I love the book of Acts. That’s where my Bible reading plan has me right now. And my only regret is that it’s going by so fast, three chapters at a time.
But one good thing about reading Acts quickly is that I’m left with a clear picture of who is directing the course of events. Acts really is not so much about the apostles as it is the post-ascension acts of the Lord Jesus as he establishes his church. The Lord is the strategic planner of kingdom expansion and his apostles and people are moving in response to his providential ordering, usually running to catch up with him.
This morning I read the story of Peter and Cornelius. It is a moving description of the moment when Jesus first grafts the wild Gentile olive branch into the olive tree of ethnic Israel. That Roman centurion’s house in Caesarea was the epicenter of a quake that is still shaking the world.
Imagine yourself as Peter for a moment. All your life you have been taught, and 2,000 years of your ancestry has believed, that your ethnic people is unique among all the peoples of the world. Israel had been chosen to be the one true God’s own people, his very kingdom. All the other peoples were unclean. You were not to intermingle with them. You were not even to enter their houses.
Now Jesus, the promised Messiah that you and your people had waited so long for, had changed your understanding of a lot of things. The establishing of Israel as the eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace was going take longer than anyone thought. And what he meant by having “other sheep” and the gospel being preached to “all nations” was still unclear to you. But you understood your mission: preach the gospel and call the true Israel of faith out of the rebellious, stiff-necked ethnic Israel that had crucified its Messiah.
And then that strange experience on the housetop in Joppa: the sheet and unclean animals, your pledge to not defile yourself, and the Lord’s command not to call unclean what he had made clean. Then the knock on the door, the Spirit’s instruction to go without question, and before you know it you’re standing on the threshold of a Gentile home in Caesarea.
There you are, about to do what you had always understood the Scriptures to prohibit, not to mention your rabbis, your parents, and even your closest Christian friends. But Jesus had said, “What God has made clean do not call common.” So you take a deep breath and in you go.
Inside is a room full of Gentiles. “Do not consider them unclean,” you preach to yourself. Each of them is eager to hear your message. You only have one: the gospel of Jesus Christ, which you thought was for Jews. So you deliver it. And suddenly the Holy Spirit—the HOLY Spirit—falls on them just as he had on you at Pentecost. And once again your world is revolutionized.
That day a great quake began. And it has moved through Asia Minor, the Roman Empire, all of Europe, the Slavic nations, North, Central, and South Americas, the Pacific islands, and continues through Africa, China, South and East Asia, and is circling back again to the Middle East. All because Peter went to Cornelius’ house and preached the gospel.
The Lord Jesus is building his church today every bit as much as he was on that day in Caesarea. His mission of redeeming his Israel of faith is global in scope and multi-ethnic in composition. He is grafting persons from every people into his olive tree of Israel. It’s going to be a glorious tree!
And we aim to be part of this global mission. As I write, our Director of International Outreach, Bill Walsh, is in Egypt and will visit Zambia and South Africa. In April we are sending a team to China and the Philippines. We are researching the most effective ways to make our resources accessible, portable, transferrable, and affordable for pastors and leaders in areas where the church is growing and really needs teaching resources.
Preparing for more global spreading is why we are focusing this year on building capacity. The key capacity building component is larger and more economical space to expand our ability to spread a passion for God’s supremacy and to bless Christians all over the world. But we need to raise about $400,000 more to cover the costs to renovate the space and move in July. So we’re making our need known to our friends and ask that you prayerfully consider supporting this expansion of the ministry.
If you’re interested, John Piper gives a great explanation of the world-shaking event that took place in Cornelius’ home that day in his message, “What God has Cleansed Do Not Call Common.” It’s completely free for you to stream or download.
The story of Peter and Cornelius gives us great reason to hope. When we are tempted to be discouraged about church controversies, unreached peoples, the challenge of other truth claims, war, disease, and hostile governments, we need to put down the newspaper or close the internet browser, pick up the book of Acts and simply remember who is still directing the course of events.
For the joy of all peoples,