The crowd was actually standing in a place called the Court of the Gentiles when they heard Paul say he had been commanded to carry the message of salvation to the Gentiles. The purpose of that enormous courtyard which surrounded the temple was to provide a place where Gentiles could draw near to God, a place where they could pray and be taught about the true God. Over and over again Israels prophets declared a day would come when Gentile nations would travel from faraway places to Jerusalem to learn about Him. Yes, Israel was to separate itself from false religions and the immoral practices of these Gentiles, but nowhere in Scripture are they told to despise any group of human beings, or be indifferent to their spiritual destiny. In fact, one need only look at the list of King Davids ancestors to see the names of Gentiles whose faith had made a way for them to become part of Gods people (Mt 1:3-6). Yet, when Paul said God cared enough about Gentiles to send him to them, the reaction of the crowd was outrage. They said a man like Paul shouldnt be allowed to live. How did this kind of prejudice get such a deep hold on their hearts, and what on earth made them think God felt the same way they did?
Re-igniting a riot (Ac 22:1-22) - DBS (Sun-Thurs)
Where human love ends
Human love tends to flow to the boundary where us turns into them. Human love is reserved for people like us, and the closer the better. Some people dont give this love to anyone beyond their own nuclear family. Some people dont even like them.
One of the great scandals of Christian history is that we have been very selective concerning who we want to see saved, and even more selective about who we want to welcome into our churches. Even our Christian love flowed only to certain boundaries and then stopped. Considering the fact that Jesus said God loves the whole world (Jn 3:16), you would think that we would have felt somewhat ashamed of ourselves for not loving everybody like He does, but that seldom happened. What usually happened was that we developed a theology that assured us that God doesnt like them either, that Hes put a curse on people like that, and someday Hell get rid of them. Once we take that step of justifying our prejudice, of turning it into a good thing, then we can view anyone who loves such people with suspicion, or even anger. We think of them as traitors, as violating Gods holy standards, as loving people whom God hates. And thats exactly the attitude we see in that courtyard. This angry crowd actually believed they were proving their love for God by totally separating themselves from unclean Gentiles, and in the process had completely forgotten that Gentiles have souls. Its bad enough to watch this angry crowd react the way they do, but its incomprehensible when people who say they follow Jesus do the same thing.
Where my love ends
If we come away from this passage vilifying the Jews by saying they were racists, we will have missed the point. Christianity in some places went on to become even more racist. The real point is that all humans are sinful and vulnerable to prejudice. All humans tend to love people like themselves and withdraw from people who are different. What we are observing here in Acts is a nasty human trait from which no one is exempt. Its not usually even a conscious decision. We simply dont notice those who are different, and if asked why we dont reach out to them we might reply they should be reaching their own people and well focus on reaching ours.
Jesus in that courtyard (Mt 21:12-17)
In that same courtyard, about 30 years earlier, Jesus spoke about this same issue. Listen: Matthew 21:12-17
To make money, the high priest Annas had permitted those who sold animals for sacrifice and those who changed foreign currency into Israels currency, to move their booths into the Court of the Gentiles. What had been built as a place to welcome Gentiles was turned into a market and Jesus angrily drove those who were buying and selling out saying, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a robbers den (Mk 11:15-18).
Lets read some more of the passage He quoted from Isaiah: Isaiah 56:3-8
Matthew tells us that when Jesus cleansed the temple this way the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them (Mt 21:14). This too was a radical statement. Normally the sick and injured were considered unwelcome in the temple (2Sa 5:8). But youll notice Isaiah said God wanted them, and Jesus was revealing the extent of Gods love. God wasnt telling sick people to stay away. He wanted them to come so He could heal them.
On the evening before He went to the cross Jesus prayed passionately for all of us who would become His followers, and thankfully He let His disciples listen. He wanted them to know, He wanted us to know, that our love was not to have boundaries, in fact we were to love with an entirely new kind of love. And He said the success of His mission would depend on it. Listen to what He said to the Father:
I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me... I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (Jn 17:21, 23).
Jesus prayed that His followers would come into the same depth of agreement, love and harmonious ministry as He as the Father. Then He sent His apostles to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world (Ac 1:8). That means that when He said this prayer He fully expected people from all the cultures of the world to break down walls of prejudice and demonstrate a profound acceptance of one another. This, above all else, would prove to a sinful, prejudice-filled world that He was truly the Savior and that the Father loved those who believed in Him. Nowhere else on planet earth can this kind of miracle be seen: that people set aside their prejudice and deeply love, and serve harmoniously together, with someone who is very different from them. It takes a true, inner miracle for this to happen. Lots of people talk about it, but nobody is able to do it... not really. If you dig a bit, it always turns out to be superficial talk.
Lets look more closely at what Jesus said. He didnt say, I want you to like each other, or tolerate each other. He said I want there to be a true unity of heart, like I have with the Father. That leaves no room for pretending to love. And only God can produce real love between people who are real different, which is why Jesus prayed this request rather than just commanding us to do it. Yes, He had ordered His followers to love one another even as I have loved you... (Jn 13:34), but on the evening before He went to the cross He asked God to perform a miracle.
Whos my neighbor? (Lk 10:25-37)
The world is so big and there are so many people, how do I know who He wants me to love. That was a question someone asked Jesus and He answered by giving the parable of the Good Samaritan. He used it to show us who to love, and how deeply. Basically, He told us to open our eyes as we go through life and watch for people:
Who are genuinely in need
Who have been neglected by others
Who we might tend to overlook because of prejudice
For whom we feel Gods love
Who have a need we are able to meet
Whose need we are willing to commit ourselves to helping bring to restoration
Its no accident that the hero of the parable was a Samaritan and the man in need was a Jew. The barrier of prejudice is a very important part of this parable. The Samaraitan saw a man in need, not a member of a hostile group. Jesus wants us to see people, not categories. He wants us, like that Samaritan, to look past the moment or the label, and see a human being on their way to eternity. All humans tend to overlook needs that are right in front of us. Here are a few possibilities:
Children who need to be adopted
Old people, young people
People who speak a different language
People from a different ethnicity
People with special needs
People who are divorced
People with addictions
Shy people, expressive people
People who dont dress well
People who dress too well
People from a troubled past
The question is: How wide will I open my arms, how far will I let my love flow, where are my boundaries, have I overlooked a neighbor?
How do I do this?
1) Let the Holy Spirit reveal to you where those boundaries are in your heart. Let Him convict you, but dont become condemned. Hes trying to grow you, not judge you.
2) Treat indifference and prejudicial thoughts as what they are: temptations from the flesh, or even a fiery dart from the enemy. Refuse to give it place. Focus on Christ and let His love replace the coldness. Begin to pray for the person.
3) Realize Jesus Christ Himself dwells inside you (Ro 8:9, 10; Col 1:27). Yes, Hes at the Fathers right hand interceding for you (Ro 8:34), but Jesus Christ is the Fathers divine Son. Like the Father, He too is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Hes not only present in you by the Holy Spirit. He Himself, full of compassion, and grace, dwells in you to help you fulfill the prayer He prayed for you. In other words, the same Person who drove the sellers out of the Court of the Gentiles; the same Person who prayed that we would love each other like He and the Father love each other; the same Person who told us to carry His love to the very ends of the earth, lives inside younow, if you have been born again.
1) Name a time when God asked you to reach out to someone who was very different from you. What was the boundary you had to overcome? How do you feel about that person now?
2) As you listen to the parable of the Good Samaritan, does God show you a neighbor in need?