Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift.
Acts 1:8 is where Jesus is speaking to his disciples right before his Ascension into Heaven where he says, “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.” This was spoken to a small group of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem around 33 AD. He was telling them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and empower them to be witnesses/martyrs for him starting in Jerusalem. Then, the gospel would go throughout Judea and north to Samaria and then all over the world. As we read Acts, we see that very thing happening. The gospel spreads to Samaria by Acts 8 and by Acts 10-11 it has broken through to the Gentiles and then spreads all over the Roman Empire and beyond until Paul could say in Colossians 1:23 that the gospel had been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. The gospel had spread to the ends of the earth within the first generation of Christians – or, at least it had to an extent. Obviously, not every person had heard since not every person has now heard. But, the gospel was going out all over the world.
Which brings me to how we interpret Acts 1:8. I have often heard preachers make it personal and say that your Jerusalem is your hometown or the people that you are in close relationship with. Judea consists of the people a little farther away. Samaria, a bit farther still – or a bit different. And, “the ends of the earth” involve foreign missions to places like Africa and India. But, here is my question: In personalizing this promise/command, do we trivialize what God has already done and place ourselves at the center of the world? Do we forget that the Ethiopian Eunuch took the gospel to Africa after Acts 8, most likely, or that Thomas took the gospel to India (according to Christian history). Do we make mission something far off that we have to go someplace else to do? Do we minimize the work of Christians in other parts of the world who have been laboring for a long time to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel where they are?
I live in Montgomery, Alabama. There are a lot of churches in Montgomery, but this is not Jerusalem. Montgomery was not even a thought when Jesus told the disciples that they would take the gospel to the ends of the earth. In a sense, Montgomery IS at the ends of the earth from Jerusalem. When I go to India and do pastor/missionary training, it is a long way from Montgomery and it seems like it is at the ends of the earth, but only to me. For people born and raised there, including the indigenous church that we work with, it is their home. They are at the ends of the earth the same way Montgomery is and only in relation to Jerusalem – not in relation to me.
My point is that I think that Christians in Montgomery should see their mission the same way that Christians in North India see their mission. We are all at the ends of the earth. The gospel has come to us and we have a responsibility to live out its implications wherever we are – in this culture and in this time and wherever God might sovereignly send us. We are all “sent” people and mission is not something for those who might move to Africa or India where Christianity has existed for almost 2000 years. Just because there are a lot of churches in North America does not mean that we are Jerusalem and every place else consists of the far off heathen lands where the gospel has not been heard or believed. That is a very ego-centric mindset that harms our involvement in God’s mission because it removes it from our everyday lives and places it in the realm of responsibility for the specially called. It also both minimizes the lives of Christians in far off places as not being powerful enough to reach their regions and simultaneously exalts them as being different or special because we unnecessarily come to think that it must be so very hard to live for Christ where they are.
We are all missionaries. And, we are all regular Christians who are filled with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to declare and live out the gospel wherever we go – whether it be Montgomery, Alabama in the United States where I live and work or Jacmel, Haiti where I am headed next week, or Dehradun, Uttarakhand in India where we go regularly. God’s Mission to seek and save the lost and make disciples of nations happens everywhere. I am not at the center of it and my life and home is not Jerusalem. The gospel has come to me from long ago and far away and it is to pass through me wherever I live and wherever I roam till all hear and Jesus returns.
Let us not interpret Acts 1:8 personally, but instead, see ourselves as part of God’s sovereign work of bringing His salvation to the nations. We stand on the shoulders of giants. And, people will stand on our shoulders one day too.