Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent and so we lite our first advent candle. Advent candles, as you’ll recall from last week, are…
This morning we continue our look at the book of Acts – specifically today we are in Acts chapter 3. And if you haven’t been with us for the last two chapters, there are basically three key things that have happened in the story so far:
- After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to Heaven and commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses throughout the world.
- Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell his disciples and every believer – just as he had promised earlier – empowering them to boldly share about Christ where ever they went.
- As the disciples shared the message of Christ, more & more people accepted their message, trusted in Jesus, and the early church began to take shape.
In fact, when we last left off, the church had just exploded in growth as 3000 people were added to the church as the result of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. Acts chapter 2 describes it like this:
41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.
Now when we went through this passage in chapter 2 a couple weeks ago, we talked mostly about how the believers were devoted to God and devoted to each other. But we didn’t really spend much time on verse 43, which says “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” But this, too, is an important verse.
This verse points out how God affirmed the Apostles’ message & authority by enabling them to perform miraculous signs and wonders – very much like the signs and wonders that Jesus performed during his ministry on earth or even like the prophets of old – such as Moses, Elisha and Elijah.
These signs and wonders not only gave credibility to their message – but it also provided for them many opportunities to share their message with the people who witnessed these amazing miracles!
And that’s what we’re going to see today. Today, chapter 3 gives us a specific example of the signs and wonders that Peter & John were performing and how they used that as an opportunity to preach about Christ.
So we are going to start in Acts chapter 3, verse 1.
Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. 2 As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Acts 3:1-3
And we’ll pause here for a minute. So far, this is a pretty normal day for everyone involved.
Back in January, we began our current message series – following the life and ministry of Jesus from birth to resurrection – from Christmas to Easter. And since we are trying to condense all of this into a fairly short timeline – from Christmas to Easter – it’s been a challenge to decided exactly what parts of Jesus’ life and ministry to include in our study. A more in-depth look at the life of Christ could easily take several years worth of sermons to fully explore, but we’re trying to fit it all into a 4 month window. So what do we include and what to we leave out?
Well, so far, we’ve covered the early life of Jesus and the beginnings of his public ministry – and we’ll certainly give some significant attention to his final days as he journeys to the cross – but for this middle part, I’d like to just give us a sampling of what Jesus’ ministry typically looked like.
Last week we touched on how crowds of people followed Jesus everywhere – and while Jesus often tried to get some time away by Himself to relax and reconnect with his Heavenly Father – none-the-less, He always seemed to have time to minister to people. He had incredible compassion for them and always provided for their needs! Sometimes in miraculous ways – such as feeding 5000 men and their families with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! But of course, more importantly than meeting their physical needs, Jesus came to address their real spiritual needs. He hadn’t come just to feed them fish and bread – but he had come to feed them the Bread of Life! He had come to offer Himself as the sacrifice for their sin so that they could have eternal life through faith in Him.
Of course, at this point, the crowds of people didn’t understand that – all they knew is that Jesus had incredible compassion and love for them – and that He had met their physical needs in an amazing way!
And so today, I want to look at a similar but slightly different aspect of Christ’s compassion for people and how he met their needs. This time not by providing food for the hungry, but this time by providing healing for the sick and the suffering.
And I do confess that today’s story will be slightly out of order on our timeline – we’re actually jumping back in time just a little bit before the feeding of the 5,000 – and so I probably should have switched these two sermons around and done this one first – but hopefully, you can make that adjustment in your notes and we won’t be too confused.
Our passage begins in Mark chapter 5 – and we’ll begin reading at verse 21.
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the key characters of the Christmas story. And I’m not talking about Rudolph or Santa Claus – that’s a different story all together! I’m talking about the original Christmas story – the historic events that actually happened some 2000 years ago and are still packed with meaning and significant for us even today.
And I expect that most of us are familiar with the events of that first Christmas – how Jesus was born and laid in a manger – how the angels appeared to the shepherds and how the wisemen brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those are all the traditional Christmas scenes that we sing about in our Christmas carols or we display in our nativity arrangements.
And of course, if you’re not familiar with those events, I’d invite you to come to our Christmas Eve service this Friday as those events will be the focus of our Christmas celebration.
But for our Sunday morning messages as Christmas approaches, we’ve been taking a deeper look not at the events of Christmas, but rather at the characters of Christmas.
We started by looking at Jesus Himself. Who is this baby who was born and was laid in a manger? And what is so significant about that child that we continue to celebrate his birth even 2000 years later!? To find those answers, we looked in the Gospel of John and saw that Jesus was not just an ordinary baby, but was in fact, the second person of the Godhead – the eternally existing Creator of the world – now born as a human being. He truly is Emmanuel – which means God is with us. And what’s all the more amazing is that He came to be with us so that we could be with Him for eternity.
Then last week we took a closer look at Joseph. We don’t read a lot about Joseph’s life in the Bible – he kinda comes across as a minor player in the pages of Scripture, but as we saw last week, Joseph really was a spiritual giant – truly a model of righteous character and faith in God. He is perhaps one of the best examples for us to follow in how to be a godly father and husband.
Now today we want to look at a third major character in the Christmas story – and that of course, is Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Like Joseph, she too, is a pretty amazing example of someone who displayed an absolute trust in God. When you consider all that she went through – especially considering how young she was at the time – her faith and obedience to God are truly remarkable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I mentioned last week, when Matthew writes his Gospel and records the birth of Jesus, he focuses almost exclusively on Joseph. He begins with Joseph’s family tree, he talks about Joseph’s dilemma when he discovers that Mary was pregnant before they were married, and he records the four different visits that Joseph had from the angel. But he really doesn’t say anything about Mary.
In contrast to that, when Luke writes his Gospel, he hardly mentions Joseph at all. He focuses his attention primarily on Mary. And that’s why it’s so great that we have four different Gospels. Each Gospel tells the true story of Jesus, but they all tell it from a slightly different perspective. That really helps us get a well-rounded understanding of really happened.
And so now, having looked at Joseph through the eyes of Matthew last week, today we’re going to look at Mary through the eyes of Luke. So if you have your Bibles with you, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 1.
However, we’re not going to start at verse 1 because Luke doesn’t begin his Gospel with Mary – he actually begins with Mary’s relatives – specifically, a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.
And I don’t want to spend a lot of time going through their story this morning, but let me just quickly summarize it for you so you know what’s going on when we get into Mary’s story.
Zechariah and Elizabeth have been unable to have children and the Bible describes them now as “both being very old.” Obviously too old now, to have any expectation of still being able to have children.
But one day, an angel named Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a baby and that their baby would be the one to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Of course, every Israelite had been waiting for the coming of the Lord for quite some time now. In fact, for the last several hundred years, God had promised through the prophets had that he would send a Messiah – a descendant of King David who would save the Israelites and would rule Israel forever!
So this was pretty huge news for Zechariah and Elizabeth – not only where they finally going to have the baby that they had always wanted, but their baby would prepare the way for the future King of Israel!
Oh and one more thing, their baby was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth – and his name was to be John – we would eventually come to know him as John the Baptist.
So with that as the backdrop, Luke begins to tell the story of Mary in Luke chapter 1, verse 26.
Last Sunday I told you half of the story of David & Goliath – which really ended up being more like the story of Saul and Goliath. Because by all accounts, that’s how the story should have played out!
David never should even been at the battlefield. Saul should have defeated Goliath weeks before David even showed up. As the king of Israel, it was Saul’s responsibility to lead the Israelites into battle. It was his job to courageously face the enemy and lead his men to victory.
But as it happened, Saul did none of that. As the Philistine giant Goliath strutted in front of the Israelite army both day and night for 40 days, boasting and taunting and mocking them, Saul did nothing but offer a reward to anyone who had the courage to do the task that he should have done. It seems both he and all the Israelites were paralyzed with fear.
I was reading in the book of Deuteronomy this week – and in chapter 20, Moses lays out instructions for what to do when the the Israelites went to war and I just want to read a few of those verses for you this morning. This is Deuteronomy 20, verse 1-4
“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you! 2 When you prepare for battle, the priest must come forward to speak to the troops. 3 He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. 4 For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’
Even before they entered the Promised Land, Moses assured the Israelites that God’s presence and power would be with them as they faced their enemies – even when the enemy armies were far greater and stronger than their own. But It certainly seems like the Israelites had missed this memo from Moses because as Goliath mocked and taunted them, and challenged them to come and fight, it says in 1 Samuel 17:11…
11 When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.
1 Samuel 17:11
Both Saul and all of the army were paralyzed with fear. And interestingly, Deuteronomy 20 addresses that issue as well. If you jump down just a few verses from what we just read, it says:
8 “Then the officers will also say, ‘Is anyone here afraid or worried? If you are, you may go home before you frighten anyone else.’ Deuteronomy 20:8
It seems like Saul missed that memo too! Fear is contagious – and it’s the last thing you want spreading through your troops before a battle! But Saul certain had done nothing to put an end to the fear that was running rampant throughout his camp.
Fortunately, David had not been in the camp very long. He had only just arrived to bring some supplies from his father and to get a report on how everything was going. And as we’re going to see today, David’s courage was just as contagious as Saul’s fear!
As we’ve been going through the book of 1 Samuel, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about King Saul – the first King of Israel. But last week we were introduced to a new character in the story – Saul’s son Jonathan. And Jonathan will actually play a significant role throughout the rest of the book. As we saw last week, he is a key commander in Saul’s military (commanding a 1/3 of Israel’s standing army) and in the weeks ahead, we will see how he eventually becomes one of David’s closest allies – even at a time when King Saul was trying to kill David.
But that’s getting ahead of our story.
If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that Jonathan had just attacked and defeated the Philistine garrison stationed in Geba. We don’t know if this was by order of King Saul, or if Jonathan simply took it upon himself to make this attack. But either way, Jonathan’s actions triggered an open revolt against the Philistines who had been oppressing the Israelites for some time now.
In response, the Philistines gathered their army – which composed of 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers, and as many warriors as grains of sand on the seashore – and they set up camp at Micmash. At the same time, Saul gathered his much smaller army at Gilgal and waited for the prophet Samuel to come and make a sacrifice to God before they went into battle.
However, as they waited for Samuel, their fear of the Philistines grew and grew and many of Saul’s men fled from their posts – hiding in fear from the mighty Philistine army. Well, after 7 days of more and more men disappearing from the camp, and with no sign of Samuel, Saul foolishly took it upon himself (in direct disobedience to God) to offer the sacrifice himself.
God had clearly instructed the Israelites that these sacrifices were only to be done by God’s appointed priest – and not by the King or anyone else. So this was an act of blatant disobedience. Well, as it happened, Samuel showed up just as Saul was finishing the sacrifice and as Saul tried to justify his actions, Samuel told him plainly that his disobedience to the Lord would cost him the kingdom! The Lord would choose another king to replace him – one who would seek after the heart of God.
And that’s about as far as we got last week. We’re going to pick it up today in 1 Samuel chapter 13, verse 15.