How Jesus’ followers understood God’s heart for the world [and so should we] – Relationships: with the world, Part 3

In the previous post, we learned that God instilled in the ancient nation of Israel his heart for the foreigner, the immigrant, the stranger. What find as we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament is that God himself, in the person of Christ, took on humanity, was born, lived, died, and rose again so that all people could be in relationship with God. 

Notice how the apostle Peter talks about this in one of his earliest sermons.  Turn to Acts 3.  I want us to read a longer section because Peter connects some dots for us that I think you will find meaningful.  First, though, let’s remember the context. What is happening in Acts 3?  This passage is very, very early in the life of the brand new church. It seems the church is perhaps a couple months old, or no more than a year.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the church, because before we see what Peter has to say in Acts 3, we need to remember God’s heart for the world in the earliest days of the church. For example, in Acts 1, Jesus gave final instructions to his disciples before he ascended back to the Father.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Notice the expansion.  Jesus says the disciples are to proclaim his good news, first locally, but then regionally, and also globally.

This is right in line with Matthew’s account of what Jesus said maybe at the same moment, maybe a different one; the passage we call the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:16-20, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What do you notice in both passages?  God’s heart for all the people of the world to become Jesus’ disciples. 

Jesus ascends to heaven, then 10-14 days later the Holy Spirit descends upon his followers, and the church begins.  We read about that in Acts 2.  We talked about that a few weeks ago, when we talked about relationships in the church family.   But would the disciples abide by Jesus’ instructions to be his witnesses, sharing the story of good news, to the people around them, locally, regionally, and globally?

That brings us to Acts chapter 3.  We read that Peter and John are doing exactly what Jesus said.  Open a Bible and read verses 1-13 to see what I mean. After you’ve read those verses, come back and continue this post.

Do you see Peter begin to connect the dots for us?  He says in verse 13 that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Peter reaches all the way back to the beginning of the history of nation. By mentioning the three patriarchs all the people listening to him would remember the God made a covenant with Abraham, saying that Abraham’s family would become a nation that would bless the world, which we talked about in the first post in this week’s five-part series. The people listening to Peter would also know that God repeated that covenant nearly verbatim to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and to Isaac’s son, Jacob.  The people would also know that they themselves, though they were living nearly 2000 years after the patriarchs, were that same family and nation of Abraham.  They would know that the covenant related to them. 

We also heard Peter suggest something extraordinary in verse 13.  He says that same God has glorified his servant Jesus.  Peter connects the patriarchs to Jesus.  But Peter is not done.  Let’s continue listening to where Peter is going with this.  Next read verses 14-16.

Where Peter previously connects Jesus to the patriarchs of the nation, he now says that Jesus is the Holy and Righteous One, which is barely coded language for saying, “Jesus is the Messiah of God.” Peter goes on to say that Jesus is the author of life, which is not at all coded language for saying that Jesus is God.  Though the Jews conspired with the Romans to kill him, God raised Jesus to life. 

This was not news for the people listening at the temple that day.  It had only been a couple months, maybe a year since Jesus’ crucifixion.  Everyone knew about it.  Peter then says that the power of God that was at work in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection was the same power that healed the lame man right in front of them.  What Peter says would have been astonishing to the people in the crowd that day.  Jesus was dead, and gone, but somehow he was alive and still at work?   Where is Peter going with this?  Let’s keep reading.  He is about to put all the pieces together. 

Read Acts 3, verses 17-26. And there you have it.  Specifically, hear what Peter says in verse 25, “You are heirs of the covenant God made with Abraham that through your offspring all people on earth will be blessed.”  Peter continues this theme, observing that God has raised up his servant Jesus to initiate that blessing, starting right there in Jerusalem. 

Fast-forward again through the books of Acts, and we read in chapter 8, verses 26-40, about the missionary Philip preaching to an Ethiopian, an African.  In chapter 10 and 11, God gives Peter a dream directing him to take the story of Jesus to all people, leading Peter to conclude, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 11: 34-35) As we continue reading, we find Paul and his missionary partners will take the story of Jesus across the Roman Empire.  The other apostles did the same.  Tradition holds that Thomas went to India.  Major centers of the church were founded in Alexandria, Egypt.  In Rome.  In Antioch. 

The Apostle Paul would write the following to the Christians in the region of Galatia, chapter 3:6-9, “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ [Genesis 15:6] Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ [Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18] So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Then, as if to clarify what he meant, Paul, just a few verses later, says this, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:14)

Which leads Paul to conclude in Galatians 3:26-29, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

To put it simply, God through Christ wants everyone on the globe to experience his blessings of abundant life and eternal life. 

Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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