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Apparent Defeats

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(A Topical Series on the Book of Acts)

Westgate Chapel 7/8/90 p.m.

PROPOSITION:     At the times when life seems to hand us what looks like defeats, God is able to fulfill His ultimate plan in His children and produce kingdom victories.

i. introduction

-     LIFE is not a beach. I don't care how many bumper stickers I see that tell me it is.

-     THERE is too much suffering, too much disappointment, too much tragedy, too much sickness, too much sadness all around us to hold to the head-in-the-sand notion that life is a beach.

-     IS the believer immune from the tough stuff of life?

-     NO, he does not seem to be immune.

-     NOW, I am not talking about those things that we bring on ourselves.

*     If we eat poorly all of our lives....we will have cholesterol, obesity, cancer and even a shortened life-span to pay for it and we cannot blame God.

*     If we drive fast and carelessly.....we will get speeding tickets and even get into accidents, and cannot blame God.

*     If we treat our spouses like garbage, are selfish and inconsiderate.....then don't blame God when they take off with someone who will treat them like they are worth something (I am not advocating divorce, I am just showing that some of our suffering we have brought on ourselves and we cannot blame God when we are in the middle of the mess).

-     BUT what about the accident that the believer had nothing to do with?

-     WHAT about the cancer that was not a result of any carelessness with our bodies?

-     WHAT about the divorce that you had nothing to do with?

-     WHERE is God in the life of the believer who suffers through no fault of their own?

-     WHAT about healing, deliverance, divine protection, prayer?

-     SURE the faith of Daniel stopped the mouths of the lions.....but what about the believers in the Coliseum who were eaten alive by lions?

-     SHADRACK, Meshack and Abednigo were saved in the fiery furnace....but what about the thousands who were burned at the stake in the sporting arena's of the first century?

-     ELISHA and his servant escaped when the enemy chariots that surrounded town were blinded by the power of God......but what about the apostles who all died martyrs deaths except for John?

-     WHY are some believers healed and others not?

-     WHY are some believers miraculously delivered from life-threatening accidents and others not?

-     WHY do some Christian children die, no matter how much prayer goes up on their behalf?

-     WHAT is going on when it seems that the Christian is defeated?

-     I HAVE had to wrestle with this subject this week in a way that I never have in my life before....not because of anything in my own life but in conversation with other believers.

-     WHAT is God doing when we are faced with defeat?

-     HAS He left us?

-     IS it that we do not have enough faith?

-     IS God somehow limited in what He can do?

-     IS the age of supernatural intervention over?

-     THESE are tough questions.

-     I DO NOT intend to try and answer them all tonight, but rather to stimulate your thinking the way mine has been stimulated this week.

ii. is it biblical for believers to suffer?

-     I BELIEVE that there is nothing inconsistent with God's Word for a believer to be going through suffering.

-     IN the Old Testament, the people of God were always being attacked by the Amalekites, the Amorites, the Assyrians and Philistines......and not always when God was disciplining them.

-     MOST of the Old Testament prophets were killed for speaking God's Word and doing what He told them to do.

-     THE New Testament is full of stories of disciples suffering persecution, beatings, torture and death because of standing for the right.

-     YES, some were miraculously delivered, but many more died at the hands of their persecutors.

-     NOW, to us, when we are the ones suffering, it is natural for us to question what God is doing and where He is.

-     IT seems inconsistent to us that a God who can save, deliver, heal, preserve, will allow a bus load of church teenagers coming home from a retreat to be killed by a drunk driver.

-     IF He is Jehovah Rophe, then why do little children suffer and die?

-     BUT for reasons that I cannot explain, there is no inconsistency with God when the righteous suffer. It is not incongruent to Him.

-     SUFFERING, sickness, disease, death are on this earth because of and as a result of sin....not in the one suffering necessarily, but sin in the world.

-     AND in Hebrews 11, the chapter dealing with the great men and women of faith, written by the Holy Spirit, He includes those who didn't experience death, those who were saved from the flood, those had miracle babies, those who captured Jericho......AND those who were tortured, flogged, sawed in two and put to death.

-     ALL in the same category of men and women of faith.

-     TWO such radically different outcomes.

-     IT is obviously not inconsistent with God for some to be delivered and some to suffer and even die.

-     IN fact James says that we are to consider it pure joy.....whenever we face trials of many kinds.

-     WHY? Because it develops perseverance, so that we may become mature and lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

-     PETER says, in I Peter 1:6, that the suffering comes so that our faith, which is more costly than gold, may be proven genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when........ WHEN? When Jesus Christ is revealed(I Peter 1:6-9).

-     SO there is a divine purpose in suffering.....possibly even the suffering that we bring on ourselves.

-     ROMANS 8:28 does not directly reference suffering, but it does say that God is at work in ALL of the pieces that make up our produce good.

-     AND verse 29 tells us what that "good" is....that we be conformed to the likeness of His Son.

-     "CONFORMED" is what a potter does to pliable clay. It is what a sliversmith does with molten metal in a mold.

-     THERE is not an inconsistency in the suffering of a believer.

-     IT does not mean that you lack the faith to be delivered. It also does not mean that satan won. It also doesn't mean that God is tied up or somehow immobilized.

iii. what is god doing when it seems we have been defeated?

-     THEN why can we sing songs and quote scriptures about being "more than conquerors?" About being victorious in the Son.......when we might suffer what looks like defeats?

-     WHAT is God doing when  the saints are seemingly defeated?

-     THAT is a question that is almost impossible to give a complete answer for.

-     BUT there are several places in Acts that apply to this question that I would like to share with you tonight.

-     AND it seems to me that in these stories, what "looks" like defeat contains God's hidden victories.

-     O, IT doesn't take all the sting out of the suffering, but it does help me to hold onto faith in God in the process.

-     YOU see, I believe that in all of our lives He is working out His divine plan, even when it makes no sense at all to me.

-     ROMANS 8:28 gives me that assurance.

-     BUT we see it graphically developed in the book of Acts.

-     IN Acts 1:12 and 13........Jesus leaves the disciples after only three years of equipping. They are all alone, stranded in a hostile city, with their leader crucified, risen and now gone altogether.

*     Seeming defeat. No great churches left behind. Only 120 disciples to show for all His ministry.

*     Apparent failure. Now they are all alone with nowhere to go and nothing to do except pray.

*     BUT within ten days the hidden victory in it all came into being. The promised Holy Spirit was poured out and their lives were never the same.

-     IN Acts 4:1-35........Peter and John are attacked by the Sanhedrin, jailed, threatened.

*     The whole weight of the religious establishment is against them.

*     The power structure is stacked against them.

*     Apparent defeat.

*     How can the church possibly advance in this kind of environment?

*     BUT within hours the opposition has brought the church to its knees.

*     The place where they are gathered is shaken by the power of God, they are empowered with boldness, share with each other in need, and go out to change their world.

*     God's hidden victory was not that the opposition but that the church rose up in praying power.

-     IN Acts 5:40-42, all the apostles are arrested, warned to be silent, and flogged.....beaten.

*     Apparent defeat.

*     The whole leadership team of the New Testament church is under oppression, restricted in what they can do.

*     But verse 42 says that "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 Christ."

*     The opposition actually seems to have made them more determined to preach and teach Jesus.

*     God had a hidden victory in what looked like a bad situation.

-     IN Acts 7:57 the church starts to expand its ministry and the heat is turned up against them. Stephen is arrested, dragged out of the city, stoned, and killed.

*     The first disciple murdered.

*     It must have sent a chill throughout the ranks.

*     Some might have bailed out at that point.

*     This is much more serious than being interrogated by the Sanhedrin.

*     What a defeat!

*     Stephen was a man of faith, used in mighty signs and wonders. He was also a fearless preacher, which is what got him into trouble.

*     What good could possibly come of this?

*     BUT, buried somewhere in the crowd, watching this disciple die, was a man named Saul who was so affected by what he saw that he went out from there and began persecuting the church wherever he could find it.

*     The Holy Spirit had begun a work in Saul while Stephen died a terrible death.

*     God's hidden victory was being worked out while no one knew or saw a thing about it.

-     IN Acts 8:1,4&5, following the death of Stephen, the whole church comes under severe persecution, and scatters from Jerusalem outwards.

*     No more prayer meetings and worship services in the Temple.

*     No more studying the word from house to house.

*     No more breaking bread together daily.

*     No more believers added daily as they were being saved in Jerusalem.

*     What an incredible defeat!

*     What possible good could come of this?

*     The church is scattered. Turned out of their homes. Separated from family. No pastors or apostles to care for them.

*     This must be a victory for satan. Chalk one up for the strongholds of darkness.

*     That is probably what they thought too.

*     BUT, verse 4 says that "Those who were scattered preached the Word wherever they went."

*     Verse 5 says that Philip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ there.

*     11:19 says that "those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch, telling the message wherever they went."

*     God was at work all the time.

-     WHEN Paul and Silas are imprisoned....the jailer ends up getting saved.

-     WHEN Paul is imprisoned in Caesarea, he gets to Rome as God intended and establishes the church there and writes the epistles that have affected the church for 2000 years now.

-     WHEN he is shipwrecked on Malta, he leaves a church behind.

-     APPARENT defeats were God's hidden victories.

iv. conclusion

-     NOW all of this is easy when, like we can, we read the end and see God's hand all the way through.

-     BUT what about the apparent defeats that you and I suffer today.

-     WE don't have the benefit of Acts 28:30, and the end of the story.

-     FOR us the hidden victory of God is still to be revealed.

-     WE likely will not know it or see it until we get into God's presence ourselves.

-     SOME of the hidden victories we will see, and others will remain hidden until eternity.

-     SO we have to look at how God works in His Word, and because we believe in His character, accept by faith that there is a hidden victory in the apparent defeats we face in this life.

-     AND so by faith we sing, "Why so downcast O my soul, put your hope in God."

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