Acts 1:8 (NIV)
But you will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses
and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.
Where have you been building the Church?
- My hometown
- Everywhere I’ve lived
- The uttermost parts of the earth
- Are you talkin’ to me?
Here’s the thing. You are building the Church. Maybe not on purpose, but after all, it isn’t about your purpose. God is the one in charge.
Take a careful look at the verse that starts this lesson. Let’s rephrase it to apply to our 21st century place in history.
“You will be my witness
in your hometown and your workplace,
among your friends and among your enemies.
You will be my witness EVERYWHERE!”
Tough assignment? You bet! But it isn’t done in your power. The Holy Spirit is the power source.
The book of Acts can be outlined by place:
–Jerusalem: chapters 1-7
–Judea & Samaria: chapters 8-10
–The ends of the earth: the rest of the book
It all starts with Jerusalem:
The Hebrew name for the city, Yerushalaim or Yerushalayim, is a combination of yarah (foundation) and shalem (shalom, peace)—Jerusalem, the foundation of peace.
We find the first reference to Jerusalem in the biblical book of beginnings, Genesis:
Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV)
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
The King of Salem brought bread and wine, and blessed Abraham, who in turn tithed back to this Prince of Peace. The name Melchizedek means “my king is righteousness.” Do you see the foreshadow of Christ?
Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, tried in the courtyard, crucified outside the city and resurrected on the third day. The Prince of Peace in the City of Peace.
Jerusalem is where the Spirit came upon the disciples with new power. Jerusalem is where the disciples made peace with the death of their Lord.
The building of the Church began in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is the Church’s eternal future and final glory:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Jerusalem plays an essential role throughout the book of Acts: After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul is taken to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles (Acts 9). Peter goes to Jerusalem to explain how he connected with Cornelius (Acts 11). There is the famous Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) where the conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers over circumcision is addressed (peace in the Church is established in the City of Peace). Paul returns to Jerusalem, causes a stir, is arrested and pleads his case (Acts 21-23).
Stephan is martyred in Jerusalem, and the city becomes a hotbed of persecution. The believers move out.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Judea and Samaria require a quick history lesson.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, each tribe was assigned a section of land. Judea is the Greek/Roman version of Judah. Samaria covers the area assigned to Ephraim and Manasseh.
After the death of Solomon, Israel was divided into the Northern Kingdom (Samaria) and Southern Kingdom (Judea), with Jerusalem in the middle.
This is the area now known to us as the West Bank.
The Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom about 720 BC. Many Jews were deported, and other people were brought in to take their place. The people and their faith traditions were mixed together. Worship of the true God was distorted.
The Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians in 600 BC. They too were carried off into exile. When they retuned 70 years later, the Samaritans resisted that resettlement.
Whether it was Samaria’s objection to the exiles’ return or their faith differences, the people of the Southern Kingdom (Judea) detested the Northern Kingdom (Samaria, but also called Israel). There was enmity on both sides.
Back to Acts: some believers take their Church-building out of Jerusalem and into nearby Samaria. They step out of their Jewish comfort zone, following Christ’s example:
Now he had to go through Samaria . . . Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
. . . The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
The rest of Acts takes us on a tour of the northern Mediterranean. Paul’s travels are broken down into three “missionary journeys” and end in house arrest in Rome. Paul’s Church-building adventure is no pleasure cruise.
2 Corinthians 11:24-26
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
In less than 40 years, Christ’s Church expands from a small group of believers huddling together in a single room to many churches scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Acts ends in Rome, where Paul continues to build the Church right under Caesar’s Roman nose:
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!
Church building—it always starts with Jerusalem, the “foundation of peace.” It starts with Christ, the Prince of Peace. He is our Peace, he is the world’s peace. And he says,
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Let us build the Church, both in numbers (of congregations, of believers) and in faithfulness. We do that by prayer, with our money, with our time, and most of all—through the power of the Spirit—by our witness.
“The Saviour says, ‘Begin at Jerusalem.’ Just as we say, ‘Ladies first,’ so it is ‘the Jew first.’ They take precedence among races, and are to be first waited on at the gospel feast. Jesus would have us entertain a deep regard to that nation which God chose of old, and out of which Christ also came, for he is of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh. He puts those first who knew him first.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1883)
Beginning at Jerusalem, Sermon #1729
(read it for yourself here)
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
Prayer is one way to build the Church. Via prayer, we build the Church today in Jerusalem, and on the West Bank, and in every nation. We build the Church in places of faith, in places of persecution, and EVERYWHERE.
Thy kingdom come. Come, new Jerusalem. Come, peace with God. Forever. Amen.