“34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. 36 He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ — He is Lord of all. 37 You know the events that took place throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil, because God was with Him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything He did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, yet they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and permitted Him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us, witnesses appointed beforehand by God, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to solemnly testify that He is the One appointed by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about Him that through His name everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God.
Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.”
There would later be a debate arise within the church centered around the man-made line distinguishing Jews and Gentiles. God’s grace is so amazing, so complete, so overwhelming that some people simply couldn’t believe that there was –nothing– that we had to do to earn it or pay for it or even qualify for it. Since the Jewish people had so much history with God, so much interaction through the Law and the prophets, King David and all the others, they couldn’t believe that God wouldn’t require somone to join into that first before taking the step of faith in beliveing in Jesus. So they made circumcision a marker of faith for the church. They told people that they had to at least do that in order to be a part of what God was doing. Paul, a proud Jewish man by heritage, would call them the ‘mutilators of the flesh’ and make it clear that nothing had to be done, no work, in order to earn God’s favor and receive His grace.
This message was confirmed from the beginning, at this first God-orchestrated inclusion of the Gentiles into the Christian faith. Cornelius and his family didn’t have to become Jewish first. They didn’t have to go through any extra steps, sign off on a Jewish history class or anything of the sort. They feared God, heard the Gospel & responded appropriately. They were baptized with the Holy Spirit and in water. There are no other steps required. They began their walk with Christ, the fullness of the Holy Spirit within them, in that moment. No one had to ‘earn’ anything.
For those of us who have grown up in the church, sometimes we have this temptation to lay out extra requirements when it comes to joining into the bride of Christ. Now it’s totally fine to have different approaches for how we get that Gospel presentation to people. It can be in a church service, a class, one on one over coffee, the possibilities are endless. But that core message doesn not change. Some people want an individual to hear the message, get baptized and sign off on a confessional statement or a catechism. That sounds nice, but that’s adding in an extra step when you make that a marker for faith. Use thet statement or chatechism in your presentation, be thorough, let them hear the fullness of God’s salvation story and help them understand that God’s Word is flawless, inerrant, and that it is our authority in all things. But signing off on a creed isn’t part of the salvation process. Good doctrine is vital. It is absolutely important and essential in the life of every Christian. But you don’t have to have ‘everything’ figured out before you come to Jesus.
You simply need to understand that you are a sinner who need to be saved & that God has provided the way to salvation through His own Son, Jesus Christ. If you can accept the fact that Jesus paid for your sins while you were still dead in them, if you receive His great gift of grace? Then you’re in! You join with Him in His death, burial and resurrection though baptism, and receive everything that God promised through His sacrifice.
Desire to be close to God? Achieved. The Holy Spirit indwells all who come to Him through Christ.
Purpose in life? More than you could possibly believe. You get to spread the joy that God provided for you to everyone else!
Hope for the future? Certainty after death? Completed. Eternity has been laid at your feet. You have been invited into the presence of God.
So, GoLove people without stipulation. Present the truth of the Gospel and be faithful to what God has called you in Christ Jesus. He did all the work. Let’s trust Him in that…
“44 Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses commanded him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. 45 Our ancestors in turn received it and with Joshua brought it in when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers, until the days of David. 46 He found favor in God’s sight and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built Him a house. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in sanctuaries made with hands, as the prophet says:
“49 Heaven is My throne,
and earth My footstool.
What sort of house will you build for Me?”
says the Lord,
“or what is My resting place?
50 Did not My hand make all these things?”
God knows our needs. He does not react to our needs or desires. He needs nothing we can offer. Here in Acts 7, Stephen remids the Sanhedrin that the tabernacle and the temple that they are so attached to, so proud of, isn’t something that God needs in order to be worshipped. He doesn’t require an edifice in order to dwell among His people or to receive sacrifices. God has accomodated the human need to have a set place to do things, but He doesn’t need a building in order to be worshipped. The earth is His, and everything in it, so why would He require something extra in order to interact with mankind? God is not deficient in any way, He does not lack or need.
Stephen is saying this to them because the crowd He was addressing was so hung up in their rituals, rites and ceremonies that they had lost sight of the bigger picture. God didn’t need any of those things they were so worked up over. Instead, He instituted them so that we would have what we needed in order to worship Him consistently. That repeated minsunderstanding, about Jesus tearing down the temple, was something that really struck a chord with them. They saw that as a kind of ‘ultimate insult’ against who they were and the honor of God. At the end of chapter 6, this comes up yet again just before Stephen begins his sermon.
We forget that God doesn’t -need- us in order to be worthy of worship. God doesn’t have human attitudes or issues of selfishness. He isn’t sustained by our singing and sacrifices, and even if there were no church budilings anywhere, God would still be glorified. We spend a lot of time and effort on things that are simply not the ‘main thing’ because we think too small when we think of God. And often when we think of God and His expectations, we are actually thinking about our own wants and needs and desires, rather than what He has actually asked for…
The issues that Stephen was addressing with the men in the Sanhedrin are issues that people still get hung up on today. People reverence a church building or a tradition more than God Himself. They get upset over the decorations on the inside of the church, or the style of music, or how people dress rather than concerning their own hearts with God Himself. The temple didn’t make the people of Israel, and the worship center doesn’t make the church. It is so much more than these basic, physical things. But being small and finite, we forget this and get hung up in the details rather than getting hung up in God.
As we GoLove people, we need to make sure that we are portraying an accurate picture of who God is, what His expectations are of us, and how we are to properly reverence and worship Him. And that means we have to move beyond what is simply a human need and look to what God really and truly desires of us, not what we think He “needs.” God doesn’t want pews and stained glass. God wants our hearts.