One Living Hope

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Compelled: A Love That Pushes Us Inside-Out (Acts 9:19b-43)

Introduction

Illustration: Has anyone seen the movie Bruce Almighty? If you haven’t seen the movie, I might spoil it for you. In one of the final scenes of the movie, Bruce is hit by a car and meets God in heaven. Up to this point, Bruce has been horribly self-centered, doubted the need for God’s providential intervention and been bad at prayer. Yet the final scene is interesting – he jokes with God and God jokes back. But what God wants is that God wants Bruce to make a decision about what he wants for his girlfriend, Grace. Their brief conversation goes something like this: God says:  Grace. You want her back? Bruce says: No. I want her happy, no matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now, through your eyes. God says: Now, that’s a prayer.

Can you believe it? The Jim Carrey/Morgan Freeman comedy got it. Being compelled by love means is that we see people through God’s eyes, as God sees them. Last time, we looked at Saul’s conversion – a sinner saved by grace- His conversion is the work of supernatural grace. But in today’s text, we get to see stories of people of being compelled. They we’re compelled by the love of God in order to persuade, to influence, to impact others with the gospel. We, as a church, we want to be on mission for the gospel. But there are churches out there that are missing the mission. They are looking for results while loving the wrong things. There are too many churches out there that loves their past culture more than their current context – people still thinks it’s the 1950s or the place where they came from. A church on mission engages people around it. And in some ways, it resembles its context. The other thing is that most churches have worked hard to get to a place where their congregational members are happy- their needs are met. If our church is going to be on mission – what will sustain the mission is not just our love for GOD (though it is important) it’s not just our preaching of the gospel of grace (though it is REALLY important) – what will sustain the mission is our love for the weak, the downtrodden, the common folks, the people around our neighborhood, the people unlike us, the people who have hurt us. We can strategize, we can plan, we can prepare, we can even preach, we can prophecy, we can even speak in tongues, we can do all these things but if we are not called to love; what I mean- if we are not compelled or if Christ’s love doesn’t compels and convinces us that He died for people everywhere. Then the church is not on a mission. Christ’s love compels us- it’s the kind of love that you see when your daughter or son is sick to the stomach and throws up. The love seen here is when I saw my wife cup her hands and to catch my daughter’s vomit so she would not get it all over herself. Instead of me jumping out of the way, the love for my little girl compelled my wife to stay right by her side, letting her know she was not alone and everything was OK. It is this kind of love that will characterize our lives and our church as it becomes our core motivation and driving force in all we do. This is the only love that pushes us inside-out; that His love becomes our way of life. And that love is characterized in three pictures from our passage, this morning.

First,

1) Sent to Love: Put the Gospel first  [v. 19b-30]

Saul, now, converted, a sinner saved by grace, – remember, back in chapter 9:1ff, he had an encounter, this unique, blinding, flashing light, audible voice encounter with the risen Christ – a Christophany – a fancy word for the appearance of Christ. In the bible, you have theophanies – which means God appearing – whenever somebody has this theophanies or Christophanies – you know what they do – they fall on their face. They fall on their face because they had an encounter. And Saul – had this unique appearance of Christ – this encounter. This encounter was his conversion.  So, Christian conversion is never just, we hear this all the time, but it’s never just – I had a religious experience one time, I feel so spiritual, I had this warm presence in my heart. Or, Christian conversion is never simply getting better. I want to get better. Get the best life now No! Christian conversion always involves a glimpse of Christ. It’s a glimpse of Christ that makes us attracted to Him, to make us drawn to His forgiveness, to see hope and the mercy of Christ because — God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17). Jesus was sent to save. God so loved the world that he gave his unique son so that the world does not perish…(John 3:16). Paul says, “it is a reliable saying, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…so, the primary goal of God sending His Son to the world was not to condemn but to save. John Calvin writes, “The Heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish” See, what made Jesus a man in mission? The Father. What made Saul, a man in mission? The Son. What makes you and I in mission? The Son. Anybody who actually met Jesus, met God and seen who they really are is completely changed. If you think your religion is a private matter, you haven’t met him. God never pulls you in to bless you without sending you out.

And here in this passage, 9:19b-30, we see Saul’s remarkable transformation that is tied to his mission. The word on the street in v. 21 – was that he was a walking chaos, brings destruction, brings disruption, and now, by God’s grace, he brings with him havoc of a different kind- it use to be a havoc that destroys the church, drag out Christians but now, v. 20 &22, he is making a havoc in preaching Christ. He has gone from the one who brings utter havoc upon the church to the one who is now given wisdom, knowledge, and boldness form the Holy Spirit so that he creates havoc among the opponents of the cross. The one who is breathing murder and threats to the Christians now breathing the life of Christ; the one who was going into synagogues dragging Christians now declaring Christ in the synagogues. The way that he had been scheming to kill Christians but now, his friends are now scheming to kill him (look v. 23- the Jews plotted, they planned it out, strategized to kill him; v.24- they were watching the gate- how frequent? Day and night- these people were serious. It wasn’t just a matter of them making a simple outburst but they were plotting, planning, watching the gate – has Saul come today? Did he come out today? Have you seen him today? – to ambush him, to kill him; v.29 – they seeking to kill him).

Are you going to prioritize the gospel even if it means it will cost your life? Don’t think it’s impossible that people you think to be your absolute, closest friends could turn on you when you turn to Christ. Jesus warns against this. In many ways, it’s wonderful, it’s beautiful to see people come to Christ and it even more wonderful to see family, fathers, mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends can all celebrate with your discovery of Christ but it’s not always like that – in fact, Jesus has often says ‘to become a Christian, it will divide father against children, brother against sister, friend against friend[1]– and here, people who Saul thought to be the closest friends turned on him because he turned to Christ.  But what was Saul doing that his friends – his Jewish friends – that prompted them to plan and plot to kill him?

He was proclaiming and proving Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. Look at the text: v. 20; v. 27&28 – when he was at Jerusalem, when Barnabas encouraged him – what did he do – he preached boldly. This is the heart of Saul’s new worldview. It’s how he sees things now. He was proclaiming Jesus is the MESSIAH, the hated, the rejected, the crucified criminal, is the SON OF GOD.

Now, if you notice, before his conversion, all the way back in chapter 9:5- the last words before his conversion was “Who are you Lord” and now, the first words we hear coming from his mouth isn’t threats but Jesus is the Messiah, the SON OF GOD. What does Luke want to show us? Many people around the world thinks Jesus was a good moral teacher, even a great teacher. Some say He was a revolutionary. Hindus say that He was someone who was enlightened but they don’t not believe that He was God but feels that every human has this inner god-consciousness as Deepak Chopra will say- “it’s Christ consciousness, God-consciousness, Krishna consciousness-it’s all the same thing”[2] Buddhist says that He was very influential, did some good things, heal the sick, feed the poor but not divine; that he was not God. Muslims say that He was a great prophet; they have regard for Him but only a man, and nothing more. He’s not the Savior of the world and certainly not a God or the “Son of God” An author says this once, how true it is, J.C. Ryle says, “No person ever thought too much of Christ”- Yet Paul’s new vision; his new worldview is that Jesus is the Christ- is the Messiah, the Son of God. This is foundational in how we understand the gospel. It has to begin with God. It has to begin with Christ. B.B. Warfield, his writings also influenced me greatly, says that the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace; in other words, the gospel is only good news if it announces what GOD has done to save sinners.  This is where Christianity begins. That the deity, the fullness of God, the deity of Jesus Christ is the foundation for everything that follows. The gospel stands or falls by grace. AND Saul is proclaiming Jesus is the Christ-Messiah, the Son of GOD. And for Paul/Saul, this was foundational to being a Christian and foundational to the rest of his life as the greatest missionary who ever lived. Jesus is the Son of God[3]. [Read Gal 2:20]

If you notice, what he proclaimed became his mission-he prioritized the gospel, putting the gospel first. I mean, what happened to Paul after his conversion that enabled his growth as a believer and prioritized the gospel at all costs? What led to his remarkable transformation? Turn with me to Gal 1:11-24- v.15&16– remember, he was a chosen instrument (ACTS 9:15), called by God’s grace because God was pleased to reveal who – the SON to me…he came to understand grace, that God’s sovereign grace, “it pleased God” God shed his love on Paul not because he was worthy of it but simply because God took pleasure in doing so. God’s love was placed on him way before-hand Saul even chose God. That’s good news because you know why —because it shapes you, it prepares you for life to face anything, for all of the things that God is going to call you to do. See the grace of God – God chose you. You are a Christian because not some decision you made, but because God placed his love on you- that God chose you before you even chose him. Not because you are perfect. Not because you can preach well. Not because you have a model family. Not because you kept all the rules. Not because of your broken-ness to be used by God BUT because HE chose you, he sends you out. Maybe some of you feel that God is far away from you and how in the world can I be used to reveal Christ- God chose you. Maybe some of you are struggling because of life, there is some sort sin issue that your dealing, that’s paralyzing you, it doesn’t matter – God chose you. Maybe some of you are doubting Christ as the Savior of the world – if he was the Savior, why is He so silent, maybe there are some deep failures in your life – it doesn’t matter – God is preparing you to understand His grace. For Paul, God used his past experiences, his failures to prepare him first for his conversion and then to be a missionary, a preacher to the gentiles. His knowledge of the OT, zeal, training, and work was all used by God to break him and to prepare him to be God’s instrument. So, the calling of God wasn’t a last min intervention by God to stop an enemy, rather he had been working all along to use Paul to establish the very faith he had opposed (v23). We read that God was pleased to reveal His son in me so that I might preach – why is he preaching after his conversion? – so that he might show Christ to others. He was sent to show Christ to others. On the one hand – God revealed to Jesus to Paul on the road and there he finally realized who Jesus was. He had an encounter with the living Christ. But Paul then realizes that HE was being called to show others who Jesus was. Darrell Bock says “Saul’s transformation was not rooted in his conversion in the sense that Saul did something. It was, rather, that he was overwhelmed by God’s grace.” Are you overwhelmed by God’s grace no matter what season of life you’re in? God revealed Christ to Paul so that he could reveal Christ through Paul. In other words, we, as a church, has a responsibility to reveal Christ; whether we preach from the pulpit or in our neighborhoods, or in our workplaces- to show Christ to others around us through what we are, through what we do and what we say. The gospel that changes us and renews us, always pushes us out into the world so that we can reveal Christ, the Son of God to others.

So, not only prioritizing the gospel or putting the gospel first, but also we are to remember Father’s heart- that his heart is not just turned toward us but also towards others– and that’s the second point.

2) Searching Love: The Father’s heart for each other and us [v. 32-34]

This short section tells much about very nature of God and the heart for His church. We can easily create a Christian bubble. We can work very hard to insulate ourselves from the very world Jesus says we should be focused on. A Christian bubble, where we have Christian friends, where we have Christians surrounding each other – that’s a good thing but what we find is that have difficulty in loving others who are not within our Christian bubble. As tragically as I can put it- one of the most convicting things that I realized as I was preparing is how many non-Christian friends do I really have? I mean, friends! Do I have the weight, the significance, the love, the sincerity, the openness, the freedom that I have with my Christian friends as with my non-Christian friends? Yes, it’s important to be wise, it’s important to set boundaries and thing like that but I if our church is going to be a church on mission – are we living in Christian bubble?

Now, this short section, we get re-introduced with Peter. Remember, now, all of the explosion of the gospel came from non-apostles – after Stephen’s speech, what happens – Philip gospelize Samaria- then Luke narrates individual conversions – like that of Ethiopian, then Saul – who is going to be vital instrument of spreading the gospel to the Gentiles and then, the next chapter – Peter will come with face to face with a Roman soldier. Luke is setting us up to hear the proclamation of the gospel is moving further and further away from Jerusalem bubble to the Gentile territory. And here, Peter is traveling through the region. Now, this is important because most of the apostles were in Jerusalem. It’s funny because Jesus had sent them into the entire world, to be his witnesses with the gospel but they had gotten entrenched in Jerusalem. BUT Peter is making his way- the movement of God’s spirit leading people out from their bubble.

And here, in this scene we meet a man- we are not told if he was a Christian but I believe he was a Christian by looking at the context – Peter is visiting the saints who lived in Lydda and if he did convert after his healing, then Luke would have told us. We meet a man named Aeneas. We don’t know much about this man but he’s bedridden and paralyzed for 8 years. And Peter says, “Aenaeas, Jesus Christ heals you. Rise and make your bed” His healing was immediate, it’s dramatic, it’s definitive. And right after his healing, he is told to make your bed. It means, “spread for your self”- since he is restored, he can make his bed. Now, this is one of the reasons why I am skeptical of TV preachers who have healing ministries- I’m not saying that God couldn’t heal or God couldn’t do amazing things today in the same power but when you see apostles healing, it’s not someone who says I have a back problem & all of the sudden their back is perfectly fine but these are dramatic things – like the blind people see, these obvious public things, people who were paralyzed, now walk, they make their bed now, people who were dead, now live. There was a unique power and authority given to the apostles. That’s what Luke 9:1 says – that was a specific power & authority given to the 12. I am not saying that we don’t pray for these things or miracles can’t happen- they can, they do but the danger is saying to ourselves – man – I don’t have enough faith, lest we become cynical. We have to remember there was something unique about the apostles and their era and that Jesus gave to them authority, this ability. BUT when Peter says, “Jesus Christ heals you” you need to see God’s heart. What do I mean by that?

Now, we live in the western part of the world and most of us have come from the eastern side but I want you to know that when we hear someone coming from the Eastern side of the world, and having them talk religion, they say, “everything is God, you’re god. Your divine, eternal and beautiful,” you have to realize what they’re saying is they are not talking about the Christian concept of God but an Eastern concept of God. That concept of god is so impersonal yet there is a divine presence over, under, around and through everything. That is not what Christianity is talking about when it talks about God. When Peter says, Jesus Christ heals us – he is saying – the God of the Christians, specifically Jesus Christ – they talk about a personal God, a God who thinks, feels, rejoices, grieves, acts and yet, though personal, is supremely lives above space and time. Infinitely exalted above the world yet deeply personal – so personal that he incorporates you into his mission. He can incorporate you into his business, his work – which is to heal the brokenness and restoring the brokenness of this world and of the human community. He can incorporate you into that work until we all stand at his throne and rule and reign with him. This is so different than any other religion in the world. Very different! On that Day, when we get to His glory, we will not become him; we will become like him. Not only that, on that Day, we will gain a glorious self, we will get a new body that is not paralyzed with sin; this is the heart of our Father. He’s looking to redeem the world. He is looking to redeem you. What he is looking for- the goal of his love is healing the wounded. Those who are so crushed in their sins. You might be wounded with things – like how your family raised you, maybe your experiencing neglect from your wife or husband, maybe you have an anger that has been wounding you, maybe it’s your in-laws and their expectation, maybe it’s your sibling, your sister or your brother- going through difficult time, maybe some of you were abused….you might be wounded but his love, the goal of his love is to heal your wounds- God is pleading His case through you by His loving heart. Henry Blackaby says, “God is always at work. He is working to bring about world redemption through His Son.” God is at work that was seen at the cross because Christ was crushed, was wounded for sins – do you want to know how to overcome the self-pity in your life, the depression, the jealousy, the fear, the worry? It’s living in his love. To remain in his love means – the great debt has been paid. The great disease has been healed. The great relationship has already been sealed. And all other debts, and all other diseases and all other broken relationship are small compared to the great disease of sin being totally healed.

Pastor Tim Keller says this, “The love that created the world is the furnace in which you were forged. It was the consuming fire, the eternal and infinite fire of the love of God. The Bible says that’s where you were created, and therefore, because you were created in that kind of fire, there is no other kind of love that can warm your heart. There is no other kind of love that can melt and keep you soft…His infinite, eternal love is the only thing you can have that you need. Otherwise, you’re shivering in the cold.”

Thirdly,

3) Dying Love: Christ’s life for yours [v.36-41]

The next scene opens up with a disciple, a place called Joppa- The city of Lydda is on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa- so, by foot, it took a day, Joppa was a far more Gentile city than Lydda, so, in Joppa, we meet a woman disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas. It’s seems like a funny name, it’s not dork but it’s Dorcas. It’s a Greek name and Tabitha is the Aaramic name-, which means gazelle, which speaks of grace, beauty, power, elegance, and strength. So she was elegant lady with strength and beauty – gazelle.

Now, I don’t know about you guys but do you guys often think about how you want to be remembered when your gone. We may be forgotten as time goes by, some will pass out stories and down through the times- the description of our lives might be only one sentence. And the woman, here in this passage, the only female who is referenced as a disciple, is described as “she was full of good works and acts of charity” She might be very wealthy, the acts of charity that she does, supported many people. She had a reputation for always doing good and helping the poor. She ministered well to the needy. And what we find is that she became ill and she died. They laid her in the upper room and they found out that Peter was in town. So, they said to him – “Oh please come, don’t delay, we want you to come to us really quickly”. Peter comes to Joppa, went to the house and finds all her friends (the widows) crying loudly, gathering together, sharing stories– telling him – “look what she made for me. She made this tunic for me, she made this robe for me, this clothing for me. I remember when she prayed for me. I remember she made blanket for my son.” These widows have great affection for her.

And how tender a scene is when Peter goes in, kneels and prays- “Tabitha- beautiful, rise, Tabitha, get up.” This is the same verb that most frequently associated with the resurrection of Jesus. Peter depending upon the risen Christ, Peter calls the dead to rise. And by the miracle of God’s power, she sits up and look up and Peter grabs her by the hand. What a scene that is? “Alright everybody, come back in – meet your beloved Tabitha.” There must have been tears flowing, there must have been hugs, affectionate kisses, she’s alive. Peter presents her alive. She was dead but now alive.

Now, the words, dying and love, don’t seem to go together, yet at times, a great sacrifice is involved with love. Love isn’t simply daisies, poetry and the pretty things of life. The most dramatic examples of love often involve death.

See, we don’t come to church to be good people, do nice things, or stay out of trouble. The Christian faith is not just to help us overcome certain emotional dysfunctions, solve relational issues and handle career crisis – that might be the result but the Bible reminds us that the absolute, most powerful display of love – seen best expressed in the cross. It is Christ’s life for yours. His death becomes your life- your resurrected life. See, if you are here this morning saying, “The Son of God was born, he died, he was raised, he ascended, and he’s coming again, that doesn’t make you a Christian. But if you say, The Son of God was born for me, he died for me, he was raised for me, he was ascended to the right hand of the Father for me, and he’s going to come again for me,” that’s the essence of Christianity.

Look with me 1 Cor 15:3-6 &14, Paul says, if Christ had not been raised, your faith is useless[4]. What is Paul saying here, if Jesus Christ was raised from the dead- then that changes everything. It changes the way we look at ourselves, the way we look at our neighbors – But if Christ was not raised, then Christianity has nothing to say, no hope, no exhortation, nothing. It’s either-or, it’s all or nothing.  And when the disciples came along, all 12 of them, and they said, “We have seen the Lord. He is risen,” the average person would say, “Well of course you would say that. That’s the way for you to get your movement going. That’s the way for you to keep your power. That’s the way for you to keep your institution.” But when 500 people showed up and they said, “We saw him,” imagine the impact of that. With 12 you can create a hoax but with 500 people, it’s too big, you can’t make this up. Somebody would tell. And this explains the reason why gospel exploded. The reason the gospel spread, the reason Christianity ever got off the ground was a bunch of people got together and said, “It happened. Somebody took on death single-handedly and won. We’ve seen him with our own eyes.” His dying love is His life for us. His death and resurrection; they go together. It’s important for your salvation, for your forgiveness of sins, for your acceptance with God.

But all of these three stories of miracle tell us about the gospel – the good news. Saul who was blind but now can see because of the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him. Aeneas paralyzed, sick but completely healed. And Tabitha/Dorcas was dead but alive; all of these stories resounds the gospel. And at the end of each story, what we find is a summary statement after these miracles. It says in v. 31- after Saul prioritizing the gospel – so the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was being built up…it goes on to say – it multiplied. In the scene with Aeneas – v.35 – all of the residents of Lydda and the Sharon region turned to the Lord. The scene with Tabitha – v. 42-…many believed in the Lord.

And looking at this chapter, I found it very challenging to preach this text and if you are like me, we read the book of Acts and see all of these miracles, these growth, it’s encouraging but I know its my heart but it turns quickly to discouragement. I start to think, man, I really haven’t seen any miracles, we have been growing as a church but I would love to see dramatic conversions, it is sweet to have a terrorist come to know the Lord or dead people come alive – that would be sweet. I know some people who I like to see walk, or blind people to see, or dead people, I wish I could hug again…I had no idea how to preach on this text, not b/c I don’t believe it or believe that they happened but because I thought- what do we do with them? What do we say? GREAT. IT”S a MIRACLE. More miracles from the apostles; I believe it! I don’t doubt it. BUT it seems very discouraging to see miracles in Acts, people coming to know the Lord, thousands of people being converted…and then we see our lives – we seem ‘em pretty plain and simple, dull. But I realized that being a Christian is a miracle. It is an absolute miracle that God loves me a person like me. It’s like the movie The Fisher King– Amanda Plummers plays this shy-kinda girl, a klutz. She has no friends. Robin Williams takes her out. At the end of the date he says, “Let’s come in; I want to talk to you,” and she says, “Nuh-uh, nuh-uh. If you got to know me, you won’t like me. I’m tired of rejection. It was nice to go out, but everybody who gets to know me doesn’t like me, so thanks.” Robin Williams says, “I do know you. I know you think you’re awkward. I know you think you’re clumsy. I know you are kind of clumsy, but I want you to know that I know who you are and I love you, and I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.” She looks at him, and she can’t believe what this person is saying. She says, “Are you real? This is a miracle that you love me.” A real Christian is a person who says, “It is an absolute miracle that God loves me. It’s just a miracle that I’m a Christian.”Because the real God saw love to the whole world yet He gave His Son all of His wrath and fury, he looked at us with compassion, people who are more sinful than we would possibly admit, he took all of His wrath so that there is no more left for us. And now, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Nothing can charge you. Your record is clean. And the mark of knowing God is seeing that God’s love for you is a miracle. The blind sees, the sick healed, and the dead, alive. That’s your miracle. The most loving act in human history- we should be compelled to love others as Christ loved us, people like you and I.

Let’s pray.

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