“And there were Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs …” (Acts 2:5, 9-11a).
On the first Day of Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) after Christ had risen and ascended, when the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples in Jerusalem, when the first “Christian” sermon was preached, the speakers had a huge audience, both Pilgrims and settlers from all over the Mediterranean and middle eastern world. Jesus had commanded these disciples to be His witnesses “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), but then had brought this audience to them. Luke tells us that “about three thousand souls” were converted on that day (Acts 1:41).
What happened to these people afterward? Undoubtedly many stayed in Jerusalem and added to the growth of the church there. But others must have returned to their home countries, carrying their newfound faith with them. When the first missionaries arrived in these regions years later, they would have found believers already there. Many of these regions are not mentioned any more in the rest of the New Testament, yet history tells us that Christianity had spread to these regions and beyond within a few centuries. The church truly became what Paul described, a church “in which there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11) -- a truly universal church that transcends boundaries, whether national or ethnic or linguistic.
But many of the churches I know and have attended haven’t reflected this truth too well. We tend to all look the same; in my case, white and middle class.
When I was young, the milkman delivered unhomogenized milk to our door in clear glass bottles. We could see that the milk had separated into cream and what could be called skim milk. So before we poured the milk, we had to shake it up to blend the parts.
It seems to me that God is “shaking up” the church in America these days. The huge number of immigrants and visitors from other nations is giving us a situation similar to that of the first Day of Pentecost. We have people arriving here from other nations, some to study, some to do business, some to work, some to settle down. They bring with them their (to us) exotic ways – strange names, strange accents, strange foods and strange religions. And they bring with them their need for Christ. What an opportunity!
Now I no longer have to sit in church only with people who look and sound like me. God has given me the privilege of meeting with and fellowshipping with and learning from and witnessing to people from “every tribe and tongue and nation.”
Uni and I and some other couples have had the privilege of working with a Sunday afternoon Bible class with college students from at least six different nations. What a privilege it has been to teach these young people and to know that not only are they receiving words of eternal life, but that they will be carrying these words back with them to their home nations, just like those early believers in the Book of Acts.