Friday, September 16, 2011

Has Your Heart been Operated by the Lord?

Has Your Heart Been Operated By the Lord? Acts 16:1-15 Is it possible for a person who has been operated by God to miss it? Most of those people who have had an operation, will also remember the surgeon who operated them. This is because one would be careful to find out the background and competency of the surgeon before entrusting his life to him. Today I want to introduce you to the best surgeon the world has ever known. A Physician who does not forget any foreign substance in the patient body. Well, I am not sick you say. But I tell you that you are too sick to know that you are sick. Every one of us is sick with a fatal sickness called sin. The disease has killed millions upon millions all over the world. It is the only sickness no government cares to train physicians to deal with it. It is the sickness that very few will admit to have except those who had its cure. It is the only sickness whose patients will not have place in heaven. God will not admit a sinner who has not sought the physician Jesus Christ, whom He provided. So you ought to be ware lest the day comes and finds you sick. 1. The Lord operates with men In the salvation of men the Lord uses people to draw others to salvation. It might be children like it was the case of Augustine. It might be by the conduct of people like the way it was with John Wesley when He saw the conduct of the Moravians during a storm in the Atlantic they were very peaceful praising the Lord with hymns and entrusting themselves to the Lord who had saved. Or it might be in the preaching in a church like the way Spurgeon was saved when he believed the message preached by an inexperienced deacon in a small Methodist church. Or it might be as result of hearing a sermon like I am bringing to you this morning. I bring to me the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ this morning that He is the Saviour and that for men to be saved He uses other men to bring to them the message of salvation. Luke occasionally gives a summary statement to express the progress of the gospel and the church. He has done this in 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24 and thirteen other times. So in verse 5 he tells us that the churches were strengthened in the faith and were daily increasing in number. Notice that the word faith in verse 5 is used technically to mean not the individual person’s trust but the objective faith, that is, the Christian doctrines taught and believed. From the statement the strengthening in faith and the numerical increase of believers was taking place so that there was both spiritual growth and numerical growth of the church. This means that during their stay in Galatia, the missionaries continued to instruct and encourage the believers. The result is that the believers were encouraged and strengthened in the faith. But who were instrumental in the strengthening in the faith and daily increase? It is not angels but men called Paul, Silas, and timothy. Timothy Himself had been converted as a result of believing the message of the gospel from men. What did these missionaries bring to the people? They brought to them the gospel message that you do not need to keep the law for you to be saved but to believe in Jesus Christ. What they preached was “... we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." (Act 15:11). This was the decision that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem (v. 4). Now if God uses men for the salvation of others then we Christians ought to take the sharing and the preaching of the gospel seriously like these missionaries. Paul’s missionary strategy was to preach the gospel first of all in the leading cities so that it can radiate in to the surrounding areas. Although it is a simple strategy, there are good reasons for this: firstly, it is because towns and cities attract people from all the surrounding regions and beyond who can take the message back to their people in their native land. Therefore, you should take this gospel message to your village and you are welcome to request for tracts. Secondly, the town and city dwellers are more endowed in resources than the rural folk and these resources can be used to the furtherance of the gospel. And so you ought to be willing to give your money for the gospel to be preached by those who are willing to your people back at your rural home. Finally, there is a higher possibility of more learned people being in towns than in rural areas who when endowed with the Holy Spirit can be a great asset to the furtherance of the gospel beyond the town. These factors worked well for Paul and it is a very effective strategy where there are few workers. Have you ever requested us to take the gospel to your people back at home, if you consider us to be preaching the gospel that brings salvation? The point is that we ought to have an evangelistic strategy to reach sinners with the gospel. In matter very few are good. There those good and faithful servants who are completely employed in the work of the Saviour that they are ever set to share the faith and so they carry tracts in their handbags and pockets. They are ever willing to open their mouth to bring sinners to Christ. They use their time and resources to advance the course of Christ. They are willing to use the whole of their annual leave in the mission field and so forth. We realize that the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus (v. 8) which simple means that the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus, is in total control and is directing and guiding the missionaries so that they only do that which He wants them to do. He is communicating to them and also preventing them from just doing their will to make sure that they only do His will. We might not know exactly how He might have passed the information to them, (there is a possibility that He used Silas who was a prophet from 15:32). He guided them up to the place that He wanted churches established – Macedonia (v.9). This was simply that the Holy Spirit was making a smooth way for them to take the gospel to a new ground – the continent of Europe having preached in Asia for so long. The Macedonian call was a request for the missionaries to cross over the Aegean sea from Troas to Macedonia, which was the area between the Asia and Italy with Adriatic sea between them. Some of the Macedonian churches that were established during this second missionary journey were, Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica before proceeding to Cenchreae, Corinth, and then Athens as we will find out in chapter 17. In God’s providence the Macedonian were under Roman government and spoke Greek, something that made the missionaries’ work very easy because there was no communication barrier. From Troas Luke includes himself in the company of the missionaries and uses the pronoun ‘we’. Do we ever think of ourselves as if we are part of the team? Paul on entering the region of Macedonia went straight to one of the leading city in the region called Philippi, where they worshipped with God-fearing women on the Sabbath. The city of Philippi was named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. The area was known for its fertile plains and gold mines – this explains why the Romans conquered it. Philippi was a leading city in terms of the great school of medicine and flourishing economy as result of agriculture and gold production. On the other hand, Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia. It is in this region of Philippi that a great battle between Mark Antony and Octavian (later called Augustus and was the first Roman emperor. Paul and his colleagues remained in the city for sometime although the experience of the first Sabbath was most memorable. In this city there were many Romans and very few Jews (at least ten male Jews are needed to start a synagogue). So they sought for a place of prayer and in the process stumbled on women who had assembled for the Sabbath meeting, being worshippers in the Jewish way. The women welcomed the visitors and expected an exposition of the Scriptures, something Paul and company were eager to do. Because God uses men in order to bring the gospel to other men, then we are supposed to put every effort to listen to the men who bring to us the Word of God. Where God used Paul to bring the message to Lydia and company her heart was opened to pay attention to what Paul said. How do you ever hope to be saved if you would not allow us pastors to come to your house and explain Scripture to you? How do you hope to be saved if you sleep when the sermon is being preached? How can you be saved if you do not take your time to read the many good books that men have written in order to explain Scriptures to you? If you were too tired to listen through every word in the sermon, please to me and I will facilitate you to obtain this sermon on CD. You must hear the gospel and you must pay attention to it if you are to be saved. 2. The Lord operates in men The particular point where the Lord starts with in bringing salvation to men is in the heart of a sinner. The Bible uses the Word heart to talk about the place where the soul and will of people dwells. As the central organ in the body, forming a focus for its imperative action, it has come to stand for the centre of its moral, spiritual, intellectual life. “In particular the heart is the place in which the process of self-consciousness is carried out, in which the soul is at home with itself, and is conscious of all its doing and suffering as its own” (Oehler). Hence, it is that men of “courage” are called “men of the heart”; that the Lord is said to speak “in his heart” (Gen.8:21); that men “know in their own heart” (Deu.8:5); that “no one considereth in his heart' (Isa.44:19 the AV). “Heart” in this connection is sometimes rendered “mind,” as in Num.16:28 (“of mine own mind) (ISBE) Naturally the heart of every man remains tightly shut against the gospel. Moreover, I am talking about the hearts of all men – as long as there is unbelief, such hearts remain in enmity against God. Even in persons of good moral standing who attend the church regularly, give and do everything to show that they belong to the church, as long as this operation by the Lord has not taken place, they remain ignorant to the gospel and so harbour many prejudices which prevent them from accepting the truth of the gospel and be saved. Before there is this work of the Lord by the agency of the Spirit, the mind of a sinner is unyielding so that it does not respond to the message of the gospel. There is such thought and imagination that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Such thought will not be satisfied by any amount of knowledge or evidence or just by the truth of the gospel – it can only be subdued by the inward work of the Holy Spirit beginning with his will. We read that the Lord made her receptive of the gospel and granted her the gift of faith and illumination of the Spirit. This was the case with Lydia for she was careful to keep the Sabbath, had time of prayer and yet she had to wait on the Lord to operate her heart. This was the case with the Nathaniel, Ethiopian Eunuch, Paul, Cornelius, and many more others even seated here today. One might hear the best of preachers, the best of expositions, be under the most faithful teachings and yet it is until the Lord gives him the conviction and understanding that he believes because salvation originates from the Lord. So we read ‘the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what said by Paul.’ (v.14). He made her attentive and gave her understanding of the gospel. 3. The Lord operates to save men From the conversion of Lydia we can see that clearly always conversion is preceded by preparatory work of hearing the gospel and conviction. This preparatory work may differ from person to person in terms of its duration and extent but the end result is the same – conversion of a sinner who was so opposed to God but is now delighted to be with Him. This process of heart-renewal is indicated in various ways. It is the removal of a “stony heart” (Ezek. 11:19). The heart becomes “clean” (Psa. 51:10); “fixed” (Psa. 112:7) through “the fear” of the Lord (1Sam. 25:1); “With the heart man believeth” (Rom. 10:10); on the “heart” the power of God is exercised for renewal (Jer. 31:33). To God the bereaved apostles pray as a knower of the heart (Act. 1:24 - a word not known to classical writers. From these statements it is evident that two things are essential for the conversion of a sinner – the agency of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the Word. These are the two tools that the Lord uses to outwork the operation of conversion in a sinner. There was a direct personal operation of the Spirit of Jesus on the hearts of those brethren of the churches in Derbe, Lystra and Iconium and that of Lydia. He took away all the obstacles that might have obstructed the truth – Paul could not have done this. Although Paul was an Apostle and was uttering inspired Word, yet it was the work of the Spirit to do this work because Paul himself admits that, “Paul may plant, and Apollos water but God gives the increase!” God alone can open the heart of a sinner. While the Lord opens the heart, He uses the truth as the instrument of conversion of a sinner. You notice the agency of the Spirit always works hand in hand with the Word. This is because we read that the Lord opened her heart so that she might attend to the things which were spoken by Paul. So when a person is born of the Spirit (John 3:5, 6, 8), he is also said to have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pet. 1:23). At the same time while the Holy Spirit is the One involved in the work of sanctification, the Lord prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) so would you pray with David, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law”. (Psa. 119:18) Then among the women there was one from Thyatira who was a wealthy cloth dealer and a devout woman. She listened attentively to the gospel that was being preached by Paul. You realize that it was the Lord’s work to open the heart of Lydia. The Lord had well prepared her heart to heed the gospel through the Old Testament Scriptures before she met with Paul. When the heart was opened, she received the understanding to discern the light of God’s truth, the conscience to feel its convincing power and the heart to believe and receive its sanctifying influence. She had saving faith so that she was saved. When Lydia was saved, she wanted to let everyone know that she had identified with Christ in baptism. In baptism she was showing her submission to the lordship of the Christ. Her household, which would mostly be made of her relatives and servants also followed the example of kinsmen and their employer respectively in following Christ. Moreover, her faith started working in love for she immediately exhibited the gift of hospitality by welcoming the missionaries in her house. Having noticed that the Lord is willing to save, those who will seek Him will find Him, would you look at yourself and ask if indeed you have had this wonderful experience of the opening of your heart? Would you say for sure that you are saved or you are depending on the alter call that you took? Are you saying that I am saved because the preacher laid his hands on you? The question is direct – have had your heart operated by the Lord? I know that most of us have had this wonderful experience when the Lord came into your heart. It is wonderful because when you got converted, the Lord gave you wonderful joy and strength to serve Him. You were more very prayerful ... yes, you would even fast? You used to be consistent in reading the Bible, you would go for camps and retreats and conventions. But now it seems like your spiritual life has stagnated at best and dead at worst. You would be embarrassed to tell your boss that you are saved because you are not so faithful in your job, I mean, reporting late for work. And so rarely would you talk about Christ. The women in Philippi are introduced as those who were in prayer when the missionaries came. How is your prayer life? Do you have specific times of prayer? I do not mean the when you are giving thanks for food; I mean time when you pray. Would it be that you do not have a consistent prayer life? Many of us have neglected the prayer meetings and yet they do not have private devotional time and the effect is a weak spiritual life. What would you pinpoint is the way faith is working out in love in your life? Who are the people that you have extended hospitality? Since the Lord has operated our hearts by His Spirit and His Word, we are to walk in the newness of life as healthy Christians. As those who have met the Lord Jesus and have had their lives transformed.

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