This morning I was reading in the book of Acts; and, I had a startling revelation concerning the birth of the Christian faith. You can’t make this stuff up!
The first three individuals who were called to be Christians by God who were not from Jerusalem were not just outsiders! They were but way-yonder outsiders.
As we delve into who these characters were, we realize that nobody would have wanted these guys in their church!
It’s almost as if God played a cosmic joke on our faith tradition because at first glance nobody on earth would have believed you could start a church with folks like these!
The first was Simon the Sorcerer who was a wizard and an acclaimed magician. He boasted of his own greatness; and, we are told that all people, even the high and the mighty believed that he had some kind of divine power.
Even so, when Simon the Sorcerer heard Philip preach, the Holy Spirit touched his heart and he converted to Christianity immediately. We are told, “Simon himself believed and he was baptized (Acts 8:13 NIV).”
The second on the list was a man from Ethiopia. Let’s peal back some layers.
Since this man was not from Palestine but Africa, he would have been of a different race. Furthermore, a Eunuch was a man who had been neutered so that he could be a servant to women, mostly wives and mistresses of the rich and powerful.
The Bible says that an angel of the Lord told Philip to go south to the desert road (Acts 8:26). It was here that Philip encountered the African eunuch.
After Philip explained to the eunuch how the prophet Isaiah predicted the crucifixion of Christ this guy converted. (Isaiah 53:7-8)
The eunuch then ked to be baptized right on the spot. “As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized (Acts 8:36 NLT)?'”
Last on the list of early converts was Saul of Tarsus. Saul was an evil Pharisee that became an assassin, vowing to rub out all professed Christians.
We are told that Saul oversaw the murder of Stephen, smugly approving his stoning watching this horrific event take place. But of all the craziness, Jesus appeared before Saul as he was traveling to Damascus and claimed him too!
“As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:3-4 NLT).”
This man went to his knees in reverence as Saul but when he got up he was a brand new man. He changed his name to Paul, such was the cataclysmic change of his conversion.
So, there we have it. Sitting on the front row of this new church is a wizard, a eunuch and an assassin. I say again, “You can’t make this stuff up!”
What is clear to anybody who will accept it, is that since the resurrection God has been doing things that are holy-new. Back in the day, the Gospel message even spilled over into a region called Samaria.
Samaritans for the most part were seen as sell-outs. Many were former Jews who’d married outside their station.
Since Samaritans were seen as a mixed race people, it was felt by most of Jewish society that they had turned their backs on their heritage and their traditions. They were now outsiders and considered inferior human beings.
But as we watch the followers of the Way blaze new trails, plow new ground and open all sorts of doors and windows for all people, nothing short of a miracle begins to take place. Every mortal finds what they are looking for at the foot of the cross.
As always, there is a fly in the ointment. The Jewish leadership is choking to death on their own bile.
Watching a movement take place that heretofore had been their station as God’s chosen people, it is a tough pill to swallow!
There goes the neighborhood! God is letting everybody in!
Saul of Tarsus who is now the apostle Paul makes it his life’s mission to unite his Jewish brethren with these newbies to the faith. I wish I had happier news for you.
In this particular mission, Paul failed. He was never able to reconcile the Jews and the Christians even though he gave this mission all that he had.
At the end of the day, he tells us in his own words what he decided to do:
And after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul spent all his time preaching the word. He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles (Acts 18:5-6 NLT).”
Clearly, the Good News is for everyone! Clearly, it has been God’s vision and plan for all of us to gather around his table as one people called Christians.
Clearly, the only place that all of us can find the answers to life’s perplexing questions is at the foot of the cross. And, the news beyond good is that God is still doing new things with outrageous people, even today.
Where do we sign up?