Monday, February 6, 2012

Missions in Acts

What is the most significant passage for missions in the book of Acts?  (For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

Answering the above question is obviously a challenging one because almost all of the book of Acts is about missions. Basically all the verses are significant.

The following are some key verses for missions:

Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Acts 8:1, 4, "And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles...Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word."

Acts 8:35, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus."

Acts 17:23, "For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you."

I admitted up front that this particular series was going to be subjective. Therefore, you may not agree with me about which verses are most important. Regardless, my belief is that the most critical verses in Acts for missions are found in 13:1-4. The passage reads, "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus."

The critical nature of this passage lies in the fact that the Holy Spirit clearly directs all that is happening. The Spirit decides what, when, who, where, and how missions work will take place.

Luke presents us with a scene from the church in Antioch. We read of both prophets and teachers. These men, who came from a beautifully ethnic diversity, were properly humbling themselves before God and seeking his will. They worshiped by praying and fasting.

At this point in the narrative something amazing happens: the Holy Spirit speaks. I don't know if this was audible or not, but either way the Spirit made known what he desired to happen. There was no doubt or confusion. The Spirit specifically sets apart Paul and Barnabas for "the work to which I have called them." This does not mean that the other men were freed from sharing the gospel, but rather that Paul and Barnabas were to be sent out on a specific mission.

The men apparently all heard the same message. They laid hands upon Paul and Barnabas, submitting to the command of the Spirit. Luke then tells us that the Holy Spirit sent them out.

If we ever get sidetracked into thinking that we have to figure things out as far as missions is concerned, we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who directs and guides God's mission. He also empowers. We don't need any witty ideas. We just need to be obedient.

I'm reminded of Paul's second missionary journey. He obediently goes out and heads across Asia. We read of the Spirit's specific direction in Acts 16:6-10, "And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

The Holy Spirit commands and expects our willingness and obedience. He will do the rest. We can trust him in this.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke
Missions in John

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