This morning, we’re continuing our message series as we continue through the book of Acts. Our goal is to learn from the methods, successes, and even failures of the early church. After all, this first group of disciples were the first ones to determine what it meant to be the church and had no resource outside of the Holy Spirit’s direction as their guide.
So far, we learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and what a day in the early church looked like. We learned about the time when Peter and John had been imprisoned and threatened all for showing kindness by healing a lame man. We found that they were common, ordinary people like you and I who had simply been with Jesus. We were encouraged to take the stress and excuses off of ourselves as ministry is all about Jesus. It’s by Jesus, for Jesus, and we’re simply His willing vessels whom He chooses to use.
Last week, we learned about how to become a healthy “me”, which in turn, creates a healthy church. We learned that the key to this is selflessly following Jesus. As each one of us, so unique and diverse from each other, move toward a common goal, we will become united just like a symphony. We learned of the enemy of such unity from the painful example of Ananias and Saphira’s selfishness. It wasn’t that they withheld some back for themselves, it was that they intentionally and deceitfully said that they were giving their all.
This week, in light of our Thanksgiving dinner, we continue in the book of Acts and learn to be thankful and to rejoice in all circumstances.
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Can you imagine walking away from being flogged simply for teaching in the name of Jesus and rejoicing because of it? Then, to continue sharing the good news about Jesus day after day in public as well as from house to house? This is the very act that caused their imprisonment and flogging!
Even in the midst of such severe consequences, it was a joy to serve Jesus. What has always amazed me is hearing the testimonies of even current-day individuals who are severely punished day after day for their faith in Jesus and their desire to share the good news about him and the great joy that they possess. However, in a nation where we are free to live out and publicly express our faith, we seldom take advantage of it and often serve Jesus begrudgingly instead of joyfully. It baffles our understanding and all logic as God’s Kingdom often does.
Jesus spoke a few times of us possessing not only joy, but a complete joy. Usually, when we consider our joy being made complete, we figure that this will only happen when we enter Heaven. However, both times that Jesus speaks of this complete joy that no one can steal away, it is in the context of pain and grief, which do not exist in Heaven. We can have complete and total joy that cannot be stolen away no matter what here and now!
Of course, joy is a fruit of the Spirit grown by faithfully walking in the Spirit. However, there I believe that there is a shortcut to receiving this true joy. Well, perhaps more so a fertilizer than a shortcut, to receiving this fruit of the Spirit. That fertilizer is thankfulness. Thankfulness is a choice that we make. In all circumstances, we can either choose to give thanks or to grumble and complain.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.
Sure, this is easier said than done. However, the Apostle Paul, who wrote these words, lived them out before his pen ever touched the parchment. He endured more than we likely ever will in our lifetimes and yet still called us to give thanks in all circumstances and to do everything without grumbling or arguing. It’s more than possible, it is God’s will for each of us.
Think about it for a moment, though. We were created in the image of God. When we plan something special for our kids and things don’t work out, how do they usually respond? Right, if we’re honest with each other, it usually isn’t pretty. Think about this. When our children whine and moan and groan and complain, does it motivate our generosity? OF COURSE NOT! In fact, we may even withhold blessings that we had planned for them because they’ve disqualified themselves from being deserving of them.
Why is it that when things get tough for us, instead of responding like the early church did in Acts, we complain and stress and worry? Their literal lives were on the line, they had just been flogged and they gave thanks and rejoiced. I mean, let’s be honest with each other here this morning. We experience far, far less severe things in life and immediately break out whining like spoiled brats!
Consider how different our lives might be if we encountered difficulties a bit differently, though? What if we ran into a tough spot and immediately handed it over to God and thanked Him for what He was going to do through it? What if we chose to actually do what God’s word tells us to do?
1 Peter 5:7 (AMP)
Cast all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
Going back to our literal example now. If things don’t work out like we had planned for our kids and they choose to just say, OK and trust you in this situation, how might you respond? Complaining and whining and moaning and groaning resulted in us wanting to withhold any good that we had planned for them. Thanksgiving, in the midst of difficulties, motivates our generosity so powerfully that we’ll want to bless them above and beyond what we have even planned to begin with.
Now if us, who are evil, would want to bless our children’s thanksgiving this tremendously, how much more would thanksgiving in the midst of difficulties motivate our Heavenly Father’s generosity into our lives? Don’t take my word for it, take the very words of Jesus:
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
As we go forward with our lives from here, let’s be intentional about giving thanks in all circumstances. After all, that is God’s will for us. Let’s pour out generously thanksgiving, the fertilizer that expedites God’s joy into our lives. Let’s expect God for great things, especially when life gets tough.