As most of you know, for that last several weeks we have been following Paul on his second missionary journey. Although Paul had begun this journey with just Silas as his partner, their missionary team had grown as their journey progressed. In Lystra, they picked up Timothy – a young disciple who had come to know and follow Christ during Paul’s first missionary journey. Then later, they were joined by Dr. Luke in the city of Troas – just before they entered Macedonia.
But then, in the city of Philippi – their team began to shrink again. Luke stayed behind in Philippi – quite possibly to be the first pastor for the newly planted church in that city. And now in the city of Berea, trouble-makers from Thessalonica had stirred up the city against Paul – and so the believers whisked him away to the city of Athens – while Silas and Timothy stayed behind (at least for a little while) – presumably to continue ministering to church in Berea just a little bit more before they moved on.
So now in our passage today, we find Paul all by himself in the city of Athens – waiting for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. And we don’t know exactly how long Paul was waiting… Based on distance and travel times from Berea, we’d guess probably somewhere between a week to a month – although it could have been even longer!
But of course, Paul didn’t spend all that time just waiting around doing nothing! While in Athens He continued preaching to both Jews and Gentiles – pointing them to Jesus Christ and urging them to trust in Him for salvation!
Of course, this is exactly what we would expect from Paul, but it’s HOW he does this that is of particular interest for us today.
Our passage today is Acts chapter 17 and we’ll be starting at verse 16.
This morning you guys are in for a real treat, because today you are going to hear one of the most powerful and most effective sermons that has ever been preached to mankind!
Now to be clear, it’s not my sermon this morning that I’m referring to. The sermon I’m talking about is the very first sermon ever preached by the Apostle Peter, on the day he was empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness for Jesus Christ.
As most of you know, we’ve recently begun studying the book of Acts – a book that is introduced as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. In the opening words of this book, Luke writes:
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach…
The implication here is that, while the Gospel of Luke is all about what Jesus began to do and teach, the book of Acts is all about what Jesus continued to do and teach – primarily through Apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And that is very much what we are going to see in our passage today! On the very day that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples – in fact, probably within the hour of that event – the Apostle Peter boldly stood up and preached a powerful message to all the people who had gathered there and more than 3,000 put their faith in Jesus Christ that day and were baptized!
It was an incredible kick-off to everything Jesus would continue to do through the Apostles and the Holy Spirit.
Peter’s sermon begins in Acts chapter 2, starting at verse 14, but before we read that, we should probably back up a little bit to review the first 13 verses so we understand what’s going on here.
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
This is the passage that we started looking at nearly two months ago. By now that might just be a distant memory for you, so I thought I’d better do a little bit of a refresher before we continue on with today’s message.
Back when we started this series, I talked a little bit about how we tend to grow less healthy and less fit over time unless we do something about it. I think that’s true for most people. At least it is for me! My job doesn’t require me to do a lot of physical activity – although this week has perhaps been an exception as we’ve moved and cleaned and setup and done all that stuff…. But generally I spend a lot of time working at my desk or visiting folks around the kitchen table – those aren’t very physically demanding activities.
To compound the problem, the cold of winter tends to encourage me to stay indoors, rather than outdoors. And on top of that, I’ve discovered that there are lot of really delicious things to eat in this world! So for me, it takes intentional effort to stay at least relatively healthy and fit. If I don’t want to get completely out of shape, I need to intentionally develop some healthy habits.
So maybe I need to practice eating a little more healthy. Maybe I need to get into the habit of exercising on a regular basis. Maybe I need to drive a little less and walk a little more.
But the bottom line is, if I want to stay healthy and fit, I need to develop some healthy habits.
And as we’ve been going through this series, we’ve discovered that the same is true spiritually speaking. If we want to stay spiritually healthy and fit – that is, if we want to remain in Christ, staying close and connected to Him so that we produce much fruit like that verse says – then likewise, we need to develop some healthy habits.
And that’s what this series has been all about. What are the healthy habits that Christians have been practicing for centuries that can help us develop that deep and meaningful relationship with Christ? What are those Spiritual Disciplines – as they are often known as – that help us stay connected with Jesus so that we can produce much fruit?
Well, actually there are a whole variety of those practices – Bible reading and prayer and worship are some of the more common ones – but there are also some other very valuable practices like fasting or times of silence and solitude that maybe aren’t so common these days, but are still very healthy habits when it comes to cultivating a deep relationship with God.
Now the most recent spiritual discipline or healthy habit that we’ve talked about has been reading and studying the Bible. We’ve spent a couple of weeks talking about the message of the Bible, how we know the Bible is true and that its actually the Word of God as it claims to be. We talked about how God’s Word transforms our lives. It changes the way we think – it shows us God’s eternal perspective – which in turn, complete changes the way we live our lives.
And we ended our last message with a warning from James 1:22 which says
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”James 1:22
And that was really a lead into today message – which is how do we read and understand the Bible accurately – so that we can be sure that we actually do what it actually says? If we’re going to obey God’s Word – if God is going to change the way we think and transform our lives through his Word – if we are basing our entire lives and our eternal future on the words in this book, then we need to make sure we’re accurately understanding and applying what the Bible actually says.
Does it matter what you believe? Does what you believe actually impact your life?
If you find an unmarked bottle of liquid in your cupboard – there are many possibilities of what it could be. It could be water. It could be bleach. It could be vinegar. They all look pretty much the same. You could believe that it could be any of those.
But does it matter what you believe? Will your belief about the contents of that container effect how you choose to use it? And will those choices, based on those beliefs, impact the course of your life? It certainly could!
“If you drink bleach, it oxidizes or burns tissues in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach. According to the National Institutes of Health, it can cause nausea, chest pain, lowered blood pressure, delirium, coma, and potentially death.” ~ somewhere on the internet…
Does it matter what you believe?
Of course it does! And all day every day, we make choices based on our beliefs.
If we believe that it’s going to be -40º outside today, you’re going to wear a warm coat and mitts and boots and all that stuff. If you believe that it’s going to be +40º today, you’re going to wear shorts and a t-shirt.
We are continually making choices based on our beliefs – and those choices, based on our beliefs are setting the course for our lives.
So what happens if your beliefs are wrong? What happens if you believe that you have a bottle of water – and it turns out that it’s a bottle of bleach? What happens if you believe that it’s going to be +40º but it turns out to be -40º?
It’s a serious problem to have incorrect beliefs. The course of your life can take a serious turn for the worse in a quick hurry!
I think it’s pretty obvious how important it is to have true beliefs.
And if it’s that important to know the truth about the weather or the truth about the contents of this container – how much more important is it that we have true beliefs about God?
I want you to think back to your high school or college days. For some of us, that won’t be hard. For others, you might have to dig way back in the memory bank. And I want you to think about your best friends from back then. Maybe one or two or three of your closest friends back in the day. Got those people in your mind?
Ok, now here’s a second question for you to ponder. Are those people still your best friends today? If I had asked you to name your top one/two/three best friends today, would those still be the same people you would name? I’m guessing that the older you are, the more likely you have different best friends now.
Relationships always change – friends that were once close, over time, can become distant. People move away. Your lives take different directions. You just grown distant over time.
And at the same time while you grow distant from some people, there are other people that you grow closer with. You’re always meeting new people and making new friends. And some of them grow to be very close friends.
But relationships always change. Even our relationship with God changes over time. I imagine most of us experience times of our lives when our relationship with God is super close! It’s awesome! You love praying and reading His Word. His presence is very real in your life and you just love serving Him and just being with Him.
And then there are other times, when we just feel distant from God. He becomes almost like a Facebook acquaintance. We know in our heads that God hasn’t gone anywhere – the Bible tells us He’s right there with us all the time… but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
That’s frustrating to me. I hate those times when I feel distant from God. I want a relationship with God that grows closer all the time – not more distant. And I think that’s what God wants too. From everything I read about in the Bible, it sure seems that God wants to have that close relationship with us too. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I could feel distant from Him. He didn’t send the Holy Spirit to empower and dwell right within me so that our relationship could grow cold. No! God wants to be my closest ally and my most faithful friend.
So how do we live in that continuously close relationship with God? Can we avoid or at least minimize those times where we feel distant? How do we make sure we’re growing closer – and not moving apart? How do we do that?
This morning I want to begin by showing you a commercial that I’ve seen on tv recently. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. It’s a commercial for the 2015 Chevy Cruz and I think it really sets the stage for us today. So let’s have a look.
I think the video makes a good point. The chevy spokesperson says “It is hard to stay focused.” And it really is. From your own cellphone to billboards to people walking on the sidewalk to wildlife. There are all kinds of distractions that can cause us to lose focus and potentially end up in a wreck.
Have anyone here been distracted while driving and gotten themselves into trouble?
I remember one time I pulled up behind a car at a red light in Innisfail. I don’t know what it was that distracted me, but I certainly wasn’t focus on what I was doing. Because the car in front of me pulled away and I followed it. It wasn’t until I was half-way through the intersection that I realize the light was still red! The guy had in front of my had gone through the red light, and I followed him! Its a good thing no one was coming from the other direction or I could have been in serious wreck!
You’ve got to stay focused. It only takes a minute of being distracted and you can end up in all kinds of trouble.
And I think that’s also true for us as followers of Christ. There are all kinds of things that can distract us. Things that steal our focus from what’s important. And if we’re not careful, our lives can end up in a wreck.
And I think that’s what was happening in the church in Colosse back in 60AD. If you haven’t been with us, we’ve been studying the book of Colossians for the last month or so – and this book is actually a letter that Paul wrote to the Church in Colosse – and the main purpose of this letter is to address some of these distractions that had been stealing the Colossians focus. These were false teachings that were either adding to or subtracting from the true message of the Gospel.
And we actually face several very similar distractions in our lives and our church (false teachings) even today, so I think it will be very valuable to us to learn from Paul how to recognize and deal with these distractions and stay focused on the truth.