A Journey Thru Acts 12: Filling Your City With The Gospel (5:12-29)
We continue in this our 12th post digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 posts from 2016, our foundations series, where we dug into the Bible to understand what it means to truly elevate God, elevate Christian community, and elevate others (non Christians). So now through the end of June we are digging into Acts to answer the question, “What do we do NOW? What is the LORD building on the foundation of this local church? What does the Bible say the church is supposed to be and do? Not what does the suburban American culture say, but what does the Bible say?”
Sometimes posting (or preaching!) verse by verse through a book of the Bible like this is difficult for people. I write this not as a critique but with empathy. Sometimes we may think: “This is all well and good, but I have practical issues I want help with: relationship struggles, family issues, parenting, marriage, dating, singleness, how to handle finances, etc. Preach on those topics, please!”
Those topics are important, and the LORD has much to say in the Bible on situations like that. But let’s step back for a moment.
Sometimes, preaching like that–searching for topics that are important to us–only treats the external, like mowing down weeds.
Preaching verse by verse through a book of the Bible (or longer passages) often treats the internal, like pulling weeds up by the roots.
(sometimes the first impression given by a portion of a Bible verse/passage–often used in topical preaching–is completely different than the Truth taught when the verse is read in the context of the verses before & after it)
Topics sometimes simply treat our symptoms (lessen my pain!);
Verse by verse can treat the causes (remove what actually is causing your pain!).
The Bible–being the only book that is alive–has the unique ability to diagnose these underlying causes of our relational, financial, parenting, character issues. Only going to snippets of the Bible for topics is like an untrained person diagnosing their own illness. We think we know what we need, but we don’t. The Holy Spirit and the Bible does know what we need, what our real issues are.
Hebrews 4:12-13: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Taking snippets of God’s Word is us reading the Bible;
Going through God’s Word verse by verse is the Bible reading us…
But more than that, loved ones, is the fact that our deepest problems in life are between us & God, not us & earthly situations. We have a faulty view of God and ourselves and reality,
we have sinful desires (inner condition) which show themselves through sinful choices in earthly situations (outer actions). Our real issue isn’t that we need to learn to be more patient (though we all need to learn that!); it’s that we need to learn to trust the LORD and submit to Him & His plan for our lives (not our own plans).
- Remember the Lord Jesus calming the storm: (Mark 4:35-41) the disciples didn’t need to learn how to be better sailors, how to handle storms better from a sailing perspective (better technique), how to learn to AVOID storms, how to read a compass better, etc. That’s what many of us want to focus on—topical, external methods! But the Lord Jesus diagnosed their real problem—inner: “Why are you afraid, oh you of little faith!?” It was their faith in God that was the problem, not their rowing technique. They could spend their whole lives getting better technique–and many church-attenders do!–and never touch their real problem…
- Or consider Hebrews 13:5-6: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…”
Many sermons would focus just on that and teach on ways to not love money and to be content—NON-CHRISTIANS write books about these topics (and Christians often read them and take in their worldly wisdom!).
But that is not the real issue, loved ones, and if we continue reading the rest of the verses God’s Word reveals this to us:
“…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” [from Deuteronomy 31:6]
6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?” [from Psalm 118:6-7]
Oh loved ones, the main issue isn’t greed or being discontent with our stuff; the issue is not trusting the LORD, being discontent with our Savior. The more we trust in God’s promises, the more we know Him (not just know about Him), the less greedy we will be, the more we will sacrificially & joyfully share our best, not just the stuff we don’t use anymore, the more content we will be with our current car, house, phone, computer, outer appearance and the less we will mortgage our future to chase after those things today because we are satisfied in Christ. He is our Shepherd–there’s nothing that we want! (Psalm 23:1)
These verses in Hebrews get beneath the soil to deal with the roots of our problems: we love money because we are AFRAID, afraid of the fury of life’s storms and afraid that the LORD is not powerful enough to be our refuge in those storms! We grip money and stuff to handle the stress of our FEAR…this verse (written nearly 2k years ago!) reveals our tendency to “retail therapy” and “praying in the name of Visa.” Clinging to anything other than the LORD—THAT is the real issue, that is root work, and to do that root work we must go through the Bible verse by verse, passage by passage, not focusing just a verse here & there.
(And we must also note that these verses diagnose our deeper problem by going BACK TO THE OLD TESTAMENT! We must read and preach through ALL of the Bible, not just little incomplete clips and quotes. Does anyone watch a movie in 30 second scenes? Don’t we watch it from beginning to end? The whole point of a trailer is to get us to watch the entire movie; but we treat the Bible as a trailer, focusing on the brief scenes we like & we are content with only that.)
Sermons that treat the symptoms often are safe—if you only offer people adjustments for their techniques in life, they aren’t as likely to get upset & a church is likely to grow numerically (but not necessarily in closeness to Christ)…that doesn’t touch a nerve (but the people really never change, either—like changing a haircut but the person is still the same).
Sermons that treat the causes of the symptoms are often unsafe—if you preach on the weakness of people’s faith in God, they are much more likely to get upset…those sermons touch nerves and make people uncomfortable (but that can lead to a real and total transformation on a spiritual genetic level, not just a cosmetic level).
- We want cosmetic facial surgery, but we need a total heart transplant (that is what happens when we repent of our sins & receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior!);
- We want liposuction, but the LORD wants to train us in righteousness (that is what happens AFTER we are reborn through faith in Christ & we begin following Him as our King & Lord: sanctification, growth, maturity, the fruit of the Spirit!)—push ups, sit ups, running, eating well—total inner change, not just partial outer change. It’s difficult! But it’s worth it!
But liposuction doesn’t really work in the long-run anyways—you might look good for a while but many regain the weight because they haven’t changed on the inside—they have only addressed the outer appearance not the inner condition. And loved ones, by the grace of God we all are here to have our inner condition made new & transformed by the Lord Jesus so that our outer appearance (actions) look more & more like Him…The same is true spiritually. Thus we continue to go through the book of Acts verse by verse, at least through the end of June…
On to Acts chapter 5!
Acts 5:12-29 (NIV)
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
So intriguing—no one else dared join them, but they were highly regarded by non-Christians. YET more and more men & women believed in the Lord and were added.
Interesting. What’s going on here?
Christians weren’t the “flavor of the month”—people didn’t flock to them as the “cool new thing” to try out, see what results they would get in their lives, and ride the wave of popularity. The early church SUFFERED as Christians—nothing to envy there! But they were different, there was an other-worldness about them, as if they lived with one ye on earthly matters and one eye & heart on heaven. They suffered A LOT, faced much danger, and yet were joyful.
They were often paycheck to paycheck, blue-collar workers but they shared extravagently, as if their bank accounts were limitless, and those who did have more freely used their excess to supply others’ lack.
They had beliefs that many thought strange and wrong, but they weren’t wishy-washy & relative about their beliefs but firm and convinced of specific doctrine, specific Truth. They were humbly CERTAIN of what they believed and couldn’t be blown around by clever argument or public opinion or roaring lions.
They had different goals and plans and a mission that was separate from the rest of the culture, and yet they were involved in day to day society being salt & light.
They had the aroma of Christ and clearly had been changed to be like Him. They were different than they had been in a way that wasn’t explainable by simply trying harder or making a few new year’s resolutions—they were NEW, and no one could argue with their reason why: the Holy Spirit had made them reborn and they had received Jesus as their Savior & Lord through repentance & faith.
No one rushed to be part of the group in a surface way, in a shallow way, because it was obvious that one must “take up their cross and follow Jesus” to truly be one of His followers. The Gospel hadn’t been watered-down and made “safe” like it has been today, made to cater to and center around us and our dreams/goals. The early church wasn’t attractional in a human sense—telling people what they wanted to hear. And yet GOD HIMSELF added people to the early church as the Christians boldly shared the Gospel with their words, as the Holy Spirit convicted non-Christians of their sinfulness & need for the Savior, as people surrendered to Jesus as their Lord not just their buddy. Churches grew through conversions, not convenience. Just as the Lord Jesus chose His disciples before they ever chose Him, God the Father continued to choose people to be added to the early church and swept them into the church via the current of His grace & Truth.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
And oh loved ones there is still a “public jail” for those who hold to the classic teaching of the Bible—the jail of public opinion! Deep down, many of us realize the grief & scorn we can receive if we believe and share things like the complete perfectness of the Bible, the Lord Jesus as the only way to heaven, the existence of hell, agreeing with all that the Bible lists as sinful and evil, the Lord Jesus dying to pay the penalty that our sins deserve, etc. These beliefs are extremely controversial today–even among church-atteners!–and yet they are so important to the Gospel, so foundational to this “faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” which we are to contend for (Jude 1:3). Many of us, if we are honest, are scared to let certain people know that we believe these things, or we change our beliefs so that we don’t offend others (add more sour cream, lessen the spiciness). We are often not willing to be put in the public jail of popular opinion, to swim against the current of pop culture.
But look at our spiritual ancestors: when the angel of the Lord miraculously broke them out of prison, God didn’t tell them to play it safe and be camouflage Christians in order to avoid suffering: He took them out of prison and didn’t send them into hiding but back to the Temple to continue His mission for them, telling others with their words about Him and the Gospel and the new life they have because of the Lord Jesus’ death and return to life!
For our U.S. government, the witness protection program means to be hidden & away from danger; for our Governor Jesus, His witness protection program means to be out in the open and exposed to all kinds of danger for the spread of His fame!
Oh loved ones, do you have this new life? Do you have anything to tell others of this new life, new desires, new goals, new beliefs, new boundaries, new freedom, new daily friendship with the God of the universe? Do you “taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed are those who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8)? Have you taken refuge in the Lord Jesus, not just from a stormy season of life but from your sinfulness for eternal life? Would you dare defy any cultural/government command to keep quiet about King Jesus?
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and 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 sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!
While of course not all Jerusalem received Jesus as Savior & followed Him as King, everyone KNEW the Gospel because the early church was constantly proclaiming it in their words.
This is quite under-emphasized in the U.S. today–we like to focus on only doing acts of kindness. Those are important, but in the book of Acts the early church primarily spread the Gospel with words, and there are tens of thousands in Mankato who have no idea what the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb really mean.
To the Corinthian culture that was much like the U.S. today, Paul resolved to only preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)–he didn’t try to reach non-Christians by applying Biblical principles to help them in their parenting, careers, etc. in the hopes that then they would eventually hear the Gospel (after they realized that the Bible “works”). He focused up front right away on proclaiming the cross with his words to non-believers–he filled Corinth with the Gospel; he focused on root work, not weed work…
Loved ones, notice that the religious officials weren’t upset with the good deeds of physical healing that the Christians were doing—they weren’t upset with that because that didn’t threaten their authority or the people’s allegience to them. What truly threatened them was the TEACHING, the DOCTRINE of the Gospel as taught by the Christians’ WORDS. THIS is what they ordered the Christians to stop, because the Gospel of Jesus has the power to truly make people new and meet their eternal needs, not just their earthly needs. The Gospel addresses the ROOT of the people’s problems, not just the fruit of their problems…
My friends, over the last 30+ years Christians in the United States have focused more on acts of loving-kindness meeting earthly needs and much less on proclaiming the Gospel with our words–meeting eternal needs…let’s do both! But with this emphasis on actions not words, more than ever non-Christians do not know the meaning of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb. They don’t know the Gospel even though we spend so much time showing them a portion of the Gospel through our actions. They must hear as well! (Romans 10:12-15)
They literally do not know Who Jesus really is, why He died, what He offers to those who repent & trust in His name. Focusing on our actions is not leading to more people knowing & receiving the Gospel. In fact, even among church-attenders less & less people know the Gospel, Bible literacy is at all-time lows. How many of us could answer in two minutes what the Gospel is, why God the Son had to be born fully human while remaining fully God, had to die in order to offer forgiveness, had to rise again three days later?
Oh what a dangerous & glorious mission, what a thought: that Mankato–whatever city/town you live in–would be filled with this teaching of the Bible, the Gospel, the Good News as you & I “gossip the Gospel” (Acts 8:4) at work, in our neighborhoods, in supermarkets, at coffee shops, at school, etc.! Many will ignore, some will get angry, some will be indifferent, but those appointed for eternal life will believe and be saved! (Acts 13:48) Oh blessed are the feet that bear good news! (Romans 10:15)…let’s go see our Heavenly Podiatrist & ask His forgiveness for bringing everything else BUT the Good News…