Saints and Sinners - Characters in the New Testament
Saints and Sinners – Characters in the New Testament
Jesus, of course, is the only perfect leader, but God seems to have used many different types of men and women to take the lead in His work. In this message we encounter Barnabas, an early Christian convert and trusted leader in the church at Jerusalem. Sent to Antioch by the apostles to check out what was happening in the church there, he quickly realised that God was doing something special, and soon co-opted Saul (later Paul) to help him in teaching the Bible to these young Gentile believers. Next, he and Saul were commissioned by the Antioch church to go out as the very first formal missionaries to the Roman empire. His ability to see what God was doing, get on board, and encourage others to do the same was inspirational.
In an age of A-listers and celebrities it is easy to overlook the ordinary people who make up the overwhelming majority of people in the world (and the church!). The disciple, Andrew, is simply referred to in the New Testament as “Simon Peter’s brother” in a couple of places. He was never part of Jesus’ inner circle and we have no record of him in any significant upfront role, yet each he is mentioned, he is doing something useful in connecting people with Jesus. He made the most of his opportunities and served his Master well. God needs more “ordinary people” who are ready, willing and available to use their time, talents and opportunities for Him. Never use your “ordinariness” as an excuse for avoiding the work that God has for you, especially in connecting people to Jesus.
More and more today people are struggling because of the stress of 21st century life. Whether it’s anxiety, depression or burnout, the pace of life is taking its toll. Task-oriented achievers who like to be busy are particularly susceptible. Martha was one of these people, and in today’s message we see how Jesus had to gently rebuke her because her busyness was actually holding her back from spending quality time with Jesus Himself. Her priorities were wrong. A little later we see how her sister Mary expressed her devotion to Jesus by “wasting” her most valuable perfume on Him! Are you a busy person? Remember, make sure you don’t neglect having a regular time with the Lord, and always give Him your very best. This is the best way to stress-proof your life.
Why do people fall away from following Christ? There are many possible answers to this question, and it troubles those of us who love and care for our friends who do. Judas Iscariot stands as the supreme example, as someone who was so close to Jesus, yet not only walked away but even betrayed Him. Why did he do it? What went wrong? In today’s message Pastor Murray takes us behind the scenes into Judas’s life as we wrestle with these questions. But the bigger question is: could it happen to us? Sadly, the answer is “yes” (see 1 Corinthians 10:12-13). But the good news is that even when we fall away, God is still offering a way back. Failure doesn’t have to be final. Just as Peter found forgiveness after denying Jesus, we can, too. He is the “God of the second chance”.
One of the greatest men of all time, according to Jesus, is John the Baptist. Yet in so many ways he is an enigma to us. He lived in the desert, wore weird clothes, ate weird food and wasn’t afraid to offend people, even the governor and his wife! Yet this eccentric man was also profoundly godly. In the tradition of an Old Testament prophet he fearlessly called people to repent and get ready for the arrival of the Messiah. But he was also deeply humble as he consistently pointed people to Jesus and flatly refused any special attention for himself. His greatest joy was to see other people following Jesus: “He must become greater. I must become less” was his modus operandi. May we be as faithful in pointing others to Jesus in our day.
How much risk or danger should a Christian expect to face in the normal course of life? Of course, that depends on where you live. As Christianity is increasingly pushed to the margins of western society, there is a growing antagonism which is forcing many modern-day believers to take a risky stand for Christ. Surely Stephen, the first martyr of the church, is a wonderful model on how to do this. Whether by his godly life, his fearless courage or his inspirational death, he shows us how to live and, if necessary, die for the glory of God. May God spare us from a safety-first, comfortable Christianity that costs nothing and watches on apathetically as Jesus is mocked and rejected today.
How does anyone become a Christian? By hearing the message of Jesus from another person (Romans 10:17). And each generation is responsible for passing that message on to the next generation. Otherwise Christianity will die out within about 50 years. Philip, the evangelist, is the classic example of a man who was passionate about telling others about Jesus. Threats and dangers didn’t stop him. And God was clearly directing and using him. Wherever he was, he had one message… and it was always about Jesus. Let’s not over-complicate evangelism. Some people have a special spiritual gift of evangelism. But for most of us it’s a matter of sincerely and simply telling others about Jesus.
Two of the more intriguing characters in the NT are the couple, Aquila and Priscilla. They obviously had a strong marriage, but it was how they used their marriage for God that makes them so impressive. They were very mobile, with records of them living in Rome (twice), Corinth, and Ephesus (twice). They were extremely hospitable. And they relished the opportunity to serve as Paul’s gospel “coworkers” wherever they went. How do we see ourselves and our circumstances in the bigger scheme of God’s purposes? This is the question Aquila and Priscilla force us to ask ourselves. You’ll be challenged as Pastor Murray sheds light on this amazing couple.