Welcome to day 35! We are currently reading and blogging about the New Testament, every day this summer. You can check out my previous posts, and even get a reading schedule, by clicking here. Thanks for join me today.
Today’s reading takes us from Acts 10 through Acts 12.
It’s no surprise that Luke finally takes the gospel to a full-blown Gentile. We’ve been patiently waiting for this moment since the first chapter. But Luke makes the journey interesting for us, showing us the silliness of our own debates. And he does this by walking us on a path.
First, the spirit of God took the gospel to the Samaritans, whom Jewish people traditionally despised. Even though ancient Samaritans had a considerable claim to the Jewish faith, the Jews didn’t buy those claims. (The Samaritan woman in the gospel of John even knew of the anticipated Messiah.)
From there, the gospel was given to the Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who was sexually mutilated. And while he was a follower of the Hebrew faith, he was still seen as being less than a man. And he was alone.
These, then, were the two conversion stores which lead us to Peter, who was staying in the port city of Joppa.
The City of Profound Decisions
At the end of Acts 9, Peter healed two people in Joppa, which, historically, was incredibly famous for being a port city, used even by King Solomon. In this city, then, Peter stayed with a man Luke calls “Simon the Tanner.”
Simon the tanner has an interest in this story, though. Because of his profession, Simon is constantly in situations that would make him “unclean” by Jewish purity standards.
Peter is on the edge here. Luke wants us to recognize that Peter knew his beliefs were about to undergo a serious reconsideration. For Peter, a devout Hebrew, to willingly stay at a home that would also, by default, make him unclean, is astounding.
But back to Joppa for a moment. Joppa was the very city where Jonah sought refuge from God’s call for him to preach to Nineveh. Twice in God’s sweeping plan of salvation, the coastal city of Joppa is indeed a city of profound decisions.
It was where Jonah decided to catch a boat to sail away from his calling.
And it was where Peter decided to go toward his calling.
But neither were sure of what it was, exactly, that God was calling them to do, because they both were called to ethnically despised people. This little port city was part of two journeys that took God’s servants to groups of people who would have never been considered for inclusion into any plan designed by God.
Peter was greatly criticized for listening to this call. The leaders in the Jerusalem church wondered how he could endanger his identity and status by entering into the home of a Gentile — and eating with him.
And while this debate is happening, Luke decides to introduce us to the city of Antioch, the third largest city in Rome.
It was a metropolis, much bigger than the ethical and ethnical town of Jerusalem. Antioch could be described probably as an “open system,” culturally acceptable to various beliefs and people. Jerusalem was very much a “closed system,” and had great difficulty accepting non-Hebrews.
Antioch, by its nature, had more influence and power and attraction than Jerusalem. It had a population of over half a million people, and it the only city in the ancient world to actually have streetlights along its marble-paved roads. Antioch was a city of wealth and power.
It’s no surprise, then, that both Jews and Greeks had already formed a group of believers in Antioch, before Cornelius received the spirit of God. He wasn’t even the first Gentile, because Gentiles were already being accepted as believers in Antioch, without the discretion and direction of the Jerusalem leaders.
And, for the remainder of the story told in Acts, the Jerusalem church tries, in vain, to play catch-up to what’s already happened in other parts of the Roman Empire.
God Doesn’t Wait On Us
I love this. We believe we have so much power in our decision-making ability.
We believe we hold the power of God in the consent of our opinions.
But time and time and time again, in Acts, we find that God doesn’t wait for our opinions to catch up with his working. The formation of human history is not dependent upon the participation of humanity. God does what he wants.
He asks us to be participants, though. Because the story of Cornelius is really more about Peter than it is about the Gentile soldier.
Peter was the one who needed to be converted. Peter was the one who needed a glimpse into a plan so extreme that it overwhelmed him, and pushed him to the edge. At a city of decisions, Peter was the one with the decision to make. He was on the edge. And God opened his eyes.
We need our eyes opened today! God has brought us to the place of decision. He has placed us in various relationships and moments, and has led us to people who need the grace of God in their lives. But there is no burden for us to “teach” them, because God has already prepared their hearts — just like he prepared Cornelius.
God doesn’t need your abilities. But he does want them.
And he won’t wait on you.