“ROOTED” session handouts available for download:
As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable. Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…
Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:
- Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter. Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose.
- Our mission is continuing what Jesus started. The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
- Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit. Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
- Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).
Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable!
Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice? How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality? And how can we play our part?…
The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions. This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth. And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43). And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches. Let’s look at 5 things we see here:
Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings! This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1). God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was! Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place! We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission! If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!
Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth! None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place. Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used! Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.
Then, thirdly, we must look and listen. Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4). If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully. Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.
Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got. In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6). He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name. Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission! And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again! It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world. When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable!
And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on. Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11). It takes great courage to lift up a lame man! But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body! God moves when we step-out. This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand. He was present in the moment. It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them. And He’s just the same today!
Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
In the first part of this trilogy we saw that Jesus is the Unchangeable Person – the same yesterday, today and forever! We now explore another related truth: that this Unchangeable Person is ruling and reigning and forever extending His Unshakeable Kingdom…
The Gospels make clear that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus throughout His early ministry. In Matthew’s Gospel alone, for example, there are over 50 references to the “Kingdom”: John the Baptist prepared the way by calling people to “repent, for kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus began His ministry with exactly the same message (4:17), before travelling throughout the region “announcing the Good News about the Kingdom” (4:23, 9:35). His ‘Sermon on Mount’ was all about the Kingdom (Matthew 5-7); He taught to us pray that His Kingdom would come on earth as in heaven (6:10) and to seek the Kingdom above all else (6:33). Then He sent-out the Twelve to announce that the Kingdom was at hand (10:7), told parables describing its growth (Matthew 13, 20, 22, 25) and made clear that the good news of the Kingdom must be preached in the whole world before the end will come (24:14). And in His last forty days with His disciples, immediately prior to empowering them to be His witnesses everywhere, He spoke of nothing other than (you guessed it!) the Kingdom (Acts 1:3)!…
As we’ve posted elsewhere, God’s Kingdom comes when His will is done (Matthew 6:10) and so the ‘Kingdom of God’ is not a place but rather the sphere of His rule and reign through Jesus, who triumphed over every enemy and is now enthroned as King of kings and calls all people to come and live under His rule!… This revolutionary message, proclaimed by the first followers of Jesus “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) – but far too often the message of today’s Church is at best far less potent and at worst a different agenda altogether. It’s vital that we preach the Kingdom! So, let’s consider four characteristics that should be part of our message:
Firstly, the Kingdom is EVERLASTING. Indeed, the Kingdom (God’s will outworked) has always been God’s purpose. Adam and Eve were commissioned to establish His rule and stewardship over creation. And when God found in King David a man after His own heart, He promised: “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). David understood the eternal dimensions of this and knew his earthly kingdom was a foretaste of something much bigger, and declared “your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13). As the prophet Isaiah foresaw, the child born to us would have the government of the world on His shoulders and would reign “from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Unlike every other dynasty, dominion or kingdom, the Kingdom of God will never end! We needn’t be fascinated or distracted by passing trends; or by movements, people or causes that come and go – let’s seek first and live for God’s Kingdom! And His Kingdom is not only ever-lasting it’s ever-growing. As most translations put it: “of the increase of His government and its peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7) – because the zeal of Almighty God is forever extending His Kingdom.
Secondly, Jesus repeatedly proclaimed and proved that His Kingdom is GOOD NEWS (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). In fact, this ever-lasting, ever-growing Kingdom is the greatest news! Why? Because Jesus has defeated every enemy (Satan, sin, sickness and death) and is crowned King of kings! And by His victory He’s restored mankind, healed creation and provided for every known need. And because, unlike every failed and failing kingdom, nobody is beyond the scope or reach of Christ’s Kingdom – it’s good news for everyone, everywhere. And the Kingdom is all the good news we need; as E. Stanley Jones put it, it is ‘God’s total answer to man’s total need’. Everything else is peripheral; every other good cause is smaller than His Kingdom. In fact, any other ‘gospel’ leaves us needing more, But the gospel of the Kingdom – that Jesus is Lord and offers new life – is all-sufficient. The really good news is the Kingdom, with nothing added or subtracted. If our goal is feeding the hungry, it’s not big enough; if our goal is strengthening marriages or empowering parents these aren’t big enough! If our goal is impacting politics, influencing our work-places or improving our neighbourhood, these are all good but they’re all too small! Jesus summarised His mission by saying: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom…because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). Our goal must be to see His kingdom established – and it will include all those things, but will eclipse them all as well!
Thirdly, the Kingdom is OUR NEW HOME, the proper place of belonging of all who follow Christ! Jesus said we “see” and “enter” the Kingdom when we’re “born again” (John 3:3,5); that’s when we begin to live in the dimension of His rule and reign over our lives: we start making decisions and choices that please Him; we begin honouring Him with our words and actions; and we begin to live for His cause… We start a new life in a new Kingdom. It’s re-birth, a reorientation, and a relocation! God has “rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His Son” (Colossians 1:13). And we’re also “added to the church” (Acts 2:41), which is the community of the King; the people amongst whom His Kingdom is made visible to a watching world. If ‘Jesus is Lord’ we will obey His instructions, mend broken relationships, shun gossip, honour God with our finances, pray before making big decisions… And when our lives, families, homes, and careers come under the rule and reign of God, there is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17) – and health, order and blessing – and it will soon be obvious to others that we live under a different regime.
And all this brings us to declare that the Kingdom of God is UNSHAKEABLE! In Hebrews 12:27-28 we read that “all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain” and that “we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable…”. As we’ve said already, every alternative to God’s Kingdom has been, is being, or will be shaken. Only His Kingdom will stand firm! And in the midst of the many shakings of our day (in health, economics, politics and much else) we may not understand everything, but we can certainly ‘stand under’ the Throne of King Jesus. And, as citizens of His Kingdom, we can represent it in every way: we can be ever-growing, good news and unshakeable.
We’re at home in a Kingdom that’s everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for the whole world. Jesus is same yesterday, today and forever, and His Kingdom cannot be shaken – and it doesn’t get more secure than that!…
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
The opening verses of Hebrews tell us it was “through the Son” that God “created the universe” and now “sustains everything” (1:2-3); and that when all created things have perished, He will “remain forever” (1:11), because He is “always the same” (1:12). The final chapter of Hebrews repeat this staggering truth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
The way we see and relate to Jesus will determine everything else. How do we think of Him? Pray to Him or worship Him?… And however we answer, and whatever His many other awesome attributes, He is always the same. Theologians call it His ‘immutability’ and it’s an anchor to our faith: God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) does not and cannot change. He is the same, all the time. And therefore He is completely consistent and totally trustable. If He could change, the universe would be open to chaos and we would be lost. But He does not and cannot! In fact, as the apostle James tells us: “With Him there is no variation” (James 1:17). Unlike anybody else, Jesus Christ is the same, all the time – and that great truth is of the utmost significance!…
To put it another way, and to give us a helpful image of His immutability, He is The Rock! As Jesus explained, wise people build their house on Rock (Matthew 7:24); indeed, Jesus (the wisest of all) is building His House – the Church – on Rock (Matthew 16:18). We can build our lives and our churches on Him, because He is unchanging, unshifting, immovable; “the same yesterday, today and forever”. So, let’s dig a bit deeper to discover what He was like “yesterday”, because that’s what He’s like today and will be like tomorrow. Let’s consider three ‘yesterdays’:
Firstly, if we go back to the very beginning, we see that the Son of God did not begin to exist in Bethlehem, two thousand years ago; that was when He took on flesh, but He had always been and He will always be! He is eternal! That’s why those verses in Hebrews 1 tell us that it’s through Him all of creation came into being – a truth also declared by Paul (Colossians 1:16-17) and John (John 1:3). And Jesus calls Himself “the Originator of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14). God the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit created the heavens and the earth, and did so from things that didn’t exist (Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3). And He’s just the same today: He creates by His Word and He sustains all He creates, and He can do new, creative and miraculous works in our lives!
Secondly, we discover that Jesus appeared on earth at various times in the Old Testament; even before His incarnation, the Son of God made Himself known to mankind. Some of these ‘theophanies’ are more obvious than others, but consider for example: When Abraham returned from battle he met Melchizedek (Genesis 14) who is described as the “king of righteousness” and “king of peace”; one “having neither beginning of days nor end of life”, one “resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:2-3)! When Jacob wrestled “a man” who blessed him, changed his name and told him he’d prevail, he knew he’d “seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). When Moses led God’s people through the wilderness the Rock that brought forth water “was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). When Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol, the king sees a fourth man in the furnace with them who “looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). And when Isaiah “saw the Lord” enthroned in the Temple (Isaiah 6) it was none other than Jesus (John 12:41). Here and elsewhere Jesus is present to find, meet, come alongside, intervene and provide for His people… And just as He was yesterday, so He is today!
And then thirdly, when He took on flesh and walked amongst us He gave the most complete manifestation of His unchangeable nature. Having declared “before Abraham was even born, I AM” (John 8:58), He made seven powerful “I am…” statements to show us what this meant: (1) “I am the Bread of life” (John 6:35,48) – sustaining, nourishing; providing, refreshing, satisfying us. (2) “I am the Light of World” (John 8:12, 9:5) – banishing darkness, removing fear, making things plain. (3) “I am the Door of the Sheep” (John 10:7,9) – giving access to the Father; guarding, protecting, keeping us safe. (4) “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14) – caring, leading, feeding, healing; devoted to His flock. (5) “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25) – carrying our sin and sickness, triumphing over death, empowering us to live Spirit-filled, overcoming lives. (6) “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:16) – all our wisdom, the answer to every dilemma, the key to every breakthrough. And (7) “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1,5) – joining us to Himself and one another; and enabling us to be fruitful all the time… This is JESUS – the Great I AM, the Son of God, the Christ – who is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever!
Jesus is the same today as when He created all things, and when He appeared in the Old Testament, and when He walked on earth. He is exactly the same this year as last year, or your best year ever! He does not change. He’s the same day or night, and whatever the season, and whatever we face. He’s the same whether His church is gathered or scattered. He doesn’t change when we change; He doesn’t deviate when we go off-track. He cannot love us any more or less! He is always good, all the time. He was all-sufficient for Abraham, Moses and Daniel and his friends; and for Paul and Peter and John – and He’s all-sufficient for you and me! He never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And therefore we can anchor our lives to Him, build our churches on Him, and find total security in Him! There’s a Rock on which we can stand. He is unchangeable, and that changes everything!….
In Part 2 we will see that this Unchangeable Person has an Unshakeable Kingdom, but before you move on why not take some time to consider what the unchangeable nature of Jesus means for you at this time?
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2, 6)
The foundations upon which we build our lives and churches are more important than we could ever imagine. The strength and success of anything depends on what it stands upon; the health of the roots will always determine the quality of the fruit. Even our attitudes and reactions, and our perspectives on things will be profoundly affected by what we hold to be true. And in times of challenge or uncertainty we need to know what we can depend and rely upon – think how often King David’s psalms express his trust in God “the Rock”.
Solid foundations become the anchor-points and reference-points in our lives – the unshifting truths we embrace and to which we will return again and again, and on which we build so much more. This mini-series of three article focuses on three great truths that are fundamental to our lives and our churches.
In the first, we consider the fact that Jesus is UNCHANGEABLE. The Bible describes Him as “the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) and this of course has profound implications: all that He was in the past He is today, and will be forever; and all that He did before He can do again! We can rely on Him and build our lives on Him, which is exactly what He invites us to do (Matthew 7:24-27).
In the second, we see that Jesus has a Kingdom that is UNSHAKEABLE (Hebrews 12:28). The Kingdom of God is everlasting and ever-growing and is good news for everyone, everywhere (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). And, whilst so many other things are uncertain and unstable, God’s Kingdom remains utterly unshakeable – there’s no better place to be!
And then in the third article, we focus on the fact that Jesus has commissioned and empowered His Church to spread the good news of His Kingdom everywhere! This is our urgent task and mission, and it is UNSTOPPABLE until Jesus returns (Matthew 24:14). We conclude by looking at a true story (Acts 3:1-11) that helps us make this mission practical in our own cultures and contexts .
Jesus never changes, His Kingdom is never shaken, and His mission will never fail – and holding tightly onto these three great truths will keep us properly anchored and focussed. It’s my prayer that these three article and the accompanying video messages will be a great encouragement to you! Part one starts here…
Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here).
A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6). Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37). Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then! So, how are they to be understood? There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:
First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction. It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).
Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14). It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice. The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it. Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16).
Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else! The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism). By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow. It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.
It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers. Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)… The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.
Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’. Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church. What a wonderful salvation!…