October 28, 2018
Chaplain Major Phil Kramer
For all of you sports fanatics out there, I was reading recently some sports trivia about trifectas that had been achieved in the last few years in various sports. The trifecta is when an individual, a team, or an organization masters three different skills to the point that it takes them to victory. Probably the most famous trifecta is Usain Bolt who, not only in 2008, but also in 2012 and again in 2016 won gold medals in the Olympics, both in the one hundred and the two hundred-meter sprints. As a point of reference, no other athlete has ever done that twice, and Bolt has done it three times. That is an amazing trifecta!
A little closer to home in the continental United States, Duke University’s athletics program scored a unique trifecta this past season, where their football team won a bowl game and both their men’s and women’s basketball programs made it to the sweet sixteen. That’s a pretty rare feat for an entire athletic program to pull off. Then, for you NFL fans, the Kansas City Chiefs this past season had a very rare trifecta. They were only the fifth team in all of NFL history to have one player rush for a thousand yards, a receiver catch for a thousand yards, and a tight end also took the ball a thousand yards. -another pretty remarkable trifecta.
Today we’re continuing in an exciting series in the book of Acts. I want to talk to you about what I call the “Acts trifecta”. The book of Acts is the story of Gospel momentum. It is cultivating Gospel momentum, building Gospel momentum, and maintaining Gospel momentum. I thank God for Calvary Baptist Church because this is a church that’s all about Gospel momentum. Your pastor is all about leading this church in Gospel momentum. I frankly cannot think of a better textbook or a better curriculum that spells out God’s plan for building and maintaining Gospel momentum than the book of Acts. As a matter of fact, you simply cannot improve upon it, and we would all do well to go back to the book of Acts, as you guys are doing.
I heard a story some time ago about Billy Graham who came to a large city, and he was going to hold a large evangelistic crusade. You know, even Billy Graham had his critics. There were people who didn’t like the way he did things or what he said. Some of his critics were saying, “Man, if Billy Graham comes to our city, he’s going to take evangelism and missions back fifty years.” When Billy Graham heard that criticism he said, “Well, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to take it back fifty years. I want to take it back two thousand years.” That’s exactly what the book of Acts is all about. It’s going back to the future. If the church and the body of Christ is to have a future or if Calvary Baptist Church is to send a spiritual shock wave across the Chattahoochee Valley, it will be through the exact same methods used and the message in the book of Acts.
So, today we’re going to talk about the Acts trifecta. We’re going to talk about three things that the early church absolutely nailed and got right and was a prelude for God’s power poured out for the world to see. Now, let me simply remind you that immediately prior to this passage a couple of things happened. Jesus Christ, who had risen from the grave, met with his disciples and said, “Listen, I want you to go back to Jerusalem. I want you to wait for the coming of the promise of the Holy Spirit, and I want you to be my witnesses.” Then he ascended back into Heaven. They went back to that upper room. This is what happening beginning in verse twelve.
I want to talk to you this morning once again about the Acts trifecta of those three things that are a prelude to victory. -those three things that are a prelude to Gospel momentum, both back in the days of the apostles, as well as (God willing) here today at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia. Three things, the first of which is that I want you to see that they were gathered in prayer.
I. Gathered in Prayer
Acts 1:12 – 14
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Now, we see in verse twelve that they walked a Sabbath day’s journey, (which was really only about a mile and a half); they went back to the upper room (most likely the same place where they had served and shared a meal with Jesus the night he was betrayed); they spent several days in sustained and consistent prayer. They were praying together. One of the things you’re going to know and find out in the book of Acts as you go through this series is that prayer is one of the key themes in the entire book. That’s why it’s one part of this trifecta. They were gathered in prayer, specifically communal prayer. When the body of Christ gathered together for prayer communally, that was a significant part of the story line in Acts. One of the things you will definitely notice in the coming weeks is that powerful communal prayer was always a prelude to two things – unity and victory.
As they were gathered together for prayer, they were unified around one thing that was the lowest common denominator that they all had. -one thing that they all had in common. What was that? Was it their socioeconomic status? Was it their standing in society? Was it their gender? Was it even, in a broader sense, their ethnic background (and you will see a very colorful array of people in the book of Acts)? What was the lowest common denominator? The lowest thing they had in common was a life changing, transformational allegiance to Jesus Christ, buried and resurrected, who died on Calvary’s cross. That was what they all had in common.
It’s the same thing that we here all have in common. The foundation on which they built this entire movement in the book of Acts was the unity they had in Jesus. They could not advance without that unity. And by the way, I want you to notice this is a supernatural unity. It wasn’t like a unity in sports; their unity was a supernatural unity.
Look at verse fourteen. “All of these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Some translations have, “they were they were gathered on one accord” or something similar to the word you see there, united in prayer. It’s a very interesting word in the original language that stands behind this word translated united or in one accord. It’s only found in the book of Acts. In the entire New Testament, there’s only one place you find it outside of the book of Acts; that’s in Romans.
It is an amazing thing because every single time you see this word applied to the early believers in the book of Acts, it is always a result of prayer and/or worship. Think about that. This type of unity can only be cultivated through prayer and through worship. By the way, that one verse is Romans 15:6, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Jesus Christ, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice.”
How would you like that to be said of Calvary Baptist Church? Isn’t that an awesome thing that could be said of any body of believers? -that you are united in mind and voice, glorifying God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? It would be a great day when churches all across our land cultivate a unity based on prayer and a supernatural worship of Almighty God. I’m afraid we don’t always have that in churches, quite frankly, but unity is the foundation as we move forward.
I love what the late, great Adrian Rogers used to say about this. He said, “We’ve been wired together by organization, frozen together by formalism, rusted together by tradition, and it’s time that we become melted together through prayer.” That’s exactly what the prelude to victory will be at Calvary Baptist Church or any church that names the name of Jesus Christ in prayer gathered together and unifying the body.
Not only was their prayer a prelude to unity, but it was also a prelude to victory. I want you to think about this, and as you study the book of Acts, what you’re going to find out is that the early believers measured their victories in advance through prayer. So many times, you see them praying, and God grants of victory of one kind or another. The same thing is true today. Did you know that Calvary Baptist Church will measure its victories in prayer? -corporate, collective prayer? You will measure your victories.
I love what Manley Beasley, one of the great men of faith of the last century, said: “For every mighty work of God, someone somewhere somehow has paid the price in prayer.” There is prayer that is a prelude to victory. I love the story of Bill McLeod, a pastor from Canada. A generation ago he was pastoring a church in Canada, and there was a tremendous revival that swept across large portions of that nation that originated in Bill McLeod’s church. Do you know how it started? God came to Bill McLeod one day and said, “Bill, I’m going to send revival when your Wednesday night prayer meeting exceeds capacity beyond your Sunday morning service.” Guess what he did. By the way, in the history of revivals, every one of them starts with people gathering together in prayer. That is how Calvary Baptist Church will measure its victories going forward throughout this year and in the years to come. -through the power of God working through the prayers of his people. They were gathered together in prayer. That’s the first part of this trifecta.
II. Grounded in Scripture
Acts 1:15 – 20
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters—the number of people who were together was about a hundred and twenty—and said: 16 “Brothers and sisters, it was necessary that the Scripture be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David foretold about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” 18 Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood). 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it; and Let someone else take his position.
Next, I want you to see in verse fifteen that after they spent some time in prayer, Peter stood up and addressed the elephant in the room. He answered a question that everyone was wanting to ask, but no one had asked. That question was this: “What about Judas?” That was a perplexing question, but Peter’s answer was grounded on Scripture. That’s the second part of the Acts trifecta. You say, “Phil, why were they perplexed?” Well, I want you to think for just a moment about the mindset of the disciples at this point in time. We don’t really see it spelled out explicitly in the text, but it’s very much there as you see it unfold. I want you to think about how perplexed they were.
First of all, they were perplexed about God’s plan. How do you know that? I’m sure you’ve studied Acts 1:1-6 where the disciples came to Jesus right before he ascended and they said, “Lord, at this time, will you restore the kingdom?” You know what they were looking for? They were looking for him to restore the kingdom back to the days of David and Solomon when they were their own sovereign nation. They wanted Jesus to kick the Romans out so that they could have their own nation. In modern terminology, they were wearing red baseball caps that said, “Make Israel great again.” That’s really what they mean. Literally, that’s what they wanted. They wanted to restore some type of earthly kingdom to Israel, going back to the glory days. What did Jesus tell them? “No, I didn’t come to do that. Guys, go back to Jerusalem. Wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Do you think they were a little perplexed? You better believe they were. That was one thing that was going on in their minds, but the big thing that was staring them right in the face was this gap at the table. What about Judas?
Not only were they perplexed about God’s plan, they were also perplexed about their partner Judas. Remember we 21st century Christians have two thousand years of perspective and the entire New Testament to give us insight and remind us that Judas was the biggest rascal and the biggest fraud in the entire Bible. Did they know that at the time? No, they didn’t. As a matter of fact, they voted Judas most likely to succeed. How do we know that? Well, they made him the treasurer. I mean, you don’t make the most untrustworthy person the treasurer. You make the person the treasurer of your group who you think is the most trustworthy. I mean, they truly thought Judas was the valedictorian of their class. When Jesus told his disciples, “One of you guys is going to betray me”, every single one of the disciples said, “Is it going to be me?” Not a one of them said, “I bet it’s going to be Judas.” They had high hopes for Judas, and then all of a sudden, he turns out to be the biggest story of fake news this world has ever known. What are they going to do with that? At that moment in time, these disciples, these followers of Jesus, needed some clarity and they needed some certainty. Peter stood up, gave them the word, and his answer was grounded in Scripture.
It would be very easy to assume that verses fifteen through twenty are really all about Judas, which they are not. I mean, there’s something going on here that you just can’t look away from. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. This story of this dude who falls down and his guts go splashing out all over the place. -probably the goriest story in the entire Bible, except maybe for when they brought John the Baptist’s severed head out on the serving plate. By and large, this is probably the most gruesome story in the entire Bible, but it’s not ultimately about Judas.
Some people have brought this to our attention to say, “You know, this doesn’t seem to tell the same story that Matthew 27:5 tells where Judas went out and hanged himself in despair after Jesus was arrested and tried.” I don’t see a contradiction. Some people say, “Oh, this is a contradiction in Scripture. The Bible is untrustworthy.” It’s pretty simple, y’all. Judas went out and hanged himself; they left his body to hang there for however many days. It began to rot and decay. Birds pecked at his body and so forth. Eventually, it just fell apart down on the ground and everything spilled out. Gruesome? Yes. Contradiction? No.
There’s a clarity and a certainty that they got from the Scripture. I want you to see what Peter did in verse sixteen, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For it is written in the book of the Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it; and let someone else take his position.” I might paraphrase Peter’s words here briefly when he says something like this: “Hey, guys, David predicted this a thousand years ago. Why should we be surprised? God’s not surprised. As a matter of fact, (this is really paraphrasing now, if you don’t mind giving me a little liberty) hey, check it out. Here’s one thing you’ll never hear in Heaven. Whoops! -Right? God never saw that happen. He never saw that coming.” No, God was in control the whole time. Even the events of the last several weeks have been all part of God’s plan. You’ll see that spelled out throughout the book of Acts, that there was this clarity and there was a certainty that they had because they grounded everything on Scripture.
The bottom line is that for the early church, Scripture defined reality. It was the lens through which they saw everything else. They didn’t say what we see, what we hear, what we touch, what we taste, what we smell. That doesn’t define reality for us. Ultimately, it’s the word of God the Scripture that defines reality. I don’t mind telling you it defines reality for me too. My family and I have been building on the Word of God for many years now. We have yet to be disappointed. We have yet to be led astray by the Scripture. We decided a long time ago we’re going to build our lives and ground it on the Word of God in the Scripture. There’s clarity and there is certainty of what reality is for us. I would encourage you to be the same way. Ground your life on the word of God. You will not be disappointed.
As we move forward as a body of Christ here in Columbus and beyond, are we in any less of a perplexing and chaotic time than they were back in those days? The world has unplugged from the truth that God has revealed to us. As Dr. Phil has said, “How is that working out for you?” -Right? It’s not! Our world is filled with chaos. We’re in a moral freefall. We’re just swirling around down the drain. In so many cases, even the events of this past week, darkness, darkness, darkness because we’ve disengaged and unplugged from God’s Word. I’m telling you; they were grounded on Scripture. We would do well to follow suit. That’s the second part of the trifecta.
III. Gripped by Purpose
Acts 1:21 – 26
“Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know everyone’s hearts; show which of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry that Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias and he was added to the eleven apostles.
In the midst of all of that, they begin to focus on the purpose to which Jesus had called them. They begin to focus on the purpose. There’s a lot of perplexity in their minds, but one thing they knew for certain; Jesus had told them, “You will be my witnesses.” They said, “We need to fill out our ranks and get busy with doing what Jesus told us to do and be prepared to do what Jesus told us to do.” Notice the language in verse 22, the language of necessity. Some translations say, “We must.” -the language of priority, the language of urgency. They were fixated on the purpose to which Jesus had called them. You might even say they were gripped by purpose. That’s the third part of the trifecta. -Absolutely gripped by the purpose, so that what they said to one another ultimately was this: “We must be his witnesses.” That’s the exact same thing we hear today too, don’t we? We need to hear it. We need to encourage one another to say it.
I came to the saving knowledge of Christ when I was seventeen years old. I had grown up in church all my life. I’d even been an altar boy. I was fully engaged, but I was lost as can be. I came to a church in my hometown in Lake Wales, Florida, under the teaching ministry of a pastor named Guy Sanders. Guy Sanders with a very clear, very dynamic, very expository based preacher of the Word of God. He very clearly laid out the Gospel message and I said, “Boy, I need to get in on this.” Guy Sanders was a tremendous pastor and preacher, but let me tell you something else he was. He was a tremendous soul winner. We don’t generally hear anyone called a soul winner anymore, although it’s right in the Bible. In Proverbs 11:30, it says, “He who wins souls is wise.” Guy Sanders was one of these kinds of folks who was absolutely gripped by the purpose of Jesus Christ for his life, and he truly believed it when he said, “We must be witnesses.”
I saw his example. He was always ready to share with someone else what Jesus Christ had done for him. I remember almost thirty years ago, he said, “I don’t care how much you give to this church. I don’t care how often you serve in the nursery. I don’t care how you’re in the choir. I don’t care how often you preach or teach. If you’re not somehow endeavoring to bring lost souls to Jesus Christ on a regular basis, you’re not right with God.” Now that’s a guy that’s absolutely gripped by the purpose of being a witness.
It’s important that we all have these people like this in our lives who are setting that example for us to help us to be a better witness. Another one of mine is Michael Catt, the pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany. We visit that church from time to time. I remember a few years ago hearing him say this, and again this has been burned into my mind. He said, “God has called us ultimately not to produce foliage. He’s called us ultimately to produce fruit.” There’s a big difference. It is very, very easy in churches today to get caught up with the foliage, is it not? I mean, you’re making the leaves look green, and it’s the most luscious foliage you’ve ever seen. There’s plenty of churches that have very green shrubbery and foliage, but they’re not producing fruit.
I serve as a chaplain on Fort Benning. Those of you in the military know that your career pretty much stands and falls on your paper. You know what I’m saying? -your annual evaluation. Officers get OERs. Sergeants get NCOERs. Whatever is written on that sheet of paper is pretty much going to determine if you get promoted and assigned to where you want to go. One of the challenges as a chaplain that I have faced is this: On my OER there’s nothing ever written about the fruit that’s being produced in my ministry. I mean, it’s not quantified on there. It might say something like Chaplain Kramer led three marriage retreats this year, or Chaplain Kramer counseled X number of people, or Chaplain Kramer did four funerals. All of that is important stuff. In the last fifteen years, not one of my OERs, says Chaplain Kramer led twelve soldiers to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ last year, or Chaplain Kramer baptize thirty-five soldiers on this fifteen-month deployment. That’ll never be quantified.
The challenge that I have is to keep the shrubbery and the foliage because the foliage serves a purpose but ultimately, it’s the fruit that matters. The same that could be said of me is the same that could be said of this church.
I love Calvary Baptist Church. I love your pastor. I love the leaders of this church. Let me tell you why. Because I know without a shadow of a doubt this church is gripped by purpose. This church is absolutely gripped by purpose. This is not something new for you to say to one another. We must be his witnesses. That’s not something new for Calvary Baptist Church. Is it okay if I just give you a general warning? A couple years ago, I was speaking to Bobby Welch, who is a highly decorated a Ranger from the Vietnam War (also a pastor) and ultimately, he was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention for a couple years. You talk about a guy who has been absolutely gripped by the purpose of being a witness; it’s Bobby Welch. Bobby was talking to me and he said, “You know, Phil, one of my concerns for the church today is that being a witness is just one of many things that we have going on. We’ve got a lot of programs. We’ve got this and we’ve got that. It’s very easy for people to say, ‘You know, that witnessing thing is not really my deal because I mean, I sing in the choir; that’s my deal. Or I volunteer in the nursery; that’s my deal. Or I play on the church softball team; that’s my deal. That’s my ministry. That witnessing thing, that’s not really my thing.’” See, that’s Bobby’s concern. -that in many churches we’re so busy doing other things, we forget that to be a witness for Jesus is supposed to undergird everything we do.
I love this Reformation Day emphasis you are having on Wednesday night to equip your folks to be witnesses when people come to their door to get all that candy. I love it because that tells me that there’s an undercurrent in everything you do here at Calvary, and that is that we must be his witnesses. I praise God for that. You may not know this, but not every church is like that. Not every church has a pastor who is as committed to the Great Commission as your pastor is. Not every church is as blessed as this church to have that undercurrent that says, “We must be his witnesses.” I thank God for that. When Jeff told me that you were going to be preaching through Acts, I was excited, and I don’t even go here. I was excited for you because that’s what’s going to take Calvary to the next level and to the next level and to the next level until Jesus Christ returns. That’s the calling that God has on this church.
We’ve talked a lot about being a witness. Sometimes I think followers of Jesus get the wrong idea about this whole thing of being a witness. As a matter of fact, the way I described it and heard it described before is that many times people think that God is calling us and telling us to be his lawyers and not his witnesses. Do you know the difference between the two? A lot of times the impression about lawyers is that they are out there to coerce, somehow twist your arm, do whatever they have to do to get you or the jury or a judge to buy into their line of thinking. That’s how a lot of people think being a witness is. I have to stand out front the Walmart and grab a dude by the collar and be like, “Buddy, are you ready to meet God?”
That’s not witnessing. What is a witness in a court of law? It’s someone who simply tells what they’ve seen and they’ve heard. It’s not coercion or beating people over the head. No used car salesmen techniques. -simply telling people what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. The challenge in some churches is that there’s a lot of people who haven’t seen or heard anything. I want to be very, very loving and compassionate when I tell you this. If you don’t know that there’s been a time in your life when you have personally received Jesus Christ by faith, then very frankly, you don’t have anything to tell about. If you’ve never personally received Jesus Christ, I want to encourage you in a loving way, to challenge you to receive him today. -to draw a line in the sand and say today, on the twenty eighth of October. Going through the book of Acts is a win-win for everybody in this church. I’m so excited to watch from a distance as this church continues to move forward and build that Gospel momentum.
• Today, I realize my need for Jesus to change me. I turned from my sin and trusted Jesus for the first time this morning.
– I feel like I’m just going through life aimlessly. Pray for the Holy Spirit to restore my sense of purpose in living for Jesus.
+ I haven’t been reading the Bible consistently lately. Starting tomorrow, I’ll spend a few minutes each day reading the Bible.
- On a scale of 1-10, rate your effectiveness in prayer.
- Are you confused about God’s plan? If so, what aspects of God’s plan most confuse you?
- Where do you believe the Church in America is most in need of unity? What can you do to help bring unity to this area?
- We live in a culture that is spiritually confused. What do you think the people of Calvary can do to help clear up this confusion?
- What “fruit” have you produced for King Jesus in the past month? (Be specific.)
- Can you sum up your reason for living in one simple statement? If so, what would that one statement be?
- Pray for each other to be filled with the Holy Spirit and love for Jesus’s people this week.