When you read the bible through, it’s clear that the people of Israel, the Jews, had a very special place in the heart of God. He selected them to be the race of people where he would demonstrate his glory to the whole world. Even throughout their bad choices and wrong turns, God still reached out to them. At some point in history, the exclusivity of the family of God was opened up to non-Jewish people. When did this happen? Why did this happen? Was it really supposed to be that way all along?
Whenever one is told they are special long enough, they begin to believe it. They begin to assume that they are entitled. They act as though they could do absolutely anything and they will still receive the benefits of the gift they’ve been given. They are immune to just about anything. As we’ve read the Story together this year, it seems clear that this was the case for the Jews (from our perspective). After all that God had done for them, they rejected Jesus as their sent Messiah, their Savior. Paul, a Jew, knew the promises of God for the Israelite people. He knew that if they would receive the message of Jesus, it would spread to the ends of the world like a wildfire. Here is what he heard God saying to him…
But Paul and Barnabas didn’t back down. Standing their ground they said, “It was required that God’s Word be spoken first of all to you, the Jews. But seeing that you want no part of it—you’ve made it quite clear that you have no taste or inclination for eternal life—the door is open to all the outsiders. And we’re on our way through it, following orders, doing what God commanded when he said,
‘I’ve set you up as light to all nations.
You’ll proclaim salvation to the four winds and seven seas!’”
When the non-Jewish outsiders heard this, they could hardly believe their good fortune. All who were marked out for real life put their trust in God—they honored God’s Word by receiving that life. And this Message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region.
It was clear throughout the teachings of Jesus that he had come to break down the barriers of race (Jews and Gentiles), gender, social status, etc. Paul is here leading the charge as he carries the Jesus-Message to the ends of the world he knows. He starts with the Jews, hoping they will receive it, but when they don’t, he moves on to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people). It’s apparent that they were more than receptive to the opportunity to join this movement…this family.
Most of us are not of Jewish descent, but would be what the bible refers to as “Gentiles.” Thankfully for us, Paul lead a charge to make sure that people like us understood that the Jesus-Message was for us. In the words of my son, “That’s HUGE!” Whenever good news is opened up to you, when it had previously been closed off, it’s life-giving. In doing so, it went even faster than Paul probably dreamed.
We are not that different from Paul. We are planting a church and we are like the early churches in that way. Most of us started passing out invitations to join our new church to people we thought would be most receptive. People who were already Christians, but maybe looking for a little more than what they were experiencing at their church, or who may have dropped out of organized churches. Today, we are faced with a new invitation to be made…an invitation that doesn’t invite someone to church, but to a person. We don’t invite people who already follow Jesus to follow Jesus, but we invite people who don’t. We point neighbors, co-workers and friends to a person, not an organization, nor a building. We invite hopeless people to Hope. We invite dead people to LIFE.
We don’t do this by giving them a piece of paper, but by living like Jesus around them. By sharing the life-giving stories about Jesus. By loving them the way Jesus loved them.