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Preaching God's Word: Acts

Waiting On The Lord, We Renew Our Strength.
Jesus tells His apostles, ‘the Holy Spirit’ will ‘come upon you’ (Acts 1:11, 8). He gives them His Word of promise: ‘I send the promise of my Father upon you’. He gives them His Word of command: ‘stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). They wait upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. They cannot fill themselves with the Spirit. They can only ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Waiting for the Spirit, the apostles ‘devote themselves to prayer’ (Acts 1:14). They do not earn the Holy Spirit as a reward for spending much time in prayer. Waiting on God, their strength is renewed as they receive God’s gift (Isaiah 40:31; Luke 11:13).

* Christ's disciples were concerned about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

He was preparing something better for them. They were to take the first steps in bringing the message of His love to the ends of the earth.

* "You shall receive power ... " (Acts 1:8) - the power of the Holy Spirit

This is the fulfilment of the promise given by Jesus in John 7:37-39.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, there are "rivers of living water" flowing into our hearts and out from our hearts.

* Jesus is coming again (Acts 1:11).

Our ministry is empowered by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live in the light of eternity.

Our spiritual weakness comes from our failure to live as those who are eagerly awaiting the Return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our spiritual strength comes from this - Jesus has given us His promise: "I will come again and receive you to Myself" (John 14:3).

Drawing our attention away from our own weakness to the Lord's strength, the Holy Spirit equips us for the great work of proclaiming the Good News of salvation.

* "These all continued with one accord in prayer" (Acts 1:14).

At the heart of every true work of God, there is prayer. Without prayer, there is no blessing.
There's a vital connection between prayer and blessing. We must, however, always remember that the blessing is given by God. It is not earned by us.
God's promise of blessing comes with the call to prayer (2 Chronicles 7:14). In prayer, we look to God to fulfil His promise. As we pray, let us always remember this: The grace comes from God. The glory goes to God.

The Word of God and the Spirit of God in Acts 2

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised …” (Acts 1:4-5).
In Acts 1:8, we have the promise of God and the call to mission.
God’s people pray (Acts 1:14). They are waiting on the Lord, trusting that He will fulfil His promise: “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Notice that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift (Acts 1:4). The disciples are not being rewarded for their commitment to prayer. They are waiting upon the Lord who sends the Holy Spirit as the gift of His grace.
* The coming of the Spirit is like “wind” and “fire” (Acts 2:2-3).
- The wind of the Spirit comes from heaven.
- The fire of the Spirit rests on the disciples.
* The coming of the Spirit leads to mission.
- The Gospel is communicated to many people who have gathered in Jerusalem from many different places (Acts 2:5-11).
People are puzzled. They look for a human explanation (Acts 2:12-13).
The real explanation is spiritual (Acts 2:14-21).
* When God pours out His Spirit (Acts 2:17), the promise of salvation (Acts 2:21) is emphasized in the preaching of the Gospel.
* When God pours out His Spirit, the preachers of the Gospel keep Christ at the centre of their preaching (Acts 2:22).
* When God pours out His Spirit, the Story of Jesus is told – His “miracles, wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22), His crucifixion (Acts 2:23), His resurrection (Acts 2:24), His exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33).
The Story of Jesus is the Story of God’s love.
We hear this Story and the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to draw us to the Saviour.
* When the Holy Spirit is poured upon us, He prompts us to ask the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
We can only ask this question when we are “cut to the heart.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
When we hear the message of salvation, preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are moved by the Spirit to ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
This is the question of salvation.
- The question comes from God. He puts it into our hearts.
- The answer comes from God. He speaks to our hearts.
God’s answer – the answer of salvation – is spoken by Peter in Acts 2:38-39.
- It is the call for conversion.
- It is the promise of salvation.
We are to come in faith to Jesus, confessing our sin and receiving His forgiveness.
When Peter preached the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The numerical growth – “three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41) – was accompanied by spiritual growth – “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
The spiritual response of the new believers of the new believers is described in Acts 2:42.
A key word, in the final verses of Acts 2, is “together” (Acts 2: 44, 46).
This spiritual response – unity in Christ, trusting Him as Saviour, commitment to Him as Lord – arises out of the powerful presence of God among His people (Acts 2:43).
Let us pray that God will be among us – in power and in love – and let us pray that our lives will be filled with His power and His love.

Acts 2:37-38

A number of years ago, I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon, walking along the beach at Millport on the island of Great Cumbrae. Some parts of the beach were quite rocky. I had taken on the responsibility of making sure that my 4 year old nephew didn’t fall and hurt  himself on the rocks. “Make sure Jamie doesn’t fall and hurt himself” – This seemed to be the main thing on my mind. Jamie had other things on his mind.
As we walked across the rocks, Jamie kept asking questions. It was one uestion after another. As soon as I had answered one question, Jamie followed it up with his next question.
Why? Why? Why? From early childhood, we ask questions. From early childhood, we are looking for answers.
This morning, we are going to think about a question and an answer.
 * The question is our question: “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37).
 * The answer is God’s answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The question concerns our response to the Gospel – “What shall we do?”
The answer is given to us by God – “This is what you are to do?”
We begin with the question.
Where does this question come from? – It comes from God.
His Word is preached. His Spirit is at work.
Following on from the preaching of God’s Spirit in the power of God’s Spirit, we read this, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart” (v. 37). This is where the question comes from. God has put it into our heart. Through His Word and His Spirit, he leads us to ask the question of salvation: “What must I do to be saved?”
The question is our question. The answer must always be God’s answer. We ask the question. We cannot give the answer. In ourselves, there is no answer. We are “far off” (v. 39).
We know about our sin, but we cannot give to ourselves the forgiveness of sin.
We know about the emptiness in our lives, but we cannot fill our own hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We can only come to God in our sin and our emptiness.
We come in our sin, praying for God’s forgiveness. We come in our emptiness, praying that God will fill us with His Spirit.
When we come in our sin and emptiness, God speaks His answer.
The question is asked, “What are we to do?” God’s answer begins with a call for repentance and baptism – “Repent and be baptized.”
If we were to read no further than the words, “Repent and be baptized”, we would miss a great deal of what God is saying to us here. “Repent and be baptized” is only the beginning of God’s answer. We must go on from there. As we read the remainder of verse 37, we learn that
(1) God’s answer is addressed to every one of us.
(2) God’s answer comes to us in the Name of Jesus Christ.
(3) God’s answer comes to us with the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
 (1) God’s answer is for every one of us. He doesn’t say to some of us, “You need to repent” and then turn to others, saying, “You won’t need to repent. You’re good enough already.”
To every one of us, God says, “Repent and be baptized”. To every one of us, He says, “Leave your old life behind. Step out into the new life with Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord.”
  (2) God’s answer comes to us in the Name of Jesus Christ.
“What are we to do?” – Before we think of what we are to do, we must think about what Jesus Christ has done for us. This is the Good News. Jesus Christ has taken our sins upon Himself. He has died for us so that we might be forgiven by Him.
We must never begin with the call for repentance and baptism. We must always begin with Jesus Christ – “the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us” (Galatians 2:20).
“What are we to do?” – The first thing we must do is this: we must look away from ourselves to Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
When we turn our eyes on Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will never  think of our repentance and baptism as ‘good works’ we have done, ‘good works’ by which we make ourselves acceptable to God.
The Name of Jesus Christ is the Name of our salvation. It is in Him that we are called to repentance and baptism. It is through the power of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that we are able to put the old life behind us and begin the new life of the Spirit.
At the heart of God’s answer to our question, there is “the Name of Jesus Christ.”
In His answer to our question, God speaks to us of repentance and baptism. He speaks of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Above all else, He speaks to us of His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 (3) In Jesus Christ, God’s answer comes to us with the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
 * Through faith in Christ, we put the old life behind us. Our sins are forgiven. We receive the gift of the Holy
 * Through faith in Christ, we receive the strength we need to live as men and women who love God.
 * Through faith in Christ, we receive the strength we need to maintain our confession of faith – “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
We ask the question, “What are we to do?” God gives the answer - “Repent and be baptized.” We lay our old life before the Lord. We invite Him to come and change us. He comes in forgiving love. He comes in transforming power.
Once we have put our faith in Christ, everything changes - “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17); "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
There is a change of direction in our life. This change of direction is described for us in Acts 2:42 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Our priorities change. Life is no longer centred upon ourselves. It is centred upon Christ.
Christ has given us life – abundant life, eternal life. Let us live this life for Him, giving all glory to Him and taking no glory for ourselves.
Let us not speak so much of our repentance and baptism. Such things can never be anything more than our response to His love. Let us learn to look away from these things and rejoice in our Saviour, saying with the Apostle Paul: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

The persecutor becomes the preacher.

The name, "Paul", speaks to us of God's amazing grace. Before his conversion, he was "Saul." By the grace of God, he became Paul. He was "called" by God. The great turnaround in his life came when he heard the voice of Jesus. It was  a question about the way he was living - "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4). This was not only a call to stop persecuting Christ. It was also a call to start preaching Christ. The persecuor became the preacher. God's call comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to salvation. We are called to service. We have been saved by the Lord. Let us serve the Lord. In this life of salvation and service, we learn, again and again, of the faithfulness of God (1 Corinthians 1:9). We dare not ever think of ourselves as great servants of God. We must always think of God as the God of great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23). In His great faithfulness, God gives us His great strength so that we might live as His faithful servants (1 Corinthians 1:8). 
Acts 20:17-38

What's so different about the 21st century?
In so many ways, the 21st century is completely different from the 1st century.
With our computers, we can listen to a sermon from the other side of the world. We can listen to it and we can watch it being preached - as it happens, live!
This is so different from life in the time of Christ and His Apostles.
Very different - Yes! - but is it completely different?
Can we, in the 21st century, afford to ignore the voices which speak to us from the 1st century? We search for a model for Church life, a model for ministry, in the 21st century. We learn about modern methods of communication. Still, we are faced with the question - Have we listened to what the Lord Jesus has to say to us?
When I was a young student at Stirling University, I took the members of our Christian Union Committee to hear my Minister, the Rev George Philip. We were thinking of asking him to speak at our Christian Union Conference. He preached on the third verse of the letter of Jude where we are exhorted to 'contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the people of God'.
As we listened, our hearts said, 'Yes. This is it. This is the message for today. This is the message we need to hear. This is the message we must never forget.'
As we seek the way forward, God's way for the 21st century, are we beginning to see that the way forward begins when when we go back to the Word of God, back to the Saviour, back to His Apostles?
What a wonderful model for ministry we have in Paul's message to the Ephesian elders! Here is a man who demands our attention. Here is a man who compels us to listen. He is a man of his own time, a man from the 1st century, yet his message is for our time. It is a message which calls us to take God seriously. It is a message which calls us to listen carefully to God's Word. Paul calls us to centre our lives on Christ. He calls us to commit ourselves to prayer.
Paul's ministry was a helpful ministry. It was a Gospel ministry. His ministry was a teaching ministry and it was a prayerful ministry.
  (1) Paul's ministry was a helpful ministry. He tells us, in verse 20, that 'he kept back nothing that was helpful'. In his public preaching of God's Word and in his pastoral work in the homes of the people, Paul prayed that his ministry would help the people to grow in their knowledge of God, their love of God and their service of God.
Why was Paul's ministry such a helpful ministry?
It was helpful because it was real. He was a man living in the power of Christ's resurrection, a man who could truly say, 'For me, to live is Christ' (Philippians 1:21).
His ministry was helpful because it was a ministry of fearless preaching, faithful pastoral work and fervent prayer. Paul was fearless as he preached God's Word to the people. He was faithful in the ministry of bringing Christ to the people in their own homes. He was fervent in prayer as he asked God to bless the people.
Returning to Dunfermline reminds me of an occasion when I spoke at the Presbytery. The Rev Dr Gordon Jenkins was about to take up a position in Edinburgh. I had been asked to pay tribute to his ministry at the North Parish Church, Dunfermline. Gordon was an enthusiastic supporter of Dunfermline Athletic. I used the letters of the team's nickname, the Pars, to describe Gordon's ministry. It was Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit.
Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit - this is where the helpfulness comes from. It comes from above. It comes from the Lord.
When we have done all that we can do, we must look away from ourselves to the Lord and say, 'It is not by might. It is not by power. It is by the Spirit of the Lord' (Zechariah 4:6).
When we look at all that has been achieved, we must learn to look away from ourselves to the Lord and say, from the heart, 'This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes' (Psalm 118:23).
This is helpful ministry - ministry which serves the purpose of God's salvation, ministry which depends on the presence of God's power, ministry which maintains the priority of God's glory. This is helpful ministry - bringing Christ to the people, bringing the people to Christ.
Helpful ministry - it is ministry that never forgets to say, 'Our help is in the Name of the Lord' (Psalm 124:8).
 (2) Paul's ministry was a Gospel ministry. In verse 24, he describes his ministry. He tells us that he 'received this ministry from the Lord Jesus'. He tells us that it is a ministry of 'testifying to the Gospel of the grace of God'.
What is the Gospel? - It is the Good News: Christ has died for our sins, Christ has risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Is the preaching of the Gospel simply the announcement of these facts? No! It is more than that. There is also the challenge of the Gospel, the call to repentance, the call to faith (v. 21).
    God is not only telling us something. He is asking us something. Will you repent? Will you believe?
God is saying something to us - 'This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him'. He is also asking us to say something to Him - 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (Luke 18:13).
This is the prayer of repentance. This is the prayer of faith. We turn from sin. We turn to God. We take our sin to Jesus. We trust Him for forgiveness.
To every one who hears the Gospel, the question is asked, 'What will your response be?'   
As I look back over my own spiritual journey, I am forever grateful to those who impressed on me the need to make my personal response to Jesus Christ. It was not enough to say, 'God so loved that He gave His only Son' (John 3:16). There needed to be something more personal - 'the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). It was not enough to say, 'Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world' (John 4:42). There needed to be the personal confession of faith - 'Jesus Christ is my Saviour'.
Paul was a faithful and fearless preacher of the Gospel. If, in our generation, we are to follow his example, we must not hesitate to impress upon the people the necessity of 'repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ' (v. 21).
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending a service conducted by the Rev Dr Sam Hosain who has recently retired after thirteen years of fruitful ministry at John Knox Church in Stewarton, near Kilmarnock. In his sermon, Dr Hosain directed our attention to three verses in the letter to the Hebrews: 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins' (9:22), 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (11:6), 'without holiness no-one will see the Lord' (12:14).
In these three statements, we have the key features of Gospel ministry:
  First, we are to hear the Gospel - the Good News that Christ died for our sins;
  Second, we are to believe the Gospel - 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' (Acts 16:31);
  Third, we are to live the Gospel - Christ has died for us. Now He calls us to live for Him.
This is Gospel ministry - hearing the Gospel, believing the Gospel and living the Gospel. May God help us to be faithful to His Gospel - in our hearing, in our believing, in our living.
  (3) Paul's ministry was a teaching ministry. In verse 27, Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that 'he had not hesitated to proclaim to them the whole will of God'.
In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green emphasizes the importance of 'teaching evangelism' (pp. 204-206). At the very beginning of the book, he speaks of his own commitment to both evangelism and teaching. His words, written in 1970, are still very relevant to our 21st century Church. This is what he says, 'Most evangelists are not very interested in theology; most theologians are not very interested in evangelism. I am deeply committed to both' (p. 7).
Deeply committed to both evangelism and teaching - what a good description of Paul's ministry! His ministry was a Gospel ministry, calling on men and women to come to Christ in repentance, to come to Christ in faith. His ministry was also a teaching ministry. He did not rest content with inviting people to make a new beginning with Christ. He called them to go on with the Lord. He called them to press on to maturity.
God has so much to say to us. There is so much more than the call for conversion. The Lord is calling us to walk with Him all the days of our life. True conversion is not just a one-off event. It is a lifelong experience of divine grace, a lifelong experience of turning to God in repentance, a lifelong experience of learning to trust in our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If this lifelong experience of God's salvation is to grow strong in our hearts and lives, we need 'the whole counsel of God'. We need solid teaching from the Word of God.
  We need teaching which rebukes us when we move away from the paths of righteousness, teaching which corrects us, calling us back into the paths of righteousness.
  We need teaching which will lead us in the paths of righteousness, teaching which will keep us walking in the paths of righteousness.
During the late 1990s, I began writing Daily Bible Reading Notes. The full set of notes covers the whole Bible - from Genesis to Revelation. In introducing these notes, I wrote,     'Welcome to an exciting ... journey of discovery. On this journey, you will visit places you know well. You will also travel to places you hardly know at all. They will be places of blessing - places where you will meet with God and be blessed by Him ... May God bless you richly as you journey with Him to the many places of blessing found in His Word.'
The Christian life is a journey. On this journey, we are travelling with God and we are travelling in faith. On this journey, God has a plan for us. It is His perfect plan. He wants us to grow  - in our knowledge of Him, in our faith in Him, in our love for Him.
God does not want us to remain 'babes in Christ'. He does not want us to remain content with 'the milk of the Word' (1 Peter 2:2). He wants us to move on to 'solid food' (Hebrews 5:12-14). He has given us 'the whole counsel of God' so that we can grow more and more like Christ, so that we can bring more and more glory to God.
We must never rest on our laurels. When the challenge of God's Word comes to us, calling us on to maturity, we dare not say, 'I'm a believer' as if that was the end of the matter. When God is calling us on to maturity, He is not asking, 'Are you a believer?' He is asking, 'Are you a growing believer? Are you growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?'
On this journey with God, this journey of faith, this journey of spiritual growth, may our whole life - in the 21st century - be a living echo of this great prayer from the 13th century: 'Day, by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray, to see You more clearly,  to love You more dearly, to follow You more nearly, day by day'.
  (4) Paul's ministry was a prayerful ministry.  Paul did not only speak to the people. He also spoke to God. He spoke to the people for God and he spoke to God for the people. In his message to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, in verse 32, 'Now I commit you to God'. At the end of his message, 'he knelt down with all of them and prayed' (v.36).
Paul was a preacher. Paul was a pastor. Paul was a man of prayer. He prayed for the people. He prayed with the people. He prayed that they would receive God's grace. He prayed that they would know that all of their sins had been forgiven. He prayed that they would grow strong in their faith. He prayed that they would be sanctified, that they would live a Godly life, a Christ-like life, a Spirit-filled life, a life which brings glory to God.
How are we to live the kind of life which brings glory to God? - In his prayer for the Ephesians, Paul points us in the direction of a life that is full of God's blessing: 'I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God' (Ephesians 3:17-19).          
Get to know how much the Lord loves you and you will be changed by His love. As you think of the Lord's great love for you, you will want to love Him more. The story of your life will be 'Loving Him who first loved me.'
God calls us to worship Him. He calls us to walk with Him. He calls us to be His witnesses. He calls us to be His workers. Can we ever hope to live such a God-centred life? We cannot do so in our strength. Without Christ, we can do nothing. With Christ, everything changes. We become a new creation in Christ Jesus. We receive new strength.
Paul speaks about this strengthening when he prays for the Ephesians: 'For this reason I kneel before the Father ... I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being' (Ephesians 3:14, 16).
Paul was a man of action. He travelled from place to place, preaching here and preaching there. This is not, however, the full story of Paul's life. We must always remember that he was a man of prayer. From Paul's ministry, we learn this great lesson: 'The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective' (James 5:16).
There is such a clear connection in Scripture between prayer and blessing. We ask, 'Why is there not much blessing?' James tells us - 'You do not have because you do not ask God' (James 4:2). We wonder, 'How can we receive more of God's blessing?' Jesus tells us - 'Ask, and it will be given to you' (Matthew 7:7).
If we are to see God's blessing in our worship and witness, in our walk with God and our work for God, we must come to the Lord with this request, 'Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1).
We have looked together at the ministry of the Apostle Paul - a helpful ministry, a Gospel ministry, a teaching ministry, a prayerful ministry. May God help us to learn from this ministry. May we learn the great lesson contained in 2 Chronicles 7:14 - 'If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I  hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.'      


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