GREAT: Power, Grace, Fear

GREAT_Power Grace Fear

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.

POWER

Acts 4:32-33

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).

GRACE

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 –

WAKE UP!!!!

(Ezek. 37:1-14)

It is the grace of God that steps into the deadman’s tomb and commands death,

“Untie that man, and let him go”!!

(John 11:44)

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)!

FEAR

Acts 5:5-11

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.

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An Invitation to Rest

How many of you use email or send text messages? Something you may have noticed on those messages is that every single message you send or receive has a timestamp on it. Timestamps tell us when the message was sent or received. This section of Matthew’s Gospel begins with a time stamp marked by an event; not a clock hour. This is a normal method of writing for Matthew. Let’s begin by defining a few terms before we get to deep.

Read Matthew 11:25-27

In verse 25, What is Matthew referring to when he says, “at that time” or “in that hour”?

In order to understand this we need to look at the Gospel of Luke 10:17. The time or hour in Matthew’s Gospel is probably the moment when the seventy disciples returned from their assignment. Now, back in Matt. 11:25 Jesus begins with praise and appreciation because God has not disclosed some things to a specific group of people. So then, we have to ask ourselves a few questions:

    1. What has God hidden?
      • If you look at the beginning of Matthew 11, you will see that the disciples of John have questions about Jesus’ identity. “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (v3). In v27, Jesus says that no one knows the Father or the Son except the Father and the Son and the people to whom their identities are revealed. There was always a question about Who Jesus was as well as what He taught – the message of the Gospel. But there are some He has not revealed this to. Who are they?
    2. Who has He hidden it from?
      • the wise and prudent (those who claim to understand, perhaps the religious elite)
      • see John 5:39
    3. Who has He revealed it to?
      1. 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
      2. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
      3. 1 Samuel 3:1, 7
      4. Babes (those of child-like faith, disciples)

Until God reveals Himself to us, we have no way of knowing Him, but thanks to His prevenient grace, He has revealed Himself. He is even revealing Himself now, and He will reveal Himself through people. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him, but to those who did receive Him, to them He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in Him (John 1:11-12).

Read Matthew 11:28-30

In this section of scripture, Jesus beckons us to come to Him. Remember in the verses we just read from John’s gospel, Jesus came to us and we refused Him, now He invites us to come to Him. When we come to Jesus, He promises us rest.

Rest from what? From the rigorous demands of life and from a works based salvation.

Jesus also invites us to take His yoke. What does Jesus mean by yoke? Yoke, the way Jesus uses it here, is a double entendre. It has two interpretations. 1) He means to be coupled together like two oxen plowing the field, but 2) He also means a form of instruction or teaching. The people were under a heavy and burdensome teaching which no one was able to bear, following that teaching was stressful and offered no comfort, no peace, no rest. It was a religious hamster wheel. Read Matthew 23:1-4. Jesus juxtaposes His teaching with that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees made pleasing God nearly impossible, but faith in Jesus releases us from this struggle. Again, Jesus invites us to be with Him. You Come MeYou Take My yoke…, but no one can come unless the Father, by the power of His Holy Spirit draws them and God is always drawing people to experience new life, rest in His Son Jesus (John 6:44).

So here are a few questions for us to consider today.

What are some things people labor for in our day?

What are some burdens people carry?

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11).

What are somethings you work for that has no eternal value?

What burdens, what heavy loads are you carrying today that you need to give to Jesus?

 

A Change of Heart

FACTS

  • The average size of the adult human heart is about the size of two fists.
  • At around 4 – 7 weeks after conception the heart begins to beat.
  • The heart beats appx 100K times per day = 35M beats a year = 2.5B beats in an average lifetime.
  • During the average lifetime it pumps about 1M barrels of blood. That’s around 2k gal per day. To get a picture of this, you would have to turn on your kitchen faucet – full blast – and let it run continuously for about 45 years to equal the amount of blood your heart pumps during an average lifetime.

Obviously we’re not here to talk the blood pumping muscle that is enshrouded by our rib cage. We’re here to talk about that fragile part of us which breaks easily and often. I’m talking about the ever-changing heart which is tender and soft one minute then cold and hard at another. That part of us which we are encouraged to let guide our decisions. Just follow your heart. And it is this heart, which houses our emotions and desires, the central part of each of us which the Lord wants to transform. As it is with the physical heart, so it is with the spiritual heart sometimes. We will often ignore the signs of failure. Each of us has experienced spiritual heart failure. Some of you are experiencing heart complications as you read this. There is hope! Behold, the Kingdom of God is here. Today we’ll take a look at a passage from the prophet Ezekiel which will serve as a backdrop for the rest of this message. We’ll also look at other passages and discover what God says about the heart. Let’s read.

Ezekiel 36:22-28

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.

Ok, so when we read passages like this, particularly verses 25-27, where God says that He will do something for us, I think that it is good practice to engage with the text and ask questions. In this case, we should ask two questions specifically: (1)  What’s wrong with the old heart? (2) What good is a new heart. “Imagine having your heart taken out and accepting the heart of another…person…who has given you this gift of life for no reason.”

What’s wrong with the old heart?

Well, to put it simply: The old heart is the soil of sin.

It was the heart of man which housed the world’s wickedness which eventually led to the world’s destruction. As it was during the time of Noah, when men and women were “eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage…” (Luke 17:27). When violence and corruption had filled the earth (Gen. 6:11). The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Look closely at this verse and the Lord’s diagnoses of man’s heart. Words such as every, only, and continually addresses the fullness of the sinful condition of the heart. Apart from God, man is totally depraved and his depravity begins in the heart.

It is in the heart that the seeds of bitterness take root. The sin filled heart is fertile ground for hatred and murder, for jealousy and covetousness. Adultery and lust are planted there. Racism, elitism, and classism, spring up from the heart.

You might read Genesis 6:5 and disagree with the Great Physician’s diagnoses of your heart, “I’m a good person you say.” and you might want a second opinion. Well, if you’re not convinced that something is spiritually and innately wrong with your heart, go to Jeremiah 17:9. In Jeremiah 17:9 the Lord states that The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? That’s why it’s bad advice to tell your friends to follow their heart or to let their heart be their guide. The Lord Himself says that there is not a single thing more wicked, more deceitful, than your heart! Jesus said that, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34b-35). That’s why when someone cuts you off in traffic, without even intending to, you respond in anger. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). “The inclination of your heart directs your mortal life…” (Stabnow, D. K., Holman Study Bible, NKJV).

In the heart, the craftiness of deceit is honed and the appetite for worldliness is carefully caressed. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, pride, foolishness (Mark 7:21-22). Out of your heart proceeds divorce. Out of your heart proceeds homosexuality, pornography and sex trafficking. And from your heart you rebel against God and erect idols to replace Him. “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God…” (Psalms 14:1). The heart, in its natural state, is the soil of sin.

What good is a new heart?

A new heart is the soil of salvation.

As I look throughout the Word of God, I can see salvation taking its very first life-giving beat in the heart of man. What do I mean by this? I mean that, salvation doesn’t start in our heads. And this is a hang up for many people. When it comes to the  redeeming work of God it doesn’t matter how many academic achievements you have because ALL intelligence breaks down in the presence of God. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Now, what I’m not saying is that you have to be an idiot to believe in God, What I am saying is that you cannot be smart enough to get to the point where you will believe in God. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him…” (John 6:44). The Apostle Paul repeats, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God (Romans 3:10-11ff). For My holy Name’s sake, “I will sprinkle clean water on you…I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and a new spirit…(Ezek. 36:25-26)! “…a heart to know Me” (Jeremiah 24:7). The heart of man, redeemed by the Lord, is the soil of salvation.

Max Lucado said that “you change your life by changing your heart.” A new heart makes it possible to love God and neighbor. It enables us to look beyond a person’s race and ethnicity to see the intrinsic value of each person. A hard heart causes us to be tight-fisted and stingy (Deut. 15:7-8), but a new heart gives us compassion for the poor and the lost. With a new heart, we have the ability and power to forgive when we’ve been wronged, a new heart enables us to love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8)! Let the Lord till the soil of your heart today and let Him plant His Seeds of Truth deeply within you!

In Mark’s Gospel 4:14-15, Jesus says that “The Sower sows the Word” and it is in the heart – the new heart – that the Word of God is sown.  King David said, I have hidden your word…” Where? “…in my heart that I might not sin against you (Ps. 119:11). Paul say that God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). With the new heart we can exercise faith in God. Paul says that “we confess Jesus as Lord with our mouth, but we believe (trust) with our heart that He was raised from the dead (Romans 10:8-10). The mouth confesses what the heart has committed to. The heart is the soil of salvation.

Call to Respond

God’s promise to give a new heart, a heart to know Him, was fulfilled in my friend Will Hector. Will came to my office just over a week ago and he was going through a really tough time, he made pretty decent money working as a landman and he had a beautiful girlfriend, but still, life had not yet reached its peak of fulfillment. Will is one of the many people affected by the oil and gas slump, to top that off, his girlfriend packed up and moved to another state. Will talked and I listened as he poured out “his heart”, and he finally admitted that he had tried everything except for allowing Jesus to transform his heart. He confessed that he didn’t even know where to begin. How many of you know, that when you come to the end of yourself, that’s when you can find Jesus? I told Will, we can do that right here in my office, so we held hands and “called on the Name of the Lord”. The Word of God promises us that when we call on the Name of the Lord, we WILL be saved (Romans 10:13). Will walked into my office with an old heart, a heart that was failing, Will had ignored the warning signs for a long time, but by the grace of God, he has a new heart today!! Can we give God some praise for what happened in Will?

What about you? Are you going to keep letting your deceptive heart mislead you? Are you going to continue ignoring God’s warning signs that something is seriously wrong with your heart or will you allow Him to give you a new heart like He did for my friend Will? “Imagine having your old heart taken out, and accepting the heart of Jesus, Who, because He so loved you, He died on a cross for your sins so you wouldn’t have to?”

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