June 9, 2016: Day 11 – Acts 11June 9, 2016
You never know how you are going to react in a crisis until a crisis comes upon you. We received a phone call this morning at 6am from our eldest, Rachel, who said she had fainted and was feeling terrible and was worried. We told her to call 911 and we rushed down to the emergency room in Springfield, PA. She was fine, there is a little history with her and fainting which is a genetic trait she acquired from her mother, Stacy. But as you can imagine the fear and uncertainty were pretty palpable as we made our way to see her.
The Apostles lived daily lives of fear and trepidation wondering who just might turn them into the authorities. It reminds me so much of Soviet, and even now post-Soviet Russia with Putin in power. You never knew if you had a bad day with your neighbor if he would call the secret police, make up a story, and they would ship you off to Siberia. There is still today a fear within the Russian culture of your neighbor. The feeling is that you have to be careful not to share too much with them out of fear that maybe, just maybe, they would use that against you. The early Apostles were especially fearful of the Romans because they were the ones who could, and did, set you up for a death sentence.
So when the word got out that Peter had welcomed gentiles, or Roman citizens, into their family of believers, it was not welcomed with open arms in the church. They ask Peter in vs. 3: “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” There was real danger in getting too close to these people. But Peter explains in detail the dream that he had and how God had spoken to him and how God has now opened up the kingdom of God to all people from all nationalities. He says to those who asked him: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” Those who questioned Peter were silenced, in fact they rejoiced that the family was now a broader family than ever before.
I think all of us would rejoice that God has cast the net wide and that we are all welcomed into the family of believers. Now is that the same in regards to our nation? Why do we want to make the net smaller so that only a limited number of people might come into our country? In every country where I have traveled people want to come to our country, and most even want to stay here permanently. I think it is an incredibly interesting conflicting reality that we live in as believers and Americans. I hope and I pray that we want God to cast the net over everyone so that all would be covered by His grace. What is our thinking as Christians, put aside your nationality and your patriotism, but what is our thinking as believers in Jesus Christ when we want to limit those who might be our neighbors, literally?
Moving on, this chapter remains consistent and speaks about even more gentiles coming into the fold. This chapter speaks very directly as to the cause of why the Good News proliferates as it does. If you look at vs.19 the martyrdom of Stephen is lifted up as the cause for the Gospel having spread across the known globe. When Barnabas came to check out the incredible growth in the church he celebrated because he recognized that the numbers were mind boggling and the vast majority of those coming to Jesus were very different from Barnabas and the Apostles. They were uncircumcised gentiles. It is at this point that believers are called Christians for the first time. Look at vs.26 and we see the first mention of this word in all of Scripture. Pretty neat to be able to point to one time and place in history and say that the word Christian was first used in the first century in Antioch as the people described the belief system of those like Saul and Barnabas.
We find in vs. 27 the first charity mission that the believers were involved in on a denominational wide basis. I know, there weren’t denominations back then, but here we see all of the churches banding together to help the poor and the starving in Judea. Barnabas and Saul were the disaster assistance heads of the church at that time. I wonder if they saved some of the money for a rainy day fund when things might be needed a little later on. I’m guessing that they did since it is very common practice in relief work to not spend more than is needed at the time and save for later what might be needed for later. I love how Saul jumps right in there and is being used extensively by the Apostles for all kinds of work.
As I listen to the verbiage of some of our elected officials especially the “evangelicals” I wonder what happened to spreading a wide net. We have learned that the flocks who started following the apostles sold their land and used there wealth to help the poor and the helpless. This continues through the church family but is it true of our general population and our politics? I worked extensively with the Hispanic populations of Reading and Lebanon and found them to majority catholic who lived and shared their home with up to 5 generations in one home sharing everything they have which often was very little. To me this is following the teachings of the first church.Very rarely was an elderly person in a nursing home they were taken care of by the generation that they raised.