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