Today’s passage in Acts consists of a “newsy” account of the continuing growth of the early Church. Persecution led to dispersal of many Jesus-followers from Jerusalem to other places. Where they went, they told the good news to other Jews. Consequently, many committed their life to Jesus. In Antioch, some followers even told Greeks, who turned to Jesus! Leaders of the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check on developments. Eventually, Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch to help teach the new believers. When a famine occurred, Jesus-followers in Antioch sent assistance to believers in Jerusalem.
This newsy passage is part of a longer section that records a matter of immense significance – namely, that God’s saving purpose is for the whole world, for all people, not just for one place, for one people. This is shown in God’s offering of the good news of Jesus to Greeks – that is, to Gentiles, people outside of Judaism. The idea of God’s favor toward Gentiles was problematic, at best, in Judaism. The first disciples of Jesus, who were Jewish, came to understand and embrace this, but not without struggle in mind, heart, and spirit!
Two key principles of the good news of Jesus that we see in Acts, then, are extension and connection.
God extends the grace of the good news of Jesus to all. In the world, we find numerous ways to define and limit boundaries of belonging, affection, and good will – language, ethnicity, gender, social class, kinship, country, and more. God limits himself to none of these boundaries! In Jesus, God lovingly acts to save any and all into his kingdom.
God connects all who believe in Jesus into one people. The church or community of believers is for us, but never only for us. It is local and particular, but never only local and particular. Truly, our brothers and sisters consist of those whom God gives us in Jesus from every language, ethnicity, gender, class, kinship, country, and more – across time and around the world!
May we, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, by word and deed live in God’s kingdom boundaries – the ever-widening boundaries of the good news of Jesus Christ, beyond all human limits and barriers.