Sun am 27 October 2019 – Justus Swart
Isa. 9:7; Act 9:1-16, 20; Matt. 28:18-20
I want to carry on from when I started three weeks ago. We were dissecting Christendom and evaluating the current season that the Church is in, in a global perspective. If we look back in history we remember a time when society was conceptually open and receptive to the idea of God, or at the very least, not resistant to it. We are now however, finding the world increasingly hostile towards in-faith based values systems. The western world at large has predominantly rejected the Christian worldview and it is the only culture in which we have seen church attendance drop. The western world has opted for what can be defined as secular humanism, which means, I put myself and my needs at the centre of all my pursuits. As a result, society no longer has the ability to recognise that which is sacred. Thankfully, I have some really great news for you: The kingdom of God is advancing. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end (Isa. 9:7). Not only that, the kingdom of God is advancing in you and through you!
As I mentioned last time, during Christendom, most society was labelled as Christian, whether you were a devout believer or not. Church was so altered by this environment, that we changed how we approached the world. Most people were Christian, to some degree, and all we had to do was choose a church. So churches began to say, “How do we become more appealing?” So churches began to develop all kinds of programs, exciting youth groups, big worship teams, or other things with big celebrity pastors coming in. That has now become known as the ‘attractional church model’.
When we read the New Testament we see something very different, which produced some staggering results. The conditions in which the Church was set is completely different to what we have now. They did not have an accepting society where people had a menu of churches to choose from, it was a highly persecuted group of people. At the same time we see one of the greatest grown spurts in Church history. According to historians, it is estimated that around A.D. 100 there were roughly 25 000 Christians in the Rome area. Then in A.D. 310, only 200 years later, it is estimated that the community of confessing believers had reached a staggering 20 000 000. That is 800 times the earlier number of Christians. Those are impressive numbers, but they become even more impressive when you consider all the facts that were stacked against them.
First of all, there were no beautiful church buildings, they did not have any road signs, no websites, no flyers, no banners, nothing! In fact, because persecution was so heavy at that time, it is doubtful whether they even met in the same place. So without bulk sms, no emails, no whatsapp groups, they had to hear about the new meeting place via word of mouth. So these believers would gather in different locations to hear about God’s word which was not the New Testament yet. They gathered around to study hand-written letters from the apostles. The New Testament was not compiled at that point. Our minds have become locked into a certain picture of Church. When we consider all the factors that were stacked against the early Church, how it is that they grew at that phenomenal rate? The Church’s dynamic evolution was good and it has become a very welcome space, and we have all had an encounter with God, but we cannot lock ourselves in to a man-made structure. God is so much bigger than that.
In Acts 9:1-16 we are introduced to Saul, who is a naturally gifted ‘Christian-hunter’. If you were a practicing believer, whether male or female, you were a candidate for a solid beating and some jail time. He was so incredibly efficient that he had received a notable reputation for being vicious. So much so that when he eventually converted to Christianity, nobody wanted to go and listen to him preach because they were too scared that he would set a trap. So God revealed Himself to Saul in the most dramatic of conversion stories and causes him to go temporarily blind, and instructs him go and find Ananias who would heal him.
Layered into this event is the principle behind how the early community went from a few thousands to a few million. The first thing we understand about this community is that they had to be a ‘get up and go’ kind of community. That is the most important thing about us as Christians. If we call Him King, if He gives us a command, we must obey. If He says, “Go!” I need to go.
Here is this guy, who is the worst psycho murderer anyone has ever heard of; he is an active threat to the Christian community, and God calls him to be His chosen instrument. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). This angered the traditional church leaders so much that they conspired to have him killed. What is the logic in that? These men were not ready for what God was doing.
Power, for us as a Church, comes by going. When God sends us, our power is not a stagnant power, it is not something that stays locked up, our power comes from going – from being sent. The Church was never meant to be a social group of like-minded, hand clapping, coffee drinking individuals. Inevitably what happens when God says, “Get up and go!” the Church says, “Come here and sit”. That is a totally different message, how did we get it so wrong?
The attractional model of Church has severely stemmed the flow of God’s power to the world. The world now feels abandoned and are turning to all kinds of things because we as a Church stopped going. We stopped following God through the Church and out into the world.
Importantly Saul gets his appointment from God, and asks “Who are you Lord?” In that answer, “I am Jesus”, Saul goes from hunting Christians, beating people up, and in that one introduction, he is now preaching. How is that enough? We have all these thoughts in our minds and yet the Bible tells us that one introduction with Jesus was enough. There is not greater name, so it is no wonder his life is turned around. It is the greatest name, the most powerful name, the highest name; so uttering the words is not empty, it changed his life. The answer, “I am Jesus” changes everything. It turned the most vicious, angry, bitter individual into the most devout Christian believer. The Church today will soon be facing some unfavourable circumstances, it is heading in that direction, but again I say, the kingdom of God is advancing.
Our thinking as a Church has to change. If we as a community are following Jesus we have to surely follow Him when He says, “Get up and go”. This is not just a message for new Christians. Look at what happened when God comes to Ananias, the seasoned Christian. The instruction is exactly the same, The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, (Acts 9: 11) but Ananias had a different idea in mind. God is saying, whether you have been a Christian for 2 minutes or 20 years, your mission remains the same, get up and go! Ananias thinks a little differently. His fist response to God is, “How can I get out of this?” The Church today is working with a similar mentality. “Come to our event, come see our youth group, come listen to our worship band; come and listen to our guest speaker”. So much so, that when Jesus says, “Get up and go”, we already have excuses. Now Ananias had to be told twice. Do not make Him speak twice.
The power of the gospel is unleashed in our obedience to go when God says “Go!” If we belong to His kingdom, then when our King speaks His words become decrees. God wants to accomplish so much through us as a Church. God has put so much authority into us, God has called us out, set us apart, He loves us and has put an immensely powerful purpose ahead of us, but we need to tap into that and the only way we can do that is when we start walking, listening and obeying.
Ananias is worried about Saul’s authority to lock them up and yet Jesus says, “All authority in both heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore, go” (Matt. 28:18-20). These are not just words, this is our mission statement, our identity, who God wants us to be. God wants to send us in the same way to demonstrate His love to the world. That is the calling and mission we have.
We have received so many amazing blessings the past week. Are we going to let that become another message that we heard or are we going to implement them, are we going to study those words personally? God is calling us to go and make this real in our lives and in our communities. We need to teach others to obey everything that He has commanded us to do. I cannot teach others to obey something that I myself have not done. Start with yourself. Make contact with the word Sunday after Sunday. Make sure it is reaching who you are as a person. Study the word, let it change you; let it penetrate your heart. His love is a tidal wave and it has to reach you as a person. It has to be real to me before I can make it real to others. So break all passivity, break all familiarity we have about church, how it should be done and realise that God has called you to a purpose. God wants to send you; God wants you to go, because He pursued you in exactly the same way. He chased you down and did not let you go. He kept nothing from you. All of His love is directed at you.
The kingdom of God is advancing, in you and through you and we have a role to play. Get up and go!