Acts was written by Luke as a second part to the Gospel of Luke. Acts is chronicling the spread of the church from the Ascension of Jesus to following Paul around on his different missionary journeys. There is key things we are supposed to notice about how the gospel has been spreading. Namely it has been all God’s doing. God moves people and has orchestrated quite a plan as we watch through Acts. We see the gospel start with just a few people and spread from Judea to Samaria to the ends of the Earth through key symbolic moments that Luke takes great care in sharing with us. We’ve seen opposition and enemies and all sorts of problems along the way. This last section of Acts we are following closer to Paul and his journey and the successes and failures of his attempts to preach the Kingdom of God and spread the grace of Jesus Christ.
So we are at Acts 19 now and we watch as Paul starts to become quite a force for God and his Kingdom throughout the towns that he is travelling through. God is doing great things for him like healing people and watching people’s lives being transformed. But like we’ve learned and seen already, with all this success comes quite a bit of pushback. People are getting upset, throwing the troublemakers into jail and stirring up rumours wherever Paul and his comrades go. We’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to understand Paul and the way that he acted and entered into these situations. We’ve also dissected the motives of the people that have confronted Paul and started to realize that there is a lot in us that would cause us to confront people just like Paul. In the end, we are discovering that when it comes to the gospel we are nothing really like Paul and we have way more similarities in the people that confront and are upset at Paul. We don’t like confrontation, we want to be safe, we don’t like our comfortable lives to be interrupted by the gospel. Unfortunately Acts doesn’t get any more on our side. We keep reading how the gospel, when it takes root in our lives, changes us and our actions and what we care about. So let’s jump into Acts a little bit.
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
God is moving and using Paul in all sorts of wondrous ways. There are stories of demons being thrown out and crazy violent episodes and people start believing because of all the things that are happening. As God moves through, all the opposition starts to escalate with it. We’ve seen a few crazy stories so far of Paul getting run out of certain cities, wrecking people’s businesses and riots starting to form. We just saw how people are refusing to believe and so they start spreading rumours and ruining the witness of what Paul is doing. These are Jews at that. Nothing is really settling down either. Here is the middle of Acts 19 on Paul’s way to Jerusalem.
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.
It is pretty clear, I would like to think by this point in my preaching at theStory and where we’ve spent out times in the Scriptures that the gospel disrupts the regular ongoings of the daily economy and our need for and love of money. We remember in Acts 8 when the magician wants to pay for the power to do miracles and how harshly he was treated by the disciples. Also, remember in Acts 16 when the girl who was demon possessed was released from her captives and how angry her owners got because she was no longer making them money. We are starting to see now that Paul’s message isn’t just offensive and annoying to religious Jews. We are seeing now that this message of the gospel is disturbing to Gentiles, people with no history with this religion. Paul isn’t hitting on their ancestors or their traditions and changing them on them like before, but he is touching on some on the very core of some people’s humanity. So what is it that causes so much anger and rioting? Paul was saying that if you are going to follow this way, then all your systems of power and money are wrong and will no longer work. He was challenging the fact that people would believe a lie just so they could make money. It’s like one day telling everyone that Tylenol never actually worked and that it was all a big scam. Think about how mad Tylenol would be at you and what would happen. If people started listening to you. They would be losing them billions and billions of dollars.
Q: Is there situations now that would cause a similar reaction to the gospel? What does the gospel say that would cause riots if heard by certain people today? (Refer to the examples of Chemical Valley? George Bush at Tyndale? Marketing as non-Christian?)
So we can see that people, when confronted with something that goes against what they think is safe and which gives them sustenance don’t really respond the best way. Paul didn’t even say stop buying these idols. He just looked at them and said “these aren’t God.” That was enough to set an entire crowd against him. I don’t think it’s really what he had to say that got everyone mad at him. Rather, I think it’s the fact that people were listening to him, and the numbers of people were growing that were listening to him, and what he was saying was going to hurt their business. If Paul was just a crazy guy on the street corner that was screaming things, nobody would care and nobody would be rioting. So this isn’t just that what he was saying was offensive. It’s that what he was saying was getting so much traction. It was being believed and was having consequences. It’s one thing to tell people and scream that eating McDonalds is bad for you. It’s a whole other thing if McDonalds sales start plummeting because people actually believe you. But this is what happens when you discover the gospel. You don’t just believe these things, you actually start living them. It’s a way of life that you enter into.
Let’s focus for a bit on the phrase that Luke keeps using: “The Way.” Speaking of the Christian life with a phrase like that is revolutionary in my opinion. It denotes the Christian life in a certain direction and not with a bunch of rules. It seems that this direction is enough that it would cause “a great disturbance.” I find it fascinating that a way of life can be so controversial that it causes riots and death for those that are promoting it. This isn’t just a way of life anymore that confronts the Jewish understanding of God and their hope for a Messiah. This is a way of life that confronts the powers and empires and the way of life of everyone in existence. It’s a way of life, if lived, not just believed in, that claims that Jesus is Lord and that from this point forward everything should come under his rule. The Kingdom of God, the Rule of God, is now in effect and we are welcomed into that way of living under that rule. Again, this is only effective if lived. The way is not a set of beliefs that you must believe. The way is a direction that you’ve chosen to go in with your life. It’s putting yourself under the reign of God. This is ‘the way’ and when you do it, when your life starts to be brought under that reign, there will be problems.
Luke surely intends to convince Theophilus that the Christian way, though not without suffering, is no solitary, melancholy journey but a walk with Christ, who has not abandoned his faithful ones, like Paul, but will lead them through grief to glory. – Willimon
As we start to explore the rest of Acts we will begin to see how Luke shapes Paul’s missionary journeys and travels the same way that he shaped Jesus journey to the cross. There is unmistakably close parallels between these two journeys. Luke is trying to show us something. He’s trying to show us that the way that we are to live is going to take a certain kind of shape. It will consist of suffering. You will have people hate you. You will be confronting the powers. You will be modeling a life of the Spirit that shows the world what it means to live under the rule of God. As Luke shows us, Jesus did not come preaching a new way to think about the world and teach us better morals so that we can all go on being better people. He didn’t come to tell us what to believe. Rather, he came preaching a new way to live and a new way to die. Paul exemplifies this truth in his life as he begins to model to all the churches around him what it looks like to actually proclaim and take the gospel seriously.
As Paul starts to come to the realization that things aren’t looking up and are probably not going to end well he starts to be more vocal about the kinds of struggles that are going to be coming his way. So as he starts to prepare to go on his next leg of the journey, he says a little goodbye to the Ephesian Elders
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me -the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Paul it seems has a very firm sense in his calling and who he is and what he is supposed to be doing. The task the Lord Jesus has given him.
I think that the church today, us, have gotten lost along the way in understanding what task it is we are supposed to complete. If you ask most of us today why we are Christians, most of us don’t even have an answer for it. I tend to ask this question a lot. Why do you come to church? Why are you a Christian? The typical answers I get is so I can go to heaven when I die. There is a significant amount of ‘I don’t knows.’ Most of us though are creatures of habit and we do things because we’ve always done things and we don’t really know how to do things any different. So when Paul talks about giving up his life and not caring about hardships, none of us know how to take him. We don’t have a clear enough task in mind, we aren’t really sure what we are talking about, so we just kind of brush over Paul’s words here and use them as inspirational quotes whenever we are feeling down. None of us are really giving up our lives for this. None of us consider our lives worth nothing. Most of us all consider our lives way too much. We focus on them and how happy we are and where we are at in our lives. We obsess about what we are going to wear, where we are going to eat, what our kids are going to be like, what vacation we are going to go on next. I think that if we were really honest with ourselves we would admit and confess that we all consider our lives to be ours. We call the shots and we determine our own fate. We think that our task is to be as happy as possible and we think we deserve it.
When I look at Paul’s words “I consider my life worth nothing to me” I am again reminded how far I actually am from God’s reign in my life. I have so many things that I care about for myself. I want to be comfortable. I want to be in shape. I want to have amazing experiences. I want to eat good food. I want to be noticed. I consider my life to be something important and the actions I take in my life prove that I am far from the kind of person who has put God as king in his life. If I was, I would consider my life nothing because I would be consumed by the task the Lord Jesus has given us. But how can we do that if we don’t know what that task is?
Q: Do we know what the task the Lord Jesus has given us? What is it? Is it personal for you? Is it general?
There is going to be all sorts of ideas of what the answer is to this question I think that with a bit of pressing, studying and remembering that we can probably come to a better understanding what our task is. My issue isn’t so much that we have the 100% perfectly correct answer to this question. I think we just need to have an answer. Too many of us go on purposeless in our lives having no clue what the task is that we have been given. So we default to showing up at church and thinking that’s what’s expected of us. WIthout a clear defined purpose we become aimless and selfish. We make up our own goals and tasks for our lives and they always end up being just about us because we’ve made ourselves the most important and not God and his reign. You see, going to church is easy. It gives us this satisfaction that we are doing what we are supposed to do without actually changing our lives or putting someone else (ie. Jesus) in charge of it. If we had a clear defined task for our lives about what it meant to be under the reign of God, then we could speak like Paul speaks. But we don’t. Instead of being prophetic (reminding people who they are and how they should live) we become self-focused obsessed with making sure our lives are ordered and controlled by ourselves. Church services then become nothing more than a weekly habit used to numb ourselves to the painful realization that we aren’t who we should be As Willimon puts it and I threw it into our e-mail update.
“The church with no prophetic thrust, which does not challenge the status quo, has little need for the weekly rhythm of worship” – Willimon
Our worship gathering is not our task. It is our response, but it is not our task. Our task, as Paul models for us, goes a lot deeper than simply doing the right thing once a week. Here is what Jim Wallis says about it.
The greatest need in our time is not simply for kerygma, the preaching of the gospel; nor for diakonia,service on behalf of justice; nor for charisma, the experience of the Spirit’s gifts; nor even for propheteia, the challenging of the king. The greatest need of our time is for koinonia, the call simply to be the church, to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of the world. The creation of living, breathing, loving communities of faith at the local church level is the foundation of all the other answers. The community of faith incarnates a whole new order, offers a visible and concrete alternative, and issues a basic challenge to the world as it is. The church must be called to be the church, to rebuild the kind of community that gives substance to the claims of faith.” – Jim Wallis
Paul gives us a little more of a hint in his farewell speech to the Ephesians of what this looks like
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
This is the tail end of a goodbye speech to the Ephesians as he is about to head to Jerusalem. He warns them they probably won’t see him again, they have their tears and say a prayer and this is what he leaves them with. He references money as if everyone knows what we know now. That money corrupts and he assures them that he has stayed away from loving it or needing it. Then he lands with a classic biblical line that I’m sure we’ve tried to teach our children at one time or another. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”
This little goodbye of Paul’s is enough to give us a good understanding of what the church is supposed to be up to. We can tell through this (not even speaking of the rest of the Bible) that our task is to give, to serve and to help the weak. Paul is not making up anything new here, he is being a prophet and recalling what Jesus set for us to do and calling us back to that life. Paul is being prophetic in that he is pointing us back to Jesus and reminding us of what he said. He is reminding us to remember Jesus and live out fully the life of discipleship that he has called us to. Our task is to be a constant disciple of Jesus.
A large part of Paul’s task in visiting these new Christians is to help bring some depth to their faith and salvation. What he knows and what we certainly know as well is that we have way too much width and not nearly enough depth in Christianity. We have so many folks that say they believe but really that’s where it stops. Clearly purposeless and self-pleasing in their faith.
American evangelical Protestantism has been accused of producing ‘still-born Christians’ The first stages of faith are reiterated with scant attention to the next step. The result can be Christians of stunted growth who never take root. Such infantile discipleship may be enough for a church where accommodation is the name of the game, a church which never challenges the status quo or the powers-that-be, yet it ie no match for the great threats to the gospel which are presented by both culture and life itself. The Body of Christ must take visible, institutional form. It must be strengthened and edified.
This has been Paul’s journey. Strengthening and edifying. As he leaves them, he warns them about the struggles ahead and aims to strengthen them to endure it. Paul’s task is to keep telling and reminding what the good news is of God’s grace. Our task is to remember what God’s grace is, and how it transforms our life to be under the reign of the Kingdom of God. Nothing else we do really is that important. It doesn’t matter if we go to church on Sundays, tell our kids Christian stories, help the poor, eat fair trade chocolate, pray together….which are not bad things but should happen because of the people we have decided to be. They just don’t matter. They aren’t our task. Our task is to incarnate the a new world order, one that is under Jesus Christ. Our task is to proclaim with our lives and our relationships that Jesus is Lord by becoming his disciple and living out the Christian life among those in our midst. We live under a new reign now.
People that live like this are called Christians. As Paul points out, these people will be known by their scars. There will be opposition. There will be suffering. People will mock you and you will probably ruin a lot of businesses. Being part of this kingdom, is to follow the way. This way was marked by Jesus, then by Paul. It’s a way that ends in death. It’s a matter of cross bearing.
This is why we read Acts and Paul’s journeys spreading the gospel to anyone that would listen. It is prophetic literature for us. It’s like reading the prophets. It leaves us with a constant reminder of who we are as Christians, what our task is as Christians and sets us up for our future and the kinds of people that we need to be.
This is why we come together on Sundays. We come here to be reminded of who we are. We are the church. We are citizens of God’s kingdom. We come together so we can remember what our task is. Our task is to model citizenship in the Kingdom with each other. We learn what citizenship looks like by looking at Jesus and following his lead. This is what Paul has spent his time doing in Acts going from church to church. This is what we spend our time here on Sundays at theStory doing. We will face opposition, and our lives will suffer. We will be known by the scars we have received by living the kind of life that offends and disrupts the way of the world.
May you remember who you are
We are citizens of God’s Kingdom
We are God’s children
We are disciples of Christ
May you remember what your task is
Our task is to model citizenship in God’s Kingdom
Our task is to love one another and bear each other’s burdens
Our task is to give and serve each other and the world
May you remember God’s grace and all He’s done
We confess our memory is weak
We confess we are prone to leave you
We confess this is difficult and we don’t always care
May you remember this is a story of freedom and liberation
We will be a community of compassion
We will be a community of forgiveness
We will be a community of confession
We will be a community of love and peace