God Is at Work in Our World!
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - March 9, 2014
*Have you ever seen the Hand of God at work in your life? Most of us can say "absolutely yes!" And I hope you can too. God wants us to see His Hand at work in our world, and in today's Scripture, He shows us four reasons why.
1. First: God works to enlighten us about what matters.
*It is crucial for us to keep focused on the things that really matter in life. But sometimes we get distracted. Sometimes we drift away, and God wants to draw us back to the things that matter.
*Think about what happened in Acts chapter 10. God sent an angel to speak to a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. And starting in Acts 10:4, the angel said this to Cornelius:
4. . . "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
5. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.
6. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.''
*Just before those men got to the house where Peter was staying, God gave Peter a vision to help him understand that the Gospel is not just for the Jews. The Gospel is for all peoples! So Peter went to Cornelius' house and preached the truth about Jesus to the people gathered there.
*The heart of the Gospel is found in Acts 10:36-43, where Peter said:
36. "The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ He is Lord of all
37. that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached:
38. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.
40. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly,
41. not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
42. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
43. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.''
*The Gentiles there in Cornelius' house trusted in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as He did on the day of Pentecost. That was proof enough for Peter to recognize that they had been saved, and in Acts 10:48 he commanded for them to be baptized.
*Peter had a miraculous testimony to share when he got back to Jerusalem. It was the story of God's amazing grace, not just for the Jews, but for everyone who would receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That's what mattered the most, because that's what mattered to God!
*Unfortunately, some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem wouldn't let go of the Old Testament prohibitions against the Gentiles. And they were angry with Peter when he returned to Jerusalem.
*Verses 1-3 say:
1. Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
2. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him,
3. saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!''
*Sometimes God's people get their priorities out of balance. The Christians in Jerusalem heard that the Gentiles had gotten saved. And that's great news! Nothing in this world is more important to God than that! And we know this is true, because God paid the highest possible price for our salvation.
*So, when Peter got back to Jerusalem, was it: "Praise the Lord, those people got saved!"? -- No. At least some of those believers said, "Peter, what's the matter with you?!? We can't believe you went into a Gentile's house and ate with him. That's disgusting!"
*God knew that when Cornelius got saved there was going to be contention in the church at Jerusalem, so God showed His Hand at work in a powerful way. He sent the angel to Cornelius, and He sent the vision to Peter, knowing that these signs would help persuade the contentious believers that God did mean to save the Gentiles.
*God's people had gotten their priorities out of balance, and sometimes we do the same thing. It's easy to see why. We live in a world that is upside down. Muslim terrorists brutally kill anyone who happens to disagree. Millions of people are still out of work or stuck in minimum wage jobs. But a June 2013 Forbes article reported that Tiger Woods pulled in 78.1 million dollars in the previous 12 months. (1)
*We live in a world that is upside down. We've gone from Rhett Butler's famous last words to Scarlett O'Hara, to the point where you can't turn on the TV for long without hearing the Lord's name in vain. I could give a hundred other examples that show we live in an upside-down world. And Christians, that can have a negative effect on us.
*It's easy for Christians to get distressed by the tidal wave of bad news in our world. Like Peter trying to walk on the stormy sea, we can take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to sink. But the Lord is reaching out His hand to us to lift us up again.
*Christians: We can also be drawn away by the pleasures of the world. Our priorities can get out of balance. But God reminds us of the things that matter. The Lord calls us back to the main things: Worshipping and witnessing, holiness and helping others, love for God and love for our neighbors.
2. God works to enlighten us about what matters. He also works to encourage our trust in Him.
*God wants to encourage us to trust in the Lord more every day. And this is one of the main reasons why the Lord sent that three-peat vision to Peter. Please listen again to Peter's testimony in vs. 4-12:
4. But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying:
5. "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me.
6. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.
7. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.'
8. But I said, 'Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.'
9. But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.'
10. Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.
11. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea.
12. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house.
*God acted in amazing ways here to build up Peter's faith. For some reason in vs. 12, Peter left out the last part of the sentence when he gave his report. But if we look back at Acts 10:20, we see that the Holy Spirit actually said: "Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; FOR I HAVE SENT THEM.''
*"Go down and go with them, doubting nothing." (Why shouldn't Peter doubt?) God said: "For I have sent them." God wanted Peter to know that he could trust the leadership of the Lord in every situation. And God wants us to know that we can trust Him too!
*In unusual situations, in difficult situations, in unexpected situations, God wants us to know that we can always trust in Him. That's why He sometimes gives miraculous displays of His power, like Peter's vision in vs. 5-10. Sometimes the Lord also arranges special timing or circumstances, like we see in vs. 11, when those three men showed up at the gate "at that very moment." Then there was Cornelius' angel in vs. 13-14.
*God is always working to build up our faith in Him. Most often, He builds up our faith through His miraculous Holy Word. As Paul said in Romans 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
*And talk about a miracle! Never forget that this Book is a miraculous gift from God! The Bible is the Word of God, with the amazing, miraculous power to save our souls! That's why in 1 Peter 1:23-25, the Apostle Peter tells Christians that we have:
23. . . been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,
24. because "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away,
25. but the word of the Lord endures forever.'' Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.
*The Bible is one of the greatest miracles of all! But sometimes God also gives us other miraculous displays of His power. I like to think of it this way: If a miracle is a one-in-a-million thing, then there could still be 7,000 miracles in the world every day. I say that because there are 7 billion people in our world, and that population gives us one-in-a-million 7,000 times!
*One of my favorite miracle stories was from my mentor pastor, Herman Savoie. It happened when he was a little boy. There was some kind of big storage container for rice near their house, like a big metal box with a hole on top.
*One hot summer day Bro. Savoie got curious about it, and he dropped into the hole. It only took a few seconds to realize there was no way out. The hole was too high to reach and he was trapped. No one knew where he was.
*Young Herman was scared to death and tried to jump up, but it was no use. And it was unbearably hot. It was probably 140 degrees in there as the sun beat down on that oven. Bro. Savoie began to grow weak and faint, and he most likely would have died in that container. But just as he was about to pass out, something or someone mysteriously, miraculously lifted him out of that box.
*He had no idea how it happened. He only knew that God had saved him. All of his life he could look back and remember the Hand of God at work that day. In every challenge or trial or tribulation, Bro. Savoie had an extra reminder that he could always trust in the Lord. And the blessings of that miracle have been multiplied in many other lives, because God wants us to know that we can trust Him too.
3. God works to encourage our trust in Him. He also works to enlist our witness for Him.
*There is no doubt that God enlisted Peter to tell Cornelius the good news about Jesus Christ. We can see it all coming together in vs. 12-15, as Peter said:
12. "Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house.
13. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter,
14. who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.'
15. And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning."
*There was a lot working against Peter witnessing to Cornelius that day. His religious background told him not even to go into Cornelius' house. But God overcame all of that.
*There is also much against us sharing the good news about Jesus Christ, like sinfulness: The sinfulness of others and our own sin. Even our schedules work against us witnessing. Most of us are extremely busy, and that hinders us. On top of that, you can be sure that the devil is doing everything he can to keep us from witnessing. But God works so that we will witness.
*Think of the team God has put together for witnessing! In vs. 13, there was an angel, but an angel wasn't enough. God put His people on the witnessing team too! He enlists us to be partners in the most important work in the world!
*Best of all, God, Himself is on the team. He is the team Captain, Coach, General Manager and Owner all wrapped-up in one. We know this because of those "words" the angel mentioned to Cornelius in vs. 14, those words which would save Cornelius and his family.
*The words Cornelius waited so eagerly to hear were words about Jesus Christ: How He loves us and came into the world to die on the cross for our sins. How He rose again from the dead. And how He will save all who trust in Him.
*These words assure us we are on God's team when we witness for Him. But we also see God on the team in vs. 12, when the Holy Spirit led Peter. And again in vs. 15, when the Holy Spirit fell on the new believers. In all of these things, God was working to enlist His people to witness for Jesus.
4. God works to enlist our witness for Him. He also works to establish a life-changing relationship with Him.
*God wants to change our lives in extraordinary ways, and we see some examples of that in vs. 16-18. There Peter said:
16. "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
17. If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?''
18. When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.''
*What a change! Peter, who would have never gone into a Gentile's house, now says: "Who was I that I could withstand God?" And the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who didn't have a clue about what really matters to God, now glorify God, saying, "God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."
*And the greatest change of all came to Cornelius, and the people he invited to hear the good news: They were saved! They started that day on the way to hell. But now their sins were forgiven, and they were on their way to Heaven! Now they are saved forever, because they put their faith in Jesus, and received Him as their Lord and Savior. God's Hand was at work to change lives.
 So here are the two great changes: The first is salvation
*We hear the Good News about Jesus Christ. We believe what the Bible says about our sin, about God's love, about the cross, about the resurrection. And believing, we turn to God and open our hearts to receive Jesus Christ.
 The first great change is salvation, and the second great change is submission.
*We begin to follow God. We learn to trust in His will and His ways, even when we don't understand what He is doing in our lives or why. We learn to live a life more and more submitted to God. Again, as Peter said, "Who was I that I could withstand God?" This kind of obedient submission is extraordinary evidence, and perhaps the most reliable evidence of the Hand of God at work in our lives.
*D.J. Drummond was diagnosed with cancer back when he was a young college student in Houston. A few weeks before Christmas in 2006, D.J. found out that he had a type of cancer that has no known cure. And though it was slow-growing, it kills half of its victims within ten years of its first symptoms.
*A few weeks later, D.J. was reflecting on Paul's testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. There Paul said:
7. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
8. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
*Here's part of what D.J. wrote: "My cancer is growing. How fast, I cannot say, but it is more difficult now than it was last week, both in what I can do and in terms of pain. I won't dwell on that here, except that it has brought unexpected blessings of perception, perhaps a few insights.
*That verse from Paul was one I thought I understood, but I have a different take on it now. Obviously, I have no idea what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. Although I cannot help but consider my similarity when I feel a jab in my side, unexpected and sharp.
*I imagine Paul thinking from time to time, that maybe he has gotten past the problem, when suddenly he feels it again, maybe when he tries to sleep, maybe while eating, but a nasty reminder that he is never free from it.
*It seems quite apt to call such a thing a "messenger from Satan, to torment". But maybe it's not quite the same for me. Where Paul calls his pain a messenger from Satan, I believe mine is a reminder from God. I am reminded that we all must die one day, that all sorts of things we might think are important are really just vanity and selfish pursuits.
*I am reminded that many people are in pain, sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent, sometimes minor and sometimes a torment. Sometimes it seems just part of life which we all must face, and sometimes a singular injustice we did nothing to deserve.
*On the one hand, I sometimes complain that every time I seem to start getting things to go well in my life, something seems to happen which ruins it all. On the other hand, I have seen children with cancer, and people who found out too late to do anything but wait for death, and I am ashamed of my own complaint.
*Sometimes I feel that I do not receive what I have worked for, that I am cheated of justice and my right reward, but then I see others who have been cheated to a greater degree, and for much longer. And again I am silenced by that rebuke.
*I think about things, especially at night when I am having trouble getting sleep. I realize that I live for a purpose, and I want very badly not to screw up the things that matter. I do not just desire to be a good husband and father, I need to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be. I do not simply want to live in service to God and as a witness to His love, I need to do so. I do not simply wish to help people understand what hope and joy and peace are really like. I need to do my best to help people find those things if they desire them.
*Even if I beat this thing, I am aware that the clock is running, painfully aware." (2)
*Church: There is a life saved and submitted to God.
*Please take a look at your life tonight. Can you see the Hand of God at work? You can if you are saved! And God wants us to see His Hand is at work in our world:
-To enlighten us about the things that matter.
-To encourage our trust in Him.
-To enlist our witness for Him.
-And to establish a life-changing relationship with Him.
*As we go to God in prayer, thank the Lord that He is at work in our lives!
(2) "What Paul Taught Me About Pain" posted by DJ Drummond at stolenthunder.blogspot.com - 8:31 a.m. 01162007