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.
In Acts 19, Jesus shows his power over sickness and demonic activity is far superior to the magic that was practiced in Ephesus. In addition, we see at least three other distinct things. First, we see the weakness of religion and the power of the gospel when comparing Paul to the sons of Sceva. Second, we see Jesus will not be used or manipulated, seen clearly by how the sons of Sceva get whipped by a demon when they try to simply borrow Jesus’ power. Third, we see Jesus will cost you more than you want to give, yet give you more than you ever imagined. It’s probable the new Christians weren’t thrilled when they realized they needed to get rid of $6 million worth of demonic books. They could have kept them or at least sold them, after all. But by God’s grace they counted the cost and made an open spectacle of their repentance, showing their allegiance is now to Jesus. The cost of following Jesus is great, yet the reward is far greater than anything we ever leave behind. Not simply because Jesus gives us stuff but because He gives us Himself.
What happens to a city when the gospel takes root there? Acts 19:21-41 is a kind of case study for just that. When the good news of Jesus takes root in people’s hearts cities are changed for Jesus’ glory. God brings lasting change to cities as the gospel lovingly confronts idolatry, infuriates idolaters, and gives what idols cannot.
After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece.3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. 5 These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
By looking to Paul as an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus, we see at least four major things we are called to as Christians. First, we are called to humbly serve. Though greatness by the world’s standards is often marked by being served, greatness in Jesus’ kingdom is marked by being a servant, even a slave to all. Second, we are called to boldly declare what is profitable, willingly teach the Bible, and persuasively testify (to all!) the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus. Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples.” Are you obeying? Third, we are called to expect tears, trials, and afflictions. Does your worldview include the expectancy of these? It should. Both Jesus and Paul were not shocked when they suffered, and neither should we be. Jesus is working in it a peculiar glory, making you more like Him and preparing you all the more for when He comes back and makes everything new. Fourth, and lastly, we are called to count our lives as nothing, because Jesus and His mission are truly valuable and precious. The only way Jesus is going to be the One that is valuable—the only way you’re going to see His mission as ultimately precious—is if you see and trust Him for who He truly is. He’s the truly humble Servant; He’s the great Evangelizer and Discipler; He’s the true Mourner and Sufferer; and He’s the ultimate Self-Sacrificer, who “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” for His glory and our good.
Within Paul’s final teaching to the elders in Ephesus before heading to Jerusalem, we learn at least five things. First, we need pastors who pay careful attention to themselves. This isn’t only something pastors do personally; this is something the team of pastors must help one another with. No pastor should ever be without accountability or community. Second, we need pastors who will pay careful attention to us, shepherding and overseeing. We are not saved by the church; we’re saved by Jesus. Yet Jesus saves into His church. We are not likened to bears or any other autonomous animal. We are likened to sheep, and sheep flourish in flocks. Third, we need pastors who will fight off wolves. Not only is lone-wolf Christianity miles from Biblical sanity, wolves are actually depicted as dangerous devourers of the flock. Ultimate wolf-signs are twisting the word of God and wanting to draw away disciples after themselves. Fourth, you need pastors who model hard work and generosity. Fifth, and finally, we need pastors who are always pointing us to the gospel. Your ultimate need is to be continually taught and reminded of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:10). The Good Shepherd is how you are ultimately going to be built up; how you are going to receive an inheritance; He is how you are set apart from sin to holiness. May God gives us the grace to trust and obey.
In Acts 21, Paul is traveling to Jerusalem and ultimately to his death. Along the way, we get a glimpse of what the Christian views of both life and death are. First, the Christian view of life is not “self-preservation at all costs.” Rather, the Christian view of life is “Christ-exaltation at all costs.” Jesus is the supreme value in all of existence and the only mediator between God and man. He is worthy to be exalted in action, reaction, and with words over all the earth. Though it seems it would have been perfectly fine not to go to Jerusalem, Paul goes knowing he will die because he is most concerned with lifting up Jesus. No matter how hard it may be for him personally, Paul’s aim was to glorify Jesus. Second, the Christian view of death is first and foremost that it is an enemy. We were not originally built to die. Death is not a natural part of life, but a part of the curse God subjected the earth to because our our sin and rebellion against Him. For the Christian, however, death has been defanged and becomes a dear friend. Because Jesus lived for our righteousness, died for our sin, and arose from the grave, death’s teeth have been knocked out. Outside of Jesus, death will drag all to judgement, where everyone will pay for their sins in hell forever. Yet, for all who trust Jesus as Savior and King, death will bring them swiftly to His arms, the One we were built for. This why Paul was able to, despite his friends trying to persuade him otherwise, keep his eyes on Jesus and preaching the gospel, no matter the cost.
In order to preserve unity within the Church, Paul lays down his liberty and submits to a purity vow at the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul’s example shows us that we shouldn’t simply say, “I don’t have to do that” or “I’m not required to do that.” We should, however, ask, “How can I best build up my brothers and sisters in Christ?” or “How can we best work together to make Jesus known?” Jesus tells us in John 13:35 that all people will know that we belong to Him if we love one another. Love beckons us to lay down our personal liberties in order to serve.
Yet there’s something else going on in this passage, just underneath the surface: the relationship between a Christian and the Law of God. If we are going to be faithful to Jesus and not waste our lives, we need to know what the Law can and can’t do, and what God did. First, the Law can guide and reveal, but it cannot strengthen you to obey or make you clean from the sins you’ve committed. It can guide you like a map, but it cannot empower you like fuel; it can reveal your sin like a mirror, but it cannot make you clean like soap. This is why we have to understand the Gospel—the good news of what Jesus has done on our behalf. Jesus fulfilled the Law for us (Matthew 5:17-18), in order that we could be counted righteous through faith in Him and empowered to obey God out of joy. In addition to His perfectly righteous life, Jesus took our uncleanliness on Himself, being condemned in our place for our sins (Romans 8:3-4). Now, through faith in Jesus, we can be guided by God’s Law and empowered by God’s Gospel. We can see our sin through the Law of God and be cleaned up by the Gospel of God.
Acts 21:27-36 27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done.34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!”
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
As Paul makes a defense for himself and for Christianity in general, he retells his conversion and commissioning as an apostle. Though he was staunchly against Jesus and His followers, even putting some of them to death, Paul was confronted by the Righteous One and became a Christian. After returning to Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him and told him to leave because the Jews, though they needed grace just as much as the Gentiles, would not accept the good news about Jesus. There are at least three things we can learn from this passage: First, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, the gospel can be good news for you right now. Second, we learn that it doesn’t matter who you are or how you’re wired, in Christ you are specifically gifted for Jesus’ mission. Third, we learn that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your personality is, you can be as bold as Paul for Jesus.
Paul has been changed by God’s saving work through faith in Jesus. We see this clearly illustrated through his testimonial “Defense” to the Jews who sought to rid the world of him in the previous passage. Prior to his miraculous conversion Paul had been the same as the Jews he was sharing the Gospel with in Jerusalem. In Acts 22:22-29 Paul continues on towards the goal of his life, to glorify God by sharing the Gospel on all occasions and through all possible venues no matter the cost. For us to do this well today, for the love of Christ, we need to maintain that our beliefs are never overshadowed by tradition as they had been by these Jews who had allowed racism and elitism to cloud the promise of God to save them, his chosen people, and to continue that saving work to the nations, the gentiles. Namely, we need to take care that Christ is never withheld from anyone. In the relationship of belief and tradition, belief is primary. The idol of tradition can rear it’s ugly head as the church engages culture or within the church gatherings themselves. Anywhere the church is being the church, which would be everywhere for good or bad, our goal should be to give everyone the Gospel. Even those who hate us, who we may knowingly or unknowingly hate as well. Yes, we should even love our enemies as Christ loved us while we were still his enemies. In the latter portion of the passage Paul’s interactions with the Roman government, set over him and ordained by God’s sovereignty, show us a glimpse of Christianity’s relationship to government. No government seeking justice should fear Christians. We should be actively engaged in helping the government set over us to succeed in the course of justice. Will any government be perfect on this side of Christ’s return? No. Does that mean we give up on Christ’s redemptive work for now? No. God has set out good works for us to go and do. Just like Paul, let’s do them well. He revealed the fault of the Romans for seeking to “examine” him by flogging while he was a Roman citizen who had not seen a trial or been condemned. This was illegal and he quite possibly saved this centurion’s life by pointing out the shortcoming. The goal of the Christian life isn’t to suffer, that’s a byproduct. The goal is to share the good news of Jesus. The same goal Paul had in using the statutes of the government set over him.
As the Roman Tribune is trying desperately to figure out why the Jews are trying to kill Paul, the apostle takes the opportunity to remind everyone why he is on trial in the first place: “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead.” The word hope in the Bible doesn’t simply mean wish or desire or longing, like we use it today. Rather, it means a joyful and confident expectation of future salvation. But how on earth can Christians claim to have that kind of hope? The answer is in verse 6: the resurrection of the dead. Christians can have an unshakable confidence for a bright future because Jesus’ resurrection proves the gospel is true, promises our own resurrection, and provides power to persevere in trusting and obeying Jesus.