Acts – Paul the Apostle – Wayne Barber/Part 14
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|Now what do you think Paul would have done before the message of grace entered his own heart? Paul wouldn’t have given it the time of day. Paul was his own man. Paul told God what to do. He wouldn’t have listened to a group of elders recommending that he do what he did. This is the beauty in Paul’s life. He doesn’t compromise the message of grace. He simply accommodates himself to an awkward circumstance to disarm the people around him so that he can more effectively preach it.|
Paul: The Messenger – Part 2
Turn to Acts 21 as we continue to introduce Ephesians 1:1. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God.” We’ve been looking at this man, Paul. As a matter of fact, this is the 14th time we have looked at him. We’ve seen Paul the man, Paul the missionary and Paul the messenger. I have to be honest with you, when I first started, I thought it would take a couple of studies, and we could get out of this. Now it has caught hold of me, and I don’t know when we are going to get out of it. I do know one thing. We are going to go all the way through the book of Acts. I have been so intrigued. At first it was just with the man, but now it is more than that. What has really intrigued me is the message of grace that transformed the man. That has become the thing that has the most blessed to me.
Well, we are looking at Paul, and we see him now in Jerusalem. God had told him to go to Jerusalem and also to Rome. We see the change that has come in his life. Last time we saw that when he got to Jerusalem, he went to the council of elders of the church there. James and the other elders were rejoicing in what was happening with the Gentile world. Then they tell him what was going on with the Jewish people. Paul grew up in Jerusalem. He was educated in Jerusalem. These are his peers, his friends, and he rejoices. You know he rejoiced in his heart. They tell him, “Paul, we’ve got a problem. Some rumor has gotten to the believers here who are still hung up with the Law that you are preaching messages against them. Paul, we want to disarm this. In order to avoid a needless, senseless confrontation with people who are already believers but are hung up with the Law, Paul, we want you to do something. We think it will help.” They recommend to Paul that he go to the Temple and pay the vow for the sacrifice that four men were going to make. They were poor people, four men taking a Nazirite vow. They didn’t have the money for their sacrifice. They said, “Go and pay that. Also, Paul, since in our Law it says when you have been with Gentiles and come back to Jerusalem, you are to be cleansed, you go ahead and cleanse yourself there in the Temple. This will disarm these Jewish believers who are still hung up in the Law.
Now what do you think Paul would have done before the message of grace entered his own heart? Paul wouldn’t have given it the time of day. Paul was his own man. Paul told God what to do. He wouldn’t have listened to a group of elders recommending that he do what he did. This is the beauty in Paul’s life. He doesn’t compromise the message of grace. He simply accommodates himself to an awkward circumstance to disarm the people around him so that he can more effectively preach it.
You say, “Well, how can these people still be believers and be hung up in the Law?” How many people do you know this morning who are believers and are still hung up with the Law? The message of grace, yes, transforms us and makes us new creatures, but that is not the end. That’s the beginning. As long as we continue to let that message permeate our life, Paul tells us in Titus, the message of grace is our teacher. Those of us who are not daily receiving it and living in it, or those of us who get off track and get back up under the old law and start trying to perform so that God will love us more, miss the whole point of the message of grace.
Well, he does what they tell him to do. I love him for it. He is in the Temple on the fifth day of purification and while he is in there, it seems to be working. It doesn’t speak of any conflict with these Jewish believers hung up in the law, but there are some others who have come over from Asia Minor.
Now we have some dates we think this occurred. We cannot be adamant about them though. One of the things you learn when you study scripture is put down what scripture says. We don’t know some of these dates from scripture, but history and scholars have put together some dates that may give us a little bit of information. About three months after he had written to the Roman believers we see him there in Jerusalem. That should be around AD 57.
As he is in the Temple, these people from Asia Minor had come over to Jerusalem. They are unbelieving Jews. They have rejected the message of grace. They are intermingled with the believing Jews. Paul and these men are being cleansed and are finishing up their Nazirite vow. Trouble is about to begin. As a matter of fact, don’t miss the next several studies. We are in the most exciting scripture I think that we can find. I say that all the time, but it seems like it is just so power-packed from now to the 28th chapter of Acts which is his first real big imprisonment.
So, we find these Asia Minor Jews, these unbelieving Jews, in the Temple with Paul. We are going to see how they stir up the crowd and bring a great persecution, not just against the message of grace, but against the messenger of grace. I want us to focus on two things, two characteristics of people who bitterly fight the message of grace. It may surprise you because here are people who could have been changed by it but have chosen rather to fight it. All right, let’s begin.
Let’s read Acts 21:27-29: “And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the multitude and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere [now listen what they accuse him of] against our people [Israel] and the Law, and this place [the Temple], and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.”
Now in that little passage of scripture, three verses, I want us to see two basic things. If nothing else, it might serve to encourage somebody. You have been changed by the message of grace. You are trying to live it out and you wonder why people reject it. They violently attack you for even sharing it. Here are two of the symptoms of people who do that. First of all, these people who attack the message of grace and the messenger of grace have a surface commitment.
Isn’t it amazing? We look for persecution to this wonderful changing message of God’s grace. We look for the persecution out in the world. I am finding that the world is starving to death to hear it. The place that we find the persecution is not so much in the world. Yes, you will find it there, but the place that you really find it is within the confines of the church. You find it inside the church walls. You find it with people who are on the same pew with you on Sunday morning. They are people who will not be transformed by the message of grace, people who don’t want a holy walk with God. They had rather have works that they call holy and ask God to bless. They want to do their own thing, get all the credit for it and give lip service to Jesus. They don’t know nor do they understand the message of grace. On the surface they have a commitment that disarms you.
Now you say, “How do you know that?” Look at verse 27. “And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple.” Where were they? They were in the Temple. Now what in the world were these Jews from Asia Minor, who probably were from the area of Ephesus because they recognized Trophimus, all the way over in Jerusalem in the Temple? How in the world did they get there? Why were they there? Well, remember why Paul is in Jerusalem? If you will go back to 20:16, Paul explains why he is in such a hurry to get to Jerusalem. Obviously God has told him to go to Jerusalem, but that’s not the only reason. He is taking an offering for the saints that are hurting, but that is not the only reason. He tells us in verse 16, “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus in order that he might not have to spend time in Asia.” There is a reason. There’s nothing wrong with the people in Asia, “for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost,” or the Feast of Pentecost.
If you were a committed, Jewish person in that day, and you really wanted to show everybody on the outside that you really loved God, there were three feasts that you would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for every year. They were annual feasts. It didn’t matter if you lived in Asia Minor. It didn’t matter where you lived. It didn’t matter how long the journey nor how hard the journey. You would make this journey for these three feasts. There were other feasts they came for, yes, but especially these three. Remember that their feasts were more festival times. They didn’t have a lot of meat to eat on a daily basis. They would have it at the feast, however. Boy, you could really look forward to the fellowship, the food, the fun and the festive atmosphere of these feasts. These feasts were designed by God so Israel could be reminded of what He and He alone did, certainly not with Israel’s help, in their past history. All of those feasts, as everything else in Israel’s culture, pointed towards the Messiah. They pointed towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel, still blinded, still having rejected Christ, continued to obey the Law mechanically. They were missing the whole point of what they were doing.
Well, the three feasts were first of all, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, actually Passover. The Feast of Unleavened Bread led right up to Passover when they would kill the sacrificial lamb. The blood of that sacrificial lamb would atone for their sins for one more year. That was a very special time. Of course, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was when they had to get all the leaven out of their houses. Most people say it was because they had to pack so fast to get of Egypt they didn’t have time to put leaven in the bread. To me, that misses it quite a bit. You see, when they were protected by the blood in Israel, that was when the blood was put on the door post. The death angel came, and that was what Passover was all about. It was inaugurated yearly so that they would be reminded of their bondage in Egypt and how God delivered them from that. Therefore, this feast was an annual event.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread, to me, is so beautiful because right before the blood of that lamb was shed the leaven was taken out. Of course, we know that by the shedding of Jesus’ blood the power of leaven (sin) has been taken out of us. It is still resident to where it can give us a fit, but the power of it has diminished. When we stay at the cross, confessing sin, and mortifying the deeds of the flesh, then the blood of Jesus consistently remains there to give us power over sin in our life. What a beautiful picture of putting the two together.
Well, there was also the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was to remind them of their wandering in the wilderness. Most of their wandering was because of their own stubbornness and their own rebellion. It wasn’t very far to where they wanted to go into Canaan, but because of their rebellion, they walked around Mt. Sinai for 40 years. During that feast they would reside in little booths or tents to help them remember that once they were nomadic people. Even the Tabernacle was folded up and carried a certain way. They would move from place to place to place. They were wandering in the wilderness. That was the Feast of Tabernacles.
Then came the Feast of Pentecost. It was held 50 days after the offering of the barley leaf. You know, the more I got back into this, the more I wanted to go back and do the Feasts. Boy, there is such a picture of the Lord Jesus in this. This is the Feast we are talking about. This is the day on the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in Acts and inaugurated the New Covenant, freeing people from their old bondage to self and freeing them into new life. That is when the Holy Spirit came to reside within the hearts of believers. The beginning of a brand new covenant was inaugurated on this earth. That was the Feast of Pentecost.
What a wonderful time and opportunity for Paul with the message of God’s grace, the message that frees you out of that old bondage of self and a set of rules and puts you into the absolute coming kingdom of God. What a wonderful time for him to go and preach that message. No wonder he was willing to listen to the elders and go into the Temple. He wanted nothing to get in his way of the opportunity to preach to his brethren the message of God’s grace.
Well, for whatever reason he went we don’t really know, but we do know that these Jews from Asia Minor were there. What does that tell you? It tells you that they were one of the bunch. They were one of the committed. On the surface they had a commitment to God. They were there as good Jewish people ought to be. When you are persecuted preaching the message of grace or living the message of grace, and people who reject it come against you, remember, they may disarm you. They may be the ones you thought were the most committed. They may the people who, on the outside, exemplify the fact that they really love God. They are in church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and sometimes on Wednesday night. They give at least once a month. I mean, they really show you they really do love God, on the outside. Do they or do they not?
I find with Paul, that they didn’t really love God. They rejected his message. To many of them legalism was not only a means by which they made their profit, but it was also a means by which they could pamper their own flesh and build up their own selfish interest in God. What you do on the outside means nothing if you have not been transformed on the inside.
These people were people who had a surface commitment. You know, I’ve had to be forgiven many times by the Lord. Usually any time I open my mouth, I stick my foot in it. My wife and I can be riding out through the country and as we are riding down the road, over in a little valley with beautiful green lush trees and grass, there will be the most beautiful little white church with a steeple. It looks so serene and so beautiful and so peaceful. She will make the remark, “Isn’t that the most beautiful little church you’ve ever seen?” I don’t know. I guess I have just turned skeptical. I have told her many times, “The meanest white people you have ever been around in your entire life run that little church.” I said, “I guarantee you one thing, they are all kin to each other. There are families that have put that little church together, and any preacher who goes in there and starts preaching the message of grace, they are going to chew him up and spit him out. They know how to run the church. They know how to organize the church. They know how to pamper the Associational Missionary. They know how to have a particular missionary program. They know all the rules and the rank and file. They know how to mechanically play the game, but don’t you preach the message of God’s transforming grace, because when you do, they have got to throw their little system out the window. They’ll eat your lunch.” God has had to forgive me many times, because I am sure I was wrong about at least one of them; 99.9% of the time I know good and well I am right.
I am telling you, folks, we see that in America today. Are you are playing a game? You know good and well you are doing it. Why else would God put us in this passage and tell us to preach it? You are playing a game. Your wife knows it, and your children know it. Oh, you are trying to be the goody-two-shoes and come to church on Sunday, but they know your lifestyle. They know you Monday through Saturday. They realize that all you are doing is trying to measure up to a set of rules. God’s grace has never transformed your heart. They know that. That is something you sense in a believer. That’s something that God has to do. You cannot do that for Him. I guarantee you that if you are like that and have a surface commitment, you are an enemy to God’s grace and you attack it in many ways. You may not be as verbal as these folks, but you have rejected it in your heart. Why? Because you simply don’t want to bow down and let old self die. You don’t want to surrender to Him. You want to do it your own way and someday ask God to bless it.
Well, let’s move on. That’s enough of that, surface commitment. On the surface it looks good. Everybody around you would think you really love God. Well, that is the first thing we see about them. They were in Jerusalem on the day they should have been. They have come all the way from Asia Minor.
Secondly here is another thing. These people who attack the message of grace, the transforming power of God, the fact that He has the agenda and we don’t, and the fact that we must daily die to that and let Him do what He wants to do, are masters at stirring up a crowd. Now this is incredible to me. There is just a level of intelligence here that has to be from the pit itself. They know how to manipulate a crowd. They could mess up a one-car funeral. I guarantee you, they could cause division in the smallest of groups. They know how to manipulate a crowd and get the people’s mind off of what the point of the message really is. Well, let’s watch that. They will react by stirring up the crowd.
Look at verse 27 again. “And when the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up the multitude and laid hands on him.” Well, the word “stir up” there is a beautiful passage. It sort of makes you understand. Inside the temple was a huge crowd of people. There were believing Jews who were still hung up under the Law. There were unbelieving Jews inside the temple. Of course, you have the court of the Gentiles, but we are talking about Jewish people inside the temple. Now, how in the world could you make believers and unbelievers come together and be one as an angry mob?
Well, the word “stir up” kind of helps us out. It comes from two Greek words. One is the word that means “together,” and the other word is the word which means “to pour.” If you put all of these ingredients into a pitcher, they are all diverse. They are all different. You can look in the pitcher and see that they are different. You take it and stir it up a little bit. Then take it and pour it out. It all comes out as one ingredient. Somehow all of those ingredients have been blended to where they are one ingredient, and now they come out as one. Where they were different, they come out as one.
Now, wait a minute. How did they do that? How did they take this diverse crowd and turn them into a single-minded purposed, angry mob? How did they do that? Well, it reminds me of a political candidate. Somebody who is good at manipulating a crowd is what you’ve got here. They are people who have rejected God’s message and know how to get the people’s attention off the very point of that message. They are good at doing what they were doing.
It is amazing what happens here. If you touch a sensitive bone and know what you are doing, you can get people focused on the wrong thing, and they don’t even realize what is being done. Now, think with me about what I am saying. How in the world could they do this? How could they take believers and unbelievers and make them all as one angry mob?
Well, they touched three sensitive cords. Those three sensitive cords caused those Jews to stop focusing on what Paul was saying and start listening to what these guys were saying. What are those three sensitive cords? They are in verse 28. They cried out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere  against our people,” Israel.
If you talk about their race, folks, you have struck a sensitive cord. You say, “Well, we don’t have that in the 20th century, do we?” Are you kidding me? I can take you to churches today, buddy, that won’t let a black person walk in that back door. You can talk about the white folks and you can talk about the black folks. You say, “That is not the same thing.” Oh, you don’t think so? This is as ethnic as you can get. What do you think is going on in Yugoslavia right now? They are trying to cleanse that place of certain particular elements of people. It is the same thing that has been going on for a hundred years. When you start getting on Israel you are asking for trouble. These are Jews, buddy. Don’t you talk about our people. So they picked that one first.
I am so glad when I can look down from the pulpit in our church and see some of our black members. I think, “Thank you, Lord, they are here. We don’t have that kind of garbage. We just preach Jesus. He doesn’t see color. He just sees hearts.” That’s the way it ought to be. They didn’t see it that way. If you touch Israel, you’ve touched a sensitive bone.
Secondly, he says, “and the Law.” “Oh, don’t you get on the Law. We are Jews. What do you think we are doing in the temple? Don’t you talk about our Law.”
Then thirdly, they mention the Temple itself. “This place” refers to the temple itself. Now what do they say about that? That got their attention. Boom! What do you think they used to cause all these diverse people to start thinking the same way? Well, there it is. They tell three lies about what Paul has said. They twisted what he has said to make it appear he has done something to violate the three most sensitive areas these people have. Number one, is Israel. They said, “This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people.” Now, that is an outright lie. He never preached against Israel.
As a matter of fact, if you want to know his heart, look with me at Romans 9:1-5. I think we will see here that he could not have preached against Israel. That is not his heart. We don’t know the exact dates when Romans was written, but we think it was before this was happening over in Acts. Yes, God had assigned him to the Gentiles, but that did not mean he did not love his brethren. Romans 9:1-5 says, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Why? “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.”
Now does that sound like a man who has preached against Israel? That sounds like a man who can’t even sleep every night because of his burden for Israel. So what’s wrong with these guys? Listen, they have rejected his message. They are trying to make the crowd think Paul no longer loves Israel and has preached against God’s people.
There is a principle here that I believe God really spoke to my heart as I was studying that might mean something to you. When you preach the message of grace to the people you love, if they reject it, they make the false assumption that you are preaching it at them or you are preaching it against them. It is incredible. I don’t know how many times that while preaching the message of grace in churches people have tried to make me believe I was the enemy. For some reason, they think I have come in and tried to turn over the whole apple cart. They have fought against me when all I have been trying to do is say, “Listen, folks, let’s quit doing it just because we have been doing it. Let’s get in touch with God. Walk holy before Him and let God in and through us do what He wants to do.” They turn it around and make you think you are preaching not only at them but you are preaching against them.
I like what my friend says. He says, “If you shoot at a pack of dogs, the one that squeals is the one that got hit.” That’s usually the way it works. The ones who have rejected it the most, the ones that have been hit the hardest, are the ones usually making the most noise. They have heard the message, have twisted it and said, “He is actually preaching against his own people.”
Secondly, they say he preached against the Law. This is absolutely incredible. They say here in verse 28 that he preaches against the Law. Paul never preached against the Law. Paul simply explained the purpose of the Law. You see, he was saying you can go to church, or the synagogue to them, or to the temple. You can do all of these things. There is nothing wrong with that, but that is not going to get you to heaven. The Law is not here to produce righteousness. The Law is here to expose unrighteousness. That is all he said. He wasn’t against it. He didn’t say the Law was bad.
We believe Galatians was written ten years before. We will get to heaven and find out whether it was or not. Let’s just say it was. Let’s look in the book of Galatians for a second. Let’s just see what Paul says about the Law. It tells its own story. Look at Galatians 3:17-25. Let’s just see if he preached against the Law. We know he didn’t preach against his people. He was so burdened. He said, “I would wish myself to be accursed if my people could come to understand this message.” Verse 17 of Galatians 3 says, “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later [Later than what? The covenant of Abraham] does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Why the Law then?” I mean, what’s the purpose of the Law? Why did it come along in the meantime? “It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.”
So many folks overlook this. God promised three things to Abraham: He promised a nation; He promised a land; and he promised a seed. Galatians will go on in this chapter to tell you that Christ is that seed. Until Christ came with His message of grace and His works of grace, the Law was ordained in the meantime. It was very, very purposeful.
He goes on in verse 20, “Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin [I love that] that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
Verse 23 continues, “But before faith came,” before Christ came, before the gospel was preached, “we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor.” Don’t think I am preaching against the Law. It was the very thing to lead us to grace. It was like a babysitter. It was like a school teacher. It was something that kept us in line until Jesus could come and do His work on the cross. Then we will come to Him by faith. The law was very important. Man would have never known sin unless the law had come. Then he says in verse 25, “But now that faith has come,” the gospel, our belief in Christ, Christ Himself has come, “we are no longer under a tutor.”
Does that sound like a man who preaches against the Law? No. It sounds to me like a man who wanted them to understand the purposes of the Law and what the Law was designed to do. He says almost the same thing in Romans 7:7-12. I won’t take time to read that right now.
What they had done was reject what he had said, turned it around and made it look like he had preached against the nation of Israel. Oh, that got their attention. He is preaching against the Law. Oh, that got their attention. They were picking out the sensitive bones so the people would get off the point of what Paul is really trying to say.
Thirdly, they said Paul preached against the Temple, against “this place.” This is occurring about AD 57, we think. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in AD 56, which was a year earlier. Now what do you think he said about the temple there? Paul said, “What, know ye not that your body is the [what?] the temple of God.” When you go to church you are going to get inside of a temple. When you are Christian, not only do you get inside, He gets inside of you. He resides in you. His Spirit lives within you. So, Paul was just showing the shadow of the things that the Lord Jesus brought substance to when He came on this earth. He was showing how everything pointed to Him. He wasn’t denying them. He wasn’t preaching against them. He was just showing how they all pointed to the Lord Jesus and the message of grace.
We had a youth director here several years ago. One day in our church, a very dear lady just happened to say something to him out of her own conviction. She said, “Young man, take your hat off your head. You are in God’s House.” He didn’t miss a beat, bless his heart. The one thing God could never convict him of was not being bold enough to say it. Sometimes what he said wasn’t exactly the right thing, but he didn’t have any trouble having the boldness to do it. Greg said, “I beg your pardon. This hat is not in God’s house. This hat is on God’s house.” Then he kept right on walking. Was he right? Sure he was right. Was she wrong? No, she wasn’t wrong. There was just two things being said.
This is exactly what Paul is saying. “The temple is good for now. You come here. But, you don’t need this anymore. It’s been showing you something. All of the means of worship, everything you do, is a picture of the substance Christ brings to a person’s life. This is a shadow. He brings the substance.” What did these people say? “He preached against our temple.” Take a political candidate who wants to get a good following. What is he going to hit right now during our time. Can you help me out? Well, let’s see. Let’s hit the economy. Alright. Everybody thinks that. Let’s hit the fact the jobless rate. Let’s hit these. You think, “Oh, this guy is so intelligent.” Oh, come on. This has been going on for hundreds of years. He knows what is sensitive to the crowd. Getting their attention, he focuses them off of what he is really saying and pulls them over here to what you think he is saying.
That is the same thing these people were doing. If that wasn’t enough, they took a false assumption and used that false assumption to end their case. Look at what they say. They say in the last part of verse 28, “and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple.”
Oh! Now there was a Court of the Gentiles. You could bring them there, but don’t you dare take them past that into the temple. You couldn’t do that. As a matter of fact, the penalty of death was upon anybody who defiled that temple by bringing in a Gentile, “and besides, he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place. For they have previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” Do you know what that word “supposed” means. They assumed. Now, boy, they are on their little soap box right now. They are inside the temple. Do you think they couldn’t get an audience? You tell them he is preaching against Israel. You tell them he preached against the Law, and you tell them he is preaching against the national of Israel. Then build into it a false assumption, which is a total outright lie, that he had defiled the temple when he had done exactly the opposite. He had shown favor to them by going there to be cleansed when he knew he didn’t have to do that.
So, here is the setting. They have set it up, and they have persecuted Paul. What have we learned? Well, we learned first of all they have a surface commitment. Look out. The people you think love God the most will be the people who will eat your lunch when you start preaching and living the message of grace. They can’t stand it. It is not organized. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no long range planning committee.
Listen, if you keep on rejecting the message of grace and try to do for God what only God can do, you are going to live in misery. People who are programmed that way cannot stand the message of grace. What the Law could not produce, it pointed to. That’s what we ought to learn from it. Only God can do what God can do. Man cannot do it for Him. That’s the message of grace.
Why in the world would they be this upset? It was the same way with Jesus. Look in John 3:19-20. It’s the same thing today as it was then. It’s no different. People who persecute the message of grace and the messengers of grace are people who are wrapped up in their flesh. On the outside they look like good people. People say, “Why if anybody is a Christian, that ole boy is a Christian.” You’ve heard that before. Not only that, they are masters at stirring up a crowd. Do you think they can’t get you focused on the wrong thing so you will miss out on what’s being said? They can do it in a minute. Watch this in verses 19-20: “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness [He is talking about the Jewish nation, because that is who He came to first] rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
Let me tell you something about the message of grace. If you are not willing to confess sin and recognize the ugliness of flesh, you can never receive the message of grace. God only gives that to the humble. The humble are the ones who recognize what they aren’t and what they don’t deserve. They come to Christ for it, and they continue to live that way day by day. That’s the key to walking in that message of grace.
Well, they said those things that were sensitive, and they stirred up the crowd. Several years ago, we saw this very effectively done in our Convention. It has been done in every convention. I don’t know why we think it’s funny that it’s been done in the Southern Baptist Convention. Those of us who believe that the Bible is God’s Word believe it is Truth without error. We believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture. Every word is God-inspired and God-breathed. That’s where we stand. People like us were once called “conservatives.” That is what I was from the time I became a believer. I believe God’s Word is Truth.
However, the other side changed the terminology. They started called us “fundamentalists,” whatever that is. That began to hit some sensitive nerves of our convention which caused people to get totally wrongly focused on what was not the issue, the Cooperative Program. These people, if they get their way, will kill the Cooperative Program. You mention the Cooperative Program to most people who have SBC tattooed on their bodies, and they will absolutely rise up and curse you. I’m telling you friend, don’t you ever say anything about the Cooperative Program. Don’t you touch it. It is a sacred cow.
Secondly, they said, “What’s the WMU going to do?” I am going to leave that alone. I thought for years it was the Women’s Military Union.
Thirdly, then they talked about our schools and our seminaries. When you start mentioning the little sensitive things that all Baptists hold on to, and when you cause people to be focused on something that is not true to begin with, you have just clouded the whole issue.
That was exactly what these Jews did in the temple that day. Those who were hung into the system could not stand the message of God’s grace. In fact, the message of God’s grace literally transforms those things that are so sensitive. Don’t you think our Cooperative Program would be absolutely phenomenal if the people who were involved in it were dying to self daily and believing God out of His economy and not their own? Do you think it would be phenomenal? We would have won the world to Christ and be playing golf waiting on Him to come back. Don’t you think the WMU would be a different organization if God would get hold of the people who are in it and just let them die to self every day and admit what they can’t do? Do you think those things would be changed? You see, the very thing that could have changed and made it better, they were reacting against. They were fighting it by touching the sensitive bones of those people, trying to get them to unite for their cause. People who fight the message of grace, folks, are good. They are good. They are sharp. On the outside they make you think they really love God, but they don’t love God any more than they do a flag pole.
Secondly, they are masters at stirring up a crowd. They can get your mind to thinking that something is wrong when it is not, and it is the very thing they are rejecting. It could have been the thing that would have transformed them. That’s the good news and the bad news. Those of you who can’t understand the message of grace, I can’t explain it to you until God reveals it to your heart. It’s not taught. It’s caught. It is not what man can do. The Law has proven man cannot do it. It is what God can do through His grace, His transforming grace, in a person’s life through Jesus Christ. You learn to live that moment by moment by moment.