Pastor Edward Brouwer 11-5-17 “What is Your City?”
Everything Sad becoming Untrue Sunday Nov 5th 2017
A long, long time ago, there was a kind old man who lived on the plains outside the Great Wall of China. The gentle old man had two great passions in his life: collecting rare breeds of horses, and his son, whom he loved more than anything else.
The old man and his son would ride their horses every day. They would travel great distances to trade horses, meet new people, and enjoy the good fortune that life had bestowed upon them.
One morning, a servant left the stable door open and one of the old man’s favorite stallions escaped. When the neighbors heard the news of the stallion’s escape, they came to comfort the old man. They told him they were sorry he had had such bad luck.
But strangely enough, the gentle old man was not upset. He explained to his neighbors that losing the horse wasn’t necessarily bad luck. There was no way to predict that the horse would escape, it just happened, and now there was nothing that could be done about it. “There is no reason to be upset,” said the old man. The neighbors soon realized that there was nothing they could do to help get the horse back, and that they shouldn’t feel sad for the old man’s misfortune.
One week later, the stallion came back, and he brought with him a mare. This was not just any mare, but a rare and valuable white mare. When the neighbors heard of the old man’s good luck, they quickly came to congratulate him. But again, the old man was not excited. As he had explained before, it was not necessarily good luck that had brought him this new and beautiful white horse. It just happened, and there was no reason to get excited over it. Still a bit puzzled, the neighbors left as quickly as they had come.
A short time later, while his son was riding the white horse, she slipped and fell. She landed on the son’s leg, and broke his leg, so that he would always walk with a limp. Again, the neighbors came to the old man’s house to give their sympathy for the bad luck that had befallen his son. One of the neighbors suggested that the old man sell the mare before anymore bad luck could happen, and others said that he should take his revenge and kill the mare. However, the old man did neither. He explained to the neighbors that they should not feel sorrow for his son, nor anger towards the mare. It was purely an accident that could not be predicted, and there was nothing he or they could do to change it. At this point, the neighbors thought the old man was crazy and decided to leave him alone.
Two years later an enemy invaded the country, and all of the old man’s neighbors were drafted to defend the country against the attack. Because the old man’s son was lame, he did not have to join in the fighting. The war was very bad, and most of the old man’s neighbors were killed, but his son was spared because he had been hurt by the white horse two years earlier.
Very often, when an event takes place that everybody thinks is good, the end results are disastrous. In the same way, a sad can bring about happiness. Therefore, you should not lose your will to continue if an unlucky event happens, nor should you be too overjoyed or feel too self-satisfied because of a lucky event, or because something that you desire comes very easily to you.
In the Scripture today we look at a sad situation that God turns to good. We serve a sovereign God who is working all things for our good and His glory.
We begin with the context of the bad news of the persecution of followers of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem that exploded after the murder of Stephen. The Temple leadership seized the opportunity of the crowds which had turned on Stephen, to launch a full-scale war against those who believed in Jesus as the long promised Messiah. Saul was one of the zealous people who was determined to root out every believer, not stopping in Jerusalem but going to Damascus with authority from the Sanhedrin (The Jewish Religious Supreme Court) to arrest, try and imprison the people of the Way. Stephen’s death was tragic, it was in a word: Bad. And the vicious persecution of believers that followed appeared to be an unmitigated disaster for the early church. Acts 8:1 tells us that nearly every believer fled (only the Apostles and leadership stayed behind). Mission work in Jerusalem ceased. Some of the believers found their way to Antioch, a great Gentile city of wealth and commerce on the coast of Lebanon. The situation was bad, there was tremendous upheaval of lives BUT God was sovereignly at work to turn this bad situation into an opportunity for the gospel.
Some of the Jewish converts preached in the local synagogues and people came to faith. Then other believers from the island of Cyprus and even as far away as Cyrene in North Africa came and shared the good news with the Gentiles of the city. The hope of Jesus Christ was too good to keep to themselves and their own people! These Holy Spirit filled people were effective missionaries because they knew the culture and the language of the Gentiles, since they were raised in that culture. And the Holy Spirit blessed their work and many Gentiles came to faith in Christ. Luke makes a big deal of this, and no wonder, for Luke himself was a Gentile convert to Christ.
The Apostles in Jerusalem, heard of the great work and sent Barnabas, (who was raised on Cyprus) to check out the situation and encourage the faithful. Barnabas is the right man for the job because his very name means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Soon Barnabas realizes that he needs help so he enlists his old friend Saul to come and teach. Saul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem together soon after Saul’s conversion and Barnabas introduced him to the church leadership. Several years go by and Saul seems to have disappeared (after a 3 year sojourn in Arabia) and eventually Saul heads back to his hometown of Tarsus, where Barnabas heard he was now living. Barnabas invites Saul and they spend a year teaching the new believers. The church explodes with growth.
Jesus had told his disciples that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel first in Jerusalem, then Samaria and to the ends of the earth. God is at work (taking the bad and turning it for the good), positioning the church to take the gospel to the nations and He uses Antioch as the strategic city to launch. Acts 13 tells us that Saul and Barnabas are commissioned (around 46 AD) by the Antioch church, to begin their first missionary journey.
The hub of the missionary enterprise shifts from Jerusalem to Antioch. Is this good or bad? In God’s sovereignty, the church moves its base of operations. And history tells us that within a short 20 years, Jerusalem itself will be utterly destroyed by the Roman general Titus.
In verse 26 we are told that the believers are first called “Christians” in Antioch. Did they receive that name from others, as a put down? Many understand the word to mean “little Christs”. This word is only used twice in Acts and once in Peter. In Acts 26:28 King Agrippa clearly uses it in a negative way as if to say “you expect to convert me to become a Christian?!” In 1 Peter 4:16 Peter encourages believers to not be ashamed to suffer for Christ and to take on the name of “Christian”. Commentators are inclined therefore to see this term as one meant in a bad way, but that in fact believers began to wear as a “badge of honor”. As if to say “you put us down for wanting to be like Christ—well then we embrace that, for that is in fact what we truly want to be”.
Good and bad. God used the bad to bring many to the gospel. But before God can use you to share the gospel to others, the gospel must first be true for you.
What is going on in your life today that you need to receive the goodnews for? That perhaps you would consider “bad”. Are you struggling with sin? Run to Jesus, for only He can set the captive free. Are you struggling with pride or self-pity? Use that as an opportunity to lean into your weakness and allow Christ to bring his humility into your life. Are you struggling with health issues that threaten to undo you? Run to Jesus, because in your weakness He shows his strength power and grace. Are you burdened by the pain and struggles of your children and loved ones? Use this as an opportunity to pray! O how often we forget the power of prayer when everything is going great—but it is often only in times of our greatest need that we call out to the Lord. Psalm 5:1 “Give ear to my words O Lord, consider my meditation! Hearken unto the voice of my cry, My King and My God”. God is at work. Trust Him that He is working all things for His glory and our good.
At the Table Christ invites us to taste and see that He is good. Christ died for us. This is the good news. Christ lives in us. This is good news. And as you come to the table, and receive the tangible elements of his love for you, his body broken for you, his blood poured out for you: receive Him. Let the Holy Spirit preach to you, that He has given you beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the Spirit of heaviness. For behold in Christ He has made every sad become untrue.