Push back the darkness.

The Book of Acts looks different to me than it did the first time I read through it. It looks different to me now than it did when we first started this series. Because this book isn’t just a bunch of stories of courageous men. It’s a glimpse into what it would look like to follow Jesus with everything--with every interaction, with every possession, and with every moment.

And I think it’s hard for us to view life that way, because most of the time, we’re not in that position. We’re not in the position where we could lose everything in a moment. We’re not in the position where we acknowledge that every second could be our last. We don’t think that way. We live out an invincible mindset—until we realize we’re not invincible.

But these stories, this book that contains the Acts of the Apostles, it shows us courage in the face of paralyzing fear. It shows us that if we have Christ and we lose everything, we have everything, but if we have everything and lose Christ, we’ve lost everything. It shows us our worth is not found in something that can be taken from us. It shows us that our lives are to be wrung out for the glory of the Gospel.

Peter knew that. He knew if he had Christ and he lost everything else, he had everything. He knew that when he stood in the upper room with the disciples after Jesus died. He knew that when the Holy Spirit fell upon that place on Pentecost and the church began. He knew it when he stood before crowds of thousands and boldly declared the Gospel of Jesus. He knew that when he faced the Council and the high priests with John and declared, “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Stephen knew that if he lost everything but still had Jesus, he’d lost nothing at all. He lived his life as a servant; not in chains or bound to anyone, but freely giving his time and talent to serve others. Remember, Stephen was known for being full of the Spirit and of wisdom. He had a gift and he didn’t wait around to use it. He went out and took care of the Hellenist widows. He started feeding programs. He started getting on his knees and being with the people he was serving. He knew Jesus was all he needed. And he knew that when he was seized and dragged before the council. He knew that when he was given a chance to deny the claims against him, but instead spoke brilliantly and boldly about the sins of the past and about his obedience to Jesus. And he knew that when he was dragged out of the city and murdered. He knew that if he lost everything but still had Jesus, he’d lost nothing at all.

Phillip knew that too. Remember, Phillip served alongside Stephen up until his death. But instead of being scared into surrender, Phillip continued to follow Jesus with everything. He took the word of God to Samaria, a place notorious for being unwelcoming toward Jews. He walked boldly and with courage into adversity, and an entire region that had once followed Simon the Magician now saw truth in who Jesus was. They had seen Simon for the magic he practiced, but they saw Phillip for the message he brought.

Paul knew this probably better than anyone. Remember, he was born Saul of Tarsus. He had nearly all power and authority. He was circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. He met all of the religious requirements. He had his religious checklist covered. But he missed it all. And Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and his life changed.

In Philippians 3:8, Paul declared his surrender to Jesus. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul knew that all he needed was Jesus. He had lived so much of his life trying to gain the whole world, and in the process had lost his soul. But the moment he encountered Jesus, his world was turned upside down. And there was no going back. Paul spent the rest of his days traveling the world, taking the Gospel to every corner of the earth. He was arrested over and over again, and ended up living the rest of his days in prison. And even then, he didn’t let that take away his joy. He wrote letters to all of his churches, urging them to continue living for the Gospel.

Barnabas knew this truth too. He knew that he could have everything, but if he didn’t have Jesus, he had nothing. So he spent his life encouraging others. He spent his life being wrung out for the Gospel. He traveled around with the man known for throwing Christians in prison. He spent his time with him, encouraging him, facing trials with him, and reaching the ends of the earth with the Gospel.

In this whole book, in all of these stories, the Gospel is pushing back what is dark by establishing communities of faith that are dedicated to one another and dedicated to the mission given to us.

This book ends with chapter 28. It ends with Paul welcoming all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

That’s where the book ends. But that’s not where the story ends, because the church continued to grow and spread. The Gospel continued to push back what is dark and continued to establish communities of faith that are dedicated to one another and dedicated to the mission given to us.

 

And that’s why we’re here. That’s this incredible gift we have been given--this community of faith that is dedicated to one another. This is a gift and a treasure. Having a place where you can come and be honest and vulnerable and tackle life’s challenges together with the assurance of the Gospel and the promises it brings—that is a gift.

But the community of faith is not just dedicated to each other, it is dedicated to the mission given to us, the same message that was given to Peter, to John, to Stephen and Phillip and Paul and Barnabas. That message takes us right back to where we started. Matthew 28.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the same mission he gave his first disciples, and that they gave the early Christian Church. And it’s the same mission we’re given.

 

Go.

 

Make disciples. Notice it says disciples, not converts. The goal in our going is not just to have people who say they follow Jesus, but people who actually follow Jesus. People who choose to make Jesus everything. People that know that if they lose everything but have Jesus, they have everything they need. And we do this by letting people in. Walk alongside people for an extended period of time and you will see the darkness of their ways. Walk alongside them for longer and they will see the light in yours. Be a faithful presence in peoples lives so they can see the Gospel in yours.

The Book of Acts is a really neat story of how the Church pushed back what was dark in order to bring more people into the light. And we get to do that too. Every time you fill these seats, every time you open your Bibles, when you gather together and spend time in this community, every time you put Jesus first, you’re pushing back the darkness. Every time you walk into the doors at Novak, every time you show up for service crew, every time you choose joy over gossip, every time you choose to value someone over using them, you’re pushing back the dark. You’re living out the message of the Gospel. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

My prayer for us tonight is that this study we’ve done through the book of Acts would resonate with you. That you would not only see yourself somewhere in this story, but that you would see yourself in the rest of the story. That you would be stirred and compelled into action. That you would choose to see Jesus as being worth everything.