To the Ends of the Earth!

To the Ends of the Earth!

Acts 13-47 go into all the world

Acts 13:47 – August 16, 2015

Every month, St. Luke’s Church has a Church Council meeting to deal with the everyday business of running the church. We are going to have our August meeting this coming Friday. This being a congregational church, any member is more than welcome at our council meetings.

Let me ask: what would you think if someone from the Church Council were to get up in front of the congregation next Sunday morning, and say something like, “This past Friday at the Council meeting, the Holy Spirit told us to send two of our church leaders—two Council members—off to the mission field full time. We prayed over them, and we sent them off. They’re gone, and we’re not really sure where they’ll end up”? What would your reaction be to such a statement?

That’s just what happened. That’s just the situation, here at the beginning of Acts chapter 13. Except, I suspect the whole congregation gathered around Paul and Barnabas, as well as several others who intended to travel with them. Dr. Luke doesn’t specifically say, but I think the whole congregation prayed over them before they sent them out.

Paul and Barnabas were chosen by the Holy Spirit to go out. To tell others about the Good News of the risen Jesus. They, and several of their friends, left for parts unknown.

It’s a wonderful thing, to be noticed, recognized. Chosen as a messenger, a missionary for God. In the several churches I have attended over the years, I have seen dozens of people go on both short- and long-term mission trips, just like Paul and Barnabas. I’ve been involved with mission committees, and led prayer teams and prayer efforts in support of many of those same missionaries. However, I—myself—have never gone anywhere on a mission trip. Nope. Not even a short-term one.

How many of us, here, can say the same thing? I am not asking for anyone to raise hands or otherwise identify themselves. But, in your hearts, how many of us know that we have never gone to the mission field? Either overseas, or in this country?

Let’s define terms. What is a mission field, anyhow? What does it mean to be a missionary?

A simple definition? A mission field is somewhere on the other side of a boundary or barrier. I know seminary professors and people who study the history of missions might quibble with the specifics of this definition. However, I think most everyone would agree that a mission field involves crossing some sort of a boundary. That can be a boundary or barrier of race, nationality, language or culture. Those are the easiest to see and recognize! But a mission field can also be on the other side of an economic boundary, or a societal barrier.

Take my friends, Jim and Amy. Both trained as doctors, they both worked here in the Chicago area for a long time. But, they were mission-minded. They intentionally went to the South side of Chicago regularly, for years, to work at a Christian medical clinic. An inner city mission, right here in Chicago. They are now in sub-Saharan Africa, working as missionary doctors. Still with that mission mindset. But, it was only recently that they went to Africa.

For years, before that, they were using the training they had to work for God—as medical doctors. To communicate the Good News that God loves everyone. Here in Chicago, but in a radically different community, with a different culture. Were they missionaries then, in Chicago? Are they missionaries now, in Africa? I say, in both cases, yes!

Let’s consider our scripture passage for today. Pretty new idea, for these early believers to preach the Good News to a multi-cultural audience! Take a look at the list of prophets and teachers from the beginning of Acts chapter 13. “1-2 Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers—Barnabas, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul.”

Just looking at this list, off the top of my head, I might not notice anything particularly different. But, let’s dig a little deeper. My research tells me that this assembly of believers in Antioch was the first truly multi-ethnic local church. This church had Jews and Gentiles together in one local congregation, according to Acts 11:19–22.

            We have Barnabas, a Jewish man, a Levite from the priestly class, born in Cyprus. Next, Simeon—he’s also called Niger. That’s a black man, from Africa. Then, Lucius, the North African from a large town called Cyrene. Then, there is the upper-class Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod—raised in the palace of the ruler Herod Antipas. And finally, we have Saul (or Paul), one of the most pre-eminent Pharisees of his day, born a Roman citizen in Asia Minor, and educated in the equivalent of an Ivy League school.

            We have some heavy hitters. Men of spiritual substance, described by Dr. Luke as both prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. And, they are VIP’s. Very Important People, from many different regions and cultural backgrounds! It was these church leaders—the Church Council of the church in Antioch—who commissioned Paul and Barnabas and their friends. These missionaries left a multi-cultural local congregation to go to the multi-cultural world.

            As we read further in the chapter, Paul, Barnabas and their friends traveled further. “13-15  They continued their journey through Perga to [another] town called Antioch. They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and took their seats. After the reading of the Law and Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent to them with a message, “Men and brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, by all means speak.”

We can see Paul goes first to the congregation at a synagogue. Dressed as a Pharisee (because they did wear distinctive clothing), the synagogue leaders knew he was learned in the Law and the Prophets. Paul gets up to speak. He gives them the Gospel, in a way they could understand.

Using the Hebrew Scriptures, he spoke about the coming Messiah, and about the death and resurrection of the risen Jesus. He spoke in a clear way that Jewish people could easily relate to. And, many of them came to faith in the risen Jesus, the Messiah.

However, Paul did not stop there! He spoke of the risen Jesus to God-fearing people who were not Jewish! He spoke of the resurrection to Gentiles, to Romans, to people without regard of their ethnic origin, or of the color of their skin.

Listen as chapter 13 continues: “44-47 On the next Sabbath almost the entire population of the city assembled to hear the message of God, but when the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy and contradicted what Paul was saying, covering him with abuse. At this Paul and Barnabas did not mince their words but said, “We felt it our duty to speak the message of God to you first, but since you spurn it and evidently do not think yourselves fit for eternal life, watch us now as we turn to the Gentiles! Indeed the Lord has commanded us to do so with the words: ‘I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

“48-50 When the Gentiles heard this they were delighted and thanked God for God’s message. All those who were destined for eternal life believed, and the Word of the Lord spread over the whole country.”

Did you hear? The Gentiles were delighted when they heard that they were welcomed by God, too! The Gentiles were—are as much God’s beloved children as are the Jews. All people are welcome to be saved. Salvation is for anyone, to the ends of the earth!

            What about the rest of the church, where Paul and Barnabas came from? Were they just sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs, or hiding their heads in the sand like ostriches?

I think the other believers in the church at Antioch had an important job to do, too. True, they may not have been sent out, called by the Holy Spirit to be missionaries. To go far away, like Paul and Barnabas, to suffer hardship and travel and preach the Good News in a different town every few weeks. However, God called these believers who stayed in Antioch to follow God, too. The Lord wanted each of them to share their story to the people around them, to share the Good News of the risen Jesus, too.

And, what about us, today? Do we have to be sent out as missionaries to Africa, like my friends, Jim and Amy? Or, can we share our stories, here? Can we show others the Good News of the risen Jesus? Tell them what Jesus has done for us, lately? Or, show them God’s love? Or what God has done in the lives of people we know?

What can you say about what God has done for you, or for a loved one? People almost always listen to stories. So, tell a true story. Tell how God has worked in your life.

How can you share about God, today?

I’d like for everyone to think of one person you might talk to. And, think of something that God has done in your life. And, prayerfully, go and tell! Here in multi-cultural Morton Grove—and Niles, and Des Plaines, and Skokie, and Chicago—most people we meet are from different ethnic groups or various cultural backgrounds. Just like the church in Antioch, the first truly multi-ethnic local church. So, go forth! Go and tell! That’s our challenge today.

Alleluia, amen!


(The scripture readings of Acts 13 were taken from the excellent translation by J.B.Phillips; ; J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins.”  And, thanks to the wonderful people who prepared the bible studies on Acts at – The study on Acts 13 was quite helpful, and gave me some great jumping-off places from which to preach!)


Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

Good News about Jesus!

“Good News about Jesus!”

Ethiopian painting, unknown artist  Philip and the Ethiopian royal official

Ethiopian painting, unknown artist
Philip and the Ethiopian royal official

Acts 8:34-35 – May 3, 2015

Who enjoys hearing good news? Just about everyone! And what about those who share good news? A relative getting married, perhaps? A new baby in the family? What about a big graduation—from college, trade school, or nursing school? The purchase of a new condo or a new car? These are all things that cause a great deal of rejoicing!

We’re going to talk more about sharing good news, but first, we need to set the scene. Tell you a little about our Scripture text for today. We are going to take a closer look at Acts chapter 8.

The risen Lord Jesus has been with His disciples and followers for a number of weeks after Easter, after the Resurrection. He ascended into heaven in the first chapter of Acts, and the great events of Acts chapter 2—Pentecost, the birth of the church at the Temple in Jerusalem—have occurred. The number of believers in the risen Jesus has simply exploded!

Four thousand came to believe on Pentecost, in one day, alone. Thousands of Jewish people heard about the Messiah coming, dying on a cross, and being raised from the dead. And they believed!

As we view the new gathering of believers at this point, in the early chapters of Acts, it’s a Jewish gathering. It’s pretty monochromatic. All of the believers have similar skin tones. All of the believers come from the same religious background. Jewish. All of the believers heard the Good News in the city of Jerusalem. All of the Jewish believers originate from an oppressed people-group in an occupied territory in Asia Minor (Israel), even if they currently reside outside the territorial bounds as their current place of residence. They still made the pilgrimage to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The disciples do not have a difficult time communicating the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus to their fellow Jews! No cross-cultural differences to be dealt with, here!

Not yet . . . anyway.

The disciples were greatly heartened by such a huge response to their spreading the Good News! They fanned out into the area around Jerusalem (just as Jesus told them to do), and continued preaching. Sharing their stories. Until—the beginning of Acts 8.

Here, we have Philip. Directed by the Holy Spirit, Philip travels in Samaria, sharing the Good News with the people he met there. People who were not fully Jewish! As if this wasn’t enough, we have the encounter just read to us. Where Philip meets a royal official from Ethiopia.

Let’s step away from the events of the reading to talk about the author of this book of Scripture.

Dr. Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles along with the Gospel of Luke, had a special concern for certain parts of the general population. He highlights women, children, sick people, and—Gentiles. Non-Jews. Dr. Luke himself was a Gentile, a Greek doctor. He therefore lifts up these powerless, unprotected individuals.

He shows God’s concern and care for the least of God’s creation. Those who are often forgotten or overlooked by the preferred ones.

This royal official of the queen of Ethiopia was a powerful man, it’s true. He wielded considerable power in the palace, in his own arena. But outside of his country? He was an outsider, for sure. And for more reason than just the color of his skin. The royal official was a eunuch. That means probably when he was a young boy—probably as he started serving in the house of the queen—he was forcibly castrated in order to serve the queen. He didn’t allow that to deter him, though. He rose in the queen’s household, became well educated and literate, and eventually became an important official, in charge of her treasury.

This official also desired to know more about the God of the Jews.

We don’t know where he heard of that particular God, a foreign God, but he had an earnest desire to learn more about the God who made heaven and earth, the God of the Jewish people.

There was a problem. A big problem. Sure, the royal official could learn about the Jewish God. He could become a proselyte, even come to Jerusalem and visit the area outside of the Temple. But—he could not enter the Temple. There were strict rules regarding that, in the Mosaic Law Code. The official was a eunuch. He was castrated. He was not fully “a man,” like every other natural male.

According to Jewish law, that made this Ethiopian’s spiritual standing with God less than that of others. He was automatically excluded from a close relationship with the Jewish understanding of God, due to factors completely beyond his control.

Did that make any difference to Philip? Let Dr. Luke tell us more.

Let’s get back to the story. After going to Jerusalem and diligently, faithfully worshiping outside of the Temple, this Ethiopian official started back to Africa in his chariot. Philip, nudged by the Holy Spirit, came alongside the chariot. The Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah—aloud. Very common practice of the time. Reading aloud. Coming alongside the chariot, Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Excellent question! I can just see the scene—the Ethiopian, poring over the open book in his hands, perhaps in Greek translation (the trade language of the time). Young, strong Philip, jogging alongside, engages the official. The Ethiopian, intrigued, invites Philip to sit beside him in the chariot and explain the passage further.

One thing leads to another, and next thing you know, Philip is telling the official his story. Telling the Good News of the risen Jesus. Sharing the Gospel from the book of Isaiah, as well as his own personal testimony. The official must have known a great deal about the Jewish Bible and have been able to connect the dots of the Good News in short order! Because, what do we see next?

They come to some water. I bet the Ethiopian was so excited when he asked Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Do you understand what happened here? Philip explained the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus—to this worthy man. And in very short order, he was ready—so ready to believe in the Resurrection, to accept the Gospel!

Now at the impromptu baptism, when the Ethiopian made a public declaration of his belief in the risen Lord Jesus, did Philip stop and ask whether this man was Jewish, or not? Did he notice whether this man was an eunuch, or not? Did he care about the color of this man’s skin, or not? The conversation in the passage is not specific, but Philip’s actions certainly are!

“Both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” That’s what Dr. Luke tells us.

The early church records let us know that this royal official not only goes back to Ethiopia—rejoicing in his absolute acceptance by our Lord as a fully beloved child of God!—but he also carries the message of that Good News to others in his home country! He tells others his story, that God fully and lovingly accepted him. A non-Jew, a person of color, even a man who was castrated.

This official became a believer, part of those who spread the Good News, that God loves each individual, no matter what.

Can we be sure that God accepts us? What about the questionable things in our past? What about those things? God still loves us. What if we don’t have very high standing in the community? God still loves us. What about the bad feelings we have in our hearts? God still loves us. What if we come from the “wrong side of the tracks?” God still loves us.

Are you a child of God? If you are member of the human race, YES. Does God love you? If you are a member of the human race, YES. Can we celebrate in God’s love? YES. Can we share that Good News? YES.

God loves you so much that God sent Jesus to this earth to die on a cross and rise from the dead on the third day. Do you believe this Good News? This fantastic, phenomenal News?

Praise God, just as much as Philip, just as much as the Ethiopian official, just as much as any other disciple, we can rejoice in the Good News of the risen Christ and share our story.

I encourage you today.  Tell someone how much God loves you!

Philip did. The Ethiopian did. And we are encouraged to do so, too. Praise God! Alleluia! Amen.


(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)