Welcome to Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Good day, and welcome to episode 177 of Missions on Point. In this series, we're looking at missions insights from the New Testament. We're going to talk about the earliest church in chapters 2 through 10 of the Book of Acts. The term "early church" is commonly understood to be the first couple of hundred years of church history from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ until the Council of Nicaea in 325. What I'm talking about when I say earliest church is the earliest development of the church in the Book of Acts. And in these chapters, Acts 2 through 10, particularly, there's a lot of development going on in the very first churches. We need to be careful about how we handle the Book of Acts. It is transitional in nature. It is a history book. It is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
As a transitional narrative, we shouldn't take too many principles from the Book of Acts and try to apply it to everything. They were special times and unusual times, but there are lots of missions insights we can glean from the Book of Acts. Let's start in Acts chapter two. Here we see the coming or the filling of the Holy Spirit and it has international significance. The term language or dialect for specific language is used in verse six and in verse eight. It is a helpful insight to see that so many internationals were represented in Jerusalem at the time of the Pentecost. Verse 9 through 11 of chapter two says, there were Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.
I count 15 different ethnic groups represented, and those are just the ones that Luke knew about. There may have been more. All of them were probably originally interested in the Jewish religion or were visiting Jerusalem because of business purposes. Many of them were probably proselytes. That is, they became Jewish by choice from outside the Hebrew people. The point is, God had brought them all there and they would return to their home having heard the gospel on the high and holy day of Pentecost. It was miraculous that all of these people from all of these different places heard the disciples speaking their own language. When Peter addresses the crowd, he quotes from the prophet, Joel, in verse 21. He says, "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." From the very beginning of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church, it's clear that this is an open invitation to everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.
Verse 41 of chapter 2 says, "So those who received the word were baptized and there were added that day about 3000 souls." Then immediately following in verse 42, it says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers." This verse, for many centuries, has been a defining verse for the activities of the local church, teaching the word of God, fellowship, the ordinances like breaking of bread in communion and prayers. Now, in Acts chapter three, we see the story of the lame beggar being healed and Peter speaking to the crowd. We drop in at verse 25 where he quotes Genesis in saying, "And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed." He's speaking of Christ and clearly says that this mission's ministry, pointing people to Christ as he is doing, will touch all the families of the earth.
We see in chapter four, just like in many other places in the Book of Acts, Peter gets in trouble for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his testimony before the Jewish Council, he says in verse 12, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." He's saying that this gospel message of Jesus Christ and salvation through him is exclusive. There is no other way for salvation than through Jesus Christ. Think about it. If this message of salvation is exclusive, and it is, then we have a serious obligation to take this message to all nations. That's the only way they will be saved. No one is saved in a state of ignorance. No one is saved by following some other religion. While Peter seems to understand this at this point in the Book of Acts, he, like most of us, is a slow learner and it takes a little bit more over the next chapters for God to reinforce this fact that Gentiles, non-Jews, can be saved simply by trusting in Christ alone for salvation.
In Acts Chapter 5, we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira. We see the apostles arrested again and miraculously freed again. Though persecuted, they persistently preached and taught about Christ. It says in chapter five, verse 42, "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." Our insight from Acts Chapter 6 is simple and common. It's that as the church grew, it needed to appoint special servant leaders to help with the ministry of the church so that the apostles and elders of the church could focus on the spiritual teaching and direction of the church. And these are what we call the proto-deacons. They're the first model of deacons. Their prototype, it's not all finished and well-defined. The scope of their ministry is primarily practical ministry, especially in the area of mercy ministries, and that is providing food for those who are registered widows within the church.
The qualifications are given by the apostles to the people to choose people who are men of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit, and of wisdom whom we will appoint to this duty. From a mission's point of view, it's interesting that all of the seven men chosen had Hellenistic names, that is, they were from Greek extraction, though they were probably Jewish believers. There is intentional ethnic diversity for the sake of the church. Acts Chapter 7 is the story of Stephen being brought before the Jewish Council and essentially preaching a sermon based on the history of the Old Testament leading up to and then including and pointing to Jesus Christ. Acts Chapter 8 pivots from the story of Stephen's martyrdom by stoning and intentionally includes the name of Saul, whom we later know as the Apostle Paul. Acts Chapter 8 and 9 begin to focus more on Saul so that we understand his background as we continue to move through the Book of Acts.
Acts Chapter 8 begins with Saul ravaging the church, dragging believers off, and committing them to prison. Chapter eight also includes the story of Philip, who was one of those proto-deacons as he went to the city of Samaria to preach and bring the gospel. Then he goes to a God-appointed meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch and sees him come to faith in Christ. And from there, he goes to Azotus and all the towns along the coast until he comes to Caesarea. We see him much later in the Book of Acts there at Caesarea. Partly driven by persecution, Philip goes to this major port city and commercial district that is mostly gentile. Acts Chapter 9 is the story of Saul's conversion. He goes out of town with specific authority to take people from Damascus and drag them to prison because of their belief in Christ, but he has an encounter with Jesus Christ himself.
An interesting missions note about this encounter is that Jesus says, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Paul went to persecute Christians, that is, from local churches in Damascus, in the areas around, and Jesus says, "You're persecuting me." So Jesus strongly identifies with the believers in local churches. Paul is blinded, he goes into town, and God instructs Ananias to go and minister to him and relieve this blindness. Ananias struggles with that because he knows that Paul is an enemy of the church and the Lord says this in chapter nine, verse 15, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." Please note that Paul understood from his first days as a new believer that God had chosen him to be a missionary.
God had chosen him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul returns to Jerusalem and his faith and his status as an apostle, actually, are confirmed by the apostles in Jerusalem. When there is a plot against him, they send him away and he goes to Caesarea and then off to his hometown of Tarsus. The church enjoyed a sense of growth and being built up. "It multiplied," it says in Acts 9:31. In the closing part of Acts Chapter 9, we see Peter also going toward the coast from Jerusalem. He ends up raising a lady named Dorcas from the dead in the city of Joppa. From there, in Acts Chapter 10, he has this vision of unclean animals descending from heaven and God telling him that it's okay, it's clean, he can eat it. This was a picture or object lesson that anyone from any nation could be saved, and Peter didn't quite understand that until he put all the pieces together.
He was called by some representatives of a centurion that was well-respected in the city of Caesarea for Peter to come and share the gospel. And when he did, he uses these words in his message in chapter 10, verse 43, "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." That is another expression of the gospel. While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word and the believers from among the circumcised who had come with him were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. He actually stayed there for a few days later giving them further instruction and teaching. Remember I said Peter was a slow learner? I think he got it by the end of Acts Chapter 10. And in Acts Chapter 11, we'll see he reported this to the leaders of the church. Gentiles can be saved also without any Jewish precondition or laws or regulations.
The author of the Book of Acts, Luke, very carefully weaves in these key personalities and the key message of proclaiming the gospel as the exclusive way to God for all nations. Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at propempo.com and missioserve.org. We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
Please login to comment.