Robert Jeffress - Unstoppable Power
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". After Christ ascended into heaven, the apostles were faced with a seemingly impossible task, to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, and in the book of Acts we'll discover how the first Christians overcame the hostility and opposition that stood in their way. Today I'm going to provide historical context for their story as we begin a brand new study together. My message is titled "Unstoppable Power" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Unstoppable, that's a word that reminds me of a movie that came out a few years ago, the "Darkest Hour," that chronicled Winston Churchill's first month in office as the prime minister of England. Churchill was facing opposition from every direction. The Nazis were sweeping across Europe, threatening to dominate the world. The Nazis had succeeded in cornering the British army on the island or the beaches of Dunkirk, France. And you'll remember that in spite of that opposition, Winston Churchill developed the ingenious plan known as Operation Dynamo in which he rescued those cornered British forces. It was a resounding success.
A few days later Churchill addressed the House of Commons, not only celebrating the victory they had just experienced, but predicting that more battles would come in the days and years ahead. And in those immortal words, Churchill said, "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and on the oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender". That is exactly the same spirit that is behind the last word in the last chapter of the book of Acts.
In Acts 28:30, the writer says, "And Paul stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered". That word translated unhindered, akolutos, is only used here, only place in the Greek New Testament. It's a word that means without restraint. Some translations say and translate it unstoppable. Paul and the early church continued to preach the gospel. They were unstoppable. Why? Because they faced no opposition? Is everything calm now? Are they sailing on smooth oceans? No, not at all.
In the book of Acts you see the increasing opposition that the church faced, and yet that opposition was no match for the power of Jesus Christ, the power that Jesus had alluded to when he said, "Upon this rock I shall build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". That is the story of the book of Acts, about how the church of Jesus Christ was birthed and then began to grow explosively in spite of the hellacious hostility they faced as Christians in the 1st century. And in many ways the story of Acts, the story of the 1st century church is the story of our church in the 21st century. It's similar in two ways.
First of all, we face the same kind of growing opposition in the 21st century as those 1st century Christians experienced. We're going to see in the days ahead that in the 1st century the persecution didn't come all at once. It intensified. It grew incrementally until Christians were thrown into prison and beheaded, and that is going to be our study in the book of Acts. The same Holy Spirit who empowered those 1st century Christians empowers us today, and that's why individually and together we have nothing to fear. Now, whenever I begin a study of a book of a Bible, I always begin with an overview. Getting an overview sometimes helps you understand what you're going to be studying in the weeks ahead.
I was looking at a picture just recently of me when I was seven years old. It was a picture taken with my mom and dad on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which at that time was the tallest building in the world. You remember King Kong climbed up it, the Empire State Building. And I'll never forget that day. It was my first trip to New York City, and my dad on that observation deck pointed out how the city was laid out. He pointed up to the north, said that's uptown, and then he pointed to downtown, and we were in midtown, and then he pointed over to the East River, which was on the east, and then the Hudson River on the west and... he gave me an overview of the city. Interestingly, within about five years when I was twelve or thirteen, whenever our family would go back to New York, I was the family navigator. I was in charge of getting us around the city because I understood it.
I remember that overview I was given that made it easier to navigate the different streets on the ground level. Well, it's the same way with an overview of the book of Acts. When we look at the book of Acts, get the big picture like we're going to do for the few minutes we have today. It helps us navigate the individual chapters and verses. So, first of all, let's start out with the title of the book itself. You say, "Well, that's pretty easy. It's called Acts". Remember, none of the titles of the Bible books were given by God. They were added later on. Different people gave their opinion of the right title. Some Bibles say the Acts of the Apostles. Well, that's okay. The only problem is there's really only a couple of apostles mentioned in the book and a couple of their acts, so that doesn't seem complete.
Other people say, "Well, it's the acts of the Holy Spirit". That's true. The Holy Spirit is central in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit may be not central in a lot of churches. You don't hear the Holy Spirit talked about a lot today, but he's real, and he is central in the book of Acts, and we see many of his miraculous works. But interestingly, rarely does the Holy Spirit work by himself. He works through people. You know, if I see a boiling pot of water I want to pick up, and I have a glove over there, I can say all I want to to that glove, "pick up the pot," it won't do it. I have to put my hand inside the glove. If you ask who's picking up the pot, is it the glove or your hand, well, it's both. It's my hand in the glove. It's the same way with how God works through us. God could do anything he wants to, but he has chosen to empower us to do his work. It is God in us.
And so I think the best title for this book is the Acts of the Holy Spirit through God's People. You hear more and more people say, "Well, Christians today don't want to be preached to. They don't want a lecture. They don't want a sermon. They don't want to be preached to. They want a dialogue, and they want to share with one another and be a part of one another's lives. They don't want to sit down and listen to a sermon". Now, there's a place for sharing and interacting with other believers. We shouldn't spend all of our time in a pew looking at the back of each other's heads. That's not the only thing we do. When you find what the early church did, in Acts 2:42 it says and they gave themselves to the apostles' teaching, doctrine, to the breaking of bread, the Lord's Supper, to fellowship and to prayer.
I love the definition of fellowship. Two fellows in the same ship. The idea is people who are sharing similar experiences. They encourage one another. They rebuke one another. They become a part of one another's lives. That's an important function of the church. But it is no substitute from the proclamation of God's Word. That's the way the early church grew numerically and spiritually, was by God-ordained men presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ in the church and men and women in other settings presenting the gospel and the teachings of God's Word. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says it was through the foolishness of preaching that people were saved, and you see that throughout the book of Acts.
Now, let's say a word about the author of the book. You say again, "Well, it's Luke". Well, it never mentions Luke in the book itself. So how do we know Luke actually wrote the book of Acts? Well, in Acts 1:1 notice this. It says, "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do". Whoever wrote this said, "You remember in my first book, Theophilus". Now, Theophilus was the name of a man. The word theos, god; philus, love. His name meant lover of God. Apparently, the person this writer is writing to was a Gentile who nevertheless loved the God of Israel and was interested in knowing more about him, how to have a relationship with him.
And so the first account that was written was the Gospel of Luke. How do I know that? When I turn to Luke 1, verses 3 and 4 the writer says, "It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus". There's that name again. So Luke the Gospel and Acts are tied together. Acts is a continuation of Luke. Luke is about the founder of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ, and his work. Acts is about the founding of the church of Jesus Christ that included Jews and Gentiles alike. One other way we know this was probably Luke, and tradition says it was Luke, is what people call this shift from the they passages to the we passages.
For example, in Acts 16 we have a record of Paul's second missionary journey when he got stuck at Troas, wanted to go on into Bethenia but he was prevented by the Spirit of Jesus from doing so. And notice in Acts 16, verses 6 and 8 it says, "They", underline they, "passed through the Phyrgian and Galatian region and came down to Troas". And then in verse 10 of Acts 16:10 it says, "And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us". He called us, not them but us to preach the gospel. Apparently, this is where the author of Acts actually joined and became a part of the story himself, and this was Luke joining Paul and his companions to finish the second missionary journey.
Let me say a word about the date. Again, you may wonder, "Who cares about the date of this book"? You'll see why it's important in just a moment. This book occurs over a 30-year period of time. It starts with the ascension of Jesus as we'll see next week, and it ends probably in 62 AD when Paul was under house arrest in Rome free to preach the gospel, that he was under house arrest wondering what Nero would say and dispose of his case. And so there's about a 30-year period of time between 32, 33 AD and 62 AD. The fact that Nero, the evil Roman emperor, began his worldwide persecution of Christians in 64 means it was written before that because Acts doesn't mention that worldwide persecution or the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.
Now you say, "Pastor, again, why is that important"? This is so important. Throughout the book, Luke, who is a great historian as well as a doctor, he's very careful to mention people and places, events and places that correspond to known history and geography. You find that in his Gospel account and in Acts. He's very meticulous about precision. For example, in Acts chapter 12, he records the death of King Herod Agrippa. Some people started shouting at Herod Agrippa claiming that he was a god not a man, and Luke says because Herod didn't correct them and give the glory to God, Acts 12:23, "An angel of the Lord struck Herod because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and he died".
Anytime somebody says something good about the First Baptist Church of Dallas and the good things that are happening here, I'm very quick to point people to God. First of all, I'm scared to death about being eaten alive by worms, but secondly and equally more so because it's true. Any good and great thing that happens to you and me is all because of the power and goodness of God, and that's what Herod didn't understand. Now, that took place in 44 AD, and it corresponds to what we know in secular history. The historian Josephus wrote, "Herod's flatterers cried out one from one place and another from another that he was god. Upon this the king did neither rebuke them nor reject their empire's flattery. A severe pain rose in his belly and began in the most violent manner". And Josephus goes on to say that Agrippa suffered for five days with severe abdominal pain until he died.
Now, what's interesting, I said Luke was a historian. There's a man named Sir William Ramsay. He lived from 1851 to 1939. He was one of the world's foremost historians and archaeologists. He was also an unbeliever. He spent several years detailing all the historical errors in the Bible. He discovered that Luke was absolutely right. In fact, what he discovered led him to become a Christian, and he wrote a book entitled "Luke the Beloved Physician" and in that volume he said Luke was a trustworthy writer of history. He was a trustworthy, and Luke's history is unsurpassed in accuracy.
You know what that tells us? First of all, the story of the early church is real. Both the gospel account of Jesus and the early church, it's real. It's not a fable or it's not a myth. It's tied to real history that can be verified. It's tied to actual geographical locations. That makes this different, the Bible different than any other religious book. You look at books like the Quran or the Book of Mormon, there is no fulfilled prophecy in any of those books that can be pointed to. There's no historical incidents that it can be tied to. Why is that? It's all made up. Those books are complete frauds. Muhammad says in the 7th century he was out in the desert when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and gave him this revelation.
I don't know what Muhammad experienced. He may have had a heatstroke or an acid trip, but it wasn't a revelation from God. The angel Gabriel did not appear to Muhammad. It's a lie. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, says the angel of Moroni came to him and gave him the golden tablets that nobody can find anywhere, but that's what happened. Joseph Smith was a religious fraud. He was a charlatan. He was a huckster. That's all he was. You say, "Pastor, well, I'm offended you would say something like that about somebody else's religion".
Well, I'm offended that two men would lead people straight into hell because of their deception. I'm offended by that. And guess what? So is the apostle Paul in the Bible. Remember what Paul said in Galatians 1? He said, "If any man comes to you and preaches another gospel, let that person be accursed. Even if he says an angel of the Lord came and gave me a different gospel," Galatians 1, "let that person go to hell". That's what Paul said. Anathema, accursed. There is a deception out there by Satan that seeks to lead people away from the only way to salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Bible is altogether different.
In 2 Peter 1, the aged apostle Peter before he died said, "Brethren, I want you to know that we did not follow cleverly-devised fables when we made known to you the coming and the power of our Lord, for we were eyewitnesses to his majesty". Peter is saying, "We didn't sit in a room somewhere and conjure all this up. It's true. It happened". And the testimony of history and archaeology borne that out. The story of the early church is real. It's not fable, and also it reminds us that God uses imperfect people for his purposes. You know another reason we know the Bible is different than any other religious text? In other religious texts, in other mythologies, the central characters, the heroes have no flaws whatsoever. They're perfect. Nobody's like that.
Acts is filled with imperfect men and women who committed their lives to sharing the message of a perfect Savior. My mom used to say the miracle of Christianity is that it survived the Christians. Boy, you look around today, isn't that the case? The message is bigger than the messenger. It's about our perfect Savior. That's what makes the Bible different. Let me say a word about the purpose of the book and, again, the best way to understand that is to contrast it to Luke's Gospel. The purpose of the Gospel of Luke was a history of the founder of our faith and his finished work. That's what the Gospel of Luke is about. It's about the finished work of Jesus. When he hung on the cross, he said, "It is finished". Tetelestai, paid in full.
Love's redeeming work is done. There's nothing you can do to add to what Christ has already done for you. He has paid the ultimate price. His work is finished on earth. But in contrast, in contrast, look at the purpose of the book of Acts. Luke was about the founder of our faith and his finished work. The purpose of Acts is the history of the founding of the church and the continuing work of God's people. Christ's work on earth is finished. Ours has just begun, and it continues on and on and on. Now, I also have a word about the outline of the book of Acts. There are many ways you can outline the book of Acts. One way is geographically, interestingly.
Now, when you look at Luke's Gospel, it's really a series of constricting circles. Luke 2, a decree went out to all the world, but then it narrows to Nazareth, the growing up place of Jesus, and then it grows even more focused to his ministry in Judea and Samaria, until finally it zeroes in on the city of Jerusalem in Christ's death and resurrection. You understand what I mean? It's constricting geographical circles. The book of Acts is just the opposite. It is concentric circles. It starts with Jerusalem and what happened there, the ascension of Christ, and then it goes out, the gospel, to Judea and Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. I want to close with this, and that is what is the message of the book of Acts and why should we study it today? The central message of Acts is this. Now write this down. Under the direction and with the power of the Holy Spirit, the church expands and fulfills the commission of Christ to be his witnesses throughout the world.
Now, when I first sat down and wrote that out, I didn't write it that way. I put it in the past tense because Acts is recorded history. I said the church expanded and fulfilled the commission of Christ, but then I X'd that out. I said, "You know, that's just not true. It's not past tense, it's present tense". The work of the church continues. It's interesting that the Gospel of Luke, it has a very neat ending to it. Reaches a climax, the ascension of Jesus back into heaven. Fade to black. Great way to end the story. But when you come to the book of Acts, there's not a tidy wrap-up conclusion to it. It's incomplete. The last pages haven't been written yet because they are for you and for me to write as messengers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We, the church, move forward unhindered and unstoppable.