The Unhindered Gospel

Zach Keele
Friday, October 31st 2014
Nov/Dec 2014

The honeymoon, at least proverbially, is one of the best of times. It is when Cinderella's happily-ever-after meets a beach in Bermuda. The flavors of the food sing higher notes. Your fabrics feel softer. The days crawl by with laughter and the constant touch of your new spouse. Upon the white sand, you gaze into the eyes of your beloved, doing nothing and yet doing all that is worth it. Honeymoons are the fairytales of our times, your own personal music video or Hollywood romantic movie. At least, this is how honeymoons are supposed to be.

After Christ showered the Spirit upon his people and Peter delivered his mighty oration, the honeymoon of the church arrived. Having been ratified in Christ's blood and inaugurated by the Spirit, the church was constituted as the bride of Christ on Pentecost. And what a sweet time burst out on the stage of history. The silken words of the gospel, flowing from a fisherman's mouth, cut the people to the quick. The people pleaded, "What shall we do? How can we be saved?" To which Peter answered, "Repent, believe, be baptized! All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved." By the dozens, men and women lined up, believed in their hearts, and confessed with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord. The lines for baptism snaked through the streets, and by the time the sun set, the membership roll reached three thousand.

And what joy reverberated through this youthful church! Daily they joined for worship in the temple and to hear the apostolic teaching. "At least weekly" was not frequent enough for these saints; they broke the bread of the Supper together in their homes every day, and generosity was their overflowing cup. If one saint lacked, another had a garage sale and gave the proceeds to the needy. The word mine dropped from their vocabulary. The sweet harmony of Christian communion and fellowship rang in the streets of Jerusalem.

Additionally, the apostles finally grew out of their fear and confusion into their Spirit-fullness. Through Peter a 40-year-old cripple leaped and danced in Christ. Peter preached the gospel sermon for the ages. In fact, the apostles refused to stop preaching Christ in the temple and from house to house every day. Imagine a daily diet of apostolic preaching! The Spirit even used Peter's shadow to heal the sick who lined the streets. It is no wonder the number of saints swelled to five thousand in no time. You can almost hear them singing the words of Isaiah, "The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads’¦ and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (35:10). Generous love and joyful communion nurtured daily with word and sacrament as the church enjoyed her fairytale honeymoon.

But storms were brewing on the horizon and pollution washed up on shore as external opposition grew as quickly as the membership list. First, the chief priests banned all teaching in the name of Jesus. Then they threw the disobedient apostles in jail. And after the Lord freed them, the priests recaptured them and beat them. It was during this Pentecost honeymoon that scars for Christ were left on the apostles' backs.

Internal strife also sprang up like a thistle in a rose garden, and jealousy and deception confronted extreme generosity. Ananias and Sapphira desired the credit without the effort, and with their lie to the Holy Spirit, Satan dug his talons into the church. Likewise, complaints stained the church's joy and unity. The Hellenists (the Jews who spoke only Greek) were not getting their fair share, while the Hebrews (who spoke Aramaic) were keeping more for themselves. The care for the needy was not being done with fairness. Favoritism and prejudice dwelt among the saints.

But the final problem of the early church went all the way to the top. In the early chapters of Acts, everything was happening in Jerusalem’the apostles and their gospel-preaching hadn't yet left Jerusalem and its vicinity. But Jesus had told them to be witnesses to the ends of the world (1:8)! Where was the apostles' missionary activity? Why were they refusing to get their passports? The apostles were content in their comfort zone. Therefore, the Lord had to give them a push.

Stephen couldn't be matched in the wisdom of preaching and debating. And when you are outmatched in reason, the temptation is always to grab a bigger stick. Likewise, when the priests were routed by him, they reached for rocks. When the time was right, they dragged Stephen outside Jerusalem and stoned him. Approvingly, the rising star for their cause’Saul of Tarsus’stood by and watched the first martyr's blood be shed. Then, like a hound on the scent, Saul hunted the saints from house to house, scattering them among the nations’and sending the gospel along with them!

The Lord had made clear that the road from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth was paved with suffering, the pathway of the cross. It turned out pretty quickly that the life of the church was not going to be some fairytale honeymoon. On the road to Damascus, Stephen's executioner met Jesus and became Paul, who would be shown how much he must suffer for Christ. As Paul took the gospel to the ends of the earth, the fruits of his ministry were unmistakable and marvelous. Although every step of the way he was harassed by imprisonment, flogging, and rejection, Paul preached the cross’and he bore it as well. At the end of his life in Acts, Paul sat in a Roman prison due to the opposition of the priests. Yet despite his physical confinement, Paul boldly proclaimed the kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ through his letters to the worldwide churches, exhorting young pastors such as Timothy and Titus. The gospel went forth unhindered. To bear the cross was’and is’no honeymoon, but what a privilege it is to be servants of the unhindered, unstoppable, and inexorable gospel of Jesus Christ!

Friday, October 31st 2014

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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