Open up to Acts 18. Last week Matt talked about Chicago, and this week Steve asked me to preach on Chicago, so what I wanted to do was look at Paul and how Paul got to Corinth, and then next week I want to look at Paul's heart for the church in Corinth. Since these will be my last two sermons, Lord willing, as an acting pastor at this campus… This campus means so much to me and my family I wanted a text today that would show what it is we're going to do and why we're going to do it, and then a text next week that could, as best I can, through the words of Paul, communicate my heart and my family's heart for you. So let me pray, and then we're going to get into it.
Father, I again ask your blessing on our time. I pray you would, by your mercy and grace, send the Holy Spirit in a rich way into our gathering, into this moment, that we would be covered by your Word, by the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the Scriptures, and I pray you would do what only you can do. Open up eyes, soften hearts, and shape us in the image of Jesus we pray. In Christ's name, amen.
A couple of weeks ago we had a professor come in and teach our staff on manhood. He's an incredible man. He has four biological kids and four adopted. A few months ago they adopted a new 7-year-old. He told us the story about how the second day he had his new 7-year-old, his son said, "Hey Dad…" The professor is a baseball's baseball, baseball kind of guy, all right?
The son said, "Hey Dad, my favorite sport is football," and he said, "No, it's not, son. It's baseball." He said, "No, Dad, it's football." He said, "What's your last name, son? Stenson? Okay, it's baseball." He said, "Well, can football be my second favorite sport?" "Anything but soccer can be your second favorite sport," which is reasonable, we'll all agree. A few weeks later he came to his dad and said, "Hey Dad, baseball is my favorite sport, and we don't like soccer, do we?"
My point is not how to raise an adopted child. I know there are a thousand theories out there, and I don't know any of them. I do know my wife and I have a heart for adoption. We have a desire to adopt. We have two little ones, a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and one on the way. When our kids get older, we want to adopt a child their age.
My 3-year-old (this has nothing to do with the sermon, but I'm going to tell you anyway) said to me the other day, "Hey Daddy, does everybody have a family?" and I said to her, "No, baby girl. Not everybody has a family." My wife and I want to provide a family for someone who does not have a family one day. I pray that heart for adoption infuses the church global, and that we might adopt every child who has no family.
Back to the sermon. My point is, however, at 7 years old, when he's adopted into the family, he is hardwired by God to get on board with his father. I have a 2-year-old son, and a couple of nights ago, 10:30-ish, way past bedtime, I walked by the room, and under the door I see that light underneath the door, which all parents know means problems inside the bedroom.
I go into the room and look over, and my son has toothpaste all over his face. He looks at me and says, "Hey Daddy, shaving cream!" I spanked him, obviously, and then I gave him a hug. Why did he do that? Because he sees Daddy every day putting on shaving cream, and he is designed by God to be like Daddy. Do you know what has never happened in my home? Not a single time. I have never gone to my 2-year-old and said, "Hey, son. That's a good-looking diaper. Can I borrow one?"
I've never gone up to him and said, "Hey, you know how you can walk up to strangers without them knowing and you just hit them with sticks? Can you show me how you pick your mark and weave your way up? Or when you kicked your Little Village teacher last week, can you show me how you snuck in there and they didn't see you?" Never a single time. Why? Because the son is hardwired to get on board with his father, not the father to get on board with his son.
This is a physical picture of a spiritual reality. Trevor Burke says it this way. I honestly don't know who Trevor Burke is, but I got this from The Gospel Coalition, and they're trustworthy. Trevor Burke said adoption depicts what it means to be a Christian. When we are converted to Jesus, when we go from death to life, from not loving Jesus to loving Jesus, something happens. This is a picture of what happens.
What happens is we become hardwired by the Spirit of God to get on board with what the Father is doing. When we are converted to Jesus, when the Holy Spirit enters our lives, regenerates us, opens up our eyes to see Christ for who he is, we are hardwired by the Spirit to get on board with what God is doing. This does not mean, though, that when we are adopted into the family of God we come in without baggage. Right? If you adopt a 7-year-old, he doesn't come in without a past. He comes in with a past of home to home to home, orphanage to orphanage to orphanage. There's a past they bring in.
The same thing is true. When I was converted at 22, I had 22 years of sinful baggage I brought into my walk with Jesus. This was baggage brought about by a lot of sin the Lord had to cultivate out. He's still cultivating it out of me, and I have a long way to go before it is cultivated out of me. This is a physical picture of a spiritual reality, and it does not change. We have been hardwired by the Spirit of God to get on board with what the Father is doing.
So the question we have to ask is…What is God doing? Before we can get ground level, we need to lay a foundation and ask the question…What is it that God does? I would answer that this way. Here's what God does. God sends so the gospel can save. What does God do? God sends so the gospel can save. If we look at this throughout the Scriptures, we see creation. Creation was an overflow of the Trinitarian God sharing his delight within himself with created beings, but he did that knowing the rebellion that would take place and the cost it would require of sending his Son to die the horrific death he had to die for us. Creation is very much an overflow of the sending heart of God.
He sent Abraham out to form a new nation, a nation through whom the Messiah would come, the Messiah who would come to bless all nations. He sent angels to deliver messages and to minister to the church. He sent prophets to call Israel back and to speak about the Messiah. He sent his Son to redeem and reconcile a broken world full of broken people like us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He sent the Spirit to comfort, to convict, and to lead us to Jesus.
The Son sends the church to be agents of reconciliation in the world. Then one day, one glorious day, the Father will send the Son to return to bring an end to sin and to usher in the new heavens and the new earth. So what does God do? God sends so the gospel can save. This brings us to Acts 18. Acts 18 opens up with a deeply personal question that's sitting right on the face of the text in the first verse that I want us to answer.
Acts 18:1: "After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth." We're forced to ask, "Why would Paul leave Athens and go to Corinth?" The reason we have to ask this question is if we just jump back a few verses to Acts 17:16 it says, "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols." The question is…Why, then, would Paul leave Athens and go to Corinth? If his heart was so provoked, if his spirit was so provoked by the idols of Athens…
By the way, Athens would have been a dream city for Paul. It would have been a city he knew about growing up. It would have been a dream to go there. It would have been a dream city. When he got to it, he looked around and saw a city full of idols. So why, then, would he have left? The reason this is a deeply personal question for me is that I am provoked by the idols of Dallas, and I am provoked at how the idols of Dallas have slipped their way into the church. I don't just mean our church; I mean the church at large, but I'm speaking to our church.
I am provoked at how the idols of this city have just kind of slithered in here. If I could get ground level, just kind of real life for a minute… I'm pro-fashion, all right? I love fashion. You can tell. I'm in. (I don't think that was funny at all.) I'm in for fashion. I actually do. I love the creativity behind it. I don't have creativity, but I do love it. When people explain it to me, I love it. But the kind of money we spend on clothes to be accepted by people around us in this city is insane. I mean it is insane.
In five years of pastoring at this church, do you know how many people have sat in my office, engaged couples, justifying sin, saying, "We believe we're married in our hearts"? I am provoked because you learned that somewhere. It just wasn't from the Scriptures. I'm provoked by the idols of Dallas. So the question is…Why, then, would we leave Dallas to go plant a church in Chicago? I pray by the grace and mercy of God the answer to that question is the same answer as Paul's, and we're going to see it as we move through.
Verse 2: "And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade." There's a topical sermon sitting right here in this text for another day about the hidden providence of God in the circumstances of your life and the value of your work in the workplace, but that's for another day for someone else to preach.
I want you to look at what Paul does in verse 4: "And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks." There are two things I want you to see in this text right here. One is there is both reason and persuasion. There is both intellectual argument, intellectually arguing that Jesus is the Christ, and there's emotional persuasion. There's Paul trying to win the crowd over. He is addressing both the head and the heart, because the gospel addresses both the head and the heart. Christianity is not simply learning a list of facts, nor is it simply, "I believe Jesus gives me a hug when I have a bad day." The gospel addresses both head and heart.
I want to lay this out for you guys. There are legitimate hard questions to our faith. There are questions… At the end of the service when we're done, I can stand in this corner, and you can come pin me in a corner and force me to say, "I don't know." In fact, I can tell you the questions to ask me about our faith that can make me say, "I don't know," but I believe this statement is true. I believe most intellectual objections are rooted in an emotional rejection of Jesus.
The issue is not why you can't believe; it's why you don't want to believe. So if you come to me afterwards and you go, "Hey man, tell me. Seriously, bro. Jonah? A whale? Really?" I'm going to ask you about your dad. If you come and say, "The resurrection…really?" I'm going to ask you about your experience in the church. "How have you been treated? Tell me about your childhood." I believe most intellectual objections are rooted in an emotional rejection of Jesus.
The second thing is the gospel also saves Jews and Greeks. It saves both religious and irreligious. It saves both out of the church and out of the crack house. I think most people in this room are probably something like me, where if you hold up pure religious guy and pure irreligious guy, you would go, "Man, I'm kind of neither and both. I'm neither one of those guys, and I'm kind of both of those guys. I have this moral exterior. I grew up in the church, maybe. I have kind of a religious motivation in my morality, but I have this 12 to 2 a.m. life that if anybody knew about I would feel overwhelming shame."
Here's what Jesus is saying to you. "I know. I know about that 2 a.m. life. That 2 a.m. life is what the cross was all about. My blood covers that 2 a.m. life. My life, my death, is wholly sufficient for you, wholly sufficient for anything and everything you've ever done or ever will do. Come to me. Come to me." Tim Keller… If you don't know who Tim Keller is, I recommend you learn who Tim Keller is. He's kind of "Yoda Daddy" in my life right now. I don't know if “Yoda Daddy” is Christian or not Christian. If it's not Christian, I didn't say it. If it is, then I did.
He says the cross says you are far more sinful than you realize but far more loved and accepted than you dare to believe. There's a religious guy inside of us who says, "I'm not that bad," and that's the guy who walks living, justifying sin. Then we all have this irreligious guy inside of us who says, "I don't really need the approval of God." I think we've all probably bought into both lies on some level. Let's keep reading. Verse 5:
"When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'"
This testifying, this testimony, was a life that had encountered the living Christ, that was a living testimony to who Jesus was. Paul's life had encountered the living Christ, and now he was living out a life that was testifying to who Jesus is. This conviction was rooted in the Scriptures. He was in the synagogue. By the way, as a side note, can you imagine the guts it must have taken for Paul to go into the synagogue and proclaim Jesus? "Hey, Jews. Let me come into your gathering and tell you why you're all wrong." Can you imagine the guts it must have taken for Paul? What a man of God.
He was rooted in the Scriptures, so he would have known things like this. In John 5, Jesus says, "The Scriptures bear witness about me. Moses wrote of me." He would have known Jesus said, "Hey, those things Moses wrote, that Old Testament you're reading? It's about me." He would have known Luke 24 when Jesus said, "Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled." When Jesus said this in Luke 24, he was making a categorical statement. The way our Old Testament is organized today is not the way it was then. It was organized in those three categories. So Jesus was saying, "The whole of the Old Testament is about me."
Then Hebrews 11. I remember the first time I read this. I didn't sleep that night. "Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt." Moses looked at Egypt and said, "All you have to offer is nothing compared to Christ." I love the wording. It doesn't say "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus." It says, "Christ." I don't think Moses knew the details of the life of Jesus, but he knew the Christ was coming, and his hope was set firmly and fully in the Christ who was to come.
For Paul, knowing this… There's actual, textual, historical evidence that when he went into the synagogue, he would have read the Old Testament like this. He would have read Isaiah 53 saying, "Jesus was pierced for our transgressions. Jesus was crushed for our iniquities. Upon Jesus was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with Jesus' wounds we are healed." Paul's conviction was rooted in the Scriptures that produced a life transformed by the glory of Jesus Christ, and he became a living testimony.
The other thing Paul knew that's in this little text right here is that salvation belonged to the Lord. He said, "I'm rejected. Man, I'm out. Blood be on your own heads. I'm innocent." He knew salvation belonged to the Lord and you cannot manufacture salvation. Some of us in this room (by "some of us" I mean me too)… We have family, we have friends, we have kids, and we have aggressively tried to lead them to Christ in all kinds of ways.
We need to hear from Paul that you cannot force someone to come under the blanket of grace. All you can do is let your life be a living testimony to the glory of Jesus. You cannot force someone to drink from a fountain they don't want to drink from. The Spirit will blow where it wishes. My prayer for us is that our lives are winning testimonies to the reality of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Let's keep reading. Remember he said, "I'm done with the Jews, and I'm going to the Gentiles." I love this little verse: "And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God." Now where did he live? Okay, synagogue. "I'm done with you guys. I'm done with the Jews. I'm done with the synagogue. I'm out of here. I'm going to the Gentiles." Now where did he go? Titius Justus. "His house was next door to the synagogue." "I'm out of here. I'm gone. I'm leaving, and I'm going next door."
Going doesn't always mean Somalia. It might for you. For some of you it might mean going to Somalia. It might mean laying down your life for the sake of the other nations. It might mean getting on our Middle East team. The team leaders are in the room right now. If you have a heart for the Middle East, come see me afterwards. We'll connect you guys. It might mean being on the Middle East team that's going out next year.
It might mean coming to Chicago. It might mean joining our team coming to see a new work in that city. It might mean going down to Bryan-College Station with Blake Chilton. It might mean going to DC with Steven Lee. It might mean those things, but for most of us in this room, it's going to mean seeing we're already sent, and we're sent here to Dallas for the proclamation of the gospel right here. Jesus said in John 17, "Father, as you send me, I send them."
You're here. You live in your neighborhood on purpose, in your apartment complex on purpose. You have neighbors for a reason. Those neighbors are there by the design of God so you would get to know them, and you would love them and pray for them. I've told you guys before I love my neighbors. They are welcome in my home anytime. Steve and Homer are welcome over at my house anytime they want. You're living where you live on purpose.
You work where you work for a reason, because you've been sent there by God to be a living testimony. It's the reality of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Then also to work well, to cultivate a craft for the flourishing of humanity. That's a good thing. You go to restaurants where you go on purpose, because you've been sent by God for the proclamation of the gospel. For most of us, it means seeing we've been sent to Dallas so the gospel can save in Dallas, to push back what is dark and broken in this city.
Let's keep reading. So he goes next door, and watch what happens. "Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household." He says, "I'm out of here. I'm leaving the synagogue. I'm going to the Gentiles," and then who gets saved? Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. "And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized." As he leaves the synagogue and goes on, then the ruler of the synagogue gets converted to Jesus with his family.
This is the hidden work of the Spirit. You don't know what the Lord is doing in someone else's life. You never know. That's why I'm pleading with you. Let your life be a living testimony. Let your mouth be a verbal testimony to the grace of God we have in Jesus Christ. You cannot force someone to be converted. You can't impose conversion on someone. The truth is it's not even up to us. We have to choose to believe, but apart from the Spirit awakening us, it doesn't happen.
I'm guilty, all right? I stand before you guilty of this. A year ago-ish, my brother (I'm not sure why I'm confessing this to you guys, but I'm going to do it anyway) showed up. We sat in that back corner right there. We ate dinner. We listened to baptisms. We got in the car. He drove up on that day, that Sunday. We were leaving here, driving to my house five minutes away. I became that guy. "Randy, you're going to get converted." He dropped me off and drove back to Houston.
I have to learn to trust the Lord. I have to learn to trust the Spirit of God to do what the Spirit of God can do. I have to grow in this. I need you guys to help me. I need you guys to grow in this. We're going to grow together. Trust the Spirit. You can't force grace upon somebody. Surprising salvations are just what God does. Trust the Lord, and let him do his work.
But it didn't stop there. The gospel in Corinth didn't stop with the Jews. It continued spreading to the Gentiles, and many Corinthians believed and were baptized. Jew, Gentile…it doesn't matter. To the ends of the earth, for all nations, God sends so the gospel can save. Now God says something to Paul that's just completely out of the blue. It's so out of the blue I want us to take a moment, pause, and look at it together.
Verse 9: "And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, 'Do not be afraid…'" Has Paul shown any evidence of being afraid? No, he hasn't been afraid. There's no evidence of Paul… In fact, it seems quite the opposite, doesn't it? "Blood be on your own heads; I'm out of here." There's no evidence of that, but because there's no evidence of fear in Paul's life, it doesn't mean it's not there.
Those secret fears we have, those secret insecurities we have in our lives, the Lord knows. He knows. People are always asking me with this planting process, "How's Amanda doing?" I know y'all love us and you mean well when you ask, but it's always asking kind of like, "Oh, I'm sure she's not doing okay." I respond with, "Amanda is great. Amanda is the stable one. I'm the one waking up with night sweats over this thing."
What has happened in this process is the Lord has revealed some areas in my life where I still need the grace of God to flourish. It has revealed the truth is I don't have the courage I thought I had. That's true. I lay that before my covenant family, that I don't have the kind of courage I thought I had. I also have a lot more fear than I thought I did. The thing about fear is it always has a symptom and a root. It always has some way it shows up and something driving it.
I want to walk you through how that plays out in my life, how I get to the sin beneath the sin beneath the sin beneath the sin in my life, because my hope and my heart is not to be a great pastor, not to be a great preacher, not to be a great husband or a great father, although I want all of those things; it's to be a godly man. It's to be a man whose life is laid bare before Jesus, an honest life.
If I can't be honest with myself, if I can't get to the sin beneath the sin beneath the sin in my life and take an honest look at my life, I'm always lying to myself. I'm always pretending to be something other than what I am. If I'm doing that, I'm holding up a pretend version of me to Jesus, saying, "Sanctify that," not "Sanctify this." So I want to get to the sin beneath the sin so I can know who I really am and lay that bare before the light of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and see the gospel do what it does in my life.
So here's how this works. The symptom of fear in my life has been anger. The root is a disbelief that God loves me the way he says he does. Here's how this plays out. I had no idea a merchant account could create such rage in a human being. If you don't know what a merchant account is, congratulations. A merchant account is that middleman between you buying something with a debit card and that money getting to who you bought it from. There's a middleman in there, and that's the merchant account.
Now if you work for a merchant company, I still love you. Okay? But I had no idea a merchant account could create such rage in my life. That rage was rooted in a fear we wouldn't have the funds we needed to have to plant this church. That fear was rooted in a lack of trust that God wants to provide. Not that he can (I know he can), but that he wants to provide. That lack of trust is rooted in a disbelief that God loves me the way he says he does. That's the sin beneath the sin beneath the sin in my life.
I can look to Jesus, and I can take comfort. A man who knew fear but wasn't gripped by it. Remember, "Father, if there's any other way, take this cup from me. But not my will, but yours." I can look to the cross of Christ, and I can know that is the single most courageous act in human history. Through faith in Jesus, I can have the life of Jesus. Through the life of Jesus, I can have the courage of Jesus. This gives hope, because only through gospel courage, only through Christ-centered, Christ-saturated courage can any of us do what the Lord is going to ask Paul to do.
Let's keep reading. Verse 9 again: "And the Lord said to Paul…" Here we're getting to that crystallized answer about, "Why would you leave Athens and go to Corinth?" "And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, 'Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.'"
He went from Athens to Corinth because God is saying, "Before the foundation of the world, there are many people in that city about whom I've said, 'That one is mine.' Go and tell them. That one is mine. Go and tell them. Leave the city you're provoked by, and go and tell them. Go to Corinth. Lay your life down. Go and tell them. There are many people in that city who are my people." God sends so the gospel can save.
Then it spread throughout that region of the world, and eventually, in the 1400s it made its way to the Americas, and then it landed in Pasadena, Texas, where somebody told me, and now I'm telling you, and you're going to go tell somebody. That's how this thing spreads. That's how this goes. That's how this gets from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth: through our mouths, through our lives.
Then it says Paul stayed. "And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." There was this movement of the gospel, where people believed and were baptized, and their eyes were opened to the majesty and the glory of Jesus. Lives were converted. These men and women had the same hopes, the same fears, the same dreams we do. They were chasing these dreams, empty, hollow pursuits, and then Paul comes along, the gospel spreads, and their lives are eternally rerouted in hope in Jesus.
Then we have three years later, 1 Corinthians 1: "To the church of God that is in Corinth…" To the church. What Paul did was he went and planted a church, and the church was made up of those sanctified in Christ Jesus. "…called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." God sends so the gospel can save. Those whom he saves, those whom he redeems, he calls into the church, he calls into this thing we call the body of Christ, the bride of Christ. That's what church planting is. It's reaching in to lost and broken men and women, seeing the gospel transform and redeem them, and calling them into the church. That's what it is.
This is why we believe to the core of our beings God is sending us to Chicago, because he's saying, "I understand your heart and your soul are provoked by Dallas. I'm sending you there because there are people in that city who are my people, and I want you to go, and I want y'all to tell them. I want you to invite them into this thing called the church, that they might believe, and the church might become for some the dearest place on earth. They become saints together with all of those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Jesus did not start an organization; he established a church, a church woven together, interconnected by the Spirit of God. I want you to hear this from me, from a pastor who loves you dearly, who has loved this window of time I've had to walk with you and be a member of this body. Because we're leaving here doesn't mean we've left here. My heart is very much tethered.
I don't know how long we're going to be in Chicago. It could be 5, 10, 25, 35 years. I don't know that any more than you know when Jesus is going to return, but I do know this. I do know my heart is very much, and will always be very much, tethered to you, tethered to the hope that together we might see the light of the gospel push back what is dark in Dallas, Chicago, and to the ends of the earth, living as sent people, knowing God sends so the gospel can save.
Father, I love you and I bless you and I thank you for this family, for this church that my wife, my kids, and I have gotten to be a part of since 2006. We love you. We love them. We love this family. I pray you would flourish in their lives, that the gospel of Jesus, the hope of Jesus, would flourish in this family. I pray for my brothers and my sisters who are gripped by fear in this room. I pray no more.
I pray that the gospel would give freedom today and they would look to Jesus and know, "I can have the courage of Jesus through the life of Jesus." For those men and women in this room who are sitting here like I did 13-ish years ago, who are going, "I don't know how I landed here; I don't know how I wound up in this room," I want them to know, Father, from you, they're invited in. In Christ's name, amen.