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Here, There, and Everywhere

Acts 6:7

 

"God's message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too." (NLT)

I like the phrase the New Living Translation uses in this passage: ever-widening circles. Today as our church cooperates in a day of prayer and fasting for our community, this phrase seems like an appropriate phrase to guide our prayers-that God will use us to proclaim His message in ever-widening circles.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, "but you shall 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." (NASB) Notice the ever-widening geographic circles Jesus mentioned. First, He mentions Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria and finally, the remotest part of the earth. 

Our text today is about the proclamation of the gospel in Jerusalem, the first geographic circle Jesus mentioned. The first seven chapters of Acts focuses on the evangelization of Jerusalem, but before we study that, I want to mention the other geographic circles Jesus mentions in Acts 1:8. Persecution broke out after Stephen was stoned in chapter 7 and the church was dispersed into Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1 says, "Saul was one of the official witnesses at the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria." (NLT) Later Acts 8:5 shows Philip going into Samaria, It says, "And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them." (NASB) 

After Saul's conversion in Acts 9, we see the gospel going into the third geographic circle Jesus mentioned, "the remotest parts of the earth." Paul described the expansion in Romans 15:19 when he wrote, "in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (NASB)

Throughout the bible, there is an ongoing concern for spreading the gospel into distant lands. Psalm 22:27 says, "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee." (NASB) Notice the phrases, ends of the earth and all the families of the nations. Psalm 98:3 says, "He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." (NASB) Again the phrase ends of the earth appears, as it does in Isaiah 42:10 "Sing to the Lord a new song," Isaiah says, "Sing His praise from the end of the earth!" (NASB) Later Isaiah repeats the phrase again in Isaiah 49:6. It says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant. To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations. So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (NASB) And once again in Isaiah 52:10 "The Lord has bared His holy arm. In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God." (NASB) 

As we focus on the needs of our surrounding community, we are reminded that our responsibility is greater than just our neighborhood. We have responsibility to spread the gospel here, there and everywhere. That's why 10% of the money you give to this church is immediately dispatched to the four corners of the world for the spread of the gospel. Some of that money is used to underwrite local projects like our Spanish Services, I-Help and our Food Pantry. Other of it is used to support the work of Central Coast Baptist Association, the California Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Through our voluntary cooperation with these agencies we help to support local, state, national and International mission work. Our money is pooled with money from other churches of like faith and order to do work that none of us could do by ourselves. The money is used for more than just denominational support, it is used to support missionaries on the front line of "the ends of the earth."

Because we have a responsibility to spread the gospel beyond our little corner, we gladly send out members of our church to "the ends of the earth" to serve God wherever they are stationed. Right now, our alumni are in forward positions in the war on terror as well as in key diplomatic positions in hotspots like Korea. Our goal is to equip our members to be "make a difference" Christians so that when they are deployed into influential positions they can effectively shine the light of the gospel in dark places. We are a unique body of believers that do not begrudge sending out missionaries from among our ranks.

And it is because of our commitment to "the ends of the earth" that we give sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. According to the International Mission Board, Southern Baptists gave $115 million last year. This year the National Goal is $133 million. Our gifts are combined with gifts from other Southern Baptists to support 5,607 missionaries among 1,473 people groups who are taking the gospel to "the ends of the earth."

This is a time for bold giving, because the fields are ripe for harvest. According to the IMB, "The church in China is growing by 10,000 to 20,000 new believers each day, in spite of the fact that the government officially adheres to a doctrine of atheism. Though many servants of God are persecuted for their Christian walk and testimony, remarkable witnessing opportunities are reported from many places throughout China." ( http://ime.imb.org/pastors/illustrations.asp)

This is a time for giving because the need is great. "Less than 1 million people live in southern Africa's Swaziland, yet they suffer out of all proportion to their numbers. An estimated 256,000 Swazi people do not have enough to eat, and 386,000 suffer from HIV/AIDS. About 30,000 Swazi children are orphans. Perhaps 660,000 of all Swazis live on about US$7 a month, and 40 percent of the population is unemployed." ( http://ime.imb.org/pastors/illustrations.asp)

While we agree that we should be active sharing the gospel in all of the geographic circles Jesus mentioned, please notice that our text isn't speaking of geographical circles, but rather ever-widening circles in one geographical location-Jerusalem. These circles were not geographic, but cultural. The verse is in the context of a racial conflict in the early church. The Greeks claimed that their widows weren't getting as much food as the Hebrew women were upset about it. When the Apostles caught wind of the problem, they told the people to choose seven spiritual men that they trusted to solve the problem. Instead of continuing with their grumbling, the people did as the Apostles advised and selected seven men to see that everyone was treated fairly. What is significant about their selection is they chose seven men with Greek names and the end result was that the gospel continued to be proclaimed and "many of the Jewish priests were converted." And that is the direct context of the phrase ever-widening circles. Because the church followed the advice of their Apostles and rejected the natural tendency for "birds of a feather to flock together" the gospel spread into ever-widening circles and both Greeks and Jews were converted. Even some of the Jewish priests believed.

Prior to this event, thousands were saved at Pentecost when the gospel was proclaimed and the people heard it in their own language. Peter and John healed the sick and proclaimed the gospel and the people responded favorably, but the Council didn't like what they are doing, so they threatened them and told them to stop. Peter and John said they couldn't stop and continued to preach the gospel. The believers prayed and gave so the gospel could advance, but the church came against great opposition. Then the racial conflict occurred, but the gospel wasn't hindered by any of this, instead the gospel was preached in ever-widening circles.

In our community, we are surrounded by people from differing cultural and language backgrounds. In a few minutes we will dismiss to gather again so we can pray that the gospel will go forth into ever-widening circles in our community. Join me in praying that the gospel will know no barriers in our community. Pray that language barriers will not keep us from proclaiming the gospel. Pray that economic barriers will not get in the way of our outreach. Pray that we will not be content with a small circle of proclamation, but that we will hunger for ever-widening circles of influence to proclaim the gospel.

Will you join me in this prayer, even if it means opposition, conflict or persecution? Will you join me in praying that we will effectively proclaim the gospel in ever-widening circles?

Impact Preaching: A Case for the
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