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Going--Beyond Ourselves
07/04/2004
Scripture: Acts 8:1-40
Track 6 of 14 in the Being with Him Compels Us to Go for Him series


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Sermon for Sunday, July 04, 2004
"Going--Beyond Ourselves"
"Being With Him Compels Us to Go for Him"
(Acts 8:1-40)
C. Sackett

As a child I always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. I had these incredible memories back in the days when television was black and white and it went off at midnight, of seeing the flag fluttering in front of the Statue of Liberty as the, well, what would have been credits, began to roll. It just actually looked like a weird TV screen that had gone bad at the end of the day.

It wasn't until just a few years ago that I actually got to fulfill that dream of taking the boat out to Ellis Island and walking around out there and seeing the placard that says "Send me your huddled masses" and all of those kinds of things, your poor and your hungry.

We've had a history as a nation of being a place of freedom, a place where there was an opportunity for people to come, to sense that if they came here they would have the opportunity to do things and to be things they could have never done or been under any other circumstances. It's been part of our heritage, a proud heritage at that. One with which, most of the time at least, we can look back with some degree of honor and respect.

I remember that sense of awareness that this was a great place and a wonderful country to be from all the time I was growing up and that deep sense, even though I had never had any experience with what it meant not to be free, that we were in fact a free people.

Maybe that's why when I became a Christian one of the things that was so incredibly important to me was the sense that I had become free in Christ. I found myself wondering, at least at times over the course of my early Christian experience what those connections were between what it meant to be free and what it meant to be really free. I'm not sure that I ever put my finger on it very well and I'm not sure to this day I understand all of the wonders of what it means in either case to be a free person.

I've spent enough time now in eastern Europe to know what it means to hear from people who have not been free, who have grown up under communism, who experienced time in prison simply because of one fundamental fact, they decided to become Christian. I've talked with people in my class who have spent hours in a prison cell for no other reason than just simply having identified themself with Christ.

I remember back, probably the early to mid-70's, there was a song that came out that likened the Status of Liberty to the Cross and I remember how deeply that struck me. That there was another kind of freedom that stood and it was not, it was not this giant statue in a harbor someplace but it was an ugly Cross on a hill that paid for that kind of freedom and I was reminded that as a part of my heritage I also grew up in a country, not only known for being a peace-keeping place, that ventured into parts of the world that no other country would go to for the simple fact that they wanted to see the world experience the same kind of peace and freedom that we had. That I came from a place that also believed in peace-making, not militarily, but peace-making in the sense of allowing people to find a relationship with Jesus. No other country in the history of the world has been a peace-making country for the gospel like this one.

From the beginnings of a mass movement of student volunteers that began with a prayer meeting under a haystack during a thunderstorm, this country has sent literally thousands and thousands of people out into the world in order to offer people eternal freedom. And I guess one of the things I am reminded of is that the job is not yet done.

There are approximately 6.1 billion people in the world today. I have no idea how to help you try to understand what that is. You know if you laid them all down end to end around the equator they'd all be more comfortable. I don't know how you get your hands around the size of that. Somewhere in the vicinity of 230 individual nations.

Some people estimate anywhere from 12 to 24,000 individual people groups that have their own identity by culture and language. In fact, on the island of Pablo New Guinne there are literally hundreds of individual language groups that people like pioneer Bible translators and Wick Bible translators are trying to help get a language together so they can hear Scripture for the very first time in their own heart language.

There was a group that left from Jefferson Street Christian church last Tuesday to spend two weeks out in the bush of Pablo New Guinne to try to help the missionaries there further their task.

I spent quite awhile yesterday as we were driving over here talking to my daughter who just got back from Ghana. She spent approximately a month doing a medical mission trip out into the areas of Ghana where within an hour or so of the major city, they were seeing, well, in 2 ½ weeks, they saw 2500 patients. Turned away about a thousand people because they just couldn't keep up with the number of people and their needs. Eighty percent of their problems being completely preventable if they just knew the basics of hygiene and had some access to some simple medicines. And 68 of those people are being left behind knowing more about the gospel of Jesus and being taught by the area missionaries about what it means to be completely well internally.

But the amazing thing was, what was so overwhelming to my daughter was that these people had never, ever heard the name of Jesus. It wasn't just that they were untaught, it wasn't just that they hadn't had a chance to respond to Him. It wasn't just that there wasn't a church in their area, the name was completely foreign to them. The concept of a God who send his Son into the world was something they had never heard. And part of her frustration was this team of young people who were more concerned about whether or not they could take a shower, or whether or not they would be able to stomach the meal. And she just kept wanting to ask this same fundamental question. It came back haunting her, as it does every time she travels. What gives a Christian the right to think that sharing their faith is an option?

Where is it. . . . . .and this is typical, by the way, for those of you who take short term mission trips. . . . . .so you just have to forgive us when we come back home. It takes a little time to readjust. What is it that makes those of us who have this incredible freedom to be Christian, to know the gospel, to have grown up in a world where the name of Jesus is on everybody's lips, at least for good or ill, to think that we can get up in the morning and decide I do or don't want to share my faith today. I don't know how to answer her question. I don't know how, as a father or a preacher or a professor, to be able to say, "Why are we like that?" I can't answer it for her because I can't answer it for me. Why is it sometimes I feel like it's okay to just be silent about a freedom that is far more impressive than anything we've ever done with our military. The bottom line is God expects his people to be generous with their faith. That's been the nature of his wish forever from Genesis 12 to today. The very first promise was "I will bless you in order that you may be a blessing."

I want to come to the 8th Chapter of Acts. We're working our way through this great book about the church making its journey out into the world. If you remember, back in Chapter 1, there was this commission, this promise, actually, that God made through Christ to his people. He said in Acts 1:8 . . . ."you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

We come in eight chapters to Chapter 8 right in the middle of Verse 1 immediately after it talks about Saul being there at the death of Stephen and it says; On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

What a phenomenal comment that here under the midst of persecution, driven out by those who would put the church to death rather than running and hiding, as they scattered every where they went they preached. You can expect God to actively pursue his people and push us to help.

It's not just that God is actively engaged in reaching the world for Christ, he is actively engaged in pushing those of us, his people, who already know Jesus, to help him do that. Some commentators have said; "If Acts 1:8 does not become true, then Acts 8:1 becomes true. If the church doesn't fulfill the promise, go into all the world and preach the gospel then you can count on God to do something drastic like Acts 8:1, persecution in order to send the church. That's probably a bit of an overstatement, maybe, because they were already preaching the gospel everywhere they went.

We learned in various parts of the story of Saul that he would go from town to town and synagogue to synagogue and already find Christians there long before Chapter 8. They were already preaching in other places but apparently it was not adequate and God just kept pushing them. Opening doors, making it possible.

I was sitting around on the patio one day between classes and Elena Nahm came to me. Elena is a Korean woman who was thrown out of Korea along with the other Koreans by the communists because they wanted to practice basically genocide. She ended up living in Uzbekistan. She is a phenomenal woman. In the course of our conversation she's reminding me that if you happen to be from Moldova you can go anywhere in the eastern European countries; Kazakhstan, Tazakhstan, Aber (however you say that), Macedonia. If you're Moldovan (?)you can go anywhere with the gospel in a world that I can't go. And it's as if God has opened up this incredible door into Muslim countries that no white missionary could ever step foot on. And here's this Korean woman who ministers in a church in Uzbekistan that lives underground because they cannot surface as Christians and yet, her particular congregation now has 250 believers that meet in little house churches, most of whom have come out of the Islamic faith, because God is going to push his people to participate in this great task. He opens these doors.

About eight years ago I had the privilege of teaching in Bucharest, Romania and I had a group of ten Moldovans(?) in my class. Mihai was one of them. Mihai is now the President of a Bible college in Kesow, Moldova and he has forty students from all of those other ‘stans that are coming to school learning how to preach so that they can go back and invade that territory with the gospel of Jesus. It is a door that is so wide open. The church dare not miss that opportunity. See, God is interested in saving people and he will do whatever it is that he has to do. And, what's happening here is the circle is beginning to open. They've already had this enormous response from the people of Jerusalem. We've seen the numbers grow from three to five to the place that they stop even using figures to talk about how many people have come to faith and now he's pushing them out into this second circle, now out into Samaria crossing the culture and soon, out beyond the world.

It's fascinating to me, it's a simple little word, the word in here for scattered, became a word that was used to describe what the church was. It was the church in the "diaspora." It was the church that was scattered out there among the nations, but interestingly it's the same word for a farmer sewing seed.

God, in Matthew 13, when he is doing the parables, Jesus says there are two kinds of seed that go out into the world. In the first parable he says, "the farmer went forth to sew and he sewed seed on the ground" and he's talking about simple seed that grows up into a crop and then he translates that and he says later in the chapter, I'm talking about the word, talking about the gospel. But he tells a similar parable a bit later in the chapter where he talks about the seed being sewed, only He says, when he explains this parable, the seeds that are sewn are the sons of the kingdom. Sometimes God sends the gospel in words, sometimes he sends the gospel in the form of people. And in Acts 1 he promises that's what's going to happen and in Acts 8 it begins to happen as he scatters the church out through Samaria in order to preach the gospel.

I can't help but think about the fact that every year, year after year after year churches just like this one have an opportunity to send ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty college kids across the nation to various campuses and I wonder if we view that as a scattering of seed and missionary activity, as we have an opportunity to send people with the gospel.

Well, let's come to this Chapter, Acts 8. There's this fascinating story that occurs here immediately after this scattering begins. Verse 5 says, Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."

When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sometimes God uses events to get his work done. I don't know how else to describe it. This is just one of those strange stories in the gospel of Acts where God is doing these utterly incredible things in the presence of people and it's contrasted so strikingly with the culture. The people sit up and take notice and they respond. It's the power of God versus the power of the world. It's the power of the Spirit versus the power of magic and God ultimately wins. It's amazing to me how often God uses the simple events that we are able to participate in, in order to introduce the gospel of Jesus to people.

For the last two or three years I have been praying for my friend Pavel Vopoleski who is from the Czech Republic. We'll call him Paul. It's a lot easier. He has a dream for his city. His city is about 300,000 people. There's a section of his city which is below a hill where he can stand and pray and cry and he overlooks this section of the city where this particular area has, oh I don't know, 110, 150,000 people and he is wanting that section of the city for Christ.

And one of the things they've decided to do is to create some events that will put the gospel out there in the visible eye. You've got to remember this is a place that doesn't know anything about Jesus. This is the place that doesn't know that a church exists on every corner. This is not the same kind of world you live in and that I live in. And they planned last winter some Christmas event at Christmas, outside, where it's cold, and it was COLD! Fifteen hundred people showed up and heard the gospel.

Sometimes God does things like that. Just amazing isn't it? You can throw a Christmas party in a church building on Broadway and have 1500 or 1800 people come and hear the gospel and you never know for sure what the outcome is going to be but you know this one thing. That event gave them a chance to hear the name of Jesus in a context that can make a difference.

You can take a 100 kids to C.I.Y.'ers. You can have 200 kids at vacation Bible school or you can take 80 kids to camp and God will use those events in order to accomplish his purposes. Some events are bigger than others.

If you happen to be at Shepherd of the Hills church just outside of Los Angeles today you would participate in their 4th of July service. They will have 50,000 people who will come to their celebration and in that event the gospel will be heard. And you don't know what's going to happen. Some people are going to be responding and they're going to make the right kinds of choices and some people are not. Some of them are going to be Simon, who think there is something in it for them and if they come to the church and they listen, they'll get their life turned around in a very positive way but they don't understand all the demands. They think it's to their benefit.

Some people, however, will come to faith in Christ. And God will use events like this trip into Samaria as one more chance to say that the gospel is true. It's interesting that this church in Jerusalem had such a hard time letting go and allowing people to come to faith that God had to do some pretty incredible things.

And so, for that opening day in Acts 2 he sent down his Spirit in such a way that people heard the gospel in their own language. He turns around over here in Acts 8 and he sends Peter and John to lay their hands on some of these disciples so that some miraculous outpouring of the Spirit would occur and it would affirm for them, the gospel had spread from a Jewish audience now to a Samaritan audience and what we're going to see when we get to Acts 10 is the same thing is going to happen with Gentiles. The Holy Spirit is going to show up in a miraculous way and the apostles are going to raise the question, what's God doing and it's going to, one more time, affirm he meant exactly what he said. The gospel will go from Jerusalem to Samaria to the outer most parts of the earth and he will, through his Spirit, affirm that's what I meant to have happen.

I don't know what kinds of events will happen around here. I have no idea what God may want to do in the future. What I know is that he will take every event that occurs, and, if we will allow him to, he will speak through it into a lost world and affirm the gospel one more time.

There's one story left in this Chapter. It's about Philip and this official from Ethiopia. Now just that very language should tell you that we have suddenly moved from Jerusalem to Samaria to the world. This is an African, an Ethiopian. It's the first time a genuine Gentile has heard the Gospel.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." Verse 26 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.

"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized? And he gave orders to stop the chariot.

Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Not only does God use events but sometimes uses "divine encounters" to get his job done. I don't know how else to explain what God is up to except once in awhile he will cause your life to intersect the life of someone else and in that time of intersection there's an opportunity to preach.

The eunuch is traveling back home to Ethiopia. He's reading. Always in that era they read aloud. He's got the scroll open. In Isaiah 53 the story of the suffering servant and he's reading out loud and the Spirit prompts Philip to join himself and he walks over there or runs over there, or however he gets there, he hears the man reading. Do you understand? No, I don't. Then come up here and explain it and he preaches to him Jesus and the next thing you know here's water. Why can't I become a Christian. Stop the chariot. Let's have this experience.

It's an amazing thing. I wish it happened more often. I don't know if it's just because I'm not as aware of divine encounters as I should be. I don't know if it's because I'm really not a gifted evangelist and some of you are. And so, you have those kinds of divine encounters a great deal more than I do. But I gotta tell you, the rare times when they happen I want to just go, "God, that was so coooooooool. . . . .could you just do that again?"

Sat down on an airplane, waited, hoping that the seat next to me would be empty. The announcement came. . . . .full flight! So you know what happens at that point, you begin looking at everybody that gets on the plane. Huh! Oooh! Noooooo! Huh! Well maybe. This horse got on the plane. I mean, this is one of the biggest men I have ever encountered. Turns out later, I asked him, he was about 6'8", 285 lbs or something like that. To be sociable and to get the conversation over quickly, I said, "and who did you play football for?" He said, "The Texas Longhorns, starting tight end." Oh--so we talked a little about college football and what I was trying to do was get out of this conversation so when he said, "What are you doing in Atlanta?" I said, "Well, I was at a conference." "What kind?" "The Academy of Hemolytic's." Now that ought to kill the conversation. "What's that?" "We teach people how to preach." "Interesting."

For an hour and a half over the central part of the United States, Glenn asked me about a fella that he'd been hearing about on Sunday nights. He'd been slipping out of football practice at Northern Illinois University, sliding over into a little chapel where a Catholic priest was talking about some man named Jesus. Did I know anything about Him? A little!

Now if I was a real evangelist, we would have found some water and baptized that big boy on the way off that plane. More water than this. Ha-ha-ha! I was just one piece in God's grand puzzle. I don't know what Glenn's gonna do. I don't know what's happened to him in the intervening years. He has since moved away from northern Illinois and I haven't been able to find him. But somewhere in God's plan there was this intersection and he said to me. . . . . .I need for you to talk to this guy. I wanted to take a nap, God wanted me to talk,

I don't know who God's going to bring across your path. I don't know who it is that he's running into you so that you can be the one person who is the Philip in another man or woman's life where all God needs for you to do is open your mouth. See this text is all about that which is open. Here you've got a man with an open heart driving along with an open Bible encountering a Christian with an open mouth and pretty soon you've got some open water and an open conversion and open rejoicing. Because that's how God works, because he is determined that his people will be generous with their faith and they will not keep this grand message of freedom in Christ to themselves.

I will pour out my Spirit and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria, to the outer most parts of the earth and if you won't go willingly, I'll send you. One way or the other. Because God is absolutely convinced that there is nothing more important than people knowing Jesus.

God's going to act. I became more convinced of that this week than I have ever been in my life. Probably 15 years ago we started talking about what's known as the 10/40 window. It became kind of the hot topic in missions language. The tenth parallel to the fortieth parallel north of the equator. From the west side of Africa to the east side of China where well over half of the worlds population lives. Where the vast majority have never heard the gospel, who've never even heard of Jesus. It's the place where most Muslims live, where most Hindu's live, where most Buddhists live, where most animists live and it is the place where the fewest missionaries have attempted to penetrate with the gospel and we started ten or fifteen years ago to begin to pray that God would penetrate in some way the 10/40 window. And we began to develop a strategy on how to get there and to look for ways to get people into that country and God says, if you'll just be patient and wait a little while, I'll show you how we're going to do it. We're gonna do it through Moldovan's and Uzbek's and we're gonna open a door where they don't have a visa, where there are no restrictions on their passage, where they already know the language and the culture and it doesn't cost anything in the way of money or time to prepare them. All they have to do is just go talk about Jesus, because God's gonna get his work done.

And he's gonna get it done here in Quincy, Illinois in Adams County, in our area of Illinois, Missouri and Iowa, he's gonna get his word out and the only question is, is he going to do it with us or without us? Because he will get it done.

And the invitation is for you to participate. To just make yourself available for God to do in you what he did in Philip, what he did in John, what he did in thousands of disciples who simply went around their world. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(END SIDE ONE)

in openness to say whatever God needed to say in that given moment

I'm gonna ask that you pray with me. . . . .

Father, we want eyes that see those divine encounters when you have brought our path across someone else's path for the simple fact that you want the gospel spoken. Father, help us. . . . .that because we have known you and spent time with you, that we will be compelled to speak for you. We pray this in Christ's name. Amen