by Robert Dean
Series:3rd John (2003)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 56 secs

The Biblical Foundation of Missions


There was a real freedom in Israel under the Mosaic Law and their institutions. In Judges we saw the breakdown and collapse of that freedom because of moral relativism, and how moral relativism destroys freedom. Israel never fulfilled that role as being a light to the nations in the Old Testament, so when they reject Jesus as Messiah they are temporarily replaced by the church during the church age and the mission given the church is to take the gospel to the nations. We have seen the passages in the New Testament where Jesus instructed the disciples to go and take the gospel to all the nations and to make disciples or learners or students of all nations. The outworking of that mandate is covered in the book of Acts.

The great commission was given in Matthew 28:19, 20. There is a promise there that as we go forth in carrying the gospel to all the nations in fulfilling that mandate that Jesus Christ is always with us, and not only that but we have the promise of special empowerment through God the Holy Spirit.

In Acts chapter one we have the time of the ascension. These are Jesus' parting words to the disciples Just before He ascends to heaven. Acts 1:4 NASB "Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, 'Which,' {He said,} 'you heard of from Me…'" The promise of the Father is that He would send another Comforter. The other Comforter is God the Holy Spirit. He refers to this again in verse 8          NASB "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." There is a cause and effect relationship between the coming of the Holy Spirit, the reception of power from the Holy Spirit, and then being witnesses.

Just like most of us the disciples didn't want to move outside of their comfort zone and so it was necessary for God to step in and interfere with the situation and to put pressure on them to get the gospel out. This, by the way, is the basic outline and structure of the book of Acts. God had to allow persecution to develop to kick them out of Jerusalem. They were forced out of Jerusalem but they didn't go far, they just went to the surrounding area in Judea and Samaria. And there had to be a little more persecution until eventually they began to scatter throughout the world and began to carry out the great commission, but they didn't do it willingly.

In Acts 1:8 we see the foundation in terms of the power and ability. It is not natural, it comes from the Holy Spirit, and under the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit the church expands. The first place we see this witness taking place is when the Holy Spirit came on the early church in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit came on the eleven disciples and they speak in the languages of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the feast day, the day of Pentecost. They came from all over the empire and outside the empire. They heard Peter proclaim the gospel and the result was that 5000 were saved. Then the next expansion occurs in Acts chapter eight.

Acts 8:1 NASB "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." This is stage two in growth. They didn't take the gospel outside the city willingly. God had to allow this persecution to come along to force them out into Judea and Samaria. Chapters 8-10 describe this expansion.

Acts 8:4 NASB "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." They went out teaching and proclaiming the gospel to the Jews in Judea and Samaria. So at this point the ministry of the church is still primarily Jewish in character. [5] "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and {began} proclaiming Christ to them." He is the first example of a cross-cultural ministry. Philip is again used in a second cross-cultural communication when he gives the gospel to the Ethiopian, beginning in v. 26. NASB "But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, 'Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.' (This is a desert {road.}) [27] So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, [28] and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah." He is positive to the gospel but he hasn't heard it yet. Philip explains the gospel and the Ethiopian responds positively and trusts Christ as his Saviour. The eunuch then become a missionary to Ethiopia. So this is the first example that we have in Scripture by implication of the gospel going to another culture outside of the Jews, but the details of it are not provided.

In chapter 9 we see the salvation of the apostle Paul, and then in chapter 10 we switch back to Peter who has a vision to take the gospel to Cornelius who is a Gentile, and Gentiles are for the first time officially recognised as entering into the church. The apostles in Jerusalem by chapter 11 recognise that God is doing a work with the gospel that goes beyond the Jews. So chapters 10 and 11 focus on the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church. There is a summary of the gospel to the Gentiles in 11:16-18 NASB "'And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as {He gave} to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?' When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance {that leads} to life'." At this point we see a recognition of the importance of the Gentiles.

In Acts 11:19 attention is turned back to what is going on with Paul and Barnabas. "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. [20] But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and {began} speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. [21] And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. [22] he news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch." When Barnabas came and saw what was happening he knew who they needed. [25] "And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; [26] and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." So it is still primarily a Jewish oriented church.

In chapter 12 there is increased persecution on the believers in Jerusalem and the result of that persecution continues to have them scattered out. At the end of the chapter Luke comes back to talking about Barnabas and Paul and what is happening in Antioch. We then have the first reference to John Mark. They decided that they need to include John Mark in what they were doing because he seemed to show some potential for ministry. One of the things a pastor should be sensitive to is identifying potential young men for going into full-time professional Christian ministry.

Acts 13:2 NASB "While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' [3] Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. [4] So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus." On this first missionary journey they went first to Cyprus, and then after ministry in Cyprus and seeing churches establishes there they left and went to Perga. When they reached Perga John Mark returned to Jerusalem but Paul and Barnabas continued.

On Paul's second missionary journey he went back to those original towns he had visited before—Derbe, Lystra and Iconium—and made sure the churches there were doing well and were established. Here he picks up Timothy. So we see that it is not just a matter of evangelising and teaching but it is also a matter of identifying and training leadership for the future. When Paul left Iconium and is starting to head north we read in Acts 16: NASB "They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia [Asia minor]; [7] and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them." God took them to Troas where Paul had a vision of a Macedonian asking for them to come over. So the gospel for the first time came to Europe.

Then there is Paul's third missionary journey where he goes back to the same areas in Turkey and then Greece. This time he spent two years in Ephesus during which time he is training young men. Along the way he has picked up Silas and another man names Judas, Luke and Timothy. He has an entourage with him now. When he was forbidden to take the gospel into Asia there was a reason for it, and in Acts 19 we are told in v.10 NASB "This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." 

One of the things we see through church history is the expansion of the church through missionaries. It has always been done through missionaries who were willing to leave their home and their comfort zone and take the gospel to people who haven't heard. Outside of Scripture we have certain traditions that indicate the expansion of the church in the apostolic era. By the end of the apostolic era strong church were established in the area north of Philippi, in Macedonia, throughout Greece and Asia-Minor, in North Africa, in Rome, Spain, and it was beginning to penetrate into Britain.

How did the expansion take place after the close of the New Testament canon? We are told that during the next couple of centuries there was a strong, vibrant church in Asia-Minor, that Ephesus had a strong centre and continued to send out missionaries throughout Turkey. There was a strong centre in Antioch. In fact, during the first four centuries of Christianity the church at Antioch was one of the strongest churches in the ancient world. There was also a strong church in Alexandria but they had a tendency to get into heresy and into too much allegorical interpretation. There was also a strong church in Rome.