Tom Brokaw retired last week after 20+ years anchoring the Nightly News on NBC television. In the last several years, Mr. Brokaw received considerable acclaim as an author and historian of the World War II era. He is responsible for the phrase "the greatest generation" being applied to the young men who grew up during the hard times of the Great Depression in the 1930s, then went on to fight the battles of Europe, North Africa and the Pacific during World War II. The youngest of those valiant warriors are now nearing 80 and great numbers of them are rapidly passing on into eternity. It is fitting that they be honored for their accomplishments and no one would have cause to doubt that Brokawís phrase aptly describes one of the greatest generations in history.
New Testament Christians, though, might have a slightly different perspective on who makes up the greatest generation. If we look back to the events of the first century, we see outlined in the New Testament a sequence of events which has never been repeated. Just before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus met with eleven chosen men (Judas having been lost to his sinful betrayal of Christ) and charged those men with the awesome responsibility to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). The eleven didnít do the job all by themselves. They taught others who, in turn, taught others (2 Timothy 2:2). Faithful men teach others and those who hear and obey the gospel form another link in the chain as they share what they have learned with others.
Paul wrote to the Colossians from his prison about a third of a century after Jesus gave the Great Commission. During that 30-35 year period, tremendous progress had been made in evangelizing the world. He said in Colossians 1:23 that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven. Taken at face value, that statement indicates that the mission Jesus gave the apostles was accomplished. They had gone out and preached the gospel!
Believers were scattered from Jerusalem due to persecution and they went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Philip went to Samaria where he worked miracles and taught the gospel. Later, he met an Ethiopian along a desert road and preached Jesus to him, then baptized him (Acts 8). Others went to Antioch and a great church was established there (Acts 11, 12). From that church, Barnabas and Saul were sent out on the first missionary journey. They went to the island of Cyprus then preached in cities in central Asia Minor (Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe) (Acts 13, 14). A short time later, Paul and Silas answered the "Macedonian call" and took the gospel into Europe. Lydia and the Philippian jailer were converted in Philippi (Acts 16). They went on to Thessalonica where they were recognized as men who had turned the world upside down. In nearby Berea, fair-minded people listened to gospel preaching and searched the Scriptures to see if it were true. Many believed (Acts 17). Paul went on to Corinth where many heard, believed, and were baptized (Acts 18).
Paul was a great missionary who committed his life to spreading the good news of Christ. But he was not alone. Acts is commonly called Acts of the Apostles, but in reality it records only some of the acts of some of the apostles. Most of the apostles are not mentioned in the Bible after their names are listed in Acts 1:13. The Holy Spirit didnít see fit to inspire Bible writers to tell us about their work. But their deeds are known in heaven and the Lord must have been pleased with what they accomplished. Surely theirs was one of the greatest generations in Bible history. Let us follow their fine example!