This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, representing the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem during the last week of His life and ministry. When Christ arrived He was hailed by the crowds as the coming messiah. Men, women and children waved palm branches crying out, “Hosanna, Hosanna,” which means “save us. But how Jesus would save was largely misunderstood, and within a week He would be all but abandoned by His followers. They would scatter.
As we arrive at these week’s passage, in our journey through the book of Acts, we once again see the disciples scattering. But this time it is because of their faith in Jesus, rather than their lack of, that they are on the run. They are not scattering and denying Jesus. Instead, they are scattering and proclaiming Jesus. The persecution of the early church was used by God to further the message of salvation beyond Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria.
Today, God is still sending the Church into the whole world with the good news about Jesus. God is sending out the Congregational Church of Goffstown. He is sending out you and me. There is much we can learn from the early church about the nature of mission we’ve been sent out on. This Sunday we’ll make several observations about the good news of Jesus and what we are to do with it, as we continue our journey through the book of Acts.
The Greek Word for martyr, means “witness.” And in our passage this week, we are introduced to the first Christian martyr. His name is Stephen, and He was killed because of his witness for Jesus Christ.
When you think of a martyr, is your first instinct to assume that person is Christian, or does you immediately assume he is of another religion? Do you often assume that martyr is an “extremist?” The mainstream media certainly paints martyrs as extremists but, in reality, the majority of them are not extreme in the way we often think. In 2011 alone, there were 105,000 Christians killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. That amounts to 288 a day, 12 an hour, 1 every five minutes! They were not killed because they were suicide bombers or committed some violent crime against another religious group. They were killed simply for acting out their faith in Jesus Christ as God has called us all to. Most of them did so in countries where Christianity is not well tolerated. Yet, most would not have been killed if they just kept their beliefs to themselves. So why didn’t they? Certainly there had to be better ways to manage their risk. Yet, knowingly, many Christians around are not willing to limit their risk and would even rather risk their lives daily to witness to Jesus Christ.
Even in this country, if we are obedient to Christ, we will face suffering of some kind. Really! Suffering for Jesus is not something we, as believers, can easily avoid or escape. In fact, Jesus tells us to expect suffering if we are His disciples. Stephen’s death ended up catapulting the Gospel and the early church into the outer reaches of the Roman Empire. What you and I can learn from Stephen’s experience can catapult our own walk with Jesus, and it can catapult the ministry reach of our church into new and previously unreached territory. You may not be asked to physically give up your life for Jesus, but how much of it are you willing to risk?
Join us for worship on Sunday morning at 10:30, prayer and Christian Formation classes at 9:15, and don’t forget the All Church Dinner and Prayer Walk immediately after the service in Stark Hall.
By most estimates, the church in Acts had grown to about 20,000 members by the time it reached the events occurring in this week’s passage. Every one of those members was a new Christian. While they were unified in their faith and purpose, they were diverse in just about every other way. The church was now meeting both on the temple grounds and in homes. It consisted of Jews, some from Judea and some from the outer edges of the Roman Empire. Some of the were Gentiles who had converted to Judaism and then became followers of Christ. There were young and old, wealthy and poor, married and single, orphaned and widowed. How can we not sympathize with the twelve apostles, who were given the charge of shepherding this rapidly growing and unwieldy congregation?
It all quickly became too much for the twelve apostles. These week we find them facing two brand new threats, either of which could suppress the growth of the church and even eliminate it. These same threats have devastated whole churches and denominations throughout church history. While the early church was not a perfect church, it serves as a model to instruct us. Luke, the author of Acts, transparently reports on both the highs and lows of this young and growing body of believers. The highs serve to encourage us while the lows are there to warn and instruct us on how to address them.
So what can our church learn from the threats in our passage this week? What is your role in overcoming threats like these in our day? These are a few of the questions we’ll seek to answer when gather together this Sunday morning. Come join us for Christian education at 9:15, worship at 10:30 and fellowship to follow.