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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - New Heroes - Part 1

Allen Jackson - New Heroes - Part 1

Allen Jackson - New Heroes - Part 1
TOPICS: God Is Moving

We've been doing a little study on the theme of "God is Moving," and I believe that. I believe the activity of God is more evident in recent months and years than at any time in my lifetime. Now, for fairness, I also have to say the expressions of evil seem to be more blatant and brazen than ever. I believe that fits a biblical pattern that we've talked about in other settings, I won't revisit that, so that it requires of us a purposeful, intentional focus on what God is doing, and you won't primarily get that from the typical news sources. Bad news tends to gather more attention, attract more clicks, and so, most sources lead with news that is disruptive and frightening. You'll pay more attention to the weather reports if they sound some siren and tell you there's a storm headed your way than if they tell you it's gonna be clear and sunny.

So they warn us about storms that never come. Well, your opinion on that is not as relevant. It's just a fact. It's an observation. Bad news garners attention more quickly than good news. Because of that, we have to purposefully focus our attention and our thoughts to identify the good things that are happening, 'cause you'll just kind of assume you deserve those. You'll gobble them up and take 'em for granted and think, well, why don't I get more? Why don't we have more sunny, cool days? Why are there so many storms? And what I'm submitting to you is that God is moving, and if we're going to cooperate with him and participate with him and make the journey, we need to learn the characteristics of those seasons so we don't get caught up in the reporting that is not driven from a biblical worldview, has no intention of honoring a Judeo-Christian perspective. Their intent is to manipulate.

So God is moving. I'm gonna suggest in this session some characteristics for some new heroes. I think that would be helpful. But first of all, I wanna start with a little window into another one of those seasons when God is moving. We've been using, up to this point, the book of Judges, and we've been focused principally on Gideon. The Book of Judges is a cycle. It's a cyclical book. The same thing happens over and over and over again: God's people, living in his land under the blessings of his covenant, his watchful care, wander into the weeds of ungodliness, and when they do that, they forfeit the protection that comes from living in cooperation with God. And it gets very painful, and they cry out to God for mercy, and God raises up a deliverer, a judge.

It's a cycle in the Book of Judges, and quite candidly, it's a pattern throughout the history of the people of God, both the Old Testament, the New Testament, it's just as evident a cycle in the story of the church. Typically, the church is most effective when it has the most freedom and the most liberty and the most affluence. "Amen," says the most free and affluent group of Christ-followers the world has ever known. We should understand that makes us vulnerable. Well, in this session, I want to go to the New Testament, not because the character of God is any different, but in the city of Ephesus, the Spirit of God begins to move, and I believe we can learn some things that we might understand what it looks like in the cities where we live. The Bible gives us insight and understanding if we have the courage to read it.

In Acts chapter 19, it describes Paul is in the city of Ephesus, and he's been ministering. And one of the Jewish priests has seven sons, and they've observed what's been happening, and they decide they want to get into the ministry, not necessarily in an appropriate way and that they haven't necessarily yielded themselves to any authority. They just like the fireworks. You understand ministry is not principally about what's done in public? Ministry is overwhelmingly something that is personal. It begins from your relationship with the Lord. It begins from the relationships you have with the people around you, and to the extent that it becomes a public thing, it's a reflection of those other things, but in Acts 19, verse 14, "There were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, and they were doing this".

They were delivering services. People with unclean spirits were finding freedom in Ephesus, "So one day the evil spirit answered them, 'Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?'" Always makes me smile. Do you have the imagination that unclean spirits are aware of the persons and the personalities in the world? Said, "I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but you, I'm not familiar with," warning, "The man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. And he gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding". One man overpowers seven men. Somehow, in the altercation, they lose their clothing. They're frightened enough they run through the streets in that condition. Not really clear how it happened, but somehow it stirred the city. I can understand it. I mean, I think in the community where I live, seven naked men that had been beaten and were bleeding, running through the street would probably get a comment.

So the passages are separated in your notes, but it's one continuous story. The very next verse, verse 17, says, "When this became known to the Jews and the Greeks," so it's to the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community. When this story got repeated, "they were seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor". Now, some people will read that and say those seven sons were doing something they shouldn't have been. I'm not really arguing that point. They were certainly in over their heads, out of their depth. The personal trauma for them was significant, but God took that traumatic event, and he caused it to create a fear of God in the community, and the name of Jesus was held in high honor.

"Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds". That's a very significant sentence. "Many of those who believed," not the unbelievers, not the pagans, not the people on the periphery, but amongst the believing community, there was a practice of ungodly things, and with an extension of growth of the fear of God and the name of Jesus being elevated in everybody's estimation, the believers came to repent of their ungodliness. "A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the totals came to fifty thousand drachmas," without doing a lot of cultural mathematics, it's millions of dollars, "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power".

In that little passage and there are seven things identified with when God moves. Then I think we should have some imagination that that's still a part of God moving in the earth. Ephesus is confronted with the spiritual reality, the reality of spiritual things in a very personal way, a tangible way, shook the city. Now, the outcome of that is there was a segment of the community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who gained a much greater fear of God. The name of Jesus was held in high honor. It's been a long time since we've seen that. We've been told not to mention his name. When I go in public to say an invocation or a prayer of dedication, I have been asked in our community, this is like the buckle on the Bible belt, to not use the name of Jesus.

So please don't be so naive as to think the name of Jesus is held in high esteem. Many of you worked in places where you wouldn't go to work with Jesus on your clothing. It has to change. It's not always been the way. It isn't helpful. I don't imagine everybody's gonna respect Jesus, that everybody wants to identify him, but why should he be banished from the public square, and why have we been silent when that happened? I don't understand. Then fourthly, it says, "Many believers began to openly confess their evil deeds". We've got to stop imagining that the wicked are the problem. It's the lukewarm people of God that is really the root of this. We are gonna have to make some changes, and then there's public separation from ungodly behavior. They'll come in public and say, "Listen, I've been involved in some ungodly stuff, and I will make," this is number six, "the financial sacrifice that's necessary for me to repent".

Wow! We want private repentance. We want everything to be quiet. We don't wanna be embarrassed by the fact that we've been living dual lives. And in Ephesus, the one thing that happened out of that old seven fellas story was this broke public. And then the outcome is in verse 20. It says, "The word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power". Now, if we stopped there, I could probably motivate you into kind of a joyful, happy, woo-hoo, let's go. I mean, I could probably convince you we could have a bonfire this afternoon and you could find something to bring. And I'm not saying that's wicked, but that's not the whole story.

Same chapter, verse 23: "Just about that time," so the same window with chronologies holding together here. This is same story, same article, same summary, "there arose a great disturbance about the Way," now, the "way" is simply a label for those who believe Jesus is the Messiah, "there's a great disturbance about this in Ephesus now. And a silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, he brought in no little business for the craftsman. So he called them together, along with workmen in related trades," he is mobilizing the unions, and I'm not deemed disparaging of the unions. I'm just telling you, it's a significant group of people that he is mobilizing. "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray, large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all".

Attaching labels to people that you don't agree with is not a new habit. Mobilizing public opinion to oppose what God is doing is not a new thing. Somehow, we have accepted the idea and we've been coached to it that our goal is to never cause confusion, that our presence should never be disruptive, that the message we have should always result in a group hug, and very clearly in scripture, there's a difference of opinion. When Gideon did what God asked him to do, when the sun came up, the people of the community who knew him intended to kill him.

In Ephesus, when God supernaturally began to move, there is a very coordinated effort of a broad section of the community that says what's happening is completely inappropriate. "'There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.' When they heard this, they were furious and they began shouting: 'Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'"

So, big picture: There's a display of the power of God in Ephesus from a very unlikely source. Paul's been there ministering. This really wasn't elicited primarily from what Paul was doing. There's a demonstration of the power of God, and there is a remarkable response from the people in the city across all the boundaries that would have separated them, Jew and Gentile. Whether you worshiped in a synagogue or you worshiped in the Temple of Artemis, there are Jews and Gentiles coming and saying, "I've been involved in things I shouldn't be involved in. Publicly, I wanna separate myself," to the point that they destroyed millions of dollars worth of their possessions that they had used in ungodly ways.

So I wanna submit to you is one observation that when God begins to shake a community, the earth, a nation that it tends to cause us to have to decide what we truly believe. There's a group of people publicly burning destructive things, spiritually, unhealthy things, and there's another group of people who are furious and shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians".

Now, that seems a little quaint to us. We can't imagine standing in the public square shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians". But if you go home today or pause and look at your phone on the way home, you can find with very little effort some angry, furious group of people shouting, "From the river to the sea". And if you persist for a moment longer, you can find another group shouting that "no one can tell me who to love," or "it's my body and my choice," or somebody else shouting that "an open border is an act of compassion," or that parents shouldn't have authority over their children, or on and on. And in the face of those angry shouts, the church seems confused, addled a bit, as if we've lost our balance.

So, I wanna take that Ephesians narrative and take the balance of our time and talk a little bit about cooperating with God. What would that look like for you and me? 'Cause at the end of day, this has to get personal. You know, it's really easy for me to say the people in the White House need to do better, that the people in the House of Congress need to do better, but I'll tell you my most honest answer to that. I don't think it's appropriate to want the people in the White House to lead with a greater morality than we lead in our house, if we're not willing to deal with it in our house. And here's what we know in our house: that is difficult. It isn't easy 'cause it brings stress and strain, and life is messier than we would like it to be.

And so, we'd just rather not do that. We'll just overlook it, and we've been doing that for so long, for so many decades, that we've almost lost the muscle that's necessary. And we've become so familiar with it. We've become so familiar with the pattern that we elect all sorts of people that they'll just overlook anything if they can maintain their power. Because what you wanna do in your home when you're overlooking it is you wanna maintain the status quo. So I think we need a little recalibration on cooperating with God. In the previous session, I suggested essential to that is learning to listen, not one time, not learning to listen so that you get saved and then you stop listening but that you lead a life that reflects the little pattern I have submitted to you for awhile now: watch, listen, think, and act.

If you're watch, listening, thinking, and praying and you're leaving out acting, you're not cooperating. I'm an advocate for prayer, but I can't tell you how many people have taken that little phrase and they've cut off act. The point of watching and listening and thinking is so that we can act like Christ-followers. That's the target. The second thing I wanna submit is we're gonna think about what it means for you and me to cooperate with God is it's going to require us, I believe, my opinion, to cultivate some new kinds of heroes, and when I say hero, I'm talking about the people whose lives we point out and go, "Wow". They're the people that we watch their lives, we think, you know, I'd like a big chunk of that to be the future for my kids or my grandkids.

Amazing people, we celebrate 'em. Because the reality, whether you've done it consciously or not, is the people that you make heroes are the people that speak into your behavior. If you're not thinking about that, I promise you your children are. Our heroes have changed a great deal. I have been around a bit. I remember a time when our heroes... and Hollywood and the media and those public venues tend to help us shape those. You may have personal heroes. I'm not talking about them nearly as much as I'm talking about the ones that have higher profiles.

Once upon a time, Hollywood cranked out movies that made heroes of military victories. There's a whole genre of movies, we call 'em westerns, and the typical pattern in those movies was the bad guy loses and the good guy wins. Prime Time TV has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. A lot of things have changed. I'm not really bemoaning it. I'm just telling you there's a shift in what we make heroes of. The hero movies now that are being cranked out of Hollywood, I see them on airplanes. 'Cause I'm scrolling through the list, going, "Really"? Most of them are very brilliantly presented presentations of cartoon characters. Our heroes now have capes and wear spandex. Because we are not championing things like patriotism and honor and sacrifice and dignity, so we don't make heroes out of those things.

So I wanna push on that a little bit further with you if you'll allow me. I'm gonna use Saul of Tarsus, who becomes the apostle Paul. In Acts chapter 9, we're stepping into this narrative, and I'm introducing it to you backwards. I know that, but I think you know who Saul is, and you know a bit about of his story, right? He's a Pharisee. He's angry at people who believe in Jesus. He hates them. He will imprison them, men, or women, or whomever else. He's murderous. And then, Jesus comes for him.

In Acts chapter 1, Jesus went back to heaven, but in Acts chapter 9, he's standing on the road to Damascus, and he has a message for one Saul of Tarsus. And after Saul has that Jesus experience, he goes on into Damascus, and that's where I step into your notes. "After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him," imagine that. He has a personal encounter with Jesus, and he begins to share the story. And there are believers in Damascus. Ananias is one. He goes to see him. He's part of a community of believers there. So in the face of Saul's dramatic conversion, instituted by Jesus himself, the response is murderous hatred directed at him.

Again, that goes against the narrative that tends to emerge from the people of faith today. "But Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him," this wasn't like some momentary emotional thing. They've got a scheme. They're gonna shut him down. It will be harmful to the cause if his message goes out broadly. Let's kill him. But his followers said, "Saul, you've got to change your message. You've got to become a little broader in your perspective".

I'm sorry. That's in my imaginary Bible. It says, "His followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. When he came to Jerusalem," that's his home, that's his base of operations, "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him," he's a real enough threat that Peter, James, and John don't want anything to do with him. They don't want to be seen with him. They're afraid to be with him. That's a pretty strong statement, "not really believing that he was a disciple". They know his methods. They know he's deceptive. They know he's dishonest. "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he told them how Saul and his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus". You can turn your page.

Now that passage was Acts 9:23. I wanna go back to the beginning of Acts chapter 9. I want you to read the attitude with which Paul left Jerusalem, and he headed to Damascus. Says, "Meanwhile, Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. And he went to the high priest and he asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem," that's Paul's mindset when he leaves Jerusalem. He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. He goes on into the city, blind. Ananias prays for him. His sight is restored. He begins to advocate for Jesus with such clarity that the same community that he represented is trying to assassinate him, and the believers have to sneak him out of town.

And we're gonna pray before we go. You know, it's true that spiritual pressures are mounting in the earth. I think we all feel that, but there's good news in that because pressure is what makes diamonds out of coal. So don't wring your hands in fear at the pressure. There's a kingdom opportunity in that, and God's called us to this time. Let's pray:

Father, thank you that you're moving in the earth and that you have prepared us for just this time. I pray we'll have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Thank you for it, in Jesus's name, amen.

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