TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and that Jesus was and isthe Saviour of the world, not just the Jews. Last time we saw how Jesus made it clear to his disciples that His purpose is global and included all nations.
In this post, we will see the implications of Jesus' mandate in Acts 1:8 where he tells his followers that they (and we) will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The book of Acts takes us on the journey of the Church’s obedience to Jesus Christ’s global mandate. It wasn’t immediate obedience, however. In fact, Don Richardson calls it reluctant obedience. The disciples were hesitant to move beyond their cultural bias, but God would be proactive to thrust the Church out to accomplish His purpose voluntarily or involuntarily.
Acts 2:1-13 marks the beginning of the new era that Jesus initiated. He had been telling his disciples the things that were going to happen, He would be killed, buried, and resurrected. He spent many days reassuring them of His love and His plan to use them in the phase that was to come. But before that could happen they needed to wait in Jerusalem for a helper to be given, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus named in Acts 1:4-5 and who John the Baptist refers to in Mark 1:8.
In Acts 2:4 Luke tells us that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Then in Acts 2:11, Luke gives further clarification about what he meant by ‘other tongues’. This event took place during the feast of Pentecost, and Jerusalem was filled with devout Jews from every nation. When the group of 120 from the upper room began to speak in other tongues, these devout Jews from every nation heard the Galileans from the upper room telling about the wonderful things God has done.
When you consider that this Pentecost is the beginning of the church it becomes evident that there are a couple of significant implications. First, Jesus has given the message. Recall that he spent almost three years teaching these people the message of the kingdom. That the kingdom is at hand and to repent and believe the good news of God. And now he gives the means for global distribution of the message - the languages of all nations.
A problem appears, though, in that the disciples do not seem to move beyond Jerusalem. Remember the instruction from Jesus in Acts 1:8 was that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But Acts 5:28 and Acts 6:7 give clear indications that the word is spreading very well through Jerusalem but not to Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth.
Many missions-minded leaders believe that Acts 8:1 is God’s solution to their lack of obedience to Jesus’ instruction in Acts 1:8. In chapter 8, we see the persecution that breaks out against the church following the death of Stephen. Isn’t it interesting how Luke records what happened?
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” (Acts 8:1)
As a result of the persecution, they were all scattered to Judea and Samaria. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen. And so it did.
Then, the rest of the book of Acts records the progress of the gospel out from Jerusalem.
Acts 8:4-8 record the trip of Philip into the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. In this instance, we see the use by God of signs and wonders accompanying the message and resulting in great joy among the people.
We also see Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel told him to go to the south to a specific road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. On that road, Philip was told to go and join himself to the chariot. When he was there, he heard the Ethiopian reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading. He couldn’t understand because he had no one to explain it to him. Beginning with the passage in Isaiah, Philip explained the good news of Jesus Christ and the eunuch believed and was baptized.
Do you think the eunuch kept this good news to himself? Not likely. It’s reasonable to assume that he shared this good news with everyone he knew in Ethiopia. That’s in Africa, in case you didn’t know. The good news is spreading.
We could also mention the divine appointment that Peter had with Cornelius and the way that God changed the mind of many concerning the ministry to Gentiles (the nations).
But the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-21 was a turning point. You see, because of the success that Paul was having among the Gentiles, there were those in Judea who were saying that unless one was circumcised according to the custom of Moses, one could not be saved. According to Luke, Paul and Barnabas had some heated debates with them about this. It was then decided that Paul and Barnabas would be sent to Jerusalem, to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Along the way they passed through Pheonicia and Samaria where they told of the Gentile conversion stories and bringing great joy to the brothers and sisters, who were also Gentiles.
Paul argued from his calling to the Gentiles to the evidence of God working among the Gentiles to save them by grace, just as He had the Jews. He bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to the Jews. And it is clear that they have had their hearts cleansed by faith.
Then James, who was the leading elder in the Church in Jerusalem rendered his judgement. He stated that he agreed with Peter’s testimony (in the case of Cornelius) that God was again choosing for Himself a people from among the Gentiles and that the (Old Testament) Scriptures agree. Therefore, there was no reason to trouble these Gentile believers beyond those stipulations mentioned in verse 20.
This decision at the Jerusalem Council freed the gospel and the church from a single cultural expression. The question facing the leaders of the church was, “Is this new movement just another sect of Judaism or the dynamic Church of Jesus Christ finding faithful expression in all the ethne (peoples) of the earth?”
The question of the ages is not whether God’s promise to Abram will be fulfilled and disciples will be made from all nations. The Bible guarantees that God’s global purpose will be accomplished. The evidence is in Revelation 7:9-10.
The question is, will our generation of the Church be obedient to the mandate of Jesus Christ and participate in completing the task? And will I walk with Him, obey His command, and be strategically involved in His global purpose?
How do you answer these questions? If you do wish to be strategically involved in His global purpose, but just don’t know where to start, give us a call and we can help you figure this out. There are so many opportunities to be involved close to home that there really is no excuse not to be involved.
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