Success Busting God Thing
Acts 2:8, 33, 40,41
Acts 5:12-16, 35-39
Acts 7:7, 51 - 8:8
(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
People of God
This morning, you may have noticed the title of my message “A
Success Busting God Thing.” As an introduction to our
scripture passage, let me in summary fashion recount what happened
after Jesus ascended to heaven, the story of the first 7 chapters of
Jesus promised that the disciples would be baptized with the Holy
Spirit - a baptism of power that would drench them with the presence
and power of God in such a way that they would become witnesses - as
Luke points out: 8 But you will receive power when the Holy
Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in
all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Pentecost was that baptism by the Spirit, a clear universal
demonstration that Jesus not only arose from the death, but he also
ascended to the right hand of the Father, and in his victory of evil,
he shared with his church the gift of the Spirit. That’s how
Peter understood it when he summarized Pentecost in his first sermon:
2: 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received
from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you
now see and hear.
Peter basically told them that the death of Jesus, his resurrection,
his ascension and now the strange signs at Pentecost - they were all a
“God Thing.” God was at work! The people
who heard his message were cut to the heart and they wondered
“What must we do?” Peter called them to repentance
and faith with the promise that forgiveness of sins would be theirs.
And then we read in chapter 2:40 With many other words he
warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from
this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message
were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that
day. Now that was success! Scripture defines those numbers as success,
we would to. 3000 added to the church in one day.
This must have been a God thing!
Again, that’s how the early church understood it. The church
instantly became a community filled with powerful dynamics of learning,
sharing, breaking bread together, uninhibited praise and miraculous
signs. All this was evidence that what was happening was a
God thing. And people were coming to faith daily, at least in
Where there is success, there is opposition because success for the
kingdom of God and of his Christ means defeat for the rule of Satan. In
chapter 3 we see the true nature of spiritual battle coming to the
surface. Peter and John are going to the temple to pray, as a faithful
Jew would. On the way by the temple gate called
“Beautiful” they heal a man who was lame, and he
starts running around leaping and praising God. When people see this
miracle, again Peter and John give a powerful sermon - and what they
basically say is “This is a God thing! Jesus has ascended and
you will be held accountable for your deeds.” The leaders of
the Synagogue take notice of these unqualified preachers and by chapter
4, they choose to put a lid on it, they throw Peter and John in jail.
But because what is going on has everything to do with God, and the
Sprit is upon them, Peter and John speak boldly. The leaders of the
Synagogue had them whipped and warned not to continue. Peter and John
go home nursing their wounds, but they knew this is a God thing - and
so they prayed that God continue his powerful work as only the
Sovereign Lord can do, 4:31 After they prayed, the
place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with
the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Again, the church grows. Because
this is a God thing, people willingly share their possessions, actions
which are contrary to human nature. People are even willing to sell
their properties so that there is no one in the community who has
needs. The church is a celebration of grace, this is a God thing
that’s growing, at least in Jerusalem.
But where God’s rule is
breaking in, Satan’s rule will counter attack. And so we have
the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Like so many others, they sell some
of their property, but in the selling they secretly keep a little for
themselves. This way they not only make some person gain, but they also
use their offering to gain personal reputation as big givers. Satan,
you see, rules in the hidden corners of human hearts, and this little
mix of selfish gain in with a good offering is actually a spiritual
attack on the integrity of the church from within. But the church is a
God thing. Their deed is exposed, they literally die on the spot.
Spiritual battle is serious stuff.
In the process, there is success.
The church starts gaining a reputation of purity and integrity. People
who don’t believe at least respect, even fear the church.
Jerusalem becomes aware of the power of God with the church to heal.
And so Luke describes their success - at least in Jerusalem.
5:12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and
wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together
in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even
though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more
and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their
number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and
laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow
might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also
from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those
tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
At least in Jerusalem things were going
incredibly well. The church was growing. Lives were being changed.
Worship was vibrant. Once again, Peter and the apostles are thrown in
jail. This time, as they go before the Synagogue rulers, with boldness
they preach the message of the death, resurrection and ascension of
Christ to them. In short, they tell the leaders: “This is a
God thing!” But by claiming that the church was a God thing,
their implied judgement was that what the leaders and Pharisees were up
to was not a God thing. In response, the Pharisees
and leaders were about to kill them. But then a wise Pharisee, Gamaliel
arose and said
“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you
intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming
to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was
killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.
37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and
led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his
followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise
you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or
activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God,
you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves
fighting against God.”
If this is a God thing -
don’t oppose it! Give them a whipping and a warning and let
them go. That happens. But of course these pesky
disciples continue their preaching and more people are added to the
faith. By chapter 6, there are so many in the church that it
is experiencing growing pains. The apostles can’t do it all
any more so they choose 7 deacons to administer mercy while they give
their attention to prayer and preaching. Luke summarizes their success
7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in
Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became
obedient to the faith.
Luke notes that one of those
deacons appointed was Stephen “a man full of faith of the
Holy Spirit.” That was not a good choice for the church in
Jerusalem, at least if the church in Jerusalem wanted to remain
You see, it was Stephen’s
spiritual authority and preaching that got the church into trouble with
the Jews of the Synagogue of the Freedmen. It was Stephen that spoke
with the radiance of God on his face. It was Stephen who spoke with
irrepressible wisdom. It was Stephen who had the un-diplomatic style of
communication when he said to his hearers: 51 “You
stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just
like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever
a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who
predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed
and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was
put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
I am certain that if the church
council in Jerusalem had time to respond to Stephen’s
preaching to the Sanhedrin, they would have advised him to cool it, use
some diplomacy, be careful with the words you use, after all, the
profound gains they had made in Jerusalem were still young, still
fragile. But things happened fast. They didn’t have the time
to evaluate Stephen’s preaching style. Scripture reads
beginning at verse 54 of chapter 7.
54 When they heard (The high priest and the Sandhedrin)
this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen,
full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God,
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56
“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and
the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their
voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and
began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the
feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried
out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great
persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except
the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men
buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy
the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and
put them in prison.
Because of one newly appointed
deacon who had not yet learned the skills of diplomacy in speaking, the
success of the church in Jerusalem was busted. Christians who once gave
away their properties to share with the poor now by force lost what
they had left. Stephen lost his life, but he wasn’t the only
one. Men, women and children were dragged into prison. Families were
divided. Fellowship was busted. All the Christians could do was leave
all behind and flee for their lives. The only ones left in Jerusalem
were the apostles. It seemed in a matter of hours, the
incredible church that had been established disappeared. Success
busted. Numbers gone. Fellowship disintegrated. Budget resources -
well, what budget? This was a time of intense hardship for every new
Christian. No one experiencing it would have called it success.
But the truth is, sometimes God
busts our successes so that his success will be accomplished.
God’s plan for the church was that the gospel would be
preached NOT ONLY IN JERUSALEM, but in Judea and Samaria and
all the ends of the earth. And who better to accomplish that
than all the people, not the leaders, but the people who had been
hearing the word, learning the word, living the word. The apostles
stayed in Jerusalem. The people fleeing - well lets read exactly what
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word
wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and
proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the
miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.
7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and
cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
By telling you this story, of the
many points I could highlight, today I want to focus on just one.
God’s purpose for the church is not our success, our
wonderful worship services, our care groups, our fellowship, our great
times together. God’s purpose for the church includes the
spread of his word. And if the church is not accomplishing that task
through its members, through its fellowship, through its care groups,
through its ministries, then God will take our successes and bust them.
If our worship does not have room
for visitors who do not know the faith, it our worship has no space for
someone “out there,” then don’t be
surprised if God sends us difficulties.
If our care groups are good and
healthy and strong and maybe the dynamics are a real God thing, and
maybe we feel the fellowship we experience is still a little fragile,
if we have no room for the new person or new persons, God’s
thing to do might be to break us up to make more room.
If our circle of friends is
precious and caring but our friendship has no room for a new friend in
the circle, God may well bust our friendships.
A church that gazes on itself, no
matter how successful it might feel, is a church that will destruct if
it does not have those outside of their walls, their circle of friends
in strong view.
If we are successful in every way,
but fail to bring the word to the world, in occupations, in school, in
our relationships, God’s purpose might break our success to
make his success, and it would be "a God thing."
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY
BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible
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