CALL TO HEAR
Our message for today comes from the book of Acts. As you read through this book you quickly discover the power of God as you cross line upon line where Jesus’ Promise to His disciples is fulfilled. The church in Acts was by no means perfect. At one time they are praised for their sacrificial living and care for the community and just a couple chapters later death comes upon them because of greed and selfishness. However, what God does through this rag-tag group of individuals is hope for us today. For the Acts church, as well as for us, there is but one mission, “to make disciples of all men.”
In the book, The Hole in Our Gospel, Dallas Willard is quoted as having said;
The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes – a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian Church today is that of pitching its message too low (p165).
As we’ll see, this was not the case with that first band of Believers. They weren’t familiar with the quote,
“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
What we find in the pages of the Bible is a direct correlation between the spreading of God’s Word and the multiplication of God’s people! As the Word of God spread throughout the world there was an increase in the Christian population. Faith in God comes by hearing from God and God is always speaking through His Church.
I want to spend our time together talking about three things. 1) POWER, 2) GRACE, 3) FEAR. My hope today is that we who believe in the resurrected Jesus, will leave these pages with a new zeal to proclaim Him alive and the Author and Perfecter of faith and that we would do it with boldness and that those who have not yielded to His love would do so today.
I want you to think about something here. For approximately 3 years, Jesus spent hours upon hours teaching and giving examples to the disciples about who He is and what His kingdom is like. He had even sent the disciples into neighboring areas to spread the truth about the Gospel of His kingdom. But Jesus, infinite in wisdom, knew that His followers would need much more than a good message; they would need POWER.
At the closing of Luke’s gospel we find Jesus’ parting words to His disciples, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:19). Is it any coincidence that when Luke writes the book of Acts, in the very first chapter, he picks up where he left off in his Gospel record? I don’t think so.
In Acts 1:8 Luke records that Jesus told His disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…” Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, says not only is this true for the Believers in Acts, but for us as well. He says,
If we don’t have access to spiritual power, how can we accomplish what needs to be done? Power to overcome sin. Power to overcome spiritual enemies that attack us. Power to endure hardships and affliction. Power to [pray]. Power to [speak]. Power to [witness] (p105).
Here in the pages of Acts, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ Promise as the apostles, “with great power gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus” (Acts 4:33). Once these men hid for fear of the Jews (Jn. 20:19), now they stand nose to nose with the murders of Jesus. What would happen? How would they respond? Jesus told His disciples in the Gospel of Luke, “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11).
Understand this church, because God has promised Power to witness, because the Spirit of God will be the voice of God, we don’t have to be overly concerned with the message. The Truth will speak! We must be like the apostle Paul and “preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). You see, “the kingdom of God is not (merely) in word but in power (1 Cor. 4:20). Because God gives Power we can trust, that in the hour of our testing, when those who oppose our Lord rise against us, the Holy Spirit will come to His defense! We are the speakers through which the voice of God is being amplified! Don’t bite your tongue when given the opportunity to speak about Jesus. Don’t shriek in fear because of political correctness. Pray for boldness to speak God’s Word. That God would stretch out His hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the Name and Power of Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).
When our tongues can’t utter a word the Holy Spirit will speak. He will move when fear has paralyzed us and He will convince the calloused heart that ONLY through faith in the resurrected Jesus, the Master over life and death, can the grip of sin be removed! Don’t be ashamed to tell the world that Jesus lives. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but [He has given us a Spirit] of POWER, [a Spirit of] love, and [a Spirit] of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord…” (2 Tim. 1:7-8a). Preach Jesus and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2)! Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised (Ps. 96:2-4).
Not only was there great power with that first Church, but “great grace was upon them all”. Grace is power as well. Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Did you catch that? Paul says that “grace labored more than any”. “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Jesus says that it is grace which supplies what is lacking in the needy and gives strength to the weak (2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:1).
According to Strong’s concordance, one interpretation of grace goes this way, it is “the divine influence (power) upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (chario, #5485). Wesleyans and Arminians have a term for this kind of grace, they call it “prevenient grace.” Prevenient grace is the grace of God that goes ahead of the prophet into the Valley of Dry Bones and says to that lifeless bunch –
It is the grace of God that steps into the deadman’s tomb and commands death,
“Untie that man, and let him go”!!
God’s grace says, “when your biological mother and father forsake you, the Lord will take care of you” (Psalms 27:10). It is God’s grace that converts the calloused heart of a convicted felon. And God’s grace can take a little bitty congregation that was caving in on itself and sustain it for more than a hundred years so that it becomes a “lighthouse of hope to the community”. “And GREAT GRACE was on all of them” (Acts 4:33).
The Apostle Paul says that it ism
the grace of God which brings salvation and has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
The great grace of God is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. It is the grace of God that comforts us and gives us the victory over our enemies. When we were weak and ungodly, when we were the enemies of God, just in the nick of time, the grace of God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ saved our sinful souls!
You may be here this morning and you know nothing about the grace of God. You may be completely unaware that the sovereign hand of God has sustained you and allowed you to see this day that He may pour His grace upon you and your family as you humble yourself under His mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6)! I want you to know my friends, today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)! Behold, the kingdom of God is before you (Luke 17:21)!
Not only did the apostles give witness to the resurrection of Jesus with great power and great grace, but great fear came upon them as well. This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Those of you who are in our Sunday School classes will remember that this husband and wife sold their land and pretended to give all of the money to the church. The Apostle Peter confronts them about their greed and selfishness and tells them, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v4). Specifically, they have lied to the Holy Spirit (v3, 9).
Now look at Acts 5:5-11.
Now, let me mess up your theology for a second. In the Church particularly, when we talk about fearing God we get two reactions. The first reaction is to utterly oppose any suggestion that we are to fear God. The second reaction is to downplay fear to the point that we only need to add a Mr. or sir in front of God or that we say please and thank you. Look again at Acts 5:11. Who did fear come upon? 1) Church 2) all who heard. The word used for fear in these verses is sort of like a batter, it has a positive side and a negative side. On the negative side, it means to be in fear, dread or terror – that which strikes terror in the heart. On the positive side it means to have reverence (respect)… as a wife to her husband (Thayer’s Definition).
A.W. Tozer, in his book The Knowledge of the Holy says that
fear is the painful emotion that arises at the thought that we may be harmed or made to suffer. This fear persists while we are subject to the will of someone who does not desire our well-being.” He goes on to say that at “the moment we come under the protection of one of good will, fear is cast out” (The Knowledge of the Holy, p99).
I want to suggest to you today, that both of the meanings of this word fear are intended in our verses. Remember, everyone witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit striking Ananias and Sapphira dead. This didn’t just cause them to respect God, they were afraid for their lives! However, it was the fear for their lives which lead them to have a reverence (holy respect) for the Lord!
I believe this type of fear is missing in our world today! Unfortunately, to a great degree, the blame lies at the door of the Church. The Church who labors to give witness to herself with great programs and great buildings. The Church who exalts herself with great speakers and great preaching that all men may be drawn to her and not to Jesus! The Lord says, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever (Deuteronomy 5:29)! “…when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him…(Exodus 14:31).
Men and women in our day do not realize the power that God has at His disposal, that’s why they don’t want Him in our schools and businesses; but if they only knew, that if He were not the God grace and love; if He were not longsuffering and patient we would surely die in our sins! And so, in Acts 5:14, as the great power, grace and fear of God is on display, the Believers multiple.
Howard Thurman says that when we become a child of God there is
the awareness of being a child of God tends to stabilize the ego and results in a new courage, fearlessness, and power” (Jesus and the Disinherited).
Jesus says “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). And great fear was upon them all.
CALL TO RESPOND
Let me close with this. In the Bible we see God, we see Jesus displaying the divine power of God on a regular basis. However, there were instances where Jesus couldn’t heal because of unbelief. Unbelief/Doubt is the mental assent to reject. It is the mind that is made up to refuse God. Doubt quenches the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). It is from the Spirit of God that we get power and when we resist the Power, we thereby forfeit the Grace and where there is no power and there is no grace – there will be no fear of God!
If you DO fear the Lord you have nothing to be afraid of because “…you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). But if you DO NOT fear God then you have much to fear because He “…is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
If you are a Christian and you have struggled with proclaiming the Truth of God’s Word I want to encourage you to pray and ask God for the power and grace to do that. If you are not a Christian, but you realize that God is calling you into a relationship where your sins are removed and you have nothing to fear in this world or in the eternal world please pray for forgiveness. Confess to God that you accept Jesus and His loving grace and let God welcome you into His family where His perfect love casts out fear.