The very last words of Jesus to His followers before His ascension was…
“…you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8b
For a long time, this instruction did not register in the minds of the disciples even though Jesus had talked about it openly many times.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”Matthew 24:14
Jesus even warned them about what was awaiting them in the future when they do venture to the Gentiles.
“…and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”Matthew 10:18
Perhaps the first disciples did not fully understand that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also God of all humanity. They were highly prejudiced against anyone that was non-Jew and refused to associate with the unclean Gentles.
The Acts of The Apostles is the account of how the apostles finally broke free of their “Jewish” mentality and took the gospel to the whole world.
The Book of Acts was written by Luke, the same author of the Gospel of Luke. You could say that the Book of Acts is basically “Luke Volume 2.” His first volume ended this way…..
And He [Jesus] told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”Luke 24:46-48
Luke picks up the rest of the story in Volume 2 that covers the period beginning from the ascension of Jesus around 33 AD up to around 60 AD.
In less than a decade, the message of Jesus had spread far and wide, from city to city. The impact was so great that in Thessalonica, Greece, people were saying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…” (Acts 17:6)
How did it all begin? It first took a tragedy and then, later. a weird dream! Read on.
From Acts 2 to Acts 7, we read about Peter and the rest preaching in Jerusalem that Jesus the Messiah was crucified and rose again; and that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus. Not in any religion but only through a relationship with God. (see Acts 4:12)
The turning point comes in Acts 8. Stephen, one of the disciples is murdered by the Jewish authorities. Stoned to death as the first martyr for his faith in Jesus. After that there was such a tremendous persecution of the early believers that they were forced to flee Jerusalem
“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1)
The authorities were sure this tragedy would shut up the disciples for good. They could not have been more wrong.
“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4)
From Jerusalem. on to Samaria!
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. The crowds gave their undivided attention to Philip’s message and to the signs they saw him perform. With loud shrieks, unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, and many of the paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:5-8)
And after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many of the Samaritan villages. (Acts 8:25)
If you recall, just a few years earlier, when Jesus was still around, John had wanted fire to come down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village who had rejected Jesus.
And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus had to rebuke John and his brother for even suggesting it.
What a turnaround now! John went preaching in those same Samaritan villages. Of course Jesus Himself preached and taught Samaritans during his ministry.
So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”John 4:42
Read that last line again. The Samaritans recognized it. That Jesus was the Savior of the WORLD. The disciples though were slow to perceive it. But they were getting there!
Now they were preaching to Samaritans themselves! That was not all.
In Acts 8:30 we find Philip talking to an Ethiopian near Gaza! He was a court official of Candace, queen of Ethiopia. The man was pondering over a verse in Isaiah.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35)
The Ethiopian becomes a follower of Christ and takes his new-found faith back to his country!
Philip was not done. “…Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:40)
In the next chapter Acts 9, we read about a disciple in Damascus, Ananias, who was instrumental in the conversion of Paul.
…the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
In Acts 9 and 10, Peter encounters a series of miraculous events that finally push him over the line to reach out to the Gentiles.
It began in Joppa, the same city where Jonah fled from, when God told him to go to the Gentiles of Nineveh some 800 years earlier. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.)
A female disciple in Joppa named Tabitha had died and Peter was called to come and pray. She was raised back to life.
“And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.” (Acts 9:43)
It is interesting that Luke specifically mentions Simon, and his occupation. Why? A tanner works with animal skin. He handles dead animals and was therefore “unclean” according to Jewish laws. And Peter the “clean” Jew stayed with someone who was “unclean”! Maybe it was preparation for Peter for what was about to come next!
A short while later, Peter experiences a strange vision. He sees a lot of unclean animals. He is disgusted but God had a special message for him.
And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15)
This was Peter’s wake-up call to leave his prejudices behind and preach salvation to Gentiles. God had a very specific Gentile in mind for Peter. A Roman centurion named Cornelius, of the Italian cohort.
You can read Cornelius’ story in Acts 10. He and his entire family receive salvation as Peter preaches to them. And Peter declares…
“I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right. He has sent this message to the people of Israel, proclaiming the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD OF ALL.”Acts 10:34-36
Peter was finally convinced that salvation was for Gentiles too. But when he returned to Jerusalem, some of the Jews who had still not gotten on the same page accused him of associating with the unclean and took issue with him.
But Peter began and explained to them the whole sequence of events. (Acts 11:4).
The naysayers finally understood….
When they heard this, their objections were put to rest, and they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)
..some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:20-21)