It is an exciting thing to be a Christian. We can be constantly renewed, restored, revitalized. I challenge you to think with me today. Examine text, make contemporary application, challenge us toward implementation.
Another Look at Acts 13
This chapter is a turning point in the book of Acts, so let us review: ascension, waiting, selection of Matthias, day of Pentecost--3000 Jews, number of disciples is 5000, problems in church--Acts 5,6,7, Stephen, 6:7-- priests obedient to faith. Then the church is scattered--8:4; eunuch is first foreigner convert, a Gentile but Jewish by religion, a proselyte.
In Acts 10, Cornelius becomes a Christian, Peter explains action in chapter 11, especially note 11:19.
By Acts 13, church is ready to take gospel to Asia Minor, read of first journey of Paul, come to our text, want to see the significance of this turning point.
In 13:16, Paul addresses Israel, Gentiles who worship God. In v. 26, Israel, God-fearers. Recall this phrase from description of Cornelius in chapter 10. Up to this time, converts were all pretty much alike. But after rejection in Pisidian Antioch, when Jews rejected message, jealousy (note v. 46), then turn to Gentiles, to pagans. Going beyond the God-fearers, not only to proselytes to Judaism, but to pagan Gentiles.
These are relevant verses in our nation at beginning of the 21st century. Relevant verses in our world if we are to take the gospel to the whole world. Mostly up to this point in our nation, we have been like the Christians in the early chapters of Acts, going to religious people, to those not requiring too much change, just a little, many of our converts already know the basics of Scripture. Those we have typically converted are those who have studied the Bible, God-fearers, religious people even though there were differences.
Our world is less and less Christian. In New Zealand during a mission trip, we often heard, "I'm not religious." Our goal is to take the gospel to our community, our world, this world, the entire world. Our goal is to take the gospel to pagans, to genuine Gentiles, to the unchurched as well as to the churched. At least two-thirds of our nation is radically unchurched. Many have been away from church so long--for two or three generations--that the basics of Christianity have been forgotten and lost.
How will we reach these? Will we go to the synagogues, as Paul did? We do not do this, we do not go to other churches, to other believing situations. Yes, Paul continued to do that, but there is a necessity of encounter in a broader field. I fear that the church of Jesus Christ has confined itself in jail of own making, way-laying the way, chaining ourselves, but this is of our own doing. No locks imprison us. The lock is on our minds, in our understanding of the challenge, in exploring the methods we will need to take the gospel to our community and world in vibrant way.
It is time to dream a new dream. We must come face to face with the truth that we are not doing too well with the God-fearers, let along with the pagans in our world. We are not getting the job done. We are in danger of being navel-gazers, self-centered, a worshiping society. What happens in our church buildings is only a small part of our service in cause of Christ.
We must return to our central focus, make it real in our lives, more than slogan, mottoes, mission statements, and banners on our walls.
We have talked so much about family and love that we have forgotten the army metaphor in Scripture, the necessity of militant conflict and conquest. Interesting point from Matt. 16--the gates of Hades shall not prevail against church. What do you envision when you read these verses? The church is militantly attacking the strongholds of Satan, tearing them down, capturing.
We must get back to influencing our neighborhoods, communities, and world for Jesus. We must rescue the gospel from its invisibility, and make it a leaven that penetrates and changes--first us, then others. We must rethink what we do when we assemble, and why. What are our motives? We have at times been so concerned about being scriptural in the forms of worship that we have lost our concern about being scriptural in the purpose of worship. Are we here today for the right reasons, will we accomplish what God intends his assembled people to accomplish? A scriptural assembly renews our sense of mission and our passion to fulfill the mission. When we go forth, "We cannot but speak." We will press the battle.
This attitude will focus the fact that we are too busy to be drawn into church issues and problems. We are too busy to fuss and fight. This understanding of the gospel to the Gentiles as representative of our challenge today will rescue the church from its pettiness and littleness, and get us back on track about the glorious gospel which is God's power to salvation.
We go forth, bringing abundant life, channeling blessings, bringing rest to the weary, bringing grace, mercy and peace to a world starving for comfort, consolation and encouragement. Most of all, in Christ, we bring escape from sin and its guilt.
How do we encourage people to take us, our Lord, and the gospel seriously? The credibility of Christianity is at stake. Half-hearted religions scattered up and down our avenues will not make it with the Gentiles in our nation. The reason for the credibility crisis is simple: Christians aren't much different from anybody else, nor do many seem to want to be. What incentive is there to investigate a faith that has lost its reputation for making a difference? If the modern brand of Christianity is not producing behavioral change, what do we have to offer those who are not Christians? People must see the difference Jesus makes in our homes, schools, business, and relationships. Primitive Christianity exploded on the scene of paganism in lst century because of the contrast it provided. Christianity brought meaning, purpose, forgiveness. Nothing less will return our nation to the power of the Christ.
Nor should we confuse community acceptance with credibility. When everybody loves us, we may have ceased to function as the counter culture we were designed to be. The early church impacted its culture. As you contemplate the significance of Acts 13, I challenge you to consider how we can reach out and impact our culture, change our world, alter our community. We are going out to a pagan society, religion is generally unwelcome. But, the Christianity of Jesus shines brighter than ever. What an opportunity is ours to show the surpassing power and greatness of the gospel, 2 Cor. 4:5-7, to become a pleasing aroma.
We must get out of our assemblies, into the streets. Unless one ventures into our assemblies or is recipient of our benevolence, in most places the world never knows we exist. Our light is under the bushel, or in our buildings. We are having little impact on morals and values. Our limited media exposure generally comes across as preachy at worst or churchy at best.
Think with me about a well known text in John 4, Jesus' prayer for laborers for the harvest. Over thirty years ago, Elton Trueblood wrote, "The church is intended as a concrete answer to the prayer that laborers be sent forth into the harvest. The company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine, it is not people making up an audience for a speaker, it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if it is received, it will change lives."
Lives are changed from defeat to victory. Perplexity and lostness win the victory of certainty and confidence. Resurrection victory overcomes death. The powerless are empowered. Losers become winners.
So our text concludes. Acts 13:47, light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to ends of earth. Cf. Acts 26:16ff. This is also our call.
Paul responds, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." I pray we will also respond in obedience to our God. I pray you will respond today to this God, whatever you need. If you have never begun the Christian walk, respond in faith to be immersed for forgiveness of sins. If you are just beginning, cultivate a different lifestyle from world so others can note the difference. If you have been a Christian a long time, throw off the stagnation, and go forth with a song in your heart, and the message of the precious gospel on your lips, so that all might hear, to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Ours is a big challenge, but we serve a big God. He will enable us, empower us, strengthen us, and uphold us. You can begin today simply by walking to the front of this room as we sing. Why not resolve, rededicate, renew, to live for that great God as we stand and sing.
Return to Sermon Index