Building On Purpose

Building on Purpose

Luke 10:38-42

Dr. Jim Denison

I read this week an unusual list of instructions, purportedly written for those traveling the jungle regions of South America. The title: “What to Do If Attacked by an Anaconda.” The instructions are as follows:

If an anaconda attacks you, do not run. The snake is faster than you are. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides and your legs tight against one another. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body. Do not panic. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end. Always from the feet end.

The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time. When the snake has reached your knees, slowly and with as little movement as possible reach down, take your knife, and very gently slide it into the side of the snake’s mouth, between the edge of its mouth and the snake’s head.

Be sure your knife is sharp. Be sure you have your knife.

The events of this day are larger than any anaconda, and fortunately, far more exciting. Our faith family will begin today the largest and most expensive building project in our church’s history: a three-story garage for 750 cars, built beneath a three-story Community Life Center.

When our project is completed we will have the space we need to continue growing our preschool, children, and youth ministries; to gather in greater numbers for adult Bible study, fellowship events, and large weekday ministries; to reach more of our community than we have ever been able to reach before.

But how do we keep from being swallowed? How can we be sure to keep the main thing the main thing, to remember our purpose as we “continue the vision,” to keep our eye on the reason why we are stepping into this exciting chapter of ministry together? Where are life’s circumstances threatening to swallow you personally, to distract you from your purpose and calling in the will of God?

Invite Jesus into your home

Jesus’ words to Martha are God’s words to us today: “…only one thing is needed” (v. 42). We somehow believe that is true. Our culture is fascinated with life purpose in these days.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was a best-selling book and movement in the 80’s and early 90’s, similar to Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life today.

I remember often Winston Churchill’s statement to the House of Commons in June of 1941: “I have but one purpose, the destruction of Hitler; and my life is much simplified thereby.” Every time I think of his words, I am moved and challenged by them.

In my study are inscribed words from Abraham Maslow which I quote often: “An artist must paint; a poet must write; a musician must make music, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

What purpose will give your life true meaning?

As our text begins, we find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem and the cross; he will die in four months. He stops at Bethany, a village two miles east of Jerusalem. Here Martha lives with her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus; their home is his when he is in Judea.

This family was so prominent that many friends would later come even from Jerusalem to console them on the death of Lazarus. Now, on this occasion, Martha “opened her home to him” (v. 38), meaning that she received him as her honored guest.

Martha’s name meant “lady of the house,” and she certainly lives up to it here.

She is making the preparations necessary for proper hospitality in the ancient Middle East—cooking food (without electrical appliances), cleaning the home, preparing the furnishings for the meal to come. All of this is good and necessary.

But Martha soon confuses ends with means. She becomes “distracted” by all her preparations—the word means to be “drawn around with anxiety” which shows on her face and in her soul. She thinks more about her food than her guest; she becomes consumed with the meal and forgets the Master for whom it is intended.

Mary, her younger sister, makes no such mistake.

She had been helping with preparations earlier, but now has “left” Martha (v. 40) and “sat at the Lords’ feet listening to what he said” (v. 39). Homes of their culture were often furnished with flat chairs about two feet tall, covered with soft material and cushions. We imagine Jesus sitting on one such chair, perhaps cross-legged, while Mary sat on a rug on the floor before him.

She “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (v. 39). This is the position of a disciple before the teacher (we speak of “sitting at the feet” of a great person still today). It was extremely unusual for a Jewish rabbi to take on a woman as his student and disciple, but Jesus did so here with Mary. In the same way, he invites you to his feet today.

Note that Mary was not only in his presence, she was present with him. You are in his presence now; are you present with him? Are you listening to what he wants to say to you?

In so doing she has “chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (v. 42). “Better” refers to the best dish on the table, which is fellowship with Jesus.

Now Martha sees her younger sister at Jesus’ feet instead of in her kitchen. So she “came to him,” words which actually mean “she exploded into the room at him.” She “flew off the handle,” or “lost it,” with Jesus, and demanded that he send Mary back into the kitchen.

Making demands of the Lord of the universe doesn’t usually go well for us. It didn’t for her.

Jesus replies, “you are worried (internally divided, distracted, anxious) and upset (externally and visibly agitated, in tumult) about many things” (v. 41). This is the inevitable result of putting second things first.

“Only one thing is needed”—not the dishes but the dish, not the many but the one.

The point is not the meal, but the Master who attends it. The point is not the menu and the food, but the One who shares them in their home. This event is not about Martha, it is about Jesus. It is not about her culinary skills and homemaking artistry, but the Lord of her home. Her preparations are a means to the end of communion with the Lord.

How to choose the “one thing”

Last week I received a book in the mail from God. Its human instrument was the author, a spiritual retreat director named Fil Anderson. Fil directed the silent retreat in Atlanta which was so significant in my life seven years ago. I had no idea he had written a book. In the note he enclosed, he reminded me of our retreat together, and of the sermon I preached afterwards to our congregation. I sent a copy of the sermon to him at the time. He found it the day before, reread it, and felt impressed to send his book to me. Listen to the title: Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers. God wrote it for me. And for you.

In the book Fil tells some of his own story. He confesses that he had been “hooked on approval,” to use Brennan Manning’s term. In a chapter titled, “Confessions of a Recovering Work Addict,” he admits, “My life was filled with doing things for God rather than pursuing intimacy with God” (p. 5). Later he admits, “…my activity determined my identity” (p. 7). He speaks of being “addicted to the powerful drug of recognition” (p. 59, of “my addiction to work and busyness” (p. 102). He was so busy working for God that he had forgotten how to walk with God. He was “running on empty.”

What happened to change things? First, he discovered his true identity.

Fil, once a Young Life staff member, says, “A major cause of the frustration and confusion that characterized my life was that I looked in the wrong places for the answer to whom I am. I looked to high school students involved in my ministry and wore myself out being the best friend they had ever encountered in order to hear them praise me as a good friend. I looked to the staff and volunteers I worked alongside and did all I knew to do to gain their respect and approval. I looked to my wife and kids to tell me I was the best husband and dad a person could ever hope for. I looked to my extended family and closest friends to tell me I was a godly man, so I did whatever I felt was necessary to gain their approval.

“Yet identity, my identity, is something that only God can give me. Only the Inventor can give to the invented its identity, significance, and ultimate purpose” (pp. 64-5).

Fil came to discover his God-given identity: that he is the child of God, loved completely by his Maker and Father. That all his busyness could not make God love him any more. That all his failures could not make God love him any less. That his pretending to be more than he was, his pretending to be someone of significance and value, was killing his soul. He quotes a “wise, old preacher who said, ‘Be who you is, because if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t'” (p. 64).

Second, he discovered the source of spiritual power: sitting at the feet of Jesus. Giving God time to work on his soul. Fil learned that he is not responsible for the health of his spiritual life—God is. His only job is to put himself before the Lord, so the Holy Spirit can do his work. Daily prayer, Bible reading, worship, solitude, weekly worship with his faith community—these were the means by which God filled his tank and healed his soul.

He had been Martha, consumed with preparations and busyness. He learned to be Mary, consumed with Jesus. So can we. So must we.


Martha’s work and preparations were essential to the meal and event of this day. All the work which is before our congregation is essential to the next chapter of our history and ministry. Every shovel turned today, every cubic foot of dirt removed tomorrow, every yard of concrete poured, every nail driven, every wall erected will advance the Kingdom of God. Every program we move and reorganize for these months, and every shuttle we ride to come to worship and ministry here, will be our investment in God’s future for our lives and our congregation. These are historic, God-sent, Spirit-directed days. The future is as bright as the promise of God.

As we make all our preparations, though, let’s make them at the feet of Jesus. Let’s remember that we are not called to build buildings, but the Kingdom; that this is not about us, but Jesus. That he is the Master of this meal, the guest of this home, the Lord of this church. That he is the church’s one foundation. That we do this for him, in his power, for his glory.

Let’s apply that same fact to our personal lives and service. Every hour we spend this week is to serve him. Every client or customer you see, every friend at school, every family member you serve, every soul you touch, is eternal. Let’s do it for him. Let’s surrender our plans and programs, our work and worth to Jesus. Let’s find our identity in his love, and put our souls where he can fill and feed them each day this week. Let’s work like Martha, while we worship like Mary. And we will glorify Jesus together.

Fil tells of a friend I presume to be Australian. He writes, “Over the years, every time I would encounter John Staggers, a dear friend, he would grab me by the shoulders, look deep into my eyes, and ask the same question: ‘Mate, is Jesus enough for you today?'”

What is your answer this morning?

Making Room for the Gentiles

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

Making Room for the Gentiles

Dr. Jim Denison

Acts 11

Jacob Walker was a lighthouse keeper on Robbin’s Reef, off the rocky shore of New England. After years of faithfully minding the light, he became ill and died. His wife buried his body on the mainland, in view of the lighthouse.

Later Mrs. Walker received appointment as the keeper of their lighthouse. For 20 years she carried on alone, and then a New York reporter went out to get her story. She told him, “Every evening I stand in the door of the lighthouse and look across the water to the hillside where my husband’s body is buried. I always seem to hear his voice saying, ‘Mind the light! Mind the light!'”

This weekend, Christians the world over will celebrate Palm Sunday, that marvelous and miraculous day which began the holiest week in human history. This was the day with the Light of the world came to bring that light to the darkest place in the world—the cross of humanity’s sin. He came to be rejected by his Father, that we might be accepted by him. He came to be made sin for us, that we might be made righteous. He came to die, that we might live.

Now we are called to “mind the light.” We are keepers of the light he brought, warning spiritual ships away from the rocky shores of sin and hell. We are to be as faithful to this task as was our Lord. Someone needs your light this week. Who comes to mind?

Defend the grace of God (vs. 1-18)

An insightful artist painted his subject, “A Dying Church,” in an unusual way. He pictured a beautiful sanctuary, sunlight streaming through stained glass windows, pews filled with worshipers, the pastor behind the pulpit and the choir in the loft. All looked healthy, even vibrant. But in the corner of the painting, on a table in the vestibule outside the sanctuary, he pictured a box with the sign, “Offerings for Missions.” There was a cobweb over the box. A dying church, indeed.

Not everyone agrees with the Great Commission. The church in America spends less than 1% to reach the unreached peoples of the world. It is true that the lighthouse which shines farthest, shines brightest at home. But it is also true that it must shine into the darkness to be a lighthouse at all.

After Peter’s remarkable experience with Cornelius, it is no surprise that the enemy would attack yet again. Remember that he prefers to strike at the point of unity, creating the greatest chaos for the least effort. The Gentile mission threatens his hold over the entire pagan world. We should not expect him to yield easily.

Peter had just returned to Jerusalem when “the circumcised believers” accused him of going into an “uncircumcised” home for a meal (v. 3). Note that these Jewish Christians made no mention of Cornelius’s conversion or baptism. Their first concern appears to be Peter’s apparent breach of legalistic etiquette.

The threat to Peter’s integrity and mission was very real. Paul would later recount to the Galatians the time in Antioch when Peter and even Barnabas withdrew from Gentile hospitality under threat of rejection from Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-13). Clearly “Simon” (sand) was still part of “Peter” (rock). As it is in us all.

But this time, “Peter” won out. He recounted specifically and clearly exactly his experience with the Spirit (vs. 5-17). He told the story just as it happened, leaving his critics to deal with the Lord. He made clear that it was not about him, stepping out of the conflict. With this result: “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life'” (v. 18).

This would not be the last time the Jerusalem church would wrestle with Gentile conversion (cf. Acts 15:1-35). Paul would later speak of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10); some scholars believe he was referring to the Judaizers, a group of Jewish Christians who followed him wherever he went and told his Gentile converts that they must become Jews to be Christians. But while the battle did not end with Peter’s testimony, the victory began. In time, the Church universal would adopt his position that God intends all to come to faith in his Son (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

Now God calls you and me to defend and extend his grace to those who stand outside his love. We may believe that he intends all to come to Christ. But unless we tell them, the practical consequence is that the Judaizers win. The decision is ours.

Move to Antioch (vs. 19-21)

The Church is moving today from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern, and from the First World to the Third. The number of conversions in Communist China and sub-Saharan Africa are astounding, in the tens of thousands a day. More than a third (some say more than half) of South Korea is evangelical Christian. Many missiologists say that the center of the Christian movement has already shifted from America to Africa. The Fifth Great Awakening is occurring in countries all over the world.

This is not the first time the Church has shifted its missions headquarters. In the verses before us, the Christian movement will make a dramatic change from Jerusalem to Antioch of Syria. From the Holy City to one of the most pagan. From the capital of the Jewish world to one of the capitals of the Gentile. Such a significant city and movement is worth a moment of exploration.

At one time, at least five cities in Syria were named “Antioch,” before the city we are touring today was established. Nicanor I, the first ruler of the Seleucid dynasty, built the city around 500 B.C., naming it for his father Antiochus. Today it is the city of Antakya in the Hatay province of Turkey. In Luke’s day, its population numbered more than half a million.

Located at the mouth of the Orontes river, 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, the city hade an abundant water supply and beautiful locale. It soon became known as the Oriental Rome and the Gate of the East. It quickly became the capital of the Seleucid monarchy, and thus a city of great political importance. In 64 B.C., Rome made Antioch her seat of administration in the province of Syria. It was enlarged and adorned by Augustus and Tiberius; Herod the Great later provided colonnades on either side of its main street and paved the street itself with polished stone. Because of the trade which flowed through its portal, it soon became a commercial center as well as a political capital city.

Antioch of Syria would eventually become the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Jews were numerous there (note that Acts 6:5 names Nicolaus, a proselyte from Antioch, as one of the Seven). The art and literature of the city were praised by Cicero, while the vice and luxury of the people were infamous as well. Antioch was especially known for the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, a town five miles away. There ritual prostitution was widely popular, so that the “morals of Daphne” stood for loose living everywhere.

Josephus called it the third city of the empire, next to Rome and Alexandria. As a result of the events detailed in this week’s study, Antioch became the “mother city” of Gentile Christianity. Paul made the city his headquarters for his three missionary journeys in Asia Minor and Greece (Acts 13:1; 15:40; 18:23). Led by Lucian of Antioch, in the early fourth century, Antioch became an important center for biblical studies. A cup found in or near the city around 1910, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is the celebrated Chalice of Antioch; some think it is the “holy grail,” though most date it to the fourth century.

It is possible, if not likely, that Luke the physician was a native of Antioch. Eusebius, the first church historian, states that it is so, as does Jerome. He may have been one of the converts of the ministry we will study this week; his association with Paul may have begun at this time.

If you were to cross Las Vegas with Sodom and Gomorroh, you would be in Antioch. William Barclay inspires us: “It seems incredible but nonetheless it is true that it was in a city like this that Christianity took the great stride forward to becoming the religion of the world. We need only think that to be reminded that no situation is hopeless.”

It is no coincidence that God moved his headquarters to the city where his followers would manifest most fully his heart for the world. He will bless our church to the degree that we will bless the world with his love. He will bless your class, your teaching ministry, and your service to the degree that you love the world as he does.

Are you living in Antioch today?

Be a “Christian” (vs. 22-30)

A “Christian” is literally “one who belongs to Christ” or a “Christ imitator,” a little-Christ. We who follow Jesus were first called by this name at Antioch (v. 26). Here’s how we can live up to it in Dallas.

Verse 19 tells us that the persecution which began with Stephen’s martyrdom scattered Christians out from Jerusalem as far Phoenicia along the western coast of Syria, the Mediterranean island of Cyrus, and Antioch to the north. However, these first missionaries preached only to fellow Jews.

But then some courageous Christians from Cyprus and the north African town of Cyrene came to Antioch to evangelize the Gentiles as well. Most Jewish Christians simply did not believe that Gentiles could become Christians. But this unnamed group of missionaries believed we could. And we will forever—literally—be grateful.

And God gave them immediate success, in four ways.

First, against all odds, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21), among them Luke, the physician and author of Luke and Acts. When you follow Jesus in missions and evangelism, you never know the ultimate result.

Second, the mother church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to investigate this phenomenon; he “saw the evidence of the grace of God” (v. 23) and encouraged the people, and again “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (v. 24). When God is honored, his church must expand. Our church must expand. We cannot help it. All healthy things grow.

Third, Barnabas went to Tarsus, 100 miles to the north, to recruit Saul for this ministry. Saul (Paul to us) had not been mentioned by the Book of Acts for nine years; but somehow Barnabas knows that God wants Saul for this ministry. And so Paul the Apostle reenters the stage of global missions. God’s plan for Antioch was far larger than Antioch. His plan for Dallas is far larger than Dallas.

Fourth, as a direct result of the teaching Barnabas and Saul provided for these new Gentile believers, “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (v. 26). These Gentile converts so took on the character, the priorities, the morals, the personality of Jesus that even the skeptical pagans around them saw Jesus in them. How we want this to be true for us!

Now watch their Antiochian success become global significance. Some prophets from Jerusalem warned this vibrant, exploding church that bad times are ahead: “a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (v. 28). This happened during the reign of Claudius, around A.D. 45.

These Gentile believers in Antioch have enormous resources, given the economic prosperity of their city. This famine will likely not affect them greatly. They don’t need to care. The Antioch Christians had enough resources not to worry much about the coming hard times.

But the Jerusalem Christians are in for disaster. Jews in their culture have ostracized them for their faith; they have lost their jobs, many have lost their homes. A famine will mean starvation for them. So the Gentile believers in Antioch, previously ignored by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, immediately decide to help. They take an offering and send it to the Jerusalem church by Barnabas and Saul. They become compassionate about needs beyond themselves. They gain a passion for a larger world.

And this larger world would beckon them again and again.

One day as they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, “The Holy Spirit, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'” (Acts 13:2). These are their founding pastors, two of their five ministerial leaders. They could have refused. They could have kept their leaders and spiritual mentors for themselves.

But again they saw a larger world: “after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (v. 3). And they would continue this sacrificial support. Each of Paul’s three missionary journeys began with Antioch. Continually he received financial, material, and spiritual sustenance and support from this, his home church.

And God made a group of Gentile believers in the most immoral city in their part of the world to be a church of global significance. Their ministry touched the ancient world as they prayed, gave, and went for Jesus. Their ministry has affected the world for twenty centuries since. You and I are Gentile Christians today, in large part because of the Antioch believers. They stepped from temporal success to global and eternal significance.

So can we. What are the steps?

Believe that your life must change the world. Get a passion for the world. Believe Jesus when he said you were the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Believe him when he said that you would “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and be his witness “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). You have not obeyed these commands unless and until your life has changed the world. Believe that you can, and you must.

Next, define the needs which surround you. Just as God used the prophet Agabus to tell the Antiochian Christians about the needs of their world, so he will show us the needs he intends us to meet. Ask him to make you sensitive to the people around you and their problems. Like the Antioch Christians, he has given you the resources you need to meet them. Decide that you will do all you can do to help. You can give food, time, energy, and abilities to help hurting people in your community and around the world.

And last, support those who will do what you cannot. God did not call everyone from Antioch to go to the larger world, but he called some. The others prayed for them, gave money to help them, held the ropes as they went out. We give money to support missionaries who go where we cannot. And through them, we touch the world.


Church history is littered with missed opportunities to imitate the church at Antioch. Among them:

Leon Trotsky was one of the foremost leaders of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Two years earlier he attended Sunday school in Chicago with a friend, but the teacher didn’t show up. Trotsky never went back.

Joseph Stalin, the force behind millions of deaths, was sent to study for the priesthood in the Russian Church, but the church had become so worldly and corrupt that he rebelled and turned to communism.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader of millions of Hindus in India, studied Christianity in England but rejected it because Christians didn’t live up to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Lee Harvey Oswald attended a Baptist Sunday school as a child in Dallas, but the teacher told him not to come back until he was better dressed. He never did.

But we have success stories to tell as well, times when believers followed the example set by our Antiochian ancestors:

A Sunday school teacher named Ezra Kimball led one of his young students, Dwight L. Moody, to faith in Christ, and Moody lifted two continents to Christ.

Some concerned ladies invited George H. Lorimer to church; he was saved and later became pastor of the famous Tremont Temple in Boston. A young lawyer named Russell H. Conwell heard Lorimer preach and was saved. He later built Temple Baptist Church into one of the largest congregations in America.

A lay preacher spoke one snowy Sunday morning in Colchester, England, at the Primitive Methodist Church. A 15-year-old boy, driven in by the snow, was sitting under the balcony. He heard the sermon and was saved, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest of all Baptist preachers, led tens of thousands to Christ.

John Warr, a shoe cobbler, worked by the side of another young man and witnessed to him until he was saved. His young friend, William Carey, became the father of the modern missions movement.

What do you believe God could do with you and with our church, if we would “mind the light”? Who will see the light through your witness this week?

on A Sling And A Prayer

On a Sling and a Prayer

1 Samuel 17:41-50

Dr. Jim Denison

A shipwrecked sailor spent three years on a deserted island. You can imagine his joy to see a ship drop anchor in the bay. A small boat came ashore, and an officer handed the man a bunch of newspapers. The survivor was confused. The sailor explained, “The captain suggests that you read what’s going on in the world and then let us know if you want to be rescued.”

Anyone here choose the island?

Psychologists say that 60 percent of us are going through some crisis right now. Six out of every ten persons on your pew is going through some crisis right now. Six out of ten would probably rather be on that island than in this church service right now. Do you?

Do you ever feel like a young boy with no training, no background, no credentials, sent to fight a warrior who stands over nine feet tall? Ever feel like David against Goliath?

You’re not alone. Moses had his Pharaoh, his Red Sea, and two million complaining Jews. Peter had his Herod seeking his life. Paul had his Nero. Jesus had the devil himself. You’re not alone.

Who is your Goliath? Where are you at war? Does the giant live in your home? Your health? Your finances? Your stress? Here’s the one point today: you can fight the giant in your strength, or in God’s. But not in both.

Fighting in your strength

We find ourselves part of the best-known story in the life of David, perhaps in all the Old Testament. We are standing in the Valley of Elah, 17 miles west-southwest of Jerusalem. We’re at war with the Philistines, a sea people who have settled in the area known today as the Gaza Strip. Their expertise with making iron weapons has given them military advantage over Israel, and they will remain a thorn in the nation’s side for another 500 years.

As we stand with King Saul and his soldiers, we watch the largest man we’ve ever seen stride into the valley between the two armies. His name is “Goliath,” and he is identified as their “champion” (v. 4), literally “a man who stands between the camps.” He did not fight with the rest of the soldiers, for he was an army unto himself.

We stare in disbelief. Samuel provides the most detailed physical description to be found anywhere in the Bible, recording what stands before us. Goliath is “six cubits and a span,” thus over nine feet tall. Such height is not impossible even today, as proven by one Robert Pershing Wadlow, a man 8’11” tall at the time of his death on July 15, 1940 at the age of 22.

Goliath’s armor is made of several hundred small bronze plates resembling fish scales, weighing 125 pounds. His spear’s point, shaped like a flame, weighs over 30 pounds. Its shaft is “like a weaver’s rod” (v. 7), meaning that it is wrapped with cords so it can spin through the air and thus be thrown with greater distance and accuracy.

Goliath marches out for hand-to-hand combat with his shield bearer before him to give added protection. He looks, and feels, invincible.

In contrast, Saul and his army have no iron weapons. They have no giant champion, except Saul, and he is cowering at the rear of the lines in fear. None will fight this man. And so Goliath will win by default, and his Philistines will continue to enslave Israel.

It is at this crucial point that a young shepherd boy enters biblical history. Saul scoffs at him: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you (emphatic) are only a boy, and he (emphatic) has been a fighting man from his youth” (v. 33). Saul and his army know only one way to fight: in human strength. With human weapons. Using human resources. And they don’t have enough. We never do.

A fascinating book is in the news these days: The Transformation of American Religion, by Boston College professor Alan Wolfe. The thesis is simple: religion in America is no longer about God—it is about us. It’s all about us.

Regarding worship services: “When they worship, Americans revere a God who is anything but distant, inscrutable, or angry. They are more likely to honor a God to whom they can pray in their own, self-chosen way” (pp. 9-10). Popular worship today is “as much designed to make people feel comfortable as it is to fill them with the majesty of God” (p. 16).

One-third of Americans subscribe to the proposition that “people have God within them, so churches aren’t necessary” (p. 38). The day of denominational loyalty is largely over. Now people join a church that meets their needs—whatever they are, whatever the church is.

Here’s an example. Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta, was for many years the fastest-growing county in the United States. In 1929, a town in that county named Dacula was 65.8 percent Baptist and 31 percent Methodist. Now its denominations include Christian and Missionary Alliance, Anglican, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Christian Science, Episcopal, Nazarene, Presbyterian, independent Full Gospel fellowships, Southern and Independent Baptist, United Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal. Not to mention the Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu residents of the town, nor parts of a Wiccan coven or feminist spirituality groups (p. 112).

A group of church members were surveyed regarding the purpose of the church; 90 percent of the members said the purpose of the church is to meet members’ needs—10 percent said it is to fulfill the Great Commission. Only 25 percent of self-described evangelicals knew the Great Commission (p. 205).

We want to meet the needs of our members and community, of course. Jesus always started with felt need and moved to spiritual need. The woman at the well came for water, so Jesus started there and led her to spiritual water.

The problem comes when our faith becomes more about us than our Lord. When we ask God to help us solve our problems in our strength. When we want him to bless our decisions and our actions. When he becomes a means to our end, serving us. When we go to battle with our weapons and strategy, our strength and soldiers, and ask him to help us succeed. He is God and we are not.

Fighting in God’s strength

So how do we fight Goliath in God’s strength and not our own? Let’s ask young David. First he tells us: don’t listen to your critics.

When this youngest of Jesse’s eight sons volunteered to fight the giant, his brothers laughed him to scorn (v. 28). So did Joseph’s, as you recall, and Jesus’.

Then Saul would ridicule him (v. 33), as did Goliath; but so did the crowds while Noah built his ark. The children of Israel slandered Moses before the Read Sea; the crowds accused Peter of being drunk at Pentecost; the Romans thought Paul insane when he stood before their governors; the thieves made fun of Jesus on the cross. There will always be doubters.

To fight in the power of God, don’t listen to his enemies or yours.

Second, believe what God has done, he can still do.

David has killed a lion and a bear, so he knows he can kill a man (vs. 33-37). He knows what God has done in his life, so he knows what God can do.

In South America there is an Indian tribe which looks at life in exactly the opposite way from our worldview. We picture the past behind us and the future before us. They picture the past before them and the future behind them. They look at the past they can see for guidance in facing the future they cannot see. So did David. So should we.

Where has God been faithful to you in the past? Where have you seen his healing power, his forgiving grace, his mercy in your circumstances? Remember the lions and bears you’ve killed before with his help. What God has done, he can do.

Third, trust what God has given you.

Saul wants David to wear his armor (v. 38). The ancients saw this as a way of giving David some of his strength, and also gaining some of the glory for the victory David would win. Saul wants to defeat Goliath using the weapons of Goliath.

So David, a boy of 12 or 13, tries the armor of the tallest man in Israel, but it doesn’t fit (v. 39). We can imitate others, but we cannot wear their armor.

God has given you all you need to win the battles he has called you to fight. In this case the weapons are simple (v. 40): five smooth stones, typically two to three inches in diameter. The sling shot is two long cords with a pocket in the center in which the stone is placed; the slinger grasps the ends of the cords, whirls the stone, and shoots it by releasing one of the cords. The weapons aren’t much, but they are his. They are the abilities and gifts God has given to him. And they are enough.

When God called me to preach he called me, not Billy Graham. When he called you, he called you. With your faith, your talents and abilities, your problems and shortcomings. Moses stuttered, Daniel was a foreigner in a strange land, Peter and James were just fishermen, Paul was a murderer. Yet because of them the world will never be the same.

He called you. Find your weapons right now, and use them.

Fourth, fight in the power of God.

Goliath taunts David: “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (v. 44). To which this young shepherd boy replies, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the god of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands” (vs. 45, 47).

To fight in the “name of the Lord Almighty” is to fight in his presence and power, with his strength and Spirit. Give the battle to him, and trust him for the victory he alone can give. Pray first, then step by faith into the future which is his.

When you refuse to listen to your critics, believing that God’s power in the past is his power for today, trusting all he has given you, fighting in the power he gives to those who surrender the battle to him in prayer, Goliath cannot win. Your sling will be true, the stone will find its mark, the giant will fall, the enemy will fail, the victory is sure.


Emily Dickenson’s experience with fighting Goliath is all too often ours:

I took my power in my hand

And went against the world;

‘T was not so much as David had,

But I was twice as bold.

I aimed my pebble, by myself

Was all the one that fell.

Was it Goliath was too large,

Or only I too small?

But it doesn’t have to be so. On Easter Sunday I quoted Dr. S. M. Lockridge’s description of the risen Christ. So many of you have asked me for those words that I thought I’d read his longer prayer from which they were taken. Today, as you face your Goliath, make this God yours:

He is unparalleled and unprecedented; he is the centerpiece of civilization.

He is the superlative of all excellence; he is the sum of human greatness.

He is the source of divine grace.

His name is the only one able to save, and His blood the only power able to cleanse.

His ear is open to the sinner’s call, his hand is quick to lift the fallen soul.

He is the eternal love of us all, every one, and you can trust him.

He supplies mercy for the struggling soul, and sustains the tempted and the tried.

He strengthens the weak and the weary; he guards and guides the wanderer.

He heals the sick and cleanses the leper.

He delivers the captive, defends the helpless, and binds up the broken-hearted.

He’s for you—and you can trust him.

Jesus is the key to all knowledge, and the wellspring of wisdom.

He’s the doorway of deliverance, and the pathway of peace.

He’s the roadway of righteousness, and the highway of holiness.

He’s the gateway to glory, and yes, you can trust him.

Jesus is enough—he’s the all-sufficient King.

He’s the King of the Jews, he’s the King of Israel.

He’s the King of Righteousness, and he’s the King of the Ages.

He’s the King of Heaven, and the King of glory.

He’s the King of kings and he’s the Lord of Lords.

And yes, you can trust Him.

There is no gauge to measure his limitless love.

There is no barrier to block his blessings outpoured.

He is enduringly strong, and he is entirely sincere.

He is ee’s the King ternally steadfast, and he is immortally faithful.

He is imperially powerful and he is impartially merciful.

He is indescribable, incomprehensible, invincible, and irresistible.

You can’t outlive him and you can’t live without him.

The Pharisees couldn’t stand him, but they found they couldn’t stop him.

Pilate couldn’t fault him, and Herod couldn’t kill him.

Death couldn’t conquer him, and the grave couldn’t hold him.

He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.

He’s the God of the future and the God of the past.

He is for us—and we can trust him!

Now who’s bigger—Goliath or God?

Turning Fear Into Faith

Turning Fear into Faith

Mark 16:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

In the last 20 years, the number of poodles registered in America has fallen by half, while the number of registered Rottweilers has increased 100 times. There are more private security officers than public police officers in our country. The average American child will see 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television by the end of fifth grade. No wonder psychologists have catalogued 628 different phobias by name.

If you had “ecclesiophobia” (the fear of church), you’d not be here today. But you might have “melophobia,” fear of music; “chrometophobia,” fear of money (at least putting it in the offering plate); “homilophobia,” fear of sermons, or “homilextendaphobia,” fear of long sermons (I made that up, but I’ll bet you have it).

What do we do with all these fears?

Someone said, “The object is not to get rid of the butterflies, but to get the butterflies to fly in formation.” How do we do that? How do we live in a post-9-11 world, with war in Iraq and terror threats at home, with all the disasters and diseases of this fallen world? What fears did you bring to church this morning? How do we face our fears and worries in faith?

Meet Mary Magdalene

We are celebrating Easter today through the eyes of Mary Magdalene. Her given name was “Mary”; she was from the village of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee; hence the name by which we know her.

Her only appearance in the gospels before Holy Week is this reference by Luke: “The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out” (8:1-2).

However, Mary figured prominently in Jesus’ death and resurrection. She followed him to the cross, watched where he was buried, and was with the first group to go to his tomb (more in a moment). She is mentioned 14 times in the gospels; in eight she heads the list of names where she is referenced; a ninth places her after Mary the mother of Jesus; and the remaining five list her alone.

How did Easter happen for her? We’ll follow Peter’s eyewitness account, as given to his young disciple Mark and the gospel which bears his name; we’ll supplement what Mark tells us with that which the other gospel writers record.

Meet the risen Christ

Mary’s Easter story begins: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mark 16:1). The Sabbath extended from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday; this occurred on Saturday evening, as we keep time.

Then, “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb” (v. 2). John says it was “still dark” when they set out (John 20:1); Matthew adds that it was “dawn on the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1).

The three found the “very large” stone rolled away and the tomb unguarded (v. 4).

Matthew explains: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men” (28:2-4). That stone was but a pebble compared to the Rock of Ages inside.

They “saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5). Luke adds that his clothes “gleamed like lightning” (Luke:24:4). And “they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5). We would be, too.

So the angel told them, “Don’t be alarmed” (v. 6). Matthew: “Do not be afraid” (28:5). Literally, “fear not” or “stop being afraid.” Why?

“He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you'” (vs. 6-7).

Nonetheless they responded: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (v. 8).

The other gospels tell us that these women eventually did go to the apostles with their experience at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:10). Peter and John then ran to the tomb and looked inside (John 20:3-10; cf. Luke 24:12). Mary Magdalene followed them and was left weeping outside (John 20:11; cf. Luke 24:12). To this point she has not met the risen Christ. She has heard from angels, but his body is missing and she is bewildered and upset.

Meanwhile, Jesus met the other women. They worshiped him, clasping his feet, and were sent to his disciples again (Matthew 28:9-10). Mary Magdalene then met “two angels in white” (John 20:11-13), and encountered the risen Christ for herself (John 20:14-17). She then told the disciples about the One she met (v. 18). And the rest is history.

Decide to manage your fear

On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene stepped from fear to faith. From “trembling and bewildered” to “I have seen the Lord.” How can we follow her example?

It has been noted that the Bible contains 366 “fear not’s”. Its most frequent prohibition is not about any of the seven deadly sins—pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, or wrath. It’s about fear. One “fear not” for every day of the year, including a leap year like this one. Why? Because we need to “fear not” every day of the year, including a leap year like this one.

Why is fear such a perennial reality in our lives? It’s because we’re made that way.

Now, some of us are more afraid than others. There is actually a “worry gene” you can inherit; it’s the slc6a4 gene located on chromosome 17q12, in case you’d like to go see if you have one.

But we all experience fear, every day. There’s nothing we can do to stop it. Your brain contains something called the “limbic system” buried deep within it. Its primary job is to ensure your survival. It detects what it perceives to be danger within a tenth of a second, and tells your conscious brain before you can stop the message. That’s why fear is so instantaneous. You cannot stop feeling fear. You can only decide to manage your fear.

Imagine returning to the tomb of someone you love, finding the tomb empty and an angel sitting on the tombstone. You’d be “trembling and bewildered” along with these women. You’d be afraid.

Where is your tombstone today? Where are you “trembling and bewildered” this morning? Complete this sentence: “My number one fear is ___________________.”

I fear for my family’s safety every day. I fear that my life will not fulfill God’s purpose for it. I fear not preaching the Easter message well on this important day. I have other fears too personal to confess to you. What are yours?

Step from fear to faith (Matthew 28:5-10)

How can you turn your fear into faith? Let’s close this morning by learning from Mary and these other women of faith.

First, confront your fear. “Do not be afraid,” the angel tells them (v. 5). Make that same decision. You cannot help the feelings of fear that plague you. But you can decide to respond to them. Name your fear today, and choose to confront it.

Next, believe the word of God. The angel gave them the eleven words of Easter: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (v. 6). Find a promise or principle in God’s word for your fear.

I fear for my family, but I can trust those I love to the Father who said, “I will meet all your needs according my riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). I fear failing God’s purpose for my life, but I can trust the One who will lead me into his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). I fear failing this morning, but I can trust this message to the One who said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Name your fear, and find God’s truth to respond to it.

Now (and this is crucial), you must meet the risen Lord personally. The women are still “afraid” after hearing the word of God, though they are also now “filled with joy” as well. Then, “Suddenly Jesus met them” (v. 9). Now everything changes.

The only One who can help you overcome the significant fears of your life is the Lord Jesus. The reason you fear them is that you cannot control them. I cannot guarantee my family’s safety. I cannot know the future and my role in it. I cannot control the effectiveness of this message.

But he can. That’s why you and I need a personal relationship with this God. Not just intellectual affirmation of his resurrection on Easter Sunday, but a daily, living connection with him. Time every morning in prayer and Scripture; time every week in personal and congregational worship. Only he can help you with the fears of your life. You must know him personally.

And when you do, you can step by faith into purpose (v. 10). He will guide you into the future and your purpose in it, despite the fears you face.

These women had a purpose, a calling—to be the first evangelists of Easter, the first in human history to tell the world about the risen Lord. They had much to fear—that the disciples wouldn’t believe them, that their families would reject them, that the authorities would arrest and persecute them.

All these things happened. But they stepped by faith into purpose anyway. And their fears turned to faith.

Emerson was right: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” Step by faith into God’s purpose, and you will have his power. Then fear will knock, faith will answer, and no one will be there.


So this can be your Easter: you can leave today the way Mary and her friends left the empty tomb: “trembling and bewildered.” You can choose to “say nothing to anyone, because you are afraid” (Mk 16:8). You can leave as you came. With the same fears you brought to church this morning.

Or this can be your Easter: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid'” (Matthew 28:9-10). And they were not.

Dr. S.M. Lockridge is one of the most profound orators of our day. Listen to his description of our risen Lord: “He is enduringly strong; he is entirely sincere. He is eternally steadfast; he is immortally gracious. He is imperially powerful; he is impartially merciful. He is the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizons of the globe. He is God’s Son; he is the sinner’s Savior. He is the captive’s Ransom; he is the breath of life. He is the centerpiece of civilization; he stands in the solitude of Himself. He is august and he is unique; he is unparalleled and he is unprecedented. He is undisputed and he is undefiled; he is unsurpassed and he is unshakeable. He is the loftiest idea in philosophy; he is the highest personality in psychology. He is the supreme subject in literature; he is the fundamental doctrine of theology. He is the Cornerstone and the Capstone. He is the miracle of the ages.”

When he says, “Fear not,” he means it.

Wake Up To A Miracle

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

Wake Up to a Miracle!

Dr. Jim Denison

Acts 12

This is the weekend following Easter. Jesus has risen from the dead, and we have celebrated his resurrection with hymns and words of triumph. Now our culture has returned to “normal.” What difference will it make in your life this week, that we remembered Jesus’ resurrection last week? Today we’ll focus on a practical, personal, daily answer to that question.

Archimedes, who died in 212 B.C., was the first scientist to recognize the power of the lever. He once famously said, “Give me a place to stand and rest my lever, and I can move the Earth.” We will learn this week how to use that lever.

Larry Dossey, chief of staff of a Dallas hospital, published a few years ago his findings that prayer lowers blood pressure, helps heal wounds, heart ailments and headaches, and even influences the action of bacteria and medications.

Ian MacPherson tells the true story of an atheistic scientist who attempted to find the wavelength of the human brain during different experiences. A woman who was dying of a brain disease consented to his test. Wires were connected to her brain, and a meter attached. Previously, this instrument had measured the power used by a fifty kilowatt broadcasting station in sending a message around the world—the needle had registered nine points.

As the last moments of this woman’s earthly life arrived, she began to pray aloud and praise God. She told the Lord how much she loved him, and how she was looking forward to seeing him face to face. The scientist was so engrossed in her prayer that he forgot his experiment. Suddenly he heard a clicking sound, and found that the meter on his gauge was registering 500 points.

Prayer is the lever which can move the world. Here’s how the lever works.

Hold a prayer meeting (vs. 1-4)

As Acts 12 opens, it is the early part of A.D. 44 and we find the infant Christian church in yet another crisis. King Herod, grandson of the Herod of Jesus’ birth, is ruler of the Jews. And he wants to placate and please them. Thus he beheads James, one of their leaders. Then he arrests Peter, the chief of the apostles, intending to kill him as soon as the Feast of Unleavened Bread passes. Jews by the tens of thousands will be in Jerusalem. Herod won’t miss this chance to impress his subjects.

So he seizes Peter and turns him over to four squads of four guards each (v. 4). He’s heard of Peter’s earlier escape at the hands of the angel (Acts 5:18-21) and wants to avoid a repeat fiasco. The apostle was probably imprisoned in the fortress Antonia, northwest of the temple area, where Paul would later be confined as well (Acts 21:31—23:32).

Four soldiers are with him at all times—two chained to his body, and two to guard the door. Not to mention the soldiers stationed at the main door to the fortress, or others patrolling the area. This is the highest security Rome can muster.

What does the church do? Organize a mob and storm the prison? Circulate a petition to get the names of leading Christians in Jerusalem to request Peter’s release? Take a collection to bribe Herod for his freedom? They hold a prayer meeting.

Could anything be more ridiculous and fruitless? Imagine praying for a man so securely incarcerated, so near execution. Suppose a family and friends kept vigil outside Huntsville, while their loved one was being readied for execution, praying for him to escape. How would we view their prayers? Here’s a better question: how would God?

Where are you in jail this week? Where is someone you love? Have you prayed yet? Have you asked others to join you in intercession? Have you held a prayer meeting? Will you?

Pray as they prayed (v. 5)

What now? Let’s make the example of our text the model we follow: “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (v. 5). R. A. Torrey’s classic The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power contains an investigation of this verse which we will follow in our study.

Pray together

Luke notes that “the church” was earnestly praying for Peter. By now the followers of Jesus number more than 5,000 men, not counting women and children (Acts 4:4). They were scattered across the larger area (Acts 8:1), but news of Peter’s impending execution would travel quickly across the region. Luke is careful to note that the house to which Peter would go following his release was “where many people had gathered and were praying” (v. 12). But this was not “the church” in total. All who knew Jesus were calling on him, together.

Imagine having 5,000 families praying for you. Jesus promised great power in response to such unity: “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20).

Two horses working alone can do the work of two. But two horses pulling together can do the work of 40 working alone. There is more power in praying together than the world knows. With this lever we can indeed move the earth.

With whom will you pray this week?

Pray with intensity

They were “earnestly praying” for Peter, as should we. The Greek is in the continuous tense; they were still praying in the morning when Peter escaped and came to them. Thus they prayed all night. “Earnestly” pictures a runner straining for the finish line. There is work in intercessory prayer, hard labor.

Paul informed the Colossians of one who was engaged in such work on their behalf: “Epaphras . . . is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you” (Colossians 4:12-13). Jesus himself furnishes our best example: “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Remember David Brainerd, the missionary to American Indians in colonial days. Sometimes in the winter night he would go out into the forest and kneel in the cold snow where it was a foot deep. Laboring with God in prayer, he would be wringing wet with perspiration even on the coldest nights. God heard David Brainerd, and sent such a mighty revival among the North American Indians as had never been seen before. And he transformed Brainerd’s father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, into the great preacher of the First Great Awakening. If more prayed like Brainerd, more would preach like Edwards. And Awakening would come again.

For whom will you pray with intensity this week?

Pray to God

It seems redundant that Luke would write, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (emphasis mine). To whom else would they be praying? Actually, the options are several.

We can pray to impress each other with our eloquent words or pious faith. When you lead in public prayer, isn’t it hard not to pray to the people instead of to God?

We can pray to ourselves, in a kind of meditation or contemplation. We can allow our minds to wander and daydream so that we are not praying at all. Shakespeare makes one of his characters lament, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Or we can pray “to God.” We can enter the presence of the Lord Almighty. We can find ourselves kneeling before the throne of the God of the universe, the Creator of all that exists. We know when we are praying to God and when we are praying about him; when we are connected with him, our spirit one with his spirit. Here is true power—not in our prayer, but in the One to whom we pray.

Will you connect with God this week?

Pray specifically

Again it seems redundant for Luke to write, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (emphasis mine). For what other purpose would they be together? Again, the options are several.

We can meet to be seen meeting. We can meet to “get something out of the service.” We can meet to pray generically (“Lord, heal all the hurting and save all the lost, and forgive all our sins”). Or we can pray specifically.

We ask God to “be with us” when he already promised he would be (Matthew 28:20). We ask him to “bless us” when we wouldn’t know what that meant if he did. If we would pray specifically, telling God our actual need and asking him for particular answers, he would know how to answer us. And we would know when he did.

This is how God wants us to pray: together, with intensity, to our Father, specifically. This lever will move the world.

Expect God to answer (vs. 6-19)

The night before Peter was to be executed, he was asleep between two soldiers (v. 6), an indication of the peace of his soul. Then suddenly God’s angel came, and everything changed. He woke Peter up, removed his shackles, led him out prison past two sets of guards, and set him free.

Then Peter knew that God had indeed spared his life. He went immediately to the prayer meeting at the home of John Mark’s mother. Because the early church was so large, they had to meet in many homes. This was apparently the house church with whom Peter worshipped. He knew they had been praying for him, so he went to show them the answer to their intercession.

And then, in one of the humorous ironies of God’s word, they couldn’t believe it was really him. The servant girl was so excited at hearing his voice that she left him exposed on the street while she told the rest of the crowd. Imagine you’re standing by the locked door, with Roman guards probably scouring the streets by now in pursuit. Your faith is still being tested, this time by your friends.

Meanwhile, the church couldn’t believe the girl’s testimony (v. 15). Here is proof that fallen people can still pray in power. Their faith was less than it should have been, as ours usually is. Is your typical response to a miraculous answered prayer one of calm expectation or shocked surprise? Finally they came to the door, let Peter inside, and praised God together.

I remember reading the true story of a tavern owner who sued a local church. It seems he built his bar down the street from their sanctuary, so they began praying that God would remove the tavern. One night during their prayer meeting, lightning struck the tavern and burned it to the ground. The owner sued the church. The congregation pled “not guilty.” The judge noted that the tavern owner had more faith than the church members.

When you pray as these people prayed, expect God to move as God moved. This lever opens prison bars, sets prisoners free, and moves the world.

Give God the glory (vs. 19-25)

Acts 12 begins with Herod in charge and Peter about to die. It ends with the church in charge and Herod dead. Let’s learn why.

There are six “Herod”s of importance in the New Testament. Herod the Great (reigned 41 B.C. to 4 B.C.) was the Herod of the birth of Jesus Christ. He was married ten times; all the other Herods are his descendants.

Herod Antipas was ruler of Galilee, the second husband of Herodias and the one responsible for the death of John the Baptist. He was also the Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus for trial.

Herod Archelaus was the evil ruler of Judea mentioned briefly in Matthew 2:22. Herod Philip the Second was the ruler for whom Caesarea Philippi was named. Herod Agrippa is the subject of our present study. And his son Agrippa the Second was the ruler before whom Paul eventually stood trial; his daughter was the wife of Felix the governor as well. The Herods played the lead in every soap opera of their time.

Herod Agrippa is now in a quarrel with the people of Tyre and Sidon to the north. He can stop their food shipments and trade; thus they press for good relations with him. In due course a public session is arranged with him.

Josephus, the famous Jewish historian (died A.D. 97), supplies his narrative of what happened next: “A great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him: and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god: and they added,–‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’ Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. . . .

“A severe pain . . . arose in his bell, and began in the most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said,–‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.’ . . .

“When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace; and the rumour went abroad everywhere, that he would certainly die in a little time. . . . And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and the seventh year of his reign.” (Antiquities of the Jews,).

Here’s the point: if the most splendid and powerful man in all the country must give glory to God, so must we. The Lord of the universe will not share his glory. Someone has well advised, “To get along with God, stay off his throne.”

If we pray for our glory rather than the Lord’s, our prayers will have little effect. But if we pray for God to honor himself by answering us, we pray in his will. And he is pleased to give us what we ask, or even more.


You hold in your hearts the lever which can move the world. Will you use it this week?

Pray for others. Every believer needs to be engaged in personal intercession. Paul asked the Romans to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wanted his disciples to pray for him (Matthew 26:40). God’s word calls us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), especially for each other.

How can we do this more effectively? I am convinced that every believer needs a personal prayer ministry and notebook. Develop a list of lost and unchurched people, and pray for them by name. Make a list of other people for whom you will pray daily. List other, less urgent, needs for each day of the week. Write down your requests, and document God’s answers. When I began keeping such a notebook, my prayer life was revolutionized.

Pray personally, and collectively. When coals stay together, they stay lit. When they are separated, they grow cold. We need each other. Our staff is now praying together each morning at 9:00 A.M. in the Narthex Chapel, because we need to. Our hearts need each other.

A few years ago, a group of missionaries were camping at night on a hillside. Robber bands were common in the area. The missionaries were carrying money, and feared attack. After praying, they finally went to sleep.

Months later, the leader of one of the robber bands was brought to the mission hospital for treatment. While there, he asked the missionaries if they still had the soldiers who guarded them that night. “We intended to rob you,” he admitted, “but were afraid of the 27 soldiers.” When the story got back to the church supporting these missionaries, someone remembered, “We had a prayer meeting that night, and there were 27 of us present.”