Summary: I wrote this sermon to preach in a church where the pastor had just died on Wednesday night before. God wanted to demonstrate how His timing and His power is more important than the humans in charge.
The Unhindered Gospel in the Hindered Church
A 20th century philosopher, Gamaliel Bradford, once said that “Life is hope triumphing over experience.” In those words, he summed up 20th century optimism. He implied that humanity would learn from its experience and improve. His hope was in the ability of humankind to change and get better.
The believer cannot accept such happy optimism. We see how, even with the advantage of God in our lives, we fail over and over again. We see how we fail to learn from experience. Even when we turn to the scriptures, we see how God’s people (whether Israel or the disciples) failed to learn from experience. Does this, then, mean that we have no hope? No. It merely means that our hope does not rest in us. Our hope rests in God. In short, I would revise the philosopher’s line to read, “Faith is hope in God’s action triumphing over mere human experience.”
This morning, I feel led to share with you from the first chapter of the Book of Acts. In so doing, I have some concerns. First, Acts 1 takes seriously the fact that the early church had seen Jesus die and that the ranks of the disciples, soon to be apostles, had been diminished by the betrayal and suicide of Judas. After the recent loss of Brother Terry, some of you may erroneously think that I am equating Bro. Terry with Jesus or vilifying him with Judas. I assure you that I am doing neither. I am recognizing that just as the early church knew that Jesus had ascended to heaven, we know that Terry has gone to be with Jesus. AND, just as the early apostles found themselves with a position that needed to be filled according to God’s timing, so does Bethlehem Baptist. I am NOT saying that the circumstances are the same, but I am saying that Biblical principles can help us understand what God is doing, just like God helped the early church understand. So, let’s approach God in prayer and see what God has to say.
Before I read from Acts 1, I want to call your attention to the last word in the Greek text of Acts. It is ακωλυτως, pronounced “ah-koh-LOO-tohs” by some and “ah-koh-LEE-tohs” by others, and means “unhindered.” The final verse in Acts (28:31) tells us that God’s Kingdom and what Jesus taught were being preached throughout the world with no barriers of race, geography or circumstances. Along with Dr. Frank Stagg, I firmly believe that this is the theme of Acts—overcoming barriers of race, resources, language, politics and opposition to preach Jesus.
So, how do we do that? Luke gives us a clue at the very beginning of the book. Read verses 1-2. The Gospel of Luke was written to demonstrate how Jesus introduced the Kingdom of God and taught people how to enter it. The Book of Acts is about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, coming to empower the apostles after Jesus ascended.
There are two important terms here that we can read right over if we’re not careful. First, nothing happened in the early church without the activity of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost in the KJV). This name for God appears 47 times as Holy Ghost and 5 times as Spirit (capitalized) in the KJV. In the 28 chapters of Acts, that’s more than the 34 references in the 68 combined chapters of Matthew, Mark and Luke. That’s more than the 45 references in Romans and I Corinthians combined. Add together the Gospel of John and the three letters I, II and III John and you only find 21 references to the Holy Spirit.
What do all these numbers mean? I believe they mean that you cannot overcome the barriers to preaching the gospel without the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches try to organize and some churches try to imitate successful churches. No church can succeed without depending on the Holy Spirit.
Second, note that the disciples are no longer called disciples. They are no longer “FOLLOWERS,” but they are commissioned messengers, deputized ambassadors—they are “apostles” – sent ones, people on a mission. That’s what the church is to be. And if the Holy Spirit is present in the lives of a church’s members and if they are following the Holy Spirit, those members will be SENT into the community and neighborhoods, the workplaces and the schools, the clubs and the athletic teams to preach, teach, share and disciple according to God’s word.
Now, I know that I haven’t shown you anything new. This isn’t some inspirational concept that will immediately transform your lives. It is truth that you already know. You’re just saying, “When, O Lord, will you bring revival to our church.”
That’s where the heart of my message is this AM. It’s all about God’s timing. Read verses 3-8. I see that Jesus was present with the disciples for 40 days and spoke with them about the Kingdom of God and gave them convincing proofs of His LIVING. In fact, the Greek verb that is translated “shewed himself alive” has the literal idea of being present with, being in the middle of that group. So, 40 days—yeah, got that!.