A Power Paradigm
The gospel has often made progress in less than ideal circumstances. In 1920's Ukraine, for example - the gospel made amazing progress before the Soviet authorities acted to severely persecute the church and restrict gospel ministry. The book of Acts describes another example of amazing gospel progress in less than ideal circumstances including a repressive government and a hostile religious context. God, however, is accustomed to winning. He didn't leave his Son in the tomb, and He's not leaving His gospel in some backwoods corner of the planet. God is committed to gospel progress, but there is a paradigm He gives us in Acts that works.
We're going to start at the end and work backwards:
5. Progress So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20). That is the story of Acts - God's Word winning. In won in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and eventually conquered the Roman Empire. Jesus prophesied it through promise (Acts 1:8) and parable (Matthew 13:31-33). And it happened. This wasn't the spread of religion; this was the spread of the Word of life (John 6:68). But how did this happen?
4. Proclamation And immediately he proclaimed Jesus . . . (Acts 9:20). The formula here is pretty straightforward: the gospel spread because it was proclaimed. Over and over and over: Acts 26:1-23, Acts 24:10-21, Acts 17:22-31, Actst 14:14-17, Acts 13:16-41, Acts 11:34-43, Acts 8:35, Acts 7:1-53, Acts 5:29-32, Acts 4:8-12, Acts 3:12-26. Perhaps the two most famous gospel proclamations in Acts are Paul on Mars Hill, preaching to Gentiles, and Peter on the day of Pentecost, preaching to Jews in Jerusalem. The common denominator that runs through the book of Acts is the consistent speaking of God's gospel There is no gospel progress without it.
3. Power And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). The proclamation of the gospel wasn't just a human endeavor, it was animated by the Holy Spirit. God Himself endowed his followers with spiritual power to be bold witness. And this didn't just happen once: And Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8), And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31). The believers were continually being refreshed and refilled with the Holy Spirit who empowered them for bold witness. But why did they have so much power in their lives?
2. Prayer And these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14). These early Christians were hooked on prayer. They just loved haning out with other Christians and praying. They did it so much the Bible describes them as being devoted to prayer. And so we're not surprised to find multiple mentions of prayer throughout Acts: And they devoted themselves . . . to the prayers (Acts 2:42), And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God (Acts 4:24-31), But we will devote ourselves to prayer . . . (Acts 6:4). These Christians were onto something. But what would motivate them to spend so much time seeking God in prayer?
1. Promise But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:5). Jesus told his followers to wait for power. They waited in Jerusalem for 10 days, praying and seeking God, and then the Holy Spirit was poured and they were filled and dramatically empowerd. So since they got the power, they didn't need to pray any more, right? Not at all! They kept praying - because they kept living in the promise of Jesus. We often look to that instruction to wait and the subsequent day of Pentecost as a one off thing. But these early Christians seemed to live in the promise of Jesus.
So let's turn all this around and see how it is that the gospel of Jesus spread so dramatically throughout the Mediterranean world. What did those early Christians do?
1. They lived in the promise of Jesus that they would be empowered.
2. They were devoted to prayer.
3. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
4. They proclaimed the gospel boldly.
5. The result: amazing gospel progress: So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).
This isn't a formula; it's a paradigm - a map - of how the early Christians saw such great gospel progress. And this paradigm is being lived and experienced in many places around the world today. the big question God is asking us: Are we willing to pay the price of prayer to walk in God's power paradigm for gospel progress? Honestly, I don't think there are any short cuts. And very honestly - there are about 1000 distractions to keep us from praying the way those early Christians did. But it all goes back to living in the promise of Jesus. Let's make this our prayer:
God, we want to see PROGRESS in the advance of your purposes on the earth: draw us back to your PROMISE so that we'll seek you in PRAYER and walk in your POWER to PROCLAIM your gospel. Amen.
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