Tuesday, December 4, 2007

First Christmas Message: Proclaim

Acts 28:17-31

One of our very own, someone who used to worship with us with his family, Doug Birdsall, is now the Executive Chairman of Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He said once that his involvement in this movement was connecting himself to...
a global network of men and women who share a passion for the vision of ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.’"
He is not alone! At the meeting in Manila back in 1989, many there felt that same feeling Paul expressed in his excitement to bring the Living Gospel to Rome in word, deed and sign.”

(Lausanne III: Cape Town 2010, the Third International Congress on World Evangelization to be held 16-25 October 2010.)

On Paul’s way to Rome, he engaged in one-on-one evangelism. He got involved in mercy ministry and, once bitten by a poisonous snake on Malta, he was proclaiming these same truths that have been embodied in mission work ever since. Taken together and aligned with each other, these actions by Paul help us understand what it means to proclaim the “whole Gospel.”

He was meeting the needs around him. Keeping the Gospel in sharp focus and in the front of his actions and words, Paul shows us how to bring the Christmas Message to our community of Tokorozawa and beyond.

To have the Truth of the Gospel control our very being in such a way that the message and the person are one of the same. It is hard today to say: “This is Truth. Believe it!” Rather, today’s society that looks at us would rather walk along side us and watch us and see that there is a difference in our life—or walk—our relationship with each other—so much that is different from their world, that they will ask us why it is this way with us. How the world hears it is thru seeing it…

It took a shipwreck to get some people’s attention on Malta and an illness of a leader’s father, who was healed once Paul prayed over him. What will it take around us?

Even while this entire Gospel work was going on, the pagan belief system of the time was in full swing. The twin figureheads on the front of the ship from Egypt was to give those who sailed on this boat good fortune as they represent the twin gods of the King and Queen of Sparta. This Gemini was the patron deities of sailors’ world wide, this ship’s employ had promise.

This last leg of the voyage went without a hitch. They arrived in Italy and were the guest of some believers in the Bay of Naples.

This visit now brings to the surface two themes that run thru Acts: One, looking back at the full fulfillment of the promises of God to Paul (Acts 23:11; 27:24). And, two, to note the WAY Paul enters Rome—not as a Roman prisoner, under guard but in the company of fellow believers.

The Jewish population in Rome was about 40-50,000 with over 15 synagogues supporting them. The Judaizing opposition from Jerusalem was not there and the negative report of Paul had not reached Rome at all. What they had heard was against the ‘sect’ & they wanted to understand it.

Now, remember back to Acts 1:8? Here it is being done or at least, the start of the being done. The Gospel, with all its Power and direction from the Holy Spirit of God will now have a place to proclaim from. Also: "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in [Jesus'] name to all nations" (Lk 24:47).

Today utopias (an ideal and perfect place or state, where everyone lives in harmony and everything is for the best) of the left and the right are in shambles. People are uncertain, even apprehensive of whether the kingdoms of this world can manage the present, let alone the future. They are ready for the good news about the kingdom of God.

And that is what it is all about! The Angels proclaimed it on the hills around Bethlehem to the shepherds while they were watching the flocks at night. The Wise Men from the East proclaimed to all who would hear of the Christ Child they saw during their visit. They realized Who He really was: The Promised Messiah whom the Prophets spoke about and of whom the stars and the heaven so openly announced thru the star that lead them. An old man in the Temple who was looking for this blessed sign also witnessed that Proclamation. From an old lady named Anna, who blessed the Holy Child and Mother and then turned around to those who were in the Temple area and told them.

This responsibility of the proclamation that Luke writes about is also placed on us—who have heard the message and who, from one point or another, place ourselves under It’s Control and Power.

Even those who heard Paul there in Rome were under the pressure to respond. Look to verses 23~28.

23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

Hard to reconcile their past with fact Paul was proclaiming for a long time. This DOES NOT MEAN we need to spend that amount of time each time we share about God’s Love. Luke just wanted to report on what happened and very seldom does he editorialize his writings.

Just the facts!

And what were the facts?
25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 
26 " 'Go to this people and say, 
"You will be ever hearing but never understanding; 
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." 27 For this people's heart has become calloused; 
they hardly hear with their ears, 
and they have closed their eyes. 
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, 
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'  28 "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"

And God’s salvation has been sent to us today as well. Question is, will we listen? Will we respond well to the call to believe? Or will we harden our hearts like some of them did?

Over the next few weeks during the Christmas Season, we will be asking a few questions and with all hope, find some answers. The questions are:

Are you ready to receive what God is offering this Christmas?
Are you where God wants you to be this holiday season?
What’s at the top of your list this season?
What is the Bad (or Good) News about Jesus?

Will we find place in our busy lives to be still long enough to have it become more than a tradition? To be still long enough to desire more time being still? Can the business of this season and into the New Year be overcome, be conquered, and be triumphed over? The promise in today’s passage is just that!

27b Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, 
understand with their hearts 
and turn, and I would heal them.'  28 "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"

The promise for us today is that we must listen with open ears and see with open eyes and to have an open and understanding heart so that He will heal us.

We, as well, will need to remember Him during all the Holiday noise and chatter. Remember Him in the morning when we wake up. Remember Him before we start our b’fast. Remember Him all day long. Remember Him when we face hardships and disappointments.

Remember Him when we fail to be the best parent we feel we ought to be. Remember Him that He died for all our sins and that in the upper room, long time ago, as He passed the bread and wine around the room to His Followers, His love to them was as strong then as it would ever be.

Come to the Table of Remembrance and Thank Him.