To the Ends of the Earth
Luke wrote for us an account of all that Jesus began to do from the time of His birth until His crucifixion. The Gospel of Luke is one of the four eyewitness accounts of the story of Jesus’s life. One of the unique aspects of Luke’s account is that he treats the story as more of a historian than the other gospel writers do.
Luke, the historian, continues the story of what Jesus was doing in his account of the work of the Apostles. We call the account “Acts.” The full title is “The Acts of the Apostles.” Another way of translating or saying this would be “the Works of the Apostles.”
It is the continuing story of what Jesus began to do. During His three years of public ministry, Jesus trained 12 men whom He called Apostles. Apostle means sent one. Strong’s Greek dictionary says it means, “a messenger, an envoy, a delegate.” The word missionary or missions originated from the Latin word meaning to send.
The idea of mission in English has come to mean “any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed” according to dictionary dot com.
The Apostles were sent by Jesus with a very important mission. They were given the office and authority to carry out that mission. The book of Acts tells how they carried out that mission. Church history is the continuation of that story, just as the book of Acts is the continuation of Jesus’s story. Church history is also the continuation of Jesus’s story.
The world persecuted Jesus as the religious leaders of His day along with the help of the Romans crucified Jesus. This persecution continued in the book of Acts as the same leaders stoned Stephen. It continued in the Middle Ages as believers were burnt at the stake in Europe and crucified on crosses in Japan. It continues today as believers are beheaded in the Middle East and imprisoned in Asia.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18)[i] This is the story of Acts and it continues in the story of the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. We are His hands, His feet and His voice in this world.
When the Apostles kept asking, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6) they had no idea of what was to come. Jesus told Pilot: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
The Apostles knew Jesus was God’s anointed servant that had been prophesied. They knew Jesus was the long awaited Savior. Now that Jesus was raised from the dead, they looked to Him for what was to come next. They had no idea of worldwide conquest or grandiose schemes. They were asking, “What comes next?” this is when Jesus said, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
We still wait for His return. He has promised to return. But the dates and times are not for us to know. However, He did lay out what was going to be happening in the meantime. What follows in verse 8 of Acts 1 gives an outline. First was the receiving of power when the Holy Spirit was given.
The Apostles at this point had no idea who the Holy Spirit was.
Jesus had told them, “But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) They did not yet understand what He meant when He said this. He said this to them when they were worried and upset because Jesus was telling them that He was going away.
Jesus had also told them, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12) They did not put the two things together. The Advocate coming and the greater works were part of the same thing, the giving of the Holy Spirit.
This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
Our world sees power in the ability to perform wonderful works. For example, in Star Wars, the mighty Jedi, Yoda, lifts what amounts to a small fighter aircraft from the swamp by concentrating and using the “force.” This is how our world sees power, power to change things with the wave of one’s hand.
However, consider this. In 2010, 2.2 billion people called themselves Christians.[ii] That is over one third of the world’s population at the time. I would go with a much smaller number because I believe that many that are called “Christian” by the world do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Even given this, billions of Christians around the world in spite of hell’s best efforts to stop the building of the Church is a great testament to the power of the Holy Spirit. What is lifting objects with one’s mind when compared to shaping world history and defying the power of hell?
This power is still at work in us today.
Once the Apostles received power, the work of the Church began. The outline in the book of Acts continues. The story of Acts is how the gospel spread through Jerusalem and then through Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
The story is wonderful and it is varied.
Philip was traveling in the desert and met an Ethiopian Eunuch who was reading Isaiah 53. Philip explained to the Eunuch how this prophecy was about Jesus. The Ethiopian believed and the Church was established in Ethiopia.
Stephen was stoned and a great persecution of Christians started in Jerusalem. The Church spread through the region of Judea as believers in Jesus moved out of Jerusalem.
Acts 11 tells us how these believers, scattered by persecution, established the Church in Antioch of Syria. Later, in Acts 13:2-3 we are told:
“One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.”
The remainder of the book of Acts tells how through this endeavor the Church was spread to the ends of the earth.
This is where the missionary endeavor started. The Church spread organically as believers followed Jesus. We are all to make disciples. And, the statement is true that everywhere we go is the mission field. According to 2 Corinthians 5:20,) “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” This is the mission of the Church. It is our task.
However, in Acts 13 we learn the practice of dedicating or setting apart certain ones from amongst us for the special work that God has called them to. We call these people missionaries. In this sense, we are not all missionaries. When looked at in this way, a missionary is one set apart with a special calling from God.
A couple years back, we laid hands on Kirk and Becca, dedicating them to the special work that God has called them to do. We watched in alarm and prayer as the churches burned in Niamey. We sent gifts to help our brothers and sisters in Christ rebuild from the ashes. Later, we rejoiced as we heard the news of what God was beginning to do with the future leaders of the Church in Niger.
Friends, the story is not over. It continues. The Clearwater Evangelical Free Church started supporting Tom and Marcy Dorsch as missionaries shortly after the church began some 30 years ago. It is through them that we are connected to Niamey. This is part of Acts 1:8 in action.
The believers in Antioch did not send out Paul and Barnabas because the work was done there. They sent out Paul and Barnabas because the Holy Spirit told them to. The work is not done here in Clearwater. With seven churches here in Clearwater, there are around 700 people in church in town this morning. If another 300 traveled in to Wichita this morning to go to church, that leaves 1,500 people who are not in church in town this morning. I do not know what the actual numbers are. And even if my estimates are very low, I have a question. Even among those in church this morning, how many of them are true believers? Are half of our friends and neighbors on their way to hell?
We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses. We have the privilege of being a part of the exciting things He is doing in the ends of the earth, and the privilege of participating with Him as He works right here in Clearwater.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.