The Hand of Lord
There a many metaphors in English that deal with the hand. For instance, 'don't bite the hand that feeds you.' If you are benefiting from someone you don't treat them badly or you might loose the benefit. 'A bird in the hand,' it is better to look at what you have now then loose it and hope for something better in the future. 'Getting your hands dirty' well that can either mean working very hard or doing something you shouldn't be doing. I use to get my hands dirty all the time, when I was a mason. Metaphors use figures of speech at times to explain something other times just to hammer home a point. Scripture is filled with Metaphors and one of my favorites involves the hand. It is the phrase "the Hand of the Lord." This metaphor packs a punch, no pun intended. This phrase in the Old Testament alone is used over 200 times. And the exact phrase the hand of the Lord is only used three times in the New Testament twice in Acts and the third in Luke's gospel. Each time that Luke references this metaphor it is always positive, pointing to God's active work in blessing. God is an active God and when it comes to the church, His church, He has always been and will always be active in His church. This of course is not just any church, it is not just any group of people who come together He is only active in churches with distinct markers. We will see those markers as we will explore this metaphor of the hand of the Lord this morning as the church spreads, grows and thrives.
The Hand of the Lord in Growing His Church
The Hand of the Lord in Growing His Church
If you have your Bible's turn with me to Acts 11:19-30
God's hand was with the church and those who were sharing the gospel. We see here in these first three verses that the gospel spread far off. Notice up to this point who has been focused on when it comes to sharing the good news. We have seen Peter giving the gospel, we have seen Philip and Stephen. All of whom were commissioned in some sense to go fourth. Peter was commissioned by Jesus Himself, he was an apostle, a sent out one. Philip and Stephen were both commissioned by Peter and the other apostles so the apostles could spend time in prayer and the study of the Word of God. These are the ones who have taken the spotlight in spreading the gospel message. Now as we look at Antioch and the spread of the gospel in this vast city we see that there are no names associated with the evangelistic efforts of these Christ followers. Peter is not mentioned and neither is Philip. In fact only one name is mentioned in the first three verses of this text and it is only for the purpose of establishing a time line. The spread of the gospel was not contingent on a person who was a mover and a shaker, the spread of the gospel was never intended to be solely in the hands of the leadership. Those who shared the gospel in Antioch were ordinary believers with an extraordinary love for God and a deep hatred for sin. Those who shared the gospel were those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in the church. These are the Jewish Christians, the Hellenistic Jews of chapter 7. God was at work in spreading the gospel and using these people to spread the gospel and in bringing large numbers of people to a saving knowledge of Himself, from Jew to Greek, the church was growing. All because the hand of the Lord was with those who shared the gospel.
Scattering the Church
Scattering the Church
We see this in verse 19, "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occured in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone." The church spread. The spreading of the church as you know, was in Acts 7 and the catalysis for this scattering was the persecution that arose after Stephen's martyrdom. Remember the Stephen was the trigger and Saul was the hammer that shot the church clear across Judea all the way up into Asia Minor. What is today called Turkey. (Put up map to show the spread of the church)
Stephen's martyrdom brought about Saul's ravaging of the church and those who were followers of the way and this scattered the church far and wide. Luke opens in verse 19 pointing to God's hand at work even in the evil act of Stephen's murder by the Jews in Jerusalem. Luke states here, "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews alone." While the events that happened in Acts 9-11 the church was growing. God, being omniscient and omnipresent, was not only working in those events but He is sovereign and His hand was working in the spreading of the gospel message. God moved Stephen to speak out in the temple against his accusers by pointing to God's hand at work through out Israel's history. God used Stephen's murder to scatter the church and it scattered to the outer reaches of the apostles. The church is now moving to Asia minor. The areas that are today known as Syria and Turkey. So you see the church has spread incredibly in under five years. Stephen was martyred in about 35 AD and Paul's conversion happened shortly after in the same year, and this takes place about 40 AD around the same time that Peter goes to Cornelius' house. All of this is about 10 years after the events of Pentecost.
Now when Jesus had told the apostles in Acts 1:8 to spread the gospel to the outer most parts of the earth, He knew the apostles weren't going to be the ones to go all over the earth spreading the gospel. They were intrusted with the message but they were not the only ones with the message. God scatters His message with anyone who is willing and who He sees fit to use to spread the message. God worked in those that were scattered because of the persecution, He worked in scattering them, He worked in bringing them to the city and areas that are mentioned here, and He worked in the hearts of those who heard the message. Man is nothing but a tool in the hands of God. As God scattered the believers they moved up the coast. They went through Phoenicia which is a region the very next region beyond Israel. So Luke is making the point the gospel has spread passed Israel's boarder. It has even made its way to this little island here in the middle of the Mediterranean called Cyprus. So boarders and water is not stopping the spread of the gospel message. Then the message comes to Antioch. Now Antioch is the focal point here. Antioch becomes the hub for Paul's missionary journeys. In order to understand the gospel's impact on Antioch, you need to understand a little about Antioch.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was third to Rome and Alexandria. The city was located on a navigable river so it became a hub for those traveling up and down the Orontes River to the Mediterranean Sea. It's population was about a half million people in an area of about 5.8 square miles. Just to give you a comparison, Ocean County is roughly 820 Square miles with a population with a little more then half a million people. From Lacey Township to Little Egg the population is about 200,000 people. So this was a big cramped city. It was also a hot bed for many different religions, most of them revolved around fertility gods, and there was gambling, chariot races, brutal sports spectacles, brothels, for the most part it was an ancient Las Vegas. It was a hot bed of sin and degradation. The silver lining on the whole thing were the amount of Hellenistic Jews who lived there. When the gospel came in with a message of hope it spread through the city like wildfire.
The city was very welcoming to the Jews and there were many synagogues in the city. So when the the Jewish Christians were being persecuted they went back to the home towns and they would go to these synagogues and they were preach the gospel to them. God's hand was in this because as it stood they were all communing in Jerusalem until Saul began to persecute them.
What is important here is the fact the evangelism was done by ordinary people, in a sense no name people. God didn't send Philip there to evangelize the people, He didn't send Barnabas, Peter or anyone else to evangelize. Yes, Barnabas does go and while there he also joins in the evangelistic endeavor but that was not the purpose for his going there. We will see that next week. The point is for the church to scatter far and wide there is a need for sowers, those who sow the seed.
So as we see the church spreads without the leadership making the push but God using ordinary believers who have a love for God and a desire to share the truth of the gospel. They are only workers in the harvest. Jesus mentions needing workers, in Luke 10:2.
And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
God is the One who calls us to be His laborers in the harvest. The people are ripe for the picking and there are so many ripe for the picking but not enough laborers. When we look at the work that needs to be done and we say well I know I need to give the gospel but if I don’t God will send someone else. Ok, but God has also sent you. The great commission may have been spoken directly to the apostles but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who are to go out and spread the gospel. Their job is to equip and the disciples job is to go out. You need to be the laborers in God’s field, it is harvest time and God’s servants are not out for themselves but the are looking to glorify God by spreading the gospel
Now the message of the gospel has gone out, and it is spreading like crazy. It has gone beyond the boarder of Israel. This was not by accident but was purposed by God. It was always His plan to go to the outer most reaches of the world with the gospel message. Still as I read at the end of verse 19, the message was still only going to the Jews. Even those Hellenistic Jews would only go to the Jews. The Jews who adopted Greek culture and the Greek language still only went to the Jews.
Here is a marker, not just church leaders doing the work of evangelism.
Bringing the Good News
Bringing the Good News
Not all felt this way, as we get to verse 20 we read, "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus." Some people saw the importance of taking the gospel to all. Not all Israelites were exclusionists, some saw the gospel or the good news of Jesus Christ important to share with everyone including those who were not Jews. So the took the gospel to the gentiles, the Greeks.
So when they first went out to these areas they focused on the Jewish population, entering the synagogues and telling them the events that were happening in Jerusalem and how the Messiah has come. The city was so full of people who need to hear the gospel message that some of them couldn’t contain it and went to the Gentiles. Notice though the only method employed here for bringing the good news was that they spoke it. They didn’t set up social programs to help people be more comfortable, it wasn’t a tit-for-tat gospel. Meaning they didn’t put together some stupid give away, come to hear what we have to say and you can enter a chance to win a brand new chariot. They weren’t out there handing out feed for their horses. No what they do is go out and provide the true gospel that is rooted in Jesus Christ and comes from the mouths of those who’s lives where changed by the good news.
The people in Antioch didn’t things, they didn’t need positive thinking, they didn’t need to think better about themselves, or encouraged to do what makes them happy. No, what they needed was to be honest with themselves come to grips with their fallen human condition. These people in Antioch weren’t transformed because of the life of the believer, they were transformed by the Life of the Savior. There are so many models and gimmicks people and churches use to try to fill seats. It is an ends justifies the means evangelism. If we can just get them through the door they can hear the gospel. Just give people the gospel. Just do it. People wait for an invitation to give the gospel, just give the gospel. Know that it is not easy and people may not be receptive to what you have to say, but you are not the one work on their heart you are only the mouth piece.
Paul when he writes to the Corinthian church deals with an issue there of the believers saying they follow Apollos, or Cephas. Paul writes this to them in 1 Corinthians 3:4-9;
For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
God is the One who is doing the work and rest assured He is actively working in bringing people the gospel message you just need to be willing to be the instrument God is using. Don’t fear rejection because they are not rejecting you. I have had people walk away from me because they were offended by the gospel but then was able to still have a conversation with them later. It is God who does the work of transforming hearts not us. But we have to do it with words. Our life can point to the gospel but your life is not the gospel.
Paul made it very clear proclaiming the gospel was with words not just with his lifestyle. Look at what he says earlier in 1 Corinthians; 1 Corinthians 1:21-25
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Do you see how he brought the message, it wasn’t by his life but by his words, “we preach Christ crucified,” without the cross there is no gospel. If you only want to paint Jesus as a buddy, there is no gospel. If you don’t tell people they are sinners there is no gospel. These people in Antioch didn’t need to be pumped full of sunshine, they were already oozing with it, they needed to be told the sunshine they were being pumped with was a lie and they were on a one way path to hell. When you get home look around you at your neighbors who are all living the lie of chasing after the stuff of this world and being told they deserve to be happy and even might have told you they deserve to be happy and the only way they can do this is be giving in to the lie the world tells them that in order to be happy, you need to be entertained. You deserve to be comfortable. If it feels good do it. This is how the world pushes on the people. All of this is pushing people farther and farther away from God. That is why so many people are on depression and anxiety medication today. People are being lied to by the world and being sucked into the lie and they can’t keep up so it causes people to be depressed because they are getting what they deserve or want and it is causing anxiety because they more they try to keep up the more they lose control and the more they worry about everything and the more they feel like life is caving in on them. The answer is not drugs, the answer is the gospel. So when someone comes to you and says how are you so happy or how do you handle life so well, because I know Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. He died on the cross so I wouldn’t have to worry about the trivial things of life.
We need to bring the gospel to people, the gospel truly is the only cure for the disease that plagues the world, that disease is not drug addiction, it is not depression, it is sin. The people in Antioch were ready to hear this message and so are all your neighbors, so we need to bring the gospel to them. The great thing about bringing the good news is that it is not about us, it is not about adding numbers to Cornerstone Bible Church it is about God adding numbers to His Kingdom.
2nd marker, message needs to be rooted in Jesus Christ.
Adding Kingdom Members
Adding Kingdom Members
The work these people were doing in sharing the gospel was God's plan, in verse 21, Luke writes, "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." God was not just allowing the message of the gospel to spread but this phrase "the hand of the Lord" is a powerful phrase. This points not just to God's allowance but His active and powerful work in the spread of the gospel message and the breadth and length of the spread of the message. Nothing that has happened to this very point in the book of Acts has happened by accident or been a coincidence. To believe that means that God is not sovereign, God is not all powerful, He is not foreknowing, and that God has no control. I don't believe in a God that just caused the world to spin and then just sat back on His throne and said let's see what happens know, like a curious child with a top. God has been actively and purposefully been working in and through creation, in and through bringing Israel together as a nation , in and through placing everything in order to bring about the redemption of all humanity, in and through bringing about His church, and sustaining His church and all for His glory.
Just as Paul says in Colossians 1:16-17
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
God’s hand has always been working and His hand is still working to this day to bring all things to Himself and to hold all things together. As God is working in and through these believers who are bringing the good news to Antioch and as they are being faithful to God, Jesus Christ and the gospel message God is causing the increase by bringing people to a saving knowledge of Himself.
God always supplies the increase. The point of the gospel is not to plant people in seats but to place servants in the Kingdom of God. We can’t be broad minded and try to create ways to God’s kingdom. It all needs to point to the Lord and it is a narrow path. He will increase the number. This takes the responsibility of Salvation and the numbers off of the servants and places it all on God. That helps us to always remember you don’t grow God’s church but He does. You don’t add stones to the temple He does, He is actively working to grow His Kingdom with genuine conversions, the question is, are you actively serving Him in His work.
I want to give you some practical ways to pray. This was put out by Ligonier for their pray for awakening campaign.
They lay out prayer for the month and it is repetatative.
WEEK 1 YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY
Pray that you would know the riches of your salvation in Christ and that your family would too
WEEK 2 NEIGHBORS, CHURCH, AND COWORKERS
Pray that your local church’s good works would shine as a light to your community.
WEEK 3 YOUR CITY AND NATION
Pray that your nation would abandon its idols and worship the one true God.
WEEK 4 THE WORLD AND THE GLOBAL CHURCH
Pray that God would provide opportunities for the gospel to penetrate unreached people groups.
The phrase 'the hand of the Lord' is packed full of rich truth. The idea behind this phrase can have two connotations, the first judgment the other blessing. God's hand can either be with you or against you. Since this is about God's hand being with the we will focus on the blessing of the Lord here.
3rd marker conversion need to be genuine