March 11 Sunday Morning Sermon: A Transformed Church

15 Mar

Acts
Acts 9:26-31
A Transformed Church

Last week we looked at the marks of a transformed life. Paul had been changed when God saved him. He could not be silent about Jesus. The change in him was readily apparent. He was growing spiritually. And while he faced opposition because of his faith, ultimately, he was in God’s hands.
    In the passage we’re going to look at today, the focus shifts from Paul to a broader view of the church in and around Jerusalem. Just as last week we saw some of the characteristics of a transformed life, today we will see some characteristics of a transformed church. To see these characteristics clearly, I want to begin with a brief exposition of the text and then turn to the application of the passage to our lives today.

EXPOSITION
Acts 9:26  And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
    The book of Galatians tells us that Paul came to Jerusalem three years after his conversion. But time does not heal all wounds. Three years is a long time, but the Christians in Jerusalem remember the Paul that once ravaged the church there. So they are all afraid of him. They don’t trust him. They’re just not sure that such a change could happen in the life of one who had been so set against them. But then Barnabus comes on the scene.  

Acts 9:27  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
    We first met Barnabas in chapter 4, verse 36, when he gave some of his property to the church in Jerusalem. Barnabus is the son of encouragement and here, after hearing about Paul’s conversion, Barnabus takes Paul and brings him to the apostles, to the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Barnabus stands with Paul and Barnabus stands up for Paul. Barnabus puts his own reputation on the line because he hears and sees the fruit of the Spirit in Paul’s life. So he goes to the apostles and he declares to them both the story of Paul’s conversion and his track record of bold preaching of Jesus.  
    Aren’t you thankful that Paul had these great advocates early in his Christian life? He had Ananias right after his conversion, one who could receive him and be with him in those early days. And he had Barnabus to stand up for him before the suspicious Jerusalem church. And really all along through his ministry, Paul had others who stood shoulder to shoulder with him. Paul is the one we remember, because he was such a tireless minister and such an eloquent writer. But we need to remember that Paul had Barnabus and Paul had Silas and Timothy and Mark and Luke and Epaphroditus and Aristarchus and on and on and on. Paul was not a lone ranger. He had brothers and sisters who ministered with him faithfully. So we see that the work of ministry is a shared work.

Acts 9:28  So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29  And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30  And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
    Barnabus was respected by the apostles and so the apostles received Paul and having been received, Paul did what Paul does, he went out and began to minister among the church in Jerusalem. It seems he was preaching to believers and unbelievers, and as usual, he was preaching boldly.
    Paul put his special attention on the Hellenists. These were Jews from Greek-speaking lands. They were not Jews who had been born and raised in Israel, but they or their family had come from another land to settle in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were the same group who had killed Stephen. He had preached to them and they had rejected him. Now with Paul coming on the scene, they must have felt like Stephen had come back from the dead. And their response to Paul was the same as it had been toward Stephen. They wanted to kill him. But this time, in the providence of God, Paul is preserved. So last week he was a basket case for Jesus, let down in a basket through a window in a wall to escape Damascus. Now the brothers take Paul away to Caesarea and sent him off to his birthplace, Tarsus in Cilicia.
    When Stephen had been killed, a massive persecution had broken out against the church in Jerusalem. So for their own protection as well as his, the brothers in Jerusalem get Paul out of town before he gets killed. Galatians chapter 1 tells us that Paul was only in Jerusalem for about 15 days. So it didn’t take Paul long to get under the skin of the Hellenistic
Jews.  So Paul goes back to Tarsus. And he will stay there for about 8 years. Paul will not be mentioned again until Acts chapter 11, when Barnabus goes to Tarsus to look for him and bring him to the church in Antioch, where the two of them will be commissioned for a missionary journey to the Gentiles. Now when Paul got to Tarsus, what do you think he did? A little R & R? Maybe, but I doubt it.  
     Actually, I think we can learn from the Bible what Paul was doing. In Acts 15, there was a controversy among the Christians from a Jewish background about how the new Gentile Christians should regard the Jewish law. A council was formed to discuss this and a letter sent to the all the churches to instruct them on how to live as Gentile Christians. Now what’s interesting about this is that when we see what churches receive this letter, we find in Acts 15:23, It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greetings, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and in Syria and Cilicia.” Now we can know from elsewhere in Acts how churches were founded in Antioch and Syria, but how about Cilicia? Well, the city of Tarsus is in the region called Cilicia. So what I think was happening here is that in these 8 years Paul is going throughout Cilicia preaching the gospel and founding churches. Paul will not be stopped by opposition in Jerusalem. He goes right on preaching the gospel. So in the providence of God Paul being moved out of the picture in Jerusalem was a good thing for the gospel. The gospel would spread further in Cilicia and the peace that came to the church in Jerusalem would produce a good environment for growth there as well. This is what we will see in verse 31 . . .

Acts 9:31  So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
    The church had peace all throughout Israel. I love how it is the church in Judea and Galilee and Samaria is united in its peace. For the Jews, there were great prejudices between these regions, but the gospel is breaking down these barriers. The church was being built up. It was being edified. The signs of this edification was an increasing fear of the Lord and an increasing comfort of the Holy Spirit. They were seeing God’s greatness and goodness. At the beginning of the passage they were fearing Paul, but in the end of the passage they were fearing God. And the church multiplied. God blessed this church which was being edified by multiplying it.

APPLICATION
    Now I want to take a few minutes to think about a few applications from this passage.
    First, we should stand up for and encourage other believers in the church. This doesn’t mean we stand up for foolishness. If a person is outright sinning in unrepentance, we shouldn’t defend them, we should love them by urging them to repent and be restored to God and to their fellow believers. But we won’t know where a person is coming from unless we are willing to listen to them. As Barnabus listened to Paul’s story, so I want to encourage you to listen to each other. You can encourage each other by reminding each other of the promises of God. You can encourage each other by resisting gossip. When the conversation turns to somebody in the church, don’t participate in that, unless it is to defend that person from a heart of love. The main problem with a gossip is that they feel so bad about themselves that they’ve got to talk about somebody else to make themselves feel better. Don’t participate in that. Let your life be a source of light, not darkness. Be for people. Why should we be like this? Because to be like this is to be like Jesus. 1John 2:1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 3:16 tells us that as Jesus laid down his life for us we should lay down our lives for our brothers. Assume the best, not the worst. You may get burned, that’s always the risk. There would come times in Paul’s own ministry when he would get burned by co-workers who made shipwreck of their faith. But it is better to have tried to love a person than to have not loved at all.
    And this flows into a second area of application from the account of Paul and Barnabus. We need each other. The Christian life is not to be lived as a Lone Ranger. What would have become of Paul’s ministry if no one had stood with him? He prospered because of fellow believers who encouraged him. This is one of the blessings of church membership. We publicly declare that we are joining ourselves to a group of fellow believers for the sake of mutual encouragement in the gospel. In membership, we are making a commitment to one another. We are making a commitment to be encouraged and to be an encourager. We are making a commitment that says, “If my life gets off the rails, I am committed to this body, so I can expect loving and faithful help to get back on track.”
    I urge everyone to join themselves to a local church, because the Christian life is not to be lived alone. All over our country there are young men and women who don’t go to church but live off of internet sermons. There are older people who mow their grass every week but can’t find the energy to be a part of a local church. And they think they’re OK because they watch Charles Stanley every Sunday. There are others who can never find a satisfactory church. So because they are dissatisfied with what they have seen in churches, or the hurt they have felt, they just drop out. And I want to say to you that what all these people are doing is making themselves sitting ducks for sin because they are disconnected from the body of Christ. And when you get disconnected from the body you very quickly get disconnected from the head.  There’s no perfect church, but I know for a fact that there is a group of strongly committed Christians right in this building this morning with whom you can adequately grow. This is a place where some of your family members will grow if they will come. And there are other churches where you can grow as well. I just see in this passage so clearly the need we have for our fellow believers and I see elsewhere in the Bible that the primary context for this fellowship of believers is the local church.
    As we think about the applications that flow from Paul’s commitment to the proclaiming the gospel and the opposition he faced in verses 28-30, several things come to mind.
    First, the fact that the gospel is offensive is re-affirmed in this passage. We must come to terms with the fact that to many people the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone is not good news. They hate it. So we’ve got to bear this in mind as we live in this world.
    Second, Paul’s deliverance from this situation is a contrast to Stephen staying and facing death. It shows us that there is a time to stay and face persecution and a time to flee. This same theme is apparent in Jesus’ life. Many times in His ministry Jesus escapes the threat of death but eventually Jesus went to the cross. For Jesus it was all about His sense of God’s timing for His death on the cross. There are times when the early church faces persecution and times when the church flees. This is all in God’s hands. We should be careful not to condemn those who stay or those who flee.
    Along with this idea though is a general thought about transitions. When we are moved into a new situation, whether we chose it or not, we should go on in faithfulness to God. Paul seems to have gone right on preaching after he left Jerusalem. What could have been a traumatic and fear-inspiring event in provided for him a change of scenery but not a change of purpose. There are many people in this room who have faced transitions in the last couple of years. Maybe you have taken on a new job. God’s call is for you to do good work in your new position but most of all it is to be faithful to Him in the workplace. Maybe some have become mothers for and you have been able to stay home with your children. Your calling is the same as it has always been, to go on in faithfulness to God. That may look different than it did when you were in the workplace, but your purpose is still the same. Some may have been going through the hard transition of aging and coming to terms with the fact that you can’t do everything that you once did. What you are called to do now is to go on in faithfulness to God, so think about how you can serve God in the new situation you are in. So our theme should be like what Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or WHATEVER YOU DO, do all to the glory of God.”
    Finally, I think there are many valuable truths to consider in verse 31. First, we can’t ignore the way the early church was breaking down barriers between the Jews throughout Israel and the Samaritans. This barrier-breaking will continue to increase throughout the book of Acts. We need to consider this and not let cultural or racial barriers get in our way. Are you willing and ready to reach out to and welcome people of different racial backgrounds or different economic realities into our fellowship?
    Second, we see that real multiplication comes when there is real edification. This is the pattern for true church growth. Build the believers in the church and the church will grow as God prospers it. Every situation is different, but I truly believe that if we will fix our minds on edification, God will take care of the multiplication, because people who are being edified, or built up in the faith, will want to reach out, will want to share with others, and will be a light to those with whom they relate day by day. This is why we emphasize the teaching and preaching of God’s Word and give small group opportunities for our members. Are you involved in anything besides Sunday morning worship? If not, you may be selling yourself short in the area of spiritual growth. And if what we have said is true about edification leading to multiplication, you may be selling your church family short too. I urge you therefore to come back tonight at 6. We will be studying Romans 1:16-17. These verses are so rich and powerful. I truly believe you will be built up if you will come.
    Finally, this passage teaches us that the fruit of edification is increasing fear of God and increasing comfort of the Holy Spirit. Those truths we teach our children, that God is great and that God is good, become real to us when we are being built up in the faith. Are you growing? Are you seeing God more clearly than you were a year ago? Do you know Him better than you did 5 years ago? Better than you did 20 or 30 years ago? Is the Holy Spirit a comfort to you, or are you afraid of His work? We need to look carefully at our hearts to see if we are moving in a direction like that of the church in Acts.

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