Acts 1:6-11 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Most Christians believe (if they believe anything about it) that the Book of Acts is a record of the apostles carrying out the Lord’s command. In most translations Acts is called “The Acts of the Apostles”. The Lord’s command is usually referred to as the “Great Commission”. I certainly had that idea for much of my ministry. The truth is the book of Acts, edited by Luke Paul’s personal doctor, is a record of the resistance by church leaders to the command that was given to them by Jesus just before he ascended into heaven.
The way most churches operate indicate that the missionary command to go to all the world with the gospel is kind of an add-on. It is treated as though it were an afterthought rather than a primary instruction from the beginning. Many Bible teachers would probably say that missionary outreach is not emphasized in the Old Testament. Let’s look at the Old Testament see what we can find. I will accept the idea that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are introductory material with a special purpose.
Genesis 12:1-4 lays the groundwork for understanding the missionary outreach in the Old Testament. Let’s read it and see, “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”
There was a man in the city of Ur in Chaldea. He had no Bible – only the word of God himself. There are several promises in these few verses. First, if he would go, Abram would be shown the way as he went. Second, if he would go in obedience, God would make of him a great nation. Third, if he would go, God would bless him and make his name great! Fourth, if he would go, God would protect him and curse his enemies. And last, certainly not least, in Abram all the families of the earth will be blessed! This man, Abram, would have a new name, Abraham. He was one of two men in the Bible who were described as “a friend of God”! We haven’t time to give all of the examples in the Bible of that friendship. The point of this passage of Scripture is found in the last line of verse three: in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed!
The missionary mandate is put into effect with the calling of Abram who would become Abraham. Generation after generation the mandate would need to be repeated. The devil would lead most people to ignore it!
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians had this to say about it, (Galatians 3:6-9) “Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
The gospel was preached in all its beauty and simplicity in the words given to Abram “in you shall all the nations be blessed”
Paul goes on to make everything clear for us. Verse 14 “in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles”. Jesus could then say to the Pharisees, before Abraham was “I Am!” I Am is the way God described himself to Moses from the burning bush. The Pharisees immediately knew that Jesus was claiming to be God. We know that’s true because they took up stones to kill him. Because what he spoke, if it were not true, would be blasphemy. The Pharisees and their followers could not accept the idea that Jesus spoke the truth. That God had come to Earth in human flesh.
This missionary mandate was begun about 2000 years before Jesus Christ was born. It was begun with the obedience of a man called Abram. The mandate did not have to wait on the coming of Christ. The blessing of Abraham would be passed on throughout the Old Testament. Let’s look at a few examples!
These are taken from: Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson.
1) Joseph was a son of Abraham who made up for his forefather’s lack of a clear witness to the Egyptian nation! Joseph blessed Egyptians in truly amazing ways.
2) The spies who entered Jericho before it was destroyed became a blessing to Rahab, a Canaanite harlot, and her family.
3) Naomi, a daughter of Abraham, was a blessing to two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.
4) Moses became a blessing to Jethro, his Midianite father-in-law.
5) King David caused even his enemies, the Philistines, to acknowledge God’s greatness.
6) The prophet Elijah was a blessing to a Sidonian widow in Zarephath.
7) The prophet Elisha, likewise, was a blessing to Naaman, a Syrian.
8) Jonah, however reluctantly, became a blessing to the Gentile population of Nineveh.
9) King Solomon was a blessing to the Sabaean “Queen of the South.”
10) Daniel and his three colleagues, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were a blessing to Babylonians.
The disciples of Jesus had read all these stories, and many more. These stories were part of the training of all Jewish boys leading up to their bar mitzvah. Obviously they really did not get it. They, along with everyone else in Jewish society, were very resistant to associating with anyone who was not a Jew. They did not understand Jesus’ cross-cultural ministry. Let’s look at a few examples.
After Jesus’s birth, his parents brought him to the Temple to offer a sacrifice according to the law of the Lord. There was a man there named Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before he died. When he saw the child, Jesus, he took him in his arms and praised God! Luke wrote the words. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32).
Within the first few days of his life the promise was given that Jesus would be a light for the Gentiles as well as glory for the people of Israel. We are told that Mary treasured up all these things in her heart concerning her son. The gospel of Luke probably records Mary’s memories.
It was fitting that Jesus, the Messiah, would have some Gentile blood in him. The gospel according to Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy. Significantly, it begins with Abraham, God’s friend, the one who was promised he would be a blessing for everyone in the world. Matthew notes that one of Jesus’ ancestors, Judah, had a child by Tamar, a Canaanite. The next woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy is Rahab a Canaanite harlot. The next woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy is Ruth, whose home was Moab! And the fourth woman in Jesus’ genealogy is Bathsheba who may have been a Hittite. She had been married to Uriah who was a Hittite!
When Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, began his preaching ministry one of his sermon texts was taken from Isaiah 52:10. All flesh shall see the salvation of God. Not just the Jews but “all flesh” — or all nations. The Missionary Mandate is clearly documented in the Old Testament as well as the New!
Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). Obviously, John was introducing Jesus as more than the Jewish Messiah. He was the one who would take away the sin Of the World! So at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was recognized as the deliverer of everyone who would come to him by faith.
Twice he went to the Temple and cleaned it out. John tells us about the time of cleansing the temple at the beginning of his ministry. (John 2:13-17) It was the first Passover after Jesus began his public ministry. When he walked into the temple area he found that it had been turned into a commercial enterprise! At least some of it had. People were there selling animals that would be used in sacrifice. At that time of year the area would have been very busy. People who traveled any distance to Jerusalem for the Passover would not have brought with them animals to sacrifice. They did not have to go all over the city of Jerusalem to find these animals they were right there at the temple! There was also people there to exchange money. You see, they could not use Roman money in the temple area. Roman money had the image of Caesar on it. That could not be allowed! It would have been idolatry to have these images used in worship. Jesus’ problem with these people was not so much what they were doing but where they were doing it. These things were being conducted in the courtyard of the Gentiles. This courtyard was set aside to teach the Gentiles (all non-Jews) and allow them to worship God. Obviously, there was no need for such a courtyard since the Jews did not intend Gentiles to worship God.
All of the Old Testament examples they knew about, as they understood them, did not open their hearts to the nations.
As we look through the Gospels there are many examples of Jesus proclaiming The Missionary Mandate. Matthew quotes Isaiah, “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:15-16). At that time Jesus began to preach in that region that bordered on the Gentiles. In Galilee Jesus taught and healed. Great crowds followed him there were mixed Jews with Gentiles in that region.
As he expanded his ministry he established a home base in Capernaum. There, he was met by a Roman centurion begging for his help. Matthew recorded the event in chapter 8, verses 6-13: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Do you see The Missionary Mandate being fulfilled? Not just a Gentile but a Roman. The Romans had their boots on the necks of the Jews and were hated because of that. Not only was this Roman asking for help he exercised faith that Jesus had not seen in Israel. He told Jesus that it was unnecessary for him to come to his house. He only had to speak the word and the authority he had from God would allow his servant to be healed. Jesus used this as an opportunity to say that many people would come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven!
Matthew recorded another instance where Jesus responded to the spiritual need of a Canaanite woman and the physical need of her daughter. He traveled north into the district to Tyre and Sidon. One of the local women became aware of his presence and came out of her home and was following Jesus. She was begging for healing. This offended the disciples. She explained that her daughter was oppressed by a demon. The disciples tried to get rid of her. It seems the disciples were embarrassed that this Gentile should be asking Jesus for help. Rather than send her away, Jesus told her that he came only to the lost sheep of Israel. She knelt before him and begged even more. When Jesus spoke to her words that would’ve offended many people. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
She could care less what Jesus had to say, she wanted her child released of the demon oppression she was experiencing. She answered, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.” To that Jesus gave an amazing reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. The story is found in Matthew 15 21-28.
One day, an expert the Jewish law asked Jesus a question hoping to trap him. The question was, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29-37). Jesus answered him. He told a story about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. A gang of robbers attacked him, took away all of his possessions, and left him to die. A priest was going down that same road. When he saw the man you went by on the opposite side of the road. Also a Levite (Levites helped the priests) also went by on the other side! But a Samaritan saw the man and had compassion on him. The Samaritan but the man on his own animal to him to the nearby inn.
The next, morning when it was time for the Samaritan to leave, he gave the innkeeper money and told the innkeeper to take care of the injured man. Any expense should be added to his bill!
Another story Jesus told continued to push the Missionary Mandate against the popular prejudice of his day. The story is found in the gospel of John chapter 4. It begins with John recording, “Now he had to go through Samaria”. Something no normal Jew of the day would have said. Prejudice caused them to go around Samaria rather than through it. At the middle of the day they arrived at the well at Sychar.
By the way, that well is still there. A church has been built over it. For a small fee you can have a drink.
Jesus sent his disciples into the nearby town to buy food since it was near lunch. He really wasn’t hungry he just wanted some privacy. He sat down beside the well and in a few moments a Samaritan woman arrived. This was not the time of day most of the women came to draw water. I suspect this woman had a bad reputation and did not want to spend time with the other women. Jesus asked her to give him a drink. She was very surprised because Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. He told her that he could give her living water. She entered into a theological debate. Jesus brought it to an end by saying, “Go, call your husband and come here.”
She said that she did not have a husband. Jesus then let her know that he knew she had had five husbands and was now living with a man she was not married to. From that seemingly unpromising beginning, Jesus went on to pierce the armor of that Samaritan woman’s resistance to everything Jewish. He even managed to make the statement “salvation is from the Jews” and got away with it! The Samaritan woman believed Him. Totally enthused, she left her water jar by the well, ran into Sychar, rallied the townsfolk and brought them to meet Jesus.
When his disciples returned they offered him some food. He said he had food to eat they did not know about. Then he added, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
Next week, we will follow through with the record of the Missionary Mandate. Let’s finish up today with a walk down the Roman road.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory — Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord — Romans 6:23.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. – Romans 10:9.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Sin always has evil consequences. Just as Adam and Eve were promised a wonderful world of knowledge by disobeying God. Satan promises good things for us. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season. But seasons always come to an end.
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? Today could be your day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.