If there is a theme from Acts 8-11, it is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ spreading beyond Jerusalem to Samaria and the outer parts of the world. We see Philip proclaim Christ in Samaria in Acts 8, the conversion of Saul in Acts 9, and then the conversion of Cornelius and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles in Acts 10. In each instance, the Lord moved upon the most unlikely people.
As we have studied this portion of Scripture, we have looked at the racial tensions and stereotypes that the early Christians, most of whom were Jewish, had to overcome in order to be faithful to the divine leading of the Spirit of God.
Yes, Jesus had told them in His final words to the disciples that they would be required to carry the gospel into strange lands (Acts 1:8), but sometimes hearing and doing are animals of a different kind.
Yet, without fail, we see one person after another drop all of their life-long held beliefs in order to follow the clear, direct voice of the Lord. We witnessed Saul immediately leave his calling/mission as persecutor of the Church and convert to Christianity himself and begin proclaiming Christ. We witnessed Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, an officer of the Roman Army seek and then believe the Lord Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Imagine the talk this must have created among his fellow officers! Believing in another god is not a problem in pagan Roman culture, but believing in a Jewish mystic who was crucified for His crazy beliefs? That’s different.
Finally, we see the testimony of Peter. When word reached his fellow apostles in Jerusalem that Peter had violated the law and entered the home of a Gentile, there was concern. Acts 11 tells us Peter was immediately confronted with this sin. Yet, without fear or hesitation, Peter recalls for his brothers his experience in Joppa with the dream, and the Lord’s clear command that he must not consider unclean which the Lord has made clean. He tells of his encounter with Cornelius and his household, and the most amazing fact–the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles just as He had fallen on the Jews at Pentecost. Peter even witnessed the Gentiles speaking in tongues as a clear sign of the Spirit’s filling.
Then, without hesitation, Peter declares, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)
I love Peter’s bold proclamation of God’s complete sovereignty in his life and his complete trust. And Peter’s brothers in Christ? They, too, were just as quick to embrace this new outreach within the church.
As I’ve thought and meditated on this Scripture this week, I’ve had to ask myself how my church, First Family Church, would respond if confronted by a similar paradigm shift. Living in Ankeny, Iowa, we can hardly claim to be the melting pot of Iowa. In fact, a “minority” in Ankeny is probably a family who’s second grader doesn’t play some kind of sport starting in April.
And while we are not exposed to a large minority population in Ankeny, it’s also my impression that most Ankenyites have few racial or ethnic prejudices. I may be wrong, but I don’t really see it.
As I examine my own heart, however, there probably is an area where I struggle, and it is one that I can see many of my fellow Ankenyites struggling with, and that is a compassion for the poor. Many who live in Ankeny are very proud of the nice community we have, and the well-kept homes that line the streets of our town. Yet, as with many communities, we have some who struggle to maintain their homes, or who simply have no resources to care for their homes. We see their unkept yards and their sagging roofs and the piles of junk sitting in their garage, and we feel a sense of anger. I know I do. In fact, more than once, I’ve found myself quietly praying, Lord, can’t you move this family away from here so we don’t have to put up with their trashy home.
If you are like me, it’s easy to overlook the less fortunate in our community. Our church sits across the street from a row of apartment buildings that extends for more than a city block. There are close to a dozen apartment buildings, and based on exterior appearances, my guess is these are not high rent apartments. What are we doing to reach these apartments for Christ? How would we respond if the Lord started to open the doors to these apartments and we had to minister to a wide assortment of hurting people who openly display the scars of a hard life? They don’t fit the picture of a model Ankeny family, but this is the neighborhood where God has placed us.
If God opens the doors of your home to your neighbors, who are we to stand in God’s way?