Surprises. Some people love them. And some people hate them. For me, I’m always a sucker for a good surprise. I don’t like the predictable, the routine, for very long. I enjoy change. Not all of it feels good at the time, but it’s one of the ways that God is shaping my character. James says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials…” Trials, suffering, difficult circumstances all bring about change of some sort. A greater orientation towards God, or a running further from Him. Growing in the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control), or becoming more mired, sinking deeper in bitterness and despair. The church in Jerusalem was at one of these critical junctures.
In Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius both receive visions; Peter’s opens him up to the prospect of going to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion (aka Gentile). Cornelius’ vision instructs him to send for Peter to hear the gospel. Peter makes the trek, Cornelius and his house are converted and there is great rejoicing. But then Peter comes back home. The believers in Jerusalem are not only surprised that Peter went to visit Cornelius, they are also shocked and a little perplexed (bordering on anger). What was Peter thinking? But Peter explains how the Holy Spirit had come upon this group of Gentile believers the same as it had come upon them. Who was Peter to stand in the way of God’s work? At that point, the Jerusalem church rejoices (albeit a bit tentatively) that God has brought salvation to the Gentiles.
Why were the Jewish Christians surprised? Should they have been? They didn’t have to be. From the beginning of the Jewish nation, with Abraham, God had promised that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Moses tells the Israelites coming out of Egypt that they are a kingdom of priests – the same imagery that Peter uses of the church in his first letter. The intent was always salvation/blessing for the world, for all the nations, through the one. Israel was to be a lighthouse. But something went horribly wrong.
God had commanded the Israelites to separate themselves from the evil practices of the nations, to bring judgment on those who had multiplied wickedness in the land. Israel was not to learn their ways. But she was to represent God to the nations. In Ezekiel, God reminds the remnant that God chose them not because they were worthy of being chosen – they weren’t the best or the brightest or the most attractive or the most righteous – He chose them because He chose them. He loved them because of who He is, not because of who they were or what they had done (sound familiar – He is incredible!). But they forgot and supposed that they were worthy of being chosen and that they had exclusive rights to God’s love. And so, instead of being a kingdom of priests, a lighthouse to the nations, of reflecting God’s amazing love for all mankind, they became an impenetrable fortress; and they despised the outsiders.
In Luke, Jesus begins to challenge the disciples view of who God loves and who Jesus came to save. This section in Acts continues that instruction. And God wants this fledgling church to accomplish what Israel was unwilling to do. He wants them to go out and share the message of God’s incredible, all-consuming love with a lost and broken world. In sharp contrast, the story of Bar-Jesus presents an interesting parallel and commentary on the Jewish nation at this point – opposing the apostles who are going out to reach the Gentiles, being blinded and fighting against God.
So what about you? Are you surprised by the breadth and depth God’s amazing love? Are you blown away by His desire to save even those who you may despise? What are you going to do about it?
Until next time…stay salty.