Sermon from November 12th, 2017

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“Basic Christianity #18: Stand Firm!”

Acts 23:12-22; Luke 21:8-19

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Good morning! I’m glad you’re here.  We’ve had some tough things to deal with this week. Let’s begin by praying for our brothers and sisters at 1st Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. “Lord, we can’t imagine the pain this little congregation is experiencing as they gather for worship this morning. Yet, we know you are there, weeping with them. Comfort them.  Redeem this great evil so that everyone will know you have conquered sin, death, and the devil by the power of your cross and nothing, not even death itself, can ever separate us from the power of your amazing love!

Today we return to our study in the book of Acts. We left Paul a few weeks ago, on his way to Jerusalem after completing his 3rd missionary journey. He felt called by the Holy Spirit to go even though his friends begged him not to. One prophet even told him, “They will bind you with chains and hand you over to the Gentiles.”

A few days after Paul arrived in Jerusalem, his enemies caught up with him. They falsely accused him of preaching against the temple and the law of Moses. They lied about him defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the area reserved for the Jews.

It was just like what happened to Jesus 30 years earlier.  And just like before, it was Passover. The city was a powder keg of resentment against the Roman occupation.

These false witnesses brought Paul before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, where Paul told the story of his conversion.  Some of them had no problem with what he said, until he came to the part where the Lord told him, “Go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

Even though the OT was filled with prophesies of how the Lord desired the salvation of the whole world, they refused to accept that God loved the Roman soldiers occupying their country as much as he loved them. They became so violent the soldiers had to rescue Paul.

They took him down the mountain to the Roman fortress at Caesarea on the coast. The night before the soldiers took him down the mountain the Lord Jesus himself stood next to Paul in a vision and said to him, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11   Paul sharing the Gospel before Caesar and his court, how amazing!

For the next 2 years Paul remained in “protective custody” in the Roman prison in Caesarea. Paul was now in his early 50’s but he looked much older.  His body must have been riddled with arthritis from the beatings, stoning, imprisonments he had endured. I wonder if he prayed as the months went by, “Lord, are you sure you know what you are doing?”

Sometimes when things get tough and there seems to be no end in sight, I’ve asked the same question - “Lord, are you sure you know what you are doing?”

Did Paul know what Jesus said in Luke 21? Maybe Peter had told him. Let’s look at Jesus’ words again. “When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away… they will seize you and persecute you… they will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison… you will be brought before kings and governors all on account of my name…  This will result in you being witnesses to them. Some of you will be put to death, men will hate you because of me, but not a hair on your head will perish. By standing firm, you will gain life!” Lk 21:8-19

How can Jesus say we might be put to death but not a hair on your head will perish?  Especially in light of the murderous event at 1st Baptist church of Sutherland Springs. TX?

Last week we learned that in our baptism we are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That means, as Christians, we have already died and our life is hidden in Jesus. Death no longer holds any power over us. Jesus said we will live even though we die.

What happened in TX is depraved and evil, but Satan doesn’t have the final word, that belongs to God alone and he will turn Satan’s destruction into resurrection and blessing.

Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years … waiting.  How do you do with waiting? I’m sure Paul must have been frustrated.  But God was at work. As it turned out, Paul wasn’t the captive. It was the Roman soldiers plus a king and two Roman governors who ended up being captive to Paul’s preaching and teaching. God has a great sense of humor!

At the end of it all, these secular rulers all agreed Paul should be released except for one thing. Paul was a Roman citizen and he had appealed his case to Caesar. So the Lord provided Paul with an expense paid trip to Rome and a date on the court calendar to share Jesus with the highest rulers in the Roman Empire.

So what can we learn from this? What can we learn from the tragic shootings and terrorist activities of these days in which we live? What can we learn from Paul about standing firm in the frustrating events of our lives that cause us to feel stuck or overwhelmed?

First, God is in control even when we can’t explain or understand what’s happening to us.

Second, evil is real. Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The evil that assaults us every day shouldn’t surprise us. When it does, we need to take care that we don’t fall into the temptation to give up or despair or try to solve the problem in our own strength rather than standing firm and waiting on the Lord to do his thing.

Jesus warned us evil was coming. He also promised he will be with us when we walk through it. He promises that if we will stand firm, we will see the evil, murder, hatred sown by Satan overcome by the love, hope, and faith that flow into our lives from Jesus.

There will be times when we will feel stuck, misunderstood, falsely accused.  Paul must have felt these things many times. But God is not stuck and if we stand firm in is Word, in the place he has put us, we will not only see his deliverance, we’ll be part of it.

But there is something else about this battle with evil. It’s always harder than we thought it would be. It always takes longer than we thought it would take. Your own strength, courage, faith, insight, even your desire to stick it out will fall short. But that’s when you learn the greatest lesson of all. You learn to trust the Lord rather than yourself to carry you through.

From Genesis to Revelation the words “stand firm” occur again and again. Let give you some examples:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:7-10

“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Eph 6:13

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” 1 Cor 16:13

The Lord rarely tells us why he allows trials to come our way. People have asked me, “Why is the Lord doing this to me?”   But evil doesn’t come from the Lord.  Sometimes it comes from the devil. Sometimes is comes as a result of living in a broken world. Sometimes is comes as a result of our own foolish choices.  And sometimes we can’t find anyone to blame.

Sometimes our suffering and our struggle against evil doesn’t have anything to do with us at all. It’s about the testimony the Lord wants to bring through us as we walk through whatever it is the Lord has allowed to come our way. Let me illustrate…

The Lord used Paul to reach people from his jail cell in Caesarea that he never would have reached when he was on the road. The Lord can use us to reach people from a hospital bed that we would never reach if we weren’t in that place.  The Lord can use our grief, pain, suffering to bring hope to others that would never happen if we weren’t walking that road.

Paul’s trials aren’t over, in fact, the hardest are yet to come. But the Lord will be with him in every one. The Lord will be with us as well. Here are a few things I believe the Lord is teaching us through Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea. They aren’t new. They are all the way through the Bible and true right up to the present day. When you are facing difficulty…

Stand firm, don’t quit when the going gets tough, the Lord is with you, your trial is no surprise to him. He’s not going to abandon you. Stand firm in him!  He’ll deliver you and he’ll redeem your struggle for his glory.

Stand firm, when you are falsely accused and misunderstood, because you will be - just as he was. Let Jesus be your advocate and defender, stand firm in Him!

Stand firm, when your own strength, courage, insight, and wisdom fail you because they will. At the point where you are emptied of yourself, you will find that the Lord fills you with his power, his love, his peace. Stand firm in Jesus!

Stand firm in Jesus when Satan’s threats and intimidation seem overwhelming.  In your own strength you have no power to stand against him. Lay hold of this promise “Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world!” 1 John 4:4  Resist the devil, stand firm in the Lord Jesus, and he will flee!


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