NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If we are going to fulfill the challenge given to us by the resurrected Lord, we must commit to reaching Judea. This is not an option but a mandate. It is a mandate given to the local church. Thus, it is essential that each church think seriously about its strategy to reach Judea. You are probably beginning to suspect that you will need partners for such an ambitious goal. You are correct!
The word Judea means “Jewish.” In Ezra 5:8 we find the province of Judah mentioned. The province varied in size according to changing political circumstances, but it always included Jerusalem and the surrounding territory. The province of Judah was given the name Judea after the Babylonian exile. Judea extends from the Mediterranean Sea on the west to the Dead Sea on the east, with its northern boundary at Joppa and its southern boundary just south of Gaza.
A simple glance at a concordance will indicate that the first New Testament mention of Judea is found in Matthew 2:1: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea … John the Baptist began his ministry in Judea. In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the Wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1). Further, we know that Jesus performed many miracles in Judea and taught large crowds of people (Mark 3:7-12). With this great heritage, the early church must have been surprised to find such resistance and often outright hostility to the Gospel in Judea, but such was the case.
THE ANTIOCH MODEL
Perhaps if there is a model church to demonstrate how a church can impact Judea, it would be the church at Antioch. If you read the full account in Acts 11:19-30 and 13:1-3, you will see several unique characteristics of this unique church that was willing to look beyond its own confines and spread the Gospel throughout Judea.
They understood the foundational role of prayer and praise. In chapter 13, Luke tells us that while they were ministering to the Lord, the Holy Spirit gave them a strategy to reach beyond themselves. The word translated “ministering” comes from a Greek word “leitergeo” from which we get our word “liturgy.” We cannot underestimate the importance or power of worship. God inhabits the praise of His people. Notice that their corporate worship flowed from their private worship and their commitment to prayer. We are twice told that they were praying and fasting. If we are going to see a great moving of the Spirit in our day, it will be the direct result of intentional, specific and powerful praying. It is prayer that opens the door for the Gospel and waters the seed of evangelism.
They had confidence in the supernatural power of God. There are several curious phrases in this account of the church. We are told that the Lord’s hand was with them (Acts 11:21). I find it both interesting and informative that in that same verse we are told that a large number turned to the Lord. Maybe our lack of results in terms of evangelism can be traced to our lack of confidence that God can and will change the hearts of sinners. Have you ever found yourself thinking that some people are just “too hard” for God, or some tasks “too big” for your church? Such thinking is based on our dependence on natural ability and not on supernatural empowering. The church today often plans and acts based on that which they know they can accomplish in their own strength. We must have supernatural empowering.
A second curious phrase is found in verse 23. When Barnabas arrived, he saw the grace of God. In other words, he saw something for which there was no explanation that would suffice other than the very activity of God. In this instance, I believe Barnabas witnessed the demolition of a barrier that exceeds any barrier our church can experience today. He saw Jews and Gentiles sharing fellowship together. It takes supernatural activity for us to reach people who may be from a different culture, religious background or socio-economic class, and that is precisely what we have available to us.
They had courageous leaders. When we read Acts 13, we are impressed by the number and diversity of the leaders who are named as belonging to the church in Antioch. Further, we are amazed by their courage. When the Holy Spirit instructed them to send Paul and Barnabas on a church planting mission, they did not cower nor sidestep. It takes courageous leaders to encourage the church to reach Judea.
They had evangelistic passion. Don’t forget that this church was established by believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem by persecution. Yet, we are told that they began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the Good News about the Lord Jesus (11:20). On several occasions we are told that “large numbers” were turning to the Lord. They weren’t simply evangelistic in the beginning; they were consistently sharing the Gospel.
They had vision. Every time I read this account, I am taken by the boldness of this church. This church had the audacity to believe that it could be missional. They sent Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey.
They had a generous spirit and a cooperative mindset. We find that some prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch with the news of an impending famine. The response was immediate and generous. Each disciple gave according to their ability that they might send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea (11:30). We will fail to reach Judea if we do not cooperate with likeminded partners in this task that demands we reach beyond our Jerusalem. Truly great churches have learned the value of cooperative ministry.
If we are to understand what the “Judea task” means for our church today, we must again ask and answer four key questions. We are suggesting that each church establish a Judea Task Force to think strategically about reaching Judea by cooperating with your Judea partners. (You can download the explanation of the EKG Celebration and Challenge event and the necessary task forces to fulfill the Acts 1:8 challenge by going to our website at www.ActsOne8.com.)
UNDERSTANDING YOUR TASK
Who is our Judea? This is more than a mere demographic question. What do you know about your state and its unique needs? If you don’t know who lives there and how to relate to their needs, you will be largely ineffective in reaching them. You should seek to understand the ethnic, racial and socio-economic makeup of your state. Understanding special needs can help you to determine the sort of ministries that might be a helpful forum for a salt and light ministry. Are there those who are hearing impaired? What about poverty? What are the needs of those who live in the inner city? You can add other questions.
Who are our Judea partners? If we are going to make an impact on Judea, we must form partnerships with likeminded believers. No single church can have the impact that churches that cooperate with one another can have. One of the unique aspects of Southern Baptist structure is that we are organized into state conventions. This organizational structure gives us an appropriate platform for reaching Judea. What do you know about your state convention and the ministries that provide the springboard for local churches to fulfill the task of reaching Judea? Can you imagine what we could do together if we didn’t care who got the credit for it?
What are we doing now to reach Judea? I would suggest that you contact your state office and ask them to visit with your Judea Task Force to talk about ministries that are cooperative efforts to reach Judea. Our state structure and ministries grew out of the desire to cooperate to reach our Judea. I promise you that if you ask someone from your state to tell you about Judea opportunities they will be delighted to come to your church. Every church should not only give to support cooperative ministries in their Judea, but they should send mission teams to partner in mission initiatives to reach Judea.
What remains to be done? This is the question that demands dialogue between the local church and the missionaries at the state level. Changing circumstances demand new initiatives. I think you will find your partners at the state level willing and eager to work with you in reaching Judea. Remember, the Acts 1:8 challenge was given to the church. The state convention was created by local churches to assist them in fulfilling the task of reaching Judea.
I am convinced we have the structure and the resources to accomplish the task of reaching our Judea with the Gospel. Remember, it is all about His Kingdom, not ours.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis. EKG is strategically linked with another SBC emphasis, The Acts 1:8 Challenge. Your church might consider maximizing these emphases by offering the study “EKG: The Heartbeat of God,” followed by the study “The Acts 1:8 Challenge: Empowering the Church to Be On Mission.” Both are available at any LifeWay Christian Store, online at www.lifeway.com, or through the catalog store at 1-800-448-8032.