One Living Hope

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Preserving Grace for Gospel Perseverance – Acts 18:1-22

Introduction

For the past 14 weeks, we have been looking at sermon series called Pulled In, Pushed Out: A Church on Mission. Basically, we are pulled into the gospel because it’s good news. It’s good news because it is all about what God has done to get us salvation through Jesus Christ in history. So it pulls us in. But it is also much more than that. When God’s grace is working on us and in us, it will also work through us. So, the gospel pushes us out. In other words, the gospel is not just the answer to your sins, your struggles and heart idols. It is also the answer to your failure in loving others, engaging the culture around us and living missionally;

And this morning passage deals with gospel renewal as it propels us to engage with the people around us by looking at-gospel perseverance- how in the world does the gospel enable you to keep going, how does it enable you to persevere especially in light of how much we deserve pain-free, trouble-free lives. In other words – how can we keep on loving and serving people when life becomes difficulty and disappointment? It’s a very important question for us, isn’t it?

But before we get into that question – let me give you some background to give us a window to see where we are in the book of Acts. We are in Acts 18- and Paul has been traveling a lot to many cities – like Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and now he comes to Corinth. And Corinth is a big city- just like Chicago/NY. And this city has all kinds of people, of different classes and races because the location of this city is perfect for people to come from many different locations, because it is a seaport, perfect for buying and selling trade, good business. But it is also a city that is highly perverted in their behavior. Corinth was the center of prostitution, sex, corruption, and perversion- through their pagan gods- it has been said that they had 1000 temple prostitutes ready to do business with the sailors that were coming to the seaport. It is part of their lifestyle. In light of all this – Paul comes to Corinth with many discouragements, fears, and difficulty. And this passage reminds us that it is not an easy time to be a Christian. It’s not meant to be easy. But if we are going to be a church on a mission- are we going to keep going when the going gets tough? Are we going to keep on loving, serving, showing Christ (crucified, raised yet reigning Christ) to people when our life becomes hard and disappointing? And from our passage this morning, we will be looking at perseverance in two ways: First, the characteristic of perseverance and second, the motivation for perseverance.

 

1) First, the characteristic of gospel perseverance – the heart of perseverance –So, the first characteristic of gospel perseverance is…

A) Persisting (lingering, holding on, keep on, staying) in the gospelvv. 1-5

You notice that Paul comes to Corinth. His journey in carrying the gospel mission has been the most challenging to him- he has been experiencing great difficulty. And he comes to Corinth, and what he faces is opposition.

Just pause here for a moment. I mean, throughout the book of Acts- esp from Acts 9 onwards- we see this man facing opposition. Everywhere he went, there is opposition and it’s not decreasing, it is actually increasing. It’s getting worse. If you causally browse all the chapters before 17, we can see some of the difficulties that Paul experienced. When Paul went to Pamphylia, that’s where John Mark left him[1], to Antioch – that’s where he was opposed and got kicked out of the city[2]. Same thing happened at Iconium, at Lystra- where he was stoned, then, we find Paul and Silas thrown into prison[3] – then at Athens[4]– he experienced pathetic results, – the place where he brilliantly communicated and defended the gospel in ways that only Paul can yet what we find at the end of the story: only few believed. And then, he comes to a city like Corinth – I’m sure he must have a sense of discouragement, depression[5], disappointment in ministry because people everywhere were opposing him, slandering him and his ministry is only producing meager, poor results but not only that in Acts 18:5- notice that he is experiencing loneliness because both Silas and Timothy had to come to Corinth from Macedonia. Why? Because Paul left them there to teach them the Bible so that he can travel, plant and strengthen churches. And on top of this, Paul had to find a Jewish couple; he had to work, he had to support himself so he teamed up with Aquila and Priscilla, so financially, he’s really thin and dry.  – Yet Paul didn’t come to Corinth with eloquence or superior wisdom like in Athens, he came to Corinth with disappointments, discouragements, fear and trembling, being beat up, opposed, being the lone ranger, no money, yet in spite of all that, he resolved to know nothing except Christ (1 Cor 2:1-2 –that’s what we read in his letter to the Corinthians) – How in the world is he persevering in the midst of his discouragements? Notice Paul in Acts 18:4-5(read)– we see him reasoning as in dialoguing, engaging in conversation, discussing and also he is persuading others- only because he has been persuaded. The word “persuade” is an interesting word – it’s connected to the word belief or to trust – that is – you are absolutely convinced of something that you can actually put your confident in, you can be certain for this confidence – It’s what you can trust – you are so persuaded by it such that you can’t help but to persuade others. And Paul kept on persuading and dialoguing? Why was he persistent? What was he trying to persuade? – Why was he trying to persuade? You can see the heart of perseverance as we read in v. 5- that Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus– Paul was so occupied- literally it means he was so absorbed with, so devoted to, so occupied with Christ. He resolved to know nothing except Christ. That led him to testify – the goal or the object of your preaching is Christ– he’s saying…that you can be absolutely be convinced that he is the person that you can actually put your confidence in, it is that certain.  He was so occupied, so absorbed with the gospel that he couldn’t help but to persistently tell or to persuade the gospel to others.  Paul persisted in being so occupied with the gospel at the center of his deepest desires, hope and longing no matter what he faced.

Maybe you are experiencing some of the most difficult times that you have ever experienced in your life- maybe you are trying to find a job—all you are doing is applying and applying and finding out that nobody is calling you, maybe your trying to get married but haven’t found THE ONE yet- Maybe you are experiencing some great opposition from people that are so close to you- it could be your co-workers, it could be your friends, or it could be your family- just opposition that really hinders you, makes life difficult because you know that there are no grey areas for you. Maybe you are experiencing depression – you feel like your life is inadequate, not fulfilled yet, constantly searching and being restless, wondering why in the world is my life still not changing for the better, even your past is coming down to haunt you, parenting is becoming hard and harder- constantly managing kids, spouse, just stubbornly depressed about life- the flatness of life is just killing you Or maybe you try so hard to be productive, you feel like if you are not productive enough, then life is just meaningless and all you are seeing is pitiful results.  I mean– think about Paul – he could have easily said – man “who need this?  I had a great life in Jerusalem. There I was somebody. I set out to serve Jesus Christ and He promised a lot of things but man, I’m abused, I’m hounded, I’m stoned, beaten and imprisoned…I can do without this” – Paul could have said this…but if you are like me– feeling so discouraged about life, accomplishments – what have I really accomplished…nothing. As I was trying to apply for a teaching position at COD, one department chair put it like – “Jiju, we don’t even recognize your Masters of Divinity –what does that even mean” I was like GREAT – I thought to myself – man…what a disappointment…I didn’t even have to do this, I should have continued in math & computer science after I graduated – I could have made a lot of money…I could have done a lot with my life” and you can’t help but to ask yourself – why is it so hard to relentlessly put my confidence in the gospel (are you asking that) or why is it so hard to keep going…

BUT being persistent is at the very heart of the gospel. Persistence never guarantees you that your life situation or your circumstance would change for the better, your child may not be healed or you may not get what you asked for…persistence doesn’t guarantee anything…but it does promise you that you will get something better and more closer to your heart’s deepest desire. Look at the life of Jesus- Look at how he died- Look at how he suffered! It was not only a painful death but people mocked him; they shamed him. They publicly humiliated him. It looked like a great defeat. He had to go through so much difficulty. He had to go through pain to accomplish His purpose. And that purpose was to purchase you and I. But look at how He did this- or more specifically where He did this? The book of Hebrews reminds us[6] that he suffered outside the city gate; outside the camp! Why is that important? Because outside of the city is where the garbage went, where the waste went, that’s where unholy things were thrown out. That’s where the bodies of the animals were burned. It’s a place of dishonor. But Jesus “bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood. Sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah, What a Savior?” Living Hope, do we even know how great is our Savior? Jesus’ persistence for you can make all the difference in your life even as you go through your worst difficulties imaginable.  He turned the cross from the most ugly & cursed thing that anyone could endure into one of the most beautiful picture of life and freedom everlasting. And what will happen when you come into contact with him? You will begin to find out that[7]out of our weakness comes real strength, out of the cross comes resurrection, out of repentance and admitting you are weak comes real power. Out of giving away and serving others come real strength- that’s the gospel storyline[8].” It is so counter-intuitive, so counter natural- it’s supernatural- his strength is made perfect in our weakness.  Because His blood that was spilled outside of the city gate is much stronger, only His blood can wash away your unbelief in the gospel that drives your visible sins (fear & pride), only his blood can wash your idolatry for comfort, the need to make money so that you can be important and have influence. His powerful purity made the filthy become bright and radiantly clean. And when you occupy yourselves with this, so absorbed with this gospel – when you are persistently putting your confidence in this gospel, you can’t help but be persuaded by it- you commit to it. You live it out. You rest in it. You stick to it. Then as stick to it no matter what you go through – you become convinced, you are persuaded, and then, you will find certainty in the truth of the gospel – that’s real faith. And that is what Paul is doing – he is reasoning and persuading. No matter how extent or deep is your difficulty or discouragements – the more you live out of the gospel, the more you stick to it. The more you are vulnerable/broken to the person of Jesus, the more real he becomes. The more certain He becomes; the more convinced you would become.

We begin by being persuaded by God, by the fact that He relentlessly is in pursuit of us, –think about it– the rejected lover who never, ever gives up on you, the abandoned father who drags back his wayward children like you and I, sometimes with discipline, but always with kindness; A God who persists  -you know why?  Because the gospel dares us to hope that you can never, ever be so much loved by anyone except Christ – only His love can say to you- the best things are yet to come[9]Yet at the same time, the gospel dares us to believe that we are not strong as we think we are- that we can actually begin to forget about ourselves and be freed from our self-saturated sufficiency. Just as Paul left Athens and came to this perverted, unholy, dishonored city like Corinth – Paul continues to go outside the camp where Christ is- he was rejected, he was abused, discouraged, had fears – those things didn’t go away, it’s still there but he sees something better; he’s on a mission- why? Because he’s looking at the one whose mission cost his life –and if you want to find Jesus, you must join him outside of the city gate. You must join him with your difficulties & discouragements. That’s the real strength for Paul/for you. Why? Because Jesus persisted, even though there was still time to pull out of the whole plan; Jesus stayed!!! We cannot invite Jesus into our comfort; he wants us to join His missional purpose – He is outside of the camp where people need to know Him- that’s where you engage in conversation/reason because that is where you see people discouraged about their life and wasting their life on drugs and other temporary satisfaction, where people are disappointed because they put their hope in their job, money, possessions, career, family, that is where you find people experiencing difficulty- divorces that are rampant, relationships broken, not content always looking for more, porn addicts, substance abuse, domestic violence, religious pluralism- you must join Jesus outside of the city, that’s where the gospel becomes real…the gospel dares people to hope that they can never be so loved or accepted by anyone except Christ yet at the same time dares them to believe that they are weak and lost in need of a Savior. That’s how you join Jesus, that’s missional – that’s purposeful- by being occupied & persuaded by this gospel that you can’t help but to testify that Jesus is Christ to your co-workers, to your friends, to your family, to your neighborhood, no matter what you are going through. Your genuineness for the gospel becomes more precious than gold itself when it is refined by fire. Why? The more pure and refined our gospel becomes in our brokenness and discouragements, the more clearly we see his beauty and worth. The priority, then, is always putting the gospel at the center of your deepest hopes and aspirations- it becomes more precious than anything in this world has to offer. So, persisting in the gospel.

 

Second characteristic of gospel perseverance is…

B) Trusting in God’s befriending gracevv.6-17

Notice what happened as a result of Paul preaching the gospel. And Paul in v. 6- we see a discouraging result: The Jews were not willing to hear the gospel. They opposed the gospel. And Paul was protesting by “shaking out his garments” – it’s a symbolic protest that he did what he could do in testifying the gospel but the Jews despised it so Paul went on to the Gentiles. His policy, his calling was always to go to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.[10] He had a huge concern for his own people. He prayed for them, yet in spite of his prayers, in spite of his ministry, in spite of his pedigree, very few people believed or none. That just shows that your calling doesn’t depend on how fruitful your ministry is, how great it is going – your calling doesn’t depend on that- that’s not the source of your calling. We can very easily mistake our calling with ministry fruitfulness- the real question is- are we faithful to what God is calling us to do? For Paul – that was God’s call on his life, it wasn’t like – he completely abandoned his own people (Acts 18, 19, 28).

Paul moved on to a house of Titius Justus- Paul moves in to his house and a synagogue ruler, Crispus – he is in charge of synagogue services, the most respected Jew in Corinth; and he was converted. Look at Paul, he was dejected, a man who comes to Corinth in trembling and fear, and much weakness, in need of help- and the biggest encouragement that God gave is not just that many people converted and was baptized but what the Lord said to him in v. 9-10: Don’t be afraid, I will be with you.  You know how God rejuvenates his people, you know how God breathes new life into you – He befriends us with His presence. He touches us – And theologians calls this kind of befriending- it’s a cool word – it’s called – the incarnation. God becoming flesh, he has skin. It’s unheard of because if you think about it- when we think about the presence of God we think of something so nice and cozy, but they way that the Bible describes the presence of God – it is no joke – just ask the Jewish people – the presence of God- who can look at him and live – it’s the most dangerous, terrifying thing in the whole world because it can kill you. But here – Jesus says, don’t be afraid- I’m with you, I still have a body- though a resurrected body…I’m still with you.

Let’s me give you an example – this one might be too elementary but it captures the picture: I remember a time when the power went out at the house. It was raining, thunder and lightning. 3 ingredients for a fearful child; It was completely dark in the house. I told abby- listen, dada needs to go and look at the sump pit, I’m afraid it’s going to flood in the basement and I told her- just stay here and I will be right back. And she was like — no dada, I want to come with you. I’m afraid of the dark. If you leave me, I’ll scream. And then I told her- but it’s dark downstairs. She said, “ I’m not scared to come down” and then, I said, “why?” and she said, “Because you are with me”.

I think we all have experienced this – if you have a child or when you were a child- they can scream, they will wake up – will come to your room, jump into bed with you because they need somebody to be with them. Hugging them will not stop the rain, the lightening, or the thunder but it changes how they face it because mama or dada holds them. In the midst of their struggle you are allowing them to face their fears – and that is exactly how Jesus is rejuvenating Paul, in this midst of his struggle and fears – God encouraged him by befriending Him with His presence – “do not be afraid, Paul, keep preaching, keep talking, I am with you. Nobody will harm you, I have many in the city who are my people” – And I believe there are two things that the Lord is bringing to our attention in v. 10, when we specifically think about His presence:

[read v. 10]

(i) Jesus absorbed the ultimate harm of sin so that His presence can encourage us to persevere- to keep going. v.10a I am with you and no one will attack you to harm you.

Think about it – the God-Man absorbed our sin so that he can be with us, so that he’s with us wherever we go. His presence is not a dread but it’s a delight. Think back over the events of this last week. Is there anything that you would change? It could be that moment where you were filled with anger or intense moments of fear, uncertainty about the future or even loneliness, not trusting God fully. Those are grave sins against the Lord. To have the presence of God in the OT, you need to obey HIM with everything. One mistake, one sin- His presence can kill you. But now, since Jesus absorbed all of our sin, he took all of the ultimate harm that would come our way because God wants to be in the center of your life, building upon the life of Christ in you. See with God at the center- your world has exploded with the possibilities of what God might be doing. Think about it, if God didn’t absorb the ultimate attack against us – if we were not delivered from our sins – we would stand condemned, forsaken, hell-deserving, cursed, and getting the full dose of His anger unleashed to us, away from His presence. But since He absorbed it; it is God Himself, who preserves us, protects us, keeps us away from the ultimate harm in this life that we live right now and the future– and for Paul- it was the fury of being kept in God’s love[11] that encouraged his heart, rejuvenated his life and was set free of his deepest fears. That’s what happened in v. 12ff- (read it)- again he’s being attacked – [the Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall he fear](Psalm 27).

 

(ii) It is always us joining and working of what Jesus begins and finishes v.10b I have many others who are my people in the city

What people is Jesus talking about? The people that we just read about all rejected the gospel. It wasn’t the ones to whom Paul had already spoken to, who already had believed, because there were not many of them, but only a few. But there are many, many others that Jesus is beginning to work – doesn’t that encourage you to keep going, keep preaching the gospel. When you get gripped with His presence, you will see a purpose – …it’s no time to quit – keep preaching the gospel, know that your work will not be in vain, your work will not be fruitless, God will begin and finish his work and He encourages us to join it[12]. Sunday after Sunday preaching of the gospel to one another, coming to church, hearing gospel in life with others, corporately worshipping with each other, saying a supernatural hi to someone or a handshake, embracing a child, wiping someone’s tear away, shouldering pain with each other, speaking the truth in love when someone is out of line, going to our homes and having family fellowship time, going to small groups even when we don’t feel like it, welcoming the prodigals, embracing the stranger, confessing our sins, being vulnerable, loving our neighbors, sacrificing our interests for others gain, loving others without any strings attached, going out of our walls of comfort and inviting our neighbors, building relationships–these are all the effects of the gospel- so let’s not quit because we can never, ever know how Jesus will be working, moving, directing, renewing, reviving and re-creating the people of this city for the gospel.

However, there is a greater purpose, yes, it is true that Jesus absorbed our ultimate harm for us, he delivered us, he protects us, and yes, it is always us joining His work but if we just leave it at that- then we really don’t understand what His presence means for us; presence is always God befriending us. Otherwise, if he didn’t, we will just be performers, or pretenders, just religious bunch of folks, people-pleasers. Let me share a story of what I mean that His presence befriends us: There is a story of Martin Luther – he was very religious person for a long, long time. He was a teacher in seminary, taught the book of Romans- He came to church- confessed his sins twice a day, came to the Lord’s table – He was a guy who was always in God’s general presence but he didn’t met God Himself. He was experiencing God but he hadn’t actually been with him. So one day, as he was studying the book of Romans and what he realized is that he can never, ever be good enough to be in His presence but realized that His presence is a gift. And Luther says – at that moment, he felt he was ushered through open gates into paradise. At that moment, he was born again, and this is years after he entered ministry- he moved from a general experience of God to knowing that Jesus is God with me. He met God. He saw the love of God. He saw grace; He saw the gospel. He moved from just seeing that Jesus was God to Jesus with me. That changes how we face our fears, depressions, discouragements and difficulties- that Jesus is with me. It changes everything.

 

And finally,

2) The motivation for gospel perseverance – what motivates you and I to press on, what motivated Paul, look at v. 11 – the narrator- Luke is letting us to know that Paul, in the midst of his fears, discouragement and even opposition – he stayed a year and six months- what was he doing in that time – teaching the word of God. And later, even when his own ethnic people attacked him (the Jews)- we see him again v. 18 – Paul stayed many days longer…he is still on a mission, for him that was like putting down roots. Why? Some of us are discouraged, maybe even in the midst of a great disappointment, maybe having a sense of fear for the future, uncertain about the future…what can motivate us to keep going, to press on? And the only thing that we can be motivated- to keep us going is: by beholding Jesus, by looking at, by watching, by seeing, by eyeballing Jesus. And Hebrews 12:2-3 shows us what it means to watch Jesus – looking to Jesus…endured the cross and also endured opposition and hostility from others; why? For what purpose? So that we will not lose heart; don’t lose heart – loved ones; we keep going, we find the motivation to keep going because we watch what we love. That is The Key Thing: We are motivated to keep going, to persevere when we watch what we love.

Let me give you an example: I’m sure we all know the song “be like Mike” – And growing up I wanted to be like Mike. Nobody forced me to watch, I simply loved watching it – I wanted to play ball just like him. And I wanted to have his shooting form when he shoots the basketball so I watched him, I taped him- I know at that time, it was good old vcr days, I taped it-I watched him shoot the basketball. So what I did was, I laid flat on the bed, facing the ceiling and I wanted my head to go past the edge of the bed, so, I began to shoot the ball and began flicking it straight up till it hurts, and I kept on doing that…so I remember growing up when I use to play, people will be like- “man, you shoot just like Mike”…Didn’t get it the skills but got one of his styles. It was natural. I loved what I saw. I wanted to be like him. So I watched him. And that is similar of how we persevere, we press on when we watch what we love. Paul presses on; he keeps on going why? Because if you love someone, then you will become like that person; isn’t that what Paul said in Philippians 3- He wants to know Christ, he wants to know him better and better…for what, to become like him.  For Paul – the glorious delight of what he would become in the future encouraged him to persevere in the present. Yes, there will be affliction in every way but never crushed, yes, there will be things that is perplexing but never despairing, yes, there will be things that are opposing us, persecuting us but never, ever forsaken, yes, there will be things that strikes us down but never destroyed (2 Cor 4)…to endure – it’s always us watching, beholding Jesus…we press on when we watch what we love. That’s our greatest hope to persevere. You know what hopes look like – hope is found in a person– That is, it’s your love for him and his love for you. That’s our motivation to persevere. We have the one who endured- who was forsaken at the cross, faced ultimate difficulty – for who: You and I. Telling us – He  will always be there for us. We are motivated to keep going because we are watching what we love. When we do that, we can get through our little disappointments – our little discouragements, our little difficulties with him. That’s gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, cross-focused perseverance.

 

Let’s pray.


[1] Acts 13:13

[2] Acts 13:48-52

[3] Acts 16:16ff

[4] Acts 17:16ff

[5] 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 – Paul struggling with depression

[6] Hebrews 10

[7] 2 Cor 12

[8] Quote by Tim Keller

[9] He gave you his best while you were at your worst.

[10] Romans 1:16

[11] Philippians 3:12ff

[12] Now, that doesn’t mean that if God chose them, then we don’t have to do anything. But what it means is that God ordained not only their salvation but also the means of their salvation-, which is by preaching of the gospel, we are joining in His work.

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