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They were totally convinced of their mandate to go to the cities of the world, empowered by the Spirit and with the knowledge that the resurrected Jesus was the world’s true Lord and King and that His kingdom reign would bring the blessings of heaven into every place they ventured. They went with the message of redemption and restoration of “all things spoken of by the prophets.” (Acts 3:21)
The new day of the Messiah had arrived. All who were in Christ were a new creation living reconciled lives, and in turn announcing the ministry of reconciliation to a broken and divided world. The resurrection of Jesus had brought new life to a dead world; times of refreshing indeed! (Acts 3:19)
It was not long before persecution arose from without and trouble from within. However these early “warriors” were armed with Psalm 2, ensuring the victory of Jesus and hence their own (Acts 4:25-31). Even the lies of Ananias and Sapphira did not slow the growth of the church (Acts 5:1-11). This dynamic “baby” church shared their lives and their finances ensuring all needs were met. The leaders devoted themselves to prayer and to the word of God (Acts 6:1-7). As a result the Spirit inspired word spread everywhere and was the agent of growth and victory. Even the martyrdom of Stephen was used by God to challenge a “young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:54-60)
The goal of this book is not detailed bible commentary as others have done that so well, but to draw attention to the simple fact that the first church was a Spirit empowered community with a message of good news and a missional focus on cities and towns, first in Israel, and then across the Gentile world.
They were determined, not deviating from who they were in Christ, their message and their city focus. They sure were not a collection of isolated and independent churches more concerned about themselves than the world around them.
These are exciting pioneer stories to read. The leaders were constantly on the move, facing great dangers and even the possibility of death but nothing deterred them. They had good news to share. A new king had come to town! Heaven's blessings were being poured out in city after city.
There was great joy in cities as a result (Acts 8:5-8). They took this good news to every city (Acts 8:40; 15:36). A great church was established in Antioch which soon became a mission centre, sending apostolic teams out to other cities (Acts 13). They preached in synagogues and in the public squares (Acts 17:17; 19:9).
These amazing people seemed fearless. Their preaching was not in a closed meeting on the side, but in public, and to the whole city. But they did attract unwanted attention and at times severe persecution. Here is one such case.
“When they couldn’t find them, they took Jason instead, along with some of the brothers in his house church, and dragged them before the city council. Along the way they screamed out, “Those troublemakers who have turned the world upside down have come here to our city. And now Jason and these men have welcomed them as guests. They’re traitors to Caesar, teaching that there is another king named Jesus.”“ Acts 17:6-7 TPT
This is an amazing scripture. They are accused of treason, which in the Roman Empire was a death sentence. Fortunately in this case the city authorities released them.
The early church had a political message which was Jesus is King and Caesar is not. And yet the church leaders still called on their people to honour the Emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17) (There is much fresh research on the political nature of the early church, and its proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom of God).
Everywhere they went they preached the word of God, which was of course what we call the Old Testament. They used these scriptures to prove that Jesus was the king who had been raised from the dead and had come to establish His Kingdom reign in all the earth. The word of God was the agent of transformation in every city. As you read, note the many mentions of the word of God and the scriptures.
“But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.” (Acts 12:24 NIV)
Paul, of course, is the standout leader whose exploits take much of the Acts narrative. His story and then his epistles to the church in each city and to his young leaders, make up most of the rest of the New Testament.
I am intrigued by the accusation brought against Paul that he was a “real pest.”
“For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” Acts 24:5 NASB
I can see the headline, “Paul the pest is back in town!”
On a more serious note.
Something fresh and exciting has been stirring across our world over recent years. On every continent, little by little, the church is arising to a new sense of its purpose. Many are seeing that the church is there to bless the city and to fully engage with it.
By Ian Shelton Coordinator of Movement Australia