Today we are continuing our conversation through the book of Acts. As we read the stories, it can be easy to think, if I had been there it would be a lot easier to believe. But even then it was complicated:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17)
But then Jesus makes this epic statement:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)
But this is not where it ends. This isn’t the heart of God. There is a therefore moment.
A “therefore” is a reaction or a response to what has happened in the past.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
All authority has been given to Me; therefore go. Acts shows this call in saying:
“But 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.” (Acts 1:8)
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, though centrally important, was just a “next step” in what God was doing in people in building His kingdom.
We are living in this therefore.
All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Me; therefore, go!!! You. Me.
In Zephaniah, God’s love is recognized. There was separation from God, but God restores relationship:
The Lord has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:15-17)
John 3 exclaims about God’s love for all through Jesus:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Paul celebrates Jesus’ love in spite of our failing:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
So with that love, with all authority, what are you going to do now God?
Us!! We are God’s plan.
We have to feel this. Your family, your neighbor, your coworker, your friends, your community--God loves them all like crazy and is doing everything on His end to connect with them.
And you are there for a reason!
God has a limitless human resource department. And my faith says that you and I are well placed.
As we walk through the movements of Acts--in the less than ideal circumstances, with the less than perfect people--see that God’s plan was people. And that plan still persists.
Who has been well placed in your life? How has God used them?
As you reflect on how God has used people in your life, realize that God wants to do the same through you in the lives of others. You are well placed.
Not for everyone--that is crushing and impossible. But for your home and for your neighbor--you. God’s plan is for you to be where you are. That’s step one. The world in which you do know the need and how to help; the world in which you have an opportunity to start.
But that doesn’t make it necessarily easy.
We have talked about others’ investment into you--and people who have had a meaningful investment into you have been conscientious, which means wishing to do what is right. In every relationship that ever happened, the challenge to maintain conscientiousness has risen.
Think about your relationships with people closest to you. Are they problem-free? Without conflicts, issues or messes? Probably not.
What are some of the challenges to being conscientious in relationships with others?
Last week we saw the deepening breakdown between the Jews and the followers of Jesus. We saw their persecution by non-followers of Jesus. Now today the breakdown is even deeper inside the “walls.”
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1)
These were not two groups of Jesus followers, but rather two groups that were becoming Jesus followers. They had issues with each other as Jews before knowing Jesus. And now they had issues with each other as Jews following Jesus. They had issues as Jesus followers.
The Hellenistic Jews were Jews who had adopted the Greek language and culture. They were Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora, who returned to settle in Jerusalem. They used the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. They were from other parts of the world and were jealous of the first group and made to feel like outsiders.
The Hebraic Jews had remained in Judea, near Jerusalem. They prided themselves on the fact that they had always lived in the land of the patriarchs and that they used the language that their fathers spoke. They were near the temple and regularly worshiped there.
The strife between the two groups was not automatically eliminated by their conversion to Christianity.
Think about this in terms of Christianity today. If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, chances are you have had opportunity for strife between you and another follower of Jesus. And maybe some of it directly related to differences of faith expression.
Christian “utopia” wasn’t happening. Even just after amazing things happening and lots of people being added, these two separate sub-groups didn’t like each other. They all followed Jesus, but they didn’t like the ways the other group did things.
The Hellenistic Jews have felt like outsiders for a long time. They have been made to feel that way, they were sensitive to it, and they were repeatedly reminded of it. And now as followers of Jesus, the feeling persisted. It’s still happening. They were still being treated like outsiders.
Why doesn’t relationship with Jesus automatically fix implicit bias and prejudices?
It’s easy to want quick fixes and solutions. But we see that Jesus allowed his followers to work through process on their own after He left. He didn’t promise they wouldn’t have biases or prejudices to work through. He didn’t promise they would get everything right. But He promised He would be with them.
A hyperlink to carry into Acts 6 are the parables Jesus shares in Matthew 25.
Matthew 25:1-13 - The Parable of the Ten Virgins: Be ready. Don’t get lazy. Don’t get lulled to sleep. Don’t be passive.
Matthew 25:14-30 - The Parable of the Talents: Put what you have been given to work. Don’t rest on what you have been given. What you have been given has purpose; it’s not just to sit on.
Matthew 25:31-46 - The Final Judgment: The “least of these” and meeting their needs--it’s not about payback, and it’s not about ease. Selflessness is unto Jesus.
There is incredible power in vigilance, intentionality, and selflessness.
How does vigilance (being alert) impact how we interact with and serve our world?
How does intentionality (putting what you have to work) impact how we interact with and serve our world?
How selflessness (doing things to the least as unto Jesus) impact how we interact with and serve our world?
As we get to the conclusion today, we finally get to the rest of Acts 6:1-7
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7)
Some really cool things happen here. The disciples had the people choose who they wanted to serve. Effectively, those who brought the complaint forward got to be part of the solution. It wasn’t something done to them. And it’s likely by their names that the men chosen to serve were mostly from the Greek group.
And after the group chose people, it wasn’t seen that these men were working some secondary job that just supported the disciples’ work of prayer and sharing the gospel. The disciples saw it as equally important that the physical needs of people would be taken care of, which is why they even prayed and laid hands on them.
Imagine being commissioned to go serve food. A little different picture than we might be used to. And Stephen’s work, as we will see next week, shows that there isn’t some box for spiritual stuff and some box for physical stuff. It’s all intertwined, and as Stephen served people by meeting their physical food needs, he also performed signs and wonders and was part of the process of God meeting peoples’ spiritual needs.
The living out of the Great Commission was sharing the Good News AND meeting needs. Not one or the other, physical vs. spiritual. The Great Commission lived out was--and is--needs being met on all levels.
We have talked about people that have been well placed in our lives. We have talked about the challenges of being conscientious. We have talked about how implicit biases and prejudices are not magically disappearing. We have talked about the power of vigilance, intentionality and selflessness.
You have been well placed in your world. God invites you to participate in the work He is doing. What are some needs in your community that you see God inviting you to participate with Him in meeting?
Believing that you have been well placed in your world, what does sharing the Good News and meeting needs look like for you?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Acts 6:1-7.
- Which responsibility at home or work would you gladly give up? Which would you never give up?
- How do implicit biases impact your relationship with others?
- How do implicit biases impact your faith?
- How are implicit biases overcome?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, confused and/or focused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- Deuteronomy 7
- Deuteronomy 8
- Deuteronomy 9
- Acts 13
- Acts 14
- Acts 15