Thursday, August 4, 2011

TURN FROM VAIN THINGS TO THE LIVING GOD

TURN FROM VAIN THINGS TO THE LIVING GOD
Acts 14:1-28                                                                        
We preach as dying man to dying people. We preach knowing that without the preaching of the gospel, none can be saved. We preach the gospel which is the power of God for salvation to those who believe – to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Knowing the terror of God we persuade men. Last Sunday – you heard of the wrath of God against His enemies – the sons of disobedience. Today we are told what to do so that we may not remain vessels of wrath preserved for destruction – we are to turn from idols to a living God.
I know that there are those who may think that they have never bowed down to sculptures or images. To them I say that you have bowed down to the idols in very very subtle manner – look you have done all it takes to get money. You spend as much time as possible so that you may get money even to the detriment of your spiritual life. You are willing to spend all your time and money on education so that you have no time to read God’s Word – in fact this last week you may not have had any time to read the Bible as you had resolved at the beginning of the year. You have had barely sufficient time of prayer because your life is full of one appointment after another with men but rarely with God – except a few hours on Sunday! Clearly, this is to show that you are serving vain things – things that you will leave behind, things that you can’t take with you to your eternal destiny, things that will not count at eternity, and things that may make you not to see God! However, my message today is that you ought to turn from all those idols, those vain things, those temporal things and think about eternity and serve the true and living God.
So then you may ask me;

1.     Why do you need to turn from idols to God?

I know that you want to know why it is very necessary and urgent that you abscond from the things which are idols. God created us in such a way that our rational minds wants to know reasons for doing things that are required. Our rational minds are more compliant with the instructions that have the motives and reasons for doing them. This is why when you speak to a child – don’t touch the ironbox, you need to accompany it with the reason why it is not in its best interest to touch it. You explain what it means to be burnt. You can even make them touch it a little bit to make the understanding easier and the instruction will be permanently engraved into the young mind.
So why are we to turn from these things described as idols or as vain things? Firstly, because they are worthy nothing. Idols will not add any value to the life of your soul. Which idol can provide food for the body or wisdom for the soul? An idol called Baal was not able to provide rain during the time of Elijah. They were helpless, even unable to preserve his own prophets! Idols called Zeus and Hermes were unable to heal a cripple in Lystra and so an attempt to name Barnabbas and Paul by names of their gods was made so that thee idols could take the credit – talk of usurpers of God’s glory! It is only God who is able to give you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness (v. 17)
Secondly, idols never pursue peace – the world appreciates peace this is why we have such organizations as the United Nations or the Red Cross. However, this is just cosmetic peace wrought by God’s common grace. It is not the peace from within that is a product of God’s special grace by His Son who by His blood has justified us and gave us peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Worldly peace does not last long but is so short-lived and temporary. When a person metes violence against the other then it is obvious that one is under the spell of idols as it was the case in Iconium, where they attempted to mistreat and stone Paul and Barnabbas. It was also the case in Lystra with the Jews who came from Antioch and Iconium, who stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city convinced that he was dead (v.19). Because these idolaters caused dissension and division, we see from this passage people who were willing to do anything to serve idols and so because of the vanity of their objects of worship they stir up and poison other people’s minds. The vanity of idols is that it does not neither can it produce peace instead it produces uproar and division, it produces blaspheme against God and violence and discord against men. Idols make its subject a short-sighted slave to violence. This is why violence is glorified in movies and television programs.
Finally, idols take away one’s ability to think soberly. Look the way they were easily convinced into violence in Iconium and Lystra. Consider the haste they had to make Paul and Barnabbas their gods as they said, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" (v.11). Consider the misguided zeal they had to bring oxen and garlands to offer sacrifices to them (v.13). They could not listen to the reasonable words of Paul who told them,
"Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations, He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:15-17).
A depraved person would rather listen to the devil and sin rather than God because the Bible records that, “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.” (Act 14:18). This is why they were persuaded by the Jews who came from Antioch and Iconium rather than the Apostles who had God’s inspired word.
The gospel message seeks to show men of the vanity of life without God. Riches as well as wealth are of no value when God is taken away from the picture. In the same way much learning and wisdom that does not have God, as its Source is worthless until one finds rest in God. Through king Solomon, the Lord spoke very clearly that it is all in vanity until one realizes that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandment (Ecc. 12:13).

2.     How do you turn from these vain things

The question worthy six million dollars then is how do I turn from these things to serve the true and living God? Once one has known what to do and has well embraced it, then the question is how will I do it? Until one is convinced of the need, it is not possible to act. So we ask, how do you turn from these vain things to God?
Firstly, you are to commit yourself to the gospel message. We read that the apostles and other ministers of the gospel committed to preaching the gospel message. When they went to Iconium they spoke it. They preached the gospel message to those who were willing to listen as well as to those who were opposed to it – to those who would believe as well as to those who would not (because they could not identify who would and who would not). Notice that they did not even try to make such a distinction themselves because such is God’s work. They preached even to those whose minds had been poisoned. They preached in the synagogues as well as in the open ground as long as there were audience. They were not in any hurry for we read that ‘they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord…’ when they rejected the preachers in Iconium, they fled to preach the gospel in Lystra, Derbe, cities of Lycaonia and to the surrounding country. What a commitment to preach the gospel were these ministers?
When they were at Lystra they preached a tough message against idolatry:
"Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations, He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:15-17). It does not matter that the crowd was not persuaded – they were committed to preaching the gospel.
Their commitment to the gospel was such that just like Peter and John earlier on had told the Sanhedrin , "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (Act 4:19-20). They were beaten even to the point of being half-dead so that their adversaries dragged them thinking that they were dead as it happened in Lystra when the Jews came from Antioch and Iconium following them.
So as servants of God they commended themselves in order to show their commitment to the gospel. Paul shows in 2 Corinthians what they went through in the preaching of the gospel, opening up their hearts to their hearers. (How?) “by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. (2Cor. 6:4-11). In a nutshell the beatings were numerous (2Cor. 11:23) just to show their commitment to the gospel.
Their commitment to the gospel was such that they did not just preach and go but even after they had preached and gone, they would pass by to ascertain the growth of the seed earlier on planted. This is what they did in Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga and Attalia on their way back to their home church in Antioch.
For those of us who preach the gospel do we have the same commitment to the gospel? For each one who is a believer do you possess the same commitment to get more people come to a saving faith in Christ? It is when we are committed to the spread of the gospel that the Lord will be pleased to make believers out of the sermons.
Secondly, you are to believe the gospel. We read that when Paul and Barnabbas went to Iconium, they entered into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. Believing the gospel truth is an imperative to the turning we are talking about here. The gospel is the good news that point to Christ as the only one able to save sinners. The gospel present Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, who was to come on earth, be born of a woman, live a perfect life here on earth, be betrayed and consequently be added into the hands of sinful men and be killed and buried. The gospel show that Jesus did not remain in the tomb but that on the third day He rose, triumphing over death and took away its sting. It depicts Jesus Christ as the one who made you alive when you were dead in your  trespasses, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. He is the One who set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2:13-15)
The gospel message show  there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1Ti 2:5-6)
No one can turn away from idols without faith in Christ because He is the One who is able to save to the uttermost all those who draw near to God through Him (Heb. 7:25). I am preaching so that people may believe the gospel message as both the Jews and the Gentiles did in Iconium. We read in verse 1 that both the Jews and Greeks believed. We read in verse 21 they made many disciples in Derbe. My prayer for you is that you may believe this message and be disciple of Christ.
Thirdly, you are to be part of a local church. we read that when Paul and Barnabbas were commended by a local church in Antioch, where they were members. So as they preached in all these places they were accountable to the local church in Antioch and as soon as they completed their work they went and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples (v.27-28). Whether one is a great preacher or not he is supposed to belong to a local church to which one is accountable. Paul and Barnabbas were members of a local church – there is no Christian who is supposed to be by himself. Instead, everyone is to be part of a local expression of the body of Christ. Actually it is natural that you believe and you are joined to a local church.
It is for this reason that when they established churches among those who believed, they constituted those churches and appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed (v.23). This is because the plan of God is not only to make believers but also to make those believers into churches in which the means of grace can well be shared. Notice that there always ought to be elders for every church. Notice also that the appointment of elders is a very serious matter in the church and so they fasted and prayed, committing them to the Lord because the task that was before them was enormous.
Notice also that it is only in the context of the local church we can have the devotion to the teaching of the Word, the fellowship of the brethren, the public prayers, the breaking of bread, praising of God in one accord, the eldership, the diakonate, the brotherly love and the fellowship of other churches. 
Finally, you are to be a disciple of Christ. When a person believes and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is supposed to keep on following Him against all odds. The truth of the matter is that the genuine saving faith is the faith that remains – not a faith that lasts an hour or a week or even fifty or hundred years. Continuity to the end, by being faithful to the Master is the character of a disciple of Christ.
In this passage we see the word disciples appears severally pointing out that the converts did not continue being just converts grew to be disciples, meaning that there were devoted to the new Lord and Master and His instructions through His Word. In Lystra for example, the Bible records that, 
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-22)
They encouraged them to continue in faith even through many tribulations. Clearly, tribulations are part of the blessings of the Kingdom while on earth. However, even when they come we are to remain steadfast, unmovable knowing that the Lord is near us even though He is unseen. We are to remain focused in heaven even when the world and its inhabitants are so cruel to us. Obviously because the world hates our Father, it will as well hate us as we were reminded last Sunday and so we should not worry about it when the world is against us but rather be worried when the world is happy with us.
Christ was very categorical that there is a cost of discipleship that whoever identifies with Him must factor before following Him. C.f.; 19:21
Being a disciple of Christ comes with a high cost.
1)     Cost of denying oneself - Matt. 16:24;
2)     Cost suffering - Matt. 10:38;
3)     Cost of comfort – Matt. 19:29
4)     Cost of time – Luke 9:23
5)     Cost of resources - Matt. 19:21
6)     Cost of relatives and friends – Matt. 10:35
7)     Cost of leaving some situations behind – Matt. 8:22; 9:9
Are you willing to put up the whole of this bill for the sake of Christ? Are you willing to put all your energy to follow Christ? Are you willing to leave your own family to follow Christ? Are you willing to put your resources in the kingdom of God so that heart will be there also? There is no shortcut for being a disciple of Christ. You must be willing to do that which He says in His Word. This is the mark of authentic faith. Therefore, you are to persevere in faith to the end. The true faith is the faith that perseveres in Christ up to the end. No one will be saved who abandons his faith on the way.
As a way of application then I have two things to say. First of all to the ministers of the gospel and then to everyone in this assembly:
Preachers: We are to make it easy for people to believe the gospel in our preaching without watering down the truths of the gospel. There seems to have been something remarkable in the way that the apostles preached here, which contributed to their success: They so spoke that a great multitude believed - so plainly and simply, so profoundly and convincingly, with such an evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, and with such power. They spoke so warmly and affectionately, and with such a visible concern for the souls of men because they were not only convinced but filled with the things of which they spoke. What they spoke came from the depth of their hearts and therefore was likely to reach to the hearts of their hearers. They spoke so earnestly and so seriously, so boldly and so courageously, that those who heard them could not but say that God was with them for sure.  We are therefore to be careful not to put any hindrance for the hearers of the message.
However, the success was not to be attributed to the manner of their preaching, but to the Spirit of God, who made use of that means. We rely on the Holy Spirit to bless our preaching just like a farmer does everything to prepare his shamba and expecting God to provide sufficient rain for the crop. Never should we think that our eloquence, as important as it is, can produce a single fruit. We are therefore to pray – sometimes with fasting that the Lord may be pleased to make the preaching of the gospel fruitful. 
Finally, preachers are to be willing to go through all it takes to pass the gospel across to people because the gospel is the means God uses to bring salvation to the sinners. Sometimes we are not prepared to do it but we are to do it in spite of ourselves – we are to preach the word; being ready in season and out of season to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2Tim. 4:2). Sometimes we are tired, yet we are to make no excuses.
To all of us: Consider your lifestyle and ask – what are the things that count in my life? What do you spend most of your time doing? What do you spend most of your income on? What do you value most that you could leave everything else to attend to it? Take for example, if you got a text message now on your phone that you are required to go to work immediately by your boss, would you leave this service immediately and go as required? Would you take time to ask God what would be the best thing to do? Would you tell God I am willing to do your will at all cost even at the cost of your family, your job, your investments? The lesson before us is very clear - You should turn from vain things to a Living God.

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