We’re back with Part 3 of our Church in the Wild series where we’re journeying through the book of Acts and learning how to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current culture. This week, Pastor Eric shared an inspiring message with 3 stories from the New Testament all about living out radical obedience.
Last week, in Boldness–A Beautiful Resistance, Pastor Alexa wrapped up her message in Acts chapter 7 where Stephen was stoned to death in response to being bold for the name of Jesus. As we pick up in chapter 8, we’re shifting from the importance of boldness to the importance of obedience and discovering 3 stories all about living out radical obedience to the Lord. Let’s dive into our foundational passage of Scripture for Pastor Eric’s message, The Adventure of Obedience:
Acts 8:1-4 (NKJV) 1Now Saul was consenting to his (Stephen’s) death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
In the first 7 chapters of Acts, the early church experienced religious resistance. Starting in chapter 8, this religious resistance progresses into full-fledged persecution. Being a follower of Jesus not only meant potentially being disliked; it now meant potentially being killed because of faith. Being a follower of Christ became more challenging, more difficult, and more of a risk.
Even in the face of persecution, the gospel message continued to spread and expand and grow further as the disciples scattered and carried the message of Jesus to the edges of the earth. As we cover Acts 8 through 10, we see that these chapters read like an adventure novel. We see just one requirement for successfully being a church in the wild. In order to take the gospel to the world, the disciples needed radical obedience. In order to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current culture, radical obedience is vitally important for us, too!
If we’re not intentional with our faith, we’ll fall into a following of Jesus that’s defined by “sin management.” When we first become believers, we experience a radical excitement for Jesus and our hearts and lives are absolutely set on fire for Him. All too often, that life-changing, radical revelation and passion for Jesus becomes domesticated and our Christian faith gets predictable. We get stuck in the cycle of trying not to sin, falling into the temptation of sin, getting to church, alleviating the guilt, repeat. Here’s the deal: God has so much more for us than that!
God has called us to a grand and miraculous journey, The Adventure of Obedience, where we will experience discovery and impact. We see the disciples model this lifestyle for us throughout Acts as they sought to hear God’s voice and abide by His calling. When we’re obedient, God shows up and does powerful things. Like the early church, we need an adventure!
When we approach adventures in life, surrender is the key to success. If we try to control every aspect, we will endure unnecessary struggle. There’s a current in the river of Christianity and we’ve got to learn to flow with it!
God intends for our journey with him to be one of surrender, one of trust, and one of surprise of the grand things He can do in our lives. Obedience is a vital part of a healthy and thriving Christian life and the Jesus was is an adventure of obedience!
Chapter 8: Philip + the Ethiopian
Persecution has come to the early church and the disciples have scattered–the gospel is expanding and going places it’s never gone before. One of these gospel scatterers was named Philip and he was the go-to guy for hospitality. Let’s take a look at his story:
Acts 8:26-30 (NKJV) 26Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
Like Philip, we need to have an unencumbered willingness to say a resounding and immediate “yes!” to God. Even when we don’t know what God is going to call and ask us to do, we need to be ready to say yes without any doubt or hesitation. In The Adventure of Obedience, Pastor Eric reminds us that “the sound of obedience is yes.” The Holy Spirit works in ways we don’t see and there is unlimited potential for the work God will do if we simply practice the yes of obedience.
Isaiah 1:19 (NKJV) If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land.
God is looking for willing people; those who will respond to His voice quickly and wholeheartedly. In the Hebrew language, the word “obedience” speaks to hearing. The imagery of this word is powerful: if He speaks a word and we’re obedient, that means we hear it. And as long as He knows we hear it, He knows we’re going to do it. It’s like saying, “God, I hear you and my answer is yes!”
1 Samuel 15:22 (MEV) Obedience is better than sacrifice…
Acts 8:30-31, 35 (NKJV) 30So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. [...] 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
The Holy Spirit had already been working in this circumstance; He just needed a willing vessel. Let’s go where God tells us to go and say what he tells us to say. Sure there may be a little bit of risk in saying yes, but God’s reward is always more than worth it. Let’s be those willing vessels!
What is God asking you to do that would require sacrifice for you to say “yes!” to?
Share a time when you followed where the Holy Spirit led you and were able to see the fruits of His labor.
How does Philip’s story encourage your own willingness and yes of obedience?
Chapter 9: Ananias + Saul
As the author of Acts, Luke shifts gears in chapter 9 and tells us the story of one of the most important figures in the New Testament. We all know Paul, the author of more than half of the New Testament, but before he was Paul, his name was Saul. And Saul constantly wreaked havoc on the church and dragged Christians out of their homes and into prison. He was a major enemy to the message of Jesus! Let’s take a look at Saul’s encounter with Jesus and the plan God had for him in becoming Paul:
Acts 9:10-19 (NKJV) 10Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” 13Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”17And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. 19So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
Through the actions of Ananias, we see that at its core, obedience is a trust issue. God asked Ananias to do something way outside of his comfort zone that even put him in harm's way. Ananias had a decision to make and he chose to trust in God’s character and His good intention toward us. He did not allow the voice of fear to direct his path.
Oftentimes, our greatest challenge is not a willingness to say yes, it is with cultivating simple trust in God. Here’s the key: simple obedience is always a result of simple trust.
1 John 2:3-5 (NLT) 3And we can be sure that we know Him if we obey His commandments. 4If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5But those who obey God's word truly show how completely they love Him. That is how we know we are living in Him.
There’s a correlation to our knowing God that’s directly related to our obedience to God! Obedience always comes from first knowing and trusting God and His word. When God speaks to us, He always has our best interest in mind. We can trust His voice even when it seems like what He’s asking us to do is difficult. He is a good Father and we can trust in Him wholly! As we learn to trust him more fully, it will be so easy to obediently follow Him. Amen!
Share a time when trusting God has been difficult for you.
What fears or doubts prevent us from trusting God wholeheartedly?
What benefits do we experience when we trust Him?
Chapter 10: Peter + Cornelius
As you may know, Peter is one of Jesus’ apostles and he was one of the leaders of the early church. Peter was also a Jew. All of the disciples and Jesus himself were all of Jewish heritage. In Acts chapter 10, God asked Peter to visit a Gentile–something very challenging for a Jewish man at this time to do. In this time and culture, Gentiles were seen as unclean and the Jewish people were to avoid them. The Gentile Peter was called to visit, Cornelius, was a Roman official who was seeking God.
At the start of this chapter, no Gentile had received the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Through three visions, Jesus instructed Peter to visit Cornelius. Peter has a choice to make: will he put himself in a position to be discounted by those who are closest to him at the expense of obeying God or not?
Acts 10:19-21 (NKJV) 19So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. 20Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”
Because of Peter’s obedience, we see God move. We see a Jew and a Gentile share a moment of prayer as the Holy Spirit enters Cornelius’ home and he gets saved and becomes a believer in Christ. Peter had no idea how significant this moment of obedience was! He had no idea the gospel would be spread outside of the Jewish community for the first time!
Peter had to overcome cultural norms and risk embarrassment and judgment from his friends. He even had to challenge his unhealthy theology about how God loves and cares for people. Peter chose obedience and the implications of his choice still impact us today.
Acts 11:18 (NKJV) When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
Share an unexpected surprise God has gifted you with in response to your obedience to Him.
What areas has God challenged you in where obedience seems difficult or challenging or uncertain?
How does Peter’s story speak to you personally?
This is where The Adventure of Obedience begins! Jesus modeled this for us with His everyday life; He was surrendered to the will of the Father. The Jesus way of life is the way of obedience. He died on the cross for us out of obedience and because of that, we are here today, free and saved. Praise the Lord!
Father, we love you! Please speak to us as we gather around your word. Help us to live with boldness and radical obedience in our everyday lives. Make us willing to walk your path and say yes to you, Lord. Help us to walk the road of obedience and we journey through our week ahead. Help us to leave this time walking, talking, living, and looking more like Jesus. It’s in His holy name that we pray, Amen!