Friday, June 22, 2012

The Gentile Controversy - Acts 11 - The Kingdom of God is Bigger than Us part 6

Acts 11:1-3 (ESV)
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

The very first Jesus People, called followers of "The Way", all came from a similar background. Before the persecution that initially spread the community over the regions surrounding Jerusalem, all of them were Jewish. The teachings and practices of Jesus himself were all rooted in the Jewish faith. The practice of their faith included strict obedience to the law of Moses, a set of rules and customs by which they would be set apart from the rest of the world, and identified as God's people. These customs taught them how to dress, what to eat, and who to marry. It also taught them to be loving, gracious, and generous. When other nations saw how they were different, those differences would identify them as God's people, Yahweh's people.

Even older than the law code was the very first symbol of covenant relationship with Yahweh, the circumcision practiced by Abraham and all who descended from him. By this clear, dramatic, unmistakable symbol, the people of Yahweh marked their bodies in a way that would clearly show their lives were given to serve Yahweh. In the great diversity among the Jewish Jesus People there were some disagreements as to exactly how to practice the Law code. These differences were transcended. But to welcome people who had never even entered the covenant, never even been circumcised, never even considered the Law of Moses, would have been unthinkable. Before this time, it was even against the covenant law to eat with such people.

But God had chosen to include even the most unimaginable of outsiders. The good news of the Kingdom of God had been offered to the Gentiles. Peter had been witness to the manifest Holy Spirit in a Gentile household (Acts 10). After telling them about Jesus, they heard and believed, and were filled with the Spirit. They had not been circumcised. They had not agreed to follow a law code of any kind. They had not even been baptized. By simply hearing and believing the gospel, Peter had witnessed their transformation into free Kingdom Citizens.

Acts 11:17-18 (ESV)
17 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?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

This step of faith on the part of the early believers, to surrender to God's authority that none should be excluded from God's Kingdom, was unspeakably generous. Sight unseen, they praised God for their new brothers and sisters.

No nation on earth (of which I am aware) will welcome any immigrant to settle without a series of application papers and background checks. Some require an applicant to learn the nation's language. Others expect an applicant to learn the laws and history of the country. Others will not accept someone who is disabled or impoverished.

But the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven are wide open. No one guards the entrance. In fact, it's citizens are commissioned to go and invite anyone to come and join the party. While the powers of the nations of the earth may be concerned about new citizens taking advantage of the nation's wealth, education, or healthcare, the Kingdom of God has healing and provision enough for all. The powers of the nations of the earth make war with nations they deem "terrorists". The Kingdom of God is open to enemies, criminals, and murderers. One such murderer, Saul, had actively hunted and arrested members of Kingdom communities. Once welcomed into the community, he wrote much of the community' first scripture, and he did so from jail.

Acts 11:25-26 (ESV)
25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

Once the doors had been opened, the new believers began preaching the gospel widely among all communities. The News of the Upside Down Kingdom was widely received by many people from many backgrounds. Barnabas, called "the Encourager", traveled and taught the new young Kingdom Citizens. He recognized quickly the need for an intentional traveling ministry to reach and teach all these people with no previous understanding whatsoever. It was an exciting time, but surely a challenging one as well.

Barnabas saw in Saul, the old enemy of the communities, a man with the willingness to tech out and even travel to live out his convictions. Saul was also privileged to be a legal citizen of Rome as well. Barnabas probably thought this most unlikely of converts would be pleased to share the good news to the most unlikely of people.

He was right.

So Barnabas the Encourager and Saul the Most Unlikely Christian became partners. This duo would seek out and share with the broadest and most unreached of nations the new Kingdom Citizens had ever seen.


Prophesy and Distribution of Wealth (vv27-30)

Here we see the first example of prophesy in the early church after Jesus. The prophesy given is a warning foretelling the future. In response, the early Christians prepare for the prophesied famine by sending financial aide to less fortunate communities through the travelers Saul and Barnabas to distribute.

This incidence of famine foretold and eased by the faith and obedience of God's people reminds us of Joseph in Egypt. Through Joseph's foreknowledge and wisdom, God rescued Egypt and the surrounding nations from a severe famine. In Genesis, this story illustrated the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. He told Abraham that he would bless all nations of the world through his descendants. Here in Acts, we see the promise fulfilled again, as all nations receive the blessing of the Communities of Jesus, descendant of Abraham.

vv1-18 – see previous chapter
v18 – No further objections, and they praised God. Hallelujah!
v21 – The diaspora also sends the gospel to the Gentiles.
v26 – First instance of being called Christians
v29 – More generosity.
(Click here to read Acts 11)

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