Greg Laurie - The First Jesus Movement
The title of this message is "The First Jesus Movement". Now, when we think of the Jesus movement or the Jesus revolution as "Time" magazine described it, we remember longhaired kids with beards wearing sandals and beads and bell bottoms and we remember how bad America was in the late '60s and the early '70s, and how God heard the prayers of his people and sent a great spiritual awakening. In fact, many believe it was the greatest awakening in American history, and we need to see that happen again. So I think, as a point of reference, we need to go back to the late 50s and the early 60s. Oh, I don't mean 1960. I mean, AD 60. I'm talking about the first Jesus movement. I'm talking about the movement that Christ himself started on this earth after he was crucified and rose again from the dead.
And by the way, things were very dark when the first Jesus movement happened. Mighty Rome had pretty much beaten the world into submission and Rome ruled with an iron fist, immorality was rampant. If you would go into a Roman city, there would be thousands of prostitutes roaming the streets, looking for people to prey upon. And if that wasn't bad enough, you would open idolatry and spiritism and demon worship and add to this the fact that the religious establishment was almost completely corrupt. Sounds like a good time for divine intervention. And they had there Jesus movement because Jesus himself appeared on the scene and began his public ministry, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament. At first, he was welcomed with great fanfare and open arms and his followers numbered in the thousands as he healed their sick and raised their dead and gave the greatest teachings that people had ever heard. Then suddenly, or so it seemed, everything just came off the rails.
Jesus is charged falsely, he's betrayed by one of his own disciples. He's sent to the religious leaders and then ultimately to Pontius Pilate who has Christ scourged and then sent to a cross to be crucified. But actually this was not an aberration. Everything was going according to plan. God's perfect plan because history is his story. In fact, on the day of Pentecost, Peter summed it up when he said in Acts 2:24, this man, speaking of Jesus, was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge, and with the help of wicked men, he was put to death by being nailed to the cross but God raised him from the dead. The Romans unwittingly fulfilled Bible prophecy because the Old Testament told us the Messiah would suffer and die. Isaiah 53, written hundreds of years before Jesus died, told us that he would be beaten and you wouldn't even be able to tell he was a man.
Psalm 22, written hundreds of years before crucifixion even existed, has the Messiah saying they pierced my hands and my feet. Again, in the Old Testament, we also read that the Messiah is answering the question, where did you receive these wounds? He said, I received them in the house of my friends. Yes, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, Isaiah 53 reminds us. It was all part of the plan of the Messiah coming to the earth and dying voluntarily on a cross for the sin of the world, but also to rise again from the dead. And after his Resurrection, his followers were transformed into passionate preachers of the gospel. So Rome tried to stop this new movement of followers of Jesus and they began to persecute the Christians.
There was a series of persecutions that came starting with Caesar Nero, ending with Diocletian, both Roman emperors. Nero was so cruel and twisted, he would take Christians and cover them with pitch and set them on fire to light his garden as he would ride his chariot around. Diocletian was so certain that he had eradicated the Christian faith from the earth, he even had a special commemorative coin struck with these words on it quote, "The Christian religion is destroyed and the worship of the Roman gods is restored," end quote, famous last words. Ultimately Mighty Rome was reduced to ruins, and yet today, the church still marches on. Persecution did not weaken the church, it strengthened the church and it caused the church to spread out around their area and ultimately around the world, proclaiming the gospel. Today, we name our children after apostles and our dogs after emperors. "Here Caesar, come on, get your food". That's the way it works out.
What is Rome remembered for? It's remembered for, what? Caesar salad and little Caesar's pizza, a nice place to visit on vacation, but the church is alive and growing around the world. And by the way, where the church is heavily persecuted, it's growing. I've read many accounts of how the church is blowing up in a good way in Iran, even though the government tries to suppress it, many people are coming to Christ. The same thing happening in Afghanistan. So God is at work through followers of Jesus Christ all around the world. So let's think about these first century believers. There's Tertullian, a Christian leader from many years ago, that was a contemporary of this early followers of Christ and he made this statement. Speaking of the church, quote, "We have filled every place among you. Cities, islands, fortresses, towns, marketplaces, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, the forum, we've left nothing to you, but the temples of your gods," end quote.
I love that. Tertullian is pointing out at the church infiltrated. They permeated everything. Even in the palace of Caesar, there were Christians, and this is what we need today. We need Christians to go out and make a difference. We need more Christians involved in the arts, making great films, creating graphic design. We need Christians in politics, electing godly men and women to places of authority because the Bible says when the righteous rule, the people rejoice. We need Christian doctors, we need Christian lawyers, we need Christian business people. We need believers to go out and let their light shine in this culture today. And that's what happened in the first century because every believer understood they were called to do their part. They took risks. They left their comfort zones. We see their fearless preaching, their expectant prayer and their willingness to obey God. But listen to this, the book of Acts is simply a picture of normal Christianity. It's normal Christianity.
Now, as we read it, we say, I don't know if that's normal, that seems pretty radical to me. Fact of the matter is, it's normal, and if it seems radical, it's because we have a diluted version. We should be living like these first century believers impacting our culture. Now, historically looking back, the book of Acts was written over a 30 year period from around AD 33 to 63. Of course, there's a lot of miracles and a lot of amazing events, but it's over 30 years. I don't think a miracle happened every day, but I think what you see is believers living by faith, doing what God has called them to do. These weren't perfect Christians, they made mistakes, they had their little divisions, they had their disagreements, they had their problems, they had their challenges, but despite that, they made a huge difference and turned their world upside down. Why can't we do the same thing?
he author of the book of Acts, of course, is the Holy Spirit speaking through Dr. Luke. Now we remember Luke because he has his own Gospel. And what's unique about Luke is he was not one of the disciples that walked with Jesus, he came along later, and apparently he was hired by a well-to-do Christian who had the name Theophilus. So, Theophilus underwrote Luke's research project to get the story of what happened in the life and ministry of Jesus, and Luke, with a great attention to detail and with a beautiful poetic pen, gave us the Gospel we call Luke, and now here's his second writing, also sponsored by Theophilus, called the book of Acts. But the difference between the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts is, in this particular document that he wrote, Luke was part of the story, he was in on the action. He was an eyewitness to what was happening.
By the way, the name Theophilus means lover of God. So this book wasn't just written for Theophilus, it was written for all of us, for all of you who love God, we have the book of Acts, and I might add it's an unfinished book. It never really ended. In a way, chapters are still being written. I'm not suggesting we write new chapters and insert them in the Bible to the book of Acts, but I'm simply saying we should not put a period where God has put a comma, the work continues on, the work of the church in the world today. I could sum up the book of Acts this way, it's a Spirit of God working through the Word of God in the hearts of the people of God. Let me say that again. It's the Spirit of God working through the Word of God in the hearts of the people of God.
Here you're looking at some artwork that I did in the early '70s, right after I became a Christian. This is during the Jesus movement, and you know, one thing that we really believe very strongly was Jesus was coming, and guess what? I still believe that. In fact, we've never been closer to the Lord's return than we are right now. You know, back in the '70s, we're praying Jesus, come now, come immediately. Aren't you glad he didn't answer our prayer because if he had come, well, we would've been long past the tribulation period by now and you would've missed the Rapture. Why is Jesus not yet come? The answer is given to us in the book of Peter, where it says, "God is not late as some men count lateness, he's longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance".
So we'd say, Lord, are you paying attention to what's going on in the world? Why haven't you come back? He knows exactly what's going on in the world and he is right on schedule. The Bible tells us when the time was just right, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born of a woman, made under the law to redeem those that are under the law. So, when the time was just right, Jesus came the first time in the manger in Bethlehem, and when the time is just right, Christ will come the second time. Here's what he's waiting for, again, he's not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He's waiting for people to believe.
Can you imagine if you knew who the last person was that Jesus was waiting for? Would you be tempted to apply a little pressure on him, like, "Will you believe now already so we can go to be with the Lord"? Maybe I'm talking to that last person. Maybe you're that person that Jesus is waiting for to come. Remember the story of the shepherd who had 99 sheep and one went astray and the shepherd went and searched until he found that lost sheep. And God is searching for people and calling people. And if you don't believe in Jesus Christ, believe in him now, and know this, Christian friend, God is on schedule and he'll be back when the time is right. Until that day, let's be busy proclaiming the gospel.
So let's read now some verses from the book of Acts, and then I will give you my first point. Let's read Acts chapter 1 verses 1-4. And by the way, I'm reading from the New Living Translation. Luke writes: "In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the 40 days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive and he talked to them about the kingdom of God". Let's stop there. Here's point number one, if you're taking notes, before you can change the world, you yourself must be changed. Before you can change the world, you must first be changed. Look at verse 3: "During the 40 days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles".
Now, when we think of the apostles, when we think of Peter, James, John, Matthew, and later Paul, we put them on pedestals. They seem like superhuman individuals but they were ordinary people just like you and me. We say, oh no, they were living, breathing saints, they didn't make any mistakes. Oh, they made mistakes. And the Bible is honest about the mistakes they made, but they were saints, you got that part right. What is a saint? Heard about a Sunday school teacher that was talking to her class, and she said, "Class, can any of you tell me what a saint is"? One of the little girls thought about how she would see those apostles and stained glass and how the light would come through, so the little girl said, "A saint, those are people that the light shines through". And that's true. That's really what a saint is, and by the way, you're a saint if you're a Christian. I'm a saint, and not because I've performed a miracle and I've been canonized, because the word saint is just another word for believer or follower of Jesus Christ.
But here's the thing we need to understand, these weren't perfect people, they were ordinary people, but God did extraordinary things through ordinary people. Listen, the disciple's greatness was not because of who they were, it was because of God's hand on them. 1 Corinthians 1:26 says, isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks. God chose those nobody's to expose the hollow pretensions of the somebody's. How true is that? God seems to go out of his way to choose unexpected people, to go to unexpected places, to do unexpected things. Point number two, this early church, they had a job to do and so do we. Let's go back to Acts chapter 1, look at verse 7. "He replied," Jesus speaking, "the father alone has the authority to set those dates and times and they're not for you to know, but you will receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth".
Listen, those words are not just given to those first century believers. We're still called to tell people about Jesus everywhere. The statement of Christ was prompted by a question of the disciples in Acts 1:6, where they said, "Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore your kingdom"? And Jesus says in response, in Acts 1, verses 7-8: "The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, they are not for you to know". Jesus is effectively saying, guys, will you get over this already? I'm not going to establish my earthly kingdom right now. That's coming later. Stop focusing on when I am returning and instead focus on what you are to do until I return.
Let me say that again, 'cause it applies to us. Stop focusing on when Jesus is returning, and instead focus on what you and I are supposed to do while we await his coming. Our focus should be on what we should be doing as we await his return. And what is it we should be doing as we await the return of Christ? Verse 8, "You will be witnesses telling people about me everywhere in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". There it is. So it's Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. So apply this in your life. Jerusalem is your home. You start at home, and by the way, the hardest people to reach of the gospel are your family because they've known you all your life and now you believe in Jesus.
I remember when I became a Christian, it was not well received by my family. It took me years to reach my mother, well over 30 years before she actually prayed and committed her life to Christ. Even Jesus did not reach his family before he died and rose again from the dead. We read that his family would show up and they would say, "He's lost his mind, we need to take him home again". We read that Jesus could do no miracles in his hometown of Nazareth because of their unbelief. Because the people said, "Messiah? We've known Jesus since he was a little boy. Is this not the carpenter's son"? The hardest people to reach are your family. But start there, start with your spouse if you're married, start with your mom, your dad, your grandparents, your children, your extended family, that's your Jerusalem. Then you go to your Judea.
Now you're sort of leaving your comfort zone, it's not just your home, your Judea would be maybe your workplace, your sphere of influence, the people that follow you on social media, now you go out to your Judea, your larger circle, and you share your faith, and then finally you go to people everywhere. Jesus says Samaria and the ends of the earth, by the way to say to a Jew that they should go to Samaria was not appealing because, as you know, there was a conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews. And you remember when Jesus went to the woman at the well, who was a Samaritan, she asked the question, why are you, a Jew, talking to me, a Samaritan? Don't you know Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with each other? And that was largely true, but what did Jesus do? He went out of his way to reach someone way out of his comfort zone, if you will. Are you willing to do that?
Jonah was actually called to preach to the people of Nineveh, they were the avowed enemies of Israel and he didn't wanna do it. God wants you to reach people everywhere. Go outside of your comfort zone. Go even to your enemies with the gospel. One final point, then I'm done. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to do what God has called us to do. Let me say that again, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to do what God has called us to do. Look at verse 8, Acts 1, one more time. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you'll be witnesses for me, telling people about me everywhere". I mean, think about it. How is this rag-tag group of individuals going to change the world? There were 12 in total.
I watched a movie, it's been around for a long time, not long ago called "The Dirty Dozen". I'm not saying these guys were the dirty dozen, but I'm saying that there were a flawed group of individuals. We have some fishermen, we have a tax collector, we have others, very ordinary people, how are they going to do it? I mean, their leader, next to Jesus, was Simon Peter. If Simon Peter would be demoralized by the words of a servant girl in the high priest's courtyard, causing him to deny Christ, how could any of them go out anywhere preaching this message? Jesus answers the question. You'll receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you. The way they're gonna do it, and the way we're gonna do it, is with the power we don't possess naturally. It's supernatural power. A power to do beyond what we have done before, a power to change the world, a power to be a witness, a power to share your faith, a power to turn the world upside down.
Good news, and we'll read about this later, when the Holy Spirit is poured out on those first century believers on the day of Pentecost, that same power that set the church into motion is available to you right now because we read Peter saying in Acts 2:39, "This promise is to your children and to the Gentiles and all who have been called by the Lord our God". What promise? The promise of the Holy Spirit. The word that is used here for power is noteworthy. It's the Greek word dunamis. Years ago, there was a man named Alfred Nobel. We know him best for the Nobel Peace Prize, but before he created the Nobel Peace Prize, he create an explosive substance known as dynamite, but he didn't have a name for it at first. He invented this explosive device or this explosive substance, and he went to a friend who knew Greek, and he said, "What is the Greek word for explosive"? And the man said, "It's the Greek word dunamis".
And so Nobel says, "Okay, I'm gonna call it dynamite". So basically, the Bible is saying God is gonna give you explosive, dynamite power in your life from the Holy Spirit to do what he has called you to do. This is real power. People want power. You know, when guys get cars, they like to get the most powerful engine so they can brag on it, right? You know what I have under this hood? We like power. We like horsepower. We like men power. Oh, we like political power too. Just watch the news and you see people grappling for more political power. God is talking about spiritual power, power to change your life, power to change the world.
Maybe God has spoken to your heart and you have seen your need for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came from heaven to this earth. He was born in a manger, he died on a cross, he rose again from the dead, why? Because he loves you and he wants a relationship with you. Listen, I'm not talking about religion. I don't wanna be a religious person. I don't think you wanna be one either. I'm talking about relationship with God. Jesus, who died and rose again, stands at the door of your life and he knocks and he says if you'll hear his voice and open the door, he will come in. Question, have you asked Jesus Christ to come and live inside of you?
You might say, well, I think so, I'm not sure. Hey, if someone moved into your house in the middle of the night, do you think you would be aware of it? I'm sure you would. And in the same way, if Christ has come to live inside of you, you will know, and if you don't know, maybe he has not come in yet. He's just a prayer away. All you need to do is say, "Jesus, I want this relationship with you, I want you to forgive me of my sin, I want to go to heaven when I die". Would you like to do that? Would you like Christ to come into your life? If so, why don't you just pray this simple prayer with me? You could pray it out loud or you can pray it in the quietness of your heart, but this is a prayer where you're asking Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord. Pray this with me now:
Lord Jesus, I know that I'm a sinner, but I know that you're the Savior who died in the cross for my sin and rose again from the dead. Now come into my life. I choose to follow you from this moment forward. Thank you for hearing this prayer and answering this prayer. In Jesus name, amen.
Did you just pray that prayer with me? If so, I want you to know on the authority of scripture that Christ himself has come to live inside of you, and let me be the first to say to you, congratulations and welcome to the family of God.