It’s hard to be a church that sends people out. It’s hard to be sent out. We know this as a congregation, because we’ve had to say goodbye to some dearly-loved brothers and sisters, who’ve left our congregation either because they have moved, or because they’ve felt called to join another ministry, or for whatever reason. It’s really hard. Paul himself, even though he was called to this work, of which leaving was part of the work, it was still hard.
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Mission: On the Move
The missionaries raised up a plurality of men called elders who would preserve the way for those to come. This work of equipping and entrusting the churches to these elders was so important the the work wasn’t considered fulfilled until they had done so. Paul understood that he had to ensure that the churches be well established under faithful men that the church might stand firm as a pillar and buttress of the truth. This would allow the missionary team to continue on its way into new cities, new fields, because the churches were left in good hands. Those who stayed behind and led the churches were to guard the deposit of faith that was entrusted to them and pass it on to others, preserving the way for those to come.
Today we’re going to focus on the second part of this work, the work of “strengthening the souls of disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” The word here translated “strengthen” is also translated, “to establish” - and it means to set right, to make strong. It is like if you break your arm, the doctor has to set it right so that it can heal and become strong again, and then as it heals the doctor also helps you through physic to make it even stronger. That’s the idea, to establish is to set right and make strong. So when we say we exist to “help people walk the way of Christ”, The second part is to “encourage people along the Way”. Calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we together devote ourselves to prayer and to the teachings of Christ and his Apostles, trusting in the scriptures as our sole authority for faith and life. We admonish, encourage, help and bear with one another, considering how to stir one another on to love and good works.
Our culture seems to think that choosing a religion is like shopping. I look for the shirt that suits me, you look good in that one. And we go around flattering each others wardrobe, and it would be absurd to say “Plaid is the Only Way”. But choosing a religion is not like shopping. Choosing a religion is more like drowning. For a person drowning, when they are thrown a life preserver, they do not ask whether or not this suits them, they hold on because its all that they’ve got. They hold on and live, or let go and die. We’re not shopping for gods, were drowning in gods, drowning in a sea of religions, drowning in a sea of world views, nothing solid under our feet, nothing holding the universe together, and Jesus jumps in to save us. And so we point to Him not as a fashionable sweater, but as the life preserver thrown into this world to save us. For the bad news is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and therefore stand condemned under his wrath, but God offers forgiveness of sins to everyone who calls upon Him.
As I’ve already said, as Christians we receive as one the benefits of knowing God, the assurance that the universe has a purpose, that life has meaning and that our individual and collective lives are being lived in fulfillment of God’s intent for us. “We are,” the scripture says, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Yet its not only the sense of overriding meaning and purpose that God gives to our lives, but also, as we are part of the Body of Christ, we become part of God’s mission in the world, to exalt his Son Jesus Christ in every corner of the globe, and to seek and save a people for himself from every nation. He shares this mission with His Son, when He sent Him into the world, and His Son then shares that same mission with us: “As the Father has sent me”, He said, so now i send you”, and in the very first chapter of the book of Acts, the book we’ve been studying, Jesus gathered the disciples around him and told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth.” So we, the church, the called out people of God, are given not only a purpose, but a mission.
The first major section of Acts was to set in front of us the Jerusalem church as a model church, a church for all ages. The second major section of Acts was to demonstrate for us the new people that God is calling us to become, a church for all people. This section is not focused around a specific church or a specific city, but the focus of these chapters is the mission itself - we now see the church fulfilling the words of Jesus that we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.