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God’s Prevailing Purposes

Last Sunday, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, gave us a snapshot of life in the early church. And he gave us two contrasting examples of both the good and the bad.

First of all, Luke told us about a man named Joseph – otherwise known as Barnabas – the Son of Encouragement. Filled with the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for the church, he sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to give to the needy within the church. This was a great example of the generosity and care for each other that was common within the church in those early days!

But in contrast to Barnabas, Luke then goes on to tell us about another couple – Ananias and Sapphira.  With hearts filled by Satan and motivated by pride – they also sold some land and gave the money to the apostles. However, they kept some of the money for themselves and decided to lie about it to the Apostles (and really, to the Holy Spirit) – claiming that they had given everything, when in fact, they had not. For their deception and as a strong warning to the rest of the church, the Lord stuck them both death.

Their sudden and dramatic deaths would have been quite a shock to the church, I’m sure! In fact, verse 11 tells us that…

11 Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.

Acts 5:11

And that verse kinda sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. As we finish up Acts chapter 5 today, we’re going to see that God continues to do some amazing things in and through the church, and people just don’t know what to make of it all!

Are these followers of Jesus good or bad? Are they doing these amazing things with trickery and slight of hand or is God really behind it all? And perhaps most importantly, is their message of faith in Jesus merely empty ramblings, or is it really the Gospel truth?

Those are the questions that everyone was asking, and those are the questions that Luke wants you to consider as well!

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Faith in the Name of Jesus

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:

  1. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to Heaven and commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses throughout the world.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Acts 2:41-44

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.

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In His Father’s House

As many of you have probably noticed, I really enjoy preaching through Biblical biographies! I love preaching through the life stories of all the incredible characters found throughout the Scriptures. Over the years I’ve preached through the stories Joseph, Elisha, Samson, Nehemiah, Abraham, Samuel, King Saul, and so far, about 1/2 of the life of David.

But I realized something this last December. As I began preaching through the different characters of the Christmas story, I realized that I’ve never really preached through the life of Jesus!

Now of course, Jesus has been a key part of pretty much every sermon I’ve ever preached! After all, every part of the Bible points to the life of Jesus in some way, shape or form. He is the central figure of the Bible and it all relates back to Him.

But as far as chronologically working through the life of Jesus here on earth, that’s something that I’ve never really done!

And so – for these next few months between our seasons of Christmas and Easter – I want us to walk through the life of Jesus – from Christmas to Easter.

And I don’t intend to make this a detailed, comprehensive study on every aspect of Jesus’ life here on earth – perhaps one day we’ll do something like that – but this time around I just want to create a bit of a timeline for us – just a basic outline to see the flow and progression of the key events in Jesus’ life and ministry.

We certainly spend a lot of time studying his birth every Christmas… and his death and resurrection every Easter – but what about all of the other stuff that happens in the middle? I mean, we’ve got miracles & parables, training the 12 disciples, healing people, casting out demons, teaching and preaching…. But how does it all fit together? How exactly do we get from Christmas to Easter? So that’s what I want us to look at for the next few months.

Now of course, having just come out of the Christmas season, I think we’ve all had a sufficient refresher on the birth of Jesus, so I won’t go over all of that again. Instead, I want us to pick up the story a little later on in Jesus’ life  – when he is now 12 years old.

Not much is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to his full-time ministry – which he started when he was about 30. In fact, this event I want to look at today actually is the only recorded story in the Scriptures of Jesus’ childhood – outside of his birth. So that, in itself makes this a rather unique story.

It also includes the very first recorded words of Jesus. So I think this will be a key point for us to look at as we begin this overview of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now just before we get into our passage today, I briefly want to fill in the timeline between Jesus’ birth and our story today. When we concluded our Christmas series with the wisemen and King Herod a couple weeks ago, we ended with Joseph taking his wife and new baby down to Egypt to escape from King Herod who had ordered his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. Of course, being warned of this in a dream, Joseph took Mary & Jesus and fled to Egypt – where they stayed until Herod died – which happened probably less than a year later. After Herod died, an angel appeared to Joseph again and told him that it was safe to return to Israel. So Joseph took his family and left Egypt and they eventually made their way back to their hometown of Nazareth.

Now of course, Luke doesn’t include the story of the wisemen, King Herod, or the trip to Egypt in his Gospel  (only Matthew includes those details) – and so as we begin our story in Luke chapter 2 today, the flow of the story may lead us to assume that Mary & Joseph returned to Nazareth just a few weeks after Jesus’ birth. But actually Jesus could have been 3 years old or even older by the time they made it back to Nazareth – where Jesus would then grow up.

Of course, we’re not given those types of details in the Scriptures, so it’s probably not too important for us to calculate all the dates and numbers and put it all together in a neat little package. Those details don’t change purpose or the message of this story, but I did just want to mention those things briefly, just in case you had questions about that as we get into our passage today. 

So let’s start reading in Luke chapter 2 – starting at verse 39.

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The Sacrifice

There is a song that we sometimes sing in at our kids clubs called “Father Abraham”. If you’ve been a camp kid or if you grew up in the church, chances are good that you’ve heard it before. But if not, it goes like this: “Father Abraham had many sons – many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.”

And then there are some ridiculous actions that go along with that have nothing to do with song – but the kids love it – and believe it or not, the theology of the song is actually pretty accurate.

According to Paul in Romans 4:16…

“For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” Romans 4:16

Of course, Abraham is not likely your biological ancestor unless you happen to be Jewish, but Paul says Abraham is our father in a spiritual sense. If we have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ – then Abraham is our Father. We are one of his many sons and daughters – because he is the father of all who believe.

And if you’ve been tracking along with us for these past couple months, I think it’s probably becoming clear why Paul would say that Abraham is the father of all who believe. We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the life of Abraham – learn from Him as He learned to walk with God.

Today, we are wrapping up that series, but it has been incredible to see the amount of faith Abraham had in God. It’s no wonder we call him the Father of our faith. We read a bit of a summary of Abraham’s life last week from Romans 4:18 – which really emphasized Abraham’s faith in God. It said:

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Engaged in a Great Work

Today we continue looking at the story of Nehemiah – and if you’ve been tracking with us for these past several weeks, I imagine you’re really starting to appreciate what an effective leader Nehemiah really was.

And you might not expect that from your average cup-bearer. It’s easy to forget that less than a year  previous to all this, Nehemiah was spending his time hanging out with the king in the comforts of the palace – sipping wine and eating snacks. As the cupbearer – that was his job – tasting food and wine before it was served to the king. It was a pretty good gig – but not really the kind of job you’d expect to springboard you into such a position of leadership.

And yet, here he is, heading up this huge project in Jerusalem – facing all kinds of opposition from the enemies around him, dealing with one crisis after another. And so far, he seems to be doing a pretty fantastic job.

It’s always interesting how God throws these little curveballs into our lives. He takes us from our comfortable, predicable life, and he leads us into the wild unknown. And most of the time, we feel completely under-qualified to do whatever it is that God’s called us to do. We should be the last one God chooses to do this – and yet God chooses us anyway.

I imagine that Nehemiah felt that way quite often – completely under-qualified to be the guy in charge of this huge project. Perhaps that’s why he spent 4 months in prayer before even bring up the idea to the king – perhaps he was wrestling with God – “Why me, God? I’m just a cup-bearer. Isn’t there someone else more qualified for this job?”

But, as we’ve seen so far, God knew what He was doing in choosing Nehemiah. Even though he wasn’t an engineer – the wall and the gates were quickly being repaired. Even through he wasn’t an army general – the people were safe from the attacks of the enemy. Even though he wasn’t an economics expert, he averted a major financial crisis.

It is clear that Nehemiah was the exact right person for the job that God called him to do. And I hope thats an encouragement to you this morning. God doesn’t make mistakes.

When God throws you a curve ball and you feel completely under-qualified for the task that lies ahead, know that you are the exact right person for the job that God has called you to do. You might not realize it, but He’s prepared you for this through all the things that you’ve experienced already – and He’s promised to stick right beside you as you go through this new challenge.

It’s ok for us to be under-qualified to do whatever God’s called us to do – because God is completely over-qualified to do it. He doesn’t even need us – but he chooses to work through us – giving us purpose and fulfillment and bringing glory to Himself.

And that’s what we’ve seen so far in this story. Nehemiah may not be the most qualified, but God is definitely working through Him to accomplish great things for God’s glory. In fact, today we find out that the project is nearly complete. The people have been working hard and with enthusiasm – their enemies haven’t been able to slow them down or discourage them – and now the walls have been repaired and all that’s left to do is to setup all the gates.

Now of course, their enemies haven’t given up either. It seems that everyone in this story is pretty persistent – good guys and bad guys alike. They’ve not yet run out of creative ways to hinder the work, and so we’re going to see a few more attempts in this chapter. So let’s take a look. Here’s what it says in Nehemiah chapter 6 – starting at verse 1.

Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. 2 So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. Nehemiah 6:1-2a

Now at first glance, this doesn’t seem to be all that threatening. In fact, this could be seen as a gesture of goodwill. The plain of Ono was located northeast of Jerusalem – kinda half-way between Jerusalem and Samaria. And as such, it would be like the neutral zone between these two disagreeing parties. It was like these guys were inviting Nehemiah to come and meet them for peace talks in this neutral territory. We see that sort of thing today when all the world leaders meet in some neutral country to discuss peace treaties and trades disputes and all that other good stuff.

In fact, if this story were to happen today, we would read something like “So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the ski resorts in Swiss Alps.”

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The Promise of Restoration

Today we begin a new series of messages from the Book of Nehemiah. I’m guessing that most of you wouldn’t list Nehemiah in your top five favourite books of the Bible, and in fact, it’s quite possible that some of you who couldn’t even tell me who in the world Nehemiah was. So it’s probably a good idea before we start, to briefly have a look at the history and background of Nehemiah. And there is a lot of history to this story – Nehemiah is one of the last stories recorded in the Old Testament – so basically the entire Old Testament is the history and background to Nehemiah. Now I won’t take you through the entire Old Testament, but we really need to go way back and have at least a basic understanding of the history of the nation of Israel.

So I want to start today about 1000 years before the actual story that we’re going to look at. Basically we want to start with the formation of the nation of Israel. As most of you know Jospeh brought his family of about 70 to Egypt to escape a famine – you can read about that in Genesis 46. Well, this visit to Egypt turned into a 400 year stay – and during that time, they grew from a family of 70 to a family of about a million. These people would be the founding fathers of the nation of Israel.

So we’re going to pick it up just after God freed them from slavery in Egypt and led them out towards the Promised Land. Now when God did this, he made a covenant (or an agreement) with them. This was the deal – if they were to obey the terms of the covenant – which include all the instructions you find in Exodus and Leviticus – basically summarized by the ten commandments – but if they were to obey God in all these things, God promised to bless them like crazy!

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