As of the time I’m writing this, we’ve been walking through the Acts of the Apostles together on Sunday mornings for seven weeks. If you’ve been able to join us, you may have noticed at least one prominent theme that keeps surfacing again and again in the text: the announcement of the Good News about Jesus. It goes by many names and comes in many forms. Evangelism. Preaching the gospel. Sharing our faith. Making Christ known. Proclaiming God’s Word. Whatever phrase we use, the idea is the same. God has a message of hope for humanity—hope through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—and it’s the duty and the joy of Christian people to make sure that message reaches the whole world.
Where have we seen this in Acts so far? Here are a few examples:
Just before the risen Christ ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is St. Luke’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to spread the Good News about him throughout all nations.
When Peter was urging his fellow disciples to choose a new leader from among themselves to replace Judas Iscariot, Peter told them, “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Peter knew they needed as many witnesses as possible working together to most effectively share the gospel.
When the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on the festival day of Pentecost, they were given power to communicate in all the languages of the world, and those who heard them speaking said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God,” that is, telling about “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works” (Acts 2:11, 22).
As Peter began to address the crowd, he quoted the prophet Joel, who foresaw that one day all of God’s people would be given power to announce God’s message to the world; or, in the words of God through Joel, “in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:18).
Even as they began to face opposition and abuse, both internal and external, the Christian community was united in love and care for one another. This was a direct result of the divine generosity and forgiveness they’d experienced through the transforming power of God’s message. They received that message again and again with increasing joy, for “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). As the message was preached, the people lived it out.
In the text we’ll be reading together this coming Sunday, the apostles seek out wise and Spirit-filled leaders to help them care for the community. Meanwhile, the apostles commit themselves to teaching and preaching about Christ. “We will devote ourselves,” say the apostles, “to prayer and to the ministry of the word,” that is, to the proclamation of the Good News about Jesus; as a result, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:4, 7).
And these are just a few examples from the passages in Acts that we’ve covered together on Sunday mornings! There are others I could provide from these first six chapters of Acts if space were no issue.
So what do we learn from these passages on the recurring theme of evangelism in Acts? Here are 3 brief takeaways:
1.) The preaching and teaching of God’s message through Christ is the most basic mission of the Church. This was true in the days of Acts and it’s still true today. The one thing the Church has that can’t be obtained elsewhere is the proclamation of the truth in Christ as preserved in the Holy Scriptures. Community is a vital aspect of the Church—and we will never stop welcoming people into loving community! But people can find community elsewhere if they want to. Service to the needy is an essential duty of the Church and is the natural consequence of obedience to the teachings of Christ and the whole of Scripture—and we will never stop serving the needy in the name of Christ! But people can, if they want to, find motivation and opportunity to serve the needy without embracing Christ or his Church. Most everything else can be gotten elsewhere, but it’s only by encountering the Good News of Christ through the witness of Christians that people can come to a saving knowledge and love of God.
2.) The Church rightly appoints particular individuals who have been called by God to hold certain teaching offices, but the work of sharing the Good News about Christ is the work of all Christian people. Jesus appointed a body of twelve apostles to preserve and pass down his teachings. Today, Christ still calls leaders, and the Church appoints them as bishops, pastors, youth and children’s ministers, Sunday School teachers, and to a host of other teaching roles. Yet these aren’t the only people called to share the gospel with a world desperately in need of the hope found only in Christ. The Holy Spirit was poured out on all believers, and as Joel prophesied and Peter preached, all of God’s sons and daughters from all stations of life are given the power to speak God’s word to God’s world.
3.) Sharing the Good News about Jesus is never just a neutral exchange of information for the recipient to causally consider. It’s not just a bare message like any other. Ever since the Day of Pentecost, whenever the gospel is shared by a believer, God is faithful to accompany it himself. The Holy Spirit is active in the message. This is part of what theologians call “prevenient grace,” meaning grace that comes before us, or goes out ahead of us. When God’s message about Christ is shared, the Holy Spirit is already working on the heart of the hearer. The proclamation of the gospel, however formal or informal, is also what the Church historically calls a “means of grace,” meaning God is consistently faithful to be present in the message and work through it to call people to faith in Jesus. This means that when we’re telling people about Jesus Christ, we’re never alone, because the Spirit of Christ himself is with us to confirm our testimony. And it means that our efforts are never as weak an powerless as we may feel. As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Church at Rome, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). No matter how weak our own voice and courage may be, our witness to Jesus is always strong—it’s “the power of God.”
And there’s so much more to come! I can’t wait to share with you more of the glorious riches waiting for us as we continue to journey through the Acts of the Apostles. See you soon
Dr. Nick McRae
Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Decatur