The timing within the book of Acts isn’t always obvious, however a little work on it can unearth some interesting facts.
For example, just before he ascended Jesus told his disciples “ 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 1v8
Ten years later they had only been witnesses to Jews, despite what Jesus had told them. This begs the question why? I suspect it was because they assumed that, as at the day of Pentecost, the ends of the earth would come to Jerusalem where they would first become Jews before becoming followers of Christ.
The first person to witness to a gentile was Peter when he shared the gospel to Cornelius as recorded in Acts 10. This didn’t just happen, Peter had to first be converted.
Clearly Peter was already a spirit filled believer but he still had the wrong mindset, focusing just on Jews. Not seeing things as God saw them. He needed to be “converted” to God’s way of seeing things.
God gave Peter a vision three times of a blanket coming down from heaven with “unclean animals on it”, he was told in the vision to kill and eat. He was told to not call anything God had made unclean. Whilst pondering the vision the Spirit tells Peter to go with the men who are downstairs because God had sent them. This leads Peter to do all sorts of things he wouldn’t normally do – which leads to the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles.
As soon as he was converted he saw the men waiting. Without the conversion he wouldn’t have seen the opportunity.
I believe this is a prophetic word to the church today. For us the big mission field in the UK is unchurched people, those for whom Christianity is a foreign language and the church is an alien culture, rather than gentiles. (See previous blog)
For generations we have been witnessing to those brought up in church. There has been a rapid decline in the number of those brought up in church; we need to reach out beyond this fish pond. However I find same reticence in today’s church to witness to unchurched people as in the early church to witness to gentiles. I have therefore concluded that we need to be converted before we can convert the unchurched!
We can put structures in place, exhort people, but unless God does something in people’s hearts, as he did in Peter’s, then nothing will change.
As a church we are putting in place groups with clarity of purpose, groups to witness to youth, students and twenties, families, active retired people and many others; however without conversion we will continue to just focus on our needs rather than witness to unchurched people.
I believe that once we are converted will see the opportunities, like Peter did. Suddenly we will find “men downstairs waiting for us”, people whom God had already been working in their lives. (See previous blog)
WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON
Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.
He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.