May 5, 2019 A Tool in the Hands of God
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
As we heard in Acts 9, Ananias was being cautious. He didn’t know that God had done something 3 days ago to that powerful pharisee from Tarsus named Saul = later & mostly called Paul. But, the Lord had said: “he is a chosen instrument of mine…” Something similar was said of a young man called ‘John-Mark’, mostly just called Mark. In Acts 13, we’re told that he was with Barnabas & Paul on their first missionary journey. Vs.5 says, ‘(Mark) was with them as their helper.’ Paul is an ‘instrument’, Mark is a ‘helper.’
An instrument that helps us do something we call a ‘TOOL.’ A tool is any device or utensil that assists us in our projects & tasks. A number of years ago I received a Christmas present that was more than ‘a’ tool, it is a multi-tool. Perhaps you have a little ‘tool kit’ in your car, or within reach in your kitchen, so that you have a basic tool when you need it.
ALL of us are tools in the hands of God; this is the way He has chosen to work in His kingdom to save souls. He chooses all of us for some general things = like public worship, witness, & demonstrating for others a living & holy faith. Then, He chooses certain people for more specific tasks = like the ministry of teaching, leadership, or preaching. Both Paul and Mark were ‘a tool in the hands of God.’ Each one of US are tools for His kingdom’s work.
Let’s think about this with a simple outline, with ‘three Ps’: Problem, Power, & Plan.
The first ‘P’ is PROBLEM. *Is there a problem with being a tool in the hands of God? ‘Yes’, says our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is our natural spiritual being, which we inherited from our sinful parents, & their parents, & all the way back to the sin of Adam & Eve. We refer to our old nature often because a true Christian must always be on guard against our inner ‘old adam’, as Paul called it. We must each be resisting the temptation to focus on our desires & ambitions, which will always be self-centered.
Our old nature is that part of us that makes excuses for ignoring God; for our bad behaviors; bad thoughts & words; it’s the part of us that gets /tired of being a ‘goody-two-shoes’ all the time; /tired of being nice to people; /tired of not doing things the way the world does them; /tired of the preacher telling us we’re doing something wrong; /tired of seeing ourselves as lowly servants in someone else’s kingdom.
Saul had our same problem. He was a smug Pharisee; he had power & authority in the church; he was entrusted with the assignment to round up & punish these ‘Jesus freaks’ as far away as Damascus. He had rejected the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, and was zealous to stamp out those who believed in Jesus as God & Lord. Did Saul want to be an ‘instrument’ in God’s hands to spread that christian gospel? Never!
What about Mark? Bible commentators think he was from a well-to-do family of Jerusalem; and very educated, since he wrote the Gospel of Mark; which many think is Peter’s accounting of Jesus’ life. Mark’s mother was named Mary, who had a large home, used as one place where the early Christians gathered for worship, study, & fellowship.
That’s how he would’ve known Peter & other leaders of the church. When his uncle, Barnabas, came to bring relief supplies for the needy in Jerusalem, he took Mark back to Antioch with him. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas & Saul as missionaries, Barnabas suggested taking Mark along.
But Mark had an old nature, too. Together with Paul & Barnabas, he walked many roads and sailed many miles, as their ‘helper’ in places like Seleucia, Salamis, Paphos, Perga. Shortly after that, he just quit & went back home. He got tired of ‘helping’; maybe tired of handling luggage, making arrangements for travel, lodging, & food. Maybe he just missed his easier life in his mother’s house. So he deserted. Mark was not ready to be a tool in the hands of God. Like Mark & Saul, OUR sinful natures are often not willing to pay the price of giving up our own desires to be helpful to God’s kingdom, or we think we’re more important than the tasks He gives us to do.
*Have you ever asked God to make you ‘a useful christian’? …but, did you leave it up to Him what your use would be? When you’ve heard Jesus say to you: ‘take up your cross and follow me’, has your old nature ever said “yah, following you sound good, but do I have to do that cross part?” Mindful of your sinful nature ‘problem’, are you ready to give up your own plans for God’s plan for you? All disciples of Jesus are tools in the hand of God. The problem is,
our old natures resist.
This PROBLEM of ours actually doesn’t stop God and His PLAN. He has the power to deal with it. In Saul’s case, it was the bright light and word of Jesus on the Damascus road.
Saul was led into the city, and for 3 days he didn’t eat or drink: he simply prayed. In those long hours of waiting, no doubt he thought about …Jesus. *How could he have been so wrong about the Messiah? He had just encountered the Risen Jesus, who is the Lord of heaven.
He had overseen the stoning death of Stephen; now it made sense that Stephen was ready to die confessing Jesus, who is God’s Right Hand.
Then God told Ananias to go over to that praying man in the house of Judas on Straight Street. Was Ananias just a cautious tool in the hands of God, or *was he struggling with his old nature? Either way, he didn’t fully understand why he should go see this persecutor of christians. But God gave the order: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”
The Greek word for ‘instrument’ is skeuos, which is a general term for any useful item you use to accomplish your purpose: a vessel, utensil, container, a piece of equipment. Ananias and Saul knew that, by God’s power, they were to be useful tools for building his kingdom. So Saul was baptized, forgiven, & filled with the Spirit; he was changed from self-centered to God-centered.
Now he understood who Jesus is, and what it meant for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Later he expressed his commitment by saying, ‘I am ready =not only= to be bound-up in chains, but also to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the Lord Jesus.’(Acts 20). By God’s grace, Paul was shaped by God, the master tool-maker, and in Paul’s words: to “become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22).
How did God deal with the problem in Mark? That story is not in Scripture, but we do know Mark was changed. After his desertion on the first missionary journey, Paul refused to allow him to come along on the second trip = & Paul was right. So Barnabas took Mark with him, and they went on their own missionary journey = & Barnabas was right, too.
It seems that on that trip, Mark had his own sobering moment, and he was changed, and truly became a loyal & faithful helper the rest of his days. Later when Paul was in prison in Rome, he asked Timothy to bring Mark to him, for he says, “he is helpful to me.” (2 Tim 4:11).
After helping Paul in Rome, Mark also helped Peter in Rome, because in 1Pet.5 Peter calls him “my son”. It was probably at this time that Mark was like a scribe for Peter to learn the details of Jesus’ life & work, and to write one of the 4 Gospel accounts.
Tradition also tells us that Mark then went to the Jewish community in Alexandria –Egypt, planted the church, and was martyred there. Around 831 AD, merchants carried his bones from Alexandria to Venice, where they were buried under the altar in the cathedral there – named after him. Each Easter in that church the Gospel is read from Mark, & announced with the words, “The Gospel according to him” and the reader points to the front altar.
God dealt with the self-centered reluctance of Saul and Mark by His power of restoration. *How about us? Jesus died just as much for our sins as theirs; He was raised for our justification; we have been baptized into him, and the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, with a new birth & new life in Christ. That makes US fellow disciples of Saul & Mark to be useful in the kingdom. By His past work, *do we sense how the power of God continues to change & shape our lives so we are useful tools in His hands? That’s the ‘problem’ and the ‘power’.
So, finally, *what’s God’s big ‘PLAN’? His plan & will is that all people come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved. (1Tim 2:4). So He commissions His Church to “make disciples of all nations” thru baptizing & teaching all of His Word. He then makes us to be His witnesses & ambassadors, and gives us individual tasks useful to His plan. God used Ananias to baptize Saul, and commission him into the ministry by the laying on of hands.
He made Mark to be a helper to Barnabas and Peter; to write one of the 4 Gospel accounts, and to establish a church in Egypt.
For Paul it was to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles and to kings; from Jerusalem to Rome; to plant churches; to train leaders; and to write the majority of the New Testament letters. Like taking different tools from the tool box = one is used to saw the board, one to hammer the nails, & another to set the screws. You are a disciple, so you are a tool for God.
So, *what is He using you to do for His gospel plan? ….and *are you on-guard for your resisting sinful nature?
At a bare minimum, you are a public witness in your worship, a visible model for Christian behavior for your family & friends, and you support God’s salvation plan with your tithes & offerings thru His church.
So, *what about the other gifts He’s given to you for serving? +You may have the ability to lead, or to follow & support leaders thru a committee or a board; +you may have /mechanical skills, /people skills, /skills with music, /with numbers, /with long-term vision; /or the skill to explain God’s things to children or to adults; // maybe you can put things together with your hands, decorate things, or you can encourage or comfort others with your words; // you might have the ability to fund special projects, or to pray fervently for those with special needs. This is God’s reason for making us all different.
Our old natures will tell us that we don’t have any special skills to be helpful; or that our special skill is to stay out of everybody’s way. But to avoid being useful & helpful in Jesus’ church is not a skill. It’s a sin to resist using the gifts God has given to you for the support of his work thru his church. Put away that old nature; *what good is a tool hidden in the toolbox when it’s needed? Living your Christian faith and using your gifts may not be easy, but it is fulfilling; it is the new life you have been baptized into. Your labor in the Lord will never be in vain. As part of the ‘body of Christ’ the other parts are benefiting from your willing usefulness.
A 4-year-old was playing in the back yard with her parents. After playing with her dog a little, she went to her father to play a game she liked = asking questions. “What is Spot doing?” “Spot is running around the yard.” “What is Mommy doing?” “Mommy is pulling weeds.” “What is Daddy doing?” “Daddy is planting a rose bush.” “What is God doing?” For a moment her father didn’t answer; it made him think.
*What is God doing right now? We know that -thru His Church- He is working to call people to Himself, to repentance & forgiveness in Christ Jesus. We can look at other Christians to see that God is using them as tools, for some special projects and service in support of His gospel mission. When others look at you, *are they being encouraged & helped, because they can see that you are also a tool in the hand of God?