The Gospel and the Second Coming

We are swimming in an ocean of injustice! One needn’t look too critically at our world today in order to come to this conclusion. Are you in a good mood, content, happy? Access the news for a few minutes – and after you’ve watched the television, gone online, or listened to the radio – that peaceful easy feeling will go poof!

And if we’re not careful, this sense of injustice can turn our hearts toward cynicism, despair and hopelessness. As God’s children, we are called to be realists. And reality tells us this: the world is full of injustice.

I dare say, there are many people, religious and secular alike, that, if at all honest, would concur with this assessment of injustice running rampant on the earth.

Although I’ve painted a rather depressing picture, this portrait of reality actually provides a powerful and positive platform to communicate the gospel in context of the 2nd coming of Jesus. And while the return of Jesus provides the answer to the injustice found in our world, it also provides the challenge to the injustice found in the very heart of man.

All Christians, regardless of religious tradition, believe in the Second Coming. And while we will disagree and about the circumstances prior to and timing of His coming, we all agree – Jesus is coming back!

The stage was set the moment Jesus ascended into heaven, as the angel announced:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 2:11).

And regarding justice specifically, what will happen when He returns? The bible is crystal clear:

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Yes, we all want justice. Yet the one who judges and the characteristics of that judgment are critical. Why? Because when the meting out of justice by men is subjective, there may be issues, including those of injustice! Can anyone say  – ‘Collateral damage!’

The description of God’s justice applied at the 2nd coming of Jesus provides added clarity:

For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth” (Psalm 96:13).

The Lord’s justice is characterized by righteousness and truth – His righteousness and His truth! There will be a time when the Lord will right the wrongs in this world. And as God’s people we cry out ‘yes’ and ‘amen!’ But what of those who don’t know the Lord?

Sharing this truth claim with an unbeliever provides a cogent explanation for ultimate justice to be served, while providing a platform for continued conversation about spiritual things. Certainly some will take issue with or reject this line of thinking, and that’s ok. And if that’s the case, you can then ask that individual if they think justice on this earth can be accomplished another way…and if so, how and by whom.

While a general view of justice accomplished through the 2nd coming of Jesus is a conversation starter, a personal view of God’s justice accomplished through the first coming of Jesus may be more challenging for your audience, because it is personal!

How so?

First of all, while Jesus judges the world at His second coming, including unbelievers, He judged sin at His first coming:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

That’s good news, right? Yes, but only for the one who believes in Jesus. And here lies the personal challenge for the unbeliever:

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18:19).

In the natural, we human beings don’t view ourselves as either judged or condemned. Yet this is our actual spiritual condition apart from the saving grace of Jesus! So we ought naught be surprised when we receive push back or are simply cut off for adhering to such a view.

Yet, there is hope for the hopeless, a solution to our dilemma of depravity. So, every person has a choice – we will either be judged for our own sin by God or trust in God’s judgment upon sin through the sacrifice of Christ. You see, to move from judged to justified only happens through faith, as Jesus clearly states in John 5:24 [see also Romans 5:1]:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

Oh, the hope of the gospel message! For the death of Christ on the cross for our sins is God’s judgement upon sin. And for all people, who are born under judgement and condemnation, escaping God’s wrath by being born-again through faith is truly liberating!

And this is hope we share with the hopeless, whether or not they realize their true need of salvation.

Ultimately, for you and me as witnesses for Jesus, we must implore the Lord to do the work only He can accomplish. For it’s the Holy Spirit that does the work of conviction and regeneration – revealing to people their need and providing the answer to that need:

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8)

“…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Justice we want, justice we will get. And God? His justice will be served at the 2nd coming of Christ, as Scripture plainly states. Yet, in His mercy and grace, He has provided justice for the unjust – namely you and I and all who will believe in Him. For Jesus died for our sins – the just for the unjust. And this our message of good news to a world crying out for justice.

Jesus is coming! Be ready! To him who has ears, let him hear!

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20-21).

The Sign of Jonah

“And they lived happily ever after!” That lovely phrase evocative of childhood fairy tales illustrates a hopeful desire within us. For there is a perpetual desire within the human heart for things to turn out good, not only in time, but in eternity.

In the first Lord of the Rings movie ‘The Fellowship of the Ring,’ during a quiet moment, Frodo Baggins and his friend Sam Wise Gamgee ponder a better time and place, should they be delivered from their reality of conflict, pain, and death. Frodo says: “How would this do: And they all settled down and lived together happily ever after? It will do well, if it ever comes to that.” Sam replies, “Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

Yes, we as human beings do dream about a happily ever after. But right next to us sits the realist who seeks to squash that dream stating, “There is no happily ever after.” And therein lies the rub. Our present reality is not ‘and they lived happily ever after,’ but rather a cold hard statistic – one out one die.  For we live in a sin-cursed earth where nothing turns out good – in fact all things ultimately die. Can any experience be more final than death? No.

Yet, in spite of this sobering statistic, there is a paradox that resides within the human heart highlighted by this question – How is it that we who are mere mortal and trapped in time, think about eternity, pondering existence beyond the grave?  [As you’re broaching spiritual concepts with people, this question is a good conversation starter.] Well, the writer of Ecclesiastes provides an answer in Ecclesiastes 3:11, where the scripture states,

“He has set eternity in their hearts.”

Throughout human history, philosophers, theologians and thinkers have addressed the afterlife. The theories, legends and ideas run the spectrum of thought, but ultimately there is no consensus about what happens after we die. Yet, in spite of this uncertainty, there is a singular figure who is the authority on the afterlife, Jesus, our Risen Lord!

When challenged about His claims to be Messiah, He promised them one sign, the “sign of Jonah”:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’” (Matthew 12:38-40).

The “sign of Jonah” would turn out to be Jesus’ greatest miracle of all – the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead would be God’s preeminent sign that He was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah (Acts 2:23–32) and establish His claims to deity (Romans 1:3–4). Yet, the resurrection of Jesus would also authenticate His claim to have authority over sin and death.

Yes, Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day, promising resurrection and eternal life for the one who puts their trust in Him!

Resurrection, the final proof of God’s victory over death, moved the Apostle Paul to write these words we affirm as believers: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. O’ death, Where is thy sting” (1 Corinthians 15:26, 55).

Chuck Swindoll reflects on this glorious victory, “The devil, darkness, and death may swagger and boast, the pangs of life will sting for a while longer, but don’t worry; the forces of evil are breathing their last. Not to worry…He’s risen!”

John describes a bit of our future ‘happily ever after’ in heaven, when he wrote in Revelation 21:3-4, “God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Thomas expressed doubt regarding the resurrection of Jesus, “I will not believe unless I see!” When the risen Lord showed Himself to Thomas and Thomas believed, Jesus then uttered these words in John 20:29 that reverberate throughout history…even to this day – “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I find it interesting that many who believe in various kinds of afterlife reality are at the same time cynical and skeptical of the resurrection. Despite the plethora of ‘ever after’ explanations, the resurrection of Jesus is clearly the best explanation for this reality. Why? Because the tomb is empty! No, we don’t believe in a pipe dreams or blind conjecture. Rather, our belief is based upon compelling evidence.

So, when witnessing to people, we can boldly and confidently state that the promise of a ‘happily ever after’ is not a fairy tale, but a very truth – that truth evidential and historical – the tomb is empty! 1 Corinthians 15, the ‘resurrection chapter’ in the New Testament referred to earlier, is a tremendous resource for both personal study and witnessing.

Jesus’ words to Martha in John 11:25-26, just before He raised Lazarus, are as germane to our witness today as they were when the Lord first uttered them 2000 years ago:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

When God makes a promise, He keeps His promise. Implore people to trust in His promise, believe in the sign of Jonah, and believe in Jesus – insuring a future happily ever after!

Swimming Upstream

The journey of the salmon is an incredible natural phenomena. Born in a fresh water stream, they will swim to the ocean after a year of life. After spending 2-4 years in the salt water they are mature and ready for the final and most difficult journey of their lives.

Research indicates that salmon have a special sensory system that allows them to find their way in the ocean by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. There comes a time when their inner compass calls them home to the fresh water and stream in which they were born.

This return requires them to travel upstream reversing the swim they made years earlier to reach the sea. Upon returning to the stream of their birth, they lay eggs, fulfilling their destiny!

Among the many obstacles salmon face in fulfilling their purpose of swimming upstream include: polluted water, raging currents, loss of cover and protection in shallow water, and predators like eagles and bears.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to swim upstream in a sense, as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission. Following Jesus has always been counter-culture, for in one sense the believer has always been swimming upstream. Yet our our current struggle today is not only the spiritual battle we face daily, it is the culture and context of our current 21st Century world.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel the impact of raging forces opposing my witness that are ever-present in our culture. And sometimes I get discouraged, wondering how I’m going to make an impact in a culture that is increasingly opposing my purpose of fulfilling my individual role in the Great Commission.

This submission is intended to encourage and inspire. For we all need encouragement to keep fighting the good fight of faith and to keep running the course God has put us.

Regarding our witness for Jesus, there are some unique cultural obstacles that we face today that are important to understand as we strive to be gospel witnesses. Here are three reasons evangelism is becoming more difficult in this 21st Century, along with responses that hopefully will encourage and inspire us to keep fighting the good fight of faith:

We proclaim absolute truth in a relativistic culture.

You’ve heard the line before, “You have your truth, I have my truth, and they have their truth.” This embodies much of the spirit of this age. It’s a statement that reflects the idea of relativism – the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity within themselves, but rather only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration.

In a general sense, truth may be defined simply as ‘that which corresponds with fact or reality.’ For example, the law of gravity is an absolute truth, albeit a scientific one. Relativism, in part, is a raging attack upon moral absolutes and the Moral Lawgiver, who is The Truth. People don’t want to be held accountable to a moral standard. And so there is a great conflict between we who proclaim absolute moral truths and a culture whose relativism wants to render those moral absolutes mute. And we are keenly aware of this raging current of relativism.

But be encouraged. Jesus, who is the Truth, said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). And the reality is that the Holy Spirit, even as I pen these words and you read these words, is doing a mighty work in the hearts of men and women, bringing people into a saving knowledge of the truth. People are being set free by the truth. For the Spirit of God is convicting people of sin, judgment and righteousness (John 16:8), bearing witness of the truth (1 John 5:6), and bringing people into a saving relationship with Christ (Titus 3:5). And He accomplishes these mighty works in and through our witness.

We proclaim an exclusive way to God in an age of pluralism.

You’ve seen the bumper sticker “Co-Exist,” characterized by the letters in the shape of various world religions. Another aspect of the spirit of the age, this idea reflects religious pluralism: ‘Can’t we all just get along?’

Religious pluralism generally refers to the belief in two or more religious worldviews as being equally valid or acceptable. More than just tolerance, religious pluralism accepts multiple paths to God or gods as a possibility and is contrasted with “exclusivism,” the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God.

Regarding our Christian witness, we are swimming upstream regarding exclusivity, for more and more people – even some professing ‘Christians’ -are saying that there are many ways to heaven.

But Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). And Peter, while testifying before the Jewish religious leadership in Acts 4:12, said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Either Jesus is only the way to heaven or He is not.

Be encouraged! When discussing truth claims, help people understand that truth claims, by their very nature, exclude other truth claims. In other words, every religion, by it’s very nature, is exclusive, and excludes other truth claims! Therefore, while the truth claims about Jesus are exclusive, the gospel invitation is inclusive, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And praise God, as people sincerely and genuinely compare the truth claims of Christianity with other ‘truth’ claims, God is revealing Himself, people are getting saved, and His Kingdom is expanding!

We proclaim a supernatural message in an age of reason.

Many who oppose things of the Lord hold high the banner, “Science and Faith Don’t Mix!”

We are currently living in a culture that is increasingly wanting to separate science from faith. The new atheists and many intellectual elites are busily attempting to create a narrative where there is a great gulf fixed between science and the supernatural.

For example, in our public education system, the theory of evolution is taught as fact, while the idea of special, or supernatural creation is simply not presented at all.

Yet, the very definition of biblical faith is based upon substance and evidence, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). And the fact is God has given us many reasons to believe…let he who has ears, let him hear!

There have been times I’ve been accused of having blind faith. Have you? When discussing the topic of faith, remind your audience that the Christian faith is based upon evidence and is substantive. For example, Jesus was undoubtedly an historical figure and the empty tomb is an historical fact – they never found the body! Additionally, you may even want to quote Hebrews 11:1.

Be encouraged! The apostle Paul wrote about the futility of those of the world opposing the  message of the gospel: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

Even today, in the 21st Century, the Lord is continuing to expand His Kingdom, for Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

So brothers and sisters – be encouraged! Keep fighting the good fight of faith! Keep staying the course! And keep swimming upstream against the cultural currents opposing our faith. Because we have the victory. I know how the story ends, I’ve read the book – we win!

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

You Shall Be My Witnesses

In May I was called to serve on jury duty a Federal Circuit Court. Unlike the other two times I have been called to jury duty, on this particular occasion I was actually called to to serve on a jury to hear a case.

One by one witnesses were called to the stand to give testimony. Even in an ever-increasing secular society, each witness, upon taking the stand, was asked and responded affirmatively to the question, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

The two-day case was a fascinating experience, as witness after witness strolled up to the stand to give their ‘account’ from their unique perspective as to the events and circumstances in question.

As followers of Jesus, one of the foundational responsibilities of our Christian life is to be a witness. Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus’ last words to His disciples were both instructional and inspirational:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Instructional in that He gave them direction for their lives going forward. This was to be their mission. One can only imagine that just after hearing these words, ‘a cloud received Him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9). Stunned, they certainly would have recalled the very last things He said before ascending into heaven. They had received their marching orders!

Inspirational in that He promised them the resource that would empower their mission, for they would not be alone! The Lord had previously explained the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples in John 14:15-31, just before He was crucified. The Spirit, among other things, was to be their ‘Helper’ (John 14:16, 26).

How would the Spirit help them be His witnesses? He would teach them all things – including how to be His witnesses, and bring to their remembrance all things the Lord had told them (John 14:26). And what had the Lord told them? The truth! In short, the Holy Spirit would be the engine that powered their witness for Jesus!

Just as a witness on a jury stand gives a personal testimony to the truth of what they experienced, we as followers of Jesus are called to give testimony to the Truth – that testimony being of who Jesus is and how He has touched our life.

The Apostle John, opens one of his epistles by providing a personal witness to the reader:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—“ (1 John 1:1-2).

Although you and I have not seen and heard, as we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), we testify that the life was manifested to us. This reality is a personal encounter with the living God through faith in Christ. Because when we put our trust in Jesus, we are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit as were the first disciples. Therefore, our testimony is personal, because we have a personal relationship with the living God.

Part of our testimony is proclaiming the truth of who Jesus is and part of our testimony is how He’s impacted our life.

As I sat in that courtroom with 11 other jurors, listening to the testimony of witnesses, we were instructed both before the first witness was called and after after the last testimony given, to weigh the credibility of each witness.

For even though each witness takes an oath to tell the truth, we had the personal liberty to weigh the credibility of a witness. In other words, believability was an issue that would shape the jury’s view of the evidence provided and testimony surrounding the evidence.

As followers of Jesus, we are all witnesses for Him. How credible is our witness? In our lives, there are people who are watching and listening to us and coming to conclusions about our testimony. For our witness includes more than our words – it includes our actions! You see, being a witness for Jesus is about the show and tell of our lives – in that we proclaim God’s love found in Christ, but we also must demonstrate God’s love. For both proclamation and demonstration of God’s love in of our lives will give evidence to our audience as to the credibility of our witness! Therefore, we should strive to have our words and our ways be in harmony. And to the degree our words and ways match up with the truth of God’s Word, to that same degree will be the credibility of our witness.

The words of our witness impact our credibility. In general, our everyday speech is a testimony, as Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

More specifically, we also need to be ready to share spiritual truth – the truth that sets men free – with people, as God opens doors of opportunity:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

The works of our witness are also important and will lend credibility to our testimony. Jesus spoke directly to this issue to His disciples, when He said:

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Love would be a distinct characteristic of discipleship for them and it certainly is for us. It was the tangible expression of their faith, characterized by love, that would lend credibility to their witness. The same principle applies to our witness today as His witnesses. Simply, our behavior is also an important component in our witness.

After hearing the testimony of the witnesses in the case I sat on, the judge gave the jury some final instructions. We were to weigh the evidence and come up with a verdict. We know had the evidence and heard the testimony surrounding the evidence. We were now called to make a decision.

As people weigh the evidence of my witness, I wonder at times how credible a witness for Jesus I am. I know people in my life are watching and listening…perhaps more intently than I’m even aware. Additionally, I ponder how the Lord is working in and through my testimony for Him, as I seek to make a case for Christ in word and deed? What decision will they ultimately make about Jesus?

May the Lord Jesus grow the credibility of our witness, to the end that many would come into the same fellowship with Him as we have experienced! Amen.

“…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Lessons from Acts: Overcoming Opposition

‘You have to tell your family you believe in Jesus,’ he exclaimed! These were not words I wanted to hear. They startled, shook, and challenged me. And yet, this charge was the will of God.

It was late December, 1987, and I had just came to faith in Jesus weeks earlier. I was on the phone with my good friend Greg, who had been a key witness for Christ during my college years.

You see, being Jewish and believing in Jesus has its’ challenges. To add, I was the first Christian in my family. Greg’s words rattled me to the core of my being. For concurrently they were words I needed to hear and yet words I didn’t want to hear.

Why? Opposition awaited! And yet, this crisis of faith as a baby in the Lord served as a crucible in which I would grow, trust the Lord, and share my faith in the face of opposition.

It took 18 months for me to ‘come out!’ One by one I shared my new found faith with my entire family…amidst the opposition. You see, my maternal grandmother scornfully said, “Larry, how can you do this? No one in our family has ever believed in Jesus before.” My father plainly stated, “That’s fine. Just never share your faith with your grandmother (his mother).”

Many years have passed, much witnessing for the Lord taken place. And yet, I find opposition to sharing my faith remains! For this opposition is a constant reality for the believer.

There is nothing new under the sun. Two-thousand years ago the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears (2 Corinthians 7:5).

What was true for Paul, and is true in my life, is true in yours also. But this question remains for all – Will we overcome the opposition or will we be overcome by the opposition?

In simple terms, overcoming opposition is to witness despite its presence. To be overcome by opposition is allowing it to silence our witness for Jesus.

Here in Acts 4 we see a very practical example of overcoming faith that inspires and instructs.

The scene: After healing a lame man in Jesus’ name, Peter and John are arrested by the Jewish religious authorities, commanding them ‘not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:18).

The response of Peter and John is telling:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

The Great Commission had a greater influence upon their witness then the mandate of man! Underlying their boldness and courage was this principle for overcoming opposition:

The salvation of people was more important than their safety!

After threatening them further, the religious authorities released Peter and John, who immediately went and reported to the other disciples ‘all that the chief priests and elders had said to them’ (Acts 4:23).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus clearly stated “He who is not for Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23). He would elaborate on the manifestation of the opposition to His witnesses elsewhere in the gospels (see also Matthew 5:11-12, Luke 21:12, John 15:20, John 16:1-2). In light of the Lord’s instruction, the disciples therefore would have expected this push back.

Upon reporting about the great work of God amidst the great opposition of man, Peter, John and the other disciples prayed, lifting their voices to God in one accord (Acts 4:23-30). Part of this prayer acknowledges opposition to God’s plans and purposes, as they quote from Psalm 2:

“Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Anointed One [Messiah]” (Acts 4:25-26).

It’s evident from their prayer that the disciples understood opposition to God’s plans and purposes not only from Jesus’ teaching, but from the Bible itself, which at that time was strictly the Old Testament.

As they acknowledge the present opposition to their testimony, they cry out for boldness and courage:

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:27-29).

God answers their prayer immediately and powerfully:

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Prayer is essential for overcoming opposition to our witness.

Without Jesus we can nothing (John 15:5), but through Christ and in His power, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13), including witnessing in the midst of opposition.

Overcoming opposition in our witness includes utterly depending on the Lord in prayer. Yes, fear is real. Rejection is a possibility. Opposition is a certainty.  But remember, their salvation is more important than our safety! And in the midst of it all, you and I have all the resources we need to accomplish all God calls us to. For His Grace is sufficient…and God is faithful.

Lessons from Acts: The Clash of Light and Darkness

Growing up in the Tampa Bay area in Florida, lightning was a common occurrence. In fact, Tampa Bay is known as the lightning capital of the nation. In June, 1993, more than 21,000 cloud-to-ground lightning flashes occurred within a 50-mile radius of Tampa Bay. In June 1994, the number of flashes rose to an incredible 50,000. And you know what? Every one of them happened in a flash!

I actually like to experience thunder storms, particularly at night. For lightning has an unparalleled capacity to engage the night and expose things normally shrouded in darkness. This exposure is quite amazing.

Spiritual light is also quite amazing in its’ own right, revealing both truth and exposing darkness. And in the spiritual, whenever light exposes darkness, there is a reaction and a response.

The scene is Acts 3 – Peter and John are at the temple, when a lame man asks them for alms just before the enter the temple (Acts 3:1-3):

“And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 2:4-10)

How is it a man lame his entire life is healed…in a flash? It was by the same power that controls the clouds and makes the lightning – the power of God (Job 37:11,15; Matthew 8:23-27).

Peter explains: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:12, 16).

Peter goes on to proclaim the gospel (Acts 3:17-26) to this captivated audience. In one sense you would think this miraculous work would result in unanimous approval. A lame man healed – this is awesome, right? Well, not so fast! You see, this miracle was done in Jesus’ name, and the name above all names creates a reaction and response unlike any other name.

For the spiritual light of the gospel brings revelation and conviction, resulting in salvation for some. Yet, for others, this revelation and conviction results in rejection and even vehement opposition to the light:

“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” (Acts 4:1-4)

It was not the miracle that offended the religious leadership. Rather, it was the message behind the miracle, and more specifically, the name behind the message! Because Jesus is at the core of the gospel message. For Jesus is the rock of salvation that leads to liberation and life for those who believe. But for those who oppose and reject Jesus, He is a rock of offense that leads to condemnation and judgement.

This is the clash of light and darkness.

Following Jesus is to walk in the light: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Rejecting Jesus is to continue in darkness: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).

As you live for the Lord and seek to shine the light of Christ, understand the clash. Expect the clash, and forge on in the midst of the clash. Remember, while many will run from the light, some will walk into the light and be saved! Hallelujah.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Lessons from Acts: The Witness of Community

When we think of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of the church going to out and engaging the lost. For we understand the Great Commission, when Jesus told his followers in Matthew 28, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.”

What we may overlook in the evangelistic process is not ‘the church going out,’ but ‘the church being the church.’ Let me explain.

While Jesus was giving His final marching orders just before His arrest and crucifixion in what we know commonly as the ‘Upper Room Discourse,’ He said:

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Here we get a hint into the upcoming corporate witness of the believing community of Jesus followers. For one of the distinguishing characteristics of their witness to the world would simply be their love for one another. Simple, yes. Profound, yes. Easy…not so much.

And two thousand years later we can identify. Can I get an amen?

You see, Jesus knew a community united would be powerful and effective, a community divided weak and ineffective.

I have witnessed this reality in my own Christian experience. Thinking back to the 1990’s just before entering vocational Christian work for the first time, a good friend gave me forewarning. He said, “Larry, the most difficult thing about ministry will not be your outreach, it will be getting along with your co-laborers!” And I have learned, over and over again, sometimes painfully so, that a house divided cannot stand! Perhaps you’ve also experienced this as you’ve sought to function in a local church family or ministry organization. But a house united is powerful. And the power behind that unity is love, the love of God expressed through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the church is born in Acts 2, we see 3000 people baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Immediately following, Jesus’ words from John 13:35 will come into clearer focus:

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

It is challenging to comprehend the love these early believers had for one another, because in our contemporary church, we’re not of ‘one accord.’ Yet, we see the standard and ought strive to ‘do life together,’ loving one another. And for what purpose?

That they may know?

‘They’ referring to those who’ve not yet met the Savior. It seems to me our saltiness and brightness (Matthew 5:13-16) is somewhat connected to our love for one another. And yes, as individuals we strive to be salt and light. Yet, our saltiness and brightness also contains a corporate component because you and I are part of one body – called the Church. You can study a bit of the functioning of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31.

And that body will most effectively function when moving in a coordinated effort – that effort being driven again by love. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul shows the way of love in the ‘love chapter’ – 1 Corinthians 13. And in this section of the chapter he cuts to the core of the matter of love:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

In Acts 2 that corporate witness of the church characterized by love was incredibly powerful and attractive. The effect of that loving community of faith resulted in the church finding ‘favor with all the people’ and ‘the Lord adding to the church daily those who were being saved’ (Acts 2:47).

The Power of Love for you and I is to live out the Sweet Song of Salvation – united, engaged, and committed to the effort of the body – that they may know! This thrust is characterized by love and the first example of this corporate love and witness is seen in Acts 2.

What does it mean for you and I to fulfill this command to ‘love one another?’ That is a matter of prayer. It Certainly it looks different in application for each of us, but the principles are overarching as we see.

May we grow in our love for one another, that they may know we are His disciples – to the end that some would come to know Jesus personally! Amen!

Lessons from Acts: The Power of His Witness

Sharing Jesus is a team thing! While we may think evangelism a solo activity, it is actually done in tandem with the Holy Spirit. In fact, no matter how, when, or to whom you’re witnessing, the Lord is always with you. As Jesus taught the disciples just before He ascended into heaven:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As we learned from Acts 1:8, the disciples’ power to witness would come from the Holy Spirit.

Now in Acts 2, His promise comes to fruition as the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost, also known as the Jewish feast of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-22):

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).

And what were the disciples saying in the power of the Spirit? ‘The wonderful works of God’ (Acts 2:13; see also Acts 10:46, ). And not only that, their testimony was uttered in the various languages of the multitudes, as Jewish people from all over the known who would have been in Jerusalem for the feast (Acts 2:5-6).

Yes, the birth of the church started off with a bang – shock and awe we might say! God working mightily in and through His people.

Additionally, we see this collaboration in God’s redemptive work later elucidated by the Apostle Paul as he addressed the church in Corinth:

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Though Paul addressed this letter to the church in Corinth, this ministry of reconciliation remains a priority for God’s people. And while we should have a heart that breaks for the lost, how much more the Lord’s heart for lost sinners – for He is ‘longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9; see also Matthew 9:35-38).

As the ‘wonderful works of God’ were uttered by those Spirit-filled believers in Acts 2, the goal and hope of that witness would result in people being reconciled to God. And what of the response?

The response to a powerful gospel witness will be polarizing: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Such was the case in Acts 2 and we’ll see in the entire book as we continue our studies. And such will be the case in your life and mine as we seek to share Jesus with others.

Polarization is illustrated as the initial response to the testimony of the disciples is confusion (Acts 2:6), amazement and perplexity (Acts 2:12). Some wanted to understand, while others responded mockingly: “They are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13).

Peter stands up and clarifies what’s happening (Acts 2:14-21), then proceeds to share the good news of Messiah Jesus (Acts 2:22-40) in the power of the Holy Spirit (see John 15:26).

For Peter’s power in that day is our power to witness today. As Peter spoke, God moved. You see, ultimately it is the power of the Holy Spirit that does the work of conviction, righteousness and judgement:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” (John 16:7-8).

People will respond to this conviction by rejecting it in unbelief, or responding to it in repentance.

When Stephen gave testimony in Acts 7, the people were ‘cut to the heart’ in Acts 7:54, reject the message and kill him (Acts 7:54-60)!

In response to Peter’s sermon here in Acts 2, when the people are ‘cut to the heart’ in, they want to know what to do! After Peter tells them to repent and be baptized, 3000 received the word with joy and were baptized (Acts 2:37-41)! Hallelujah. It’s important to note the Spirit also does the work of regeneration in the life of the repentant sinner who puts their faith in Christ:

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

So be encouraged! Remember it is the Holy Spirit who is working and witnessing through us – for His glory and for the building of His Kingdom! For His work and His witness are awe-inspiring and worthy of our praise!

“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

Lessons from Acts: The Power to Witness

Power! In the mechanical realm, nothing works without it, One afternoon in mid-August 2003, the lights went out in New York City! In fact, there were 50 million people in the Northeast affected by the blackout. Our family was living in New York City at the time, as we were doing missions work with Jews for Jesus. Can you say interruption! It lasted about 24 hours and when the power went back on the city exhaled with a sigh of relief!

In the spiritual realm, we need power to effectively witness for Jesus.

We may be tempted to believe the power to witness comes from the ‘how to.’ And while the ‘how to’ is important, without the power source, we’ll be like a machine that happens to be unplugged! Certainly the machine called New York City is impotent when unplugged. But when plugged in, New York City is remarkable. In our witness, unless we’re plugged into the power source, we’ll be ineffective. But when plugged into to that power source, we can ‘do all things through Christ who strengthens us’ (Philippians 4:13), including the work of evangelism.

For the Christian, our power source is none other than the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to His disciples just before ascending into heaven:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Evangelism that is fruitful and glorifies God is done in and through the power of God. For Jesus says, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So our personal witness needs to be both Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered.

As believers, God the Holy Spirit, the second person of the trinity, indwells each of us. And it is He who empowers our witness.

The Holy Spirit helps us know what to say. In Luke 12:12 Jesus was teaching the disciples to not fret about what they might say when undergoing persecution, telling them “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” While in our witnessing efforts we do want to strive to ‘always be ready’ to share when God provides opportunities, we need to also trust in the power of the Spirit to know when and what to share.

The Holy Spirit gives us boldness. After Peter and John had healed a lame man in Acts 3, they were arrested by the Jewish religious leadership (the Sanhedrin) and asked by what power or name they had done it. Peter, ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit,’ then witnessed to them, saying in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Upon their release they went and prayed with other believers, asking God to give them boldness to speak His word.  “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

The same fearful and cowardly Peter who denied the Lord three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest is now a powerful, bold witness for the Lord.

Remember the disciples were of no great pedigree. Jesus didn’t choose the best and brightest, those with the gift of evangelism, to be His witnesses. Rather their gifting was in the power and presence of God. In fact, when the Sanhedrin “perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

And therein lies the key for us as we strive to be powerful witnesses – Spend time with the Lord. Spend time in His Word, spend time in prayer. Remember, a powerful witness is a ‘plugged-in’ witness.

I can tell you that I desperately need the Holy Spirit in my personal witness to others. I need Him to fill me, to empower me, to help me know what to say, and to give me courage. How about you?

Ask Him move mightily in and through all you do in your witness. And ask the Lord to move mightily in the heart of the one to whom you’re witnessing. For it is the Lord who is your power to witness.

Lessons from Acts – an introduction

The power of modeling or setting an example is replete throughout life! As a young tennis player, my idol was American John McEnroe. Johnny ‘Mac’ was the one of the best players in the world in the mid-1980’s and even to this day, is my all-time favorite. My friends and I would try to hit certain shots just like McEnroe, for he was artistic in the way he played the game. His touch and ball control were impeccable – he was poetry in motion. I was inspired to try to play like him – so much so that I used to drive my coach nuts when attempting to hit certain shots just like McEnroe…and miss!

Whatever your passions or interests in life, there are role models who set the standard – people who exemplify how it’s done!

As we think about growing in our witness for Jesus, the book of Acts provides the powerful model of the early church in the evangelistic endeavor. For it is in the book of Acts that the church is born. And it is here in the book of Acts that God uses ordinary people in extraordinary ways to dramatically grow the church. The believers in the early church exemplify powerful and effective witnessing.

Acts records the initial response of believers to the Great Commission and provides information on the first three decades of the church. So there is much to be gleaned from this foundational work, including many lessons that will both inspire and inform our witness.

From beginning to end, this remarkable book is instructive.

For example, in Acts 1:8, the Lord instructs the disciples just before His ascension:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Here we learn that the power to witness comes not from technique or method, but from the Holy Spirit. We’ll say more about that in our next lesson.

And in the last verses of the last chapter (Acts 28:30-31), the book of Acts concludes with the primacy of Paul’s ministry – preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus:

“Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”

Paul’s example of keeping the main thing the main thing in ministry is a good lesson for us – our witness should focus on the Kingdom of God and the person of Christ!

There are a number of other general themes we’ll touch upon during this series as it relates to our witness – including:

– walking by faith

– dealing with persecution

– overcoming fear and aspiring to boldness and courage

– teamwork and the gospel endeavor

– contextualizing without compromising the gospel

– engaging people different than ourselves

– understanding open and closed doors in our witness

– witnessing on the way

– blooming where you’re planted

I would encourage you to read the book of Acts from beginning to end, either this week or ensuing weeks during this series. It’s an exciting read to be sure, for their is never a dull moment in this action-packed adventure chronicling the birth, growth, and expansion of the early Church.

May their example instruct and inspire us to powerfully and boldly live out the Christian life, being salt and light among those who’ve not yet met the Lord.

Lord Jesus, as we begin learning lessons from Acts, grow our witness for Your glory and for the building of Your Kingdom. Amen!