(The PowerPoint presentation for this sermon can be downloaded here, Acts 28 31f – The Spread of the Gospel)
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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 17, 2006
The Spread of the Gospel
Last week we concluded our study of the book of Acts, but there has not yet been a conclusion to spreading the gospel around the world. The book of Acts is a selective historical account of certain of the apostles carrying out Jesus’ command that, after the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were to be His witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8). I say Acts is selective account because Luke’s concentration is on Peter in chapters 1-12 and Paul in chapters 13-28. With the exception of John and James, the other apostles are only mentioned by name in chapter 1, and Luke only references James and John while they are still in Jerusalem. The reason for the focus on Peter and Paul is because God used Peter to open the door to taking the gospel to the Gentiles, and Paul went through that door spreading the gospel throughout the Roman world. They are the representatives of what the other Apostles did and the models for us to follow as well.
This morning we are going to quickly retrace the spread of the gospel from the early church in Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and then on through Paul to the Roman world, but we are also going to trace its spread through the other apostles to other places by looking at clues given in some of the epistles and the history given to us in church traditions.
From Jerusalem to Rome
The church began on the day of Pentecost which is the Feast of Harvest fifty days after the Feast of First Fruits on Nisan 16, AD 30, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. On that day the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus who were gathered together in one place in Jerusalem and empowered them for ministry. This was the beginning of the New Covenant in which the Holy Spirit would baptize the disciple of Jesus into His spiritual body, the church, and then permanently indwell and empower for ministry. The 120 or so that were gathered together immediately began proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in the languages and dialects of the various Jews from around world that had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts. Peter preached a powerful message to those that had gathered resulting in about three thousand saved and added to the church (1:41). The church quickly grew. Within a very short time another five thousand became believers (4:40) and multitudes of new believers were being added (5:14) even as the high priest and religious leaders began to persecute them. The church was spreading slightly to the areas surrounding Jerusalem as people from those areas came to be healed by the Apostles from their sicknesses and unclean spirits (5:16).
However, it was not until Stephen was martyred because of his testimony and severe persecution broke out against the believers in Jerusalem that church spread throughout Judea and Samaria wherever the believers scattered (8:1). Philip was the first to take the gospel to Samaria (8:5) and then to an Ethiopian official who then took it back to his nation (8:25-39). We believe that many of those that had been saved on the day of Pentecost that were from other areas returned to their countries of origin and took the gospel with them. We know specifically that the church had spread to Damascus (9:2) in Syria, Cyrene in North Africa and Cyprus in that manner. So it is reasonable to assume that it spread to the lands of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites which are areas south of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf (major portions of modern Iraq and Iran). There were also those from “Mesopotamia” which would be the areas of ancient Assyria and Babylon or modern Iraq. There were those from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia which are all part of Asia Minor or modern Turkey. There also those from Eygpt and Cyrene in Lybia, the Mediterranean island of Crete, and from as far away as Rome. Closer to Judea were those from the lands of the Arabs which included not only Arabia but also Naboatea which would include modern Syria and Jordan. The spread of the early church to this point was limited to those who were either Jewish or Samaritan, who had a mixed Jewish heritage, or Gentiles that were proselytes to Judaism.
The gospel broke through the Gentile barrier when the apostle Peter responded to Cornelius the Centurion’s vision and went to Caesarea to preach to him and his friends. The inclusion of Gentiles into the church without them becoming proselytes first was hard for some of the Jewish believers to accept, but the evidence of God’s acceptance was overwhelming (ch. 10, 11 & 15). The first Gentile church began in Syrian Antioch (11:19f) and this became the church that sent Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey through Cyprus and the middle section of Asia Minor (13–14). Paul had previous preached in the areas around Tarsus in Cilicia (11:25). Paul’s second missionary journey (15:36:-18:22) went through Asia Minor again but expanded into Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica & Berea) and then into Greece (Athens & Corinth) with the first Gentile convert in Europe being Lydia in Philippi. Strong churches were established in areas that in turn proclaimed the gospel in their surrounding communities and beyond. For example, 1 Thess. 1:8 tells us that “the word of the Lord has sounded from [them], not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place [their] faith toward God has gone forth.”
Paul’s third missionary journey (18:23-21:14) went through the same places as his second journey, but his ministry this time was more focused on strengthening the churches already there. He spent two and a half years in Ephesus doing just that resulting in another strong church that affected the rest of the province of Asia. Revelation 2 & 3 mentions several of them including Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
While the book of Acts closes with Paul’s imprisonment and trip to Rome we also find new places that Paul ministers and Christians along the route. He is cared for by other believers (friends/brethren) in Sidon (27:3), Puteoli (28:14) and Rome (28:14f). Along the way he stops in several places and has an effect on the people. Acts gives us some details about Paul’s ministry on Malta and tradition tells us that he planted a church there and also at Syracuse on the Island of Sicily.
Acts ends with Paul still imprisoned in his own rented quarters, but also “welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Paul was in prison but the gospel was not. The command that Jesus gave the apostles and through them to His church was still going forward. His followers were bearing witness of His life, death, resurrection and promise of eternal life to all who will believe in Him where ever they went. For the rest of the morning I want to trace what we believe from clues in the New Testament Epistles and from church tradition what happened to the apostles as they carried out the Great Commission.
Paul’s Final Ministries
First, we will conclude Paul’s story. We know that he did not die at the end of the first Roman imprisonment for several reasons starting with Luke’s comment at the end of Acts that Paul stayed (aorist) two full years in his own rented quarters, but makes no mention or inference of a conclusion of Paul’s ministry. Second, Philippians 1:19 and Philemon 1:22 both express Paul’s strong expectation of being released, especially the later which includes his instruction for Philemon to prepare a lodging for him. This is contrasted with his expectation in 2 Tim. 4:6-8 that “the time of my departure has come.” Third, the pastoral epistles give every indication of being written after that time since they mention events that do not fit with the chronology of Acts.
If Paul was able to fulfill his desire stated in Philemon, then he did return to the churches in the province of Asia. 1 Timothy indicates that Paul had been at Ephesus where he left Timothy to continue in ministry while he departed for Macedonia (1:3) with an expectation to return to Ephesus soon (3:14). Titus 1:5 tells us that Paul had been back to Crete where he left Titus to set in order what remained including appointing Elders in every city. In Titus 3:12 tells us that Paul was intending to spend the winter at a place called Nicopolis and that Titus was to join him there. There are ten cities by that name in the ancient world including one in Thrace, one in Cilicia and one in Epirus (western Achia) any of which are possibilities. 2 Timothy, which is probably the last epistle Paul wrote, indicates that Paul had once again been to Troas where he had left a cloak with a man named Carpus and that he had also been back to Corinth, where Erastus had remained, and also to Miletus, where he had left Trophimus who had become sick. He tells Timothy to make every effort to come to him before winter. It is thought that he was either back at Ephesus or possibly Rome at this time. It is thought that sometime before all of this that Paul had also gone to Spain. We know that he desired to go there from his comments in Romans 15:24,28, and Clement of Rome writing about 96 A.D. comments that Paul had preached in the East and the West and had “reached the farthest bounds of the West” (1 Clement 5). Tradition has it that Paul had been arrested and imprisoned in Rome a second time and was executed by beheading in A.D. 67 at Aquae Salvae (Tre Fontane) three miles from Rome on the road to Ostia. Clement concluded about Paul’s life, “and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance” (1 Clement 5). There is no record of any other single person prior to modern transportation methods of spreading the gospel to as many places as Paul.
Peter is next apostle I want to examine. We have already seen from our studies in Acts that Peter was the key figure in the founding of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2). He was also central to the acceptance of the Samaritans as fellow believers due to his ministry in Samaria (Acts 8). Peter also ministered in Lydda and Joppa and from there he went Caesarea where he opened the door of the gospel to the gentiles when he preached to Cornelius and his friends (Acts 10). Acts 12:17 says that Peter “departed and went to another place” after being freed from jail in Jerusalem by an angel. The last mention of Peter in Acts is in chapter 15 at the Jerusalem council (A.D. 49) where he defends the gospel going to the Gentiles without the hindrance of Mosaic law. From Galatians 2:11-14 we also know that Peter came to Antioch at one point, probably after the Council of Jerusalem, and Paul confronted him over his wavering support of Gentile believers.
The first Epistle of Peter is written to believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all provinces of Asia Minor, so it is concluded that he had ministered in those areas as well. Bithynia was an area that Paul had wanted to go to but was directed by the Holy Spirit to Macedonia instead. It also appears that Peter was at Corinth at some point because 1 Cor. 1:12 mentions there was a Petrine faction had developed there sometime after Paul had founded the church.
Church tradition, beginning with Clement, bishop of Rome (A.D. 88-97), has it that Peter went to Rome. That tradition is supported by Tertullian (c. A.D. 200 ) and Eusebius. Since he is not greeted in Paul’s epistle to the Romans it is thought he arrived sometime after A.D. 55. Luke does not mention him being there when Paul arrived in A.D. 62, yet Peter’s companions when he writes 1 Peter are Silvanus (Silas) and Mark, two of Paul’s friends, and Mark was summoned to come to Paul in 2 Tim. 4:11. This lends weight to the possibility that Peter came to Rome while Paul was still there or just after his release. His mention of “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13 may be refer to Rome.
Nero’s persecution of the Christians began in A.D. 64 after the burning of Rome and continued until his death in A.D. 68. Eusebius records that Peter was killed during this period by crucifixion just as Jesus had said in John 21:19, the only twist being that according to Jerome, Peter insisted on being crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same form and manner as the Lord.
James: There is some tradition that he may have traveled to Spain and established churches there before returning to Jerusalem. The death of James, the brother of John, is recorded in Acts 12:2 that Herod put him to death with the sword. This would have been about A.D. 44. Clemens Alexandrinus, adds to this story of his martyrdom that “as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle’s extraordinary courage, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink.”
John, the brother of James, is a key figure in the early part of Acts. He and Peter were often together. They were the first ones to be arrested by the High Priest (Acts 4) after healing the lame man in the Temple (Acts 3). John also went with Peter to Samaria to confirm the reports of their conversion and impart the Holy Spirit to them. Since he had been charged by Jesus to take care of His mother, Mary, it is thought that he remained in Jerusalem until her death which is thought to have been about A.D. 48. Perhaps he was present at the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 49, but nothing is known after that until his later years when he is at Ephesus. Supposedly he was shipwrecked off Ephesus and arrived there in time to check the progress of the heresies that sprang up after Paul’s departure (Unger). He is said to be the founder of the churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira – all churches addressed in Revelation 2 & 3. He was banished to the Isle of Patmos during the reign of Domitian where he wrote Revelation and his epistles. He was released by Nerva and returned to Ephesus. He was the last of the apostles and the only one to die a natural death. He lived and ministered until the time of Trajan and died at Ephesus on September 26, 97 A.D.
The Rest of the Apostles in Acts
The rest of the apostles are only mentioned by name once in the book of Acts (1:13). There are references to “apostles” which probably would have included all of them in the early years while the church was being built up in Jerusalem, but once the church started expanding past Jerusalem it is uncertain that all the apostles were every together again this side of heaven. We know that when Paul went to Jerusalem for the first time about A.D. 35, the only apostles he met were Cephas (Peter) and James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18). When he and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem in AD. 46 with the famine relief gift from the church in Antioch, the only apostles he mentions being there are again Cephas (Peter), James (the Lord’s brother) and also John. At the Jerusalem Council in AD 49, the only apostles we know were present were again, James, the brother of the Lord, and Peter, who defended the Gentile conversions. Other apostles could have been present (15:4, 6, 22, 23), but we don’t know who. Please keep that in mind as we look at the rest of the apostles.
Also keep in mind that the information we have on the rest of the apostles range from almost none to widely differing legends and stories in apocryphal books. Some of the traditions are contradictory. I will present the traditions about the rest of the apostles in the chronology of their martydoms.
James, son of Alphaeus (Judas) – The only legend we have about him is that he was stoned at some unknown time by the Jews for preaching Christ and buried in Jerusalem (ZPE).
Thomas has two different traditions about his ministry after leaving Jerusalem. This is in part due to confusion caused by him also going by the names Judas and Didymus.
The first line of tradition is that he preached in Parthia according to Origen and then died at Edessa according to a Syrian legend. However, Eusebius indicates it was Thaddaeus and not Thomas who was at Edessa. The sources of the other line of tradition place Thomas in India. This is the stronger tradition since the churches in western India trace their origins to Thomas and refer to themselves as the Thomas Church. The apocryphal books, “The Acts of Thomas” and the “Preaching of Thomas,” recount his ministry in India along with his death at the hands of Misdai, king of India. Other sources say that Thomas preached the gospel in both Parthia and in India including the cities of Nisibis, Malebar, Socotora, Camboia and Mogar. He was martyred in Cranganore in A.D. 52 when enraged Brahmin pagan priests thrust him through with a lance. Bartholomew may have gone with him to India.
Philip. Traditions vary somewhat on his later ministry due in part to confusion with Philip the Evangelist. The “Acts of Philip” places him in Athens for a debate. Later Latin documents mention Gaul (Galatia) as his field. Eusebuis states that he lived as one of the great lights of Asia. Another tradition has him go as far as France before going to the region of Asia Minor. Polycrates (bishop of Ephesus in the 2nd century) and Theodoret place his later ministry in Phygia. In A.D. 54 he was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified (Foxe) upside down until dead (Wetzel) and buried in Hierapolis at the age of 87.
Matthew: Schaff states that there is no certain information about Matthew’s later ministry partially for confusion of writers between Matthew and Matthias. Tradition states that he preached for 15 years in Palestine. His gospel account was in circulation by about A.D. 50. After this he went to foreign nations, the Ethiopians, Macedonians, Syrians, Persians, Parthians and Medea being mentioned (Unger).He died a natural death according to the oldest tradition, while later accounts make him a martyr in either Macedonia or Ethiopia (Foxe – A.D. 60 in Nadabah with a halberd). The Roman Catholic Church places his martyrdom on September 21 and the Greek Church on November 10, but neither have an historical basis.
Matthias: We know little about Matthias and there are rival traditions. Some traditions have his ministry located in Judea where he is stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem about AD 64. Another tradition has him minister in Damascus and then martyred in Phalaeon, a city of Judea. And yet another tradition has him minister in Ethiopia and die by crucifixion either there or in Colchis.
Andrew: Eusebius records that Andrew’s area of later ministry was Scythia where he was also stoned and crucified and so was adopted as the patron saint of Russia. Nicephorus connects him with Lydia, Bithynia, Thrace and then Achaia. It is supposed that he founded the church in Constantinople. Jerome and Theodoret also place Andrew in Achaia were he was martyred in November A.D. 69 at Patras by order of the proconsul Eges (or Aegeates). This was by crucifixion for three days on an “X” shaped cross which subsequently became a symbol known as “St. Andrew’s cross. Because of his martyrdom in Greece he is also considered patron saint of that nation and later also of Scotland because of a tradition that Andrew’s arm was brought to Scotland as a relic by St. Regulus.
Bartholomew: Traditions concerning him widely differ with the territory of his ministry ranging from Asia Minor to India and possibly among the Parthians as well. There is strong support that he took the Gospel of Matthew to India where he was eventually martyred by either being beaten and crucified or placed in a sack and cast into the sea. Another tradition has him leaving India and being with Philip in Heirapolis. He also dies there some years later in A.D. 69 after being beaten with clubs, flayed alive and crucified in Armenia by the priests of Albanus, led by ASTYAGES, the king’s brother.
Thaddaeus (Jude). It is thought that Thaddeus, also called Jude, ministered in the areas of Syria, northern Persia and Edessa where he was was killed with a halberd and buried at Kara Kelesia in A.D. 72, though other legends put his burial place at Beirut and in Egypt. This may be in part due to the later collecting of body parts as religious relics that would be re-buried in various places.
Simon, the Zealot: The legends about him are contradictory. One tradition has him go to Persia where he is sawn in two in AD 72 (Foxe). Another tradition has him go to Avalon in Britain with Joseph of Arimathea to plant a church there about AD 39 and by martyred there about AD 74.
By the end of the first century Christianity had spread to many of the key cities of the Roman world and beyond.
One of the greatest testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the lives of the apostles. They were transformed from scared men hiding in an upper room into men that were willing to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ anywhere even at the cost of their lives. They set aside the comforts of home and boldly went to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that would bring forgiveness of sin and a right relationship with God to people that often did not understand and / or would reject the message.
That is still the task of the church today. There are still many that have not heard the gospel at all or only some distortion of it. There are others that have heard, but yet do not understand what it means. We have a precious story to tell to the nations, and we do so by applying the commission in Acts in our own lives. We start with our own Jerusalem and proclaim the gospel in our own communities. We then spread to the surrounding communities and throughout our state – our Judea. We go to our own Samarias, our surrounding states and our nation, and then to the remotest parts of the earth. We do this as we can in person and through supporting missionaries who go to those places on our behalf.
Currently, this church supports Missionaries here in New York (Duane Motley), the United States (Mike Coyle), those located in the United States but working to reach foreign nations (Paul & Joyce Cooley, retired – South Africa; Earl Poysti -Russian Christian Radio; Gary & Elaine Allen – United Nations; Alex & Fran Knauss – Trans World Radio), and those in other nations (Leo & Hirma Digillio – Mexico; David & Ute Poysti – Germany/Poland; Tim & Faith Brennan – Brazil; and Steve & Karen Plodenic – South Africa). We have many more missionaries that we do not support as a church, but are our friends and are supported by individuals in many more nations.
The ministry of Acts continues today in God’s people. Are you using your spiritual gifts and doing your part in Glorifying God by Making Disciples of Jesus Christ? If not, talk with one of our church leaders today to see about what you can be doing.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many different countries are named. 2) Talk with your parents about the importance of missions & missionaries.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the purpose of the book of Acts? When & where did the church begin? Describe its early years. What forced the church out of Jerusalem? What broke the “Gentile” barrier? Where was the first Gentile church? Where did Paul go on his first missionary journey? His second? His Third? How did he get to Rome? What is the difference between Biblical revelation and church tradition? Where did Paul minister after his first Roman imprisonment? Where did all the apostles minister in the early years? When did they start going to other places? Describe Peter’s early ministry. His later ministry? Did Peter found the church in Rome? Why or why not? What happened to James, John’s brother. Describe the later ministries of John. What do the traditions tell us about each of the other apostles? James, son of Alphaeus (Judas); Thomas; Philip; Matthew; Matthais, Andrew; Bartholomew; Thaddaeus (Jude); Simon the Zealot. What is the continuing responsibility of the church? How are you doing your part in carrying this out? Who are the missionaries supported by Grace Bible Church & where do they serve / who are they targeting for ministry? What is your involvement in world missions?
Sermon Notes – December 17, 2006
The Spread of the Gospel: Acts & Selected Scriptures
From Jerusalem to Rome
The Start of the Church
To Judea & Samaria
To the Gentiles
Paul’s Later Ministries
The Rest of the Apostles
James, the son of Alphaeus (Judas)
Simon the Zealot
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