Summary: Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit and being willing to get out of our comfort zone.
A lot had happened to the church since where we left off in chapter four. Persecution of Christians broke out in Jerusalem (primarily at the hands of Saul), the Christians have become targets, so all but the Apostles flee Jerusalem. Doesn’t sound like a very good situation, people forced to leave their homes, families separated. House churches which had been going so well were now broken up and scattered. But the Book of Acts notes an amazing thing that happened; as the Christians fled in large numbers, the Bible says, “all except the Apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…and those who had been scattered went about proclaiming the Good News about Jesus (Acts 8:1, 4).”
Every time I read this I am reminded of Jesus words at the beginning of Acts, he told his disciples to be witnesses of all they had seen and heard of Jesus, that is, to tell others about their personal experiences with the resurrected Jesus to people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And yet up until this point the only sharing going on was in Jerusalem. They never left Jerusalem. They were having such a great time in Jerusalem sharing Jesus, worshipping together, studying God’s word together, and having pot luck dinners together. In fact they were having such a good time that they forgot the whole mission Jesus had given them. They forgot Jesus’ mission extended beyond their homes, beyond the city limits, beyond their township borders, beyond people who looked, acted, and thought just like them. They were to share Jesus with the world. I believe God broke up this holy huddle by allowing persecution. Once the persecution came, Christians were forced way out of their comfort zones, away from their homes, away from their families, away from their house churches, and their church family. Yet what could have been a disastrous conclusion for the fledgling Christian movement turned into the greatest blessing because people went and shared the Good News of Jesus wherever they went. Two amazing things happened as a result: 1) Up until this point is was only the Apostles sharing the Good News of Jesus. But after the persecution it says everyone began sharing. It was no longer just the “professional’s” job anymore it was everyone’s job.
Here’s a question, can we get so comfortable with our life, even with our church, that we fail to accomplish the whole mission Jesus has given us (or even a part of it for that matter)? I don’t think it’s just possible, I think it’s likely. We can get so wrapped up in our own good activities, church, family, sports, Bible studies, and committee meetings that we forget the mission, to make disciples, or to help others know and follow Jesus. What I’ve learned through the story of Acts is that God’s mission is more important than our comfort. God will sometimes shake things up, put us out of our comfort zone, or else shut down his blessing in order to move us back on track with his mission of helping others know Jesus, experience life abundantly and eternally. After all we are talking eternal consequences here. Just like the disciples, it’s not that we are doing bad things, they may be good, perhaps even fruitful, but if we forget the mission we will eventually find ourselves outside of God’s will, and God may either force us into a course correction (early Christians faced persecution), or he will remove (part of) his blessing.
Some of you are aware that I was at our annual conference/meeting of the West Michigan UM churches a few weeks ago. This year we closed or shut down four UM churches in West Michigan, and we didn’t start a single new one. It is sad to see what happens when churches forget the mission and God removes his blessing and they do this (downward motion) until either the doors are shut for good, or they decide (or it is decided for them) to get out of their comfort zone and focus on the mission again.
As the Christians were scattered, one man, Philip, found himself in the neighboring nation of Samaria, in the capital city also called Samaria. The Book of Acts tells us he was performing miracles and telling others about Jesus. His ministry was incredibly successful, many people found physical healing and they trusted in Christ, including a powerful sorcerer/magician named Simon. Yet, in the midst of his success, and fruitful ministry, just when things were looking up for Philip (because he had fled Jerusalem for his life), God spoke to Philip through an angel and told him to go to the desert, or more specifically the desert road which leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. But God didn’t tell him why, nor did he tell him what he would do when he got there, just go.