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The Church's Strength

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
October 10, 2022 2:00 am

The Church's Strength

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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October 10, 2022 2:00 am

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If you would turn in your Bibles with me, we're going to look at the Book of Acts, Chapter 4. We're going to be looking at verses 23 through 31.

Hear God's Word for us tonight. When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, and who, through the mouth of our Father David your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot in vain? For the earth set themselves and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed.

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.

Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we come to you tonight asking that your Holy Spirit teach your word. Lord, the words that we just read is your word and it is instruction to us on how we are to respond, where we are to find our strength as the body of believers, as the church, as threats and persecution loom against us. Father, we thank you for this instruction. We ask that your Holy Spirit make it real to us tonight. Lord God, take your word and drive it deep in our hearts and conform us more to the likeness of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. And it's in his name we pray. Amen.

You may be seated. To be in the night to look at these verses, the key will be to look at the context to which these verses are in. And that context is found in chapters three and four. If we flip back through three and looked up through four to where we're at, what we would find is that Peter and John are going to the temple in chapter three at the hour of prayer. And as they are approaching the temple, a lame beggar looks to them and asks to be given alms. And it says that Peter met him with his eyes and said to him, Silver or gold, I have none, but what I do have I give to you.

Arise and walk. And at that moment, the beggar stood and walked and entered into the temple with them. At that healing, Peter then is in the porch or the portico of Solomon.

It goes on. And he is preaching the gospel to those in the portico of Solomon with now the blame beggar, who is healed as an authentication of this Jesus Christ who he is presenting to them as their only hope. So we have Peter healing, that healing being an authentication, making what words he is speaking to the people now, the gospel, of true value because they see the truth and the power of the name. And he preaches the gospel well to them to the point that they're believing, they're being saved. The Holy Spirit is working. And we move into chapter four and the very first verse tells us, And the chief priests and the temple guard and the Sadducees were annoyed. I want us to take a minute and think about that as we build up to these verses. They just see this lame beggar who's been begging at their gate.

It says at the end when we get through that he was 40 years of age, so it's not like he's new. They see the result of what Peter did in the healing. They see and hear his teaching and they are annoyed.

Annoyed to the point where they go forward and they arrest and they hold them overnight because it was already evening and they didn't question until the next morning. What happens then is the Sanhedrin gathers and they question them and as you read the text it's tremendous Peter again preaches now to the Sanhedrin who Jesus Christ is. He preaches the gospel to them and they become even more angered. And so they come and they say an admonishment that they are no longer to speak in this name of Jesus Christ. And Peter then responds back by saying if it's good to listen to you or to listen to God we must listen to God so we will continue.

And then the Sanhedrin finishes by threatening them. That is the context that we find our verses 23 through 31 following. And what is really neat is what we see is that from the very beginning of the New Testament church that there has been resistance to the message, there has been threats about that message, there has been persecution to the church from the very start of the church. This is not new whether it's the church in China or the church in what used to be the former Soviet block or even the church in Muslim countries or as we have concerned the church in the West in the United States that may face stiffer persecution, it is not new.

It is not something that we have to try to figure out. God teaches us how we are to respond. There are times especially in our culture that it seems to ebb and flow, doesn't it?

It seems like Christianity is well accepted in certain circles and in certain circles Christianity is actually wanted but then we can turn to a different source or a different outlet and it is a damning talk about Christianity and how vulgar and foul that religion is and what it has done to people's groups or to different sexes, the female role and how they have exploited that. We see it ebb and flow in our time and we get worried and we get concerned and especially around an election time we can get worried and concerned but Jesus gave a warning clear back in John 15 and he said this verses 18 through 21 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own but because you are not of the world but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours but all these things they will do to you on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me. Understand that as we face these difficult times whether it's here or at the church abroad, in China, in Muslim countries what we need to do is know how to respond, how God calls us to respond, how God calls us to respond so that he strengthens us even more so that we can be a light of the gospel into the world that we live.

I'm sorry I'm drying out and I don't know why. The first things that I see when I look at this is the questions that pop into our mind especially when we face a threat or a concern about being persecuted. What is our response to be? Is it that we should go into hiding? Should we get as far away from the threat as possible, hide from them so they can't get to us? Should we complain about it and just continually gripe our concerns to one another? How can this be? It's wrong. We have no reason to be suffering through this and just complain constantly.

Should we plan? Should we plan how to fight it within the culture using the cultural tools that are available to us? I don't see any of that so my answer would be no. In verses 23 through 31 we see revealed the proper response. In these verses we see how God works to strengthen his church, his people in response to these threats and this very real persecution that this particular group is facing at this time. This isn't a distant threat. This isn't if the wrong thing goes at election day or if the country's different style of, thank you, I brought a bottle of water.

It isn't something that could possibly occur. Peter and John were just before the Sanhedrin and they were told in no unspecified ambiguous terms, you are not to preach Jesus Christ. You are not to preach in that name and if you continue in that name these things are going to occur. We don't know what these things were but it says that threats were made. So what I want us to do tonight is look at our text and see how God helps us as we respond appropriately to those threats. When we look at the text I believe two specific actions jump out right away. So we're going to look at those as our two points. Point one will be that a proper assembly and report bring strength.

And point two will be that a proper prayer brings strength. So turning first to this first point let's look back at verse 23 and what do we read? When they were released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.

If you have the ESV it is went to their friends. If you have an NIV Bible the NIV says that they went to their own people. The King James Version translates this to their own company.

I read several different commentators on this passage and each had a differing opinion. Was this their friends or own people or their own company? The church wide or was it a small grouping of men and women within the church?

We don't have the answer here. If you have an ESV study Bible the footnote there on 424 says the whole church responds to the Sanhedrin's threat. So I don't think we're wrong if we're thinking the whole church but that would be well over 5,000 people. I don't know if there was a church large enough to hold 5,000 for them to go and give report to. I would lean that it was probably a smaller group but even that smaller group was a part of the whole church and so that is who they came to. When they were released they didn't go hide. They didn't try to run away. They didn't go and try to plan how their next move would be to preach the gospel. They went and assembled with fellow believers.

Ladies and gentlemen I think that's a huge point we need to see. Christianity is not an individual sport. We are not called to be Christians on an island. In Harrisburg if you are a believer and you are called by God to this church you are called here for more than a reason of just coming and hearing or coming for good teaching or coming even to serve. We are called to be brothers and sisters together working together as a common body for Christ. Each having different gifts but in that process that assembly of God's people with Christ at the head brings a strength. So when Peter and John come back to the assembly they being apostles the strongest probably of the group still need strengthened by the assembly so a proper assembly God uses to bring strength. You know when we sit and look at the biblical set up of the church John chapter 10 verses 14 through 16 Jesus tells us this I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me just as the father knows me and I know the father and I lay down my life for the sheep.

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice so there will be one flock and one shepherd. As God grows his flock as he brings in Jews and Gentiles together the church is built in a strength not through what the Jew or the Gentile brings but as the Holy Spirit empowers each believer in that assembly to bear with one another. To uplift one another to encourage one another we see that it is much more than Jay or Dan or Eugene or Doug or anyone else trying individually to find the right ways to handle issues. Jesus Christ is our head and us is the body strengthening one another to do his ministry and his work. In John 17 Jesus prays for this body and what does he pray for but that we are united to him and to the father and to each other. That our love for one another unites us.

That we're found in him and he is found in the father. So the whole idea of coming to his friends or his own people or his company in and of itself is a proper response as we face threats or persecution so that we can take strength from one another. You know if you look at most of the epistles and you can name examples quickly from Romans or Galatians or Ephesians or Corinthians there is an emphasis on the importance of the body and believers in the way that they enhance one another. But Romans 1 11 through 12 probably tells us the best in those verses Paul says for I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith both yours and mine.

The apostle Paul who I would believe I have nothing to offer to him tells us that by coming and sharing with us that he benefits he is strengthened when he participates in the body of the assembly. So a proper assembly is one of God's ways of us properly responding to threats and persecution. We also want to notice from this verse when they released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them.

Their report was clear and succinct. Their report was to the congregation that which was told to them so that they could prepare but not adding or taking away to cause confusion within the body. So as they bring their report they come and say this is the words that they told us if we continue to preach Jesus Christ.

These are the consequences we can expect. And so at that point the church is well aware of the danger that it is facing right there right then in that city of Jerusalem. So what is the early church's response. Does it say they formed a committee to go and meet and try to determine the best way forward to meet with the Sanhedrin leaders and see if there was some way that they could come to an agreement so that they could continue their ministry.

No. Their response very simply read right out we could say it's worship but most definitely prayer. And what a prayer they prayed.

The second point I want us to consider is that God strengthens us by proper prayer. Look again with me at verses 24 through 30. And when they had heard it they lifted their voices together to God and said Sovereign Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them who through the mouth of our father David your servant said by the Holy Spirit. Why did the Gentiles rage in the people's plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed. For truly in this city there were gathered together against you or against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed both Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now Lord look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. While you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through your name of your holy servant Jesus. Do we have this mind, brothers and sisters when we go in prayer.

What we read right here is a people saying we are fully dependent upon you. You know I shared with a few a couple weeks ago. There was an article that caught my eye and yahoo. And it was Christian author Philip Yancey and I had to look him up just so that you guys are aware I wasn't completely sure but Philip Yancey wrote the book fearfully and wonderfully made.

And he also wrote one what's so amazing about grace. And he was interviewed by CNN and the whole goal of the CNN interview Philip Yancey considers himself an evangelical. And of course that term in our country today is a very hot button term. It has more political motivation than it does church or Christian motivation. But that's what they wanted to interview him on because he classified himself as an evangelical. So it was a rather long interview of how can you put yourself in with this group and tied it to different conservative policies.

Long story short don't waste your time reading the interview it's not horrible. But there was one question that really popped out and I want to use it as an illustration as we walk into the second point. He was asked this question he had traveled through 87 different countries so far in his 50 years as being a Christian author. And so they asked him how has your travel to other countries changed your faith.

And this answer to me is something that that we need to consistently think about and make sure our thought process matches that of scripture. He said Americans have what they think is suffering but in the rest of the world boy it's a lot worse. And I learned from those people. I remember being in China one time with the underground church there.

People had to sneak in and they could have been arrested just for attending. And we were talking about praying for the government which was persecuting them. I asked them how do you pray for the government. They said we pray that we can bear the persecution. I asked them you don't pray that they would stop that you would get a change in government.

They said no that's up to God. We're here and our job is to demonstrate our faith in the midst of persecution. And that just struck so deeply into my thought process that is so different. When things are uncomfortable, when threats stand before me, when opposition rises up. My prayer many times is Lord remove the opposition. Remove the threat.

Lord take away the tough time from me. And here is a church going through that persecution at that moment saying our prayer is Lord bear us up in the presence of persecution so that Jesus Christ may shine before those who persecute us. Is that not a different mindset?

But that is the mindset we see in Acts isn't it? The early church teaches us the exact same thing when Peter and John come back and they give their report. They do not go in prayer and ask that the Sanhedrin be overturned. Or that Rome be destroyed and a government be raised up that is more to their liking. What do they do?

This is what they do. They go in prayer and say sovereign Lord who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. Who through the mouth of our father David your servant said by the Holy Spirit. And in their prayer they pray Psalm 2. Psalm 2. You know what Psalm 2 is? It's a messianic Psalm about how the kings, the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth they set themselves and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed.

And if you go on to read it, I'll read 1 through 6. It says in verse 3, we just got through verse 2. Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us. He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury saying, as for me I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill. When they go in prayer and they quote Psalm 2, and I never thought of this.

I read James Boyce's commentary on this section and this is almost mind boggling. Do you realize this prayer that they are leaning on? 6 to 8 weeks earlier they did not understand the implication of Psalm 2. They knew Psalm 2. But the Holy Spirit did not move and revealed to them that Jesus that walked with them was the fulfillment until after his death and resurrection. And that he walked along and opened all scripture to him and brought the Holy Spirit.

They knew the text. But 8 weeks earlier they would not have been able to pray this because they would not have understood who Jesus was and what he did. But by the work of God and by the work of the Holy Spirit, now do they not only pray it but they go on to say, For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servants and they listed out Herod Pontius Pilate along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel.

Who 6 to 8 weeks earlier they were upset put Jesus to death because he was laying in a tube and hadn't resurrected yet. But now on this side of Pentecost and on the movement of the Holy Spirit say to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestinated to take place. The church understood who God was. And not only did they understand who he was, now they rested in that sovereignty. The very first line, Sovereign Lord, the Greek word used, despota, where we get the word despot. The meaning that they use when they use despota is one who exercises complete jurisdiction.

Absolute domination. One who confesses no limitations or restraints. The very opening address of who they were praying to, they were going and saying, You are the one that only we can rely upon. You are the sovereign to the level that there is nothing outside of your will or purview.

They remember the acts that occurred that declare this. That he is the one who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything in him. He is the one that spoke through David. David didn't teach them.

The Holy Spirit spoke through David to teach them the very thing they now understand about Jesus. And they rest in that sovereignty. Do we understand this sovereignty rightly tonight? Or are we much like the one who came forward and asked Jesus, if you can, and Jesus said, if I can? And how did he have to respond?

Many times like I have to. I believe, forgive my unbelief. This sovereignty thing, many times, we say we can rest on, but then we find ourselves wringing our hands or worried whenever it is the Lord God Almighty, the sovereign Lord, the despota, the one with no limitations, who sets what is to occur, who ordains and allows all things for us. Do we believe verses like Matthew 6 25 and 33? Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.

What you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, nor what you will put on, is not life more than food and the body more than clothing, down to 33. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. And that's a promise of God's care. That's a promise of God's care every moment of every day. Matthew 10, 28 through 31. And do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father, but even the hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows. The promise of God's providence over our very being every moment that he ordains us to live. There's not one of us, and I've said it before from here and I'll say it again, there's not one of us that can make our heart beat. There's not one of us that can make ourselves breathe.

There is not one of us that can make us think clearly, rationally in our mind. It is all given by God to us. The promise of his presence, John 14, 1 through 3.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me and my Father's house or many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself that where I am you may be also.

Jesus physically present with them, God physically present with them. Saying, I'm leaving further in this same chapter. He said, but I will not leave you as orphans. I will send the Holy Spirit. I will send God back to be with you.

And while I'm gone, I'm preparing a place for you and I'm going to take you to myself. So promise of his presence. And that leads to promises like Romans 8, 28. Can we honestly say when we look at the threats and the difficulties and the issues that arise in our lives. We think to ourselves Romans 8, 28.

That God will do good for those who believe in all things. Or do we think, why is this happening to me? How can I get through this? How can I get out of this?

How can I make it less on me? God says, no matter what, all things for your good for those who love and believe in me. We sit and see that many times we end up being that man saying, if you can heal and having to confess our own unbelief.

What we need to be, just like the early church, just like the Chinese church. We need to be grounded in this truth of God's sovereignty. If we take one thing from this small text, the only true and living God ordains all things for his glory and our good. And he makes for them to occur, though we don't understand as we walk through them.

Do you believe this? That is what the scripture tells us. That we can rest fully in him, no matter the situation going on around us, because he has us. Psalm 23, the greatest Psalm that everyone knows, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he leadeth me. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Why? Because I've figured it out? No, because he is there. Do we truly believe and walk in this daily? We also see in this prayer, not just on sovereignty, but they lay their petition to him to grant them the ability that they need. So relying on that sovereignty to give them the power that they need to do the very thing that will bring honor and glory for him and see them through.

In John 15, verse 5, Jesus says that he is divine and tells about being found in him, but at the end he says, apart from me, you can do nothing. We need to pray that God grants us the ability to serve him with boldness. They continue in their supplication and they ask that he continues to work in their presence. At this time that ask is to continue with the wonders and miracles that are putting forth this authentication, but even today we see the miracles of God working out in the salvation of men and women as the gospel is preached. So we must be praying the same thing as a church built on Christ Jesus that God continues to work, that the Holy Spirit takes this word and it makes it effective to those that are his. When we sit and look at how the church responded to a time of threat, to a time of persecution, whether it was the early church or us today, the only place that we can be driven to is to an assembly of our brothers and sisters, uplifting one another in Christ Jesus, finding our strength in him and him alone, and then turning and resting upon his sovereignties. These are the truths that strengthen us and honor God, and these are the truths that are honored by God to finish out.

I just want to move your attention down to verses 32 through 33, and we read this after, well, let's go to 31. Now when they had prayed, the place in which they gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. So we see a prayer answered and a physical sign given by God, and there are some people who say, see, they weren't believers, they got filled with the Holy Spirit.

I saw that in one commentary, and I just put it to the side, and I know to throw that away, because these are believers, the apostles are believers at this point. They already have the Holy Spirit, so God fills them or revitalizes them with a strengthening of the Holy Spirit. We talk about him being the comforter, that word comforter with power. So as God gives the Holy Spirit at times, they are more power-filled. We are more power-filled at times in the Holy Spirit than others, aren't we? A proper assembly, a proper report, a proper prayer leads to a revitalizing of that power of the Holy Spirit, and it goes on, now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. Listen to verse 33. And with great powers the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. God honors. The gospel is being proclaimed boldly, and God's grace is showering the church, and the threat is still there.

The persecutors are still there. But God's church flourishes as we finish out. It would take you out and explain that up to 5,000 now have been added from this preaching. You see God's mighty hand working and building his kingdom, not ours. The church isn't ours to build or destroy, it's God's to move to where he wants it to be. And what we know is God's church will prevail in this world up and through the consummation.

What Jay? God said I will, Jesus said I will establish my church and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. Jesus does not lose. The church is in the position of power when it rests in the sovereign God. It may be not the church that we think it should be or how it should be, but then our thinking is wrong. And we must submit ourselves to that sovereignty of God and pray for his working within us and within our body. That is the proper response that we have. That is the only response that we have because ultimately God moves all the events of mankind. It is his story, that's history, his story, not ours.

We get the privilege, the honor to be a role player, a part, a co-laborer, but it's still his story and he will finish it. We see that the church in Acts moves in one mind and one heart and Christ's grace showers his bride as they rest in his sovereign father. And that is just amazing. That is my prayer tonight at Grace Church that we move with that mind and that mind being the mind of Christ. That he showers us with his grace, which he does, as we rest in his father's work.

Let's pray. Lord, we thank you for your word. We thank you that you instruct us how we are to respond in all situations because, Lord, we can only respond through you. Lord, you are our strength. You are our righteousness. You are our justifier.

You are our redeemer. And Father, as we stand before you, as we face trials and threats and even persecution in this world, Lord God, we will only go through what you allow. When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate said, do you not understand that I have the power to take your life and Jesus' response should be our response to all situations. You only have the power that the Father has given unto you. Lord, let us rest in you. Let us know the truth of your sovereignty, of your love, of your grace, of your mercy. And it's in Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-23 15:55:26 / 2022-12-23 16:08:22 / 13

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