Friday, September 20, 2013

Stand Up

This is a Sunday sermon in the process of being written... Enjoy as I "publish" various incomplete versions...God loves lost people.  He adores the most dangerous ones.  He will do anything for them.  .  He pursues them and when they are captured by God, God transforms them but others may not believe this is true.  This message is based on a passage from Acts 9:26-28 where Barnabas stands up for formerly lost and dangerous Saul, the one who was transformed to be the greatest missionary the world has ever know.


God loves lost people. He adores the dangerous ones. I read the Bible and I know that's true. He takes the most dangerous and makes them His own. Moses--the great leader of the Old Testament; Paul--also called Saul--the one chosen by God to bring the saving gospel of Jesus to more people than anyone else... both of them... so dangerous... and so powerful for God when GOD did his work in their lives.

Is there ANYONE God cannot save?  The answer to that is NO. God can, and God does, take on the hardest cases. He touches, penetrates, makes new. He does it in ways that just seem too good to be true. In fact, God moves them from the pits to the heights. God lifts them UP... Up beyond belief.

The disciples in Jerusalem didn't believe Saul could be one of them. And it's no wonder. Just at the beginning of Acts chapter 9, Saul had been "breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." But then God got a hold of Saul, brought him to his knees, blinded him, brought him to a disciple named Ananias who laid hands on him aid said "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, it says, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he could see. He got up, was baptized, and, after taking some food, he regained his strength and at once, right away, he began to preach about Jesus!  Saul grew powerful, it says, and baffled the Jewish people living in Damascus, proving that Jesus is the Christ.

That happened in Damascus, 150 miles from Jerusalem. So, when Saul came to Jerusalem, because he was in danger in Damascus, and when he tried to join his new family... the family of believers... the disciples in Jerusalem did not believe he was really a disciple.

It reminds me a little of what happened to Moses...  In Exodus 2 it says this... One day, after Moses was grown up, he went out to where his people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew... Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one, "Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" The man said, "Who made you ruler and judge...? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed that Egyptian..."   

Once a person has a reputation... once someone is labeled as dangerous, will YOU believe that they are really good? Will you trust that they mean well? But what if they tell you they've changed? And what if they really have changed? Will you doubt? Or will you believe?

Even though God can, and does, change lost and dangerous people, and even though this change is so deep that people are "BORN AGAIN" with a whole new I.D., those people look, on the outside, pretty much the same. Their faces, their bodies, their voices, the ways they talk and the ways they move, their laughter: all of these will remind us of how things were... and they will not always act like saints. They will slip, they will fall, they will need to repent. Like David--another Bible murderer--there will still be times when, they give into temptation--like Adam and Eve in the Garden, like you and me.

And that's why lost and dangerous people, people who are being transformed by God... that's why they need an advocate, a trusted friend who will STAND UP for them... someone who knows their story, someone who has seen the changes, someone who can STAND UP for them when others do not trust that their transformation is real, that the changes are not just a big show.

Moses' brother, Aaron, was an advocate for Moses when Moses came back to Egypt after spending years in the a land called Midian. Exodus 4:29-31 says Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and seen their misery, the people bowed down and worshiped.

And, in a similar way, Barnabas stood up for Saul. Here's the Bible passage:
Acts 9:26–28  When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
What would have happened if Barnabas had stayed quiet?

What if he didn't put his fear behind him?

What if he chickened out and left Paul (Saul) to fend for himself, to stand up for himself...

What if Paul had been sidelined because of his past? 

What if someone looked at all YOUR sins and disqualified YOU from belonging to God, from being any use in God's kingdom?

PRAISE THE LORD that he has become our ADVOCATE... JESUS stands up for US!  First John 2:1 says - "We have an advocate who pleads our case... He is JESUS CHRIST, the one who is TRULY righteous." And, because Jesus stands up for us, we then will stand up for others... First John 2:9-10 says: Anyone who loves a brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. 

The disciples in Jerusalem were living in darkness as far as Paul was concerned.  They did not know the truth.  It took Barnabas' testimony to show them the truth.

What did Barnabas say? What did he do?

He did something a little like what our Dassel-Cokato schools encourage our students to do when a fellow or sister student is bullied.

In the story of Barnabas and Saul, Saul is in danger of being bullied by the disciples in Jerusalem.

Did you know you can bully someone just by leaving them out of your life?  Paul needed a Christian family to support him in his new life there in Jerusalem, but he was in danger of being left out and rejected, left out and being put in danger by not being included in the Christian group.  What would have happened if Paul had not been able to be a part of the disciples?  What if they had kept spreading bad stories about him? That's bullying, my friends, and if we are doing that, leaving people out just because they aren't yet good friends, we need to step up and do something differently.

But the thing about Paul's story is that he wasn't just the one who was being left out, he had been a bully, a murderous bully, and what Barnabas did was to stand up for him... the one who had been the bully in the past.  An amazing story.

But how was it that Barnabas could do that? How was it that he could know for sure that Paul was changed?

Two things:  1. Barnabas SAW what was going on in Paul's life.  2. Paul told Barnabas his story, the story of his changed life... he shared his testimony with Barnabas.

And then, being filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus, the true advocate, Barnabas took courage and stood up for this new apostle, Paul.

And we are called to do the same...

(This is where I'm ending for now... more later...)

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