Allen Jackson - Acts 2 and The 21st Century - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you today. We're gonna conclude our lesson on Acts chapter 2 and the 21st century. Some of you will know Acts chapter 2 is the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is poured out and Peter stands up and addresses the crowd that gathers, and thousands of people accept Jesus and are baptized, in Jerusalem, the city that cried crucify him. Well, Peter understood the Gospel in terms of his current circumstances. I want to suggest we have to understand the Gospel in the context of our current events. It's not something from history, it's not abstract theology. It's understanding the Kingdom of God in the 21st century. If we do that, we'll make a difference in the same way the apostles did. Now that's an exciting assignment. Grab your Bible, get a notepad and most importantly, open your heart.
Peter used two passages from Scripture, one from Psalm and one from the book of Joel, to interpret what they had just watched in the streets of Jerusalem and read about in the Jerusalem Post. The Jesus, you read about, the one they crucified out there at that hill, just outside Damascus Gate, let me tell you about him. He was the one David prophesied about and you killed him. And oh, by the way, we're witnesses, we saw him alive. He gives them an insight into their present circumstance with a spiritual perspective. Folks, our culture is desperate for that. Sources of truth are few and far between. The courage to try to understand what's happening in the light of the Word of God is not abundant. And rather than wait for somebody else to do it, we have to begin.
If you ask for a brief analysis, what we're seeing is an unprecedented rise in lawlessness. It's just unimaginable what's happening. And you don't have to leave middle Tennessee, we're the buckle of the Bible belt. Folks, downtown Nashville is not a good place to take guests that are coming to visit. It's embarrassing. Lawlessness, immorality and perversion are being celebrated, lauded, rewarded, highlighted. I understand there's probably a little conflict, but imagine if Bud Lite put a Bible on the can? I'm not baptizing the beverage but they'll promote the most ungodly perverse things with no imagination of promoting something that would be godly or righteous.
Deception, propaganda, censorship at the highest levels of our nation. It's found its way into the church. We have accepted the notion there's things we shouldn't say, can't say, won't say when we gather to talk about our faith. We've accepted lines like, well, you know, in polite company we don't talk about faith or politics. Who told us that wicked idea? There is a growing hatred of Christianity. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist. It wasn't very many day ago, they went hunting Christians in Nashville. It's been covered up, it hasn't been identified as a hate crime. You plug any other minority into the events of that day, it would have been a hate crime before the sunset. I'm not angry, I want you to pay attention. They're still hiding the documents, protecting the perpetrator. They had the audacity in a widespread way, to suggest that the person who murdered those innocent children and people was every bit as much a victim as those who she murdered. And for the most part, the church didn't express any angst about that.
We have to understand what's happening around us with some spiritual awareness. People say, well you know, we don't want to talk unkindly. Oh you mean like Peter? When he stood up, said, "You're a bunch of murderers. You crucified the Messiah". Matthew 24, Jesus gave us a pretty good description. He said, "These are the beginning of birth pains". He's already listed a handful of things but he said, "Those are just the beginning, the birth pains are gonna get more intense, more frequent. Disruptions are coming," he said. "You're gonna feel like you're cramping up. You'll be handed over to be persecuted, put to death. You'll be hated by all nations because of me". Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. I put that in a book I wrote. I wrote it for a Christian publisher. The editor came back to me and said, "Well, you know, technically that's true but we'd rather not say it".
So, well, technically my name's on the book. "At that time, many will turn away from the faith and they'll betray and hate each other. And false prophets will appear and deceive many people". You'll forfeit something if you only think of false prophets in terms of religious individuals. A prophet is a person who biblically gives God's perspective, speaks truth into culture. Priests represent the people to God, the prophet is supposed to speak that truth. A false prophet is any source that you, I'd expand the definition, there'll be other ways, but anyone you would expect to speak the truth that speaks deception. How many of us could say there's a lot of deception coming from places we expect to tell the truth, including religious settings? "False prophets will appear, many people will be deceived. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold".
The word for love there in the Greek, is the word for God's love. Greek has multiple words for love. "But he who stands firm to the end will be saved". What's necessary for your salvation? A willingness to stand firmly. Not a casual enquirer, not a convenient Christian. "Well, you know, I don't like to go to that church, I have to park, I have to walk like 100 yards". Ooh. We were in East Africa some time ago, for a Pastor's conference and at the end of the conference, we stayed to minister to church over the weekend. They were meeting in a big tent. They'd used the tent for so long that it was wearing out. You could see holes in the tent and see the the sky above. But we pulled in to the tent, it was time for church to start, and we pulled up to the tent, and there weren't any cars. And Kathy looked over and she said, "Nobody's coming". And I said, "I think they all walk".
The tent was filled with people, they had to walk and they walked farther than our parking lot. And they sat in very uncomfortable places. They fed us a meal after church. And the only utensils they had, they gave to their six visitors that were there. They had enough soft drinks that they gave them to the adults. There were dozens and dozens of children watching us drink those soft drinks. We are blessed, and we have confused comfort and convenience with a willingness to serve the Lord. We're upside down. We're wanting God to change our culture, change our nation, deliver our schools and our hospitals and our universities, and see the darkness pushed back, and the spirit of perversion broken, and righteousness be celebrated again, and truth be lifted up in our courtrooms. And in the halls of administration that set the policies under which we all live.
But we need all of that to happen so we can park next to the door at church and sit in our favorite spot and still be out in time to get to the restaurant ahead of the Presbyterians. And if you'll allow me, I don't think that will ever happen. I think we'll have to have a change of heart. And as much as I wish somebody else would make the change, and we could just surf on the benefits of that, I think the way this unfolds is we get to begin to make those changes, and then see what God will do.
"The love of most will grow cold, but he stays firm to the end will be saved. And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come". Please note that verse 14, the proclamation of the Gospel in the whole world, the Gospel of the Kingdom in the whole world, will take place in spite of being handed over to be persecuted, put to death, hated by all nations, many turning away from the faith, widespread betrayal and hatred, many false prophets, much deception, an increase of wickedness, love of most growing cold. In the midst of that, some will stand firm and preach the Gospel in the whole world. Where you gonna be? Where are you gonna be?
There's some historical perspective, Peter brought it to his audience that day, I think we need to capture it for just a moment. We cannot appease evil, it doesn't work, it has never worked. Was it, Neville Chamberlain was the British Prime Minister that preceded Winston Churchill? He was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the run up to World War II, and his formal policy was appeasement. while Germany gobbled up one country after another. "We don't want to make 'em angry, you know they probably had a right to that anyway. They'll make a better trade partner now". All sorts of language. You cannot appease evil, the only thing evil will yield to is the power greater than itself. And if you think you can negotiate with evil and arrive at a mutually beneficial outcome, you are deceived.
Secondly, we cannot yield to fear. Fear is real, it is legitimate, there are frightening things happening in our world and you and I'll have to make a decision if we're gonna make fear-based decisions or trust-based decisions. We can overcome fear. The fact that you're frightened doesn't make you a coward, makes you a coward when you embrace the fear and allow it to dictate your choices. You could do courageous things with all sorts of butterflies.
And thirdly, we cannot discount God. We have this tremendous tendency to think that our deliverance is coming from someplace else. Romans 12:21 says, "Don't be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good". That's our assignment. Jesus in Luke 12 said, "I tell you my friends don't be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more". If it weren't Jesus, you'd just think he's nuts 'cause I mean pretty much after they've killed your body, what are you worried about? They're gonna take your car? They're gonna go take your clothes? They're gonna empty your bank account? If they've killed your body? Jesus said, "That's not that big a deal, if that's all they can do to you. I'll show you whom you should fear," and we should all be leaning forward at this point.
This is Jesus and, "I'll show you something scary". "Fear him, who, after killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell". You better fear him. I would have to say our culture, for the most part, lives with almost no fear of hell, just almost none. It's not even polite to talk about in churches. And finally, Peter gave them a contemporary application. It says, "They were cut to the heart, said, 'What should we do?'" Remember his formula, he said, "Repent and be baptized". Everyone of you, everybody in the pool, whilst the pool's up, if you haven't gotten in it, and if you're listening, and you haven't been baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ, not in maintaining your standard in some group or whatever, but if you've never been baptized, get in the pool.
Jesus's idea, not ours, you're not joining WOC, we're not gonna put a stamp on you. Get in the pool. He said, "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you. Receive forgiveness". We all need it. And then he said, "You can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, this thing you've watched happen to us today, you can have it too. It's for you, for your children, for their children, for everybody who's far off". He wrote us into the story in Acts 2, that's why I read it to you tonight. There's a transformation he's inviting the people to, he's a different person. This isn't the fisherman Jesus recruited. This isn't the clumsy klutz in the Garden of Gethsemane, that cuts off an ear while he's trying to take off a head. It's not the terrified disciple that's denying he has anything to do with Jesus. I mean, it's the same guy, but he's been changed.
There's a new power, a new authority, a new boldness. It's not bravado, he's still struggling to figure it all out. He doesn't understand the Scriptures he's reading completely. We know that, because when we get to Cornelius's house and back to Jerusalem, he's going, "You know, I don't know how to explain this but. I think it's God". If he'd understood fully, said, "I told you this in the day of Pentecost, Joel chapter 2, where God clearly said through me, before we baptize all those folk". You know he would, I would. "I told you so". But that's not what he does, he goes, "You know, I don't know how to understand this either, but I had this vision and Cornelius saw an Angel, and you know, God did this". 1 Peter 3: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair, and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes". Yes, he's addressing women, but it's not limited to them. "Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight".
In another time and place in the history of our church, we would take a passage like that and use it to berate and belittle one another, to control and manipulate. Some of you may have been in settings where they used that passage and said, "Because of that, you can't braid your hair or wear jewelry, they're inappropriate". The problem with that interpretation is they only picked that two of the three things that Peter said. He mentioned braiding of your hair, wearing jewelry and oh, by the way, wearing clothes. So if you're gonna get rid of the braids and the jewelry... He's making a point that your beauty is not external, but the most beautiful part of a person is our inner self. He says, it's unfading. It's not diminished by birthdays or gravity. It doesn't age out, in fact, it becomes more intense.
Ephesians 4 very similar, different language, but he said you were taught with regard to your former way of life to put off your old self. He's still talking about putting something off, but it's not physical, clothes and jewelry. To put off your old self, it's being corrupted by its deceitful desires. As Christ followers, we still live with this battle. Why is it relevant to acts Chapter 2? Because if we're gonna have the courage to persevere from house to house, day after day and not to stop, we're gonna have to learn how to deal with that old self. We have to take it off, it can't have the same authority it's had in our lives before. To be made new in the attitude of our minds. We have to learn to think in some new ways, to have some new attitudes about some things. You see, we want to keep our old attitudes and God do a new thing, and God says, "No, I need you to have a new attitude and to put on a new self," created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
I assure you, the Spirit of God is as moving as certainly in the 21st century, as he did in the first. He's still recruiting, we still have an assignment. His power is present to help us, the question is, will we have the courage to say yes? You're in church on a Wednesday night, there's a high degree of probability you've already raised your hand. But I don't want you to back up, I don't want you to mail it in, I don't want you to live presumptively. I want to encourage you to continue to say yes to the Lord. Some of you have been balking, hesitant, reluctant, a little smug, we've been a little self satisfied. We've known there's a problem and somebody needs to change, but it's probably not us. It's probably not us. I have as little emotional scar, I played piano as a child, do not mock. And we had a recital one time. I don't know, there was probably two dozen of us playing all at the same... we all learned the same little piece, we're all gonna play the same little thing. Can you just see that?
I was cute, for a very brief window in my life, it was right there. And I remember the instructor saying, "Somebody's playing the wrong chord". Wasn't me, I'd memorized my music. I mean it wasn't about three chords, I could do this, this is not hard. And we'd do it again. Somebody played the wrong chord? Glad it's not me. "We're gonna stay here and keep playing this until everybody gets it right". Okay people focus, I want to go play ball. Thirty minutes, "Somebody's still playing the wrong chord. I'm coming around and watch every one of you play this piece". Okay, quiz: Who do you think was playing the wrong chord? I'd been there for 20 minutes, but they were just berating us all, "It's not me, could not be me, I know my stuff," and I think we live that way a little bit. Wish the world would change, we wish somebody else would be different.
What if we just said to the Lord, "We're all in? Whatever invitation you put before us, no hesitation". It's the 21st century and we need the book of Acts to come alive amongst us. Amen? Why don't you stand, I want to pray with you. Why don't you take somebody's hand? You don't have to make a circle, just don't be alone. If you don't know 'em, tell 'em your name. You know the rules, if they won't talk to you, don't touch them. Before Peter had delivered that message, before 3,000 people lifted their hands and said, "I'm in," it says the 11 stood together. It's hard to find very many places through the Gospels where the 11 stood together. They argued about who is greatest, they argued about who was gonna get to sit on the thrones on the right and the left. They pointed fingers and said, "You didn't bring the bread". Right? But on that day they stood together. One of the things that will emerge is a different kind of unity than we have known. Not that false unity where we call one another brothers and sisters when we're living ungodly lives and dishonoring the Lord, but that we will learn to stand together with those that are seeking the Lord.
Father, thank you for your Word and it's truth and authority and power. I thank you that you're moving today, just as certainly as you moved in Jerusalem that day, that you are moving in cities throughout the earth this day and we praise you for it. We stand in your presence to say that we want to cooperate with you. Holy Spirit, without you, we will not complete what we were created for and so we humble ourselves today and ask for your help. Guide us, lead us, direct us. May we have understanding hearts, may we have eyes of faith and ears to hear what you're calling us to. Look upon us with mercy, cleanse us and we will be clean. Transform our hearts. Show us those places where we have failed to take off what needs to be taken off and to put on a new self, where we need changes in our attitudes and in our thoughts and in our hearts. Convict us, make it clear to us. I thank you for what you'll do. I thank you for an outpouring of your Spirit and the transformation in multiplied thousands of lives. And that with our limited understanding and our limited insight, may we have a boldness to tell the truth. May we be willing even to suffer disgrace for your name, in Jesus's name, amen.