“THE POWER TO MAKE PEOPLE LISTEN”

SERIES: POWER POINTS

ACTS 3 & 4

JUN 12, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            1975. It was the year Microsoft came into being, Captain and Tennille had the number one hit “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and the movie “Jaws” hit the big screen and scared the bejeebers out of us. It was also the year that “Saturday Night Live” premiered, the Vietnam War ended, and a first class postage stamp cost ten cents. It was also the year I graduated from seminary.

            My how times have changed! When I graduated from seminary schools didn’t give out any homework on Wednesday nights. That was considered “church night.” Children and youth sporting events seldom took place on Sunday mornings, and many stores did not open until noon giving their employees time to go church.

            People smarter than I, look at the changes over the past forty years, and say we now live in a post-Christian age. In the age of Christendom the church occupied a central and influential place in society so when we speak of post-Christendom or a post-Christian age, we are making the point that the church no longer occupies such a central place. In a post-Christian age the church moves to a more peripheral place in society. In a post-Christian age companies and their employees don’t think twice about participating in The Corporate Cup on a Sunday morning, and if you are a business and you are not open on a Sunday, like my neighborhood Fareway or the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A, you are a curious exception to the custom of the day.

            In a post-Christian age a nation’s ear is not lent as sympathetically as it once was to the gospel. In that regard, we live in world similar to that of the first converts to Christianity.  They did not live in a post-Christian world, but a pre-Christian world, and like us today, they had to live more like the minority rather than the majority in the land, and my question this morning is this – why did the world lend its ear to them?  What was it about the early believers that caused the world to listen to them?  After all, by the year 313 Christianity had conquered the Roman Empire.

            Well, after being filled by the Spirit, these early converts began to stand out and they stood out for a number of reasons.  First, they stood out because they were changed people. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to change from the inside out and the world notices changed people.  The world has a way of noticing people who alter the way they do life. 

            Take the cripple Simon Peter healed at the Temple Gate. The cripple had never walked a step in his life. He had to be carried everywhere he went. He had a congenital condition, and this cripple picked one of the best begging posts in the city. He picked the Beautiful Gate, a gate that was 75 feet high and 60 feet wide. The gate was overlaid with Corinthian bronze, and was such a work of art worth it’s weight in gold or silver. What a compelling sight this impotent beggar made against the backdrop of such opulent surroundings. It was the perfect place to solicit funds.  Furthermore, Judaism considered almsgiving a meritorious act. So the man’s position at Israel’s religious center would have profited him well. Peter and John strolled by and he asked them for money, and Peter said, “Silver and gold have we none, but we will give you something better,” and they did. Peter said, “Get up, old boy, and walk” and Peter helped him up and he walked.

            And the people of Jerusalem knew the guy. They had passed by him for years.  And there he stood, whole. But they were just as confounded by Simon Peter. They knew him, too.  He was the one who made all the noise about his allegiance to Christ, and then fled. But this time, he couldn’t be bullied or bluffed. He was different. 

            The world notices people like that. People like the beggar. People like Peter. People like Paul. People like Mike Knosp. You don’t know Mike Knosp, but I do. We have our 50th high school reunion this year and I went to high school with Mike.  Mike was a great baseball player, a phenomenal basketball player and an All-Conference party guy.  There was never a party Mike didn’t like or a beer he didn't enjoy and at our ten year high school reunion he was the talk of my former classmates.  You see, Mike had become a Baptist pastor.  Mike Knosp!  A Baptist pastor!  Who would have ever thought such a thing?  What a change!

            The world notices changed people. The world also notices brave people – those who risk, those who stand up and take it. That’s what happened to Peter and John when they were filled with the Spirit. Peter and John – both former cowards suddenly become un-cowed.  When the Council in Jerusalem told them to shut up about Jesus, listen to what they said (Acts 4:19),

 

            Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking what we have seen and heard.

 

            Folks, this was no Sunday School debate.  Their lives were on the line.  Does the name Caiaphus ring a bell?  It should.  He was the high priest who had sealed Jesus’ death by saying, “It is better ... that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  This crowd had orchestrated Jesus’ death a few months earlier.  But that didn’t stop Peter and John.  They were going to continue to tell the story of Jesus.  You have to notice people you cannot threaten.

            Peter Cartwright was a great circuit-riding Methodist preacher in Illinois.  An uncompromising man, he had come north from Tennessee because of his opposition to slavery.  One Sunday morning when he was scheduled to preach, his deacons told him that President Andrew Jackson was in the congregation.  Knowing Cartwright was used to saying whatever he felt God wanted him to say, regardless of how people might react, they warned him not to say anything that would offend the chief executive.  He stood up to preach and said, “I understand President Andrew Jackson is here.  I have been requested to be guarded in my remarks.  Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he does not repent.”  The congregation was shocked.  They wondered how the President would respond to this, but after the service he told Cartwright, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”

            And the world notices “been there” people ... people who have first hand experience and knowledge of God.  Look at verse 4, chapter 4. 

 

            But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

 

            At this stage in the Book of Acts, Peter has preached two sermons.  He preached one on the day of Pentecost.  Three thousand came to Christ that day.  He preaches his second sermon after he heals this beggar.  Two thousand more give their life to Christ.  Two sermons.  Five thousand people.  The people listened.  Why?  Because Peter had been there.  They listened to Peter because Peter was telling them what he’d “seen and heard.”  He wasn’t trying to sell them a soft drink he hadn’t yet drunk or a car he didn’t own.   He spoke from experience, not opinions gathered from someone else’s reported experience.

            Sixteen years ago Trudy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated by taking a trip to Alaska.  We did it all.  Flew into Fairbanks.  Spent five days on land traveling by train from Fairbanks to Anchorage, stopping along to the way to take in the sights especially Denali National Park.  We then hopped on a cruise ship and sailed south on a seven-day cruise to Vancouver, British Columbia. 

            The trip was fabulous and a year later we met some people who were planning to take the same trip.  We told them we had taken it the year before, and do you know what they did?  They invited us over to dinner to tell them about our experience.  They wanted to know what we chose to do.  What we liked.  What we didn’t like.  In other words, they wanted to hear from people who had actually been there.  The world listens to been there people.

            The world isn’t waiting with bated breath to hear what Kierkegaard said about worship.  And the world doesn’t lie awake nights pondering what Moses did to the Jebusites.  They don’t listen to second-hand opinions, but they do listen to people who have been there, who share their first hand experience of God.

            The world also listens to generous people.  After the Holy Spirit came upon them the members of the early church did something so radical it couldn’t be ignored.  They defied the God of Mammon, the God of getting and keeping money.  Chapter 4, verse 32,

 

            Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

 

            The world listens to people who put their money where their mouth is.  Jesus said you can find a person’s heart in his or her pocketbook.  He said, “Your heart will be where your riches are.”  I have a friend who used to say, "Show me your checkbook and I’ll show you what you value most in your life." Since people don't write as many checks today, maybe he would have to say today, "Show me your bank statement and I'll show you what you really value."

            Some call generous people deluded, but they can’t turn a deaf ear.  Take Jeanie – a single parent of three.  She has no child support, holds down two jobs, and had one teenager in the hospital, and there she was every Sunday, teaching a class or gathering clothes for the “underprivileged.”  The first check she writes on payday is to her church.  She doesn’t talk much, but when she does, people listen. The world listens to generous people.

            And finally, the world listens to radiant people.  I don’t mean gushy sentimentalists, although they are preferable to long-faced Presbyterians.  I mean those who emit that “something” that you know is real. Note chapter 4, verse 33.

 

            With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

 

            Great grace. If you have it you radiate it. 

           D.M. Stanley, the agnostic reporter who went to find Dr. Livingstone in Africa, said, “If I had stayed with Livingstone much longer, I would have been compelled to" become a Christian, although he never mentioned a word of his faith to me.”

            When I was in my late 20's I attended a Faith at Work retreat.  After arriving I learned that one of the presenters was going to be a Catholic nun.  You many not know I was raised in a Catholic family, and that I left the Catholic faith at the age of 19.   My sister and I for a long time were the only Protestants in our family.  Anyway, when I attended that particular Faith at Work event I was in my late 20's and I was still carrying a lot of baggage about the Catholic Church.  All that's gone now, but it wasn't when I was in my late 20's.

            As a result I thought about skipping the nun’s presentation, but instead I decided to attend.  Then she got up to speak and ruined it all.  She was a “radiator.  She had that glow.  She had scars.  She had guts.  She was generous, and I was silenced.  Then I was drawn.  All of my prejudices melted.  She was my sister because we had the same Father, the same sin, and the same Savior.  I had to listen.

            The world listens to changed people, brave people, been there people, generous people and radiant people.  And that’s what happens to us when we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

            Amen.