An Invitation for All

Today’s reading:  Acts 11

My son Freddy is in seventh grade. His school was planning a dodgeball tournament for charity a couple of weeks ago.  All the junior high students were invited to participate by forming a team and donating a small sum of money.  Sounds fun, right?  What junior high boy wouldn’t love a contest that involves hurling rubber balls at your classmates for two hours?

Well, Freddy came home from school the afternoon before the tournament upset.  His friends were forming a team.  They didn’t want to mess up their team’s chances of winning, thus they told him he couldn’t be on it because he wasn’t athletic enough.  He didn’t have what it took to be “part of the group”.  His heart hurt.  So did mine.

With two pre-teen kids at home, feeling left out or not good enough to be “part of the group” is an emotion we routinely encounter these days.  As a result, the beginning part of Acts 11 resonated with me.  The chapter started with Peter being criticized by other Jews because he had been ministering to the Gentiles.  He was leading them to faith in Jesus Christ and welcoming them as “part of the group”.  While these Jews embraced God’s new covenant and salvation through faith in Jesus, they were having trouble understanding that salvation was available to anyone who believed and put their faith in Jesus.  It wasn’t just for the Jews.  After reading the entire Old Testament in 2016, can you see why the Jews felt this way?  I sure can.  For 39 books of the Old Testament we studied their long, difficult journey.  They had been God’s chosen people for generations.  Now that they had a new covenant and a new start, they didn’t want to mess it up by letting the wrong people “in the group”.

The Holy Spirit’s message through Peter helped these Jews see God’s bigger plan in Acts 11.  Jesus’ message of salvation is inclusive rather than exclusive – it is available to ANYONE who believes and puts their faith in him.  This was great news for the Gentiles.  It is great news for us today.  But have you ever wondered why God had a chosen race in the first place?  The Jews weren’t exactly model believers.  Remember?  The Old Testament storyline was consistent – God’s people turned away from him, bad things happened, they came crawling back, asked for forgiveness and God restored their relationship.  This happened over and over and over again.  Do you think God just changed his mind?  Perhaps he got tired of this cycle with the Jews and decided to branch out?  Maybe he thought extending the invitation to more people would breed a better result?  My study of Acts 11 this week led me to a variety of Old Testament passages that revealed the truth.  A truth that is consistent with the unchanging nature of God.  He didn’t change his mind, rather his plan of salvation for ALL was the same from the beginning of time.  He just had to have a starting place.  He started with the Jews, then charged them with taking his message to everyone else.  The book of Acts is the account of this transition from a select chosen few to everyone.

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you (Zechariah 2:11).

Aren’t you glad this was the plan?  I generally don’t like to be left out, especially of a group where the stakes are this high.  The choice of whether we’re in this group is totally ours.  One road leads to life, the other leads to death.  It is a weighty decision.  I suggest we choose wisely.