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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
Well, as we get started, I want to ask you a question. Have you ever had one of those, like, “what happened” moments? You know what I mean? A number of years ago I visited where our family lived, about fifteen years earlier, and had not been there in ages and so I was near that town and, you know, I was by myself.
I thought, Well, I’ll just drive by the old neighborhood. Have you ever done this? Any of you? So I drove by the old neighborhood, it was, you know, ten, fifteen years later and I’m sure part of it was my perception.
But it seemed like a nice neighborhood when I lived there and I drove back and there were, like, weeds over here and a car like this and something else like this and a house that looked like it was…
I mean, the place was just like a dump. And I remember driving through and thinking, Ten years ago this was, kind of a, not fancy but it was a nice, clean little street. And I just, like, what happened? I mean, what happens in ten years that this thing just went completely south?
When I study with you Acts chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, there’s some things that I see.
Just a casual observer, what I learn is the Church in Acts is powerful. The Church in Acts is bold. The Church in Acts is ridiculously generous with one another. The Church in Acts is loving. The Church in Acts healed the brokenhearted, the outcasts, the poor, and the rejected.
The Church in Acts, they just grew, literally, not weekly, daily. The Church in Acts expected and saw the miraculous. And when I see the Church in Acts and I’ve traveled quite a bit and I’ve been to churches here and all over the world and I look at the anemic, selfish, inwardly focused, non-dynamic, basic Church today, I look at this Church and I look at the Church of Acts and I say, “What happened?”
Now, there’s wonderful exceptions, obviously. But the research is overwhelming. Most Christians “don’t live like Christians.” Most churches have very little impact, most churches are filled with very religious people but not people that make much of a difference in their communities. So what happened? How could that be?
And what I want to suggest is the answer is in Acts chapter 5. Here’s what I want you to see. The early Church was birthed. Let’s remember what happened. Acts 1 – He ascended. The call to all. Acts 2 – the Holy Spirit came. A movement was birthed. Acts chapter 3 they started taking baby steps toward what? The way God changes the world.
Acts chapter 4, after those baby steps, there’s some persecution and we’re going to find them praying and God does amazing things and Acts chapter 5, these normal, regular human beings, just like us, whom Jesus is now living inside of in the person of the Holy Spirit expressing His words and expressing His love and caring for people and now there’s thousands of people that are living the way Jesus lived, caring the way Jesus lived, sacrificing the way Jesus did. And, I mean, there’s a revolution occurring. Thousands and thousands of people.
Now the Church that Jesus gave birth to gets attacked. In the first sixteen verses it gets attacked from within. In verse 17 through the end of the chapter it gets attacked from without.
And what you’re going to see is there are two things. Two things that are grace-stoppers. There’s two things and they happen to good people like you and good people like me. Literally, two specific things that will destroy God’s work in your life.
These two things will sap the power out of you, your small group, this church, and every church. Are you ready? Let’s look at attack number one.
To pick up the story we need to back up just a little bit because you get a sense of what’s going on at the end of Acts chapter 4. Remember we had the persecution? They were warned and they were released and then they started back, gathered all the people together, and they had a prayer meeting.
And after they had prayed, look at chapter 4 up at 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.”
So God is affirming what they are doing. And then it’s though there was like a lens of the camera and it backs off and it kind of gives you this general picture of, well, what’s it like to be in the early Church?
They met in big groups, they met in homes but what was the spirit like? What was it like? And so the Spirit of God gives us a snapshot of that. Verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. 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.
“There was no needy person among them for from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to anyone as he might have need.”
And then that big lens, kind of, zeros in, like, I wonder what that would look like in an individual’s life. Verse 36: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus who the apostles called Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, sold a field that he owned and he brought the money and he put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Now, in your Bibles there’s a chapter break but that probably would be nice to not have that there because the story begins where I read it and now we’ve heard of Barnabas and now we’re going to get another example. A negative example.
“Now, a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself but brought the rest of it and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said to him, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you’ve lied to the Holy Spirit and you’ve kept back for yourself some of the money you received from the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold and after it was sold wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’
“When Ananias heard this he fell down and died and great fear seized all who heard it at what happened. Then the young men came forward and they wrapped his body, they carried him out, and they buried him.
“About three hours later his wife came in not knowing what had happened and Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price that you and Ananias got for the land?’ And she replied, ‘Oh, yes, brother Peter, yes, we did. It was a big sacrifice. But we saw the needs of all the people and Ananias, after hearing about Barnabas and his generosity, we just felt like that’s something God wanted us to do. We’re actually pretty wonderful, aren’t we?’”
I’m reading into the text just a bit. But I do that because that’s what behind all this. “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the men whose feet buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out as well.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and finding her dead carried her out, buried her beside her husband, and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” I guess so.
Now, I didn’t grow up as a Christian. I’d never opened the Bible until I was eighteen. In fact, my view of Christianity was very, very poor. But at eighteen I went away to school and there was a bricklayer there that was a Christian and helped me begin to grow spiritually.
And I soon learned that I really liked reading through the New Testament. And when I got to this part it was like spooky and scary.
Because I was thinking, Now, I mean, lying I know is bad but death? And it was like isn’t that kind of harsh? Or worse, I was thinking, “Okay, now, if I’m a Christian, if I lie and start pretending a little bit, I mean, am I going to get zapped?”
In other words, what’s going on in this passage? What’s really going on here? What’s the attack? What was the sin? Why did God judge it severely? And then maybe more importantly, what in the world does it got to say to you and to me today?
We’ve given you the story and I’ll make a few observations in a minute. And then we’re going to look at a temptation, we’re going to look at the judgment, verses 5 and 10. You have a man die and then three hours later a woman dies.
Then we’ll look at the reason and the result. It’s very interesting, the external attack follows exactly the same line and I want you to catch that.
So the story, a few observations is this is the first sin in the Church. This is the first time Satan is introduced. We never hear his name, first time we see his name. This is a, not, this wasn’t an, “Oops, I messed up.” They talked about it, they came up with a plan, it was willful deception.
This isn’t that I was seeking to live the life and I blew it today. This is two people that came together and decided: how do we get people to think that we’re way better and way more spiritual than we are?
Fourth observation, it’s a very interesting theological passage. You notice in verse 2 he says, “You lied to the Holy Spirit.” And you drop down to verse 4 and then he says, “You lied to God.” So this is a very important passage on the deity of the Holy Spirit. That God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit are co-equal, one essence, three persons.
And then you get this amazingly powerful, harsh judgment. So, what’s going on here?
Let me suggest that the temptation is to pose. It’s to pretend. Failure to reach our ideals is not hypocrisy. We all fall short. Hypocrisy is deliberate deception trying to make people think we are more spiritual, more loving, more kind.
It went something like this: they were in one of their home groups because they met in the big temples and in one of their home groups, I’m reading into the text just a little bit, and people, there was a buzz. “Hey, did you hear about Barnabas?” “Yeah, yeah.”
It’s like downtown Manhattan Island, that’s what Cyprus was like. I mean, this was a very choice piece of property. He said, “You know what? I’ve got a lot. These people don’t have much. You know, I’m not going to keep score and look at my gross or net worth. I’m going to take that and I’m going to sell it and I’m going to give it and help these people because all these slaves are coming to Christ and there’s all this need.”
And then pretty soon, people are talking. “Wow, man, that Barnabas is a generous guy. I mean, boy, he really loves people.” And I think Ananias and Sapphira were hearing that and what they wanted is they wanted the applause of people. They wanted the people to think really well of them.
And the sin here is they pretend. The sin is they pose. We’ve all done it, right? Right? We all pose. We all project. “Oh, I would have called you back. I just missed you so much.” When the fact of the matter is it was on your answering machine or you saw it on your phone and you went, “Oh, man, I’m so glad I didn’t pick up on that one.” Right?
“Oh, could you help us out?” “Oh I really wanted to come. I really, really did.” When you’re thinking, “I’m so glad I was out of town. I hate going to that stuff.”
Just the other day I was texting a friend and I learned, in the last twenty-four, thirty-six hours I’ve had to change my schedule and I meant to text him to let him know I had to change my schedule and I procrastinated and then last night, you know, I’m thinking, Oh, it’s tomorrow. I’m not giving him any notice.
And so just before the service I texted him and said, “Hey, you know, I really need to change our time we’re going to meet.” And then I added this line: “I just found out about it and I’m really sorry but…”
And now I’m preaching this passage, right? And I’m thinking, “Well, I just found out about it twenty-four hours ago, which I could have told you.” But I was posing. I didn’t want him to think that he was unimportant. I didn’t want him to think that I would just not give him more notice if I could. I wanted him to think better of me. Any of you all do that? We all do that.
And you say to yourself, Well, if we all do that, why does God judge it so harshly? Because at the core of posing is hypocrisy. At the core of posing is, I will tell you this, this story tells us that Ananias and Sapphira reveal how seriously God regards His Church as an authentic manifestation of His character.
This is a brand-new baby. And if He lets inauthenticity and hypocrisy and people begin to play games and use the Church as a political place and to get the applause of people and if it’s not for real, if the people aren’t for real, if they don’t live it out, then like cancer, the thing would have been gone in the first few years.
God emphatically is serious when He says the world should be able to look at the lives of His fellow servants who walk with Jesus and see something different, significant. Perfect? No. But progressively Christ-like and honest and real and when they blow it, they say things like, “I blew it. I’m sorry.” They own their stuff.
See, it’s the sin of pretending to be more devoted to God than we really are. It’s a sin of portraying outward actions that don’t correspond to inward reality.
The essence, it’s playing games with God in order to gain the applause and the approval of people. And at the core, according to this text and the Holy Spirit, it’s lying to God, it’s lying to others, and it’s lying to yourself.
And here’s the danger of posing. Once you start getting the applause of people for misrepresenting where you’re really at with God, I will tell you what, you’ll start believing your own stuff.
And you’ll start thinking you’re really kind and you’re really loving and pretty soon there’s this image, this almost spiritual hologram that you portray and the reality is back here. You know what Sapphira’s name means? Beautiful. This is, her name means beautiful and her behavior is ugly.
You know what Ananias’ name means? God is gracious. Or God is generous. And he’s one greedy dude in his heart. But he wanted to come off as gracious and generous.
And when I do this and when you do this and it starts, I mentioned the texting, it starts in little things. “Oh, I’ll really pray for you.” That’s bigger. And then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I really want to follow You, God, whatever You want me to do. But I’m not consulting Your word, I’m not talking to You, I’m not reading, I’m not doing anything. But I just expect You to bless me.”
And then the pretension and the posing and pretty soon who you are, and what you purport to be, tells two different stories. And when unbelievers get up close and they smell us and see us and you know what? They see that difference. They say, “You know what? I don’t believe in your message and I don’t believe in your Savior.” That’s why the judgment was so harsh. God was protecting His church.
I’ve done this passage once with a group of pastors and I said, “Guys, you do understand that if God was acting like this that most of us would have to change jobs and instead of being pastors, we’d have to be undertakers. And we’d just have to bury all these people in our church.”
And then I said, “No, no, not really. Probably there wouldn’t be any undertakers because pastors pose as much or more than anybody else.” So there wouldn’t anybody around to bury people.
But when God wanted to make the point, and He wanted to stop the attack, and this is satanic. Okay? This is serious.
And some sins once they get going, here’s the problem: since we know everybody else kind of poses, since we know that everyone else has levels of hypocrisy, we say stuff like, “Well, no one’s perfect.”
God’s not asking to be perfect. He’s asking and demanding that you be authentic. Listen carefully. Purity is a prerequisite for power. You want to know why the Church today, or the small groups today, aren’t like the small groups and the Church in Acts? It’s posing. It’s lack of purity.
I think it’s also interesting as you look at this passage that it has to do with finances. I mean, Jesus talked more about finances than heaven and hell combined. You say, “Well, why?” Because, see, Jesus said in Matthew, you might jot this down, Matthew 6 verses 19 to 22. According to Jesus wherever your treasure is there’s a chain connected to it and that chain is connected to your heart.
So wherever your treasure is that’s the revealer. That’s the MRI, the X-Ray machine of the Holy Spirit of God, if you ever want to know where you’re at spiritually just look at your money.
Wherever your money flows it tells you where your loyalty is. It says where your priorities are. It says what really matters.
According to Jesus, are you ready for this? According to Jesus, the two gods are not God and Satan. He said Satan is not a god, he’s a tempter. He’s a beautiful, powerful, created angel. You know what Jesus says? You read that passage in Matthew 6. Jesus says, “There’s me, God, or mammon.”
Those are the two things that are vying for your heart and my heart. It’s money. It’s materialism.
Now, interestingly, you got your Bibles open? Skip back up to verse 31 and after God is affirming them, right? Chapter 4 verse 31, it says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
And that word literally means “to be controlled by.” And notice in verse 31 there of chapter 4, they’re controlled or they’re filled. There’s one baptism, you trust Christ and you’re put in the body of Christ. There’s many fillings.
So, what happens to their behavior when Jesus is controlling their behavior? Look at verse 32, 33, 34. They have one heart, one mind, unity. Everyone says they don’t claim anything as their own. This isn’t socialism, they weren’t in a commune, they didn’t have to give anything.
But it was, since Jesus is living in them and controlling them and their values it’s like, look, all that I have comes from God. So if I have a lot and you have a little, of course I would share because that’s what the Holy Spirit would do.
And I know that He’ll meet my needs. So there’s generosity and then there’s boldness and there’s power when you’re filled with the Spirit.
Now, skip down to about verse 3 or 4 of chapter 5 and Peter says, “Ananias, how has Satan filled your heart?” You ready for this? Same word. Exact same word. He was being controlled by. He was being influenced by.
But where did it come from? It came from envy. It came from jealousy. It came from, “I want people to think of me the way they think of Barnabas, but I don’t trust God. I don’t believe if I sold a piece of property that God will meet my needs so I’m going to keep control.”
It’s not about money, it’s about control. And it’s about under the control, a lack of faith. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to pose and I’m going to sell this, keep this for me. His sin was he said he paid this for the land. Before, he didn’t have to sell the land. And after he sold the land he said, “Peter, tell you what. My wife and I really been praying. We’re convinced that 4.7 percent of this ought to go to the church.” And Peter would have said, “Thank you very much. Appreciate it.”
He could have said seventy-two percent of it. He could have said five percent of it. But what he said was, “We paid, this was what we got for the land and we’re giving it all because we’re so generous.” Hypocrite.
See, money is one of those things that it’s like real objective. You know what I mean? I can say, “Oh, I’ve got this really great feeling. Ooh. Man, when we worship, I get this great feeling.” Or, “I feel close to God when I did this or listened to this song or prayed or I…”
And all that’s kind of subjective and I’m all for all those subjective things. But let me tell you where there’s no power in the Church. The average believer in America gives 2.8 percent of their money to the Church of Jesus Christ.
In America, across the board, of all the millions of people who go to church, over half the people in any church give absolutely nothing.
See, there’s this lack of connection between, “Oh, my mouth.” This is what Isaiah said when he was bringing down the judgment of God upon people. He says, “Israel, you honor Me with your lips but your deeds and your ways are far from Me.”
And so when I say, “I love God, You’re the most important person in my life. I have these needs. I’m really praying. I really need Your help.” And my money says, “What I love is me.” And I have all this debt and I have all this stuff. See, it’s not about the money. It’s about who is controlling my heart.
Which desires are getting fed? And then at the end of the day it’s really about faith. “Well, I would like to be generous and help people but…” And then the “but” is you just list why is it that over half of all the marriages that fail are around financial issues?
Money is never a problem in marriage. Money just reveals values. And when there’s lots of debt, lots of stuff you can’t afford, lots of credit cards that you pay part-time on, what you’re saying is, “I don’t tremble at God’s Word.”
Basic biblical stewardship would just have certain things like God says give the very first off the top so you remember that I own it and so that My mission gets done. And then He says things like: don’t spend more than comes in. That’s a radical idea, you know?
And by the way, I own it all and so what I want you to do is it’s not just about giving. I actually want you to save, even if it’s just a little, I want you to actually invest, even if it’s just a little. And then what comes in each month I want you to keep the number that comes in bigger than the number that goes out.
You do that for three years and then five years and then seven years and twenty years and thirty years. I will tell you, you will end up with surplus and greatly blessed.
Now, do you understand why, see, it’s just a revealer. Now if you happen to be brand-new, by the way, or you’re brand-new in Christ, you know, this is a journey. You know, this isn’t some big message on finances.
You know why we’re talking about finances? Because we’re in chapter 5. Okay? Chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4. This is what happened. And it is the greatest, clearest revealer of where your heart is.
Hypocrisy kills the authenticity of the message and the credibility of the messenger. Hypocrisy. When people poke around and say, “What are you doing and where are you going and can you can and we’re going to do this thing or that thing.” And you say yes or no based on this is what I can afford or not afford.
What my mouth, and my time, and my energy, and money, they need to be saying the same thing. Not perfection. But hypocrisy, posing. Posing like I love God. Posing like I’m devoted. Posing like I really care about people. I mean, deeply. I mean, like, to the point that I’m sacrificially giving 1.3 percent of my income to really help others. They mean a lot right here. You understand what I’m saying?
Now, I know this is a hard message to hear but do you now understand why the Church is anemic? Do you understand why some people don’t get specific powerful answers to prayer? Do you understand why marriages and kids that have issues and relationships that you want to come together – God uses, and always will, finances to direct our energy and our priorities.
In the Old Testament when people were just totally out of whack He said, “You know something? You’re doing your own thing and neglecting My stuff and that’s why you have a purse that has holes in it. That’s why you plant seeds but you know then the blight comes. I will keep frustrating you in this area.” Because when He has our finances, He has our attention, right?
This is an alignment where God wants our hearts directed and really what the issue is, Will you trust Me? Would you believe that when I say I’ll take care of you, I’ll take care of you?
Notice what happened as a result of this. We pick up the story. It says, “A great fear seized those in the Church.” And, I mean, this is more, I’m going to talk a little bit about fear in just a second.
But notice, there was a sense of, “Whoa!” This isn’t like Jesus is my buddy and I think we’ll do whatever we want and I hope things work out and help my life work out. I mean, this is like, woo, serious.
And then notice what happens. “The apostles performed many miracles, and signs, and wonders among the people and all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them even though they were highly regarded by the people.”
I love that. Christians were highly regarded. They weren’t weird. They weren’t people screaming on TV for people’s money. They weren’t hypocrites. The people said, “I don’t want to join that group because I’ll tell you what, you better be a for real, authentic person or you might die. But, whoo, man, they love each other. They’re for real. They so reflect that person they say they follow who came back from the dead, Jesus.”
“As a result, people brought their sick in the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as they passed by. Crowds gathered, also, from the towns all around Jerusalem bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits and all of them were healed.” Circle the word “all.” All of them were healed.
Now, very carefully here. Don’t think that the Bible’s teaching that God heals all people, all time.
Notice how much faith all these people had, by the way. If a hundred percent of the people are healed, see, it doesn’t say. Healing and faith doesn’t always necessarily go together.
Three times in all of Biblical history you see miracles as the norm: When the Law is given under Moses; when the prophetic ministry of restoring Israel, Elijah and Elisha; and Jesus and the apostles.
Every time God gives new revelation: The Law, from Sinai, then there’s a season of miracles, miracles, miracles, miracles, miracles. Parting of the Red Sea, the manna, the quail. Why? To say that God’s truth is here and you can believe it and then there is also, when people take the first steps of disregard there’s a very harsh initial judgment that this is for real.
The same thing with Elijah and Elisha. A great season where miracles were the norm. The same thing here with the apostles.
Now, God still does miracles. God still does the supernatural. He still wants to. But He does it as He chooses and according to His will. But here’s what I want you to see. There was a great fear.
We have a lot of misguided thinking about fear. I’ve heard people talk about, “Well, the fear of the Lord, what it just means is reverential awe.” And I’m not, what’s that mean? Awe. I mean, I get what they’re saying because the problem is you don’t want to be afraid of God because He’s your Father. So how do we…?
Let me give you a picture that’s helped me. Imagine, if you will, being right on the edge of a tabletop out on the Grand Canyon or, like, at Half Dome and when you get near to that edge and when you look down, it’s like thousands of feet down.
And you can be twenty feet back and you can see it all – reverential awe. Wow. Majestic. Amazing. Beautiful.
And then when you get closer what do you instinctively do? “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, guys? One of you guys want to grab my belt, here? I want to see over there.” “You mean you want to get that close?” “I want to get real close. Okay? You got my leg? Hey, dude, get my leg, okay? Hold on really tight.”
And when you get near the edge it is not reverential awe. You are scared to death and your heart is going, (gasp).”
It gets even worse if you say, you know, the little daredevil in you, “I want to really get the experience. You guys hold my belt and I’m going to lean forward.” And they hold your belt out over it and as they do there’s a lot of reverential awe and terror.
Listen carefully. Tozer writes, because, by the way, where there is no fear of God, people sin. It’s what the psalmist said.
The wicked sin because there’s no fear of God in their heart. Tozer wrote, “In the olden days, men were said to walk in the fear of God and to serve the Lord with fear. However intimate their commune with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was a conception of a God as awesome and dreadful. The idea of God’s transcendence runs through the whole Bible and it gives color and tone to the character of the saints. This fear of God was more than a natural apprehension of danger. It was a non-rational dread, an acute feeling of personal insufficiency in the presence of God the Almighty.” We’ve forgotten God is God.
What would it be like to come near the presence of someone whose energy speaks a word and galaxies come into existence? You don’t walk up with hands on your hip and go, “Hey, would you give me a little help?”
That’s how we treat God. You wouldn’t walk up and say, “Yeah, I know there’s, you know, this salad bar of commandments. Uh, hey, I think I’ll obey two, four, six, and eight, nine and seven, I don’t think I’ll be very fulfilled if I do those.”
He goes on to say, “Whenever God appeared to men in the Bible times and results were the same. An overwhelming sense of terror and dismay. A wrenching sensation of sinfulness and guilt. When God spoke to Abraham and Abraham stretched himself upon the ground to listen. When He spoke to Moses he saw the burning bush, he hid is face and couldn’t look upon him. When Isaiah saw a vision of God he wrung out the cry, ‘Woe is me, I am undone. I’m a man of unclean lips.’ Daniel’s encounter with God was probably the most dreadful and wonderful of them all.
“The prophet lifted up his eyes and saw the appearance of lightning in His eyes like lamps of fire and His arms and His feet were like color polished brass. And the voice of His words were like the sound of a multitude of waters. And Daniel alone saw a vision and afterwards he said, ‘For the men that were with me did not see the vision but a great quakening fell upon them so they fled and they hid themselves and I was left there alone and I saw this great vision. And all my comeliness went out of me and I turned in me to corruption. And then I heard the voices and words and it was I went into a deep sleep on my face and my face was toward the ground.’”
That’s a different God than, “Lord, you know, could you help me out a little bit? I don’t feel like doing that today.”
Tozer later writes in balance to this, which is so encouraging, “Once you get an honest, holy fear of God, the cross becomes so rich and so beautiful because through the blood of Christ I am invited in His righteousness to come boldly before the throne of that God in my time of need to find mercy and grace. And this God who is that fearful and awesome and holy and powerful, though exalted in majesty is eager to be your friend.”
He’s transcendent but he’s immanent. He’s tender. He’s compassionate.
He’s the one that says to the woman who has had five husbands and living with a guy, “Sin no more.” He’s the one that says when you’ve blown it and you realize that there is hypocrisy, and sin, and addiction, and you’ve said things, and you have an honest, honest time with God and you feel so wretched inside and so unacceptable, in that moment you said, “God, I bring nothing to the table. How could anyone love me?” And you will be flooded with grace.
Because He is near to those who have a humble and contrite spirit. And those who tremble at His word He esteems.
See, we don’t take the time to get honest. And because you’re not honest and I’m not honest, you don’t experience God.
That’s where the power is. The Church is devoid of power because of the hypocrisy that we’ve learned not only to live with but to give one another a pass on so that because no one really lives it out to any significant degree we say, “Well, I’m just like everyone else.”
I assure you the Pharisees and the Sadducees in Jesus’ day were convinced they were not hypocrites. And they knew their Bible. And they were religious. And Jesus spoke the harshest words that have ever come out of the Creator’s mouth. What happened? Posing.
Second attack begins in verse 17. “When the high priest,” this is from without, “and all of his associates and members of the party, the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles.”
Now it’s not just John and Peter, it’s all of them. “And they put them in public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors and he brought them out. And he said, ‘Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.’ And so at daybreak they entered the temple courts as they’d been told and they began to teach the people.
“When the high priest and his associates arrived they called together the Sanhedrin, the full assembly of the elders of Israel, and they sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers didn’t find them there.
“So they went back and they reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, the guards were standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ On hearing this report the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled wondering what could come of this?”
I mean, they’re scratching their head. “Then someone came and said, ‘Look, the men you put in jail are standing in the temple and they’re teaching the people.’ At this the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles and they didn’t use force because they feared that the people would stone them.
“Having brought the apostles they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.” And just imagine this. This is like going into downtown, Wall Street, Ivy League, I mean, these are the power players. This is walking into the Oval Office in their day.
This is the most powerful, educated, rich people in the world who call the shots and these basic blue-collar workers, with the exception of a couple, are being called in and this whole place is filled and you’re on trial.
And we’ve already told you once to stop doing this. So before you get these guys as heroes who are just going to step up and do the right thing I want you to imagine the emotions that they were going through.
“Having brought the apostles in they made them appear before the Sanhedrin and they questioned them.” And here’s what they said, “‘You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ And Peter and the other apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead whom you had killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him to His right hand as Prince and Savior that He might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.’”
These are the most educated people about the Bible and none of them have asked the question, “I wonder if maybe we’re off. I wonder if we’re in our comfort zone. I wonder if maybe all those Old Testament passages that we have memorized and all the Mishnah and all the Law and all religious stuff. I wonder if maybe this could be the guy. I mean, there’s a lot of miracles going on here.”
But you know what? They don’t have any interest in hearing God. They have interest in controlling their position, their perception by people, and their power.
And by the way, when they do that, or when we do that, we do not experience God. Notice what Peter says. God wanted to give repentance. God wants to forgive people. God wants to love people. And He does it through His Son who He raised from the dead.
“We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey.” In other words, he’s saying, “We saw Him with our own eyes and by the way, all these miracles,” Peter’s saying, “This isn’t me. When Barnabas gave that money, that wasn’t Barnabas. That was the Spirit of God prompting him to just act on that good impulse and allow the life of Christ in him.”
When Peter steps up and is bold in front of all these high-powered people that’s not Peter. This is the Spirit of God flowing through an ordinary human being just like you and just like me. And in his yieldedness, the Spirit of God gives him this boldness.
The response is pretty negative. “When they heard these things they were furious and wanted to kill them.” But the scene changes. “A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for just a little while. Then he addressed the men of Israel, ‘Consider carefully what you do with these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared claiming to be somebody and about four hundred men rallied to him and he was killed and his followers disappeared and it all came to nothing. And after him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and he led a band of people in a revolt and he too was killed and his followers were scattered. Therefore, in this present case, I advise you, leave these men alone. Let them go. For if their purpose or activity is from human origin, it will fail. But if it’s from God you will not be able to stop these men. You will only find yourselves fighting against God.’”
It’s where I got the series titles, Unstoppable. God’s grace is unstoppable. His purposes are going to happen. They’re going to happen in this nation, in this world, His purposes are unstoppable and He has an agenda.
The only issue is whether you will ride that wave of grace, and be a part of what He purposed for you, or whether you’ll stand on the sidelines out of fear and control and say, “You know what? I think I’m more concerned about my agenda than God’s.”
This is scary stuff, isn’t it? It requires faith in a big God. And I’m glad these guys had it. “His speech persuaded them, he called the apostles in, and then had them flogged.” So they, I mean, this isn’t light stuff. Flogged isn’t, like, you know, slap on the wrist.
If you saw the movie, The Passion, this is a pole, multi-lines of leather, steel balls in the middle, and some pieces of glass or bone on the end. Pshhh. You got twelve guys holding on to poles. And they get their back ripped up.
See, just, this stuff that’s been passed around for the last twenty years that if you do exactly what God wants you to do everything will go your way, you have a big house, you make a lot of money, and prosperity gospel is absolutely false.
These people obeyed to the point and what happens to them? They get flogged. When you do the right thing what you get is the joy of Christ, great spiritual reward, fulfilling God’s purpose, a love in your heart, and what money can’t buy.
But it doesn’t mean that circumstances are going to be great. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day in the temple courts and from house to house they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Christ.”
The nation has rejected the Savior, they flogged the disciples, and here is the reason: courage in the face of persecution authenticates the validity of the message and the credibility of the messenger. Courage.
The temptation is to compromise. Purity is a prerequisite for power. Courage is the prerequisite for impact. Compromise is the temptation we all have. To say it a little lighter, to say it a little softer, to sort of step out but not really step out.
When people see courage, in the face of persecution, it authenticates both the message and the messenger. I think the last, I don’t know, maybe twenty, twenty-five years we’ve so wanted to identify with people and let them know that, you know, you can be a Christian but really be pretty hip and pretty cool and maybe really hip and really cool, that somehow we never get around to telling people the truth.
And so we got so near the culture, we’ve fallen in and now you can’t tell a difference anymore. People will say, “I love God” and their behavior and their values, people will say, “I don’t love God,” their behavior, their values.
These people they come to me and go, “You know, I have no interest in it. You guys don’t live any different than me. Your marriages aren’t any better than mine. You don’t tell the truth any more than I do. All you do is you got this religious stuff and say, ‘Well, we’re forgiven.’ Well, you know, it doesn’t work for me. It’s phony.”
Posing and compromise are at the heart of power that’s gone out. The result of these men’s courage is what? Power, perseverance, joy. There was joy. There was joy. This was for real. There was joy. There was a connection with God that was unexplainable, that said, “I am fulfilling what I was made to do in all of the earth and the price was high but there’s something that occurred.” And that’s what God wants for us.