How do you wish to be found?

  • Steve Hatter
Sun rays shining trough the clouds

 As I survey our nation’s current state, I find myself wondering more and more whether Christ’s return is imminent. As our national election day approaches and the candidates promise what they simply cannot deliver, I’m guessing many of you are wondering as well if the day of Lord is near. But beyond a pure and earnest anticipation of heaven, too much of such thinking can be a temptation to ruminate on things unprofitable. Jesus gave us a glimpse of His promised return to encourage watchfulness, not an anxious preoccupation with what might be. Our heart motivation in pondering the day of the Lord should be to simply please every single day Christ while serving on mission here on earth, even as we anticipate the Master’s return as captured in Mark 13:32–37:

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”


So, we’re to keep on working—to grind as people now say it—to advance the gospel day in and day out. Anything less endangers us to being “found asleep” when Christ triumphantly comes. 

As I think about the matter in this healthier way, I’m drawn to the challenges that faced the early church leaders as narrated in the New Testament Book of Acts. That amazing early church story is given to us from the inspired pen of the Apostle Luke for many reasons known to God and for us to discover, but most certainly one of them is  to encourage and energize those who may be feeling weary in our current day. The saints of Acts, under immense pressure and persecution from both government and culture, sought to please daily Christ on mission and were transformed from the cowering to courageous giants in so doing!

Acts chronicled God’s sovereign plan for the spread of the gospel after Christ’s ascension. Luke documented a three-decade period wherein Spirit-empowered men—Apostles—obediently navigated severe opposition and significant affliction to lead the advance of God’s long-promised salvation offer to both Jews and Gentiles. Beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and ending with Paul in Rome preaching and teaching “unhindered” (28:30), Luke’s inspiration documented how the Apostolic Witness went forth from Jerusalem to Rome under God’s providential care.


The Apostolic Witness


The apostles were at once ordinary and gifted men appointed by Jesus to be emissaries representing the authority of God. As such, they were Jesus’ “twelve,” including Matthias who replaced Judas (1:26; Mark 3:14–15), and Paul, who was uniquely set apart as an apostle to the Gentiles (9:1–19). The qualifications for apostleship were having been chosen directly by Christ and having witnessed the resurrected Christ (1:22–24).

The apostles uncompromisingly asserted Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, and that Jesus’ sacrificial work—rooted in Yahweh’s ancient unconditional covenant promises—was a salvific offering not only to the Jews, but to all who would believe. The apostles were to vindicate and validate—even unto death—the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus, and champion this gospel’s exclusive power to save.

The apostles were supernaturally empowered, directed, and protected by the Holy Spirit who came upon them on the day of Pentecost. Thus, they were able to “speak in other tongues” and heal specifically for God’s perfect purposes. The gospel’s miraculous spread in the face of growing opposition was predetermined, but courageous men of action grew in numbers, power, and influence.

The launch point for the gospel’s spread was Christ’s commission to the Disciples—The Great Commission—documented in Matthew 28:16–20. Jesus also gave clarified directions by identifying Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria as the first missional objectives (1:8). Acts recorded early advances in these areas centered on Peter as the lead witness.


The Apostolic Witness Led by Peter


Peter’s leadership of the Apostolic Witness to Israel essentially formed a “Part 1” of Acts (1:3–12:24). The primary elements of Peter’s stewardship were: the witness to Jerusalem (1:3–6:7); the witness expanded beyond Jerusalem by new spokesmen (6:8–9:31); and the climax of Peter’s witness (9:32–12:24).

The first element—witness to Jerusalem—was validated when the resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples promising they would soon receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus then ascended after commanding “be my witnesses” (1:3–26).

The mission’s vitalization came through a series of events: the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost inspiring early conversions, Peter’s healing of the lame beggar and subsequent speech on Solomon’s Portico bringing more to faith, and finally, Peter’s inspired speech before the Council that brought direct conflict with Israel’s leaders (2:1–4:22). Ironically, opposition proved only to enhance the apostle’s influence. Mission victory came as the apostles did “many signs and wonders,” resulting in unity, organization, and growth such that “God continued to increase” (4:23–6:7).

The witness expanded beyond Jerusalem following Stephen’s dramatic speech before the Council and resultant stoning (6:8–9:31). Saul’s approval of the execution (8:1) sparked persecution that scattered believers throughout Judea and Samaria (6:8–8:3). However, those scattered boldly preached the Word under the Spirit’s direction, adding unlikely converts like the Ethiopian eunuch (8:4–40). The witness then providentially opened to eventual large-scale salvation for the Gentiles with Saul’s conversion (9:1–31).

Peter’s call also shifted to Gentiles as his time of witness marched to the climax (9:32–12:24). As Peter coalesced a new outreach going “here and there among them all,” preaching and healing in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea, his movements triggered a predetermined shift to Gentile outreach. God’s timely vision to him regarding “common or unclean” things led to the Holy Spirit falling on Gentiles (10:9–48), a development that Jewish believers—the party of circumcision—resisted. However, Peter’s leadership prevailed, and God raised the church in Antioch as a picture of health (11:19–27). Luke’s emphasis on Peter ended with his miraculous rescue from prison and Herod’s death (12:1–24).


The Apostolic Witness Led by Paul


If Peter’s leadership was “part 1,” Paul’s ascension to reach Gentiles represented “part 2” (12:25–28:31). Moreover, Luke’s narration of Paul’s ministry followed similar sequencing and thematic patterns as those seen with Peter. Acts 12:25–16:5 chronicled validation and vitalization of Pauline Apostleship. Verses 16:6–19:20 described the mission expanding into new Gentile areas, and verses 19:21–28:31 narrated a climax point of Paul’s ministry. Notably, Luke carefully documented how, as with Peter, God was the mover behind the history, providing, protecting, and directing Paul in the face of profound cultural, religious, and political resistance, as well as personal affliction.

 Validating and vitalizing Paul’s ministry was the Holy’s Spirit’s direction at Antioch to “set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). Under this pull, the men successfully embarked on a missionary journey to Cyprus, Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, et al., advancing the gospel through preaching, signs, and wonders. Even as the Jews resisted—to the point of stoning Paul—their gains among the Gentiles increased (13:4–14:18). Chapter fifteen narrated a critical victory needed for Paul at the Jerusalem Council wherein the issue of circumcision as a necessary condition to salvation was debated in favor of Paul’s correct message of salvation through grace alone.

With the threat to sound doctrine settled, God orchestrated two more lengthy Pauline missionary journeys (16, 17, 18, 19, 20). Through the appointment of gifted men to help Paul and supernatural direction regarding specific locations first to avoid—Asia and Bythnia—and then to go with confidence—Macedonia and Greece—God used Paul to achieve a massive spread of the gospel. However, beyond the grueling yet successful missions work within the three journeys, Paul had one remaining critical mission. He had to go to Jerusalem (20:22) while on his way to Rome. Jerusalem for Paul was a path of affliction, imprisonment, and mortal danger. However, through these trials came the platform for the gospel’s defense to the Jews through Paul’s hearings with the Council, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26). This defense was the climax of the Pauline witness as he repudiated his testimony and extended his ministry. Paul eventually made it to Caesar’s Rome, persevering through yet more trials. However, within God’s sovereign care, he ultimately found the opportunity to continue preaching and teaching “unhindered,” as Acts ends.

How do you wish to be found at the Lord’s return? As a military commander, I always enjoyed “catching people doing right,” meaning that a surprise visit from me, the boss, proved their real heart. It’s easy to look good when you know when the boss is coming. It’s much harder to do right when no one is watching. I want to be caught being faithful like the early church leaders. And I also know Jesus is always watching, isn’t he? So, let’s all be caught doing right!