June 9, 2019
Pastor Alan Smith
There has been a growing discussion on the internet over the last year or so about who really is the GOAT- the greatest of all time. Now, if you’re on one side of the camp, you kind of hold to the idea that maybe LeBron is the greatest of all time. I am not of that camp. I am of that camp that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time. I believe that in the 90’s (like ‘93, ‘94, ‘95), Jordan could have won a basketball game by himself against some (maybe; I don’t know). But, I will say this: Although he (in my opinion) is the greatest of all time, to win championships requires a team. Although he is pretty amazing as a basketball player, he can’t win championship after championship without some teammates.
And so, if you bring on board maybe a Toni Kukoc or a Harper [photos shown], maybe with the three of them, you could be competitive. There were some NBA teams that were pretty terrible, that if you put those three guys on the floor in ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, they maybe could have won a few games. But, if you throw Dennis Rodman in the mix and then you throw Scottie Pippen in the mix, not only do you have the greatest of all time, but you’ve got back to back to back NBA championships. You’ve got six titles in seven years. -the greatest of all time.
But here’s the deal: No matter how good Jordan was, by himself he could not win a championship. He probably couldn’t win any games (although he did put up 60 points in one game, so I don’t know. As long as somebody’s pitching the ball every now and then, he could probably put up some points). But, here’s the deal: With basketball, it’s a team sport.
What I want to challenge us today to think about is the idea that being a disciple is a team sport. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to understand that we must be part of the team. When we live the Christian life, when we are living a life on mission, when we are making disciples who are making disciples, we’re doing it as part of the team. So, if I were to sort of summarize the entire sermon today in one sentence, here’s what I want us to walk away understanding. Here’s the sermon today in a sentence:
Living a life on mission is a team sport.
Living a life on mission is a team sport. You can’t do it by yourself, and when you try to do it by yourself, you will be unsuccessful. When we are living a life together as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are better prepared, we are equipped, to share the Gospel and to make disciples.
We’re studying through the book of Acts, and today we’re in Acts chapter nine. The question I want us to consider today is, what does it look like to be a man or woman who is truly living a life on mission for King Jesus? What does that look like? And I think some of what we see through the life of Saul today can help us understand a few key characteristics of what it is to be a man or a woman living life on mission for King Jesus.
1. Disciples Share The Gospel
So, the first thing I would like to point out to us is that disciples share the Gospel. Disciples share the Gospel. Beginning and Acts chapter nine, verse 19 (the second part of 19) reads this:
19b Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. 20 Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were astounded and said, “Isn’t this the man in Jerusalem who was causing havoc for those who called on this name and came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul grew stronger and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
Here are some things I noticed from that verse (initial observations for us): Saul had been in Damascus for a very short period of time. His encounter at the beginning of chapter nine on the Damascus Road has just happened days ago. Saul had left Jerusalem with warrants and commissions to take any “people of the Way” that he can find, arrest them, and return them. He is wreaking havoc.
He encounters Christ on the Damascus Road at the beginning of chapter nine, and in doing so, it transforms him. And now, he’s only been in Damascus for a few days (three days, five days, a week), not too long, and what we notice is that he is beginning to immediately change his mission. He’s no longer about, “Let’s arrest people of the Way. Let’s find them and get rid of them.” He’s now different. In just a few days, he’s with the disciples, and he immediately begins to take action. He immediately begins to share the Gospel.
He goes to the synagogue, which is where a good Jewish boy would go (a good Jewish man would go). He goes to synagogue. He would begin opening the Scriptures, and he would begin revealing, what do the Scriptures say about this man, the Son of God? And he would meet objections. People would go, “Wait a minute. Hello! Time out, Buddy. Aren’t you the guy who just days before, you were headstrong, coming in with the goal of, you were about to kill us? You were looking for people to kill, right? I mean, why are you now hear talking about Jesus? I thought you were against us. What’s going on?”
This is a significant deviation from the character of who they thought this guy was. Saul was continuing to take the Scriptures and reveal through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Son of God. He immediately gets in the process of sharing the Gospel. He begins to get immediately engaged with people to communicate the living Christ. Saul is living his life now for a different mission. He came to Damascus on one mission (Round them up. Send them back. Kill them). He’s now living life on a different mission (proclaim the name of Christ). And he is doing so to share the good news of this this person, this man, the Son of God that he has encountered on the Damascus Road and how it has changed his life. He immediately begins to share the Gospel.
You know, an interesting thing about our lives is, people kind of begin to know us by the things that we do. You know, if you talk to somebody and go, “Hey, do you know so and so?” “Yeah, he’s a whatever,” right? Or, “She’s a whatever.” We kind of are known by our jobs and the things that we’re engaged with or do. I mean, we kind of begin to get a little bit of our identity in the things that we’re associated with. “Well, he’s a good Bulldog fan,” or “He’s an Auburn guy,” or whatever. We begin to get identified with those things, and we’re identified with those things not because somebody just goes, “Hmmm. I think you are a…” We begin to be identified because of the things that we do, right? We engage with certain things. We talk about certain things. We tell people, “Hey, what do you do for a living?” “Well, I’m a so and so…”
And so we begin to get little tags placed upon us that identify who we are. So, if I then ask someone, “Hey, you know Johnny or Susie,” and they’re like, “Yeah, I know them.” “Tell me a little bit about them.” They’re going to start rattling off some things. “Well, they’re this and they’re that, and they like this…,” right?
WeII, we’re known in a large way by the things that we do. -how we have identified ourselves, the actions that we’re involved in, the behaviors…. Here’s a question. -just something to think about: If some day this week someone says, “Hey, I’ve got a question for you. Do you know so and so?” -and they’re talking about you, and that person’s like, “Yeah, I know them.” And they say, “Can you you tell me about them a little bit?” Here’s the question for you to consider: In the first five things they say about you, will they say, “She is a Christian”? Will they say, “He really loves Jesus”? Will, they say, “He makes disciples”? Are we known by that? Is that a characteristic of how we’re known?
Saul had a very defined reputation. People were like, “This doesn’t make sense. What do you mean, Jesus? I thought you were here to get rid of these people who said Jesus was the Way, and this isn’t making sense.” His past experience was impacting his current, but it didn’t change the way he communicated the Gospel. And what impacts us is, the things that we do make a difference in how people understand who we are. And if we’re going to be a disciple, if we are disciples of Christ, we should be communicating the Gospel, and are we known by people as someone who shares the Gospel?
James, Jesus’ brother, puts it this way in James chapter two, verse 18. He says, “But some will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” We’re known by what we do, and if we are disciple makers, are we reaching? Are we sharing the Gospel?
2. Disciples Make Disciples
Saul was. Saul did it. “Man! This is something that I need to let people know. This is the good news.” Disciples make disciples by sharing the Gospel, and if we’re going to be a men or women on mission, we need to be sharing the Gospel, but we also need to be making disciples. We talk about this using language around here called “Reach, Build, Send”. We Reach people by sharing the Gospel with them. And then we Build them up in their faith and make them disciples so we can Send them out to replicate the cycle again, right? This whole process we talk about around here a lot.
23 After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plot. So they were watching the gates day and night intending to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall.
Now Luke just sort of gives us the impression that in a few days, he was back in the synagogue teaching, and then some days later, now people are trying to kill him, right? So there’s some detail that’s not included there. But Paul, in the book of Galatians, when he’s describing this journey, his experience, in Galatians Paul gives us a little bit more detail. What Paul says in Galatians between verses 22 and 23 is a period of about three years. What happened was, Paul leaves Damascus, and he goes out into the Arabian desert and spends three years in the Arabian desert. Paul tells us this in Galatians: “I left, went to Arabia, spent time there, and went back to Damascus.” Verse 23 is when he comes back to Damascus.
There’s a three-year time period in between verses 22 and 23. Here’s why I think that’s important for us to contemplate: What was Saul doing in the desert for three years? Now, he could have gone out into the desert, found a cave somewhere, and spent three years living in a cave all by himself, learning about who Jesus is and then after three years, returned to Damascus to continue.
I don’t think that’s what Saul did. And I don’t think that’s what Saul did because we’re told that he now has disciples. –his disciples. I think it’s an important nugget, right? So Paul doesn’t give details here. Luke, in Acts, does not give details here. So, I am making an inference, right? So bear with me for a moment as I infer some information.
This Arabia was not just some isolated desert location like he went out in the middle of the Sahara somewhere. There is a king that rules this whole territory of Arabia. As a matter of fact, one of the rulers of Damascus was put in place to rule Damascus by this king of Arabia. So, when Saul goes out into Arabia into the desert, he may have spent a lot of time by himself, but there are people out there. There are communities out there. And so Saul doesn’t just go twiddle his thumbs for three years and just learn about who Christ is and what God has done. He’s continuing to take the Gospel to this group. He’s sharing the Gospel, and in doing so, he’s making disciples.
So when we see him return, why is it that all of a sudden the Jews wanted to kill him? He’s been going for three years. What has he done? Well, he’s been stirring up stuff. He’s been telling people about Jesus. He’s continued his mission. He didn’t walk out into the desert, leave Damascus, and just go, “Okay, I’m going to disappear for a few years.” He goes on mission. He’s living his life on mission.
And so, wherever he goes, what is Saul doing? He’s telling people the Gospel. “Let me tell you about this Jesus, the Son of God, and what he has done. Let me tell you what he did for me.” And in doing so, people come to know Christ. In doing so, he begins to build them up in the faith to the point that he has people who are following him. So when he returns to Damascus, he doesn’t come as just a single dude. He comes with people. (Inference. This is all inference, right?) He’s coming with people that he has made disciples of.
And so, now the Jews say, “Okay, we have heard what’s been going on.” (I’m inferring.) “We’ve heard what’s been going on over in Arabia. Now the guy’s coming back. We’ve got to put an end to this guy.” So the Jews decide, “We need to kill him.” So, what did they do? They put watches around the wall, guards around the wall. “We’re going to check the gates. We’re going to make sure he doesn’t come in because the King of Arabia, whose ruler is ruling over Damascus, has said, “We’ve got to get this guy.”
Disciple makers, those of us who are living on mission, are communicating the Gospel. But what we’re also doing is, we’re making disciples. If you’re going to live a life on mission, an evidence (not the evidence, but an evidence) that we’re living this life is that we’re making disciples.
Here’s an introspective question for you (rhetorical; don’t answer out loud). Here’s a question for you: Do you have at least one person in your life that you know is not a believer, and if they died today, they’d go to hell? Do you have that person in your life, and you’re having conversations with them? Y’all get together for coffee, you’re inviting them over to the house, eating breakfast some mornings, chatting on the phone, texting each other… Do you have that person? Do you have a person or persons like that in your life, and you are actively engaged in sharing the Gospel? That’s an important question for us to wrestle with and ask.
I’ve got a friend. I became friends with him because of design. He’s a graphic designer. I do graphic design. He’s not a believer. He grew up in a church, but he’s not a believer. He would be what we would classify as “unchurched” or “de-churched” even. But he doesn’t know the Lord, and he and I get together. We have coffee. He asks questions. “But what about this? What about that?” He’s still not a believer, and he may never be. I don’t know what God’s going to do in his life. But do you have people that you are actively sharing the Gospel with? Do you?
What about this question? Do you have people in your life that you are actively building? Do you have people in your life that you are actively making disciples out of? -that you are talking to them about their faith. You’re helping move them along, and you can look them in the eye and say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Do you have that person? Because a man or woman who is on mission for Christ, who’s working as part of the team, is reaching and building. We’re sharing the Gospel, and we’re making disciples.
3. Disciples Live In Community
But the third thing that I think is important to learn and to hear from Saul’s life today is that disciples live in community. You know, part of being on a team is that there are people around you. When we try to do life by ourselves as a solo, one-man-band kind of deal, we’re not effective or as effective as we could be. But when we’re living in community, we have the ability to work as a team. -to have some collaborative effort, to pray for one another, to encourage. Look at the story that Saul encounters in chapter nine, verse 26. He says:
26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 27 Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Being a part of this group is important. He tried to, but they were afraid of him because don’t forget, three to five years ago, Saul was in Jerusalem wreaking havoc on the people and arresting them. Remember Stephen? These people were still remembering, “Hey, I know that guy. He had Stephen killed? I’d better watch my back on that one.” But they were afraid of him since they did not believe that he was a disciple. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can believe this guy. I don’t believe it. He’s too bad. I can’t believe that he could be a Christian.”
Community. We need Barnabases in our life. There is a need for disciples to be in community with one another, to be living life together. It’s how God put the body together. We, as the body of Christ, the Church, are made up of individual parts. These individual parts have been put into his body for his glory and for his purpose. And when we all fit together into the body of Christ, working as a unit on the same mission, doing the same thing as disciple makers for Christ, then we all benefit from it. The body benefits from it.
Saul’s past continues to confront him. As a matter of fact, for the rest of Saul’s life, he has to deal with something related to his past. Look, you have a past. Sometimes you avoid talking about your past because it has all kinds of things in it (there’s history, there’s bad stuff, there’s whatever). We all have a history. We all have a past. We all have a story to tell. We all do. And that story doesn’t go away. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of our identity. It’s part of the thing that has made us who we are.
But the question is, if we’re living by ourselves, we have no one to help us carry that story forward. We need to be in community so that we can have Barnabases that come alongside us and say, “Whoa! Let me help. Let me tell you about this guy. Let me tell you about this gal. -and why their life is important for the Gospel and why you need to listen to what they’re saying.” We either need to be Sauls or Barnabases. We live in community, and when we live in a community, the church benefits. It was in community that Saul continued to live this life on mission.
Being a man or woman living life on mission is a team sport. We cannot do it alone. You should not try to do it alone. We have to be doing life together. We have to be doing life together in a way that makes disciples. The body of Christ fits together perfectly. We’re knit together for God’s glory and for our good.
There are benefits to being in community with one another. When you’re in community, you have Barnabases who come alongside you, wrap their arm around you, and tell you it’s going to be okay. You have Barnabases who come alongside you and encourage you. We live in community and have fellowship one with another. We need to encourage one another.
When you have a really, really crappy week, and if you’re not living in community, that week turns into two weeks. It turns into three weeks. It turns into a month. It turns into a year. But when you have a really crappy week and you live in community, the crappy weeks can go away! It could still be crappy, but now I’ve got people to come alongside me and encourage me, to edify me, to build me up, to bear the weight with me, to help me. It’s a team sport. We’re not to do this alone, and if we’re going to be disciple makers who are making disciples, we can only do it effectively in community.
One of the things I find interesting about this chapter is, there’s this interesting transitional verse. Again, I’m speculating. Commentaries suggest different things; there’s a variety of answers to this question, but somewhere between three and five years (plus or minus), the church has been under persecution. Saul stirred stuff up (Remember, we’ve got Stephen being killed. We’ve got people being persecuted, Saul heading to Damascus). For three to five years (somewhere in that ballpark), the church has been persecuted. But verse 31 is a wonderful verse, because look what happened in the midst of this.
31 So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that amazing? They had peace and were strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers. To me, that verse, it almost seems out of place. You will have a season in your life where it will be bad, and that is okay because God is in control, and when we are making disciples, when we’re sharing the Gospel, when we’re communicating the Gospel, when we’re building one another up the Gospel and we’re doing it in community, God will bring peace.
There’s a peace that surpasses all understanding, and it will keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. And how is it that in the midst of this persecution, when the Jewish leaders are all eyes on these Christians (“How do we get rid of this problem?”), how is it that historically and culturally they go, “That’s no longer a problem. We’ve got to turn our attention”?
Here’s a historical fact: At this time in history, the leader of Rome was Caligula, and Caligula, if you study your Roman history, was a leader who did not like the fact that the Jews worshipped another God and thought that they should be worshipping him. And so, to that end, he sent people with armies that said, “We’re going to put a statue of Caligula in the Temple, and we’re going to offer sacrifices to our gods on the altar.” And the Jews were like, “Whoa!” Their eyes and their attention and their persecution on the people of the Way has just been diverted to something different.
How is it (just ponder this thought for a moment), when we think of the history and the things that happen in our lives and in others’ lives, is God sovereign? God is the worker of history. The things that have happened in our hearts and our lives, God is the worker of history, and all of a sudden for the church that is under persecution, attentions have been turned. Peace has now come, and all of the main actors are on the stage. If you remember Acts chapter one, verse eight, Jesus tells the apostles, “Here’s what you’re going to do, Guys. You’re going to be my disciples. You’re going to take the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, into the uttermost parts of the Earth.”
That’s the goal, and what has happened at the end of this verse, as we’ve seen, the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem. It has extended out into Judaea. It’s made its way all the way into Damascus. We’ve already seen the Ethiopian eunuch receive the Gospel; it’s now going into Africa. And now we have the character, Saul, on the stage who God is going to use to be the key instrument to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. And now God in his sovereign plan says, “You now have peace. It’s only for a season. It’ll go away. But you have peace.”
How are we living life on mission? And if we’re not doing it as a team, we’re not doing it right.
1. Today, I realize that I am not a disciple and want to commit my life to Jesus.
2. I have been living life alone. I commit to being a disciple living in community.
3. I have not been living a life on mission. I commit to being a disciple maker.
1. After his miraculous conversion, what did Saul almost immediately begin to do?
2. How did people respond to Saul?
3. Despite the response from some, were Saul’s efforts fruitful?
4. How important is it to do life together with other believers? Why?
5. Read Ephesians 4:11-16 – What is the purpose of the “church body”?
6. In what ways are you seeking biblical community today?
7. Pray for opportunities to disciple others; pray that our church would make disciples that make disciples here in the Chattahoochee Valley!