“Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”
— Acts 10:28-29
Obedience. When God speaks to us and bids us to go or to come, or to look and listen, there is no rationalization as a believer to hesitate or argue. Peter, now a Messianic Jew, still thought he had every reason not to follow the Lord’s instructions to go to the household of Cornelius in Caesarea—after all they were “uncircumcised” unbelieving Gentiles (Acts 10:24-33). However, had he failed to do so, the presence of the Holy Spirit would no doubt have been delayed there for a short season—as well as the Gospel. The Lord, however, found another way to reach Peter’s heart—and He did so through a vision from heaven, which he immediately understood. The Gentiles were to be God’s people, too!
I’m sure Peter then also remembered the Lord’s last words before His ascension into heaven which we call the “Great Commissions” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8).
The word obedience is a “no holds barred” word in the New Testament but it is also laced with grace, and that’s not an oxymoron. God’s nature is one of grace and mercy—He is slow to anger and abundant in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8, et al). The word has several variations but it almost always refers to submission to one in authority.
I recall the box-office hit, “The Jesus Revolution,“ which tells the true story behind the Jesus Movement, including how Pastor Chuck Smith welcomed hippies at Calvary Chapel as they were looking for truth. That invitation helped to fuel one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in American history. It has been recognized as the largest public movement of the Holy Spirit in the United States since the celebrated revivals of the 19th century. The membership of the church portrayed was appalled at the sight of young people who were “unclean and filthy,” with their long hair and bare feet. It took a bold pastor to lead the way and a few elders to get “out of the way.”
Sadly today, there are still groups that are seeking truth and are just as messy, but are seldom reached out to and touched by local churches. In many cases congregations refrain from making a strong effort in reaching the lost and their growth rate tells the story. Why is that? My educated guess is that it’s because unbelievers take up a lot of time and effort and a considerable portion of the church budget. Other “programs” like potlucks after church or the ladies’ tea on Saturday may suffer—boo-hoo! In the meantime, their baptistries remain dry as they continue to flatline. And the Lord sighs, “Ichabod!”
Since I’m also messy and have often been challenged in my own life, how do I respond to our Lord’s last commands to pursue the lost, especially when I don’t “feel” like it or know the outcome while recognizing my own imperfections? Perhaps you have had those questions, as well. So here’s where I have learned to start—over and over again for the answer. I have to keep coming back. It’s spoken in three simple statements Jesus made to the disciples in His closing discourse at the “Last Supper,” just a few hours before His crucifixion. You’ll find them in John 15 and they all have to do with obedience:
“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” — John 15:10
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” — John 15:12
“This is my command: Love each other.” — John 15:17
If we decide to fulfill these words in our lives each day, regardless of the cost, wouldn’t we go a long way in obedience to what our Lord answered when He was asked, “Which are the greatest commandments in the Law?” Do you remember His reply?
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
And who is our neighbor? What a great place to start!
“God is good all the time. All the time God is good!”