Global Missions at Home
Series: The Local Church and Missions (Part IV): Acts 2:1-13
By Todd Miles
The second chapter of Acts begins with the disciples gathered in Jerusalem according to the instructions of Jesus, awaiting the Feast of Pentecost. They had heard Jesus’ announcement that he would send the Holy Spirit and make them into his witnesses from Jerusalem “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), followed by his stunning ascension into heaven. In Acts 2:2-4, Jesus made good on his promise by pouring out the long-awaited Holy Spirit upon his followers. This sending of the Spirit was not just the answer to Jesus’ earlier promises, but fulfilled the inspired anticipation of many Old Testament prophets who looked forward to the messianic age (e.g., Isa 32:15-17; 44:1-5; Ezek 36:26-27; Joel 2:28-32). When the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus, they immediately began to speak in Spirit-inspired tongues (Acts 2:4). Many Jews, who had gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem, were shocked to hear the mighty works of God being extolled, each in their own language (2:5, 11).
These few verses mark the birth of the church and speak to the faithfulness of the Lord to his promises and purposes. They are also surprisingly helpful for any local church’s consideration as it seeks to create a missions strategy that is faithful to Jesus’ commissioning in the earlier chapter.
Spirit filling results in empowered proclamation
We first note that the immediate result of the Spirit’s empowerment: proclamation to others of the “mighty works of God” (2:11). Just as Jesus promised, when he sent the Spirit his disciples became his witnesses. One can only conclude that “the mighty works of God” in 2:11 have much to do with Jesus (1:8). If not in 2:11, then the case for Christocentric proclamation of the gospel can easily be made by appeal to Peter’s ensuing sermon in 2:14-39. When the Spirit is at work, Jesus is glorified. This was true of Jesus’ ministry (see Luke 4:14-15), and it was true of the apostles’ ministry as well (John 16:14).
Reaching the Nations through diaspora preaching
Luke’s record of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 clearly serves as a literary device that establishes the structure of the book. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem (Acts 2-7), throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8), and to the ends of the earth (Acts 9-28). Though the apostles focused initially on Jewish audiences, Paul’s commissioning and the unfolding of the rest of Acts makes clear that the scope of Jesus’ missions strategy, as articulated in 1:8, was not merely geographical, but ethnic as well. The target was always the nations of the earth.
So it should come as no surprise that when the Spirit filled the apostles, the first people to hear the gospel were not just Jews from Jerusalem, but were “Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven” (2:5). Lest there be any doubt about both the geographical and ethnic scope of the Pentecost sermon, we are told that there were “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians” (2:9-11) in the audience. Roughly speaking, the list runs from the South and East of Jerusalem to the West and North, strategically ending with Rome, just like the Book of Acts (28:17-30), and is inclusive of Jews and Gentiles. Think on it: The disciples received the Spirit and stepped out of their house to find that the nations were already gathered at their doorstep! This is in no way to suggest that Jesus’ commissioning in Acts1:8 was fulfilled in the next chapter. But the Pentecost proclamation surely serves to foreshadow Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the nations (even if the apostles did not yet understand the ethnic scope of that plan). Also, when the Christians were scattered due to the persecution following the murder of Steven (Acts 8:1), many of them returned to their original homes, taking the gospel with them (8:4).
The implications for the local church and missions are significant. In many urban areas, people groups that are targeted by a local church for overseas missions are well represented within the confines of that church’s city. Let’s be clear, the primary reason to share the gospel with people locally is out of concern and love for those individuals. But the local proximity of a people group is often ignored as churches strategize and then invest significant resources in sending missionaries overseas to reach people that actually live nearby. Ironically, forgetting the people group next door in favor of that same people group overseas not only hurts the local people group, but undoubtedly hinders effectiveness in reaching the targeted people overseas. There are surely many reasons why this is so, and I would invite your comments and suggestions, but here are a few for your consideration:
Your church’s heart for a people abroad will grow as they come to know and invest in that people locally. When real names and faces are attached to people, compassion for that people will increase. Consider the Lord Jesus Christ. He was often moved by compassion for people, and they were not people in the abstract, but people truly known by the Lord. We would expect followers of Jesus to be the same. Imagine the encouragement felt by a foreign missionary when he knows that his local church loves and is actively involved in the lives of the very people he is trying to reach. People involved locally may also be called to serve overseas. Such calling would hardly be surprising as the Lord works among the members of your church.
Your church’s understanding of a people group abroad will grow as they invest in the people group locally. Through involvement with the local people group, members of your church who cannot go overseas will come to know the culture (in a significant, though not exhaustive way) of that people. Imagine the increased ability of your church to lead and pray for your overseas workers when they have such knowledge.
Your potential missionaries will receive significant training with that people group before they ever leave home. The benefits to the potential missionary are enormous. The benefits to the sending church are also significant. If a missionary candidate is committed to working with a people prior to leaving home, the church can send them overseas with particular confidence. I have had the pleasure of being in local churches where missionaries in training intentionally sought out the people group locally and lived and ministered among them before being sent. Commissioning and sending them overseas was a particular joy when the Lord had already brought fruit to their cross-cultural ministry at home.
Finally, you may realize that the most effective way to reach a people group is by sending one from that people group.
This is not an either/or sort of proposition, as if one has to choose between local or overseas missions. I am arguing for an intentionality that will bring about a synergy between the two. Such thinking is wise precisely because it is biblical.
Todd Miles (B.S., M.S. in Nuclear Engineering at Oregon State University; M.Div., Western Seminary; PhD in Systematic Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Before his doctoral studies Miles was a Research Engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for ten years. Now Miles teaches Systematic Theology, Hermeneutics, and Ethics at Western Seminary. Miles is married to Camille and they have six children, Natalie, Ethan, Levi, Julius, Vicente, and Marcos. Miles serves as an elder at Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland. Miles is the author of A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and Theology of Religions (Nashville: B&H, 2010).