June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 11:19-12:24: Overlooked?

It’s never nice to be OVERLOOKED. To be sidelined. Marginalised. Passed-over for someone else.

Perhaps it was AT SCHOOL, when the sporting teams were chosen. Everyone else gets picked – the tall ones, the strong ones, the good-looking ones, the popular ones, until the only two left/ are you and Nigel. Who can’t catch, throw or run. In fact, some days it’s a miracle Nigel can even walk down the corridor without tripping over.

Finally, with a shrug, one captain chooses Nigel. And you’re left all alone. And as you walk over to the other team, the captain, with a sigh, looks you up and down like you’ve got a contagious disease.

It’s not a nice feeling to be OVERLOOKED.

Or perhaps you’ve been overlooked for A PROMOTION AT WORK. You’ve worked your guts out. Unpaid overtime, come in when you’re sick. Put up with an obnoxious supervisor. Waited patiently in line. Been loyal when other opportunities and offers came along.

And then they give the promotion to some UPSTART. Some newcomer. The crawler. The Boss’s favourite.

It hurts to be overlooked.

Other people experience the shame of ery. A shallow husband going through a midlife crisis. And he finds someone new. And trades you in. Dumps you for a younger woman – a newer model.

It hurts to overlooked.

Or perhaps you’ve spent your life competing for the attention of hard-to-please parents. And it’s always your PERFECT sibling who gets all the attention. All the applause. And they never seem to notice YOU.

Like the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Poor old Robert has a huge inferiority complex. His whole life he’s felt like “it’s all about Raymond”.

Or perhaps you’ve felt a bit that way AS A CHURCH. We’ve spent the last of years with our attention on Glenwood. THAT’S where the excitement is. Where the ACTION is.

And people have left us to go over there. And so, church looks a bit empty. Things aren’t as noisy, or energetic. Giving’s down. There’s not as many people to DO things.

Glenwood’s the energetic, high-achieving, successful brother. And we’ve been sidelined. Overlooked. The boring, hum-drum, wall-flower.

And it’s easy for us to feel like we’re insignificant. And that the future for us is that we’ll just dwindle down, getting smaller and smaller. Less and less relevant until we have to close the doors for good.

And what can REALLY hurt/ is when we start to think that it’s not just PEOPLE who are overlooking us. But GOD TOO.

We can start to think that God’s plans are all about Glenwood. Or somewhere else. And He’s just going to let us plod along, until we run out of steam, keel over, and die.

Started with a BANG. Will end with a WHIMPER.

Jerusalem and Antioch

And there must have been similar temptations in the early Jerusalem church. The temptation to think they’d been overlooked. When they heard about the church at Antioch.

Jerusalem and Antioch. Two great cities. Very different. But with similarities. One the older brother, one the younger brother. Amazing things happened in both. With many people becoming Christians. And both were bases for the Christian missionary church.

For Jerusalem, it had all started with them. An incredible beginning. Thousands of people converted at Pentecost. Wonderful fellowship. Generosity and intimacy. Power and success. Enjoying the favour of all the people in Jerusalem.

But after a while, the honeymoon ended. And the Jews began to persecute them. Stephen was stoned to . And Christians fled from Jerusalem everywhere.

But then God began to do an amazing thing in OTHER PLACES. Firstly with SAMARITANS. –The half-caste enemies of the Jews. God brought many Samaritans to repentance through Phillip. And poured out his Holy Spirit on them. Just like he’d done in Jerusalem.

And then he’d done the same thing with THE GENTILES. Even WORSE than Samaritans. And there was no denying THAT. Because SIMON PETER HIMSELF had been the agent. The rock of the church.

God had given him A VISION. And then he’d poured out his Holy Spirit on a whole household of UNCLEAN GENTILES. Cornelius’ place.

Good News

And now, as we turn to Ch 11 v19, we see the NEXT STAGE. It’s GOOD NEWS. Because it’s not just a HOUSEHOLD of Gentiles. But a WHOLE city. … And it seems like Jerusalem’s been forgotten.

Some of the Christians who’d fled back in Ch 8 got as far as Antioch. Over 400 km to the north. The number-three city in the Roman Empire.

And when they got there, they began to tell the people about Jesus. But not just JEWS, GENTILES TOO. And God did something amazing through them. Look there at v21.

21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

People becoming Christians EVERYWHERE. It’s GREAT NEWS. And when the news reaches Jerusalem, they choose Barnabas to go down and check it out.

He’s a good choice. He’s from Cyprus too, which is where these missionaries were originally from. Perhaps Barnabas even KNEW them.

And when he gets there, it’s all good news. Look at v23.

23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

You see, Barnabas doesn’t just WATCH, he JOINS IN AS WELL. And God uses HIM to bring people into his kingdom.

In fact, there’s SO MANY PEOPLE becoming Christians, Barnabas needs some backup. And as he thinks about it, he knows just the man for the job. SAUL. The converted persecutor. And when he finds him, the spend a WHOLE YEAR in Ephesus, teaching GREAT NUMBERS of people. The church just seems to be going from strength to strength. That’s in v26.

And from v27, we see the ultimate sign of success. Of the baby having d. When there’s a prophecy about a famine in Jerusalem, the Christians at Antioch are in SUCH a position of strength, they take up a collection. Money for their starving brothers and sisters back in Judea.

It’s the daughter church helping the mother church.

It started as the mother sending out people to produce the daughter. But now the daughter’s grown up enough to RETURN some of that goodwill.

I wonder how the Jerusalem church felt as the news about Antioch came back. And then the collection arrived. How they felt if they were REALLY HONEST. Did they perhaps feel just a WEE BIT JEALOUS? A little hard-done-by. Overlooked.

You know, there’s the potential for the same thing to happen with us and Glenwood. Financially Glenwood is doing very well. They’re still FRAGILE, but they’ve got a lot more money in the bank than we do. And there’s still the potential there for Glenwood church to GROW – there’s just SO MANY PEOPLE around there.

So before long, we might SEE Glenwood helping us out in a similar way. How will WE feel when that happens?

But whether Jerusalem thought that way, or not. It wasn’t the case with God. He HASN’T FORGOTTEN ABOUT THEM. They HAVEN’T been overlooked. In fact, despite tough times, God still has plenty for them to do. And God will RESCUE them, and ANSWER THEIR PRAYERS, and see them through. There’s plenty more growth left in the Jerusalem church yet.

I think that’s the point of Ch 12. On the surface of it, Ch 12 seems to stick out like a sore thumb. If you tore it out, the story would flow a lot better.

Check it out. At the end of Ch 11, Barnabas and Saul head off to Jerusalem with their collection. Then look down to Ch 12 v25.

25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. 13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:

But instead we read that Barnabas and Saul head up to Jerusalem. At which point Luke zooms in on JERUSALEM. The mother church. And THEN he returns his attention to Antioch.

And I think the point is this; what BEGAN with Jerusalem/ CONTINUES in Antioch. Much has changed, but the message is the same. It’s not one or the other. There’s a continuity there, despite the differences. They’re different links in the same chain. The chain that sees God’s gospel about his Son Jesus/ move out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.

And when it comes to Jerusalem, Ch 12 comes back to it, because God hasn’t forgotten HER EITHER. The gospel will still be working there too.

The Great Escape

And so, let’s look at Ch 12. It’s a great story. Would make a great movie. THE GREAT ESCAPE.

It begins with King Herod. It’s Herod Agrippa 1 – the grandson of Herod the great. (It’s very confusing). He wants to get the Jews on side, so he arrests some Christians. Including James the Apostle. He’s put to .

Then he turns his attention to Peter. He’s arrested and put in prison.

And it’s here that we start to get that feeling of déjà vu. That we’ve heard it all before. Because we’ve got Herod, the Jews and an arrest. Just like Jesus. It’s a different Herod. But the similarities are striking.

It’s even at the same TIME. PASSOVER. That seems to be why Luke mentions the time of year. PETER IS FOLLOWING HIS LORD TO PRISON AND SUFFERING.

And while Peter’s biding his time in jail, Herod’s scheming – waiting for the best time to make a public spectacle of the trial. And the church is PRAYING. See it there in v5? “… earnestly praying to God for him”.

I’m not quite sure what EARNEST means. Because, as it turns out, they were SURPRISED when God ANSWERED them!

But that’s what God does. Because he HASN’T overlooked them.

It’s the night before Peter’s trial. His last chance. And Peter’s in maximum security. Look at it there in v 6. Chained to two guards. All three of them fast asleep.

And then in v7,

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Poor old Peter gets woken up with a WHACK in the RIBS. Never a pleasant way to wake up – especially when you’re probably dreaming about your the next day!

And the angel has a message for him that reminds us of that very FIRST PASSOVER. When God delivered Israel from Egypt.

“Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.

Just like the Israelites as they waited for God to rescue them. They ate the Passover meal with bags packed, sandals on their feet, and cloak wrapped around them. Ready to escape.

God delivered THEN, and he’s delivering NOW.

Two Doors

And ESCAPE is just what Peter does. He follows the angel past the sleeping guards. Past a second set of guards. And he comes to the FIRST OF TWO DOORS. The one you’d think was the toughest to go through in the whole of Jerusalem. The solid iron prison gate. But as the angel walks up to it/ it swings open all by itself.

And before Peter knows it, he’s standing on his own, at the end of the street. The angel’s gone, and Peter suddenly realizes it’s all REAL. It WASN’T a dream.

And look at what he realizes. V11

“Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”

Expecting the WORST. Feeling like God’s abandoned us.

But he HASN’T. HE HEARS prayer, and he ANSWERS it. He’s REAL, and POWERFUL and INTERESTED.

And Peter can’t wait to share the good news with his Christian brothers and sisters. It might be the middle of the night, but there’s a good crowd at Mary’s house. And they’re all praying.

V13, Peter knocks on the door – the SECOND door, and Rhoda the servant answers. But when she recognizes Peter’s voices, she’s SO EXCITED she leaves him standing on the doorstep, and rushes off to tell everyone else.

You just can’t get good help these days!

The irony is/ Peter had no trouble at all with the solid iron prison gate. With getting OUT OF JAIL. But it’s the smaller wooden one he has MORE trouble with. Getting INTO the house.

But the fun and games isn’t over YET. When Rhoda delivers the news, no-one will believe her. Even though they’ve been praying all night for Peter’s deliverance.

Just goes to show you that God only needs A TINY MUSTARD SEED of FAITH to answer prayer.

Have YOU got THAT much faith?

Meanwhile Peter keeps knocking. Probably starting to feel a little exposed – out there on the doorstep. After all, he’s AN ESCAPED CONVICT!

But eventually, Rhoda convinces them, and so they come and let Peter in. Imagine the scene. It’s pandemonium. Crying, cheering, joy – everyone talking at once. It’s a racket!

And so, v17, Peter’s motions with his hand for everyone to calm down, and keep quiet. They’ll have the guards knocking on the door TOO in a minute.

And when they’re all quiet, he tells them the incredible story about how God HASN’T ABANDONED them. But rescued him. Just like he did with the Israelites from Egypt. And would KEEP doing into the future.

Which is a great encouragement for US.

When it looks like all the action is somewhere else. We’re stuck in some backwater. When it seems like we’re on our own. That we’re in a tight spot. When we even struggle to have the faith to pray EXPECTANTLY.

I don’t know WHAT God’s got in store for Western Blacktown. Who knows where we’ll be in five years. But I do know he’ll rescue us, and protect us, and build his church.

And he’ll never overlook us. He’s NEVER done that with his people. Never has, never will. He never changes. We can ALWAYS trust him.

Our part is to keep striving to follow him, being church, He will always remain faithful. He will always work out his purposes in, and through, us.

As we keep our eyes fixed on him. As we focus on the God who saved us, rather than the world he saved us FROM, HE WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH.

He continued to build the Jerusalem church. By the time the Apostle Saul, then known as PAUL, makes it back to Jerusalem in Ch 21, we read this. V19

19 Paul greeted the brothers and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.

Let’s keep our eyes on God, the one who leads people to repentance. Let’s be ZEALOUS and COMMITTED to him.

And may God build his church LIKE THAT! Amen!

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