Jesus often comes in a manner we don’t expect. The people of his day looked for and wanted the Savior to come in a way they would easily understand. As with us, their preconceived ideas flavored their vision.
The 12 Disciples of Jesus soon discovered that He was not:
1- A Political Ruler: Some were looking for a new political empire- because they were oppressed. They wanted a King to free them.
2- A New Set of Rules to Follow: The Pharisees and Sadducees had trained people to expect a religious system of laws- because they desired to be holy but didn't understand God's grace and goodness.
3- An Intellectual Exercise: Greeks often expected a great philosopher- because they wanted one more option to tickle their minds.
4- A Lifestyle: People thought they could believe the right way but go on living the life they already were living. Very common train of thought, one the Apostle Paul had to address in his letter to the church in Corinth.
Comparing people of that time to people today, it’s very easy to see where we are alike.
In practice versus what we say we believe:
• We sometimes live as if the right political party in power will bring God’s Kingdom.
• We sometimes live as if following the Law will gain us entry into Heaven.
• We sometimes live as if Christianity is one more philosophy to be considered.
• We sometimes live as if Christianity is a lifestyle that will fulfill us without requiring anything from us.
I'm so guilty of this all the time! Are you? We often live like a Pharisee tied to the law, but also live like a Sadducee who believed there was no resurrection of the dead- and therefore no judgment.
Eventually, the Disciples of Jesus discovered that He was:
• God in the flesh, the perfect and complete payment for their sins.
• The One who Desired People from All Nations and Races would know Him.
• The Savior and Lord who told them to:
1- Give Up Everything to follow Him
2- Think differently than people of the world
3- Do The Work of His Kingdom at home, nearby, and all over the world
The Commandment and The Mission for all of us. Jesus came to the earth in a manner they didn’t expect- and the Religious Leaders Hated Him. They tried to trap Him. The Pharisees, those who made The Law a burden for the people, questioned Jesus:
Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus responds with the the best "Mission Statement" ever recorded. What God intended to fulfill through Abraham would also happen through them.
We remember “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.
Do we remember “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”? It’s a command, not a request.
“Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching and relationship always follow evangelism.
“I am with you always.” Jesus Himself is with us as we go about the Work He’s Given!
And in Acts 1:8- He sends us out in the power of the Holy Spirit! We don’t have to go out in our own strength!
Point #1- As Christians, We are “On Mission” Whether We Accept It or Not
There's a Few Lessons to be learned here from the Early Church. “Can you imagine the Disciples task? The whole world was lost following other gods!”
Look at the Book of Acts 15: 1-3. Here's the context of the story:It’s about 50 AD- the new church had established itself, building momentum… and experiencing growing pains. Paul and Barnabas go out, fulfilling Jesus’ Greatest Commandments- Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Acts Chapter 14 ends with Paul and Barnabas at Antioch telling stories of what God accomplished through them and how the Gentiles were coming to faith. In studying the Bible, we discover there’s real people, real believers with real stories. They also share real joys and real trials- even within the church. Examples we can learn from and be challenged by.
Acts 15: 1-3 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.”
(This is no small feat. Antioch was about 300 miles north of Jerusalem- 15 to 20 days of walking. Tough journey!) What’s happening here?
Gentiles are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone’s excited- almost. Paul and Barnabas confront those who loved the Jewish rules and regulations more than the freedom Jesus brings! Were they Racist? Nationalistic? Control Freaks? Or did they just want only a few people to fit into their exclusive club? How will this get resolved?
Point #2 - Being on Mission is Costly for Both Individuals and the Church
It's always exciting but being "On Mission" comes at a price for both us as people and for the local church. For individuals- first, It means we must die to our gods of comfort, control, and fear. Thankfully, Jesus, the Twelve Disciples, the Apostle Paul and the Early Church wasn't too concerned about their safety and comfort!
Being on mission also challenges the local church. First, It means we must align our goals, vision, and resources to what God deems of value- not bowing down to tradition or culture. We must Worship God, Equip Believers for the Work of the Ministry, Evangelize and Disciple a Lost World. This means we don’t take on the form of our culture, but we work as God intends to transform it!
Next, the status quo is challenged! If you’re like me, change is hard! We like to order our lives, run it by a schedule. Meet our obligations and use our free time for chasing after our interests. It brings us the illusion of control- But it can also take our eyes off what God desires for us and where He wants to use us. We like our church in the same way. We can find ourselves saying “We’ve always done it this way!” or “It’s tradition” – equating old methods with Godliness- when some issues are “Value Neutral”. Pursuit and especially Success in spiritual matters also brings disagreement. Relationships get strained. Paul and Barnabas later part ways in verse 39 over a disagreement about John Mark- another passionate servant of God! In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has to challenge those who focus on following one person over another- Paul? Apollos? Cephas? (I Corinthians 1). We Believers can insist on what divides the church based on our preferences and biases instead of God’s Word.
Charles Spurgeon, great British preacher of the 1800’s writes in The Soul Winner:
“…our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of our natures. We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd”
Our pride can get in the way! We want recognition; we love status; we want importance. Our sin gets exposed because we don’t get what we want (James 4). Our self-focused Human nature causes us to take our eyes off the good things God is doing. Ultimately, we can miss the blessing God intends.
Our world is changing! In contrast to decades past, North America and Europe are no longer the center of Christianity.
According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of November 2017, 41 percent (228M of all 560M) Protestant Christians live in Africa. (That will be 53% by 2050.) More than 2.5 times as many in Europe and almost 4 times as many as in North America.
Asia is number two with almost 100 million. (Mostly found in China and in the underground church.) 86 countries prohibit or restrict Western missionaries. (from Yohannan, Come Let's Reach the World, pg. 31). More Christians have been killed for their faith over the past 100 years than in the previous 19 centuries combined. Every five minutes a Christian is martyred for the faith. (Source: Christianity Today)
From Barna, the famous Christian research firm:
In 1993, 90% of the people who considered themselves to be followers of Jesus said it was their individual responsibility to share their faith (The Gospel) with the unsaved world.
Twenty five years later, in 2018, the pendulum has swung- now… 29% say it is the job of the paid professionals of the local church to share the Gospel and not their personal responsibility. That's one third of all believers who feel it's not their job to share their faith. This means there’s a noticeable shift from Believers personally sharing Jesus to now inviting friends to church to hear about Him. But our responsibility to share the Gospel and make disciples hasn’t changed.
Our Resources- If you earn Colorado’s minimum wage, you are now in the Top 3% of the richest people in the world! From a training and resource standpoint, the US has 90% of the world’s pastors, teachers, and ministry leaders… approximately 85% of the world's churches are led by someone with no training.
Let's go to the next segment in Acts 15: 4-12
4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
They go back to Jerusalem, tell the stories of all God has done, and encounter the same response.
Verses 13-21 end with the decision that believers in Jesus Christ are not saved by their works but by faith in Him alone. What can we learn?
Point #3 – We Must Patiently Work Together for the Sake of the Message
Peter reminds the believers of their shortcomings and God’s goodness (verses 10 and 11). Our history may determine our outlook and how we treat others. But how does it square with Scripture? It can be hard to offer Biblical grace when all you’ve been taught is law. The opposite is true as well.
All of us who now believe were unbelievers at some point in time. (I Corinthians 6:9-11) We need to allow others to grow in their newly found faith as they begin their relationship with Jesus and with the people found in the local church,
Can you remember what Jesus saved you from and why you deserved Hell? If not, I’d look deep and ask myself if I really am a Disciple of Jesus. If so, remember the lightness of heart and freedom and forgiveness you knew when you first came to Him!
Point #4 - Obedience to His Call Brings Him Glory – the First Job of a Believer
Those who go out into the world often see God work in powerful ways- and often through them! He never expects us too do spiritual work through human effort alone. His Holy Spirit empowers those people who go out and do the work of God's Kingdom in His name. Being on mission means we are called to die.
Christianity is Not a Sanitized Version of American Dream! Think about this again-
As Christians, We are "On Mission" Whether We Accept It or Not.
Being on Mission is Costly for Both Individuals and the Church.
We Must Patiently Work Together for the Sake of the Message.
Obedience to His Call Brings Him Glory – the First Job of a Believer.
Last verse to consider- Colossians 3:1-4
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Jesus often comes to us in a manner in which we don’t expect.
AW Tozer- the famous American preacher from the first half of the 1900’s wrote this – found in a compilation of his sermons called Rut, Rot, or Revival:
“I would say to you who are wondering about the Spirit filled life: If you just want to be happy, and nothing else, you had better steer away from the Spirit filled life. The same Holy Spirit who will give you joy will also allow you to share His burdens and griefs.”
Brothers and Sisters, we were created for His Glory- and His Sons and Daughters come from the ends of the earth! (Isaiah 43:6-7, Ephesians 1:11-12, I Corinthians 10:31)
Who will work in the fields? Who will evangelize? Who will teach, support, and instruct?
Change is happening in America. God is also bringing the nations to us- and many people will return to their home countries. We’ve got great opportunities before us, here at home and overseas.
How is Jesus coming to you in a manner you don't expect? The bigger question is "How will you respond?"