The mission appears impossible. No, I’m not referring to a small team of secret agents toppling rogue dictators, but rather a paltry group of believers commissioned to proclaim the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth and to make disciples from all people groups! Honestly, the mission which Christ gave to his disciples was impossible—they were to proclaim the gospel in hostile territories, among racially charged ethnic groups, and to societies engrossed in base and idolatrous practices. In addition, the people unto whom Christ entrusted the commission were impoverished and often behaved cowardly; to further complicate matters, they had their own spiritual struggles with which they had to contend. Nevertheless, the Acts of the Apostles reveals that the word of God “kept on spreading” (Acts 6:7), “continued to grow” (12:24), and “was growing mightily and prevailing” (19:20). Shocked? Surprised? I failed to mention that the commission was given by the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Also, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower them as witnesses to the remotest regions of the earth (Acts 1:8). When we consider that it was the Lord Jesus who gave the commission and the promise of empowerment by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the mission no longer seems impossible at all; rather, it was inevitable! The gospel was proclaimed in faraway lands, and the word of God that was proclaimed was effectual in converting and sanctifying multitudes of men and women.
The Centrality of Christ
The focus of the messages recorded in the Book of Acts is upon the centrality of the gospel—Christ Jesus’ redemptive work through His substitutionary sacrifice and powerful resurrection. Peter preached in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:22-23)
Later, Paul would proclaim in Antioch in Pisidia:
“And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed. When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:28-30)
The word of God that was preached announced Christ’s death as the means of satisfying the justice of God and securing righteousness for believers. The resurrection of Jesus Christ testified that God was satisfied with the work of Christ and that redemption was accomplished. Paul’s message affirmed that salvation was secured by Christ alone: “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). Peter boldly announced that Christ was the only source through which God provided salvation: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The book of Acts records several sermons that were preached by the apostles Peter and Paul. However, the message of the gospel also expanded its reach as other ministers preached and as ordinary Christians, laymen, and believers who held no ecclesiastical office testified the good news. When persecution afflicted the saints in Jerusalem, the church was scattered abroad. However, persecution did not prohibit the growth of the word; rather, it intensified the proliferation of the message to other areas! As the saints fled from Jerusalem, they carried the message of the gospel with them and enthusiastically shared it as they traveled: “[They] who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Will Metzger observed: “In our world probably 99.9 percent of all Christians are not in the full-time ministry. Unless everyone engages in evangelism—praying, initiating and fervently speaking the gospel—not much will happen.” The portrait in Acts is one of radical obedience, as believers were speaking the word of God in every place and to everyone. For that reason, much was happening in the early church. Thousands of people turned to Christ by faith; new converts were baptized and were edified and strengthened by the ministry of the word. God’s kingdom was expanding through the glorious message of redemption through Jesus Christ and the practical implications that accompanied sound doctrine (Acts 2:41-47).
Are you a participant in the ministry of the word? Pray that the Holy Spirit will ignite a passion in your soul to hear God’s word as the elders of your church faithfully exegete the Bible weekly (Acts 17:11). Also, participate in ministry by sharing God’s word in the sphere God has placed you and among the relationships God has providentially provided.
Home and Abroad
Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared unto many of the disciples. A personal encounter with Jesus and the subsequent blessing of receiving the Holy Spirit resulted in the city of Jerusalem being filled with the doctrine of the Lord (Acts 4:28). The gospel was neither to remain within the city limits and suburbs of Jerusalem nor to be an exclusively Jewish religion. God’s sovereign purpose was for the word of God to fill Jerusalem and overflow into the other nations of the world and among the Gentiles. Persecution drove believers from Jerusalem, and they heralded the word of the Lord as they settled in other localities. But it was not just persecution that drove men abroad—there was also an overarching passion to have Christ exalted above all gods and philosophies. Consider Philip, who journeyed to Samaria, where long-standing racial and religious prejudices segregated Jews and Samaritans. Nonetheless, a burden for Christ’s glory and a radical obedience to Christ’s commission transcended the sinful barriers raised by men. When he arrived in Samaria, Philip preached Jesus to them; and the result was great joy, as Christ was received (Acts 8:5-8).
God can be observed throughout the book of Acts orchestrating gospel encounters as the word of God is sent forth. Philip is directed by the Holy Spirit to join a chariot that is carrying an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from Isaiah 53. Philip responds to the inquisitive eunuch’s question by opening his mouth and preaching Jesus unto him, after which the eunuch professed faith in Christ and was baptized. In Acts 10, Peter was providentially brought to the house of a Gentile named Cornelius. As Peter carefully articulated the gospel, Cornelius and those gathered with him believed in Christ and were baptized.
The Jewish leadership actively opposed Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas of Palestine. They had at their disposal a hitman whose goal was to exterminate the “Jesus-sect.” His name was Saul. However, Jesus appeared to him, and grace transformed Saul into a believer of Christ and an apostle over the very church he sought to exterminate! The second half of Acts records the journeys of Saul (afterward named Paul) as he preached the gospel to the remotest bounds of the known earth. Paul would travel into present-day Turkey and Europe, teaching the message of God’s word and making disciples among pagans and infidels. The author of Acts notes the word of God’s growth and effectiveness through Paul’s ministry:
“Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:18-20)
Are you satisfied with the effectiveness of God’s word in your personal life? Are you burdened for Jesus’ name to be highly esteemed among the peoples in your community and in distant lands? Pray for God’s power to be exhibited in your life and for his glory to be known universally through the growth of the word of God. Consider this prayer of the missionary David Brainerd: “Lord, use me as thou wilt; do as thou wilt with me: but oh, promote thine own cause! Zion is thine; oh visit thine heritage! Let thy kingdom come! Oh let thy blessed interest be advanced in the world.”
With God the Mission is Possible
Opposition confronted the first disciples of Christ. Christians were persecuted from the beginning in Jerusalem: some were imprisoned, and others were stoned or beheaded. This opposition, however, did not deter or inhibit believers from passionately teaching the word of God; nor did it prohibit the growth and advancement of the word of the Lord.
Beneath the incredible growth of God’s word and the boldness to proclaim the gospel in the face of danger and death, God’s sovereignty and grace is the underlying means of growth and effectiveness. The church did not haphazardly proclaim God’s word or presume on God’s sovereignty; rather, Christians ardently and passionately preached, taught, exhorted, reasoned, convinced, expounded, testified, persuaded, and disputed with individuals and groups in order to disseminate the message of God. As Christians were preaching the word of the Lord, “the hand of the Lord was with them.” The fruit of God’s hand was that “a large number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). God’s purpose and power can be seen in the Lord’s opening of the heart of Lydia so that she responded positively to Paul’s preaching (Acts 16:14). God is further described as granting repentance, filling with the Holy Spirit, ordaining believers to eternal life, and granting boldness to the messengers. Metzger wrote, “The gospel shouts the scandal of sovereign salvation. God is blamed for salvation, in the sense that he is totally responsible.” God’s sovereignty was never viewed as having detrimental effects on evangelism or the growth of the word of God among the early saints; rather, it was the very catalyst that launched the church from Jerusalem to regions far beyond the borders of Palestine.