Summary: Our opportunity for service may be in sight in a moment, and bypass us in another if we’re not ready to run to obedience. Philip ran to do God’s bidding.
Following the Acts record it would appear that the newborn church had been pretty cozy and comfortable, up until the martyrdom of Stephen.
It had begun with a very public demonstration of God’s power in the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter and the others had boldly proclaimed their risen Lord and many had responded in faith and been baptized.
For the most part, followers of the Way were just basking in God’s grace, enjoying one another’s company, sharing, praying and feasting together both on food for the body and bread for the spirit through the Apostle’s teaching.
Then came some low rumblings of persecution. The religious leaders didn’t like this teaching of a resurrected Jesus, so they began to put on some pressure; but take note that even then, it wasn’t on the community of believers in general, but on the leaders. The ones publicly preaching the resurrection.
Yes, things were so comfortable that apparently, many of those who had originally come to Jerusalem for the Passover, having become followers of the Nazarene, had never left for home. They had just settled in and become pew warmers.
They were comfortable with their little church, and the familiarity of the others around them who believed the same, and the routine of their new church life ~ the teaching of the big guns, the availability of the goods being shared by all, the new songs being written and passed around, just the general security that comes with numbers ~ ah, life was good.
Now I wouldn’t suggest that the disciples had forgotten their commission to go into all the world, preaching the gospel, baptizing and teaching. And after all, it’s not like it had been years and years since the church was formed.
But I think we’d all have to agree that it is just in our nature, when we are comfortable, to want to maintain the status quo. Don’t stir the pot. Don’t rock the boat. If it works, don’t fix it.
All of you know as well as I, how easy it would be to just continue meeting here in our house, doors shut, blinds drawn, worshiping together, singing the familiar songs, laughing at each other’s jokes, agreeing with one another about the Bible and the things we believe.
You know that when we go out in public on the first Sunday of the month there is a degree of discomfort in that. A sense of stepping out into the unknown and the unexpected. “How will we appear to others?” “Will we meet with opposition?” “Will we look silly? Be a spectacle?”
We’re out of our comfort zone. We’re exposing ourselves. We’re not entirely in control.
But folks, y’know what? We’re being obedient. And if we are not obedient, if we do not go on our own, the Lord will find a way to drive us out eventually; because we were not assembled by His Holy Spirit in order to be an island; an exclusive little club; hiding in our room, as the song goes, safe within our womb, touching no one and remaining untouched by anyone.
Sure we like it here. Sure we benefit from the time we gather and do these familiar things and delve into the Word together and let God speak to us.
But these are times of preparation for something else, and not just going to Heaven. Here we are equipped for the work of ministry, but out there is where ministry goes on.
Jerusalem was quickly becoming a little spiritual fortress for the followers of the Way, and it was time for them to go to other parts of Judea, and Samaria, and even the remotest parts of the earth.
Stephen met a violent, shocking death outside the city walls, and the murderous anger of the religious men who killed him began an impetus of persecution that rocked believers out of their nests of ease and scattered them throughout the region.
It is here that we’re first introduced to Saul of Tarsus, who goes on a raging offensive, actually bursting into the homes of believers and dragging them away to prison.
The party is over, friends! You’ll remember last week when I quoted Ignatius who, when he was arrested and faced martyrdom, said, “Now I begin to be a disciple”.
And we might do well to ask ourselves; ‘at what point do I begin to truly be a disciple?’ At what point can I honestly say that I have become an active member, and not just a name on a roll book? Is it when I declare a set of beliefs and go down into the water? Or is it when I attain to some certain level of scripture knowledge and become able then to teach? Is it when I get myself elected or appointed to some office in the organization that we call ‘church’?