The Story Behind the Story ( part 1)
Text: Acts 20
Proposition: The story behind the story is always about the cause of all things, the purpose of all things and the end of all things, the glory of Jesus Christ.
Introduction: "What is greater than God and more evil than the devil? The poor have it, the rich don't need it. And if you eat it, you'll die." The answer… ‘Nothing’. That riddle was often associated with radio personality Paul Harvey. He became famous for relating news stories with a twist of irony or fact and he would conclude each one with, “and that’s the rest of the story.” What Paul Harvey did was to remind the people about what matters, to bring them to the story that is behind the story. When you read Scripture you’ll discover that God has been using that very method since the days of Adam, even today He invites us to see the story behind the story that always points us to the truth of the glory of Jesus Christ. Have a look at Acts 20:1-16 with me and I’ll show you what I mean.
I. Sometimes God’s Word Is Like Lightning, Sometimes It’s Like a Spotlight.
When you think of the qualities of lightning you think about its speed, the way it lights up vast areas in a second, millions of volts in a millisecond. Acts 20 begins like lightning, in three verses Paul is in Phillipi, Thessalonica and Corinth. In three verses, 2 Corinthians and Romans were written, in three verses four months pass. There’s a plot against Paul’s life, eight men step forward to protect him, there is a sermon that goes on for six hours until midnight at the height of which a young man falls to his death. There is a resurrection from the dead, good-byes, a call to walk 40 miles to receive the passing of a torch. It’s like lightning flashing as the Spirit of God inspires the writer of Acts to only put down these background details, readying us for the turning on of the spotlight. Not one word of what Paul preached in those three months in Corinth is recorded, not one statement or theme is given to us from that six hour sermon in Troas. It was like lightning lighting up the sky, showing us the landscape in a flicker. Months, weeks and days are then suddenly arrested into a narrow spot light of an hour. Paul calls for the Elders of Ephesus to come, to walk the 40 miles to Miletus, to receive their final directive. This is the story behind the story, it summarizes not only why Paul has been used of God like lightning, it points to the lightning itself, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the spotlight that God inspired Luke to record, what is it He wants us to see… verses 17 to 24.
II. Every Leader Is Under God’s Spotlight, Not For Acclaim But to Proclaim.
These verses are directed to the Elders of Ephesus, perhaps the 12 men Paul mentored in Acts 19. It is to them that he speaks and yet he is used of God to speak to every person who is a leader in the church today. If you influence another, you lead, if others follow you, you lead, if God has given you much, it is to lead. So this speaks to us all, not just one or two Elders. The message is clear, as a leader we are under a spotlight. Look at what Paul says about this…
1. Leaders you are seen… “You know from the first day…in what manner I lived among you.” It isn’t whether you want to be or not, if God calls you to this He will direct others to see it. People saw Paul, but that’s not the story. The story behind the story is that Paul saw Jesus and followed Christ. Jesus was called by the Father to Incarnation, to come and live among men, from the very first day to be seen. Hebrews 10:5-7 says. “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’ ” That’s it, that’s the reason why leaders are seen… To your will of O God.
2. Leaders confidently serve, proclaim and testify… they do this with all humility. A definition that I love is ‘Humility is confidence properly placed.” (Neil Anderson) The point is that when your confidence is in Christ and not yourself you will serve, proclaim and testify accurately. If you lack confidence in yourself and yet don’t have confidence in Christ, pride will emerge. Pride is not about self confidence, it’s just about self. Your confidence in Christ is built on His confidence in you. Paul’s confidence in Christ points to the same kind of confidence that Jesus had in the Father. So the story behind the story is about the confidence that Jesus had to have in the Father. Remember John 17, “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” It was this confidence that empowered Paul to keep back nothing, to give everything in his heart to these people. At the core of all the teaching and testimony of his own life was this… “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s the Father that has been the target of all sins assault. Every sin whether against ourselves or others or done in unbelief of Christ is always ultimately against God the Father. Repentance is an acknowledgement of that, a grief for it, a choice to cease it. Faith in Christ follows in that. Just as repentance is an act of obedience to God so also is your faith an act of obedience to God the Father. It’s why He sent His Son. So by faith, in obedience, take refuge in the life of Christ given for you. To not do so, to disobey at this level is the unforgivable sin.
3. Leaders are not moved by Fear but Joy, it will be their Testimony of Grace. Paul says that he is bound by the Spirit, constrained, held firmly by both obligation and power. In every city he went the Holy Spirit found a way or a person to confirm that Paul was on the right path. The Spirit prepared Paul with this understanding, fortifying him with every step because much depended on it. The story behind the story is that this is how Christ was not moved by fear but by joy, even to the Cross. It’s His testimony of Grace, the story behind the story. (continued next week)