Allen Jackson - Leading The Jesus Initiative - Part 1
It's unbelievable. It's the theater of the absurd. It's beyond absurd. I read this week, it just keeps coming, that our gas hot water heaters are apparently a dire threat. A few weeks ago it was your gas stoves and long, long ago, your pick-up trucks and SUVs were shameful. It's confusing because we're told to follow the science. Well, if you're...the the climate science debate is for another day. Gladly, but for another day. I would make this observation, it's helpful, more than 80% of our electricity comes by burning fossil fuels.
More than 80% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. So while they're taking away your natural gas appliances, they're going to burn fossil fuels to help you turn on your electric. And I assure you that if you follow the science, it's more efficient to put the fossil fuel in the vehicle than it is to burn it in a coal plant to make the electricity to fuel the battery in the car you're driving.
Now I went to public schools in Tennessee, but I can follow the science that far. But I also checked and Jesus is still on the throne, amen? I tell you all that to encourage you to put the apostles's creed in your heart because the level of absurdity that is directed at you on a daily basis is disconcerting, and if you don't understand that you believe in God the Father Almighty who created the heavens and the earth, some knucklehead with a PhD will stand up in front of you and say he didn't. And you need to have that established in your heart. God is faithful.
We have a new book that has just come out. It's called, "Lessons from Peter". It's really a collection of devotionals, the devotionals that we distribute every day if you've signed up. If you go to the website or the apps, you can sign up and every morning about 5:30 a devotional will drop into your inbox Monday through Friday. It's free. No hooks. It's just really a little spiritual vitamin for the day. But we gathered some of those that had been built around either 1 and 2 Peter or stories from Peter's life in the Gospels, and put them into a 90-day devotional. But in light of that, I wanted to do a few sessions that were lessons from Peter. He's a character about whom we know a great deal from scripture.
In the previous session, we looked at Peter in the life, in his interaction with Jesus. I made a couple of observations that are worth repeating, I think. Many scholars believe that Peter was a primary source for the Gospel of Mark. So when you read Mark, it seems especially that Peter took some pain or made some effort with Mark that Mark relay to us some of the places where Peter failed, some of the times he had difficulty understanding or grasping or maintaining a stance. Most of the hero stories we know for Peter are not in the Gospel of Mark, you have to go to the other Gospels to get those.
In Mark's Gospel, Jesus walks on the water but Peter doesn't. But his shortcomings are there. It's as if Peter was taking a great effort to say to all of us that God didn't choose those of us that look superior. He chose the cracked pots. That's how we got on the team, folks. There's a lot of material. In this session, I wanna look at the book of Acts with you, and the role that Peter took in the emerging Jesus story after Jesus ascended back to heaven. And I'd really intended to do all of that. The first 12 chapters of Acts focus a great deal on Peter, and I'd built it that way, but when I sat down to finish the notes to share with you, I decided just to take a slower path. So I don't know how far we'll get. We're certainly not going through all 12 chapters. If it bores you, just take a nap. But I think there's a great deal to be learned.
I'll give you just a bit of history, I think it'll help. It was July 18, 64 A.D. 64 A.D. and Rome burned. The fire lasted almost a week. There was a bit of an ebb and a flow in that, but because of some weather patterns it extended again. For almost a week, Rome burned. Enormous amounts of the city were devastated. And when there's a tragedy like that, there's a human need to blame somebody. It has to be somebody's fault. You can follow that thread throughout history. And the likely candidate at that time was the Roman Emperor, Nero. He was crazy, evil, wicked. And there was much of Rome that he wanted to replace, rebuild, and that was widely known so when Rome burned, he was the first culprit that they landed upon. "It must have been Nero. He burned it so he could rebuild it the way he wanted to".
Nero wasn't about to withstand that kind of criticism, so he refocused the blame on another group, the Christians. And the most widespread, most violent, most unrelenting persecution of Christians began that they'd ever known. It became a public thing. They would take Christians and sow them into the skins of animals that had been killed and skinned and put them in the arena and then release wild animals into the arena and cheer while they watched the horror. They put Christians in the arenas and let them be hunted by dogs. They crucified Christians in large numbers across the empire. Nero, perverse, wicked, he had Christians taken and bound, hand and foot, tied to poles, set the poles in the ground so that the Christians were up above the ground, coated them with tar, and set them afire to illuminate his garden parties.
It was that environment of persecution and hatred and violence in which Peter got caught up in, in the later years of his life. He ultimately would be martyred. It's not in the scripture but it's at least a part of Christian tradition. 1 and 2 Peter, he wrote near the end of his life, and he's coaching them, he's counseling them, he's giving them wisdom on how to conduct themselves in the midst of increasingly hostile world, with persecution growing, when there was an intolerance of Christians that was being expressed from the highest levels of government to the local levels in the cities around the empire. Seems relevant today.
With a little bit of research, you'll find that people he met on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 are the audiences he addressed 1 and 2 Peter to, relationships started more than 30 years earlier. Peter's still following up with them. Well, that's the background. The previous session will help, but I wanna pick up today in the book of Acts, with Acts chapter 1. It's not in your notes 'cause there just wasn't room. I had six pages of scriptures. I gave you the cheap version.
In Acts chapter 1, the last counsel Jesus has for his disciples is recorded. He gives them a commandment. He says not to leave Jerusalem until they're baptized with the Holy Spirit, and he said they'll become his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. And with that, they're standing on the Mount of Olives and with that, Jesus lifts off. He ascends back to heaven bodily. Not just spiritually. His physical body lifted off of the Mount of Olives. And they watched him disappear in the clouds and they're standing staring into the clouds and angels appear and say, "Why are you staring into the clouds"? "Uhh, who's gonna answer that"? And they say, "Well, he'll return the same way you saw him leave".
Now, there's a... amen. It's kind of dramatic and it's easy to read past it in that opening chapter of Acts, but it's a significance, a watershed moment in the unfolding story of scripture because from Bethlehem onwards, the Gospels, the opening of the New Testament, centers on the life and the ministry of Jesus. In Acts chapter 1 he steps out of time. Now, he will step back in, in the same way he stepped into time prior to Bethlehem. He will step back into time after the ascension in Acts chapter 1, but it's a watershed moment because now his best friends and closest followers are left with a Jesus story and their own personal Jesus experiences, but they don't have Jesus there as a backstop. Up till this point, when they got in over their heads, they could run to Jesus.
"We can pray and nothing happened. What would you do"? And he would say, "O you of little faith, bring 'em to me". Or they'd get caught in a storm on Galilee and they'd think they're gonna drown and they would wake him up and he'd say to the wind and the waves, "O hush, be quiet". Or there would be an angry mob and Jesus would just walk through them, "It wasn't yet his time," the scripture would say. Or they would ask him privately, "We didn't understand what you meant when you were telling those parables. Can you explain them to us"? And he'd say, "Are you really that dull"? And then he would explain them to them. But now they're gone. Jesus has gone. And they're very aware of it 'cause they saw him leave.
So I would submit to you that what comes next has a lot of emotion around it, a lot of uncertainty around it. The pattern of belief they've had and the pattern of interacting with the Lord has been completely changed. This is not business as usual. Are you prepared to follow God when he changes his patterns? I mean, I earned a degree in history, I love the traditions of the church and there are some things that are not up for review but there are some things, folks, that are a part of growing that have to change. Well, Acts chapter 1 and verse 12, "They returned to Jerusalem from the hill that was called the Mount of Olives. It's a Sabbath day's walk from the city. And when they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. And those present were Peter and John and James and Andrew and Philip and Thomas and Bartholomew and Matthew and James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James".
There was more than one Judas. The other one's gone. "And they all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers". I read all of that to get to verse 15, "In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)". A couple of things are helpful there. Peter has a role of leadership in this community. They just came back from the Mount of Olives. Jesus lifted off. They were about to make a decision to replace Judas Iscariot. "We can't go forward, we can't complete the assignment without the 12. Jesus recruited 12, we need 12. We lost one, we better choose a replacement".
Peter's the one who stands up to lead that initiative. So he's acknowledged, at least he has a role that is recognized of some leadership or influence among this group. It's also noteworthy that there's about 120 of them. The fruit of that, after the Resurrection, after all the drama, after all of everything, there's about 120 of them in Jerusalem. Peter has a leading voice. And I would point out in Acts chapter 1 they're still acting like the same knuckleheads that they were in the Gospels. "There were 12 of us, now there are 11, we better fill the slot". Doesn't say the Lord spoke to them. It doesn't say the Lord prompted them. It says they could count. "We had 12, we got 11. We better fill the slot". And Peter leads the charge.
When you follow them through the Gospels, you're pretty certain that Jesus recruited from the slow group. I mean, if you're just a wagering person and I know none of you would do that, but if you were going to just completely transform your character, you wouldn't have bet much on those folks. They're like Keystone Cops. Even Jesus thinks they're dull, but he's left the initiative with them. He trusted the Holy Spirit so much. He acknowledged there were things that they yet needed to learn, there were things that they needed to be told. He said, "You can't take any more. You're full to the brim, but I'm gonna send you a helper".
But in Acts chapter 2 the Holy Spirit that was promised in Acts chapter 1 and earlier in Jesus's preparation of the disciples is poured out. And then 120 people that we met in that first chapter are the recipients of this. And it says that there was a sound of a mighty rushing wind and then they began to speak in languages that they hadn't learned, languages beyond their native languages, beyond their intellectual preparation. But they were speaking languages of the region at the time and of the world at the time. We know that 'cause the... I gave you that explanation.
It's Acts 2:8, "'This is how it is that each of us hears them in his own native language.'" Because of the Jewish holiday, there were people there from all over the empire, "'Parthians and Medes and Elamites; and residents of Mesopotamia and Judea and Cappadocia and Pontus and Asia and Phrygia and Pamphylia and Egypt and parts of Libya near Cyrene.'" That goes from northern Turkey and Asia into northern Africa, people from all over the region. "'(Both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs, we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!' Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?'"
I would submit to you that when God begins to move, there's a certain uncertainty with it. God's not like us, folks. We're finite creatures, we worship an infinite God, and when God steps into time with his sovereignty and begins to move and rearrange, there's a questioning that comes with that, because it's beyond us. It's beyond our intellect, it's beyond our ability, it's beyond something we could orchestrate. It was true in the 1st century, it is true in the 21st century, and I would submit to you that that question that all of us harbor is, you know, "What do we do? What is happening? What is God doing"?
It's not all generated by expressions of evil. I would submit to you it could very much be generated by expressions of the moving of the Spirit of God. We sense that something is happening, that something's being rearranged, and rather than to imagine it's doom and destruction and darkness, what if we imagine that the Spirit of God is moving? It's not hard to find evil. It's not hard to find evil. But if you have a love for the truth and a love for God, you'll be able to see the things God is doing. It's important so you can align yourselves with them and you can raise your hand and say, "I intend to be a part of that".
We're gonna see in the next few moments what it means to do that. The dividing lines were there in the 1st century, and the dividing lines are there in the 21st century. There's decisions to be made. We're not living in the world we were living in five years ago. I know there's a desperate attempt to say everything's back to normal. It isn't. There's greater turmoil in front of us than anything we've seen in the last four years. I think it's highly probable there's more turmoil in front of us in the next 18 months than what we've seen in the last 4 years. And we're gonna need to know the Lord and have our confidence in him. What does this mean? "Some, however, made fun of them and said, 'They've had too much wine.'" I don't think the responses have changed that much. Some were interested, some were intrigued, some received, some made fun, and some said, "Oh, they're just drunk".
Now, I put Peter's response in your notes in its entirety, thus the angst. I hope not to dwell on it, but if we do, it's okay, we'll quit on time, 2 o'clock. So the last comment was people making fun of them and saying they've had too much to drink. In verse 14, "Peter stood up with the Eleven". Now again, Peter is the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem. "He stood up with the Eleven, he raised his voice, he addressed the crowd: 'Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men aren't drunk, as you suppose.'"
Now, in the first chapter Peter didn't have a clue what was going on. "We got 12, we got 11, we need 1. Taking nominations". And the one they nominated, we don't ever hear from again. The most likely replacement, the one Jesus recruited, we don't meet until a few chapters later. His name was Saul of Tarsus. But in Acts chapter 1, he's still hunting Christians. So God's timeline and the timeline of those first 120 was a little out of sync. Their listener wasn't dialed in too well yet. But now in Acts chapter 2, Peter stands up with some confidence and some boldness. Verse 15, "These men aren't drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning"! It's a little early for us. Oh, you can laugh at that at church, it's okay. "No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," and he quotes the prophet Joel.
In fact, he's gonna quote multiple passages from the Old Testament. This is Joel 2, "'In the last days, God says, I'll pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I'll pour out my Spirit in those days, and they'll prophesy. I'll show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fires and billows of smoke. And the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"
He's quoting from Joel the prophet, and he said in the last days, this is what God said. He said, "This..." What's happening, God said in the last days, this is what I will do. This is the 1st century, and Peter's attaching it to the last days. We're in the 21st century. Now, the skeptics, many of them Christian scholars, will try to discredit the account because of Peter's description of the last days. I would submit to you there are better ways to understand that. I don't wanna spend our time on a last days discussion today. But the imagination of the urgency of the message is important. And I would point out to you the question that was put to them is, "What's happened to your people? We hear them speaking in a language that we understand but we know they don't understand. What is this"?
And Peter's response is to quote the prophet Joel and talk about the last days and signs in the heavens. They ask a question about language. And Peter seems to be on a rabbit trail. I'm not the first minister to go off on a rabbit trail. Verse 22, "'Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.'" They'd all heard rumors of Jesus. If they hadn't been in one of the meetings or in one of the crowds, they knew somebody who had been. He said, "You know the Jesus story, the man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.'"
Can you see the expressions on the faces of the other 119? "Here he goes again. He's been shooting his mouth off for as long as we've known him. We finally got a crowd in Jerusalem, and he's pointing an accusing finger at them. 'But God raised him from the dead and freed him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.'" And now he's gonna quote Psalm 16. Remember, he's doing this extemporaneously. Joel 2, Psalm 16. "David said about him: 'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he's at my right hand, I'll not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'"
That was David's expression. Peter said it was an accurate description of something he had experienced in Jesus's life and his relationship with him. So I don't believe we're inappropriate or wrong when we take passages of scripture and imagine that they have relevance for the time and place in which we're living. He's quoting the Psalms again, extemporaneously. He's not a scholar. He didn't spend his youth in yeshiva studying Torah. He's a fisherman. He's far more comfortable in a boat on the Lake of Galilee than he is in some scholarly setting. That's very clear when we meet him in the Gospels.
Again, amongst the Christian community, there are liberal scholars who will say, "Well, clearly, Acts chapter 2 is a recreation. It's built after the fact. It's not an accurate reflection of what actually took place. It was something recreated later and the scholars began to insert scriptures. There's no change some ignorant fisherman would have quoted the prophet Joel or the Psalms of David". I disagree. And I'll show you in a minute that the scholars today weren't the first ones to question the fisherman. "Brothers, I can tell you confidently," verse 29, "that the patriarch David died and he was buried, and his tomb is here today".
Now, the hero in Jerusalem until today is King David. And Peter's about to make his case that Jesus of Nazareth is of greater authority than King David. He's about to blow the minds of his 1st century audience. "He died, he was buried. His tomb is here and you know where it's at. He was a prophet and he knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he wasn't abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact".
That's the essence of this whole presentation. He said, "God raised Jesus to life. I believe in the resurrection of the dead," he said. "And I don't believe it is a theological theory, I don't believe it in the context of a prophetic fulfillment". He said, "I knew the man. I watched him tortured to death on a cross, and I ate fish with him when he was alive again. David's tomb is over on that street. You know where it is. He's still there". So when he talks about a resurrected Lord and the power of God, he doesn't think of it in terms of no difficulty. We've had this perverse gospel that all God wants us to be is happy. Now I'm for happy. I've been sad and I've been happy. Happy's more better. But if the goal of your life is be happy, you will sell your soul and your eternity for temporary things.
Hey, we each understand that we're living in a time where there's more reluctance to talk about Jesus in the public square or, at least, there's more resistance to those who do. Well, it's important to know that this is not new to this generation. It goes all the way back to the 1st century when Jesus's closest friends began to talk about him. What we do need is a boldness that comes from the Spirit of God and his wisdom. Let's pray:
Father, I pray you'll give us a supernatural boldness to be advocates for you, and the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. I thank you for it, in Jesus's name, amen.