My journey through the text of scriptures now has me in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Somehow expanding on the title beyond simply Acts, lends a more full expression of what goes on in this amazing book. The book itself sets in stark contrast to the institutional church of today, a church that is terribly divided as to its interpretation of scriptures.
It seems ironic that those most insistent upon the literal interpretation of the Bible often have the least evidence outside their walls, of the powerful marketplace acts once demonstrated by the Early Church. Yet, the thought that Jesus is “the same, yesterday and forever” is insisted upon by the same. That rigid approach, an unconscious attempt to box the Sovereign Lord into our religious doctrine, may be our error.
All that said, my focus this morning is on a single verse tucked away in Acts 11:18. This newly formed core of Jesus following, still practicing Jews have come to realize for the second time, that they no longer have a corner on God. This first dawned upon them when Jesus stepped into their space, and challenged much of the Temple Law with this new doctrine of grace. In fact, He insisted that He would become the sacrifice once and for all, eliminating the need for intercession by a High Priest between God and man. That basically undermined the “industry” of the Temple.
That would seem to have relieved the lives of the Apostles considerably, though it placed them in quite an awkward moment post resurrection. They still had strong connections with the synagogues and the synagogues with the politicians of the then powerful Roman government.
However, the outpouring of Pentecost had convincingly sealed this new concept of an independent relationship with God apart from the priesthood; yet, they were then, even more so convinced of their identity as the only “called out ones.” You would have thought that more than a few would have heard the subtle nuances of Jesus, as He often alluded to “sheep that they knew not of.”
Now just as they are getting their bearings on this new found relationship with God, an angel appears to a Gentile named Cornelius. This centurion, an unlikely candidate for the Early Church, sends his servants to find Peter. When this former fisherman and now practicing Jewish Pentecostal arrives in Caesarea, the Holy Spirit reenacts the same experience among the Gentiles as He had in the Upper Room. Verse Eighteen is the “duh” moment when revelation breaks forth. “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”’ (Acts 11:18, NIV).
Perhaps we are in a similar moment, as God again reaches beyond the boundaries of both Judaism and institutional Christianity, with amazing stirrings among the third monotheist religion of Islam. Isa, the al-Masih, is alive and well, though this new movement is for sure inciting fear and rage among those most insistent upon their own preconceived boundaries.
It seems that the God whose will is that “none should perish” is once again on the move globally. Muslims around the world are coming to Christ through amazingly similar angelic appearances quite similar to Cornelius.
You don’t want to miss this! Meanwhile our own nation, once known as Christian, is “on the mat” as God sovereignly wrestles with our denial of racism, a sin too long accommodated by the American Church.