Part 3 of Extending the Gospel in Uncertain Times
Today is a pivotal time for the church. What do we do with Jesus’ commission? Uncertain times do make us hesitate. When the church scattered in Acts 8, they probably did so out of fear. Though we may know Jesus’ commission is not suspended, we can feel stuck. Do I stay or do I go? Do I say something or say nothing? Do I wait or make a plan?
These are also the days of doubt. I can doubt my calling. I can doubt God’s purpose for my life. Doubt is not unusual, for even Luke records the Apostles’ doubt after Jesus’ resurrection. But, I need to move towards “convinced.”
Approaching the end of Acts we meet Philip again, with his four prophetess daughters. Now we know Luke’s source for chapter eight of Acts. After the scattering, Philip makes his way back to his home in Caesarea. At a much older age he is still following the Lord and hosting travelers – like Luke and Paul (the very one who caused him to flee Jerusalem). Luke has a unique vantage point. Whether in a seat next to Philip hearing the recounting of those days or on the run alongside Paul through quite a number of ordeals, he is convinced of some things. He records with certainty that the scattering was a pivotal time in the church. What did they do with Jesus’ commission?
They are convinced of the good news. Luke records Jesus explaining some vital information, announced long ago, on the road to Emmaus and with the twelve (Luke 24). The Scriptures point to Jesus as the Messiah. It reveals His suffering, death, resurrection and future return. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection explains things. And the disciples are witnesses to this. Jesus is the promised One. He is the One they are waiting for. He is the answer. As Luke writes, “‘By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’” (Luke 1:78-79). This is really good news!
They are convinced it is for all people. Jesus also said the gospel would not be contained in Jerusalem or for a select group of people. It was bursting into the world, for the whole world. All people need restoration. We need forgiveness and eternal life. With certain detail, Luke traces Acts 1:8 in action — God’s story being lived out. Of course, this is just the beginning. Jesus is the light of the world for the whole world. As Luke records, “‘For my eyes haves seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’” (Luke 2:31-32).
Really Good News for All People
Luke is convinced it is really good news for all people. As the angels announced to the shepherds, “‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:10).
Three times in Acts 8, Luke refers to Philip proclaiming the good news. In Samaria people are being healed and are hearing Philip proclaim the good news about the kingdom (sounds a lot like what Jesus did). Then, there is the good news that is preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch. He asks about a passage from the prophet Isaiah which speaks of the suffering Messiah. Philip shares from the Scriptures the good news about Jesus (just as Jesus had done in Luke 24). And the third time, Philip is proclaiming the good news as he is going, on the way to his home in Caesarea.
Philip proclaims the good news to all kinds of people. He crosses geographical and social barriers. He speaks to those on the social periphery, to those in great need, who are on the outside, and to those close at home. He proclaims to crowds, to the one, and as he is going along. He is proclaiming the good news, in different ways and to different kinds of people.
In the Toughest of Times
Challenging circumstances have always been a part of the church’s history. For Philip and the early church, chaos thrust the commissioned out of Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. In the midst of fear, anxiety and grief they scattered away from familiar community, lived distant from leadership, and crossed social and geographical barriers. God seemed to use uncertainty to take His message and messengers elsewhere. Uncertainty was the catalyst.
Challenging circumstances also can be the catalyst of change. It can transform us. Hopefully we are becoming a different kind of people, more like Jesus — more compassionate, patient, and loving. We need to be people who are convinced and persevere. With a servant’s posture and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to be God’s vessel to share His really good news.
Share the Goodness
Not long ago on a cold January day, I noticed something white in the backyard that didn’t seem to belong there. It had recently snowed, but had melted. If anything, I needed to trim some of the dead foliage back, yet there was an unusual bloom. For one, this plant had never bloomed before, not even in the summer. Second, it was a colder winter day (for Texas). A beautiful bloom burst into winter. What a contrast to the cold and lifeless world.
Jesus is the light that burst into the darkness. He is the good news. The world needs really good news. Are we convinced? Even before the virus, life was not as it should be. We are now a little more convinced of that. The gospel is for times such as these. This is what the commissioned are commissioned for. A few chapters after Philip, Luke records Peter saying this, “‘He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’” (Luke 10:42-43).
Luke was certain about some things. And those with Jesus were also certain. They were convinced. Jesus is the hope that burst into the world for all the world. Jesus’ commission is not suspended. Certainty or uncertainty He is the really good news for all people.