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Alex's Blog - August 3, 2009 - The Need for Another Pentecost to Spur on World Evangelization
By Alex Dodson
Before Jesus went back to Heaven, He promised His disciples that He would send them power from on high to carry out their mission in this world. The Bible records what Jesus said in Acts 1:4-5,8 - "...Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit....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." Jesus fulfilled His promise and sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples on the day of Pentecost. He came anointing them with great power to preach the gospel. The day of Pentecost is filled with symbolism and meaning. There were Jews at this festival from all over the Roman world. Acts 2:5 puts it this way, "Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven." They were from all over the Roman Empire from many nations and they all spoke different languages. The amazing thing is that as soon as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, they began to speak in all of these languages so much so that the people at the festival cried out, "...we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (2:11) The meaning of all of this was that the Holy Spirit had come to empower the church to carry the gospel into all of the world and proclaim it to all peoples. Jesus had given the Great Commission and told His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Now He was empowring them to do that very thing.
In a sense, this was a great revival that spurred the church on to carry the gospel to the nations. The whole book of Acts is the wonderful story of how the gospel started with a few disciples in Jerusalem and spread all over the Roman world. The book ends with Paul in the capital of the world, Rome. Under the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples had literally turned the world upside down. (Acts 17:6 KJV) The little small band of disciples in Jerusalem had grown into a world wide movement to such an extent that Paul could say in Colossians 1:23, "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven..." The great power that was poured out at Pentecost had brought about a world changing movement that would not stop.
Satan, of course, did not stand by when all of this was happening. He provided much opposition first form the Jews and later from the Romans resulting in the ten great Roman persecutions. Satan did his best to stop the advance of the church but he could not stand up against the power of God. We so often forget the promise of Christ which He gave to Peter in Matthew 16:18, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." That is, Satan and all his forces would not be able to stop the forward advance of the church. By the time of Constantine, the whole Roman Empire became Christian. How could that happen? How could such a small band of Christians in Jerusalem have converted the whole Roman world in such a short time? It is an amazing story that we Christians today know so little about, it seems. Our faith is so weak. One speaker at a missions conference this past year, said that Europe was lost. She is post Christian as if that was the end for Europe. He must have forgotten what happened in the first centuries of the Christian Church. The whole Roman Empire was pagan. Paganism was the official religion of the empire. How could a small band of Christians from Jerusalem ever expect to conquer the mighty Roman Empire? With our little faith today, we would not have believed it if we were living then. History would have proved our faith to be wrong. Christianity permeated the whole empire so that by the time Paul was in Roman there were already Christians in Ceasar's household. Though the Roman Emperors would try to stamp it out, they would not succeed. They could not succeed against the mighty power of God.
Rodney Stark, the sociologist, asked in his book, The Rise of Christianity, "How did a tiny and obscure messianic movement from the edge of the Roman Empire dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western civilization?" (p. 3) The whole world changed in just 350 years from the birth of Christ. Stark writes that by 350 there were over 33 million Christians in the Roman Empire which had a total population of 60 million. In other words the Christian population had grown from almost nothing to over half the total population of the Empire by the time of Constantine. Stark writes, "Rather than cause the triumph of Christianity, the emperor Constantine's 'Edict of Milan' was an astute response to rapid Christian growth that had already made them a major political force." (p.2)
The fact is that paganism fell in the Roman Empire and Christianity took its place. Pagan temples were replaced with Christian churches. Christianity became the dominant religion of the whole empire. Jonathan Edwards in his book The History of Redemption writes, "Heathenism now was in a great measure abolished throughout the Roman empire...The Christian church was brought into a state of great peace and prosperity...They had now Christian presidents, Christian governors, Christian judges and officers, instead of old heathenish ones...This revolution was the greatest revolution and change in the face of things that ever came to pass in the world since the flood. Satan, the prince of darkness, that king and god of the heathen world, was cast out." (p. 254)
The old idols and gods of the empire were abolished and disappeared. Today, they no longer exist. Edwards writes, "And since that, it has come to pass, that those gods that were once so famous in the world, as Jupiter, and Saturn, and Minerva, and Juno, etc. are only heard of as things which were of old. They have no temples, no altars, no worshippers, and have not had for many hundred years." (p.255)
The great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on a little band of Christians would eventually change the whole world. The Christians without sword or great military armies attacked Satan's stronghold and completely took over the Roman Empire. They preached the gospel all over the empire and won multitudes to Christ and eventually the Emperor himself yielded and bowed his knee to Jesus.
Now, this is an example of what the power of the Holy Spirit has already done in history. We so easily forget what God had done in the past. Today, we say that all of Europe is lost and unrecoverable and that America is post Christian as if there were no hope for the future. God has moved in mighty ways in the past and He can move in mighty ways again. What we need today is a new pentecost to thrust forth the gospel into our world to recover what has been lost and to gain what is yet to be won for Christ.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise.
Edwards, Jonathan. 1773. The History of Redemption. Marshallton, Delaware: The National Foundation for Christian Education.
Stark, Rodney.1996. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.