GOD SAVES; PREACH JESUS
Written by Doug Ponder on January 8, 2013
Fear, Doubt, and Discouragement
How many times would you have to be insulted, threatened, or beaten within an inch of your life before fear and discouragement would stop you from telling other people about Jesus? For most of us, it probably wouldn’t take much. It’s easy to get discouraged from doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard. I mean, who doesn’t struggle with fear, doubt, or discouragement?
At this point in the story of Acts, Paul has endured a great deal of potentially discouraging setbacks. Yes, he’s seen many people had come to trust Jesus and follow him. But he’s also been mocked, imprisoned, whipped a couple of times, nearly stoned to death, and run out of many towns by angry mobs.
Yet we find Paul still telling people that Jesus is the Messiah the world needs and the one God’s people had been waiting for. And, once again, opposition arises. But something different happens this time. The leader of their Jewish synagogue is converted, along with many others in the city. And just when Paul might have been wondering how much longer he had before he got kicked out of this city too, Jesus spoke to him 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” (Acts 18:9-10).
Good News of God with Us
The vision Paul received from Jesus did not reveal anything new to him. It was more like a reminder that Jesus is proof that God is with us. After all, Paul knew that Jesus was God walking among us, God teaching us, God dying for us, God winning for us. Jesus is God with us.
There is another important sense in which God is with us, however. All those who have trusted in Jesus have died to self and have been made alive by the Holy Spirit, who has taken up residence in God’s people. By the presence of the Spirit, God never leaves us or forsakes us. He is with us in every trial, helping us to learn from our sins and from the sins of others against us. He is also with us in every victory as the one who works in us to provide us with the desire and the energy to do what is right (Phil. 2:12-13).
God Is with Us… So What?
The wonderful news that God is with us, both as the Messiah who forever reigns and redeems and as the Spirit who fills and empowers his people, should give us confidence to face anything that life throws at us. Not because we’ll always “win” in every situation we face, but because we have already won through the victory of Jesus on our behalf. And since his victory is certain, what have we to fear? As the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “We can be fully confident and say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Heb. 13:6). This was certainly the attitude of Sosthenes, the Jewish ruler of the synagogue who became a Christian at the end of our story. Even though he was physically beaten because his belief in Jesus, he persevered. We know this because he later joined with Paul to help write the letter we knew as the book of 1 Corinthians. No amount of pain and punishment could stop him from telling others the good news about Jesus!
If this good news strengthened a guy like Sosthenes, who was beaten for his faith, shouldn’t it also strengthen us? We should have confidence in telling other people the good news about Jesus because we know that the Holy Spirit works through our faithfulness to bring others to faith. It’s not our eloquence, intellect, or power that leads others to see Jesus for who he is; it’s only the work of the Spirit through our obedience to talk with others about Jesus. In other words, God will not fail to draw others to himself through the proclamation of the gospel. The question is, will we obey him and tell others about Jesus? Just as Jesus told Paul, we can perhaps hear him nudging us on today: “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you…”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.