Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. The crowds in Jerusalem were at their peak “on the last day of the feast, the great day” of the Passover (John 7:37). It was a primary opportunity to reach the most people with His appeal; “If anyone thirst.”
The problem then and the problem now is that they/we do not realize we are at the point of spiritual dehydration – a very serious condition. The crowds in Jerusalem had drank religious tradition for so long they could not realize how bad their spiritual condition was. We also have substituted the pure water Jesus offers in the Holy Spirit with Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi and many other artificial drinks that we would rather have the fake stuff than the real. The Church (in general) is spiritually dehydrated and we do not realize it.
In our current experience through New Foundations International, it is very rare to find persons who want to drink just the pure water of God’s Word. In most places, we get the same reaction that Jesus received. They thought He was “the Prophet…the Christ…so there was a division among the people over Him” (7:40-44). NO ONE CAME TO DRINK! Today, most are more interested in money, buildings, programs, organizations and respect for a name.
The evidence that we know our thirst is real and want to do something about it is that we come to Jesus and drink deeply and exclusively from His source. NOTHING ARTIFICIAL! Jesus never offered other alternatives to satisfy the thirst of the soul and the spiritual need of the life.
WILL YOU ANSWER HIS INVITATION; “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink”?
I cannot get John 7:37-39 out of my mind. For the last few days, these verses have played over and over in my head as I think about how many unengaged and unreached people groups are still left who have never heard of Jesus and there is no Christian witness among them. I could give the numbers in each category (which we have done before), but I doubt they alone will move hearts.
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”” (John 7:37–38). Over the next day or two, I will give you my heart on this passage.
As a starter, let’s look at the setting of these verses. As the person of Jesus has been revealed from chapter 1 to 6, He was met with wonder, rejection, doubt, and even some of His disciples turned their backs on Him and no longer followed Him because Jesus’ teaching was too hard for them to accept (6:35-66).
Jesus touches an issue in chapter 7 that I believe lies at the root of weak evangelism and weak churches. His cry, “If anyone thirsts” is a critical question. Do we thirst and do we look for people who are thirsty? Jesus did not ask, ‘does anyone want the easy road to discipleship’ or ‘does anyone want to be wealthy, powerful or happy with this world’s goods.’ He was asking a heart question. We will come back to this question tomorrow, but in the meantime, ask yourself what do you long for the most? What are you most thirsty for? What you spend the most time on is a good indicator and will probably answer the question.
We have been dealing with some very difficult issues. Unity in the church and church discipline are two of the hardest concepts to work out, even in the best settings. Yet, we see in the Early Church that both principles made way for the greatest seasons of growth. That is not the way we think!
“And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). You might need to read that sentence several times to allow its full weight to impact your heart. Not only were believers added to the Church, but healing caused “people [to] gather from the towns around Jerusalem” (5:16). Word spread without any type of electronic media.
Why do we look at these events in Acts as impossible in our day, or at least extremely rare? I do not think it is the event that is our problem. Most of the other qualities of the Church of that day and the principles they instinctively lived by are missing today. There are more qualities in the chapters that follow, but those we have mentioned are very significant and critical for any church.
Why are we not seeing “multitudes…added to the Lord”? Do we not want to see this happen today? Why has the church in your town or city not seen this type of growth? Millions of dollars are spent on outreach and growth projects but yield very little if anything in comparison to Acts 5. The growth in Acts 5 required no money, no programs, and no organization. It only took submission to the Holy Spirit!
There is no doubt in my mind that this subject is one that most pastors and church leaders rather avoid than deal with. I agree and fully understand that sin in the church is not a pleasant matter and why we humanly tend to avoid confronting it.
I want to give a few reasons why we should not avoid this difficult topic.
1. When the Early Church dealt with Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit, “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). The benefit of reverence for the Lord was confirmed and established in the whole church.
2. The Church is purified so she can be more effective in her work in this world. Christ is always “sanctifying her [the Church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
3. Paul makes this point to the Corinthians and says, “do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). The purpose of dealing with sin is for restoring newness in the body.
4. Confronting persons who sin, is always in view of bringing them to repentance. When Paul confronted Corinth, he did so, “not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting…godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Jesus said, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Being unified on sin brings great blessing to the individual and the whole church.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).
When we read verses like this, we tend to dismiss them as only possible in the Early Church. Let me ask you a few questions:
· Has God’s plan for His Church changed since Acts was written by Luke?
· Is the Holy Spirit no longer able to work this depth of unity today in the Body of Christ?
· If your answer is “NO,” what has changed since then?
As we have been going over the significant events of the last couple of chapters of Acts, we see this unity is clearly a work of God in the Church. That is what needs to happen in the Church today, and when we are completely submitted to the Holy Spirit along with the His authority and the authority of Scripture, we will see God work in powerful and unusual ways.
Unity is never planned! It is the result of true submission by all to Christ as Head and the Spirit. Let it begin with you and me, NOW!
As I continued to read the remaining verses of Acts 4, something jumped off the page and reminded me of Jesus’ words when “He appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him” (Luke 10:1). As Jesus sent them out, He gave specific instructions as to how they should “GO.”
“And He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2–4). Notice the four imperatives:
3. Be sent by the Lord
4. Take nothing with you
According to most modern missionary organizations, the first three are followed to some degree, but the fourth would be considered an impossibility. Most missionaries are not allowed to head to the harvest field without pre-committed support. We have seen how the apostles in Acts were devoted to prayer; much more than we are today. Their “Going” was consistent, and more so under persecution. The Lord through the Holy Spirit was sending them toward the “end of the earth.”
As they went, “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold” (Acts 4:33–34). If there was a need, it was met because God’s grace and power was working among them. Money was not required by the apostles since they operated by the Spirit’s control.
Can we reclaim this principle today? We must, if we are going to see God work in power as in Acts.
We usually forget that a team God has chosen is not only effective, and work with one voice and with one commitment, they also have a witness in themselves of why their message is so important. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). When you are an eye-witness of something, there is no question about where truth and your faith is anchored.
After Peter and John are released, they did the instinctive thing any team should do operating under the control of the Spirit; they returned to their brethren. But there was no time for feeling sorry or complaining about the circumstances. They simply “reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them…and they lifted their voices together to God” (4:23-24).
You can be certain that this team had behind them a secret source of power that no team can do without---those who are devoted to prayer! What is even more amazing and important about this event was what they prayed for. “Grant to your servants to continue to speak your Word with all boldness” (4:29).
Take special note of how this prayer meeting ended. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31). God wants this boldness to be the hallmark of every team that carries His message.
Is there prayer support for your team who agree with your mission?
Acts 4 could be the scene in many places around the world today. But I want to make sure that my audience will agree with this Scripture and the commitment Peter and John made in front of the “rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem” (4:5). These people tried to use their human authority to silence the gospel.
“So, they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18).
The demand is very inclusive. Having peached on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco for about 25 years, I know that opposition can be very intense at times, but never did I have officials ask me to stop presenting the gospel.
Notice the response that Peter and John made when they were told not to “speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge” (4:19). They put these rulers on the spot to answer the question for themselves as to who had the higher authority.
It’s the same question every person, every ministry and every team must answer. Does God and His Word have the highest and final authority, or do we submit to others and organizations as having final authority? How we answer these questions will make a huge difference in how effective and fruitful our ministry and teams are.
This is often difficult! There are many factors that contribute to a team that is fractured, but it is more important to know how to unify a team than determine what pulls it apart. Critical analysis may accurately pinpoint where the problems started, but that itself will never produce unity unless the team looks outside their own group for the source of unity.
Peter and John created a major crisis for the temple priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees when they healed a man through the name of Jesus and Peter proclaimed the gospel starting with Abraham. It is clear throughout Luke’s account in Acts 3 that Peter and John were fully together in the message of the gospel (3:12-16).
In times when the pure gospel is being watered down by humanism and a mixture of works for salvation, one voice in the pure gospel is of the highest importance. When each person adds their little twist to the gospel, what they say appeals to a certain part of the audience and they draw a following to themselves instead of Christ. Worse, the power of the gospel is lost and conviction of sin is weakened to the point there is no genuine repentance. The religious leaders were “greatly annoyed” (4:2).
This issue lies at the foundation of every ministry that claims to follow Jesus. It’s not just your team and the unity of their voice that is at stake. If any proclamation of Jesus does not stand on the truth and authority of God’s Word, there will be elements in it that take away from the glory of Christ and His work, and in its place exalt man. BE CAREFUL!
Throughout Scripture, teams played a very important role in accomplishing God’s plan and purpose. Moses was given Joshua. Joshua was given Caleb. Ruth was given Naomi. David was given Jonathan, and Peter was given John.
One of the most important team qualities since the coming of the Spirit is being likeminded in the gospel. While individuals may have personality differences, those qualities that are going to affect the outcome of your work together must align with God’s purpose for the team.
“Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1). They each had the same objective; prayer. They were carrying on one of the most essential habits of the Church that started in Chapter One; prayer (1:14; 2:42). Because they were unified in this important habit of the Church, they had a unified attitude toward a lame man begging for money. Again, we see a unified answer to this man which resulted in unified worship.
How is this working out in your church or ministry? Has God given you a team member to work with so your labor for the Lord is more effective? If you have a team member(s), what is the foundation of your work? Is it biblically based? Are you able to pray together through difficult times and arrive at a Spirit guided path toward fruitfulness?
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