Could you imagine a world or even a home free from all problems, challenges and hardships? It’s like wanting a Local Church without being a target of the evil one. However, the glory of being in our final destination as the Bride of Jesus (The True Church), is that once we are with the King of the Kingdom, we shall be in a “Paradise” that we have not experienced before, not even close to it. To the Church at Ephesus Jesus said:
Rev 2:7b To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
That was His promise to them and it is to all believers today. The fulfilment is found in:
Rev 21:1 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. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Only when with the Lord Jesus will we be set free from all personal and Church challenges. We shall be, but not right now. Having said all that, we do face temporal relief from hardship, persecution and challenges at times as God’s Church. Our reading for today follows:
Ac 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
1) The Visible Church in the Bible is known as “The Church”. Today this term, “The Church” could mean anything. Once I overheard two members of a certain Christian Cult, who happened to meet each other at a place where I was doing some business. The one asked the other not quite knowing whether he was part of this cult … “Are you part of the church?” Originally as we see in Acts, the True Church was referred to as “The Church”. The word “Church” come a from the Greek word “ekklesia” which means “people called out of their houses to meet together for the purpose of worshipping the true God of the Bible.” I sincerely trust my friend that you who are reading this Note are a member of God’s “ekklesia”.
2) The Expansion of The Church reached international status. Remember the Great Commission?
Mt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nation
Ac 1:8 “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.”
By now the Gospel had spread … throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria. There must have been many, in fact hundreds of small Church communities all over Hebrew territory … and internationally in Samaria and Damascus. The Gospel was on the move and we are not surprised because of passages like:
Ac 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
Ac 12:24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread
Ac 13:49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region
Ac 19:20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Jesus instructed His first disciples to reach the known world of their day and the message remains true for us today to reach the ends of the earth in our day. The next generation of believers needs to do the same … and so it continues until Jesus returns. About one hour before landing at Atlanta, the lady in the same center section on the plane as I, saw me reading Frank Retief’s latest book, “God said yes” and asked me … “Are you a pastor?” I said “Yes.” This led to us talking about the Lord. She was with a group of missionaries returning from the Eastern Cape. Twice a year they go to do follow up training. They plant schools, train teachers (something like “Love Trust” in South Africa) who in turn teach children. They also set up libraries at the schools. What is the purpose? Education, yes … but the curriculum is Biblically based. This is their part of going “into all the world” to make disciples of “all nations”. It is our duty and our responsibility as believers to reach our part of “all the world” where God has placed us.
3) The Church enjoyed peace. The word “peace” to us means the hardship, struggles, warring factions are removed and we enjoy “shalom”, as some would say. The peace spoken of here relates to the cessation of persecution, but the persecution must be remembered as deadly aggression again the Church of the Lord Jesus. Christians were arrested, beaten and others like Stephen were killed. Why did this happen? The devil in his sinister retaliation because of God’s victory at the Cross where His Son Jesus rose, according to promise, defeating the enemies of death, sin and especially the devil … caused havoc seeking to eradicate the Church through causing the Jews to rise up against the followers of Jesus. The peace came because the prime evil architect of persecution, Saul, was now Christian. Where he persecuted he now protected … and proclaimed the glorious news of saving grace through the Risen, reigning Jesus Christ.
4) Peace resulted in the internal development of the Church. The Holy Spirit was at work.
(1) The Church was strengthened. This was not to fight the Jews or even the Roman Empire. Our weapons are not those of the world because our enemy is spiritual, not physical. The peace enabled deeper teaching resulting in the strengthening of the soul. It is vital when times of clam come into your life to “strengthen” your in God’s Word for future hardships and persecution.
(2) The Church was encouraged. The strengthening came through the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to the soul. The encouragement came through meeting together as the “Beloved in Christ”. Fellowship around the Scriptures and Prayer is vital for all believers. We cannot exist without each other. A general principle is found in:
Pr 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
I joined three brothers this morning at 6am for prayer. We fellowshipped, discussed and prayed. I was greatly encouraged. We need this more and more. You need it!
(3) The Church grew numerically. As God’s work is done amongst the Body and individuals, the Church grows. Is this lacking today in our Churches? Don’t blame the messenger (pastor), blame yourself if the Church is not growing!
(4) The Church lived in the fear of the Lord. Instead of fearing man the Church feared God! Holy reverence means respecting who God is and what He is doing.
Our God and Father, we are aware that times of peace means spiritual refreshment and growth. Grant us wisdom so that when peace comes, we use it profitably. Amen.