The history of the early Christian church is found in the book of Acts, which comes right after the for Gospel accounts in the New Testament. It speaks to God’s faithfulness and power, for lives touched by the Gospel are never the same.
There are two conversion accounts that involve people on the opposite side of the spectrum. Saul of Tarsus (later, the Apostle Paul) was the zealous religious leader who tried to stamp out Christianity by throwing them in prison or killing them. He needs Jesus – we get that. Then you have the first non-Jew to be saved, Cornelius. He is a deeply religious, thoughtful, generous and well regarded by everyone. Does he need Jesus? He is practicing his religion, helping others, and not hurting anyone. I'm sure you know people like him. Isn’t it narrow minded to assume he needs Jesus? Can’t we leave him alone and focus on other people without pushing our exclusive claims on people like him?
Luke’s account in Acts makes it clear that Cornelius – and people like him – do need Jesus. It is GOD who disrupts Cornelius’ life with an angelic visitor, directing him to fetch Peter and listen carefully to what he has to say. Peter then receives his own vision and is led kicking and screaming to visit this Gentile’s home. The end is glorious, as Cornelius’ house is not only saved but also wonderfully visited by the Spirit.
Why does it feel so unnecessary for good people to be bothered with Jesus? We often have a flawed view of our own sinfulness and God’s holiness. We naturally think that if we’re better than our neighbor or not as bad as Bin Laden, we’ll make it in somehow. Or that God will just have mercy on us, because He’s good like that. Or that we’ll spend a few hundred years in purgatory paying for our misdeeds before being let in. The problem with all that is this: that’s our rules, not His.
God is holy and terrifyingly so. Beyond our comprehension. Moral perfection on every level.
We are not. Not even close. I hope I don’t have to convince you of this one.
If God were to simply excuse our wrongdoings, that would be merciful but His justice would suffer loss. And who could possibly ever earn a good standing before Him?
Here’s the great news. Jesus came to save sinners, to suffer in our stead. Through His death on the cross, sins are fully accounted for and grace extended to regular people like you and me. Jesus is for the Sauls of the world who are full of hatred and harm others, but He’s ALSO for those who have a lot going on for them and look good on the outside. We all fall short, we all miss the mark.
Is this offensive? Of course it is. We’re all called on the carpet and not one of us can solve this ourselves. It brings to light the depth of our sin while leveling the playing field. This is not man’s idea, it’s God’s own verdict.
But once we get past our own pride and self-sufficiency, sweeter words could not be heard:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
- Pastor Colin