After the Holy Spirit first gave birth to the church and marked the first followers of Jesus by his holy fire, the immediate results in their lives were dramatic and all-encompassing.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
I long for that kind of church today — a unified body of Christ. And I believe God longs for this as well. This is a church unified by a clear vision of our compelling mission and purpose in this world. It is a church drawn together, as believers everywhere learn to view the lost people all around them as God sees them. And it is a church that shares with these lost souls a single, simple, unifying message — the good news of Jesus Christ.
The first-century believers began in a small room with just a handful of people, but they took that challenge, and God used their faithfulness to make an eternal impact on their culture and the world. God’s people now number in the hundreds of millions worldwide and while we may not have the same mission field, we all have the same command from Jesus — evangelize the world.
Just imagine what can be accomplished when his people move together to reach the lost. And you can be a part of this holy mandate by reaching out to those around you — your family, your work colleagues, your neighbors.
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was being held in a Roman prison, his feet chained to a soldier on either side. The conditions were horrible and Paul suffered great indignities, with no time alone and no freedoms.
Think about it. Here was a man who had been very active, traveling the open road and high seas to meet and fellowship with God’s people. Paul drew his greatest joy from visiting the churches he had established throughout that region of the world. But now he was chained down, literally bound to the hardest, most profane men alive.
Some of the Christians who knew Paul began to murmur that he was bringing disgrace on the gospel because of his situation. But Paul was intent on finding God’s purpose for allowing him to come to this point. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen to me?” he decided to discover what his reaction should be. This servant of God made up his mind: “I can’t change where I am but I know my steps are ordered by the Lord. Therefore, I’m going to magnify Christ and be a testimony while I’m in these chains.”
“Now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Paul was in no way resigned or indifferent to his circumstances but he was determined that God’s Word would be validated by his reaction to his affliction. “Knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel … Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (1:17-18).
Paul’s attitude is a wonderful demonstration of how we should react to adverse circumstances. It is possible to waste all our tomorrows anxiously waiting to be delivered out of our suffering, but if that becomes our focus, we will miss the miracle and joy of being emancipated in our trial. Paul’s word to the Philippians was, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4). And I say to you, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
The Lord appeared to Abraham and gave him an incredible command: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
How amazing! Suddenly, God picked out a man and told him, “I want you to get up and go, leaving everything behind: your home, your relatives, even your country. I want to send you someplace and I will direct you how to get there along the way.”
How did Abraham respond to this incredible word from the Lord? “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
Think about what God was asking of Abraham. He did not show him how he would support his family, how far to go or when he would arrive. He just told him two things in the beginning: “Go,” and, “I will show you the way.”
What an incredible thing God was commanding. He told Abraham, in essence, “From this day on, I want you to give me all your tomorrows. You are to live your life putting your future into my hands, one day at a time. If you will commit to do this, I will bless you, guide you, and lead you to a place you never imagined.”
God wants to take every member of Christ’s Body to this same place. Indeed, Abraham is what Bible scholars call a “pattern man,” someone who serves as an example of how to walk before the Lord. And Abraham’s example shows us what is required of all who would seek to please God.
The apostle Paul tells us that all who believe and trust in Christ are the children of Abraham (“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham” Galatians 3:7, NIV). In short, we please God by trusting him. Have you entrusted all your tomorrows into the Lord’s hands, as Abraham did?
Jesus tells us what we are to do when we begin to see upheaval in the world: “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:25-28).
Notice Christ says, “When you begin to see these things happen, then look up, lift your heads.” This suggests things are going to get worse and become more intense. Therefore, now is the time to set our hearts — to draw near to the Lord — and anchor our faith in his Word.
What is the faith we are to stand on? It is that the devil cannot hurt us. The most chaotic news cannot hurt us. All demon-led dictators are going to blow away like chaff and we are going to see Christ coming in his glory. This is what allows us to say in evil times, “Live or die, I am the Lord’s. He is sovereign over all that is happening around us.”
In the midst of this worldwide “shaking of all things,” where is the Lord’s attention focused? Is his great concern on the events of the Middle East or rumblings in other parts of the world? No! The Bible tells us God’s vision is trained on his children. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy” (Psalm 33:18).
Our Father is aware of every movement on the earth, by every living thing, and yet his gaze is focused primarily on the well-being of his children. He fixes his eyes on the needs of each of us. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).
Jesus tells the story of a young man who took his portion of his father’s inheritance and squandered it in riotous living. He ended up broke, ruined in health and spirit, and at his lowest point he decided to return to his father’s home. Scripture says, “He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Nothing hindered this father’s forgiveness of the young man; the son had to do nothing because his father had already made provision for reconciliation. He ran to his son and embraced him as soon as he saw the boy coming up the road. The truth is, forgiveness is never a problem for any loving father. Likewise, it is never a problem with our heavenly Father when he sees a repentant child. But inherent in this father’s embrace was his yearning for his son to be restored. He wanted his child’s company, his presence, communion with him.
“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-20, 22).
Believers are well aware of the human side of Christ’s work at Calvary — forgiveness of our sins, the power of victory over all bondages and, of course, the promise of eternal life. Yet there is another benefit of the cross and this one is to the benefit of the Father. It is the delight that comes to him whenever he receives a prodigal child into his house.
Beloved, the real issue at the heart of this parable of the prodigal has less to do with the coming home of the son and more to do with the happiness of the father at his return. And so it is with our loving heavenly Father. His heart is in full delight when we boldly enter into his presence for fellowship with him.