Is Something Missing?
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.”
When we dip into Dr. Luke’s second book, the “Acts of the Apostles”, we certainly see much that we can relate to as he draws back the blinds on the early church.
We see a church that prays, that breaks bread, that meets together for fellowship, and that receives instruction and teaching. We see a church that operates in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and a church that believes that it must share the good news of the gospel that will change lives. And, of course, all that is good.
But I think if we’re honest we can also see some things that many of us may not relate to in the way that perhaps we should. And some of these things raise questions for us that leave us less than comfortable.
But an unwelcome and even an unpleasant truth, can sometimes prove to be the doorway to something that is truly liberating and life transforming, because a truth we may see as a very unwelcome guest, could turn out in fact, to be the surgeon who can save our lives.
It is one such truth that I’d like us to look at together this morning, and, since it is a truth that may, for some of us at least, prompt a personal response, it seemed appropriate to me to bring the Word BEFORE we go on to share communion together, since the communion table is perhaps the ideal place to present ourselves before the Lord when we are seeking to face up to the challenges of our Christian lives.
Listen first though to Hebrews 10:38 which provides a significant warning for all of us as Christians when it declares: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
So shrinking back from the challenges of walking in faith is NOT something we should allow ourselves to do. Though often of course, shrinking back may seem like a very attractive proposition if we are faced with a situation that requires us to demonstrate our trust in God in a practical way, especially if it might take us out of our comfort zone.
But it is when the “rubber hits the road” like this, that we really have an opportunity to show to what extent we match up to James’ candid instruction in James 1:22 where he says with characteristic bluntness “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS.”
But James is even more forthright a little later on in his letter when he tells us in James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has NO DEEDS? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by ACTION, is dead.”
It is around this very issue that I think we see a telling difference between the church in Acts and the one we share in today.
Now I’m not in any way attempting to malign any one of us this morning. I merely want to highlight a matter that I think is so key, that we should look it straight in the eye and determine whether or not it is something that in OUR case, we might be tacitly avoiding, rather than embracing as we should. But this is clearly something for each of us individually to decide.
On the evidence of Luke’s second book, the early church, were not only characterised by the elements I’ve already said we recognise and share in the Church today, but we also see them DOING, ACTING, and SPEAKING with AUTHORITY something that in my experience is a less common feature of church life today.
It is no accident, after all that Luke’s second missive to Theophilus, is referred to as the “ACTS of the Apostles” because from start to finish it records little else but the dramatic story of the Holy Spirit’s working through the early converts to the faith in the most amazing ways as they not only CONFESSED their faith in the risen Christ, but as they demonstrated and ACTED on that faith to see the miraculous and to see God intervening in the lives of men and women in the most dramatic ways.
So this morning I’d like us ask ourselves the question: “Are we, as members of today’s church, behaving like our early church forbears and ACTING on our FAITH? “
Are we living a Christian life that is more than just adhering to a faith that operates within the confines of our minds, in the arena of our thoughts and beliefs? Or, are we both “talking the talk” and also “walking the walk” when it comes to our Christian lives, as was clearly the case for our early church forebears.
Specifically, are we, like so many of our brothers and sisters in Luke’s day, those who demonstrate our faith in what we DO, and in how we ACT because of what we believe?
Just look for a moment at some of the evidence we see in the book of Acts.
It shows us Peter and John meeting a lame man, a man crippled from birth, being taken to the temple gate called “Beautiful” to beg, and Peter and John looked him straight in the eye, and totally ignoring any thought of political correctness, or the potential for deep personal and public embarrassment should nothing at all happen, Peter announces boldly as it tells us in Acts 3:6–8 . . “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH, WALK.” and then the record goes on, “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”
Then in Acts 5 we read the frankly terrifying account of Peter exposing Ananias and Saphira, the couple who deceitfully withheld some of the proceeds of their land sale, and speaking to them with such authority that both dropped stone cold dead on hearing his rebuke. Please don’t try this at home!
In Acts 6:8 we read of Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power,” who, quote: “did GREAT WONDERS and MIRACULOUS SIGNS among the people.”
Then we see Philip, not holding scheduled revival meetings, and inviting folk along, but out and about in the midst of the people, in a ministry that was evidently engulfed in the miraculous such that in Acts 8:6–7 we read “When the crowds heard Philip and SAW THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS HE DID, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.”
Then we see another “Ananias”, fearlessly scorning his own safety, and at the direction of the Lord, going to the lodgings of one of the most feared persecutors of the early Christians, Saul – who of course was later to became Paul, and laying hands on him to restore his sight and then administering the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 11:20–21 we read of “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” ordinary, newly born again Christian men, who, quote: “went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.” And we read that: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE believed and turned to the Lord.”
We see Barnabas, we see Paul, we see Timothy, we see Silas, we see the people of God, frequently speaking out in the power and authority of Jesus name, boldly expecting AND SEEING the manifestation of the power of God changing lives, releasing captives, driving out demons, healing the sick and bringing many, many into the Kingdom of God.
And there’s a key point for us all here. These people were NOT just having prayer meetings ABOUT these needs – and I’m not in any way denigrating prayer meetings, but they were using the authority of Jesus’ name to DO the works of God!
So here’s another question for us all this morning. It’s an uncomfortable question. If we serve the same God that they served; if we have received the same salvation they received; if we have been baptised in the same Holy Spirit that they were; what has gone wrong for so many of us?
When was the last time we spoke out in the authority of Jesus’ name and saw the miraculous unfold? And, if the church was like that then, why is there so little of it to be seen now?
Well at this point, I’d like us to listen to one of Paul’s prayers that I think sheds some light on our problem. It was a prayer he prayed over the Ephesian church, but from what I understand of Paul from God’s Word, it is a prayer he might well have prayed for us at Elim Hope had we been around at the time. Listen to every word of this – it exposes Paul’s heart and, I would suggest, it gives an answer to the question of why we are not ACTING BOLDLY on our faith as so many of our early church forbears did. As such, I think it might provide a blueprint for dramatic change in our own lives and in our testimony as 21st century Christians.
Paul writes in Ephesians 1:18–20, “I pray also that the eyes of YOUR HEART may be enlightened in order that YOU may know the hope to which he has called YOU, the riches of HIS glorious inheritance in the saints, and HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, . . .”
Now this prayer of Paul’s, I want to suggest, is praying into a problem some of us share with our Ephesian brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of us, like them, have lost sight of God’s “INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US” and we urgently need the eyes of our HEARTS to be enlightened to that reality so that we really do perceive, know and understand God’s “INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US”.
That power, which is the very same “POWER” used to raise Christ from the dead, and so destroy the plans of the enemy by seizing and securing salvation for all who have the faith to receive it, is the key to activating the benefits of that GLORIOUS INHERITANCE that are ours right now.
Believing in that power in a “here and now”, life-transforming way, just sweeps away any DECEPTION that the God we serve is no longer willing to demonstrate His “INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US who believe.” and that He will no longer authorise US to be used in the miraculous as were our brothers and sisters in Christ of whom Luke wrote.
Jesus himself is quoted as saying in John 14:12 “I tell you the truth, ANYONE who has faith in me will DO what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. Now, okay, some of us might not have a very high view of our potential in spiritual matters, but Jesus specifically INCLUDES both you and I in this promise because doesn’t He say quite clearly “ANYONE who has faith in me will DO what I have been doing.” And “ANYONE who has faith” MUST, by definition, include us all!
But notice too that Jesus isn’t telling us that we will be “SAYING”” or we will be “SEEING” what He had been doing, He actually said that we, you and I, in the words of scripture, “will DO what I have been doing.”
Now try not to get too excited, but what exactly did Jesus DO? Well, He abated storms; He walked on water; and, He rustled up picnics for thousands of hungry people from a handful of loaves and fishes - yes; but He also commanded sickness to go, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and the dead to arise. He spoke with wisdom that stopped the wise in their tracks, and He brought revelation so profound that it stunned the wisest of His day.
Above all, Jesus ministered in the miraculous and when He left, He bequeathed a glorious, a God-glorifying INHERITANCE, to and through His church- that’s US, because He empowered “ANYONE who has faith in” HIM to “DO what” He had “been doing.”
Just eavesdrop for a moment on Jesus standing at the sepulcher of His dead friend Lazarus. In John 11:41–44 we read this:”So they took away the stone. THEN JESUS LOOKED UP AND SAID, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice”, (notice, it doesn’t say Jesus prayed again) “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
So interestingly, here we see Jesus not just praying, as we might, that His Father would kindly bring Lazarus back from the dead. Instead we see Him taking the opportunity of showing those present that He could use His authority to COMMAND that Lazarus awake from death and come out from the grave.
And, what does Jesus say to us today? Well we just heard it a moment ago. Jesus says to us in John 14:12: “ANYONE who has faith in me will DO what I have been doing.”
So let me just take you to some other words of Jesus – words found in that very poignant passage of scripture where the Saviour is talking to his disciples just prior to His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and His subsequent trial and crucifixion. Speaking of the time AFTER His resurrection and the birth of the church – that’s where we are now, He says in John 16:23: “In that day (that’s THIS day!) you will no longer ask ME anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give YOU whatever you ask in MY NAME.”
Now I hope to return to this and focus on the practical aspects implementing today’s truth in our lives, another time. But as we come now to the communion table to give thanks to God for the sacrifice of His Son, for His body broken and His precious blood shed for us, let’s come fully realising then that the DOING part of our Christian walk is now actually POSSIBLE because it is underwritten by the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice that brings us into a new covenant relationship, a relationship extended to us totally by the grace of God and empowered by the authority we share in Jesus’ name.
But let’s not come wingeing that God isn’t honouring our faith, isn’t speaking to us, guiding us or blessing us IF WE ARE CONTINUING TO ALLOW SIN TO RULE IN OUR LIVES UNCHECKED; if we are refusing to make restitution and put right the wrong things we have done; if we are still allowing strife and division to persist in our relationships with others; if we are continuing to harbour envy, greed or selfish ambition in our lives; or if we are allowing position or possessions to warp and compromise our Christian walk.
And, let’s also acknowledge now, at the communion table, that this new and totally undeserved relationship we now have with God MUST be sustained by us allowing, as Paul indicates, the eyes of OUR HEARTS TO BE ENLIGHTENED so we get to really KNOW the HOPE to which he has called US, the riches of HIS glorious inheritance and HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER FOR US who believe.