READ – Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3
2019 VISION PART 4 - GOING OUT ON MISSION
Antioch was where followers of Jesus of Nazareth were first called “Christians.” Of all the churches we read about in the book of Acts, the church at Antioch may be the community that gives us the fullest picture about what Christianity is all about and what it means to follow Jesus whether you’re living in the first century or the 21st century. A defining trait of Jesus-followers in Acts is seen in the act of sending/being sent. Christians are those who are sent; they are on mission.
1. THE LOGIC FOR MISSION
The modern West is a post-Christian, post-truth, post-everything culture. Any conversation about mission has to take both the abuses of mission and the concerns of our neighbors seriously. The reality is that the idea of mission or the identity of being a missionary gets bad press in today’s social and political climate. For many people, the command of Jesus’ Great Commission – that His followers would go into their neighborhoods, work places, and all nations sharing the gospel is naïve, shallow, and extreme. To say, “If you don’t believe my way, then you are spiritually sick, lost, and need saving” is considered narrow-minded.
But imagine having a friend who shows symptoms of a disease you once had and beat. You know it’s life-threatening, the remedy required to bring wholeness, the effort needed to see the right doctor and receive the right treatment. What should you do? If you’re a good friend, there will be a dynamic of both love and truth in your interactions with them. You will be on mission to gently persuade them to turn to the cure. If you only loved them but didn’t know the cure, you couldn’t be on mission. Likewise, if you knew the cure, but didn’t love them, you wouldn’t be on mission.
When Christianity is dismissed as being narrow, what people really mean is: “I don’t agree with your cure.” Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with the world, some ailment that needs healing, or brokenness that requires repair. We all have views on where people need to turn in order to be saved. For early Christians, the cure, the remedy, the solution was “turning to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). The Christian story is that God made us and even in spite of our turning away from Him engaged in a rescue mission by sending His Son to save us and remake the world. Jesus is Lord. Because that’s true, it’s the only cure for what’s wrong. That’s the logic for mission.
2. THE SHAPE OF MISSION
There were three marks of the church community in Antioch.
First, they were a learning community. We see in Acts 11:25, 27 and Acts 13:1 that this church was characterized by teaching people, prophets communicating God’s truth, multi-ethnic leadership guiding early Christians. Why? Because believing in Jesus opens up whole new avenues for deeply learning about all of life through the lens of the gospel. If Jesus is Lord, now we have to work out the implications of that reality for our lives, money, family, work, relationships, and sexuality. None of it can be left untouched by Jesus’ lordship. We have to learn and re-learn what it means that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus.
We also have to learn our neighbors. There’s a subtle yet significant difference between Acts 8 and Acts 11. In both chapters, we see that persecution led to mission both to Samaritans and Greeks. In Acts 8 and Samaria, the Jesus-followers share “the Christ” (Acts 8:5) or the Messiah (a more technical, Old Testament title for the coming rescuer). But in Acts 11, the believers are sharing the “Lord Jesus.” Greeks and Romans would have had little to no understanding or expectation of a Messiah, and so the early Christians learned how to intelligently and winsomely share their faith by learning the language of the culture.
Second the church at Antioch was a sharing community. Acts 11:27-30 (which we looked at in more detail last week) is all about how early Christians viewed compassionate action in the community as central to the church’s mission. But if you look closely at the character of Barnabas you see a follower of Jesus who was willing to build up others, decrease so that others would increase, concern himself with the reputation of others and not himself. In short, Barnabas shared his influence, his gifts, his money, his reputation, his power in order to better someone else. Imagine what it would look like if all followers of Jesus did the same in our families, cul de sacs, classrooms, job sites, and offices?
Third, the church was a listening community. To listen intently – to listen with an attitude of humility and openness, is an act of love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian, pastor, and resistance fighter in Nazi Germany) wrote that “...often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Maybe the best service, the best way we can be on mission in the 21st century is to listen, listen, and then listen so more. Before you can speak the Word of God to people, you need to listen with the ears of God.
3. THE ENGINE IN MISSION
What was the fuel, the engine that kept mission going in the city of Antioch? What can keep us pressing on in mission with family, friends, and neighbors? The engine won’t be obedience to a command. We need a reality that will both humble us and energize us to keep our identity as “sent” people at the forefront of our imagination.
First we need to remember that this is Jesus’ mission. It’s His. It belongs to him and he’s invited you to join. In Acts 1, Luke writes that his first volume (the gospel of Luke) “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” That means Jesus is still on mission. He’s still active. He is still doing and teaching. It means he is the driver of mission, not us.
The second reality is seen in Acts 11:21. Luke records that “the Lord’s Hand was with them.” Luke is borrowing a phrase that occurs all over the Old Testament. Throughout Scripture you read that God’s Hand was either with someone or against them. The takeaway is that Jesus was with them. The greatest catalyst and engine for you as you befriend your neighbors, as you disciple your kids, as you pour your energy into your work to help make the world a better place – it’s that Jesus’ Hand is with you. The phrase also implies that it wasn’t just that Jesus was providing them with a little push or support, but that these Christians were joining with Jesus on the frontlines. I think that’s the deepest motive for mission – simply being with Jesus where he is.
And the good news is that we join with Jesus on this side of Calvary – so the hands that are with you bear the scars of the cross, the place where the mission was accomplished, the victory won, the work was finished. See the Lord’s Hand was with them and it is with you because it was against Jesus. He took the justice for our apathy, our isolation, our callousness, and he took that all in His Hand so that we could receive His hand in love. Let’s remember this good news for ourselves and then go tell someone else.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. How would you define the “mission” of Christianity? How do you fit into that mission?
3. The mission isn’t just about talking and doing, but learning and listening. What might be a way that you could better learn from and listen to friends who don’t believe the same things you do?
4. When was the last time you shared the good news of Jesus with someone? Are we doing a good job “gossiping the gospel” among ourselves as a church community? How might we grow in sharing the gospel with each other and outsiders?