NINETEEN HUNDRED YEARS have passed since the early apostles went out into a hostile world with a Gospel that transformed men and influenced nations.

It would be impossible to make many valid comparisons between the world of that time and the one in which we live. The age of the plodding donkey and the ship wind-driven has been engulfed by the atom and the jet plane. And these fantastic achievements of our day will probably be supplanted by yet more fantastic discoveries in later years.

But the hearts of men have not changed. The sins and temptations of Jerusalem, Corinth, and Rome of the past are the sins of London, New York, and Tokyo today. The needs of the human heart are identical in view of man’s separation from God through sin.

Have we, in our sophistication, equated scientific achievement with spiritual advancement? Are we again in danger of substituting another gospel because we fail to appreciate the relevance of the gospel of Jesus Christ for every age?

Study of the book of the Acts is always a rewarding experience. Here we have a stirring record of the beginnings of the early Church. Here are the stories of men who ventured everything for the sake of Christ and his gospel, most of whom eventually paid for their faith even to death itself.

The lives of these men cannot be duplicated any more than can the world and the conditions in which they worked. But do not the underlying truths and principles remain valid for us today? As we Christians look at the Church and search our own hearts, do we not sense that we have lost something infinitely precious, something of their convictions, their message and their power?

Certain definite elements in the ministry of the early apostles are desperately needed today—and they are available.

The apostles went out with spiritual power. But first they were commanded to tarry at Jerusalem until endued with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The only power whereby the Gospel may be successfully preached and lived is that of the Holy Spirit. Do we trust primarily in him, or do we look to organizations, programs, collective action, personality, education and other desirable but secondary things? How often we go forth to do the Lord’s work in the arm of the flesh, and then wonder why the work, zeal, and enthusiasm expended bring such meager returns.

The perturbed and resentfully ecclesiastical leaders of that day had to take note of the fact that these men had been with Jesus. Their experience with the living Christ was so vital and transforming that men lacking in social, educational and religious backgrounds had become compelling and effective witnesses to a message which had a stunning effect on those who heard and believed.

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How many of us who are engaged in the work of God’s kingdom have had a personal experience of salvation? Can men see and know by our words and lives that we too have been with Christ? Do we always preach Christ, or do we at times preach ourselves or something else?

The early apostles were men of conviction. There was a certainty about their preaching which had its own inevitable effect on those who heard. They were convinced of the source, the authority, and the absolute necessity of the message they were called to preach.

Do we have similar convictions today? Have we been robbed of authority in our preaching through presuppositions and deductions at the human level, all of which change as men and times change?

These early apostles showed an utter disregard for personal comfort or danger. Threatened, they prayed for more courage. Beaten, they thanked God for the privilege of suffering for him. Imprisoned, they sang songs at midnight. Brought before rulers, they confirmed the charges leveled at them by preaching Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. Ultimately they sealed their faith with their blood.

Are we willing to endure even minor inconveniences for Christ? Are we not in grave danger of making personal comfort, or monetary gain, a major consideration in what we do for the Lord? How can we account for the alarming lack of interest in world missions? Admitting a lost sense of the primacy and urgency of evangelism, are there not also elements of selfishness in our lack of interest?

One of the characteristics of the early Church was mutual love and concern of Christians, one for the other. In fact this Christian love caused unbelievers almost universally to exclaim and wonder.

How different today! One of the tragedies of Christendom now is the unreasoning and unreasoned attacks of Christians upon Christians. They confuse contending for personal interpretations or pet schemes with contending for the faith. There is only too often a contentiousness and lovelessness which cause the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme and Christians to sorrow.

When these early apostles went out to preach the Gospel, they realized that they were a small minority in an alien world. There was no attempt to compromise with the world. The distinctiveness and exclusiveness of the Gospel were magnified, not minimized. Nor did they despise the day of small things. Believing that the saving power of Jesus Christ begins at the personal level, they preached to individuals for personal decisions. Believing that Christians become the salt and light of the society of which they are a part, they confidently expected their faith in Christ to transform them into these witnessing and preserving forces for righteousness.

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Cannot we learn from this? Believing in the corporate witness of the Church, should we not always remember that the Gospel must first reach the individual for Christ before he can become a useful member of the Church?

There are many other lessons in the Acts of the Apostles which are relevant for our times. Then, as now, God calls certain individuals to specific tasks, and as they heed that call he prepares and empowers them for that work. In this there are found great diversities of gifts but a similarity in the fruits of the Spirit.

The apostles never deviated from either the nature or content of their message: it was Jesus Christ and him crucified. It was of a risen and living Saviour who fulfilled the prophetic visions of the past and made the salvation God has prepared for his own from the counsels of eternity.

Faced with despotism, they preached Christ before whom despots must fall.

Surrounded by slavery, they preached Christ who makes men free.

Confronted with vice and paganism at their worst, they preached Christ who cleanses men from sin.

The targets of hostile secular and ecclesiastical powers, they preached Christ, rendering to Caesar his just due while giving all honor and glory to God.

As we consider these men of old, we may well ask ourselves: “Who follows in their train?”

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