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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
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.