Now the high priest came and those who were with him and called together the council and all the senate of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the sentries standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And some one came and told them, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."
In order to understand the meaning of SPAN III and the building of our new worship building, you have to see it as part of the Christian movement throughout history and around the world. I want to give you some glimpses of that movement in a moment, but first let's get the most important facts on the table.
The Foundational Facts of Christianity
We'll take them from Peter's message here in Acts 5:30–31.
God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Verse 30: "The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree." The God who created the world—and called Abraham, Isaac, and Israel to be his people—this ever-living God raised Jesus from the dead.
God exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Savior. Verse 31: "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader [or Prince] and Savior." God did not raise Jesus from the dead just to die again. He raised him to reign and to save. He is alive to day. He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). He is building his church as he said he would (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus has authority to give repentance and forgiveness of sins and he is giving them to men and women from all the peoples. Verse 31b: "God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." But not only to Israel—that was only the springboard to the world. Acts 11:18 says the church glorified God saying, "Then to the Gentiles [i.e., the peoples] also God has granted repentance unto life."
- Fact #1: God raised Jesus from the dead.
- Fact #2: God exalted Jesus to his right hand as Prince and Savior.
- Fact #3: Jesus has authority to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to whom he will, and he is leading his church today in a worldwide movement, gathering all of God's sheep into the fold of faith from every people and tribe and tongue and nation (John 10:16; 11:52).
Now these are the foundational facts of the Christian movement, of which that building and our efforts to pay for it with SPAN III is a part. What that building stands for and what will happen in that building are part of a movement in history and in the world that is led by Jesus Christ today and cannot be defeated because Jesus reigns omnipotently at the right hand of God and has his authority in the world by virtue of an indestructible life.
Glimpses of the Global Christian Movement
Now, with the foundational facts on the table, let me give you some glimpses of the Christian movement and what we are a part of as we build our building for Christ and his kingdom.
We are familiar with the story of the amazing growth of the church during the oppression and persecution of the Maoist Cultural Revolution that closed China to the outside world for 40 years. Instead of crushing Christianity, one million Christians became 30 to 50 million.
What is new and not as widely known is what has happened since Tiananmen Square in June 1989. During the Communist oppression almost all of the church growth was among the poor, the peasants, the under-educated. Millions of them. But after the massacre of Tiananmen Square many of the intellectuals of the land were openly disillusioned with the regime and the philosophy that could crush unarmed students. Writing one year later one insider said,
We have reports of thousands of intellectuals turning to Christ. In at least five university cities no less than ten percent of the students have been reported as turning to Christianity. In a way this is even more amazing than the revival during the Cultural Revolution. For the revolution that was led by intellectuals is now being deserted by those who made it. (From Herbert Schlossberg, Called to Suffer, Called to Triumph, Multnomah Press, 1990, p. 26)
The continent was about 4% professing Christian in 1900 and is about 40% today. There are approximately 16,000 to 20,000 new Christians every day in Africa.
After 70 years of atheistic repression, the Christian movement is about 36% of the population—over one hundred million people, five times the size of the Communist Party. And of course the toppling of the Iron Curtain in the last two years has opened a flood of Christian literature into these spiritually hungry lands. Albania will be open soon (we pray). Mongolia and North Korea and Cuba may not be far behind. Marxism is bankrupt spiritually and economically.
The percent of Christians is so high in this Muslim land that the government won't print it—probably nearing 25%. "More Muslims have become Christians in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iran, and East Africa in the last ten years than in the last ten centuries" (R. Winter in Mission Frontiers, March, 1989).
In 1900 Korea had no Protestant church; it was thought to be "impossible to penetrate." Today Korea is 30% Christian with 4,000 churches in Seoul alone.
Evangelicals have grown from 300,000 in 1900 to 34 million in 1985 and will increase to 80 million by the year 2000 according to recent trends. There are more evangelicals in Brazil than in the whole of Europe, excluding the USSR. (Operation World, p. 65)
In the United States, 350 new mission agencies have been established since 1950. More important is that about the same number have been established by non-western churches and the numbers of non-western missionaries is growing so fast that the number will probably overtake the number of all western missionaries some time in 1998. In 1988 there were about 35,000 non-western missionaries; by 2000 that number will probably reach 160,000 (Larry Pate, "The Dramatic Growth of Two-Thirds World Missions," Bridging Peoples 8, July 1989, p. 4). God has sent Chinese to reach Tibetans, Hondurans to reach North African Muslims, Navajos to reach Laplanders, and other strategies that we can't even mention.
We Are Not Big—The Christian Movement Is
Now the point is this. Bethlehem is not big. But the Christian movement is big. Even when it is suffering and persecuted and laughed at and beleaguered, it is big—because it is God's movement, and his purpose is to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). And his counsel shall stand and he will accomplish all his purpose (Isaiah 46:10).
What Jerusalem Was Filled With
When Peter and the apostles were arrested, Acts 5:28 says they were charged like this: "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching." Filled Jerusalem! Well that is step one. Jesus had said, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Now Jerusalem is full. It is almost time to move on.
Jerusalem is full of teaching—the teaching that God raised Jesus from the dead. And God exalted him to his right hand as Prince over the world and as Savior. And this Jesus is now leading a movement that spreads unstoppably where he wills because he himself gives repentance and forgiveness of sins. That's what Jerusalem is full of—full of the glory of the Lord Jesus—risen, triumphant over death, exalted, Prince and Savior of the world. And that is what the whole world will be full of—and that is the meaning of SPAN I, SPAN II, and SPAN III. S. P. A. N.—Spreading Praise to All Nations. Filling the earth with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Our Role in All This
We are not big. But we are part of something big. Something that cannot fail. And when I think of that building and what I will give to help pay for it, what I think of is the movement—not just our little part in it, but the history-long, everlasting, universe-filling Christian movement called the kingdom of God. The undefeatable Christian movement. "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
That's what we are part of. It means that the new worship building stands for filling the Twin Cities with our teaching. If we are going to "spread praise to all nations" with integrity, we have to give ourselves at home to filling the Twin Cities with our teaching. And I don't mean just little us. I mean with hundreds of other Bible-believing churches. That's what the building stands for—filling the Cities and filling the earth with our teaching—the teaching of this text—that God raised Jesus from the dead, that he is exalted to his right hand reigning as Prince and Savior, and that he is leading a world-changing movement by giving repentance and forgiveness of sins among all the nations.
How Can We Do This?
Well, how did they do it in Jerusalem—"you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching"? Answer: they did it by radical obedience to God. Verse 29: "Peter and the apostles said, 'We must obey God rather than men.'"
But where does that kind of radical freedom come from? What makes people able to risk jobs and reputation and life like this? The answer is given in verse 32 where Peter explains where this kind of radical obedience comes from. Verse 32: "We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." Literally: " . . . and so is the Holy Spirit whom God gave [past tense] to those who are obeying him [present tense]."
The point is that obedience is the evidence and sign that the Holy Spirit has been given. So the answer to where radical obedience comes from is: it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.
They filled Jerusalem with their teaching because in the face of great danger they obeyed God and not man. They obeyed God and not man because they had received the power of the Holy Spirit.
May God Give Us the Holy Spirit in Great Measure
My prayer for you and for my own family this week as we decide what we will give to help pay for this new worship building is that God will give us the Holy Spirit in great measure. Because the more he fills us, the more radical will be our obedience and the more quickly this city and this world will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
One of our women told me this week that she had a dream about our new worship building. She saw in her dream the two huge windows on either side that lets the sun stream in and fill the room with light. But instead of the light coming in, she saw in her dream a building with light pouring out of the windows and filling the sky and the city.
That's it. Keep that dream in your mind as you pray this week.