The Motivation of a Christian (Acts 4:1-12)

The Great Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling council) by Edouard Moyse, 1868

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so, the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (New International Version)

What motivates you? What is it that moves you to speak and act? What is your motivation in life? 

The answer to the question of motivation says a lot about the person. 

People are motivated by all sorts of things: to prove someone else wrong; to make a lot of money; to become famous; to help underprivileged kids in the inner city; to take on the problem of the world’s sex trade; to quietly make God known in everything. 

As you well know, our motivations can be rather selfish, or quite altruistic. Or both.

In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Peter offered to the nation’s leaders his motivation. Peter was moved to have a dedicated ministry of proclaiming Jesus and healing in his name. 

Whereas the ruling religious authorities thought Jesus just another man, Peter’s conviction was that Jesus has the power to save. The name of Jesus Christ is the one which saves.

Our words and actions – what we actually say and do in life – comes from our deepest motivations. 

Peter’s proclamation the gospel through both word and deed came from his deep wellspring of knowing Christ. Peter believed that Jesus could deliver on life’s most pressing problems of guilt, shame, and sin.

For Christians everywhere, motivation comes from knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and him crucified, died, risen from death, ascended, and coming again. This, ideally, is an intrinsic motivation – and not simply something we feel we “have to” believe.

Intrinsic motivation is an internal desire, inspiring us to perform particular tasks. When we are intrinsically motivated, we start enjoying even those tasks that we never thought of as bringing joy.

I’m not particularly fond of housework. I don’t get an internal kick out of pushing a vacuum, doing laundry, or cleaning the house. But because my dear wife is limited in what she can do, I find that I actually enjoy these tasks. You see, I clearly link what I’m doing with my love for her – which, for me, makes all the difference. My intrinsic motivation to love my wife works it’s way out in the loving service of doing the necessary mundane tasks around the house.

An intrinsic motivation allows me to connect the task at hand as the good and beautiful thing to do.

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external factors exerting themselves on our lives. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When someone holds us accountable for following through on expectations, this is a good thing. Laws exist, ideally, as positive extrinsic motivations to do the right thing.

Being motivated to get good grades, a better job, or a trophy can be a powerful means of acting and speaking for good in the world. It’s just that sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, In those times, we then fail to connect with our original intrinsic desires to make a difference.

Unfortunately, a lot of churches get stuck here – simply doing the same things over and over and forgetting why they’re doing it – maybe acting a lot like the religious leaders of Peter’s day. Churches can too easily stray from making disciples of Christ to making followers of tradition. And then they wonder why they aren’t reaching anyone.

If we lack motivation, then we need to run to Jesus. When the believer’s deepest needs are met in Christ, the supernatural by-product is being moved to make Jesus known in every sphere of life. 

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Saving God, you have made your glory and grace known to me through your Son, the Lord Jesus.  May I know him better and better so that the motivations that impel me in life are pure, holy, righteous, and, above all, gracious. Amen.

Luke 14:15-24 – The Parable of the Great Banquet

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet, he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” (New International Version)

If the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ is such good news, and God is so good, then why aren’t people breaking the door down to get into the Church? 

Today’s Gospel lesson gives us one reason why: They just aren’t interested. The parable Jesus told was of people, when invited to come to the great banquet, kept making one excuse after the other why they couldn’t come.

Keep in mind that Jesus wasn’t talking to sinful outsiders, but the religious insiders – they were the ones making the excuses why they could not participate. 

Let’s cut to the chase: If professing believers in Jesus Christ are not excited about the gospel… If Christians are not enthused over what they possess in the gospel… If the Church is content to go through the motions of Christianity without a concern to be with Jesus… If we are simply too busy to come and attend God’s banquet of grace…

Then, why in the world would any Christian or any Church believe that others ought to show up and be a part of their fellowship, that they would even remotely entertain a thought to profess Christ as Savior and break down the door to get into Christianity?

Jesus was offering a penetrating warning: The unresponsive religious insiders will be replaced by the responsive sinful outsiders. 

If the insiders take for granted what they possess and have better things to do, then God is going to call people who will hear, listen, and respond to the gracious invitation.

The deeply probing question for every believer in Christ today is: Are we so familiar with Jesus, and so content with the way things are that when God breaks into our lives in the form of an invitation that we refuse to respond because we are not interested in going to some stupid banquet? 

There is an incredible abundant feast for us – in fact, Jesus said that his food and drink was to do the Father’s will, that Scripture was his bread. (John 4:34) 

It’s much too easy to take the spiritual abundance of grace and mercy – as well as our physical abundance of food and water – for granted. After all,…

  • Being well-fed, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is, too.
  • Enjoying good health, it’s easy to forget that others are hurting and in pain.
  • Having money and the ability to work hard, it’s easy to think that there are not many poor people around.
  • Living around other Christians all the time, it’s natural to assume that everyone knows the gospel of Jesus – but they don’t!

In Christ’s story, the people making excuses see no real importance to take the invitation to the banquet seriously. And so, they go off to take care of their business and their family.

Like them, we can be much too busy with mundane activities to notice that people need the Lord. And then, when we get around to acknowledging that there are people who need Jesus, we keep devising ways to reach them without having to change our own lives to do it.

Jesus has no intention of calling and inviting us to a discipleship that requires no change on our part. The refusal to alter our lives to accommodate God’s invitation will result in the invitation going out to others. 

So, the master’s servant in the parable goes out into the roads and country lanes and invites any common person to come – anyone he can find.

And that is the scandal of Christ’s gospel – that the invitation to God’s abundant mercy is open to outcasts and failures, to problem people and unimpressive low-life’s, to backwater rednecks and uneducated hicks, to the jobless and the needy, to all sorts of people who are not like your circle of friends. 

People who are flawed are especially dear to Jesus, and not just people who have it all together. It’s the people who outwardly have it all together that are being replaced wholesale with those who admit their guilt, shame, and brokenness. 

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy upon us sinners.

Gracious God, forgive me for wasting time in things that just don’t matter in the scope of eternity. I choose to go out and compel outsiders to come in, so that your house will be full for the great feast at the end of the age. Through Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray. Amen.

Acts 2:22-36 – From Flake to Fearless

Statue of St. Peter in Rome

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (New International Version)

Throughout my ministerial life, there have been individuals who have come to me a bit discouraged because they have not experienced a changed life. After trying, time and again, to be different, they say to me, “Nobody ever really changes. We’re basically the same people throughout our whole lives.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

In the New Testament Gospels, the Apostle Peter was a flake. He sometimes was discerning and got it, and sometimes didn’t. 

Peter could understand Jesus was Messiah, but then turn around and refuse that Christ had to die on a cross. He would get bold and walk on water, but then also end up afraid, needing help from drowning. Peter stood tall for Jesus, ready to take on the world, and then turn around and deny the Lord three successive times.

However, when we come to biblical book of Acts, Peter is a completely changed man. Peter gets it. He is brave and fearless. He boldly confesses Christ. And all the while he does not falter, flinch, or back down. 

So, what in heaven’s name, happened and made the difference for Peter between the Gospels and Acts? 

The Holy Spirit, that’s what, or rather, who.

God’s Spirit comes upon Peter, and he is never the same again. He is a changed man. Peter goes from flake, to fearless.

Everything falls into place for Peter, who preaches with such boldness and effectiveness that thousands turn from their previous ways of thinking and living and turn to Jesus as the hope of the world. They changed, too.

Peter was all-in with a simple and straightforward message of good news, that God raised Jesus from death. He went on to insist, without wavering and with firm conviction, that this was so, because it was not possible for the Son of God to be held by anything, even death. The proof being the resurrection.

If it was impossible for death to keep a grip on Jesus, then there is absolutely nothing that can deter Jesus or hold him back from accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. 

Flaky believers are not going to frustrate Jesus or upset his plans; he’ll just send the Holy Spirit. 

We may too often imprison ourselves in self-made spiritual jail cells. Like the pre-Pentecostal Peter, we flake and flip-flop in the Christian life. Once-in-a-while we are spot-on, but cannot really explain why, like a golfer who hits an amazing shot but can’t reproduce it no matter how hard he tries. 

The truth is that Jesus has conquered sin, death, and hell. By faith, we have forgiveness of sins in him, and have the way opened to a new life in the Spirit. It isn’t a secret; it’s a new reality.

At the front end of the Christian season of Ordinary Time, we are reminded that God’s Holy Spirit is with us. We remember what good old Peter said so long ago, which is still relevant for us today:

We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness. God made great and marvelous promises, so his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world. (2 Peter 1:3-4, CEV)

The message Peter proclaimed was powerful, not only because it was inherently potent, but also that the gospel dwelled mightily in Peter and inhabited a central place within him.

We, too, have that same opportunity and privilege.

Loving Lord Jesus, I confess my faults, shortcomings, sins, and rebellious acts, and ask you to forgive me. I embrace you as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for your atoning death on the cross in obedience to your Father’s will to put away my sins. Be in charge of every part of my life. Indwell and empower me with your Holy Spirit, so that I may live as your faithful follower, now and forever. Amen.

Romans 7:14-25 – Our Existential Angst

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
 
So, I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
 
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (New International Version)
 
We can relate to the Apostle Paul. We, along with him, have many times said to ourselves, “I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.” 
 
Paul’s existential angst is a timeless description of our common human condition. There are times we seem completely unable to follow our conscience and do what’s right. It can be maddening, even to the point of experiencing a continual low-level discouragement and/or depression which underlies almost everything we do.
 
The prescription for dealing with this mental, emotional, and spiritual malady does not include the law. That’s right. Putting our willpower and effort into obeying commands gets us nowhere. Even if we obey laws and rules and commands for a time, our efforts eventually break down. We fail to do what we want and do just the opposite.
 
The law isn’t bad. It just doesn’t have the capacity to transform us. The law’s purpose is to show us how bad off we really are in this world, to give us an awareness of our true condition so that we will seek help. 
 
We humans are a bundle of contradictions, doing good, then bad, and flip-flopping back and forth – all with great frustration.
 
In our abject misery, what then, shall we do? Who will help us? Is there anyone to save us from our plight?
 
Sheer willpower and obedience will not help us; it won’t work. It will only give us a false hope. Any success in using such willpower only deludes one into believing they have the answer… until they yet fall again into the abyss of their own inner darkness.
 
The good news is that there is a Savior, a Redeemer, a Rescuer who has the will and the power to deliver us from our predicament.
 
The grace of God in Christ is the operative power that changes lives, not the law. Freedom from the tyranny of our “should’s” and our misplaced desires comes from Christ’s forgiveness through the cross. 
 
Like a lover enamored with his beloved, our desires become oriented toward Jesus for his indescribable gift to us. That is the strength of grace. Transformation is relational; it is found in a person, not a program. And the only person and relationship which has the ability to change us is, I believe with all my heart and mind, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Why? Because I myself have been transformed and changed by such a relationship with Christ. I, along with the hymn writer John Newton, can say, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
 
“Self-help” for all the good it really can do, is in many ways an oxymoron. There is no Bible verse which states that God helps those who help themselves.
 
Yes, we have an incredible capacity for good and vast internal resources within us which we lack awareness of for which we can tap into. Yet, when it comes to an outright metamorphosis, we need a new heart – and we can no more simply decide to change our lives any more than we can perform heart transplant surgery on ourselves.
 
People need the Lord.
 
Whenever the foundation of a house is about to crumble, it won’t do to rearrange the living room furniture and do a bit of spruce up painting. And we deceive ourselves if we believe that all our efforts at landscaping the property and having a great curb appeal will do the trick.
 
If the foundation crumbles, the house implodes, and nothing else will matter.
 
Jesus is our cornerstone. Without him, we are at risk, about to fall and without hope. With him, true restoration and renewal happens. And then, when the house is repaired and in order, we set about the task of being good stewards and maintaining and caring for the wonderful changes which were made.
 
If we want freedom from self-loathing and to experience peace and contentment, calmness and confidence, satisfaction and settled peace, then we will grow ever closer to the Savior who exudes all those qualities, and more.
 
For the Lord not only saves and delivers; he also sanctifies and encourages. And the existential angst becomes forgotten.
 
Saving God, I thank you for delivering me from sin, death, and hell through your Son, the Lord Jesus. May your Holy Spirit apply the work of grace to my life every day so that I can realize practical freedom from all that is damaging and destructive in my soul. Amen.