ByCraig van Echten
August 29, 2018
Bible reading: Acts 2:5-13
Brothers and sisters,
As I mentioned last week, the day of Pentecost can be likened to a Dam. In 1953 a huge dam was commissioned on the Nile river in Egypt. It was finally completed 17 years later. Now during it’s lengthy period of construction, the Nile river wasn’t completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling, part of the river was allowed to flow past. As people down river depended on it. But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines, a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river. Pentecost was a bit like that. Before Pentecost the river of God’s Spirit blessed God’s people Israel. It was their very life. But after Pentecost the power of the Spirit spread out to light the whole world.
Along with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the day of Pentecost is critical to the whole box and dice of salvation. Along with these other significant events, it’s a pivotal moment in redemption history.
Last week we saw what this pivotal moment meant and means. All God’s people share in the richer and deeper work of the Holy Spirit. In particular, we are all baptized with the Spirit. And there are no second class citizens.
This morning we are going to see that Pentecost is a pivotal moment for the work of mission. The gospel now goes out with power to the nations.
But to understand this:
The first thing to notice is that world mission is limited under the Old covenant. Again, we need to put everything in context to appreciate the pivotal moment of Pentecost. So let me begin with a few questions. Did O.T Israel engage in mission as in bringing the gospel to the nations? In the O.T, was God concerned about the other nations? What happened with respect to world evangelization in the Old covenant?
If we start in Genesis 1, we see God’s concern is universal in scope. Mankind were created in His image. And as image bearers they were to display His glory in all the earth.
After the fall in Genesis 3 the whole world is under the curse. But, a Saviour is promised, not for a particular nation, but for fallen humanity in general.
However to save fallen humanity, God narrows His focus on Abraham. But, God does not choose Abraham and subsequently the Jewish nation to exclude all others from redemption. Rather, the Jewish nation becomes God channel or vehicle of blessing to the world. So God says to Abraham, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The fact Israel was blessed by God inorder to be a blessing is captured by Psalm 67. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”
Now did it happen?
As time went on, many Gentiles were blessed, as they joined themselves to Israel. In Exodus 12:38 it speaks about a great multitude coming out of Egypt with the Israelites. We see people like Rahab, Ruth, Naaman the Syrian, the Queen of Sheba, and Uriah the Hittite joining themselves to God’s people. We even see Jonah being sent to Ninevah. So yes, many people from the nations were blessed.
But why was their impact so small? And why was it that so few from the nations came to know the LORD? Did they use the wrong evangelism techniques? Or did they need a Billy Graham?
Interestingly, things don’t change much during the ministry of Jesus. He sees His ministry as having implications for the nations. But, how many people Gentiles did Jesus win to the faith? Not many. The Centurion’s servant (Luke 7), the Canaanite women (Matthew 15), the leper to name a few. Interestingly, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And where did the disciples go on short term mission? In Matthew 10:6 He says to the disciples, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And so we see Jesus limiting Himself and His disciples. Not excluding the Gentile per se. But their effect among the Gentiles is limited.
And that really sums up mission under the Old covenant. It was limited in power and effect. So then what about the Psalms which say things like, “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)
Why didn’t God’s people, and even Jesus Himself not reach these heights?? It was because the fullness of time had not yet come. Satan was not yet bound, and defeated. However, the death and resurrection of Jesus brought victory over sin, death and satan. The ascension of Jesus meant He began to rule in power. And on the day of Pentecost Christ poured out the Holy Spirit in power.
So, secondly the gospel goes out with power to the nations.
According to Senator Ian McDonald racism in Australia is rare and isolated which has sparked a little bit of debate. Whatever the case is, there’s at least two reasons why racism is at odds with Christianity. One is because every human being is created in the image of God. The other is because the Christian gospel is for all nations and family groups. And we are given a beautiful glimpse of this on the day of Pentecost.
Prior to the day of Pentecost in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “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.” Here it is promised that the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit would bring power. Power to bring the gospel to the nations.
And on the day of Pentecost we are given a glimpse of that power. On that day Jews from all over the Roman world were gathered. At this point in time they are likely to be in the temple courts. Now the 120 disciples are Galileans and speak Aramaic with a thick Galilean accent. And yet verse 6 “they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” It would be like me speaking and those who know Dutch hearing Dutch, and those who know Tamal hearing Tamal, or those who know Aussie hearing Aussie etc. Now was the miracle in the hearing? Or was the miracle in the speaking? Scholars debate that. But, the point of it all is: Here’s a glimpse of what’s to come. The gospel is going out with power to the nations.
And it’s it interesting how this is a complete reversal of the tower of Babel? At the tower of Babel the languages are dispersed. All sorts of barriers are erected between sinful humanity. On the day of Pentecost the barriers are broken down. And this foreshadows what the gospel would do. Can you imagine it? Jew and Gentile would be in the same church! That would be like putting Palestinians and Israelis in the same the church. Is that possible? It is through the power of the gospel! Even Aussies and N.Z can be in the same church!
So on the day of Pentecost we have a glimpse of the power of the Holy Spirit. So can you see how this moment is pivotal for mission? The rest of the book of Acts will then record how the gospel goes forth in power. Remember, the book of Acts is not simply a collection of Christian experiences. It’s about the spread of the gospel.
Boys and girls, what happens when you throw a stone in the middle of the pond? It causes ripples. In the book of Acts there are distinctive ripples showing how the gospel has gone out. In Acts 2 it goes out in Jerusalem. In Acts 8 it goes out to Samaria. In Acts 10 it goes out to the Gentiles. Until finally it reaches the very heart of the Roman empire.
Now there’s a hugely significant point of application worthy reflecting on. As you know in Australia it’s hard going for the gospel. Overall, church attendance is in decline. And people speak about a Post-Christian world. In this hard context, many churches and denominations have tried all sorts to get their churches to grow. Some try a mega church format, some try church planting, others try music, others change the message and downplay God’s wrath, sin, and discipleship, and so it goes on. (By the way, there’s nothing wrong with having a big church, a church plant or taking away unnecessary stumbling blocks). But the power to change a hard heart, and grow the church is not found in a technique, style, method, but in the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. The spread of the gospel didn’t start with a new technique, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission and evangelism are firstly God’s work. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He did so in the book of Acts and beyond. And He can surely do so now! The gospel goes out with power to the nations.
By the way, where does that leave the Jewish nation? That’s a complex question. What is a blessing to the nations is potentially a rejection of the Israel. Not a complete rejection. But more in terms of Romans 11:25 which says, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” And the tongue speaking may even be a fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11-12 which speaks about a strange tongue which would be a blessing to those who understand but a curse to those who do not. Again it’s a complex question, I refer you to Romans 11.
Now what about us, where do we fit into the picture?
Finally, the need for world mission great Although it’s true that mission is firstly God’s work. It’s also true that God works throw means. Namely, His people. His people have the task of sharing the gospel with the nations.
After a computer system is set up, and all the tests are done, sometimes people talk about going live. Well, on the day of Pentecost the Great commission went live.
In the Great Commission Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”And so the Church throughout the ages has brought the gospel to the nations.
And in the present the gospel continues to progress. Mark Noll puts it this way, “This past Sunday it’s possible that more Christian believers attend church in China than in all of so-called Christian Europe.” Or “This past Sunday more Anglicans attended the church in each of the countries of Kenya, south Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than Anglicans attended church in Britain, Canada and all of the Episcopalian churches in the U.S combined.” That’s great progress!
However, despite the growth of the church, the need for world mission is great. We need to remember that when the Great commission speaks of nations, it is speaking about people groups. The gospel has to go to every tribe, language and nation. It is estimated that there are some 6,700 unreached people groups around the world (Joshua Project). This means there are places around the world where there are less than 2% of Christians. In other words, The Asansol people group in India are a population of 564,000. No Church. Al Hudayada, Yemen. 618,000. No Church. Smarakaland, Uzbekistan, 504,000. No Church. There’s a lot of work to be done! There are still thousands of unreached people groups around the world. Millions of people in darkness that don’t have churches in their local town.I cannot emphasize enough that the need is great!
So where do we fit in? Let me encourage you again today to:
a. Pray. Pray the words of Psalm 67:1 “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” Pray specifically for missionaries and ministries.
b. Give. Keep on giving. Not at the expense of other things we are called to give to for example the local church, local evangelism, diaconal work, etc. But, remember, amongst them, our calling to give toward spreading the gospel to the nations. MERF, the Bible League, Wycliffe, G.O.S.P.E.L work in India would all fit in to it.
c. Prepare. The church in general needs people to front up to spread the gospel. Or to facilitate it’s spread. Maybe some of our children will be called to that. It’s a noble thing to put before their minds.
So, in conclusion, Pentecost is a pivotal moment in world evangelization. Christ has poured out His Spirit in power. He is building His church. And so let us go and make disciples of the nations. Psalm 96:3 “Declare His glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!”