(Acts 1: 1-11, 8: 1-6)
God loves a good road trip. He even has his own form of GPS called God’s Positioning System. He knows right where you are, where you need to be and the best route you need to take to get there, even if it’s not the most direct route, you know, the scenic route.
I remember my last major road trip. It was ten years ago this month. We had learned that our daughter was pregnant and decided to relocate to this area so we could be close to our first grandchild. I remember how I broke the news to my Sunday School class at First Baptist, Tyler. I told them I was just following Jesus’ command in Acts 1: 8 where Jesus told his disciples that they will receive the power when the Holy Spirt comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. I told them that Jefferson County’s western border was the Pacific Ocean, so there you go, the end of the earth.
Like many people, I waste a lot of time trying to figure out God’s plan for my life. Teresa and I thought the move was to help our daughter with the new baby. I had already found the Baptist Church in Port Townsend and was going to visit there as soon as I arrived. Our daughter had found a nice little house for me to rent until Teresa could get up here. My new landlord just so happened to be Wendell Ankeny the pastor of the Methodist Church in Port Townsend who, within 45 minutes of me arriving on the peninsula, invited me to church. We got pretty involved with Trinity so maybe that was God’s plan. As I immersed myself in my job and got involved in Drug Court and worked to start the first Mental Health Court in Jefferson County, I began to think maybe that was God’s plan. When the voters decided differently, I retired and began taking some Certified Lay Ministry courses thinking I could enhance my role at Trinity. Well, it appears God had a different plan, and here I am. I’m still not sure what God’s plan is but maybe, I think, I might be like the utility player on a baseball team. Not good enough to be a star in one position but good enough to play where needed.
That’s kind of where we find ourselves in our scripture readings for today. The Book of Acts was written by Luke between 63 and 70 A.D. as a follow-up or continuation of his gospel, taking up where he left off in the Gospel of Luke. Verses 1-11 of chapter one serves as a bridge between the Gospels and the events marking the beginning of the church. Luke tells us, through his letter to Theophilus, that after Jesus’ suffering he showed himself giving proof that he was alive, appearing to them over a period of forty days speaking about the kingdom of God. Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit that had been promised them by God. They asked Jesus when he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus responded that it was not for them to know, but that they would soon receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to them, at which time, they would become his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. After he had said that he was taken up to heaven. I have no doubt that some, if not all, of the believers were energized by what they had seen and heard up to this point and were eager to get to the task at hand of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ but they were told to wait. Just like the earlier followers of The Way, God has important work for us to do too, but we must do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be patient in receiving the same power that came upon the early followers that consisted of courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability and authority.
When we get to the eighth chapter of Acts we learn that a great persecution had broken out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria as Saul began his efforts to destroy the church going from house to house dragging men and women off to prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip (not the Apostle Philip, but the Philip who helped with the food distribution to the widows in Jerusalem) went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip, and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. This persecution fulfilled what Jesus had said in Acts 1: 8, that they would go to Judea and Samaria to spread the gospel. I’m sure this persecution was the furthest thing from their minds when Jesus told them they would be leaving Jerusalem to spread the gospel, but it was the persecution that helped the gospel spread rapidly. It wasn’t a “let’s form a committee, assign tasks, plan on leaving after church, pack our supplies, have lunch along the way, check into the motel by 6:00 p.m., and get started early Monday morning kind of thing. We certainly do not desire to experience something like that, but the discomforts we experience in our lives may be what’s best for us because God may be working through our hurts. We need to be mindful that when we are tempted to complain about our uncomfortable or painful circumstances, we should stop and ask if God might be preparing us for a special task.
After Jesus was crucified and had risen from the dead, he returned to the disciples and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28: 18-20) Jesus is telling the disciples that their mission is now a world-wide mission, not only just to the Jews but to all nations. Some Christians believe that faith is a personal matter that should be kept to themselves. It is true that we shouldn’t be boisterous or obnoxious in sharing our faith, but we should always be ready to give an answer, gently and respectfully, when asked about our faith, our lifestyle, or our Christian perspective. We are asked in 1 Peter 3: 13-16, Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
In Romans 10: 14-15, Paul, formerly Saul who vigorously persecuted the church causing them to scatter, asks, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” In telling others about Christ, an effective witness must include more than being a good example. Eventually, we will have to explain the content, the what and the how of the gospel. Modeling the Christian life is important, but we will need to connect the mind of the unbeliever and the message of the gospel. We must take God’s great message of salvation to others so that they can respond to the Good News. How will your loved ones and neighbors hear it unless someone tells them?
The Apostle Paul, in Acts 20: 24, said, before returning to Jerusalem to face an uncertain fate, However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. Paul considered his life worth nothing unless he used it for God’s work. What he put into life was far more important than what he got out of it.
God is looking for men and women who focus on that one great task God has given them to do. We are to go, whether it is next door or to another country, and make disciples. It is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord”. God’s gospel has not reached its final destination if someone in your family, your workplace, or your community hasn’t heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. We are not all evangelists in the formal sense, but we all have received gifts that we can use to help fulfill the Great Commission. Make sure that you are contributing in some way to the ever-widening circle of God’s loving message, and as we work to complete the tasks assigned to us by God, we take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is always with us on this great and scenic road trip of life.
Please pray with me.
Most loving and merciful God, when you hear your people cry, those who dwell in dark and sin, here I am Lord, I will go Lord, send me to bear your light, to make their darkness bright. Your Son has borne your people’s pain and you have wept for the love of them. In your desire to give them hearts for love alone, here I am Lord, I will go Lord, send me Lord and I will speak your word to them. Send me Lord, to tend to your poor and lame, I will go Lord and I will give my life to them, I will go Lord, if you lead me. Here I am Lord, send me Lord, in the name of your precious son, the savior of the world, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.