Acts 1:8. You probably know the passage by heart: “You will be my witnesses from Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Those words were spoken to the apostles just before Jesus left them in charge.
And of course, we know the rest of the story, don’t we? Holy Spirit weekend, thousands of converts, the launch of the Christian movement, and the apostles immediately mobilized to head out to be witnesses to the “ends of the earth.”
Nope. Let’s take a look at what really went on.
Pentecost is over. The new church is in full swing. Good things are happening – except for the Hebraic widows who needed some attention. And the apostles? They do a good job of delegating the task to seven who were charged with taking care of the issue.
But wait – what is it the apostles said? “It wouldn’t be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God” (Acts 5:2). Sounds like they’re really busy spreading the word from Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria… right? Well, not so much. They’re still hanging out in Jerusalem (taking care of all those administrative tasks, no doubt).
But those seven guys, the first deacons, tasked with taking care of the widows? Well , six verses later we find Stephen street preaching and getting himself killed. Then a “great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). The verse says that the whole church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Everyone except the apostles. They hunkered down in Jerusalem while the rest of the church fled. Well, so much for all that administrative work.
However, Philip, one of the deacons, gets busy being a witness and taking the word to the people in Samaria (Acts 8:4). Folks there became Christian and the news about it spreads – all the way to Jerusalem. So Peter and John actually leave the office to go check it out. They come to Samaria, verify that God has actually shown up there, and then… they return to Jerusalem (to their credit, they did preach their hearts out on their way home – 8:25).
In the next chapter, God gets ahold of Paul and the focus of evangelizing the world shifts. Paul tries to break into the inner circle in the main office in Jerusalem, but he doesn’t get far. For his own safety, he’s hustled up to Tarsus (9:30).
The next thing we know, the Holy Spirit gets involved, Peter is called up out of Jerusalem to visit Cornelius, and the Gentiles are no longer off limits to the witnessing Jesus talked about in 1:8. But do the apostles jump on that bandwagon? Nope. Peter returns to Jerusalem where he makes his report to the other eleven apostles.
The rest of the book of Acts reads like this: Paul hits the road and starts churches. Then he returns to Jerusalem and reports to the apostles what God’s been doing. Then he bids the apostles farewell and hits the road as a witness to the ends of the earth.
From Acts 11 until the end of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and others are on the road doing the “ministry of the word” while the apostles – the “ones sent” – stay in Jerusalem.
And so it would remain, or so it seems, until God sends the Roman “bulldozers” to Jerusalem in about AD 70 to motivate the twelve to leave their office.
So, what are the lessons to be learned here?
First, God’s the one in charge and if God could work around the twelve guys who were “sent” but chose to pretty much stay at home, then there are none of us so darned important that God’s work is going to be sidelined. The final chapter has already been written, with or without us.
On the other hand, if we don’t take seriously God’s calling to be witnesses beyond our office walls, then we had better be willing to bear the consequences. For one, if we won’t be faithful, God will raise up someone else who will be and ultimately they’ll not only get the credit for what we were supposed to do, but they’ll get to experience the joy of fulfilling what the Lord has ordained.
There’s a potential second consequence that we need to be aware of as well. If we are reluctant to be faithful to our calling, God may allow (or arrange) circumstances to motivate us to faithfulness. I’m not saying Jerusalem was routed because the apostles refused to be witnesses any further than their own backyards, but God will use what God will use to get the point across.
The good news in all of this is that the apostles themselves did eventually move out into all the world. But our world (or our neighborhood, community, county, etc.) isn’t going to get evangelized unless we get out of our church offices. In the words of Dr. LeRoy Benefield, my beloved Southern Baptist evangelism professor, “No one gets saved in the church office.”
(By the way, if you need help figuring out how to get out of the office, you might want to take a listen to the Church-Talk episode on the topic at: http://church-talk.com/church-talk-video-archive/11-03-09/.)
Question: How have you and the leaders of your church taken steps to “go into all the world”? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.