April 3, 2018 – Jesus Died for All- Acts 10:34-43

I am the way

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  Jesus died and rose again for the salvation and redemption of all humanity – for everyone who would believe in Him.

It’s easy for us to speculate on “who’s in and who’s out” based upon a person’s ethnicity or on a person’s faith tradition, or upon a person’s history or lifestyle. The reality is that we don’t get to decide who is in or who is out.  That’s God’s decision.

Jesus Himself sought out some unlikely company- tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc. As much as we would like to think that our ancestry buys us something, or that our good conduct, or social standing buys us something, it doesn’t. If anything there is a danger in taking comfort in one’s ancestry or conduct or social standing as if it somehow imparts superiority on us. The Pharisees thought that their history and their traditions and their displays of piety made them better in God’s eyes.  Jesus saw right through their window dressing and called them “whitewashed tombs”- clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. (Matthew 23:26-28)

God doesn’t work on the brownie point system. One of the major rediscoveries of the Reformation was the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve forgiveness or salvation. Only Christ alone, through faith alone, according to the inspired word revealed in Scripture alone can do the job. The good news is that there is no one beyond His grace and redeeming power.  It doesn’t matter if a person is born into a non-believing family or raised with pagan beliefs. It doesn’t matter if a person is mired in all kinds of immorality or drug use.  Jesus finds and claims His own no matter whether they were raised in Christian homes or whether He calls them from the most forsaken of pigpens and dens of iniquity.

We are iustus et peccator – saint and sinner at the same time.  It is better for us to simply admit that we are powerless to live and serve God in our own strength. When we confess our sin and come clean with God, God Who is faithful and just forgives our sins and gives us what we need to live the way He designed us to live. (1 John 1:9)

We need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from, but that Jesus loved that person enough to go to death on a cross for them.  Jesus went to the Cross for me and for you, but He also suffered and died for that foreign person who has been deceived by a death cult, for that tattooed biker, for that kid who decided to shoot up a school with a gun, for the crazy North Korean dictator- for all of us flawed humans.  We have no way of knowing who will ultimately join us in eternity, but the potential is there for every human being.  God alone makes that distinction.  We are called by God to live in response to His priceless gift of grace- and to love others as He has first loved us.

August 17, 2017 A House of Prayer for ALL People – Isaiah 56:6-8

brother other mother

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:6-8 (NRSV)

Some of us have known the privilege of making a friend from a wildly different culture, nationality or unfamiliar ethnicity, and finding that we share a great deal in common. It is one of those “happy accidents” of God when we meet up with a “brother from another mother” so to speak.  Those sorts of friendships broaden our horizons and enrich our own human experience.

Much has been said in social and political discourse of late that pits human against human in petty and pointless arguments about skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or race, or heritage. The fact is that humans sin and fail each other for many reasons.  The reality is that none of us can erase what oppressions our ancestors suffered at the hands of others, nor can we take back what suffering or unfair treatment our ancestors imposed upon others.  Throughout history groups of humans have enslaved and oppressed other groups of humans. At one point or another should we look back far enough, we will find both oppressors and oppressed in our family histories, regardless of what ethnic groups or cultures we come from.

The only positive, God-honoring action we can take in response to racial and cultural hate is to love each other and treat each other respectfully NOW. The oppression and unfairness and discrimination can stop with us.  We are all human, created in the image of God, like it or not.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah is speaking about the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Christ ALL humans are welcome to participate in God’s kingdom, regardless of nationality or ethnic background, or skin color, regardless of their mistakes, or their family’s mistakes, or their pasts.

God is gathering ALL people to His kingdom. He is calling people who we disagree with.  He is calling people who may currently be our enemies.  He is calling anyone who will hear Him.

Are our hearts also houses of prayer, in which all who seek God and His kingdom are welcome?