Sermon by Pastor Tom Brown · Jul 12, 2020 · My Bible Year Series

There are times when I look around at the Christian world around me and I wonder, “what in the world is going on?” The church in America is bitterly divided and fracturing over social issues, leaders are being disqualified left and right for moral failures and so many of the great representatives of the faith are passing on.

There are moments when I am so disappointed and disillusioned and confused by my fellow Christians. Can you relate to that?

Personally, I have found fresh clarity and courage in our readings through the book of Acts this summer. This morning we are going to look at the beginnings of one of the first churches. If you have your Bible, turn to Acts chapter 16.  We’re going to read 16:11-40.

In this chapter I see 5 marks of New Testament Christian tradition. I see 5 marks of the heritage that has been passed on to you and me.

  1. First, we see that NT Christianity is a going

The history of the New Testament church is a travelogue. Its collection of stories of people on the road.

This is built into the final word of Jesus to the disciples which we call the Great Commission:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .

Matthew 28:19

The original Greek reads, “as you go, make disciples”.  Going is assumed.  We are authentic NT Christians when we adopt a going mentality.

Does this mean we have to travel to be true Christians?  Should we all become missionaries?

No. Going is not ultimately about your physical location.  The difference is your basic psychological orientation.

Are you outward oriented in your mindset? Do you go about your days concerned with your needs, your interests, your comforts, your rights? Or do you go about your days on the lookout to serve God and the people around you? Goers live life with an outward orientation.

Does this mean Christianity is for extroverts?

No. It’s not about where your energy comes from. It’s about where your energy goes.  You can be quiet and reserved and pray unceasingly in the quiet of your home for the world around you. You can be an introvert and consider others as more important than yourselves.

The Christianity given to us in the NT is a going Christianity, it is outward oriented and it’s energy is spent for the good of others over self. Secondly, we see that

  1. NT Christianity is a suffering

When you read Jesus, you see that he had more to say about how to endure suffering than how to fight for your rights.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Matthew 5:10-11

Not everyone was eager to see the Christians proclaiming Christ in their cities. Paul and his coworkers experienced opposition on two fronts.

On one side were the traditionalist among the Jewish people. The Jewish people were scattered throughout the world. The one thing that held them together was their tradition. The law of Moses was the glue that held the Jewish world together. When the Christians began welcoming non-Jews into their homes, when the requirements of the law were exchanged for the freedom of the gospel, the identity and security of the Jewish world was threatened.

On the other side were the Roman authorities. Rome was a pluralistic society, encompassing countless tribes and faiths. In order to keep the peace and preserve order, an absolute was required to hold things together. That absolute was the glory of Rome, symbolized by Caesar. As long as you worshiped Caesar and gave Rome your first allegiance, all was tolerated. The Christians were unwilling to put anything before Christ.

Amid these cultural forces, the Christians often paid a high price for their witness to Christ. What I find so striking is that they were more than willing to pay that price. Paul and Silas endured the hostility of a mob fueled by racist outrage, they endured the injustice of punishment without fair trial, they endured the severe beatings of the Roman lictors and they were thrown into a dungeon for their witness to Christ.

What did they do? Did they fight back? Did they demand their rights? Did they complain or sink into despair?   They sang! They praised God in the midst of their pain. The other prisoners sat in astonishment as they heard these two men pouring out their hearts to God in joyful praise.

There is a supernatural power in praise. If you want power to rise above dark circumstances, there’s nothing better you can do than memorize songs that lift up your soul and learn to sing them in your moments of hardship.

The great miracle in Philippi was not the earthquake, but Paul’s willingness to remain in prison despite the apparent act of God securing their release.  Paul and Silas saw their situation as an opportunity to save a man’s life.  Their willingness to stay led not only to his life being saved, but his soul and his family’s as well.

Paul and Silas were more than willing to endure hardship for the sake of bringing life to someone else. Through their suffering they conquered darkness.

  1. NT Christianity is a victorious tradition.

The going believers of Acts experienced many hardships and obstacles. But they  never quit and the gospel could not be stopped.

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

2 Timothy 2:8-9

This week I read the words of a pastor describing his experience in prison in a communist country.

“When we were in prison we sang almost every day because Christ was alive in us…they put chains on our hands and feet. They chained us to add to our grief. Yet we discovered that chains are splendid musical instruments! When we clanged them together in rhythm, we could sing, ‘This is the day (clink, clank), this is the day (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank), which the Lord has made (clink, clank).”

Nothing could stop the faith of those prisoners.

This is the beauty of NT Christianity. Jesus, as he hung on the cross, in unimaginable personal suffering prayed for those who caused his pain and ministered to those who were suffering with him.

Paul and Silas, despite tremendous physical pain and hardship, sought an opportunity to bless others in their suffering, even the ones who caused them pain.

This, my friends, is true Christianity.  This is the kind of heritage that makes me proud to use the name Christian.  This is the kind of faith our world desperately needs right now.

  1. Christianity is a tradition built on and by Christ.

You may be thinking yes that faith is wonderful, but I’m not Jesus. I’m not Paul. I couldn’t do what the early Christians did.

Here’s what you need to know, friend, those early believers did not do what they did.

It was Christ in them who did it.

This is the secret of victorious Christianity. It is a Christianity fueled by the indwelling life of Christ. After telling the church to go in Matthew 28, Jesus gave them a promise.  “I am with you always.”

Paul literally believed that promise.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.

2 Timothy 4:16-17

  1. NT Christianity is a human tradition.

When I say Christianity is a human tradition, I mean that it is not a tradition bound up in the borders of any one ethnicity, nationality or tribe. It is a human tradition.

Imagine the first church service in Philippi (16:40)

You had Lydia, an immigrant and a successful entrepreneur. You had the slave girl, a local living at the bottom of the social ladder. And the jailer, an ex-military Roman – a member of the oppressive establishment. Imagine the social networks those three moved in. Who did they invite to church? Imagine what neighbors thought of the crowd gathering at Lydia’s house. What in the world could possibly bring together that mix of people?

Our heritage is a global, human tradition.

I know there are Christians among us who are exasperated by the state of the church in America.  I know some of you have had enough with the failings of prominent leaders, the idiosyncrasies of religious sub-cultures, and the politicization of the church. Take heart friends. We have a heritage that is far better than so much of what we see today.

Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown