Oh, God had been trying to get across a message for a long, long time. It started in that thesis statement we find in Acts 1:8 – a Spirit-empowered people would see the kingdom expand beyond the border of Jerusalem and Judea, on to Samaria and to the Gentiles that were scattered even to the ends of the earth.
But they still weren’t getting it.
So God somehow providentially organises persecution to be the tool for sending them out into Samaria:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Yet, did you catch the detail? Others were scattered further abroad into Judea and then into off-limits Samaria. But the apostles stayed at home base.
Then, later on, we see how this persecution led to the gospel expanding to Gentiles:
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)
Are we sure the ‘Lord’s hand was with them’? I mean, they were stepping outside the boundaries of what has been the status quo amongst God’s people for centuries. This can’t be of God. We don’t approve.
And remember how one lead apostle, the one named Peter, was still struggling himself. I point him out knowing I can identify with Peter in so many situations. So, being the revealing God that He is, God sends a vision (a trance, Acts 10:10) to Peter to try and underline the point.
Peter is already staying at a tanner’s home. And I suppose that atmosphere was already uncomfortable. And now this vision, coming a whole 3 times, all to propel Peter into making known the good news of Christ and the kingdom to Gentiles.
Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.
You’re not getting it, Peter.
God’s response back.
Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.
And so Peter continues the pattern from of old, and it sets the tone for us to continue another couple of millenia. God has called his people to step out of the bounds of our own ideals and rules to make the good news known to the corners of the earth. But we must remind God that we don’t do such unholy and impure things.
We are good at setting the parameters on what can and cannot be done. With man, we set out what is and is not possible. But as God-in-the-flesh reminds us, with God all things are possible.
God keeps with the apostolic call to be sent out to the ends of the earth, to bring the good news into all of life, into all peoples. Yet we keep quoting Bible verses such as Acts 10:14 to keep us in our corners – Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.
And it’s not just with eating certain foods or reaching certain peoples. It has to do with all sorts of things that we claim as impure and unclean. We don’t do that, we don’t go there, we don’t listen to that, we don’t consider that. It’s all impure and unclean. Sorry, we don’t do that, God.
Whereas plenty of saints over the history of God’s people have redirected specific activities and pointed them back towards the good Creator, we find it hard to allow for such today. If you need examples, see how the feast of Christmas or Easter came about. To put Christ back in Christmas would have not been part of the original intention of that feast.
See how Luther took songs of old, songs from the pubs, and re-directed them in their words to bring glory to Christ. See how, though some preached the evils of television or drums or internet, others have seen them as vehicles to make Christ known in our global world today.
Sure, those are easy ones. Being removed from the peoples and cultures that were dealing with the intricate arguments of those days, it’s very easy to identify them as ok. But what about our situations today? How do we handle things coming to the forefront of our world, our global world:
- How do we actually interact and engage with those of other religions?
- Can exercises that find their origins in eastern philosophy and religion be re-directed in honour to Christ?
- Is it detrimental to our faith and Scripture to consider that evolution was the means by which God brought about the creative process?
- Aren’t some people just over-obsessing with ‘green issues’? They can’t be that important to a God who is going to make all things new anyways, right?
- Though Luther and the reformers brought some important points into the discussion surrounding justification, could it be that they didn’t get it all?
- Is the word inerrancy the only way by which we can understand the nature and authority of Scripture?
There are plenty of others to consider. Some are more important, more essential than others.
But our track record is that we continue to throw up caution like Peter – Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. At times, we end up with more restrictions than God himself. Yet it keeps us from actually living out and proclaiming the good news – that the kingdoms of this world are headed towards fully submitting to and honouring the true king and kingdom (Rev 11:15).
We must, I must, stop thinking like Peter. For we don’t ourselves to be the actual stumbling block for seeing God’s purpose worked out in this world. We don’t want to see the aroma of the good news of Jesus making its way into our world, into all peoples and cultures.
What if we responded by saying – Surely. Yes, Lord. Weve not been there yet. But we are ready to go.