The Church’s Time Of Tragedy
Text: Acts 20:28-32
Intro: As you listened to that title, you may have entertained the thought that the Church has always experienced tragedy of one form or another since its inception. If you did, you would be right. The Church of Jesus Christ has endured physical persecution, verbal slander, ridicule, the onslaughts of heresy via false teachers, as well as rifts among its own ranks. Indeed, the Church has seen its share of tragedy over the centuries.
The strange thing about all this is that when the Church faced these challenges and threats to its existence, it always seemed to come through on the other side stronger and more determined to serve her Lord. The obvious threats resulted in a bold trust toward God. As a matter of fact, even in modern times, in foreign countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Laos, and other Asian nations, where persecution of Believers is still the norm, the Church continues to grow and burn with fervor and faithfulness for Christ.
One would think that where there is less persecution and pressure, the Church would flourish. However, the opposite has proven to be true. All one must do is look at the spiritual condition of the Church in the United States to be assured of that fact. America has more religious freedom than any nation on the face of the earth, yet most churches have either reached a plateau, or are in decline. Our country boasts of churches in the hundreds of thousands, yet few of those churches can be said to be spiritually aflame for Jesus. It is precisely this condition that I believe can accurately be dubbed “THE CHURCH’S TIME OF TRAGEDY.”
Theme: The Church in America is experiencing…
I. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNATTENDED CHURCH(1)
A. In Spite Of The Fact That Jesus Paid The Ultimate Price.
1. Jesus purchased the Church with His own blood.
Acts 20:28b “…feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
2. Jesus loved the Church with all His being.
Eph.5: 25b “…Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
NOTE:  Oh the tragedy of the unattended Church! Christ gave His all that we might have the privilege to be a part of His body, the Church, yet so many take lightly the opportunity to meet and worship in freedom. This is a privilege the majority of our world does not possess.
 K.P. Yohannan, president of Gospel For Asia, says, “In India proper there are nearly one billion people—three times the population of the United States. Only 3.5 percent of these call themselves Christians.”(2) Many Christians in India are persecuted, even killed. Numerous others are disowned by their families for becoming Christians. These dear saints count it a privilege to attend the House of God.
B. In Spite Of The Fact That Attendance Was Jesus’ Practice.
Luke 4:16 “And he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”
C. In Spite Of The Fact That Attendance Was The Joy Of The Psalmist.
Ps. 122:1 “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
NOTE:  According to Barna Research, “40% of American adults attend church in a typical weekend.”(3) That information was valid as of the year 2000, when “the population of the U.S. on April 1, 2000 was 281,421,906.”(4) The percentage is perhaps even less for 2003.
 Dr. Jerry Vines has said, “In the average church the Sunday morning service is a big blowout, the Sunday night service is a little turnout, and the Wednesday night service is practically a fallout!”(5)
 Dr. Vines also makes this painfully accurate observation:
If we were building our church buildings to accommodate the prayer meeting crowd in the average church, we would be building pup tents instead of the beautiful buildings we are constructing.(6)
 Faithfulness in God’s house is commanded.
Heb. 10:25 “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”
[4a] It is the Church that God uses to win the lost to Christ.
[4b] It is the Church that God uses to mature Christians’ lives.
[4c] It is the Church that God uses to bring Bible believing people together in fellowship, love and worship.
[4d] It is the Church that God uses to demonstrate His presence, power, and love to a lost world.
 According to one poll, “48% of church-goers attend an average of once a month.”(7) It would seem that even when some people come to church, they come infrequently, or for the wrong reason.
Francois Fenelon was the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century. One Sunday when the king and his attendants arrived at the chapel for the regular service, no one else was there but the preacher. King Louis demanded, “What does this mean?”
Fenelon replied, “I had published that you would not come to church today, in order that your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the king.”(8)
II. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNBOWED KNEE(9)
NOTE:  In one of his many books on prayer, E.M. Bounds said something to the effect that every good thing that ever came to him was a direct or indirect result of prayer.
 The reverse of Bro. Bounds statement is also true: Every failure that has come into our lives has been a direct or indirect result of our failure to pray.
A. Prayer Is To Be Continuous.
Luke 18:1 “…men ought always to pray…”
1 Thess. 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”
NOTE:  Sidlow Baxter once said, “...Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons—but they are helpless against our prayers.”(10) Folks, if that’s true (and it is), then we should pray continuously.
 The lack of prayer will become evident in the Christian’s life sooner or later.
Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, “Brother, the grass grows on your path.”(11)
 We cannot maintain a close relationship with God without continual prayer. Martin Luther said, “If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.”(12)
B. Prayer Gives Freedom To The Captives.
1. Through prayer the saints can be set at liberty.
James 5:15 “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
2. Through prayer the lost can be brought to the Lord.
Acts 1:14 “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
15b …(the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
NOTE:  After the ascension of Christ, 120 people met in an upper room and prayed for ten days. At the end of those ten days the Holy Spirit of God indwelled them for the first time. Peter got up and preached for about ten minutes, and 3000 people were saved.
 The sad thing about many churches today is that they will conduct ten days of preaching meetings, pray for ten minutes, and then wonder why souls aren’t coming to Christ. E.M. Bounds said it best:
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.(13)
C. Prayer Attains Blessing For The Christian.
Gen. 32:26 “And he (the pre-incarnate Christ) said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he (Jacob) said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
Luke 18: 7 “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
8a I tell you that he will avenge them speedily…”
NOTE: What tragedy the Church suffers because of unbowed knees. Churches have tried almost everything to get results, except what really works—prayer.
When you try education, you get what education can do. When you try learning, you get what learning can do. When you try human ingenuity, you get what human ingenuity can do. When you try science, you get what science can do. But when you try prayer, you get what God can do.(14)
III. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNREAD BOOK(15)
A. The Word Of God Is Our Spiritual Guide Book.
Ps. 119:105 “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Ps. 119:133 “Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”
NOTE:  God has plainly told us that His Word will light the pathway of our life; yet, too often we don’t give it the attention it deserves in our everyday life. George Mueller once said:
The first 3 years after conversion, I neglected the Word of God. Since I began to search it diligently, the blessing has been wonderful. I have read the Bible through one hundred times and always with increasing delight!(16)
 Someone has said, “The Bible has often been described as ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’ (B.I.B.L.E.). The Word of God is a road map of how to live life correctly.”(17) Women often joke about how men won’t ask for directions while traveling in unknown territory. And I find that humorous accusation to be relatively accurate. Folks, life is unknown territory. You only travel through life once. Therefore, we ought to make the most of it by following God’s roadmap—the Bible.
 If our life is to profit from God’s roadmap, we must observe and obey its instruction.
The goal of all Bible study is to apply the truth of Scripture to life. If that application is not made, all the work put into making sure of the author’s intended meaning will have gone for naught. In fact, to know and not do, doubles the offense of disobedience.(18)
B. The Word Of God Is Our Spiritual Growth Book.
Deut. 8:3b “…man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
Job 23:12b “…I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.”
Ps. 19:9b “…the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”
I Pet. 2:2 “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”
NOTE:  In order for anything to grow, it must have nourishment. Just as our body grows weak without food, even so our spirit becomes weak without the nourishment of the Word.
Consider the difference between a strong and a weak cup of tea. The same ingredients water and tea are used for both. The difference is that the strong cup of tea results from the tealeaves’ immersion in the water longer, allowing the water more time to get into the tea and the tea into the water. The longer the steeping process, the stronger the cup of tea.
In the same way, the length of time we spend in God’s Word determines how deeply we get into it and it gets into us. Just like the tea, the longer we are in the Word, the “stronger” we become.(19)
 Folks, if you want to grow as a Christian, you have to spend time in God’s Word everyday. If people ate food the way some Christians feed their spirit on the Bible, they’d soon die of malnutrition. Jerry Vines says:
An unread Bible is like food uneaten, a love letter never read, a buried sword, a roadmap unstudied, gold never mined.(20)
C. The Word Of God Is Our Spiritual Grooming Book.
1. God’s Word is like a mirror that helps us see ourselves clearly.
2 Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”
NOTE: A mirror simply reflects the image that stands before it. The Word of God is much the same. When one looks into it, they see the reflection of who and what they are. However, we often don’t like what we see. Our first response is that that can’t possibly be true of us.
A lady of society was gazing upon an image she had never seen before in the city’s art museum. “My dear fellow,” she said condescendingly to the Curator, “I have never seen this painting before. I find the image shallow and rather crude in appearance. What do you call this?” The curator answered without giving the slightest expression, “That madam, is a mirror.” The lady’s vision was not very focused.
Losing focus on the Jesus of Scripture blurs our own view—not only of Christ—but of ourselves, as well. The Bible is also a great mirror. We may go to it to observe its content with a critical eye, but in the end, we are under its criticism.(21)
2. The Word of God is like soap that aids our cleansing.
Ps. 119:9 “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
NOTE: Some Christians find the Bible frustrating and intimidating. They feel like there’s no use trying to study God’s Word. But the truth of God’s Word is powerful. Someone has written:
I once heard a story with a neat lesson.
There was an old man that lived in the mountains
of eastern Kentucky. The old man had a big family.
One day one of the old man’s grandsons approached
him with a problem.
The Grandson said, “PAP, I read the Bible and I don’t understand it, and what I understand I forget as soon as I close the Bible covers. What’s the use of reading the Bible?”
The Grandfather ordered the grandson to get the basket they used to carry the heating coal into
the house and run down to the river and bring back
a basket of water to the house. To please his grandfather, the lad grabbed the basket, ran to the river and got a basket of water. The lad ran back to the house with the water. By the time the lad reached the house the basket
was empty. The grandfather chided the young boy, “Hurry and go bring me a basket of water. DO IT NOW!”
The lad ran quickly from the river. The basket was full when he left the river, but by the time he arrived at the house the basket of water was dry.
After his third trip, the boy told his granddad, “It
is no use, I cannot retain the water in the basket
until I get here. It is useless.”
The grandfather looked at the disgusted young boy, and said, “So you think it is useless?”
“Yes! Pap it is useless to try!” the boy replied.
The Grandfather said to the boy, “BUT LOOK AT THE
BASKET; CAN’T YOU SEE SOMETHING?” THE SMALL BOY WAS AMAZED. AFTER THREE TRIPS TO THE RIVER, THE DIRTY COAL BASKET WAS CLEAN. Pap said, “See, that is what the Word of God does to you. As you read, you say you don’t retain and understand it, but your basket is cleaned. THE WORD OF GOD DOES THE WORK OF GOD!”(22)
IV. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNCONFESSED SIN(23)
A. Sin Brings Separation.
Isa. 59:1 “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
NOTE:  If our prayers aren’t being answered, the problem is not from God’s side—the problem isn’t with God. Often the problem is simply that the lines of communication have been blocked by sin.
 Sin cannot take away the Christian’s relationship to Christ, but it can certainly take away his fellowship with Christ. As Keith Brooks notes:
When a true Christian sins, what happens? His Fellowship with God is severed. David, when backslidden, mourned, “Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Psalm 32:4). As Clouds hide the sun for days, so Sin comes between the soul and God.(24)
B. Sin’s Bondage Has Been Broken By The Savior.
NOTE: Someone has said, “Sin is like quicksand: Your own efforts only make you sink deeper. Only an outside hand can pull you out.”(25) Folks, Jesus is that outside Source. Because of Christ’s victory on Calvary’s cross, no child of God has to live in bondage to sin.
1 John 1:7b “…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
NOTE:  Unconfessed sin in the lives of Christians is literally sapping the power of God in the majority of today’s churches. Too many Christians take their sins far too casually; and yet they wander why church services seem to lack warmth, vitality, meaning and power. Have we forgotten that unconfessed sin grieves the Spirit of God? Speaking of putting an end to the control of sin in the Christian’s life, Paul said, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
 Sin in the camp of Israel robbed them of God’s presence, power, and protection (Joshua 7).
 Some of God’s children, rather than confessing their own sin, become pious and critical of the sins of others. They pride themselves in the fact that they don’t commit adultery or drink alcohol, or other such sins. But all the while, they are guilty of wrong attitudes, gossip, hateful and cutting words, or lustful thoughts. Oh the tragedy of the unconfessed sin in the Church.
V. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNEXPRESSED LOVE(26)
A. Love Should Be Expressed In The Human Family.
1. Husbands are to show love in the home.
Eph. 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
2. Wives are to show love in the home.
Titus 2:4 “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,”
3. Children are to show love in the home by respect and obedience.
Eph. 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
2a Honor thy father and thy mother…”
NOTE: Folks, the Christian home should be a place where love is expressed and experienced freely. But too often it is a place of conflict and alienation.
A little girl was being punished by eating alone in the corner of the dining room. The family paid not attention to her until they heard her pray: “I thank Thee, Lord, for preparing a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”(27)
B. Love Should Be Expressed In The Heavenly Family.
1. Love is one of the identifying marks of the Christian.
John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
2. Love in the Church is commanded.
1 Pet. 1:22b “…see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:”
1 Pet. 2:17b “…Love the brotherhood…”
NOTE:  There is an old saying that says, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In short, love, sweetness and kindness have a certain drawing power about them. The Christian home and the Church should be two of the most loving atmospheres on the face of the earth.
Show me a church where there is love, and I will show you a church that is a power in the community. In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.
“They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because they love a fellow over there,” he replied.
If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love replace duty in our church relations, and the world will soon be evangelized.(28)
 Why do we hesitate to tell people how we feel about them? We seem to forget that time is fleeting, and we may not be able to share our love for them tomorrow.
If we discovered that we had five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they love them. Why wait until the last five minutes?(29)
C. Love Should Be Expressed To The Heavenly Father.
Deut. 6:5 “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
NOTE:  The above verse is referred to in the New Testament as the “Great Commandment.” You see folks; the supreme issue of life is whether we truly love God. And that love is more than superficial words spoken in a moment of stirred emotions. Real love for God is demonstrated through a life given totally over to Him.
 If one fully grasps the magnitude of what God has done for them in Christ, how could they but love Him?
My God, I love Thee; not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
Are lost eternally.
Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails, and spear,
And manifold disgrace,
And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
Yea, death itself; and all for me
Who was thine enemy.
Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
Nor of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.
So would I love Thee, dearest Lord,
And in Thy praise will sing;
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my most loving King.(30)
Theme: The Church in America is experiencing…
I. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNATTENDED CHURCH
II. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNBOWED KNEE
III. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNREAD BOOK
IV. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNCONFESSED SIN
V. THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNEXPRESSED LOVE
Copyright © January 1986 by Rev. Donnie L. Martin. All Rights Reserved.
1. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 30.
2. K.P. Yohannan, Revolution In World Missions, published by GFA Books, Carrollton, Texas; pg.130.
3. Barna Research, www.barna.org.
4. U.S. Census Bureau.
5. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 31.
6. Ibid, pg. 31.
7. U.S.A. Today, May 25, 1994.
8. Source unknown. Acquired from sermonillustrations.com.
9. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 33.
10. Sidlow Baxter.
11. Today in the Word, June 29, 1992.
12. Martin Luther.
14. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 33.
15. Ibid, pg. 36.
16. George Mueller.
17. Source unknown.
18. J. Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible, p. 255.
19. From autoillustrator.com.
20. Dr. Jerry Vines, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation, p. 69.
21. Author unknown. Acquired from sermonillustrations.com.
22. Author unknown. Acquired from sermonillustrations.com.
23. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 38.
24. Keith L. Brooks, Essential Themes, Moody Press, Chicago; 1974, pp. 48-49.
25. Author unknown. Acquired from pastorlife.com, B. Pate, Editor.
26. Dr. Jerry Vines, Fire In The Pulpit, copyright © 1977 by Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. All rights reserved. Pg. 41.
27. Author unknown. Taken from SermonCentral.com, contributed by Brian McCutchen.
28. Moody’s Anecdotes, pp. 71-72.
29. C. Morley, in Homemade, July 1990.
30. Francis Xavier, 1506-1552. Translated by Edward Caswall, 1814-1878.