In obedience to the Great Commission (Mark 16:15), the book of Acts describes how the apostles and other believers spread the gospel in every way possible to as many people as possible. Initially, their efforts were met with success and favor among the masses (Acts 2:47). It was “easy” to obey the Commission. But even later hostility could not deter them from the Lord’s command. When they became targets of persecution, though their persecutors may have closed the doors of the believers’ meeting places, they could not close their mouths. “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4, KJV). From Peter’s opening sermon (ch 2) to the closing verse noting Paul’s preaching (28:31), the book of Acts is an inspiring historical record, as well as a manual for us to follow, both instructing and impelling us to spread the good news by all means necessary.
The early believers preached to audiences of various sizes. Obviously, the crowds listening to Peter preach numbered in the thousands (2:41; 4:4). There were many occasions when the numbers were probably fewer than 100 (e.g. the gospel efforts in synagogues, preaching in homes like that of Cornelius, etc.). But we see the Lord’s care for individual souls in the story of Philip whose audience was one man from Ethiopia (8:26ff). Most of us will never preach to audiences in the thousands or even the hundreds, but we can all do what Philip did and be faithful to preach the good news to one soul at a time.
The audiences varied not only in size, but in age, as entire households heard God’s Word. The message was preached to the Jew and the Gentile, the poor and the wealthy, the God-fearer and the heathen, the healthy and the sick, servants and kings, citizens and refugees. No soul was overlooked as one who did not need to hear the good news about God’s Son. Let this model be an encouragement to us in outreaches to children, poor districts, rest homes, hospitals, local shelters, and every place where there is an audience, however large or small, in need of God’s good news.
These passionate first-century believers not only spread the message to everyone, but went everywhere. The first evangelistic location was the temple precincts, but the opportunity to preach there was short-lived. Afterward, we find Paul and others witnessing regularly in Jewish synagogues. Local homes were used to share the good news (ch 10; 16:34), the gospel was preached from outside a prison cell (16:30-31), alongside a river bank (16:13-14), and even inside a royal chariot (8:31ff). We do not find them in places where their moral character would be compromised, but we do find them every place where sinners stood in need of Christ, the One who transforms moral character.
Perhaps much of our gospel activity focuses on bringing people in to hear the message. It is admittedly a blessing to be able to preach in a nice facility and would indeed be strange not to preach the gospel in a building called a gospel hall. Yet, we should take lessons from these early believers and imitate their example of going out. The Great Commission is not so much about bringing people in, but getting the good news out.
At times, gospel preaching in Acts was planned. Synagogue services were held on the Sabbath, which meant a large number of Jews would be present. Therefore, it is likely that Paul and others intentionally planned to be there on the Sabbath to personally point these Jews to their Messiah.
Often, gospel preaching occurred spontaneously. Peter began preaching at the temple (Acts 3) as he noticed large crowds gathering to see the lame man who had been healed. Paul preached to Lydia and the other women as he noticed the group gathered there along the riverside (Acts 16). During one particular synagogue service, Paul was given a rare opportunity by the rulers to address the entire audience (13:15).
Still other occasions were supernaturally directed. God brought Peter and Cornelius together (ch 10) by the use of visions, and He brought Philip and the Ethiopian together (ch 8) by directing Philip from Samaria to the middle of a desert road.
Whether our preaching is planned, and plenty of preparation has been made, or whether it is spontaneous because an unexpected opportunity arises, or whether it is God-directed because that person has so obviously been brought along our path, we can rejoice for any opportunity to point lost souls to our mighty Savior.
There was hardly a method not attempted in the book of Acts to reach souls. At least 17 different Greek words are used to describe how the gospel message was communicated. The believers preached (Gk, kerusso), crying out as a town herald would cry out to give an urgent, important message. The believers evangelized (Gk, euaggelizo), which simply means they announced good news. They also taught (Gk, didasko), communicating the truth of God to open hearts. They dialogued (Gk, dialegomai), engaging in open conversation with needy souls. They witnessed (Gk, daimarturomai), sharing what God had done in their own lives as well as what God could do in the lives of their listeners. We have Paul’s example of witnessing in the form of describing his conversion on two separate occasions (ch 22, 26). Additionally, some believers sang (like Paul and Silas), communicating truth from God’s Word in the Psalms. Others simply talked (Gk, laleo), telling everyone who would listen the glorious message of salvation through Christ.
These old methods are tried and true, for God used them all. We can confidently herald the message in tents, halls, rented buildings, and in the open air, and even sing God’s truth to those who will hear it. We can announce the good news to everyone we meet. We can dialogue with the neighbor, the co-worker, or the friend sitting next to us in class. We can tell anyone our personal story of how God saved us.
By all means necessary, these first-century believers got the message out. What a blessing it would be should twenty-first century believers follow in their steps.