October 26, 2017 Chapel Service — Dr. Tim Keesee
Posted On October 30, 2017
“The Great Controversy”
Dr. Tim Keesee is executive director of Frontline Missions International, a ministry that seeks to advance the gospel around the world—especially in those regions that have little access to it.
Yes, it is amazing love. “How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?” It is wonderful to sing these truths together this morning. Ben and I are really honored to be here. What better time to be at Reformation Bible College than on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation? That’s just perfect. We so enjoyed time with Dr. Nichols already and we’re looking forward to the days here. We are so grateful for our friends here and for the opportunity to open the Word this morning.
As Dr. Nichols has mentioned, we’re going to go to Acts chapter 4 to consider the Great Controversy. We live in a world that is filled with controversies of all sorts and there are things that are controversial today that weren’t controversial even a few years ago. I just saw a piece in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago about a student group at Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic college in America. This student organization was advocating that marriage is a bond between a man and a woman, which is sort of the long held view of Georgetown. They were being identified as a hate group and would be fined and banished from the student activities at Georgetown. The administration, caught between donors and students, was still looking into the matter the last that I had read about that. This student organization was labeled a “hate group” because of their controversial view.
Our churches are filled with controversies too, and I won’t even start identifying those this morning, but you know what they are: secondary issues, preferences that can generate controversy, and all sorts of ink and all sorts of division. Even to decide what items are on the preference list would be controversial. You know. We live in a world filled with controversy and it swirls all around us. But I want to tell you this morning that none of those controversies can match this one. I believe this is the greatest controversy in the world. There are people today that are in prison because of this controversy. There are people today that will be attacked, raped, perhaps even killed because they embraced the truth of this controversy.
I was with a brother in South Asia not long ago, he’s thirty years old and he’s alive and well, who told me that his family has already held his funeral. He’s dead to them because he believes this truth about this controversy that we find in Acts 4:12: that there is no other name, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That’s the big one. That’s the greatest controversy in our world.
I want us to look at the context of this passage in Acts chapter 4, beginning in verse 5. Now, in the previous chapter the man who was lame is healed. I really am looking forward to meeting this man someday in heaven; I love how he responds to God’s work in his life. He is leaping! He’s going to try out those new legs and what joy, what a crowd, was gathered to see what in the world was going on here. And this creates quite a stir and they, this man and Peter and John, are arrested and the next day, verse 5:
On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Ananias the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 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.”
Under heaven, across the entire world, among men; all men and women, all people, all nations, and name – they continue to refer to a name: that is, a specific person – and a specific truth about that person, and that truth we call the Gospel. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
The Gospel is centered on the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy chapter 2: “for there is one God.” Many religions believe that. “There is one God and there is one mediator between God and men.” In other words, there is only one way to the one God and that mediator, that way, is Jesus Christ. And the way you take matters; that in itself is controversial in our day. This message of the name that is above every day, this message of “there is salvation in no one else” has always been controversial.
1 Corinthians 1, beginning in verse 18:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom…
In other words, you can’t figure it out on your own. You can’t find God with your mind. There’s no human philosophy that will bridge the great gap between man and God.
In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Now, in this passage Paul speaks of Jews and Greeks. Don’t think just in ethnic terms here. Jews may be understood as those with a rich religious heritage, those who have centuries of tradition behind what they believe, and there are many Jews in the world besides Jews in this category. I have a dear friend who has served Christ (he and his family) for more than a decade in North Africa. And he told me once that, once he comes to America, he’s tagged as the “Muslim guy,” you know? So he’s doing seminars, or being asked to seminars or sessions, on Islam, and he says, “Islam is just another facade for lost people who are trying to save themselves.” When you look at it that way, it sort of lowers the barrier, lowers the wall: it’s something that we can identify with. There’s something in us that says, “I can save myself. I can make it.” So many religions in the world are rooted in the belief that you can save yourself, but the cross says, “you cannot save yourself. God must do this work.” Salvation is a work of God: an inside out work of God that lasts. But Jews look at the cross, or those who are deeply religious who are “saving themselves,” so to speak, as a stumbling block. They say, “what’s this all about?”
I think of Greeks as the cultured, the educated, the sophisticated, maybe you’ve even encountered people like this. You start sharing good news with them, telling them about Jesus, and they’re just like, “what? People still believe that? I think my grandma believed that a hundred years ago, but I didn’t realize that people still believe that stuff.” Or, “you say that Jesus is the only way to salvation? That’s kind of arrogant, isn’t it? That’s not very loving. Who do you think you are?” Those are the responses from modern day “Greeks.” There will always be opposition and controversy about the name that is above every name.
In India, it is reported, there are 300 million gods in the Hindu religious system. And I know this is true because I read this in Wikipedia, so it is definitely true. I’d say it in India too. I don’t think anyone has actually counted them, but the reality is that if you’ve walked the streets of India you know. And if you have someone there to guide you, you see that their gods are everywhere. They worship everything including Jesus. They say, “Jesus is cool. He’s a god. We can worship Jesus.” Some of my pastor friends there have been beaten, spit on, their churches looted, destroyed, and Hindu priests have told them, “we don’t mind you preaching about Jesus.” The Hindus said, “we don’t mind if you preach about Jesus. You just can’t say that he’s the only way of salvation.” And they respond, “well, we have nothing to preach.”
And you don’t have to go to India to encounter this kind of opposition. Go to the mall, or the coffee shop, or your neighborhood, or maybe members of your own family. The belief is that all roads lead to god. But the thing that is standing in the way of the belief that all roads lead to god, the idea that “he’s on the top of the mountain and we’re all finding our own way to the top of the mountain. We all have our own nicknames for god, but we’ll all get there someday,” the big problem with that is the cross. The problem with this idea is that if it’s true then the cross was unnecessary – and the cross was most necessary because God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. This message has always been controversial: from the first century to the twenty-first century.
So, when you meet up with opposition don’t think in terms like, “wow, why is this happening?” This has always been this way. But it is a message and the message requires messengers. 1 Corinthians 1:18, which we’ve already looked at, refers to the “word of the cross,” “the preaching of the cross,” “the proclamation of the cross,” “the message by God’s sovereign design” is that his people share this message and that they become messengers of the grace, and the glory, and the saving power of Jesus. They speak it. They live it, yes, but they don’t just live it: it’s a message to be spoken. The popular idea of “preach the gospel by all means and use words when necessary” is not in the Bible. Words are necessary. The word of the cross, the preaching of the cross, the proclamation of the cross, are necessary. Paul writes in Romans 10:
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (there’s our two groups again); for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
And this is a beautiful verse:
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they 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? 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!”
The message requires messengers.
Now, because of the cross, because of grace, because our lives are forever bound up in his life messengers must go with boldness. I think it’s very interesting that if you continue reading in Acts 4, that when Peter and John come back and report on what happened, the church gathers together in prayer and the only recorded content of the church’s praying life – corporate prayer – we’re getting insight into what they’re asking for. And you know what they’re asking for? “Lord, behold their threats and give us boldness. Give us boldness.” Not, Lord protect us. Lord, make all these bad people go away. Instead it’s “God, you are great. You raised your Son. Jesus is with us. Give us boldness in the face of opposition to speak for you.”
Samuel Zwemer, the pioneer missionary to Arabia, wrote this:
“It is time that a protest be made against the misuse of the word “evangelism.” It has only one etymological, New Testament, historical, and theological connotation: namely, to tell the good news of one who came to earth to die on the cross for us, who rose again, and who ever lives to intercede for those who repent and believe the Gospel. To evangelize is to win disciples, to become fishers of men, to carry the Gospel message directly to all the nations. Even prayer, private and public, is not evangelism and should not be its substitute. We may pray for our friends and relatives, but do we ever evangelize them? It is so much easier to talk about them to Christ than to talk to them about Christ. Even our lives cannot bear full witness to Christ without our lips. If we are ashamed of the Gospel, our lives will not be radiant.”
So we need Spirit given boldness in taking this message: I would say a joyful boldness and a winsome confidence. I have a friend who is serving where Zwemer served a century or more ago and she puts it this way, “I am incurably optimistic that God is going to bring someone in my path today to whom he is calling to himself. And I am going to position myself in the grocery story, in the mall, wherever I am going today, to be ready and willing to speak to people about Jesus.” She says, “I am just incurably optimistic that he is doing this all the time.” And she’s looking at it this way on the Arabian peninsula because God is at work all over the world calling men and women to himself. God is positioning his messengers to be there to speak his Gospel to these people. So, messengers must go with boldness. Messengers must speak clearly (and I’m not talking about diction here). What I mean is that when we speak, we cannot cut corners. Now, you don’t always have time to lay out the complete story of Creation to Christ. Sometimes you do, but many times you don’t. But we need to get to the Word, and get to Christ, and get to the cross. But don’t cut corners. When we get push back, when we are ridiculed and maybe even sidelined for a promotion, when we get asked good, hard questions (and I’ve been asked some good, hard questions recently with people that I am sharing the Gospel with) there’s a tendency to try and cut corners: to market the message.
David Wells said this about marketing the Gospel:
“The marketing model empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs that the consumers have are needs that they’ve identified for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identified for us, and the way we see our need is rather different than the way he sees them. No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be a therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it.”
And so we must speak this message clearly.
And messengers must also walk humbly. One of the reasons why I asked to sing “And Can It Be?” this morning is just that it is just a hymn that reminds me of the cost of grace, and of the love of Jesus, and of his power, and his deliverance, and that it is all of grace. I had no claim on it, whatsoever; he did this work. I’m afraid, though, that sometimes in our Christianity there’s an element of pride: like, this is something that we know and the World doesn’t. No, no, no this is something that we know by God’s grace and we walk humbly and prayerfully and there’s no place for pride in that: humbly and prayerfully going and speaking.
So, the message has always been controversial. The message requires messengers: those that are bold by a Spirit given boldness, those who speak clearly, and walk humbly. And this message is powerful.
The message is powerful. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 we saw that the message of the cross, the word of the cross, is the power of God: the power of God to salvation. Our power? What’s our power like? It’s very limited. We’re weak. Even on our best days we get to the end of the day and we’re tired, we’re worn out. We don’t have a lot of power, but God never runs out and his power is unlike any human power. His power is creative, and it’s lasting, and it’s full of grace, and transforming work. Our power is limited and God’s is not. And so, brothers and sisters, just as the first Christians prayed for boldness, we too must pray for boldness in the face of threats, opposition, controversy. We must pray for this same boldness because we need boldness.
We don’t need boldness because the message is weak and we need to overcome its limitations with our enthusiasm, and energy, and debating skills. The message is not weak. We are weak. The message is strong; the message is the power of God unto salvation. So we need, as messengers, boldness that he gives. And I’m praying today, as we close in prayer, praying for all of us, that God would grant us boldness in the face of the opposition that we face in the world. But beyond that, I’m praying for some of you, God would call you to take this message to people who’ve never once heard it. I’m praying that the Good News would be spoken in a language where it’s never been heard before and that God would call you and equip you for such a work.
So, let us pray together.
Lord Jesus, how we thank you that your name is above every name. We thank you for your grace. We thank you for your power. We thank you that you have invited us to call upon you for the boldness that we need, and we need it: we are so fearful and we are so weak. But we are not allowed to stay in such a condition because you are with us. So, help us to follow hard after you. Help us to be obedient in speaking and not looking at our limitations and our weaknesses, but looking at your great power. Please bless my brothers and sisters. And I pray that some will go to speak good news for the very first time in a language that it was never heard before. Please call them and use the mightily for the sake of your name, and your glory, to the ends of the earth. And we pray these things in Jesus name. Amen.
Transcripts are lightly edited.