Jesus said to the disciples just before His ascension in Acts 1:8, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” As we study the book of Acts we clearly see the progression of the gospel starting in Jerusalem, going to Judea and Samaria, and then to the remotest parts of the earth. We can clearly see Acts 1:8 as the outline and the purpose statement of the books of Acts.
- The gospel proclaimed in Jerusalem: Acts 2-8:3
- The gospel proclaimed in Judea & Samaria: Acts 8:4-12:25
- The gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth through Paul’s three missionary journeys: Acts 13-28
In Acts 13:1 we see the church of Antioch praying and fasting leading to the Holy Spirit saying in verse 2, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” The church then fasted and prayed again, laid hands on them and set them out to carry the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth.
Acts 14:21-23 says, “After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” This text of scripture shows us the clear twofold purpose of the work that the Holy Spirit set out for these men on their missionary journeys to do. The first purpose was to share the gospel and the second was to start churches.
In every city Paul and his team of missionaries were faithful to preach the gospel. They would preach the gospel in Synagogues, along the riverside, by the gates of cities, houses, and prestigious lecture halls. Even while in the presence of governors and kings who held his life in their hands, Paul was faithful to preach the gospel.
In every city Paul and his team entered there were many who rejected the gospel and often persecuted Paul. Yet, at the same time there were many who accepted the gospel with gladness. When the gentiles heard that God’s grace was available to them through the preaching of the gospel, they were especially responsive. Acts, 13:48-49 says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.” I wonder how many who live today in our own communities would respond to the gospel when they hear that they are not too far removed from the grace of God. But how will they hear unless we tell them? Most of the time they will not come to us because they feel unworthy, however, if we go to them they may very well respond.
Paul was on a journey traveling from city to city preaching the gospel. He seldom stayed in any a city for very long, sometimes as little as two weeks. For this reason he knew churches need to be started in these cities as a continuing base of ministry. Paul trained elders for these churches who would then take leadership positions to establish order, to protection from false teachers, to educate, and to give direction. I Timothy 5:7 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”
The churches had a twofold purpose. First they needed to disciple the new believers. Secondly, although many in these cities responded to the gospel there were many more that did not hear and needed to be evangelized. The good news is that there were now churches established in these cities as an evangelistic lighthouse of the gospel; not only to their generation but to the ones to come.
God’s order has not changed. He still fully expects His churches to send, pray for, and support missionaries just as the church at Antioch did. Something interesting to notice about Paul’s missionary journeys is that he only went to larger cities of major commerce and trade that was easily accessible to the rest of the world. These were the perfect locations for churches to grow and multiply by sending missionaries out into the rest of the world.
God also still fully expects His churches to be a lighthouse of the gospel to their own communities and to disciple those who come to the faith where they too will become effective workers for the kingdom. If we are not faithful to this task the world will then be condemned to hell separated from the grace of God for eternity and we will be responsible because we refused to do what God fully expects of us. Remember though, Europe was the first continent to be considered a Christian continent in great part to Paul and his team of missionaries being faithful to the Holy Spirit and the calling He set them apart to do. What would God do through us today if we are simply faithful?