Sunday, September 09, 2007

“Acting Out” Acts

The Lord Jesus Christ was again gracious to the Care Group, blessing us with riches upon riches bursting forth from His Holy Word. God's Word contains more riches than all of the world's economies put together!

We had a grand time at Kuya Ding and Ate Fleur’s home the other night, as Kuya Ding led the group in “re-enacting” Acts, chapters 6 and 7. That’s right. Kuya Ding had the men of the caregroup (including himself, of course) “act out” Acts 6, while the women “acted out” Acts 7 (the stoning of Stephen, no less!).

While no one won any acting awards that evening, everyone went home with a greater appreciation of the importance of being continually and consistently grounded in God’s Holy Word.

Acts 6 taught us how the apostles did not allow themselves to be distracted from prayer and the “Ministry of the Word,” even when “practical” demands were threatening to divide the early church.

The poor apostles had to deal with complaints, murmurings, allegations of neglect and discrimination in the allocation of food among the neediest of the flock. There were mounting pressures for them to concern themselves with more “practical” matters, at the expense of time and energy that should be completely devoted to prayer, the proper study and the correct teaching of Scripture: Sound Doctrine—what some Christians today may find as being “too spiritual” or too “inward looking” or "too divisive."

It would not be unrealistic to think that some well-meaning church leaders may have tried to convince the Apostles that they should spend more time and energy on more "practical" matters. The Apostles were probably told: "No one is saying that we should stop studying Scripture... The Scriptures will always be there for us to study... What was true in the Scriptures before, would still be true tomorrow... But we live in the REAL world right now... a REAL world where people need to eat... a REAL world where people's needs must be met... a REAL world where the church needs to be more practical to make an impact this world and not just study Scripture..."

In the face of such challenges, the apostles bravely declared, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God.”

To the Apostles, nothing was more important, useful and practical than being immersed in Scripture and in correctly handling the Word of GOD: they loved Jesus and so yearned to feed Christ’s flock with the choicest meat and purest milk of God’s Word—nothing less would do! They did not allow anything to distract them from what was and still is, truly important: the Ministry of God’s Word.

God's Word is what the REAL Church in the REAL world needs most of all. Sadly, it is also what the REAL world considers as foolishness.

So instead, the Apostles chose among the flock seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (that is, Godly or “Theo-logical” knowledge, as “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” Proverbs 1:7a). These men were to be responsible for the practical needs of the church. This allowed the apostles to continue concentrating on the most important matter: the church’s spiritual growth (what Pastors and Elders are supposed to be concerned about). While in the meantime, the other men who were also full of God’s Holy Spirit and theological wisdom, were put in charge of the physical needs of the church (what Deacons are supposed to be concerned about).

What was the result? Acts 6:7 says “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples (committed life-long student/followers) in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

All Glory to God for His mighty Word!

The latter portion of Acts 6 to the end of chapter 7, then teaches us about one of these seven men, full of the Holy Spirit and Wisdom, who was tasked with providing for the physical needs of the church: a young man named Stephen. Even as Stephen’s primary concern was looking after the physical concerns of Christ’s flock (such as the serving of food to the church’s neediest members--yes, he was pretty much a delivery boy), this did not mean that he was a theological lightweight!

Back in the days when they still did not have the NIV Study Bible or, Stephen’s mastery of Holy Scripture would have put many of today’s “God-is-love-and-that’s-all-the-world-needs-to-know” Christians to shame.

When Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia began to argue with Stephen, they realised that they could not stand up to his wisdom or to the Holy Spirit by whom Stephen spoke—All Scripture is of God’s Holy Spirit!

So in their frustration, they framed Stephen and falsely accused him of blasphemy against Moses, against Moses’ laws, against the Jewish synagogues, and ironically against God himself.

But instead of shying away from the challenge, Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, seized this magnificent opportunity to correctly explain what was written in Holy Scripture about the Glory of God: the Glory of God appearing to Abraham; the Glory of God in His promises; the Glory of God over historical events (as in Israel’s history); the Glory of God even in the persecution of His chosen people (Joseph and his brothers, the Jews as slaves in Egypt and how God rescued them); the Glory of God over earthly superpowers (Egypt/Pharaoh) and worldwide natural calamities (such as famine); God’s glory in raising up Moses under the most unusual circumstances; God’s glory even in how the Israelites rejected and opposed Moses time and time again…

God’s glory in cleansing out and bringing to Himself a disobedient nation; God’s glory in raising up Joshua then driving out the other nations before them. God’s glory in raising up David and then Solomon who built the Great Temple in Jerusalem, with nearly unlimited funds. Yet even this temple in all its splendour could not do justice to God’s glory: The Most High does not live in houses made by men: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all of these things?”

Then, speaking the truth in love (or better yet, speaking the truth out of love—especially out of love for Christ), Stephen says, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One:” Jesus Christ—the only One whose Righteousness is pleasing to the Father.

So they dragged Stephen out of the city and they violently stoned him to death. Yet, Stephen was received by Christ with the peace that surpasses all understanding.

May the Holy Spirit give us more and more opportunities to proclaim what God’s Word clearly teaches: that Jesus Christ is, was and always will be LORD. He was LORD even before any of us were born or conceived—LORD even before He created the galaxies and the universes… and LORD even long after heaven and earth shall pass away.

As we “reach out to the lost,” may we not shy away from proclaiming the truth of God’s Glorious Lordship: His Sovereignty over Heaven and Hell; Life and Death; Good and Evil; the Cross and the Tomb; the Past, the Present, the Future and beyond all Eternity. Jesus Christ’s Eternal LORDSHIP—His Everlasting Dominion: His Rule, Authority and Sovereignty—is the very heart and core of the Good News: Behold, the Kingdom of God (His Lordship, Dominion, Authority and Sovereignty) is at hand!

This is what Jesus Himself told His disciples to proclaim, as they neared the city of Jerusalem, before He was betrayed, crucified and rose again!

The Gospel is no gospel (or “good news”) at all, if it is not about Christ’s Eternally Righteous Lordship and Sovereign Grace.

Sometimes, perhaps under some pressure to make Jesus more “likeable” or “approachable,” we tend to portray Jesus as a god who is asking for our decision to make him lord. Let us not forget that it was He who made us: He is the Uncreated One who does not need any of us to make Him into anything. He needs no permission to rule from any of us.

Nowhere in the Bible does it teach us to ask others to “make Jesus lord.” This is because according to God’s Word: HE ALREADY IS LORD! Whether people like it or not, accept it or not, or understand it or not. Mankind’s problem is that, if the Holy Spirit does not graciously open our humanistic hearts and man-centred minds to this truth, none of us will ever humbly acknowledge God’s Lordship over all.

Some Christians might say that this message may not seem relevant or appealing or practical enough to today’s unchurched target audience. They might argue that the church today needs to address more practical issues instead, such as “self-esteem” or “healing broken relationships” or “living victoriously” or “finding the job God wants you to have” or "understanding your teeanagers" to attract more unbelievers into the church.

What the Bible unabashedly instructs us though is to “Seek first the Kingdom of God (to behold above all things His Lordship, His Dominion and His Sovereignty) and His righteousness, and all these things (yes, all these “practical” things) will be added unto you.”

Like Stephen, may we always remain faithful to the truths about God’s Eternal Everlasting Dominion and LORDship, as clearly proclaimed in His Word… even if it costs us our friends, our families, our possessions, our self-esteem, even the very lives that God has graciously given us.

All Glory to Jesus Christ alone. Amen!

The Grace and Peace of Christ to you all!

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