What we often misunderstand about this important Bible verse…
June 2, 2016
By Matt Morrison
As a kid growing up in church, Scripture memory was just part of my life. Every Sunday morning, our teachers gave us new memory verses. My parents emphasized it at home. I was even in Bible Drill in 5th grade! And through all of those experiences, one verse in particular kept coming up. It’s a passage that, despite serving as a rallying cry for Christians all over the world, remains misunderstood in many ways.
“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
One of the interesting aspects of this popular verse is that it serves as an outline for the rest of the book. In the beginning of Acts, all of the disciples are huddled in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes and their ministry begins. Eventually, persecution breaks out against Christians in the city. Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin and he is stoned to death. In Acts 8, Luke writes, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
As the religious leaders tighten their grip on the Church, it only fuels the Gospel’s growth. Not only does the message spread across the rest of Judea, but it even extends into the despised region of Samaria. In this time, Saul meets Christ on the road to Damascas, Peter realizes that the Gospel is meant for more than just the Jews, and the stage is set for the next adventure – one we’re still living today.
In the middle of their worship, the church in Antioch senses God calling them to commission Barnabas and Saul. “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).” In the moment, I doubt they fully understand the significance of what has happened. That evening, the Gospel goes global.
Saul and Barnabas hit places like Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. New churches are planted in Philippi and Ephesus. The Ephesian believers then turn around and plant the Colossian church. Before long, far-reaching cities like Athens, Corinth, and Rome are home to new believers and the story of Jesus is exploding across the known world.
Just as Jesus told them, the Church overtakes the landscape, one city at a time. But while the church in Jerusalem follows this progression, other churches in that period begin reaching the rest of the world almost immediately. They don’t wait to commission their own members off to other regions. They minister in their own cities while also immediately contributing to the same global movement that reached them in the first place.
A DUAL FOCUS
The early Christians lived at a pivotal time in human history. The Roman Empire made the world infinitely smaller. With much of the population speaking Greek, the Gospel could spread without as many linguistic barriers. Meanwhile, the Roman network of roads made travel more reliable. It was the perfect moment for a life-changing message to spread. Their sense of urgency and excitement overturned political systems and threatened social norms. Simply put, it changed the world.
We live in a very similar time. We can cross oceans in hours, send messages to other continents in seconds with phones that fit in our pockets, and deploy content virally over the internet. We are interconnected in such a way that churches can recruit members to serve in their own neighborhood while also providing opportunities to invest in what God is doing on the other side of the world. And the need is as urgent as it was in the early years
Many parts of the world still remain untouched by the Gospel. Over 3,000 people groups today are considered unreached or unengaged. Over 99% of India’s population alone is without a Christian witness. We still need to focus on the Gospel’s expansion as the early disciples did in the book of Acts. Still, many pastors feel obligated to devote the majority, if not all, their resources to reaching their own communities before investing in international missions.
But our focus as Christians should be simultaneously local and global. We don’t have to choose between reaching our neighbors and far-away lands. We can – and must – invest in the Gospel here at home and abroad at the same time. If we insist on reaching our own communities before we ever broaden our efforts globally, it will simply never happen. Instead, we should be raising up missionaries, sending short-term teams, investing in overseas Gospel efforts, and emphasizing Jesus’ command to go while also serving our own communities. It’s time for us to embrace the same sense of urgency the early Christians displayed time and again. We don’t have time to accomplish one before moving on to the next.