Raven Cannon, Children's PastorAugust 19, 2019
Our faith becomes undeniable when we know He will not deny His love for us.
Read Full Transcription
We’re continuing this theme we’re calling Rise. We’re calling it Rise because we think it’s something that is a movement of Jesus. It expanded beyond His time here on earth and moved through His people. The people that believed in Him helped the early church launch. In many ways, we’re exploring the beginning portion of the book of Acts. What I’d like us to hone in on and what I’m going to attempt to focus our time on is this idea that what we’re going to see is life gives us plenty of opportunities to decide something. It gives us the opportunity to decide if this faith of ours is actually an undeniable part of us or not.
We are given opportunities in life, whether it’s pressure, trial, or whatever it might be. Those circumstances happen in our lives. One of the things on display is how central this faith of ours is to who we are. Another way of saying it; is this the truest part of us, or is this more on the periphery of our lives? That is one of the many things that come out when we’re walking through challenging situations. We have to know this on the front end. Some of us may be exploring inviting Jesus into our lives, and that’s fantastic. But if the moment we’ve invited Him into our lives, then we have to know that His desire is to become the truest part of who we are.
That Jesus’ love for us is something He basically says, I want you to know this is undeniable. This is core to who you are, but He never forces us to decide. He invites us to. The pressures of life will give us plenty of opportunities to do that. Growing up, I remember having a bit of an identity crisis at the ripe old age of nine years old. My parents had just purchased their home in South San Francisco, which meant that I got to start that fall at a new school, in a new neighborhood with people I hadn’t met. I was looking forward to making new friends.
I remember that fall walking into my fourth-grade class. Mrs. Hollerin was my teacher. I remember coming to terms with something. Something that hadn’t happened before for whatever reason. I didn’t know anyone. I was looking forward to meeting people, but I remember entering that classroom with a distinct feeling that I was different. It was connected to the fact that we had just taken a trip to where my parents were from. My first trip to El Salvador. Our entire time there was wonderful. It’s a beautiful place and Central America is tropical. The food is delicious. People are wonderful.
One of the things that happened with my extended family is that they would jokingly call me El Gringo. They called me that entire time I was there. Which basically means not Salvadorian. That’s the American. I remember laughing with them at me, enjoying the camaraderie and everything. But that, I remember, even though they were joking, I remember feeling like, “Oh, I’m not Salvadorian. They are, and so if they say I’m not, I must not be.” So I remember going into this classroom, sitting there, and they did roll call at the beginning. My teacher started saying people’s names. Then when she got to my name, she tried to say my name in Spanish, except it didn’t sound like Spanish.
It sounded like someone trying to speak Spanish, which I appreciated, but it wasn’t Spanish. My name didn’t sound like my name. I remember at that moment coming to this point in which I thought, you know what? I’m in a new environment, I’m in a new school. People don’t know me. I remember making a decision. I’m going to decide who I am. So at recess time, I made my way up to Miss Hollerin, and I had decided within myself, “I’m not Salvadorian, I’m American. So I’m going to ask her to pronounce my name in English.” I said, “Mrs. Hollerin, my name is actually Louis, not Louis.” Because in my head I thought, “You can’t say that. You don’t know how yet. That’s okay. You tried, but go with Louis.” You could still spell it Louis, but just say, Louis.” I remember her saying, “Oh, okay. Sounds good.” From that moment forward, that is how most people have called me, except those who are deeply passionate about reminding me that my name is Louis. Or my parents who named me letting me know they didn’t name me Louis. This has been part of who I am now. I have to say, I remember making that decision. I remember being at that point.
I remember to this day feeling something of a struggle back then. Because the reality and truth of the matter are I’m actually both. The beauty of this country, the beauty of the city is that it is possible in a country such as ours made up of immigrants. There are parts of me that are undeniably Salvadorian. Then there are parts of me that are undeniably American. But in my young nine years of age, I remember feeling something of an outsider, something of another in both places. In the place of my parents’ origin, and in the place of my own origin. I remember feeling that tension. I’m neither. I’m an outsider in both.
Though I didn’t know it back then, what I was actually being confronted with was my first up-close encounter with shame. In that shame, I remember I decided to respond in the best way possible. I want to fit in. I want to be accepted. I don’t want to be different. I don’t want to be an outsider. I remember from that moment, that solidified within me. Here’s the thing, I’m not the first one who’s struggled with their name. People have actually legally changed it to something completely different. This sense of struggling with who we are. On the other hand, I can assure you, some of you may never have known that struggle. Man, that’s awesome.
I can tell you this. If we’ve lived to any extent of time on this earth, we’ve had to wrestle with what is undeniable about us. We’ve had to. We’ve had to come to terms with what parts of me are the truest parts that there is no denying. Here’s the thing about that wrestling match. Shame will tell us the worst parts of us, the embarrassing, the outsider, the rejected, the weird parts are what’s undeniable. That whisper in our soul that says, “You will never run away from this. This is who you are, shame.” It has its origins in many places. It could be coming from a sense of being other, a sense of never being good enough, or being pressured to conform to something we know we’re not. It could be coming out of insecurity for what we’re up against, and not knowing if we’re able to overcome it. It could feel like defeat from the circumstances we’re in. It feels like weakness and not wanting to acknowledge it.
Shame will say all of those things are who you are, you should be embarrassed, you should hide it, and you should deny it. But Jesus tells us His love for us, courage for us, power in our lives, presence, assurance, and commitment is what are undeniable. He invites us because of this very real human condition. He will invite us to allow different circumstances in our lives to press position us into a place where we must decide. What is truest? What is undeniable? Is it what Jesus says, or is it my shame? This is why for me, this account that we’ve been exploring here. We’re going to continue to explore Peter, John, and the religious-political leaders of their days. It’s so powerful and relevant. It’s different.
It’s unlike anything we probably will ever experience. It put them in a place where they needed to decide. They needed to decide where their faith stood in their own lives. I think it has so much for us. In fact, I’d love to explore this account written by Luke in the fourth chapter of Acts. We’re told in verse 13, “Now they saw the boldness of Peter, and John and perceived that they were uneducated common men. They were astonished and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Now, who are they? Now, when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, ‘they’ actually was a group, a body of political leaders made up of two different segments that were given authority by Rome to oversee Israel. They were known as the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin were the ones who had the power and authority to judge things within their own people. They decided who was in, who was out, who was acceptable, who was not.
Not only that, the Sanhedrin had a religious element that decided what is God, and what God is not. What is okay, what is not. What is good, what is wrong. So they had extraordinary access to resources, and the capacity to enforce this power. What they were trying to do was they were pressing Peter and John. Which by the way, Pastor Terry gave us just a great word a week ago. That really in many ways sets the stage for what we’re back here to experience. If we weren’t here, I just encourage you to go take a look and listen.
This group of people wanted Peter and John, who had now seen a man healed because they called him to rise up in Jesus’ name, to snuff them out. In other words, silence them. They pressed and intimidated them. They pressed them to declare that this was God’s doing, and no one else. Peter, put in the spotlight, decided to boldly declare, “No, this was actually, yes, it was God, but it was his son Jesus who did it.” He did it in such a forceful, respectful, convicted way filled with true authenticity that we’re told in verse 13, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they perceived.” Wait a minute, these men are not educated. They don’t have a pedigree. They don’t have a position. They’re not extraordinarily wealthy. They don’t have access to power. Yet they’re common men, and they, because of this, were astonished. What do they conclude?
They come to a conclusion. We’re told that they recognize the only thing that can explain this, these fishermen speaking to us this way is that they had been with Jesus. Because that’s who they sound like. That’s who they remind us of. That’s how they are postured, and they may not know it, but they had just given them the most incredible compliment ever possible to give. They were with Jesus. That’s where their power’s coming from. That’s the only way. Seeing in verse 14 the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. These politically shrewd men, had everything on their side, had nothing to say in opposition.
The ones who wanted to silence them were silenced. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another saying, “What shall we do with these men? What are we going to do with them?” For a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Israel of Jerusalem. We cannot deny it. It’s undeniable. This thing is spreading. It’s not just contained here. Everybody is hearing about it. It’s like a wildfire. Now that Peter controversially declared Jesus was the one who did it, there is enormous interest. What are we going to do about this? You sense that they desire to quell this, to calm it down, to move it to the margins, to remove it from center stage. Then what do they do? They conclude in order that it may spread no further among the people to warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name. Which is to me, remarkable. They were reduced to a request. They were reduced to a point of saying, “Let us warn them.”
If it began by the Sanhedrin basically intimidating, pressing in, and putting on the line every single point of power that they had to threaten Peter and John with what? Well, to be outcasted by the Sanhedrin is to lose your place in society. To lose access to relationships, a way of being in networks. It’d be to become a pariah. All of a sudden, because of the evidence in front of them, they could not deny the healed man.
All of that swings around. What does it become? It becomes a warning. It’s truly a remarkable account. We’re told in verse 18, “They called them and charged them not to speak, or to teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Where the charge is the equivalent of an order. Basically what they’re saying is we order you to stop. Stop talking about Jesus, stop it. You can’t talk about Him. You can’t teach anything about Him. This is getting out of control and you’re responsible. You’re the one who needs to bring it to an end because through your lips, this is happening. So, stop.
It’s meant to strike fear. It’s meant to intimidate. It’s meant to in many ways flex their power and move their weight around. Normally, they are accustomed to that alone being enough to cause somebody to line up. Who of us wouldn’t want to remove ourselves from being in such a position? Yet, why were they responding in such an aggravated manner? Why were they threatening? It’s interesting to me that the most powerful people in the land were putting on display their insecurity, anxiety, and fear. It’s been said those who are the strongest attackers actually are the most afraid. Those who seek to intimidate are internally gravely intimidated.
It is not actually a display of strength, but one of internal weakness. Yet, they are threatened by what? They’re threatened by authentic faith. They don’t know how else to stop it. It’s an amazing thing. It seems that no amount of resource, position, title, or education was able to outmatch Peter and John’s bold faith. All of a sudden, conviction rattled them. They thought they were the impenetrable force that would get their way. Two men with a man who was healed in Jesus’ name caused this body to tremble. You see it. What do they do? They ask, they request, “Will you please stop?” Not please, but we charge you to no longer speak, or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
Peter in his remarkable way here, Peter and John answered them together in unison. Whether it is right in the sight of God, verse 19, to listen to you rather than a God, you must judge. You have to make that call, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen, and heard. I understand what you’re saying. I understand what you’re asking. It’s almost as if they were put in a position where they had to decide who they would align themselves with. Those opposing Jesus, or what they had known and seen with their own eyes of what Jesus had. It seems Peter and John decided, “I can’t betray my conscience and I can’t betray what I know is right. I can’t do it.” Now, you decide if that’s right or wrong, but me, I’ve seen it, heard it, and I’ve experienced it. I can’t deny it. You’re asking me to do something I’m incapable of.
It’s almost as if they had to decide where their power will come from? Aligning themselves with the ones who held everything in front of them, or aligning themselves with their sense of integrity and conviction. They made the call to align themselves with this body of governing authorities that would allow them to remain part of society’s fold, and it would call everything. They would be all right. Their wellbeing would not be threatened at all, but in their minds, their conclusion was that to do that would actually abandon our true source of strength. No, we can’t do that. So it may mean rejection, but I can’t abandon the base. The source of power I have. No, I can’t do that.
This display of courage ends up moving beyond those four walls in which they stood. We’re told in verse 21, the Sanhedrin further threatened them, which you almost get the sense. Even the way Luke writes it, it’s almost like threats falling on deaf ears or water off a duck’s back. It’s an amazing account. They let them go finding no way to punish them. We can’t physically intimidate them. Why? Because of the people for all we’re praising God for all that has happened. It’s undeniable. There’s no way to actually intimidate these people. So, they let them go. In verse 22, the man on whom this sign of healing was performed, was more than 40 years old. It’s just one of those remarkable events in church history and human history that in many ways is put on display. It demonstrates the power of authentic faith in action. It really does.
What conviction can do and how it’s able to overmatch every other point of leverage. It’s an account that shows one way that things turn out. It’s not an account that shows how every one of these encounters might go, but it is real faith. It demonstrates something. What I would like to do in our time here, because this is so, head and shoulders above anything we might be used to, is see Peter step into this moment with John. It’s an amazing, inspiring thing. It sometimes might even feel out of reach for the circumstances we might be in, and where we’re probably living and walking.
But I can tell you this. I want to suggest a couple of things. One, I want to suggest that our faith becomes undeniable. When we know Jesus will not deny His love for us. We have to know this. It’s an inspiring story, an account, an example of tremendous courage, no doubt. But we need to know that before Peter refused to cower in front of the most powerful people in his land, the leaders. Before Peter refused to cower in front of them, he cowered in the presence of a little girl asking him if he knew Jesus.
On a night in which Jesus was inside being interrogated by a fire, a little girl comes to Peter and through her lips, an accusation formed in the form of a question says, “Aren’t you one of them?” He at that moment crumbled, and Peter denied it. I don’t know. No, I don’t know him. It would be not one, but three times that people would question him. Aren’t you one of them? Aren’t you a follower of Jesus, or do you deny it? Three times Peter denied it. At the sound of the rooster’s voice, it came to him what he had just done. Betrayed everything he had claimed. Let down the one who had loved him and he had loved. It says that he bitterly, cheerfully ran into the night. I’ll tell you that moment threatened to define him to the core. That moment of shame, that moment of failure and weakness would be the final moment in Peter’s faith journey, but for Jesus. Because what a fair expectation would be is that if Jesus were to return, He would not return in any other way except to say what we would expect.
You denied me, you betrayed my trust. We’re done. We’re done, I can’t do this. You let me down. I never let you down, but you let me down. Because of that, we’ll be amicable, but the depth, it’s not happening. Yet what did Jesus do? Jesus stepped into his moment, and He restored Peter. He spoke affirmation to him. He reassigned him. Then he asked Peter to affirm his love for Jesus. It was one of the moments in which the only way I can put it is Peter became clearly convinced that Jesus would never abandon or forsaken him. He would never deny His love for Peter. It was a moment that transformed him.
It turned Peter from the man who cowered in the presence of a little girl to the man who stood in front of the most powerful body of people. It was a moment that beyond a shadow of a doubt, Peter knew Jesus loved him. So some of us, if we hear nothing else today, we need to know this. We need to discover the permanency of His love for us. The permanency of it. We need to know it’s not love the way we hear it in songs, poetry, or in examples of literature. It’s not the love that we see in films or in shows. It is love that is ultimately defined by commitment. Jesus loves us. He loves us in more ways than we could ever fathom. He will never leave nor forsake us. He is committed to us. The moment we open our lives up to Him. He never wavers. Jesus has a passionate pursuit of who we are, and what is best for us. We need to know this. We need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt. He knows our worst. He knows our best. He knows the deepest secrets of what we’re ashamed of.
Jesus knows the things that we’re embarrassed by; the broken, dark, and depressing areas. He knows the things that we wish had never happened to us. He knows the things we wish we had never stepped into. He knows it all. He loves us. His posture toward us is a permanent love. He’s far kinder and gentler than we could ever imagine. He is more patient and true than we could ever hope. He does not condemn us. He comes to us as the one who seeks to love. We need to know that when we receive His love, what we are actually receiving is the most powerful force that exists. There’s nothing more powerful.
The love of God is displayed through Jesus. Everything pales in comparison. It’s not one person that could ever match. Not even close in the sense of security that arises when we actually acknowledge, and receive what He longs to give us is transforming. In fact, John who was standing next to Peter, years later would write to those he loved, that he invested into. He wrote these words, “God showed how much he loved us by sending His one, and only son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him.” That is life-extending beyond life here on earth, but here’s the thing. That’s not the beginning of life. No, the beginning of life is here on earth. This is real life He says, real love. Not that we loved God. Not one of us. Not one of us can claim that we were the first ones to love Him.
Some of us might think, “Gosh, you know what? I’m so happy I’m the one who turned toward Him.” What we have to understand is that what we’ve done is started to discover that He’s been turning toward us more and more and far longer than we’ve ever known. He’s been in pursuit of us far before we’ve ever even known He’s existed. He steps into our lives. He says, “This is not that we love God, but that He loved us. He sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” That is to say that there are things like shame, guilt, weaknesses, brokenness, and darkness that might threaten to separate us. But you have to understand what Jesus did washes that away. It bridges the gap and creates an enormous sense of confidence. Such love. In verse 18 he says, “This is such love. It has no fear.” Because perfect love expels it. It’s like a light in the dark. It’s just natural.
When we actually receive this, if we are afraid, then it is for fear of punishment. We’re not seeing things clearly. This shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love. Will we ever perfectly experience it? No. Will that grow? Yes. Will we move from a stage in life where we think the circumstances in my life are actually signs of whether or not God is happy with me to replace what we recognize? No. Actually, what I’m discovering is that He loves me, period. He loves me when I am doing well. He loves me when I’m not doing well.
He loves me when I’m on the mountaintop. He loves me the next week, or the next day when I’m in the valley, discouraged. and feeling sorrowful. He loves me, and He is there, period. He loves me when everything is going my way. He loves me when all the circumstances seem to be set against me. He loves me. When we grow in that sense knowing truly there is no circumstance that we could ever point to and say that means you don’t love me, God. There is no circumstance we could ever do that. Why? Because Jesus put it all on the line, all of it for us. He didn’t just go back to Peter and restore his position, role, value, affirmation, and love. No, He does that to all of us.
Yes, because we’ve all had our dark hour by the fire. I’ll tell you what, Jesus doesn’t want that hour to be the final hour that defines us. No, because here’s the thing. If that hour said something about Peter when he denied Jesus, Jesus put him in a different hour. Peter discovers something extraordinary about Jesus and himself. Because undeniable faith produces courage. When we start to truly soak and rest in the permanency of His commitment to us, that is the soil by which courage grows. That’s where it flows. That is its origin. It’s an interesting thing courage. Presupposes the need for it. Presupposes we have real fears we’re experiencing.
Peter understood what the stakes were. No question about it. He was well aware of how much power these men had. They were the ones who crucified Jesus weeks before. There’s no question he understood what was going on. However, it seems Peter had gotten himself to a place because of his life-transforming altering moment with Jesus. Where he decided to change from a man who ran from fear to one who embraced it. Peter no longer ignored, denied, or allowed it to overcome him.
It seems faith is not something that will shield us from fear. It’s not. It’s not something that will shield us. No, it’s the means by which we walk into and through it. It does not promise to protect us from danger. It doesn’t promise to protect us from sorrow, pain, or unfair circumstances. It gives us the strength to walk through them, and enter them. While we’re walking through them, if we truly say this is an undeniable part of who I am. Jesus, what He’s done in my life, I cannot deny. Do you know what happens? Is that we walk through these moments, these pressure points, these circumstances, and we don’t end up harming others in the midst of it. We don’t end up harming ourselves in the midst of it.
We don’t end up coming out damaged more than we began. We ended up coming on the other side stronger, more capable, filled with a higher degree of integrity, and wholeness. Because if Peter failed, you better believe shame said something about Peter on that night. I don’t think it was any coincidence that his life was orchestrated in such a way that he cowered in the midst of the little girl. But yet he prevailed in the midst of the most powerful body in his land. If that says something about him, Jesus positioned in such a way where Peter would once again have to confront the very same situation.
That would say something extraordinary about who Jesus was, because, with Jesus, Peter found courage he had never ever tasted before. You better believe that says something about him. It says something about God. Courage is what we need. Courage is what we need most. We need to be able to have the courage to face our shadow, to face our darkness, to be able to declare our need, to not back away from our convictions, to not buckle under pressure.
Courage is what we need to not quit or turn away. Courage is what keeps us going when insecurity props itself up to not turn away from the goodness of God, to remain in the challenging place, and to move forward one step at a time. We do that one step at a time, bound by His love, and strengthened by His courage within us. Do you know what happens? We will discover that undeniable faith as His faith to rise. It causes it to rise, where? Within us? Yes, absolutely. But you know who else? Everyone around us.
Look at what verse 21 says, “And they had further threatened them, and they let them go finding no way to punish them.” Why? Because of the people. For all were praising God for what had happened. Do you understand what this is saying? This is basically saying all those people who were surrounding the temple, who were around Jerusalem, who had heard of what had happened, weren’t the ones put on display. They weren’t the ones who experienced the healing. They weren’t the ones who ended up stepping into the moments of courage. No, they weren’t that. They were on the periphery. They were the ones watching, listening, and paying attention. What happened to them? Their faith rose. Why? Because Peter and John decided to step into the moment, not relent and not buckle.
What are we talking about? We’re talking about authentic faith. Real, which I know it’s in vogue. I know it’s in vogue with everything that may not be real all over social media and all the capacities we have to make the perfect picture. To feel like we have to put on display the perfect image. But the reality of the matter is there are people who are watching us that we can’t fake it with. There’s no way. Those are the people, whether it be our neighbors, coworkers, close friends, or the key people in our lives. What they are watching for is, is this faith?
Truly undeniable to them. Not, are they perfect? None of us are. Not, are they always up? Not, are they saying the exact right thing every single moment? No. What they’re looking for, is this real? When we authentically say this is an undeniable part of me, there’s no way I could deny what He has done in my life. You know what? Those people who are watching us will see us. They will watch us walk through the highs and the lows. They watch us struggle. They watch us say I’m being real and honest, but you know what? He is with me. He holds me, anchors me, and strengthens me. Over time, we will discover that those who watch us, those who we may know, those whom we may not know, but they know us.
Those who trust us. They’re not looking for perfect people. They’re looking for something that is real and true. The truest part of us. If it is Jesus, God will use our lives as broken, weak, and contradictory as it may be, and He will shine His light in such a way we will see it. People around us will say, “Adam, I know you. I want to know the one who holds you. I want to know the one who sustains you. I want to know who the one who has impacted your heart as I’ve watched you. I want to know that person.” They may not ever say it to us, but they’ll certainly think it. They’ll definitely crave it.
I’ve had several occasions now where I’ve had the privilege of being in a room, where someone is being spoken about. It might be in the context of remembering somebody. I’ll tell you what, when people share about somebody else’s life, those that I have witnessed, it’s amazing. It’s inspiring. What they always come back to is some version of; yeah, they had their quirks. Yeah, they had all kinds of other things, but I’ll tell you what was so true about them is who Jesus was in their lives. That’s the most inspiring thing to me. Their undeniable faith. It was real. It kept them, it strengthened them. It caused them to become different people, generous people, loving people, courageous people, strong people. People who never relented. That was the best part of who they were. Their faith is beautiful.
I just think there are people in our lives, we may not know it, but there will be decades, years from now that they will say I knew them. All their stuff. But man, Jesus really did something in their lives. It’s undeniable, and their own faith will rise. May that be the case as we receive our time of giving, and have a closing song, I’d love to pray and ask you Lord, thank you for the fact that you come to us. You come to us longing to strengthen and empower us. To give us the capacity to be able to anchor ourselves in your love, and have the courage to move forward with you. Then to have the privilege of being used by you. We pray for this to be the case. As you continue to do your good work in our hearts, in our souls, we pray for your blessing. Give me spiritual arise. We ask for this in Jesus’ name, Amen.