“A Decision to Make”
Hello and welcome to "Key to the Kingdom." My name is Bret McCasland. When we read and study the Bible, we often come across stories that leave us hanging. We don't know for sure what happened next or how the people responded to the teaching or the message. And, that is done so we can place ourselves in their shoes and decide how we need to respond. Nobody likes to be told what to do or how to respond to certain things. The same principle is true when it comes to our response to the Bible. We like to decide for ourselves what we need to do or not do, based on our own study and insight. And when that is the case, our response is much more genuine and real. In today's lesson, we will consider the responses of people in two different stories. The responses were similar, but they were not forced or coerced. They had an important decision to make and they made it on their own. I hope we will approach this lesson the same way. Please know that it is never my intent to force or coerce anyone to respond in a certain way. I simply want to share the message of the Bible, and give us something to think about in regards to our own relationship with God. With that in mind, I trust you will take part in our lesson by putting yourself in the shoes of those whom we will study. They had an important decision to make regarding the message of Jesus Christ, and maybe you are ready to do the same thing. I hope you will now open your heart and your Bible as we study together.
Perhaps you would agree with me when I say life is a never-ending process of making decisions. Oh, some of those decisions are easy to make and come quite naturally, while other decisions require a great deal of thought, consideration, and prayer. It might be easy to decide what we wear, or what we eat, or where we go for the day, while other decisions require some consideration; like, who will I marry; where will I go to school; and, what is my purpose in life? Oh, that's the way it has always been, and I suppose that is the way it will always be. Life is a never-ending process of making decisions. In the Old Testament we read about a man named Joshua who made a very important decision, for himself and for his family. He was the leader of God's people. And just prior to his death, he gathered up all of God's people and he announced his decision to them. Listen to these words that are found in Joshua chapter 24, verses 14 and 15. <“Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”> Joshua lets it be known that he and his household, or he and all of his family, will serve the Lord. And that's what he had done for many years and he would continue to do so, even up until the time he died. Oh at some point, each and every one of us will need to make that very same decision. Whom will we serve? Whom will we follow? Will we follow the gods and the things that this world provides for us? Or, will we give our heart and our devotion to the Lord God Almighty, just like Joshua? Let me put it another way. From time to time there is a need for us to reevaluate our lives and ask our self this question: Am I headed in the right direction or do I need to make some changes and adjustments in my life? Do I need to get on a different track? That is something that we all need to consider, from time to time. Three times, in the New Testament book of Acts, we find the same story about the same man. The story is found in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26; and, the man is called Saul, who later on became known as the apostle Paul. In chapter 9 we find the actual event. Saul, as he was known then, was traveling with a group of other men on the way to the city of Damascus. And there, they were going to persecute and even perhaps put to death some people who follow Jesus Christ; and, Saul had the power and the authority to do so. He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought he was doing that which honored God. But as they were traveling, suddenly out of nowhere, a great light from heaven shined down upon Saul and it knocked him to his knees. It blinded him, and he cried out, "Who are you, Lord?" And, the response from heaven was this: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up, go into the city, and there it will be shown to you what you are to do." Well, that's exactly what Saul did. He was led into the city of Damascus, and for 3 days and 3 nights he did not eat nor did he drink anything. He was evaluating his life. He was carefully considering what happened to him there on that road to Damascus; and, it was then that a man named Ananias came to him and shared with him God's purpose for his life. Yes, Saul went through a very traumatic experience. God got his attention and caused him to do some reevaluating. Well, the next time we find this story is over in chapter 22. Paul, as he is known now, is standing in the city of Jerusalem among a number of people and he is giving a defense of his conversion experience, there back in chapter 9. He is telling those people what happened and telling of Ananias' involvement with him. Listen to what he states, in regards to Ananias' message, in chapter 22. <“Then Ananias said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.’”> On that occasion, we notice that God changed Saul's heart. He was baptized into Jesus Christ as his sins were washed away and forgiven. And there, God put Saul on a new course. He gave him a new mission to pursue and to accomplish. And as Ananias points out, he would now become God's spokesman to the world, both the Jews and the non-Jews, or the Gentiles. And now, Paul could take the same salvation message, that he had spent years rejecting and persecuting, and he could share it with so many people who had never heard it before. There's one more place, in chapter 26 here in Acts, that we get some more insight in regards to the story of Saul. Listen to this reading from chapter 26, verses 15 through 18. He's there on the road to Damascus. He's experienced the Lord. And now, he asks the question: <“‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of Me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are justified by faith in Me.’”> Yes Saul, who later became Paul, now had a new purpose. He had a new direction. And, he faithfully fulfilled the responsibilities that God had given to him. Like Saul, sometimes God gets our attention. I'm not saying that He does that through a bright light as we’re traveling down the road, but sometimes He gets our attention through major events or other people in our life. It might be a sickness, a disease, perhaps even a death, and it wakes us up. It causes us to reevaluate our life and ask our self the question, am I headed in the right direction? There's another story that's found here in the book of Acts that I believe is similar to the story of Saul. It's found in the 2nd chapter. On this particular occasion, many people are in the city of Jerusalem and they have come there to celebrate Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection, the ascension of Jesus Christ. Along with all of these people, from various places in the surrounding area, we also find the apostles of Jesus Christ. And again, something major, something dramatic happened as God's Holy Spirit dwelt upon these apostles and they began to speak in tongues. And yes, that got everybody's attention. And one of them, by the name of Peter, was the spokesman for the entire group. He began to tell the story about Jesus, going all the way back to the Old Testament. And then, he told the people that Jesus is the Son of God and He is the one who has come into this world. He went about doing good, and yet you rejected Him. You rejected His message. You persecuted Jesus and even crucified Him on the cross. But, that did not keep Him down, because after three days in the tomb, God raised up His Son, and He lived a new life, and He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Well upon hearing that story, the thousands of people who were in Jerusalem responded with a question. They asked Peter, in verse 37, "What shall we do?" And that reminds me of the question that Saul asked the Lord in Acts chapter 9. ["What shall I do? Where do I go from here? What changes do I need to make?] Well, Peter had a quick response to those people. And, he told them this in Acts 2, verses 38 and 39: <“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”> Peter had a very simple response to these people: This is the message of Jesus, and this is how you respond to it. Yes, they were guilty of persecuting and crucifying the Son of God, but they could go forward. And that's what they did. For we read later on, just a couple of verses later, that some 3000 people did that. They changed their life. They quit sinning. They repented and turned away from doing that which was wrong. And, they were immersed in the name of Jesus Christ. They were able, then, to begin a brand-new life. Saul, in Acts chapter 9, and these people here, in Acts chapter 2, did something that changed their life, as they made a very important decision. And what was that decision? Well, they decided to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God. They acknowledged the fact that Jesus died upon a cross, and He was buried in a tomb, and then He rose victoriously on the third day. And as they were all there celebrating, they acknowledged that Jesus had now ascended into heaven and is at God's right hand. They also made a decision to change their ways. They repented of the life they had lived at one time, and they decided to go in a new direction. They also made the decision to be baptized in the name of Jesus. That's what Saul did. He was baptized. His sins were washed away. And, we find the very same thing here, in verse 38. The people were baptized for the forgiveness of their sin. So, they believed upon Jesus Christ. They turned away from sin. They were immersed in Jesus, and then they began to follow Jesus. They became Jesus followers and Jesus disciples. And, what was the result of making that kind of decision? The result was, their sin was washed away and the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were empowered by God's Spirit. And that was simply the outpouring of God's Spirit upon the people so that they could have the confidence and the assurance that they belonged to God and He belonged to them. They had the assurance that God would never leave them, He would never forsake them, but His presence would always be with them. And that was the role of the Spirit, to offer that comfort and that guidance and that reassurance that these people were now a part of God's family. I suppose that at times we too encounter experiences like the people in Acts 2, or the experience that Saul had in Acts chapter 9. Oh, it may not be as dramatic as what we have just read, but we think we are doing the right thing. We think we are headed in the right direction. And then, all of a sudden, something out of the blue causes us to pause and to do some evaluating, to do some careful consideration of what's going on in our life. And, we wonder if we are headed in the right direction or if we need to make some changes and adjustments in our life. That's the way life is, isn't it? It's a series of making constant adjustments and changes so that we will be on the right track and so that we can be right and acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God. And we, like these people in the midst of all that, ask a very simple question. We ask; what shall I do? What decision do I make? Which way do I go? What changes do I need to make in my life? Oh, these stories remind us that no matter who we are or where we live, at some point we need to make a decision about Jesus. We need to make a decision in regards to what we will do with Him. Will we believe in Him, as God's one and only Son? Will we follow Him? Will we make Him our Savior? Will we recognize that He is the Lord of our life? Or, will we make the decision to go our own way and to forget about Jesus and His sacrifice that He made? Well when we decide to give our lives to Jesus, great things will happen. Oh, that doesn't mean that we will now escape all of the bad things in this world. That does not mean that we will escape the pain, and the sorrow, and the sadness, and the persecution, and the difficulties of this life. Those perhaps will still continue on because we continue to live in this world, a fallen world, a world full of sin and rebellion toward God. But, it does mean that when we make a decision for Jesus we can have the confidence and the assurance that He is with us in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the problems, and suffering, and difficulties of life. Prior to Jesus' crucifixion on the cross, He called together some of His closest disciples. He knew that He would soon be going away and they would need some kind of confidence or reassurance that things would be okay. And that's exactly what He offered to them in a series of messages, or speeches. Let me highlight just a couple of things that Jesus said to those disciples. And, as I read these passages of Scripture, realize they apply to us today, as Jesus' followers. These are the promises that He gives to us, as well. He stated this in John 14:27, <"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."> And then, here is another one, John 16:33, <“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”> The message that I get from those two statements is very simple: because of Jesus Christ, I can live at peace. No matter what happens to me in the world around me, I can be at peace in Jesus. He lives in me. The Spirit is given to me as that constant reassurance and guidance that God will never leave me nor forsake me. Yes, Jesus overcame sin and death when He rose victoriously from the grave. He overcame the world, as He pointed out there in verse 33. And no matter what happens to us in this world, even if the problems we experience seemed to be over our head, we know that they are already under Jesus' feet. He has conquered them. He has overcome. And as His disciples, we too can overcome. We too can be at peace in the midst of our troubled world knowing that He has already conquered, and now we can be conquerors and victorious as well. And with those promises, we can live with all kinds of confidence and reassurance. We can have a peace that far surpasses our understanding, even in the midst of those difficult and trying days. And then, as a result of that, we begin to live a life that praises and honors God. We are able to let other people know what He has done for us, the salvation that we have received, and the blessings that come into our life because we are now a part of God's family. I love the way Jesus states that in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 5, verses 14 through 16, we read these words from the Lord. <“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."> As representatives of Jesus, as a part of His family, we now have the privilege and the opportunity to let our light shine. And, our light shines in the midst of a dark world. We proclaim to other people what God has done for us and what He has done for them, as well. Through our good deeds, we give glory to God. Through our good deeds, we draw attention to what God has done. Perhaps we even open up the door of opportunity for other people to respond to His amazing love for them. Yes, it is true that when we become a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ our life takes on a different look. We have made a major decision in life and now we are headed in a new and better direction. And once we make that decision for Jesus, we now have both the opportunity and the privilege to represent Him. And that's exciting. That's not a burden. That's not a heavy obligation placed upon us, but rather it is a privilege and it is a joy to live for the One who has saved us. Join with me now in a word of prayer. <<Oh, dear Father in heaven, we thank You for the privilege and the opportunity we have as Your children to represent You in the midst of a dark world. May it be that we allow our light to shine so that other people might see You, and Your good work, and Your amazing love, and the gift of Your son Jesus Christ. As we make decisions in our life, may we consider the stories from our lesson today and think about how those people responded, and how perhaps we need to make the very same response in our life, today. In Jesus name we offer this prayer. Amen.>> Many years ago, Joshua made a very important decision, for himself and for his family. He said, "I and my family, I and my household, are going to serve the Lord." But then he said, "You need to make that decision for yourself." And that is still true, today. I am not here to tell you what decision to make. I'm here simply to share the story of the Bible. But, maybe it is time for you to make a decision as to what you will do with Jesus. How will you respond to Him? How will you respond to the love that He has for you and the sacrifice that He made on your behalf? I hope that you will carefully consider the story of Saul, the story of the people in Acts chapter 2, and think about what you need to do. Perhaps you need to make some changes or adjustments in your life so that you can be right and pleasing in the sight of God. Whatever your decision is, today, I know that you will think very carefully and prayerfully about it.
Thank you for being a part of today's lesson. I hope this message gave you something to consider in regards to making a decision for Jesus. If we can assist you in any way, we want to do so. The number on the screen puts you in contact with someone who can answer questions you might have about the Lord. It also allows you to leave your name and address so that we can send you a free Bible study. If either one of these things are of interest, I hope you will call. Or, if you want to know more about our ministry, please go to the website keytothekingdom.com. There you can access that same free Bible study without any commitment or obligation. While you are on the site, please take a few minutes to look at some of the other things we offer. There is a list of some things we believe to be important in one's walk with the Lord. There is also a list of previous lessons, like this one. You can easily download any of them that might be of interest. And again, they are free from any cost or obligation. You might even be interested in some short videos which are designed to illustrate the truths of God's Word. Oh, these lessons and information will hopefully help you in your search for the Lord, as well as in your daily walk with Him. And in regards to today's lesson, perhaps there is something here that will assist you in making an important decision concerning what you will do with Jesus. Once again, thank you for taking time to be with us for today's lesson. And, I invite you to join us again next time, as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."