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In Acts 11:19-30 we see five marks of Jesus’ mission for the church: method, message, character, people and the mercy. God calls us to Him, by faith in Jesus, but then sends us out with Him on mission. You’ve never really lived until you being to live for something bigger than yourself. Jesus invites you to do just that, in Him.
Throughout our study of the book of Acts, we are watching the gospel of Jesus Christ spread across the known world. In Acts 1:8, Luke records Jesus’ commission of his disciples (and us), “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” These words function as the table of contents for Acts, charting the progress of the gospel to the end of the earth. In Acts 1-7 the gospel explodes in Jerusalem. In Acts 8, due to the persecution of the church following the martyrdom of Stephen, the gospel travels to Judea and Samaria. Last week, Acts 10, we saw the gospel spread to the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). The big idea emerging is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, everywhere. Going forward, this becomes Luke’s main theme. Increasingly, we’ll see that God has given His church a mission of spreading this gospel throughout the world. If we genuinely want to know Jesus well, we need to know who he calls us to be and what he calls us to do. The more we understand the church and the mission, the more we’ll understand Jesus. That’s where we’re going today.
Contrary to popular cultural opinion, the Jesus’ church is not merely an aggregation of saved individuals that randomly huddle together once a week. Our individualistic culture has played a significant role in shaping our modern day understanding of what the church is. So much so, in fact, that we tend to approach Jesus’ church asking “What’s in it for me?” or “Is this convenient for me?” or “How does this make me feel?” or “Is this something I have time for?” The biblical conception of Jesus’ church is far different. Biblically, the church is a kingdom people, a forgiven family, citizens of the City of God, etc. Salvation is not only individual, but corporate. In Christ, we are saved to belong to a new people. The great redemptive storyline of the Bible is that God is saving a people for himself, out of all nations, to serve as a foretaste of the world that is to come. We are a local expression of God’s people, the church, in Seattle.
It might surprise you to know that Jesus never says, “I wonder how that little group I started during my time on earth is getting along…I should check in on them.” Of course, that’s ridiculous, but that’s often how we view the church. Jesus’ view of the church is far different. Jesus came for the church. Jesus lived for the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus rose for the church. Jesus continues to rule and reign for the church. The church is Jesus’ great redemptive masterpiece.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…” Eph 5:25-27,29
The image couldn’t be any clearer. The church is Jesus’ masterpiece, His treasure, not an after thought, side-project or experiment. Sure, the church can do a good job of hiding these great realities, but that doesn’t change the reality of what the church is. Therefore, it is shocking to hear that 85% of Americans think that you can be a good Christian without being involved in the church. Really? How could that be? Jesus lives and breathes for the church. He gave himself up for the church, to sanctify and cleanse her. Even today, he continues to nourish and cherish her. The church is Jesus’ masterpiece, so we can’t say “Well, it’s just a big mess…and it conflicts with my schedule.” To understand Jesus, we need the Bible, we need to become an integral part of his masterpiece and to embrace His mission. Today, Acts 11:19-30, we’ll look at five distinct marks of the mission of Jesus’ church.
#1 The METHOD of Jesus’ mission. (11:19-21)
The first method we see here is that God is the divine orchestrator of His mission. (i.e. Preached “the Lord” + hand of “the Lord” + turned to “ the Lord”) The Lord is adding to the Lord. God is both subject and object, source and goal, method and motivation. He is always, forever, behind the scenes, writing His story. This should be faith stirring! Yet, there is also mystery here. Every Christian needs a conceptual category that unites God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. It is stunning to see that God used the persecution in ch8 (10yrs prior) for the massive revival of a major pagan Roman city in ch11. Only God could do that. Are you trusting in the Divine Orchestrator? What are you trusting Him for right now?
The second method of Jesus’ mission are “no names”. The Gospel goes to first major pagan city and…we don’t even know their names. There were two groups: “those who were scattered” and “some of them, men”. That’s it. This is important. God’s mission to the rest of the world is initiated by unnamed evangelists (11:19-21) Count Zizendorf (1700’s, pastor/missionary) once said, “Preach the gospel, die, be forgotten.” God uses nobodies to tell everyone else about the Somebody. That often confronts our pride, because we want to be somebody. But, the gospel tells us that we’re known by Him so doesn’t matter whether we’re known by others. We’re here for Him, with Him.
The third method of Jesus mission is that he he uses every day places, especially cities. This becomes a major theme throughout rest of Acts. Antioch, capitol of modern day Syria, was built in 300BC. It was the 3rd largest city of the Roman empire, behind Rome and Alexandria, with roughly 500-800k people. It was a cross between Las Vegas and New York. Immoral, yet sophisticated. Even today, God uses cities as unique springboards for his mission. Cities are strategic, diverse, and densely populated. Cities tend to hubs of culture making, media, arts, influence and entertainment. Therefore, if the gospel takes route in the city, it takes route in the wider culture.
#2 The MESSAGE of Jesus’ mission. (11:19-21)
Antioch was a deeply religious city, worshiping gods like Apollos, Artemis, Zeus, Poseidon and others. It would be easy for us to see that and say, “Oh, but we don’t do that any more…” Really?
- Apollos: Bisexual god of arts, medicine
- Artemis: goddess of environment (forest, hills, hunting)
- Zeus: lord of the sky (aka. rain god and the cloud gatherer), god of justice/mercy/law/order
- Poseidon: god of the sea.
Their gods required rule-following and sacrifice. If satisfied, then would deliver. That is the essence of every religion. That’s what Seattle believes regarding Christianity: “Be good, then you’ll be OK”. When Seattle here’s that, they say, “I can do that without Jesus.” That’s true, but that’s not Christianity.
But, the gospel is an entirely new message. It still is. If gospel was “Be good and Jesus will save you” then Antioch would’ve said “Our gods already say that”. But, the gospel of Jesus Christ is much more radical, saying “You’re made right with God in Jesus Christ, now you are free to good!” Astonishing grace!
The Gospel makes a serious diagnosis of our souls. We sin because we are sinners. Our sin comes from who we are. When realize you’re sinner, and you want to deal with your sin, you only have two options: try to do better (religion) or receive forgiveness (Christianty) Many say that what people need today are short, cute, warm, friendly, little self-help sermons. No. We need Jesus. That’s exactly what they gave them. See that? “Preaching the Lord Jesus” (v20) Jesus is the core. Bible is about Jesus. Church is about Jesus. Mission is about Jesus. Life is about Jesus. What you and I need is Jesus. That’s what we’re all about here.
- Gospel: Jesus came to destroy our lists of self-effort, self-improvement so that we could rest in HIS efforts.
- Gospel: Jesus didn’t come to tell us what to do, but to tell us what HE was doing, namely setting the captives free.
- Gospel: Jesus obeyed perfectly, so now by faith in HIM, we’re loved by God as tho we obeyed perfectly
- Gospel: Jesus died for the worst people to make them His people.
To be “preaching the Lord Jesus” is to continually be preaching the gospel about the person and work of Jesus, NOT our person and our work. There is nothing more difficult for us to believe than the grace of God, confronts our pride! Christianity isn’t a ladder, we climb through self-promotion. It’s a cross we cling to. Grace frees you to be OK with not being OK, because in Christ you are more than OK.
# 3 The CHARACTER of Jesus’ mission. (11:22-24)
The big idea here is to “remain faithful” or “full of faith”. Barnabas doesn’t call them to observe the rules, but to be faithful to the King. That is, to be steadfast in affection and allegiance to Jesus Christ. This is a frequent and common call throughout the scriptures:
Acts 13:43 “urged them to continue in the grace of God…”
1Cor15:2 [gospel] “by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word…unless you believed in vain.”
Heb 3:14 “we have come to share in Christ if indeed we hold our confidence firm to the end…”
Q: Why do you think Bible so repeatedly “continue”? Going to be hard. As Eugene Peterson as said, Christianity is about a Long Obedience in Same Direction. This is a call to set our affections and allegiances on Jesus Christ. Need to decide in advance that, by God’s grace, you’ll remain full of faith in good and bad.
Q: Are you saying I can lose my faith? No. But saving faith is always persevering faith. If your faith doesn’t persevere, you’ve never had faith that saves. This steadfast faithfulness is key to being a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. We take this seriously. We want as many people as possible to know and grow in depth of faith in Jesus Christ.
On the one hand, this means that we must faithfully persevere in sharing the gospel. We want the entire city to KNOW Jesus. We don’t anyone to be left behind.
On the other hand, this means that we are passionate about discipleship, growing and cultivating deep followers of Jesus. Jesus cares how you handle relationships, money, sexuality, time, and more. That formation takes place in community, meaningful relationships with others. Only in that form of community can you be challenged, encouraged, loved, listened to, etc. This means you should gather with the church weekly on Sundays and throughout the week. Your soul needs it. You don’t need to wake up in the morning on Sunday and ask “Hmmm, I wonder whether I should go and join the church this morning.” No. You already made that decision when you decided to be a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. In 100 years, what do you want to look back and see in your life?
#4 The PEOPLE of Jesus’ mission. (11:25-26)
Up till this point, followers of Jesus had been called: disciples, believers, servants of Christ, those who are “in Christ”, saints, followers of “the Way”. Yet, here for the first time, Jesus’ followers are called Christians. (cf Acts 26:28; 1 Peter4:16). Why is that? Antioch was a very multi-cultural city that encouraged immigration and offered Jews citizenship. It had very large and thriving communities of Jews, Greeks, Romans, Asians and Africans. On historian notes the city had 18 ethnic quarters. Literally, they would build a wall around the city and various walls within the city to separate these different groups. Why? Because every culture tends to think it is superior to others.
But, we see something amazing happening here. The gospel is preached and for the first time there is a common experience of God that brought together different cultures/groups. The city couldn’t point to Christianity and say “that’s Jewish..or Roman…or Greek…or Asian…” It was a completely new thing that wasn’t culturally defined. So, the city had to come up with a new name! This is fascinating. The entire urban plan of city based on idea there was no ultimate truth. Now that was being challenged at its very core.
This tells us that early Christian’s were very clear about what they were about. Christ. If Seattle was observing Christianity today, what would they call our belief system? Would they call us Christians or something else? Or, even closer to home, if people were to observe your life and words – what would they call what you believe?
#5 The MERCY of Jesus’ mission. (11:27-30)
Radical grace produces radical generosity. Radical grace always reveals itself tangibly, particularly with money. Our finances are the best gauge for how we understand the grace of God. This is entirely counter-cultural. In our world, everyone is looking our for #1. But, Christians have a new #1: Jesus. To often, Christians act like Jesus is #1 spiritually (to get benefits), but live lives demonstrating he is far from it.
Q: For you, what do your finances reveal about your understanding of the grace of God?
When we talk about extending mercy in the city, we’re NOT talking about the “Social gospel” which redefines the gospel in terms of social action, social justice, etc. The church has a history of over-correcting in defense of the gospel AND often doesn’t help anyone.
We believe in substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for sinners. But, we also we believe that radical grace should move us to radical generosity, radical care/love for others. Why? Because the gospel tells us that when we were spiritually starving, homeless, addicts Jesus saved us – how could we not help others who are struggling and suffering with the same? We call this renewal – Giving/serving/sacrificing as we’ve been by Jesus – but the reality is that its just living as a Christian should.
Downtown Cornerstone, this is our call to embrace Jesus’ mission. We are Jesus’ method for the spreading of the gospel in Seattle. We are “no names” following the name above all names. He has entrusted us with His spectacular message of grace. Therefore, let’s be a people marked with steadfast affection and allegiance to Jesus Christ, knowing and growing in Him. We are a local manifestation of this great redemptive masterpiece, the church. He calls us to him, but he sends us to others with His message and mercy. Let’s preach the gospel. Die. Be forgotten by the world – but never by Him.
“[An additional] reason for Christianity’s success is to be found in its inclusiveness. More than any of its competitors it attracted all races and classes…Judaism never quite escaped from its racial bonds…Christianity however gloried in its appeal to Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian. The philosophies never really won the allegiance of the masses…they appealed primarily to the educated…Christianity, however…drew the lowly and unlettered…yet also developed a philosophy which commanded the respect of many of the learned…Christianity, too, was for both sexes, whereas two of it main rivals were primarily for men. The Church welcomed both rich and poor. In contrast with it, the mystery cults were usually for people of means: initiation into them was expensive…No other [religion] took in so many groups and strata of society…The query must be raised of why this comprehensiveness came to be. It was not in Judaism. Why did it appear in Christianity?” – K.S.Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity vol.1 (Harper and Row, 1937).