Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
– Acts 8:4, NIV-1978
The scene above follows the infamous stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, the stoning which Saul/Paul seems to have given oversight, and certainly approval. Following the death of Stephen, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”1
The uncomfortable truth of today’s blog posting is that every Christ-follower is called to spread the good news of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and reign as King. This is not something that we are to leave to the pastors. The Great Commission from Jesus to “preach the gospel to every creature”2, can be accomplished only when every Christ-follower actually “preaches the gospel.” Without that, Jesus’ command is nonsensical.
We know from our target verse that the early church understood this calling on their lives. This is why those who were “scattered abroad” did precisely that – they “preached the word” everywhere they went, something very few western Christ-followers do today. We let the word be preached to us, but we’re less likely to be found preaching it ourselves.
As the story of the scattering (commonly called “the diaspora) continues to unfold, we are given a singular example of one who carried out the calling. We can learn much from this example.
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
– Acts 8:5, NIV-1978
Given that, for many, speaking to large crowds is one of the most frightening activities possible, it is not surprising that many would say, “Oh, I could never do that.” I understand that, and suggest that perhaps it is not your calling to speak to large crowds, but it is your calling to preach the word, as I’ll demonstrate in a moment.
Continuing our look at Philip, shortly after preaching to the city in Samaria, an angel of the Lord instructed him to head south to the road that led to Gaza.3 It is on this road that Philip, the same man who preached to an entire city, now preached to a single man, a eunuch from Ethiopia who was in charge of the treasury of Candice, queen of Ethiopia.
Upon encountering Philip, the eunuch invited Philip to join him in his chariot where, beginning with the scripture the eunuch was reading, Philip “preached unto him Jesus.”4 We learn from Philip that we can teach Jesus to a large crowd, and we can teach Jesus to one person, something all of us need to be actively doing. It is not the size of the audience, but the content of the message that makes us a “preacher of the word.”
But how is it I can say every believer, even to this day, is called to spread the gospel? It is because of what I call the “cyclical command” Jesus gave at the end of Matthew – another account of the Great Commission.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20, NIV-1978
This command was given to the disciples, so it would be easy to assume they were the ones being called to go make disciples. This is a valid observation, but let’s look even more closely at the actual command they were given.
Jesus did command his disciples/apostles to “go make disciples” but that’s not all he told them to do. Included in that command was the directive to teach them – the very essence of disciple making. The call was to teach them to “obey everything I have commanded you.”
Well … what did Jesus just command them to do?
“Go make disciples!”
And then those disciples are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded their teachers to do which included the command to go make disciples and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded them to do which included …
This is a command from Jesus that never ends. It is self-perpetuating, and it made its way all the way through history, right down to you. And now you have a calling on your life to go make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Jesus commanded you to do by initiating that cyclical command with the original twelve disciples.
I have a calling to teach the good news just as you have a calling to teach the good news. Even the heavens declare the glory of God5 but we Christ-followers are uniquely called to “preach the word.”
1. Acts 8:1b, NIV-1978
2. Mark 16:15
3. Acts 8:26ff
4. Acts 8:35
5. Psalm 19:1