The Savior Reconciles

[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside…

Acts 7:25-27a

Have you ever known a person who suffered from blindness? If so, you have undoubtedly recognized that the simplest little things can become painfully complicated when a person cannot see.

Many years ago, a pastor and a deacon took a blind parishioner out to lunch. Despite her difficulties, the aged and faithful Mrs. Todd seldom spoke and never complained. When the food arrived at their table, the saintly senior wrapped her sandwich in a napkin and slowly began to eat. Church business so engrossed the men that they lost track of time and what was happening with their lunch guest. After the meal, they were both horrified to see that Mrs. Todd had eaten her whole sandwich—and napkin! Because of her disability, Mrs. Todd could not see her sandwich, but because of their depravity, sinners will not see the Savior.

Moses was misunderstood. The Sanhedrin accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses, so in his defense-by-sermon, he cited the Law-giver. Moses’ first attempt at public ministry ended in disaster. One day, while watching his people languishing in slavery under Pharaoh’s brutal taskmasters, Moses witnessed an Egyptian mercilessly beating a Hebrew. He intervened and killed the abuser. The next day, Moses was again observing his people when two of his fellow Hebrews began to have an altercation. Moses asserted himself and attempted to reconcile the men and thought that his “brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand”. Because of their envy-driven blindness, the Hebrews couldn’t see Moses. Blinded by their power and tradition, the Sanhedrin wouldn’t see the Savior.

Moses was misjudged. God is sovereign over everything, even the angry misperceptions of unbelievers. “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? (emphasis mine)”, the miffed men asked Moses. The stinging sarcasm of Moses’ “brothers” reminds us of a similar event when Joseph’s brothers asked, “Are you indeed to rule over us?” (Genesis 37:8). In both cases, God’s salvation and the inability of observers to perceive it was at odds. Moses would, in fact, reconcile the people as a ruler and judge over all Israel, but not for another forty years. At the right time, Moses would testify that Yahweh had sent him to lead Israel out of Egypt to worship God at Sinai. Because of misperception, his own brothers couldn’t see Moses.

Moses was a mediator. A mediator is an advocate who stands between two parties in conflict bringing them together in peaceful reconciliation. Because we are sinfully separated from God, we must be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with Him. Moses reconciled the people to each other (Exodus 18:13-27) and he also reconciled the people to God (Exodus 32:7-14, 30-35). There is no salvation without reconciliation and there is no reconciliation without a mediator. Moses was a great mediator, but Christ Jesus is the greater Mediator through whom God reconciles the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Moses came as a prince but pointed to Jesus who came as a pauper. Moses reconciled Israel by giving the Law. Jesus reconciled the elect by giving His life (Hebrews 9:15, 12:22-24). In the darkness of Golgotha, the angry mob couldn’t see the Messiah mediating hell.

Mediation is major. How important is the reconciling work of Christ our Mediator? Sometimes Christians erroneously say that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we have direct access to God. It must be observed that our access to God is “through Christ” (Ephesians 2:18) who opened the curtain through His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus taught us to pray in His name emphasizing His role as our Mediator before the Father (John 14:13). Our Savior is at the King’s right hand in continual prayer for His people (Romans 8:33-34). We come boldly to the throne of grace and find help because Christ is waiting there for us (Hebrews 4:16). Because our God is “holy, holy, holy”, we thank Him that we have Christ Jesus as Mediator. By “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we are made to see our Mediator.

Dr. Ligon Duncan observes, “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a Mediator.”

How do you see your eternity—mediated or unmediated?

 

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Priceless Solidarity

 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-15

The Church and the world are deeply divided. What is going to take to unite them? Who can bring us all into solidarity? Sometimes the greatest divides separate us from those who live in closest proximity.

Solidarity is community. “People who have the same interests, goals, and standards” have solidarity. In his book, The Prevailing Church, Randy Pope describes the Samaritans—at the time of Jesus’ ascension—as people who were geographically near but relationally distant from the Church. Although Samaria was in central Israel, for a millennium the Jews and Samaritans held deep animosity for each other. However, they had a shared history, culture, and language. About five years after Pentecost, Jews and Samaritans also began to share the same Savior.

Solidarity is commanded. Using the imperative “Go”, Jesus ordered His Apostolic Church into “all…Samaria” (Acts 1:8). The geographically near but relationally distant would be brought into proximity through Gospel proclamation. “All” implies a thorough evangelization and describes an occupying force, not a simple march through enemy territory on the way to a higher value target. A country once divided by idolatry, politics, wars, exile, and centuries of racial hatred would be lovingly united in the Kingdom of God. Hell’s mighty gates in Samaria fell by the soft soldiery of the Savior. Who is geographically close to you but relationally distant? Who are your Samaritans?

Solidarity has a character. The word of God had been received by the Samaritans. They had even received John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance and preparation in Jesus’ name, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Pentecost had yet to take place in Samaria as it had in Jerusalem. We must be very careful to distinguish here the Spirit’s role in saving the Samaritans from the historic pouring of the Spirit on the Samaritan Church. There would have been no reception of God’s word, repentance, confession of faith, nor salvation apart from the Spirit’s work. John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus, “I baptize with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). The Apostles prayed, but Jesus, in fulfillment of John’s promise, baptized the Samaritans with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had commanded the Apostles to receive the Spirit and to go into “all…Samaria” with the Spirit’s presence and power. When the power of hellish strife is broken, a new ethos permeates because of the distinctive and divine person ruling. Kingdom solidarity is characteristic of the Holy Spirit in the “love, joy, peace, and self-control” He produces (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit fights against our flesh and strives for solidarity. Do you?

Solidarity is a calling. Corrie Ten Boom was called to solidarity. Her Samaritans were Nazis, Gestapo officers, and concentration camp guards. While they were held captive in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, Corrie and her older sister Betsie fought against bitterness. God used Betsie to call Corrie as an agent of Christian solidarity. A few days before she died in the camp, Betsie told Corrie

“Concentration camps are now used to destroy people. After the war, there will be no use for them. We must ask God to give us one, and we will use it to build up lives.”

German friends helped Corrie rent a former concentration camp in Darmstadt, with room for about 160 refugees. Soon it was full, and they had a waiting list. Barbed wire disappeared, flowers appeared in window boxes, and cheerful paint was applied to the drab, gray buildings. Local pastors and church members helped with the building projects.

Her purpose (in carrying out Betsie’s vision) was to help people find security in Jesus Christ in the midst of the insecurity of building a new existence among the war ruins (Corrie ten Boom; Her Life, Her Faith, Carole Carlson).

An unmarried, fifty-two-year-old Dutch watchmaker, filled with the Holy Spirit and armed with a power greater than the Third Reich, killed her enemy with cross-purchased kindness. Her’s was a priceless solidarity. Is yours?

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Priceless

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-15

Have you ever seen something of priceless value? Have you seen the priceless perverted?

Borja, Spain is home to a perversion of the priceless. Ecce Homo (Behold the Man by Elias Garcia Martinez, pictured above on the left) is a 125-year-old fresco depicting Jesus inside the village church. Due to the destructive effects of moisture over the previous century, the fresco began to flake and peel. However, one of the church’s elderly members decided to restore the priceless work of art. Without seeking approval from the priest or bishop, she took it upon herself to touch up the flaking paint (pictured above on the right). Paint and plaster are no longer peeling, but the transformation is so drastic that Ecce Homo has been renamed Ecce Mono, which is translated Behold the Monkey.

Perversion is profitable. Art is considered priceless because it is beyond value, but what is Ecce Mono worth? Since the “restoration”, tourists have flocked to behold the monkey fresco and the church, sensing opportunity, began to charge admission. Not to be left out of the profits, the elderly artist reached a profit sharing and marketing agreement worth forty-nine percent of the revenue generated by ticket and merchandise sales. Apparently, there is a lot of money in monkeys!

His Promise is priceless. Jesus promised the Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The Church received power—priceless power—in the person of the Holy Spirit. He is priceless because He is God, but the price of the redemption He applies is measured in the blood of Christ Jesus.

Priceless is profit. Dr. Richard Pratt gave us budding pastors many wise sayings during my seminary days. One I have never forgotten is, “Be careful if you make your living by your faith that you don’t lose one or the other.” As we will see in the next few weeks, Simon the Magician, like many so-called prophets of our day, attempted to make his living more profitable by purchasing Jesus’ power. We are living at a time at odds with Pratt’s principle and Acts 8. Re-presenting Jesus always carries with it the danger of perversion. For the sake of nickels and noses, how often have we painted over the Priceless and restored the Redeemer? When we do, the result is neither priceless nor redemptive.

The Church and the world don’t need to behold a monkey; they must “Behold the Man!”

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A Power Superior to Principality

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great…But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 8:9, 12

We live in two cities: The City of Man and the City of God. “In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, ‘I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength’” (St. Augustine, The City of God). We live in two cities, but can only truly be citizens of one.

Grassroots and Gospel go together. God’s pattern, it would seem, is to work with the least: the marginalized, disenfranchised, outsiders, uncool, sinners. One has only to think of unclean hillside shepherds, uneducated Galilean fishermen, and the lowly carpenter of Nazareth to note how God starts His fire from the bottom. However, there are notable exceptions. With Simon, the magician in the city of Samaria, the Holy Spirit appears to start at the top.

Simon bewitched. Satan was on the attack in the City of God. In Acts 5, he assaulted the Church through the misrepresentations of Ananias and Sapphira. Stephen’s murder, in Acts 7, hurt every faithful follower of Christ in Jerusalem. With magical mimicry, Simon of Samaria was used as the Devil’s tool of deception (Acts 8). “Simon the Great” was a shameless self-promoter and like Narcissus, he beheld his reflection in the cheering echo chamber of his Samaritan crowds. Wonder gave way to blasphemy as the fanboys—small and great—ascribed divine status to Simon saying, “This man is the power of God…” (8:10b, emphasis mine). Entertainments can easily become enchantments, and Simon held his whole city spellbound (8:9, 11).

Citizens believed. Like small hinges turning big doors, “but” swings this passage and belief turns an entire city: “But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news…” Even after all God’s victories over the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, sin, and death, why are we surprised when He suddenly shatters the darkness over an entire city? Simon’s sorcery was no match for God’s Spirit!

Philip baptized. God the Holy Spirit defeats enemy principalities with overwhelming and decisive force. Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem was the provocative action which triggered the Church’s full-scale invasion of Satan’s Kingdom in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. But instead of killing her enemies, the Church converted them through Gospel proclamation. The conflict in view here is really a contest between two kingdoms represented by two names: Simon and Jesus. How was the conflict brought to a head? Philip “preached the good news of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ.” Not only did the Samaritans believe Philip’s message, so did “Simon the Great” and they all—from least to greatest—were baptized in the Jesus’ name.

God’s power completely transforms principalities through the Gospel. Samaritan hearts were changed from bewitched to believing. Their attention was turned from magic by miracles. Citizens were transferred from the kingdom of hell to the kingdom of heaven and from blasphemy through baptism. Devotees of Simon the Charlatan became disciples of Jesus the Christ and there was “much joy” in the whole city. 

Our greatest is often God’s least. People who are “great” by the world’s standards can also be far from the Kingdom. Perhaps the Spirit started with “Simon the Great” of Samaria precisely because he was so far away. God appears to work from the top down when our values and vision is set by something other than “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Has God’s power defeated your principalities?

The city of Jacksonville, Florida had dreamed for years of winning an expansion team with the National Football League. In 1995, that dream came to fruition and the Jaguars came to the First Coast. A late second season six-game winning streak gave birth to a wild-card playoff game and the Jags went to New York to face the Buffalo Bills. Excitement permeated every corner of our city and when our victorious team returned to Jacksonville International Airport that late Sunday evening in December 1996, they were greeted by ten thousand fans at the terminal.

For the next week, a sports commentator in Denver insulted Jacksonville and pridefully pontificated about the impossibility of a rookie team from Florida defeating the best and most seasoned team in the NFL at Mile High Stadium. Apparently, Broncos really can eat crow and when our team returned home in triumph, they were greeted in Jaguars’ Stadium by forty thousand ecstatic true believers. Several members of the team made their way onto the field to address the crowds gathered in the stands and those sitting around televisions in homes all over Florida. We were one win away from the Super Bowl when offensive lineman Tony Bocelli uttered these unforgettable words, “Jacksonville, do you believe in miracles?” A million souls erupted in inexplicable joy as our city was lifted to international acclaim.

In the week and two decades that followed, defeats kept the Jaguars out of the Super Bowl. But the power of God over principalities is not professional football.

During the Jaguars’ early days, a handful of players began an in-home Bible study. After a few years, the small group had grown into a church which now has a congregation of more than a thousand souls. Through the preaching of the Gospel in their church by non-celebrity ministers, many former football players have become Christians and have even been ordained as pastors in full-time ministry. Some of our city’s celebrities—our “greatest”—believed in the name of Jesus and those that were far have been brought near.

Ultimately, the City of Man and all who rule it will fall far short, but the City of God and He who rules her will live on in the ever-growing splendor of eternal glory.

Is Jesus Christ—the slain and standing Lamb—the power of your principality?

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