Acts 13:38–48 (NIV) 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “ ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’” 42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
My dear friends in Christ,
“To the ends of the earth.” That’s a pretty tall order. Isaiah understood it was a tall order when he first spoke these words to God’s people. But he wrote them about the promised Messiah. The Messiah would bring salvation to the ends of the earth. We get that, but how could God expect Paul and Barnabas to carry out that mission?
Think about all the challenges they faced as they travelled 2000 years ago. Yes, the Roman Empire had provided the best quality and safest travel available. Even so, sea-going vessels were wind powered, assisted by slaves below-deck chained to their oars. Animals provided “horsepower” on paved roads. How could a couple of men on foot hope to take the gospel to the ends of the earth over such vast distances without the help of gas-powered engines or machines engineered to fly through the air?
How could they carry the gospel to the ends of the earth when fellow workers gave up and walked away? That’s what happened with one of their companions, John Mark. He had been so excited to join them on the journey. He was on fire for the gospel and wanted to tell everyone he met about Jesus. After the initial work on the island of Cyprus we hear, “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13 NIV). John Mark really wasn’t ready to go to the ends of the earth.
Who could blame him? Wherever Paul went, he faced opposition from the place he least expected it--his own people, his fellow Jews. The first place Paul visited wherever he went was the local synagogue. The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah since the LORD first promised a Savior to Adam and Eve. They were watching and waiting. Every time they celebrated Passover they set a place for Messiah at their tables and waited for him to come. Paul had the incredible privilege of telling them that Messiah had come--Jesus! Every time he shared the message he began with the Old Testament Scriptures and showed how Jesus kept all of the LORD’s promises to his people. Jesus even fulfilled the words of prophecy that pointed to his suffering and death at the hands of the Romans.
No matter how clearly and passionately Paul preached this message, many didn’t believe it. They rejected it. When they rejected the message, they also rejected Paul and his companions. They faced ridicule, beatings, and even jail time as they tried to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. How were Paul and Barnabas supposed to carry out that mission when they faced so much opposition?
If these men couldn’t carry out the mission, how can we hope to fulfill it? We face plenty of challenges. We can literally travel to the ends of the earth. That doesn’t make our job any easier. Most of us don’t have a passport. Some of us don’t like to travel. How can we go to the ends of the earth when we are afraid to step onto a plane? If we don’t mind travelling, we can certainly get to the far corners of the earth, but once we’re there we can’t communicate because we don’t speak the language. Some of the places we need to travel are just plain dangerous. There are places where our government warns us not to go because of terrorism and hatred for our country.
Then there is the whole “don’t want to hear the message” problem. We have faced enough rejection at the end of our driveways as we try to connect with our neighbors. How will we deal with rejection when we’ve flown halfway around the world to try and share the good news about Jesus? Who wants to listen to us? People might pack U.S. Bank Stadium to hear Taylor Swift sing, but crowds aren’t going to gather so they can listen to us. Most of the world will end up laughing at a message that sounds like foolishness. We are supposed to take the the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth, but the task seems impossible. What can we do?
Is it scary to consider such a huge mission? Remember, we have God’s command to go, and we bring an incredibly powerful message with us, one that destroys the barriers sin puts between us. It’s a message that fills people with hope and peace and life!
As Paul spoke to the people in Antioch, he said, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38–39 NIV). Trying to earn our way into heaven won’t work. Every religion apart from Christianity--Islam with its Five PIllars, Buddhism and its Eightfold Path, Hinduism with millions of gods and tens of millions of reincarnations--all rely on doing good things for salvation. Even Christians are tempted to rely on what we do to be saved instead of looking to Jesus alone.
Paul wanted everyone to hear that Jesus’ salvation is a free, personal gift! “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you!” Only Jesus can offer full and free salvation apart from keeping rules. One of my classmates and friends, Missionary John Roebke, shared what he has seen happen among the people of Malawi, Africa as they hear and believe the good news about Jesus: “When they see water splashed on their child’s head, or the head of an adult, they understand that Baptism saves souls by washing away sin’s stain and covering them with the pureness of Christ. When they see people swallowing wheat wafers and sips of wine, they understand that Communion is uniting them with the body and blood Christ used to pay for their freedom. When they see the pastor standing in front and hear him say, ‘I forgive you all your sins in name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ they understand that it is Christ who is speaking to them, the same Christ whose words give eternal life.”
The same water and Word that gave us life gives life to everyone who believes it, no matter where they live and no matter who shared it. Paul and Barnabas relied on that message. It didn’t even matter whether the people believed it or not, as he later wrote, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV). When Paul and Barnabas preached the truth of God’s Word it worked! “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 NIV).
God has given our Wisconsin Synod incredible opportunities to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth and it works! Thanks to advances in Internet and cell phone communication people around the world are coming to us for news about Jesus. One of my fellow pastors whose sermons were live-streamed had people from all around the world, including places like China, learning that Jesus’ gift of salvation belongs to them too.
A generation ago U.S. soldiers were fighting in Vietnam. Communism had devastated Christianity. We have been teaching national pastors to reach out with the gospel. The Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam wrote, “We thank you for the WELS training for the past three years. Now, we believe that we have salvation. Without that, today we would still be living in the darkness of Satan. We believe that God already answered our prayers through the WELS.” We are also the only Christian group with permission to build a training facility in Vietnam!
Here in the Twin Cities and throughout our Minnesota District we have opportunities to share the gospel with Hmong, Hispanic, South Asian, Sudanese, Liberian, Vietnamese, and Chinese. The ends of the earth are coming to us! As a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in their hearts, many of these immigrants want to share the gospel hope they now possess with relatives and friends in the countries from which they emigrated.
We understand that it’s impossible to personally take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Not everyone can teach a BIble study in Nepal, instruct a seminary student in Russia, or teach LES students in Peridot, AZ. We can take it to the end of our driveways! We all have opportunities to interact with neighbors and friends. It might even include reaching out to our own family members. Sometimes we rely on others to do the work for us. Let me ask you this: who is the leader on our staff charged with leading Salem’s evangelism efforts? It’s Pastor Schram. We all understand that right now he can’t be that leader. He is focusing on his health and that’s what he needs to do right now. Will you help pick up the ball and run with it? Will you help on the evangelism committee? Or, could you take one of those movies and share it with a friend or relative? Can you pray for the success of our ministry? Maybe you could invite someone to come and see what’s happening in a Bible study or even in worship. Or, would you simply speak positively about what’s happening here at Salem?
Today between services we’re going to watch the story of Paul unfold as he takes the gospel To the Ends of the Earth. For the next few weeks we are going to dig into God’s Word and equip ourselves to be better sharers of the gospel. Will you join me? I pray that you will. Taking the good news and sharing it may seem and even feel impossible sometimes. As we hear from our missionaries and look at what’s happening around the world, God is reminding us that his Word is strong enough to change hearts and lives. He isn’t calling us to do the impossible. He’s just calling us to share a very personal message. Jesus lived for me. Jesus died for me. Jesus rose again for me. Just like Paul, we can proclaim to the ends of the earth, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you!” Amen.