Persevere in Preaching Christ
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Patrick Levis, the worship pastor here at FBC, and also one of the 5 Guys recently honored with the responsibility of high school ministry upon the commissioning of Morgan. So this is a shout out to “The Revolution”.
Well, we’ve followed the narrative of the Acts of the apostles, as the Church is being established and the Gospel is going out. What are the lessons from the Early Church that we’ve learned? And feel free to call out your answers to this test—I hope these are softballs.
1) Is a believer automatically immersed into the Church upon conversion?
2) Does God grow the Church through trial and persecution?
3) Can God save a Christ-hating, Christian-killing, blaspheming sinner?
4) Is the Gospel for only one people group, or for all?
5) To advance God’s Kingdom, are their sacrifices? Will it cost us?
6) But in the furthering of His Kingdom, can God’s plan be hindered? No way!
We saw last week in Acts 16 that no prison cell could keep the Gospel chained. And while we cheer, we also feel the weight of the fact that the road of Gospel ministry is not easy–it requires extreme perseverance. I don’t think I understood the concept of perseverance until I got into long distance running.
During my engagement to Natalie, I actually trained for a marathon (running for the goal of winning the woman of my dreams)! Anyway, when you train for a marathon you don’t actually run the full 26.2 miles–at least in the program I did. You train up to about 20 miles, and then right before the race you chill it down, rest the muscles, and then on race day you blast off.
The scariest moment in the race for me was the 20-mile marker, because I had never run beyond that point–and there’s six miles left to the finish line! Right before that point in this particular race, you have to go up a mile-and-a-half hill through a neighborhood in San Diego. And I remember hitting that stretch and thinking, “I’m gonna die.” And the residents were out, offering snacks and cheering us on. But I couldn’t look them in the face, because I thought, “I’m gonna end up wrapping my arms around the man with the orange wedges and weep like a baby!” But I had to persevere to finish!
Gospel ministry is our life-long race, and it requires marathon-level spiritual perseverance. “Go therefore” Jesus said in Matthew 28:19–“…make disciples of all the nations,” He knew that the mission He was calling us to would not be an easy one—so He adds, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.”
The Early Church grabs that mission, and with eyes fixed on Christ they persevere! That’s what we get to see today, so let’s open our Bibles to Acts chapter17, and witness the apostles persevering in the single-most important task in this life–the task of preaching Christ. Are you discouraged by dead-end Gospel conversations? Becoming weary, moms, in pointing your little ones to Christ? Students, have you been laughed at when sharing? There are people you pursue in love, but they still don’t know Christ?
Today I want to fill you with courage from God’s Word to persevere in preaching Christ to this world that does not know Him. We’ve got 34 verses and about 200 miles to cover, so I’ve got visuals–are you ready? Here’s the teaser–we’ll go from the mob in Thessalonica to the studiers in Berea, and then to the philosophers in Athens (Thessalonica, Berea, Athens). Picture on a map the route from the east, moving southwest and then down to Athens–the care section is in the Aegean Sea. Three cities with three different reactions and tons of great motivation for us to persevere in preaching Christ (short on the first two and longer on the last one).
1. Preach to those who REJECT (verses 1 to 9) Thessalonica
Just in the opening verses, we see the apostles’ perseverance (“through Amphipolis and Appollonia [to] Thessalonica”). They were just in Philippi, beaten with rods and imprisoned–and what does it say at the end of chapter 16? “They went out of the prison, entered the house of Lydia”–and took a couple of weeks off to recover from their near-death experience? No. It says, “they saw the brethren, they encouraged them–and departed.”
And it was not just a couple of exits down the freeway—do you know how far it was from Philippi to Thessalonica? One hundred miles! If it was on foot, that’s insane–but even if it was on horseback, think of how they’d feel after having been beaten! But Paul hits the ground running–as was his custom, he goes to the synagogue. He opens the Scriptures and preaches Christ. The end of verse 3 says, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
And at first, things are going great. There are actually some, verse 4, who were “persuaded and joined.” But not for long. Verse 5, we meet the Jews driven by jealousy–they’re not down with Jews converting Gentiles. It says they take “along some wicked men from the marketplace” and form a mob. They don’t want to get their own clothes dirty, so they go find the usual suspects–“Brutus Maximus” who’s got the physique of an Orc, and they go, “Hey, you wanna start a riot?” And before you know it, they got the whole town in an uproar! And here’s the accusation–“They’re going against Caesar, saying there’s another king, Jesus!” Well that IS the message!
FBC made the papers recently, and the article said, “Church gathers at MV because they prioritize the corporate worship of Jesus Christ!” That’s right! And so what do they do? Well I think it’s worth pointing out that they don’t engage in the fight (it’s never the apostles who start these riots), but they also don’t stop ministry. Paul knows what he signed up for.
Second Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (This was expected!) In the face of adversity, they preach Christ! It’s important, especially when opposed, that our preaching not be about other things–not about masks, not about race, not about any of our opinions–but about Christ! (I’m not saying you can’t talk.) First Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
Persevere in preaching Christ to those who reject, and make sure that it’s Christ that offends, not your insensitive opinion. Paul and Silas take a step back from the mob, the Christians in town offer protection, and then in the night they’re sent out. Preach to those who reject (verses 1 to 9/Thessalonica the Antagonists), and . . .
2. Preach to those who RECEIVE (verses 10 to 15) Berea
Fifty miles southwest, they arrive at Berea, and the reception of the Gospel is way encouraging! Verse 11 says, “They received the word with great eagerness.” At Philippi they were beaten with rods, at Thessalonica they were greeted by a mob—so Berea is like a Bible balm to their souls. Like preaching at FBC. I have never been in a church with such eagerness for the food of the preached Word. Thank you for being eager for the preaching of God’s Word, like the Bereans!
On top of their eager reception, they have been stamped in history as the Bible-checkers! In verse 11, they received the Word, “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” There are a million applications we could pull from their study habits, but I’ll stay on our topic and put it like this. The way they receive it is a great indicator for how it must be preached–from the Bible! True preaching is out of the Scriptures!
Like Old Testament exposition, Nehemiah 8:8, “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the meaning.” Paul’s singular focus? What do we do when they jail us? Preach Christ. What about when they reject us, run us out of town? Preach Christ. How about when they receive it? Paul preaches Christ to the believers in Corinth.
First Corinthians 6:9b to 11, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.” Even in Christ, we preach Christ. We remind ourselves that were it not for grace, that would be us. In fact, a healthy remembrance of our own constant need for Jesus will drive us to keep proclaiming it.
I was recently doing yard work with my oldest, Evan. In frustration (and a bit of sin) I exclaimed, “I feel like I cannot get rid of these weeds, they just keep coming back!” My 7-yr-old says to me, “It’s like our sin, Dad.” (Inside I felt, “How dare you preach to me!”)
So now the Berean Bible Bath is cut short–remember the jealous Jews? Here’s something to equip our hearts. Sometimes when you preach to those who reject, they want more than to have you leave them alone–they want to stop you entirely. Don’t be surprised (1 Peter 4:12–they hated Christ, and John 15:18.)
Keep persevering, because there will be those who receive like the Bereans. But now it is time to get out of town again, and Paul gets escorted by some Berean bodyguards. This time he ends up alone, down here at our final town in Thessalonica, where we will learn to preach Christ to those who reflect. Preach to those who reject (verses 1 to 9) in Thessalonica/antagonists, and preach to those who receive (verses 10 to 15) in Berea/those who were attentive, and . . .
3. Preach to those who REFLECT (verses 16 to 34) Athens
Reflect means to ponder—scratch your chin with your head tilted back slightly, and say, “Hmmm.” They hear the message and then respond, “Hmmm!” It’s Athens–religious, steeped in idol worship, knowledge is everything and yet without a knowledge of God. They had one god inscribed, “To An Unknown God.” (And when Dave Henry built our model here, he added, “Follow me and you’ll be lost forever!”)
Look at verse 16, he’s “waiting” for Silas and Timothy–there’s no stopping him. He starts walking the city, and his soul is moved! I love going to new cities (especially overseas)–tasting new foods, hearing different languages, experiencing new cultures. I remember the first time I set foot on the cobblestone of the Royal Mile in the middle of the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was so alive! That’s not exactly what’s happening here– Paul’s not just enjoying the architecture.
The text says, “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.” Paul lived to see souls saved, and he ached when he saw religion that was void of the power of Christ. Paul cared so deeply for the souls of his fellow Jews that he says in Romans 9:2 and 3, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
If he could give up his salvation to save them, he would. How does your heart for the lost compare to that? I’m not there. How many times have I driven through my neighborhood, worked my way through the day, and never stopped to consider the spiritual state of those around me? It takes perseverance to develop those spiritual eyes, that heart for the lost, that sadness over sin that keeps you engaged in God’s mission!
Paul gets his finger on the spiritual pulse of this city, and it lights his jets to do what he’s been doing in every town. He preaches Christ! He starts in the synagogue, then in the marketplace, and then verse 18, he’s noticed by these “Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.” Epicureans believe God is far away, so live it up. Stoic philosophy is God is in all of us–be good to one another.
Remember, this is the city that reflects (pondering, considering, but never planting their flag), thus the altar to an unknown God–“Don’t know for sure, so covering our bases.” This is an agnostic view–one you’ll hear 9-out-of-10 times when sharing the Gospel today. It is the spiritual perspective that admittedly lacks a certainty about the existence of God. There may be a God, we just can’t know for sure. It’s the perfect copout for not having to face a Maker Who calls you to deal with your sin. Yet Romans 1 makes it clear–they know. They see the power of God, just in creation, but “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
When knowledge is valued above submission to the God Who is the source of all knowledge, it’s self-worship. The power of my thinking. What does the Bible say about this? Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
So Paul is taken to the Areopagus (a hilltop spot) and these philosophers say in verse 19, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” They’re not upset–they want to listen, hear what he has to say–reflect on this Jesus message he brings. Creeped out? Ever had these conversations? It’s that person totally set in their vague spiritual beliefs, but they want to give you the impression that they care about the message of Jesus?
You know what you do with people who just want to sit back and reflect on the message? Preach Christ—with intensity. That person needs to be roused from their spiritual coma! Paul sees his open door, and in verse 22 to 31 he preaches Christ. I’d like to read the message, and then we’re going to pull some application to spur us on in preaching Christ.
Read along as I read out loud, starting in verse 22. “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.” 29Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
I look at this and see Paul living out Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Some reject, some reflect, and some receive–and two are actually mentioned–Dionysius and Damaris.
What do we tell the world that does not know God? Let’s quickly break down these awesome, bold declarations about God as seven takeaways–seven truths that Paul tells this crowd that we too should be unashamed to proclaim when preaching Christ to this world that does not know Him.
First Tell them God can be KNOWN
“So there’s a God you don’t know? Let me tell you about Him!” John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Don’t preach morality or church attendance, preach the person of Christ, who made a way for relationship!
Second Tell them God is Creator
Verse 24, “The God who made the world and all things in it…He is Lord of heaven and earth!” Just go for it! I’ve been in conversations with people where I talk about Adam and Eve, and they stop me–“Next you’re going to tell me about a big boat filled with animals!” You know what you say? “You already know the story! Can I tell you about an even bigger rescue plan?”
Honestly, I don’t know how our world can see a baby born, or endless galaxies, or the intricacies of the human mind, and not believe there’s a Designer behind it! God is Creator of all!
Third Tell them God is SOVEREIGN
Life to every man—verse 26, “having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” Tell them, “God is in control, not you.” Our daughter Finley used to have this phrase, “I goddit!” She did not need us–“I got this, and I’m going to do it myself!” We have worked hard to lovingly communicate to her the error of her thinking. There is someone Who is rightfully in control.
Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
Fourth Tell them God is not like US
He is holy! Verse 29, “We ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.” God is the uncreated One! He is not Who you make Him to be! In Isaiah 45:5 Yahweh says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” God is holy and His standard is perfection!
Fifth Tell them God requires REPENTANCE
Verse 30, “Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring… repent!” Wake up, sinners! Stop reflecting and repent! Preach like John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And this goes hand-in-hand with . . .
Sixth Tell them God has a plan to JUDGE
Repent! Why? Verse 31, “Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed.” Now I know when you think of preaching judgment, your mind goes to the dude on the street corner with the sign that says “TURN or BURN.”
However, we need to preach the truth–judgment on sin is coming, Christ is returning, and He comes worthy to bring God’s justice! And to withhold that warning from the person who is lost in their sin is the worst form of evil. Especially, since we have the answer for their rescue.
Seventh Tell them Jesus rose from the DEAD
He was resurrected! At our last members’ meeting, Chris brought up the fact that he’d love to get back to our 2 Peter study so that we can get to the return of Christ, and a giant amen erupted from every voice! Are you thinking now, more than ever, on your existence with Christ in glory? That is the hope we have to offer every sinner! They may be saying they’re okay with not knowing God for sure, but deep down they long for their Maker, and for the perfection and Heaven that only He can provide!
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:20 to 24, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For 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. 22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Today, if you are either a rejector or a reflector, can I plead with you? Do not think that you can out-wise your Creator. Set your mind to seek Him in His Word, to know Him intimately. Repent of your sin and believe in Christ.
FBC family, if you’ve grown weary in Gospel proclamation, the drama of COVID-19 and the politics of 2020 have so much of your energy and attention that you have all but set aside the task–take courage! Persevere in preaching Christ! To those who reject, receive or just reflect–tell them, and tell them boldly! There will never be a better task, a more important responsibility, a more loving effort to spend your life on than the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!