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Gospel Focused In Triumphs and Troubles – Acts 17:1-15

Intro: “To see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed” – InterVarsity vision @ July 2012 Orientation for New Staff

–          Ever since Jesus called a bunch of ordinary fishermen to follow him, the world has never been the same!

  • 12 disciples took the Gospel from Jerusalem and believed it so firmly and devoutly that they all gave their lives for it, for the glory of God and the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Messiah, as the Savior of the World
    • Jesus commissioned and sent out these disciples and the world has never been the same!

–          In the highly acclaimed TV Series “The Bible”, there is the scene where Jesus is calling Peter to follow him

  • Peter asks, “What will we do?” and Jesus replies, “Change the world!”
    • While not biblically accurate, it is certainly true to that Jesus and his disciples changed the world
      • After all, this is why Jesus came – to change the way the world understood life and faith and salvation and God
      • Jesus changed for the world for each person that would follow him, and in doing so he made world changers
        • One at a time – that’s how followers of Jesus have changed the world
          • A prayer, a testimony, a message, a song, a conversation, can have a life changing impact on a person, an eternal consequence for someone, and the world is changed for that one person

–          When we think of being a church on mission, we may see the world and all its problems and become overwhelmed

  • We may even look at our loved ones and our family and friends who need Jesus and think, “What will it take?” or “Who will they listen to?”
    • Dear friends, think about how many people in the Bible said those very same things! And God used them to change the world! How? When they stopped looking at themselves and began looking to God!

–          It is precisely because of how small and helpless we really are that we need to see things the way God does, to see how big He is, and see clearly through the Gospel

  • Friends, for us to be a church on mission, we need to be Gospel Focused all the time!

–          As we will see in the passage, for us to keep on going as a church in the mission of God, we need to be Gospel focused when we haven times of prosperity and also when we face persecution and trials

 

Text: Acts 17:1-15

 

Context: Pastor Robin went through part of Acts 16 last week. We saw the life changing power of the Gospel for 2 women from very different walks of life. Paul and Silas were having fruitful ministry, but the rest of chapter 16 shows us some of the difficulties and pains they faced. In Philippi they had a painful experience:

–          They were beaten with rods and bruised and bloodied, and had been thrown into prison, where they faced the pain of being in stocks that stretched their limbs and cramped their muscles

–          Yet through it all, Jesus Christ had been glorified and consequently they had rejoiced

In Chapter 17, they come to Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia

–          It was a flourishing trade center with a population of 200,000, a hub of commerce and government

–          As we see in this passage, there was more of the same: fruitful ministry and persecution – Let’s look at the triumphs:

 

  1. I.       Being Gospel Focused in our triumphs (vv.1-4, 10-12)

–          Paul must have surely been Gospel focused in deciding to make a 100 mile trip to Thessalonica just after being beaten, bruised, and imprisoned

  • It was a 3 day journey from Philippi to Thessalonica – here it the first lesson we learn about being Gospel focused in our Triumphs is that it:
  1. 1.     Keeps our motivation on God and His Kingdom

–          He goes first to the synagogue (v.1-2), as was his custom

  • Some people have wondered why Paul was going to the Jews if he was supposed to be a light to the Gentiles
    • Yes, Jesus did say to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, and yes, Acts shows us that the Gospel was making that geographical and ethnic progression
      • But that did not mean that as the Gospel moved on from one region to another and one people group to another that the Church just simply crossed it off its to-do list!
  • The mission of the Church was to still be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth! After all, how were they to make disciples if once people “believed” the Church simply moved on in “mission?”
  • Even though Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles, he preached the Gospel to everyone, even to those who persecuted him
    • He had had successful, fruitful ministry among the Gentiles, but still desired for his own people to know that Jesus was the Messiah
    • And even after being run out of town by the Jews, he goes right back to the Jewish synagogue in Berea (v.10)

–          God really convicted me as I read this passage

  • As I transitioned out of the Indian church ministry, I felt that I never needed to look back, and my justification was this:
    • After I graduated from seminary, I told God that I would give my home church a chance, but if and when I felt that it was time to move, I was gone for good and had no reason to be involved anymore…

…I was faithful everyday and I never refused a request…I never grumbled about salary even though I spent so much of my own resources…I was mistreated and criticized by so many people but I kept quiet and never complained…I pioneered and grew youth ministry for the entire country…I did my part!

  • As I have read through Acts and have seen these apostles persevere, I could hear what Paul would’ve said if he were in my shoes:
    • I was faithful everyday, but I’m a slave to Jesus Christ and he gave me the strength…I made tents for the resources I needed and I only asked that the saints meet the needs of their brothers and sisters…I was feared by Christians and despised by Jews, even challenged by “super apostles”, stoned and beaten and left for dead, but Christ’s love compelled me to love and forgive and to press on…I traveled all over the world and discipled leaders and planted churches, but God gave the growth…I did my part only because God gave me the grace to do what He called me to do.
    • I confessed to the Lord, “Who am I to be so selfish about the Gospel and about ministry, to think I can pick and choose, to think I did all this? Lord forgive me for my selfish motivations in ministry and for making it all about me!”
    • We have to constantly be Gospel focused so we can check our motivations and our attitudes and make sure we are on mission for God and His Kingdom, especially when we see the fruit of success

 

–          The second lesson we learn here about being Gospel focused in our Triumphs is that it:

  1. 2.     Keeps our hearts from being dependent on our own strength

–          Paul goes to the synagogue for Sabbath 3 times to reason, explain, prove, and proclaim (v.2-3)

  • Now this was Paul’s forte, his area of greatest expertise, and he utilized his training and skill set to persuade some to join them (v.4)
    • But what did he proclaim? Jesus is the Christ! I don’t believe that Paul in all his expertise would say that he persuaded them with his rhetoric
    • He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, proclaiming the Word of God
    • Paul went right back to the Scriptures in Berea (v.11) and many believed! (v.12)

–          Paul was a heavyweight when it came to stacking up against other Jews, intellectually, academically, and ethnically

  • However, he would later tell the church in Philippi that he considers all of these things as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ

–          When we have success in ministry, we can go either 2 ways:

  • One, we praise God and rejoice and we are humble as we remember that it all about Him
  • Or two, we still praise God, but we start to focus on ourselves an think its about us and what we have done, and then start to put more trust in ourselves, and our focus becomes earthly
    • No matter how much success Paul had, it was the Gospel that fanned his passion for ministry, but it was also his reward
      • Philippians 3:12-14 – “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

–          I remember being in seminary and sitting in my Acts and Pauline class with Dr. Grant Osborne

  • He was challenging us to never stop preaching the Gospel and to no give in to the pleasures and temptations of this world
    • He told us, you can become a famous pastor or theologian, have numerous books and huge churches and ministries, and even make a lot of money, but if we do not live with integrity and have integrity in our ministry, we will have to stand before God ashamed
      • All of these are rubbish, just chaff that will burn one day, compared to hearing those beautiful words, “Well done good and faithful servant!”
      • Lets pray that we never grow tired of our need for God, pray that we will always recognize our dependency on Him, that Jesus and the prize of heaven will be more than enough

–          The third lesson we learn here about being Gospel focused in our Triumphs is that it:

  1. 3.     Keeps our eyes focused on Jesus so we can be courageous

–          Paul had an incredible conversion experience, met by Jesus, and he was never the same

  • This was a man who focused all his life and energy on being perfect under the law, and then in ravaging the church
    • After Jesus found him and commissioned him, Paul became one of the most courageous men the world had seen
      • He was not initially trusted by Christians and was despised by Jews, but he valued his upward calling more than his life – Philip. 3:14
      • Paul was threatened, stoned, beaten, and put in prison, but he stayed the course – Jesus became his joy and passion, his all in all, and he was able to show tremendous courage to preach the Gospel
        • Paul went back to the Jews! He knew the risk but he was focused on Jesus

–          I truly believe that when Paul faced struggles and disappointments, he became discouraged and may have even thought about quitting

  • I think God allowed Paul to have people respond both positively and negatively to the Gospel so that he could be built up in order to withstand those who would tear him down
    • He would need this courage when the troubles of Thessalonica would follow him to Berea (v.13), more of which he would explain in his letter to the Thessalonian church

–          When God grants us success in ministry, it should encourage us to believe Him for who He say He is, and that He will do what He promised to do

  • However, this is not simply to make us feel good about ourselves, but to build in us hope and courage and fortitude
    • Remember, we are filled in order to be emptied again!
    • The apostles focused their eyes on Jesus all the way to martyrdom – they were filled with the courage that comes from Christ being their all in all
    • May our eyes always be fixed on Jesus so we can be courageous in our ministries, during seasons of prosperity and seasons of famine

 

–          As we also see in this passage, the apostles needed to be Gospel focused in times of trouble:

 

  1. II.    Being Gospel Focused in our troubles (vv.5-9, 13-15)

–          Paul was again under the threat of the Jews

  • This was nothing new for Paul and his companions, but they still needed the Gospel to carry on

–          The first lesson we learn here about being Gospel focused in our troubles is that it:

  1. 1.     Reminds us of the cost to follow Jesus

–          The Lord spoke to Ananias concerning Paul in Acts 9: “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” – Acts 9:15-16

  • Paul understood that it would not be easy to follow Jesus and be his minister
  • Even Jesus told his disciples that they would have trouble in this world – John 16:33

–          I have many times questioned God when I face troubles in my life

  • While I know better, I honestly believe that I deserve a good life and to be comfortable
    • When I faced troubles in ministry, I turned to the blame game and didn’t believe that I deserved any of it
      • However, when I focus back on the Gospel, I realize that I deserve nothing more
        • If the world hated Jesus and crucified him, then I should expect the same, to be like him in his sufferings

–          Along with the success Paul had in Thessalonica, he was met with opposition by some Jews (v.5)

  • It seems that a believer named Jason was housing Paul and Silas (v.5-6)
  • The Jews were jealous and pressed the crowd to believe that Paul and his group were “turning the world upside down” and were “acting against the decrees of Caesar” (v.7)
    • Jason had to pay for the group to be released (v.9)
    • In spite of this, Paul picks right up and heads to Berea to continue the ministry (v.10) and troubles came along (v.13-14)
      • It wasn’t as if Paul thought he would be in the clear heading to Berea, but he knew he had to preach Christ no matter what

–          I have to admit that I have faced minimum persecution when it comes to following Jesus, but I understood it a little bit better when I spent time in India with Bible college students who gave up everything to follow Jesus

  • Some of them were banished by their families and were ready to give their lives in order to preach the Gospel to India
    • However, they would not want anyone to feel sorry for them
      • Some of them pointed to something they learned from a minister named Rev. PT Chandapilla

–          Rev. PT Chandapilla was one of the pioneering ministers in the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India

  • He was the principal of Jubilee Memorial Bible College in Chennai, India when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two boys Phillip and Timothy were killed by Hindu extremists in the Indian state of Orissa in January 1999
  • After the school heard of the martyrdom, Rev. Chandapilla shared the following in that morning’s chapel service:
    • “He is the suffering savior…what else can we expect but pain and suffering? This is why the call to be in His steps…the call to be in the steps of the Lord Jesus Christ means buckle yourself up, gird your loins, and get ready to be like him…And who was he? He was the suffering savior…the man of sorrows. What other rights do Christians have on this earth? Christians anywhere have no other rights except to follow the Lord Jesus as the man of sorrows. And my friends, persecution will bring sorrows to us, rightly so, and let it be so we will become part of the one who is known as the man of sorrows, and we shall have heavy sorrows upon our hearts”
    • Rev. Chandapilla was a man who knew sorrows, who lost everything in the world for the Gospel, yet at the end of his life Jesus was sweeter still
    • I hope we always remember the cost of following Jesus, especially as so many of our brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for their faith

 

–          The second lesson we learn here about being Gospel focused in our troubles is that it:

  1. 2.     Reminds us that trials build character and perseverance

–          Paul never relented in his approach to ministry – in fact, he became even more bold as persecution increased and his life was threatened

  • In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
  • In Romans 5:3-5, he says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
  • James also echoed Paul’s sentiment:

James 1:2-3 – “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

–          Some of the most resilient people I have met are those who have suffered, been deprived, and have lost so much

  • Although I desire a comfortable life and want to have everything, I am reminded by the Lord that I cannot empathize and identify with a hurting world with that attitude, so I think, “What can I offer to a hurting world?”
  • We can trust that the trials that God allows are not in vain and are used for His purposes that are bigger than us
    • Paul understood this – He knew that his ministry was not in vain, as he would later write to the Thessalonian church – 1 Thess. 2:1
    • Let’s remember that our trials build character and perseverance in us to continue in ministry

 

–          The third lesson that we learn here from being Gospel focused in our troubles is that it:

  1. 3.     Reminds us of our daily need for a Savior

–          Paul proclaimed Jesus as Messiah – I believe he was preaching to himself also

  • In order to stand firm and persevere, Paul needed to preach the Gospel to himself as much as he preached to others

–          The struggles and the troubles Paul faced were not because he necessarily made mistakes or didn’t follow methodology properly, but it was God’s way of showing him that he still needed Jesus

  • Now understand, Paul knew his theology – he didn’t question whether he was saved or not
    • But the effects of sin we face in this world remind us that we still need Jesus, we still need a Savior, because we cannot battle sin and overcome it on our own
    • There is a Mercy Me song called “Bring The Rain” – The chorus says this:
      • “Bring me joy, bring me peace

Bring the chance to be free

Bring me anything that brings You glory

And I know there’ll be days

When this life brings me pain

But if that’s what it takes to praise You

Jesus, bring the rain”

  • I have not prayed this prayer enough – “Jesus, do whatever it takes for me to trust you, praise you, surrender to you”
    • What would our ministries look like if we asked God to do whatever it took to remind us our daily need of a Savior, that we can’t do it on our own, that we need to be ministered to as much as try to minister to others?
    • Lets pray that we recognize our need for Jesus daily

 

Conclusion: Being Gospel focused keeps our motivation pure, our hearts dependent, and our eyes focused on Jesus

–          It is so easy and so tempting to look at the world and to look at ourselves, but our ministries will not stand

  • In our triumphs and our troubles, we still need the Gospel to help us see clearly, to keep us from being selfish and prideful, and to keep us from losing courage and hope
  • This life with Jesus, it’s a dependent relationship, but that’s ok!
    • Depend of God, depend on His Word, be Gospel focused, turn the world upside down, and change the world!
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