Hindered Hearts / Unhindered Kingdom

“After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe. Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors when He said, Go to these people and say: You will listen and listen, yet never understand; and you will look and look, yet never perceive. For the hearts of these people have grown callous, their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and be converted, and I would heal them. Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen! ” After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves. Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:23-31 HCSB)

My four year old grandson has found a new bedtime habit. When he spends the night with us and he finishes his bath and gets ready for bed, he begins to ask for one of us to tell him stories. Not just any old story, he wants to hear stories about his father’s and our youngest son’s childhood. “Papa, tell me more stories.” So, we begin telling him about the things that his father did when he was just a boy. Stories of him and his brother jumping off the roof of the house with a plastic grocery bag as a parachute, digging huge holes in the yard looking for dinosaur bones, or swinging as high as they could in the tire swing hanging from a tree in the front yard. As soon as we finish one, he wants another. After a while, we run out of stories but that doesn’t keep him from requesting more and more stories. So, we start over and tell the same stories, again and again.

Now, we reach the end of Luke’s story about “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” His first volume, the Gospel of Luke, is filled with the things that Jesus did and the things he taught. This second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, is the continuation of what Jesus “began to do and teach” but as He does it through the Apostles and the church. Just like my grandson’s life is a continuation of my son’s life, which is a continuation of my life, the stories in the Book of Acts are a continuation of the story of Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus continues to move, motivate, teach, heal and touch the lives of those who hear and understand, those who see and comprehend, those who obey His words and follow His steps. The story isn’t finished… it is ongoing. So, we tell the same stories, again and again.

We tend to think of the Kingdom of God as a place (like Heaven) and, in a sense, it is. But we also tend to think of the Kingdom of God as still coming and, in a very, very real sense, that is also true. But, the Kingdom of God has come, for Jesus said: “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say, ‘Look here! ’ or ‘There! ’ For you see, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 HCSB) The Jews were looking, watching for the Kingdom of God to come in a very physical and visible way, but Jesus said that the Kingdom is not physical, observable but is “among” us. If we understand the Kingdom of God as the rule and reign of God in hearts and lives of men then we can see that it is not a specific location but includes any and all places and that it has come but is still coming and is not, quite yet, complete.

So, this morning I want to finish our study in the Book of Acts with a look at how the story started, how the story is ongoing and how the story will end. If you were to go back and read the first few verses of Acts 1 then you would quickly recognize that the story of Acts didn’t start in chapter 1. The story began long before Luke began telling it in those first few verses. In today’s focal passage, Paul has called together the Jewish leaders in metropolitan Rome. As they gathered at his rented home, he wanted them to know the reason for the charges against him and the chains that bound him. But more than that, he wanted them to know about the incredible story of God’s Kingdom and how it had impacted him and how it could impact them. As you can tell in the verses I cited above, the Jews expected the Kingdom of God to come in some visible, physical way. They expected a conquering King not a suffering, humble servant like Jesus. That’s the focus of Paul’s message and the same focus we need to see and hear, today.

If you go back and read the entire story, not just the story of the Gospels but the entire biblical story, you’ll soon discover that the real heart of the story is man’s inability to walk with God without stepping off the path. The story begins with God walking with Adam in the garden and Adam enjoying the blessings and benefits of walking with God. But Adam stepped off the path and away from God when he chose to directly disobey God’s commands. Was God surprised by Adam’s rebellion? Not a chance. He had already anticipated that response and began the planned process of redeeming and restoring His creation to that path of walking alongside Him. Here’s the point, it wasn’t just Adam’s inability to walk that path without stepping off but also our inability to walk that path without stepping off. And God is no more surprised by your failure than He was by Adam’s. He also made the same provision for you that He made for Adam, an innocent and perfect sacrifice to cover your sin.

“Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:26 HCSB)

The people wanted a King to conquer their enemies, to satisfy their needs and fulfill their desires but what they needed was more than that, so much more than that. They could hear the promises of God in the Scriptures, but they were deaf to His Living Word when He spoke through Jesus. They could see the power of God in the miracles of His physical deliverance through the Exodus and the restoration of Israel, but they refused to see it in the resurrection of the Christ. Fortunately, they weren’t all blind and deaf to God’s word and work. Some were able to see the truth when Jesus restored the sight of the blind, some were able to hear the truth when He restored hearing to the deaf. Some were able, but most were blind and deaf to the real message and purpose of God’s love, the restoration of their souls and of their relationship with Him.

Many of us are also blind and deaf to that same message and purpose of God in our lives. Like so many folks we encounter in scripture, we aren’t focused on walking with God but focused on walking our own path, going our own way, doing our own thing. We aren’t interested in walking with Him, learning from Him or becoming like Him as much as we just want His physical blessings in this life and a good spot in heaven. Jesus reserved His strongest rebukes and greatest condemnation on those who took that approach to life. In our focal passage, Paul is addressing that very issue with those who have come to meet with him. He wants those who see the promise of God in Scripture to see its fulfillment in Jesus. He wants those who have heard the voice of God calling them to obedience through the rituals and sacrifices of the Old Testament to heed and obey the voice of God as demonstrated through Jesus self-sacrifice on a Roman cross and His resurrection.

So, what’s my point in all of this? Like the people in Isaiah’s day (see Isaiah 6:7-13, a portion of which is quoted by Paul in our focal passage), and like those who sought to make Jesus king because of the bread they ate (see John 6) and like many of those gathered in Paul’s home, we are often blind to the work of God and deaf to the truth in His word. We like it when we think God has blessed us and we fret when we think He is angry with us and it is all based on how well our day goes or the receipt or loss of some perceived blessing. In reality, God wants so much more from us and the Kingdom of God is so much deeper than our physical security and financial blessings. The core issue is that the Kingdom of God is all about a King and His authority and His rule in, through and over our lives. As we walk with the King He will guide us into obedience and our hindered hearts begin to transform and become instruments of God’s grace and love in an unhindered Kingdom.

Did you catch that? If not, let me use scripture to restate it… “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 HCSB)

Your body, your life, your purpose in life is NOT your own when you belong to Christ. You’ve been bought/redeemed at a price – Jesus paid that price with His own life. That’s the very thing we are generally blind and deaf towards, God’s absolute rule in our lives. That’s how the Kingdom of God can come and still be “yet to come.” The Kingdom of God has come in my life, but it is not yet complete. I still make mistakes and step off the path in my walk with God and, of course, God corrects me with grace and restores me with mercy. But, that only happens because I have heard His Word and seen His ways through faith in Jesus and have committed myself to walk with Him and to yield my life to His purpose and His plan. In Biblical terms, we call that salvation because God has “saved” me by redirecting my steps onto His path instead of me continuing blindly along my own path and off a cliff.

So, let me ask you… what path are you walking? Some of you might say, “I want to walk with God, but things aren’t going too well. I seem to really make a mess out of things.” Let me be very clear here, walking with God doesn’t mean that you never make mistakes. We all make those mistakes. We all stumble, fall and make a real mess out of things. My question is really “whose path are you really trying follow, Your own or God’s?” Remember, if you belong to Christ then your body (and your life) is not your own. You’ve been bought. The truth is that you’ve been redeemed or bought out of slavery, slavery to sin and now you belong to Christ. So, your goal should not be to please yourself or live your life the way you want but it should be to honor Christ, to obey Him and to live for Him and His purpose. When you begin to live that way, life becomes unhindered. I’ll come back to that in just a minute…

Some of you are not walking with God, and you know it. I suspect that if you’ve made it this far in my post, you want to walk with God but you’re just not sure how. It really comes down to two simple things, belief and ownership. Let’s start with belief or faith, as it is often called in church. What must you believe to walk with God? Well, obviously belief in the one, true God is a great start but it isn’t enough. What? Why isn’t belief in God enough? It is possible to believe that God exists without submitting to His authority and rule. In fact, scripture says that the demons believe in God but tremble at the very thought (see James 2:19). The next thing that you must believe is that God has spoken and is still speaking and acting through His Son, God in human flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus is referred to as the incarnate Word of God, or the very thoughts, expression, mind and person of God in human form. To know and walk with God you must know Him in the way that He has revealed Himself to mankind and that is in and through Jesus. So, belief in Jesus as the Son of God is the next element of belief or faith that you must embrace.

Finally, you must believe and place your trust in the work of Christ on the cross. Jesus died as an innocent man, as the sinless Son of God He died in the place of every man, woman and child. In other words, He didn’t die because of His own sin but because of our sin. His sacrifice satisfied the demands of God and provided for our own redemption. In the image of an Old Testament sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat before God for the forgiveness of our sin. Once you’ve settled those questions of belief, then you must settle the issue of authority. You can believe all of those things without surrendering yourself to Christ’s authority over your life. While I know that it is possible to believe all of those things without saving faith, it certainly seems outrageous. While faith certainly involves belief, it is more than simple belief. Faith involves submission, surrender and absolute trust. So, if you believe those things I’ve outlined then the question remains… are you willing to submit, surrender and place full trust in Christ? If so, then you have begun your lifelong walk with God.

I want to end by talking about living an “unhindered” life of faith. Luke ends his account of Paul in Rome in much the same way that he began the story in chapter 1. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 HCSB) God’s plan and purpose will not be thwarted. It is tempting to look at Paul’s life, and the lives of the other Apostles, and to question this idea of living an “unhindered” life of faith. Surely the long nights in prison, the beatings and stoning, the shipwreck and struggles are signs of God’s message being hindered. I mean, even as Luke writes these very words, Paul is chained to a Roman guard. Unhindered? How can Luke claim that the gospel was proclaimed unhindered when Paul wasn’t free to go where he wanted and do as he pleased? Because God wasn’t hindered by the chains and the Gospel couldn’t be controlled by those chains. Paul was right where God wanted him, doing exactly what God wanted. Unhindered.

That’s what an unhindered life is all about… being so committed and submitted to God that you are willing to go where He wants, when He wants, in the way that He wants, doing what He wants. Unhindered. If you are willing to be an instrument in God’s hands then you too can experience life unhindered. Unhindered by the cares of life, the fears of life, the uncertainties of life and grounded on the bedrock of absolute faith in the love and grace of God. Unhindered doesn’t mean that obstacles won’t exist, it means that God is bigger than those obstacles and His plan won’t be hindered. With that in mind, maybe you should go back and consider what obstacles actually stood in the path of God’s plan and which were actual stepping stones along that path. It might surprise you what you find in Paul’s life, and it might surprise you, even more, what you find in your life when you look at your “so-called” obstacles that way.

Now, go walk with God…

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