Hearing God’s voice. Part 3.
Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19th 2019.
All Age Service. Homily.
Acts 11:1-18, also Rev 21:1-8.
When Boko Haram militants attacked a group of 500 Nigerian Christian converts from Islam, 76 Christians were captured. Four male leaders amongst the 76 were asked to return to Islam or be shot. They refused and were killed. Then their four widows were asked to return to Islam or their children would be executed. They were given time to decide.
While the women were agonising, their children ran in saying, that Jesus had appeared and told them all would be well. Then Jesus appeared to the whole group of 72, telling them not to fear, not to renounce Him, and He would protect them. The following day, the militants lined up the children, and, when their mothers refused to deny Christ, took aim. But before any child had been shot, the gunmen started grabbing at their own heads, screaming “Snakes!” and fleeing from the scene. Some dropped dead. A Christian man picked up the gun of a dead militant, but a little girl stopped him using the weapon, saying, “You don’t need to do that. Can’t you see the men in white fighting for us?”
This was an event in the past few weeks recorded by one of the agencies working with Christians facing persecution in Africa.
Praise God for this miraculous intervention! We have many responses to what we have just heard, of those visions of Jesus and of the angels.
And in that house in Jerusalem, as critical believers met with Peter, by the end of his testimony, which mentions angel visitation to Cornelius, three times a vision and the audible voice of God to Peter, the Spirit who told him to go… the believers at the end ”they praised God saying, ”So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Supernatural acts was part of the process that Gentiles were welcomed into the Christian Church.
Last week, we described 5 ways that we can hear God’s voice – that he can guide us.
1. Through Scripture – his general will revealed but at times his particular will in a situation becomes clear as Scripture is illuminated;
2. By the Spirit – in prayer, he can speak as we bring our requests, through desires / shaping of our will to act according to the purpose of God, through supernatural means – visions, as John has of the new heaven new earth, the Spirit speaking directly, as we see here with Peter.
We repeated the need for testing of any ways we believe God may be speaking;
3. through Common Sense – we, made in God’s image, with our minds to reason and consider and how he may guide those processes;
4. Counsel of the saints – a saint being anyone who believes in Jesus – through the advice of peers, or those wiser or in authority, he may lead;
5. Circumstantial signs – God opens doors, closes doors. Can some events be God’s voice, his guidance to us?
I want to focus more on the second point, on the Spirit speaking. On Pentecost, Peter declares that the prophecy in Joel is being fulfilled.
”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2)
Peter says to the crowds, this extraordinary phenomenon of Spirit filled believers declaring God’s praises in foreign languages, is fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. When we read the New Testament, we see, it is the conviction of the writers that Jesus inaugurated the last days, the messianic age, that in Jesus, the kingdom had broken in. We do not requote Joel as if we still wait for the promise of the Spirit to be fulfilled. Peter did not see it that way. On that day, in Jerusalem, that promise and prophecy was fulfilled.
”The whole messianic age, which stretches between the two comings of Christ, is the age of the Spirit, in which his ministry is one of abundance. ” (John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year, pg 298).
The verb used ”pour out” illustrates the generosity of God’s gift – pour out, means not a drizzle, or a shower, but a tropical downpour – like those thundershowers we get here in the Netherlands as summer approaches! Peter tells his listeners about John the Baptist’s words, that believers would be ”baptised with the Holy Spirit.” This word, in ancient Greek, meant drenched or submerged. If a ship was sunk, the ancient writers would say it was baptised by the sea. The ship Titanic, they would write, was baptised by the Atlantic Ocean in 1912,
Poured out – this is about finality – what is poured out, cannot be gathered in again.
And what is poured out – is universal – widely distributed among humanity, regardless of gender, age, class. Poured out.
Thanks to John Stott’s reflections on ‘Poured Out’, from John Stott, Through the Bible, pg 298
What are some of the effects of this outpouring? They will prophesy he adds. Instead of a few, many can hear from God for the benefit of his people – to foretell or forthtell. From an era, when the voice of the Lord was rare before Jesus ministry, now Peter says, through the pouring out, the voice of the Lord will be common.
We see this reflected in the following chapters of Acts. The Spirit who reveals to Peter the sins of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), the Spirit who tells Philip to go near the Ethiopian’s chariot (Acts 8), who speaks to Peter to go with soldiers sent by Cornelius (Acts 8), there are prophets and prophetesses such as Agabus and Philip’s daughters (Acts 11 & 21); the Spirit who calls for Paul and Barnabas to go on their missionary journey (Acts 13); The Spirit who guides the Jerusalem Council as James shares (Acts 15); the Spirit who says no to Paul and then yes to Paul through the vision of the Macedonian Man (Acts 16), the Spirit who warned Paul about the dangers and hardships ahead, as he shared with the Ephesian elders, (Acts 20). The impression we get. The Spirit is poured out. The Spirit is not only empowering the apostles and other believers to witness, giving them courage and wisdom, but he is speaking to individuals personally as well as to churches.
How does He speak? Four observations to help us, from Acts 11. The first thing we see with Peter. His trance. It comes out of nowhere. We said this when we look at Ananias the disciple in Damascus. The Lord speaks out of nowhere. It is a surprise. Peter was not looking for a vision. It happened.
Secondly. He is in prayer. We do not know what he was praying about. But is he copying the Lord – the Lord would go away to pray, it says ”Peter went up on the roof to pray.” A conscious setting aside of time. Like the Lord did and as he saw the Lord do. It is the same as John – in Revelation 21 and in previous weeks we heard glorious verses of worship yet where does it all begin. ”On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet which said…” Again, when Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch, the Spirit’s voice was heard as they were worshipping and fasting. There is a drawing near to the Lord. This suggests to me. Do I dwell with the Lord or I rush in and rush out. I mentioned the example of running in, telling Patrick as Physio all my injuries and then run out without hearing his views. As we pray an openness to the Lord speaking in response. But I’d suggest a dwelling, an image like Mary who sits at Jesus feet,(Luke 10:38-42) is perhaps what I see here with Peter, John, the prophets and teachers in Antioch. My personal view, if I seek to be more of a Mary in prayer than a Martha in prayer, I believe I may well hear the Lord’s speaking in one of its many forms. To consciously sit / dwell in the Lord’s presence, like Mary, compared to rushing in and out and saying a few words to Jesus, like Martha.
Third. Note again. Peter knows the scriptures. He knows about the promises of the Gentiles to come to worship. He knows of the blessing to come through Abraham. And he has heard the teaching of Jesus declaring all foods clean. Yet the Lord uses a vision to get across his point to Peter. I believe at times, to get through to us, the Lord will use a range of means. At times supernatural means.
Fourth. The Lord remains Sovereign how he speaks. To Cornelius an angel. Then a vision and a voice about unclean and clean. Then the soldiers arrive. Peter doesn’t have another vision, instead the Spirit tells him to go. We don’t know how the Spirit speaks – thoughts in his mind, or an impression, ‘to go’, an audible voice he heard with his ears? But the Spirit spoke. A range of ways the Lord speaks in a few verses. He is Sovereign. I’d say it is not about dictating to God how he will speak, or say we are not as holy as believers if he speaks to us in one way and not another. It is being open to his voice, in whatever way he chooses to speak.
How to discern? How to test? This is some initial ideas. We will return to this more next week. Three ideas. Revelation, Interpretation, Application.
Revelation. What is the impression, the vision, the thought, try to write it down. Try to be as clear as possible. Don’t add meaning onto it. What is it? So Peter. He saw, three times, a large sheet, with all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. And he heard a voice saying Get up Peter Kill and eat. When Peter refused, he heard ‘Don’t call anything impure that God has made clean.” So what is the Revelation – we think and praying, ‘Lord is this from you?‘ We have imaginations and a whole set of things can be going on inside us. And as we reflect on it, prayerfully, we may realise it is our good thoughts and not from the Lord.
When it is clear what it is, and it is from the Lord. We move to Interpretation. We are praying, ”Lord what does this mean.” If we believe this could be, as far as we best discern, from God, we want to know what he wanting to say – the meaning. We quoted Gandalf – – “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” The Lord speaks not late, or early, but precisely when he means to. It was the right time he has spoken to us. He has a plan.
So we press in. We see this example in Daniel, asks for meaning and clarification. We may have no clue at first. Or the meaning may be very clear to us.
We also do not need to be fearful about the meaning. Our Lord seeks to build up, encourage, to comfort, to strengthen. It may bring challenges and changes to us but it is for the good. As we saw in Peter’s restoration in John 21. When the Lord asks for the third time, ‘do you love me’, Peter is hurt. But Jesus intention is only about restoring him, healing, building up. As Paul says, the Lord’s will, is good pleasing perfect, (Romans 12:1-2)
Finally, after interpretation, we move to application, praying – once we believe we have the meaning, we can consider how does this apply to our lives. We are praying – Lord what do you want me to do with this? If the Lord speaks, we understand the meaning, then we are to act – once Paul and Silas see the Macedonian Man, then understand the meaning – to go – the application is to go and the obey and get a ship.
We have talking about God speaking to us individually. But the application – may be to share this with someone else. The Lord may, in our prayers, for example, have spoken and the revelation is for another person.
This entire process of discernment may take hours, days, weeks. We do not need to rush it.
So to repeat the process. Revelation. What is it? Interpretation, Lord what does this mean? Application. Lord what do you want me to do with this. Seeing Peter as an example – he sees the vision. Revelation. The interpretation – the meaning – do not call unclean anything. However, Peter is still thinking on it, he does not know the application. Then the application becomes clear as he goes with the soldiers to Cornelius.
The vision I began with. Can we imagine how upbuilding that was then to those Nigerian Christians. They didn’t know how it would happen but they were protected. The Lord chose to speak in that way. It build them up, encouraged them, comforted them and strengthened them.
In the days of Peter, the Lord spoke using a variety of supernatural means – angel, vision, voice, Spirit spoke – and it helped lead to the Gentiles being accepted as fellow believers in Christ, granted the joys of eternal life. It built up, encouraged, strengthened and comforted the church.
Shall we pray.