“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
I love this passage, which we often quote when talking about missions, because it reminds me of the last words of Jesus to His disciples before He ascends into heaven. Always pay attention to someone’s last words, because they’re probably important. Jesus uses His last words to tell them they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to share about Him everywhere, even to the very ends of the earth. It’s a powerful passage that has motivated millions of Christians toward cross-cultural ministry.
Several weeks ago, while attending Justice and Mercy International’s 9th Annual Jungle Pastors’ Conference, I was sitting on the balcony of our conference center, which overlooks the Rio Negro, and I read this passage once again. The words of Jesus hit me differently here, as I immediately thought about the 111 jungle pastors and wives I was with who have given their lives to share Jesus with the isolated people of the Amazon Rainforest. As I prayed that day, it hit me that this scripture motivated these river pastors to go deeper into the jungle, some paddling 5-days by canoe just to reach villages, just as much as it motivated the American leaders who travel 5-hours by plane to reach Brazil. I found myself thanking the Lord for this passage and how impactful it was for all of us.
Since returning home I’ve continued to reflect on Acts 1:8. What was Jesus actually saying in this passage that inspired two different cultural groups toward the same goal?
Was Jesus just speaking literally? I don’t think so, because most of us have never gone to Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria to be His witnesses. Furthermore, what did He really mean with the words “to the end of the earth”? Do you know where that is? I didn’t, until I googled and found a quaint little neighborhood located in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, Great Britain, named “World’s End.” It’s a simple dropped pin on a Google map. But I’m pretty certain this isn’t the only place Jesus had in mind when He spoke these words.
If so, why did He tell His disciples in Matthew 28:19, to “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations…”, or in Mark 13:10 when He says, “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (emphasis mine) These are powerful passages too and Jesus doesn’t mention a progression of evangelism relative to the distance from Jerusalem, as He does in Acts 1:8. Rather, it’s clear His desire is for everyone, everywhere to hear of the Good News He brings.
Oftentimes, I’ve read Acts 1:8 thinking Jesus was only speaking geographically. I mean He does mention specific towns by name. But I’m convinced this is not all Jesus had in mind.
Perhaps, He mentions Jerusalem and Judea because they represented people most like them. Witness about me to your own people – those who live across the street or town – who are most similar culturally to you. Because when He mentions Samaria, while in close proximity to Jerusalem, His disciples would immediately know it was as far away and culturally dissimilar as you can imagine. These are not your people – they’re different than you and you probably have biases against them – but tell them about me anyway. When He concludes with the ends of the earth, perhaps He wasn’t necessarily thinking of a specific place, rather, he was describing those people living in spiritual darkness where light has not yet reached. People that are not just dissimilar culturally, but are also closed off and out of reach.
Since coming home from the Amazon, I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about this passage, especially in light of the precious men and women I spent a week alongside. It seems to me these last words of Jesus are about His mission. A mission so vast and impossible for us to accomplish, that the only way to realize it is through the empowering and all-pervasive presence of the Holy Spirit.
As I read the passage again today, I noticed two simple words I had overlooked before, “But you …”, and as I repeated those two words over in my mind, it struck me. To whom did Jesus speak His last words? He spoke those words to you and me.
Each one of us has been given the power of the Holy Spirit to share the light of the Gospel of Jesus to everyone who lives in spiritually dark places – She may be your neighbor, the man who speaks a language you don’t know, or maybe … just maybe … a young couple in a far away village, on a far away river, winding through the dense jungles of the Amazon. People that have never heard, or never will hear, unless we read this passage and believe He’s talking to each one of us.