- Sermon Notes
Live a God-focused Life
May 7, 2023
As we continue in the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas are on their first missionary journey. They were sent out by the church at Antioch which had become a major center of the Christian faith, second only to Jerusalem.
When they return to Antioch at the end of their journey, they reported all the things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
That’s a great phrase, “a door of faith.” God opened a door of faith for the Gentiles, but in many ways, it’s a great picture of the fact that we step through a door, out of the life we had in the world, and into this journey of faith we now walk with God.
That picture of going through a door helps us understand that there is a distinction between the old life to what we now have in God.
At one point on this journey, Paul and Barnabas went into a synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. After the reading of Scripture, one of the synagogue officials said, “Brethren, if you have any word to say for the people, say it.”
At this point, they are speaking to Jews, so they recounted the history of God moving through Israel beginning with their stay in the land of Egypt and bringing them to Jesus, the Son of David, whom God raised from the dead.
Paul then said, “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.”
What a clear way of demonstrating that there is a great distinction in our lives when we follow Christ.
In other words, the life we live now as we walk with God is the greatest life there is. Just the fact that we have forgiveness of our sins is amazing. Let’s just see it again and appreciate what we have; we were headed for certain judgment, without hope and without God in this world, but then we receive forgiveness of sins and are freed from all things, from which we could not be freed through religion or anything else.
At this very moment, you are walking in eternal life. Sitting right where you are, if you received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you have received the forgiveness of your sins and are walking in eternal life; because you are walking with God, and when you breathe your last on this earth, you’re just going to keep on walking right into eternity with God.
Having said that, however, there is something else we need to understand. Paul also said in Acts 14:22, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
How do we reconcile the fact that we, as believers, have the greatest life there is, having the life of God within us and the joy of the Holy Spirit, yet at the same time knowing that on this earth there will be many troubles and tribulations?
Great question. That’s what we’re going to see in these verses we’re studying today. On this journey Paul and Barnabas see the triumph and victory of the gospel, but they also see troubles and tribulations like no man would ever choose.
In many ways, though, we see the same things, though not to the same degree. In this life, there are many triumphs and victories, but we all know there are many troubles and tribulations. This world is filled with troubles, but the good news is that we walk through it all with God who promises never to leave us or forsake us.
We need to see life from and focus on life with the right perspective. We have a goal and an upward call in Christ Jesus. We must live a God-focused life.
Philippians 3:13-14, Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I. Beware The Problem of Prosperity
- Prosperity is the mantra of our day. Many people long for and dream of such things. Some literally lust after prosperity.
- It comes in many forms. There is material wealth, but there is also earthly success in many different forms that many people desire.
- Even ministry success can be a great danger and because of it, many have lost their way.
- Of course, these things can be good if they are used for God’s glory, but these things can really mess up lives and they can also destroy faith.
- In Acts 14:10 Paul calls out to a man who was lame from birth and the man is made well. When the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they began crying out, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” What an adoring fan base they now have. What a social media following this could create. He could be a great influencer! But there’s danger here.
- The crowd reacts so strongly because there was the belief in Lystra that gods had once visited there, but the people were inhospitable and suffered a great flood. They weren’t going to make that mistake again, so they worship Paul and Barnabas.
- In Acts 12:22 when the crowd said the same thing to Herod Agrippa in Caesarea, he did not give God the glory, and let’s just say it didn’t end well.
- The right perspective is that everything is from God. All our abilities, gifts, and talents. Many fall into the trap of thinking it is a good idea to first attach followers to themselves and then they would eventually introduce them to Jesus and ‘hand them over’ to Him.
Illus – I have heard many times that singers have said that they would go sing secular music, get the crowds to follow them, and then turn them to Jesus by bringing in some gospel songs. This is a very slippery slope as the trappings of fame can become a great snare.
- Paul and Barnabas immediately aggressively resisted worship given to them acknowledging Jesus as the source and one worthy to be adored and worshipped.
A. Keep the right perspective
- The problem with living in a culture where prosperity is the mantra of the day is that it’s easy to lose our perspective and forget the value of our relationship with God.
- Perhaps one of our problems is that we often see things from the perspective of our earthly life, when we get to heaven, however, we’re going to see things differently.
1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see as in the mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
- Perhaps the things which the world highly values, the things which people often think are good, aren’t as good as people thought.
Luke 16:15, He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
- When Israel was about to enter the promised land, God took them aside, and through Moses warned, them to be careful because success and prosperity may cause them to forget their relationship to God.
Deuteronomy 8:2-14, Remember your God in the days when everything is good and you have success.
- The Proverbs writer must have seen these trappings in the lives of others and prayed this prayer.
Proverbs 30:8-9, Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.
- The greatest treasure, the greatest value is God.
B. Step out of the Center
- One of the trappings of this life is the constant pressure to put oneself first, be it through the deceitfulness of wealth or the worries of the world.
- Both try to shift your focus from the bigger picture and make your own story the main narrative. This was part of the lesson Jesus spoke of with the parable of the Sower.
- It is constantly pulling us towards being the center of our own lives. This might be so gradual that you don’t even see it happening until one day you wake up and see that everything you think about and are busy with is just about you, either trying to hold on to your wealth or stay afloat in your worries. Whichever avenue, it aims to get ‘you’ in the middle.
- Paul was actively staying out of the center of the narrative. He could have easily gone into a pity party because of his hardships or been boastful because of what God did through him, but he chose to always keep Christ at the center.
C. Turn from vain things to a living God
- The priest of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifices with the crowds.
- Paul and Barnabas rushed into the crowd crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.”
- That’s it right there, that’s God’s heart. God preaches the gospel to us that we should turn from things that are vain, or empty, to a living God.
- The problem is that you can’t fill emptiness with emptiness. We were all born with an empty soul and people are trying to fill it with things from the world that will never work.
- Paul points out that even while the world is filled with vain and empty things, God did not leave Himself without a witness. (Verses 16-17)
- All the wonder and beauty, the goodness and fruitfulness are a witness of God Himself.
Romans 1:19-20, That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
- God leaves Himself a witness in creation, but now gives us the clear gospel, so that we would turn from empty things and turn to the living God.
II. Stay Focused Through Adversity
- The contrast in this story is amazing. Once the crowd figures out that they are not Zeus and Hermes, and then get stirred up by the antagonist Jews who followed them there, they dragged Paul out of the city and stoned him, leaving him for dead.
Illus – Isn’t this so true of human nature? The greatest sports hero that is praised one day will be booed when he is off form.
- What a day this is turning out to be; he goes from being called a god, dragged out and stoned, many believe he actually died here, but then gets up, shakes it off, and goes back into the city.
- Adversity does not stop Paul, he moves on, always pressing forward and forgetting what lies behind.
A. Adversity can strengthen faith
- The next day Paul and Barnabas go to Derbe, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.
- Paul would be the right one to strengthen their souls, he knows something about being steadfast in faith through the adversity and troubles of life.
- That’s why he said in verse 22, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
- This is why James said that the testing of our faith produces endurance.
James 1:2-3, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
- All tragedies are tragedies, but God can take that which is bad, even a tragedy, and use it in our lives to strengthen faith and give Him glory.
Illus – Jesus was friends with Mary and Martha her sister, and Lazarus their brother. They were friends. Jesus felt at home with them, there was hospitality and He could stop by for dinner, He and His 12 friends. One day Lazarus became sick and they sent word to Jesus, “He whom you love is sick.” But Jesus waited two more days.
John 11:14-15, Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.”
- Adversity, suffering, and pain are part of living in a troubled world, but through adversity, faith is tested; and the faith that cannot be tested is faith that cannot be trusted.
- Faith sustains us through adversity and adversity strengthens faith; they go hand-in-hand.
Illus – It might be compared to having a baby. There is much pain, but afterward, there is great joy.
John 16:21, “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.”
Illus -Yet with every season as children grow up, there are new challenges that need endurance. When one has persevered, it brings joy again. Think of all the preparation for tests, standing beside the sports field, supporting in friendship challenges, that first boyfriend/girlfriend… It is the cycle of faith and adversity, faith and adversity.
Psalm 30:5, Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
- A word of caution; don’t say to yourself, “It’s too late for me, I’ve already ruined everything; there is no use in even trying.” That’s not faith talking, that’s broken pride that focuses on the ‘I’; God has a better word for you… Hope.
Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
- When you are experiencing an attack from the enemy or going through trials, rejoice because it means that the enemy is nervous about you. He is scared of you and the potential God has placed in you through His Spirit that is at work through you. If he can get you to become timid and fearful he has neutralized you.
B. Adversity keeps us humble
- From scripture and experience in life, it seems there are two opposite approaches the enemy takes in trying to defeat us.
- The first is that he has called the accuser of the brethren; if he can remind you of your failures and keep accusing you so that you stay knocked down, you are truly defeated.
Illus – Don’t be that guy that’s so defeated and has so completely lost hope that he carries around the handbook of worst-case scenarios.
- But the enemy would also feed our pride. When things are good, bills are paid, and something is laid up for retirement, it can make people proud and self-sufficient. But when the stock market crashes or life takes a hard turn, it reminds us of what matters most; our faith and our relationship with God.
- Many Bible teachers suggest that when Paul was stoned, he was given a glimpse of heaven. But he was also given a thorn in the flesh…
2 Corinthians 12:9, He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
- In the end, we need to see life from a different perspective, not so caught up in our own story that we miss the bigger story: HIStory.
Psalm 8:4, What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?
- When we see ourselves from the right perspective and discern how frail and fleeting our lives are, it stirs a thankfulness in our hearts for God’s grace and mercy toward us.
- We have the privilege to be part of the grandest narrative: Of a God who loves those He created so much that He died to redeem them and make them His bride. We are part of that bride if we have placed our faith in Christ. When we die to self and live for Him in this life, we will be with Him, and our reward is with Him in eternity.
1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 2:9, Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.
Acts 14:1-28 NASB
14 In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who [a]disbelieved stirred up the [b]minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that [c]signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the [d]people of the city were divided; and some [e]sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
8 At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be [f]made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, [g]Zeus, and Paul, [h]Hermes, because he was [i]the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was [j]just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their [k]robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these [l]vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 [m]In the generations gone by He permitted all the [n]nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, [o]satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had [p]accomplished. 27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and [q]how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent [r]a long time with the disciples.
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