And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What does it look like to go and make disciples?
What does it look like for the gospel to transform a city?
What does it look like to be a church that Jesus has called us to be?
The book of Acts tells us what happened when Jesus ascended to heaven, gave the Holy Spirit to the church, and sent them on mission to make disciples of all nations. Over the Spring and Summer the pastors of Ekklesia will be preaching through the Acts of the Apostles. Come and be a part of what Jesus is doing in Muskogee, Eufaula, and to the ends of the earth.
A miracle is when Jesus, who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3), does something in the world differently than he normally does in order to love people and reveal his glory. Jesus does miracles to
1. alleviate temporary suffering (freeing people from sickness and oppression),
2. help end eternal suffering (authenticating the gospel message so that people may repent of their sin and believe in Jesus for salvation from sin and death),
3. point us to the end of any and all suffering (when Jesus comes back and restores this broken creation and puts everything right).
In Acts 5 we see the need for heroes, the Hero of heroes, and the unstoppable Hero. We need heroes today, like the apostles were in their time, because heroes look to character rather than appearance, are loyal to a higher power rather than their own hearts, and substitute themselves for the good of others. Jesus is the ultimate Hero (verse 31) who lived a life of character, always lived in submission to God the Father, and willingly sacrificed himself to reconcile us to God and to defeat the enemy within us—our sin. Because Jesus is our Hero we can live heroic lives—caring what God thinks rather than what man thinks, and substituting ourselves for the good of the world as we seek to make disciples and love our cities to the glory of God. The world can only persecute, or, at worst, kill us. And persecution (even to death!) has always served to further the mission of the gospel in the world. As the third century church father Turtullian said, “The blood of Christians is the seed of the church.” The more the world tries to silence us, the more we grow. Ultimately the mission of the church is unstoppable because it’s origin is not in man, but in God.
In Acts 6, we see the early church acting like servants rather than cynics. Cynics see a need and complain about it, whereas servants see a need and seek to meet it by God’s grace. The early church also served one another according to how they were gifted and talented in order to see the gospel advance. One of the reasons Christianity exploded throughout the Roman empire (and is still exploding today!) was because Christians are servants. They have always been at the forefront of helping the poor and vulnerable in the world. More than anything, each person in the world needs not to serve, but to be served by Jesus. Jesus is the Greater Servant who came to the earth in order to die for our sin. By serving us in his life and death, Jesus fixed our true problem—paying our debt to God so we can be totally forgiven and eternally accepted in Him. Are you a cynic or a servant? How are you gifted to serve? Will you serve to see the gospel advance? Are you being served by Jesus?
In Acts 6 we see how Stephen’s encounter with his contemporaries helps us discover what it looks like for a Christian to have fellowship with Jesus in their everyday life. Christians have fellowship through Jesus’ WORKS because He continues to love and serve the world through us. Believers also have fellowship through His WORDS because Jesus continues to speak to the world through the church. Again, we have fellowship through His SUFFERING because Christians share in the suffering of Jesus, which is a blessing because it makes us more like and reliant on God. Finally, Christians have fellowship in Jesus’ JOY because Jesus has finished the work of salvation for us. We know that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things can never be lost, and the best things are yet to come.
Just before his death as the first martyr of the Christian church, we see what Stephen said, saw, and did. Stephen SAID that the whole point of the Temple and the Law of God was to prepare us for and point us to Jesus, rather than being a means of salvation themselves as the religious leaders believed. In addition to what he said, Stephen SAW, in a great vision of the glory of God, the heavenly courtroom and Jesus standing as his Advocate. He was confident that vengeance was the Lord’s and joyful because Jesus was representing him as the Righteous One before God. Lastly, what Stephen DID was infuriate the unbelievers, plant seeds by preaching the gospel, forgive and pray for his enemies, and went to be with Jesus.
Like the early church in the book of Acts, we can have JOY IN OUR HEARTS by clinging to the truth of the gospel and to the fact that our bad things turn out for good. We can have JOY ON OUR LIPS by devoting ourselves to the study of the Bible and fellowship with God in prayer. We can have JOY IN OUR CITY as we keep our mouths open, telling people the gospel of Jesus, as well as our eyes open and hands outstretched, seeking to actively meet the needs of our city by the grace of God.
There are two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness ruled by satan and the kingdom of God ruled by Jesus. Because of our first parents sin, all are born into the kingdom of darkness and are sinners by nature and choice. We are not passive in our rebellion against God. Rather, we are complicit in the works of the enemy, rebelling against God’s perfect rule and authority—living as if we were king. Therefore all people need to be born again into the kingdom of God by grace through faith in Jesus. After salvation, Christians are to be baptized as an outer witness of their inner faith. All those in Jesus’ kingdom are given eternal spiritual blessings, and the greatest blessing God gives is the gift of Himself—the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and he is present with and in each believer. He sovereignly and graciously gives us new birth (John 3:8). He helps us know what is right and wrong (John 15:8). He pours the love of God into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). He gives us life as we work to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus (Rom. 8:11). He helps us understand the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10). And He works in us so that we live lives that produce good fruit to the glory of God (Gal. 5:22-23). Lastly, life in Jesus’ kingdom is one lived under authority, not in authority, focussed on the glory of God, not the glory of yourself, and it is lived enslaved to righteousness, not to sin. Do you know there are two kingdoms? Have you entered Jesus’ kingdom through faith and baptism?
In Acts 8, we learn a lot about the providence of God when it comes to our personal salvation. We learn that it doesn’t matter who you are because Jesus was somebody for you. It doesn’t matter how badly you’ve screwed up your life through your sin—in Jesus Christ there is redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. In addition, we learn that it doesn’t matter where you are because Jesus seeks and saves the lost. The gospel is not about good people finding God; the gospel is about a good God finding people no matter who they are or where they are. Why? Why is there such good news for people who deserve nothing but the just wrath and judgement of God because of their sin? The answer to that question is profound yet simple: because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Our sin is so serious that Jesus had to die and His love is so fierce that He was willing to die. Lastly, we learn that it doesn’t matter where you’re going. If you’ve been saved by Jesus, you’ve been sent by Jesus to love people and tell them the gospel.
Jesus’ grace confronts and comforts. Saul was confronted with the seriousness of his sin, but comforted by Jesus’ words of grace. Jesus’ grace also reconciles us to God as our Father and to other Christians as our brothers and sisters. Like Ananias and Saul, it doesn’t matter what your previous life looked like; If you are in Christ you are family. Furthermore, Christians are redeemed from their previous life of using their gifts and talents for their own glory, to using their gifts and talents to the glory of God. Jesus redeemed Saul’s privilege, singleness, devotion, resilience, genius, and productivity, making him the Apostle Paul. Finally, Jesus opens eyes and changes hearts. He doesn’t just confront, comfort, reconcile, and redeem. He also gives us eyes to see the truth of Jesus and hearts that love Jesus and desire to follow Him. Have you been confronted with your sin and yet comforted by Jesus’ cross? Have you been reconciled to God and the church and redeemed to using all of your life to the glory of God? Have your eyes been opened and heart changed?
The gospel is a message that has to be proclaimed. Why? Because the King of the universe said that everyone needs to be converted and they will only be converted if the gospel is proclaimed and believed. But what is the gospel? As Saul helps us see in Acts 9:20, the gospel—the good news that brings joy—is Jesus. The good news is not a list of do’s and don’ts, the good news is the person and work of Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should’ve lived, died the death we deserve to die, and resurrected as the Savior and King of all who trust Him. Do we have any reasons to believe this is true? Yes, because as Saul shows us in Acts 9:22, the gospel can be proved. The gospel can be proved Biblically, historically, and experientially. Given the evidence, it’s a bigger leap of faith to deny Jesus than to receive Him. Furthermore, the gospel cannot be silenced precisely because it is a message that has to be proclaimed, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and proven due to God’s providential sovereignty.
In Acts 9, Luke highlights three signs of health for Christians: walking in the fear of the Lord, walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and multiplication. Walking in the fear of the Lord means you live your life freed from what others think and say, because your chief concern is what Jesus thinks and says. The fear of man is a trap, but those who fear the Lord are safe (Proverbs 29:25). Jesus tells us that the main job of God the Holy Spirit in our lives is to be our Comforter. He comforts us by preaching the gospel of Jesus to our hearts. Therefore walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit means you seek to walk in the fear of the Lord and are constantly thinking of the gospel. The Christian life is one of obedience and constant dependence. The final sign of health that Luke gives us is multiplication. As the Church walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. Therefore it’s our job to be faithful to and dependent on Jesus. It’s Jesus’ job to build His church.
Jesus can heal. He can at any time, from His throne in heaven, heal anyone from any sickness or disability precisely because He died on the cross to defeat the very thing that causes us to get sick or be disabled in the first place—sin. Not only can Jesus heal, but He has promised that He will. For all of us who’s trust is in Him alone, He will one day “transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). What ailments or disabilities do you have? In Christ, you won’t have them forever. In addition to healing, Jesus can raise the dead. We die not as a natural course of life but because of our sin (see Ezekiel 18:20 and Romans 3:23). Therefore since Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin He has in turn defeated our greatest enemy! Jesus died to kill death. Not only can Jesus raise the dead, He has promised that He will. “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5). In the end, Jesus will resurrect all Christians giving them new and glorified bodies. And we will live with Him in complete joy forever. Outside of Jesus, death is a great enemy because it will take you swiftly to hell. In Jesus, death is a great friend because it will take you swiftly to His presence. Is death your enemy or your friend?
The simplest way to describe the reason for Racism, Classism, and Nationalism is this: We all want to have worth. So in order to get it we compare ourselves to others and find ways to convince ourselves that we have worth because we are better than they are. But the gospel of Jesus Christ destroys any hint of these things. Like Peter in Acts 10, in order to purge any hint of superiority in our hearts, we need to know and believe three major truths. First of all we need to know and believe that Jesus is Lord, not us (vv. 36). He is the high and exalted One. Secondly, we need to know and believe that Jesus saves by grace through faith, not by our works (vv. 38-46). Salvation is a gift bought by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Lastly, we need to know and believe that Jesus makes us family—family with different races, classes, and nationalities. We were all of different bloodlines but now we are of one bloodline (the bloodline!)—the bloodline of the cross of Jesus Christ.
In Acts 11, we read that the gentiles were granted “repentance that leads to life.” But what exactly is repentance? Repentance is not blame-shifting, minimizing, merely being moved by the gospel, feeling sorry, or confessing your sins. Repentance is a turning from sin to faith in Jesus—a change of mind, that leads to a change of heart, that leads to a change of action. Though we need to repent from our sin and trust Jesus to be saved, we will not do so on our own. Why? Because before Jesus saves us, we are enslaved to our sin—addicted to it and in love with it. So how may we repent? The key is in verse 18 of Acts 11: “And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” Repentance is a God-given gift of sovereign grace. When God the Holy Spirit personally comes and “makes us alive,” “washing us with regeneration” by grace, we will then see the truth of Jesus, love Jesus, trust Jesus alone, and follow Jesus. God doesn’t force us to repent; rather, He graciously and lovingly removes all of the obstacles that are keeping us from repenting.
In Acts 11 we see the hand of Jesus fulfilling his purpose to build his church. Jesus is building his church according to the plan and he stated that in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is comforting, because as believers in Jesus Christ we have been sent out to go and make disciples. This great truth helps us overcome trials and tribulations that we will undoubtedly face in both life and death. The news of Jesus in our passage crossed countries, races, false gods, and even persecution and Jesus prevailed.
We see in Acts 12:1-19 that Jesus’ victory is undeniable. It is clear that Jesus is victorious over death, fear, and in salvation. Illustrated by Luke’s one short verse based on James’ death, we begin to understand that it is not so much our role in God’s plan that is most important but God’s will and how he works it by us, through us, and around us. Death for believers is only a removal of the final veil between us and eternity with Christ. For us death is a good thing because Jesus conquered it and brought us into his family. We also see Jesus’ victory over fear. In the most impossible of situations we find Peter. He is imprisoned, chained, between two guards with four more who rotated out with a new crew every three hours, behind multiple locked gates, in the tower that held the rest of the Roman garrison. An impossible escape! He knew he may be slaughtered in the morning, like his brother in Christ James had been. But, he was sleeping like a baby. The church knew this also yet were not driven to despair. They knew if God could make light the darkest moment in the Christian existence (Christ’s death, brought to light by His resurrection), then he had all the power to free Peter, which he did, miraculously. Peter being freed from prison and earthy doom serves as a beautiful picture of our own salvation. We are chained to our sin, unconscious, and unable to free ourselves from the darkness. Jesus comes, shines his light in our darkness and awakens us. He then calls us to follow him and we are inspired by his mercy, glory, and goodness to go and tell the good news of him who saved us to the world. May we not be bound to trying to clean ourselves up to make ourselves presentable to God! Let us own Christ’s perfection! Let’s go from the foundation of the gospel and share the good news that Jesus has done what we couldn’t, on our behalf!
ACTS 12:20-25 20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. 24 But the word of God increased and multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
In the book of Acts we see how Jesus is building His church and He is the cornerstone. He has called us to dwell with Him now and for eternity. This is only through Jesus’ calling. Because we are sinners in need of a Savior, there was nothing we could do to fulfill our security of eternity with him. But through his love and goodness for us, he paid the penalty for us and gave us His righteousness, and we are now called children of God and heirs with Christ. Praise God! This is the good news. This is why we are commanded to be faithful goers and senders just as the church in Antioch. Is God calling you to go? Are you being called to lead in a community group, become an elder or be a part in global missions? Are you being called to serve in the church with your talents? We must seek the Lord’s guidance by praying and fasting. In Matthew 6:16 Jesus is giving his sermon on the mount and says “When you fast…” not if you fast. This is not a question of if but when. The results from the church in Antioch were world changing. May we be faithful. May we seek the Lord with prayer and fasting just as we saw in Antioch.