Week 4 (5.1.2016)
Ground Work: Read Acts 11:19-26
As followers of Christ, we have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us who is the source of power and direction for all that God wants to accomplish through our lives. The day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we call the feast of Pentecost which follows Easter fifty days later (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). The mission of Jesus spread out from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Almost every time I read Scripture I discover something new. That is one of the joys of meditating on the Word. It speaks. It is a living Word with deep truths. It was in this reading of Acts that I saw that many of the Jews who spoke languages from throughout the West, the Near East and North Africa and were in Jerusalem on the Jewish feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit showed up actually LIVED in Jerusalem and had not just arrived for the feast from these areas of the world (Acts 2:5). There were many Jews who had traveled to celebrate this feast but there were many residents of Jerusalem who were speakers of other languages too.
This was a United Nations gathering of Jews that had been scattered throughout the world because of diaspora which began in the eighth century B.C.E. with the Assyrian overthrow and captivity of nation of Israel in the Northern Kingdom and continued with captivity and destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.E. Under Cyrus the Great of the Persian Empire, some the captive Jews from Babylon returned to rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra and Nehemiah) during the period of time called the Second Temple beginning in 530 B.C.E. and lasting until the temple was again destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.
On that day of Pentecost when the Spirit showed up everyone gathered heard about God’s powerful action of God in their own language. Peter’s sermon pointed to Jesus as both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Many thousands of Jews came to believe and were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus that day. The day of Pentecost is the birthday of the church, the community of Christ Jesus.
What makes this Pentecost story so fascinating are all of the pilgrims from these various areas of the Roman Empire and beyond who receive the good news and in their excitement, take the Jesus story home. Beginning in the East and moving West: Parthians (Iran); Medes and Elamites (historical names by then); Mesopotamia (Iraq); Judea (likely a later addition because they spoke Aramaic just like the Galilean preacher that day: Peter; provinces of Asia Minor (Turkey): Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia; countries in North Africa: Egypt, Libya belong to Cyrene; and Rome (Cretans and Arabs added later). This edited reading of Acts 2:9-11 makes for a list of twelve languages spoken and in reality, the ends of the earth represented.
Over the next few chapters of Acts, it tells stories of the evangelists launching into the mission to Judea and Samaria. There were disagreements and arguments over the scarcity of food for widows between the Jewish Christians who spoke Hebrew and Jewish Christians that spoke Greek (Hellenists), the nationalistic language of diaspora Jews (Acts 6:1-6). Conflict, miscommunication and jealousy can derail us or bring forth new possibilities. Stephen, the first Christian martyr was called by the church to serve the Hellenists as a new expression of the gospel.
A persecution of the church in Jerusalem took lives, forced at least the Hellenist Christians to flee the city and relocate (Acts 8:1). Christians fled to Damascus in Syria where the church was strong enough to capture Saul’s attention as a persecutor of the faith in Acts 9. According to Acts 11:19, it appears that many Hellenist Christians traveled by the Via Maris highway that ran from Egypt along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea through Phoenicia to Antioch (and by ship to the island of Cyprus).
Wherever the followers of Jesus found themselves, they built relationships, gathered together as believers to worship, pray, and encourage each other in this faith and its practice. As they lived and worked they evangelized, starting with the Jews. For new converts to the Christian faith, they invested in those relationships and taught and practiced this faith together. The new followers joined the house church (Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire until Emperor Constantine was converted in 313 C.E. There were no church building until then. They met in homes yet were at risk of arrest for being part of this illegal religion) in using their God-given gifts to serve others and to evangelize.
Antioch (Syrian; modern day Antakya in Turkey)
A city of about 500,000 in Saul’s day, Antioch was one of the three greatest cities in Roman Empire together with Rome and Alexandria. Seleucus I Nicator, the general of Alexander the Great who ruled this area following Alexander’s death, built Antioch in about 300 B.C.E. on Orontes River and named it after his father: Antiochus. Because of its prime location on the Via Maris highway connecting Asia Minor (Turkey) to Palestine and Egypt and a seaport harbor at Seleucia Pieria, Antioch was a center for commerce and culture. It was a Hellenistic city at its core.
Antioch was the city where followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Up until this time, Christians were called the Way (see Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). It was Antioch that the church together with Saul and Barnabas would launch the mission to gentiles.
Acts 11:26 gives us a view of the disciple-forming process in Antioch. Saul and Barnabas invested a whole year in the life of new followers of Jesus and taught the faith and practice of Christianity. What they taught is not specified. Luke eludes to the importance of using the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfilled it as the Messiah in Luke 24:27 as Jesus taught on the road to Emmaus. A more complete idea may be the sermon of Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:17-36. This sermon summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus.
Being a follower of Jesus is more than knowing the story. The Christian practice of prayer, worship, giving or generosity, service, evangelizing, disciple-making or teaching the story of faith as well as working for justice and peace are all part of what it means to be a Jesus follower.
It’s not about being experts in any of these disciplines but being practitioners. We learn from each other and we learn by doing. In all of these disciplines, Jesus is present.
Changed circumstances often lead to new discoveries. It is a fact of life that when the road you are traveling comes to an intersection, you have a choice to make. When your situation changes, it causes discomfort because your comfort is disrupted. It is in this moment of evaluating your options that new discoveries and new direction may be uncovered. In the story of Martin Luther below you will see this principle of new discovery at work.
Before Luther had turned twenty-two his life underwent a radical change. On July 17, 1505, he knocked at the gate of the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt (Germany) and bade the prior to accept him into the order…Martin had received money from his father, which he spent in Gotha, buying the most essential books for his law studies…just a few weeks later he returned his brand-new legal collection to the bookseller. Martin’s parents and friends saw Luther throw his education and financial future away when he turned his back on the law to enter a monastery.
On July 2, 1505, Luther had a life-changing experience that set him on a new course. Caught in a horrific thunderstorm in which he was flung to the ground and feared for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was saved. Martin had been confronted with death once before, on his way home to Mansfeld in 1503…Hardly had he left the city walls when his dagger pierced his leg, cutting an artery. Only because he was in the company of a friend, who could fetch a doctor, was his life saved…In his distress (Martin) he implored the Mother of God to help him: “Oh, Mary, help.” The decision to become a monk was difficult and greatly disappointed his father, but Martin felt he must keep a promise.
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben (Germany) on November 10, 1483, the son of Hans and Margaret Luder (as they were known in local dialect). Luther’s parents were of peasant stock. Hans worked hard to raise the family’s status, first as a copper miner and later as the owner of several small mines. He served on the city council of Mansfield. Martin was sent to the Latin school at Mansfeld, later Magdeburg, and in 1498 to Eisenach. It was only the law and the church that offered likely avenues of success for Martin.
Hans Luder’s anticlericalism probably influenced his decision that Martin should become a lawyer and increase the Luder family’s prosperity, which Hans had worked hard to improve. Martin was enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1502 and a Master of Arts in 1505. In the same year he enrolled in the faculty of law, giving every sign of being a dutiful and, likely, a very successful son.
This episode of Luther’s brush with death and his vow to St. Ann was an important event in Christian history and changed the course of Luther’s life just as the biblically famous story of St. Paul’s conversion. While Paul’s call from God lead him to become the evangelist to the gentiles, Luther became a great church reformer (moving forward the groundwork laid by John Wyclif and John Huss).
As surely as Luther was formed and shaped by Christ Jesus whom his disquieted soul sought even at the risk of disappointing his father, Martin Luther was also shaped and he reshaped the culture and historical time in which he lived. When we allow ourselves to be led by God by following the hunger of our soul, God redirects the desires of our heart to be in alignment with God’s purposes. We can recognize the alignment with God because it is confirmed by Scripture and is for the good of all people and our world.
- How did God use Martin Luther?
- In what way was persecution of the church helpful in spreading the gospel and forming new churches?
- What do you take away from the reading in Acts 11? What questions are you still wondering about?
- What is your role as an evangelist? Who are you teaching about his faith and how to practice it? What is holding you back?
 Haenchen, p. 170.
 Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, New York: Doubleday, 1989, p. 124.
 Ibid., p. 125.