Jesus Crosses Boundaries | David Bracewell
Peter explains his actions
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him 3 and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
8 ‘I replied, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
9 ‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 ‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
15 ‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’
The church in Antioch
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Jesus Crosses Boundaries
When Peter went to Cornelius’ house and ended up baptizing everyone there, he crossed an enormous boundary. Jews were not allowed to associate with non-Jews, and until that point the disciples had only taken the message about Jesus to Jewish people.
However, in a vision God convinced Peter that he had to cross this boundary, and the Holy Spirit did the rest. The experience not only converted Cornelius’ household but Peter himself, from dead orthodoxy to living faith in Jesus as the light to the whole world, not just to the Jewish people.
At B&A we insist that everyone is welcome because we are determined to reflect God’s love for everyone made in his image. It is only too easy for churches to find they are surrounded by invisible boundaries based on social status, wealth, intellect, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity… God calls us to cross any barriers we find, both as a church and as individuals. Just as Peter was inspired to step out and innovate, any of us might feel prompted to leave our own comfort zone and follow God’s leading across an unfamiliar boundary.
Innovation was crucial then, and still is today, for the Gospel to reach new generations in our fast-changing society. But as we read in this chapter of Acts, Peter was not working alone – he was part of the Church, and he had to account for himself to the others. So we see ‘innovation’ coming up against ‘institution’, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
It took a while for the Jerusalem Church to see beyond the problem of rules being broken. When they heard that Christians in Antioch had also been spreading the message far and wide, they sent Barnabas to check this out. Once again, they found that the Holy Spirit was blessing these new converts. Unrestrained grace was meeting unfulfilled hunger!
B&A’s structure of ‘Little Churches’ enables Christians to confront and cross new boundaries in mission, as and when they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, while maintaining the unity of the church as a whole in our Sunday gatherings. In our society there is so much unfulfilled hunger, and we can be sure that God is ready to pour out unrestrained grace. What boundaries is God calling you to cross – individually, or as part of a Little Church?