The Gospel is for All
The title of today’s message is “The Gospel is for All”. This is also the name of an obscure hymn that was written around 1921 by J. M. McCaleb. McCaleb was born in 1862 and died in 1953 at the age of 92. He served as a missionary in Japan for nearly 50 years. His life was a reflection of the fact that he truly believed that the good news of Jesus should be shared with everyone on earth. I believe that most of us here this morning would also agree that the gospel is for everyone and is to be shared around the world.
As I was reading through the scripture for this morning, I had a recent event come into my mind that prompted me to reflect on the gospel and its universal nature. We were all very grateful that on Easter morning we had a large crowd in attendance. We had several visitors and one of those visitors made the comment that they felt under-dressed. That also triggered the comments from a gentleman who has been before and has been invited by several friends to return. He feels that we are too fancy for him. He does not have the right kind of cloths. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should dress in rags to come to worship on Sunday morning. Most of us were reared to dress in our best to worship God. After all, we are familiar with the term “Sunday best” when we talk about our cloths.
The problem is that we all face some type of cultural barrier when we share the gospel. Culture is not always a different nationality or language. It may be a social construct that separates. Somehow, we need to bridge that separation and reach out to others with the gospel. There is biblical endorsement to sharing the gospel with those who are not like us. The early church started within the Jewish community. Jesus was the Messiah and fulfilled the prophecies found in the literature of the Jewish community. The first sermon sharing the message of salvation was delivered by Peter to the Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The Jewish community was a closed fellowship. To be accepted within the community, the men had to be circumcised. Thus, all Gentiles were (with very few exceptions) excluded from the Jewish community. The gospel of Jesus was not even shared with anyone outside the Jewish community.
In the 10th chapter of Acts. Peter is called to go to a Gentile family and preach the gospel. We can read that Cornelius and his family were baptized and received the Holy Spirit. This opens up the several points to consider. First, the early church resisted the idea of reaching out to the Gentiles or having fellowship with non-Jews. Second, it was God who initiated the contact between Peter and Cornelius. Third, it was Peter, the leader to the church in Jerusalem who proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius. We tend to connect Paul with the Gentiles, but the first Gentile convert was through Peter. Fourth, and finally, the church at Jerusalem made the decision to accept Gentile converts without the stipulation that the Gentile must convert to Judaism first.
As the 11th chapter begins, we find that there were some who questioned Peter about his visit to the house of Cornelius.
Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:1-3 NASB)
As Christianity was gaining in Jerusalem, there were several things that drove a wedge between the Jewish Christians and the direction of the church. We may remember that earlier in Luke’s history, we read about the Greek (Hellenistic) widows and their care. Deacons were named to attend to their care (Acts 6:1-2). Then, one of those chosen was accused of blasphemy and made his defense. As a result of his speech, he became the first Christian martyr. Now, the leader of the apostolic group has gone to visit a non-circumcised man and actually ate a meal with him. Peter recounts the events in an orderly fashion so they may know what led up to his unorthodox behavior.
But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it, I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. (Acts 11:4-10 NASB)
The vision Peter saw was a message from God. The Mosaic Law with all of the restrictions was now replaced by the new law of grace. In Matthew 27:51, we read about the veil separating the holy place from the holy of holies (Exodus 26:33). This is a significant event. Christ has become our high priest that has taken our sins away. Paul gives a little more detail about the old replace by the new when he writes: But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-27 NASB)
Peter is being told that the old restrictions are not binding now that God, through Jesus has provided a cleansing. This message had to be repeated three times before Peter had that “aha” moment. Now, as the sheet is taken up into heaven for the last time, the men arrived to request Peter go with them to talk with Cornelius.
And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. (Acts 11:11-12 NASB)
Peter is led by God through the Holy Spirit to set aside those ideas of “unclean” and to go without hesitation to share the good news of God’s salvation extended to all people. Yes, Peter is going into the house of an uncircumcised man. When Peter arrives at Cornelius’ house, we find that God had been active in bringing Peter and Cornelius together.
And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore, if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:13-17 NASB)
God has planned that the soul saving message of Jesus spread throughout the world. It is not limited to only a select few. If it were a limited salvation, then it would be spelled out just what the boundaries are and who is included. For the early church, many thought the message of salvation was limited to those who were Jewish. Those who could trace their lineage to Abraham were welcome in church. Those who were not in that exclusive group were not welcome. Now, Peter had broken down that barrier. If God had opened that door, Peter asked who was I that I could stand in God’s way? Peter rested his case with that question. Luke tells us that the issue seemed to calm down for a time. When he records these words: When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18 NASB)
We know from reading further in the history of the early church, that the issue was not settled with this initial discussion about Gentiles and the Jewish influence in the early church. Later, Paul ran into the same old prejudices. If you want to be a Christian, you must first become a Jew. There is another meeting in Jerusalem. At this time, the brother of Jesus stands and speaks. We find this in the 15th chapter of Acts. Let’s read as we start with verse 13.
After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
‘After these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.
Therefore, it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:13-21 NASB)
The gospel is for all. We should never allow traditions or our social and cultural manners to interfere with anyone coming to worship God. Jesus left us with the mission that is inclusive. His final words while on earth are: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18b-20 NASB)