Entrusted to the Word of Grace

Her bare feet pounded on the asphalt of Sellerstown, NC on March 23, 1978 (three days before Easter), She couldn’t have run faster if she tried. Her dad pleaded with her to go get help as he lay bleeding on the kitchen floor. Her mom, also shot, struggled toward a bedroom to call 911. She died before the police arrived on the scene. Becky was only eight years old. Her dad was the local pastor of the small town. The shooting happened because of a disgruntled member of the church had influenced others to hate that pastor by spreading lies. The family endured abuse by phone calls, letters,


death threats, guns shot at the house, and even dynamite being detonated close to the house on multiple occasions. But it was the lies that influenced a man to murder Becky’s mom that day and wound her dad. Mom’s funeral was Easter afternoon and Becky’s dad couldn’t attend because of being hospitalized for his gunshot wounds. He died a few years later at age 46 from a blood clot due to the ongoing physical and emotional stress in the aftermath.

Bad things happen in churches because churches have sinful people. The threat that is most mentioned in the bible is the attack on the word of God. The greatest threat to the church is not the attacks on truths like sexuality, marriage, abortion, racism, or other big sins. It is the attack on the gospel. But the attacks will never stop us because we are entrusted to the word of grace. Attacks didn’t slow Jesus’ Apostles down. The book of Acts details the mission trips and attacks from the enemy. Paul has rounded off his 3rd missionary journey and is heading back to Jerusalem. He met the Ephesian Church leaders in Miletus (just south of Ephesus, across the bay). There he encouraged them. First, he confessed that he taught them the

whole counsel of God and commend them to the message of Jesus Christ. Now comes the stern instructions.

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Keep watch, which means pay attention. Over yourselves first because you can’t keep watch over anyone unless you are awake and alive. Then keep watch over the flock. How many dear have survived because the hunter was fast asleep, not paying attention? It is the Holy Spirit who put those leaders over that flock. This is a big statement. It was the Holy Spirit

who gives the church her leaders. It is The Holy Spirit who chooses pastors and we do well to remember that. It is a gift to serve knowing the Holy Spirit put me here. The watching is pictured with a metaphor of being a shepherd. More on that in a moment. Paul reminds those shepherds that God bought the church with his own blood. Jesus was true God yet

shed his blood as true man to save us. You were bought and paid for by a sacrifice.

Paul continues the sheep metaphor. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Paul names the threat to sheep as savage wolves. Wolves come into destroy the flock. Their intent isn’t always food, but to kill. Some modern shepherds wake up to multiple sheep lying dead in the pasture without being eaten. What is the attack? 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. Two striking things here. First, that they are from inside the flock. This is similar to the way Jesus describes the wolf in sheep’s clothing. A trusted sheep is loved and cherished but it turns out to be a ferocious wolf. Second striking detail is that it is done by distorting the truth. The greatest attack on the bible is the one against the good news of Jesus Christ. Satan knows that he can’t win by going directly at Jesus so he attacks everything else. Did God really say...? Evolution, homosexuality, abortion, racism, integrity

of the Bible and the validity of its claims are all smaller arguments meant to weaken the whole thing which then leads right back to Jesus. The church in Ephesus seems to have done a good job at keeping out the wolves. Jesus commends them in Revelation 2.

2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” This is a glowing commendation for them in this regard.

They have fought hard to keep the truth of God’s word among them and not allowed falsehood. But Jesus has some words of warning in Revelation. “4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” The first love is often a picture of God’s grace in the bible. It is God who has loved his church like a bride and often the church can become lazy with that love.

The most hurtful thing to a church like ours which holds up the bible as the authority is our apathy to the Gospel. We hear that God bought us with his blood so many times that it seems old and dusty. We celebrate that trophy then we set it on the shelf. Perhaps we look at it once in a while and crack a smile. But we are not as triumphantly excited about it as we once were. When we fail to let it be our joy and motivation every day we treat God’s sacrifice like any other championship, here today and gone tomorrow. It is only a memory. Keep watch! So we remember the real cost of that victory. Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Our sins that condemn us to our rightful place in hell that Jesus took upon himself. You were bought and paid for by a sacrifice. Not just any old sacrifice would do. It was the blood of God himself. That is what he was willing to pay for you. You were taken from the slavery of sin so you that now live in freedom. The price was paid in full so you don’t have to wonder if you have done enough to make him happy. You are forgiven. You are free. Paul continues. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. This was a longer stop than most of the other stops Paul made. Some places he stayed for days. Paul taught them with night-and-day service filled with emotion for their future wellbeing. He did so because he kept the Gospel as front and center. We are all going to be ok. How do I know? Paul knew the Ephesian believers would be ok. 32 Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

It is God and his word that keep us, especially that word of grace. This grace builds you up and it is the word that gives you an inheritance. If the word could do these things, imagine what would happen if we used it more often. What would it be like to be built up in the grace of God every morning? What would your priorities in life be if your focused was on

the inheritance already given you through the hearing of the word? When we are committed to the God’s word of grace, we are safe. Becky, the daughter of the preacher whose life was terrorized, lives today. She wrote a book about the story of what happened called “The Devil in Pew Number 7.” In it she recounts a phone call with Mr. Watts, the man behind the terror

against the family. “I can't live the rest of my life without knowing you've forgiven me?” he said. “Can you?” “Mr. Watts,” Rebecca said, "we forgave you a long time ago.” That amazing forgiveness is the power of being commended to the word of grace. Now she travels the country speaking about the power of forgiveness. She says it is the only way she has been able to survive. The Gospel wins again even when Satan would want to stomp it out. It is the word of grace that defines us and strengthens us.

Amen



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