Saturday, October 1, 2022

How the Gospel Spread to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the Uttermost Parts of the Earth

How the Gospel Spread to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the Uttermost Parts of the Earth

By Dr. Shirley Cheng

The Gospel of Jesus Christ started out as a small spark in the Galilean hillsides nearly two thousand years ago, but rapidly blazed across all geographical barriers to become the world's most well-known Good News in the history of humanity. A brief overview of how the Gospel spread will not only empower us to be a part of its spread but will help us see that the Gospel is propelled by divine power.

The spread of the Gospel began with the Great Commission Jesus Christ gave His disciples prior to his ascension back to his Father's side in heaven: "Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." (Matthew 28:19, 20, WEB) Since the spreading of the Gospel was a great responsibility the disciples had to fulfill, it required the power from the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus told His body of believers to "wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) With this power, they would be witnesses to Christ in "Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

The Spread of the Gospel in Jerusalem

Following their Master's instruction, the disciples waited in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the day of Pentecost came, "they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages," so non-Hebrew speaking Jews from various parts of the Roman Empire could understand them in their own languages (Acts 2:1-4).

The Spirit-empowered disciples immediately began working to fulfill the Great Commission. The apostle Peter was first to add new members to the church of Christ; the Holy Spirit enabled this uneducated fisherman to deliver an impromptu preaching so powerful and convicting that it converted three thousand people to Christianity on the same day (Acts 2:41).

In Jerusalem, new believers were constantly being added to the church of Christ, as Yahweh God enabled the apostles to perform many miracles, including the instantaneous healing of a man who was crippled since birth (Acts 3). The increase that the church experienced was so rapid that the Bible soon used "multiplying" to describe the growth: "the number of the disciples was multiplying." (Acts 6:1)

The Spread of the Gospel to Samaria

Great persecution soon rose against the body of Christ, and consequently, the believers were scattered "abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles." (Acts 8:1) Those who left Jerusalem took with them the Good News of Christ, spreading the Gospel outside their circle to Samaria for the first time. One such believer who spread the Gospel to Samaria was Philip, a deacon who was assigned to serve tables for widows (Acts 6:5).

In Samaria, Philip healed the paralyzed and the lame, and drove out demons from the possessed, all the while proclaiming to the Samaritans the Christ, whom the Samaritans joyously accepted (Acts 8:5-8). When the apostles in Jerusalem "heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-15)

While Philip was still ministering in Samaria, an angel from God said to him, "Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." (Acts 8:26) God had a greater mission for Philip: to minister to one individual, an Ethiopian eunuch, the secretary of the treasury for the queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:27). Unhesitatingly,Philip obeyed and on his way, met the eunuch, who was traveling home on his chariot from Jerusalem where he went to worship. Commanded by the Holy Spirit, Philip ran toward the chariot, and once he heard the Ethiopian official reading aloud from the book of Isaiah, he asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30) The official admitted that he needed help understanding the Scriptures and asked Philip to "come up and sit with him." (Acts 8:31) Sitting next to the Ethiopian in his chariot, Philip promptly preached about Jesus Christ, starting from the passage the man was reading: Isaiah 53:7-8:

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.
As a lamb before his shearer is silent,
so he doesn't open his mouth.
In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away.
Who will declare His generation?
For his life is taken from the earth."

As they traveled, they came upon some water, and the official said, "Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36) Once confirming the man's new faith in Christ, Philip baptized him in the water. Upon the completion of Philip's ministry to the official, the "Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch didn't see him any more, for he went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8:39)

The Spread of the Gospel to the "Uttermost Parts of the Earth"

Following the spread of Christianity throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Jesus' Good News of universal salvation had to spread outward; no geographical barrier, either imaginary or real, could possibly hold it back. The spread of the Gospel to the gentiles had a modest start, but rapidly grew like a small amount of leaven in a lump of dough. Cross-cultural ministry officially began with the apostle Peter.

As a Jew, Peter was at first hesitant to preach the Gospel of Christ to non-Jews, as Jews at that time saw gentiles as unclean (ritually polluting). However, after a vision from the Christ, Peter accepted his mission to the gentiles. Immediately following the vision, three men were asking for Peter, and upon the Holy Spirit's prompting, Peter went to meet them. The men explained to Peter, "Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous man and one who fears God, and well spoken of by all the nation of the Jews, was directed by a holy angel to invite you to his house, and to listen to what you say." (Acts 10:22)

Once arriving at Cornelius' home, Peter introduced Jesus as the Savior of the world. While he spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon the gentiles and, as a result, they spoke in tongues, amazing all the witnesses (Acts 10:44-46). Then Peter had them baptized in water (Acts 10:48).

The spread of the Gospel to the gentiles continued following Peter's first cross-cultural ministry. Some of those who were persecuted preached the Word at faraway places, including Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, where the term "Christian" was first used to describe a follower of Christ (Acts 11:19, 21, 26).

Cross-cultural ministry flourished under Paul of Tarsus. On the day of his miraculous conversion from a devoted Pharisee who was vehemently persecuting Christians to a devout apostle who would become the pioneer of church planting, the Master said to him, "Arise, and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose: to appoint you a servant and a witness both of the things which you have seen, and of the things which I will reveal to you; delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, to whom I send you, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:16-18)

Paul was "not disobedient to the heavenly vision." (Acts 26:19) In his three Spirit-guided missionary trips throughout the Roman Empire, Paul won lives for Christ from many gentile worlds, including Malta, Cyprus, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Crete, and Rome, where his ministry ended due to execution and where the book of Acts of the Bible closes to open the door for further spread of the Gospel.

The Spread of the Gospel After the Book of Acts

After the close of Acts, the Gospel continued to spread despite great persecution. By the second century, it spread to nearly all of the Roman Empire, and in the fourth century, persecution ceased and Christianity became the dominant religion of the empire after Roman Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, and issued an edict of toleration in 313. Then through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread throughout the western world in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, thousands of Christians spoke against the Roman Catholic Church for deviating from Biblical doctrines, for moral corruption, and for power abuse. Some of these reformers began making the Bible accessible to the common people by translating it into languages other than Latin, to which the sacred text was then confined. During such reformation, many reformers were persecuted and executed, including William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake in 1536 for smuggling copies of his English translation of the Bible into England after illegally printing them in Germany. Their efforts and sacrifice enabled many lay people to personally read and study the Bible on their own for the first time. The reformation was aided by the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, which allowed for mass production of the Bible.

In the eighteenth century, Christians sailed to the New World to seek religious freedom, bringing with them the Gospel to America. From that time onward to the 1900s, several revivalists rose up to radically evangelized the world; among them was William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army and established "Armies" in fifty-eight countries; James Hudson Taylor, the first missionary to inland China who converted tens of thousands of Chinese to Christianity; and John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church who spread the Gospel throughout the United Kingdom.

Today, despite centuries of mass persecution, the burning of the Bible, and clergy power abuse, the Gospel continues to spread and penetrate geographical lines, fueled by technological advances. And when the "Good News of the Kingdom [is] preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations... the end will come." (Matthew 24:14) Amen!

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