The Book of Acts: On Mission With God

By Dan Rogers

(At last week’s GCI Regional Conference in Ontario, CA our director of Church Administration, Dr. Dan Rogers, crystallized some of the revolutionary insights that affect a Christian approach to World Mission. We are coming to see that the Mission is actually God’s Mission – carried out in the power of the Spirit to direct men and women back to the Father through the work of the Son. This is the Trinitarian pattern of Mission that can inspire us to go beyond our comfort zones. —Ed.)

The Holy Spirit connects us to the great Triune God. So we could say that our Ministry and Mission is done really in the power of the Spirit. On a practical level the Trinity is all about sharing the very love and life that exists among the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).

What might that mission look like as it unfolds on this earth?

Fortunately we don’t have to wonder. The Book of Acts in the New Testament reminds us that

1. The Mission truly is God’s

2. The Church and its leaders sometimes have to scramble to catch up with what the Spirit is doing and where He is leading.

Let’s take a look.

“You will receiver power.”

The Spirit is leading but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a plan, a pattern. Acts 1:8 says the original disciples were to receive the power of God to carry out the mission. They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts 28 shows us Paul witnessing in Rome which is the writer Luke’s way of telling us they were on the job.

But the disciples had to start right where they are. His power falls on them in Acts 2 and they begin testifying to Jesus and the resurrection right there in Jerusalem. (Today we have ministers who show up at Starbuck’s or MacDonald’s to intentionally engage people in conversation about the faith. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but their intentionality follows the Biblical pattern. —Ed.)

Challenging Entrenched Systems

Acts 3 shows Peter and John healing a crippled man right at the gate of the Jewish Temple. Torah had banned a blemished or physically challenged person from entering the temple precincts but now here was a cripple being reached by the power of God. The man walked and leapt and praised God…and no wonder. Now he could enter the temple gates – a great way for Luke the author of Acts to show us the superiority of the Spirit over Torah.

In Acts 4 the disciples are questioned by the religious rulers – the same men who had condemned Christ just weeks before – about what this fuss was all about. The Spirit was moving and these religious types couldn’t see it. What a lesson for all of us. Chapter 5 and 6 shows that this hostility and jealously led eventually to the death of Stephen, one of the first deacons.

But this could not stop the work of the Spirit in leading the church from its first base in Jerusalem. That was Part of the divine plan. Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew, that is, a Jew from outside the environs of Palestine and he was an outstanding leader. Thus the Gospel message was opening up already to include people in the nations. However, when Philip was told to preach to Samaritans and to baptize an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 the lesson was clear – this Good News is for everyone. The great triune God was including everyone in his family.

A lesson here is that the Holy Spirit moves against entrenched, resistant systems. He did it in the First Century and he did it in the 1950s and 1960s through the work of the pastors and ministers who led the civil rights movement in that era. The “segregation” between Hellenistic and Palestinian Jews, between Samarian half-breeds and Jews and between black and white was being challenged.

In Acts 10 we see Peter baptizing a Roman officer – Cornelius. That was the Holy Spirit’s way of making the Gentile Mission official. If Peter, the man with the keys, did it then it was from the top as even human eyes could see.

Peter baptized and ate and drank with these Roman converts – a shocker to the Jewish saints at Jerusalem.

Race was irrelevant, religious pedigree was irrelevant, now culture was proving to be irrelevant, swept away against the fast-moving activity of the Holy Spirit – the rushing mighty wind of Acts 2. This was already revolutionary but things were about to change even more as the Church scrambled to catch up with the intentions of the Great Triune God.

Called “Christians” – Where?

Organized persecution soon set in and many believers were forced to leave Jerusalem for their safety (Acts 8:2). Some of them hailed from Cyprus, Phoenicia and Antioch (Acts 11:19-20). These zealous disciples took it upon themselves to witness about Jesus and his resurrection everywhere they went. Not only to Jews but to Greeks as well. No one told them to do that – it just flowed out of them in the power of the Spirit. Acts 11:22-24 shows the transformation that occurred in the city of Antioch – maybe the third largest in the Roman Empire – when the gospel reached there.

You get the impression of an almost instant church. This is where the term “Christian” first came from – Antioch, a Gentile City, not Jerusalem. The disciples were so surprised with the Spirit’s work in Antioch that they sent one of their best – Barnabas – to check things out. First Samaria, then an Ethiopian eunuch, then a Roman officer and now Antioch up in Syria – traditional enemies of the Jews.

What next?

Barnabas reported two things back to Jerusalem:

  1. Things are fine!

  2. I need help.

This led Barnabas to go to Tarsus where a man named Saul was cooling his heels after a conversion so spectacular that the Church didn’t know what to make of it (Acts 11:25-26). But the Holy Spirit did know what to do. He had plans for this man named Saul.

We see how diverse and multiethnic the church was at Antioch. Acts 13:1 says they had ministers not only of Jewish descent such as Barnabas but also Simeon named Niger (“Black”) and Locus of Cyrene (in North Africa). Manean, a colleague of Herod the tetrarch reads like a Gentile name as well.

Sent Out by the Spirit

Two things to know about the Antioch church. It was multicultural and it was generous. They followed the Spirit’s lead in sending them off to the mission field two of their best leaders – Barnabas and Saul. Saul would soon become “Paul” – the most famous missionary in history.

What a model for us today!

Don’t be afraid to send your very best. To give your very best. If you cast your bread on the waters it will come back buttered. If you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly. Under the lead of the Holy Spirit the Church at Antioch was determined to impact their community for Christ and not just their community. They were a “sending out” church. They knew that the power of the Spirit was available to lead men and women back to the Father through the atoning and reconciling work of the Son. God was not mad at people. He loved them and loves them still. This is the heart of mission. We can have good hope that our reconciling God goes before us. So let’s be about our Father’s business...on mission.