Go Into All the World
From the beginning God's plan was to reclaim his world. The Jewish people of the Bible had made God known to many of the nations of the world as people from those nations traveled through Israel. The Assyrian dispersion and the Babylonian exile spread God fearing Jewish people around the known world. Many of them returned to Jerusalem for the yearly feasts which God had commanded. God had prepared carefully and well for the next stage in his great plan of salvation. His people must now live so that the world may know in the entire world not just in one small place. If the arena had changed the mission had not. The people of God would reveal him to people in places like Rome, Athens, and the cities of Roman provinces like Syria and Macedonia. The most pagan of all provinces, Asia, would become a stronghold for the followers of God and the Messiah Jesus. They would serve him while the nations of the world watched and listened.
It was in the region of Galilee that Jesus came to call several people as disciples. From the Jordan rift in the east to Mt. Carmel in the west, from Mt. Hermon in the north, to the Harod valley in the south, Galilee was the most lush and fertile of the regions of the Promised Land. It is largely mountainous with few cities of any great size. It can be divided in to the upper Galilee where the mountains are high and rugged and the gentle hills of the lower Galilee. The Sea of Galilee, 700 feet below sea level, provides stunning contrast with the dark volcanic rock of the hills around.
This region had been emptied of its Jewish inhabitants by the ancient enemy Assyria more than 700 years before Jesus time. When Jews began to return to their ancestral land few settled in this area initially as the prophets had noted (Isaiah 9:1-2). Following the Maccabee victory over the Seleucid Greeks increasing numbers of Jews predominantly from Babylon to the east began to settle again around the small fresh water lake from which Galilee took its name. The practiced their faith passionately in synagogues. Teachers, later called Rabbis sought out disciples to train them how to walk in the ways of the Lord.
The remains of the towns and villages of Galilee give evidence to the simple lifestyle of the Jewish people of the first century. Few were wealthy or poor. Most were hardworking people living comfortable lives as extended families. Their homes were plain and well built with rough cobblestone floors. The only public buildings were the synagogues used as community centers, schools and for worship which they referred to as prayer. Streets were normally unpaved and water was carried from springs or wells nearby. There were no sewers. Simple people committed to God, living simple but happy lives
that was first century Galilee.
Jesus, also an itinerant teacher called Rabbi, chose disciples too and showed them Gods path in word and action. When their training was complete he sent them to make disciples of their own. Their destination was now much greater than the small province of Galilee. They were sent to the whole world.
The commission he gave them is one of the most well known passages in the Christian Testament:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:16-20
This compelling command, which became the mission of the early believers was given on the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in the setting where the Rabbi/Disciple model was most widely known. The word appears more than 250 times in the New Testament. Yet it sometimes appears that the Christian community of modern times struggles to hold on to the heart of Jesus words
go and make disciples. Disciples are more than converts. Discipleship is more than an interest in learning the fundamentals of faith. Making disciples is not a course in a church or Christian College. It appears that progress toward discipleship is more a goal for the few than a passion for all followers for Jesus. The earliest followers of Jesus were disciples in the Eastern sense. They followed Jesus imitating his life, his teaching, and his method of making disciples. And the Christian faith exploded onto the world scene as ordinary people living for Jesus make great impact on the cultures in which they lived.
The triumph of the Christian faith is nowhere more striking or unexpected than in the Roman Provinces of Asia Minor, Galatia and Cappodoccia. Known for immorality in lifestyle and in religious practice, these regions became Christian within 150 years of Jesus ministry in Israel. The early missionary, Paul, (Saul in Hebrew) spent a great deal of time here and wrote several letters to the followers of Jesus in these provinces. Peter wrote his letters to the believers here, and John wrote Revelation (and his letters) to the churches of this area. The effectiveness of the early believers is amazing and raises a host of questions with great implications for our own world. There is evidence in Church history that Phillip, Thaddeus and Andrew; also Galilean disciples, came here too. How did Jesus prepare his followers for such a mission? What empowered them? What kind of commitments did they have to make to their mission? What did they do that had such an impact on the people of Asia? Some answers to these questions become clear when we study the stories of the disciples of Jesus, their disciples as well as other early believers as they live for Jesus in their historical context.
The ruins of the cities of the Roman provinces of Asia Minor, Galatia and Cappadocia from this time are stunning in contrast to the simple Galilean architecture. The people of these communities, largely gentile, were surrounded by great wealth and amazing architecture. Many were very wealthy, living in villas and impressive family estates. Their homes were elaborate, often decorated with mosaic floors, frescoed walls, and marble columns around peristyle courtyards. Others were extremely poor. There were many very large public buildings: theaters, temples, libraries, and gymnasia, baths and brothels. Streets were paved and lined with extensive shopping areas. Public fountains were everywhere bringing fresh water to every part of the community. Many homes had running water and every city had a covered sewer system... Wealthy pagan people who were very religious living in luxury and decadence
that was the first century Roman world.
It is most amazing that a few people from among the simple Galileans traveled to this sophisticated Hellenistic world, and by their words and the witness of their lives, introduced an almost total change in the beliefs and lifestyle of the cultured pagans. Scholars have suggested there were 80,000 or more followers of Jesus by the year 100 and by the year 250 A.D. Christians may have been the majority in the provinces of Galatia and Asia Minor. How was this possible? Ordinary, simple people changed the sophisticated cultured world? Only Gods power can accomplish such a thing. That power of God worked through disciples
not the curious, the somewhat committed, not the ignorant pew sitters, or the part time followers
but disciples. Passionately and totally committed, not only to their beliefs but to being like their rabbi
disciples in the Jewish way. For that is Gods way.
This study, and the one to follow, probes the Biblical stories of the disciples of Jesus and their disciples, in the historical and cultural settings in which they lived. For it was disciple that best describes their character and their mission. Jesus called the disciples as His Father had the prophets before him. And in the same unquestioning way the disciples followed and obeyed even to the ends of the earth.
The disciples of Jesus of today have the Scriptures
Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and Christian Testament (New Testament). It is sometimes easy to assume the early disciples simply had to hand out all or part of that Bible and the pagans could read for themselves and many would believe. That has happened often throughout history. But the community of Jesus expanded explosively before the New Testament was written as well as afterwards. These believers, not all of whom were Jewish, could use their Hebrew text, as John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, and Jesus himself had done, to present their message. Their lives became the gospel
the message of Jesus, grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures made alive by disciples who imitated Jesus. The relative ignorance or apathy concerning the Hebrew text coupled with the confidence that the New Testament is sufficient has led to a community of faith that has lost touch with its Biblical roots. Discipleship is part time and shallow
the natural state of anyone who becomes a member. And Scripture? Thats why we hire professionals. But that was not discipleship in the first century. They were people of the Hebrew text and the Christian Text as it was written. And their lives were the text of the good news of Messiah Jesus.