Spreading the Good News
Acts: Faith in Action
“Spreading the Good News”
Acts 1:8; 2:13-20; 5:14
Communion was something the early church practiced from the moment God added to their numbers. Peter preached his first sermon and the believers began to share meals together (slide). The disciples gathered together in unity to celebrate who God is and what he had done for them. We too celebrate what God has done for us by remembering Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We are reminded that he came to set us free from the bondage of this evil world. He came so we might experience the forgiveness of our sins. He came to give us eternal life.
[Walk over to the left table with the elements on] Col. 2 verses 13 and 14 speak about what Christ did for us. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” We are no longer tied to the law with all of its regulations that we can’t keep anyway. The law kept us stuck but Christ took it away and gave us freedom. As you get ready to take communion, reflect on what Christ has done for you personally, on the Good News, the same Good News the early church heard.
[Take a cracker: On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you.”]
[Take a cup: After supper he took the cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying, “Take and drink, this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins, do this in remembrance of me.”]
Would the musicians and servers please come up. We practice “open communion” here so if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are invited to participate. We will be passing the crackers down the rows, you can take it on your own, then we will pass the cup and we will take that all together.
Walk over to the servers with the cracker trays
Wait for the servers to come back with the trays, put them back on the table and give them the trays of cups. Give the musicians the crackers and the cup.
Wait for the servers to come back with the empty trays, put them back on the table.
Serve the musicians the cup.
Pray for the communion and the sermon
A Map for Ministry
The disciples in the early church had good reason to celebrate communion, they had been a part of God’s miracle at Pentecost and they had seen God move in power through them to bring the Good News to Jerusalem. Things were changing. The Spirit was moving. God was stirring things up big time!
Acts 1 verse 8 is a map for the ministry of the early church. They are told what will happen as the story of Acts unfolds. “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.” We see in the rest of Acts how the disciples spread the good news of Jesus Christ first to Jerusalem, then to Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the outer reaches of Europe and Asia. God took this group of ordinary men and women and ignited a firestorm of activity that swept through the land. God was moving, and the world was changing.
We aren’t spectators to this action though, we are meant to participate in what God is doing, we are meant to cooperate with God and get in on the action. We too must spread the good news first to our own Jerusalem, at home in our own families, our own neighborhoods, then in our Judea the city and surrounding area, then our own Samaria. Samaria for the Jews was the uncomfortable mission field. A place where they were unwelcome and seen as outsiders. We too are called to our Samaria—a place where we may feel uncomfortable and out of place.
I remember when I was in the Army stationed down south and went out with an African-American friend to an all black restaurant. Here I was a fairly sheltered mid-western boy from Wisconsin who had had little positive interaction with blacks. I walked into that place and felt everyone looking at me, and my palms began to sweat, I got very quiet and felt very small. I was outside my comfort zone and I knew it.
Boldness and confidence
Transition: The story of Acts is a story of overcoming many uncomfortable and even dangerous situations and tells of how the good news was spread throughout the land. It was God moving in amazing ways to grow the church.
In Acts 4 we find Peter and John in a bit of trouble. Peter had just healed a man crippled from birth and there was a great disturbance as Peter told them the good news of Jesus. The religious leaders were upset because Peter and John were speaking to the people proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and the leaders didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. They wanted Peter and John to stop teaching and speaking.
Acts 4 verse 13 we pick up the story. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin (this was the name for the council of religious leaders) and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Something incredible was happening to these unschooled ordinary men. They couldn’t help but speak about what they had seen and heard. They couldn’t help but spread the good news.
A little later in the story we catch up with Peter and John as they are gathered with the other believers in prayer: Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness…After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly…
They prayed to be able to speak boldly and God answered their prayer filling them with the Holy Spirit. The result of prayer was a filling of the Holy Spirit and then they spoke boldly about Jesus. This after having been arrested and threatened by the authorities.
Transition: I am inspired by this story, inspired but also a bit unsettled. Here’s why.
If I am to be in on the action, if my faith is to move me from being a spectator to participation then I’m being asked to enter into the story, to see myself as a person who spreads the good news of Jesus Christ to those around me.
I will be the first to admit that I am not good at this. As I prepared this message I was thinking “How can I speak on this topic, how can I expect people to hear what I say when I am so poor at it myself?”
In my last semester in Seminary I was required to take a course on evangelism taught by the Seminary dean. It was spring, I was graduating in a few short weeks, I had a bad case of senioritis as well as spring fever. That’s the excuse I use, but it touches a deeper part of me. One of the class assignments was to go to several public places and share my testimony with strangers. Now to ask an introvert to go up to strangers and say anything to them is a huge thing, much less giving my testimony. I procrastinated the entire semester until the class ended. I received a D for the class, felt terrible, and I don’t think I looked the Dean in the eye the rest my time at Seminary.
My vision for spreading the good news was distorted by this experience. For a long time afterwards this experience and other negative experiences kept me from seeing myself as an evangelist. But I’ve learned some things over the years that have helped me see things more clearly. I’m still triggered into thinking about the past, I easily believe lies and misconceptions about what it means to spread the good news. But as I read this text I was inspired, inspired and excited because I was able to see God in the story and I was able to see God in my story.
Hearing the Good News
Transition: I want to take seriously the message of spreading the good news to a broken and empty world. How can I expect people to embrace the love of God if they don’t hear about it? Paul in Romans has some insightful words:
Romans 10:8-15 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved… How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
People need to be told about the good news if they are to accept it and give their lives to God. The disciples in Acts were busy spreading the good news.
They prayed to God for the boldness to reach out and God answered their prayers. It wasn’t about them, it was about God and what he could and would do through them. They stepped out in faith, took risks, and God was with them. They spoke the truth in difficult and dangerous situations, and God was with them. When they did this God grew the church. When they were obedient to God he brought the increase.
In Acts 2:47 we read: And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The Lord added to their number. When Peter gave his first sermon three thousand people were added to the church. A little later in Acts 4 they grew some more: But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. And later yet in Acts Acts 6:7 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.
God was using ordinary people to grow his church by filling them with the Holy Spirit and giving them boldness to speak about what they had seen Jesus do when he was with them.
We too are called to testify. Our lives are testimonies to God and what he has done for us. We all have stories to share about the grace and love of God in our lives.
One of my greatest joys has been to hear your personal stories of what God has done in your lives. When I went to the “Desserts with the Pastor” I heard stories of God’s redemption and God’s overwhelming love. These stories need to be told. They need to be told to your Jerusalem, to your Judea, your Samaria, your ends of the earth.
You have the power of God within you to tell these stories. Just as God moved in the early church he wants to move in you and in me. We need to let go of our fear, our anxiety, our narrow ways of thinking about spreading the good news and do it. We would all agree that those around us need to hear it? What is stopping us?
I would like to suggest three simple and non-threatening ways to spread the good news.
- For God to give you the opportunity to meet people and share your story.
- If you already have people in our life who need to hear your story pray that you would have the opportunity to share it with them.
- If you are in a small group. Make a list of names of non-Christians that you know or would like to get to know and write them on an index card or sheet of paper. These people could be friends, co-workers, or acquaintances who don't know Christ. Whenever your group meets spend time praying for these people. Pray that God will give you opportunities to share the gospel, that hearts will be receptive and the gospel will penetrate hard hearts.
- Ask God to show you your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and ends of the earth
- Who does God want you to reach out to?
- Begin in your immediate area, your Jerusalem and then go out from there to your Judea, your Samaria, your ends of the earth.
- Invite a non-Christian to church
- Without any expectations or agenda
- Expect God to move in their hearts