The Parentheses Of Life


Sermon Outline By Terry Siverd

Cortland Church of Christ / August 20, 2017

Please open your Bibles to Acts chapter 12

In Acts 7, Stephen is stoned to death.

In Acts 8, Saul of Tarsus continues ravaging the church.

In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is confronted by Jesus and is forever changed - - from antagonist to apostle.

In Acts 10, Peter does the unthinkable - - he dines with and baptizes Gentiles.

The latter portion of Acts 11 tells how some who had been scattered because of intense persecution began

proclaiming  the gospel of Christ to Greeks in Antioch.  This becomes a watershed event in the history of the church.

Prior to Acts 10 & 11, the preaching of gospel of Christ was done exclusively among the Jews.

The Ethiopian Treasurer (Acts 8) was most likely a proselyte - - A God-fearing Jew - - from another nation.

When many in Antioch came to believe in the Lord, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate (Acts 11:21-22).

He came, he saw, he rejoiced.  And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord / Acts 11:24b.

Barnabas left to find Saul of Tarsus and when he did he brought him back to Antioch.

In Acts 11:26, Luke notes - - It came about that for an entire year they met with the church,

and taught considerable numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

In Acts 11:27f, Agabas, one among several prophets from Jerusalem, came to Antioch predicting a coming famine.

The Antioch disciples determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.

And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

(Suddenly, the bulk of chapter twelve becomes a parenthesis.)

If we jump ahead to the end of chapter twelve - -  Acts 12:25 records:  Barnabas and Saul returned from

Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission; taking along with them, John, who was also called Mark.

A parenthesis - - you know, those words often contained in brackets - - is a digression.

A parenthesis might also be defined as an interlude, something that happens “in between”.

A parenthesis often describes that which is an interruption of continuity.

Speaking metaphorically, we generally don’t like parentheses.

For many, if not most of us, parentheses are unwelcome intrusions. 

Yet, these parentheses of life are often unavoidable.  That interruptions come our way is just a fact of life.

As we will see in Acts 12, parentheses are not only inevitable, but they can often be conducive to building faith.

A key to better living is learning how to manage the parentheses, the brackets, the time-outs known as transitions.

Coping skills are valuable for all people:  men and women, young and old, believers and non-believers.

For us as Christians, how we cope is especially important because coping is both A GAUGE & REFLECTION OF OUR FAITH.

To all who disdain the parentheses of life, let me remind us that we walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor.5:7).


King Herod Agrippa I laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them (vs.1).

James (a son of Zebedee, a brother to John, and one of the twelve apostles) is beheaded (vs.2).

Peter, also one of the Twelve, is arrested and imprisoned (vss.3ff).  We’ll return to his escape in a moment.

And finally, that opportunist, wicked, strutting-like-a-peacock King Herod is struck down by an angel of the Lord (vs.21f).

These details happen among the church in Jerusalem, the city to which Barnabas and Saul are traveling.

These events weren’t easily foreseeable.  Luke records them with an extended parenthesis.

What is surprising is that these un-welcomed events, each one of them, proved to be a blessing to the church.

We might expect such with the death of Herod, but not with the death of James nor the imprisonment of Peter.

An unexpected summary statement is found nestled in Acts 12:24 - -

But the word of the Lord continued to grow and be multiplied.

Have you ever noticed that the book of Acts is filled with angels?

In Acts 5:19, an angel opens the gates of the prison, releasing the apostles from jail.

In Acts 6:15, the Jerusalem Council fixed their gaze on Stephen, whose face shown like an angel.

In Acts 8:26, an angel directs Philip to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.

In Acts 10:3 & 30-31, an angel of God speaks to Cornelius.

Here in Acts 12:7f, an angel appears to assist Peter who is imprisoned.

I don’t know exactly what to do with angels.  I know that angels frequently worked on behalf of God.

I don’t know if their actions were restricted to the days of miracles or if they continue yet today.

I don’t believe any of us can speak definitively on the role of angels.

The providence of God is too vast for us to fully grasp.

 Read from Acts 12:3-17

There is much to glean here.

When life glides along at a normal canter/trot, with predictable days and smooth, easy living, things seem manageable.

But when it doesn’t - - discomfort, discombobulation and disintegration often confront us. 

When life is lived on the jagged edge, with unpredictable events and curve-ball interruptions we are often tested.

Some events are annoying; some painful; some filled with grief; while others offer exciting changes and opportunities.

Concerning these unexpected turns - - these parentheses of life - - we must not despair.

Let us resolve to face them WITH FAITH, sometimes gritting our teeth, but also with GRATITUDE (Acts 16:25).

The death of James and the imprisonment of Peter could have sent the church into a tailspin.

Yet, in all of the twists and turns, the presence and providence of God prevailed.

Randy Maas recently experienced a serious parenthesis, having spent a month in a world turned upside down.

Most of us have gone through similar experiences.  Some perhaps not quite so severe, but un-settling nonetheless.

Unexpected sickness on our part or for others we love so dearly…Unemployment…The trials of starting a new business.  A marriage that’s struggling…Caring for elderly…Dis-ease regarding finances and healthcare and a host of other things.

The loss of a loved one - - the passing of someone we cherish.

All of these are elements of life’s parentheticals - - we didn’t ask for them; we don’t like them.  Yet, here they are.

We must determine to walk by faith, not by sight.

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