33/97 5.10.97 Scripture: Acts 16:35-17:9
IN Britain, the Church of England was always safe, sure, and predictable. It used to be said that the Church was "The Tory Party at Prayer". Not any more! Recently, there have been tremendous changes within the Anglican Church in Britain. Things are now unpredictable. Two thirds of Anglicans are now evangelical, and the church that has been in decline for one hundred years is bursting everywhere with new life and vitality. The new attitudes have caused consternation among many. When in the middle of the Falklands War, a new hymn book was published, some words of the National Anthem were changed. Anglicans would no longer sing of the Queen, "Send her victorious, happy and glorious." That was too triumphalistic. Instead, there were words about understanding and compassion and sharing. It upset many that they were no longer praying for victory.
Then there was the fuss over a victory celebration. Whenever Britain had a victory, there was a gathering in St. Paul's Cathedral for a victory service to thank God that He was still on the right side. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, refused to lead a service of triumph by England over Argentina. Instead, he said that in the war both sides were sinners and that we ought to be praying for forgiveness. He even prayed for the Argentinian people! The victory trumpet had a very uncertain sound. This was unexpected from an Archbishop who had been a commando in World War 11 and had won the Military Cross for daring and bravery. Then an Anglican commission suggested that Britain disarm and seek unilateral nuclear disarmament.
Immediately, the Conservative Party was in uproar in the House of Commons. One Cabinet member said, "It grieves me to see so many clergy and so many bishops betraying their role. They want to turn everything upside down. What ordinary people want is a church that is stable but sure." A response from one of the Anglican ministers was "What we need is to turn the world upside down and call for a radical return to the vibrant Christianity of New Testament times." The politicians are right when they say that the world at large wants a church that is stable and predictable. Most people do not want a church that is going to turn the world upside down, or make suggestions that oppose decisions made in Westminster or Canberra. They prefer to have the ecclesiastical approval upon the things the power people decide.
The trouble is that when once the wind of the Spirit of God starts blowing, the pages of our committee reports get into a different order. We find ourselves working to change things. The idea of returning to a vibrant New Testament Christianity can have its dangers. Many do not want the church changing society. The idea is a little too dangerous. The church has been disturbing the established order a long time. Paul and Silas were described: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here." (Acts 17:6). The critics wanted their world and their religion to be safe, comfortable, and predictable. The people of Thessalonica were greatly upset because Paul and Silas were doing things differently. When they were in gaol at Philippi, Paul and Silas witnessed through praise when the earthquake came at midnight. There was always in them a drive to witness.
1. THE DRIVE TO WITNESS
When they left Philippi, (v1) Paul and Silas travelled through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica. These names may mean little, but many Greek Australians know these places as their home towns. Salonica is about 200 miles from Philippi. It was no easy stroll. What made them keep moving? Stopping here and there but never staying long. Always walking, always preaching the gospel. Always witnessing to Jesus Christ. They went through the arch at Philippi and westward down the Egnatian Way, a road that is still there.
They were driven to witness! There is an imperative about the gospel. Jesus said, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them My disciples: Baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always." This is the imperative of Jesus : Go, and make disciples!
They felt driven to witness. Jesus had said, "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for Me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (1:8). Every one of the disciples obeyed. They heard the imperative and they went witnessing. Every disciple born in Palestine died in a foreign country speaking the message of Jesus as a witness. An imperative caused Paul and Silas to move out of Philippi, down to Thessalonica, and later to Athens and Corinth. The need was urgent because of their fundamental belief that the world was going to hell. Humans were on a self-destruct course. This world will end. They had to witness.
The church must recover that urgency about the gospel. The Uniting Church has committees, councils and reports. Our boards sit and discuss business at great length. Then we discuss the discussions that we had on the discussions about the report. We meet in our presbyteries, councils, and synods, and talk about the Kingdom of God, and all the time this world is on a course of self-destruction. The Canberra Commission on Nuclear Disarmament has a better theology of the end times than this denomination. The Uniting Church approaches it's 20th anniversary, not committed to the witness of the Gospel as an urgency, but arguing about marriage services for lesbians.
God calls us as a matter of urgency to proclaim His gospel so that people might turn from the broad way that leads to destruction to the narrow way that leads to life. Paul was compelled to say, "How terrible it would be for me if I did not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). The early Christians had to tell others about Jesus. Do you have this drive to witness? A desire to tell others about Jesus Christ? A sense of urgency about this gospel that we share? Do you have in your heart the imperative of the gospel, the necessity laid upon you to share your faith with someone else?
Think for a minute what it means to be outside of Jesus Christ, to be going down the broad way to destruction. Then learn once more to witness to Jesus. As I drove home I saw spray painted on the side of a public telephone box, "Death Forever." That is precisely our position if we do not have Jesus Christ: Death Forever! Lost! Christians have the message "Eternity" to take to Sydney.
2. THE METHODS
In Acts 17:2-3, we are shown the method used by the believers as they went about their task of witnessing. The methods were clear and simple. We complicate things by delivering lectures and addresses on how to witness to the faith. They made it simple. They were flexible. We make it inflexible. We like to come up with lists of spiritual laws or steps to peace with God, and our witness becomes rigid and complicated.
Here is the way Paul did it: "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. He "reasoned with them from the Scriptures." He spent time "explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead". He was "proclaiming .. the Christ", and Paul "persuaded" them to join the band of Christians. Having started with discussion, Paul quoted the Scriptures, explained them, proved Christ, proclaimed the gospel and persuaded them to become Christians. Here is their method.
This method was used by our Lord Himself. After the resurrection, Jesus walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and he reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving the He had to suffer and rise from the dead, proclaimed the resurrection and persuaded them to join with the believers. (see Luke 24).Always in witness there was the use of reason and the explanation of Scripture particularly the suffering and resurrection of Jesus.
Philip, one of the earliest evangelists did this. Invited by an Ethiopian official to sit in his carriage, Philip used the book of Isaiah to witness to the good news about Jesus Christ. Peter followed this method when he spoke to the people after healing the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. (Acts 3:18-19) "This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord". The Scriptures are the basis of our witness.
The late Dr. Robert Maddox, Principal of Leigh Theological College, and Professor and Chairman of the Department of Old Testament Studies at Sydney University, wrote a book on The Acts of The Apostles: "Witnesses to the End of the Earth," In it he wrote, "The basis of a missionary church is not a hierarchy of office, it is not an organisation, it is not a crusade, it does not have a program. It is not a matter of an agenda or a budget, it is simply a message that Jesus is Lord." How we need to be reminded of that today in the Uniting Church today.
That was the method of the early church. To take the message and tell others, to do it in discussion with reason, to quote and explain the Scriptures, to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus is Lord, and to announce that Jesus is the Messiah. That is our method at Wesley Mission. We proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We explain it, reason it, proclaim it, and persuade people as witnesses. Where the church witnesses to Jesus as Christ, it is growing, and where it does not witness but just talks, it is in decline. When will the church learn?
3. THE RESULTS
Note the results: "Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women." When the gospel is preached people believe and respond. At Thessalonica a large number became Christians. It happens here at Wesley Mission. When we preach the gospel, there are always responses to the gospel, in Wesley Theatre or from the broadcast.
Yet some did not respond. "But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd." The preaching of the Gospel always brings attack and persecution, even from people who might believe in God but who reject the witness to Jesus. We have found that to be true. Note the charge against the Christians "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." Literally, "These men have turned the world upside down!" Those who are living outside of God, whose lives are shaped by worldly values, are on the broad way that leads to destruction. They do not want their world to be turned upside down. What they do not understand in their spiritual blindness is that the world is already upside down. Christian people are bringing it right side up!
That is our task in proclaiming the gospel. It is going to disturb some. They want the church to be safe, conformist, and predictable. But we are called upon to witness to Jesus the King.
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