“Jesus sent His apostles on a disciple-making mission” (Matt 20:18-20).” Originating from their very witness, early Christianity rapidly expanded from 1.1% worldwide by 100 AD to 10.5% in 310 AD. In particular, Apostle Paul’s missionary work stands at the forefront. What key strategies can we learn from him to apply today with Jesus’ same mission?
Jan Paron/May 19, 2013
We might find 21st century statistics for worldwide Christianity lower than expected. Considering modern communication conveniences, the worldwide count stands at about 19.5%. The PEW Forum 2010 survey not only shows Christians represent roughly a third of the estimated world population, but also cannot claim any single continent or region as their global center. Further, the study indicates that U.S. Christians number 246,780,000 people or 79.5% of the national U.S. population. Pew bases its survey results on people who identify themselves as Christian. The figures may not represent the real count. Another study by the Barna Group reveals an emerging post-Christian America. They closely examined the so-called “Nones —the increasing percentage of adults who claim no religious affiliation.” While these figures certainly caught my attention; however, ancient disciples triumphed in mission by faith in the Name through the power of His Spirit. Obstacles like travel, displacement and persecution did not impede witness. How can we recapture fervent growth found in the early church? By examining the Lukan account of Saul’s (Paul after Acts 13:9) encounter with Jesus, we find bold and authoritative witness for Spirit-empowered mission with timeless application.
1. Saul Followed the Way
Luke uses multiple meanings for the word way in the Book of Acts. In Acts 8:26 he refers to a specific road that the angel of the Lord directed Philip to travel, “Arise, and go south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is a desert” (KJV). Because he followed the way, Philip met an Ethiopian. This provided opportunity for Philip to teach the Ethiopian about Jesus and baptize him after he believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Luke gave a different meaning to way with Saul (not yet Paul), designating the term to represent those who follow the messianic movement of Jesus. Saul set out to Damascus intending to lead “any of this way” bound to Jerusalem (9:5-6). Of course, the Lord had other plans for Saul instructing him to, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:6b). The very person who sought to destroy those of the Way became one of the Way. He not only preached, “Christ is the Son of God” (v. 20) in Damascus, but also proved “that this is the very Christ” (v. 22).
ARISE AND GO IN WITNESS. Imagine this scenario about a person’s walk on the way, as one of the Way. I’ll call this person Vera. After a long day at work, Vera felt the Spirit leading her to stop for a cup of coffee at a nearby eatery. Generally, she went straight home. Just as Vera relaxed at the restaurant counter, she spotted a woman intently reading. She couldn’t help but notice the woman laboring over the print. Just at that moment, the Holy Ghost quickened Vera’s spirit and told her to sit next to the woman. So, Vera obediently moved to an adjacent seat. After Vera struck up a conversation, the women candidly revealed she doesn’t read well and needs help understanding the church flyer someone gave her. The woman then asked Vera, “Can you tell me who Jesus is? I have a paper about Him, but can’t understand it.” Vera realized the reason for her coffee stop on the way home. Nodding her head she said to herself, “I am here, Lord.”
The Lord tells us to arise and go. An angel of the Lord told this to Phillip (8:26a), while Jesus instructed the same to Saul and Ananias (9:9:6c, 11a). Don’t hesitate to follow the way and preach Jesus. Carpe diem, seize the moment. Like Ananias said, “Behold, I am here, Lord”(9:10; 22:14-15) Yield to Him. Arise and go. The Lord’s Spirit will prompt and guide you in witness.
2. Saul Acted in Faith
Saul visually and audibly encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus. In a heavenly spotlight so to speak, the Lord revealed that He is Jesus Whom Saul persecuted (22:8, 10; cf., 9:5-6) and then told him go to Damascus for his appointment. Saul walked for three days without sight, dependent on others to guide and help him on the journey. Jesus revealed Saul’s divine purpose to Ananias through a vision (9:15-16), who in turn relayed it to Paul that, “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou has seen and heard” (9:17; 22:14-15).
LET THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDE YOU. I quit my job several years ago due to an injury. Being honest, I felt somewhat despondent at first. One day, I was on the floor when I felt a light on me. Jesus told me in a vision that He would heal me quickly. He completely flipped what I knew as my world, calling me to a different appointment. Little did I know that Jesus would take me on a journey to a new place during healing. Though I often felt sightless, He built my faith with each step as I leaned on Him. Jesus also sent many to help me during the process. We often walk to a destination unknown, but should move forward acting in faith. As we make disciples, Jesus will speak directly to us or through those He sends with support and directions. The Holy Spirit comes upon us to empower believers (Acts 1:8). His indwelling gives us the spirit of wisdom, revelation of knowledge, hope of His calling and riches of the glory of His inheritance (Eph 1:17-23). Hold to your faith and don’t let it fail you.
3. Saul Witnessed with Power
The Lord worked through Ananias in Damascus as he laid hands on Saul to recover his sight and fill him with His Spirit (9:17b; 8:17). Shortly thereafter, Saul began to preach Jesus is the Son of God in the Damascus synagogues (9:20) and amazed those who heard him there. As his strength increased, he proved Jesus was the Messiah and confounded the Damascus Jews. Saul had the same power (1:8) and spiritual revelation (Matt 16:17) as Peter, whose witness repeatedly brought people to Christ (2:14-21, 38 and 41) and garnered the ire of Jewish officials. Saul initially taught what he saw and heard (22:15) endued with power from the Holy Ghost (22:15-16; 1:5, 8). The Amplified version says that as Paul gained strength he compared and examined evidence, proving that Jesus is the Christ. We see examples of Peter, a Galilean, speaking eloquently after the Spirit came upon him. Acts 2:41 tells of the baptism of 2,000 souls after Peter testified.
SPEAK BOLDLY IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Every believer plays a key role in building Christ’s church. We can have the same boldness as Saul from the incarnate Jesus through baptism in His Spirit speaking in tongues to fulfill His commission to make disciples (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15). Jesus promised to send His Spirit to indwell within His believers to speak His name boldly and assuredly (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4b-5, 8).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit did not occur just with the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Besides Paul, Luke records many post-Pentecost outpourings of the Holy Spirit over an extended time period such as Samaria (Acts 8:15-17), Damascus (Acts 9:17), Caesarea (Acts 10:44-46); Ephesus (Acts 12:2b-6). This same divine phenomena continues in modern times.
4. Saul (Paul—Acts 13:9) Endured Trials
Audiences often reacted aggressively to Saul announcing the good news of the Gospel. Not everyone welcomed him, the persecutor turned proclaimer, when he preached Jesus is the Son of God. In his early ministry days the Jews plotted to kill Saul (9:23) and Grecians wanted to slay him (9:29-30). Jews from Antioch and Iconium persuaded the Lystra crowd against Paul to stone him (14:19). Further, he faced harsh travel conditions. Acts 27 records that Paul sailed to Italy under a centurion’s charge. In route, Paul’s ship battled the wind. First, the boat met contrary winds (28:4); then, slow-sail wind (vv. 7-8); later, a typhoon-like wind (v.14) and finally, forceful winds causing cross currents that shipwrecked it (v. 41). Amid many inconveniences, Paul changed ships, went without food for several days and swam to shore.
STAY FOCUSED ON YOUR WITNESS. Saul, later Apostle Paul, never ceased his mission. I find it amazing that even with hostile mob action, he still stood firm in the battle. After a mob thought they left him for dead, he later went back to that same region (See Acts 14:19-21). Sometimes we go through trials. What are your storms? An ordinary leaky faucet to the more complex relationship conflict can distract us. Some people shut down when their family stands off because of their Christian lifestyle change. Others quit witnessing when someone rejects their testimony. In Paul’s words, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:47 NIV). The devil may know the rules for engagement, but does not have access to the Lord’s playbook. Jesus will always be with us, “even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20b KJV).
5. Saul Witnessed Out
Luke tells of Paul’s three missionary journeys (Acts 13-14; 15:36-18:22 and 18:23-20:38) and the variety of experiences during each. He began preaching not long after his encounter on the road to Damascus. Unlike today’s comfortable and quick transportation system, early Christians dealt with much different conditions. People commonly traveled by foot. A person covered about 17-23 miles under normal conditions in a day’s travel. Paul (then Saul) walked about 150 miles from Jerusalem northeast to Damascus; three days of which he depended on travelling companions to lead him by the hand since his was without sight (9:3-7). He also made the 22-mile trip from Troas to Assos by foot (Acts 20:13) and Malta to Athens while under guard. The average American walks about five miles a day.
MAKE DISCIPLES OUTSIDE YOUR OWN COMMUNITY. God chose Saul to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles, Gentile kings and children of Israel (Acts 9:15-16). God calls us, His chosen vessels. He has an appointment for every believer, too. We cannot fulfill Jesus’ commission, though, if we only mix with the saints within the four walls of the local church. We may not feel comfortable separated from our comfort zone, but must move outside it.
6. Spirit-Enabled Miracles and Signs Followed Saul
Mark 16:17-18 says that, “signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Miracles, signs and wonders gave credence to Paul’s witness” (See also Acts 14:3). God worked special miracles through Paul’s hands. When people put handkerchiefs, towels or aprons that touched his skin on the sick, diseases left and evil spirits came out (19:12). Paul healed many people of diseases on an island called Melita. Also, a viper “fastened itself” onto Paul’s hand while he warmed himself at the fire there (28:1). Paul just shook off the snake, without harm. In another account at Salamis, Elymas the sorcerer lost his sight for a season when he interfered with witness to Sergius Paulus (13:6, 8, 11). People believed in the Lord after each of these instances (13:12; 19:18, 20; 28:6).
LET THE HOLY SPIRIT FUEL WITNESS THROUGH YOU. Sometimes people say that miracles, signs and wonders ceased after the Book of Acts or believers have no need for them today in witness. I am here to testify that Jesus empowers my witness with evidence of miracles, signs and wonders from my time of new birth. I would need a lot space to tell my testimony. God will go to great lengths to catch the attention and open the eyes of those who would believe. When we invoke the name of Jesus, we have His authority from the power of His Spirit. God rules in our world the same today as yesterday. He does not operate with a diminished ability. People see Jesus when we let Him work through us. When Annas the high priest and others demanded to know how Peter and John restored a man’s health, the council asked, “by what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” (4:7). Acts 4:7 says that Peter was “filled with the Holy Ghost” when he answered them. Because of the apostles’ bold and eloquent response, the council marveled at these “unlearned and ignorant men” (cf., 2:7) and “recognized they had been with Jesus” (4:13c AMP).
Through baptism in the Holy Ghost speaking in tongues–the Spirit’s enablement–Jesus equips His people in the same way as Paul and the other apostles. What we learn from Paul’s experiences in witness results from the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). Paul did not witness of himself, but from the fullness of the incarnate Jesus Who dwelled within him. Jesus gives the promised Spirit to those of His community. Today’s believers engage in bold witness (2:41; 4:31), perform miracles, have signs follow them, prophesy and experience divine guidance through visions and dreams as His Church. Luke describes the church in Acts as a “community called and empowered for mission through the Spirit,” Further, he gives instructions for living out witness based on the “apostles’ authority for experience, teaching and practice of the New Testament church.” Apostle Paul held to the same Gospel as the original apostles (Gal 2:1-10; cf., 1:8-9). We likewise must follow. Yesterday’s apostolic reality for the New Testament church remains an unchanged norm for witness in modern times.
 Jan Paron, “Examining the Reality of Jesus,” PerSpectives 12, n.p. [cited 5 May 2013]. Online: https://specs12.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/examining-the-reality-of-jesus/
 Alan Hirsch and Darryn Altclass, The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Guide for Missional Churches (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009), 28. See also statistics on world population. Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Atlas of World Population History (London, GB: Penguin, 1978).
 Conrad Hackett et al., Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population. n.p. (cited 5 May 2013). Online: http://www.pewforum.org/Christian/Global-Christianity-exec.aspx.
 Conrad Hackett et al., Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population (Washington DC: Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life), 46.
 George Barna, “How Post-Christian is U.S. Society?” Barna Group. n.p. (cited: 17 May 2013). Online: http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society
 Barnett in David Peterson’s book, The Acts of the Apostles” remarks that “Behold, I am here, Lord” (idou egō kyrios) shows “both his presence and his readiness to carry out the Lord’s will.” Barnett, The Acts of the Apostles. (Cited in David Peterson, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2009), 306.
 Brian Rapske, The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting. (eds. David W. Gill and Conrad Gempf, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), 6.
 Signs follow those who believe. Consider the evil spirit that leaped on the seven sons of Sceva when they falsely tried to cast out evil spirits (19:14-18).
Photo Credit: One Man’s Journey in the Spirit, firstname.lastname@example.org