Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

“Ministry Snapshots” Sermon Text

Ministry Snapshots

Acts 9:19-43

This passage gives us 4 snapshots of different ministries in the early Church:

The powerful preaching of Saul; the miraculous miracles of Peter; and just in case we can’t all relate to an impressive preacher or a miraculous miracle worker; the next two snapshots are ones that we might tend to overlook as significant ministries – done by people that you may not think of as major players in the ministry of the early church – maybe even that you’ve never heard of before – people you may never have heard preached about; people who may not have been held up as an example to emulate or inspire but certainly are just that: the encouraging ministry of Barnabas – who was the bridge of welcome for an outsider into the fellowship of the church; and the ordinary ministry of Dorcas – used an ordinary needle and thread to bring great blessing to those in need.

The powerful preaching of Saul;

The miraculous miracles of Peter;

The encouraging ministry of Barnabas;

The ordinary ministry of Dorcas:

Let’s look at these four snapshots.

The powerful preaching of Saul:

  1. It is an immediate & radical transformation
  2. It is a preaching that is willing to embrace persecution

There’s two similar stories here – of Saul in Damascus and in Jerusalem – and the plot is the same: preaching; plotting; and escape.

Paul preaches Jesus; his enemies plot against him; his friends help him escape.

And this plotting of his enemies is a response of his preaching – which is certainly a surprise to his current enemies – his former friends – because of Pauls 180 degree turn-around on his stance towards Jesus and the Church.

Can you remember a time, when some new information came into the picture, that sort-of turned the lights on in such a way that that new information would require you to change your current convictions?

Especially when those are dearly-held convictions – how do you feel about the introduction of that new fact? You don’t always love it.

The introduction of that new fact, of that realization, of that new information that comes to light – is a challenging moment because while it ought to make us re-evaluate our previously held views or convictions; we don’t want to always let go of those things; and so the new fact that ought to change our previously held convictions can have the opposite affect of causing us to double-down on our previously-held convictions;

And in order to do that, we need to ignore that new revelation; or insist that it isn’t true even thought all the evidence suggests otherwise;

And that’s exactly the dynamic that we are seeing in the book of Acts with the enemies of Jesus.

They believed that Jesus was a blasphemer; but now through the ministry of the Apostles – the witnesses of the resurrected Christ; and now through the conversion and ministry of Saul – they are constantly being presented with new evidence to believe that Jesus was the Son of God;

And the evidence is incontrovertible – but they aren’t taking it into account; it should require them to change their evaluation of Jesus but they won’t even examine the new evidence – they simply dismiss it, ignore it, and double-down on their previous conviction against all evidence;

But Paul is different. he is a contrast to that. Paul sees Jesus – and everything changes.

It is an immediate & complete reversal of his previous attitude towards, and evaluation of, Jesus.

v20 – He is preaching that Jesus is the Son of God.

And, he’s doing this in immediate obedience to the command of Jesus in his life.

Paul, who goes from denying Christ to believing in him; from opposing Christ to obeying him; from trying to snuff out the church to trying to expand the church by preaching & proclaiming Christ.

It is such a radical transformation – so immediate and so complete that it can only be explained by supernatural intervention in his life.

All because of his undeniable encounter with Jesus.

And Jesus may not appear to us in such a dramatic way as he did to Paul – we talked about how that was part of his unique calling as an Apostle, and that just as the other Apostle’s witnesses the resurrected Christ, this is Paul’s parallel experience of witness of the resurrected and glorified Christ – whom he is specially commissioned to preach as “Apostle to the Gentiles”

Jesus may not appear to us in such a dramatic way as he did to Paul; but we still encounter Jesus – in a real way, in a personal way – through the message that Paul and the other apostles preached;

God still calls us in a powerful way just as he called Paul;

And if you haven’t come to Christ, the question for you is:

will we consider any new reason to re-evaluate conclusions about Jesus?

Or will we simply ignore/dismiss it and double-down on our previously held convictions and evaluations of Jesus?

All throughout history – the people who believe in Jesus, the people who give their lives to Jesus – are not just the people who grew up believing in him but like Paul are people whose convictions are drastically, radically changed in order to believe in him.

in ways that can only be explained by supernatural intervention.

It is an immediate & radical transformation

2) It is a preaching that is willing to embrace persecution

Paul’s obedience to Jesus is not just immediate & radical; but it’s costly.

Paul – previously, persecutor, is now, persecuted.

And this is no less than what Jesus had said earlier in chapter 9 v16: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

And that is no less than what Jesus says for all who will follow him: that any who want to be his disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.

Following Jesus does mean following him into glory; but not a life here & now of glory; and we only follow him into glory when we follow him here & now in suffering – in the way of the cross – in the way of self-denial, sacrifice, suffering, persecution.

And, you might be tempted to think that Jesus’ telling Saul that he’s going to show him how much he will suffer for his name – you might think that is some kind of pay-back for his causing the church to suffer.

But, in the book of Acts; suffering for Jesus and for our faith in him, is a badge of honor.

When we willingly endure our cross for him; we become like him who endured the cross for us – we are united to him in his sufferings and suffer for him, who is worthy of it all.

And so, twice, because of his powerful preaching about Jesus, he has to escape plots against his life.

First in Damascus where he has to be lowered by a basket through the city wall; then in Jerusalem where he’s sent off to Tarsus.

And, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that if people aren’t trying to kill you then you aren’t preaching or standing for or representing Jesus; but I would say that if people only ever love what you say about Jesus; if people only ever applaud what you say; if people aren’t ever offended or upset or angered by what you say; then it may just be that you haven’t preached the whole Jesus or the full Gospel.

Because the whole Jesus and the full gospel has a way of offending people – because of what it tells us about ourselves and because of what it calls us to.

What it tells us about ourselves: That we are sinners, enemies of God, under his wrath, unable to save ourselves from ourselves or from his just judgment upon us. Totally depraved; totally helpless, totally in need of grace.

What it calls us to: self-denial; cross-bearing; which we know on the other side of the cross that is the greatest freedom, but it nevertheless is very costly.

Acts shifts in central figure – from Peter to Stephen to Phillip to Saul – but the stress is on the similarity of the mission and message of these different figures.

It’s not about the person or the personality – but the message and the mission.

And that’s certainly true of Saul here – that he isn’t preaching for self-advancement – he’s left that behind in following Jesus – and he is preaching for Jesus’ advancement even when it risks his own life

Because it’s not about him – it’s about the glory and mission of Jesus.

The powerful preaching of Saul;

The miraculous miracles of Peter:

When you read a book like the book of Acts – many people wonder about the role of miracles; and we’ve talked some about this already so I’ll be brief; but in general people wonder, “why don’t we see miracles like this today?”

Many different views on this;

And I don’t believe there’s anyone that says that miracles don’t miracles don’t happen today; but rather that the gift of miracle isn’t given to any individuals in the church as it was given to the apostles and those closely connected to them; so that we shouldn’t expect miracles to happen in the same way as they happened in the ministry of Jesus & his apostles.

Those were a part of the establishment of the church and initial spreading out of the gospel;

And miracles in Acts were almost exclusively connected to the foundational role of the Twelve Apostles (so that when they died out and the apostolic office ceased, we might expect that miracles would cease with them)

But also even in Acts Miracles took a back seat – a supporting role – to the message of the apostles: as the gospel was first going forth, these miracles authenticated that message and established the truth of it.

  1. authenticate the truth of the message
  2. demonstrate the content of the message

1. miracles authenticate the truth of the message and the validity of the messenger.

If God does genuine divine miracles through someone – then it is at the same time him approving of the person and that person’s message.

And these miracles prove, then, if there is any doubt; that the Apostles are sent by God and their message is the true message of God – they are his messengers.

And especially with these two miracles, we see that Peter is following the example of Jesus’ own ministry and healing by Jesus’ own power – such that his ministry isn’t his ministry at all,

but that it is Jesus’ ministry:

that Jesus is continuing to act in the world, in the Church – through the ministry of the Apostles. And if we want to see Jesus act through us then we hold to the message of the Apostles.

both are very similar to miracles that Jesus performed. If you remember the paralytic whom Jesus declared his sins were forgiven, he also said to him, “get up, take your mat and go home – very similar to what Peter says in v 34 to Aeneas.

And, if you remember Jesus raising from death Jairus’ daughter, it’s a very similar scene to Peter raising Dorcas from death – and in fact he says very similar words: v40 – “Tabitha, get up” – is almost the same thing he said to Jairus’ daughter -“little girl get up”, which we’re told he spoke Aramaic – “talitha koum” ; and if Peter spoke in Aramaic on this occasion there is in fact only one letter difference – “tabitha koum”.

the follow the example of Jesus in many ways: but there’s one important difference:

Jesus heals by his own power by his own authority in his own name – but it’s very different with Peter’s miracle:

Jesus healed and forgave the paralytic as a clear demonstration of his own authority, Peter declares to Aeneas – v34 “Jesus Christ heals you”.

And before he raises Tabitha, when he enters the room and sends everyone else out – the first thing he did was drop to his knees and prayed – because prayer is the expression of dependence upon something – someone outside of us; an expression of lacking our own ability or strength or resource – and looking to the strength / ability /resource of another- looking to God for his power.

  1. authenticate the truth of the message
  2. demonstrate the content of the message

The miracles that we see in the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles not only authenticate the truth of the message; but they demonstrate the content of the message.

And that is this: v34: “Jesus Christ Heals You.”

Aren’t those encouraging words?

Now, we know from the rest of the teaching of scripture that Jesus doesn’t heal us in this lifetime of everything we would like to be healed of. Tabitha herself went on to die.

“outwardly we waste away, but inwardly we are renewed day by day.

In this life we continue to live under the power of physical death – but these miracles are physical demonstrations of the spiritual reality that we receive from the gospel now – new life, by the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

And, they are foretastes of the fullness of salvation that we will one day receive when death and disease are no more.

Their tears of grief are temporarily ceased, and they are given a glimpse of the day when tears would be no more.

CS Lewis called this a “miracle of reversal” – in which the effects of sin are reversed and a glimpse of the new creation is given.

that Jesus came to restore and renew a broken, cursed creation – to redeem and recreate the world.

“Jesus Christ heals you.”

If you have experienced the brokenness of being a sinner in a fallen world; then these words bring hope and joy and peace because they promise that for those in Christ – all that brokenness will be fixed; all the pain will be comforted; all damaging effects of sin destroyed; all our tears will be wiped away by God himself.

The powerful preaching of Saul;

The miraculous miracles of Peter;

The encouraging ministry of Barnabas:

We saw Barnabas introduced in ch 4 as an example of radical generosity.

And we were told then that his name means “Son of Encouragement”

and here his ministry is just that – encouragement towards a new believer by making sure that he is welcomed into the Church family.

Saul – just like we saw last week with Ananias-  wasn’t easily welcomed into the church.

And when he shows up in Jerusalem, v26 – “he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple.”

They thought he was an imposter – still opposing the church, setting a trap for them.

But, v27 – But Barnabas – on his own initiative and single-handedly – takes in Saul and becomes the bridge between him and the other disciples.

on his own initiative: he wasn’t just the unlucky assigned greeter for the day Saul happened to visit the church –

singlehandedly: It would have been easy for him to just stand around the coffee and donuts with his friends, with everyone else, looking leery-eyed over at Saul; but he doesn’t – he’s willing to go against the flow of suspicions and exclusive sentiment and instead of being a brick-in-the-wall of exclusivity he is the lone bridge of inclusiveness.

And what a result this has:

See: Saul’s coming to Christ put him at odds with his old friends; at odds with he world; yet because of his past, and their suspicions of the genuineness of his conversion, he almost isn’t welcomed into the church. And can you imagine, what a loss to the Church if Barnabas hadn’t convinced them to welcome Saul into the Church Community?

People who come to Christ have put themselves at odds with the world; and if they aren’t welcomed and embraced by the Church – because of their past like Saul or whatever other reason, then where will they go?

And, we need a church full of Barnabas’. Those who aren’t content to be on the inside, but who are constantly seeking to be bridges between those on the inside and those on the fringe. Even, like Saul, those who were very different; those who may not easily fit in; those who have a past – like all of do – but maybe a more recent, or more notorious, past, that for some people might be a barrier to fellowship.

A church simply has to be welcoming community – to anyone that walks in it’s doors.

And if the early church could welcome Saul – then we certainly can welcome the people that walk into our doors. We can; the question is: will we?

Will we have the eyes to see the outsider? And will we have the hearts to see the significance this ministry of encouragement and welcome that Barnabas models?

Stott: “Thank God for Ananias who introduced Saul to the fellowship in Damascus, and for Barnabas who did the same thing for him later in Jerusalem. But for them, and the welcome they secured for him, the whole course of church history might have been different… True conversion always issues in church membership. It is not only that converts must join the Christian community, but that the Christian community must welcome converts, especially those from a different religious, ethnic, or social background. There is an urgent need for modern Ananiases and Barnabuses who overcome their scruples and hesitations, and take the initiative to befriend newcomers.”

The powerful preaching of Saul;

The miraculous miracles of Peter;

The encouraging ministry of Barnabas;

The ordinary ministry of Dorcas:

Dorcas might be easy to overlook as ministry snapshot because what we might first think of is that she was the recipient of the ministry of Peter; but we shouldn’t forget that she had her own ministry – an ordinary, but nevertheless, significant in terms of it’s impact and blessing upon those around her.

v36 – “She was a disciple of Jesus who was always doing good and helping the poor.”

Some of those whom she helped were widows – widows are twice mentioned in connection with her – v39, v41

widows, who in those days could be in economic destitution – who they obviously considered to have been helped by this woman

And the form that her ministry took was basically being a seamstress with a heart of generosity and desire to bless those in need:

v39 – they widows are crying and showing Peter the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

These widows, who were possibly in economic dire straits – she made sure they were clothed in dignity and beauty;

These widows were were possibly seen as burdens to others – she made them her sisters;

She saw people who needed something, and she didn’t just say “let me know if you need anything” – but she got out her regular old needle and thread and got to work.

She was no powerful preacher; she was no miraculous miracle-worker; but at her funeral people she was surrounded by people weeping because of the loss of one who had been such a great blessing in their lives

And similar to Barnabas, there was probably not a developed, organized “mercy ministry”- she just did it.

She didn’t just complain about what she wasn’t “getting out of church”, but she gave to the Church – and you might be tempted to think it was insignificant compared to what others might do – Peter or Paul – but it wasn’t – she was greatly loved for it.

and in case after this sermon you would be inspired to name your child after this godly woman you might be happy to note that in addition to Dorcas, she also had a greek name, Tabitha.

And, if you don’t see yourself as a powerful preacher; if you don’t plan to go raise someone from the dead or out of their wheelchair; that doesn’t mean that you can’t  have a significant ministry that glorifies God and blesses God’s people – through the ordinary gifts and opportunities that God has uniquely gifted you with, which you seize to make use of for Jesus.

Maybe you’re just an ordinary person, with a seemingly ordinary role in the world or in the body of Christ – but you can be a blessing to others.

And in a world where the highest goal and pursuit is to get a blessing from others; it is a beautiful thing for someone who lives to be a blessing to others.

For someone who seeks to give life, not steal it; to refresh others, not drain them; to be a blessing rather than to only get blessing.

And so, what perhaps ordinary but nevertheless God-given gifts and opportunities has God given you, that you can consecrate to his service?

We’re going to respond by singing “take my life and let it be”

and i hope this will be our prayer – that whatever we have – our moments, our days, our hands, our feet, our voice, our lips, our sliver, our gold, our intellect, our wills, our hearts, our love, our very selves – that we would recognize they are from God and so consecrate them in service to God – seeking to bring him glory in all that we do, using them for good and love of others.