The Ethnic Spread of the Gospel

As with the ripples that emanate outward from a stone dropped into a calm pond of water, so also the gospel message of the work of Jesus Christ spread out from Jerusalem and across the ancient world. The ripples have continued throughout the earth over the centuries and millennia and down to our time and to our ears and hearts. Jesus said this would and should happen. His final words before ascending into heaven were (Acts 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.”

The very first believers were folks with a strong Hebrew Jewish background, centered in Jerusalem, Judea and surrounding areas. At the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, there were Jews from all over the diaspora who heard the preaching of Peter and received the gospel message unto salvation. We soon see that there are Hellenistic Jews in the early company of Christians – these being ethnically Jewish people who had adopted the Greek culture and language of the Roman world.

The mixing Hebraic Jews and Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem was bound to have come complication. There were language difficulties – one group predominantly speaking Aramaic, whereas the others primarily conversed in Greek. The issue came to a head in Acts chapter 6 …

Acts 6:1 – In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The Apostles wisely chose to focus upon spiritual matters, and the appointment of seven men largely from Greek backgrounds (as their names would indicate) brought the “newer, outer group” and the “traditional, inner group” together. The result was a success for the spread of the gospel. Notice also that one of the seven selected was such a proselyte – Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

The early Scriptural record in Acts particularly focuses upon the evangelistic work of Philip, who went to Samaria to preach the gospel. You’ll recall that that these were sort of half-breeds of Jews and Gentiles, dating back to the Assyrian captivity. The gospel again finds great success…

Acts 8:4 – Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

Philip is also used miraculously to extend the ripples further to include a near-proselyte – the Ethiopian eunuch, who would be a Gentile, government official from Africa. This man had a belief in the one true God of Israel and was interested in the Holy Scriptures. Likely reading them aloud, Philip offers to explain the meaning of the text, and the man becomes a convert…

Acts 8:27 – This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.  …

35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Next we see the ripples extending further to a total Gentile – one who would be called a God-fearer … meaning someone who accepted the truths of the God of Israel, though had not formally converted. It is the story of Cornelius the centurion – one that we covered in detail in recent writings and the previous sermon.

Nobody at the time of the resurrection of Christ would have been anticipating this expanse of the gospel message, but it is just beginning. Next it will go to all-out Gentiles…

Acts 11:19 – Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

All of this ministry is happening in Asia, and on a missionary journey … Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:9-10)  Soon, over in the continent of Europe, Lydia becomes the first convert there with many thousands to follow.

As Jesus commissioned the disciples, they were to have a worldwide vision for the expanse of the gospel. Matthew ends his account with these words of Jesus (28:19-20) … “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So obviously this refers to missionaries that we send out to do the work for us!  Thank God we can delegate that difficult work!  We can just throw money at it through a portion of our budget, having these ministry mercenaries report back to us about the varied multi-cultural people being reached, all of which makes us feel good. Yes, send them across those tracks that we look across! We can meet and sing our Caucasian-styled worship songs.

But what if the nations of the world move to our town?