There are many barriers to the spread of the gospel across the earth. One of the greatest barriers has existed from the time of Christ and continues into our modern age.
The book of Acts provides a narrative story of the early church. It is not a complete record, but instead lists some of the significant highlights of the way the message of Jesus Christ began to take the world by storm.
“The ends of the earth”
In Acts 1:8 (CSB), Jesus gave his followers the charge to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” For the next 7 chapters, Acts tells the story of the amazing things that God did through those followers as they were faithful to tell the good news to the people of Jerusalem.
They were God’s faithful witnesses to the people who lived in Jerusalem and to many who traveled there to the Temple. Many responded to that message, but their efforts were heavily centered on the Jewish world, the people who they had the most in common with. This would begin to change after Stephen’s death and the growing persecution which is mentioned from Acts 8:1 on.
We find the stories of the gospel spreading to Samaria (Acts 8:25) and throughout the region of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Then in Acts 10, we have the transformative vision and experience of Peter with Cornelius where God confirms that the gospel is for all people, even those not like him.
“No one except”
This brings us to the city of Antioch, the third largest city of the Greco-Roman world of the time. Antioch was a cosmopolitan city with a small Jewish population. It was a city filled with people that were not like Peter, John, or any of the church leaders in Jerusalem.
In Acts 11:19-21 (CBS), Luke writes: “Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
The believers fled persecution, traveling to this part of the world, where I’ve made my home for the last 20+ years, and they continued to faithfully share the word, but only on a limited basis. What was the limitation? In spite of the revelation to Peter in Acts 10, these faithful followers of Christ continued to do what many of us do today, share the good news only with people like us.
“Some of them”
In our text, we find the testimony of “some of them,” who were different. These followers of Christ were different from the majority.
They were willing to cross the greatest barriers that existed in their society and share the good news with those who were completely different from them. They “proclaimed the good news” and “a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Our modern world needs more people like this. We can become very isolated in our churches, our communities and even online, where we live in an echo chamber of ideas, surrounded only by those who are the most like us.
We need faithful followers who believe the call of Christ in Acts 1:8. We need believers who will go to their own Jerusalem, their own Samaria, and their own Judea; but most of all, we need believers who will reach across the societal barriers around them and go to those with whom they have little in common.
The gospel is being held back by self-imposed restrictions that can be removed by faithful followers of Christ who see the lost in need of a Savior, not societal divisions. It is not easy to go to the “ends of the earth,” nor is it easy to go to those who think so differently than we do. But the love of Christ compels us.
The gospel is good news for all peoples, even those who don’t vote like us, protest against the things we care about, or support causes we think are harmful.
Chad Hensley has served the last 22 years in cross-cultural ministry outside the United States alongside his wife of 28 years, Deanna. They are the proud parents of three wonderful young adults: Ashton, Justin, and Kaden. You can read more of his writing at his website Seeing God Clearly.