Consider this amazing promise: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (the times of the Gentiles). And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion, he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins. As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on the account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too many now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Rom. 11:25-32).
Consider some of God’s gifts:
Faith is a gift of God-Eph. 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
God the Holy Spirit is a gift-Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Righteousness is a gift-Rom. 5:17 “For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
Manifestation spiritual gifts-1Cor. 12:7-11 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
Personally owned and activated spiritual gifts-Rom. 12:6-8 “We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
Since those gifts-faith, God the Holy Spirit, righteousness, the manifestation gifts and the personally owned gifts cannot be revoked (or canceled, or taken back), this means that God’s people always please Him, are always led into all truth-the work of God the Holy Spirit-and are always righteous, which occurs because God neither counts (see 2Cor. 5:19) nor remember his children’s sins (see Isa. 43:25). God’s people are also always spiritually gifted at two levels. One group of gifts, the individual owns and can use at will; the other gifts operate according to the manifestation of God the Holy Spirit.
These gifts provide one aspect of the word “favor.” God summarizes favor in Numb. 6:24-26 “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace . . .”
Consider this tremendous blessing in the Hebrew language because I think many of hear as a routine benediction.
The word Lord is Yhwh and refers to God the Son. The word bless is barak in the Hebrew to provide benefit
The word keep in shamar in the Hebrew and means to mark and observe, The phrase “make his face shine is “paniym or” in the Hebrew means to illuminate for you all the pertains to him. And be gracious is from the Hebrew word “hanan” means to be graciously merciful. The phrase “nasa paniym”–lift up his countenance to you–means to face you in a position of complete acceptance of you. In that acceptance, Yhwh “sum shalom” gives you peace.
What an amazing position to be in! That’s how God positions his children
Favor is a system, and God details its principle components in Rom. 8:28-31
“For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called and those he called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Here are the components of this system called favor:
God works in all things for the good of everyone who loves God and whom God has called.
God calls with a purpose.
Everyone God foreknew, he called, and . . .
Those he called He also predestined each of them to become a perfect replica of Jesus, the Christ.
Those predestined, God also justified
Those justified, God also glorified
Thus God positioned himself in our favor
Now add the irrevocable gifts:
God the Holy Spirit
The manifestation spiritual gifts
The personally owned spiritual gifts,
And you have a complete picture of favor. Thus favor eliminates failure.
Therefore, when there’s no possibility of failure, we should act boldly, competently and dynamically serve as God’s ambassadors, operating in the enemy territory of the Dominion of Darkness, aka ‘this present evil world.”
This understanding powered The Church of God during its early years to lay a foundation of unprecedented bold, competent and dynamic actions.
Let’s examine this in Luke’s second letter entitled The Acts of the Apostles
First, the disciples expected to be empowered by God because before ascending into heaven, Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem because: ” . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth . . .” (Acts 1:7-8). At an earlier time during that 40 day period, Jesus referred to this phenomenon as being “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (see Acts 1:5). Therefore, despite their fears of the Jews who had conspired with the Romans to kill Jesus, they remained in Jerusalem, all 120 of them (see Acts 1:15). Therefore, 10 days later on the Day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place. You know the story! God the Holy Spirit came and indwelled each of them. This was a unique, unprecedented event. Let’s thoroughly examine this historical event!
These 120 individuals had heard the gospel-the good news of the Kingdom of God-the message of Jesus, the Christ (See Mark 1:14; Acts 1:1-3). God had given them the gift of faith. “Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” They believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah who had been prophesied to come. That’s why they had asked him: “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” All that was remaining to complete the “born from above” experience was the circumcision of the sinful nature and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.
So there they were about 9am on that specific “first day” of the week, and suddenly they heard a sound like the blowing of a violent wind and the sound was in the house. That strange event-a sound of a violent wind, coming from the atmosphere and then being totally contained in a house-attracted thousands of Jews and proselytes from dozens of places throughout the region-in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire hovering over each of them. In those minutes, Jesus circumcised the sinful nature (See Col. 2:11-12) and God the Holy Spirit entered each of them and let’s consider what happened: (start editing)
Fear evaporated!. Zeal consumed them! All 120 of them-men and women-spoke as God the Holy Spirit enabled them!
Peter who just 53 days earlier had denied Jesus and fled from the crucifixion in fear,
along with the other men of their group, stood boldly and delivered his initial sermon. Apparently, without having any of the scrolls with him, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel and the Psalms and preached with such zeal that 3,000 individuals were added to the group of called ones born from above.
Who were these 3,000 individuals? In his general epistle to ” . . .God’s elect, scattered strangers in the world (Gk. Parepidemos-a resident alien). Peter referred to them as: ” . . .living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Okay, so who are living stones? Eph. 2:1-6 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us (a love expressed in eternity when he chose us in Jesus the Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love) God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Therefore, living stones have always been and always will be the only targets of disciples of Christ who want to become disciple-making disciples. Back to the book of Acts
In chapter three, we see Peter and John going up to the temple to pray about 3pm one afternoon. A man crippled from birth begged them for money. See Acts. 3:6-26. What happened? Acts 4:1-4 “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about 5,000.
The next day, the arresting officials began questioning Peter and John. Notice Peter’s response to their allegations-he preached the gospel. See Acts 4:8-14. Notice what Peter said in verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Now notice the reactions of their accusers: (v.13-14) “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. The leaders of the Jews finally decided to:” . . .warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name”. v. 19-20 “But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
When Peter and John returned to the local ecclesia and reported what had happened following their arrest, notice how the church prayed. Acts 4:23-31.
In Acts 4:32-37, the members of the Church make a financial operations decision. Notice the result in verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them.”
In verses 1-11 of chapter five of Acts, we see God the Holy Spirit dealing with a couple who were not “one in heart and mind” with the Church. They were pretenders, around the church, but not born from above because they attempted to lie to God the Holy Spirit.
In verses 12-16 of this same chapter, we see the boldness of the apostles and the rest of the ecclesia. Yet in verses 17-18, we see the apostles arrested again. God frees them from the jail and specifically says: “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
The leaders of the Jews, those who had not been born from above, were furious. The temple guard arrested them again, but not violently for fear of that the people would have stoned them.
The majority of the Sanhedrin wanted to execute the apostles. But Jesus the Christ led a high ranking and universally respected Pharisee-Ga-ma-i-el-to put the apostles under his personal political protection. God worked this out (remember Rom. 8:28) because God was about to do a new thing in the church.
Remember, all of the members of the church, at this time were Jews. They were products of the rich, cultural heritage of Israel. They were accustomed to sitting and listening to “leaders” preach and teach. They had no frame of reference they could use to see themselves as preachers and teachers. But Jesus, the head of the Church of God, is about to institute a concept of action, boldness, competence, and dynamic enthusiasm throughout the church, not just among the apostles. Jesus, the Christ worked through three principle events to create this new condition, this new atmosphere in the church. The events were:
Gamaliel putting the apostles under his personal political protection! They martyrdom of Stephen!
The scattering the church throughout Judea and Samaria.
Let’s pick up the story in Acts 6:7 through Acts 8. “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (verse7). On the other side of the ledger certain Jews plotted against Stephen who had been recently selected as one of the first seven deacons in the fledgling congregation. They trumped up charges against him, alleging that ” . . .We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God. So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
As you know, as a result of these charges, the crowd of Jews stoned Stephen until he died. Also, as you know a Pharisee named Saul was there ” . . . giving approval to his death.
This was an age of new things! The ecclesia was new. Jesus mentioned this for the first time in a conversation with his disciples, reported in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (referring to himself), I will build my church and the gates of Hades (the grave) will not overcome it.” Preaching the gospel was new. This was a period of transition from one dispensation to another, from the old covenant of law to the new covenant of grace. Periods of transition always produce tumult because usually God calls just a few people to pioneer in the new dispensation. For example, when God moved humans from the post-diluvian (post flood) dispensation to the age of law, he called just one couple, Abram and his wife Sarai to pioneer this transition. God the Holy Spirit summarized this transition when he inspired the author of Hebrews to write: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Heb. 8:13). The Bible refers to the era of the church as the dispensation of grace. Notice, though, God calls only those persons to Christ whom he had pre-selected in eternity before the foundation of the world. Everyone else opposes the church because they do not understand.
Therefore, we come to Acts 8:1-3 “And Saul was there giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
In verse 4 and 5 of this chapter, we see the new thing that God worked through the three circumstances I mentioned earlier to establish: “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went
. Philip went down to a city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”
Now, do you see how all things work together for the good of those who love God and who are the called according to his purpose? Let’s review briefly. One of Jerusalem’s leading Pharisees-Gamaliel-put the apostles, recognized leaders of the church under his personal political protection. Angry and recalcitrant Jews martyred a young deacon-Stephen, which led to an all out attack on the Jerusalem congregation that forced the members-except the apostles to scatter. Thus they became the initial fulfillment of a prophecy that Jesus had explained during the final year of this earthly ministry. Let’s review it in Matthew 13:36-43: “Then he left the crowd and went into the house. The disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed (Godly seed-those born from above) is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.'”
So you see, God does work in all things, including the deaths of his children, to make everything work out for the good of those who love God (those already baptized by one Spirit into one body) and those who are the called (the living stones) according to his purpose. Additionally, you can see that it’s action, boldness, competence and dynamic enthusiasm in each of God’s children that produce results.
Let’s work the numbers. Let’s say that 5,000 disciples were scattered from Jerusalem throughout Judea, Samaria and other parts of the region. Let’s say that each of them reached just one living stone each day. That’s 35,000 weekly, and 1.82 million annually. Obviously, I do not know how many were ” . . .chosen in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. But nearly two million “living stones” become disciple-making disciples annually provides an excellent target.
Next: What must each of us do to become action-oriented, bold, competent, disciple-making disciples, fired by dynamic enthusiasm?