God empowers the church to fulfill her mission.
God empowers the church to fulfill her mission. How does he do it? According to Acts 14, God empowers the church to fulfill her gospel ministry through… 1. Gospel speaking. 2. Pastoral care.
Though you hear me say it often, I never get tired of telling you that I thank God for you. Citylight, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, you’ve raised well over $100,000 for the Compassion Initiative, you’ve delivered countless meals, you’ve provided for essential needs, you’ve supported one another, and you’ve engaged Citygroups and Sunday services online at a rate as high or higher than our church has ever seen before.
As we look to the future, I’m sure that some of you are beginning to wonder when Citygroups will be able to begin to meet in person, when in-person Sunday gatherings will resume, and what kind of safety precautions the church will take along the way. Right now, the Citylight elders and staff are working hard to develop a reopening plan that will be guided by Pennsylvania’s phased red-yellow-green reopening plan and will practice the social distancing measures recommended by the state for each phase. This plan will include offering online worship options even after we are in the green phase. We will have our plan finalized and out to all of you in the next couple of weeks, and we will keep in consistent communication with you about what it will look like for Cityight to move from one phase to another.
Lastly, one of the evidences of grace that I see in you, Citylight, is love. I believe that you consistently show the world that you belong to Jesus by the way that you love one another in Christ (John 13:35). As we follow PA’s phased reopening plan in a way that is wise and feasible for Citylight Manayunk, I am so looking forward to seeing you display to the watching world that you belong to Jesus by the way that you love one another and eagerly maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace as we walk out the phased reopening plan (Ephesians 4:3). Certainly, there will be members and attenders of Citylight Church who feel and think differently from one another when it comes to things like social distancing and safety precautions. Certainly, there will be some who feel that Citylight is reopening too slow or too fast. That’s all ok! We don’t have to be uniform in order to walk in unity and consider others interests above our own, as Jesus did (Philippians 2:1-11). Recently, I read this article from the Gospel Coalition that has really helped me as I think about and seek to eagerly maintain the unity among us in the coming months. I hope that you’ll take just a few minutes to read the article and consider its implications for yourself and our church as we look to the wonderful days ahead. Let’s pray and open God’s word together.
What empowers the kind of Christianity that we just heard described in the reading of Acts 14? Even if you’re not yet a Christian, I think we can all agree that the kind of Christian faith described in Acts 14 is compelling to the point of being non-ignorable. Let’s remember the high points for a moment. The book of Acts is all about the “acts” of the risen Lord Jesus who is working from heaven on earth to expand God’s kingdom to new people and places through the advance of the gospel and in Acts 14 the gospel advances to three new cities. The chapter begins with Paul and Barnabas preaching the good news of Jesus in the Iconium synagogue so boldly and persuasively that both Jews and God-fearing Greeks start following Jesus. Then they travel to Lystra and the crowds hail them as gods, but they are so humble that they won’t have any glory for themselves and call everyone to turn from idols to the real God. Many are converted, but then the crowds in Lystra turn against Paul and stone him; throw rocks at his head until they think he’s dead. Now I don’t know about you, but after the stoning I think I would have called the missions trip over. Not Paul and Barnabas, they are so compelled by Jesus that they keep traveling and preaching and then before the trip is done, they return to each city including the one where Paul was stoned, and strengthen the new converts and establish pastors in every church to shepherd them. In Acts 14:26-27, we read a summary of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey and learn what empowers compelling Christianity: And from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended by the grace of God for the work they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. The power behind their compelling faith is summarized in five words: all that God had done. That summary brings us to the big idea of our passage: God empowers the church to fulfill her mission. How does he do it? According to Acts 14, God empowers the church to fulfill her gospel ministry through… 1. Gospel speaking. 2. Pastoral care.
GOSPEL SPEAKING (Acts 14:1-18)
Pastor Tim, our executive pastor here at Citylight, is a truly extraordinary piano player and Tim has shared with me that when he listens to a great piano player, he’s always doing two things; thinking about what he can imitate and taking in the music. When we read the accounts of the speeches in Acts, we should do the same thing; we should both imitate the messengers and receive and heed their message. Their message is the gospel; the good news that Christ lived, died, and rose for our sins, in accordance with what the Old Testament promised. Let’s observe their gospel-speaking so that we can imitate the messengers and heed the message. Acts 14:1, 7: Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed…and there they continued to preach the gospel. Last week we learned that God is sovereign over who believes the gospel. We read that as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. But God’s sovereignty isn’t mechanical or deterministic. Notice that in verse one, Luke emphasizes the way that Paul and Barnabas spoke the gospel is the means that God uses to cause people to believe the gospel. God used their persuasive gospel-speaking to bring Jews and Gentiles to gospel-believing. Now remember, one wonderful way to apply their clear and persuasive gospel-speaking is by imitating the messengers. Practically, Paul and Barnabas’ example teaches us two things that we can all imitate right now to grow in our ability to speak the gospel with the aim to persuade. First, immerse yourself in the Bible. I am impressed that throughout Acts 13-14, Paul is so immersed in the Bible that he is able to connect it’s one message to different types of people in different ways. Every one of us can take one next step in immersing ourselves in the Bible so that we can grow in speaking the gospel persuasively and clearly. You can start a 2021 read through the Bible plan now, you’ll surely finish on time. You can study the book of Acts with us on Sundays, with your Citygroup and in your personal time with God by going to citylightphilly.com/acts. You can read The Jesus Story Book Bible with your spouse and kids at bedtime to get an idea of how the entire story fits together (read even if you don’t have kids). You can fill your podcast library with Bible-immersed preaching by men like H.B. Charles Jr. or John Piper. However you immerse yourself in the Bible, do it while talking to Jesus, with your eyes fixed on Jesus because the more you experience His love, the more you’ll long to persuade people to not fall under his awful judgment, but come into his amazing grace. The second thing we can all do is, take every opportunity to evangelize. Paul and Barnabas spoke the gospel persuasively because they spoke the gospel often. Even in a pandemic, opportunities to teach the gospel with the aim to persuade abound. You can text a non-Christian friend to see how they’re doing and offer to pray for them. You can go on walks regularly and engage in conversations with your neighbors as they’re probably out and about a little more. You can host a FB watch party or send FB invites for the online worship service. You can invite people to join your Citygroup over Zoom. You can film your testimony and post it online. You can pray for people who don’t know Jesus. Imitate their gospel speaking because that’s the only way to share in the joy of seeing people come to gospel-believing and there’s no joy like it.
Ok, let’s move now to the second scene that describes gospel speaking in Acts 14:8-18 and as we do, I want to invite you to shift your thinking from imitating the messengers to heeding their message. In these verses Paul is speaking to a crowd of non-Jewish peoples in the city of Lystra who want to worship him as a god because he healed a man who was lame from birth. Acts 14:15-16: “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of a like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” Paul’s message was clear: In light of the good news that Christ died for sins, turn from vain idols and serve the living God. That is a message we desperately need to heed today because idolatry is still the root of all rebellion against God. As Tim Keller says, “An idol is anything more important to you than God. Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God. Anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Anything that is so central and essential to your life, that should lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” An idol is often a good thing made into a God-thing, which then becomes a vain thing. The word vain here is the combination of empty and temporary. I remember when I was in seminary, one of my professors was trying to describe what preachers who entertain their listeners rather than teaching them sound doctrine are like. He shouted, “They’re like those light, cheesy, puffy snacks, what are those things called.” My classmate timidly raised his hand and said, “cheese puffs?” The professor slammed his hand down on the desk and shouted, “yes, cheese puffs, and I do not like them.” Idols are like cheese puffs; they look delicious, but they’re so light and empty that they can never satisfy and eventually make you very sick. Think about the typical idols of our day. Have you ever noticed that if you serve money you never have enough, if you serve beauty you never look good enough, if you serve sex you never get enough, if you serve respect you never have enough, if you serve security you’re never set up enough, if you serve accomplishment, you’ve never done enough, and if you serve family it’s never perfect enough. Idols really are empty and temporary things and if you serve them, you’ll be empty in this life and lost forever. The essence of Christian conversion is receiving the good news that Christ died for your sins by turning from serving, loving, and trusting vain idols, and turn to serving the living and true God and waiting for His Son’s glorious return. The real God is weighty and he is the One you were made to glorify and enjoy forever. Will you today respond to the good news of the gospel by turning from empty idols to the real God? If so, don’t exit the online service without letting us know. God empowers the church to fulfill her gospel ministry by empowering gospel speaking. Let’s imitate the gospel speaking and heed the gospel message. Secondly and lastly, God empowers the church to fulfill her mission through…
PASTORAL CARE (Acts 14:19-23)
Paul and Barnabas’ last stop on their first missions trip is the city of Derbe, but don’t miss this critical part of the narrative: Paul and Barnabas do not consider their mission to be fulfilled until they return to the cities where they previously preached in order to strengthen disciples by appointing pastors in every church. Why? Because God empowers the church to fulfill her mission through pastoral care. Acts 14:21b-23: …they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Why in the world did Paul and Barnabas risk their lives to return to cities where they had already preached the gospel and experienced such significant persecution? The key is in the last phrase in Acts 14:22, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Pastoral care is what God empowers to keep the saints persevering in their faith through many troubles so that they can enter the kingdom of God. Verse 22 says that Paul and Barnabas strengthened, encourage, and warn the disciples so that they will persevere and enter the kingdom rather than fall away and be lost forever. How does God keep doing this now that Paul and Barnabas are gone? Acts 14:23: And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Citylight, God’s plan to empower you to fulfill your mission and persevere in your faith is the pastoral care of your elders. The elders, pastors, or overseers, the terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament, are the group of men who are qualified before God and called by a local church to shepherd the church through teaching, leading, caring, and praying. The Bible says that the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, shepherds his church through under-shepherds, called elders (1 Peter 5:1-4). Since God empowers the church to fulfill her mission through the pastoral care of elders, I want to close by speaking to two different groups of people in our church and then by gazing at the Chief Shepherd.
First, I want to speak to you nine men who serve as elders alongside me; Michael Murray, Gordon Pfeil, Nick Destalfo, Tom Mathew, Mike Anderson, Tim Shutes, Andy Resh, Mark Giaccobe, and Paul Fuller. Brothers, we honor you because God empowers Citylight to fulfill her mission through your pastoral care. Thank you for being willing to carry such a mantle. You’ve served honorably in this season. Brothers, remember your calling. You’re not professionals; you’re soul-strengtheners, faith-encouragers, and perseverance-cultivators. Brothers, remember your Chief Shepherd; He is able to strengthen you for your glorious calling. Citylight, honor these men and imitate their faith. Second, I want to speak to those of you who don’t yet have elders to encourage, strengthen, and warn your souls. Hebrews 13:17 says “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Friends, this verse does not morally obligate every Christian to obey and submit to every Christian leader nor does it tell every Christian leader that they will give an account for every Christian on the planet. Rather, this verse describes the beautiful interplay between covenant members of a local church and the elders that are called to encourage, strengthen, and warn them as those who will give an account for their souls. Friends, if you’re not yet a covenant member of Citylight or another Bible-believing church, then you don’t yet have elders. You don’t yet have elders to care for you soul, but the Bible says that’s just what you need to persevere through many tribulations to enter the kingdom. Would you come out of autonomous, individualistic Christianity and join the church as a member so that the elders can encourage and strengthen your soul through pastoral care? The classes are coming up on the June 7 and June 14. God empowers the church to fulfill her mission through pastoral care.
Let’s close now by gazing at the Chief Shepherd. Hebrews 12:1-3: …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. God empowers the church to fulfill her mission through Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. The Lord Jesus ran the race of faith in the Father perfectly and persevered through the ultimate tribulation of the cross and he did for the joy of welcoming us into the Kingdom of God. Church, fix your eyes on Jesus, set your hope on Jesus, fulfill your mission through Jesus and you will not grow weary or lose heart. He is God’s power to fulfill our mission.