Fear and Favor – Acts 2:42-47

Let us say that there was a war between the United States of America and the Dominion of Canada.

And let us imagine that you were in charge of a force of one hundred men stationed on the Canadian border at Eastport, Idaho.

Let us say that you divided your men into three divisions:

One directly on the highway, with the rest on hills on either side, looking down at the border crossing.

Let us say that you had plenty of time to dig in, to find the best lines of sight, and to plan contingencies.

And now, I brought one hundred Canadian troops with the intention of crossing the border and attacking the strategic city of Bonner’s Ferry.

Of course, I was forced to travel down the Moyie valley right into the sights of your guns.

You can see me coming from ten miles away.

There is no doubt that despite our equal numbers, you have a decided advantage over me.

Even if I had twice the numbers that you had, you’d still have the advantage.

So how much fear would you have of me and my mighty Canadian army?

Now think back to the Book of Joshua (2:8-11).

Do you remember the conversation that Joshua’s spies had with Canaanite Rahab?

“And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof;

And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.

And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”

The Canaanites were well acquainted with war.

They had a good, standing army, and had won their share of military victories over the years.

But as the foot-weary Israelites approached the Jordan River, the Canaanites began to cower in terror.

Militarily there was no way that Israel should have been able to ford the river during its Spring flooding.

Just a handful of skilled archers could have cut down the advancing Israelites by the thousands,

And the river would have swollen even more – with Israelite blood –

While the Canaanites might not have lost a single man.

But there was something special going on:

God had already said to Israel: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.”

“There shall no man be able to stand before you: for the LORD your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as he hath said unto you.”

“The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways.

The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways.

And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee.”

There are similarities and lessons to be learned by comparing the establishment of the Lord’s church,

And the establishment of the nation of Israel.

And one of those is the fear of the Lord.

There a couple of contradictory words here in our scripture this morning: “fear” and “favour.”

In Jerusalem after Pentecost “FEAR came upon every soul.”

The Lord’s church was, in a sense, the attacking army in this case.

She was crossing the Jordan and beginning to take possession of the Lord’s promises.

But she was young, inexperienced and vulnerable before the defensive forces of the wicked city.

Most of these were not yet Christian soldiers, but rather just babes in Christ.

They knew nothing of the “whole armor of God.”

Their pockets were filled with a few round stones and in their hands were some sling-shots.

What did they know about the fight that they were about to face?

The leadership of the Jews, on the other hand, was thoroughly intrenched in their wickedness and their spiritual dominion.

They had already fought and won spiritual battles on the side of sin and Satan.

There may have been a Roman army just up the road from the temple, but the Sadducees and the Pharisees had control of the consciences and souls of the people.

And that was clearly visible in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.

One day the people were tossing palm branches down before the Lord and shouting “Hosanna, hosanna to God in the Highest.”

And the next day they were shouting “crucify him, crucify him.”

The dramatic shift came when the priests began to apply their power over the people.

But where is that Satanic power now in Acts 2?

It had been swallowed up by FEAR.

THE CAUSE of this fear was the will of the Lord.

Jehovah had stepped in to protect the infant church, ….

Until they could get their feet on the ground, elect a new pastor, ….

And win more of the city to the truth of God.

Earlier, in catechizing His disciples, the Lord Jesus had asked, “Whom say ye that I am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The Lord Jesus is the architect and general contractor of His church – His churches.

In Matthew 16:18 He said that He would build His church upon the foundation of Himself – the rock.

In fact He had already been building it for months, and He continues to build it upon the same foundation.

And the gates of hell cannot stand against the onslaught of the church’s attack.

Matthew 16:18 isn’t talking about the Lord’s churches withstanding the attack of Satan;

It’s talking about the gates of hell standing against the attack of the Lord’s churches.

We are supposed to be the aggressor and we were never meant to be on the defensive.

In Acts 2, the walls of Jericho, the walls of Jerusalem were as weak as paper against the saints of the Lord.

We don’t hear of any persecution, or of any opposition, against the church until we get to chapter 4.

“This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”

The cause of this fear was the Lord, and THE CATALYST appears to have been the sermon of Peter coupled to the miracles of the Lord.

“And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.”

How many members of the church were speaking in tongues that first Pentecostal morning?

The language seems to suggest that the entire church membership was involved.

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were ALL with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were ALL filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Our charismatic friends are probably delighted that I would say something like that.

There are people among them who say that if someone doesn’t speak in tongues it is a proof that the person is not a child of God.

Hog wash.

Let’s not make more of that very special day than we should make of it.

Following that great Pentecostal morning,

How many members of the church were speaking in tongues, healing the sick, and raising the dead?

How many were multiplying bread, filling barrels of oil for the widows,

And otherwise being used of God to work mighty miracles?

The scriptures speaks of only the Apostles performing miracles right here

I assume that the Spirit was speaking about the twelve Apostles at this point.

If the Lord allows us to proceed with this study of the Book of Acts,

I would like to encourage you to take note of how many miracles were performed

And whom the Lord used to perform them.

With very rare exceptions the only miracle workers were the Apostles.

In other words, miracles were never meant to be the foundation of the work of the Lord.

Ironically, miracles are little more than crutches to prop up the work until the more substantial ministry of the Word of God gets rolling.

And what were the miracles that the Lord was using at the end of chapter 2?

For the most part, the Holy Spirit does not tell us, because that is not important information.

Despite their PERIODIC frequency in the Bible, miracles WERE not, ARE not, and NEVER WILL BE very important.

It’s the Lord Who is important; Truth is important; eternal souls are important.

Miracles may have their place and work, but it was usually temporary and with a specific purpose.

And what was the one other ingredient in this miracle-caused-fear?

Remember that Peter had quoted Joel in his initial explanation of these miracles,

And then he tied that to the great and notable day of the Lord’s judgment.

“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.”

Part of the evangelical success of the first church was due to the fear that many of those people had of the nearness of Judgment day.

There was a fear caused by the miracles, and a fear of what was going to happen next.

Will the great and notable day of Lord begin this morning?

People were genuine afraid.

The combination of circumstances were making the unthinking think about eternity, judgment and the Lord.

Unfortunately, when the wrath of God didn’t immediately fall on the city, the fear began to slowly subside.

But in the mean time the CONCLUSION, of this fear was a temporary freedom for the people of God.

“And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.”

So that “they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

Praising God, and having favour with all the people.”

During the following few days, or weeks, the new saints and church members had the opportunity to grow in the things of God.

There was some degree of peace from the Christ-hating segment of Jews.

There was opportunity to use the temple grounds and to go from house to house preaching the gospel.

Then, in contrast to the fear that the city had of the Lord, the Apostles and the church….

The people who were members of that church also had FAVOUR with all the people of the city.

The CAUSE of that favor was not the miracles, because that was having the opposite effect.

The church was not miraculously feeding the city, making hospitals obsolete and putting the morticians out of business.

And it probably wasn’t the message that was making them so popular either.

Not very many people like to be told that they are depraved sinners and in need of repentance.

Many of them refused to believe that the Lord would justly judge THEM.

If everyone was in love with the message of the gospel, then the whole city would have come to Christ.

No, the CAUSE of the favor that they had with the public was apparently the result of their salvation.

They were new creatures in Christ Jesus and all things had become new about them.

And their saved souls could be seen in their changed lives.

The CAUSE of this Christian favor among the general populace was the salvation of these 3,100 people.

But the actual CATALYST was what their new hearts were doing through their new lives in Christ Jesus.

I don’t know much about the preacher John MacArthur, but I have read articles of his that I like very much.

For example I read one on Thursday that was contrary to modern evangelicalism, but right on the mark nevertheless.

It was called “Faith Obeys” and it came from his book The Gospel According to Jesus.

It began by describing an evangelism training film that MacArthur was asked to review.

The film instructed workers NOT to tell non-Christians that they must obey Christ, surrender their lives, repent of their sins, submit to His lordship, or follow Him.

It said that evangelists should merely state the details about Jesus’ death.

In other words, it equated saving faith with understanding and accepting the facts of the gospel.

But the true facts are that saving faith is all about a completely new life in Christ.

It involves a death and a resurrection, and I’m not thinking only of the death of Christ.

The new believers in Jerusalem had not just believed that Jesus had died and risen again;

These new believers had been revolutionized by the resurrection life of Christ.

In other words the 3,000 souls that were saved on the Day of Pentecost were regenerated.

It was not a religious exercise whereby they changed churches or changed religions.

They became different people by the grace of God.

They had been discipled, and baptized and now they were being taught to observe all the things that the Lord had given to His disciples.

They were beginning to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

For thousands of years the world has hated, but has been addicted nevertheless, to the works of the flesh:

“Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.”

And I believe that many in this world are starving for the rest of the things mentioned in Galatians 5:

“Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.”

These thirty-one hundred people were the salt that their society had secretly and desperately longed for.

And those who were servants were transformed over night into the very best of servants.

They were “obeying in all things [their] masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”

And that was catching their master’s attention and making them curious about their higher Master.

And those who were employers were becoming more kind and generous than they had every been before.

They were doing “the same things unto [the servants], forbearing threatening: knowing that [their] Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.”

These three thousand saints were better neighbors, better husbands, better wives, and better children than they had been just a week earlier.

Their world couldn’t do anything less than sit up and take notice that “these men had been with Christ.”

This is what the new birth is supposed to do in us.

Bible Christianity isn’t about changing people’s lives through some forced Christian morality.

Christianity is about new hearts and new lives by the power of the grace of God.

True Christians are lights in a dark world and salt in a tasteless one.

You and I should be making a positive difference in this world.

Whether or not the world loves our message or our Saviour, our lives should in some small way win the favor of our neighbors who are groping around in the darkness.

And remember, it doesn’t matter what we preach, our sermon will not be heard if we destroy our credibility through the way that we behave or misbehave.

We should be able to look at the last verses of Acts 2 and see our church and ourselves.

Have YOU felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit,

And have YOU cried out to the Lord, “What must I do to be saved?”

Have YOU gladly received the Word?

Have YOU become a part of one of the Lord’s churches?

Are YOU helping to make this church a positive influence in this sin-cursed world?

If your answer to this last question is “no,” then I go back to the first question again:

Have YOU felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit,

And have YOU cried out to the Lord, “What must I do to be saved?”

Have YOU gladly received the Word and the Lord of the Word?

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?