Allen Jackson - The Rest Of The Story - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you again. We're gonna continue our study on strategies, tactics, and the spiritual conflict around us. We're looking at the book of Acts trying to understand the pattern that's given to us for sharing the good news of Jesus. Spoiler alert, every time there is a remarkable response to the good news of the gospel, there's an equally dramatic response of opposition. We shouldn't be surprised by that, it's our reality. Enjoy the lesson.
So this session, I'm gonna call "The Rest of the Story". We've been doing this in a little... I've been pursuing this theme, but I've approached it from some different perspectives. I wanna go back to the book of Acts and really pick up where I was a couple of sessions ago. And I wanna push back a little bit on this, there's some prevailing ideas that flourish in the church. People say things like this to me on a very frequent basis, "You know, pastor, just preach the gospel. Just help people be saved, just focus on church. Avoid current events, avoid divisive topics. Our message is all about love".
Well, I believe in the church, and I believe in the new birth, and I believe in the gospel, and I believe in all of those things, and I do my best to avoid controversy, I don't have time for it. I truly don't have the energy or the interest in opening controversial topics for the sake of establishing right and wrong. But I believe we have an assignment, a responsibility to take the biblical worldview to the generation in which we live. And I wanna do my best to walk with you through the book of Acts and see if we can understand what we might anticipate. Because we're given the Bible to help us be prepared for our own generation. It's not just so we can understand first century culture or understand what it was like during the times of the monarchy in ancient Israel. The purpose of Scripture is to help us understand God's truth in the light of the world in which we live.
Verse 19, same narrative, "When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone," they made a contribution to Paul and Silas to expand their ministry beyond Philippi. That's what I would want to happen. Revival has started, Lydia's house has gotten saved, demonized people are being set free, hallelujah. Except it says, "They dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. And they brought them before the magistrates and said, 'These men are Jews, and they're throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.'"
Is that true? No, it's a lie. They haven't started an uproar in the city, the only uproar is the one they've started. Their profit center got disrupted. "And the crowd joined in the attack on Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. And after they'd been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. And upon receiving the orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks". They've been arrested, beaten, and locked in the inner part of the jail for helping a young woman who's tormented.
Can you hear the conversation? "Paul, could you just hush next time? Dude, you got stoned the last time we were stopped someplace. You just had to do it, didn't you"? Is it safe to say there's a force involved here that defies logic? 'Cause they didn't start the riot, they didn't create the disruption. They told the truth and it brought freedom to people. And there were unseen forces for whom that was unacceptable and they responded by trying to silence the messengers. They had them beaten. If they'd had their way they would've been beaten to death. Because we know of Paul's life, before he's done, five times he will take thirty-nine lashes. Forty lashes was believed to kill a man. So, if you got 39 lashes, you were beaten to the point of almost dead.
Next verse, "About midnight Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns to God". They're weird. The other prisoners are listening. Some of you know this story really well. "There's a violent earthquake and the foundations of the prisons are shaken. And the prison doors fly open, and everyone's chains come loose". There's angels all over the house: unlocking doors, unlocking chains. "The jailer woke up, when he saw the prison doors open, he's gonna draw his sword". If your prisoners escape, your life will be taken. So he thinks the doors are open, the chains are fallen, his prisoners are gone, it's dark in the jail. He draws his sword, he's gonna take his life.
And Paul says, "No, we're still sitting here". I mean, that's the living Bible, but it's what it says. "And the jailer comes in with a light," and they give him the gospel and he accepts Jesus and he gets baptized and cleans up their wounds and, I mean, it's a wonderful little narrative, and we can applaud, but there are some questions. If you're gonna send the angels to open the doors of the jail and drop the chains off, how about just send the angels to protect me from the knuckleheads that're gonna lead the riot and have me arrested and then beaten? I mean, just, if you know, if I'm getting to draw up my own mission trip, I want the guy, when he draws his arm back with the whip in it, I want his arm to fall off.
Like in Monty Python fashion to the floor. And then I want the next overzealous prosecutor to come pick up the same whip and his arm fall off. And then I wanna look at the crowd and go, "Any more comments"? That's no more difficult to me than the jail doors swinging open. See, I want it to be easy. I do. I wanna be able to preach the gospel to anybody that will receive it and see people set free and delivered and healed and people applaud and be like, you know, running a 5k. Do you ever wanna... if you're gonna ever run a race, that's the one you wanna do, 5K is just long enough you almost get sweaty.
And you can train for, like, 30 minutes and be ready for a 5K. And they're short enough that almost the whole race route is lined with people going... At about every 100 yards, they'll give you something else to eat. You can run a 5K and gain weight, I promise you can. And that's kinda my imagination of serving the Lord. I'd like somebody about every 25 yards going, "Yes, that's it, keep it up, good job. Here's a Twinkie, go". And when it's not easy, and when it's difficult, and when people don't accept the message, and when you're ostracized for it or when there is pushback that I didn't expect from places that I didn't want there to be pushback from.
When there's an absence of affirmation from places where you thought there should be affirmation and there's a lack of cooperation, I wanna go, "Lord, I thought you asked me to do this". I mean, it's a wonderful story and I'm grateful for the revival that's coming to Philippi, but it's unusual. In the morning, I didn't put it in your notes but you can check me later, it's in that same chapter. It says in the morning that the magistrates of the city sent a message to the jailer and said, "You can let them go". You gotta love Paul. He sends a message back and said, "No, actually, we're Roman citizens and you arrested us and had us beaten without proper discourse, and we won't leave until you come to see us and apologize".
So the leaders of the city come and have a little parade to help Paul and his crew find their way outta town. And the narrative moves right on to Thessalonica. The book of Philippians is the letter Paul wrote to that group in Philippi from a Roman prison some years later. God willing, we'll look at that in connection to this story another time, but in Acts 17, the very next chapter verse one, "When they'd passed through somewhere, they came to Thessalonica, and there was a Jewish synagogue. And as his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days, he reasoned with them from the Scriptures".
So for three weeks on the Sabbath, he is sharing a message from the Scripture. "This Jesus I'm proclaiming to you is the Messiah,' he said. And some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women". So their second stop into Europe, there's a number of Jews in the synagogue and a large number of God-fearing Gentiles, and more than a few prominent influential women. We'd probably call that a revival, a renewal, an awakening, something. There's a moving of the Spirit of God in Thessalonica. Very next verse, "But the Jews who were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, and they formed a mob and they started a riot in the city. And they rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they didn't find them, they dragged Jason and some of the other brothers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.'"
Was that true? No, it's a lie. They hadn't caused trouble in the city, they were just jealous of the influence they had. They were jealous. These are Jews, the covenant people of God, the people of the book. They go to the synagogue on Sabbath, they keep kosher, they celebrate Passover and Pentecost. They're jealous. Paul is one of them by both birth and training, and they're jealous, and they start a riot, and they fuel it with lies and deceit. It's not logical. And if it happened once, you might just say, "Well, you know, it was a very base group of people and somehow we missed the cultural cues and we got off on the wrong foot". But this is the third sinning in succession, one in a previous discussion we did, where they stoned Paul and then they got to Philippi and that he was arrested, and beaten, and imprisoned, and now there's a riot, there is a pattern building.
Verse 10, same chapter, "As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away," they're gonna sneak outta town under the cover of darkness. "On arriving at Berea, they went to the Jewish synagogue". That sounds familiar. "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians". Luke is saying, "We liked them better". "For they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did a number of the prominent Greek women and many Greek men". And when the Jews in Thessalonica, so that's the outcome. There's a large number of people believing. Now this is the fourth stop that we have looked at together where there's an outcome from the gospel that stirs a community or a city.
So we should hold an imagination that the gospel appeals to a significant number of people. You have to believe that there's a number of people with whom you work that would be receptive to the gospel. There's a number of people in the neighborhood where you live that would be receptive to the gospel. There's a number of people with whom your children interact in activities and sports and extracurricular activities that would be receptive to the gospel. It requires someone to know the Scripture well enough to share it with them. It requires somebody that has a Jesus story and the boldness and the courage to give expression to it. It requires somebody to know the truth and to stand up and say, "I believe this is right and this would be the way in which to walk".
But the Scripture seems to suggest to us that we will do that even in places where we're not known well or the gospel is not known well that there are hearts open to that message. It happens repeatedly. It's also true that there's opposition to it. And the opposition is fueled by carnal things, selfish things, that the opposition seems to be illogical and irrational. And we'll have to persist that God will intervene from time to time to give us supernatural victories, he'll open a jail cell or let the chains fall off. But other times he'll allow us to be stoned, or beaten, or arrested, or ostracized. It's equally true from the narrative that not everybody will persist, some will stop, some will say, "The cost is too high," or, "The price is too great," or, "I'd rather be accepted than rejected so I'll be quiet".
We have to decide what we're going to do. The purpose of this little study we're doing is to try to understand the strategies and tactics of our adversary and then the ones that will be necessary from us in order to be victorious. And there're some words that begin to come to mind, things like perseverance and endurance. That we're gonna have to have a greater commitment to our mission and our assignment than we are to public approval. We'll have to stop saying some foolish things like, "Well, the message we have is just all about love". It's true God is love and that love is a very important part of the message that we have, but God is also severe, and we have an assignment to tell that truth as well.
Verse 13, "When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the Word of God at Berea," now they're not in Thessalonica, but they heard that Paul that had been there earlier has moved to Berea. "They went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up". So they start following them. It's a town where they don't have an investment. It's not their synagogue, it's not their public schools, it's not their community center. They're just following them along, creating resistance and hatred towards them. You think cancel culture is new? Do we imagine we're... this is the first time in history that the church has been threatened? How is it that we have begun to cower in the face of fear? How is it that we will accommodate things that we know are evil, or wicked, or immoral, or ungodly?
We will tolerate them at our kitchen table. We'll be silent in the face of them when we're sitting with our friends because we don't wanna be ostracized. What has happened to us? We don't need to be angry, we don't need to be critical, we have good news. Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me. I used to be ungodly, I used to be given over to immorality and greed or whatever. We all have our own version of that. And it left me empty, and void, and unsatisfied, and when I was willing to humble myself and repent, Jesus has changed my heart. He's brought peace to me, and a hope to me, and a purpose to my life, and there's a better way to live than living an ungodly life and sitting in church and pretending. And some people will receive that message gladly with great hope and enthusiasm.
Now we are walking through a season when there is remarkable spiritual activity. The Spirit of God is moving in the earth in ways I have never seen in my lifetime. And there are expressions of darkness and immorality and perversion with a brazenness that I've never seen in my lifetime. And we're gonna have to decide which of those responses we're going to embrace and where we will be identified. And then we'll have to have the courage to persevere, and to endure, and to overcome. God will help us. Sometimes he'll open the jail doors. Sometimes he'll blind the eyes of those who come for us. Sometimes he'll cancel those who would cancel us, and sometimes we'll have to endure injustice and difficulty, and we'll have to persevere, and we'll have to make a sacrifice. That we haven't been coached on this, we've been coached on how to come to church and we understand sacrifices. It's when someone sits in our seat and we don't hit them.
We understand what it means to be an overcomer. Someone parked in the parking place I preferred, and I had to walk 16 extra feet. We understand what it is to be an overcomer. The sermon went six minutes long and was boring, but I endured because I love Jesus. We've been coached to something that doesn't look much like the Scripture. And God in his great mercy has begun to awaken us. Some of us won't even bother to come to church. I mean, I know you're in the house, so I'm preaching to the choir but occasionally even the choir needs a good message, tell your friends. Thousands of us don't even bother to come to the building anymore because it's, you know, it's inconvenient, you have to, like, take a shower. Which is a really good idea if you're going out in public, I don't wanna discourage that.
And then you have to hassle with all the people and "I can watch it in a comfortable place, why would I do that"? Oh, I don't know, maybe something crazy like the Bibles says, "Not to forsake the assembling together of yourselves". And if we wanna go to a ballgame, we'll drive several hours, pay goofy money to park our car in somebody's field, then we'll walk a long way, pay a lot of money for a ticket, for a seat that's on a cold aluminum bench that's about this wide, clearly not designed for 21st century human beings's bottoms. And there's a high degree of probability that the people around you, at least some of them, will be intoxicated, and it could be unpleasant. And if you need to go to the restroom, the line will reach across county lines.
And after you've stood in the line and you finally get to the facility, it was clean six or eight months ago. And if you decide you want refreshments, somebody has recognized your desperate condition and they will charge you $40 for a 60 cent hotdog. And when it's all done, you'll reverse all of that, you'll wait your turn to get out of the place, you'll hike back to where your car was, you'll sit in traffic that will go all the way from Knoxville to Murfreesboro. And when you get home, you'll tell all your friends how wonderful it was. And then you'll livestream church 'cause it's inconvenient.
Have I made everybody mad yet? If I haven't, I'll try harder. We have been programmed for such a passive faith, and I don't want you to be angry, but I do wanna just plant a seed that the triumph of your faith will require your best. It'll require in your family, it'll require in your friend's network, it will require it in your neighborhood. If we're gonna see our schools change, folks, we're gonna have to invest ourselves differently. I believe we can see Jesus honored on our college campuses, in our hospital corridors, in our courtrooms again, but it's going to take a different response, we're waiting for somebody else. We want a politician to endure the criticism, or a pastor, or somebody. We have the truth of Almighty God, we have the pattern of Scripture.
Let's just begin to start where God has given us the influence. If you'll start in that arena, God will begin to bring victories to you, lives that you'll see changed. And when you see them changed, you'll see some other opposition, there'll be some pushback, and at that point you have a decision to make, whether you'll be silenced by it or that you'll stand up, dust yourself off, and say, "I will not stop". I brought you a prayer. I didn't put it in your notes, I ran outta room, but they're gonna put it on the screens, 'cause they're really smart and I'm not. Look at that. If I had to put it on the screen, it would require paint. Let's pray this prayer together:
Heavenly Father, You have delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and welcomed us into the kingdom of your Son. Now, may our hearts be open to your invitation. Grant us the boldness to share the truth you have brought to life within us. May Jesus be exalted, may people find freedom and hope, and may those trapped in despair be set free. Deliver us from evil. May all the honor be directed to Jesus, amen!