Allen Jackson - A Supernatural Life - Part 1
It's a privilege to be with you today. We've been walking through the study on "Lessons from Peter". Today we're gonna talk about a supernatural life as we follow Peter and his leadership of the church through those early chapters of the Book of Acts. It is a story of the supernatural: healings, miracles, opposition, resistance, threats, death threats. You see both sides of the spiritual spectrum fully in play. Please don't imagine that we're gonna have the blessings of God without having the opposition that comes from the enemies of God; they go together. The good news is, in Jesus we're triumphant. Grab your Bible and a notepad but most importantly, open your heart.
I had a call yesterday afternoon. Asked if I would do an interview today around the drama of this week; the theater of the absurd is open again. The continuing stream of presentations is just stunning. And they wanted to know from a pastoral perspective what hope there was. They'd spent this program listening to all the talking heads talking about legal this and legal that, and battle lines were drawn, everybody was tense, and they looked at me and said, "So what can a pastor say"? And I'll give you the counsel as I thought about it and prayed about it.
You know, it truly is absurd what we're watching. It breaks all the bounds of rational, logical, it's unreasonable. It's painted and presented to us as if we should understand it but it's unacceptable, it truly is. That people who have been chosen to lead and defend and protect would betray those sacred trusts, it's just unimaginable. But my shortest answer, 'cause I wanna really move on with the "Lessons From Peter" would be this, don't spend too much time staring at the dots. You ever seen those pictures? You know, you stare at the dots and the longer I stare at 'em, you know, I feel like a dog, you turn your head this way and that way, but I don't see anything. And the longer I stare, I just get tired. You squint and you back up and you want brighter light and less light. And some bozo walks up and says, you know, "I see the Mona Lisa," and I see dots.
And I wanna encourage you not to spend too much time, you need to pay attention, you need to know what's happening, but don't spend your day staring at the dots, keep in mind the big picture. If you will do that, I believe the Lord will help us navigate what is before us. And the big picture to me is pretty simple. It wasn't very long ago, the last time we had a national election was 2020. And if you remember, that year was a circus. It was a flat out circus. We heard about a virus from Wuhan and all the things that rolled out with that. And I honestly believe that there are for many reasons, that was intricately involved with the fact that we were having a national election. And we had an election year like none we'd ever had before.
New rules were written, new patterns were introduced, new behaviors were introduced. One candidate campaigned from a basement. We never saw them with a group of more than a hundred or so people. And when everything was said and done, more people voted in that election than had ever voted before. I mean, rules were changed, new patterns, things we've never done before. And if you said anything about it, you are not a good person. Well, we're at the run up to another national election. Guess what? The next few months are gonna be a greater circus than they were in 2020. I believe that, that's the big picture folks. So don't be shocked or surprised, buckle up. Now here's the good news in all of that. I believe ultimately the church is the difference maker.
Now, here's the sobering fact: I don't see a tremendous amount of change in the church from 2020 until today that would cause me to believe we're in a much better place. Some of us took the license that 2020 brought, and we've used it for more carnality. We didn't renounce our faith, we just chose to be a bit more carnal. Why should we bother to get dressed up and go gather with God's people? We can do it with the lens or whatever that looked like. So I still believe the determining factor and the outcome of what is before us, if we maintain our freedoms and our liberties and the things that we would wish for our children and our grandchildren, has everything to do with the responses of God's people.
So here's my suggestion: don't surrender to fatigue. I'm tired of it, you're tired of it, all God's children are tired of it. We would rather look away. People say to me all the time, I'm just not paying any attention anymore. I'm sick of it, I'm not looking. Well, the technical word for that is appeasement, it's been tried throughout history, it doesn't work. The longer you practice appeasement, the higher the price you have to pay when you decide to confront evil. So we should all understand this, that appeasement equals acceptance. We cannot appease evil. We have to stand up, people will not mutilate our children, you will not redefine marriage, you will not redefine these things, we won't yield.
It isn't that we have to understand we're more diverse, we have to assert that there's right and wrong, and we will never understand, or accept, or embrace wrong. We have a moral compass, God has given it to us, it's not something we derived on our own. And we have the assignment with our journey through time to stand up for right and wrong. So if you're not in the habit of praying on a daily basis for our nation, I would strongly encourage you to begin to practice the habit. It takes eight weeks to get a new habit. So for eight weeks I can nag you, but after that you're on your own.
Only our prayers, and it's not the prayers that somebody else will be different, we have to be different. We have to be different around our kitchen tables, we have to be different in the truth we're willing to share with our families. We've had this wonderful privilege of standing apart from Scripture and like looking at it like we're walking through a museum and deciding which pieces we'll pick up and which pieces we will leave alone. You understand that is a very arrogant attitude. And I think we're on the cusp of a season where the desperation will be so great. You will need everything God has made available to you in order to flourish.
So get your Bibles out, stop staring at the dots, keep your mind on the big rocks. It's not that confusing, it really isn't. You understand what you're seeing and hearing. If you'll turn the volume down and just read the subtitles, you can interpret it, it really isn't that confusing. Fair enough? All right, we're working on "Lessons From Peter". We've got a new devotional, we'll have them on campus this weekend. And I wanted to take a few sessions and walk with you. We have a lot of information in the Scripture in the New Testament about Peter through the gospels, and then in the first half of the book of Acts, Peter is a central character. We've worked in the previous sessions on Peter and the Gospels and some of the lessons from that. And we began with the Book of Acts in the previous session, then I wanna come back to that.
I think we got through the first four chapters or so. Maybe not even all that way. But we're gonna pick up in Acts chapter 5; I'll see how far we get. I'm gonna do my best to finish what you've got on time. Amen is the word you're searching for right there, okay. I do wanna suggest that rather than just listen and gain information and facts, let's ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand what the implications are for how we respond to God. That's my goal. Acts chapter 4 is actually... you know, the chapter head numbers and verses were all added much later after the Scripture was put together. And they were added just to give us reference points so we could all find the portion we wanted to read. And sometimes they're helpful, and sometimes they're confusing. Sometimes they come at inappropriate points. It wouldn't have been easy to do, I'm not offering that as a criticism, it's just a reality.
And I think the story of Acts chapter 5 probably begins at the end of Acts chapter 4 so I put a couple of verses there. "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus..." He's a part of the priestly tribe who lived on the island of Cyprus or was from the island of Cyprus, "whom the apostles called Barnabas, sold the field he owned and he brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet". Simple enough, he sold the piece of property, they told us who he was, and he brought the money and gave it to the apostles. Generosity in the church is not a new thing. That's good to know. You're of a generous church, it's good to know that you have fellow travelers that have been a part of this story for over two millennia. It says, "Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, who also sold a piece of property. And with his wife's knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but he brought the rest and he put it at the apostles' feet".
And then Peter, Peter is the acknowledged leader of the church in Jerusalem. We could say he's the first pastor of the church there. And the church is a very new initiative at this point. I mean, we've been to the day of Pentecost, we have had the miraculous healing of the lame man at the way to the temple. The message has grown to more than 5,000 men who believe, which is remarkable and dramatic. The disciples have been transformed since Pentecost. Their understanding of who Jesus is and their understanding of Scripture is dramatically different than the disciples we follow through the gospels. And the line of demarcation I don't know any other way to understand it other than Acts chapter 2. The presence of the Spirit in their life made a difference. Jesus didn't begin his public ministry until the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
I think an enormous message in the book of Acts beyond the "Lessons from Peter," is the value of the Spirit of God in our lives. But now Ananias and Sapphira have sold a piece of property and Ananias decides he wants to keep some of the purchase price. But he wants to present it to Peter and to the rest of the church as if he's giving the total price. And Peter said, "How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you've lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received? Didn't it belong to you after it was sold? Wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You haven't lied to men but to God".
It's pretty straightforward stuff. Peter said, "What are you doing? It's your money. You could've bought a new car, you could've bought a condo on the beach at Caesarea. You could've done whatever you wanted to do with it. You could have kept it, you could've given it, why would you choose to be a deceiver and lie"? And the answer's obvious. Because I wanted to position in the community that went with the sacrifice, but I didn't wanna make the sacrifice. "Peter said, 'You didn't lie to men, you lied to God.' And when Ananias heard that, he fell down and died".
Wow! This is what we call in Scripture, an exemplary judgment. Every liar in the Bible doesn't die. Every liar in the church doesn't die the moment we tell the lie, hallelujah. Nobody would come in the building. I promise we'd be outside every service; something in there's not healthy. But there are times and particularly when the church is so new and so fresh, that God is establishing an edge. That this isn't random, this isn't accidental. There are other places, remember when Moses goes up Mount Sinai, God said, "You tell the people anybody touches the mountain, they'll die". When they started the conquest into the Promised Land, and they were told not to take the plunder from some of the cities, and somebody disobeyed and took the plunder and the whole family lost their lives, exemplary judgments. God wants to establish a boundary.
Now this is an important, this is kind of one of a pivot point in the story 'cause up till this point, there's this amazing momentum in what's happening through the church and the believers, and Peter, and his leadership. The day of Pentecost, thousands baptized, miracles done in the streets of Jerusalem, thousands more people acknowledging the Lord, the political leadership is becoming jealous of the apostles, the message is growing. And as the number of believers is growing, there's a steady presentation of these internal challenges. We're gonna see it right through these next chapters.
The supernatural involvement of God in the midst of Peter and his running mates did not eliminate the difficulties within the church or without, very important learning point. Because I believe we will see more of the supernatural involvement of God in our midst in the season ahead of us than at any time in our lives. But it won't eliminate the foolishness in the church or the threats from without. It didn't happen in the earliest days, and it's not gonna happen in the latest days. So we need to orient ourselves, stop staring at the dots. We've gotta look at the picture. Acts chapter 5 it's this exemplary judgment regarding sacrifice, money and the perception that you wanna have in the midst of the church.
Folks, it's not the people we worship with we're trying to impress, we want integrity between ourselves and God. We want our yes to be yes, and our no to be no, we want him to know we can be trusted, that if he gives us an assignment or puts an invitation before us, that we'll treat it with dignity and respect. We're gonna see that in these next few moments. Acts chapter 6, there are arguments in the church, within the church, they are arguing about the distribution of food and benevolence to the point that they have to stop the apostles to sort it out. They have to put a whole new system in place 'cause they're complaining about food. Well we shouldn't be too surprised they didn't get very far out of Egypt, they still had the dust of Egypt on their shoes, and they're complaining about the menu.
Acts chapter 10 and 11. There's a tremendous debate tearing at the church. It almost destroys the church in the book of Acts. But we really see the beginning of it in Acts chapters 10 and 11 about outsiders being welcomed into the Jewish community. So there's an enormous amount of internal pressure while these most remarkable miracles are happening. Are you ready for that? We're gonna have to choose, we're gonna have to focus our attention on the Lord. We've been sloppy, you can't endorse, you can't support ungodliness, and wickedness, and immorality, and think that you'll be able to navigate the deception that's in front of us.
Jesus warned us in Matthew 24, in Luke 21, in other places, he warned us repeatedly that as we approach the end of the age that deception will increase. And if you don't resist ungodliness, you make yourselves far more, we all make ourselves more vulnerable to deception. Same chapter, we read the first six verses. This is the summary, Ananias's wife comes in and has the same experience. They got a double funeral. But look at verse 14, I love this. "Nevertheless..." Nevertheless, what? Nevertheless, there's liars in the middle of the church. Nevertheless, we're a fledgling organization, and we're living on the supernatural edge of what God is doing, our character is still in process.
"Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on mats and beds so at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered from all the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed". I don't even know how to put that in a context. This is Peter, and James, and John, they were arguing about bread a few weeks ago. They couldn't stay awake and pray with Jesus. They couldn't stop bickering with one another about who was the greatest and "I wanna sit on your right hand and I wanna sit on your left hand".
And now Peter's shadow is bringing healing to people. Same chapter, Acts chapter 5. The external challenges are gonna grow too. "The high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party, the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles". They were filled with what? Jealousy. We really haven't changed much in 2,000 years. "So they arrested the apostles, and they put 'em in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.' At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and the associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin, and they sent to the jail for the apostles".
Whoops. Again, this is a very fledgling initiative, it's still very new training wheels. And when they're arrested and put in jail, the angels come to let 'em outta jail. I think there's a grace that comes with the early part of our journey as Christ followers, in the same way there's grace that is extended to young children when they're learning those first steps of discipline. God provided some protection, and some escape, and some deliverance that won't follow all the way through the Book of Acts. It certainly won't follow through all the letters of the New Testament. As the leaders amongst the Jesus initiative grow and mature, you see a different courage begin to be formed in them, but they're beginning.
Same chapter verse 27, "Having brought the apostles," they went and found them on the Temple Mount. "They made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.'" And Peter responds, God bless him, "We must obey God rather than men"! That's the second time he's told them that. They got mad at him the last time. So now he's tweaking their nose. "We told you not to do this and here we caught you doing it again. We arrested you and somehow you got out and you were back doing it this morning".
And Peter said, "Well, just to be clear, we have to obey God not you. The God of our fathers," but he doesn't stop there. This is where the eye rolls start with the rest of the crowd. "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree". You just had to poke the bear, didn't you, Pete? "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior, that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things". That makes it worse. "We've got the video recordings, we'll testify". "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.' And when they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death".
Now if you're keeping any sort of a tally as we run through this, this is another arrest. This isn't the first arrest, but it's another one. This time it had included imprisonment again, or at least jail time again, but this is the first time they've encountered death threats. Not some idle threat from some crazed person at a distance, these people that orchestrated Jesus being tortured to death. And now they're saying, "We're gonna do this to you". It's a credible threat. And it's the beginning of the finish, the physical punishment. They're gonna be beaten this time before they're released. It's escalating.
There's challenges within the church, people with selfish ambition, and greed, or lying; outside the church, the threats are intensifying. And in the midst of that is this remarkable move of the Spirit of God that's causing this bad behavior from all sides. Because there's growing attention and growing momentum, in the midst of the people of God, there are people that wanna run to the front of the parade and say, "I'm a part of that," but they don't wanna do what's required to be there. And on the outside of what's happening, there are people who are threatened by it. They understand, they understand the big picture: if this keeps growing they'll be displaced, they'll lose influence, they'll lose opportunity. They don't intend to lose opportunity or influence, so they're gonna shut it down no matter what it takes. Cancel culture is not new.
Acts chapter 7, I just put a little... did I put that in your notes, Acts 7:59? Good for you. I told you there was an argument about the food distribution, and the solution they came up with was to appoint people to be in charge of that. And one of the people appointed to help was Stephen. And in Acts 7, there's just this, Stephen ends up, he gets pulled into a debate, and he's murdered in Jerusalem. "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And he fell on his knees, and he cried out, 'Lord, don't hold this sin against them.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep".
Now in that story of Stephen and his message to the crowd and his stoning, Peter is not mentioned specifically for fairness. He isn't described in the narrative, but this is the portion of the book of Acts that is where Peter is the central leader in the church, particularly in Jerusalem. So I would submit to you that when Stephen is murdered in the streets of Jerusalem because of a position that Peter signed off on for him to have, I promise you it was personal, it was personal. It was more personal than the threats they had gotten in front of the Sanhedrin.
Peter sat in the courtyard the night they began to beat Jesus to death, he listened. He was so frightened he wouldn't stand up for his friend, but he heard the beginning of that horrible experience. And after Jesus' resurrection and his reinstatement, Peter's transformed on the day of Pentecost and his backup button is broken. They can threaten him, and he stands and looks at them and says, "We will obey God before we obey you". But this is an escalation. Now they're killing young people that are helping him. I would humbly submit, I think it would cause your knees to buckle.
Overcoming disappointment and things you don't expect are a part of following the Lord. When Stephen was murdered in Jerusalem, his closest friends had to overcome the pain and the hurt of that. They could have given in to fear, disappointment, resentment, hatred; they didn't. They overcame it and became a powerful voice for the gospel. I wanna pray:
Lord, I pray you'll help us to be overcomers, that we won't yield to the temptation of disappointment but we'll stand for you, in Jesus' name, amen.