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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Followers of Jesus - Part 2

Allen Jackson - Followers of Jesus - Part 2

Allen Jackson - Followers of Jesus - Part 2
TOPICS: Clarify Your Identity, Fellowship, Discipleship

We're gonna complete our discussion on being followers of Jesus. Let me make a suggestion. Don't allow your spiritual life to be defined by the congregation where you worship, the tradition, denomination, you belong to, the translation of the Bible you prefer, the style of worship music that is your personal preference. Folks, our identity is in we belong to Jesus. We're his. He purchased us with his own blood. That reality, it changes everything. Enjoy the lesson.

The cancel culture is not a 21st century phenomenon. The corporate world saying you don't dare bring your faith to work with you is not a new thing. People in power saying to those with less power, "We don't want to hear about your faith," is not something new. We have a decision to make. We have cowered and been timid and reluctant, and we have acquiesced for the majority of our lives. We were told it was inappropriate. We imagined ourselves to be a majority and they told us because we were the majority, we were inappropriately expressing power and we were wrong for that; we should be quiet. Well, now we're a minority and now we certainly don't hold the power if the corporate expressions of power and the governmental expressions of power are any suggestion. So my question is, how long are we going to be quiet? Those not standing, those choosing to be quiet, I can promise you, they will question the reality of the opposition you perceive because you stand up.

The people in hiding, the people in the shadows, the people with no voice, when you share with them what you experience when you choose to stand, they will question you, they will doubt you. It doesn't stop there. In Acts chapter 5, Peter is with the church in Jerusalem. They're gathering resources to pursue the ministry that is before them. Somebody presents a sum of money from a property sale and misrepresents it to Peter. And Peter said, "'Ananias,'" many of you know the story. "'How is it that Satan has so filled your heart so that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and you kept some of the money for yourself? It belonged to you before it was sold and after it was sold, the money was at your disposal. It was your money. You could have done whatever you wanted to with it. Why did you so decide to come in here and say you were making a sacrifice that you aren't making? Because you chose to lie to the Holy Spirit.' And when he heard that the man fell dead".

He sure did. Ananias wanted recognition without sacrifice. There were wrong motives within the community of faith, by the time we get to Acts chapter 5, very early in the narrative. They're not some grizzled veteran community. It's very apparent early in the story, it's a community and everyone is in process. They're learning, they're growing and they're changing. Not everybody that lies in church dies. Thank God. We would have to have church in the parking lot because there wouldn't be anybody coming back in this building, week two, I promise. It's an exemplary judgment. God established an example very early in the story of the church about things that we should understand he considers out of bounds. I think it's important for us to grasp this.

You see, the Jesus people at this point in the story is a very new, seemingly fragile movement. Everybody is learning together and just in case you don't grasp it, people dying in public services typically dampens momentum. Do you get that? And not only does Ananias die, a little later in the day, his wife comes in and now don't you know, Peter's going, "Oh". And she sells the same lie and has the same outcome. I'm telling you, that would dampen, everybody in the the giving line is checking their math. It's not a simple story that's unfolding. Same chapter, verse 16, it says, "Crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. And the high priest and all of his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy".

There's some good things happening. It's not just people dropping dead. Their enemies celebrate that. But from all the surrounding communities, they're bringing people and remarkable miracles are happening. We could call that success or effectiveness or whatever label you're comfortable with when our faith flourishes. And in spite of it, the most powerful group in the Jewish community, the Sadducees, controlled the temple. They're the political power brokers amongst the Jewish people. It's the national bank, it's the seat of national power, and they're filled with jealousy. The apostles have totally disrupted their lives. You need to get this story. They've left their homes, their families, their businesses, they've walked through all of the challenges of ministry with Jesus. They've followed him through the suffering. They've lived with the fear of being next. They've already been arrested and threatened. And now God is affirming them with this remarkable outcome of their ministry.

You can almost hear 'em breathing a sigh of relief. And now the most powerful people in the community are jealous of the outcome. They've made choices not to follow Jesus, not to believe in him. They said, "We're not going that way," and there's great pressure. Folks, why would we imagine it will be different in the 21st century? Not everybody's gonna sign up, not everybody's gonna yield to the Lordship of Jesus. Don't be angry at them. Don't be bitter at them. Keep inviting and extending, but understand, be prepared. Those that choose not to go are probably not gonna celebrate the good things God does in your life. We've been offended or we've had a strong enough sense of self-preservation that we just don't tell our... we don't talk about our faith in public. We don't share those things because somebody might be offended.

Well, somebody might be encouraged, somebody might find that they're willing to say, "Well, I'll follow Jesus if he'll do that in my life". What Peter and John and the crew are doing is very public. That's why there's jealousy. Acts chapter 6: "In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food". Well, what a happy little group this is. This is the community of believers, again, really early in the story. They're having some growing pains. The Grecian Jews, the hellenistic Jews, the Jews that lived and were influenced by the larger Greek culture, they had Greek names and they didn't keep all the same rules that some of the more Jewish believers were keeping. There's factions and segments and sectarianism within the church very early, and they're fighting with one another because they don't like the way benevolence is being handled.

That's just hard to imagine, isn't... yeah, don't go there. "So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables.'" We've been able to help you up to this point, but our opportunities have grown beyond what we... we can't solve that. We will choose. We'll give you some people to help you with it. Growing pains in the church. We should understand that. It's not a stagnant thing. It's not just the keepers of tradition. We've inherited some ideas that we did not derive from scripture. There are some truths that we hold that are timeless, but how we give those away have to fit the opportunities of every culture, amen. And we tend to not like that. We tend to resist it. We tend to imagine someone else is getting an opportunity that we should have. And it's very easy to be grumpy and divisive. Let's not choose that.

It escalates by Acts chapter 7. Stephen's been engaged in a public discussion in Jerusalem. It says, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, don't hold this sin against them.' And he fell asleep and Saul," who we know as the apostle Paul, was standing there cheering them on. "And on that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered through Judea and Samaria". Those are the surrounding regions. They're driven out of the city of Jerusalem. Everybody except the apostles. The apostles will be driven out, just not quite yet.

So if you're taking notes, there's violent hatred and disruption to the cause of Christ, not because they're lying, cheating, and stealing, but because the Jesus story is gaining momentum. Folks, when you hear the hatred expressed against church, and I don't mean a single congregation, but against Christian people and a biblical worldview, and they start to threaten you and call you an existential threat to freedom and liberty. Understand they do that because they perceive you as a menace. The worldview that you hold contradicts the one that they are advocating for.

Please don't let it be personal. Don't respond in anger or bitterness and definitely not with violence, but don't retreat. The only hope for our children and grandchildren is a transformation that comes through the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. It's changed my life and many of yours. We understand this. I would point out to you that while they were stoning Stephen, they are murdering him, in the midst of them committing murder, did you catch what Stephen did? You've already turned your page. I heard you. It says, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed". He prayed. May I submit I don't believe you would pray under pressure if you haven't prayed when you were free. If you don't pray when you're in private, if you don't pray when you have the opportunities in a friendly environment, I can pretty much guarantee you in the face of a murderous enraged mob, you will not find a prayer.

There are great internal challenges when the gospel goes to the Gentiles in Caesarea. God sent Peter on the result of some supernatural things: dreams and visions and angelic visits. Some of you know the narrative. The Holy Spirit's poured out on the non-Jews in Caesarea, a pagan city, very reminiscent of what happened in Jerusalem to the Jewish community in Acts chapter 2 and Pentecost. And when he gets back to Jerusalem in Acts 11, it says, "The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers," that's fancy language for the Jewish believers. "They criticized him". Just who do you think you are? If you take it collectively, together, it's an ongoing rippling effect of growing and learning and changing and having to work through it and adjust and the disappointments and the problems. It sounds like living in the midst of people. I wanna come back to the question: your identity in Christ.

See, we want it to be this smooth sailing. "Tell me the essential facts. Tell me the seven things I need to know. I'll commit it to memory and then I want to get on with my life". Well, I signed up to serve the Lord some time ago now, and I can tell you the whole journey seems to have this bit of a halting, transformational, learning, stretching, surprise, just uncomfortable. Yes, I'll continue. I'll, yeah, I'll live with... okay, whatever. I didn't know that was gonna happen. It's not this simple, smooth, something you master. You don't master an omnipotent God. We follow him. We follow him. And a spoiler alert: You're gonna fail, you're gonna mess up. It's a part of learning. I'm not talking about moral failure. I'm not talking about you just giving yourselves over to ungodliness. You know better than that. Don't do that. Don't presume upon the grace of God.

There are consequences to ungodliness. Please don't do that. But I am telling you that in doing your best and trying to follow and trying to listen and trying to pay attention, we don't always get it right because God puts us, we've never walked on the water before. We've never seen anybody turn water to wine before. We've never seen a miracle like that before. We've never, God, by definition will put us in circumstances that are new and that we're inexperienced with and we will learn and grow together and that's not always easy. It's a struggle to understand the process we're living through. Jesus's closest friends and allies struggled to assimilate what they were being told and experiencing. You know that. Jesus would look at his best friends, he'd say, "Are you really that dull? You have such little faith". "You just have tiny faith," he would say to everyone. "You have just tiny little faith. What's wrong with you? Stop doubting. Put your sword away. That's none of your business".

It's a spiritual parenting class. And these are the best of the best. So you and I may have some of those challenges. God initiates changes that we would never initiate. And that's often a very difficult process. God is not bound by the limits that we know and it creates confusion when we see him at work. I have good news. God is capable of overcoming our failed attempts to be good followers, hallelujah. One Easter years ago, we were trying to figure out how to invite people to Easter. We didn't have mugs yet. Somebody came to church, it was tiny and we didn't have any resources to use and somebody said they had a good deal someplace on plastic hearts, clear plastic hearts. Whatever, we can put candy in them. It's probably more evident to you than it was to me.

Clear plastic hearts filled with candy are not a great invitation to an Easter service. I don't know how many we made, but we had lots left over. The dumb things I have done. I'll take another service for that. I have learned far more from my stupid ideas than I have benefited from my good ones. The places where there's been a benefit, it's God's grace and his mercy. He will overcome all the things we're not, if we'll continue to say to him, "I wanna follow". And I'm out of time. It was such a good outline. I wanna wrap it up with that last little segment in your outline. We'll do the rest of it, I promise. It's important.

I was invited a while back, but this last Tuesday, I was in L.A. for an event with the Christian media in the city to do a public debate with Dennis Prager. A friendly debate, not an angry one. The event was called, "Ask a Jew, Ask a Gentile". I was the Gentile. And we had a pretty intriguing discussion and there was no prep and we hadn't, we've shaken hands before, but we certainly didn't know one another, and there was, we didn't have any prior dialog and it very quickly turned into a discussion about for what reason will people be in heaven? And while we share a worldview and we share significant portions of the scripture together, there were some pretty significant divergence of opinion on that.

And I thought it was worthwhile, Ephesians 3 and verse 6, because there's a bit of separation, but there's some places where we stand together and we need to understand both. Paul is writing to a church in Ephesus in a secular Roman city. There's a group of believers, many of whom have a Jewish background. Several do not. And he said, "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles," Gentile is a New Testament word for everybody who's not Jewish. The New Testament identifies basically two groups of people: the Jewish people and everybody else, okay? "That through the gospel, the good news about Jesus, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel," not the nation, the Jewish people. "Members together of one body and shares together in the promise of Christ Jesus".

You see, the New Testament teaches us that we have, those of us who are not Jewish, have a tremendous debt to the Jewish people because, without them, we have no story. We have no scripture, we have no law, we have no revelation of God. We have no prophets. We have no Messiah. We would have no covenant. We are grafted into the covenant God made with Abraham, which technically predates even the Jewish people. But the Jewish people were the delivery system for the redemptive work of God for all of creation. And because of that, they have suffered greatly. Some of you know the play or the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof". And at one point, the lead character in there says, you know, "It's not so wonderful being chosen. Why don't you choose somebody else for a while"?

There's come great persecutions. Now because it isn't celebrated and because we don't defend one another, what's much less known is there are, the Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet today. They are being hunted in many nations of the world, murdered by the thousands. But we are unaware, I hesitate to say unconcerned. It may be our lack of awareness leads to our lack of concern. But you should know that the spirit of Antichrist and the spirit of antisemitism are two sides of the same coin. Antisemitism is fueled by a hatred of Christ, the Messiah. Satan understands, understood and understands, that the Messiah, the Savior of all humanity, would be delivered through the Jewish people. And they have suffered for that. Not because of governments and ideologies; because of a spirit. It transcends governments and empires. It has persevered over millennia, and it continues today.

We saw it on October the 7th. But so does the murderous rage against Christians. Don't be surprised when you hear hatred against the Christian faith. It's not new. The hatred of God's people existed in the Hebrew Bible, it existed in the early church in the New Testament, and it exists in the Earth today. In that, we stand together. And I'll close with Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Fame of faith. It lists all these remarkable men and women and their achievements and accomplishments on behalf of the kingdom of God. And it says, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect".

You know, it's a very fashionable idea in many segments of the contemporary church to kind of separate New Testament and Old Testament as if somehow they are distinct and independent of one another. That's a very false notion. The New Testament makes no sense apart from the Old Testament. It is indecipherable apart from the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews was written to believers in Jesus who had a Jewish background scattered around the empire, the Roman Empire. And at the conclusion of this remarkable assignment or remembrance of these heroes of the faith, it says they didn't complete the story; only together will we be made perfect. It's not a Jew and Gentile statement. It's a statement about present and past.

We stand in the faith of Isaiah and Jeremiah and David and Ruth and Esther and Peter and James and John and Mary and Timothy and Luke. They knew what it was to face opposition. They knew what it was to have their thoughts rearranged, their imaginations realigned. They stood against threats, they endured difficulty, they were learners. They were willing to allow the Spirit of God to lead them forward, and God is still doing that in the Earth. May I ask the question again: How do you identify yourself? What is the great allegiance of your life? And please don't give me the church answer. It comes too quickly. What's the great passion of your life for? What are you willing to sacrifice time, energy, and resources? That will be how you get to the answer about what your great passion is.

I want to learn to increasingly identify as the man who belongs to Jesus. And I wanna invite you towards the careful cultivation of that identity. Not just the recitation of your salvation story. I'm grateful you're born again. I believe in the new birth and conversion, that initiation into the kingdom. But I want to lead a life fully identified in Jesus. And I want to invite you to that as well. It's the most remarkable way to live. You won't get great cultural affirmation, but you'll get tremendous affirmation from the host of heaven. And I don't believe you will ever regret it. I brought you a prayer. Let's stand together. Can we read it together? I'm gonna take that as a yes, okay.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your great provision for my life. You've not left me alone or uncared for but have made me a participant in your eternal purposes. You've called me out of darkness and provided for my justification. Help me to walk in the light and to choose paths of righteousness. Deliver me from evil and restore the joy of my salvation, in Jesus's name, amen.

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