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What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: Believe It Or Not

Acts 16:25-34

There is a wonderful story about a man who one day happened upon a Little League baseball game. As he approached the diamond, he recognized that the boys at bat were much bigger and much stronger than the boys out in the field. When he got within earshot of the little fellow who was playing left field, he asked: “What’s the score?” The little boy responded: “29-0” The man said, “Why that’s terrible! You mean those boys are beating you that badly?” And the little boy answered: “No, Sir. They’re not winning; we are.” The man was surprised, and he said: “Do you mean to tell me that you’re 29 and they’re 0?” “Oh no”, the little boy said, “they’re 29 and we’re 0.” The man, somewhat exasperated, said: “Wait a minute. I don’t understand. I thought you said that you were winning.” And I love what the little fellow said in response. He said, “We are, sir, you see it’s just the first inning, and we haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

Oh, wouldn’t you love to have that kind of confidence in facing the challenges and uncertainties of your life? Mind you, there are those times in life when we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next, when we are wondering about the future—at best it seems a blank slate, and at worst it seems down-right scary, and under those circumstances we begin to wonder what’s going to happen. How will we ever face up to life’s challenges or face down life’s difficult times?In times like that, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? The answer? It’s simple. Believe in the Lord Jesus. That’s exactly the message of the 16th book of Acts and this fascinating story we find there.

Paul and Silas were busily engaged in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as is always the case whenever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, people’s lives were being changed, and they were being drawn into the faith. But also as is always the case whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, some people resented that spread of the faith, and they arranged to have Paul and Silas arrested. The two of them were then chained—chained by their arms and by their legs, and they were thrown into prison. Now mark this down. Sometimes you may be able to shackle the bodies of those who love the Lord, but you will never be able to shackle their spirits. Case in point. The Bible tells us that at about midnight Paul and Silas, chained in prison, were praying and singing hymns. And then we’re told there was the rumble of a great earthquake. Not so terribly unusual in that part of the world—as a matter of fact, the city of Philippi was built on one of the earth’s great fault lines. Earthquake experiences were not uncommon. The particular earthquake struck with such violence that the whole prison began to quiver, and the cell doors popped open and the chains were shaken loose, and the prisoners were set free.

The Roman jailer awakened with a start. He surveyed the scene, saw the destruction, and feared that the prisoners under his charge had escaped. He knew then that he was going to have to face the brutal reproach of his superiors. At that point in his life, he didn’t know what to do, and in desperation, he actually began to prepare to take his own life. And then, suddenly, out of the darkness, Paul spoke and said: “Don’t harm yourself. We’re all still here.” Instantly, the Roman jailer recognized that he was in the presence of a power far beyond his own, and so he approached Paul and he asked: “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul said: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Now what does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus? Let me put it to you this way. Many of you, I’m sure, will remember when that little panel called “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” used to appear in all of our newspapers, and virtually all of you, I expect, will be aware of the fact that right here in Orlando, we have our very own “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” Museum. Well, permit me to take that idea, twist it a bit, and share with you “Edington’s Believe It or Not’s” for the Christian Faith. Christians believe that Jesus was who He said He was. If you do not believe that, then you cannot claim to be a Christian. Believe it or not? Christians believe that Jesus meant what He said He meant. If you do not believe that, then you cannot claim to be a Christian. Believe it or not? Christians believe that Jesus did what He said He came to do. If you do not believe that, then you cannot claim to be a Christian. Believe it or not? Permit me, please, to try to wrap some spiritual meat about those bare bones.

To believe in the Lord Jesus is to believe that Jesus was who He said He was.

I do not know of any reputable scholar today who would deny the basic facts of the life of Jesus. No one questions that Jesus lived, that He was born in a middle-Eastern village, that He was educated in a synagogue school, that He was a carpenter by trade, and that in the end He died a tragic death. These historical details surrounding the life of Jesus are quite simply beyond debate. But to believe in Jesus means more, much more, than simply believing a little collection of historical facts about Jesus. Instead, to believe in Jesus, means to stake your whole life on the belief that Jesus was speaking the truth when He said who He was. And He said He was the Son of God. Jesus made it absolutely clear that He was and is fully human and fully divine. If you read the Scriptures carefully, you will discover that virtually always the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of Jesus are placed side by side in plain view. For example, it says in the Bible that Jesus was born. That’s a human thing, but it goes on to say that when He was born the angels sang. That’s a divine thing. It says that once Jesus was thirsty, and He stopped at a well to get a drink of water. That’s a human thing, but then it goes on to say that he said to a woman He met at the well there, “I will give you living water, which will carry you to eternal life.” That’s a divine thing. One day Jesus was so exhausted that He fell asleep in the back of a boat. That’s a human thing. Moments later, we are told that Jesus stood up in that boat and commanded the wind and the storm to be still, and there was a great calm. That’s a divine thing. We’re told that Jesus wept at the tomb of His dear friend, Lazarus. That’s a human thing. And then moments later, Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth”, and dead Lazarus came forth alive. That’s a divine thing. Look at the Scriptures carefully and honestly, and you cannot miss the message—Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. He said it Himself. He said: “I and the Father are one.” He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” To believe in Jesus is to believe—to stake your whole life on the belief that Jesus was who He said He was.

And to believe in Jesus is to believe that Jesus meant what He said He meant.

John Paul Sartre, was a French existentialist philosopher who died some years ago. He was an atheist, and he was opposed to believing—he was opposed to all kinds of believing, not just Christian believing, but he was particularly opposed to Christian believing. At one point he wrote a book called The Age of Reason. The thesis of that book was that people no longer engaged in this foolish pursuit of believing—in fact, Sartre termed it a “Victorian anachronism.” He said instead that now, people use their minds and they arrive at the convictions of their lives on the basis of their capacity to reason. He said: “The age of believing is gone forever. The age of reason has come.” That’s what he said, and he could not have been more wrong, because if you look at the world in which we are living today, you will quickly recognize that there is more believing in the world today than ever before in all of human history. Well, mind you, not all of that believing is Christian believing, and I do need to acknowledge that. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems to me now that people will believe almost anything. People believe in things like tarot cards and fortune tellers and witches and crystals and horoscopes and the power of the pyramid, and on and on and on the list could go. People today will believe in almost anything. Not only that, but too many people today spend time trying to manufacture their own little system of belief. They take a thought or two from Hinduism, and then a concept from Buddhism, and a couple of principles from Christianity, and mix in there a notion or two from someone like Shirley MacLaine (of all people 1) and they mix it all together, and they call it a belief system, when in fact it is nothing more than a system that simply reflects their own desires and their prejudices.

I rather like the little boy in Sunday School who was drawing a picture and the teacher approached him and asked, “And what are you drawing?” The little boy responded, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said: “Well, no one knows what God looks like.” And the little boy said: “Oh, but they will when I get finished!” You see, what happens when people try to paint their own picture of God, God winds up looking just like they do. And they have a belief system that is based on their own tolerances and intolerances, their own desires and prejudices, their own likes and dislikes. They build their faith on the flimsy foundation of their own personal experience, rather on the solid rock of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Christians, true Christians, understand that the only true model for living life in this world is the Master. True Christians understand that we do not build faith on our human experience. We build it on the revealed will and way of God. And we pattern our lives—not according to our own desires and prejudices—but rather according to the teachings delivered to us by the Savior Himself. To believe in Jesus is to believe that He means what He said He meant.

Imelda Marcos—you remember her? The wife of the ex-dictator of the Philippines; the woman who had whatever it was—several thousand pairs of shoes—Imelda Marcos claims to believe. Mother Teresa—you know her name—the woman who tends to the needs of the poor and the dying on the streets of the city of Calcutta. The woman who, when the Pope gave her a brand new automobile, promptly sold it and gave the money to the dying around her—Mother Teresa claims to believe. Now what is the difference between the belief of Imelda Marcos and the belief of Mother Teresa? This. Mother Teresa believes that Jesus is the only pattern for her life. Mother Teresa believes that Jesus meant what He said He meant, and so she builds her life, not on the flimsy foundation of her own experience, but on the revealed will of God through Jesus Christ on the pages of Scripture. To believe in Jesus, my Beloved, is to believe that Jesus meant what He said He meant.

And to believe in Jesus means to believe that Jesus did what He said He came to do.

Paul writes: “We are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.” John records in Revelation: “Our sin is washed away by the blood of our Savior. Peter writes: “We are redeemed, not by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of our Christ.” Jesus Himself said: “I have come to seek and to save the lost. I am the good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep.” He did what He said He came to do.

You know, this world has seen some rather remarkable gifts of love. Richard Wagner, for example, wrote a masterpiece of an opera called “The Siegfried Idyll” and gave it to his wife, Cosima, as a gift of his love. A. A. Milne wrote Winnie the Pooh and gave it as a gift of love to his wife. Faberge fashioned wonderfully intricate works of art in jewelry for the Russian czars to give to the people they loved. Richard Burton spent 1 1/2 million dollars for a single diamond to give to Elizabeth Taylor as an expression of his love. The Widener Family gave the magnificent Widener Library at Harvard University as a gift of love in the memory of their deceased son. Shah Jihan of India built the magnificent Taj Mahal as an act of loving memory for his wife. Edward VIII of England abdicated the throne for the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson.

Yes, the world has seen some rather remarkable gifts of love, but the Bible says, “there is no greater love than this for one to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That is precisely what Jesus did. He came to seek and to save the lost, and He did it all on the cross. He did what He said He came to do, and in response to what He has done for us, we embrace Him with our belief. We commit ourselves to Him, we surrender our lives to Him. We declare that we are going to attempt to live in Him and with Him and for Him and through Him every single day—not just for a year or two or ten—but for a whole lifetime.

Back when Henry VIII was the King of England, he appointed a man named Thomas Cranmer to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Cranmer was charged with the responsibility of carrying out the Protestant Reformation in England. When Henry VIII died, his son, Edward succeeded him and reigned for several years. Cranmer continued his work under Edward, but then Edward died, and he was succeeded on the throne by his half-sister, Mary, the one we know today as “Bloody Mary”. It was Mary’s intent to bring Great Britain back to the Roman Catholic Church. So one of the first things which she did was to put Thomas Cranmer under arrest, locked him away in a dungeon in the Tower of London, and demanded that he recant of his faith, or else he would suffer the consequence of death. Under those circumstances, Thomas Cranmer recanted. He wrote out documents denying his belief, and he signed those documents, and then Mary, wanting to make a public spectacle of his recantation, sent him to Oxford University—to St. Mary’s Church there. And he was told to stand before the assembled crowd and to renounce the faith he had once so feverishly proclaimed. All of the significant leaders of Great Britain were present, ready to watch Thomas Cranmer deny his faith. He stood and he faced the assembly, and he proceeded to surprise them all. He said: “In prison, under the threat of death, I weakened. I played the part of the coward. I wrote out documents denying my faith, and I signed those documents with my own hands, but now, God has been merciful. He has strengthened me, He has given me a new resolve, and I stand before you today to say that I recant not one word of my belief, and if I shall have to suffer death, as surely I will; if I shall have to be burned at the stake, as surely I will, then in that moment, I will take the hand which was the instrument of my denial and I will plunge it into the flames first.” He was seized. He was sentenced to death by burning. They fastened him to the stake. They lighted the flames, and Thomas Cranmer twisted himself against that stake until he could take the hand that had signed those documents and that hand he cried: “This hand, Oh God, has offended Thee” and plunged it in the fire and it burned first.

May God burn away any unbelief within us, and may we be willing to stake our very lives on the belief that Jesus did what He said He came to do. He came to seek and to save the lost, and He did it all on the cross. He came for you and He came for me.

So…

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? The answer? Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. It’s as simple as that.

Believe it or not!

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