The Gospel to every Culture and Sub-Culture

Title: The Gospel to every Culture and Sub-Culture

Text: Acts 2:1-13

Time: February 8, 2008

We are still looking at The Book of Acts, chapter two, because there is so much happening in this chapter of the New Testament. Today I’d like to examine the missionary beginnings of the early Christian Church. What is missions? What is a missionary? A missionary is someone who takes the gospel and the teachings of the Bible to a different culture than one’s own. A foreign mission is one in which Christians take the gospel and Christianity into a different or foreign culture. Now that’s a little tricky because in involves translating the gospel into a different culture, speaking a different language, adapting to a different context and situation. It hard enough to share the gospel and Christianity with a person of the same culture and language, but to share the teachings of the Bible in a different culture is more difficult. How many of you have ever traveled to a foreign country? Did you find that it was difficult to communicate? Did you find that the customs and traditions and ways of life were hard to understand and learn? Well, it’s really hard to communicate something as complex as spiritual truth in a foreign culture, but that’s just what God was calling the disciples to do, and that’s also what God is calling the Christian church to do today. Remember the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20? “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. And surely I am with you always, to the very ends of the age.’” This is a mission to take the gospel and Christianity into all the world, into every different culture of the world, into every different language and people group. We are all called to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ, just some of us are sent to a different culture; these are called missionaries. Now what happens if a missionary goes to a foreign culture but doesn’t learn the foreign language, doesn’t learn the different ways of that foreign culture, but rather just starts preaching and teaching the gospel in English and in the same ways he would in the United States? Would that missionary accomplish much as a missionary? No. Why not? Because in order to communicate the gospel in a different culture the missionary must speak the language of that culture, not expect the people of that foreign culture to understand English. So in other words, the gospel and the teachings of Christianity must be translated into the language of the foreign culture or else nobody will understand it and nobody will get saved and become disciples of Jesus Christ. So what do we see happening on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2? We see God sending the disciples out to preach the gospel to different cultures and giving them the supernatural power to translate that gospel into the language and culture of many peoples. When the gospel is heard and understood by each culture in its own language, then people can convert to Christ and become disciples, which is the whole purpose of missions. If the gospel isn’t heard or understood in the language of each culture, then nobody can get saved and nobody can become disciples of Jesus Christ. So we see how important missions are, and also how important it is to get supernatural assistance from God in order to translate the gospel into the culture of every people group. Only when each people group hears and understands the gospel in its own language and culture, can it fully embrace Christianity. That’s what we see happening in Acts 2. Consider three things found in Acts 2:1-13 (read).

First, God empowers Christians to witness the Gospel. Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” There are some people who look at Acts 2 and think that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in order to give them a personal blessing and blow their minds with an experience with the Holy Spirit. These same people think that the main purpose of the Spirit’s filling is to give the Christian a thrilling experience, but that isn’t what the Bible says. Yes, these disciples experienced a powerful filling of the Holy Spirit, but it wasn’t for the purpose of blessing them or giving them an experience that they could brag about or get emotional over, it was for the purpose of witnessing the gospel. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Now that phrase “speak in tongues” literally means in the Greek language, “speak in languages.” They were literally given the ability by the power of the Holy Spirit to speak in other known languages for the purpose of witnessing the gospel. Now for most of us, the Holy Spirit will empower us to speak in English to witness the gospel in our own country to our own culture, but for missionaries, the Holy Spirit will empower them to witness the gospel in a foreign culture, in a foreign language. The miraculous thing in Acts 2 is that the disciples never learned these languages they were speaking; the Holy Spirit supernaturally gave them the ability to witness in a foreign language. It was and still is God’s intent to bring the gospel to every culture and every language in the world. God wants all people to understand and embrace the gospel, but that can’t happen unless these same people can hear the gospel in their own language. That’s why God’s sends missionaries. But we are all called to be witnesses to the gospel to our own culture, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our families, to people we live and work with, etc. Most of this witnessing will be done in English, in the dominant language of our culture here in the United States. Some Christians, however, will be called to translate the gospel into a foreign language and culture, and thus bring Christianity to people who otherwise wouldn’t receive it without the help of a missionary. Aren’t you glad that someone, somewhere, at some time, translated the gospel into English? That happened when missionaries were sent into England during the early days of the Christian church, probably before the 5th century. If the gospel had never been translated from the original Greek and Hebrew into Latin and then into English, the English speaking people could never have become Christian. So we see how important missionaries are in the plan of God to evangelize the world, because starting from Jesus and the Jewish apostles, the rest of the cultures of the world would need to be evangelized by missionaries who translated the Jewish teachings of Jesus and the apostles into all the different languages of the world. We must never rest content simply to know that the gospel is known in the English language. We must keep praying and supporting the missionaries who bring the gospel to all languages and all peoples of the world. And at the same time, we must keep witnessing the gospel in our own language.

Second, the gospel is translated into a different culture’s language. Acts 2:5-11, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.’” Now you have to understand the background of the situation here being described in the Book of Acts. Pilgrims had come to the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost; that’s not unusual. Jews often came to Jerusalem for religious festivals. Now you also have to understand that these Jews were Diaspora Jews, or in other words, Jews who lived in foreign nations, not Israel, who spoke foreign languages as well as Hebrew and Aramaic. These foreign Jews may or may not have been born in these foreign lands, and they may or may not have understood Hebrew very well, but they certainly understood the language of their foreign home because that was their primary language. For example, Jews who lived in Egypt probably understood Egyptian better than they did Hebrew. Other Jews may have lived in lands which spoke Greek, and knew Greek better than they knew Hebrew. So when the Jewish pilgrims heard the gospel in their own primary language it was then that they really heard it and understood it. It’s the same today. For example, there are millions and millions of Mexicans today living in the United States, many legally and many illegally. But whether legal or illegal, their primary language is Spanish. If you want to present the gospel to a Mexican the best language to do so is in Spanish. Why? Because that’s their primary language, that’s the language that they think in and speak fluently in, and process life in. They may know another language, such as English, but that isn’t their primary language, it isn’t their mother tongue. The gospel needs to be presented in a person’s primary language in order to have the maximum impact on a person’s life. That’s why we see God empowering the disciples to speak supernaturally in the primary language of the pilgrim Jews in Jerusalem. God wanted each person to hear the gospel in their own language to have the maximum impact in order that they might respond and be saved. “Each one heard them speaking in his own language.” Thank the Lord that you heard the gospel in your primary language; it probably had a lot to do with you repenting of your sins and believing. But there’s one more thing to consider.

Third, the gospel is understood and embraced or rejected. Acts 2:11-13, “’We are hearing them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some however made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” Now hearing the gospel in your own primary language is no guarantee of salvation. We see here that some of the people responded with skepticism. But hearing the gospel in one’s own primary language is the best possible way to receive salvation because it’s the best possible way of gaining a clear understand of all the truths necessary for salvation. Think about it. In order to understand the gospel you must be able to hear the gospel in your own language. The better you can hear the gospel in your own language, the better you can understand it. And the better you can understand it, the better you can make a decision for or against the gospel. The gospel can have its greatest impact in our primary language. Now here’s something else to consider that many people overlook: there are sub-cultures within larger culture’s. And there are sub-languages within larger languages. For example, here in the United States, there is a southern culture down South that has its own language and accent as well as its own culture. The gospel must be presented a little different down there than up here in the North. Or for example, out West in California, it’s a different culture out there then here. So we see that the gospel not only must be translated into the major language groups, but also in the sub-culture groups as well. There are sub-cultures here in Jamestown, believe it or not. For example, within our city there are Spanish speaking groups, and within these Spanish groups, there are sub-culture groups, such as Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Each of these groups needs to hear the gospel in its specific language and culture. Among Whites, there is the Youth culture of young people. There are educated Whites who have a bigger vocabulary, and there are working class Whites who have different lifestyles than other sub-cultures among whites. There are Italian Americans, there are Swedish Americans, there are German Americans, etc. Every group has a different language or culture and are different in many ways. Each sub-group must hear the gospel in its own cultural language. Now what does this say to us as a church in Jamestown? It means that we must understand that our city isn’t just one culture but many cultures and sub-cultures. As we pray and plan to reach our city with the gospel, we need to pray and plan to reach these different sub-cultures on their own terms using their own vocabulary. We need to think like missionaries instead of like business as usual. Whether we realize it or not, we are a missionary outpost, we are missionaries. Let us pray.

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