Unbelievable: The Church Scattered
Last week, Pastor Tony led us through a reflection from chapter 1 to 7 of Acts. The first 7 chapters are a beautiful picture of the church gathered. They had everything in common, they broke bread together, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. But when everything seems to be going well, the sudden martyring of Stephen marks a pivotal moment in the history of the early church. They began to be persecuted and scattered as Jesus foretold, the church would spread from Jerusalem, Samaria and Judea.
As you read the book of Acts this week, it’d be helpful to keep in mind a couple of things. First, the book of Acts is a treasure trove of miracles, you might find yourself wondering how these miracles came to be. I’ll be the first to admit that there are things I don’t understand and are mysteries to me. Let’s learn to read scripture with faith in Jesus. The other thing is that the persecution and scattering has brought much suffering to the church, but it was through its expansion from Jerusalem that the Gentiles were blessed with the truth and grace of Jesus.
With that let’s begin this week’s reading.
Day 1: Read Acts 8
We begin our Daily Reading this week with Acts Chapter 8. At the beginning of the chapter, Philip, a disciple of Jesus was sent into Samaria. Let me tell you a little bit about Samaria: Jews in Jesus’ day typically stay out of anything that has to do with Samaria and Samaritans, they’re considered half-breeds who fall outside of God’s chosen people.
Jesus once travelled to Jerusalem and on his way, he passed through Samaria and there he met the woman by the well and led her to faith in himself. The disciples of Jesus were shocked to see their rabbi talking to a gentile woman. It was a huge no-no in the Jewish culture back then. I hope you can see how much of a groundbreaking journey that God has invited Phillip and the early church into. Philip went to SAMARIA!
A couple of observations here:
First, the work of God is geographically grounded. The gospel, the good news is not just some idea that is in the ether but has positive impact to a village, a town, a city, a province! The gospel is to be preached and lived in the neighbourhood! Phillip performed signs and wonders and many came to Jesus. There was great joy in that city. All that to say the good news of Jesus blesses the city.
Secondly, as Philip went on the road he met an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip had his ears tuned to the Holy Spirit and was guided by the Spirit to go and stay near the chariot where the eunuch was. Turns out the eunuch needed help with the Scripture he was reading and Philip explained it to him and he got baptized right there! The journey of following Jesus not only is for the city is an overarching sense but cares deeply about the needs of the individual.
And just when we think that it is all about reaching out to people, we are reminded through the account of Simon the sorcerer that the Holy Spirit cannot be bought but rather, is a gift given to you. The power that sustains us is a gift from God. You cannot buy a gift for yourself. you can call it encouragement or a celebration, you can call it whatever you want but a gift can only be given to you and all you need to do is to receive it!
Take a moment to pay attention to the one of the following areas in your life:
- In what ways can you pray for Vaughan, Bolton, or King City, or whatever city you live in?
- Is there a neighbour who may need your help this week?
- Say a quick “thank you” to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit
Day 2: Read Acts 9
Today we come to this passage about the Apostle Paul. Paul is a famous person in the bible. Before he was called Paul he was Saul! Saul is someone who was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” Saul is not your regular Joe. Saul is vicious towards Jesus followers, but he considers himself a man of God with a vast knowledge of the God of Israel, he is highly educated! He is one tough opponent to go against!
After reading about Saul’s encounter with Jesus and being blinded by the encounter, I have this question: Could Jesus just have easily said to Saul that his blindness will heal itself after three days without going into the city to “look” for Ananias? Why does God have to involve Ananias to pray a healing prayer over Saul? Why must Saul head into the city?
Here’s what I think… Despite being blinded, Saul now has to obey Jesus and do the difficult thing of travelling blind, trusting others to lead him to healing. For Ananias, the challenge is to overcome his bias against Saul, who breathed murderous threats on the Lord’s people, and lay hands to restore the eyesight of someone who has done immense harm to the church community!
For both Saul and Ananias, it’s a call to obedience!
The truth is, God wants his people far and near to help one another. God wants his people to experience him in ways never before. God wants to shape our hearts to become more like his heart. God loves to involve us because he wants to bring us close to him!
We sometimes question God’s judgement and say “why doesn’t God just….”
Why doesn’t God just fix this situation I’m in?
Why doesn’t God just send money to help that person?
Why doesn’t God just take away all my problems?
Why doesn’t God just …
Through Ananias’ obedience, God healed Saul, who later became Paul, the church planter and pastor-preacher who carried the gospel to places and people groups that no one could ever imagine before. This was a bold and courageous act of faith that was required of both Ananias and Saul.
- Take 2 minutes to sit in silence
- Are there areas in your life where your obedience to the Lord requires you to overcome your bias toward someone or a particular situation?
- Have you ever questioned God by saying “God, why don’t you just…”, recall that situation and bring it to the Lord, invite him into the situation. In light of today’s reading, ask him to speak to you as you listen.
Day 3: Read Acts 10
Chapter 10 is perhaps one of the most pivotal moments in the gospel because it marks the beginning of the early church to find her identity not in traditional Judaism but in Jesus.
In order to understand the significance of the encounter between Peter and Cornelius, you have to know a little more about the Christian community at the time.
The Jesus movement after the resurrection began with the Jews who were steeped in Judaism, the dominant religion at the time. After coming to faith in Jesus, many Jewish Christian continue to observe Jewish holidays and practices. The Jewish law forbids any Jew to associate with a Gentile or even to visit a Gentile. In the eyes of a Jew in Jesus’ day, a Gentile is an unclean person. That’s why it is groundbreaking for God to say to Peter “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Peter and Cornelius is a clear sign that the Gentiles are part of God’s plan and the Holy Spirit given to them as well! Like what Peter said “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!”
What is the common ground that both Jews and Gentile are standing on then? It’s definitely NOT the sharing of Jewish holidays and practices.
I love how Peter made the common ground very clear. Let’s read what he said again from verse 39:
“We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed 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.”
Yes, you got it! The common ground is Lord Jesus himself. He is the one who brings the Jews and the Gentile together. This is so important to take to heart, because following Jesus is ultimately about acknowledging and receiving the love God has for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Perhaps this is a good time to re-align yourself to the Lord. To focus your faith in Jesus first by acknowledging that Jesus had given his life for you.
I love using this prayer called the Suscipe – the prayer of surrender – written by St. Ignatius of Loyola as a way of offering oneself to God.
I’d encourage you to read it over a few times slowly and prayerfully.
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; that is enough for me
Be blessed my friends!
Day 4: Read Acts 11:19-30
On Day 3 we read about Cornelius seeking the Lord, the account is the first record of a Gentile coming to faith in Jesus. In today’s reading, the gospel spread to Antioch as the disciples of Jesus traveled there. There is another “first’ here – “In Antioch the believers were first called Christians (11:26)”
Isn’t that quite impressive?? The believers who scattered to Antioch and nearby cities were so fervent and influential in sharing the good news to Jews and Gentiles that people began calling them CHRIST-ians! People who are of Christ.
I wouldn’t want you to miss this important point – the reason why they were called Christians is very likely due to the fact that the believers lived in a way that reminded others of Jesus and Jesus’s teaching and practice, they were living in such an embodiment of the gospel of Jesus that people begin pay attention.
As an example of how they lived, a famine over the entire Roman empire was predicted by a prophet named Agabus. On this warning, the church at Antioch decided to send supplies to the believers in Judea for relief, they didn’t just send supplies, they also sent Paul and Barnabas, their best teacher-pastors along with the gift. That is amazing! Their love was so evident that they organized the mission relief! They were the first movers when it comes to loving their neighbour!
Friends, if you are touched by the love shown by the church at Antioch, would you ask the Lord this one thing: “Lord, help me to serve you and others with a first-move mindset, show me where and who you would like me to serve today.”
Day 5: Read Acts 12:1-19
The miracle of an Angel leading Peter out of the prison where he was held is an astonishing account for sure. It was so surreal that even Peter himself wasn’t sure if it was really happening or was it a vision he was seeing. You can’t blame him though, if you remember, just a little earlier, God spoke to Peter during a trance that he fell into.
On the surface, the rescue is clearly a victory for Peter and the early church. The fact that God led Peter out of the entrapment he was in. It is so stunning that we might have skipped over the reason behind Peter’s imprisonment. The question of why Peter was arrested and jailed in the first place. This is very important for us to find out because it will tell us what the jailbreak really means!
We know that by that time, the church has been under persecution. The message of Jesus and especially the resurrection of Jesus have caused quite a stir in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas – that this man, Jesus, who claimed to be God and Messiah was put to death but has now risen to life was absolutely ludicrous and blasphemous to the ears of the Jewish religious leaders at the time. But the fact that the church was taking care of widows and orphans and the poor and even spreading their influence across ethnic boundaries (to the Gentiles) was even a bigger issue to the religious leaders.
So now with God sending an Angel to bring Peter out of prison means that Peter no longer needs to stand trial before King Herod, and it was a direct upheaval of what the Romans and Jewish leaders believe they could do – to stifle the spreading of The Way; that God cares for people of all nations to receive the good news of his love and forgiveness and that nothing can stop him!
You know, the Book of Acts can be very hard to read… not because it’s hard to understand but because it challenges us to look at our own walk with Jesus. If God and the early church cared so much about God’s love being brought across the boundaries of various human groups then what must I and the church care about today? Where is God already at work? Would you consider following suit?
Perhaps it is better to begin with a prayer that brings us back to the heart of God. A prayer by Ignatius of Loyola that asks to be granted an understanding and a doing of God’s will:
May it please the supreme and divine Goodness
to give us all abundant grace
ever to know his most holy will
and perfectly to fulfill it.
Friends, my you be brought closer to the heart of God. Jesus loves you! Thank you for joining me on this week’s Daily Reading!