Becoming a Bold Champion of the Gospel

  • Becoming a Bold Champion of the Gospel
  • Acts 3:1-4:20
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • February 26, 2017
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2-26-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

This morning we are wrapping up our Throwback series. The idea of Throwback came to us from social media such as Instagram or Facebook where people post old photographs under the #ThrowbackThursday. It is a fun way to stay connected with the past.

 

It seemed only fitting this morning that we share a few old photographs of Lubbock. Today, we are a city of more than 250,000 people. But it hasn’t always been that way. Let’s take a look back…

 

  • In about 1920, the city began laying brick streets on Texas Avenue in front of the Lubbock County Courthouse.

 

  • Postcard: Lubbock, pop. 40,000 hub city of the fertile South Plains of Texas, also is the home of fast-growing Texas Technological College whose enrollment already exceeds 3,500 students.

 

  • Cars line up outside a Lubbock Hi-D-Ho Drive-in. The Hi-D-Ho was a popular gathering place for many Lubbock teenagers during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

 

  • 1970 Lubbock Tornado – Fire Truck caught inside a collapsed building

 

  • “Udder Confusion” as cattle get loose on Loop 289 in the December 2015 snow storm.

 

It is fun to take a look back at Lubbock’s past in light of the city we all know it to be now. As you probably know by now, the throwback idea for this series is that we study the book of Acts which tells the story of the early church and its beginnings. It provides to us pictures, if you will, of what was taking place amongst those first followers of Jesus Christ.

 

Looking back, we’ve seen pictures of the Holy Spirit at work in forming community. We’ve seen how the Apostles focused on such things as encouragement and being devoted to God’s Word. This morning we are going to wrap up our look at Acts by looking at a picture that portrays boldness on the part of the early church. But, before we move forward, I would like to invite you to pray with me.

 

Do you remember the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz? At first glance he appeared confident, assured, fierce and brave. But with one slap on the nose by a frightened Dorothy, he broke into tears. His bold appearance was a facade, and it crumbled at the first sign of resistance. He was a coward and he knew it. He had no courage at all.

 

In the Bible we meet another cowardly lion. He had the same heart as the character from the Wizard of Oz. Outwardly, he had a lot of bravado and attitude. He was ready to stand and fight; he would take on the whole world. But, when the pressure was on, he ran for the door. His name was Peter.

 

Do you remember the interaction between Jesus and Peter when Jesus declared that all the disciples would abandon Him in His hour of need?

 

33Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”

34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

35“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.(Matthew 26:33-35)

What boldness! What confidence! What certainty! What a joke.

Not only did Peter fail to stand by Jesus in his hour of need – this cowardly lion denied that he ever knew Jesus, and he denied it three times.

Before we are too hard on Peter it might be a good idea to reflect on our own lives for just a moment. Most of us can remember a time when we ignored the Spirit’s tugging at our heart to bear witness to Him. We might have felt awkward or uncomfortable, so we did not take advantage of the opportunity to share our faith.

We all know the feelings of the cowardly lion. Most of us mean well and are bold and courageous in our minds as we think about encounters with seekers, but then the opportunity presents itself when the Spirit whispers in our ears and we run and hide.

It is the family member you have who isn’t a Christian. You love the person, but it makes you extremely nervous to have an open discussion about faith.

It is your coworker who is living far from God. You know that this person desperately needs Jesus, but you worry that the working relationship will get strange if you share your faith and the person isn’t responsive.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar relational scenario before?

Hopefully, we can all identify times when we had an opportunity to tell another person about Jesus and we took the chance. We moved into a conversation about spiritual things, we gave our testimony about what Jesus means to us and discovered the joy of becoming a bold champion of the gospel. It can be an incredibly cool moment.

Our scripture snapshot for this morning actually takes place in Acts 3 and 4. It records a powerful encounter between Peter and John and a man who was crippled both in his body and his spirit. The ripple effect of what happens as people begin to find out about the power, life and salvation that is offered through Jesus is shown in this story.

Acts 3:1-10, “Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. 2As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

4Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” 5The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. 6But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

7Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. 8He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

9All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. 10When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! 11They all rushed out in amazement to Solomon’s Colonnade, where the man was holding tightly to Peter and John.

Anyone that knows me very well knows that I’m a huge Texas Tech fan. I’m incredibly loyal to my alma mater.

Before I go any further with this story I feel the need to give the following disclaimer: If you are a Longhorn, Aggie, Bear, Mustang, Horned Frog, Sooner, Cowboy, Cougar, Owl or any of the other plethora of college sports fans this story is not meant to offend you. I’m simply telling it because it helps make my point. As a matter of fact if it makes you feel better when this service is over meet me out in the hallway and we can “Hook’em, Gig’em, Sic’em” or whatever it is that your school does, if that makes you feel better.
Like many loyal college sports fans, I know all of the words to my school song. At the very end of the Texas Tech school song there is a line that states, “Fearless champions ever be, stand on heights of victory, strive for honor, evermore. Long live the matador.”

 

Chances are that living here in Lubbock you know that the idea of being a “fearless champion” is something the school plays off of all the time in their marketing efforts. It is an ideal to which they hope they can get Red Raiders to aspire to. Inherent in it is this idea of boldness and that’s the kind of thing you want your team to exhibit on the field or on the court.

I immediately thought of all of this as I was reading our scripture snapshot to prepare for this morning. This isn’t meant to be merely a nice story. This is meant to inspire us to be “fearless champions”, to be bold when it comes to sharing our faith in Christ.

You might examine yourself and decide that the tag doesn’t seem to fit you very well. Many Christians have massive guilt when it comes to sharing our faith, or witnessing to other people.

Many of us have a sense that we really could be doing far more in this area. Yet God wants to infuse our hearts with hope, a confidence that we could all become “fearless champions” of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

If you need a little encouragement on this front simply consider Peter for a few moments. Peter and John are headed to the temple for prayer. The same people Peter was hiding from just a few weeks earlier, he was now seeking to relate too.

Now that Peter had grasped the truth and power of Christ’s death and resurrection, he had a message for these leaders who we’re highly religious but still walking in darkness.

Now that Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit, he has a boldness to walk right on their turf and began proclaiming the truth. They knew they could pray anywhere, but hey headed straight into the lair of the very people who had been against them.

Why? Because they wanted to be where they could rub shoulders with those who were not yet followers of Christ. It was their fervent desire to reach these people with the good news that there is life in Jesus Christ.

Peter wasn’t satisfied with just hanging around these people, but to tell them who Jesus was and why he died. Peter invited them to repent and then turn to God so that their sins could be wiped out. Peter longed for people to be added to the kingdom.

Imagine that you are the crippled man in this story. He made his living and provided for his simple needs by begging. In those days, giving alms was part of being a good religious person, so his location outside the primary place of worship was very strategic.

He had sat there day after day for as many as thirty years. Just think about it, since childhood this man had sat there begging for money. If he had asked for money once a minute, eight hours a day, he could have asked  for alms more than five million times.

Although he would often be rejected, sometimes people would give a donation. But even those who gave might have just tossed a coin and kept on walking.

Peter was different. He noticed the crippled beggar. Peter paid attention. Peter made eye contact and then gave the man some bad news (at least from the beggar’s perspective), “I don’t have any money!”

What Peter had to give was vastly better, but what the man was looking for was cold hard cash.

Peter didn’t give the man what he wanted, but he did give him what he needed the most. Peter took this man’s hand and helped him to his feet. Can you imagine the scene?

This man took a step, then another one, then a third step. Until now, this man had only done this in his dreams. Now he was walking! Then, when walking seemed too mundane, he started jumping. He had over forty years of moving saved up in his body. It was like his body had to express his inexpressible joy.

All day long he would watch people go into the temple to praise and worship God, but he could never go. He was not allowed. Not only was he unable to walk, but he was seen as an unclean person. Just imagine him walking for the first time, jumping on strong legs, and they with joy, entering the temple.

Now think about this for a moment, none of this would have ever happened had Peter not gone where this man was. In order to share faith, we have to go to places where we can hang out with people who don’t know Jesus.

As we grocery shop, go out to eat, get our hair cut (okay for some of us that one’s a bigger challenge than others), go to work out, your bunko group, your child’s soccer game, etc., you have the opportunity to be with people who don’t yet know Jesus.

We can intentionally build relationships so we can share our lives and faith with others. This kind of mindset needs to be front and center in our lives, just as it was in Peter’s life.

Now, he has their attention. Peter had an opportunity to talk with people about Jesus. It’s not every day that  a man who has been crippled since birth gets up and starts walking.

Peter made a point of being around people who did not know Jesus; he had their attention, but now he had to say something.

Maybe you’ve been in Peter’s shoes. We have to be able to talk about faith, putting spiritual concepts in plain everyday words. Most likely, people aren’t going to figure out the message on their own. Although, being able to see the Christian life lived out in front of them in a winsome sort of way is awesome, it probably isn’t enough either.

Somebody has to articulate the gospel to them by spelling out who God is, what kind of damage our sin has caused and how each of us needs to receive the forgiveness and life that Christ offers. But, in order for that to happen, we have to take the initiative and steer discussions toward spiritual topics.

Remember, just a short time before, this same Peter was hiding behind locked doors. He felt like a hunted man. The religious leaders who had crucified Jesus were out there looking for any who still pledged allegiance to this martyr.

When Pentecost came, Peter was filled with the Spirit and became a changed man. He was ready to face those whom he had fled from earlier. He was ready to speak the message of salvation in Jesus.

This is no slow pitch softball game. Peter is now playing in the major leagues. Peter spoke the truth with no apology and with powerful conviction. As the Spirit lead him, Peter brought the message of God’s love, human sin, the sacrifice of Christ and the need for repentance.

And just look what happened, lives were changed.

The door for the gospel was opened when Peter and John reached out and ministered to a broken and hurting man. Their ministry, in the name of Jesus, started a ripple effect that touched the lives of many.

I want to challenge each of us this morning to identify someone you know who is a non-believer. Then I want to ask you to commit to a specific act of service for this person.

The key question is this: What could you do that will show the love of God and offer this person something he or she deeply needs?

As you do ministry, pray for God to open this person’s heart to the love of Jesus. Pray also for an opportunity to talk with this person about your faith.