Ordinary Men – 08.08.2021
I think many of you probably know this, but if you’ve never walked into my office – there’s a certain level of chaos present. I view my office as a workspace, not a presentation. Some pastors keep their office so clean, and I love that it’s amazing – I’ve always been a little envious of people who can keep it so clean, but if you ever set up a meeting with me, we probably have to move my latest project off the chair in order to find a place to sit down. And in the spirit of that chaos, years ago I developed what I call the Children’s Wall. As is evident in my ministry here, children’s ministry is very near and dear to my heart. And it was, even before I had kids of my own. Children are not just the future of the church, the next generation, but they are also the present of the church. We don’t just need them tomorrow, but we need them today. They keep us humble, keep us grounded, we grow while we are teaching them. And so I have this children’s wall in my office, and up at the top there’s a sign that says, “For to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” and underneath it is a full wall of drawings. I always tell kids, if you draw me a picture during worship, I will put it on my wall. Some of the kids in this church, coloring is their love language and they saw it as a challenge – and so I’ve had to like move onto a second wall a little bit. But lost among the chaos of the children’s wall is a little note I wanted to point out to you. This is a note written by a child during the sermon, and the parents shared it with me after service. Years ago there was a little girl, and her name was Avery – I think she was about six years old at the time. She had incredible writing skills for her age. And she wrote this note I’d like to show you. And it says, “I want to go home mommy and daddy,” and if you look in the corner of the paper, you can see mom’s handwriting, she wrote “why?” And little Avery, with the beautiful innocence and honesty of children wrote, “because I am bord.” [laugh] I get a lot of compliments for my sermons, you have all been so wonderful and encouraging – but I put that on the wall right at eye level, and I see it everyday, to keep me humble.
The last couple of weeks, the Olympics have been going on in Tokyo, and one of the biggest stories has been the mental health of Simon Biles. Biles is one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, performing stunts that people thought were impossible. But then in the qualifying and the opening days, something seemed off. The pressure was too much, and so unexpectedly she stepped back. Some people were really mad at her for stepping down, and not competing in a couple of events. But her team rallied around her, and showed her so much love and appreciation. Gymnastics aside, she was still a human being deserving love. And when she was reminded of that – that she was loved even without gymnastics, she came back and worked on the balance beam, brought home a bronze medal. And again some folks were really upset with her, disappointed in her – but I for one appreciated the reminder that she is a human being. Especially with athletes we do this thing where we build them up into inhuman gods, literally on a pedestal, capable of doing incredible feats for our entertainment. But in end, they are, just like each of us, they are ordinary people.
Now today we’re finishing up part one in the book of Acts in chapter 4. Next week we’ll take a little break, do some Old Testament for a bit, but we’ll be back to uncover the origin story of the original church. So, if you’re just joining us in this series, or if you’ve been along for the ride every week – let me give a quick recap. Last week, Peter and John were entering the temple in Jerusalem, and they healed this guy who had been crippled his entire life. It was this amazing healing, and Peter uses that moment to tell everyone about Jesus. He pivots to this message that, “Jesus died, he rose from the dead and you need to repent and follow him with your life.” And what we found out last week is that no matter how amazing the healing was, having Jesus in your life is even better. And thousands of people are coming to believe in Jesus. But what we’re going to find in chapter four, is that not everybody is super on board with the gospel message of Jesus.
Let’s take a look, [read v.1-4]. Priests, temple guards, sadducees – “we don’t like what you’re saying, lock ‘em up.” And I also want you to catch – 5,000 people, and that’s just the men. Because the culture at this time was incredibly sexist, women didn’t count, and so they would only count your face if it had a beard on it. 5,000 men, and if every dude was married, and they had two kids. We’re talking 20,000 people. And this is back in bible times when they had like 15 kids each. So I want you see, the backdrop to this little story – I mean, this is a massive movement. Tens of thousands of people in the city coming to know Jesus and having the Holy Spirit move powerfully in their life. Let’s see what happens, [read v.5-9]. [laugh] Peter has this moment, where he’s like – really? Srsly, bro? Are we here, arrested because we did a good deed for a crippled man? Like, just to clarify, you’re mad – because that man can WALK after a lifetime of not walking? This is why we’re here?
Alright fine, let me tell you, he keeps going in verse 10 [read v.10]. If ever there was a mic drop moment. Boom. I will tell you, it was the POWERFUL name of Jesus, and in case you forgot – that’s the guy YOU killed, but God raised him. [read v.11-12]. There is salvation in no one else. Now this was good for them to hear all those years ago, but it’s good for us to hear too. There is salvation in no one but Jesus. Salvation doesn’t come from buddha, or Muhammad, not through yoga, or witchcraft, not self help books, not iced coffee. Salvation comes ONLY through Jesus. There is no job, no athlete, no music star, no other religion, no financial bracket, no list of rules, there is no one who can bring you salvation other than Jesus. And then we get to the most important verse in the entire chapter.
[read v.13]. I have so many questions. “for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the scriptures” – what does that mean? Like, is that a commentary on their clothes? Are they dressed like stupid people, or is it in the face? Do they just look like idiots? What is it that tells the pharisees – nothing special about that guy. We’re going to come back to this later, but this is the core message of the sermon right here. Jesus never tried to go after the best and the brightest. Jesus intentionally used the most ordinary men, to do extraordinary things. And I think that’s hard for us to remember because it’s Peter! It’s John! If we were Catholic, we would call them “Saint Peter” and “Saint John.” They refer to Peter as the first “Pope.” We are used to putting these men up on a pedestal, and assuming they were brilliant, strategic, holy men. But they’re not! They were fishermen! Look, and I’m not making a commentary on the intelligence of fishermen, not all fishermen are stupid, but these guys were. They were always getting it wrong. We just read the gospel of Luke last year, they were always missing the point, and Jesus was always correcting them in love. And I know – I know what some of you are thinking. Pastor JJ, it’s very inappropriate and downright rude for you to suggest that the disciples were stupid. But don’t you see? Their weakness gives even more glory to God. What God did through each of them is actually more incredible if they were just complete buffoons. The Pharisees look at them and they “could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the scriptures.”
[read v.14-22]. How do we shut these guys up? They can’t stop the disciples, because the evidence of the miracle is walking around outside! And that must be so frustrating and annoying to these leaders. This healed man going around telling everyone about the power of Jesus’ name. And I just want you to think about that for a second. These men are annoyed that God performed a miracle, because it doesn’t line up with their narrative. Maybe this is why God uses uneducated disciples to spread his word. They’re not smart enough to twist the evidence for their own agenda. And isn’t that the wiser way? I mean, you witness a miracle, like a bonafide divine intervention, like a Disney magic trick without the sparkles, and instead of responding with “wow” – instead of falling on their face in awe, they’re grumpy because they can’t figure out how to twist it up to benefit themselves. I think some of us, myself included, we think we’re too smart for Jesus. And we’re so utterly convinced of our cleverness that we ignore the obvious glory that’s unfolding right in front of us. We try to outsmart God, turn religion for our own personal benefit – to sort of baptize the life we want to live, rather than just… looking at what God is doing and learning and growing from it.
So anyways, they have no way to shut the disciples up without upsetting the thousands of followers, so they let them go. And Peter and John go back to the other believers and they tell them everything that happened. And it’s one of those moments. You know those moments when someone is going through something really hard, and in this church, we’ll just like stop in the middle of worship and we lay hands on someone and pray for them? You know what I’m talking about? That’s what happens for Peter and John. All the believers gathered together, they just start praying, and this is their prayer. [read v.24b-30]. And it’s a powerful prayer, but there’s a pivotal line in verse 29 I want you to hear. Listen to it again, if you’ve got your bible open, look closer [read v.29] Hear their threats and give us great boldness. [read v.31] They pray for boldness and God gives it to them.
The chapter finishes up a lot like chapter two. The believers, this early church, they have this incredible unity, where they take care of each other. Verse 34, [read v.34-35]. There were no needy people among them. And actually, I think there’s a better way to say it. Because there were needy people among them, but they did such a good job of taking care of them, that they were not needy anymore. Even to the point where this one guy Joseph sold a field he owned and gave the money to the apostles to take care of people in need.
The good news this morning is that God gives his boldness to the ordinary. Hear me. God gives his boldness, he pours his Holy Spirit to do incredible, extraordinary things, on the ordinary. The way the temple leaders treat the disciples, it was obvious they were idiots, and rather than be offended, we should be relieved! Let me connect the dots for you here – if God could do all of that with them, think of all that he could do with you. Okay, this is going to sound a little weird, and please don’t fire me – but I think we might be making mistakes when we put young, educated elites in charge of churches. Because then there’s this weird temptation to assume I’m the only one able to “do church.” You’re the pastor, you’re the professional, you’re the only one who can figure out this book and explain it to other people. But that’s nonsense. Do you think Peter was this brilliant scholar? Do you think John had this deep, rich voice like Morgan Freeman? Probably not! All they had was Jesus, and all they needed was Jesus – because God gives his boldness to the ordinary. It’s very misleading, because of the way we’ve set up our buildings. You might think, you are an audience – and I’m the speaker. Some people think that church growth is about getting more people to come in here and sit in the audience and listen to me doing the speaking thing – but that’s not what this is. We are co-workers, and my actual function up here is to train you to do God’s work in the world. I don’t want an audience, I want an army. Ready to do battle with evil that we find in the world. I think we need more idiot pastors, I do – I mean that, we need more idiot pastors who celebrate their weaknesses, for God’s glory.
God gives his boldness to the ordinary. There’s a phrase I want to teach you today. Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe not, but it’s this: “we are the priesthood of all believers.” Have you ever heard that before? It’s an old teaching from Martin Luther, way back from the reformation when the protestant church broke from the Catholic church – but basically it’s sort of self-explanatory. Rather than having an elite category of Christian, who are paid to do the work of the church, and are considered closer to God – the priesthood of all believers is this concept that each and every one of us is to do the work of the church. Ordinary men and women who love God and love their neighbor. It goes hand in hand with our vision statement for the year. We ARE the church. The priesthood of all believers. God gives his boldness to the ordinary, and that takes away all our excuses. We are, each and every single one of us, call to be the church – to share the love of God as a light into a broken and darkened world.
I have one challenge for you this morning and then we’re done. I need you to realize that you have a ministry. I need you to go home tonight and look in the mirror and see an ordinary man or an ordinary woman that God can do extraordinary things with. You are exactly what someone needs in this world. There are people you can reach for Jesus, that I literally could not. You have a unique gift that God will use in a specific way. Henri Nouwen puts it like this, “It is important to realize that you cannot get a Ph.D in caring, that caring cannot be delegated by specialists, and that therefore nobody can be excused from caring. Still, in a society like ours, we have a strong tendency to refer to specialists. When someone does not feel well, we quickly think, ‘Where can we find a doctor?’ When someone is confused, we easily advise him to go to a counselor. And when someone is dying we quickly call a priest. Even when someone wants to pray we wonder if there is a minister around.” I want you to look in the mirror and discover responsibility. Look in the mirror and see the hands and feet of God. You are an answer to prayer. You are presence of God in someone’s life. And if you’re sitting there and your mind is filling with a thousand excuses, a thousand reasons why someone else could do it better – I need you take this bible and find me the disciple that went to seminary. Find me apostle who knew how to look up bible verses. This is a call to action. God pours out his boldness on ordinary men and women. So be ordinary.
I know some of you already do this sort of thing and I’m so grateful for your ministry. Truly we are co-workers in the kingdom of God. But I just think about the early church and that description. It said, “there were no needy among them.” They took such good care of one another that there were no needy among them, and then I think about our church, and our little community here in Flushing. We still have the needy among us, and so it’s time to call in the re-enforcements. It’s time to empower every person in the pews, every ordinary man or woman who calls themselves a Christian. We need every single person in this room to look in the mirror and see the boldness of God poured out in our ordinary lives. The only way to get to the kind of community they are talking about in Acts is through the priesthood of all believers. The Pastor is not the church, WE are the church. We need the whole body of Christ to move, not just a couple fingers and a big toe. Make that phone call, visit someone, sit with the grieving, talk to the lonely, give support to the struggling. The tidal wave of revival in this church will be made up of thousands and thousands of little ordinary moments performed by ordinary people. Because God gives his boldness to the ordinary.
Some of us have a hard time believing that God would even love us, much less work through us to transform people’s lives. But the story God has written in history is a demonstration of his commitment to the ordinary. If he can do all of this [point to the bible] with a couple of goofballs like Peter and John – imagine what he can do with an entire church full of ordinary people like you and me. And so to send you out this morning, I want to pray over all of you the prayer the believers prayed over Peter and John. Pray with me: O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them – you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David. And everything that happened back then was determined beforehand according to your will. And now, O God, your people are hesitant and worried about the world. Hear their threats against us, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Jesus Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus. May you do extraordinary things through us, your ordinary people. Amen.