Saturday, June 24, 2017

Near and Far

Note from Jesus

Dear Friend,

The verses you read below are from Acts chapter 8. They tell of the scattering of My followers from Jerusalem. This scattering began with escalating persecution and the martyrdom of Stephen. The religious leaders in Jerusalem thought this would crush My people and the movement I had begun. However, these oppositional leaders didn’t know the promise I had made to My disciples:

[I, Jesus,] said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

(Acts 1:7-8 ESV)

My promise focused on three important things:

  1. Power for the Mission:

    The Holy Spirit would be with My disciples wherever they went, empowering them.
  2. Purpose of the Mission:

    My disciples would be My witnesses wherever they went, sharing My message with all peoples.
  3. Place for the Mission:

    Their mission was to begin where they were, radiate out to the region, and eventually reach the people of the whole earth.

In other words, by persecuting and scattering My disciples, these leaders who sought to put out the fire of faith actually helped ensure that it spread. Eventually, the message was shared all over the world with all kinds of people. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem persecuted and chased My disciples out of the city. This pressure pushed My message outside of Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria, and then the message was taken into other non-Jewish parts of the world.

As you read the verses below, notice that the attempt to shut up My followers failed. As Luke puts it, “[W]herever they went, they weren’t afraid or silent. Instead, they spread the message of Jesus.”

Up until this point, My disciples had not ventured with the gospel very much outside of the area of their Jewish roots. However, the persecution pushed them into non-Jewish areas. I then began to call people, like Philip, to share My good news with other cultures and races of people — with Samaritans and Gentile people, too.

Acts chapter 8 is all about sharing My message among the non-Jews. Philip was a great witness and evangelist to Samaritans. The church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to check on this new group. They confirmed that these Samaritans were Christians when the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit in recognizable ways. These important apostles from Jerusalem put the exclamation mark on the inclusion of these non-Jews by stopping and staying with Samaritans throughout the region.

My disciples didn’t just go to Samaria. Some disciples went up into nearby Gentile areas along the Mediterranean Sea (Phoenicia) while others headed to Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 11:19-20) taking My message to Jews and Gentiles. This sharing was especially significant in the important city of Antioch. Earlier, the Spirit had called Philip to go and meet an Ethiopian dignitary in the desert. Just as Philip had helped begin the mission to the Samaritans, the Spirit used him to speak to this special Gentile who was interested in following the one true and living God. He was reading from Isaiah 53, a prophetic passage about the servant Messiah of the LORD — Me! So Philip joined the Ethiopian in his chariot and taught this man the truth about Me. This Ethiopian dignitary turned his life around to live for Me and was baptized.

Here are some key truths I want you to remember from these events:

First, what the evil one intends for harm, I can turn around and use for good. Even when evil tries to snuff out and limit My people, I can use troubled times to spread My message to many others.

Second, the power of the Holy Spirit, when joined with My disciples’ commitment to sharing My message, cannot be stopped. You see this again and again in the book of Acts. In fact, you are living testimony to this truth.

Third, I want all people — all races, nationalities, cultures, languages — to be a part of My family. My good news is for all people. The Holy Spirit can help make sure the message is spread in every era of My church.

Fourth, you may never know all the great witnesses who led untold numbers of people to Me. You can, however, rejoice in being part of an unconquerable and unsilenceable kingdom.

Fifth, while I had commanded My disciples to take My message to the whole world, they did not do it initially. However, with the persecution going on in Jerusalem, those forced out did what I had originally called them to do. My purposes will be fulfilled. My will is going to be done. All I desire will occur whether My people do it voluntarily, or it takes hardship to open their eyes to the people waiting to hear.

Verses to Live

Today there are three sections of Scripture from the eighth chapter of Acts. The first section starts with Christians scattering from Jerusalem and Judea because of persecution. They are forced out, but they leave empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread My message. The remainder of this section talks about Philip carrying My good news to Samaritans. The second section gives the account of Peter and John leaving Jerusalem to minister to the Samaritan Christians. The third section continues the account of Peter and John in Samaria. Luke then tells of another cross-cultural mission effort when the Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian dignitary, a God-fearing African Gentile who sought to know Me.

Don’t miss the unstated lesson here. Focus on the effect of My message on these disciples. My love flows through My disciples to ALL people. These very apostles reaching out to Samaritans and Gentiles are the same apostles who had previously looked down on Samaritans. They were once surprised to find Me talking with a Samaritan woman (John 4:27) because Jews did not usually associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). And on another occasion, they wanted to call down fire to consume a Samaritan village because it did not receive Me (Luke 9:51-56). Now, these same apostles were risking everything — their safety, their acceptance, and their credibility — to bring Samaritan and Gentile people inside My family of grace!

All those who had been scattered by the persecution moved from place to place; and wherever they went, they weren’t afraid or silent. Instead, they spread the message of Jesus.

Philip, for example, headed north to the city of Samaria, and he told them the news of the Anointed One. The crowds were united in their desire to understand Philip’s message. They not only listened with their ears, but they witnessed miraculous signs with their eyes. Unclean spirits cried out with loud screams as they were exorcised from people. Paralyzed people and lame people moved and walked in plain view. So the city was swept with joy.

(Acts 8:4-8)

Meanwhile word had reached the Lord’s emissaries in Jerusalem that the message of God was welcomed in Samaria — a land of half-breeds and heretics in the minds of many Judeans. They sent Peter and John to pray for the Samaritans. They were especially eager to see if the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit because until this point they had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus but had not experienced the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John laid hands on the people, the Holy Spirit did indeed come upon them all.

(Acts 8:14-17)

Peter and John preached to and talked with the Samaritans about the message of the Lord; and then they returned to Jerusalem, stopping in many other Samaritan villages along the way to proclaim the good news.

A heavenly messenger brought this short message from the Lord to Philip during his time preaching in Samaria:

Messenger of the Lord:

Leave Samaria. Go south to the Jerusalem-Gaza road.

The message was especially unusual because this road runs through the middle of uninhabited desert. But Philip got up, left the excitement of Samaria, and did as he was told to do. Along this road, Philip saw a chariot in the distance. In the chariot was a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated. He had gone north to Jerusalem to worship at the Jewish temple, and he was now heading southwest on his way home. He was seated in the chariot and was reading aloud from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Philip received another prompting from the Holy Spirit:

Holy Spirit:

Go over to the chariot and climb on board.

So he started running until he was even with the chariot. Philip heard the Ethiopian reading aloud and recognized the words from the prophet Isaiah.

Philip:

Do you understand the meaning of what you’re reading?

The Ethiopian:

How can I understand it unless I have a mentor?

Then he invited Philip to sit in the chariot. Here’s the passage he was reading from the Hebrew Scriptures:

Like a sheep, He was led to be slaughtered. Like a lamb about to be shorn of its wool, He was completely silent. He was humiliated, and He received no justice. Who can describe His peers? Who would treat Him this way? For they snuffed out His life.

The Ethiopian:

Here’s my first question. Is the prophet describing his own situation, or is he describing someone else’s calamity?

That began a conversation in which Philip used the passage to explain the good news of Jesus. Eventually the chariot passed a body of water beside the road.

The Ethiopian:

Since there is water here, is there anything that might prevent me from being ceremonially washed through baptism and identified as a disciple of Jesus?

Philip:

If you believe in your heart that Jesus the Anointed is God’s Son, then nothing can stop you.

The Ethiopian said that he believed.

He commanded the charioteer to stop the horses. Then Philip and the Ethiopian official walked together into the water. There Philip baptized him, initiating him as a fellow disciple. When they came out of the water, Philip was immediately caught up by the Holy Spirit and taken from the sight of the Ethiopian, who climbed back into his chariot and continued on his journey, overflowing with joy. Philip found himself at a town called Azotus (formerly the Philistine capital city of Ashdod, on the Mediterranean); and from there he traveled north again, proclaiming the good news in town after town until he came to Caesarea.

(Acts 8:25-40)

Response in Prayer

Father in heaven, give me the courage to speak the truth of Jesus to all people. Give me boldness just as the early disciples had after they fled from Jerusalem. If it takes hardship, difficulty, or even persecution to motivate me to action, then please do what it takes to move me to be faithful. Always, dear Father, I pray for the renewing and sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit to empower me, to give me courage, and to give me the words to say to bring others to know Jesus, in Whose name I pray. Amen.

‘A Year with Jesus’ is written by Phil Ware.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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From: “A Year with Jesus”
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