Pastor Miles DeBenedictis
Acts 22:30 – 23:10
Divided By The Resurrection
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I realized, this week, as I was preparing for this message, that today, April 20th, although it is Easter, it’s also the sixth anniversary of the day that I was introduced as the lead pastor of this church, six years ago. So, it was interesting, as I was thinking about that this last week, some of you were here when that took place. And as I was thinking about it this last week, I just see I know more now than I did then how much of a privilege it is to serve as the pastor of this church, especially since, because of you, this is the best church in the world. I’m not biased at all. [laughter]
Acts Chapter 22, Verse 30 is where we’re going to be. If you’ve been with us over the last several weeks, you know that we’ve been in the Book of Acts. We’re going to continue in the Book of Acts today, and it just so happens, by God’s providence, that the passage has something to do with resurrection. So, Acts Chapter 22, Verse 30, there we read:
“The next day, because the Roman commander wanted to know for certain why Paul was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and he commanded that the chief priests and all their council appear, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
“And then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, he said, ’Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And the high priest Ananias commanded, when he heard this, those who stood by Paul to strike him on the mouth. And then Paul said to the high priest, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?’
“And those who stood by said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’
“And then Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.”’
“But when Paul perceived that one part of those there were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out to the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; and concerning the hope of resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’”
Father, we pray for Your wisdom, we pray that You would give us insight. As we look into Your Word, help us to make application from it. Jesus, You promised that You would give, as You ascended into heaven, You promised that You would give the Spirit of truth, who would guide us into all truth and teach us all things, and so we ask that You, by Your Holy Spirit, would do just that this resurrection day, that You would speak to us, that You would guide us, that You’d give us understanding, that these things that we see in this passage would, in some way, some measurable way, transform our lives for the better. We ask this in Jesus’ name, and all God’s people agreed, saying, “Amen.”
You can be seated.
Today we’re going to begin a new series in the Book of Acts called On Trial. If you look in your bulletin, you’ll see there’s a sermon guide in there. It says that On Trial, Acts 23 through 26, so over the next several chapters, we’re going to be looking at the reality that Paul is on trial. He’ll spend the final ten years of his life as a prisoner of Rome, and on trial. First, in the city of Jerusalem, as we’re going to see here in this passage today, and then, after that, he’s in the city of Caesarea By The Sea, and then, from there, he is extradited to Rome, to stand trial before Caesar of Rome, Caesar Nero, because Paul, being a Roman citizen, had the right, the privilege to appeal his case to Caesar. And he will do that.
Prior to this, over the last month and a half, or so, we have been going through the Book of Acts talking about collision. As this individual, the Apostle Paul, was on his final journey to Jerusalem, at the end of his third missionary trip, his third church-planting journey, he’s leaving Greece, and going around down to Jerusalem, ultimately. And everywhere he went, there was a report given to him by those of the churches that, “In Jerusalem, chains and tribulations await you. Persecution is there in front of you.” Paul, who was once a passionate persecutor of Christians, it was being told to him that he would become a persecuted Christian. In Acts 20:24 he says, “None of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, that I may finish my race with joy.” He knew that it was God who had called him to go to Jerusalem, and he was headed in that direction, wanting to fulfill the mission that God had called him to, although he knew that suffering awaited, that there would be difficulty there before him. And when he came into Jerusalem, he did find that.
We saw, a couple of weeks ago, he was in the temple there in Jerusalem, and as he was, an angry mob was stirred up against him, people ran upon him, seized him, they pulled him outside of the temple, intending to kill him. And while they were beating him, we see that the Roman commander – the Romans were occupying Judea – the Roman commander brought soldiers down, and took Paul into captivity. They bound him with two chains. And, as he was being escorted back into the barracks of the Romans, to be beaten by the Romans, he spoke to this Roman commander in Greek, and said, “Hey, can I speak to this group of people for a moment?”
And then he speaks to this angry mob in Hebrew. The Roman commander can’t understand what he says, but, at a certain point, all of these people begin to yell and scream that this Paul, this one, should not be upon the earth, he’s not fit to live. They tear at their clothes. And so the Roman commander pulls Paul back into the barracks there, intending again to beat him. And Paul says, “Hey, do you do this to Roman citizens?” And the whole thing is stopped there.
But now we come to Verse 30 of Acts Chapter 22, the last verse of the chapter, and there it says, “The next day…” So, immediately following the events that happened there in the temple, and Paul being beaten just outside of the temple, the next day, Paul is probably still very bruised badly from what he has received as a beating from those Jewish men there in the temple. “The next day, because the Roman commander wanted to know why it was that Paul was accused by the Jews, he releases him from his bonds, and he commanded the chief priests and the council to appear.”
The commander had the power, he had the authority, if you will, to subpoena the Jewish religious leading council there in Jerusalem, called the Sanhedrin, would have been overseen and led by the high priest. And so he calls them and says, “Listen, you need to gather the Sanhedrin together, and I want to know what it is that’s going on with this individual that you guys were beating up yesterday. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.” And so he subpoenas them, “…and they brought Paul down, and he set him before them.”
As we saw, very clearly, in our last studies together, point Number 1 on your outline – there’s a sermon guide in your bulletin – and point Number 1:
Living For Jesus Will Cause a Stir
Living For Jesus Will Cause a Stir. You can be absolutely certain, if your faith is alive, if your faith is active, it will be disruptive; it will disrupt the status quo. You see this throughout the Book of Acts, wherever the Gospel went, wherever individuals who were followers of Jesus went with a live and vibrant and active faith, there was a disruption to the status quo. Whether it was in Jerusalem, or in Galatia, or in Ephesus, in Macedonia, wherever the Gospel went, there was a stir. If you study through church history, you’ll see that that is the case as well, that wherever the Gospel goes, wherever followers of Jesus, disciples go, there is a stir, there is a commotion. Because, we recognize, as Paul describes in his letter to the church at Ephesus, this whole world is under a certain current, it’s under the certain sway of one who is set against the kingdom of God. We do believe that there is an enemy, we call him the devil, who is set against the work of God, the church of God, the kingdom of God, and he rules over the affairs of men in this world. So wherever God’s church and God’s people go – and God’s people are His church – we can be certain that there will be conflict, there will be a collision, there will be a disruption. And so, if you’re living for Jesus, you will cause a stir.
The sad reality is that many Christians, especially in our day, have an overly casual or passive faith. And it’s rather easy to do that here in our own nation. We live in a nation that was, many people believe, founded on Judeo-Christian values, and a theistic worldview, and so, as a result of living in a culture that has that as the foundation, this theistic worldview, it’s fairly easy to just go about your daily life and not think too much about the fact that we are not of this world. Now, it’s become cliché, because people put that on stickers on their cars, and they even have shoes and pants now that say NOTW – Not Of This World. But it’s a reality, we are citizens, the Bible says in Philippians, citizens of heaven. And so, we’re ambassadors of God here. But because of the climate in which we live, the culture in which we live, it’s easy for us to be passive.
The Apostle Paul was not at all passive in his faith, was he? When you follow him through his ministry, you find that he was zealously living out his faith in Jesus Christ, and so, as a result of it, everywhere Paul went there was either, some people say, there either a revival or there was a riot, or both. People would come to faith, and there was such power through the work of God in their lives that it would cause there sometimes to be a riot among the people in that place. The city of Ephesus is a great story about that; you can read about it in Acts Chapters 18 and 19, and you see the stir that was caused there, because people were departing the worship of Diana, this idol there in Ephesus, they were departing that, and they’re beginning to worship the one true God. And there were people that made their entire livelihood, and everything that they got, from that worship of Diana, and now it was falling apart. And so there was a riot.
I remember, some years ago, I was talking with a group of people, not necessarily a group of Christians, I was just standing, talking with some people, and as I’m talking with some people, one of the guys standing there pulled out a cigarette and started smoking, light up. And I said, “I didn’t know that you’re a smoker.”
And he said to me, “Well, I’m just a social smoker.”
“So you’re a smoker.”
“No, I’m a social smoker.”
“But you’re a smoker. I don’t get…”
“Well, I only smoke when I’m with people.”
“Okay. Well, you’re a smoker.”
Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians that are just social Christians. They were only really Christians when we’re in the presence of other Christians, in a place like this, in a church. You know, Jesus said something very challenging in the Gospel of Matthew. Well, Jesus said a lot of challenging things. This was just one of them. Matthew Chapter 10, you can turn there if you’d like. Matthew Chapter 10. Matthew Chapter 10, Jesus is preparing to send His disciples out to go and preach the Gospel. And so He’s readying them for this, and He says these challenging words to them in Matthew Chapter 10, Verse 33. You’ve probably heard this before: “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Now those are challenging words, aren’t they? “Whoever denies Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” I suggest to you that they might be less challenging if Jesus simply said, “Whoever denies Me, I will deny him.” Without those two words – “before men” – it reduces the conflict for us, because if Jesus were to speak to you and say, “If you deny Me, I’ll deny you,” you’d say, “Lord, I would never deny You.” I know that you’d probably say that if you’re a follower of Jesus, because that’s what Jesus’ disciples said to Him in Matthew Chapter 26. In Matthew Chapter 26, Jesus is speaking with His disciples, and He says to Peter, who was probably the most outspoken of the 12. Peter is saying, “I’m going to die with You. I’ll go with You wherever You go.”
And Jesus says, “Peter, you don’t know what you’re saying. You’re going to deny Me before this very night is over, three times.”
And Peter, there in Matthew 26, I believe right around Verse 35, he says, “Lord, though I were to die with You, I would never deny You.” And it says, “And so said all the disciples.”
If Jesus were to say to you or to me, “Don’t ever deny Me.” We’d say, “Lord, I would never even think of denying You.” But He says here, “Whoever denies Me before men,” and the reality is that, if we’re honest, even me, all of us would have to say that there have been times where we, in our silence, have denied Him before others, because, although we live in a nation that has, as its foundation or its founding principles, in many ways, rooted in a Judeo-Christian mindset, a theistic worldview, we’re living in a culture that has changed. Culture always changes. It’s not static, it’s dynamic, it’s continually changing. And so, as a result of all the things that have happened through science and technology in our nation, there are many people who have now pushed back away from the table of Christianity, and there are quite a few people, a growing number of people, who look at people like you, who go to church and believe in Jesus and believe that there actually was an event 2,000 years ago called the resurrection, and they look at you and say, “What is wrong with you?” And so, as a result, there’s a temptation in every single one of our hearts just to kind of keep it a little bit quiet. And maybe you don’t see quite as many fish stickers anymore as you once did. Although now we have the Not Of This World thing, but people go, “I don’t even know what that means.” There was a time where a lot of people had the fish stickers there, but they probably took them off because they kept cutting people off on the freeway, and they didn’t want to do that anymore. [laughter] But, whatever the case, you know, there’s far less people who are very overt in saying, “I’m a Christian. I go to church.” Why? Well, because they just don’t really want to get into it with people. And so, although we would say, “Lord, I would never deny you.” There is a part of us that, in our silence…well, I’ve done that. I’ve done that…and probably so have you.
I’m very thankful that that story is given to us in Matthew Chapter 26, when Peter says, “Lord, I will never deny you.” I’m very thankful that Jesus, before that event happened, says to Peter, “Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, and when you have returned, strengthen your brethren.” So, He says, “Peter, you are going to deny Me, but when you come back, strengthen your brothers.” And it’s strengthening to me to know that Peter, although he denied the Lord, he confessed that, he repented of that, and the Lord welcomed him back. Maybe it would be, on this Easter Sunday, that some of us would have to say, “Lord, I confess, I’ve, in my silence, denied You before men.” Why? “Because I know that living for Jesus will cause a stir, and I’m not entirely sure I want to cause a stir.” For the vast majority of us, we’d like to kind of just be anonymous.
You know that, statistically speaking, there have been studies that have been done that find that anywhere between 45% and 75% of Americans are introverts. Most of the people in this room, in this world, are introverts. That means they’d probably just like to go about their business and live and let live, and, “I don’t really want to talk to anybody. And don’t look at me, I don’t want to have to say, ‘Hello.’” Most people are like that. So, if living for Jesus means you’re going to cause a stir, there’s no way to live for Jesus and not cause a stir, there’s a temptation to remain anonymous. And so you go to CA – Christians Anonymous. [laughter] …once a week, on Sunday, from 8:30 until 10:00. [laughter] And we gather in this room, and we close the doors, and then someone comes up and says, “I’m a Christian, I’ve got a guitar, let’s stand.”
And you go, “I’ll stand, because I’m a Christian, but I’m anonymous.” And then you look around and go, “Oh, that guy’s a little bit less anonymous. He’s raising his hands. I don’t know if I can do that.” [laughter]
“This is Christians Anonymous. You’re secret’s safe with us.” [laughter]
Isn’t there that temptation? We know there is.
Well, Paul was an outspoken follower of Jesus. Not just Paul; you go down the list – Peter, James, John, Bartholomew, Thomas. You go down the list and you see they were all outspoken followers of Jesus; they knew that their faith, their following of Jesus, was going to cause a stir. And it did. You cannot be a Christian, actively following Jesus, and not cause a stir.
Well, Paul was now brought in before this council. Acts Chapter 23: “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’ And then the high priest,” who was in that council, a guy by the name of Ananias, “he commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.” To this extremely religious individual, the high priest of Israel, the one who oversaw all the priestly duties there in the temple, the one who offered sacrifice daily for himself before doing anything for the people, when he heard Paul, a man who had been carried outside of the temple because he’s reaching out to Gentiles, carrying the Gospel to non-Jews, when he heard Paul say, “I have lived before God with a good conscience unto this day,” Ananias said, “I can’t believe you would say such a thing! What an audacious, arrogant, cocky, and absurd claim!!” He could hardly contain himself.
And so Ananias breaks protocol, and he says to those who are standing by Paul, “Smack that guy!! How dare you say such a thing!! Smack him!!”
And Paul, oh I love Paul! “Then he said,” Verse 3, “’God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!’” WOW!! Chutzpah!! Paul had chutzpah. He may have been… His picture – chutzpah – definition: Paul!! “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall.” Reminiscent of words that were spoken to the Pharisees and the scribes and the Sadducees by Jesus in Matthew Chapter 23, when He says to them, “You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs. You look great on the outside, but inwardly you’re full of dead men’s bones.”
And Paul says to the high priest, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” You see, it was against Jewish law for someone to strike another person in this way. Jewish law would say this: “He who strikes the cheek of an Israelite, strikes, as it were, the glory of God. And He that strikes a man, strikes the Holy One.”
So, Paul says, “You’re going to judge me according to the law, and yet you’re going to break the law in trying to judge me according to the law. God will strike you, you whitewashed tomb.”
And, as he says this, “those who stood by lean over and say, ‘Hey, Paul, do you revile the high priest?’”
And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.’”
Now, interesting, Paul immediately recants what he has just said, because he recognizes that it was disrespectful of this one who sits in authority there in the Sanhedrin, the high priest. Even though it may have been true, he says, “Okay, you’re right, I shouldn’t have said that.” So Paul, he recognizes that he essentially speaks out of turn here, and so he steps back away from what he has said. It’s insightful, it’s instructive. It teaches us to be respectful to people that maybe we don’t agree with, to people that maybe are not doing what we feel they should be doing, or acting as we think they should be acting, we should still be respectful. And so Paul was respectful.
Now, he did say something interesting though; he said, “I have lived before God, until this day, with a good conscience.” And those are some pretty heavy words. In fact, that’s a pretty awesome statement. “I have walked with God, until this day, with a good, pure, clean conscience.” Now, we should see that Paul is not saying here that he lived sinlessly or perfectly. Paul confesses a number of times in his writings that he was not perfect, that he was the chief of all sinners, that he was less than the least of all the apostles, he’s less than the least of all the saints. So he knew that he’s not perfect. So what is he saying when he says, “I have lived before God with a pure conscience?” I submit to you that he’s saying this: In Romans Chapter 4 he says, “God has given us a conscience that accuses us or excuses us. It accuses us when we’ve done wrong, and it excuses us when we’re walking rightly. God, His Spirit is very active in this whole process.” But Paul is saying, “When I’m walking out of a pure heart, in integrity, when my conscience challenges me, when it accuses me, I repent and I confess. I’m walking in a pure conscience.”
But you know, for those religious leaders, seated in that room, on that council of the Sanhedrin, on that day, that was a very hard thing for them to fathom. Why? Because they lived under a very strict religious system, that your righteousness, or your justification, came from doing good things and not doing bad things. Which you might be able to fake in front of other people, but when it’s just you, by yourself before God, well, that’s another story. You see, some of you in this room, you came out of a more religious structured system, where you didn’t do that, and you didn’t touch that, and you did do this on these days, and only those days. And therefore you felt like, “I’m righteous.”
And other people may have looked at you and said, “Wow, that guy’s got it really goin’ on.”
But when it was just you before God, you’d have to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
And Paul says, “I know that I have lived before God with a good conscience.”
And to those religious leaders that was unfathomable.
Point Number 2 on your outline:
Paul’s Faith Upset Their Religion
Paul’s Faith Upset Their Religion. How is it that Paul could say, “I have lived before God with a pure conscience?” You see, such a thing is not possible by living under laws or standards or statutes. Such is only possible in Christ. How so? Well, if you would, turn in your Bibles to Book of Hebrews, Hebrews Chapter 9. It’s to the right of the Book of Acts just a few books, Hebrews Chapter 9. The Book of Hebrews is written to people who were Christians coming out of a very staunch religious system – the Jewish religious system. And the author of the Book of Hebrews says this in Hebrews Chapter 9, Verse 13: “For if the blood of bulls and goats, the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the body, the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ?”
So, the author of the Book of Hebrews is contrasting the Jewish religious system, which existed under sacrifice and offering to purify this body, this carnal flesh, so that you could approach God. So you could only go and approach God after you offered this sacrifice and this offering and this thing. Now you could go before Him because this body is pure because of the sacrifice. The author of the Book of Hebrews says, “If that system can purify the body so that you can approach God, how much more the blood of Christ?”
Look at this, Verse 14: “…who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God to cleanse your” what? “…conscience.” “…to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” You see, that sacrificial system under Judaism, it had its purpose, it had its place; its purpose and place was to make it possible for individuals who submitted themselves to it, to come before God to worship Him at the temple. But it was not sufficient to take away sin and to absolve the conscience. And yet, in Christ, the blood of Christ purges our conscience from dead works. And so Paul could say, “I’ve lived before God with a pure conscience.”
Look one chapter over, Hebrews Chapter 10, Verse 21. Hebrews 10: “…and having a High Priest over the house of God…” Back in Acts, Paul is there in the city of Jerusalem standing before the high priest of Jerusalem, but in Christ, in the church, we don’t have a high priest in a city, we have a High Priest in heaven, His name is Jesus. So the author of the Book of Hebrews, he says, “We have a High Priest over the house of God, and so let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil” what? “…conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” You see, because of the work that Jesus did on the cross 2,000 years ago, because He raised from the dead on Resurrection Day 2,000 years ago, which we celebrate today, He is our High Priest forever, and He makes it possible to not only approach God, but to approach God and serve Him with a pure conscience. And Paul’s faith in God upset the religious system of the day. Faith in Jesus will always supersede religious endeavor. Always.
Well, continuing on, back to Acts, Acts Chapter 23, Verse 6 – Paul speaks up, “I’ve lived before God with a pure conscience.”
Ananias says, “Strike that guy on the mouth!”
He says, “God will strike you, you whitewashed tomb!”
“Hey, that’s the high priest, you probably shouldn’t talk to him that way.”
“Oh!” Paul can see this isn’t quite going so well. So,”When Paul perceived,” this is wonderful, “When Paul perceived that one part of the group were Sadducees and the other were Pharisees, he cried out to the council, ‘Men and brethren, I’m a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and concerning the hope of the resurrection I am being judged!’
“And when he said this, a dissension, a division arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.”
A couple of weeks ago, one of our points in our message was: Be Wise As Serpents And As Harmless As Doves. And Paul here is exhibiting that “Wise as serpents” mentality. As he looks out in this group, Paul was a former Pharisee; it’s even plausible that he, at one point in time, was a part of this very judicial system, this Sanhedrin. As he looks out at them, he goes, “Wow! There’s a group of Pharisees, there’s a group of Sadducees, this whole group is divided by Pharisees and Sadducees.” And so Paul says, “I’m going to play the Resurrection Card.” And so he says, “Guys, I’m a Pharisee.”
And all the Pharisees go, “Oh, really, you’re a Pharisee. Oh, great.”
“Yeah, I’m the son of a Pharisee.”
“Wow! Generation of Pharisees; that’s great. Oh, wow, a Pharisee.”
“And it’s because of the resurrection, the hope of the resurrection, that I’m being judged.”
And then Paul just went [stepped back]. It’s like he went [pulled the pin out of a hand grenade and threw it] …throw the grenade.
Why is that?
Now, this book, the Book of Acts, was written by a Greek guy by the name of Luke, to another Greek guy by the name of Theophilus. And so, for a bunch of Greeks – Gentiles – and for us Gentiles in the 21st Century, we look at this and we go, “What in the world just happened? I don’t even know what just happened.”
It’s like an inside thing going on here, and you’re standing as an outsider going, “Whoa, what was that?”
“I have no idea. What, what… Anybody have any idea what that is?”
It’s like if you’re watching rugby, and everybody all gets upset, and you go, “Whoa, I have no idea what happened. What’d they do?” Unless you’re into rugby; which you’re probably not, because you’re an American. [laughter]
So, Luke gives us some really important insight in Verse 8: “…for the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection.”
Paul says, “It’s because of the resurrection that I’m being judged.” And now there’s a fight.
Why? Well, the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. They say there is no resurrection, emphatically. And, not only that, “there’s no angel and no spirit,” but the Pharisees confess both. Well, “Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party,” they’re like political parties, “they arose and they protested, ‘We find no evil in this man,’ Paul, ‘but,’” and just to get the goat of the Sadducees there, “’but if an angel or a spirit,’” we know you guys don’t believe in those, “’if an angel or a spirit has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.’”
And now Paul just made a whole bunch of friends, of those who were once enemies, because he focused them on the people that they really didn’t like. Wise as serpents. “It’s because of the hope of the resurrection I’m being judged.” Boom!
And the Pharisees say, “Hey, if an angel or a spirit has revealed something to him, who are we to judge?” And now there’s this contention between Sadducees and Pharisees, and Paul just backs away, steps back.
Point Number 3 on your outline:
The Resurrection Is The Divisive Issue
The Resurrection Is The Divisive Issue, whether it was 2,000 years ago in a Jewish council of Pharisees and Sadducees, or it is the 21st Century in the United States of America, the resurrection is the divisive issue. Although, Barna Research found, in 2003, that 81% of Americans – 81% of Americans – believe in a life after death, the resurrection is the divisive issue. Why?
81% of Americans believe that there is a life after this – something happens. A small group of those people, 5%, believe that you might come back as a dog. Hopefully, you’ve got a good owner – in this nation, that might be true. [laughter] But the majority of Americans, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that there is some sort of life after this.
You know, just this last Friday night, a new movie came out called Heaven Is For Real. It’s based on a best-selling book that came out a number of years ago, about a young, 4-year old boy who experienced some sort of near-death experience. Just about every year another book comes out on near-death experiences. If you ever write one, it will probably become a New York Times bestseller because people are really interested in these things. And so there’s a lot of discussion about life after this. There’s a lot of anticipation.
81% of Americans say, “Yes, there is a life after death.”
9% more say, “There might be.”
Only 10% of Americans say, “There is no resurrection. There is no life after this.” They are the realists of our day. And in Paul’s day, the Sadducees were the religious realists of that day. Now, the Sadducees were the high-class, wealthy, aristocratic group of people there in Jerusalem. They controlled the high priesthood because they were supportive of the Romans and supportive of King Herod. And King Herod was the one who nominated the high priest every single year. But they did not believe in life after this. They did not believe in the resurrection.
And, although 81% of Americans say that there is some sort of life after this, and 90% of Americans say that, “Well, there’s probably life after this; if there isn’t, we’re not sure.” But the majority say that, and yet the resurrection is the divisive issue because of this: Christians believe, without a doubt, that there is a resurrection, and that Jesus raised from the dead 2,000 years ago, and that He is the only way to resurrection. And therefore, it is the divisive issue. He is the only way. Before He went to the cross, He said to His disciples, just hours before He would be betrayed, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Me. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you,” in the resurrection, “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Christians believe that 2,000 years ago Jesus died on a cross, three days later He raised from the dead. The tomb is empty, He was seen by more than 500 witnesses who support the claim that He is alive. But, we say, not only is He alive, but He’s the only way to resurrection. He’s the only way to resurrection. It is the divisive issue.
Well, Paul threw out the Resurrection Card, pulled the pin, dropped the grenade, all hell broke loose. Verse 10, Acts 23: “Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the barracks.”
Point Number 4 on your outline:
The Outside World Is Watching
The Outside World Is Watching. Although 81% of Americans believe that there is some sort of life after this, the overwhelming majority of them are not entirely sure of how that looks, what it will be, or “How I get that.” Most of them believe that it’s based on some sort of karma sort of thing – You do good things in this life, and you’ll do better in the next life. Most people believe that, in our nation. Even a great majority of people who sit in churches every single day believe that I have to do good works to make sure that I get to that place in the future. If you ask a group of people, 100 people, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” the overwhelming majority would say, “I believe that there’s a heaven, but I’m not entirely sure that I’ll go there.”
“Well, I’m not a very good person. I hope I’ll get there.”
And so a lot of people are basing that on that reality. But the Bible says otherwise. There is only one way to that eternal place, and it’s through faith in Jesus Christ. And although 81% of Americans believe in some form of afterlife, only Christians have the promise and the absolute certainty of that afterlife; a promise given to them by the first One to actually raise from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth. But outsiders are watching.
What are they watching for? I suggest that they’re watching to see how Jesus’ resurrection in the past, and your hope for resurrection in the future, has transformed your present. Is it being lived out with hope and joy and peace in the midst of trouble, in the midst of suffering, in the midst of whatever you go through in this life? Can you say, “Because Jesus died and raised from the dead in the past, and because He has promised that I shall rise with Him in the future, right now I have hope and peace and joy, no matter what?” Outsiders are watching, and they’re watching for that. They want to see, “Is it really true? Do you really believe it?” Or when everything hits the fan, you fall apart, just like the rest of them? They want to see. They want to know.
Well, perhaps as you sit here today, you’re invited by someone, and you would count yourself as an outsider. You say, “Yeah, you know, I’ve kind of been interested in these afterlife things, and I think there might be something like that. And these near-death experiences, there may be something to that. But I’m not entirely sure that I fully believe that Jesus raised from the dead.”
For you outsiders, I would say, I would encourage you to take a look at the evidence, because the resurrection of Jesus is a logically provable fact. I’d encourage you to look at the evidence.
For those of you that would count yourself as insiders; you would say, “I’m a Christian. I go to CA every week… [laughter] …or at least a couple of times a month. But I go to Christians Anonymous, I’m one of those people, I attend church regularly. I take my faith seriously. I even serve in some sort of ministry. I even give in some form or way.” I would say, for you, remember, outsiders are watching. How has Jesus’ resurrection in the past, and your hope for resurrection in the future, altered the way you live today? Because outsiders are watching.
Three application questions, and we’re done, at the bottom of your outline. Number 1:
Am I Living For Jesus?
Am I actively living for Jesus? To steal a phrase from another group outside, that we don’t necessarily identify with: “Are you living out loud, or are you in the closet?” Am I living for Jesus?
Do I Have Faith Or Just Religion?
Do I have faith or just religion? I was talking with a group of Christians a few years ago, and we were talking about family members, we were getting ready for Christmas or Easter, I don’t remember what it was. And one of the guys said, “Yeah, you know, my cousin, he’s a CEO Christian.”
And I said, “I don’t know what that is. What’s a CEO Christian?”
He said, “It’s a Christmas and Easter only Christian.” [laughter]
I said, “Oh, okay. I got that.”
Do you have genuine, vibrant, real faith toward God, and faithfulness to God, or just religion? Do you just go through the motions, hoping that, “Well, I did that, so I’ll be okay when I stand before the pearly gates and talk with Peter?” [laughter]
I suggest to you that he’s not waiting as the gate attendant. [laughter]
Is My Faith Causing A Stir?
There will be evidence if we’re living for Jesus. You know what, it’s a reality: Christians make people uncomfortable. And their discomfort, I’m not bothered by their discomfort. In fact, I’d rather they be uncomfortable when they’re telling a dirty joke, or when they’re cursing about God, or when they’re talking bad about their spouse. I’d rather, when someone says, “Hey, he’s the chaplain.”
They go, “Oh, sorry Father.” [laughter]
I’d rather that!! …than them go, “Oh, I had no idea. You’re a…?! You?! Really?! You’re a Christian? You’re one of those. I had no idea.”
Is my faith causing a stir? God, make my faith cause a stir!! Because this world needs to be shaken up. Amen?
I’m going to ask Rich to come back up, and lead us in another song of worship. As he does, let’s stand together. Would you close your eyes, bow your heads with me as we pray. As we do, perhaps today, for the first time, you realize that you have religion and not true faith in the risen Jesus Christ. Perhaps you’ve come to see, today, that you do not have true hope for a future resurrection, or you recognize that you’re not really living for Jesus. If this is the case, you can do a few simple things: Number 1 – Confess your sin. Say, “Lord, I have failed, I’ve fallen short.”
Number 2 – Believe that Christ, 2,000 years ago, died on the cross and rose again for you. He stood in your place and my place, He took our sin upon Himself there on the cross.
Number 3 – Accept His payment for your sins, by faith.
Number 4 – Turn to Him, being willing to turn away from your sin.
And Number 5 – Follow Him publicly; live it out loud, no more CA.
Father, we pray, as we stand before You today, that You would work in our lives and in our hearts. I pray that if there’s anyone here today that they’ve realized for the first time that they don’t have hope of resurrection in eternity, draw them by Your Spirit to Yourself. Lord, we thank You for Your grace, we thank You for Your love demonstrated there on the cross. And we ask, God, that as we go away from this place today, as we engage with neighbors or friends or family members on this holiday, as we go to work or school this week, God, I pray that You’d help us to be overt in our faith, and not undercover Christians. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.