You’re Welcome!

Have you ever seen the welcome mats that read: “Go away”? I’m guessing most are displayed in the spirit of dry humor, although perhaps an occasional curmudgeon really means what it says. Consider, then, this entryway greeting from a different age: “No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death which will ensue.”1 And where would one find this “unwelcome mat”? In the Jewish temple of Jesus’ day; it warned the “impure” not to step beyond the “court of the Gentiles” and into the inner temple. Rather than being “a light for the Gentiles, that salvation may reach to the ends of the earth,”2 God’s chosen people had instead come to view all others as beneath them and to be distanced. Go away!

How, then, did Jewish believers respond upon hearing the “Gentiles also had received the word of God”?4 Blame and accusation: “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them,”4 they charged Peter. Now, we could stop here and roll our eyes again at the legalists, marginalizing these who had marginalized others, but the apostle pursued unity and understanding. “Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story”5 of Cornelius, his family and friends believing the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus and receiving the gift of eternal life for themselves, and the Holy Spirit indwelling them in great power and joy. Then in relatable terms, Peter concluded, “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?”6 “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.’”7 Chalk one up for renewed minds.

God’s purpose is to gather and grow one unified people into Christ Jesus. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”8 Then as we together join God in His work, He takes us on an adventure beyond the borders of our natural understanding with a message for all who would enter God’s Kingdom through faith in Christ: You are welcome.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17 NIV).

Father, as you have welcomed me through Christ Jesus, send me now with the gospel of eternal welcome in His name. Amen.

1 Ben Zion, Ilan. “Ancient Temple Mount ‘warning’ stone is ‘closest thing we have to the Temple.’” timesofisrael.com. https://www.timesofisrael.com/ancient-temple-mount-warning-stone-is-closest-thing-we-have-to-the-temple/ (accessed February 18, 2020).
2 Isaiah 49:6 NIV
3 Acts 11:1 NIV
4 Acts 11:2
5 Acts 11:4 NIV
6 Acts 11:17 NIV
7 Acts 11:18 NIV
8 1 Corinthians 12:13

Tear Down That Wall

The young couple was engaging in good-natured banter, when one turned to this bystander and asked, “Whose side are you on?” It was a light-hearted moment, and one teeming with opportunity. “There are no ‘sides,’” I replied, “There is only one side, and that is the two of you.” (Whew!)

In Peter’s culture, there were indeed two sides: Jews and everybody else (or “Gentiles,” for short). In their zeal to rise above the ways of the world, God’s chosen nation had come to regard other people of the world as “unclean” and to be avoided. This was never God’s intent, so through two men—one a Gentile and the other a Jew—He would show all that, in Christ, He had “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”1 that had improperly stood between these two people groups. To Cornelius, God sent an angelic herald bearing a humbling equation: devout, plus God-fearing, plus generous2 comes up short of salvation. The solution? “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter,” the angel commanded the centurion, “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”3 Then as the centurion’s contingent approached the seaside city, God spoke humility also to Peter, this time through a vision. “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,”4 He repeated. God was speaking primarily of people, as Peter would soon confess before his Gentile host, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”5

As God makes us one with Himself through Christ, so also He joins us to each other as His body. To the Gentiles in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made [Jews and Gentiles] one… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross… For through [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”6 Becoming Christlike includes drawing together in Him, each honoring the other. To this end, Paul calls believers to be “one in spirit and of one mind,”7 adding, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.8 This is oneness. This is relational evidence of spiritual growth. For to grow together in Christ is to grow up into Him who “is all, and is in all.”9

Father, Christ is our peace. Grace us to grow up into Him, becoming one in spirit and of one mind and, in humility and joy, looking to the interests of others. In His name we pray. Amen.

1 Ephesians 2:14 NIV
2 Acts 10:2 NIV
3 Acts 11:13, 14 NIV
4 Acts 10:15 NIV
5 Acts 10:28 NIV
6 Ephesians 2:13-18 NIV
7 Philippians 2:2 NIV
8 Philippians 2:3, 4 NIV
9 Colossians 3:11 NIV

Closer than Close

Where do you picture God in proximity to yourself? When you pray, for instance, is He “up there, somewhere”? After all, Paul says, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”1 Do you envision Jesus by your side, as He himself said, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”?2 Does God “have your back” or stand in front of you, as David observed, “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me”?3 All of these comforting promises are true, of course, and together they show us what we instinctively know: God is all around us and everywhere we go. Yet God draws us closer to Him still, as Cornelius would soon experience.

“He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly,”4 and he was “respected by all the Jewish people,”5 no easy accomplishment for a Gentile and centurion in Rome’s military machine. Cornelius had heard about Jesus, that peace could be found in Him,6 and that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”7 Yet there is a difference between knowing about Jesus and actually knowing Him, and while Cornelius and his family greatly honored God, to them He was external—beheld but not indwelled. This is not as God would have it, not for the centurion nor for us; rather, Jesus promised, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”8 So, at an angel’s command the centurion sent for a man called Simon Peter. Said the angel, “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”9

Peter’s sermon was a short, effective sharing of the gospel: Jesus was killed on a cross, God raised him from the dead, God has appointed Jesus as judge, and everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name.10 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”11 Separation from God had become for Cornelius, his family and friends a thing of the past, for “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God,”12 and “ he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”13 In Christ, we experience God more intimately than any natural proximity could approach. And in this security, our transformation into His likeness begins, for spiritual growth in Christ begins at spiritual birth in Christ. Praise His name.

Father, you love me more deeply than I can fathom; your plan for me is higher than I can see. How can I doubt your love? Lead me in your path. I trust you. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

1 Colossians 3:1 NIV
2 Matthew 28:20 NIV
3 Psalm 139:5 NIV
4 Acts 10:2 NIV
5 Acts 10:22 NIV
6 Acts 10:36 NIV
7 Acts 10:38 NIV
8 John 12:32 NIV
9 Acts 11:14 NIV
10 Acts 10:39-43
11 Acts 10:44 NIV
12 1 John 4:15 NIV
13 1 Corinthians 6:17 ESV