Lately I’ve been reading through Acts. I have just started my first ministry job in Richmond and I decided to get back to the roots of the church and read Acts. It’s been worth another read. It’s amazing to see the effect that the resurrection and Pentecost had on these early believers. At the end of some of the passages I would scratch my head and wonder, who are these people? What were they thinking?
The first verse that hit me in the first chapter of Acts was this one:
“But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
I know that I’ve skimmed over this verse and didn’t make much of it. It’s easy to pinpoint the geographic interpretation of this command from Jesus. Jerusalem is their home town, Judea is their homeland, Samaria is their neighbor, and the ends of the earth is the Roman Empire. Rome was the only known world at the time. Usually I’ve interpreted this geographically and just went to the next verse. But not this time.
This time I began to see the real implications and difficulty that this verse presents to these early believers. Where were the believers preaching in Jerusalem? The temple, of course. The same temple that ordered Jesus crucifixion. I can’t imagine trying to preach in such a hostile environment. The Jewish leaders thought they got rid of Jesus and his following, but now the followers are preaching in their temples. That takes some guts.
Judea is also not easy to preach in either, because of the Judaism. Many Jews were wrapped up in the laws of the Judaism and to hear a message of grace and forgiveness is totally foreign to them. The new believers and the young church had a lot of undoing to do. To tell the Jewish people that the Law of Moses really doesn’t mean a hill of beans in comparison to God’s grace is no easy task. But they did it.
Samaria is Judea’s neighbor. The Jews hated these people because essentially Samaritans took a little bit of Judaism, but not all of it. Jesus even used the illustration of the good Samaritan to drive home a point about prejudice and hatred. I can’t imagine that the Samaritans liked the Jews either. The Jews and Samaritans probably hated each other. And now Jesus tells these new believers to go preach to the people they hate. And to the people who hate them. Not an easy task either. But they did it.
That leaves the last part of the verse which refers to the ends of the earth. To these early Christians the end of the earth was the Roman Empire and the rest of the unknown. The Roman Empire was the known world to them and Rome looked down upon the Jewish people because they were usually troublesome to deal with. The Jewish people hated the Romans too and were even expecting Jesus to deliver them from Roman control. Jesus has now asked the believers to preach to people that oppress them. Go tell someone who despises you about God’s grace. And they do it. They actually do it.
Who are these people? They’re preaching to the very people who crucified Jesus, to the people they hate and hate them, and to the people who oppress them. There’s nothing simple or romantic about this. These people seem to be downright crazy. All of this just shows how much of a hold the Holy Spirit has on these people. Pentecost is the key ingredient here. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, the church would not have made it. All of this just blew my mind when I realized the implications of this command to preach in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. It’s inspiring and mind blowing all at the same time.