The Gospel of Matthew ended with a commission for the Church. Jesus charged his church (through the apostles) to go to the ends of the earth, making disciples of all nations. The Greek word that we translate into English as “nations” is “ethne”, which is related to our word “ethnic.” This can help us to see that Jesus is not primarily thinking of political boundaries when he sends them to the nations, but ethnic boundaries. At other places in the Bible, the words “tribe, and people, and language, and nation” (Rev 13:7) are used roughly as synonyms to show that all sorts of people groups are being brought into the kingdom. Practically speaking, for the early church this meant that even when they stayed within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, they had to cross social and language barriers to accomplish their mission.
In the Book of Acts, we begin with another reference to the final words of Jesus. This is another way of looking at the same mission. The Church will be sent as witnesses for the risen Lord Jesus, to "Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In many ways, these four geographic labels represent an outward expansion of the church across increasingly high cultural barriers. This outward expansion will also serve as a summary of the flow of action in the book of Acts. The books starts in Jerusalem, then persecution forces the church to scatter “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). But doing this means that a social/religious barrier needs to be crossed in ministry to the Samaritans. Paul will be particularly active in taking the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” in his various missionary travels. As we shall see, this provides all sorts of difficult ministry challenges as Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) enter the church together. Then book of Acts ends with Paul doing ministry in Rome (albeit under house arrest). He is located at the center of the Roman Empire which is the hub of travel in the known world. Here, he is well positioned to carry out this ministry to every group of people that come through the capital city.
But how will this infant church complete this mission? Without money, influence or political power, how will they make disciples of all nations? The answer is that Jesus will do it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised to be with his church in their ministry (Matt 28:20), and while is not physically present after his ascension into heaven, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on the Church, who acts as his agent. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with the church, and we will be empowered to complete the task of discipling the nations. This is the particular emphasis that we see when the Holy Spirit is first poured out on the church. The Apostles are supernaturally empowered to preach the gospel in a way that crosses language boundaries. Although all of the first converts were Jewish, they had been drawn to Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, and had come from their homes across the Roman Empire. When the Holy Spirit descended, the apostles were empowered to speak in such a way that each person heard the sermon “in his own native language” (v. 2:8). This was to fulfill the words of the prophet Joel that old prophecies were being fulfilled, that the last era of world history (“the last days”) had begun and that the doors of salvation were to be flung open to every group of people on earth – “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (v.2:21.) The gospel promises to Abraham – that every family on earth would be blessed through the descendant of Abraham had found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Reflect: God gives the Holy Spirit to empower us for the great task of disciple-making. Do we see that as our “great task?” Do we see God’s power available to help us in this?
Connect: Notice how the sermons of the apostles are grounded so much in the Old Testament Scriptures. (Of course, at this time, they didn’t yet think of this as the “Old” Testament, since the New Testament was in process of being produced. They simply thought of this as the “Scriptures.”) In this first sermon, Peter cites Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110. In particular, they saw the pattern of Christ on many OT stories and saw Jesus as the fulfillment of many psalms and prophecies. From their point of view, the work of redemption in Jesus was continuous with the work of redemption that God had been doing ever since he first clothed Adam and Even in the garden. They certainly picked up this pattern from Jesus himself who showed how all of the Scriptures pointed to him and his work of salvation. Consider the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Luke 24:25-27 And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.