HOW IS THE CHURCH GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?
PART 2: SEEDS MUST BE SCATTERED FOR A HARVEST TO BE REAPED
“UNLEASHED” – THE “ACTS 29 CHURCH”
My mind goes back often to my dog, Charlie, the Cocker Spaniel who worked with me in school to support those who were in crisis.
At first I was allowed to take him into work with me as long as he was always kept on the lead when out of my suite of rooms. And so I did. However, the day came when one of my girls was in a terrible state and had locked herself in the toilets holding a knife to her body and threatening to end all her misery. The caretaker and I went into the toilets to “talk her out”. Ever-faithful Charlie was by my side on the leash and I encouraged the girl to come on out and let Charlie be stroked by her. She refused with many loud cries. And the caretaker just told me to unleash the dog and let him do his stuff. Well, there seemed to be nothing to lose and so I unleashed him and he just wiggled under the door. There was a moment of quiet and then the door opened and the girl came out with Charlie all over her – licking her and wagging his tail. Unleashed he had made the difference. After that time I was allowed to take him off the lead around the school where he was always welcomed by all with cries of joy.
The disciples were told to “wait”. When the Holy Spirit came with power they were unleashed and made the difference to the whole world.
Acts never really finishes. In chapter 28 we are told that Paul had the freedom to proclaim the Good News even while in prison…and then the account just stops. Why? Because the story continues. We are the Acts 29 Church! We are unleashed to spread the Good News in the world today…
…and so Stephen was stoned (Acts 7) and the young church had its first martyr…
Acts 8: 1-8 tells us:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Then we are told in Acts 8: 26-40 that:
an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’[b]
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
…and so the Sower (Jesus) sowed His seed throughout the land, and the seed fell on good ground and multiplied and the harvest was great. Seed (and we are the seed here) has to be “broadcast”, or scattered, in order to yield the greatest harvest.
Persecution was meant for our harm; but God meant it for the good of His Church. Prior to this time the young church was based in Judea and was growing spiritually and numerically in the area that it was located. Persecution led to an explosion of the Church worldwide as the disciples – full of the Spirit took the Good News and their testimony everywhere. Persecution, therefore, became the catalyst to the spreading of the Gospel. Trouble ALWAYS is used by God for good! Today, in the pandemonium of the pandemic we see the same truth.
Prior to this “Lockdown” we were safe and growing (spiritually more than numerically – though we thank God for the physical growth of out church) as was the early church from chapters 2 to 7 of Acts. But now, this awful pandemic has meant that we have moved out of our church buildings and have been scattered “to the four winds” of Ashford and the surrounding area.
And this is how it was always meant to be. The Acts of the Apostles (often called alternatively “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”) is the manual of the church that shows we should be always going OUT to the people to spread the Gospel. We are the “Ekklesia” – the Greek word for Church which means “called OUT” not “called IN”. The re-birth of the church at this time is a call for us to return to what we were always called to be – “sent out” not “stay in”.
PHILIP AND THE DYNAMIC POWER OF SCATTERING
- SCATTERED TO THE “FERTILE” AREAS
First, led by, and full of, the Holy Spirit, Philip went to Samaria – an area that was ripe for the harvest – full of people who were crying out for answers – they were not Jews – they were the future. It was a FERTILE area for the Gospel.
And Philip GAVE the answers through the preaching of the Gospel.
And Philip SHOWED the answers through the signs and wonders.
And we see the spiritual principle at work here: The Gospel is spread through the 3 W’s of “Words, Works and Wonders”.
We are being told that the “fields are white to harvest” due to so many un-churched (Samaritan) people looking for answers to what is happening and to the meaning of life. We are being scattered into the area – let us spread the Good News through words, works and wonders.
- SCATTERED TO THE DESERT AREAS
Then, led by, and full of, the Holy Spirit, Philip is led to the desert. No-one was here except one man – and a despised eunuch at that. But, that one man was hungry for the Truth. And Philip simply shared the Truth with him – and a whole continent (Africa) was opened up to the Gospel.
So, you may well feel you are in a “desert place” – with no-one seemingly interested in Jesus. Just wait! Jesus will bring along that one man in a desert – and if you faithfully speak to them you might be the one who starts a whole revival!
- SCATTERED TO MEET THEM “WHERE THEY ARE AT”
So many say that they would die rather than enter a church building with its religious jargon and “bells and smells”.
But when the Spirit scatters you into the community you meet people “where they are at”. You are going to them rather than expecting them to come to you. And they are much more comfortable and secure in listening to what you have to say in answer to their questions. Many, many, missionaries had worked hard in China, but the work there took off when Hudson Taylor went there and dressed as they dressed and spoke to them in their language. In the same way we will begin to reach out to people in the ways that they can understand.
THANK GOD FOR THE SCATTERING
So, we too have the opportunity to “preach the Word wherever we go” (8 verse 4).
For the Early Church – Philip went to Samaria, then preached to an Ethiopian eunuch who took the Gospel back to Africa! Saul’s “Damascus Road” experience (Acts 9) shows us that the Gospel had reached Syria. Peter was preaching in Lydda and Joppa (Acts 9). By Acts 10 the Gospel is being preached to Romans.
Then in Acts 11 we read this:
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
From Acts 13 the Gospel is being taken by Paul and Barnabas across the sea to Cyprus – the scattering had now gone international…and it all began because the church was scattered.
So, let us thank God for the scattering that is now taking place!
CONCLUSION AND CHALLENGE: PASSION TO SOW SEED WHEREVER YOU GO
One thing that strikes you when you read about this scattering is that we do not see a bunch of scared people running away and hiding as far from persecution as they could get. No. We see people like Philip who, wherever they go. Cannot stop himself from being a witness and sharing his faith in Jesus.
He is a man of who is passionate about his faith. In “Unleashed” (p 140-141) Gavin Calver describes meeting a “passion expert” at Spring Harvest 2018 who asked him what he thought proved passion. His considered answer was “what you spend your money on is what you are passionate about”. His mistake was shown to him in that people spend their money on what they are socially conditioned to do so. In fact the two proofs of passion are:
- What you spend most of your time doing
- What you spend most of your time talking about
He was immediately humbled as he considered his answer to those two questions and has since followed the “30 minute rule” – what a person talks about most during a 30 minute conversation betrays what they are most passionate about. Well, with Philip is was Jesus. What about you? What about me?
We ARE scattered abroad as a result of this pandemic. But are we passionate about now spreading the Word – the Good News, the Gospel? Are we, like Philip, single-minded in our desire to tell others about Jesus? This IS the time of opportunity! Let us seize the day!