sober self-assessment, who love each other, serving in love passionately, and supernaturally respond to evil with good.
And the pathway of God, Old and New Testament, is that individual people who say, “I will discipline my life and arrange it to come before God.
I’m going to get connected from the heart and get in community where the real me shows up and meets real needs for the right reason in the right way and I’m going to do all that because I have a purpose and a destiny by the God who created me and I’m going to be on mission 24/7.
That B-I-O life brings about transformation in your home, with your roommate, at your work, in your neighborhood. That’s the game plan.
And so it starts with baby steps but after the baby steps, God’s looking for a church and a group of people that do what? Walk in the power of God. We can’t do this. Everything I’ve described. The vision of this church. It’s laughable in our strength.
God’s looking for some people that will walk in His power. Because what happens? Then the Spirit of God is working inside of you and He’s doing supernatural things because, have you ever thought, God lives inside of you if you’re an authentic follower of Christ.
I mean, think of that. Your expectations ought to be pretty high. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you. Now, you’ll notice we talked about fears and did you notice each time there’s a promise? Notice what Jesus promised in John 15:16, “You didn’t choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and your fruit will last or remain. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.”
So what do they ask? They ask for more power. This is the very last night again. John 15. What’s Jesus saying? You’re on mission. I chose you. You’re on My team. There’s something to do. And, “you should produce fruit” is first and foremost the end character-quality: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control that you’ll become like Christ. And then you’ll fulfill that mission.
Final lesson, lesson number four is, “Fear not, the Holy Spirit will provide all your needs.” So one of our fears is you start getting generous with your time, you start taking, you know, get vulnerable with people, you know? You start getting generous with your money, you know, down deep all of us are, like, “Ohhhh, what about me?” Right?
I mean, I’m all for being like Jesus but I’m thinking if I do this, what about me? What about my needs? What about my spiritual needs? My emotional needs? My financial needs? My social needs?
And so, what we do is we create this little box and say, “God, I want You to know I am really all in as long as it’s inside that box.” Right?
“Don’t take me too much out of my comfort zone, whether that’s financially or socially or geographically but, God, I really…” And as you grow, “Oh, I made a bigger box.”
And here’s what the Holy Spirit wants you to know. He wants you to know, “You know what? Stop thinking with the small pie mentality.” The small pie mentality means, it’s people who think, like, the world is filled with limited resources.
I mean, the God who spoke the world into existence, what do you need that He can’t give you? You need some money? He’ll give you some money. You need some faith? He’ll give you some faith. You need a friend? He’ll give you a friend. But He gives those things to what? To people that are on mission.
Notice, well, how does He do that? We pick up the story in verse 33. “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” Unity. “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own but they shared everything that they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and much grace was upon them all. There was no needy person among them for, from time to time,” this isn’t socialism, it wasn’t communism. It was voluntary. But there was this love for one another and so from time to time, I mean, you’ve got to remember, it’s a startup, right? Startup needs and infusion of capital.
It’s a startup group with startup leadership that’s going to change the world and so they were sharing and helping one another as a continual basis but it was voluntary, you didn’t have to do it.
And then from time to time, some of the people with significant resources said, “You know, if we’re going to get this thing off the ground and if we really care about one another, you know, man, I got two homes. I don’t need two. I got four of these, I don’t need four.”
And so, they would sell some of their property and notice what they do. They bring it to the apostles’ feet and they distribute it to anyone as they might have need.
Here’s Jesus’ promise: Jesus said to you and me, “When you fear: what about my needs? But seek first His kingdom.” There’s the paradigm shift. His rule. His agenda. His mission.
And then His righteousness. Being like Him. Being loving like Him, being kind like Him, being pure like Him, being holy like Him. Seek first God’s agenda, God’s kingdom, and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
See, if you had one of those highlighters, if I had a yellow highlighter and we were, like, a second grade class I would say, “Okay everyone, put your notes down please.” And then I would take the yellow highlighter and then in big, bold words across, sort of, horizontal. Those notes that you have I would write F-A-I-T-H. So you could still read all the notes but you’d realize, at the end of the day, what God is saying is, “Jesus made promises. You’re on mission. It’s faith.”
Everyone in the world is either going to live by fear or by faith. You fear rejection, you fear the future, you fear the stock market, you fear what other people think. All your fears are what dysfunctions grow out of.
Or you step back. You either fear stuff of you fear God. Everybody fears something. But if you fear God then you live by faith. And you say, “God, I’m afraid to live any other way than the way You want me to.” And, yes, it is reverential awe but it’s also, He’s the all-knowing, all-powerful, consuming fire who has put me on mission.
It’s not like, I hear people pray like it’s a negotiation, “Well, I know You created everything there is and, you know what? I think the top three look pretty good to me but I’m really not interested in numbers four and five.” Like, who are you talking to? You know?
God’s commandments aren’t like a salad bar that…but what happens is if you could just understand how deeply you’re loved. “He that spared not His own Son, how would He not freely give you anything and everything you need?” He’s so for you but you need to be positioned to be blessed.
Instead of the guilt route what I’ve learned, when God helps me begin to see other people, because you know? It says when you’re walking in the power of the Spirit, what’s the evidence here? They’re unified. Right? They’re bold. And they’re generous.
When God’s Spirit is working in an individual and a group’s heart, you will find a group of people that are bold, they’re unified, and they’re very generous.
And what I’ve learned over the years is, trying to muster that up doesn’t work. But when I can see through the lens of others’ needs, God does something in my heart where I want to extend the money He gave to me, or the time He gave to me, or the gifts He gave to me, to really care about other people.