TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH
Key Verse 1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
As we heard last week, this book begins with a general but absolutely vital outline of events that happened during Jesus’ final days with his disciples; that is, after his resurrection and before his ascension to heaven. There must have been a hundred more things that he could have taught them and that they needed to learn. But for a period of forty days Jesus focused on two things. First, it seems that for that long period of time, Jesus kept on giving them not one or two, but “Many convincing proofs that he was alive.” (3) It may seem odd that Jesus would have to do this considering that he already revealed himself to them as absolutely alive! But let us not be deceived! Resurrection faith doesn’t come easy to the carnal mind, not even if the mind had witnessed the resurrected Jesus in person. Doubts aren’t easily dealt with. Jesus had to continuously plant resurrection faith in their hearts until the last trace of doubt was completely erased from their minds, and their hearts had fully embraced the resurrection truth and reality. That’s why we study the Bible again and again, until that same resurrection faith had passed onto our own hearts and every trace of doubt had dissolved. That was the first thing that Jesus spent the forty days doing for his disciples, planting in his disciples’ hearts undeniable faith in his resurrection.
Now there was a second thing Jesus focused on during that time. He fervently “Spoke to them about the kingdom of God.” (3) And he did so because like resurrection faith is vital to a Christian’s spiritual life and well-being, so also is that Christian’s hope in the Kingdom of God! Since Christ rose from the dead and promised the Kingdom of God to his followers, there is one thing and only one thing to live for and to hope for in this world we live in and in this life we have, and that is the Kingdom of God! And there is nothing more important or significant than the Kingdom of God— that same Kingdom Jesus died and rose again in order to bring us back to. So in reality, the only hope worth having and holding on to in this world and in this life is the hope of the Kingdom of God. For this reason, Jesus spent a very long time speaking to his disciple about it. He had spent three and the half years speaking about it already. But it was now time to plant that rock-solid hope in their hearts until their hearts were filled with the vision of God’s kingdom and until their whole being longed for it. And that’s also why we study the Bible again and again, so that the same hope and vision of the Kingdom of God may be so deeply engraved on our hearts, until we long for nothing other than the Kingdom. That’s in fact the normal Christian thought-world and mindset. We need to rise up to this in our Christian lives, and for many good reasons. One is because without this mindset set on the Kingdom, our thought world remains worldly and mundane. And two, because without this mindset we cannot convince anyone to follow Christ. We need that vision and hope to burn in our hearts to share the gospel with a hopeless world. The world isn’t easily deceived by a double minded Christian who talks of heaven and yet has hopes set on the world. But they will listen to the man and woman whose lives reflect Kingdom hope. May God help us to grow in resurrection faith and in Kingdom hope and vision in this year until our hearts truly reflect them!
After Luke tells us what Jesus did during those forty days, he now tells us that Jesus commanded his disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to stay there until they had received the promise he spoke of. (4) And that promise was none other than the gift of the Holly Spirit that God was so eager to give them and to give everyone who puts their faith in Christ. (Luke 24:49) Look at verse 8. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We know that the Kingdom of God was on Jesus’ heart since he eagerly spoke about it to his disciples for a long time. What else was on his heart? This epic verse in the Bible tells us from the start what was on the Lord’s heart. Simply speaking, Mission! Mission was on his heart. Actually World Mission was very much on his heart. Why is this significant? The Lord may have entrusted the church with many things; things to accomplish; things to teach; things to settle and confirm; things to resist; things to fight against; things to embrace; and so on. But the one thing which, in all truth, we can say that he has entrusted his church (you and I) with first and foremost is World Mission!
How can we understand what World Mission is? It’s not complicated as some may like to think. In history, World Mission, may have been examined and studied, theologized and spiritualized or even mystified for generations. But quite honestly, when you reflect on this verse, the simple truth is simple! World Mission is to be a witness for Jesus at home and abroad, even to the ends of the earth! He had already said: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He had said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19-20) He had said: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15) We cannot escape the truth of it. World Mission has always been on the Lord’s heart, for his church, for you and for me. It’s what he left us with. It’s your heritage; it’s your privilege; it should be your joy and desire. We may live as if World Mission is of no significance to my Christian life; but the truth is that World Mission is more significant than you and I can imagine. We need to embrace it and pray for it, and practice it. How can we do so?
That’s not so hard to understand nor to do! Jesus didn’t just leave his disciples with an impossible, unattainable, beyond my reach kind of command that’s limited to a chosen few who by some stroke of luck have special skills and powers. That would be so unfair to give the command to all Christians, expecting them to do something undoable, and then cheering those who are lucky enough to be born with the ability to fulfill the World Mission command! It’s not at all like God to do such a thing. That’s why Jesus said in verse 8: “But you [not one or two but all of you] will receive power [not maybe, or it depends on whether you can handle it or not, but will absolutely receive— what will you receive? Power. And when will that happen?] when the Holy Spirit comes on you; [Then what will happen?] and you will be my witnesses [will be; here’s another absolute and not a maybe. And you will be what? My witnesses. Where?] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And that’s the absolute promise in a nutshell then.
The promise is clear and simple— You will receive the power (the authority, the influence, the ability, etc) you need to do what the Lord wants you to do, and what your heart has accepted as truth. The source of that power is also clear and simple— It’s not you nor anything you have or do not have, nor anything you can or cannot do, but it’s the Holy Spirit Himself whom God has given you who gives you all that you need to do what the Lord wants you to do, and what you in faith decide to do. And the result is also clear and simple— You will be his witness whether at home in Jerusalem or abroad at the ends of the earth. World Mission then is only a matter of faith— your faith in the promise of God! If someone hasn’t yet repented of their sins, confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, and hasn’t yet asked him into their hearts, he or she has no Holy Spirit and I seriously doubt whether this promise makes any sense or mean anything to them at all. But for the Christian who’s already experienced the Holy Spirit, these words are truly worth reflecting on until what you understand with your head not only sinks into your heart but also becomes an absolute conviction of your soul, and until the promise becomes the reality of your life. You need none other than the Holy Spirit who’s already given you the power to engage in World Mission— the power to witness to the Lord Jesus in your life— and the power to do so at home and abroad. That’s the promise of the One who never lies, nor does he give vague and unreachable promises, but who speaks the truth in faith and from faith to faith. The Lord Jesus gave this promise to his disciples and to us to build up a World Mission church that can carry his message to all corners of the earth. Once again, it’s our heritage, our privilege, and our joy. It should be at the heart of our prayers as well.
These disciples to whom Jesus was speaking were ordinary people who struggled with the same issues that trouble people everywhere in all generations. By all counts, they were simply ordinary men and women, who were too weak to face the hostile world, and too helpless to carry out the World Mission command. But they would be able to do it, because they were Christ’s own special or extraordinary people to bring the gospel message to people everywhere. And considering that they were ordinary people, the only thing that made them special or extraordinary was their faith in Christ and their hope of the Kingdom, and of course the gift of the Holy Spirit Christ promised to give all who believe. All the men and women who followed Jesus were ordinary then made extraordinary when the Holy Spirit came into their hearts to sanctify them and to guide their lives into a World Mission mindset as the Lord wills it. Actually no one remains ordinary in Christ. Some Christians choose to remain ordinary living in the background or in the shadows of Christian life not wanting to be bothered by anything. Their selfishness knows no bounds. But Christians in general inherently want to be extraordinary in following their Lord and fulfilling his World Mission vision. They usually are— extraordinary— even though they don’t know it! Why? They may be caught up in their own unbelief or even by their own human limitations thinking themselves to be still ordinary or even less than ordinary when they are not! Others are still waiting for the Holy Spirit to empower them when he’s right there in them and with them. They only need to open their hearts to understand and believe. The first Christians were mostly fishermen and peasants, but they truly believed. They had resurrection faith, and they had the hope of God’s kingdom. And when Jesus gave them this epic promise and the World Mission Directive in verse 8, they didn’t question any of it. They simply believed. And their extraordinary lives reflected that faith.
Look at verses 12-14. After Jesus’ ascension to his throne in heaven, and the promise of his return in God’s time (10-11), these men and women’s lives were never the same again. Their extraordinary lives began even before the coming of the Holy Spirit into their midst and into their hearts. Look at how their lives had changed to the extraordinary. Verse 14 reads: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” I like what the NASB version says here: “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” They had obeyed Jesus and remained in Jerusalem, returning most probably to the same place they had celebrated the last Passover meal with him. And this verse gives us a glimpse of this extraordinary fellowship. The words, “They all with one mind (or with one accord as the KJV puts it) were continually devoting themselves to prayer.” That’s what they were doing. It may seem a bit dreary and dull to the unspiritual mind, but in truth it’s a reflection of what an extraordinary Christian life is all about. To start with these people were all so different. And if you read verse 13, this first fellowship was a medley of all kinds of people. There were apostles and non apostles, and even some of Jesus’ own family members.
Do you imagine that it would be easy to be of one accord— to be of one mind? To begin with, the prospects of unity in such a fellowship are staggeringly nil. Why would any of them accept Peter after what he’s done— after-all denying the Lord is a great sin? Or why would they even have any reason to trust each other anymore since every one of them ran away at the time of Jesus’ arrest— for it was each man to himself? Or why wouldn’t they look down on and despise Jesus’ brothers who for a long time didn’t even believe in him? Or how could John whom the Lord gave charge of his own mother not feel superior and privileged and a cut above the rest? Once they had all argued about who was the greatest among them! It was a time of selfishness and unholy competition. That was ordinary! But now they were all of one accord— of one mind— united in Christ— every one of them greatly indebted to Jesus’ grace, and rooted in his love. Now that’s extraordinary! Of course we all are different from one another, and we all have differences too. But quite honestly, in Christ, we all share the same loving forgiveness and the same grace. And That’s why we should always strive for unity. And how do we accomplish that with a measure of success?
Look at verse 14 again. They were continually devoting themselves to prayer! Once they had asked the Lord to teach them how to pray. Obviously they prayed, but they only began to witness the necessity and power of prayer as they observed Jesus’ life. Now, their lives had changed. And their lives still needed change. Especially they were charged by the Lord to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them. So they united themselves in prayer— actually a continual devotion to prayer. There is nothing that marks a Christian’s life more than his or her devotion to prayer. In the book of Acts there is not one chapter that has no reference to prayer. Prayer may have been at one time nothing more than a habitual thing for these disciples. But now it was a devotion! They prayed all alone. And they prayed all together. They prayed continually— constantly. Even the revered Mary joined them in prayer because Mary was an inspiration and a model, an influence of prayer among them. Many women who followed Jesus learned the devoted life of faith and prayer from Mary. What a beautiful woman she was! How beautiful are the women whose influence isn’t fleshy and impure, drawing men and women to become carnal, but who by their devotion to prayer influence both men and women to be holy! Mary’s devotion to prayer was the expression of her faith that when a woman of influence prays, the whole church is blessed. It was in prayer that this early fellowship overcame their sorrows, their human ambitions, their worldly temptations, even their unfounded anxieties and fears; and it was in prayer that they prepared their hearts to wait patiently for the gift he was about to give them. Prayer is also a sign of an extraordinary fellowship. Not only unity, but unity in prayer is indeed the ultimate expression of a church’s faith that God’s will be done.
In verses 15-26, as this fellowship prayed, the Lord’s will became apparent. As they devoted themselves to prayer, Peter was inspired to resolve a serious problem that at the time was the proverbial elephant in the room! Judas Iscariot, and the terrible failure of one of their own who betrayed the Lord. Why was this such a huge problem? Well, he was one of them to start with, one who had been with them from the start, one whom they had trusted, whom they were friends with, and who had in turn been faithful for the most part. So when he betrayed the Lord, their whole world was turned upside down. Some would have hated him if it were not for Christ’s love urging them towards love instead. Others were so wounded by his behavior that they thought the wounds too deep to even hope for a recovery, so they buried their pain and anger way deep inside, like many people do. Others were simply too stunned to even think about it! So as they prayed together, and the Lord exposed this elephant!
Peter sensed the danger, that one thing that was keeping this fellowship crippled in a sense! There was so many unsettled emotions and feelings among them, and no one was talking about them openly, yet everyone felt it. So this is what Peter did. He took out the Bible, found the relevant verses, and had a Bible study with them all. He showed them how it’s futile to dwell on this issue since it was sanctioned by the Lord for the Lord’s purpose. And then he suggested that by that same word of God to resolve the problem by replacing Judas with someone else. They needed to do this urgently because it wasn’t time to emote (be dramatic and emotional) but time to make the fellowship strong. They had a charge from Jesus to wait on the Holy Spirit and after that, to serve World Missions. So they chose Matthias. Sometimes the problems we face in life, even the problems we face in the Lord’s ministry may be a great hindrance to the task God has placed in our hearts to do. The issues may be serious enough to make us think that they are a priority. But in reality there is no priority other than the will of God. Extraordinary Christians don’t sit and groan and lament and let themselves be consumed with emotion or with self pity. Rather they resolve all things with prayer and with the word of God. That way, they can give themselves fully to the Lord’s will and to the World Mission Directive he has given the church and each one of us as well.