Yesterday we began a special series on missions. Missions can be a hard ministry for many in the local church to understand. The very nature of missions is that which happens far and away in foreign contexts. We appreciate it way more than we grasp it. The intent of this series is to give you very concise biblical view of missions. Again, the author this series is Kevin DeYoung.
The Case for Acts
We are coming close to getting back to Acts 14:19-28 and answering the question “what do missionaries do?” But there is one more preliminary step we must take before landing in this text. I need to make the case that the book of Acts is the best place to look for the answer to our question, and that the end of Acts 14 in particular is an especially helpful place to look. It wouldn’t be fair to answer our question about missionaries from the book of Acts and from Acts 14 unless there is good reason to think this book and this text means to answer this sort of question.
Let’s start with the book. Acts is the inspired history of the mission of the church. It is meant to pick up where Luke’s Gospel leaves off—which is with Jesus’ command that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” and with the promise that he will send the Holy Spirit to clothe the disciples with power from on high so they can be his witnesses (24:47-48). The same narrative is in view in Acts 1 as the church is gathered in Jerusalem waiting for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). This second volume from Luke will describe what those commissioned at the end of the first volume were sent out to accomplish.
Don’t miss the significance of Acts 1:1: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (emphasis added). In other words, Luke’s Gospel dealt with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and now (by implication) this book of Acts will deal with all that Jesus continues to do and teach. We must never forget that we do not replace Jesus on earth, or even partner with him in the strictest sense. The work is still his, and Jesus is still the one working. Our role is to bear witness to the person and work of Christ. That’s really the point of Acts: to show the apostles as Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (1:8). Acts 1:8 gives us the Table of Contents for all 28 chapters in the book of Acts. The apostles will proclaim Christ through these expanding geographic areas, all the way to the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts is–quite explicitly–a book designed to show the advance of the gospel mission in the world. We have every reason, then, to think this is the book that can help us answer the question “what do missionaries do?”
And we have good reason to think this passage in Acts 14 is an especially good place to get an answer to that question. At the beginning of Acts 13 the church at Antioch, prompted by the Holy Spirit, set apart Paul and Barnabas “for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). The next verse says, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (v. 3). This isn’t the first time the gospel is going to be preached to unbelievers in Acts. It’s not the first gospel work Paul and Barnabas will do. But it is the first time we see a church intentionally sending out Christian workers with a mission to another location. Paul and Barnabas travel to Cyprus, and then to Pisidian Antioch, and then to Iconium, and then to Lystra, and then to Derbe, and from there back through Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch, and then to Perga, and back to Antioch in Syria. This completes Paul’s first missionary journey. So Acts 14:19-28 is not only a good summary of Paul’s missionary work, it’s also the sort of information Paul would have shared with the church in Antioch when he returned (v. 27). These verses are like the slide show or the power point presentation Paul and Barnabas shared with their sending church: “This is how we saw God at work. Here’s where we went and what we did.” If any verses are going to give us a succinct description of what missionaries do, it’s verses like these at the end the missionary journey in Acts 14.
Part 3 tomorrow.