If you were here last evening you will know that I'm embarking on a study in the Acts, that's 'The Acts of the Apostles' - but we saw last night that really it's the acts of Jesus Christ through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit via the Church. That sounds a bit complicated, but if you were here last night you will understand what I'm talking about. I've entitled this series “When God ACTS!”, What happens when God does His work His way. Last evening we saw that when God does His work His way, there is a release of the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow evening, if you come along, you will see that when God does His work His way 'The Miraculous Is Displayed', that's tomorrow evening, and we'll be talking about the supernatural power of God. But tonight we're looking at how, when God does His work His way, there is a 'Boldness In Witness'. So we're turning to Acts chapter 2, and also chapter 3, and reading a number of verses from each of those passages.
Acts chapter 2, you remember last evening we touched on the fact that this is the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit was outpoured upon the church, particularly in Jerusalem and Judea, those Jews who had travelled in - from all over the Empire it has to be said - but were there for the feast. God met them, and the promise of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, was given to the church. We looked at the phenomena that took place on that day in relation to the outpouring of the Spirit, and we saw the beginning of the great Pentecostal sermon of the apostle Peter in about verse 14. We're going to take up his great discourse in verse 22, we're only going to read verses 22 to 24, but I want you to try and capture the scene and savour the atmosphere of this moment - all that has taken place with the outpouring of the Spirit, tongues of fire, and speaking in tongues, and magnifying the marvellous works of God, and how people were hearing in their own language - wonderful scene. Here Peter has told them: 'This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel that: 'In the last days, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh', says the Lord'.
Now he comes in verse 22, he addresses the people that are witnessing this great scene, and he says: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it".
Then chapter 3 and we will take up the reading at verse 12. Just to fill in the gaps, a lame man has been miraculously healed - we'll maybe look a little bit at that tomorrow evening - through Peter and John's ministry. There is a great furore that takes place at what has happened, and we see Peter again addressing the bystanders, and I just want to take up his speech in verse 12 through to verse 15 of chapter 3: "So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: 'Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses'". Amen, we will end our reading there.
We're going to pray, and as we did last evening - and we will do this every night - I want you to pray now for yourself, would you do that? It's good to pray for the preacher up here, and for everybody gathered, but I want you please to be a little bit selfish and I want you to pray for yourself. Have you come to hear from God? I believe we're going to hear from God, I believe we're going to meet with the Lord this week, and tonight - but it's important that you're in a disposition to receive, and that you have your ear, as it were, cupped to heaven to hear what the Lord has to say. So would you come, and would you ask Him now to speak to you?
Abba Father, we come to You again in the name that is above every name, Lord Jesus Christ. We reverence You, Lord, we declare that You are the Holy, Holy, Holy God of Heaven - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - who has revealed Yourself in the Person of the Word of the Living God, our Lord and Saviour. We thank You that, through the Holy Spirit, He now comes to us in all His power. We now invite You to come and take a dealing with us Lord, to come not only into this building, but, Lord, to come into our lives, to come to our minds and our hearts, our very spirits and souls; to bring the necessary conviction, to bring the strengthening, the encouraging, the quickening that we need. O come, Holy Spirit; come Lord Jesus Christ by Your Spirit; come Father. We claim that promise that Jesus said: 'If any man love Me and keep My word, My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him'. So come, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do, in the name of the Lord Jesus, take authority over any ungodly spirits that would seek to act in our lives and even in this place tonight, and we bind them in Jesus' name, and ask now for a release of Your power through the word. In Jesus' name we ask these things, Amen.
What a change, particularly in the preacher here, Peter, Simon Peter! Peter, not many days ago, had denied the Lord Jesus with oaths and curses. In fact, he had run in terror from the inquisitiveness of a young girl. He had been sifted by Satan. Once he had been aggressively bold in his defence of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he asserted to Jesus Himself that he was prepared to go even to his death for Him - and yet now he has turned coward and compromiser. But such a change in a matter of days as we see him now, as this Pentecostal preacher in Acts chapters 2 and 3 - what has happened? Where has this new boldness come from? It's no longer a boldness in the flesh, but it's actually in the Spirit of God. Well, here's a lesson if ever there was one: this boldness has come from brokenness. Peter was broken before his own sinfulness and selfishness - and all of us, even as Christians, must come to that place where we see our sin the way it really is, and we see ourselves the way we really are. One of the greatest gifts that God can give anybody is to see themselves as He sees them, and then to see Him as He really is - that's the second thing.
Peter was broken in the face of his own betrayal and denial of our Lord. There is a sense in which he died to himself, he died to his own fleshly ambition - and, though he had good intentions and, as we would say, 'his heart was in the right place' when he put his foot in his mouth when he said these things that he was going to do for Jesus, it was of the flesh. So much of our Christian expression, I have to say to you tonight, is in the flesh - it's in the energy of our humanity, rather than in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. So Peter had to die to himself, even to the 'good' side of himself. You know that there is a 'good' side of our flesh, it's not just all dirty stuff and nasty things, there is a religious part of our flesh that likes to do 'good' things and takes great pride and gratification in being 'good'. But that's got to die, just like the 'bad' self has to die, the 'good' self has to die as well - because that which is of the flesh is flesh, and the flesh profits nothing. Paul says: 'In my flesh', and he knew what it was to be a really good fellow, he was blameless according to the law, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees - that means you couldn't have pointed the finger at Paul and said: 'Oh, I saw him do this', or 'I heard him say that'. He kept the law, externally speaking, blamelessly - but in Romans chapter 7 he tells us that deep down in his heart he had a real problem with lust and covetousness. We've got to all come to that place, even as Christians, where we are broken: broken before the Lord and broken before ourselves.
Then that great day of Pentecost came in Peter's life, where this confessing sinner and failure and broken man came to the cross, was cleansed, surrendered himself, and was filled - dynamically - by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus told him of this turnaround, Jesus told him this was all going to happen - isn't the Lord Jesus wonderful? The way He had warned Peter - I mean, you might recall these verses in Luke 22:31-32: 'The Lord said, 'Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren'' - how encouraging! I don't know what your circumstances are here tonight, but maybe you have found yourself where Peter was: in the sifting tray of Satan. Satan has got his clutches on you in recent times, and he has shaken you spiritually to your core - but how encouraging to see a man like Peter, to see that he wasn't a lost cause and neither are you! Praise God! I don't believe there's any person in this building tonight, or in Magherafelt for that matter, that is a lost cause.
I want you to see something quickly that I didn't see until recent years - John chapter 13 please, some words that the Lord spoke to Peter and to the disciples, but we are so familiar with John 14 that we've lost the context of it in the Scripture where it's found. You do know, I hope, that the chapter divisions and the verse divisions in our Bible, though they are very helpful and most of them are quite accurate, they are not there in the original. They are not there, they have been added in to help us find verses and so on. So scrub out in your mind for a moment the big '14' at the top of the chapter here, it's not really there. Look at verse 37: 'Peter said to Him, 'Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake'', and Jesus has to tell him something that's hard for him to take that's going to happen. 'Jesus answered him, 'Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you'' - but do you see the flow here? There is no interruption. Now He is starting to speak to the other disciples as well, but He's also addressing Peter. He tells him: 'You're going to deny me, Peter. You're saying you're going to lay your life down for me, but you're going to deny me - but do not be troubled, believe in me'. You think: 'Well, that's not possible - how could Peter do what he did and still believe in the Lord?'. Well, the Lord Jesus told him in the verses from Luke that I quoted to you, 'I will pray for you. Satan is going to sift you but, Peter, I will pray for you that your faith does not fail'.
Isn't that encouraging? Jesus does not condemn you tonight. You might feel condemned. You may have been letting the enemy condemn you and sift you and accuse you. So many Christians that I know of are actually cooperating with the devil. The devil, of course, is known in the Bible as 'the accuser of the brethren'. He's wanting to sling dirt at us, and he's hoping it sticks. So often we agree with him, and we say: 'Oh yes, I am a terrible fellow, and, yes, I did do that. That makes me a miserable Christian, I agree with you'. Effectively what we do is, it's as if we're signing the dotted line on a contract for the enemy to keep battering us over the head with our old sins. We're cooperating with him, we're agreeing with him. Let me explain something to you tonight that is fundamental for you to enjoy the Christian life: there is a difference between condemnation and conviction. When you sin, you ought to feel it, and the Holy Spirit will convict you. But 1 John 1 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So if you come and genuinely repent and confess your sin, and you continue to feel miserable because of it, it's not God's conviction it's the devil's condemnation. Some of you are here tonight and, a bit like Peter, you've gone into the depths of despair. You maybe feel that God has given up on you, and there is no hope for you, and you're a lost cause - I want you to hear the words of the Lord tonight: 'Let not your heart be troubled; believe in Me, believe in Me. I will forgive you, I will cleanse you!'. Maybe He already has, but you're wallowing in your own guilt and shame.
Now let me illustrate how this change and transformation happened in Peter's life. If you look at chapter 3 where we read together the little excerpt from the sermon, look at verses 13 and 14, Peter says: 'The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied' - that's an interesting word, isn't it? 'Denied', who is speaking here? Just remind me? Peter! '...and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go', verse 14, 'But you denied' - this is still Peter speaking here? Yes! - 'the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you'. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I might be thinking: 'Well, that's rich coming from you, Peter!'. 'You're accusing us of denying Christ in the presence of Pilate, denying the Holy and Just One - did you not deny Jesus Christ a few days ago, Peter? You've got a very short memory!'. Yes, but you see that is not who Peter is any longer. I want you to grasp this tonight, let me help you, let me ask you a question: do you derive your identity from your failures, your mistakes, your sins, or your shortcomings as a Christian; or do you derive your identity from who you are in Jesus Christ? Romans 8 verse 1 says: 'There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus' - and yet so many of us are living constantly under condemnation! Now I know you might be struggling with sin, and I'm not excusing that - you do need to repent, you do need to confess - but I'll tell you this: you'll never get out of that slough, that quagmire of sin when you're agreeing with the devil that you're a no-good scoundrel - you'll never get out of it! You've got to take your place in Christ, and allow yourself to be lifted into heavenly places with Jesus Christ, and then you will tap into the power of Pentecost in His fullness to overcome.
Where did Peter's boldness come from? He was a denier, and then he is able to stand up in front of all these Jews - he ran away from a wee lassie, and now he's standing in front of all these people, and he's declaring boldly without fear that they denied the Holy and the Just One. Is this hypocrisy? No, it's not. This boldness was not coming from Peter, it was coming from the Holy Spirit. You might be sitting here tonight thinking: 'How could I ever tell people about Jesus after the mistakes I've made? Like, they're not private things, everybody knows about them!'. Well, you look at Peter tonight - not only was he transformed, but the whole motley crew of the disciples were changed completely. One moment they were cowering in fear in a locked Upper Room, and the next they are fearlessly declaring the word of God with power, turning the known world upside down. What is the explanation for this? Turn back to chapter 1 where we were last night, verse 8, what was the promise? Jesus said: 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'. What would they become? Witnesses! Bold witnesses of the Gospel!
There's a great debate that goes on, and I'm not going to enter into it, about what the signs are of being filled, or some would call it baptised, in the Holy Spirit. As I said, I'll not step onto that one tonight - but there is a sign that is often overlooked, and it's here in verse 8 of chapter 1: you will be witnesses. I know of a man, and he is what you might call 'charismatic' with a small 'c'. He went on one occasion to a house where there were Christians meeting for prayer, and he was prayed for to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He just took it by faith, as I said to you last evening, just upon the promise of Luke 11:13, he took God at His word that this was something God wanted for him - Christ died for and rose again for - and he just took it on God's word by faith, and he thanked God for it, and went away. He didn't have flashing lights, he wasn't struck with lightning, the hairs didn't go up on the back of his neck - and so often that's what people are looking for - but he was on the bus on the way home, this was in Hong Kong, he was on the bus on the way home and he had this real urge to witness to the man sitting beside him on the bus. That was very strange for him, because that was a problem for him up until then - he really didn't feel a drive to tell people about Jesus. Now incidentally, he didn't tell the chap about the Lord, but he took it as a witness that he had received the filling of the Holy Spirit by that desire. I want to ask you tonight: do you have a desire - I'm not saying you find it easy, I don't find it easy to witness to people on the bus, or at the shopping counter, or in the petrol garage, I don't feel it easy talking to my neighbours, especially my family, about the Lord - it's not easy, but do you have a desire? When the Holy Spirit takes possession of you in totality, you will have that. There will be a boldness.
It is seen here in Acts in two ways. What happens when God does His work His way is that there is a boldness in witness, and the witness is effective. Now I want you to see tonight the effectiveness of the witness of the early disciples, but I also want to caution you - the second point I want to bring to you is the opposition of their witness. First let's look at the effectiveness of their witness, look at chapter 2, again this great sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Look at verse 37, we haven't got time to look at it all, but look at the reaction to the apostle Peter: 'Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'' - that's what every Gospel preacher is looking for. I know that there will be people in the meeting tonight - wouldn't it be wonderful if you were even to cry out and say: 'What do I need to do to get right with God?'. It's a long time from we've seen that in gatherings, isn't it? It does happen every now and again, I have been interrupted - people putting their hand up and asking a question. I remember a fellow asking the question from the congregation: 'Why did Jesus die?' - that was great! There were some sour faces who were all annoyed at the interruption - I was glad! God was speaking to that man, he was cut to the heart. God was speaking! It wasn't like preaching to tailored dummies, as it often is when we are in church. This man had a heart, and God had spoken to his heart - he wasn't afraid to cry out. You see, if you know conviction, and you're taking eternal things as reality, you will shout out! You won't care what the crowd think!
These folk, Peter's preaching is so effective that they are cut to the heart - and they cried out: 'What shall we do?'. This was in response to the preaching of the Gospel. Now in the New Testament, and in Acts, there is the phenomenon of 'gossiping the Gospel', and I think that's something we all need to do. All of us are to be preachers of the Gospel - that's what the early Christians did, whether it was the marketplace, the workplace, or in the home: they told people about the Lord Jesus and His love. But there is what we call 'the apostolic kerygma', and 'kerygma' is a Greek word for 'the heralding forth, the proclamation and declaration of the good news of the evangel' - that's where we get 'evangelistic' from, and 'evangelical' from - the proclaiming of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ publicly, the message of God. That is what the New Testament says God has blessed to the saving of souls. In 1 Corinthians 1 verse 21, Paul says: 'For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe'. God has ordained this kerygma, this evangel, this foolish message of a Man who died on a cross in ignominy and blood, and rose again victoriously the third day - He has ordained that message to save souls from hell, and it's about time the church stopped diluting it! Amen? And stopped replacing it with rubbish! Preaching has been replaced today by so-called 'evangelistic skits', 'tricks', there are evangelistic illusionists, and contortionists, and ventriloquists, and dramatists, and every 'ist' you can think of, replacing the preaching of the Gospel in power. It really betrays a lack of faith in the power of the message of the cross.
Now, having said that, it's no surprise to me that some have resorted to such substitutes when you consider the impotence that there is in modern day pulpits. A lot of the preaching is atrocious, and even that which is truthful in its content is the letter of the law without the power of the Spirit. You thank God that you've got a man in this pulpit [Rev. Currie] that preaches the Gospel, I thank God for you. We need more men who will be fearless in their proclamation of the Gospel, because that's what cuts people to the quick - that's the message that God has ordained to bring conviction. On the Day of Pentecost, there were 3000 who were converted, baptised, and added to the church - from one sermon on the Day of Pentecost 3000 souls were saved, and we're preaching thousands of sermons and seeing hardly one saved! E.M. Bounds said: 'No erudition, no purity of diction, no wealth of mental outlook, no flowers of elegance, no grace of person can atone for lack of fire'. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit again in our preaching. You see there is a myth, particularly in evangelical conservativism, that all you need is the word of God, and all you need is to expositorily preach the Scriptures - that is not enough! Ulster is sinking because of the preaching of the Scriptures without the power of God. In 1 Corinthians 4:20, Paul said: 'For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power'. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul said to the Thessalonians: 'For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance'. You can quote me on this: the word of God is not enough, if all that the word of God is are black and white words on a page - but it is the word of God, spoken from the mouth of God, preached in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit that makes the difference.
Ad nausea I've heard this verse in Isaiah 55 quoted in a prayer meeting: 'My word shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that for which I have sent it' - that's not what the verse says! I'm going to get one of you to quote it, will I? 'My word which proceeds out of My mouth; shall not return unto Me void'. What did Jesus say? 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word in the Bible' - is that what He said? 'Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God', what is that? That is the prophetic rhema word of God that God is speaking at a particular time in human history, for a particular people, in a particular situation - and you don't get that from '101 Sermons For Every Occasion In The Year', you get that from the heart of God, when your ear is toward God, when you're walking with God, when you're listening to God - and that is what the church is dying for!
When God does His work in His way, there will be an effectiveness in the preaching of the Gospel, cutting to the heart. G.H. Lang, I'm sure you've never heard of him, but he was one of the early brethren, and he wrote a little book called 'God at Work in His Own Lines' - not a million miles away from our title for this series. He tells a story in that book of an illiterate draper in Cornwall called Mr Gribble. Mr Gribble invited people into his home, and he used to read a penny sermon to them. You can imagine what that was like, the man was illiterate - but he was trying his best to learn to read. Through reading these penny sermons - you know what that is, a sermon on a little tract for a penny - there were people saved. After a while he got the confidence, and he was able to say a few words of his own free will without the penny sermons - and then there were hundreds of people saved. J.N. Darby - you might have heard of him, the founder of really the Plymouth Brethren that we know today - wrote to another of the early brethren, by the name of S.T. Tragilles in a letter. This is what he said, I'm quoting: 'There are few men who can preach the gospel more fluently than you and I can, and we see few souls saved, and they tell me there is an illiterate brother called Gribble, and when he quotes scripture there are people swept into the kingdom'. G.H. Lang in his book says: 'Mr Darby's question is well worth pondering' - is it not? Why? Obviously the power of the Holy Spirit rested on Mr Gribble in a way that it didn't on others.
Henry Ward Beecher, the great preacher, said: 'I should as soon attempt to raise flowers if there were no atmosphere, or produce fruits if there were neither light nor heat, as to regenerate men if I did not believe there was a Holy Ghost'. But we saw last evening that the book of Acts is not a history book alone, it is teaching us the way things should be today - and the way things should be today is: we should have powerful, dynamic preaching in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit - and people ought to be convicted and cut to the quick. Don't lose faith in Gospel preaching, don't replace it with rubbish!
The second thing that we see in Acts is opposition to the witness. You see effectiveness in preaching does not always mean conversion. Turn with me to Acts 7, this is a very similar verse to the one we read in Acts 2:37, where people were cut to the quick and cried out, 'What shall we do?' - but the result was different here in Acts 7:54. Stephen is now the preacher, it's one of the greatest sermons in the whole of the Bible. He goes through Jewish history before these Jews and shows them how they resisted the Holy Spirit in their history, and in verse 57 at the conclusion the people responded thus - verse 54: 'When they heard these things they were cut to the heart'. Now, if you stopped there, you'd think it was just the same as the folk on the Day of Pentecost - but read on: 'And they gnashed at him with their teeth'. The result is, as you read on, that they end up stoning Stephen to death, and he becomes, effectively, the first Christian martyr. You see, when the Gospel is preached in power and boldness, its effectiveness doesn't always result in conversion, it can result in persecution and opposition. As you read the book of Acts, as I've been encouraging you to do, you will see in Acts chapter 4 that Peter and John are arrested because of the healing of the lame man. We see in chapter 5 that the apostles were jailed. In chapter 7, where we are now, Stephen is martyred, stoned to death. In chapter 8, look at chapter 8 verse 1, 'Saul' - that's Paul before he was converted - 'was consenting to Stephen's death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles'. Look at verse 4 of chapter 8: 'Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Gospel'.
Now we want effectiveness today, don't we, in our evangelism? But I have a hunch that we want the effectiveness without the opposition - but the truth is the two tend to come together. Both physical force against the extension of God's kingdom, and - it has to be said - something that most of the church is completely ignorant to is spiritual opposition to the extension of Christ's kingdom. We see that in the book of Acts. In Acts 13 we see a sorcerer by the name of Elymas who came against the preaching of the Gospel. In Acts 16 we see a possessed slave girl with a spirit of divination who followed the apostle everywhere he went, bringing a bad reputation to the preaching of the Gospel by what she was saying. You see, we've got to understand that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against spiritual rulers in heavenly places. Therefore the weapons of our warfare are not carnal or fleshly, but are spiritual and mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds - but there is a spiritual war on!
Incidentally the word 'martyr' comes from the Greek word for 'witness', which means that to witness for Christ involves bloodshed. Even if we do not resist unto blood, striving against sin, as Hebrews says, there ought to be some form of suffering that we endure for a bold witness to Jesus Christ even in our modern age. Now there is great mystery in suffering, I'll grant you that - all suffering, but here the suffering is related to Gospel preaching. Not all suffer in the same way, and we see that in Acts. Look with me at chapter 12: 'Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him', that's Peter, 'he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover'. James lost his life, Herod had him beheaded, and Peter is thrown into prison - but Peter ends up getting out of prison in a miraculous way, angels set him free. I've often thought: 'How would Mrs James have felt about all that?' - I'm being serious! Her husband loses his head, and Peter gets out of prison at the behest of angelic hosts. It's hard to understand, isn't it?
What we do see is that there is great suffering for standing for Christ, and speaking boldly costs us. It causes division, you can see that in chapter 14 and right throughout Acts, but it even causes riots. In chapter 19 you've got this city of Ephesus, and because they are preaching and people turn away from the goddess Diana out of whose worship the silversmiths were making a living making these little idols, and so they caused a whole riot in the city of Ephesus. Now let's just pause for a second: this is historic, original Christianity. This is what happens when God works His way, when God acts - I believe this is normative Christianity. Where are we today? When did we get so sophisticated, so self-protective and comfortable? I mean look at the apostle Paul, how much he suffered for His name's sake. We see that the latter stages of this book that he appears before all these Roman governors - Felix in chapter 24, Festus in chapter 25, Agrippa the King in chapter 26. Quickly turn with me to 2 Corinthians 11, and we get a list of Paul's sufferings biographically, verse 24, he says: 'From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one' - at forty stripes you usually died, he got five times thirty-nine stripes. Verse 25: 'Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches'.
Back to Acts, go to Acts chapter 20 and verse 24, he's leaving the church at Ephesus and the elders, he's meeting them for the last time, and in verse 24 Paul says in Acts 20: 'None of these things move me' - what things? That list! All the things he suffered for Christ and the Gospel, he says: 'None of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God'. What? Look at chapter 21, they beg him not to go to Jerusalem, they tell him: 'You're going to die if you go there'. In verse 13 Paul answered: 'What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus'. How Paul suffered for the Gospel!
Do you know what it says in 2 Timothy 2:8-9? You can turn, if you want, to it - 2 Timothy 2:8-9 - Paul says there: 'Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel' - he called it 'his gospel', because he was so associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus in his suffering, I believe, that he could call it 'my gospel'. Look at verse 9: 'For which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained'. Paul says: 'This Gospel has not given me a life of glamour and ease' - so that's how we can chuck all that prosperity gospel stuff in the bin. Now I'm not saying that God doesn't bless you, He does and He can bless by providing our needs financially, over and above what we need at times - but this prosperity gospel does not measure up to the word of God. You know what I'm talking about, on cable television and satellite TV, that 'God wants you to be a millionaire - just give all your money to me'. You know the preachers that say all that: 'God will heal you, just give me your money!'. That's not the way Paul lived, that wasn't his experience: he suffered trouble as an evildoer, 2 Timothy 2 verse 9. Do you know that that's the way the world is starting to see us now? That's right! Even in Ireland we are being seen as evildoers, we are wrong, we are intolerant, we are irritants in society - and even the religious world rejects those who speak out boldly for the Gospel.
Jesus warned us of this - why are we so surprised? John 16:2, He said: 'They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service'. Can I tell you: this is what Jesus meant when He said, 'Carry your cross' - that's what it means! People think it's an infirmity or an illness, 'That's my cross!'. Or general difficulties in life, or a nagging husband, or a difficult wife, they are your cross to bear - but it's not, none of those things are 'bearing your cross'. Bearing your cross is suffering for the name of Christ. Neither is it being offensive in Christ's name. Some people in our own land, they force-feed people the Gospel, and they are generally obnoxious - and they've got this persecution complex because they think the whole world is against them, when actually it's just downright bad manners. I'm not talking about that, we're talking about the offence of Christ, His Gospel, His cross, His claims - that is what it is to carry your cross: to voluntarily take up the cross of Jesus and suffer for Him.
I could talk to you tonight about Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, and other countries where our brothers and sisters are suffering - and I hope you're praying for them - but I want to ask you tonight: how are you suffering for the Gospel? I ask myself that. But you might say: 'But we live in a Western civilised, liberal democracy - how could we be persecuted for the Gospel?'. Jesus said: 'In the world you will have tribulation'. In John 15 verse 20 He said: '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'. In 2 Timothy 3, where we were, verse 12, Paul says: 'Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution'. If we are not suffering, we need to ask the question: why? Surely it is that our lives do not sufficiently collide with and challenge the norms of our society the way these early disciples did. Surely it is the case that we have adapted to the world around us, we have allowed the world to push us into its mould. Instead of being a thermostat that regulates our environments, we have become a thermometer that merely reflects the temperature of the age. Is it not the case that we are not distinct enough, we are not different enough, we are not distinguished enough - do you know what the word for that is in the Bible? 'Holy' - that's what 'holy' means: different, unique. I don't mean in an idiosyncratic way, or peculiar oddities, or religious traditions - I'm talking about being different and standing out as a light on a hill, as salt that has not lost its savour, and where others can see Christ's life emanating from us in our characters.
I believe, and many others do too, that there is a sifting coming to our nation. Though it has been possible to coast along comfortably as a Christian in the United Kingdom and Ireland, those days, I believe, are coming quickly to a close. Our faith is significantly colliding with the accepted norms of society. Now, they always have done, but I believe they are today in a more blatant, aggressive way than in the past - and this sifting is going to sort out those who are prepared to suffer, and those who just have a profession of convenience. In what areas will there be this sifting? It's obvious: sexuality; marriage, what it means; abortion; freedom of religious expression; euthanasia; genetic engineering; ethics in the workplace. 'These have all been here for a while', you'll say - but I ask you: how long until those who conscientiously object to the accepted wisdom on these matters are persecuted for it? How long until you lose your job? How long until you are suspended? How long until you are prosecuted for discrimination? If there is not a gracious divine intervention it will come, I believe - if it has not come already!
Well, the good news is: the word of God is not bound - but it's at a cost. Persecution comes. I mean, why should we be any different? Why should we be any different than the Lord Jesus Christ, our Master, and the early apostles? James, the brother of John, was slain by King Herod by the sword. Tradition tells us that most, if not, some believe, all of the apostles died a martyr's death. Tradition tells us Philip was crucified at Hierapolis in Phrygia; Andrew was crucified in Odessa; Simon the Zealot was crucified; Thaddeus was crucified; Bartholomew was beaten and crucified in India; Peter, who we have been talking about tonight, was crucified in Rome upside down, his head down - tradition tells us he deemed it unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so he requested to be crucified upside down. James the Less was clubbed to death in Jerusalem; Thomas was thrust through by a spear in India; Matthew was beheaded in Ethiopia; and Paul the apostle was beheaded in Rome - and I want an easy life? I think it's my right in Christ to have comfort and ease?
I have a book on the shelf, I pulled it down today, it's called 'By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century'. The little blurb on the back says: 'More Christians have been martyred in our century', that was the 20th century when it was written, 'than during all other eras of the church history combined' - more Christians martyred last century than all other centuries of the church combined! Now I ask you: what is abnormal? All these countries where there is persecution, are they abnormal? Is the apostolic age abnormal? Or are we abnormal? In January 1956 five young American missionaries were killed by Auca Indians in South America, trying to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One of them was Jim Elliot, who said: 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose'. How is your witness for Jesus? Are you endued with power from on high to boldly proclaim, in love, in grace, but in truth, and take your stand when the persecution comes? I believe it's coming - will you take your stand? If you're going to take your stand then, you'll find it easy to take your stand now.
Let us pray. Let's just take a moment in the quietness, before the meeting closes with a hymn and a prayer. We don't want to rush. Can I just make a request of you - I know I'm the new kid on the block, but I would just ask you that you reverence the presence of God in, if you want to call this space the sanctuary, or whatever you want to call it, this part of the building. God is dealing with people here. There is a cup of tea very kindly provided out in the foyer, but I would ask you to talk out there and fellowship out there, but here just allow the stillness in the presence of God to remain if you can, because people are dealing with God - God is speaking to folk deep in their hearts. Has God spoken to you tonight, has He? Are you like a Peter who came into this meeting far away from God, and you thought you were a lost cause, no hope for you? You might call yourself a backslider, and you think you've burned your bridges and there is no way back - but God has spoken to you tonight. Is there anyone here right now who will say tonight: 'I'm going to hear what Jesus said to Peter, and I hear Him saying it to me: 'Don't worry, I'll pray for you, believe in Me''? Is there anyone who's going to come to Christ tonight on those grounds? Just raise your hand, every head is bowed and eye closed, we just want to pray for you tonight and help you in the presence of God - is there anyone here tonight? Raising your hand doesn't make you a Christian, or bring you back to the Lord, but it's just a confession. Don't be ashamed any longer, don't be ashamed of Jesus who was not ashamed of you. Jesus says: 'If you are ashamed of Me, I will be ashamed of you, I will not confess you to My Father in Heaven - but if you confess Me, I'll confess you' - that's what Jesus said in Matthew 10.
Is there anyone here tonight that will say: 'Tonight I'm being done with my worldliness and my backslidden life, and I'm going to come back to the Lord tonight'? Just raise your hand where you are, I will see it, and we will pray for you now and pray with you - is there anyone, quickly? I'll not prolong it, is there anyone? I believe there is a battle going on here, I can see that - is there anyone? Let me help those who maybe haven't had the courage, just pray with me this prayer: 'O God, I come to You in the name of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ'. If you're becoming a Christian tonight, just pray this: 'I confess my sin', if you're a backslider, confess your sin and your waywardness, 'I repent of my sin, I thank You that Jesus died for me on the cross, and I receive Him as my Saviour by faith. I ask You to save me now, cleanse me, and make me Your child. I renounce Satan and all his works. Fill me now with the Holy Spirit as I surrender to Jesus as Lord'. If you're a backslider pray something similar to that, and the Lord will hear you - confess your sins, He is faithful. All Christians tonight, all Christians here this evening, including the preacher up here, we all need to rededicate ourselves - especially in the face of coming persecution, if the Lord does not intervene - we all need to decide now: 'I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me, though none go with me, still I will follow; no turning back, whatever the cost'. In your own heart, deal with God tonight - will you take up your cross afresh this evening and follow Him, whatever it means? You can suffer in the church, by the way, as well as out of it - the enemy has got a great knack of using professing Christians to persecute us, but you must pay the price.
Father, we pray that there will be rejoicing in heaven tonight over repentance - not just in people who have never been born again, but even in Your own people coming home. Lord, ultimately, we'll never be home until we are in glory. Lord, help us not to make our home here and be comfortable here, but, Lord, help us, O God, to take our stand, whatever it means, that it might make a difference to our families, to our friends, and our community. Lord, we want to see You act, we want to see You do Your work Your way - so release Your Spirit, and make us bold witnesses to Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Union Road Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his 'When God ACTS!' series, entitled "Boldness In Witness" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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