“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, NIV
Jesus didn’t specify how we should rank Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Which is most important? Should we prioritize overseas missions when the needs in our own country are so great?
The challenges in our communities stare us grimly in the face. In 2020, there were almost 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States. Twelve major US cities broke homicide records in 2021. Nearly two-thirds of American young people who grow up active in church withdraw from church involvement as adults. To top it off, 38% of pastors considered quitting full-time ministry in 2021.
In 1948, 69% of the US population identified as Protestant. In 2021, that percentage was down to 35%.
It’s obvious: America needs Jesus now more than ever.
So is our primary responsibility to our own communities? To what extent should Christians prioritize reaching “the ends of the earth” when there’s so much work to be done at home?
A careful examination of Scripture is clear: God doesn’t just want many people to worship Him; He wants people from all nations to worship Him.
The Scriptural evidence
Let’s start in Genesis. As early as chapter 12, God promises Abraham that “all people of the earth will be blessed through you.” As those who belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:29). When we go out and invite the people of other nations into God’s family, the blessing of God’s promise is fulfilled.
And then in the Prophets, Isaiah reminds us that the Messiah would come to bring redemption to all nations:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob…I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6
In Daniel, the Son of Man is worshipped by “all nations and peoples of every language” (Dan 7:14). The Old Testament resounds with God’s desire to be praised throughout the earth. Repeatedly we read, “Proclaim among the nations what He has done!” (1 Chr 16:8, Ps 9:11, Isa 12:4)
Old Testament scholar Walter Kaiser wrote, “Israel was to be God’s missionary to the world— and so are we by virtue of our identity as Abraham’s spiritual descendants! The mission has not changed.” Do we feel the urgency of that call?
Fast forward to the New Testament, and we see Jesus’ Jewish followers finally understand that the gospel isn’t just for the nation of Israel but for all nations (Acts 10). In fact, Jesus declares that His return will depend on the gospel reaching every nation (Matt 24:14).
When we flip to the end of the Bible, we see the culmination: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’ (Rev 7:9-10).
Released to go
Imagine with me for a moment that when the disciples eagerly gathered around Jesus to hear His last words, Jesus had said to them, “Go and make disciples of all nations. But before you go, stay here. Make sure everyone is reached in your own community first. So many people right here need you. The nations can wait.”
Is there a threshold of evangelism that must take place in a community before a church sends out cross-cultural missionaries? Scripture gives us a resounding, “No!”
Yes, local evangelism is essential. But local outreach must not overshadow the truth that God wants to be worshipped by representatives from each unique people group. Like a multi-faceted diamond, the Creator of culture is exalted when each angle distinctively reflects His glory. He has granted us the privilege of taking part in this magnificent plan.
Theologian John Stott taught: “We need to become global Christians with a global vision, for we have a global God.” Today’s era of missions exhibits missionaries sent out from Nigeria, Mexico and Germany, even while Americans are still sending our own missionaries to those same countries. For example, the Back to Jerusalem movement is training Chinese Christians to take the gospel to the most unreached parts of the world, the majority of which are between China and Jerusalem. What an incredible picture of the worldwide Church responding in obedience to the Great Commission.
With obedience comes sacrifice. Short-term missions trips can be great for casting vision, but the work of making disciples demands long-term investment. For all of us – churches and believers – this assumes a financial sacrifice. Jesus Himself said that where our treasure is, that’s where you’ll find our hearts (Matt 6:21). If we are passionate about reaching the nations, at the very least, it should be reflected in our budgets.
Yet God may be asking many of us for a greater sacrifice. For some churches, this may mean releasing their most dedicated members to overseas service. For some families, this may mean surrendering their deeply loved daughters and sons to the uncertainty of far-off places. And for others, this means exchanging the comforts of home for a new culture and language. God’s global call shines a spotlight on their gifts, experiences and deepest yearnings and they find themselves compelled to declare, “Send me!”
Missiologist Ralph Winter wrote, “Our obligation is to seek the expansion of the knowledge of the glory of God and His Kingdom, and this would logically require us each to prayerfully seek God about doing the hardest thing we are able to do in the most crucial task we can find.” Could God be asking you to increase your global vision?
We are not all called to personally go out to the nations, but we are all called to have a part in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Local evangelism is important, but not at the expense of neglecting foreign missions. Let us prioritize both Jerusalem and the ends of the earth, and eagerly hope for that day when all will have heard!
If God might be calling you to missions, reach out to Mike.Davis@efca.org. If you are interested in partnering with missionaries currently raising support, or if you would like help establishing a missions program in your church, please contact the Connect Team at email@example.com for assistance and resources.
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