SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
Bad Religion Says God Evaluates Worship By Our Sincerity Rather Than our Specific Reliance on the Saving Work of Jesus Christ
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Sunday, July 22, 2012 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1577
Pastor Don Horban

Acts 17:30-31 - “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Notice that phrase, “the times of ignorance.” While this is the main text for today’s teaching, there are other texts that give important additional information on the same theme:

Ephesians 3:4-6 - “When you read this, you can perceive my insight
into the mystery of Christ, [5] which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. [6] This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Romans 16:25-27 - “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages [26] but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— [27] to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

There are certain issues a church must be absolutely clear on if she is to be missionary minded in a New Testament sense. Some of these central issues are becoming increasingly blurred in popular Christian thought. This passage deals with one issue that is the very core of the missionary task revealed in the New Testament.

Here’s the issue: How essential is conscious faith in the Person of Jesus Christ for salvation? There are many evangelical churches starting to tout the message that we have no right to claim ours is the only faith that can transform the heart and take people to heaven. What right do we have to say that devout Muslims and Jews and Hindus and others, who give no special, saving status to Jesus Christ, aren’t going to go to heaven?

Others try to take a softer approach to the issue of the need for exercising faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. They acknowledge that only Jesus saves. They acknowledge that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus. Then they turn it all upside down by making room for the saving work of Jesus Christ behind the scenes in all religions.

Bill Nikides wrote a brilliant article in Reformation Magazine on the booming rise of what has become known as “Insider Missions.” The idea is that religions are relatively harmless cultural creations. And because they are man-made they aren’t what God is really concerned about. People of other faiths can keep their cultural religious traditions and simply love Jesus along with them.

Says Nikides, “Even Christian articles of faith, such as the church and the sacraments, can be said to be cultural creations that can simply be replaced with other things in Muslim cultures”(Modern Reformation, Vol. 21, 2012). But this seems to be the exact opposite of what we find in the New Testament. Paul confronts Peter in front of the Galatian Christians, not because Peter was rejecting Jesus, but because Peter wanted to adhere to Christ and still worship like a Jew. Paul would have none of it and said it denied the reality of the cross of Christ.

But the insider missions movement says different. They say, for example, when a devout Muslim offers prayer and tries to be holy, Jesus Christ goes to work in his heart. Jesus Christ works through the sincere faith of this devout Muslim. Even though the Muslim doesn’t know it, he is, in fact, saved by the atoning death of Jesus Christ in the cross.

Now, the important point in all of this is both of those views undermine the message of the gospel and spell death to the New Testament missionary mandate. In both of those views, proselytizing people of other faiths to Christianity, if not an arrogant activity, is certainly an unnecessary activity. There is simply no need to go to people of other faiths with the gospel if Jesus saves them anyway in the practice of their own religion. And so the shift is now on to “incarnational missions,” where the love of Jesus is simply demonstrated in humanitarian ways, while the offensive elements of cross and resurrection are left on the shelf.

Once you accept this distorted idea, your whole view of missionary endeavor changes:

Walbert Buhlmann, a one time Catholic missions secretary in Rome states in Time magazine that, “In the past we had the so-called motive of saving souls. We were convinced that if not saved, people in the masses would go to hell. Now, thanks be to God, we believe that all people and all religions are already living in the grace and love of God and will be saved by God’s mercy”(Time Magazine, Dec.27, 1982).

This is the kind of thinking I see Paul confronting in his speech to the learned crowd in Athens in Acts chapter 17. The words from our text are found in verses 30-31. Those words actually conclude Paul’s message. But there are some important details leading up to those powerful words:

1) PAUL ADDRESSES PEOPLE WHO ARE COMMITTED TO THE WORSHIP OF MANY GODS

Acts 17:22-23 - “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. [23] For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

In their worship, they are careful not to leave any gods out. Just in case they had, they had one unnamed idol and worshiped before it so as not to anger any forgotten deity that might be watching.

Paul addresses people who are worshipers, not non-worshipers. Whatever Paul is going to say in his speech to them, his words are aimed at passionately religious people.

2) PAUL LEADS THESE PEOPLE THROUGH A QUICK STUDY OF THE GREAT POWER, WISDOM AND SOVEREIGNTY OF THE ONE CREATOR GOD

Acts 17:24-26 - “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place....”

a) Notice how Paul tells these people that they have it all turned inside out. People don’t make gods out of stone and gold. The true God made each one of us. We are not the creator. He is. He brings everything into being.

b) Notice also how Paul is careful to point out that the true God is active in the shaping of both people and nations - “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation...”

God determines both the size and the duration of the nations of the earth. That’s what Paul is saying. History is under God’s control. And Paul has a very important reason for reminding them of this. We’ll see why in just a minute.

c) Finally, since mankind’s rebellion and enslavement to sin, even though God is close, the best mankind can do is try to “feel their way toward Him” - verses 27-29 - “....that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, [28] for 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' [29] Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”

Much time has passed since the fall of man. Religions abound. New ones constantly arise as others fade. And the people continue to grope. They grope, not because God is mean or far away. They grope because they love darkness rather than light. They grope because they want religion without God’s revelation. They grope because they are made in God’s image but love self more than they love God. See Romans chapter one.

Now we come to our text from this chapter and the main point of this message:

3) WITH THE COMING OF JESUS CHRIST, AND HIS ATONING DEATH AND RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD, THE HISTORY OF HOW GOD DEALS WITH OUR WORLD HAS TURNED A GIGANTIC CORNER

Acts 17:30-31 - “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

I get a “holy buzz” just reading those words. There are enormous truths for us to meditate on and digest with deep humility and understanding.

a) The times of ignorance ended with the full revelation of God’s saving plan in Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul specifically mentions Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. Nothing identified Jesus’ Person and mission like this event. That’s because nothing proved the power of His Person and the accomplishment of the Cross like the Resurrection.

Paul’s point is obvious. There’s no excuse for praying to a statue when Jesus Christ has come and conquered death in front of the whole world!

Now, there was a time when mankind was ignorant of this full revelation of truth. The Bible says God didn’t reveal the full scope of redemption right away. That’s what we read in those other opening texts. Let me read them again with this idea fresh in our minds:

Ephesians 3:4-6 - “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, [5] which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. [6] This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Paul says we have seen a mystery revealed that others had not seen. By “mystery” Paul doesn’t mean it was hard to understand or too deep to be grasped. The word literally means an uncovering, or revealing. Something has been clearly demonstrated that wasn’t clearly seen before.

Remember, that’s why Paul took the time to remind these people of God’s sovereignty over nations and peoples and history in verses 25-26. God has been preparing the world, setting the stage for the revelation of the event - the greatest truth ever demonstrated. Paul says this mystery contains two truths:

First, God wanted to draw all peoples of the earth to Himself - Ephesians 3:6 - “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

By Gentiles Paul means everyone who isn’t a Jew. In other words, once you’ve included both Jews and Gentiles, you’ve included everyone on planet earth. So clearly, God wants to call all people, of all lands, from all religions, into a saving relationship with Himself.

But there is a second great revelation that God has unveiled.

Second, all these peoples would be called into a saving relationship with God through the gospel of Jesus Christ - Ephesians 3:6 - “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

So, if you’ve stayed with me, here’s the content of the mystery that was revealed with the coming of Jesus Christ. God wants to save everybody - not just the Jews. And He’s going to do this through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And God took His time unfolding this mystery over the span of history. He has been orchestrating history to lead up to this final revelation in Jesus Christ - Hebrews 1:1-2 - “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Or, Galatians 4:4-5 - “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

So the revelation of this mystery didn’t happen right away. God was readying the world. He was allowing people to see for themselves the power of sin. He showed them how futile all their efforts were to keep His holy law in their own strength.

All of this is summed up in Paul’s declaration in Acts 14:15-17 - “Men, why are you doing these things? [referring to there worship of idols] We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. [16] In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. [17] Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness."

Paul says God left a witness of His grace and presence in the created world. It wasn’t enough revelation to save mankind. But it was enough of a revelation to condemn mankind for rejecting it. It showed the world there was a Creator who was real and active. The God who made the world is not a stone idol. And it showed man the sin in his own heart. Through this general revelation God was preparing the world for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Now that Jesus Christ has come - now that Jesus Christ has died for mankind’s sin - now that He has risen from the dead to demonstrate the reality of eternal life - now that He has been proclaimed as the future Judge of all mankind - Paul says the times of ignorance are over. There are no more developments in the path to restored relationship with Father God. There are no more offers of different avenues to eternal life.

So, the first thing Paul says in our text in Acts 17:30-31 is the times of ignorance are now over. Then he adds a second great truth:

b) Everyone must now repent and call upon the name of Jesus to be saved - Acts 17:30-31 - “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Notice, “all people everywhere should repent...” That pretty much covers everyone. Those words cross all cultural lines and religious barriers. They span all regions of the globe. They include all classes, races and sexes. Everyone must repent and turn from their false gods and declare Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Now, here’s my final point:

4) IF THOSE WORDS ARE TRUE, THEY DEFINE THE MEANING OF THE DAYS IN WHICH WE LIVE

Since Jesus has come and died for the world’s sins and been raised from the dead, God no longer allows for ignorance to be an excuse. The times of ignorance are over. Jesus Christ is now the necessary, conscious object of all saving faith.

But there are still people who haven’t heard or responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul addresses that huge issue:

Romans 10:13-15 - “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [14] But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? [15] And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

USA Today does not accurately describe the meaning of the days in which we live. Sixty Minutes must not establish the meaning of the days in which we live. We will learn many good things from them, but not the meaning - in God’s eyes - not the meaning of the days in which we live.

If these words from our text are true, here is the meaning of our lives:

a) This is a day of repentance and salvation. People must leave their gods and idols and selfish ways and must come to Jesus alone to be saved. All people everywhere must do this immediately because, Acts 4:12 - “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

b) This is a day of missions and evangelism. If people are soon going to be judged, they must all know of Christ. If people are soon going to be judged, to leave them without missionaries is not just short-sighted, it is morally sinful and corrupt. This is the day for reaching the world with the message.

c) If this is a day of missions and evangelism, then for the church, it is also a day for sacrificial loving and sending.

I must love those in Newmarket enough to tell them about coming judgement and hope through Jesus Christ. Let there be no confusion on this point. I can show people the love of Christ without words. But I cannot reach them with the gospel without words. For the gospel it is necessary. Use words!

And I must sacrifice to send missionaries to those I can never reach personally with the gospel. The days of darkness and ignorance are over. And that defines the meaning of these days for the church. If we fail now, we grieve the heart of God. And the blood of the lost is on our hands.