From Oak Park to the Ends of the Earth: God’s Plan for Calvary Memorial Church
March 22, 1998
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Last week we talked about the first half of this verse. At the end of the sermon I asked each person to do two things: 1) Pray that God would give you a chance to witness for Christ this week, and 2) Commit yourself to taking that opportunity when God answered your prayer. I’ve already heard from several of you how God used you to share Christ in some unique situations this week. Even though this is the beginning of the sermon and not the end, I’d like to encourage you to pray that same prayer again this week. Remember, I’m not asking you to create a situation or to open a door that God isn’t opening. I’m simply asking you to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in telling others about Jesus. It’s his job to open the doors for witnessing, it’s our job to go through the doors he opens.
This week we come to the second half of Acts 1:8. The first half tells us what to do—Be Witnesses for Christ. The second half tells us where to do it—in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. If the first half gives us God’s job description for every Christian, the second half gives us God’s plan for every local church.
Acts 1:8 is an important verse for many reasons. For one thing, it offers us a convenient outline for the Book of Acts. Luke uses three successive phrases to describe the spread of the gospel in the first few decades of the Christian church. These phrases fit nicely into the overall plan of this book.
Beginning in Jerusalem—Acts 1-7
Judea and Samaria—Acts 8-12
Ends of the Earth—Acts 13-28
This verse contains the last recorded words of Jesus. As far as we know, these are the final words Jesus spoke before he ascended into heaven. They demand our close attention since they tell us what was on the Savior’s heart just before he left this earth.
Acts 1:8 gives us God’s plan for the entire Christian church. It also tells us God’s plan for Calvary Memorial Church. From this verse we learn what we are to do and where we are to do it.
The year was 1915. In a suburb of Chicago called Oak Park, believers from five local congregations met to form a new church, one that would be independent of all denominational control. They held their first Sunday service on March 21, 1915—83 years ago yesterday. If you go back and read the founding documents, it’s clear that they wanted a church that would do three things:
1. Teach and preach the Bible.
2. Win the lost.
3. Send missionaries around the world.
Much has changed over the last 83 years. Back then the church was called the Madison Street Church; today you know it as Calvary Memorial Church. In the beginning a tiny handful of people met together; today over 1000 people worship here every Sunday. Our founders had nothing but a dream and great faith in God; today we have beautiful buildings, a large staff, wonderful programs, and a worldwide outreach. The differences do not matter as much as the similarities. We still believe what the founders believed and we still exist to do those three things.
Let’s take a closer look at the second half of Acts 1:8 and see what it says to us in 1998. I believe this verse offers a three-fold plan of outreach that, if followed, will produce a healthy church with a dynamic impact on the world.
I. Start Where You Are—In Jerusalem
Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses first in Jerusalem. Why start in Jerusalem? For one thing, it was the logical place to start. That’s where they already were. Second, in some respects it was the easiest place to begin. The people of Jerusalem already knew about Jesus and some had expressed a sincere interest in his ministry. This meant there were fewer barriers to cross. Then there was the credibility issue. How could they witness for Christ in other countries if they hadn’t made converts on their home turf? If the gospel doesn’t work where you are, how can you be sure it will work anywhere else? True religion begins at home. If it doesn’t begin there, it won’t begin anywhere else. No doubt questions of strategy were also involved. The early disciples numbered 120. By starting in Jerusalem they could build their base, then expand elsewhere. Finally, Jerusalem represented a vast spiritual darkness that needed the light of the gospel. Just a few weeks earlier this city had rejected our Lord and put him to death. The city Jesus loved did not love him back. This is where the disciples must begin the work of spreading the gospel.
It’s not hard to see how this applies to us. Oak Park is our Jerusalem. God put us here 83 years ago and commissioned us to hold forth the word of life. We have our own strategic reasons for staying here. If you look at a map of America, Chicago dominates the middle of the country. Look at a map of metropolitan Chicago and you’ll discover that Oak Park is right in the center of the metropolitan area. Then find a map of Oak Park and look at the two main streets—Oak Park Avenue and Harlem Avenue. Then look at Lake Street. One church sits in the middle of Oak Park—Calvary Memorial Church. What a fantastic opportunity we have—in the center of Oak Park, in the middle of greater Chicago, in the heart of America. This is our Jerusalem—we have to start here.
I know that some of you were dismayed at the results of the election last Tuesday when the supporters of Gay Rights won by a narrow margin of 230 votes. They outspent us approximately 10-1 and still barely squeaked out a victory. Don’t be dismayed. Remember that we prayed for God’s will to be done, and we believe that prayer has been answered. No doubt we would be happier if the results had gone the other way. But it was not to be. Don’t you think Almighty God could round up 230 extra votes if he wanted to? This is Chicago. No one would have blinked an eye if 230 votes had materialized out of thin air. The God who spoke the galaxies into existence could easily have created 230 more votes if that had been his plan. Therefore, we rest content knowing that we did our best, and knowing that no election can save this village. Only the gospel can change the human heart.
Jesus said to begin in Jerusalem. Where are you right now? In a dorm room? That’s your Jerusalem. In a classroom? That’s your Jerusalem. Living in a neighborhood? That’s your Jerusalem. Attending the Rotary Club or the YMCA? That’s your Jerusalem. Do you attend a public school? Do you work in an office downtown? Do you work in a factory or in a store or in a hospital? That’s your Jerusalem. Do you make sales calls? Those prospects comprise your Jerusalem. Do you have family and relatives who need the Lord? They are also part of your Jerusalem.
Start where you are. That’s your Jerusalem. Write down the names of three people you’d like to see come to Christ this year. Then keep that list somewhere nearby and pray over that list every day, asking God to enable you to be a witness for Christ to them.
This week I ran across a report called “One Day in the Lives of America’s Children.” Here is a part of that report: Every day in the USA: